Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Gaijin Smash - part 1

So here I am - finally posting from Japan!

Granted, I've already been here for over a month, but training for the job was intense (see further on) and I hadn't/haven't (I may end up posting this from my iPod from a street corner…) managed to get internet access set up in my apartment now that I've moved all the way down to a small town near(ish) Fukuoka.

So anyway, I rocked on over with Alitalia around the 18th October, and it was all good unlike my nightmare travelling with Iberia to and from Argentina (I will dedicate a post to this, as it is still an as yet unresolved issue). Alitalia isn't quite as good as the Asian airlines I've travelled with, but for a European carrier they weren't half bad despite being pretty tight on the luggage allowance - I was made to empty 1kg from my suitcase so that it would be 23kg, and take stuff out of my hand luggage to get it to 10kg. Yes that's right 33kg to PACK YOUR LIFE AWAY FOR A WHOLE YEAR.

Tokyo was much unchanged. I took a trip to my old apartment and the university to see how stuff was (pretty much the same), and I met with some old friends for a few drinks and food before getting the overnight bus to Nagoya to start training.

Now in England as far as I'm aware we don't have any overnight buses but I have experienced a fair few in Argentina and they are often phenomenally good. Japan's overnight bus was OK. OK if you are under 5'4". Unfortunately I am not and I practically had to crawl to my seat as I was too tall to stand up, and then I had to take up the whole of the aisle with my legs as there was no way on earth they would have fitted in the "space" i had been allocated. All I can say is I'm thankful to whoever gave me the aisle seat, as there is no way I would have fit by the window.

Nagoya was a new experience to me as I had never been to the city, and it remains a new experience as I still haven't really been to the city. I arrived at 6am having had barely any sleep, and tried to go to the office after having leisurely breakfast/sleep at the station only to be informed that I wasn't expected until 3pm… Lame. They said I could fill in the paperwork early and find my own way to the accommodation, but I assumed it was a bit of a hike and I didn't really fancy it with my 23.2kg suitcase and 10kg hand luggage (Hey, I had barely any sleep!) so I left my stuff in the office and set about getting an early lunch and drinking a looooong coffee while watching episodes of The Wire on my laptop (thanks Matt for the suggestion).

Come 3pm I was back in the office signing some forms and then I was taken by car to the training centre/accommodation which turned out to only be a 10 minute walk away. I spent the rest of that Saturday and Sunday overcoming the jet lag that I hadn't yet managed to kick, and meeting some of the other trainees. Had I realised training would be so intensive, I would have made more of a point of partying during those two days, as they were pretty much our only free days, aside from the following Sunday, during the whole of training.

I spent the first two days staying at the training centre attending seminars there, but on Tuesday afternoon I was told to pack my shit up and take the shinkansen to Osaka with half of the other trainees in order to continue my training there. We were put up in a hotel and from then on it was either attending group training sessions from 10am or going and viewing actual teachers teaching classes for the rest of the two weeks training. Doesn't sound like much, but when we were perhaps getting back at 11pm one night only to have to prepare lesson demos for the following day, and then getting up at 6am to get to the classroom for 9am - it took a lot out of me.

Thats not to say that I and the other trainees were not able to squeeze in a bit of the Big Ones., but they were quite literally squeezed in. My first day off was a Sunday, but people got back really late from visiting classrooms on Saturday, so there wasn't really much chance to have some Big Ones - I ended up going for a couple of brewskis with one of the other trainees and then calling it a night.

The next day off was after training finished on the following Saturday. We had a test in the Osaka office (I got top of the group with 92% - BOOM!), went over some last minute admin and then were finally released with train tickets to our various locations for Monday morning. The plan was to go and get the Big Ones started… Big Time. But unfortunately we started to shed people who didn't want to go out, until it ended up being just the 'LADS' - me, another English guy and a Canadian. The girls had all bailed for various reasons, and the Canadian guy was quick to point out that 'girls are like money - you need them to make them'; suggesting that our prospects for the evening were unlikely to be very good. However, he was able to remedy the situation somewhat by suggesting that we meet with two female friends of his that he had met the last time he was in Osaka.

We turned up half an hour late, and spent an hour looking for them before we finally found them and were able to get our first celebratory 'training is over' beer. The plan was to get the last train back to where our hotel was (at 12.10am), so at around 10.30pm we decided to go and do an hour of all-you-can-drink karaoke (Big Mistake).

Now, its at this point that I should explain the term 'Gaijin Smash'. Its a term I had heard before, but never really fully appreciated until this night. Gaijin Smashing, as far as I understand it, is breaking Japanese social norms by living up to the Japanese people's stereotypical views of foreigners being loud, forward and entertaining. Its not about being rude or offensive, or about breaking laws, but it is about doing things that normal Japanese people wouldn't do due to social expectations - such as talking on the train, walking down the street while eating, crossing an empty street when the red man is showing etc.

Anyway, so the five of us went to all-you-can-drink karaoke and did indeed proceed to drink all we could. I think we got through 5 pitchers of beer and 4 cocktails before our hour was up. We stumbled out of the building and proceeded to piggy-back each other all the way to the station (I think). It is at this point that my memory becomes a little hazy, and I am unsure exactly when we went our separate way from the girls, but we ended up taking the correct subway back towards the train station from where we would catch the last train back to where our hotel was. So far, so good.

Unfortunately this is where our luck ran out. You see, as we were all slightly inebriated, we proceeded to chat loudly on the train and ended up attracting the attention of a good looking Japanese girl (and her boyfriend, and the rest of the carriage) who was sat right next to where we were stood. All three of us then began talking to her, joking about how rubbish Canada was and how great the UK etc etc, until one of us suddenly questioned what station we were supposed to be getting off at - drawing our attention to the fact that we had been on the train for a lot longer than the two stops we were supposed to take. We charged off the train at the next station to the laughter of the Japanese girl and the evil eyes of her boyfriend, and jumped on the train heading in the opposite direction. This slip-up had cost us, and after having asked some of the passengers on that train, it turned out we had 2 minutes to get off the underground at the right stop, get through the ticket barriers, buy a train ticket and get the last train back. Not impossible, but bloody hard. Too hard it seemed, as we arrived to find that no train was now heading to our stop until 5am (in 4 hours and 50 minutes).

There was a train that was terminating 5 stops before our station, so I had the bright idea of catching that and then following the tracks the rest of the way home - a solid plan I'm sure you'll agree. Feeling confident once again, we spoke loudly in the carriage and attempted to strike up conversation with anyone who was close to us. This resulted in a lot of laughter when we explained our plan, as it turned out it would be at least a 2 hour walk from the final stop… Oh well, we were too far to turn back now.

I'd like to be able to sign off by saying that we got off at the last stop, followed the tracks and made it back in good time. But that would be incorrect.

One of us (I don't remember who) had the bright idea of buying a couple of 'beers for the road' and after about 40 minutes or so of walking, we were still drunk and pretty damn lost.

We stumbled upon a convenience store that was just off some major road, and popped in to... Get even more beer and ask for directions. The guy behind the counter was helpful and pointed us in a direction and even gave us some free snacks that had to be eaten before 5am, but insisted we still had a 2 and a half hour walk...

We set off again, but this time we became hopelessly lost. We passed various residential buildings and a few factories that were still open (2 in the morning!). In our drunken and lost state, we decided to inquire once again for directions at one of these factories. The guys were helpful, and showed us on google maps the marathon we had to walk. We set off again, and one of the guys even ran after us having printed off a map for us to use.

All was looking good. We took what we felt was the correct path for about 40 minutes, finally coming across another convenience store. We headed in to ask for further instructions, and seeing the guy behind the counter's shocked expression we realized it was the same one we had been in an hour earlier... Classic.

Well that was the last straw. Clearly without phones, gps and a clear head we were never going to find our way home (the guy insisted it was still at least a 2 hour walk). So we asked him where the nearest station was and set off towards there (with even more free onigiri/sushi).

The station was only 15 minutes away, but by then we felt like failures and couldn't be bothered to walk anymore. The first morning train would get us home faster than if we were to continue walking, so we entered the station and fell asleep next to some lockers (I tried to sleep in the photo booth, but my legs wouldn't fit!)

And that was that. We got the first train back, went straight to sleep and woke up around 2 feeling much better. Despite our shortcomings it was in hindsight a good adventure (at the time it was bloody awful!) and i feel it certainly deserves to be credited as a Smashing Big One.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Back Once Again for the Renegade Master

Well, I am indeed sitting here with a brew next to me, the window open and the grey sky of England above, but I never expected for this new entry to have been such a long time in coming.

Its been well over a year since my return to Blighty, and in that time I've drank copious cups of tea and coffee, successfully graduated from Japanese Studies with Spanish at University of Sheffield (2:1 - Boom), and done not a lot else really.

Big Ones have been few and far between with final year proving to be a right bitch with the work load and dissertation writing. However, I have been able to have a few, including the Lads Tour to Prague (Oi Oi!!), some Big Ones on the Welsh coast, and once again increasing my chances of high blood pressure through consuming copious amounts of wine and red meat in Argentina.

'So what next?' I hear you cry. Well, I wouldn't have started writing this entry if there wasn't something Big coming along and after having been on the dole for the last month or so, I am finally once again heading off east.

Unable to land a serious job in London I have decided to become an English teacher in Japan for a year in the hope of gaining some fluency to my Japanese, getting some work experience, and generally letting the Big Ones role once again. This means that I'll once again be putting pen to paper, or rather finger tip to keyboard, in the hope of providing an entertaining insight into my experiences for anyone who cares.

So grab yourself a glass of juice (Heg, I'm sure you don't need telling) and join me once again as I resume my search for the Big Ones.