The internet cafe is not free. There is, apparently, a sign above the computers that says something like “Free internet when you buy 1 drink! 1 hour maximum” but, of course, this, I couldn’t read. My new neighbors, Bob and Sean, translated it for me when they bounced over to said cafe, ready to get some free internet. I met them in the hallway of our apartment building as Bob – who I actually met first in the group interview back in August – opened his door to greet the FedEx man while I was ambling down to head out in search of a new winter coat. It won’t do, will it, to show up to my new job in a tattered black trench I’ve had since I bought it back in 2001 on Canal Street?

“Hello, again!” I said to Bob. Sean, who lives next door, heard us talking through the building’s paper thin walls and popped his Irish head out of his pink door. I was reminded of the Sesame Street set – a somewhat comforting thought.

“You’ve been here less time than we have,” they said, “And you’ve already found an internet cafe!” What can I say? I’m an addict and we instinctively know where to find what we need. My first day at that cafe, nobody bothered me – perhaps my running nose deterred them, or perhaps they assumed a foreigner wouldn’t be able to read the sign (I can’t). Now, as if by magic, they read the guilt in my eyes and gently come to me as I sit down and point to the sign (which I still can’t read). I’d like to pretend I don’t understand them but though I’m an Internet addict, I’m not an Internet liar. I get the cheapest items on the menu – ice peach tea or a comforting hot cocoa.

Waaaaaay over my hour-limit now, but I wanted to post a couple of little sound bites up here, to get ’em down for the grand day when I actually have the Japan blog I have wanted to start – possible once I get internet in my apartment as then I can upload pictures and won’t feel pressured to write something under an Internet cafe time limit. I’d add a fear of being observed by other folks in the cafe but I somehow get the feeling that’s not an issue.

I found a coat – a heather gray felt double-breasted trench with gray satin lining and purple piping. This was not as easy to do as I’d imagined. McDonald’s and the popularization of Western foods in Japan has resulted in a generation of Super Japanese who, while still being smaller than the average Westerner, are not as small as, say, me. Thus, it took days to find a coat that fit. I suppose I ought to be grateful to have one of the comforts of home.

Apartment #444 is a capsule, easily half the size of what I once thought was a preposterously tiny apartment on 10th street and Avenue A, even smaller than it looked in the pictures. If Heifer took to dashing around the old place in circles, I can only imagine what she would do in this place, nestled in a 4-story building filled with other teachers. My stove has one burner. The weather is chilly and pasta e fagioli would be perfect, but I don’t know yet where to buy a big soup pot.

From an email I wrote to my brother tonight:


My training group is comprised of Americans, Canadians, Englishmen, Australians and an Irishman, who has the distinction of being the only one of his kind at our school. Over dinner the other night, conversation naturally drifted to the various accents at our table. I am completely delighted by what I hear – as you know too well, I’ve been crazy by accents since I was small and find myself listening with extra intent, hoping to catch new twists and turns of vocabulary and grammar. As dad would say (in his charming Guatemalan way), I am “like a pig in a candy store.” Steve says that my accent reminds him of the one possessed by a one Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton – something I’ve never heard before but which I prefer, of course, to a comparison to Fran Drescher.


… the toilet thing is kind of crazy, too – the other night I had sushi dinner with Erma’s Japanese friend, Carnitas, and I needed to use the restroom. The restaurant was in a train station so I had to go to the train station’s bathroom. Imagine my shock when I opened the stall door and saw only a hole in the ground! I eventually realized that at the end of each row is usually a Western-style toilet, so I waited until that one was free but there was definitely a moment of panic….

And then, on the opposite end of the scale, you have your super fancy shower toilets – in businesses and such, you get a (heated) toilet seat that sprays water up your rear and dries it off, too, while soft rain forest music plays in the background.

How does it go from a concrete hole in the ground to a shower toilet? What a country….

From a note to myself:

Get up the nerve to ask Carnitas for help getting your internet set up.

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