Monthly Archives: November 2014

Adette Price Undercover Witch Chapter 6: The Baker’s Daughter

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That’s right folks. It’s time for a new chapter. We finally find out who the mystery girl is. Unfortunately, she’s not very grateful for someone who’s just been saved.

Without any help from Karl, Adette steered and maneuvered the dazed girl back to her little cottage. She flounced through the trees, threatening to teeter over at every second. Finally, Adette managed to get her up the front steps and into one of the chairs. She was just pouring out some tea when the girl snapped back to.

She leapt to her feet and looked around frantically for a few moments. Adette paused and considered the girl carefully, watching as her frantic eyes caught sight of the pleasant surroundings and calmed slightly.

“You’re that new strange girl aren’t you?” the girl said accusingly.

“My name is Adette,” Adette responded. She set the tea kettle on the table and resisted the urge to grind her teeth together.

“What am I doing here?” Apparently she hadn’t decided yet if she was going to run away.

“I found you on my way home. You were collapsed beside the road. I brought you back here because I was worried you might be sick. Forgive me for wanting to make sure you were alright. I’ll drink the tea myself if that’s the case.” Adette sniffed and seated herself. The cup rattled as she turned it over and placed it on the little plate below. Her fingers grasped the dainty handle and turned the teapot towards herself. She got halfway through pouring a cup before the girl decided to sit down.

“I suppose one cup wouldn’t do any harm,” she said, eyeing Adette suspiciously. Apparently more rumors had gone around the village than Adette had first thought. “I do feel a bit tired. What kind of tea is it?”

“It’s chamomile of course. What kind were you thinking it would be?” Adette lifted her eyes. A small smile crept across her lips. Perhaps she’d have a bit of fun with the silly superstitious townspeople. She could see why all those old witches from long ago had had such a grand time. Of course, a lot of them had been killed for their fun. On second thought, it was probably best to tread lightly.

The girl cleared her throat awkwardly and took a sip of her own tea.

“So are you going to tell me your name, or is it some big secret?” Adette asked.

“It’s Lana. My father is the baker—oh no!” Lana shot to her feet again and began looking around the porch.

“Oh no?”

“My basket. I was supposed to be picking blackberries for a pie. Mrs. Beady was out so she couldn’t do it like usual. Did you see my basket when you picked me up?” Adette winced inwardly. That was always the trouble with lying. It had ways of coming back to haunt you.

“I’m afraid I didn’t,” Adette replied truthfully.

“If father doesn’t get those blackberries, I’m in for it. I’ve got to go back and get another basket. Sorry.” Lana picked up a cup, threw back the entire cup of tea, and was off like a shot down the lane. Adette sat with her own tea cup hovering inches from her mouth.

“Well, I suppose we’d better go find her basket before she comes back. Come on Karl, it’s time for a walk.”

“Hey, I’m not that much of a real dog,” he complained, but he was still standing and his stump of a tail was wagging frantically. Adette laughed but didn’t think it would be kind to point either thing out.

Together they stepped back into the forest to look for the basket where they’d found Lana. From its perch inside one of the many pine trees, a slick black crow watched their progress. Its beady eyes followed the two of them carefully. When it could no longer see them, it would hop a few branches over to get a better look. When it had seen what it needed to see, it leapt from the branch spreading its shiny black wings wide and flew into the bright blue sky.

 

I wish that I could have had my camera

So as the title suggests, there are no pictures accompanying this post, but I had to write it down anyway.

It should surprise no one that I had a fire drill today. I work at a school. As far as things go, even in a foreign country, that goes as common sense. It makes far more sense since I live in emergency conscious Japan. Listening to emergency alarms in another language is sort of nerve wracking. You get used to it, and maybe that’s another post for another day. Incidentally the word for fire, as in dear God there is a fire, is Kajida.

Anyway. They sounded the fire alarm, which, after the initial alarm tones, pretty much sounds the same as it does in America minus the ear splitting tone that could wake the dead. The students shuffled down as many as five flights of stairs in a calm herd. Unlike what I’m used to, no one expects absolute silence.

We all shuffled out the back door out onto the athletics field. That’s when I realized that things were just a bit different. See, in Japan, it isn’t just the school that runs the drills, it’s the actual fire department. Across the field, standing resolutely, was a man in uniform blue holding a stop watch. We were being timed, so students and teachers sprinted the last few feet across the yard. Everyone fell into places with their classes or the other faculty.

I found a few people that I work with regularly to stand with because I knew we were going to be waiting and wanted to talk. Then I turned around.

Three faces were peering out of one of the windows on the fifth floor of the building. Since all of my teaching experience has so far been in American, my first reaction was crap those kids are messing this up for everyone. Nope. Dead Wrong.

Those three students were right where they were supposed to be. As if on cue, a single firetruck drove up the hill and around the outside of the field. It backed in. One of the firefighters jumped out so that he could watch and wave the driver into place. Then in practiced formation everyone else jumped out of the truck. In about two seconds, they had the braces dug into the ground and one guy had jumped into a control seat tucked onto the back of the truck. He turned on the lift while two other firefighters climbed into the bucket, which the first firefighter and turned open for them from the control seat.

I think you see where this is going. They raised the ladder and “rescued” the students from the fifth floor window. Now before you go all, how dare they endanger their students by pulling them from a window, think about it. Should an actual emergency really be the first time a student actually has to do something like get into a fire ladder bucket? I’m not really sure it should be.

To that aim, the last part of the drill involved two members of the faculty and two members of the student body having to put out a “fire” with some of the extinguishers kept in the building. Don’t worry. The “fire” was actually a red rubber cone. Frankly ending my day watching two third year boys scream fire and attack a cone was pretty hilarious. So was watching one of the teachers accidentally shoot the other with the extinguisher. Extremely practical, yes, but also very fun.

Keeping work spaces warm in Japan

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This week it finally got to the point of being pretty cold. This is the point where all my family and friends in Michigan will start complaining that it’s a lot colder back home. Yes I know. Yes it is.

The difference, however, is that while it is quite a bit colder in Michigan and other places in the United States you people have the luxury of insulation and central heating. In Japan, this is a very uncommon occurrence. Only places like the Northern tip of Honshu (that’s the main island) and the northern island of Hokkaido seem to have it. This is mostly because the climate is much more similar to the good old frozen north I grew up with. Further south in the country, it doesn’t matter if the building you’re talking about is an apartment, school, or possibly even an office building. There is little to no insulation. The walls are more than likely concrete. The windows are single paned, plentiful, and often open (even in the bathrooms). Many schools are made up of two larger buildings connected by corridors. These corridors are generally completely open to the elements.

So, by now I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m not sitting here in four layers of clothing, and I’m not. This lovely contraption is my space heater.

As you can see, it hooks into the gas line building into the wall. When you come in in the morning you turn on the gas (don’t forget to turn it off before you go).

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Then there are two knobs. Once you turn them past a certain point, a sparker clicks and sets the gas alight. After that, you have to turn past just a little bit. There’s one more click, and if you do it right when you release it the flame stays on. Yes, that’s right. I heat my workroom at school with an open flame, all be it a controlled one. My favorite part about the whole open flame thing is that everyone seems to just leave them on while they are away at class even if there isn’t anyone else in the room. I personally turn mine off. I don’t want to be that foreigner that burned the school down.

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There are two ceramic panels that suck up the heat and radiate glorious warmth into the room. Of course making your room nice and toasty makes it just that much more difficult to go back outside. I’ve learned to look forward to teaching class on the fifth floor. It’s usually pretty warm up there since, you know, heat rises and stuff. Also the first floor faculty bathroom is now my bathroom of choice because of the heated toilet seat. Yes, that’s another topic I’ll discuss later.

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Adette Price Chapter 5: Up in Smoke

 

It is that time again for an addition to the world of Adette. In this chapter she has to save a girl from an obnoxious tree creature and so it without burning down the rest of the forest.

Spells. She knew hundreds of them. She’d been the best at memorizing them quickly, so why couldn’t she think of a single one? She needed fire. It needed to be contained. It wouldn’t do anyone a bit of good for her to burn down the entire forest. That girl, whoever she was, couldn’t see her use magic either.

A spell swelled in the back of her mind. Words came to her tongue. She tasted the magic rolling around in her mouth and smiled. One breath then two escaped from between her lips. Magic crackled beneath her skin. Her fingertips spread before her.

Karl shook himself free and darted away from the outstretched limbs of the creature. With surprising speed, he bounded beneath the trees.

Adette grinned and narrowed her eyes. Calm had returned to her finally. She felt the spell within her. It was tightly wound and pressing outwards like an expanding gas. Her eyes narrowed as she began to focus. Before she could release what was boiling inside of her, she needed to make sure it didn’t fly out of control.

Breathe in. Focus on one place. Breathe out. The world began to go fuzzy around the edges until she could only see the two protruding eye knots at the center of her vision. Slowly she drew air into her lungs until she felt like she was bursting with air and magic.

In a whoosh, she released both her breath and the magic boiling inside of her. It fluttered across the air between her and the creature. The creature’s head lifted as if it could sense it coming. It began to move away but it was too late. Adette was completely focused on the task before her.

Flames burst into life. First one then the other eye became engulfed in a pop of fire. The creature reared and clawed at its face with its thin root fingers. Adette allowed the tightly controlled flames to flicker out onto the root tendrils. The flames raced along every available surface until the entire creature was a single burning pyre at the center of the forest.

Sweat beaded across Adette’s forehead. The flames weren’t content to consume just the creature. They wanted more. Adette fought them off even though it cost her greatly. As the creature was consumed, the flames disappeared until only a small pile of ash remained on the forest floor. With a final pop, the last flame flickered out of existence.

Adette wobbled on her feet but didn’t fall. Karl padded up beside her and plopped his fluffy butt onto the forest floor.

“Is she still out?” he asked turning his snout up to look at Adette. She’d completely forgotten about the girl.

“We’d better make sure she’s ok.” The girl still lay where she’d been dropped, but she seemed to be stirring a little. Adette was grateful that a pile of dust was all that remained of the creature. The girl was highly unlikely to notice it in her dazed state.

“Hey,” Adette queried the stirring girl, “Are you alright?” A big pair of blue eyes flew open and took in the sight of Adette and Karl.

“Get away!” the girl shrieked. She scurried backwards in a flurry of pine needles and leaves. Her limbs bent awkwardly, sending her back into the dirt.

“Wait!” Adette threw her hand out. Her legs did a funny twist under her. She stumbled and then caught herself but the distance between them grew. “Karl, do something.”

Karl lifted his behind from the forest floor and began to trot jauntily after the girl. His tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth in a genuinely cute way that forced Adette to smirk. He easily worked his way around the frantic girl. As she noticed him, she slowed. Karl trotted a bit past her and plopped his behind in the pine needles.

“Are you alright?” Adette inquired. Karl sat panting pleasantly. The girl slowly bent down and reached a tentative hand out toward Karl’s head. He put on his best doggy smile. The girl began scratching behind his ears.

“Yes I think so,” she said dreamily. Adette looked from her to Karl and back. She closed the distance between the two of them. Her fingertips tingled as she began to recall a memory spell she’d learned long ago. When she reached the girl, she laid her hand against the girl’s shoulder.

Instantly, the girl slumped backwards into Adette. Adette just managed to catch her. She stumbled but kept hold of the girl.

“Well now what do I do?”

Osaka for the weekend

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For the first time ever, I got to ride the Shinkansen. Some people come to Japan as big train fanatics. I’m not one of those people, but I definitely think that turning a four hour car ride into an hour and fifteen minute train ride is pretty awesome. We topped out somewhere around 175 mph. Even at those speeds the trip was smooth and I was easily able to walk around the cabin and make my way to the remarkably nice and good sized bathroom. There were of course heated toilet seats. It’s kind of a thing here. The price for tickets was a bit high, but the convenience factor definitely made it worth it.

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One of the places Adam and I both wanted to travel when we were planning to come to Japan was Osaka. I was excited all week to finally get to go.

It may seem a bit strange, but instead of a hotel, we decided to do a homestay. We found it through the airbnb website. For 60 dollars a night, free breakfast, and free pick up from the station it seemed worth a try.

In my experience, this website is mainly for people who are renting out a house they are not currently using. My mother has used this website on many occasions but never quite like this.

Adam and I weren’t quite sure what to expect when we finally ended up at the correct station after a ridiculously short hour and twenty minute train ride. We were told to head towards the Lawson, one of Japan’s many combini brands, and look for a white minivan. Of course we were given a license plate number, but come on, I’m not telling you that.

We’re foreigners in Japan, so we’re pretty easy to spot. Out stepped Mizuki and Hide. Mizuki speaks an amazing amount of English mainly fueled by her interest in American culture. Her husband, Hide, didn’t speak much English, but he’s one of those people who doesn’t really need to use words to communicate.

They whisked us into their car and to their apartment. The apartment was extremely nice. The bed was the most comfortable thing I’ve slept on since I came to Japan. I don’t really need to talk about the bed but I wanted to mention how comfy it was. Each morning we got a home cooked breakfast which was never the same and was always delicious.

Our first night in town we had intended to go downtown and see what was happening. That didn’t happen. Even though we had hopped an early train we were still tired. We had already grabbed some food at the station earlier, so we weren’t really hungry by the time we got there. It was late for them and their two children, Sara and Koyuki, so they understandably needed to run to the super market and get some food.

We decided to run to a local bar and get a quick drink while they were out. By the time we got back there was a plate of bacon and extra beer on the table, and even though there wasn’t really one common language at the table we stayed up until almost one o’clock talking about everything and anything.

The next morning, after an extremely delicious breakfast, we were whisked away to the station to enjoy our day in downtown Osaka. Well, that’s not really accurate. Osaka is an extremely large city. We spent plenty of time walking in circles just to get a good look at as much as possible.

We started out in Nanba. It connected us to the largest single shopping street in Japan. If there is something you want, it’s probably there. If you want to eat something, it’s probably there in about ten different ways and all of it’s delicious. We wandered in search of a Mexican restaurant, which we were told was pretty legit, before deciding to run in for some Takoyaki.

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Takoyaki is something I’m not sure I can accurately explain. It’s part octopus, part batter, part seasoning, and mostly molten awesomeness. Along with beer, there isn’t much that I like better. After a quick snack of Takoyaki and friend octopus, we wandered off just to see what was there. Low and behold, there was the Mexican restaurant we’d been looking for, unsuccessfully, before. Since we’ve been several months without any, we couldn’t resist running up for a quick snack and drink. We had only had some apps at the last place.

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I enjoyed my one margarita and plate of nachos since coming to Japan. It was a little slice of Tex Mex in the middle of metropolitan Japan. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but it was nice. Mostly I’ve been enjoying all of the Japanese food I’ve been eating.

After our second snack, we thought we’d better walk the excess food off and find the electronics district, Den Den Town.

Den Den Town was once the largest place in Osaka for all types of electronics. With the building of Yodobashi Camera in the Umeda district, that is no longer the case. At first, the people in that part of the city lamented the major business coming in and taking business away. Now it is a mecca for all things nerdy. Shops full of manga, anime, and video game related merchandise were just about everywhere.

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After very little consideration, Adam and I ended up coming home with a dual famicom super famicom console. Along with that very reasonably priced console we managed to pick up some gems. They are below and no you can’t have them. Compared to the prices in the States the games were extremely reasonably priced especially considering the rarity of them back home. It was a bit of money well spent as we’d wanted them for a long time and will cherish them for a very long time.

The second day we decided to go to a different district, Umeda. Umeda is definitely a bit more upscale than Nanba was. It’s where the Osaka Sky Building is. It’s not by any means the tallest building in the world. What makes it unique is its design. Two skyscrapers stand next to each other with a circular viewing area connecting the two at the top.

To get to this viewing area you have to ascend in an elevator which neither Adam nor I realized would at the middle point have glass and scant beams holding you in. Both of us were more than a little thrown off by this unexpected experience. So much so that we didn’t get a very good picture. Had I not been a little thrown off when we rode up, I would have been able to get a 360 panoramic picture of the Osaka skyline. You’ll have to settle for the one good picture I could get.

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After we went to the sky building, and its awesome surrounding gardens. We went back to Nanba to buy our famicom and to get some lunch. Osaka has many specialty foods, but there was one we had yet to try, Kushiage or Kuhi Katsu. It’s basically deep fried anything, and man was it good. The outer coating was light and crispy. They gave you a bowl of dipping sauce, No Double Dipping!, and cabbage to sop up the remaining goodness. The meat was seasoned to perfection and the vegetables were cooked just right. Everything was delicious. We waddled out happily onto the streets after that meal. You need exercise after a meal like that.

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We didn’t quite have the stamina for all the wandering we’d done the day before. Thankfully we had our host family’s Halloween party to look forward to. It was very traditional, if you’re back in the states which is what made it so exceptional here. The couple’s two daughters had a group of friends over. Mizuki painted everyone’s faces, including mine, and hosted the parents for some good conversation.

My Japanese was stretched to its brutal limits this weekend for the better. I reached a new depth of understanding with the language. Just when you think you aren’t learning anything, you’re thrown into a situation that shows you just how much you’ve absorbed. It’s a nice break from the daily grind feeling like you’ll never learn anything. No one wants to stay in the dark.

Again we stayed up late into the evening talking this time with the family friends as well as the family. I don’t remember every topic that we discussed. We talked about anything and everything, and between my mostly OK Japanese and Mizuki’s English we had some pretty interesting conversations.

We went into this vacation hoping for a positive experience. I’d wager that we ended it by gaining friends as well as a good experience.