Chinese Meat Market

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The “butcher/deli” section in a market in Shanghai.
Shopping for ingredients in Shanghai is an adventure of sights and smells. We wandered in a large, grey, hulking building and found each section of the two floors packed with a huge variety of food in its virgin state (more or less). Nothing is nicely packaged here, there is no celophane wrap or styrofoam (Chris, does this ordinary word conjure up any memories?) and everything sits out in the open. You can tell things are pretty fresh, because the air is balmy, and there is no stench of decay, just the odors of vegetation, spices, blood, dirt, slime, and slowly decomposing generic cellular material.
Hah, people in California think that shopping at Trader Joe’s is supporting struggling co-ops and individual farmers and craftsmen while supporting the organic farmers of the world. Shop at a real Chinese market and you know that your cabbage was Certified Organically Grown with the contents from that farmer’s outhouse. It don’t get much more organic than that. There are no processed foods here. And you won’t be asked “paper or plastic?”- they will simply take a sheaf of yesterday’s newspaper and reuse it to tie up your package of meat. If you don’t bring something to put your purchases in, then you will carry them in your arms.
What kind of “meat” is that, do you ask? Dunno for sure, but it sure looks like it would make for some kick-ass barbecue. If you really want to eat disgusting meat, I don’t think it can get any more mysterious, unsanitary, or unidentifiable than the “meat” found in the common taco of Tijuana. Tu quieres carne de gato y perro?

A Good Beach Day, A Good Day To Be At Work

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Nam is chasing the sea gulls next to Huntington Beach Pier, on a fabulous afternoon in January. Justin is sitting on the pale sand smoking a cig, and I am taking pictures. This was exactly what we wanted to do on our Winter vacation.
Today the weather is excellent. The sky is a clear blue- the kind of blue you only see in the deepest reaches of the country when there is a stiff wind blowing. A good day to fly a kite, or to go sailing. And my work for the day mirrored the weather.
Soon all three hoikuens will become one, under the watch of the windmill. I have enjoyed working at the smaller hoikuens because I have gotten to know the little kids one on one. I am closer to the little ones than almost any other JET in Japan has ever had the opportunity to be, I think. So I am enjoying the last of our time together, before I must divide the time among all of the kids in a huge group as impartially as I can. My successor will never be able to connect with the kids as I and my predecessors before me, but then again working at only one hoikuen will make the job much easier. For me, the extra work was well worth the opportunities and experiences.
Today, we all played outside, everyone shoveling sand in a pile to build a huge mountain. Everyone pitched in, and we had a small hill built in ten minutes. I taught the preschoolers about volcanos and lava, by pouring bucketfulls of water in the caldera and breaching the side to let the slurry wash down a curvy channel, filling a lake. Thats what I did for work today- playing with sand and water- I mean, who else gets paid to do things like this? It’s strange teaching English to such little kids because they are probably learning concepts and symbols in English at the same time or even before they learn them in Japanese. I only wish I could teach them every day…
At the shogakko, I made a huge mural with the 5th and 6th graders of Kumamoto city, complete with a street, buildings, cars, people, and anything else that they wanted to make. Giving the kids open reign on a large, communal canvas is a great way to get them interested in learning about things in English and you can feel their desire to learn English grow. Working interactively in a lesson really helps the kids to retain what they have learned well after it is taught, even without review. As of late, I have been more informal in class than usual, and this works with my students because we have developed a good balance between fun and learning, so that they make no differentiations between the two. Learning is fun, and fun is learning for right now. I hope that I have built up enough momentum in their interests so that they continue to pursue their current interests in English and the world outside of Japan.

Putz Master

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This is a close up of a concrete pump in Shanghai, in front of a new gargantuan shopping mall under construction along the Bund. I had never seen a Putzmeister until then, and so I assumed that Putzmeister was a Chinese company that made cheaper versions of Caterpillar equipment.
Putzmeister is considered world-wide as the pioneer for equipment plant and systems for concrete, mortar and high-density solid pumps”, but the one thing that sticks out to me about this German company is its name. I know nothing about German except that:
“Jager” = “Hunter” and
“Meister” = “Master”,
therefore, “Jagermeister” = “Master Hunter”.
In this vein “Putzmeister” means “Master Putz”.
I am guessing that “putz” is an onomatopoeic word, roughly equivalent to “putt” as in the sound that a running engine makes. If this pump does belch out the greatest of the putts, it must sound like all of the Titans letting out trouser-ripping farts in quick succession. I’m just trying to say that I think that Putzmeister has a nice ring to it, in a German-ish sort of way.

Nastiness

Today I was eating lunch at the new Hoikuen with the Yuri-gumi (Hoikuen is divided by age groups from oldest to youngest: sakura-gumi, yuri-gumi, and ume-gumi) across from a 4 year old boy, while the 4 year old boy in back of me was chewing on my sweatshirt refusing to stop or to admit that it wasn’t “oishii”. When I finally got his jaws open and made him sit a safe distance away, the kid in front, mouth full of fried chicken and rice, lets out a monster sneeze, blowing chunks of partially masticated saliva coated food mixed with atomized snot globules. Yup, the post mortem is right there on my tray. But the teachers didn’t see it and suggest that I should get a new tray full of sanitary food, so I sucked it up and cleaned my plate. All throughout the meal, the 4 year old had an evil smile on his face, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he had done it on purpose. I think that was nastier than involuntarity eating bugs in Thailand.
Today’s random link: Kushami Otaku– for people who really dig sneezes.

It’s Gonna Be A Bright, Bright Sunshiny Day

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The rim of the largest caldera in the world, overlooking Aso-machi. If you look closelyasocalderasmoke.jpg,
you can see steam rising from Aso-san. Sulphuric fumes released from the top of Aso kill a couple of people each year, mostly the old or sick. Recently Aso mountain has been acting a bit “sassy”, and so sometimes you can’t go up (depending on how the volcano has been feeling recently).

Lately the weather has warmed up considerably to the point where I can comfortably wear two layers of clothes in the mountains, and a shirt and shorts in the city! Bugs have begun to come out of hibernation and are slowly making a comeback. I can no longer use my whole kitchen as a giant refrigerator. The snow is disappearing slowly, although the shady sections of the roads remain slick and dangerous (last year, around this time, a friend of mine flipped his car on a warm, sunny afternoon and had to get driven to the airport so that he could make it up to Osaka to watch J5 perform). Hanami is just around the corner, and I think that I am finally getting over my cold (that I caught right when I came back from Korea). Its Monday and I’m exhausted already, but at least we have good weather.

The Soccermom Gang

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A train of minivans, hailing from Fukuoka-ken, visits Ikeyama Suigen in Ubuyama-mura.
Who was it that decided to form minivan club, and who are the people who chose to join? Of all the clubs you could choose to be in, why would you want to be in “minivan-club”. I have seen some pretty cool car clubs around Japan that these guys could have chosen instead or, at least, saved their money and aspired to join in the future.
Driving down the South side of Mt. Aso, I passed a group of 17 red Ferraris and Lambourghinis. In the parking lot of an onsen in Kyokushi, I lusted after the decked out Lancers and Imprezas. At a stop in Shimonoseki along the expressway(after a great weekend of snowboarding) I was truly impressed by the various hot rods that their owners obviously paid a lot of money to acquire and maintain. And these are just a few examples of great colletives of car people.
Minivan club, I mean come on guys! Yes, your Mazda MPV is in cherry condition, and yes, it has nice rims, but its still a friggin’ minivan! Was your mom happy that you sunk all of that money on kitting it out, or did she suggest that you save it up so that you could move out of the basement? I think if I was in minivan club, I would put a wooden panel on the side, you know- like the ones that were common on Chrysler minivans in the 90’s and on station wagons in the 70’s and 80’s.
Well, at least these guys didn’t totally rice out their rides. They could have put ridiculously large sweeping fenders on that look like they belong on a Boeing(Got rice, bitch? BTW, why are there not more pictures up on the net of these hilarious vehicles?). Look, the ONLY van that will EVER pull off a spoiler is a certain red and black GMC driven by Mr. B.A. Baracus.

Subliminal Subjugation

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Take a careful look at this picture. I snapped this one in Okinawa but there are countless others just like it, all over Japan. Focus on it like a rorschach inkblot for a couple of secs. Now, what do you see?
What I see is a member of the Post WWII Occupational Forces, under the authority of Gen. MacArthur, holding the hand of a little Japanese girl. Notice that he’s still wearing a helmet AND a flak jacket, yet he doesn’t seem to be carrying a Thompson or an M-1 Garand… why don such protective gear without any form of weapons(On second though, I do the same thing before I go to shogakko and hoikuen sometimes.). Also, his left arm appears to be freakishly long and wavy, as if made of Silly Putty. Did the little girl pull on his sleeve too hard and stretch it out (this too, I can relate to).
Jumping off on a tangent, I have a theory on why Americans must take a driving test in Japan while Canadians and others that are part of the Commonwealth or the U.K. itself do not in order to obtain a liscense. These signs remind Japanese people every day that they were finally conquered by America, and that they can no longer bellow out anti-foreign rhetoric such as “Expel the foreigners, revere the emperor!” without causing shame and embarrasment to spread to anyone (Japanese) within earshot of them. Although Japan has friendly relations with the U.S., they still are able to get a small amount of retribution by inconveniencing gaijin from the U.S.. Yes, we Americans must submit to the Japanese driving test because they must look at this sign every day. A modern day example of Hamurabbi’s code. At least, thats my theory.

The Presidental Erection

Is how it would sound if you said “The Presidental Election” with a katakana accent. This post, however, is not gonna be about Engrish(at least, not very much), but will explore possible avenues for bringing your little General to attention.
Japanese have many foods you can eat and drinks that you can imbibe that are supposed to put more “boing” in the ol’ wiggle stick. One famous Japanese spirit is known as mamushi-zake. Mamushi-zake is made by putting a Mamushi (a venomous snake of the pit viper family- you can tell it is bad news just by looking at the signature triangular head. Of course, YT tried to catch one that he saw in front of his house last summer, and that wasn’t even the first attempt. gotta stop watching Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin programs…) into a bottle and filling it with a liquer. I have heard that most people use shochu, or awamori in the case of Okinawa, because it is a higher proof than sake. Personally, I am yet to partake of mamushi-zake, but have heard its taste described as “spicy” and “strange”. The buzz from this stuff is supposed to be different from regular alcohol, but I think this is probably just the results of a placebo. Sakata-sensei’s(my previous co-teacher at Ubu JHS) father used to go hunting at Yamabuki suigen for this purpose. Supposedly, the best way to make the liquer is to drown the snake in the alcohol, as it is supposed to increase the potency, and keeps the snake in good condition (what a horrible way to die!).
Okinawa (and other places in Asia) also has their version of Mamushi known as Habu, which are basically the same snake, only bigger. I don’t know this for sure, but I am guessing that Okinawans claim that Habu-shu will give you a bigger boner than Mamushi-zake, because the Habu itself is bigger and more powerful- at least, thats what I would say if I was a Habu-shu vendor.
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Okinawan Habu-shu
Another great “invigorating drink” is known as Toughman, made by Yakult. If you take a look at the third set of pictures down and to the right, you will see a bottle with a golden label. Look closely and you will clearly be able to make out the “frank and beans!”. When Justin first sent me this bottle, I couldn’t believe it. Advertising doesn’t get any more explicit than this. He also sent me some Kit-Kat style chocolate cookies called “Woody”, but these were not a product designed to produce a boner. Unfortunately, this product is no longer sold and I can find no pictures of it on the net. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck: A Guide To Making Your Very Own Habu-shu and Mamushi-zake
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Doesn’t it look like this habu has 3 fangs?
Sure, you can buy Habu-shu and Mamushi-zake from a retailer in an ornate bottle and have it wrapped up all nice and pretty, but this is expensive and does nothing to prove your manliness (might as well use pink wrapping paper with sparkly pink ribbon and a fluffy bow if you buy it at a store. while you’re at it, remember to pick up a six pack of Zima). In order to get the most out of these two liquers, you need to do a little more than just shell out a couple of bucks.
First, you need to find an impressive bottle or jar, preferably one that will magnify the size of your snake (the convex curve of a regular cylindrical bottle or jar will serve just fine. Rectangular vessels should not be used, as they will accurately portray the size of your snake, the equivalent of not holding a fish out in front of you to make it look bigger- try it next time, it works! Also, keep in mind that this is one case where it is not acceptable to use Tupperware or a Ziploc baggie). Regular, uncolored glass is best for this job for obvious reasons. Make sure you also bring a stick, with which to pin the snake down with. I tried using a broom with a short, bamboo handle but this proved not to work very well. You’ve seen the snake sticks that the pros use to capture snakes with on the Discovery Channel, right? Well, if you don’t have your own snake stick, surely you can find a cheap putter at a thrift store or take one from your local Minature Golf park (ahem…what I meant to say, was to BUY one…). This has a similar shape to the snake stick, and you can use it for a post-snake catching round of golf to celebrate your victory. You really should bring a friend along with a video camera to capture the whole adventure. If you are bitten, at least your family can see how you spent your last moments writhing in agony and foaming at the mouth. Last thing to bring along: get yourself some shochu, or preferably awamori (because it’s stronger). Aw hell, forget that stuff, get yourself some vodka, because vodka and shochu are pretty much the same stuff. No, scratch that, since we’re going for power, might as well get yourself some Everclear (I was told that Everclear has such a high percentage of alcohol, that if shaken or exposed to light, it will denature into a lesser proof. I think that Everclear is the same as Spiritus, which I can only describe as “pure evil”).
Ok, now you can move on to the next step: finding your mamushi/habu. These snakes generally live in riparian habitats, next to streams or water. I have heard that they also climb trees, but so far have seen them basking on roads or hidden among leaf litter/grass. They move very fast, so be careful! If you are bitten, get to a koban (police box) as some of them carry antivenom. Your best bet is to get to a hospital, though. My advice: don’t get bitten. You should really read this to find out what you should do in case you are bitten. Some people kill the mamushi (I will refer to both snakes as “mamushi” because I am getting tired of typing out “mamushi/habu”) before putting them in the bottle, but real men catch them live and pour in the liquor. They then watch with a perverse fascination as the mamushi reacts to the burning agony of drowning in alcohol, thrashing around like an enraged dragon! Slowly, the beast will succumb to its fate, and you can walk back proudly, holding the jar in front of you like King Arthur brandishing the Holy Grail.
You will need to let the brew age, so that the alcohol becomes infused with snakey goodness. Supposedly, the venom diffuses into the alcohol and this is what gives mamushi-zake its potency. You will need to let the stuff sit for a long time (maybe 6 months to a year) in a cool, dry area. But it is, at least, equally important to remember to put it in a place where everyone will see it. Personally, I would put mine on top of the toilet or next to the TV. After all, there’s no point in being brave if you can’t prove it to others.
Ah, you will know your snake-flavored booze is ready when it turns the color of Jack Daniels, or maybe a few shades lighter. Remember, this is potent stuff so only drink a few shots at most per session(you only really need one shot, but… ah you already know what I’m going to say…). Also, some people have an allergic reaction to mamushi-shu. If you start to develop rashes or start asphyxiating because your throat swells up, that is probably a sign that you have an allergy. It might be a good idea to use Toughman or another product instead to achieve the desired results.
To make your mamushi-zake last as long as possible, don’t chug down the whole bottle. Instead, you should drink about half of it and refill with the same type of alcohol that you originally used as a base. You can do this many times over and over again, but each time it will be a little less potent.
Finally, don’t throw out the snake after you exaust your supply. Like the worm in a bottle of tequila, it should be eaten by the person who takes the last shot. So that about covers everything. If this “how to” guide inspires you to make habu-shu or mamushi-zake, I would like to hear about it! Good luck.

Virus Update

I don’t feel any better about the avian flu situation in Kyushu after reading this. Yesterday I was told that poultry farmers in Ubuyama are not allowed to sell eggs or any other chicken products until further notice. This morning, the officials inspected our chicken and came up with nothing, but Kokonoe is not very far away. Take a look at the map below:
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(from the Daily Yomiuri Shimbun)
Man, that would really suck if I had to stay put in Ubuyama due to a quarantine. You never know- its not beyond the scope of probability, in fact, I predict that the Government is gonna start quarentining areas if people start getting scared, like they were about SARS last year.

Sick Irony

This year’s SARS is Avian Flu. Last year, many JETs were unable to travel to Southeast Asia, and even Australia because everyone’s Board Of Education was scared to death. I was barely able to slip out (turned off my cell phone because Joe warned me that his BOE had forced him and Jason to cancel their trip to Japan) with Justin and Nam to Thailand. Once there, I didn’t once think about SARS, except when other people mentioned that the Secratary of Health (or some important Thai Guy in charge of the wellness of the Thai people) was offering something like 10 grand to the families of any person who died because they caught SARS in Thailand. Supposedly, really poor people were trying to get infected and come into Thailand to claim the reward…
Imagine my surprise right now. I just walked in, and on the front page of the Daily Yomiuri reads: “Avian flu hits bantams in Oita Pref.” with a huge map with an X on it about 30 minutes drive from my house. I was just thinking at lunch “Hmmmm… Ubuyama has a lot of chickens, but Avian flu would never reach this far from Yamaguchi (which is located on the southern-most tip of the main island of Honshu, just North of Kyushu). Its too bad that some schools have made the teachers take over caring for the chickens, and that some have even killed all of theirs in order to be on the safe side. Ah, I better eat faster, it looks like Miki-chan is catching up to me…”. And so, we will see how this affects Ubuyama. Luckily I don’t live next to the chicken farm like my supervisor.