I have lost my voice…

I`m clenching my fists so hard, I think my nails are starting to draw blood. I suck in my breath, and blow it out in a slow, measured jet.
“Once again, I will tell you … my throat and my brain are not the same thing…!”
She gesticulates wildly, withered finger jabbing at that damn fuzzy … monstrosity shrink wrapped to the package. I almost lose it…
“HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU…!? I DON`T WANT A DAMN KEYCHAIN…!!”

(a note to Ms. Hockers: That is known as starting a story “in medias res”. You see..!? I WAS paying attention during lit. class..!!)
I guess I better start from the beginning. Once again, let me apologize in advance – since I still don`t have a computer up, there only be crappy pictures from my cell phone camera in this post. Which is a damn shame, since we got some fantastic ones on the digital cams! As soon as I get all set up, I promise to post a ton of back-logged pics!.
Well, it sounded like a fantastic idea at the time. Catherine had been telling us all about her beach house for the past three weeks, and after a month of assorted “business trips” of dubious worth, I was ready for a fun weekend somewhere other than the rain-drenched concrete jungle of the hood (which has its pretty parts as well! See prior posts…). Plus I was seriously pining (no pun intended) for some nice foresty bits and rugged coastlands – I was beginning to miss “nature”, which is the one thing the Noto Peninsula has in spades.
I went with Jo and Katrina – two proud members of the commonwealth who will have me speaking like a confused aussie-brit yet. On the bus ride up (the cars move so agonizingly sloooow here..! Even the super-expensive tollways (like 12 bucks for little over 90 miles!) top out at around 70 kilometers, which for those of you up on your metric-imperial conversions, is about 43 mph.) we saw one of the more disturbing crashes yet – a tiny little “K” car (the super teeny weeny yellow plate japanese “box” cars) which had been smashed to hell – its front end completely demolished, the entire frame smushed to half its size – wheels rolling off to the side of the road, car completely overturned – and there appeared to be somebody impossibly trapped inside of it, upside down, face pressed against the smashed windshield. Fortunately, the bus passed by quickly, but not before reinforcing in my mind that I should never buy one of those teeny tiny cars.
There was the beautiful side of japan as well – lush fertile farm fields stretched in green valleys below us, surrounded by thick forests, and in the distance, misty, occluded mountains, free from cell towers, concrete retainer walls, and all other manner of civilization. Straw thatched roofs covered traditional architecture, and rice fields seemed so fitting a surrounding for the thin, meandering roads that wound their way around small hamlets of houses, snaking away into small gaps in the distance. The trees were beautiful in their messy naturalness, a striking antithesis to the mono-species seeded forests of more central japan. At times, the thick trunks forming a decidious wall of foliage on both sides of the highway seemed to recall the northern woods of wisconsin and michigan, and I realize how much I missed them, and how much I had taken that rugged countryside for granted…
We got to Anamizu, dropped off at a little rusted bus sign by the side of the road. Cat and company were about an hour away, having just come from an onsen, so the three of us were left to amuse ourselves, which the girls did by purchasing old olllllllldddddddd james bond videos for 300 yen from some random little shop on the road. Jo somehow miraculously managed to find a cosmetics section inside of a big discount liquor store (It has gotten to the point where the most bizzare combinations are failing to shock me anymore…) and ended up buying some 3500 yen french import skin creme. Feeling left out, I bought a huge 3 liter (yes, 3 LITER) can of beer, complete with a plastic handle (though sadly, it was a gift for Cat… *sniff* mmm… beer…)
Our new purchases in hand, we soon met up with Cat, Moby, Kent and the rest of the happy gaijin gang (it seems almost every JET in the prefecture was up in the peninsula this weekend!) and smashed in some kaiten sushi. So yummy. But we didn`t come all this way just to eat….

So off to the Wajima festival we went!! The basic idea of the festival is roughly this: line one long street up with your standard complement of festival vendors – the guys with the yakitori, cotton candy, the goldfish games, overpriced plastic masks. Take about two hundred extremely intoxicated men, wrap them in little more than loinclothes, give them heeeeaaavvvyyy shrines to carry around on their shoulders – strap bottles of sake to the sides for mid-march refreshment and then tell them to run around with the shrine to a random temple. Bless said wavering shrines at temple, tell them to run over to the beach. At the beach, at-this-point-heavily-intoxicated shrine bearers stumble their way on stage one at a time, where upon more drunken men (or occasionally, very sober, and consequently very good, children) pound away on a big Taiko drum while the 1/2 ton shrine is whirled and spun around like crazy in the background.
And then? Well, I forget what happens to the shrines, cuz fireworks were going off, which were quite pretty. At some point the shrines sort of wander away, after everyone is all taiko`d out – and then the real fun begins. All the men start to gather in the center of a very hard concrete parking lot, around a 3 story tall tower of hay, wood and rope, from the top of which is sticking four pretty-ghetto looking white flags.
The idea is simple. Light the tower on fire, and when it burns down, the flags will fall to the ground. Then try and and grab/touch one of the flag.
The catch? The second you come close to the flag, people will start beating you severely.
Well, take a group of slightly intoxicated gaijin boys, put us together with some bloodthirsty gaijin girls (easy for them to egg us on..! they`re not the ones about to throw down in the middle of a riotous crowd!) and soon people start to talk of a “gaijin coalition” to go in and sieze one of the flags for the glory of all foreigners in Japan!! After all, what can go wrong? There`s about 20 of us, we`re bigger and stronger than most of the japanese there, PLUS we can speak english..!!? HA!! What could go wrong..!?
It`s amazing how the most well thought-out battle plan goes to shit when FLAMING FIREBALLS START FALLING ON YOUR HEAD…!!!! You see, the one thing we didn`t count on is that when you light a three-story tall tower of wood, hay and rope on fire on a blustery day, it will rain down flaming chunks of death on top of your head. So one minute, there`s a pretty tough-looking posse of g-boys poised to strike – the next, the crowd is scattering in panic as huge pieces of flaming wood start hurtling into our midst. One piece fell ON MY HEAD, at which point I promptly forgot all about the flag as I struggled to pat out my hair (desperately trying to remember if I put any hairspray in this morning or not (if i had, it would have been all she wrote…)). No sooner had I extinguished my dome than someone screamed (in english) -
“It`s coming down….!!!!!”
I look up just in time to see the huge main part of the tower, absolutely ablaze..!! falling down towards us, in the middle of the crowd. People scatter as flames, burning hay and black billowing smoke shoot out everywhere, some people barely making it out a second before it was too late (if it had hit you, you would have been very very seriously dead or burned).
And then, just like that, it`s over. The flags are whisked away towards the other side of the crowd, and I vaugely seeing some ferocious punching and kicking before I am whisked off my feet by the press of the crowd. I return, along with the other g-boy, to the waiting gaggle of g-girls, humbled and shamed, having failed (along with everyone else) to even come close to touching the flag, and we all sheepishly collect our cell phones, wallets and so forth from the them. *sigh* Chris, who was foolish (brave?) enough to have removed his shirt actually got some pretty painful looking burns on his shoulders and sides (battle scars…?) – one of them looks like it will leave a definite scar. Of course, he got all the fawning attention, pity and such, so … :)
We go back to Cat`s home, and then to the karaoke house next door. It is run by this old japanese woman who speaks a pretty tough-to-decipher-dialect, but who claims to be “our japanese mama who will take care of us”. Oh, sure, she takes care of us, but for a price – that karaoke was steep…!! (though in all fairness, we did karaoke for 5 or 6 hours…). I sang my lungs out (this will become relevant soon). I mean, literally screaming at times. Oh yes, and did I mention the karaoke bar owner woman had tourettes syndrome? No kidding. I didn`t know what the hell was going on the first few times she would just randomly start screaming in Japanese… Weird!!

Anyway, the next day I wake up, feeling a bit under the weather. At this point, my voice is harsh, raspy and sore, but still present. We all sort of wander around (11 people crammed into Cat`s tiny beach house!!! it was like a huge slumber party..!!) for a bit, eating some soft-boiled eggs and tomato&butter (yes, even more disgusting than it sounds) sandwiches which the karaoke lady insisted we take (did I mention she is literally next door to Cat?).
Now, if you`re in a beach house, what do you do? Why, you go to the beach of course!!
I should have known better. I should have. But dammit, I did it anyway – into the water goes Panda!!! Splish splash!! OH SHIT BIG ASS WAVE!!! drown drown drown….. gurrrggllle….
*swallow tons of sea water*
So it goes. So damn salty it was unbelievable. I must have drank 3 gallons of ocean water. Ohhhh……. guess what? This is no good for sore throats….. Sinuses are raw, throat is on its last stretch. Voice hardly a rattle at this point. (the beach was so WONDERFUL THOUGH!! wish I could post pics…)
It gets progressively worse on the trip home – every cough is a raspy, horribly painful affair. I want to die.
Around 9pm, I decide I can`t take it anymore. So I head off to the drugstore. It is staffed by a tiny old woman. I muster up my best japanese:
“Hi! My throat hurts and….” (pause to swallow pain of speaking 5 words. Voice sounds like freddy krueger being run over sandpaper) ” and I would like to get some throat medication.”
“@*+!!<%$&?\~`!!!!! ” The reply is in an incomprehensible dialect. My eyes widen, but I soldier on.
“uhhh yeah. Umm, my throat is very dry, painful, it hurts to breath, talk or swallow. Do you have some throat drops or cough drops?” The woman runs around behind the counter, jabbering away in strange dialect again. She grabs some aspirin and thrusts it at me. I clench my fist slightly, and inhale slowly.
“Umm, no, that`s aspirin. I need throat medicine. I don`t have a headache.”
At this point the woman seems to switch to a more manageable kanto dialect:
“Throat and Head are the same pain…!”
I grit my teeth, and try again, thinking perhaps my japanese was not clear enough. She thrusts the package at me again -
“No! Look!! It comes with a free keychain!!”
“uhh, no. I don`t want aspirin. I want some throat medicine. Like a cough drop?”
“Throat and brain the same thing!! Look!! It has a free keychain!”
I`m clenching my fists so hard, I think my nails are starting to draw blood. I suck in my breath, and blow it out in a slow, measured jet.
“Once again, I will tell you … my throat and my brain are not the same thing…!”
She gesticulates wildly, withered finger jabbing at that damn fuzzy … monstrosity shrink wrapped to the package. I almost lose it-
“HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU…!? I DON`T WANT A DAMN KEYCHAIN…!!”
She takes a step backwards, as I realize I have inadvertantly said that last bit in english. I try and calm down, repeating myself again (this time in my pidgin japanese)
“No, I want throat medicine. Do you have anything that will sooth my throat? Anything at all? Maybe some liquid medicine? ANYTHING!?”
Finally, I see what I think is a hint of recognition in her eyes. She switches back to the incomprehensible dialect, muttering something as she scurries around behind the counter, rummaging for something. She comes up with a tiny white box filled with complex kanji I`ve never seen before.
“You take this!” (or something like that. I couldn`t understand her at this point, plus I couldn`t breath cuz` my throat hurt too much.) I give up and snatch the package from her hand. The damn thing cost 1000 yen!
I get home, and furiously tear open the package. Out falls a small slip of paper. Three big, colorful cartoons (and simple kanji) clearly depict what this medicine is for:
[headaches, stomach aches and menstrual pain]
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUURRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
Obviously it is of no help. I cannot talk – i literally have no voice. My throat burns with every breath. And I have a three day business trip from tommorrow where I`m supposed to be teaching english to japanese teachers.
I give up…………………!
Now listening to: “Dragon Ash – Morrow”
(I`ve got to call about the tickets – but I have no voice and no one else who`s going speaks any japanese!)
P.S. Thank you for reading all that!! Too long, I know!!!
1:33 am

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