So things have definitely improved over the past week for me. I still can't shake the sore throat and occasional cough, but I guess that's too be expected, given that I haven't really had any time to give it a rest. Otherwise, though, I am feeling way better.
It has been very hot here, but at the moment we have a thunderstorm rolling through, so the temperature is quite comfortable this evening. On some days, it has been so hot that my house feels like a sauna when I come back from work. When this happens, I take a cool shower, and if it is truly unbearable, I escape by going shopping. The stores usually have air conditioning, so it allows me to relax in the AC and to look for things I need. It's been a hot week, so I've spent a lot of money! But my house is finally starting to look like someone lives in it! I don't have a lot of furniture or a phone yet, but I will take care of that after my next paycheck.
Meanwhile, I have outfitted my kitchen with many items that I deem necessary...like spices and other favorite cooking ingredients. I was able to put together a balsamic vinegarette that turned out so well that I am happily using it on everything. I was able to find some whole wheat bread at the store, sold in small packages of about 4-5 slices. Apparently people here don't really like it though, because I keep seeing them on clearance, so I grab them every time I see them and pop them in the freezer for future use. My current favorite use is a sandwich I've eaten for dinner the past three nights running. I put some sliced cherry tomatoes (so sweet!), lettuce, avocado (yes, Japan has avocado, though not quite as good as California's), pre-sliced white cheese (not really sure what kind it is...just white), and my balsamic dressing. Mmmm! Another must-have that I was able to track down for a price that was just flat-out indecent, was Skippy creamy peanut butter. Japan's version of peanut butter is not like what I'm used to back home, and I was really wanting some of the real thing so that I could start making my protein shakes again. With that mission completed successfully, all I have to do now is find a decent blender. I have not found anything here with more speeds than 'On' and 'Off', and pretty much nothing under $100 can handle ice. I refuse to settle for something that won't do the job, so I am going to have to be patient until I have the time to properly search.
On the mosquito front, my legs are still quite lovely with their splotchy markings, but I think I have finally found a spray that they don't like because I seem to be getting much fewer new bites now. It will be nice when the hot, moist season is over.
Okay, now that I've described my basic situation, here are a few details of my latest social adventures.
Last week I was able to go to a gym. Yay! My boss had thrown a slow food party the Saturday before, and I met an ex-employee of the school there, along with her boyfriend. We got to chatting, and it came up tha I had done personal training. The boyfriend wants to lose 20kg and starts asking me for advice. He tells me that there is a place they like to go called Mizutopia (mizu means water in Japanese), which has a small gym and a pool. So several days later, we all go together. The gym was small, but adequate and not expensive. We did some cardio on the exercise bikes and I showed them some stretching and ab exercises. His girlfriend speaks English and translated when it was necessary, but mostly I just told him to keep going, go faster, and the equivalent of' "You can do it!' in Japanese. Unfortunately, he was quite out of shape and not up for much, so I decided it was time to go to the pool. It was kind of fun training someone in Japanese. The 'pool' ended up being a big pool area. There was a lap pool, but also one of those lazy river pools, a couple water slides, and a big jacuzzi area that had many types of jets that could hit just about every area of your body, including some shooting straight up from the floor to get your feet. Nice! Afterwards, we went to a nice restaurant, where I tried many new things. We started out with a shrimp and asparagus pizza, and a smoked salmon and avocado salad. Both were excellent, though it took convincing to get me to eat the salmon. It looked raw to me, and although I have compromised my diet so that it now includes seafood, I draw the line at raw fish. I just can't do it. After the salad we had tamogoyaki, which is a lot like omellete rolls, for you sushi officionados, but without the rice or seawood. They were absolutely excellent! Finally, we had a Japanese fish called sanma, which is cooked and served whole. I was a little weirded out by it, but they insisted I try some and I am really trying to be more open-minded about the food. I just tried not to look at it's eyes as I picked the flesh off it's bones with my chopsticks! It was actually quite tasty. I'm sorry little fish, please don't judge me!
My next adventure was this past weekend, when I took the train to another city to visit a friend and her daughter. I was supposed to have gone a couple weeks ago, but the pink eye derailed those plans. So I was all set to go right after I got out of work on Saturday. I would shower, get my stuff, and catch the train. One slight problem: apparently the small single platform that is the station here doesn't sell tickets, or if they do, they close really early. I had decided to stop by the station before heading home after work, just to scope out the parking situation. Good thing I did! I get there and the windows are closed and no one is around. A guy came by, so I asked him (in Japanese) where I could buy a ticket. He got a little confused and it became apparent that I couldn't. I would need to go to the next closest station, which is much larger. Flustered, I went back home, hurriedly checked the train schedule for that station, and got cleaned up. Only, I didn't know how to get to that station. When she pulled into her driveway, I asked my co-worker/neighbor, but she didn't know either. So, she had me call another co-worker on her phone, and he was able to give me some rather shaky directions over the phone.
I left with plenty of time to spare, thinking that if I couldn't make the first train (which would have gotten me there a bit earlier than the original plan) I could get a later train (which would put me at the destination at the same time as originally planned). I hadn't had time to contact my friend, and having no phone, it would have been difficult anyways. I was shooting for the first train because it was a straight shot, whereas the later train required switching lines partway there. Unfortunately, I got lost on the way, and ended up having to stop at a gas station to ask for directions (in Japanese). All those classes pulled through for me, and I was able to understand well enough to make it to the station, way too late for the first train, but in just enough time for the second one. I was a little nervous, because, seeing no station parking, I parked in the parking structure of a nearby shopping center, and wasn't sure if overnight parking was allowed. I didn't see any signs saying otherwise, and didn't have time to inquire, so I risked it and hurried over to the station. At first the ticketing guy was confused because he didn't realize that I was asking for a train that required switching lines, but after he understood, I got my ticket and rushed to the train with only a couple minutes to spare. Whew! Hurdle one down.
Next hurdle: the train that I needed to switch to was scheduled to leave a scant 2 minutes after the one I was on arrived. Prior to stopping at that station, I asked another passenger, who was standing at the door to get off, if he knew which train I needed to get onto. He was reasonably sure it was the one that was right next to us when we arrived. Problem was, I needed to race up the stairs, cross over to the other side, and then down those stairs to get to the train. I made it, and was able to confirm that it was indeed the correct train for my final destination. Finally I was able to relax, since it was smooth sailing from there. This leg of the journey was the same as my original route (which would have required 2 train changes), so I arrived at the planned time, with my friend none-the-wiser to my little drama. She took me back to her house, where we did some small fireworks with her 11 year-old daughter, and then the next day we spent a pleasant day shopping and sight-seeing in Kawagoe. I got to see a small castle and a couple museums, and she took me to a street that is full of shops selling snacks and sweets. Kawagoe is famous for sweet potatoes, so I tried some sweet potato soft serve ice-cream, which was fantastic! Then, I found something funny in one of the shops. In the middle of all these kids' toys and candy, there was a squishy, stress-ball thing designed as a boob. It was flesh-toned and had a nipple poking out. It seemed so out of place that I just had to buy it. It will make a good gag gift for my brother, who tends to talk about boobs way more than a guy his age should (Joe, you know it's true, and everyone who knows you knows it's true!). You can see it, along with other photos from the day, in my updated photobucket album. http://s50.photobucket.com/albums/f348/trenody/Japan/Kawagoe%20Aug2008/
Fortunately, the return trip was only one train, and was uneventful. I made a new friend when a girl sitting next to me noticed me reading and asked if she could talk to me. We chatted until I had to get off, and she gave me her information. Then, my worries were alleved when I saw that my car was indeed still there and had not been ticketed.
I got to go see 'The Dark Knight' again the other night with my co-workers (I saw it the first time at a midnight showing the day it came out...and the day I left for Japan). The screen was much smaller, but the Japanese subtitles didn't bother me as much as I thought they would. Also, the theatre wasn't ridiculously cold like they are in the U.S., so that was nice.
I'm sure I will have plenty more adventures here in Japan, so stay tuned for more!