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Saturday, August 27, 2011

An English Boy in Matsuyama: Part Ni

Farewell, Matsuyama!

So that’s it – my stay in Matsuyama has come to an end. I’m on the bus back to Ainan now jotting this down in Word to do my sieve-memory a favour. It’s been a really eventful two weeks – by day I’ve been attending my Japanese language class at EPIC (Ehime Prefectural Information Centre), and by night hanging out with as many different JETs as possible! I stayed at Rachel’s in Hojo for a few days, and spent a night with Jacqui in Imabari too. Imabari was a bit of an eerie place – the streets were deserted and full of boarded-up shops. It felt like some sort of post-apocalyptic ghost town... creeeeeepy!

I also spent three nights in Hiroshima with Tom, the Kiwi I met at Tokyo Orientation. My journey there was a struggle, to say the least. Hopping on the ferry, I wasn’t really sure what was going on but, using my piecemeal Japanese, I managed to work out from a bunch of old ladies that the ferry I was travelling on was stopping in two places: first, in Kure, a town not far away from Tom’s place in Akitsu; and second, in Hiroshima City: the city of the prefecture and a full on two-hour trek away from Akitsu. I felt pretty accomplished that I’d managed to find that all out using my minimal Japanese. Sadly, I was blinded by my own success and, observant as ever, chose the exact moment of the first stop in Kure to decide I needed the bathroom. By the time I was out, we’d had time to stop in Kure, refuel and disembark for the distant shores of Hiroshima City. So that’s where I ended up: a stupid gaijin stranded in the big city. Luckily, I somehow managed to make my way to the train station where Tom eventually met me. The whole tram ride there I could do nothing but laugh. Partially because the tram driver seemed to think he was one with the vehicle and kept making “whoooosh!” sounds as we took off down the street; and partially because I was just downright delirious, having  managed to turn what should’ve been a two-and-a-half hour journey into a seven hour marathon. Banter.

If I spent as much time studying the guidebooks as I did posing for arty photos with them, I probably wouldn't get so lost.

As if that wasn’t enough, all that stupidity was rewarded with a bucketload of rain, English summer style. Tom told me it was the first time he’d seen rain in Hiroshima. This made me feel even better. What’s more, with Tom not yet having his car, our options were limited. That being so, we did what any tourist keen to see the local sights does: grabbed ten cans from the local supermarket and opted for a night in watching a full season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Hahaha. We fared a little bit better in getting out and about the next morning, having been invited to a Japanese calligraphy class with some cute old ladies. It was the first time I’d done it, so I was predictably shit, but it was a good laugh and we ended up going out for lunch with the teachers afterwards.

On the way back, we stopped at one of the local temples too and had a nosey around. Managed to get some pretty cool shots on my camera...the best of which were courtesy of Tom:

With the weekend over, it was time for me to head back to Matsuyama – having a week of living in the city already under my belt, I managed to find some pretty cool places to eat and drink. I also developed a bit of a sweet-tooth for puri-kura. Two nights in a row I found myself in one of the photo machines (with slogans like “FRESH VIRGIN SKIN” written on the side...dubious) pulling super-kawaii faces to the camera before spending ten minutes perfecting “the look” on the editing machines next door.
The second time I went was with two random girls I’d met on the beach during my first week in Matsuyama. We’d gone for Katie’s birthday and were just heading off when they both ran over to me and asked me what my favourite Japanese word was. They introduced themselves as Chihiro and Eri and I knew I was onto a winner when, after having forgotten Eri’s name when asked, she proceeded to stamp her feet, fake cry and run in circles around me. Fucking hilarious. So when I got a text from Chihiro saying she “WANTED TO DRINK WITH JAMES! <3” (that was the actual text), obviously I was madkeen. So that’s what we did: Wednesday night, me, Chihiro and Eri met at Okkaido for yakitori and puri-kura. They were hilarious – Chihiro came armed with her little electronic English dictionary, but (obviously) it KO’d so we were left to cope alone. I was actually pretty surprised at how much we were able to talk and understand each other – looks like the language classes have paid off, baby!

The next morning, with more puri-kura than money in my wallet, I ventured up to Matsuyama Castle with another JET, Lionel, and his two brothers who were visiting. I’m happy someone else was there to convince me to get out of bed and actually make the effort to see the Castle – I’d already told myself for three consecutive mornings that I’d get up early enough to squeeze in a visit before class and three times bed had won out. A quick cable-cart ride to the top of the hill and there it was. Matsuyama Castle. I was just thankful I took the cable-cart – the hike looked vicious and it was fucking hot AS.
 Matsuyama Castle: casual chairlift to the top.
Oh, and whilst I was in Matsuyama, one of my friends (Annie) gave me an awesome little charm for my phone – it’s of Tony Tony Chopper from One Piece. I don’t watch the programme, but it’s the shit over here and apparently there’s a Tony Tony Chopper phone charm for each prefecture in Japan. So I’ve decided that, every time I visit a new prefecture, I’m going to pick up the charm from that prefecture and pin it to a big map of Japan I’ve got sitting up in my room! Should make for a cool little collection :D
So, that’s it: highlights of my time in Matsuyama in a nutshell! I’m still about two hours away from Ainan on this bus nursing some pretty brutal post-lash sweats. There was no way my last night in Matsuyama was going to end in any way other than drinking a shedload of booze and causing some havoc. (Un)fortunately, those were Rachel’s hopes too, so that’s exactly what happened: we started by grabbing some bottles and heading to the park; what went down after that is still a mystery. Apparently we broke into Takashimaya Beer Garden without paying, rubbed it in all the paying customer’s faces, then stumbled off to karaoke. There, I threw a fit because they didn't have "Nancy Sinatra - Sugartown" and I wanted to pretend I was Summer from (500) Days of Summer. Butch. I kind of remember the latter but the former was a complete revelation when Rachel told me this morning. Oops. Might be a good thing that I’m leaving Matsuyama for a while. Haha. Oh, and I woke up with a tub of western-style toothpaste in my pocket. No idea how. And I’ve got some pretty rough grazes on my knees and feet – this I do remember: put simply, I won’t be trying to ride on the back of Rachel’s bike when we’re both wasted again anytime soon.

               Yeah, we paid for it the next morning. 'cept I was the only one taking photos.
I’ve been back in Ainan for a night now and have used that time to rest up and start sorting out my life at last – I’ve finally got my bank card, so I can get my hands on all that dollar that’s been sitting in my bank account teasing me for the past two weeks! I’ve also started to make more of a home out of my place – I put all my pictures up this afternoon and gave the place a good clean. I still need to do a big furniture shop to Japan-ify the place, but it’s a start :D Now that I’m back in Ainan for the foreseeable future, I guess this is it: summer holidays are winding down and there’s no more two-week holiday in the City to bum around in. I’ll be quite happy to get a bit of stability, to be honest – everything’s been so chop-and-change for the past month: one night here, another there, that it’ll be nice to finally feel like I’ve got a base I can call home and a community I can start breaking into!
In that vein, I texted one of my language students on the bus-ride home – the adorable 73-year old Chiyo – and asked her if she wanted to go out for dinner when I got back. She was madkeen and before I knew it there I was, out for dinner at a local fish restaurant with her and four friends. Even though I had to feign my best “this is delicious!” face whilst trying not to wretch from all the raw fish, they were all beyond kawaii.  One of them, Mitsuko, told me that her “heart was beating fast” when she met me before presenting me with a gift-bag full of beer and cookies. Japanese hospitality is literally ridiculous. So much love for them.

I’ve also somewhat impulsively enrolled in a karate class (at the local police station of all places!). I used to do it as a kid, but gave it up when I was a teenager. Well, now I’m back! And, sorry Mum and Dad, all that time and money you spent on classes officially amounted to nothing. I SUCK, as Tuesday’s class unsurprisingly revealed. Luckily, I’ve got shedloads more humility than I had as a kid so being crap is more hilarious than annoying. Especially when the eight-year old girl with bunches outclasses you. Hahaha. Luckily, she outclassed Elayna too so I wasn’t too bothered. And it seemingly doesn’t cost anything, either! The class and the gi were given to me for free and I was invited back next week. Now, physical exertion isn’t usually something I’m down with, but I’d feel bad turning my teacher’s generosity down! And it was the first time in a long time that I can remember sweat dripping down my face, so it must be a good workout!
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