Doing a triathlon Shitamizu-style

It’s a Sunday afternoon.  The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and only a few wisps of cloud hang above the gleaming white suspension bridge that ties Ikuchijima to Innoshima.  I can see the cyclists whizzing across it from my window.  And naturally that sight leads to the thought of – Ice cream.  I can already taste the Sea Salt and Milk ice cream sliding down my throat, accompanied by a chorus of angels…

Of course there’s other things that I need to do today, but how long could it possibly take to do a quick 10 km bike ride, scarf down an ice cream and ride back?  No problem.

I head out.  It’s hot but there’s a magnificent breeze, and I’m wearing a new T-shirt designed for exercising and made out of magical fibres which don’t absorb sweat but allow any hint of breeze to go right through, while being completely opaque.  (The type of clothing I should have had last year for my first hot-as-hell-if-it-existed-and-was-a-sauna-Japanese-summer.)  The climb up to the bridge feels much easier than last time, likely due to the breeze.  My rusty old mama-chari is handling magnificently.  I trust it now – after doing some large downhills and not losing grip or parts on the way, I’m confident I’ll be over to the ice cream shop and back to my apartment in two hours tops.  All the same, I did bring along a pump and a flat repair kit.  But as I said, I was confident!  As confident as I am in anything.

I arrive at the ice cream shop about 10 kms later but I haven’t even broken a sweat.  Niiice.  It’s a glorious day.  The parking lot however, is discouraging.  Despite the shop having seating for only about thirty patrons, the parking lot is gargantuan – and right now, it is full.  Not just full of tiny shiny small-displacement cars, but also several pelatons’ worth of bicycles, a handful of motorcycles and scooters, and the accompanying overspill of people who can’t actually fit into the café and are hauling their treats outside to eat.  Whatever, I think. I just got warmed up.  I’m goin’ to the beach, baby.  See ya later, ice cream shop.  It’s only another 10 kms or so, and the day is young.  I’ll hit you up on the way back.

I get to the beach…it’s great!  Except I don’t have a swimsuit, so I just wade along in the water for awhile until I’m bored.  Then, still trying to reconcile my time wastage to myself, I pull out my Japanese assignment and practice reading it out loud while I dry off and soak in more extremely strong and unhealthy UV rays.  But by now my brain is pretty much done for.  I’ve had enough rays already.  Physical activity only please.  I get back on the bike and head back.

As I approach the ice cream shop I’m feeling pretty good, but also very relieved I’m so close to home at this point.  Only 10 more kms to go after my heavenly salty ice cream. Mmmm.

I park the trusty mama-chari, leave it unlocked with my $15 eBay-from-China-pannier-bags on it, containing my pump and flat repair kit that I’m confident I don’t need, and waltz into Dolce (Doh-ru-chi in Japanese pronunciation) like I own the place.  Yeah, I’m risqué that way.

The parking lot is nearly empty in comparison.  I can see a few spare chairs inside and thank the sunset for signaling the end of the weekend and getting rid of all the cyclists so I can collapse in the air conditioned glory with my Sea Salt and Milk ice cream.  As if my wild curly hair wouldn’t set me apart enough already, I’m wearing a bright red shirt and black shorts.  I’ve been feeling myself cook for about 45 minutes by this point.  The spray-on sunscreen probably worked for about 20 minutes.  My face and hair feels like it’s been sandblasted and hair sprayed simultaneously.  I imagine myself looking like a sort of red-faced goblin that’s arisen from the depths of Kosanji Temple’s underground Buddhist hell display for a quick break before going back to my 24-7 job of torturing and mutilating.

Just as I review how to order my ice cream in Japanese, one of my students pops up from behind the ice cream counter and starts speaking English to me.  All I can do is blink and try to reset my brain. Jeez, girl.  Are you trying to throw me out of my groove (that I didn’t actually have but had just convinced myself I could fake)?  At the same time, am I ever glad.  I get what I want extremely quickly and I got to see a friendly familiar face (that happens to be attached to a very sweet heart).  Nice.

While I’m eating, I again review my Japanese, still trying to atone for going the extra (20) mile(s). Yeah kms. Whatever. I’m Canadian and we talk like that due to our metric-Imperial conversion-confusion.  If you don’t understand that, don’t worry.  Neither do we.  Also while I’m eating, I notice my hands are a bit shaky.  Hmm. Touch of sunstroke perhaps?  Sitting in full sun on the beach was probably not wise…

Whatever!  I had my magic ice cream and now I feel invincible!!!  Off I go, out of the restaurant.  The rusty mama-chari (and my bags) are still there, waiting.  (I mean really, who would actually steal it. Come on…)  I head off.  Whoo hoo!  I imagine my rear tire feels soft and look down to check it but no, it’s perfectly fine.  I told you I was confident.

I’m getting relatively close to the ramp back on to the bridge when I see a gaggle of children and bikes and puppies on the sidewalk ahead of me.  Could that be any cuter?  There are two puppies with leads attached to their collars, and for some reason (or none) the kids are chasing them instead of just picking up the end of the leashes.  Doesn’t bother me, except I’m approaching quickly and don’t  want to add puppy-killer to my resume.  Just as I consider leaving the sidewalk for the narrow, no-room-for-slow-bikes road, the cute-parade divides.  One puppy veers into the road and the children immediately begin panicking.  The other puppy busts out its extra gear and leaves the kids in the dust.

My sensei-senses kick in and I put my foot down.  (Literally.)  I bend down, smile and reach out to the puppy and it runs over to me like I’ve been it’s best friend for ages.  One caught.  Three seconds later and the other puppy has also run over to us.  Ten seconds and the kids are there and apologizing, and collecting leashes.  On I go, thrilled by the cute little puppies and proud of my dog whispering skills.  And then I think, hey, my rear tire sure seems soft…

Really soft.  5psi soft.

I hop off.  I just ate Sea Salt ice cream and caught two puppies bare-handed.  Plus, I have a pump and flat kit.  I laugh in the face of shattered confidence.  Ha.ha.ha.

It’s not just a tube problem.  There are cords sticking out of the tire, which is worn completely bald down the centre of the tire.  At this point I ask myself why have I not noticed this before?  But, I pump ‘er up and set out.  It must have been a slow leak.

Ha.ha.ha.  Twenty feet, flat again.  I try once more.  For scientific purposes it’s best to give these things two chances.  I notice chunks of rubber missing elsewhere along the tire.  Oh my…

And so I begin walking the bike, up to the bridge.  About twenty minutes in to the hike, some freaky black and orange tarantula-nittoru-na kumo skitters across the road in front of me and hides in a giant weed across the road from me.  Sweeeeet lord what was that.  It was so dang big I thought it was a crab at first.

You know how in horror movies people always have to just go check out what that noise was?  I finally understand that ridiculous, foolish compulsion.  While most of my being wants to jump on the bike and grind sparks out of the rear rim as I get the frick away from the mystery tarantula that could kill me at any moment, for some reason I instead stop and take out my cell phone for a picture.  Then, thankfully, a scooter whips past me and recalls me to my senses.  I pick up the pace and the heck out of there.  Sorry, no picture.  What if it got me?  OMG.  I’m sweating just picturing being close to it.  Ughhh. Spiders….Big spiders…..shudder.

The rest of the trip takes an hour.  I cross the bridge listening to the fwwwiip-swiiipe-fwwwiip-swiiipe of the flat going round and round, occasionally smashing my ankle or knee into the pedal and cheerfully replying “Konnichiwa!” to every passing cyclist doing their cheerful duty.

And that was that.  The only triathlon I’ll ever do:  Bike/Wade/Bicycle-push.


Tackling the profundities of English pronunciation…

I occasionally take it upon myself to pick an aspect of English pronunciation and wage a private war on its behalf.  When I first started here, it was the confusion of “b”s and “v”s that I nitpicked at.  (There is no V sound in Japanese)  There was also the war against “r” and “l” confusion.  That is a really a tough one (in Japanese the character romanized as “ra” can sound like la, da, or ra.  There is no L sound).  It feels pretty good to hear the difference in the students’ speech-their vocabulary is quite good but it tends to come out mangled and sometimes unintelligible due to inability to produce the right sounds (or even know what sound to aim for).  Lately I’ve been picking at the mispronunciation of “th” (again, there is no TH sound in Japanese) as it usually comes out as “s-hu” – for example, “three” comes out as “suhree” (if you can imagine that as one syllable).

Today I had a particularly fun small battle against the Mispronunciation of the Short Double-O Sound.  English is not exactly the simplest language in the world to learn pronunciation from its spelling (there are arguments it’s not phonetically spelled at all but I disagree.  and digress…)  It seems that students here rarely get corrected when they read a short double-o sound as a long one.  For example, try using the same vowel sound in “balloon” and “moon” when you say “book” and “cook”.

“Who is she?”  I asked, while holding a flashcard of a woman in a chef’s uniform.

“She’s a kook!” Cried four tiny voices in unison.

I don’t think we can tell that much about her personality from the tiny picture on the flashcard.  So I explained to them that a kook and a cook are two different things-they loved hearing what a kook is.  They practiced the short double-o until I figured they had it down pat, and then ff we went through the other set of flashcards until up popped the chef again.  “Who is she?”  I asked

“She’s a cock!”

Well, they tried.  I didn’t feel the need to explain the meaning of that one.