The rate of blog posting is definitely slowing down and this is causing me no end of concern. Is it possible that novelty wears off after six months? Have I been in Japan so long that I’m now immune to novel uses of English and peculiar customs? Yet I still cringe when all 20 staff members of any shop shout their thanks in unison when I make a tiny purchase. Perhaps the economy really is that bad. When I ride past the shop up the road called Leather and Hot Dog Steal, I still wonder what sort of products they sell and whether they are acting as a fence operation or are a bunch of anarchists encouraging customers not to pay. And at least bad Japanese English is generally amusing, such as this on the packaging of the elastic straps I bought the other day to stop my trousers getting covered in muck from my chain:
As opposed to the perplexing English used by native speakers, such as sports marketing chap Ben Crowe, who tells us: “Our primary relationship is with the persona of Tiger Woods as a brilliant athlete, and as such his brand will be judged over the journey rather than by this incident.” I tried to explain to Kazuko that she should judge me over the journey and not by my persona as a lazy layabout who forgets to vacuum but she didn’t seem to buy in to it.
Instead, the conclusion that I’ve had to come to is just that I haven’t been doing much. It’s been cold but not so cold that I can go outside and enjoy the crunchy sound that fresh snow makes when you walk on it. However, I can confirm that I’m not the least bit surprised that eskimos have many words for snow. I’m already familiar with light fluffy snow that floats up and down in the wind, light snow that falls heavily, wet snow that’s melted a bit already on the way down, icy snow that’s melted and re-frozen, and light icy snow that doesn’t melt on the ground but gets blown about by the wind . I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to come over the next few months.
Although I’m only working part-time, now that the end of semester is looming, I seem to be occupying most of my time marking homework I should have looked at ages ago and preparing revision material in the hope that some of my pleasant but not entirely brilliant students can manage to get themselves a pass mark and therefore make me look moderately competent. Their saving grace may be that the test is multiple choice and I’m fairly sure they can be trained to choose the correct answers without actually understanding English.
Meanwhile, it is getting on toward the end of the year and although Christmas is not at all part of their culture, the Japanese will snaffle any holiday, especially one that involves shopping. They like Valentine’s Day so much, they have it twice – in February, women buy gifts for men and a month later, men buy candy for women. Candy – the cheapest of lollies. Men are the winners in this one. Ramadan is yet to catch on but it could work with a little tinkering – Ramadan cards and post-sunset Ramadan all-you-can-eat cake parties – I’m sure it could be a staple on the calendar. In any case, there are now Christmas songs everywhere you go, which Grinch Kazuko finds annoying but at least they’ve waited until December, as opposed to October. Except Kentucky Fried Chicken, which has found itself a Christmas niche and it has become a tradition to get food there on Christmas Day. Here’s how the colonel looked back in October:
December is also the time for bonenkai parties here in Japan and that’s a lot more enjoyable than some bland deep-fried chicken. Bonenkai literally means forget the year and parties are held with friends and/or colleagues to put the year behind us and clean the slate for the year to come. And what better way to do this than to drink too much in the spirit of camaraderie? Last Saturday I attended the cycling team NSR’s bonenkai party where, among other things, I realised that NSR, which stands for North Sea and Road, is the English word-for-word translation of Hokkaido (北海道 if your computer can read Japanese). Also, I met NSR’s foreign team member, Brian, who is the first English native speaker that I’ve had any length of conversation with since I got here. I’ve got a nasty feeling he was subjected to some sort of Bruce stream of consciousness monologue toward the end of the night so sorry about that Brian. At least I managed not to post bizarre drunken messages on Facebook or Twitter. I also learnt a bit about fishing with live bait from the team member who was advised to give up cycling by his doctor because of an erratic heart or something. And I have vague memories of being invited to ride at the velodrome in Hakodate or something like that. I boldly gave up drinking yet again the next morning.
However, there was a break from the humdrum yesterday as we’ve had a couple of warmer days, the snow has melted and finally the sun came out (undoubtedly a sign that thousands of climate scientists are completely wrong and Sarah Palin’s right. I shouldn’t be surprised if glaciers don’t start advancing again shortly). I think this may well be my last chance for a long ride this side of winter, so I decided to try and make the most of it and get up the coast to somewhere I haven’t been before. That somewhere turned out to be a town called Hamamasu, which ended up being a bit further than I probably should have gone considering how early the sun is setting these days.
My initial plan was to head inland and go along a small road through the mountains that I went along with Team Attic a little while back and then head north, across to the coast and then back along the coast. However, when I got to the start of that road, it was all covered in snow. This turned out to be quite fortunate because I would have ended up riding even further than I did. On the way back to the coast, I still had to get off and walk a couple of times because the road became icy.
It soon gets a bit annoying having to scrape the ice off my cleats to be able to get back on the bike. Also heading downhill is a bit nervous hoping not to hit a patch of ice. Back on the coastal road, there was a bit of snow by the side at times but luckily none on the road. The view was quite pleasant, too.
The road was never too busy or too steep and had a nice turn inland through some mountains before winding back out to the coast just before Hamamasu. The only problem was a few long tunnels. I don’t enjoy cycling through these much at all. The footpath through them is rarely wide enough to ride on and the way noise bounces around the tunnels makes even the smallest car sound a bit frightening. I had forgotten to take any lights with me so all I could do was try to get through the tunnel as quickly as possible and hope that drivers were alert. As you can see from the graph below, one tunnel scared me so much I that I hit my top speed ever:
Unfortunately for me, when I left home, there was no food to put in my pockets and no powdered sports drink so I had just filled my bottles with water and put some money in my pocket. And as any quoter of American Indian proverbs can tell you, you cannot eat money. As ever, I waited until I was hungry to think about eating and that was naturally at the point furthest from the nearest convenience store. By the time I got to my destination of Hamamasu, I was just slightly dizzy and not in a pleasant drunken way. Three onigiri and three chocolate bars later, I was feeling strong again and hit the road home, only to realise that although it was just 1.30pm, the sun was rapidly disappearing. Uphill was in the shade but downhill was mostly in the sun. I started to worry that the temperature might cool enough to start refreezing the melted snow on the road but luckily that didn’t happen. Instead I just had to race against the sun so I wouldn’t be caught on the road, in the dark with no lights.
Luckily for me I managed to get to a stretch of road that had a pavement while there was still some sun so although there was a greater risk of crashing on the less-than-flat pavement, at least I wasn’t going to get side-swiped by a passing car. Not that any car had driven too close to me until that point but I didn’t want to risk it in the dark. To celebrate being able to ride the last 20 kilometres or so on the pavement, I celebrated with a little rest and a large can of caffeinated, sugary fizzy drink to see me through until I got home. While resting, I checked my twitter feed to see Kevin Rudd boasting about driving a hybrid car, so despite bicycle riding taking me to the edge of exhaustion and with a good chance of catching exposure, I thought it best to tweet back to him and let him know that bikes are better for the world than even hybrid cars. Needless to say I got no reply. I’ll remember that when the revolution comes.
The rest of the ride was at least safe but all the rubbing in the world wasn’t warming my hands back up. I got home in full darkness at 4.40pm. My hands took so long to warm up that in the shower the hot water felt cold whenever I pointed it at my hands. Felt strange to me, anyway. Tomorrow Kazuko and I are off to Lake Toya with a teammate from Attic, Mr Kon. The forecast is for two degrees in Sapporo but it should be a little bit warmer at Toya but I think my ride to Hamamasu will have been the last long one for the year.