Monday, September 19, 2005

Board of Education Friendship Club

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to meet the bus for an out-of-town adventure with my BOE. You wouldn't think that a two-day bus trip with your co-workers, who's language you don't speak would be a whole lot of fun, but that's because you've never been inside a Japanese tour bus. The first thing that happens is the coolers of alcohol get opened, and everyone starts drinking. This is mostly a cultural thing -- you have to at least have one beer in you so you can break down the office hierarchy and enjoy yourself. And in Japan, only the driver has to be sober. There is zero-tolerance for drinking and driving if you are the one doing the driving. Passengers can have as much as they want. Then, to go with the drinks, the snacks come out. Dried fish, dried squid, nuts, chocolate. They had piles of stuff to nibble on. I tried most of the strange things too. Sadly, dried scallops are not very tasty.

Our first stop was Yubari -- also the location of the Central Hokkaido Welcome party the same weekend. I didn't run into any other ALTs though. Yubari was once a coal-mining town, but like so many other small towns, it has run into problems in recent years. Yubari has opened their former coal mine up as a theme park called "Wonder Valley". It wasn't so wondrous, but I was hanging out with the office ladies at the location where the Japanese movie "北の零年" (Year zero in the North) was shot. I'll have to see if I can dig it up on DVD so I can see it with English subtitles. The other end of the park has some rollercoasters and things, but I didn't see any of that.

Our next stop was Sapporo. We stayed at a hotel right in Susukino -- the main entertainment district in Sapporo. After a short break, we were off to the enkai. As it turns out, this was also my welcome party! The Superintendent made a speech in English. It was very well done. I understood most of it. Either he had someone help him, or my pasukon English is getting better.
We ate a literal boatload of sashimi: everything from tuna, mackerel, squid and octopus to sea urchin, ascidians (aka sea squirts -- I didn't know those were edible) and whale. The whale was the only thing I didn't try. Yes, I was extremely curious to know how whale meat tastes, but I don't like the idea of eating whale. There was also plenty of crab, a Hokkaido specialty.

The ni-ji kai was at a club with a comedy/song and dance review. It was all in Japanese, but thankfully for me, physical comedy is one of the most popular forms of comedy in Japan. And with enough beer and sochou, everything is funny. I stayed out late with the younger members of the crowd. Yes, my office has actual people under the age of thirty. I hear this is a rarity, and even more unusual, some of them even live in my small town.

The next day, we were off bright and early again -- some of us nursing hangovers -- this time to visit the huge outlet mall in Chitose (also where the main airport in Hokkaido is located). It was just like visiting the States. Most of the same stores, and despite the name "outlet", everything was far too expensive. I didn't buy anything exciting, but I did enjoy the name of this store: VUMPS (Very Upwardly Mobile Papas). The rest of the day was spent on the bus, with one stop for omiyage. In Japan, if you go somewhere, you are expected to buy a small gift for everyone at home. There are stores that cater to this, especially in airports and at train stations, so that you can easily pick something up on your way back home. If you leave through the same departure gate I did in the Vancouver International Airport, there is one near the gate. All kinds of gifts, generally small individually wrapped foods, are available. And not just from the city you are in. If you take a vacation from work, this is a way of apologizing to your co-workers for letting them down and not being at work.

After this exciting weekend, I spent all day Monday doing very little. I enjoyed sleeping in, made a nice cup of coffee, and did some much needed housecleaning.

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