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November, 2011

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The Return to Yokohama: I remember You…

Through the sleepless nights, and every endless day. I’d wanna hear you say, I remember you.

Yokohama, Japan Japanese mosquitos are a unique breed. They strike like ninjas in the night. You won’t know they’ve attacked until they have flown away to safety. Their bite is painless. You could watch them land on you, and go in for the kill, and still feel nothing. But don’t let that small nicety fool you; their bites swell like nothing you’ve seen before, and can blemish your skin for months after the cunt has likely laid her eggs and died. They are beasts. They are monsters. And they cannot be stopped! And their buzzing! Their incessant buzzing keeps me from any semblance of sleep I might be awarded in the night. The neon lights in my apartment fry my brain as I desperately attempt to hunt the vile succubus and hurl an exercise ball at her for a much more dramatic splat. The pitcher in me never misses, but the problem is tracking down the Blood Queen’s hiding place. This is a process that can sometimes take all night, and definitely not something you want to be doing the night before your 6AM departure to yet another Asia League game in Yokohama…

All the way to Yokohama I could think about only one thing – STARBUCKS! Asia brings out the coffee drinker in me, and, trust me, I’ve never been known to drink it at home – ever! But, boy, do I drink it here! I suppose it was inevitable that I would need to find a Rockstar replacement eventually, even though you can actually get Rockstars here. Unfortunately, they are the size of a Redbull, and are only available in the original flavour, though, so I’m not such a fan!

Anyway, I had a game plan in my head all visualized for when I pulled up to the Skate Center for the second time this month. I knew exactly how many blocks away the Starbucks was, and how to get there. I went on foot, despite the pissing rain that had accompanied me on my entire drive down, which by the way, was a full on flood by the time the Free Blades/High1 game let out! I felt a strange sense of deja vu as I wandered past the big city buildings of Yokohama to the sanctity of my Gingerbread Latte, and it occurred to me that I could have been in Philadelphia or Chicago, and wouldn’t have even noticed the difference. I gasped when I realized that I actually had a pre-game routine again, and it felt pretty good, actually. I think my relationship with the Asia League just went to the next level!

A couple hits of caffeine later, and the puck was ready to drop in the Shin Yokohama Skate Center. High1 was Halla’s opposition at my first ever Asia League game last season in Korea, so I was greatly looking forward to seeing some good looking Korean men again! It’s true what they say – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone! Of course, the downside of that was that the presence of the Koreans threw me right back into Korean-mode, which is something I’ve been struggling with for the last 5 and a half months. I think the reason I have a more difficult time picking up Japanese is because my natural response is to want to speak Korean, and in that split second that my brain needs to throw out the Korean word and try to remember the Japanese word, I lose all confidence in my delivery! Ahhh Shibal!! Oops… there I go again.

I also found myself reflecting on the two lives that I have led in both countries, and their differences. The two countries are like night and day, and my personal experiences in them equally polarized. I definitely had a lot more “fun” in Korea, but I was also miserable. In Japan I lead a very wholesome and mundane life, and yet I am contented – the car probably has something to do with that. Although I consider Japan a much more global country, Korea is definitely much more Americanized. At the game they even put their hand over their heart for their national anthem just like the Americans. I will say, though, that I wish I still lived in a country that didn’t make peanut butter an endangered commodity – for when the mood strikes, you know! And I wish my cab fares were still only $2!!!

The layout at the rink was different this time! The glass seats were gone (shucks!) and so was half the crowd. I guess they needed more seats to accommodate the “special event” crowd two weeks before. I was banished off to the side in the High1 end zone where I met a family of crazy New York Rangers fans. And get this, of all the players to get on the back of their jersey they picked Psycho Lady Hockey favourite, Sean Avery! Yes, Sean Avery!

It was kind of an interesting story about that jersey, too! It was purchased directly from the NYR mothership at Madison Square Garden during the couple’s honeymoon! Hmm NHL-themed honeymoon?!? Doesn’t sound like a bad idea. The little guy’s jersey was obviously purchased at another time, as a “web order” so I was told. I don’t know what it is about a Rangers jersey, but they make every kid look absolutely adorable, and that goes for Kitchener, too! I spent most of the second and third period helping him use the noise-maker-fan-thing they gave out at the game, “Wow! Sugoi! Good job!” Then he gave me some cookies.

Well, the Free Blades finally won a game in my presence, which meant that I wasn’t horribly shamed in my new Tohoku jersey! Reebok was sponsoring the event, and they had a booth set up and a ridiculous sale going! The jerseys were going for 3,900 yen reduced from 12,000!! I may have purchased more than one… Guess what you’re getting for Christmas, Uncle Rob!?

After the game the post game traditions took effect. I ran into the 7-Eleven next to the rink to take out cash in case the parking was even more ridiculous than it was two weeks before. Then I had my usual death ride back through Tokyo and the Roppongi district on a Saturday night to look forward to. By the time I reached Tokyo the storm had taken on typhoon like qualities. Broken umbrellas lay helpless all over the streets and sidewalks. During this treacherous commute through the big city, The Wombat’s Tokyo came on my iPod. I always love it when my music syncs up with my life.

Again, after I knew I had survived the concrete jungle that is Tokyo, I celebrated with the traditional Big and Hot in the back of the KFC parking lot. Relax, it’s not what you think (though I wish it was!!!!). It’s just some silly sandwich that I’m not even sure if I like all that much, but by the time my stomach has declared that it won’t wait for dinner any longer, the KFC is the first thing that shows up on my side of Route 6! It’s like clockwork!

By the time I made it home, it wasn’t all that late, but I was dying for sleep. As a former hockey road trip junky and insomniac, sleep has become something I’ve learned to appreciate. However, living next to a train station, near an air force base, and in a country where decent sized earthquakes hit by the hour, sleep is not something that can be taken for granted. Of course, by the time I turned the lights out, and my weary head hit the pillow, a blood-thirsty whore began buzzing in my ear. She is now a menacing red smear on my wall, which I have decided to leave there to send a message to the others.

Countdown to the NHL Comeback: 24 days!

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Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Asia League weekend extravaganza in Yokohama.

Yokohama, Japan Going a month without any hockey road trips may not seem like very long to you, but to a girl like me it was a very, very, very long month of abstinence. However, when game day finally arrived, I experienced a lot of mixed feelings again. I was headed down past the danger zone a.k.a. Tokyo towards beautiful Yokohama for a 1PM puck drop. Now this drive can take around 5 hours on a good day, but on a Saturday I feared I’d be in traffic for hours and miss the first game of the double header at the Shin Yokohama Skate Center that afternoon, which made for a very stressful commute. I was out the front door at 6AM that morning hoping that the hockey gods would help me get to the rink on time… and in one piece, too.

Oh, I should also add that I had been fighting off illness and mosquitoes the night before, too! I must have drank 5 litres of that Vitamin C.C. Lemon stuff to keep the potential flu at bay before puck drop. It’s weird, but for some reason I never get sick here even though I will periodically feel like I’m about to come down with something. I’m lucky, I guess, or perhaps it’s just the power of 210 lemons worth of vitamin C in every bottle! And as for those pesky mosquitos, all I have to say is this…. It’s November! Why aren’t you dead yet!?! You should see the state of my neck. It looks like some overzealous Twihard went to town in anticipation of opening night.

Anyway, around 11:30 that morning Paul Kariya (the vehicle) and I (somehow) pulled up to the tiny rink hidden away in the same neighbourhood as the gigantic Yokohama Arena, which actually appears to be purely for “symphonies” and other high calibre “cultural” experiences. You can bet your ass I found that out the hard way, too! Luckily there was a security guard there that was able to say, “ice hockaaay” with his hands in an X configuration, so I’d know to move along and try again somewhere else.

Once the real location of the hockey tournament-ish thing was locked down, and the 4,000 yen (roughly $52) parking fee was paid (I know, even the Leafs aren’t THAT brutal), I was in line with the rest of the fans that were ogling the talent (the boys were warming up on the street), and making their game plans for securing their seat of choice. It’s usually a free for all. You pay to sit at a certain price level, but no actual seat number is assigned. Little did I know that I had actually paid to sit behind one of the benches. I didn’t do it on purpose – honest I didn’t!

It was a good thing I had bench seats because, once again, there was only so much non-puck-in-play entertainment I could gather from the fans. It was another local crowd, which actually really surprised me because I thought being close to Tokyo there’d be more Canadians willing to embrace our sport by actually showing up, but nooooo. I think I saw two Charisma Men, and a possible third from across the ice, but I couldn’t confirm that, and I was too lazy to go over and investigate. Of course, there were some familiar die hards there, too! The Nikko Rowdies, as I have officially called them, came equipped with drums, fury, and even that El Orange banner they love so much. Oh, and I should mention that I did see a guy wearing not one, but TWO Flyers jerseys! You could see a faint Richards #18 bleeding through from underneath his top layer! Poor Michael.

Since I didn’t have any Canadians to stalk, I had the benches to amuse me. I found myself guilty of paying more attention to what language the players and coaches were communicating in than the actual game. I’m sorry, I have a degree in Linguistic Anthropology, wanna fight about it? I noticed that the “import” member of the coaching staff would communicate in English to everyone on the team, albeit somewhat slowly. I loved listening to the lectures and watching the faces of the non-import players pretending to understand. Obviously as soon as the pep talk was over, they’d turn to the “non-import” coach with the standard Japanese I-don’t-understand, “EEUUUUUHHH?!?!” (It drives me NUTS when my students do that, by the way! You know what, “Hello” means, dammit!), so the non-import coach can translate everything the other guy just said. Man… I wish they sold popcorn at the Skate Center!

Another amusing bench drama was the one going on between me and every single one of the import players on all four of the teams playing in the extravaganza that day. As I’ve mentioned, other than the odd Charisma Man, I am the extent of the foreign population that goes to these Asia League games in Japan it seems. You could tell that they hadn’t seen a non-Asian girl at one of their games in a very, very, very long time. And if the fact that I was wearing an honest-to-God cat hood (what… it’s a very practical hat, scarf, and pair of mittens all rolled into one!) wasn’t enough to keep them from looking away out of fear that my crazy might rub off on them, then I don’t know what is! I should note that both teams I was sitting behind LOST that day by scores of 6-2 and 5-2 – ouch! Do I smell several potential take downs?! Only time will tell…. hahaha just kidding! I’ve been in Japan so long, I’m practically a virgin. I will say, though, that I think I really have been in Japan for too long because all the import players are starting to look the same to me – WEIRD!

After the horn sounded to end the second of the two games on day one of whatever it is this thing was supposed to be, and the players had all bowed to the fans, I was homeward bound with a nice drive through Tokyo on a Saturday night to look forward to (sarcasm). The Asia League holds special events like this all season long. This time only the four Japanese members of the League participated in the event: the Eagles, IceBucks, Paper Cranes, and Free Blades. It was a two day event, and each team played two games, so it wasn’t a proper tournament. If anything this event was a way to showcase the game of hockey to other parts of the country. The next Asia League extravaganza I have my eye on is next month in Tokyo. The two Korean teams will be participating, and if I know those Halla fans, they are definitely Psycho enough to grab a flight from Incheon just in time for puck drop!

Countdown to my (temporary?) NHL return: 38 days!

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