Still Getting Settled: Another Busy Day

We’ve been here for 15 days now, and we are still running around trying to get the basics setup.  I’m so glad we took over a departing teachers place and didn’t have to start totally from scratch – my head spins at the thought of that scenario.

Today it was my turn to go the immigration office to get my Spousal Work Visa.  Nathan, who also will be helping with the library was able to come in today, and hold down the fort, so I could get away.  I actually met up with Ashley, another “trailer” (that’s what everyone affectionately calls us spouses that came with a teacher), and we both went to get our work stickers.  It was easy and pretty uneventful actually.  We hopped on the subway train marked ‘Airport’, and took it until it stopped and everyone got off.  Ashley was great at spotting the little ‘Immigration’ signs in the airport, and we followed those for about 1/2 mile to the other end of the terminal.  After waiting about 20 minutes, they called our number, and five minutes later, we were legally allowed to work in the country!  I was back at the school by 11:30.

Finally got our cell phones

We also got our cell phones today!  We were suppose to pick them up right after school, but due to a schedule mix-up, we didn’t get them until 8pm.  Katie & Matt (another teacher and her trailer)  had to wait as well.  Fortunately, we had enough beer at our house to keep all of us entertained while we waited for the office staff to take us.  Call us crazy, but we chose a pretty basic model.  This country probably has the most advanced cell phones in the world, and all we really wanted was a device that could make a phone call. 🙂

Finally, our furniture is suppose to be delivered on Wednesday between 2:00 and 4:00.  I’m really hoping they will be able to get our queen bed up our narrow, winding stairwell, because the thrill of sleeping on a futon is all but gone.

Ohori Park and Fukuoka Castle Ruins

Lake at Ohori Park

Lake at Ohori Park

We got up pretty early (not as early as we wanted) today so we could ride our bikes to Otori Park and the Fukuoka Castle Ruins. I am pretty sure that there was not a cool time during the day but we gave it a shot. We were out the door around 8:15am. It took us about 20 minute to ride to the park.  We were told to look for the Mister Donut sign by Jay at the American Consulate (he was at our dinner outing on Friday, and the consulate is next to the lake in the park). Sure enough, Mister Donut showed up and we were there.

The park is very nice and it has a great running/biking loop around the lake. Rose said that it was between 2-3 kilometers long. The running part of the loop is made of some sort of synthetic material that I am sure is better to run on than concrete. The place was packed! There were little kids and old folks and everything in between all out running, walking and biking.

Fukuoka Castle Wall Ruins

The local Japanese schools had groups of kids there doing their workouts. Imagine the high school track team from your local school showing up on Sunday morning around 9am, wearing their uniforms, and putting in a hard interval workout. This is just NOT going to happen back home – at least not where I am from. (NOTE: To make my fellow caffeine addicts feel more at ease…there is a Starbucks on the lake. Rose and I did not stop – at least not today.)


After the park, we made our way to the Fukuoka Castle Ruins. Very quiet…it was like we were the only ones there. I bet this place is beautiful in the fall when the leaves start to change. Nothing too eventful here, but very peaceful.

We took a different route back home…the roads are starting to make a little more sense to us, and we are starting to get more and more comfortable making our way around the city on our bikes. We have not finalized plans for next weekend yet but I am sure whatever we do will push the limits of our explored territory.

Fukuoka’s Atago Shrine

We didn’t have a lot of time to explore this morning, since Robert had lots of prep work to do for his classes next week, so we took a short 15 minute walk to Atago Shrine.   It was quite a climb to the top Atago San, but well worth the effort.  We will have to come back at some point to watch a sunset or see the lights of the city.  The view up there is fantastic!

View of Fukuoka from Atago Shrine View of Fukuoka from Atago Shrine View of Fukuoka from Atago Shrine 

Apparently there are 3 Atago Shrines in Japan (the other two are in Tokyo and Kyoto).  This one was built in 1634, and is dedicated to “the God of Wishes”.  It is widely visited by people seeking matchmaking, longevity, business prosperity, abstinence from vices, world peace, successful child birth, etc.  The Kanji in the Shrine’s name supposedly implies: “Love as strong as stone”.   It’s a beautiful place, filled with lots of big trees and greenery, birds, interesting statues, alters, hanging prayers, and smells of incense.

At Atago Shrine 

At Atago Shrine

It was bound to happen…

Well, we’ve come across our first grocery ‘food’  that was not a hit with either Robert or me.  I can’t tell you what it is, because we have no idea what it was/is.  In fact, 90% of the things in the grocery store we have no idea what it is.  I’m still hoping the school sets up a tour of a grocery store, to show and tell us what everything is.  I’m also beginning to think the locals secretly place some things in there, to see if us Gaijins (foreigners) are crazy enough to buy it.

Slimmy seaweed salad...yuck!

For some background, we’ve been on the search for a good seaweed salad (which we both love).  Well this looked like it had lots of potential.  Lots of different vegetables to add taste and texture and a sauce to bring it all together.  We were more than anxious to try it out, so we opened it immediately to have it as an appetizer.  Low and behold, this thing just oozed with sliminess.  Not your normal sliminess, but the kind of sliminess that has a hard time getting down your throat.  So much so, that even if the rest of it tasted good, you would not be able to enjoy it anyway.  Robert has now found something else he dislikes as much a cottage cheese, and I can officially say, that I’d prefer turnip greens to this stuff any day.  Fortunately, we picked up plenty of other stuff for tonight that we knew we liked, so we did not go hungry.

First Day of School

Opening Day Assembly

First Day: Opening Assembly

We’ve been long anticipating this day…and it has finally arrived.  There was a feel of excitement and nervousness amongst the teachers and students alike this morning.  Many were there bright and early and all dressed up for the event.  The Opening Day Assembly was at 9:15am in the FIS Lobby.  Introductions of all the new teachers and staff were made as well as each grade and returning teachers and staff.

(Robert start): It was an exciting day. I had three classes and have my other two for the first time tomorrow. My smallest class has 3 students (Year 2 HL) and my largest (grade 9) should have 16. My largest class will be smaller than the smallest class I had last year in Polson. The kids are great – interested, respectful and fun. The Moodle Website for my class is a big hit. I have students on the site all evening updating their profiles and posting their class introductions. Things have really gotten off to a good start. (Robert end)

Yesterday afternoon Linda (the Head of School) officially offered me the library position.  I was anticipating having to go to the Immigration Office to get my spousal work visa today, but I couldn’t because I have to wait for the school director to sign the contract (and he doesn’t get in until Friday night), so looks like I will be doing that on Monday instead.

Library 2

Rose’s New Office

Since I can’t officially work until I have my visa, I have been ‘volunteering’ in the library the last few days cleaning up, trying to locate everything, and getting all the new students and teachers into the database so they can check out books.  I just couldn’t see them starting the school year and having no one there to let the kids in the library or check out books.  Between yesterday and today, at least a dozen people have checked out books already, and it has constantly been occupied with students doing puzzles, reading, and using the computers.  I’ve met 1/2 the senior class already (3 out of 6), several parents, and many of the teachers.  I think this job is going to be a LOT of fun…but a lot of work too.  There are still several boxes of new books and a couple of large piles of magazines that came in over the summer that need to be entered into the system and made available for check-out.  I am hoping Linda will soon assign another person to help out in the library and to run things when I can’t be there.  Another person would also mean twice as many ideas for ways to improve the library for the school.

School Prep

Today was the first day all teachers and staff were required to be at the school.

I get to do the post tonight, since Robert’s free time has now gone down the drain.  Right now, I think he wants to flush Moodle (his teaching website) down the drain, since it just deleted most of the post he’s been working on all day and now he has to redo it.  Actually, he really likes Moodle – just not tonight.

My Classroom

Well, anyway, Robert spent half his day in his classroom, prepping for his classes, and the other half of the day he spent in meetings in the library – where I might actually be working part-time.  For a school this size, it is an impressive library (nearly 10,000 volumes).  Fortunately, Tim (the x-library assistant) graciously spent an hour with me this morning explaining what all is involved, and showed me the invaluable manual with all the information I could possibly need (I hope).  He also gave me the key, so even though nothing is official, it sure seems like I got a job.

While Robert was getting his class schedule, student list, parent/teacher handbook, and learning all the do’s/don’ts of working at FIS, I had to bike back to our little townhouse, so that they could install the upstairs AC unit (which took nearly 2 hours)….but it was entirely worth the wait.  I’m not sure I will ever get use to the heat and humidity here.  Everyday I keep thinking it’s gonna start to cool off, but the extended forecast is always the same: 95 degrees, 95% humidity – all day.  All right, that is a bit of an exaggeration…but, the upside to those conditions is, I don’t ever have to put on moisturizer.

After the work day was over, we rode our bikes down to my favorite grocery store (Bon Repas) and picked up some sushi, shashimi, and a few other things to experiment with for dinner.  We even treated ourselves to dessert.  Robert’s favorite dessert here so far is the green tea flavored yogurt and mine is a pastry filled with cream, bananas and chocolate.  I think we will both be fighting over that cinnamon roll in the morning. : )

Oh My, What a Day!

Coming off the subway

I am beat…without really trying I think we ended up compressing multiple days into one. We started out around 10:30am and headed out on our first adventure on the subway. Fortunately, it was just like most other subways in the world and was really simple. They even have an English button on the ticket machine. We got our tickets for Tenjin and we were off.

Looking towards Diamaru

Tenjin is an amazing shopping district in the city. When we first came out of the subway we were a little disoriented; however, after walking a few blocks we got our bearings. We quickly learned that the shopping centers are in what we would have thought was a typical high-rise office building. Rather than business offices, each floor is the floor of a department store (and they can have 8 or more floors). And there are literally 10-20 buildings in the district which are all surrounded by other shops on the side roads and alleys. And then, on top of that, there is an underground network of tunnels with more shopping that connects all of the shopping locations together as well as to the subway and the bus terminal. Really a fascinating engineering feat.

After half a day of shopping, we made it back home using a mix of subway and good old walking (unplanned). The train we got on stopped two stations short of where we wanted to go (we now know the difference between the circles and diamonds on the schedule), so we had to get off and walk the rest of the way. Not a problem…we were able to walk the full length of “market” street and find more restaurants than we could possibly eat at in a year. We found a few that we definitely want to try soon.

Underground shopping - goes forever

Around 6pm, we met up with a large group of new and returning teachers for dinner and two birthday celebrations (I think we had a group of about 20). We had planned on going to a Moroccan restaurant but it was closed, so we ended up at the Fukuoka Hard Rock Cafe. Yes, a bit of a disappointment…come to Japan eat at the HRC…not our plan. But it turned out to be a great location for such a large group. And the fajitas that we had were very good. But we don’t want to make a habit of going there to eat.

Finally, we hoped on our bikes and rode home in the dark…and did I mention, a huge crowd had just gotten out of a concert at the Yahoo Dome when we left (the HRC is next to the dome). So, we actually slowly pushed our bike through the crowd for the first quarter mile.

A long but fun day. Teacher orientation/preparation at the the school begins tomorrow…I finally start working!

A Busy Shopping Day

Major shopping day in Fukuoka. Key items on the “to be purchased” list were:

  • Bed
  • A/C for upstairs
  • Rice cooker
  • Water filter
  • Miscellaneous kitchen stuff

We met other new teachers at the school at 10:30 and headed to Nitori to shop for furniture. We got a bed and a sofa that we really liked.

Our new sofa

The dark green color will be the most colorful thing in our apartment. The standard setup is beige and brown – we are working to add color bit by bit. They are both being delivered on August 1 – so we have a bit of a wait.

After 2 hours at Nitori, we headed to the Marina Mall for lunch and a little personal shopping time. Rose had the “java curry” for lunch and I had a “taco salad”. Rose described the curry as “tasting like Dinty Moore stew”. I did not ask for a bite. My taco salad was actually pretty good…and was a nice change from sushi. After lunch we were off to Best Denki (electronics) for the rest of our purchase list. We initially focused on the A/C and had a very helpful salesman who spoke passable English.

Electric kettle and rice cooker

The A/C unit is wall mounted – there is no central air. We will now have a unit upstairs and downstairs, which should be enough to keep our place cool during those 1-2 months when it is hot and humid.

While we waited for the others to make their major purchases (fridge, washing machines…) we shopped for a rice cooker and water filter.

You would think the rice cooker would be pretty straight forward…not. There are about 30 different models to choose from. After much input and advice we settled on a smaller Toshiba model – that worked perfectly for our dinner tonight.

We finally got home around 5pm and were exhausted! But, we had a very productive day with no major surprises or embarrassing situations.

Internet Setup

Not Good!

Today was the big day…time to get our internet turned on with 120 Mbps downloads. The technician showed up at our place around 5pm.  The install was pretty simple…he plugged in the cable modem, set some parameters using a cell phone to enabled our IP address and gave it quick check. All seemed to be working just fine. Before he left, I to plugged the Ethernet cable into my wireless router and then went downstairs to make sure everything was working on my Mac. All seemed fine until I went to to check the internet access speed. The test said that the download speed was 0.5 Mbps (240 times slower than I expected). This is where the fun begins…

Of course I am not too happy. I show the technician (who speaks no English…and remember I speak no Japanese) the result and he hands me a package of material and indicates that I need to do some setup and login to get the expected speeds. The outside of the package is nicely labelled in English so I assume that this is just a simple setup step that I can handle. The technician leaves…

Much Better!

I open the package to finish the setup. Yikes…no more English – all the material on the inside is in Japanese (Why did they label the outside in English?). Minor panic. Fortunately there is a support number. I call and an automated system answers giving me (I think) options (choose “1” for…). Of course, the options are all in Japanese so I hit “1”. A person (thank god) answers the phone speaking Japanese (I just say “Eigo” = “English”). He asks for my phone number and 5 minutes later an English speaking support agent calls me back…now we can figure this out.

To make a long story short…the problem is not with my connection but with the site that I was using. The agent said that many “speed testing” sites outside of Japan do not work with speeds greater than 100 Mbps…and this was one of them! Needless to say, I felt like an IDIOT. One of the many humbling experiences I am bound to have during the next two years.

All is fine and I should be posting consistently moving forward. And yes, the connection speed is very fast. I downloaded a 1+ GB movie from iTunes in less than 2 minutes.

And, I am working on my Japanese as much as possible…but have a long, long ways to go.

We Have Bikes!

Humidity cleaned off lens...

The standard mode of transportation in Fukuoka is the bike.  We inherited three when we moved into our new home – two for us and one for our visitors (we have room so let us know when you are coming). Of course, the tires were low on air when we arrived but not a problem, the bike shop is only 2 blocks away, and it has pumps sitting out front that you can use for free. As  you can see, our bikes have baskets on the front and the back – and it would be nice if we had even more of them. This is our primary method of getting things to and from any location – work, grocery, mall…

The bikes only have one gear so hills can be challenging…but in town this is not much of an issue. Our legs and butt were a little sore after the first day but we are mostly recovered. We ride everywhere – literally. We don’t walk because it is so hot and humid. When we are on the bike we have a nice breeze to cool us off. Today, we rode to Nitori (to look at furniture) and to Best Denki to buy an electric kettle (for tea, ramen and other stuff).

I now  understand why one of the teachers said that we would lose weight when we came to Japan. It is not because you eat less (we don’t), it is because we burn-off a lot more calories biking and walking everywhere we go. Just going to the grocery (which do every day) is a workout. This is a good thing!