Left for the office retreat Saturday afternoon around noon. Filled up two cars with junk food, booze and board of education workers.
The drinking began early. My ability to stay awake on long car rides if I’m not the one driving is not good. On the drive out I lasted for around three beers and an hour. Apparently my coworkers didn’t like me passing into never-land, so and woke me up time and again. I did not appreciate this, and when I kept passing back out, I think they got the idea.
Woke up for a stop about an hour outside our destination, in time to try my first Hokkaido micro-brew, which was delicious.
Arrived at the hotel as the sun was coming down,
after checking in, we changed into attire fitting the evening’s mood, then met up in one of the rooms to continue the talk and hops consumption. Around 7 was time to clean. I was sad when I discovered the hotel did not have an onsen, but their large public bath did the trick. Was one big bathtub that was medium level onsen pool hot.
Had another catnap before dinner at 8:30 – long week and booze catching up to me – then went down to feast. Apparently the crab, or kani, in this region is famous. Between the ten of us we must’ve consumed at least a thousand of the orange creatures.
I’d previously described the dinner as a food orgasm, though Alex pointed out to me today, given we were eating crabs, using sex as an analogy here may not be the best idea.
Part of the reason I’d decided to nap instead of drink my through my fatigue on the drive out was because I was preparing for what I assumed to be a long evening of drinking. Instead, everyone’d had enough after eating and went to sleep at 8:30.
Of course I had plenty of energy, and couldn’t fall asleep till after midnight, which was sweet by myself.
Next day had a big breakfast and stopped at a local fish-market before starting the three hour drive back. So, essentially we all paid $140 and drove six hours roundtrip for a nice crab dinner. I didn’t totally understand, but am not really in a position to ask questions.
On the way home, we did stop for a nice lunch at a hotel with a fantastic onsen. I had my first taste of a rotemburo – outdoor pool - while it was snowing. Being in scalding hot water with snow falling on your face looking at the ocean is an experience I hope to repeat soon and often.
Heartwarming moment of the drive back was a group sing along to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence.”
Soon after arriving home, I headed right back to continue driving North along Hokkaido’s Eastern coast. Hokkaido’s #1 cutest gaijin non-married couple had flown in for the weekend to experience a real winter.
While I was mad at them for not coming down to Hamatonbetsu, I forgave them and made the drive up to Wakkanai to meet up. Wakkanai is Soya sub-prefecture’s, a sub-prefecture is similar to a US county, biggest city.
After a slow drive through the snow at night, I arrived at the Sun Hotel. Walking up to the front desk I said in my bad Japanese that I had some friends staying there. Clearly there was no possibility I had Japanese friends staying there, so the front desk put two and two together and put me on the phone to Jay and Claire’s room, before I even mentioned their names.
After catching up for a bit and hearing that James had told Jay and Claire they wouldn’t even recognize me after all the weight I’d gained in my face – they said they recognized me – we took a cab to dinner. Due to a mix-up in location and our friend who lives in Wakkanai did not join us for an hour.
It was fine though, gave us a chance to talk, and to meet some Russians.
Given Wakkanai’s location as Japan’s northernmost city, it gets a lot of Russian fishermen to visit. The street signs have Japanese, English and Russian. Relations between the two parties can apparently be frigid at times. As such, Wakkanai is the only city I’ve been in, where anti-gaijin racism is very in-your-face. Saturday night, my friends were told they were not welcome at eight out of the ten bars they tried to patronize.
After committing multiple Japanese cultural faux-pas, the drunk Russian gentelman spoke to us for a bit in his mother tongue, and then in a brazenly poor man’s don juan-esque move, encouraged Claire to “come with” him on his evening out right in front of her boyfriend. He also told her she was beautiful.
His friend who spoke a little English and was less drunk, apologized for his comrade’s behavior.
Soon afterwards Nic arrived, and we sat down for a feast of food accompanied by two hours of all-you-can-drink revelry. The liquids only cost fifteen bucks. Found out at dinner, that news of my meeting with a principal at one school over sagging my pants had made it all the way up to Wakkanai. Small world.
After all the beer the night before I focused Sunday evening around Shochu on the rocks. Was not the wisest decision, if good for my supposedly increasing figure. After dinner we met up with James and headed to another restaurant for drinks and snacks. I was flabbergasted to find their french fries were delicious.
They were easily amongst the top two french fries I’ve ever had outside America. The other challenger for the top spot being a small cafe in Marseille. Perhaps if you’re jonesing for fries outside the red, white and blue, the place to go is to the nearest industrial port city?
Alex, who’d been at a friends’ Japanese wedding also met up with us at some point. Was shocked to find out that at Japanese weddings, the guests pay for food and drink. Then, $130 gets you neither open bar nor buffet food. Being the consumate professional he is; however, Alex did not let those disappointments stand in the way of leading his team dance in honor of the proud couple.
Night ended early in a sense at a bar. Woke up around 10 this morning to take Jay and Claire to the airport. Was laying in bed as they packed, before their noon flight.
At 10:45, Jay re-read his ticket to excitedly discover his flight was in fact at 11:15. Safely cruising at 90 km on the black-ice roads, we got there around 11:10. In a true sign of Japanese courtesy, an airline representative greeted my friends outside with a worried look on her face. She quickly got them checked in and onto their flight. Can’t say the Japanese don’t do service well.
Stopped in a Mr. Donut on my way out of town, while Alex did some shopping. Had an old fashioned donut for the first time since I was a kid. Wasn’t quite a madeleine, but brought back some old memories of Tokyo. Mainly of the Mr. Donut shop we used to patronize a lot, and the Hard Rock cafe it was close by to. Hard Rock was particularly cool for its giant King Kong gorilla hanging on the side of the building. Also thought about what memories will come back when I eat at a Tokyo McDonald’s again.
Smiled when I thought about how all my childhood memories coming back were all centered around chain food stores.
Dropped Alex off in Sarufutusu on my drive South home. Had an interesting talk about our separate experiences here. Alex’s Japanese is a lot better than mine, and because of that he can hear some things I can’t, obviously. He’s not quite as Japanese loving as I am, and pointed out that some things which are bothering him and how they might bother me too if I could understand them. I think he is probably somewhat right. My blissful ignorance of the language leaves me in sort of a child-like state where everything is good and happy. Got particularly bad Saturday night at the office dinner. I really didn’t say anything at dinner, and understood almost nothing. Its gotten to the point where my lack of Japanese is keeping me from getting to the next level of understanding. If I want to do this year right, I need to discipline myself. I still haven’t even memorized the alphabet yet. Ultimately I think I will continue to disagree with Alex about certain things about Japan and her people, but my evidence in the argument at this point is fairly empty.
Alex also asked how I planned to impress women wearing my boots,
Stopped off at Lake Kutcharo to see the swans when I got home. Was a brilliant day, with no snow and tons of sunlight. Was happy to see my friends had not yet left town, despite the cold. Feel a certain kinship with them as transient residents of Hamatonbetsu.