Surfing

There are plenty of things I hadn’t expected about this winter vacation. Last year I worked between Christmas and New Years, so I didn’t really have much to consider. In September I’d had dreams about skiing and snowboarding down the famous slopes of Fukui’s ski resorts. Even at the beginning of December I’d thought about making a dash to get back to America for a little while. The least likely of my unexpected plans would have surely been surfing.Yet, with the end of winter vacation upon us, and a random Monday off the first week of school, surfing is exactly what I found myself doing.

You may think it’s crazy, and I’ll admit to it being not the most appealing winter sport, but you’ve gotta remember that it hasn’t even snowed anywhere short of the mountaintops. Not even two weeks earlier I’d gone for a run in shorts and a t-shirt. Really the weather was not an issue. In fact, as my advisor and soon-to-find-out surfing virtuouso, told me that the winter in Japan was the best time for waves to form. After nagging from me for over two months he finally gave in and offered to take me. The nagging was more persuading, though, as every time I asked to go he got this longing look in his eye as if there’d be nothing he’d rather do than ditch school for the waters.

It only adds to his resume as the coolest teacher I’ve met. He’s been at my school for three years, but told me that his previous school was closer to the beach. He’d wake up early most morning in order to drive out to the sea and surfing for a couple hours before heading into class. He learned back when he lived in California after high school and continued when he moved to Australia after that. By the time he was back in Japan he competed near a semi-pro level, and I could see that surfing for him was like a long run to me.

So my persistence finally paid off and we were off predawn on that Monday morning. The weather was a bit cloudy, but looking to be good at the point a little over an hour and a half drive’s north. At first we drove out to a beach with roaring waves and no surfers. It looked awesome and I reassured him that I could figure out how to surf after my few years of skateboarding and boogie boarding when I visited my aunt in San Diego. He deferred to his better judgement and scoped out a more mainstream section with more regular waves.

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We parked and he tossed me an old wet suit he’d had. Wasn’t sure what to expect, but lifting it up to me it was clear that we were in the “make it work” mindset. He is after all third of a foot shorter than me. I struggled slipping into the thick lining of the suit, thankful I’d decided to wear compression shorts when he had to yank the waist up while I held my body down. With a final squeeze it zipped up and I was off to waddle with the penguins.

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After a short bit of stretching on the beach we waded into the sea. I was pretty giddy with excitement so I didn’t consider the fact that I’d be going into tumultuous waters, nor the fact that I hadn’t swam in a couple of months. My stretching could hardly be considered anything by the time we got afloat and started balancing on our surfboards. Well, Keisuke was doing just fine, but I was more like the long forgotten diversity promo of a Weeble Wobble.

I think I probably would’ve been fine had it not been the couple of other surfers clearly more experienced than me. It’s not really that I was embarrassed, but more that I just didn’t want to try to get up on a wave and end up crashing into someone else. So I stuck more to the edge, paddling into waves and chilling with a woman who also was a bit new fine to chillax on the outer edge.

Eventually I ran into a problem. I had gone out the night before (it was after all a three day weekend), and though I didn’t really feel so hungover I also didn’t realize how much the waves would rock me back and forth. Combine that with the ever-crushing squeeze of the wet-suit and you’ve got a bigger mess than a Tijuana truck stop. I shuffled off to the restroom, also for the first time realizing how freaking cold my bare feet had become. It was as if my outer limbs were the glaciers in Antarctica while my innards were the hole in the ozone layer rapidly depleting. Also, a pretty unique anxiety to feel, but there’s almost nothing like having to take a too small wet suit off in two minutes urgency.

I shivered my way back to the sea, contemplating not getting back in. Alas I decided I’d have to stick at it, and there was an idea that I’d learned long ago that water temperature is usually warmer than air temperature. (I think I understand how that doesn’t work in this case, but with bone white toes I needed anything to convince me I could get warm.) Luckily the nausea subsided, and I was still flip flopping around.

The sun had risen high in the sky by this point and the blue sky was quite stunning. It was really staggering to believe it was barely January on top of the situation entirely. Really almost the most ideal conditions I could imagine, though it could’ve been a bit warmer. Keisuke swam over to me and asked if I was ready to go. I hadn’t been able to keep any track of time but he’d said we’d been in the water for over two hours. I didn’t believe him at first, no way had I survived that long, but I guess it seemed plausible. When we finally dragged ourselves onto the beach I started to feel the aches. I supposed for the most part my body was completely numb, so I didn’t realize how much work I’d put in until I warmed up.

Luckily the veteran surfing master came completely prepared. After stripping out of his wet suit in the blink of an eye, he brought out a container and poured hot water into a bucket. I was helpless and so thankful to just pad my feet around until they got any sort of feeling in them. It’s a good thing I lost all the nerves in most of my toes from Nordic skiing or else I would’ve faced a world of hurt.

 

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When I finally, with much assist, ripped my wet suit off, Keisuke asked if I wanted to go into the town. Within a fifteen minutes drive is one of the more famous natural monuments in Fukui and even among some crowds known in Japan at large. The thing is, the cliffs of Tojinbo are mostly known because they’re a popular sight for people to go and commit suicide. But when in San Francisco you’re not gonna avoid seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, so I figured this had the same reasoning.

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They weren’t anything super staggering, maybe because the tide was higher from the rain, but really the biggest thought was how unappealing a spot most of the cliffs would be to jump off of. Japan is pretty famous for having spots like this around the country, but I would hope this isn’t the first choice of most people. When we arrived the sea was clear and there was a pretty sweet rainbow off in the distance. It was good just to check it off the list, top off the day, and enjoy the weather.

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In the winter Fukui is pretty famous for its crab, so we stopped by a restaurant for a quick lunch of crab ramen. Fresh and fantastic. At first I was worried at the cost, but Keisuke pointed me to a different menu. Turns out the one I was looking at listed the prices for crabs reserved to be sent to the Emperor’s palace.

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All around a bomb diggity way to start my interest in surfing. Wouldn’t mind going again, but definitely need to scour the YouTube for more technique and practice videos. For now, I just hope it can snow soon so I can surf the slopes instead.

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What a ridiculous past week it’s been. I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s just say it started out great. I came back to camp all riled up and ready to go. We had half days at school on Thursday and Friday and our supervisor took Coral and me to Nitori (which is basically Japanese for Ikea), and I loaded up on a lot of things for my apartment. In the end I budgeted ¥40,000 and spent ¥39,200 which worked out perfect. Although, that night I started going through everything I had and organizing it all, and sadly once I got it all into place I really was sort of back to square one with an empty apartment. Basically everything I’d gotten just when into a closet of some sort. I still don’t have a refrigerator, couch, any sort of table or chair to sit and work at. In fact, the only necessity I purchased (which did end up making up half the budget) was a bed and sheets. But even then, I only got a futon that goes on the floor and can fold up and get placed in my closet. (It’s a surprisingly comfortable bed for it’s design, but that’s beside the point). I’m definitely getting cabin fever over the lack of anything to do in my apartment, and if it weren’t for the view I think I would really consider trying to move.

IMG_2074But as far as views go, this one’s hard to beat. The sun sets pretty quickly, but if you watch it just right the amount of colors in the sky are spectacular. So I’m happy with or without the amenities. Like all things that are slowly applying to my life: once I get paid, I’ll be much better off. Especially after this weekend.

Throughout this week I’d been talking with another ALT named Carmelo about going to a beach in Kanazawa for the weekend. Carmelo is on his second year and it seems is always in the know about the best places to be. Such it seems was this weekend. Him, another new ALT, and I left a little past noon on Saturday for the three hour drive to the northern beach in the Ishikawa prefecture. Along the way we swapped cars and met a Japanese friend of Carmelo’s who’d drive the two hours from Fukui city.

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I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but as soon as we arrived at the beach I new it was going to be a whole different experience. The view from where we parked the car was pretty awesome, but from the moment I stepped out I was blasted with the bass of house and dance music. It was so strange to have this scene and the middle of the day cut by what you’d typically hear in a club in Roppongi, but hey, it was already three o’clock. The place was a bit peculiar, but would only increase in population and fanfare as the night set in. For a while we avoided the dance floor, instead setting our things down, making a toast, and heading toward the beach.

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I think there’s a joke that could be made about how an African-American, Russian-American, and Mexican-American all go to a Japan beach, but I’ll just skip over it for PC sake. Because the Ocean, man, the ocean. It’s been a couple of summers since I’d been in one, but that was nothing like this. The water was perfect, fairly clear, and a pleasant temperature. The waves were just large enough to lap over you, but not strong enough to knock you over. We all split up and started to talk to whoever we could (read: women). It’s funny how easy it is to approach strangers here, I mean, I still think there may be the idea of “stranger danger” that we use in America, but for me it’s like obviously I’m a foreigner, so obviously I must be a n00b and probably non-threatening.

Apart from a beer in the car (because yeah, that’s legal here), and a couple of swigs before our toast, for the rest of the night I don’t think I had any alcohol, which considering how giddy I was is pretty surprising. Once we left the ocean, plenty of people had gathered back at the stage, and they were rounding off sets of using the foam machine. At first the four of us mostly stood back and watched, but eventually (maybe once we saw how everyone else did it) we joined in the fray. One of us even got up on stage (though, he was quickly brought off). So I guess, drenched in foam, pumping my first in the air, and bouncing up in a down, in the center of a crowd singing BigBang’s “Wow, fantastic baby,” I should’ve expected something wrong to happen.

And it was then, while my feet were sloshing in the foam soaked sand, sinking even further with every up and down, that I felt the simple slide across the bottom of my foot of something that shouldn’t have been. Through the adrenaline it took me another jump before I decided to reach down and feel the arch of my left for assurance. When I brought my hand back my fingers were splashed with blood barely visible in the laser and torch lights. It’s sad how sober I can become in situations like that. Not even panicked or frustrated, just efficient. Knowing that I was standing in a vat of sand and soap and sweat, with god knows whatever sort of rust and diseased covered sharp object sliced through my foot, I snaked my way through the crowd, already beginning the limp, to head to the restroom.

Once I was there (literally a shack with a tiny flap over the open doorway with the kanji for man on it) it’s amusing how quickly things went into action. Outside I passed a couple of girls waiting for the women’s stalls to be open, but once they saw me limp they rushed into the men’s toilet with me. Both clad in bikinis, one held my shoulders while the other grabbed my foot and brought it up to the sink to begin flapping it with water. It seems, or at least in my mind, that this was also the time all the men decided to take a leak because I swear at least eight more guys entered the room in the next five seconds. Some stared, some went about their business, but eventually I had to escape (even though the one was still splashing water on my still bleeding foot) and I hobbled outside to a barstool.

I got some weird looks. People asking me “daijyobu?‘ and a lot of whispering. I defiantly smiled back wearing nothing but short plaid swim trunks, while cursing my bad luck. I think at that point I knew I’d need stitches, but I didn’t really have a choice in the matter of getting them since none of us would’ve know where the nearby emergency room was (let alone, I don’t even know what type of operating hours emergency rooms might have out here). Instead I eventually waddled back to the ocean, a plenty distance away, thinking that salt water was probably the best option I had in making sure my new wound wouldn’t get infected.

The water was still impressively warm, and I waded in to my waist and stayed there for a while. Even in the darkness, with hardly any stars, I could hear people out there, see some silhouettes on the beach, and the occasional flash of fireworks. It was truly an OK situation for me, and even with the cost, I’m glad I broke away from the flash of the foam party to experience it. By this point it wasn’t even midnight, and I still had a long night ahead of me. I hobbled back to the main part of the beach and fell into one of the hammocks that were placed up by the stage. At least I wasn’t the first who’d be passing out.

I woke up over two hours later, and went to check and see if the car was still there. From the hammock I’d tried to keep an eye out for the guys I was with, but eventually I dozed up. Luckily I caught them as they were on their way back from the car to do one final sweep for me. We got in an cruised the ride back, stopping once at a Seven-Eleven and momentarily conversing with the odd crowd that frequents a conbini at three in the morning.

When we got back to the apartment complex, I knew (from the oozing redness around the crusted blood) that I’d have to go into the hospital. But at that point I told them to get some sleep and Carmelo offered to take me to get my foot checked whenever I woke up. It was five in the morning, and all I could do when I stumbled up the stairs and into the apartment was stick my foot into yet another sink and try to wash all the rest of the crud off. I stuck a sock on it so it wouldn’t bleed all over my new sheets, and went to sleep for as long as I could.

I woke up five hours later, and thankfully Carmelo had just woken up as well. We drove to the hospital and I hopped in while he parked. Now, I think my three years of Japanese classes will get me through most day to day situations I’ll encounter here, but visiting a hospital was definitely not something I’d studied for. Luckily my ailment was external and so all I had to do when I approached the receptionist was point to the bottom of my foot. She got me situated and after enough repeated successfully determined that I’d probably cut it on a can, I’d washed it several times, and had no allergies to any medicine. When we got to that last point it really hit me how screwed I was for not knowing how to communicate. Like, luckily I’ve been healthy enough not to have any lasting concerns, but if I did how the hell would I know how and when to tell them.

Inside the (for lack of a better word, or maybe it’s the right word anyway) operating room, I met the doctor. There were at least five nurses all dressed in scrubs, and my doctor is sitting at a desk wearing a moss colored t-shirt tucked into blue jeans. I mean, I know it was Sunday, but still it took me off guard. They quickly laid me down on my stomach and the doctor said the word “painkiller” in English. Thank god the cut was on my foot, because I looked back enough to see him pull out a needle and then didn’t look again. The painkiller was the worst part, though, as he had to poke me several times around the cut. “Painkiller is the worst part,” he said, again in English. I got a couple more “daijyobu”s from the nurses before they went to work. It was actually quite an easy process, and despite the anxiety, didn’t hurt at all. On the way to the hospital actually I kept thinking I would vomit from the pain, but once my foot went numb I felt normal again.

In the end I got “seven stitches” again in English, “it’s a lot, no?” The hardest part was probably what came after. I got handed a couple of sheets and figured out that they wanted me to come back in the morning to get it changed again. I also had to pay in full since my health insurance hasn’t kicked in yet. It’s shit like this that we need Obamacare for. After paying for the apartment, amenities, food, I had to give in all the cash I had left on me. In US dollars it only equated to about $200, but that was the money that was supposed to last me through the next two weeks. After I paid they directed me to the pharmacy to pick up medication. That has got to be the most confusing conversation I’ve ever had in Japanese. The pharmacist just wouldn’t slow down using his Japanese and if I didn’t know the words “hitotsu” and “hirugohan, bangohan, asagohan” (otherwise no Japnese language) I probably could’ve just packed up and hoped they didn’t have to amputate after an infection. But hey, I was fixed up, the painkillers were still working (and when they stopped, I would know), and I had gotten over the first real life crisis of my time in Japan. All that, and I’d only been here two weeks to the day.