Farewell, old friend

Well, sagablog, it's been something like 8 months since my last post, but something happened to me today that I feel the need to talk about, and a high-traffic spot such as this seems ideal.

I happened to be in Kumamoto on Saturday morning, after a night of not drinking and not acting stupid and not sleeping in the rest area of a sento. On the way back to Kumamoto station, I decided to head over to Tsutaya and pick myself up a copy of the new Zelda game for DS (having bought the DS under no peer pressure at all from the other members of a group whose name is not Ichiban).

Needless to say, I spent much of the remainder of the weekend not at all playing Zelda, and not at all finishing a good chunk of the game. And, of course, I didn't decide to go home and play during my lunch break today, because that would be silly.

On the way not back home, I stopped into the Daily Yamazaki on the north side of Saga station for my first "Daily Lunch" in quite some time. Barely had I put the side stand on my bicycle down when I noticed a sign in Japanese.

本店は今月、6月30日をもちまして閉店させていただくことになりました。

Translation: don't come here after June 30th, cause you will be SOL.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooo

Why the big fuss, you say. It's just another combini. There's one right down the street.

Just another combini? If Daily is just another combini, then Cocoa Puffs are just another kind of cereal, beer is just another kind of alcohol, hurricanes are just another kind of rainstorms, air is just another mixture of gases, LIFE ITSELF IS JUST ANOTHER STATE OF EXISTENCE.

No, friends, Daily is not just another combini. Daily is where I stumbled in one January night, bleeding profusely from my left hand (after a completely undrunk run-in with the sidewalk, I swear), and bought milk and cough drops.

Daily is where I stumbled in after falling off my bicycle completely undrunk to wash the cuts on my face.

Daily is an integral stop along the hallowed Trail of Beverages that do not include Beer.

Daily is where I bought flour and eggs at 1 in the morning to make okonomiyaki.

Daily is where I learned that Saga is the nanpa capital of central northern Kyushu, with people coming from all over the prefecture and even from Kurume and the Chikuho region of Fukuoka.

Daily is where I ended many a completely sober night, buying some snacks that I would find the next morning partially eaten.

In short, Daily was my life in Saga.

Daily Yamazaki, thanks for all the good times. Thanks for all the food. Thanks for being the best second-rate combini in Saga. But most of all, thanks for the memories.

I saulte you, Daily Yamazaki, and pledge that I shall never forget your existence for as long as I should live. Rest in Peace, good buddy ;(


PS: Daily-Y closes at 6:00 PM this Saturday. They are having a closing sale starting on the 28th and going through to the end. Feel free to stop in and pick up reduced price stuff, but hands off the beer. It's mine.

Give-up します

I, after much thought, have decided I'm too busy to be chasing people down to write and am tired of lame excuses of why people can't write a few blurbs. Therefore, I am resigning my post as moderator of the Saga blog. I've put a post on Saga Jet to see if anyone wants the job and as of yet, there have been no offers. I wanted to thank all of the people who read this blog and/or have contributed to the blog. If any ALT reader out there would like a chance to revitalize the blog once more and become moderator, please feel free to e-mail me at cardensarah@yahoo.com. As far as I'm concerned that means open blogging until we get a new moderator and/or someone who wants to write for a week. Take care and my apologies to the blog's founder, Matt for the slow state of affairs.

A Japanese Job Interview

This past weekend, I traveled to the Kansai area for a job interview. Since about last September I have been looking for a new job instead of JET. Lack of satisfaction, lack of classroom control, lack of a lot have things have built over the course of 2 years, ultimately resulting in my dissatisfaction with my current situation. Looking for a solution, I threw myself into a self imposed job search. I asked myself, what do I want to be doing? The answer was teaching, something I find myself, sadly, not doing now.

(On a side note: Generally speaking, I think ALTs with backgrounds are teachers are more often fed up with the system. The complete lack of regard for one's teaching background is enough to drive a person crazy.)

But I digress, in September I updated my resume, wrote a Japanese version, obtained my grades from overseas, asked my graduate school advisor for a letter of recommendation, asked my supervisor and 2 JTEs and the BOE for other letters of recommendation. (mind you the LOR from overseas came faster than the teacher sitting next to me in Japan ... go figure)

I sent out about 20 resumes to private high schools and universities looking for someone who would hire me. The universities it seemed want people with university teaching experience. Something I lack. Many of the private high schools were only hiring part time with no health insurance or any real type of job security. So of the 20 letters I sent out, 10 positive responses came back. And of those 10, about 4 seemed promising.

Fast forward to last Friday. After work, I hopped on the Shinkansen for a “mere” 2.6 man and set off for an interview in one of Japan's more reputable private high schools. The job posting required an undergraduate degree as well as "intermediate Japanese a plus" not required, but a plus. This job was also full-time and offered an indefinite contract.

I arrived 1 hour early to my interview, because I did not know the location. I made small talk with the guard and followed the large English signs. THIS WAY PLEASE, and PLEASE SIT DOWN HERE. I complied.

About 15 minutes before my scheduled time, an elderly gentlemen introduced himself as Mike, shook my hand, and guided me to the interview room.

I opened the door and was greeted by a panel of not 2 or 3 people as I had been expecting but instead 12 people! 10 Japanese people and 2 foreign nationals. Immediately I was barraged in polite (Keigo) Japanese. I was asked to introduce myself. Which I did, OK, I suppose. But then the interview descended further into a personal hell.

I was handed a Japanese newspaper, and asked to read it aloud. ??? I would image this would serve as a daunting task to even the most fluent 2 language learners of Japanese. Needless to say I was stunned and muddled my way through something to do with a Historic Anniversary??? Then I was asked my opinion on the matter.

I froze. What did this have to do with teaching??? And the posting stated, spoken Japanese a benefit not a requirement. I looked around the room and noticed that everyone was at least 40 and above. (and really bad dressers too … a little humor here and there) I started to question if this is what I really wanted.

It got worse.

The ringleader of the group asked me to pick up the phone on the table next to me, and make a mock-phone call in Japanese to the parents of a student who was bullying other students. I told them that while I cannot do this well now, in the event I would have to do this, I would conference with someone prior to making the actual call. They nodded and asked me to continue.

I asked the imaginary parent to come in, and his/her earliest convenience due do my poor Japanese telephone etiquette, and have a face to face discussion.

The rest of the interview seemed to blur together. I was asked about my high school AP courses, how long I wished to stay in Japan, the idea of being in charge of a club, and if I had any other questions.

After a few questions on my part, and in a sort of blurry daze, I got up from the table bowed, thanked everyone and got on the shinkansen as fast as I could ...

Needless to say, I don't think I'll be hearing from them anytime soon. But you never know, perhaps this was some kind of bizarre test to see how people react under pressure. Who knows? Luckily, I have a different job lined up, and I will be outside of Tokyo to pursue my true passion, teaching.

Good luck to anyone returning/moving on. Any job interview questions please feel free to ask.

Kabocha Soup

I was in the mood for something nourishing and warm and easy. This hit the spot. I didn't measure anything. It's another "key recipe." Just add and subtract stuff till it suits you.



* 1/2 kabocha, scooped, peeled and cut into 1" (3 cm) cubes.

* 1 tomato

* 1/2 onion

* about 1 liter chicken stock or 2 bouillon cubes + 1 liter water.

* 1/2 package frozen green beans

* 4-5 small sausages. I used "Arabic wiener," expecting something like merguez, but they weren't spicy at all (surprise surprise in the land of "Dear goodness! That Cream of Wheat was karai!!")

* Potato flakes (I dunno ... like a handful or two)

* Milk (about 1/4 liter, maybe a bit less)

* Paprika, salt, black pepper


1. Prepare the kabocha if you haven't already. Also, slice the top off the tomato and dice the onion. Cut the sausages into long slices (instead of cutting perpendicularly, slice at an angle).

2. Add some olive oil to a wok or deep skillet. Fry the sausage for a bit. When it starts to cook, toss in the onions and cook those until they turn translucent and fragrant.

3. Don't worry if residue is sticking to your pan, because you're gonna fix that in this step: pour in a little of your stock or water and work your spatula against the bottom of the pan to un-stick the fried residue. Now that you've gently lowered the temperature of your pan, you can add the rest of the water or chicken stock. Toss in your bouillon if you're gonna use it. Work it around until it's dissolved.

4. Add the kabocha chunks. Bring it to a boil. Toss in your tomato, skin and all. You're going to use the soup to blanch it. After about a minute, retrieve the tomato. The skin should slip off. You can then return it to the pot and mash it up a bit.

5. Now reduce the pan's heat to low. The surface should still be simmering. Let that cook until the kabocha begins to get soft. Whisk/mash it around if you want a puree. Otherwise, don't.

6. Ideally, you don't want to cook this too long because the heat will break down a lot of the nutrients in the vegetables you've added. On the other hand, the soup needs to simmer a bit if you want the kabocha to be creamy. Use your own judgment on this. Add the green beans. It's okay if they're still frozen. Let it all cook until the green beans start to get soft. Then add your potato flakes. They add a certain heartiness, I think, and they also thicken it all. And they're easier than throwing in a potato and cooking it. Potatoes take freakin' forever to cook. I almost exclusively microwave them these days.

7. So now you should have all of the major ingredients incorporated. Here is where you add the milk (dairy doesn't generally handle long cooking spells well). Just stir it in until you like the color and the flavor.

8. Another thing that does not hold up well to long cooking are dried herbs and powdered spices. Now is the time to add these. I use the paprika mostly for garnish cuz it looks cool...but I stirred a little in for the pungency it adds. Sage is a classic match for butternut squash (which tastes the same as acorn squash, which is the most commonly found form of kabocha.) but I didn't have any sage. So I didn't use it. Also, now's the time to add salt + pepper, unless you prefer to salt/pepper at the table. Be advised that both potatoes and, to a lesser degree, tomatoes, counter salt. So if you added a lot of either, you'll need to add more salt.

9. Once everything is cooked through to the texture you like, and once you've seasoned it, you're ready to chow down. I would say this can be done in under an hour. I think it only takes about 30 minutes to cook over a gas flame.

--


I ate like 6 cups of it when I was hung over from Lizzie's birthday and it made me feel 100% more human again :o)

Pancakes!

Feeling exhausted and not motivated, I decided to pull a "finals week schedule" which is where I go to bed at an ungodly early hour, get plenty of sleep and wake up at an ungodly early hour. (in this case, 4 am) .

So I was up this morning, fiending for food, and I decided I'd do pancakes. But I never really bothered to memorize a recipe...and I was too lazy to find one that I usually use, so I hopped on Allrecipes and dug one up. I changed the white sugar to brown and man, it turned out well!

So here is it. It makes 4 servings. Which is enough to feed a really hungry me. Or two normal people. If you have extra, you could probably wrap each in plastic wrap (or put waxed paper between each), toss them in a Ziploc, and put them in your freezer. Breadlike things tend to freeze well.

INGREDIENTS

1. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine all the dry ingredients.

2. In a separate bowl, beat all the wet ingredients together well.

3. Heat your frying pan until water sizzles when you flick it across the surface of the pan. For me the lowest regular setting on my gas burner was ok.

4. Add a little butter and tilt the melted butter around to coat the bottom of the pan.

5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, stirring until just mixed. (The baking powder begins reacting immediately when it gets wet, so you shouldn't mix it until you're ready to use it.)

6. Add 1/4 cups (about 60 ml) of the mixture to the pan. When the top begins to bubble, flip the pancake. Repeat until you have a platter of golden delights.

7. Serve immediately with some of the horrendously expensive pancake syrup they have here. Unless you can get your hands on the even-more-expensive real maple syrup, in which case I envy you so you should be especially smug when you enjoy these pancakes.




Also, I finally got around to finishing the last recipe from my December week of cooking. It's not much of a recipe. It's really just an excuse to talk about Epicurious.com, which I review in the "Resources" section. Huzzah.

Pota-toes are cozy toes

Looking for a tasty treat to keep you warm this cold, cold winter?
Why not take a page from the Little House on the Prairie (Big Woods volume) and cook a potato?
It's easy: microwave one potato and take to bed with you. The little angel will keep you so warm you're actually at risk for skin burns - for real, be careful. Then, in the morning, you've got a potato, ready to eat!
I'm serious, this works.
American Pioneer Seal of Desperate Approval