Monday, July 25, 2005

Summer Break

Oh, lest I forget to mention it….
It’s Summer Break!

Summer break in Japan is very short, only about 5 weeks.
And actually, I’ve always thought the words “summer break” were a bit of a misnomer in Japan, because no one really gets a break. The students have homework, the teachers come in to the office everyday, and everyone has sports practice and sports tournaments daily. (That’s Japan for you. Their motto is, “keep everyone busy.”)

But yours truly is a bit more fortunate. As an ALT I do actually get the summer break off. It’s a nice deal that is the envy of all my Japanese colleagues, and even a lot of my foreign friends as well. Even most of the foreigners don’t have this nice of a deal. You’ll recall perhaps that when I was a JET I didn’t have the breaks completely off, but had a limited amount of leave time that I had to negotiate with.

But with this new company I get the breaks completely off. The trade off is I don’t have any “vacation days” during the year to use at my discretion (which prevented me from attending Brett’s wedding last fall), but it is still a nice deal. So, now everyone else I know in Japan absolutely hates me because I’ve got the whole summer break off.

Fortunately I can deal with that. The plan this summer is to return to the old stomping grounds in Oita-ken to spend time with Shoko. Regular readers of this blog may recall that on my previous visits back to Oita, the lack of a car severely handicapped me. The train system in Oita is pretty worthless for all of the places I want to go.

Shoko suggested to me I drive down for summer break. That was actually my original plan for spring break as well, but I wimped out on it at the last minute. Because of the toll roads in Japan, driving down is actually more expensive than an airplane ticket. And it’s an 11-hour drive, which I’m not crazy about. And I’m using a company car right now, and I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to be taking it on a road trip down to Kyushu.

I mentioned my concerns to Shoko on the telephone. “When we were talking about this way back during the spring, I said it would be no problem to drive down,” I said. “But the closer I get to the actual date, the more I’m having second thoughts about this plan. I’m not sure if I want to sacrifice a whole day for driving, and besides an airplane ticket would be cheaper.”

“Okay,” Shoko said. “But it’s too hot in this weather for me to bike to work, so you’re not taking my car again. And you know from previous experience that none of your friends are willing to drive out to pick you up. So, while I’m at work, you’ll just be sitting at my house watching movies all day just like you did during Spring Break.”

So I drove down. Actually it wasn’t so bad. I drove during the night to avoid the traffic and the blazing Japanese summer heat. Which was one of my better ideas actually, driving at night was really smooth, I just cruised down the road.

The only problem with driving at night of course is the danger of falling asleep, especially with express way driving. But I had my Enka music and my “learning French” tapes to keep my company.

Shoko had sent me detailed directions on which roads to take. And Monika, who had made the same trip during Christmas break, gave me a couple maps and some advice on difficult points. But really, it was pretty simple. I just got on the express way and headed South. Japan’s not that big of a country.

The first landmark was Kyoto, which I passed within the first hour. Shortly after that was Kobe. The next big landmark after that was Hiroshima, which I got to in 3 hours. And then by that point I was seeing signs for Kitakyushu already, so I knew I was almost there.

Since I was a bit ahead of schedule, around Kitakyushu I pulled over for a couple hours sleep in the car. The car I’m using is a compact car, and really probably too small for me under normal circumstances, let alone to sleep in. I put my ass in the back seat and my legs dangled over the front seat and I managed to sleep for a couple hours. Wasn’t the best night of sleep I ever had but I managed.

When I got into Oita prefecture the sun was just coming up, but the heat was still a few hours away, so the drive had been very pleasant. It was a bit of an adventure I guess. That is, if sitting in the car for 11 hours and having my ass go numb counts as an adventure.

Anyway, summer break and I’m in Oita now visiting the girlfriend and hanging out. Since I usually do most of my writing at work, you perhaps can expect a bit of a drop off in the blogging during the next few weeks. Either that, or you’ll know for sure that I’m hopeless addicted to the internet and there is no hope for me. One or the other should reveal itself. Stay tuned to this blog to find out which (if you can stand the suspense).

No comments: