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Amparo Bertram

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10:19 pm: Season's Greetings
Lots of stuff has been going on since I last posted, but I've been lazy and haven't gotten around to updating.

On the 15th, I attended the MINNA no Salon Christmas party, where we decorated cookies. I was asked to talk about Christmas in America, which I did...in English, because that was what they requested. Of course, most people there couldn't understand English, so I threw in lots of acting to go along with my speech. Then they had me stand at the front of the room and sing Christmas carols along with a CD. The party concluded with a bingo game in which I won a cute Christmas coffee mug.

Classes ended on the 21st, and that evening I attended the year-end faculty party. It was at the same hotel as last year. Sadly, out of the entire lavish buffet, the only things I could eat were the garlic bread, the scalloped potatoes, and the dessert. (I counted myself lucky that they didn't put bacon in the potatoes.) I had this amusing interaction with the teacher next to me:

Teacher: Can I pour you some beer for the toast?

Me: No thank you. [I dislike the taste of beer.]

Teacher: You're vegetarian, right?

Me: ...Yes... <wonders what this has to do with beer>

Later, the principal comes to the table and offers to pour me some beer.

Me: No thank you.

Teacher: She's vegetarian.

...I do not think that word means what he thinks it means...

Anyway, after that, I set about cleaning my apartment for the guests who will be coming to visit. My endeavors, however, kept getting interrupted. Yesterday I was puncturing old aerosol cans (as required) before throwing them away. One of them turned out to be mostly full, and it sprayed fumes everywhere, setting off my carbon monoxide detector (which I didn't even know I had) and forcing me to open the door and air the apartment out (despite the cold). Today, I was just in the middle of vacuuming one of the guest rooms when a pile of light bulbs that I had set aside to be recycled fell on the floor and shattered into a bijillion pieces. Oh joy.

I also took a trip to Kyoto today to go shopping. While I was there, I used the opportunity to attempt to cash a check that had been sent to me earlier. (Banks aren't open on weekends, so it was the only chance I had in months to go to the bank where the check was supposedly payable.) I learned that Japanese banks really don't understand checks.

Me: Here's the check, please give me my money.

Teller: We can't give you cash.

Me: ...Why not?

Teller: The money is at the bank where the check was written. It will take several business days for that money to be transferred here. Therefore, we cannot give you cash now, because we don't have the money here.

Me: You mean I have the check RIGHT HERE IN MY HAND, but you're refusing to give me my money?

Teller: Well, we could deposit the money into your bank account when it arrives here.

Me: Okay.

Teller: But the fee for doing that will be <names a sum four times the amount that the check is worth>.

Me: That's absurd.

Teller: If you wanted cash, you should have had the person give you cash in the first place instead of making a check.

Me: ...

Oh Japan. There are just no words for your insanity. No words at all.

On the bright side, I'm leaving early in the morning to meet wednesday_10_00, mangaroo, and sara_tanaquil in Tokyo. I'll be spending the week there with them, and then we're all coming back to my place for a few days. I hope they forgive my apartment's remaining clutteredness, but after the incidents above, I just don't have the spirit to clean any more.



[User Picture]
Date:December 26th, 2007 02:56 pm (UTC)
I remember when I was a kid, my dad would sometimes toss empty aerosol cans (msoquito repellants, usually) into an open fire. Obviously, they went POPBANGBANG! We couldn't play with fireworks, but exploding cans were ok. ^^;;

Umm, that wouldn't happen to be the bank check I sent you, is it? Cos if it is, I could try something else. *sheepish*
[User Picture]
Date:December 26th, 2007 08:33 pm (UTC)
Yep. I was going to ask you if you would be able to get your money back if I returned it to you.

Don't worry about trying something else, it's not enough of an amount to really be an issue.
[User Picture]
Date:December 27th, 2007 02:39 pm (UTC)
Rats. You don't have to send it back...maybe frame it & take it to Show & Tell with the kids? :P ("That Which Was Not Meant To Be.") Thanks again for all your troubles. Blasted authorities/officials.

Have fun with everyone, & Happy New Year to all! :D
[User Picture]
Date:December 26th, 2007 10:40 pm (UTC)
..I do not think that word means what he thinks it means...

*snicker* I've been wanting that printed up on a shirt for a while, just to sum up my experiences with English in Japan ^_-

And *ack* to cleaning incidents, never fun. Which days will you be back in Moriyama, I'd really love to catch the group of you together at some point, and I'll be back in Japan by New Years and work for me doesn't start till the fifth so...

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year *huggles*
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2013 04:13 am (UTC)
Since you said you came back around 5 years ago, I figured I'd take a peek. =)

LOL! Both the vegetarian comment and the check incident are very typical. There were a lot of WTH moments I had in Japan as well. You are a really good writer to bring out the hilarity in each situation. =)

I bought some action figures from One Piece in Akihabara in Tokyo. And that's what I could stuff in my suitcase. How much manga did you manage to bring back from Japan?
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2013 03:36 pm (UTC)
You are a really good writer to bring out the hilarity in each situation.

Thank you, that's a very kind thing to say.

How much manga did you manage to bring back from Japan?

You don't even want to know. ~_~ My first time back after two years as a JET participant, I filled 5 "M-bags" (huge mail sack). The second time, I shipped things back using a bulk cargo shipping service. I'm sure it added up to at least a thousand volumes, probably more.
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2013 05:28 pm (UTC)
You are welcome. =)

1000 volumes or more! O_o

I grew up reading manga. I grew up in Beijing by the way. I still read them now and then. But now I'm usually too lazy or distracted to dedicate a lot of time to read manga. I watch on average an episode of anime over dinner everyday. Most of them are based on manga as you know.

The friends I know in JET are both women, who ended up marrying Japanese guys. Were there men in JET? How was JET for you?
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2013 08:58 pm (UTC)
Were there men in JET?

Sure, there were lots.

How was JET for you?

I thought it was great. The single disadvantage of the program is that it usually places people in rural areas, away from all the big cities that of course people want to visit. But it paid enough money that we could afford to travel if we wanted on our days off.
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2013 09:28 pm (UTC)
I see... My two friends in JET had a slightly different opinion about JET to say the least. Hahah. I'm very glad to hear that you liked your experience with JET and took advantage of your days to do sightseeing and traveling!

I visited a number of suburban and rural areas, mostly to see their clinics and hospitals. But I'm sure living there is a different matter. Were you in Niigata? How was it live in rural Japan?

By the way, I try to grow stuff (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and blueberry) in the city. It's not going well because of the foggy weather and low temperature. You seem like an expert in horticulture. =P Any tips?
[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2013 04:14 pm (UTC)
Were you in Niigata? How was it live in rural Japan?

I was in a small mountain town in Niigata. I had to drive to the next town to buy groceries, but at least my town had a train station, which was very convenient. It also had a cozy little karaoke cafe. The area was famous for skiing and hot springs. It was beautiful in the winter, with snow covering the mountains like icing, but it was also a bit crazy because the snow piled up 10 feet high and had to be shoveled off rooftops to prevent buildings from collapsing.

Any tips?

Strawberries should do all right. You might try alpine strawberries; I've had good luck with those. Blueberries should also do okay, if they have acidic soil. Southern highbush varieties are best because they don't need as much cold in the winter. They take about two years to establish their roots before they should produce much fruit. Brambles like raspberries and blackberries require lots of space and prefer sunny conditions to ripen.
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2013 06:31 am (UTC)
The winter (minus the roof crushing 10 feet of snow) sounds amazing. I'm jealous that you got to live near good hot springs for a number of years.

I went to Japan fully connected with a lot of Keio university professors and the Keio medical school network. I was plugged into the system everywhere and had Japanese medical students or young doctors take me around in most unfamiliar environments. So I was never really alone. I made a few long term friends as well. But I really started missing friends and family on the states side towards the end of the trip. Did you make friends locally? How was your social life all these years in Japan?

Thanks so much for tips on growing berries. My strawberries, as you surmised correctly, generally do better than the others. The blueberries are grown in 10 gallon pots with acidifying fertilizers. They stopped growing larger after getting to about 1.5 feet. They bear a lot of flowers. But maybe only 20% of them turn into fruits. Most of these are small and kind of sour. The answer might be that I just suck at growing berries. But as far as you know, anything I can do to make them grow better?

I hope your week is going well.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2013 03:56 pm (UTC)
Did you make friends locally?

Not really, though I had a few friends from the US who either visited or also got jobs in Japan at the same time that I did. I'm not a particularly social person at the best of times anyway.

How was your social life all these years in Japan?

I went out with my coworkers about 3 times a year for faculty parties, and that was about it. I mostly stayed home reading or playing online games.

But as far as you know, anything I can do to make them grow better?

1. Did you use acidic potting soil in addition to the acidifying fertilizers? If not, you may want to add sulfur granules to lower the pH of the soil itself to about 4.0-5.0. My bushes are in the ground, but I sprinkle some sulfur around them in the spring every year.

2. How old are the plants? If they are only 1-2 years old, they may just be too young for full production.

3. Do you have multiple varieties, or only one variety? Blueberries need cross-pollination of different varieties to produce well.

4. Do you have a lot of bees in your area? You may want to plant something nearby to entice them. I would recommend herbs like oregano or mint. Bees love the flowers, and the plants themselves are edible, so that's two birds with one stone.

5. You may be picking the berries too early. Sometimes they need to hang on the plant for a while to reach full sweetness. If you need to pick them early to get them before birds do (this is a problem that I have), you may be able to ripen them a bit by putting them in a paper bag together with an apple.
[User Picture]
Date:November 23rd, 2013 12:18 am (UTC)
You know, I felt it was hard to make real friends in Japan. People tend to see foreigners as foreigners - Gaijin. There's almost this invisible barrier for all non-Japanese. I can sort of play the part of a gregarious guy. But on the inside, I'm introverted. Socializing sometimes takes quite a bit of my energy.

Are you still playing games online? The only one I've played for an extended period of time was final fantasy 11. I stopped after a few weeks since work got really busy.

I started watching a series called Shingeki no kyojin and have been following the manga since the anime ended a while ago. It's pretty good I think. What are you reading recently if you are still reading?

Thanks so much for the growing tips! You are a pro! Now, where can I get sulfur for acidifying the soil? Or should I go to a chemical store?

My blueberries are 2 years old. They grew quite a bit in the 1st year but bore no fruits. This year they didn't grow much at all, flowered quite a bit and bore some limited number of small and sour berries. O_o

In contrast, my 2 year old raspberry bush grew more than 6 feet tall and bore maybe ~150 small to medium sized berries.

I only have one variety of blueberries and had no idea they needed cross pollination. Maybe I should buy some more varieties for next year, you think?

I had a lot of bees when my black/rasp/blueberries flowered in the spring. Of course, after the flowered withered, they stopped coming. I love oregano and mint! Maybe I'll buy some of these.

I have a golden delicious pineapple sage plant. It's very fragrant but it flowers in the winter. I guess that doesn't help, huh? =P

I like your tip about ripening with apple - hormones, right? You are such a pro!

What are your weekend plans? I hope you have a good one!
[User Picture]
Date:November 23rd, 2013 03:27 pm (UTC)
Are you still playing games online?

I've taken a break from World of Warcraft for the past few months due to not having enough spare time, though I do plan to play again eventually.

What are you reading recently if you are still reading?

I read too many things to list them all. Popular series that I follow include Skip Beat and Natsume Yuujinchou, but there are many more.

Now, where can I get sulfur for acidifying the soil?

It should be sold in any gardening supply store, right next to the lime (which has the opposite effect, raising the pH of the soil). You may see it advertised for hydrangeas, because the color of hydrangeas depends on the pH of the soil, so lime turns them one color while sulfur turns them a different color.

Maybe I should buy some more varieties for next year, you think?

That would probably boost production. Make sure you are getting the category called "southern highbush." Trees of Antiquity, for example, lists several varieties. (I grow Misty and Sunshine Blue.) Other vendors sell other varieties as well.

I guess that doesn't help, huh?

It's certainly better than nothing, because it keeps the bees fed in different seasons. They do need to eat all year round. It's also great for hummingbirds.
Date:November 24th, 2013 07:13 pm (UTC)
Hey! I played Warcraft, not the MMO version but the ones people connect online or locally to compete and stuff in college. I really liked it but have since stopped. I think what I played was more like a real-time strategy game. Yours is more like an RPG, right?

If you like RPG's, have you played final fantasy and the Tales series (Tales of Symphonia being my favorite)? Both are extremely popular in Japan and among fans in the US.

What about consoles? Or do you play on PC?

I just looked up Skip Beat on wikipedia. It seems like a cool series with very detailed characterizations and intricate plot. I'm sure it's a good series. I think I've read some shoujo manga when I was in elementary school. It was in an Egyptian setting and the title had the "Niles" in it.

I looked up Natsume on wikipedia too. I'm surprised they called it shoujo too. The storyline could pass as shounen from the little bit I read. But the art style was closer to shoujo.

Both series seems really good! Are you reading them in Japanese?

I'll look for sulfur in Home Depot then. Thanks for the reference to Trees of Antiquity! Am I correct in assuming Northern Highbush prefers cooler climate?

That's fascinating! I didn't know bees collect nector in the winter too. Where do they find flowers in the winter? And how do they survive in the high latitudes north in the winter?

I hope your weekend is going well!
[User Picture]
Date:November 25th, 2013 02:53 pm (UTC)
Yours is more like an RPG, right?

That is correct.

If you like RPG's, have you played final fantasy and the Tales series

I have not. I did watch people play the Nintendo versions of Final Fantasy, but I never really played myself.

Or do you play on PC?

I only play PC games.

Are you reading them in Japanese?

Yes, I couldn't stomach reading translated manga. It would just seem wrong.

Am I correct in assuming Northern Highbush prefers cooler climate?

That's right. They need it to get a lot colder in the winter.

I didn't know bees collect nector in the winter too. Where do they find flowers in the winter?

In this area, winters are mild enough that flowers bloom nearly year-round. They may take a short break in January, when it's coldest. Manzanita flowers start blooming in February, I think.

And how do they survive in the high latitudes north in the winter?

Wild honey bees stay in the hive when it's too cold. They eat their honey for food (that's why they made it in the first place). Domesticated honey bees have their honey harvested, so they don't have as much for themselves. The beekeeper has to provide them with sugar water in the winter so they don't starve.
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2013 04:22 am (UTC)
There are a lot of GREAT console RPG games. Would you like to try? =)

I'm playing a PC RPG called Dragon Age: Origins. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_Age_Origins
I think it's one of the best western RPG's I've ever played. It came out quite a few years ago. So the PC hardware requirement is very low by today's standards. I'm not sure if it's something you might be interested in. =P

I can only understand maybe 50% of manga in Japanese only. =( I can't read it in its native language. I really envy your fluency in Japanese. ^_^

Thanks for the info on bees. How fascinating! Have you considered farming or something in agriculture? You'd be great at it, I'm sure!
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