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New Year's 2004
New Year's was great.  I got 10 days off, so my mom, dad, and sister came out to visit.  We toured Tokyo, Kyoto, then ended up in Tottori.  Sarah and I went a New Year's party at our hotel in Kyoto.  It was fun despite the fact we were by far the youngest people at the party.  I even got the hammer to smash open the New Year's sake barrel.

Nabe Party
I recently went to a "nabe party" hosted by a friend.  4 people including me gathered around a small table with a large hot pot of nabe (a dish made by steaming veggies and other goodies in a mixture of soy sauce, sake, and water).  It was a great challenge for me cuz none of my friends at the party spoke English.  My head was spinning by the end of the night.  Luckily, plenty of beer helped my Japanese comprehension level.  Come to think of it, maybe the beer simply helped with my confidence.

Old-School Xbox
I bought a used, old-school Xbox out here cuz it was much cheaper than shipping mine from the States.  Naturally, I put my computer dork skills to work and went to town on it.  I opened it, installed a modchip, and installed a new operating system on it.  Now my Xbox has over 1500 old-school Nintendo, Genesis, and Super Nintendo games loaded on the hard drive.  Most importantly, I installed a software patch to remove the DVD regional coding.  Now I can watch Japanese and USA DVDs on it.  I can even land space ships with it now.  Thanks Microsoft!

Japan has this funny thing with the TV.  The government-run station NHK has no commercials (kinda like USA's PBS), so to fund it, the Japanese government charges everyone with a TV around 2000 yen per month.  This NHK guy comes around to collect 2000 yen from everyone with a TV.  I think it's ridiculous, and everyone else tells me most people treat it like a big joke and just skip out on paying.  It's like charging people for breathing.  The first two times he came, I said I didn't wanna buy cable television.  Luckily, he spoke only Japanese, so I pretended like I didn't know what he was talking about.  I kept saying, "No, I don't want cable television, dude!"

Then he came back.  I didn't open the door.  I was a prisoner in my own home.  He rang the doorbell like 7 times and kept saying, "konbanwa!" outside my door.  Door bell rings turned into knocks.  My heart pounding faster than fast, I crouched on the floor and tried to maintain complete silence.  My hands were shaking, and tears welled up in my clouded eyes.  I was this close to jumping into action, but my muscles disobeyed me.  I was frozen.  He finally left.

He came back again.  Same guy.  No English.  I said I don't get NHK on my TV.  I don't think he bought it, but he left.  I also said I didn't have any money (which was true cuz I had yet to go to the ATM).  I felt like I was delivering the often-heard movie line: "I don't have the money!  I need more time!"

Next time he comes I'm gonna say I don't own a TV.  That'll be funny cuz I'll probably have the TV on in the background and the remote in my hand.  My other idea was to say I already paid the "other NHK guy."  Yeah, he said his name was Hayashi or something like that... He went that way!

When people actually pay, he gives them a little NHK sticker and puts it on the nameplate next to their door.  I thought of making my own NHK sticker with a smiley face on it and putting it on my nameplate.  Maybe that'll keep him away for a while.  That sticker is kinda like the lamb's blood to protect the first-born.  I really feel like John Cusack from the movie "Better Off Dead" when the newspaper delivery boy keeps asking for his "2 dollars!"  This guy keeps coming asking for his 2000 yen.  "I want my 2000 yen!"

When I first moved into my Tottori apartment, I noticed that the previous tenant had covered the door peephole with a piece of black electrical tape.  I always wondered why she did that.  Now I know.  The tape makes it look like the lights are off and no one's home.  I restored the electrical tape to its previous location in the hopes it would serve as an NHK guy repellent.  So far so good.

Welcome Party
Our new foreign teacher Bryan arrived to replace Brad, the returning teacher.  The welcome / farewell party went really well.  I performed my 2 Japanese songs.  They went over well except for the fact the vocal mic kept cutting out.  Oh well.  It was nice performing them to a roomful of Japanese people cuz they actually understood the lyrics.  Everyone laughed after each line of lyrics.  Good thing the songs were intended to be funny.  Unfortunately, I felt kinda sick the day after the party...

My First Flu
That "kinda sick" feeling turned into a horrible flu.  Being a warm-blooded California boy, the harsh Tottori winter hit me really hard.  In fact, this was the first flu of my life.

The weekend turned foggy as I spiraled further into darkness.  I had a second date scheduled with the lovely Kaori that the virus grudgingly forced me to cancel.

I called in sick on Tuesday.  Then my manager Akiko took me to a clinic Wednesday morning.  Unfortunately, the clinic wouldn't accept my health insurance.  Foreign teachers at AEON are not entered into the national medical insurance system, so our medical coverage is simply travel insurance.  We have to pay cash for all treatments, then get reimbursed.  To ensure we're not tricking the insurance company, the doctor treating us has to fill out a special document.  The clinic was not agreeable to this.

Fortunately, Tottori Red Cross Hospital was.  As Akiko drove me there, I propped my head against her passenger-side window and moaned like a decaying risen-from-the-dead zombie in dire need of fresh human brains.  I was so sick I almost collapsed in the waiting room.  After checking in at 5 counters, I saw a doctor relatively quickly considering I had no appointment.  He gave me 3 prescriptions.  After visiting another 3 counters, we were on our way.  Akiko and the head teacher Maiko insisted I take the rest of the week off.  I hope I still have a job when I return on Tuesday!

As soon as the antibiotics kicked in, I got much better.  A slight cough still lingers, but I don't have that thirst for human brains tormenting me.  I called Kaori to reschedule our second date.  She didn't return my calls.  Thanks, Mr. Flu Virus.

You may be wondering why AEON would not enroll the foreign teachers into the national health insurance system.  The reason for this lies in the foreign teacher working hours.  Working hours are kept well below 40 hours a week.  This keeps the salary except from national pension system taxes, and therefore makes AEON's compensation package that much more attractive.

Later on in my tenure with AEON, they offered all teachers an opportunity to enter the national system (health insurance and pension).  However, this meant more working hours coupled with lower pay (due to higher taxes).  Being a healthy 26 year-old at the time, I declined.  I would just have to deal with the inconvenient health insurance if and when the situation arose.  In speaking with other foreign teachers, I think most declined as well.  The majority of AEON teachers are young, healthy, and not planning on spending more than a year or two teaching English in Japan.  If their plans happen to change (usually due to meeting that special Japanese someone), they could enter the national system then to enjoy the added benefits.

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