Happy Emperor B-day.

errr.. or not. Most people in this country don’t even know his name.
Things have been quiet here in the House of Panda (HoP) lately, which suits me just fine. Winter vacation is officially upon me now, though virtually every other ALT has already blown this frigid popsicle stand for places much warmer, including, but not limited to, Malaysia, Thailand, and Bali, as well as the usual array of “back home” countries. Which to the closest of my aproximations, leaves me here all by my lonesome. Well, actually, I think there is at least one other JET sticking around in the south part of town, but people whisper rumors that he’s wierd and possibly eats sugar straight from the bag.
My solitary panda retreat for the winter. Read on to find out why!
It’s not that I mind. This vacation (if you could call staring at the gray, overcast skies all day over the din of construction next door a vacation) couldn’t have come at a better time. “Work” or as I like to refer to it “The 5th Circle of Hell” (that’s “The wrathful and sullen” for those of you not up on your Dante – condemned to be forever stuck in mud and “tear and mangle one another”, which pretty much describes my students perfectly. well, with a little less mud, and a lot more “tearing and mangling” attitude. and cell phones. fucking cell phones.)
errr.. where was I? Oh yes. Work has exhausted me. I am burned out. I can’t stand to stare at blank, listless faces, stomach any more inaka-dialect flavored attitude, gesticulate wildly to no discernable effect, deal with violent little mulleted brats smacking each other, or blonde-haired, make-up caked UV-worshipping racoon girls chattering away on their cell phones in the middle of class any longer.
(Thus dies the JET dream of “grass roots internationalization”. They can grass roots internationalise my boot up their arse.)
*and now… catharsis….*
errm.. okay, now that i have that all out of my system. I am looking forward to a little rest and relaxation for the next two weeks. A little “panda” time, if you will. There’s just one problem.
It’s really, really, really, f-ing cold.
Now coming from Wisconsin, I consider myself of hardy stock. Whether dodging out of control cattle on my way to school (you only wish I was joking), piloting a careening Toyota Corolla to the local Pizza Hut through white-out conditions while peering out of a tiny 3″ diameter hole scraped in the windshield ice or hiking to work in 2′ of snow uphill both ways, we who have been in Wisconsin for any notable period of time (you don’t “live” in Wisconsin, persay, rather, you sort of “survive” it) are well suited to less than hospitable environs.
All of which did little to prepare me for the fact that here in the “yukiguni” (“snow country”) as the locals like to refer to it, the houses are:
a) devoid of any form of insulation
b) constructed of a special alloy which actually intensifies the cold
c) situated in such a manner as to prevent the sun from actually ever reaching them.
The Japanese approach to winter is a lot more elementary than those of us in the west are used to. The above points not withstanding, the primary method of heating a room is to – I kid you not – build a fire in the middle of it. (I don’t care how many LCD panels that kerosene heater has – you are still heating your room with a gigantic, dangerous, open flame). Floors, built directly on steel girders lacking any modern form of insulation, are dangerous barren surfaces which will suck all the warmth out of your body instantly should you make the mistake of laying on them. Electric blankets (“hot carpets”) provide the only 180x220cm islands of safety in this sea of cold, lurking death. This sense of basic-ness is not limited merely to the inside of houses. Lacking any snow plows, the approach to clearing the streets of snow is….
to pour water on them.
The barreness of my living room, all my belongings having been moved into my bedroom for the winter.
Actually, the execution of this plan is somewhat of a marvel to watch in operation. Tiny little sprinklers built into a strip in the middle of the road spring into action whenever snow starts to fall, instantly gushing thousands of liters of water onto the streets. Roads instantly turn into icy cold slushy rivers. Cars slip and slide. Innocent civilians gets splashed with dirty grimy (COLD!) water. Boots falter, seams give way and socks get soaked all within the span of two blocks. Because you can never stop the sprinklers so long as the temperature remains around 0, lest everything freeze instantly into what would undoubtedly be the world’s longest icy slip n’ slide, the street clearing water streams slowly turn into a bizarre parody of themselves, squirting water for water’s sake long after all the snow has been turned into slush, the rain gutters and irrigation canals that run through the city swelling until the overflow as water continues to squirt out every meter of every road for a 25 kilometer radius.
When confronted by such a frightening intersection of raw, unbridaled nature and mind boggling human lack of ingenuity, what is a poor, hapless panda to do?
Retreat into one room, and stay there for the remainder of the winter, just like the Japanese do.
Below, one of my loyal panda minions demonstrates how, exactly, I plan on burrowing beneath three blankets, position myself right next to the heater, hope the fuel doesn’t run out, and hibernate on my futon for the next three months.
The poor guy looks frozen even just modelling the ‘blankets’.
Before I go, I would like to share the highlight of my day with you. (It’s sad and pathetic, so just be forewarned). Many of you have no doubt partaken of ramen in your lives. Whether Maruchan, the reliable staple of college students since times prehistoric, or Nissen, purveyors of the infamous CUP NOODLE which stands steaming away, looking down on the crowds filtering through Times Square every day, most of us are familiar with instant ramen. What many of you don’t realize is that Japan, the mother land of all those great tastes and more (I use the term sarcastically…) is home to so many varieties of instant ramen, it will make your tongue bleed and your blood pressure shoot through the roof to try and sample them all. I actually saw a variety show where the topic was “connoisseurs of instant ramen”; the guests had brought with them over 120 different types of instant ramen. (finally, people who can make me feel better about my lot in life!)
that having been said, on the exceedingly rare ocassions when I do partake of instant ramen, I tend to stick with the el-cheapo stuff – 100 yen for a bowl of ramen is 1 yen too much in my book. Eschewing the mind-numbing variety of ramen out there, I have thus far limited myself to three different 99 yen specials, which I lovingly refer to as:
a) the green bowl-type
b) the red bowl-type
c) the yellow bowl-type, or as I refer to it “the one that gave me the runs for 3 days straight and is to be avoided at all costs and/or fed to my enemies/students”
That having been said, as I trudged home today from a less-than spectacular day of mailing a letter at the post office (my crowning achievement up until that point had been brushing my teeth), I ducked into a nearby convenience store to see what I could see, as it were.
My elite panda eye, always on the look out for new and tasty things to put into my mouth (leave it alone, people…) came to rest on this.
It had a satisfying heft to it. Plus it says “Premier” on it. How could I go wrong?
This is very expensive ramen – 320 yen, which would make it *calculates furiously* 221 yen, or ~323% too expensive by my usual standards. However, some of the fancy advertising stick-ons on the shelf promised it contained “real beef chunks” and “authentic meat flavor”, which sort of reminded me of how they used to advertise the Purina Puppy Chow I would feed my dog when I was younger.
“What the hell” I said to myself, “I’ll buy it.”
So I did. Since I can no longer feel my fingers due to the extreme frigidity in my room, I’m afraid I won’t be able to type out a hilarious narrative to describe my expensive-ramen-eating adventure. Thus, in its stead, I present you this photo montage. Please enjoy.
Step I: The ramen is placed on the table.
Step II: The cover is opened. My first thoughts are… “Woah..! What’s up with that!?”
The built in sieve is for later, when you have to drain the water before, errr… adding some more.
Step III: The ingredients laid out on the table. It is at this point that I realize even just trying to follow the instructions is probably going to kick my ass. From left to right:
“Liquid Sauce”, Ramen, Random spice package, package of what is purportedly “beef”.
Step XXIII: I skipped the other 20 steps. It took me 15 minutes to make this supposedly “instant” ramen. I was boiling water. I was pouring water. I was draining water. I was adding “liquid sauce”. I was stirring. I was adding more water. I ran out of water. I boiled more water. I added spice. I tried to open the beef package. I failed. I ripped it open, splashing beef “chunks” everywhere. I chased them down. I put more stuff in the bowl, I shook, stired and chanted vigorously. I stood on one foot. I managed to once again break the chopstick unevenly (for someone who’s been using chopsticks as long as I have, you’d think I could finally get the disposable ones down!)… cowboy panda moseys on over to see what all the commotion is.
Okay, I know it looks like what some people might term “a big bowl of ass”. But actually, it tasted okay. The “beef” was of a dubious nature. Kobe beef it’s not, but it was a great deal tastier than Purina Puppy Chow… (errr… or so I’ve, uh… heard…). Will I ever buy 320 yen ramen again? Maybe. Someday. But as Marty once put it – “It’s still crap. It may be a higher, more sophisticated level of crap than we’re normally accustomed to, but it’s crap. Why spend more money on it than neccessary?”
Anyway, that’s my ramen experience. Time for bed!
Now listening to: “Asian Kung Fu Generation: Rashinban”
(I just saw their new album over in Tower Records… Nice, crowd friendly guitar riffs. Reminds me of an amalgamation of Sum41, Good Charlotte, Blink 182, etc, only in Japanese. In other words, happy mindless noise for the background.)
9:45 am

One Reaction

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