Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ding-dong, the witch is dead

Saddam Hussein, 69, executed by hanging in Iraq

So I awake this morning to reports of Saddam Hussein being hanged, and I'm not sure what to think. Sure he's a total douche of a scumbag and killed thousands upon thousands in not-so-nice fashion, and I totally expected this as the outcome of the whole thing - if anyone in this world deserves to be taken out, then he was definitely a prime candidate. I think the only people that would really dispute that fact are those that don't believe that capital punishment should ever be carried out under any circumstances, and I'm sure that for some if they were ever to make an exception he'd at least make the list of possible candidates.

There are some things with the whole situation that don't sit well with me though, and they definitely could've (and should've in my view) handled a few things much better than they did. First off, they executed him on the grounds of one incident of 150 or so Shias back in 1982, which means that the majority of the people who lost family due to atrocities carried out under his regime weren't fully given the recognition they deserved. I think that if they took him to trial for all the things he's done then not only would it have been more satisfying to a larger amount of Iraqis, but it would've also served to squelch some of the international backlash that is bound to rear its head as people worldwide start pointing their fingers back to the White House. It also would've been nice if he was tried in an international court instead of an Iraqi/US one so people can't complain about impartiality, even though I can't imagine anyone trying to argue that Hussein was actually an innocent little angel that didn't deserve whatever he got.

Another rather disturbing piece of news I saw along side of the whole Hussein thing was a recent John Hopkins study estimating that some 650,000 or so Iraqis have died since 2003, which averages out to about 500 people a day. Bush and Co. apparently don't accept the study, but both US and Iraqi governments appear unlikely to give alternate in depth studies any time soon. To me it's disturbing when they list Iraq casualties in terms of the US soldiers lost and discount all the others that die in the course of war. Of course they don't want to count the numbers of the dead among the opposition though... that would just remind them that they're human too. I think officially accepted numbers up to this point were somewhere between 30,000-45,000, which is still totally rediculous. The study says that of the people interviewed, deaths among those families are substantially higher now than they were before US involvement, and about 31% of the casualties can be directly attributed to US-led forces.

full article

Anyway you look at it, the whole situation has been poorly handled from the beginning - it's nothing but a damn bloodbath over there that we never should've been involved in.

Oh, and in other news: this guy is a total dork.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My last day of work!!

Happy, New Year!!!

Yep, so today was my last day of work in the year of 2006 - it's been a fun year for sure! I get the 29th ~ 3rd off for New Year's since everyone here goes home and visits with family out here this time of year. Except for me, and a handful of other people I've come across in the past few weeks. So then what are my plans you ask? Well, I was graciously invited to spend New Year's Eve with the family of this lady that hosts a cooking show on a local cable station that I appeared on (don't worry, I'll have a copy of the broadcast as soon as it's done airing), so I'll be doing the whole traditional Japanese thing like I wanted to. For the uninitiated, this involves watching this cheesy karaoke-like show called "kohaku" while playing games with the adopted fam, then eating what's called toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles). There's also a special kind of rice wine that's served and some other weird stuff from what I hear. Anyway, then they go out to do a shrine (or temple) visit. This whole series of events is actually spread over a couple days usually.

So yeah, that's New Year's for me. If you're wondering how Christmas went this year, well not too bad actually. I had to work the entire weekend leading up to it because I played MC Santa at work at this "Santa Cafe"/music event, which actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. After that finished on Christmas Eve I went and did some capoeira, then on Christmas day I went out with a couple friends for some drinks and stuff - yes, karaoke was involved. All in all, better than it was in Chiba a few years back. If you check out my pictures I've uploaded a bunch of the event.

I have plenty of stuff planned over the next couple weeks to keep me busy... snowboarding, New Year's-ing, traveling, etc. So yeah, enjoy New Year's, whatever you do, and I'll see you on the other side in '07.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas in Japan - not all that different?

I have absolutely no idea what comes to mind when you think of Christmas in Japan, but you might think of a country with no long Christian tradition, thus meaning that it's nothing at all like back home, right? Well - yes and no. Yes, it's different in that it's not a national holiday so people still work, and it's not the big family holiday that it is back home. It's not common to give everyone presents, and the whole thing is sort of like Valentine's Day, only with a cake. Incidentally, it used to be common to call unmarried women over the age of 25 "Christmas cakes" since the day after Christmas all the leftover cakes are priced half-off... it has since become not that unusual to see older unmarried women, so now it's probably more like 30 or 35 or so. Maybe they should start calling it like osechi or something... cool, that even sounds sorta dirty!

But digressing, there are a bunch of similarities as well, especially in my part of the country. You see, Japanese people have really latched on to the more superficial aspects of Christmas: they love Christmas carols, the lights, Santa, and Christmas trees. I found a bunch of Christmas cards in the big stationary/card place in town with no problem. You can even buy Santa suits and decorations at the 100¥ store if you really want to, but you get what you pay for if you know what I mean. Christmas cookies, cakes, all that stuff.

Sendai in particular is quite well known for its annual Pageant of Starlight, in which all the main streets are brilliantly lit up between the 12th and 31st of the month of December as can be seen in the picture to the right. People decorate their own houses with Christmas trees and lights - a - plenty. Everywhere you go, including my own Kokusaimura, everyone's wishing people a Merry Christmas and looking festive. "But wait", you say, "that's only the commercialized aspect of Christmas!" Exactly.

And that's exactly why I say in many ways it's just like back home. Commercialism has taken over Christmas and distorted the whole meaning of the holiday, and that's just as true here as it is back home. Nowadays, what most people are worried about is giving off the appearance of Christmas and getting good gifts from friends and family. Look at things like the notorious "Black Friday" - the shopping day from hell. Do people usually look very happy when they're out shopping like this? No - it must be done. Have they ever thought that maybe you don't have to get someone that new PS3 or whatever in order for their kids to enjoy the holidays? Unheard of - kids will complain if they're the only ones that don't have one. I'm no different - as a kid I looked forward to getting oodles of presents more than anything else and didn't once think about the whole concept of the "spirit of giving" or any of that. At least I knew the whole back story of it celebrating Jesus' birth and didn't associate it with Santa really, but Japanese people know of the religious back story as well. And similar to a goodly portion of Americans, they latch onto the secular traditions as opposed to the religious ones because they aren't practicing Christians and it has no meaning to them.

So although it was known of and although there were a small number of Christian Japanese beforehand, Christmas didn't really gain popularity in Japan until post-WWII during the period of US Occupation between 1945-1952. Basically you could say that Japanese only know Christmas as well as they've learned from us, which leads me to postulate that they picked up all the commercialism as it already existed in the US. So in terms of commercialism, Christmas to me is the same here as it is back home
. The thing I definitely miss the most out here though is spending time with family and friends, which will never be replaced. I miss people the most this time of year, so don't forget about me!!

Oh, and just as another little factoid regarding Christmas, do you know how the day December 25th was picked?
The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus’ birth, and therefore the exact date had not been preserved in festivals. The first recorded mention of December 25 is in the Calendar of Philocalus (354 A.D.) which assumed Jesus’ birth to be Friday, December 25, 1 A.D. When the Emperor Constantine eventually declared Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire in the Edict of Toleration in 312 A.D., the persecuted Christians exchanged the rags of hiding for the silks of the court. The predictable expediency to adopt the inevitable cultural changes caused many of the former pagan rituals to be adapted to their new “Christian” trappings. The date of December 25th, which was officially proclaimed by the church fathers in 440 A.D., was actually a vestige of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, observed near the winter solstice, which itself was among the many pagan traditions inherited from the earlier Babylonian priesthood.
So December 25th corresponding to Jesus' birth is in fact basically the excuse the Romans gave to the Christian world to celebrate the winter solstice with them. Some people think the real birth took place around January 6th, and those following Eastern Christianity still celebrate Christmas at this time. Some other theologians insist that known facts point to a birth in the spring sometime, but no one knows for sure.

One last parting thing that used to always bother my mom:
Christmas is sometimes shortened to Xmas, an abbreviation that has a long history. In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ (Χριστός). Since the mid-sixteenth century Χ, or the similar Roman letter X, was used as an abbreviation for Christ.
And with that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas season and urge you all to do something truly Christmasy. Give someone something for no reason. Volunteer your time to someone. Help people. Also, if you have the chance to spend the holidays with family then feel privileged - I wish I could have the pleasure. Unfortunately, oft times family's really one of those things you don't miss until it's gone. So on your mark, get set, Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Yes, I can use chopsticks

One thing I hear a bunch of people who first come to Japan saying is that in the beginning, meeting people in Japan can often be a rather arduous ordeal of monotony. Really if you think about it though, I think the same can be said of other groups as well, albeit it usually to a lesser extent. Really the biggest difference is the type of questions you get asked over. And over. And over. And... yeah. Basically what this means is that if you don't actively do everything in your power to come up with something interesting to say then things are going to devolve into the same old boring interview session that happens when you first meet people. I loathe this with a passion and will resort to making totally random observations or asking absurdly unrelated questions about whatever my mind happens to drift to at that moment.

As an example of what I'm talking about on the non-Japanese monotony tip, when I first came to Japan this time around I was in a convention center with a couple thousand people in similar situations to me - just got a job somewhere in Japan through the same organization doing one of two main jobs: ALT or CIR. So usually, meeting people meant answering many times over where you were from, where your placement was, where you had been in Japan before, what job you were doing back home, etc. In contrast, I asked people to pick between pirates and ninjas, and asked them if they could think of one situation that wouldn't be funnier with a monkey involved. And that's right off the bat too - I'm talking sometimes even before I asked what their name was - just to avoid the inevitable onslaught of loathsome queries.

So with Japanese people it's the same inquisition, just with a different set of questions/ observations. "Where are you from?" "How long have you been in Japan? Oh, only xxx? Then how'd you get so good at Japanese? You must be a genius!" "Can you eat sushi?" "You're really good with chopsticks!" Sigh. I guess to them this is original conversation... but I've answered all these questions so many times that I don't even have to think to spout out the answers at the speed of light. I could understand the lack of variety if we were speaking in English and the language was becoming a barrier, but I'm talking in Japanese the whole time with these people. It usually gets even more tedious when they speak English. The thing is though that like I said, you really can't leave the conversation up to people or this is exactly where it's headed oft times. You have to take the conversation into your own hands, or else you wind up riding the wave wherever it may take you. With most people you'll usually have a few of these questions until you fall onto something you both have in common and can go off on tangents with, but with such stagnant topics as my Japanese and my l33t chopstick skillz they don't really give me much to work with.

I guess the other big difference is that the Japanese questions are sort of pandering - they seemed amazed that you can do the most mundane of tasks. I can eat fish - wow, amazing! I mean seriously, how would you survive living in Japan for more than a week or 2 without using chopsticks? There are some restaurants here that don't even have forks and knives - what would you do? Sometimes I give people totally off-the-wall responses, like telling them I was raised by a caravan of nomad Chinese acrobats and thus was also trained in the mystic ways of the stick. Some people get the joke, some don't. Either way I've amused myself and thus my mission is complete.

The other day at the bonenkai (year end party) the new head of the restaurant here at work came up to me and started giving me book recommendations since he saw me reading a book in Japanese at the restaurant the day before. It was great - after that we talked about snowboarding and other stuff we had in common... it was just a normal conversation, and it was wonderful. It just takes time to meet cool people like that - you have to sludge through all the people too amazed at your existence to sit down and have a normal conversation to get to them though. I really am resigned to the fact that these kinds of questions usually are inevitable around here - it's just all about how you deal with them, and more importantly how you avoid them. There are some people that are pretty fun once you get them past all that, but when non-Asians make up around 0.5% of the population you have to expect that the vast majority of people have never really sat down and gotten to know one well enough to know how rediculous some of the things that tv feeds them about us really are. And that, my friends, is why they pay me - to break up their silly little notions and make them think a little (about pirates, ninjas, monkeys, and nomadic Chinese circus performers).

Because words alone totally blow

Ok, so I'm FINALLY getting around to uploading some real pics for youse guys n gals out there - check out my flickr account either here or on the little tab thingie that I'm pointing to right now, but since you can't see where I'm pointing just look to your right. No, other right you putz... yeah, that one. Hopefully that'll be enough to keep you happy for a while. Oh, and in closing Stevie Wonder rocks, and if you don't agree with me then you totally suck. ;P

And if that's not enough for you, here's the Headline of the Century!!! Courtesy of George.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

My body must hate me by now (Pt. II)

...and we're back. See, that was the weekend, but I wasn't done.

Then Tuesday, which I have off every week, was the bonenkai, or Japanese end of the year party. In addition to having a cool and appropriate name (bonenkai = "forget the year party") , these are awesome because it gives you a chance to do some "nomunication", which is a Japanese hybrid of the work for drinking ("nomu") and... well you get it. Anyway, it's a great bonding experience for all, you get to learn cool stuff and juicy gossip about your fellow workers, and it's entirely normal and almost expected of you to drink yourself stupid. Unfortunately Boss, who we last left with his girdle, is now in the hospital where he is scheduled to be through the new year (!!!) with a bad back, so he didn't join. I did go out with one guy from work to visit Boss before heading out to have a drink before the drinking commenced. Then after 2 hours of drinking, half of us went somewhere to drink. They had Guinness in stock when we got there, but I took care of that. Afterwards I dragged a few of them out to everyone's favorite, costume karaoke, after which I took a taxi back with some new friends somewhere around 2-3ish.

Things I found out - one of three big heads at work is seperated, and his wife teaches piano weekly at work despite the fact that they can't stand each other. They were both there. This one guy wants to go to soccer games with me next year and invited me to sing a few songs with his Blue Hearts cover band. The new owner of the restaurant and his assistant are not only about my age, but also enjoy among other things drinking, karaoke, and snowboarding!

So... awakened by my phone the next morning at 9:30, I slept in. I rush out to do a school visit, then out to the recording studio that afternoon... more on that next time. It was definitely good times though.

My body must hate me by now (Pt. I)

Before I get started here, one tidbit of WTF?!??!!!??? news: the days of Doug sleeping in the buff (or anything close to it) are over, or at least out of season. There is no way to sleep out here without anything less than 2 layers of clothing top and bottom, one being something with full sleeves and legs. The other day I went out in the kitchen to whip up some sweet grilled cheeses with the authentic Kraft cheedar cheese slices I found (quite happy about that), and I could see my breath!!!

Oh, and if you look to your left you'll see a little gem I ran across - "non-alcohole"! Reminds of the story I heard of that guy that died of alcohol poisoning when he found out that the large intestine absorbs liquor faster than most any part of the anatomy through direct contact....... ok, you get it? Because I'm soooo not explaining it any further.

Yeah... so this past week or so I've been pretty harsh to my body, but not without good reason of course. The other day, my neighbor Joe made a rather astute observation in that despite the fact that I say that I normally only drink a bunch when there's a special reason, lately there's been an inordinate amount of special reasons. ;P After thinking about it, I think it's because I'm still not totally satisfied with where I am socially around here and am really just trying to drown my dissatisfactions and frustrations. I think this part of the equation is slowly getting better though, as I've met some cool people along the course of the week and am having more of a social life. Another piece of advice I heard from a few people actually was to go out and do stuff as much as possible over the winter so you don't wind up holed up in your room glued to the kotatsu... mmm.... warm, toasty kotatsu...

So anyway, here's the last week or so in a nutshell. Friday, Matt was in town, so I go in town with my friend Kevin to show him a good time, which I definitely believe we were sucessful in doing. We first went to a gyutan restaurant, which is the most famous specialty of Sendai. So we get to this place and sit down, check out the menu and order. I yelled out our order as the waitress was walking towards us with plate in hand, which she promptly placed on the table almost before I could finish speaking! Apparently from what she said, since that's what the place is known for they knew what we were going to order as soon as we walked in the door. I found out later that there's another place that's known for the softer style (which is my preference) so I'll check that one out next time. Anyway, from there we head out to a great bar on the other side of the station, where a middle-aged guy was hitting on Matt (ie: he was highly and overly interested in the tall foreigner guy, who he insisted looks like Legolas from LOTR) and we met 3 girls with the same name that met each other online, which was rather surreal but very entertaining. After some time, we allegedly went to another bar and talked to more people, but I'm just taking Matt's word for all that.

Skip forward to the next morning, when I wake up in Matt's hotel with both of us still spinning from the night before after a couple hours sleep. He was there for work, so we go check out his exhibit thingy (experimental alternative fuel cells - hydrogen powered cars) and then I scuttle off to work attempting to drag myself through the day. Oh, and did I mention it was snowing? Here's the view from my balcony when I got back to change before work.

So after work I was beat, but I had already arranged for this Japanese guy Senyu to meet us so I dragged myself out for another night of festivities. I'm glad I did though as we had a blast - I saved my liver some trouble by driving to Sendai and playing designated driver. More craziness ensued. The next day was all about recuperation, and I needed it. All in all, a crazy weekend.

Oh, and the following message is for anyone named Matt, aka Legolas:

To be continued...

Friday, December 08, 2006

I'm special-er than I thought

...and not just because of my outstanding ability to turn a colorful phrase - because I'm left-handed! I remember hearing a while back somewhere that the ratio of left to right-handers is just a tad lower, but after a conversation with someone today at lunch I looked something up and found that the world's lefty population is around 10-13% or so - I knew that lefties were less frequent than righties, but I didn't think it was that lop-sided! Some of the other interesting factoids I found in my query:

  • More men are left-handed that women.
  • Although there are indeed more intelligent lefties than righties, there are also more learning disabled lefties including autism, Down's, epilepsy, dyslexia, retardation, etc, so things go both ways on that one. To illustrate this I embody both, as I am either a genius or a total retard depending on the situation and rarely am to be found anywhere in between.
  • Twins are more likely to be lefty, and in the case of identical twins if one twin is then the other has a 76% chance of being lefty as well.
  • Gay people may be as much as 39% as likely to be left-handed as straight people.
  • In 2006, researchers at Lafayette College and Johns Hopkins University in a study found that left-handed men are 15% richer than right-handed men for those who attended college, and 26% richer if they graduated. The wage difference is still unexplainable and does not appear to apply to women.
  • Left-handed people are always cooler than right-handed people. Honest!!! ;P
So the way the conversation went was that this guy at work was checking out my wicked sharp chopstick skills, as Japanese people like to do, and noticed that I was using my left hand. So apparently the guy sitting across from me was left-handed as well, but he uses his right hand with chopsticks and writing because that's the way he was taught growing up. I told him about how both my grandparents on my dad's side are righty and yet all 4 of their kids are lefties, which leads me to believe that they were also taught not to be lefties. I know that back in the day they used to teach lefties to do stuff righty in the US as well, and it's still said that with Chinese characters (which are known as kanji in Japanese) right-handers have a decided advantage in writing legibly because the strokes were designed to be written as such. I also reminisced about how when playing games in arcades as a kid I crossed my arms if I had to so the joystick was in my left hand.

Here's some more "leftist" reading for you:

Read me!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ode to the kotatsu

Ah yes, the kotatsu - what a wonderful invention! I'd say that I'll kiss the guy who came up with the idea, but apparently he's some ancient nameless Chinese guy, so besides the fact that he's dust by now and that'd be disgusting I have the feeling that searching for his remains in the first place would be an exercise in futility.

What was I talking about again? Oh yeah! The kotatsu and how it makes my otherwise freezing Durgicile nice and toasty! My toes are piping hot right now, like some Bearded Papa's Cream Puffs, and it's all thanks to the wonderous kotatsu. I broke this bad boy out today for the first time, and I honestly don't know what I was waiting for! It's the best thing since cheese, and that's saying a lot.

Elsewhere in the current winterfication project that is my apartment, I went out and got some bubble wrap to cover my windows. Why you ask? Because they haven't caught onto the whole concept of double-paned windows and proper sealing practices, let alone centralized heating. So if I turn on the heater with the windows wrapped, at least it stays warm for a little bit and I don't lose it all in the draft. The sad thing is that there's a whole section of bubble wrap and window sealing kits in stores - they realize it's a problem, so why don't they fix it? Ah well.

Some other nice little things I've heard to look forward to:

  • water pipes freezing: apparently it's a good idea to leave your faucet dripping overnight on really cold nights, and to turn off your water if you leave for extended periods of time.
  • frozen toothpaste(!!): and get this - someone's solution to this was to put it in the fridge overnight!!
  • in extreme cases... frozen toilets: I shit you not, someone's solution to this was to pour vodka or some other potent form of liquor in the toilet water overnight as it has a lower freezing temperature than water. Most toilets have heated seats around here, but mine's old so I just had to go get a cover as to not freeze my pasty-white tuckus (I don't care if I spelled that wrong, sorry).
  • unsalted, unplowed roads: for whatever reason, they don't believe in doing this, so if it snows heavily I can expect to find snow on the roads for up to a good 2 weeks. As a consequence, if you have not put snow tires on your car by the 1st of December, any accident you get in will automatically be deemed solely your fault.
In stark contrast to this, if you go further north to the island of Hokkaido they normally have it right when it comes to heating. Good insulation, good windows with modern seals and such, snow plows, and... are you ready for it? Heated sidewalks!!! That's right, no matter how high the snow may pile up in Sapporo (and it gets pretty high), the sidewalks are clear and ice-free thanks to heated sidewalks. They also apparently have a huge underground mall from what I hear too, but I've never seen it. And I shall leave you with a quote from a certain Canuckistanian, who shall remain nameless, regarding Hokkaido:
"Hokkaido is like Canada, just with a bunch of Japanese people running around."
Ok, it was Matt. I lied.

And finally, here's your Engrish fix of the day, courtesy of the local Rifu Jasco (the kids call it "Rifujasu" for short... the one in Tagajo is "Tagajasu"), where incidentally I happened to find a restaurant with real Quesadillas!!! Here you go:

It's the variety store of amusement... but only for 3 short minutes. Talk about a quickie.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sexless housewives?

So here's the links for the full articles:

article 1
article 2
article 3
article 4

So in my wanderings around online today, I wandered across this little gem. Ever heard of the Sex Volunteer Corps? This is a rather interesting (to me) development that arose due to the large number of sexually deprived married women in Japan. Reading through these articles, apparently it's quite common for guys to not get down and dirty with their wives - one article said,
"The problem among many Japanese men is that fairly soon after they get married, they begin to see their wives as their mothers, there to cook and clean for them. That makes it very hard to find them sexually attractive again."
One subject in her 40's said the perverbial ship had not docked in her harbor in some 20 years, and another said that even after being married for years they both remained virgins! The doctor had this to say on the topic:
"It's usually cases where the couple have remained virgins all the while up until their marriage, then botch their first attempt on their wedding night and lose the confidence to ever try it again," the country's most renowned sex therapist says. "Even when they reach an age when their biological clock starts ticking at a frenetic case, they're hamstrung because they don't know how to go about doing it, and neither does the husband. What they need is expert care the very first time."
Wow, just wow. Now if you haven't heard, Japan is greatly in fear of the threat of an increasingly aging society - not enough people are having kids nowadays, so along with a decreasing population comes the worries that there won't be enough of a working class to support all the old people.

Not only does this put a strain on the economy, it also has made them look into alternatives such as foreign workers and such. The Japanese Diet had a meeting talking about the issue of foreign migrant workers recently though, and you know what they decided? They discussed putting further restrictions on things and even the possibility of setting a ceiling limit of 3% for the foreign immigrant population. There are an increasingly large number of these Chinese, Brazilian, Peruvian, etc. workers that come over to do the cheap labor and factory work that Japanese people don't want to do though, and it does put some cultural strain on society. I recently heard that in one prefecture, Mie, 1 in 5 residents is a foreign national.

And all that just because Mr. Noda doesn't wanna bump uglies with his wife. She just wants some loving - come on, give it to her. Don't make her beg for it.

JLPT hangover

The word of the day is: blah. Yesterday I took a Japanese test. In the test room that seated 100 on this occasion, I was accompanied by 97 Chinese people. Yep, that's right - I was one of 3 people that were non-Asian taking this test. Yes, I counted. I'm sure not all of them were Chinese (probably a few Koreans as well), but all the names I saw on test booklets were Chinese, so I'm assuming the majority of them were. Remember, there's like 1.3 BILLION Chinese people in China alone, and Mandarin is more widely spoken as a mother tongue than English - if you're "one in a million" in China, that means there are 1,300 people just like you!!! So the test started at about 10 and ended at about a quarter past 3 for level 1, which means we got to spend a good 5 hours together. They stared at me a lot when they thought I wasn't looking. I was.

So following the aforementioned hellacious Level 1 JLPT which went down, a bunch of people went out to commiserate... er, I mean celebrate. I was only one of 2 there that sat Level 1, but quite a few people took either 2 or 3 (they count down). Despite a bunch of studying, I have little confidence that I passed, mainly because of the last section. Hopefully, I'm totally off on that prediction, but only time will tell on that one. Anyways, back to the fun part of the evening. They went out to dinner, I wasn't hungry since I just had a couple tuna-filled rice balls an hour before that I brought along, so I just got a beer. Then I had a beer to wash it down with for dessert. After that, we went to the coolest karaoke place EVER, and I'll tell you why. No, better yet I'll show you:

That's right - this place had costumes!! Here we see some guy in his spiffy rhinestone cowboy hat, and that other guy dressed up as the panda (screw names). The panda greatly resembles how I felt after 5 hours in a room with 97 Chinese people and that horrid test - fat, bloated, and with 2 black eyes.

...and here we find 2 young test-takers allowing their youthful exuberance to shine. There was undoubtedly some 80's music playing in the background at this time.

And finally, we have a picture of me giving some loving to one of the girls in the group... I don't think she was expecting that, but whatever.

I didn't really feel so hot about things this morning when I had to wake up and then ride over to where I left my car - took about an hour roundtrip to go somewhere that normally takes me about 5-10mins. to get to. I made it through the day though without passing out on my desk at work, so I consider that a personal victory. Yey me. This message has been brought to you by: "blah." And the letter "C."

Friday, December 01, 2006

We hope you all a happy Merry Christmas!!

So the above is what the caption on the lower right originally was going to say, but that's what they keep me around for, right? So it's getting to be that time of year around here and they are certainly into the decorations thing. Besides them working on the decorations around here for the past 3 days at work, I've seen a couple random houses around town that are lit up, which I never saw back in Chiba. It sorta reminds me of how way more people up in PA around my brother's place went all out for Halloween decorations than around my place in the 'burbs. So yeah, Christmas looks to be interesting - I'll try and get better pics once things are done and all lit up. I of course brought my Santa hat with me, which shall be for all intents and purposes glued to my skull for the better part of the next month.

And in other news, I would like to take this opportunity to say hi to Mike out in Seoul! I hadn't heard from him in a while, but I might have a chance to meet up with him in the not to distant future - we studied in Chiba together. Check out his blog if you want in the links. Oh, and as an aside, Mike's quote of the day was "feeding only breast milk 7 months aged babys may help in case of regurgitating babies." They have Engrish in Korea too!! Personally I like Chinglish... search around for some good Chinese English restaurant menus and you'll know what I mean. I also hear that they get Buddha's birthday off in Korea, and they call it Buddhanikuh. Ok, I made up that last part.

Now this weekend coming up is the annual JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), and I'm again taking the highest level. I failed last year with a 60% (70% is passing, btw) and am hoping to do a little better this time around considering I've been busting my hump on the books and have a lot more daily practice now. Normally this test means that you have the basic knowledge required to apply to tertiary educational facilities as a normal student, so that'd put me at something like the level of a high school senior if I could actually speak up to that level. All I know is that half the stuff I'm learning now is the kind of stuff that I'll either never use or have to go waaaay out of my way to do so - or just read more I guess as some of it's literary stuff.

Oh, and finally basketball. Sweet, lovely college basketball. I leave the country for a year and what happens? The Terps take the frickin' championship for the first time ever! Then I come back just in time for the past 2 years of lackluster mediocrity. Now I'm out of the country again, and here they come! 8-0! So I hear this Greivis guy looks pretty good and we have a decent point guard and stuff, but I haven't gotten a chance to actually watch any games yet. I'm trying to set it up to have this guy record stuff for viewing online on his Slingbox, which is one of the coolest things to come out since Hello Kitty toilet paper, along of course with the rest of the fine line of Sanrio inspired products. So cross your fingers on that one - if they keep it up and I can't watch games anytime I want by the time the ACC season starts I will not be a happy individual.

Ok, time to go to my tutor's before I check out Yodobashi Camera to point and stare at all the people standing in line for the Wii, which shall be released at midnight tonight I believe. I'd love for someone around me to buy it so I can go over and play it for free... I know, I'm such a nice guy sometimes.