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in the clear

weill in japan: day 30

I've never felt so good to do so badly on a test.

Our class had its midterm today -- at just over two hours of actual work spread across the first three hours, it was longer than many finals that I've had at Carnegie Mellon. I studied as best I could, but I don't have too high expectations for the final grade on it.

The day began with an earlier start than any before it: a 7:10 AM departure, followed by a stop at Mister Donut for a doughnut and a cup of the strongest coffee in Japan. Even over ice, I haven't drank a stronger cup of anything whose name doesn't end with the letter "o." That cup lasted me clear through lunch five hours later. Note to self: stop by Misudo every day.

The first hour was pretty much an extended quiz based on vocabulary and characters from the first three units covered. The second hour's essay turned out okay, but I'm pretty sure I made a few critical grammar mistakes. Then came hour three: The Interview.

The "interview" portion of the exam was the most dreaded part, from what I gathered during pre-exam cramming. It consisted exclusively of reciting portions of the first chapter with improvisation only to make up for bad memory. It teaches nothing about practical Japanese except for the scripted greetings and closings that we were told about. As we've done in the past, we drew cards to determine the order. Each person would "interview" with the person whose cards immediately preceded and followed his or her own. The waiting area was the computer lab, where I brushed up on studying and tooled around on the Web for a while. My card: King, the high card. (Ace was 1 in our system.) Forty minutes later, my first interview began.

The interview took place in the ILC's studio room, a classroom outfitted with bright stage lighting and a video camera installation. When it was my turn to interview with number 12 (Queen), I got to step into the hot light with my professors watching in silence as I fumbled my way through the harder of the two interview portions. In the next round, interviewing number 1 (Ace), I had to do little but sit there and listen for my next cue.

When it was over, the remaining 30 minutes of garbage time were spent in the classroom listening to Japanese music and going over our plan for tomorrow in Harajuku. We meet at the Harajuku station Friday at 9:00 AM -- a later start by 20-30 minutes. (Harajuku is farther away than ICU's Musashi-Sakai station, but I don't have to transfer to a bus.)

Deciding to go it alone for lunch, I spent a little time in the library checking e-mail and keeping in touch with friends, then left campus ignoring the preview session for Saturday's Asakusa trip. I'll figure it out: 8:40 AM at Musashi-Sakai station.

With nothing to do for tomorrow, I felt better today than I have since I arrived here. Both hurdles have been crossed for this week. The pressure is off, and a fun weekend lies ahead. At least one of my plans will have to wait a week; she has to work overtime on Friday evening. Maybe next week.

There are two weeks left in the course, but it already feels like I'm on the home stretch. Everything from here on out looks clear. I did a ton of gift shopping at Kichijoji, leaving just a couple of people left to buy gifts for. Fitting all this stuff into my luggage will be a challenge for another day.


Apparently it's bad etiquette to call a person on their mobile phone while they're at work. That doesn't stop people from leaving their phones on while at work, for some reason.

Milestone: I have attained a perfect score on a song in a rhythm-based game today, acing the easy "Hamtaro" theme on Taiko no Tatsujin 3. It's the first time that I had played the game since last week, due to some pain in my left hand. Today I did just fine. Dance Dance Revolution was another story; I failed on my third and final song, "Twilight Zone." I also tried Pop 'n Music, where you play along with songs using nine large keys, but failed miserably on my very first song. The 13-year-old girl next to me was kicking ass at it, though.

The rains are drenching Tokyo as I write this at around 9:30 PM local time on Thursday. Hopefully they won't drown out the festival scheduled for Saturday.

Most of the people looking at Japanese idol photo books are women, not men. I don't know what the percentages are for people buying the shrink-wrapped photo books, however.

Mister Donut employees speak faster than anyone I've heard yet in Tokyo. Maybe they drink too much of that coffee.

My loathed roommate from the spring 2002 semester is moving into an on-campus apartment with his girlfriend -- who basically moved into my room with him -- in the fall. The kicker: the two of them broke up after they signed the lease, and all of the rooms in the apartment are being used by couples. Switching would be out of the question. There is justice in this world.

Today I saw some out-of-date CD singles on sale outside a music store for ¥10 (8 cents) each. I thought about buying a ton of them, but decided that my space would be better utilized some other way. That's the lowest price tag that I've seen while here.

Speaking of low numbers, savings accounts aren't popular in Japan at all. The reason? To try and stimulate the economy, the base interest rate in Japan is just 0.25%. I saw a bank sign that featured a Japanese savings account with 0.007% interest. If you put 100,000 yen in that account, you'd get 7 yen in interest per year. Fortunately, bank accounts are also available in dollars, euros, British pounds, and other currencies whose home countries offer more favorable rates. (I never thought I'd consider the U.S.'s 2% interest "favorable.")

I need to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. He angers up the blood.

A 56-year-old grandmother won the top prize of ¥10,000,000 ($83,500) on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" tonight, and bowed humbly to the audience twice: once after they helped her with a question as a lifeline, and again after winning the jackpot. She plans to visit hot springs across Japan with her extended family of 11 people.

Tonight marked the third time that I've had Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan, and the second time that my host mother purchased it.

The weather won't get me down. August is off to a roaring start.