At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Friday, May 27, 2011

台風 Songda, Driving in Japan and saying Goodbye

I've been on a short hiatus from my blog and during this time I've had the chance to take the Japanese Driver's License Test (which I failed, miserably and must re-take in a few weeks after I take a test preparation course).  Since I'm a foreigner from the USA, a country without a nationalized standard for driving (each of our states have their own testing requirements), I'm one of the lucky ones that must go through a rigorous examination process in order to procure a Japanese Driver's License so I'll be able to continue to drive next year.  Currently, I'm driving on a International Driver's Permit (which doesn't require a test at all).

On Tuesday evening this past week, after working a 6 period day (basically full course load), I went straight to the airport and flew to Okinawa to take the initial test (all outer islanders must first take the on mainland Okinawa).  Okinawa is always fun to visit so I'm looking forward to moving there in less than two months, though I still do not yet know where I'm heading.  I'm shivering with annnnnnticiiiiiiippppp  aaa tion.
The test was incredibly difficult and I'm afraid I may not pass it even during the second round, but I'm going to give it my best.  I cannot even go into details about how impossible this test seems, but it is indeed a "running of the gauntlet" of sorts.  I hope the course on Ishigaki is a bit easier, though I doubt it.

Right now there is a massive typhoon named Songda bearing down on the Yaeyama and Miyako islands.  It was categorized as a Cat 5 storm, but has since reduced to Category 4 (and I think by the time it reaches here it will be a 3).  Still, it's not a joke.  The weirdest thing about this is that it's so reminiscent of Typhoon Fanapi (which I wrote about on this blog in September). 

I was teaching on the Western side of Iriomote and overnighting in Shirahama and teaching in Funauki right before the typhoon hit Ishigaki last September, and I was doing the same this past Thursday and Friday as well.  I'm always afraid I'll be stranded on Iriomote if a massive storm hits while I'm there, so I had to leave as soon as possible.  I bid my students on Funauki fairwell for the final time.  The entire school, including the Kocho sensei, came out to the port, took photos with me and then handed a streamer to me from each of them.  They then held onto the multicolored streamers while my boat took off and I held onto the streamers as I waved goodbye.  It was a really beautiful sendoff actually.  The Japanese are elaborate in rituals with goodbyes.  I loved how this particular goodbye occurred (I didn't have to make any speeches, thank goodness!) even if it was a bit rushed.  The boat captain hurried me onto the boat in a rather curt tone.  My co-worker said to me, "oops we made him mad with all the picture taking and glee."  I suppose he didn't want to be late because of one person (me).  I didn't get any photos of the event unfortunately, but the morning sun on the water, the calm of the mountains and the streamers flying out over the water as my students and fellow teachers waved goodbye will be forever in my mind though. 

I hope the typhoon isn't too devastating.  The outer bands have reached us and I can hear a strengthening wind, though the massive winds of the storm have yet to reach us.  They are coming though, I can definitely hear them strengthening. But my building has not yet started to shake (it does this when the winds hit it hard).  Don't worry though, these buildings are built to withstand typhoons and earthquakes.   Everything will be all good, though if the storm is a Category 4 we may lose power on the island.  I'm not looking forward to that as it's hot here and having to keep my window shut without AC or a fan will not be very comfortable.

Of course there seems to be some sort of storm chasing hobby on my island as so many people are out in their cars driving around right now (and they did the same in the middle of the night during Fanapi as well back in September).   The police and fire department have been intermittently making announcements and warnings to keep people indoors, but it seems like people either don't care or they are just going about their day as if a massive typhoon wasn't approaching the island.   Well, I am not going outside to be among the storm chasers.  Not for me thank you.  In the meantime, I'll post a few more blog entries until the power goes out.

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