Reverse culture shock

Happy belated Christmas, everyone–I hope it was a good day for you all. It was an all right day on the home front–I got some good gifts (Avatar: The Last Airbender – book (season) 1 on DVD, and money from my grandmother…and a purse and jewelry from my parents, which were obviously last-ditch attempts to make me more girly so boys will like me and I can get married soon), and spent some good time with the family, including getting slaughtered by my brother and grandmother in Scrabble. My ability to converse in English, and my English vocabulary, have been eroded as my ability to converse in Japanese has improved.

Being here has been…interesting. I’ve gone driving–the first day, when I went to a few stores with my mom, was a little scary, and I’m glad I had her with me to tell me to bear to the right side of the road, because there was a strong chance I would have followed Japanese driving conventions instead. I still have to hesitate when figuring out which side the steering wheel is on, and where the windshield wiper/turn signal and headlight controls are, and I keep reaching for the gear shift with my left hand, and I’ve had to make myself remember American driving rules, but I’ve adjusted pretty well to American driving again.

I’ve also actually struggled a little bit in stores with making small talk with employees and clerks and stuff. Japan’s very hands-off–past the irasshaimase, they leave you to your own devices, and in restaurants, you have to call the wait staff over if you need anything. I’ve gotten so used to that that I find myself a little startled and flustered when they come by multiple times at restaurants here and kind of catch me off-guard. I’ve also almost forgotten how to even order in English–I’m so used to pointing at the menu and saying the name slowly, in case my Anglo-Japanese accent confuses them, and ending with a polite “onegaishimasu,” while here it’s just “I’d like ___,” or “I’ll have ___.”

I do miss the politeness that’s just ingrained into day-to-day Japanese life, and the fact that both sides exercise it–I forgot that my local Target doesn’t require people to take numbered tags into the dressing room, so I stopped by the counter and told the woman how many garments I had, and she gave me a strange look and just sort of quickly gestured for me to go in and stop bothering her. I’ve gotten used to using “please” and “thank you” in place of all the times when I’d use “onegaishimasu” and “arigatou” and “sumimasen,” and I’ve even begun to take keigo for granted (even if I don’t understand it word-for-word, I do definitely get the gist of it once it’s used in a specific context)–and it surprises me that I don’t hear people use the English equivalents in American restaurants/stores more often. I don’t mean that I expect American employees to bend over backwards to be polite to me, and I don’t mean that I expect going shopping to be a big overblown extravaganza (having people bow at me on every single floor of the Tokushima City Sogo as I descended via the escalator at closing time was a very strange and surreal experience)…it just feels strange that it’s so casual by comparison. (That, or I’ve just had mediocre service so far.)

At least things have been cheaper here. But something else I forgot about was tipping–it felt weird not to tip in Japan, but I got so used to it that I nearly forgot to tip several times here until I saw that extra blank on the receipt.

There’s also been more good TV to watch and catch up on. When I return to Japan I won’t have cable TV (my BOE has paid for it thus far, and wants to stop paying for it starting January, and I don’t really want to pay for it either), and my 11 channels will be reduced to something like 4…not that I watched TV a lot, but I really hope I still get what little good programming there was (movies, classical music, some J-dramas (I really want to start keeping up with Nodame Cantabile) and anime) and not just the silly talk shows and all the cooking shows that demonstrate them slicing and dicing and devouring meat and fish in minute detail. I certainly don’t need 70+ channels, but I’ll miss the educational networks (Discovery, TLC, The Travel Channel, The Science Channel, G4TV), Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, TV Land (I love Three’s Company and The Cosby Show), reruns of shows like ER (the early seasons) and The West Wing and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the general good programming all around. At least NHK has some good features about world cultures and politics and occasionally pop culture icons, and it’s good Japanese practice to watch it and try to translate it.

There’s also been the crazy insomnia I’ve been gripped with over the last few days–I slept in till 3 PM the day I got back, then slept normally for a couple of days, but…wow, I actually don’t know how many days ago this was, since time gets funky in the middle of the night. One night I couldn’t sleep till about 2 AM. The next night–Christmas Eve, that’s right–I went to bed at 8 PM with a monster headache, woke up at 2 AM, and fell back asleep after 5 AM. Last night, I just couldn’t sleep, period, until 4 or 5 AM, and I nearly overslept to meet Jenn for lunch today (who got me the soundtrack to The Shawshank Redemption, which I truly feel is one of Thomas Newman’s finest compositions and one of the best film scores in existence, and some really cute ladybug toe socks). I’ll definitely be taking some sleep medication to regulate my sleep schedule tonight.

Generally…I feel older. I feel like living abroad and being forced to be completely on my own–something that I definitely have come to embrace–makes me evaluate situations differently, act and decide differently than I used to, and just view things differently. My decisions are less childlike and more detached and adultlike–it’s all changed noticeably even compared to when I was here 6 months ago. I notice and drool over more home decor and furniture and light fixtures in stores now, I complimented my mom on a set of cute and stylish glass bottles she bought to use for oil, I expressed my envy at how many spices and vegetables and different types of food she has (and how freaking huge her fridge is compared to mine)…I don’t feel more domestic, but I feel more like I live on my own and want to take responsibility for my own living situation. I definitely am looking forward to buying property wherever I end up post-Japan–probably a condo–and decorating it, painting walls and finding nice wall hangings and furniture, experimenting more with cooking, and just establishing my own “space.” This interior decoration thing is finally starting to make more sense.

I also can’t wait to get back and have so many more shops to choose from–I felt like I was in heaven when I went to Target and realized that they had clothes that finally fit me. I’m off to a couple of local music stores either today or in a couple of days (after I consult with my orchestra friends at dinner tomorrow night) to buy some new violin strings (only $35 for a full set of 4/4 Thomastik Dominant strings, as compared to ¥7000 at Kurosaki Gakki in Tokushima City!) and scope out inexpensive metronome/tuners (hi, Julie!).

In general…I feel a lot more aware of the dichotomy of Japanese versus American life this time around. This summer, I needed to be back to save my sanity, but now, I can view things more clearly–and a lot more of my friends are in town (I’ll be seeing no fewer than 10 friends from university orchestra tomorrow night, and some of my closest friends on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, as well as other very cool people, hopefully including former teachers/professors, the following week). I think I’ve really come into my own in Japan over the last 6 months–I’ve dropped roots and started looking it as less of a momentary stop and more as a real part and step of my life. I’m also definitely coming to terms with the fact that I most likely won’t be in Atlanta for very long once I return, since I’m looking mainly at grad schools and jobs in other parts of the country (or out of the country), so this is one of my last opportunities to spend a lot of time in and around the city and view it as my home.

There’s been a lot of reflection and renewed understanding this time around. I’m sure there’ll be much more to come. I’ve definitely enjoyed it so far.

Live from Atlanta

Finally, Blogger’s actually behaving itself today! got caught in this strange infinite loop last night and I wasn’t able to log in–I’m glad they’ve worked the bugs out.

I’m back in Atlanta, and after sleeping in till 3 PM yesterday, I seem to be completely over my jetlag. I’m still recovering from the nasty cold/etc. I’ve had–at least it wasn’t Norwalk at all, but it did really knock me out (and I don’t mean that figuratively, but more on that later).

I’m really glad I took Tuesday off, because I ended up using the entire day to get everything done that I needed to. All my letters/nengajo/packages are in the mail, clothes were washed and dried…I really needed every moment of that time. Chalice came by to use my computer for a bit before I headed out, and she offered to drive me and my suitcases to the station, and she and Ashley and I had a brief bottom-of-the-stairs get-together before we all headed out for the holidays. Ashley should be in Thailand now and Chalice should be on her way there, but on separate itineraries entirely.

I caught my train to Sakaide with no problems, and easily made my overnight train to Tokyo…though it’s probably not an experience I’ll repeat, because the air conditioning was hot and dry and left me really dehydrated in the morning, and I woke up at least once an hour. I was still sick, so I was really counting on getting a solid night’s sleep, and I felt pretty groggy and not-so-great when I arrived in Tokyo. I had some breakfast, found lockers big enough to stow my bags, and caught the Yamanote Line train out to Shinjuku and wandered for a few hours…I discovered the Shinjuku location of Court Lodge–a Sri Lankan restaurant chain with locations in several big cities, including one in Kobe that we went to during the Recontracting Conference–completely by accident and had a quick but refreshing brunch there. My health was seriously wavering as the day went on, and I grabbed quick naps on the trains whenever I could to keep myself going.

I got to the airport with 3 hours to go before my flight (Tokyo-Houston), which also ended up being delayed by about 30 minutes for various reasons. I really wasn’t feeling well, so I used my bags as pillows and tried to rest up for a bit. I chatted with a man about my father’s age, who very abruptly asked me whether I was dating anyone and if it bothered me that I was single, but went on to redeem himself by just being a kind conversationalist and entertaining me with card tricks while we waited.

And so the flight took off, and all was well–instead of going over Russia and the Aleutians, we actually just went over the North Pacific instead. My health was up and down…my lack of consecutive rest was really getting to me, and the cabin was fairly stuffy as well. I ended up playing translator for the Japanese girl sitting next to me, a girl from Saitama Prefecture who was visiting the US for the first time in many years with some friends–she couldn’t understand the flight attendants, and they couldn’t understand her accented English, and I think she was astonished to meet a foreigner who could speak passable Japanese. We didn’t talk much, but she was really sweet.

Right as we passed Seattle and Portland, 8 hours into our 11.5-hour trip, I started feeling even sicker and just couldn’t bring myself to eat the breakfast they’d brought out. The sickness morphed into nausea, so I got up to head to the lavatory to try to wait it out, for better or for worse–but a woman pretty much jumped out of nowhere and into the lav before I could make it there. I was starting to feel dizzy and see spots dancing in front of my eyes, and knew that I really needed to get to the lavatory ASAP. I saw that the one at the front of the next section was open, so I took two steps towards it…

…and the next thing I realized, a man was leaning over me, asking, “Are you all right? Are you breathing?”

It took me several more seconds to realize that I’d just passed out, and was lying on the floor of the plane.

Another flight attendant asked me if I could move, and she helped to drag me out of the aisle and behind the last row of seats in front of the bulkhead I had just tried to pass, and they brought several pillows and a blanket and had me lie down for a while, as they asked what happened and how I was doing. I explained everything–my mind was suddenly very clear and I realized that, not counting how embarrassed I was, I felt much better right then than I had in the past 24 hours. (They even brought the cabin temperature down for me, because apparently it was in the high 70s.) The FA who stayed with me–a really friendly guy named Jim–assured me that it happened all the time, that there was no need to feel embarrassed, and that one time, he even had two passengers pass out simultaneously. The guy who’d asked me if I was breathing–I wondered if he was one of the pilots, because he was in kind of professional attire and had one of those wing pins–actually related a story of how a woman passed out into his arms once. Jim had jokingly asked me if I had a boyfriend (seriously, was it that obvious that I was single, that two complete strangers would ask me that in the same day?), and that I should try fainting into the arms of a cute guy next time, to really get his attention.

Slowly–right as we were passing Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier, so not after too long–he helped me to my feet and back to my seat, assuring me that nobody sitting near me had seen what happened. He got me some orange juice (and I ate my breakfast, because I was suddenly ravenously hungry), and the wing-pin guy came back with an incident report that he’d filled out, and he went over it with me and had me fill out my info, and left me with a copy.

It turns out that more people saw than I realized–I noticed that I was getting some curious looks from the people sitting around me for the rest of the flight, and that the Japanese girl sitting next to me was a little cautious when I had to get up to let her get to her seat, and a guy (who actually would’ve had a perfect view of what happened, because I passed out 3 feet directly in front of him) asked me how I was feeling when we finally landed in Houston and were waiting to leave the plane.

Seriously, international travel is never not an adventure for me. I’m kind of nervous about what adventures are in store for my return trip in a couple of weeks.

We got into Houston a little late, so I speedwalked/jogged and made it to the gate for my Houston-Atlanta flight with just enough time to make a quick phone call to my dad before boarding started. That flight was a lot more pleasant, and I got to talk with two really pleasant Southern gentlemen for the duration. I met my dad at the airport, and he drove me home, where my mom and grandmother and brother and a nice home-cooked meal were waiting. Once again, it feels like I never left in some ways, but in other ways, it does feel like it’s been a long time–they’ve had all the walls repainted and bought some new furniture and changed some light fixtures, and generally they’ve made design choices that I approve of very highly. It feels almost like a brand-new house in some ways.

Today, my mom and I are going shopping, and I’m going to get some driving practice in–it’ll be really weird trying to drive on the right side of the road again, so I’m going to need some supervision. I’m also going to start calling a bunch of people and getting plans going. I’m still a bit under the weather, but I’m a lot better than I was two days ago. I’m just glad to be back.

So far, so good

I woke up with a voice like a manly frog, and a stuffy nose…but none of the symptoms of Norwalk/the Norovirus. I feel incredibly lucky, and I’m counting my blessings. And doping myself heavily with cold/cough medication so I’ll be on the mend by the time I seal myself in a tube hurtling over Russia, the Aleutian Islands, Canada, and the continental US for 12 hours of recycled air with 300 other lovely people tomorrow.

I took today off to rest up and to medicate myself heavily…and to pack and send out everything I have to mail. My train to Sakaide is at 8:30 PM, and my overnight train from Sakaide’s at 9:45 PM, so I have under 10 hours to get everything done. I can do it.

And most importantly…I’m coming home! There was that lingering possibility that I would be too sick to even board a train, period, meaning I’d have to buy a one-way ticket back to the US after the holidays. I’m so glad that’s not the case.

My next entry will either be a moblog one from Tokyo, or…from Atlanta. This is so exciting!

(I just realized that the reason I’ve been hearing South Asian and Japanese accented English on TV is because there’s some kind of documentary on about a hijacked JAL flight in Dhaka, Bangladesh many years ago. Nice timing.)

Travel safe, everyone, and happy holidays–see you on the flip side!


I’ve had a scratchy, “coughy” throat since this weekend. It became progressively worse today, with full-body symptoms akin to a normal cold, so I took an hour of sick leave to go see the doctor to try to get something to help me heal quickly so I’d be on the mend by the time I boarded my plane in Tokyo…only to have him tell me that he thinks I have this. I just saw a message from Claire yesterday on our AJET forum warning us about this, too, because it’s going around. In a nutshell, I’m about to have a nasty case of the stomach flu for the next two days–lots of vomiting and diarrhea. It’s not one hundred percent definite–he gave me a “kamoshirenai,” which is a “maybe.” And actually, my stomach was doing fairly well until he said I would have severe stomach problems…but then, when I got home 15 minutes later (he told me to take today off, and we’ll see about tomorrow), as if on cue, my stomach started making some very strange sounds, and has been rumbling ominously ever since, like a volcano just waiting to erupt and unleash hell.

I guess this means I have to cancel that overnight train reservation I was looking forward to so much, and get a shink ticket for Wednesday morning instead. WORST TIMING EVER!

Hectic weekend

Friday: caroling.
Saturday: orphanage.
Sunday: shopping.

Brevity just isn’t my thing, though that really does sum it up. I get this itch, in my hands and somewhere around my liver or stomach, that makes me want to add just one more detail just so I can expound well enough that people will have more of an understanding of the situation…and then another, and another, and another. You get the idea. That’s where all these long posts come from–I just can’t shut myself up.

Thursday night, after a couple hours of insane phone tag to allow for some last-minute rearranging of the driving situation, we met up for dinner and carpooled to the Iya Valley, to Nate’s house, to rehearse and prepare for a day of caroling starting in Iya and moving west, north, and east again to hit all 9 of our junior highs and 1 special-needs school. We sang the worst renditions of both Jingle Bells and White Christmas ever heard in human history while practicing…I was laughing so hard I was crying (but it’s okay, because everyone else was laughing, too).

We started bright and early on Friday. The day ended up being much warmer than we expected–yay, global warming. I’ve spent very little time in the Iya Valley–I figured, eh, I have plenty of mountains as it is, and my drive to my Monday elementary school is really breathtakingly beautiful; what more do I need? I figured wrong; it was really gorgeous. It’s also pretty well-marked with signs, and the roads aren’t nearly as intimidating as they seemed last year.

My kids had learned some of the words to “Happy XMas (War Is Over),” which was my JTE’s special request, and the combination of our singing (and Chalice playing my violin!) along with the students was a truly special thing. I think we had one of our better performances there, and of course I’m biased, but I think my kids were among the most genki/enthusiastic we sang for that day. It also really warmed me to see that quite a few of my teachers were grinning along as we sang, and several were singing along as well, and the music teacher and I ended up conducting everybody in unison on “Happy XMas.”

It was a really good day. With the exception of quite a bit of backseat driving from one of my passengers, I had a really good time, and I think we all did, too. For the most part, we have a really good, solid crowd out west; I just wish we actually hung out as a group more often, the way we used to last year. Everyone has their own lives and obligations this time around, though.

Yesterday was the annual orphanage visit–I really can’t think of much to say. I enjoyed it, and more importantly, the kids enjoyed it (Jordan made an excellent Santa)…it wasn’t the life-changing experience I thought it had the potential to be, but I don’t think it quite clicked for me that these kids were actually orphans, without parents or in difficult familial situations that require them to be away from their parents some or all of the time…not until afterwards, anyway. There was one young boy who had very obvious anger management issues, and was pretty aggressive and antisocial at times…I think some ALTs just weren’t really sure how to act around him. (I could say more, but we’re forbidden from posting any photos of the kids online, and I’m sure the same goes for writing about them as well. I’m not quite sure where to draw the line.)

Today I went shopping. I’m close enough to the trip now that I’ve thrown out a lot of my perishable food items that I know I won’t eat in the next couple of days before I leave, and I’m avoiding buying many groceries, so I went out for lunch to a local cafe that has a really, really good mountain mushroom pilaf, and the waitress ended up being Chinese, so we had a brief “gaijin solidarity” moment. I headed out to Kawanoe and got nearly all my shopping done, spending less than I thought I would, which is always nice…I got some strange looks for some of the stuff I bought, but I won’t say anything more, for fear that the people I bought stuff for are reading this.

I also bought my shink ticket back from Tokyo tonight; all I need at this point are tickets for the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra New Years concert (if it isn’t sold out or too expensive) and the Studio Ghibli Museum (but I already went about a year ago; should I go somewhere else instead? But it’s really freaking cool…) and my plans will be set. Oh yeah–and I have to pack. I’m taking so much freaking stuff home–I’d like to start taking home nonessentials but I don’t know what I can let go of just yet. Let’s see how much space I have left once my clothes and gifts are packed.

I’ve been coughing for the last couple of days–Andrew’s had a cough and has been sick for the last couple of months, and he was in my car for the entire day Friday, so I know I caught it from him, whatever it is. I really hope it isn’t his months-long deal and that Robitussin will cure it when I’m stateside.

My entries in here have been really slipping lately, and I apologize for that…I feel “obligated” to relay the details of what I’ve been up to, but why? Does it really matter that I’ve been shopping and that I bought train tickets? I’ve had several ideas for ideas to write about, as opposed to just events…I should dig into those one of these days. Lately, my nerves have been getting more and more frayed–prior to the orphanage visit, my lanyard broke and I spent nearly a half-hour searching for my keys, and it stressed me out a lot more than I expected it to. The stares and head-turns I get when shopping or walking down the street are really getting to me as well.

(However, there’s totally a nice side to standing out; when I was at the grocery store, a kid ran up to me and said hello, and that he recognized me from caroling on Friday–he was one of Jordan’s students! That made me smile. There’s also a not-so-nice side to standing out like that, though: when people wave at you who you don’t recognize. Over the last couple of weeks, a guy in his 30s/40s who works for NTT (I think?) has been waving at me as if he knows me, even tapping his horn as he drives by so he can give me a friendly wave, and no matter how hard I rack my brain, I have no clue who he is.)

Anyway…I’m hoping that my 2 weeks at home, surrounding myself with English speakers and possibly scholarly discussion, will help soothe my nerves and jumpstart my brains and writing ability. This trip’s coming at exactly the right time.

I ♥ Takamatsu

To the person who searched for, “3:50 in IN then what times is it in Japan?”…there are several possible answers to that.
– If IN = India, then it’s 7:20 in Japan. Japan is 3.5 hours ahead of India.
– If IN = Indonesia, then it’s anywhere from 1:50 to 3:50, because Indonesia spans three time zones, including GMT+9, which is also Japan’s.
– If IN = Indiana, then…that’s actually a pretty complicated answer. I believe that instead of up to 3 different possible times in the state (the few Central Time Zone counties that observed Daylight Saving Time, the majority of the state–in the Eastern Time Zone–which didn’t observe DST, and a few Eastern counties that did observe DST), recently the whole state now follows DST. As a result, if the time’s 3:50 AM in Indiana, depending on where in Indiana the inquiry comes from, it’s 5:50 PM (Eastern DST counties) or 6:50 PM (Central DST counties), or 4:50 PM/5:50 PM when not on DST. If it’s 3:50 PM and not AM, then it’s *:50 AM the following day.

And it’s “what time is it,” not “what times.” Just, you know, being nitpicky.

To the person who searched for, “peach preserves are not setting up? what do i do?”…firstly, how did you find this site? Secondly, that’s awesome that you make your own preserves. I hope you figure out how to perfect your recipe, and then I hope you send me a sample. Mmm, peaches.

This is actually pretty fun! Keep the interesting web searches coming.

Anyway, moving on…

I drove up to Takamatsu after work today. It was about 1.5 hours with traffic–not bad, and definitely a better drive than the one to Tokushima. However, I left too late–I’d meant to leave straight after work but didn’t leave till 5:30, so by the time I got there, a lot of stores had already closed, though I was able to make it to the Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki store and Muji. I had dinner at Spice Kitchen, the other Indian restaurant we didn’t go to a few weeks ago (we went to Prem then)…Spice Kitchen has better curry, but Prem has better samosas (not much better, but while SK’s were pretty good, they had no salt and the taste was bland). Tonari no Indo-Jin in Zentsuuji is still by far my favorite Indian restaurant on Shikoku, but I’ve certainly had worse food than at these two restaurants. Though in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have eaten there, since I’m sure my family was planning on going out to an Indian restaurant at some point while I’m home. Oh, well.

I actually would really like to create an online list of all the South Asian restaurants on Shikoku, because there are a surprising number–I can think of at least 4 in Tokushima and 3 in Kagawa, and I’ve been to 6 of them already. It would be a cool resource…and of course, I would visit all of them and write personal reviews. Mmm, reviews. I should recruit meat-eaters to come along and sample the non-veggie fare to give accurate commentary on that, too.

I stopped by You-Me Town on my way back…OH MY GOD. BEST STORE EVER. I never would’ve made it there if not for having a car! I’ve never been any place quite like it–it’s essentially an enclosed open-air mall. It’s massive and two stories–each story is so enormous that you can’t see one end from the other! A lot of stores have their own “stores”/enclaves, but many others are open and just sit right next to each other with no separating walls. There are dozens of stores–a Baskin-Robbins, Starbucks, L.L. Bean and various other outdoor sporting-good stores, Passport, and Lush. (Yes, Lush! I just checked their website, and it’s a new location. OH MAN YES.) There’s just a ton of goodness there.

In the end, I did buy a few things tonight, but I didn’t finish off my shopping the way I was hoping to. I’ll just scout around town tomorrow to see what I can get here. It was nice to get out for a while at least, though.

The secret of Crush Kid

My JTE and I had just left the teachers’ room when I heard, “Aaa, Sumisa!” and whirled around to greet wheover it was, because it sounded like one of the teachers–but it was Crush Kid, late to class and grinning broadly at the sight of me. He ended up catching up with us (not before I actually grimaced involuntarily, but the student didn’t see it) and tagging along at my JTE’s heels, and then she suddenly paused, apologized, and said she’d forgotten something in the staffroom, leaving him to tag along at my heels for the rest of the walk to our respective classrooms. I didn’t make eye contact, though whenever I did glance at him I saw that he was totally staring at me, and I made polite conversation–asked him how he was, and then agreed that it was indeed sunny today, and then “see you”d him as we arrived at his classroom, which I had to pass to get to mine.

I was talking to my JTE about it later–and it turns out that his fixation on me is his disability. Not on me specifically, but he likes to fixate and latch onto on things that are unusual and out of the ordinary…which includes the foreigner English teacher.

That really explains a lot, and it made me feel a little badly about how I’d judged the situation and acted before. Not that I’m apologizing for feeling uncomfortable–being stared at so intensely just because I’m eating an apple or practicing my violin is definitely way into the “weird situation” zone–but I thought I had all the facts, and I was way off.

I also really goofed up in class today–I don’t think it’s the first time, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve openly seen that my JTE was unhappy with something I did. We had interview tests in the second-year classes, which involved me going into an empty classroom and the kids coming to chat with me one by one for about a minute each, very loosely following some dialogue guidelines. One kid in the first class brought his binder and tried to crack it open to peek, but I told him he wasn’t allowed to. He looked really surprised to hear me say that, though, which made me wonder if he actually was allowed to peek. In the second class, a kid came in with his notebook, opened it right up, and started reading at me! I was so surprised that I didn’t really know what to say–I just assumed my JTE had said the kids could bring their notes to assist them. And after him, another 6 or 7 kids did exactly the same thing. I made sure to notate on the evaluation sheets which kids read.

Later, my JTE asked me about some things I’d jotted on the papers where I’d critiqued their performances, and it ended up coming out that they weren’t supposed to read their papers, or even bring them into the room. It was the first time where I could tell that she really wasn’t happy about the situation, and it made me feel pretty guilty. Of course, common sense kicks in when things go wrong–it only hit me then that it made no sense for them to be allowed to read from a worksheet when these interview tests are designed to make them work on their conversational skills. One of the “offending” boys came in, and she brought it up a little sternly with him, and he’d said that another kid had claimed it was okay to bring their papers with them. She and I ended up working it out so that I’d have a retest during that homeroom’s next English class on Wednesday afternoon for the kids who read, which also works because there were three kids absent today who need to do it at some point.

I also discovered that my local bookstore has a much bigger selection of Final Fantasy-related books than the bookstores in the city do. I picked up a book for a friend, not for myself; it’s definitely something to store away for future reference. I need to give my town more credit sometimes.

Friday through Sunday

To the person who found this site via a search for “how many volcanoes have japan got,” it’s actually has and not have (it modifies “Japan,” not “volcanoes”), and the whole sentence utilizes an incorrect form of grammar. It should actually read, “How many volcanoes does Japan have?” I’ll excuse the lack of punctuation and caps since it’s just a search.

And I don’t have an answer to your question, besides “a lot.”

The last few days have been on-and-off eventful…quick recap, then off to sleep:

  • Friday: violin concert for my 2 eikaiwa classes. I got nervous and made some mistakes during the beginners class, which was a shame, since that was my chance to redeem them after the bowling fiasco that they still talk about, but I think they were still happy in the end. I did a lot better with my intermediate class.
  • Friday: had a really good end-of-term elementary school class. That’s my second end-of-term class, so just four more to go!
  • Saturday: did absolutely nothing. I felt a bit under the weather, so that canceled my plans for the day.
  • Sunday: slept in, then went into the city with Julie to go shopping. I thought I had so many more gifts to buy–I still have a few individual gifts to get for friends, my Secret Santa, and the people writing me letters of recommendation; I also have specific requests to fulfill.

And that’s all for now. This week should be pretty relaxing, and a week from Tuesday, I’ll be on my way back to Atlanta! I can’t wait.

Entering crunch time

So in the next 2 weeks, I have a ton of gifts to buy, put together, and ship/pack/give to orphans. I have to make prints of some photos to give to some people, and to send to some as well (Chelsea had requested some with a card as part of a card exchange she’s doing with her friends). I have to pack for my trip and buy my train tickets back home from Tokyo. I have to plan when I’m meeting all my friends when I’m home. I also have to finish my nengajou, figure out who to send them to, and do it.

On top of that, I’m being social as well. There’s a caroling outing in the city tomorrow, which I’d like to jump in on, weather permitting. There’s a Habitat For Humanity “Get Hammered” night at Ingrid’s Saturday, and I’m hoping nonalcoholic drinks count towards the money raised. There’s caroling next Friday, and just hanging out with my friends here before heading home for 2+ weeks.

Jordan just messaged me rather apologetically to let me know that TV Tokushima is interested in taping the ’07 musical, but to do so, they want a full script (not my responsibility) and a playbill (totally my responsibility). Chris had also let me know that they’d ideally like the poster to be done by the first rehearsal in mid-January, which is just over a month from now, so I’ll have to kill 2 birds with 1 stone and sit down and get some intensive work on this done while I’m at home.

It’s pouring rain and cold out…otherwise I could have made it to the bookstore in town to buy Jenn’s gift. The rest will have to happen this weekend, though, either at Tokushima or Takamatsu. I’m thinking Tokushima Saturday and Takamatsu Sunday, but we’ll see.

I need to practice the violin for the “performance” I have tomorrow at my eikaiwas. I played for 2 hours last night, but my posture was off somehow and my back was sore from last night through this morning, until I took some Advil for it.

Everything just feels cluttered, and I’m worried someone’s going to be left behind because of all the mess in my mind that I have to wade through. I’ll try my hardest to pull it all off–never before has the holiday season felt quite so muddled.

India, one year on

Stalkery Crush Boy somehow came up in a conversation on Tuesday with my JTE, who gave me a wry smile and commented, “He seems very, very interested in you.” Nice.

I’m ready for the break to be here–I could use a break from classes, though at least these last ones will all be fun. Just to get out of my apartment for a while, I met Julie, Ashley, and Sally at Paparagi, that awesome new-ish coffeehouse in Mikamo, tonight. The owner is a really sweet lady; I beat them there, so I talked with her for about 10 minutes until they arrived. I love that she says, “Wow,” instead of the standard Japanese “Uwaa.”

So exactly a year ago, I was in India. I went from December 6th to the 16th–I would’ve timed it with winter break, instead of draining my nenkyuu, but I went to attend the weddings of two second-cousins, Prasanna and Prasad, who got married within 3 days of each other. (They’re brothers; Prasanna’s older.) It’s still hard to believe that a solid year has flown by so quickly…it’s also hard to believe that I remember the events leading up to the trip so vividly. December 5, 2005 was a rather insane day:

  • 3:00 – go out to wait for the bus.
  • 3:15 – start getting worried, because the bus is usually never this late.
  • 3:17 – go back inside my junior high, only to find the buses aren’t running due to ice on the roads, and all the taxis in town are already in use.
  • 3:30 – math teacher offers to give me a ride back to my apartment. I very gladly take him up on it.
  • 3:44 – I find a letter from ETS in the mailbox, but I have no time to read it. I stow it in my pocket and keep running.
  • 3:45 – as I’m dashing up the stairs to my apartment, so I can change my clothes and start hauling my suitcase down the 3 flights, my landlady calls to me from below and tells me I have a package. I know exactly what it is, but don’t have time for it–two Pirates of Dark Water cels that I won off eBay. I then also realize that my rent will be late, because I’d meant to pay it that day and it slipped my mind, and my landlady shrugs it off and says I can just pay it when I get back. I vow to get her something nice from India.
  • 3:49 – I find a surprise on my suitcase, of the welcome variety: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, with a note from Hannah. She’d used the spare key to my apartment and dropped off her second copy of the book for me (she received 2 as gifts) to take with me.
  • 3:50 – I’m changing my clothes in the tatami room, and I hear my front door open, see someone step inside, bend over, step back out, and close the door. I peek out once the door’s shut and see that my landlady brought my package up to me. I don’t have time to open it, but I vow to get her something really nice from India.
  • 3:55 – I wrestle my suitcase downstairs to where my teacher’s still waiting for me, and we stuff it and the gift bags for orphanage children into his car.
  • 4:00 – arrive at the post office, where the teacher helps me unload my things and then takes his leave of me so he can return to school. I’m watching my watch nervously because I have a train in 17 minutes, and there’s a line. I run into Nate, who looks obviously puzzled by my strange assortment of belongings.
  • 4:05 – successfully stop my mail, and dash out the door with my suitcase and gift bags.
  • 4:10 – arrive at the station and buy my train ticket.
  • 4:12 – realize that my suitcase is a bit heavier than I anticipated, as I’m trying to haul it up 32 steps.
  • 4:14 – an elderly gentleman gives me a hand with carrying my suitcase down the 26 steps to the platform.
  • 4:16 – I board the waiting express train, stagger down the aisle, and collapse into my seat.
  • 4:17 – the expected time of departure comes…
  • 4:27 – …and goes, and we’re still sitting there.
  • 4:28 – oh yeah, ETS letter! GRE scores. Oooh. 800 math, 590 verbal, 5 writing.
  • 4:30 – we finally leave. I’m glancing at my watch again, because we’re going more slowly than usual, and now I’m concerned that I may not make it to TOPIA before 6 PM, when they close, and I have to make it there to drop off my gifts.
  • 5:00 – we’re still woefully behind schedule. I start getting nervous.
  • 5:20 – I start frantically messaging people in the city–Andrew, Tracy, and Jenna, to name a few.
  • 5:50 – we arrive! The conductor must have really pushed the train to make it on time.
  • 5:56 – I make it up to TOPIA right as the staff is coming out the doors. Luckily, they’re very agreeable, and they hadn’t locked the doors or turned out the lights, so I’m able to drop my gifts off.
  • 6:00 – breathe a sigh of relief for the next hour. Go shopping on the 4th floor of Clement Plaza, and buy a navy-blue hat and blue/green plaid scarf. Have a burrito from Dave’s and a cafe latte for dinner.
  • 7:10 – make my way out to the bus platform.
  • 7:20 – board the highway bus for Kansai Airport. I’m the only passenger so far. I hear the guy say something about hitori, which I thought just meant that he was verifying that I was traveling alone, without any travel buddies.
  • 7:30 – the bus leaves, and I’m still the only passenger. It turns out the guy was saying that because I’m the sole passenger, I can sit wherever I want. The guy is driving this huge bus 3 hours just to take me and only me to the airport! I’m feeling a bit awkward, and I’m not quite sure if I should say anything to him, and I end up not saying a word for the duration, besides thanking him once we arrive at the airport.
  • 10:30 – arrive at Kansai Airport.
  • 10:40 – the airport shuttle for my hotel, the Ramada Kansai, arrives. I board, and we wait around for 5 minutes for any stragglers. A couple get on, neither of whom are wearing winter gear and look like they’re frozen solid. I count my fortunes over thinking to buy head/neck coverings at the station, because they came in really handy.
  • 10:45 – airport shuttle takes off.
  • 11:00 – airport shuttle arrives at the hotel. I check in and head upstairs, and strike up a conversation with a cute guy in the elevator. Arrive in the rather nice room, unwind, realize that there’s a built-in radio with several classical music stations and that it also broadcasts in the bathroom, leave one classical station on, and sleep. (I ended up waking up to the last movement of Beethoven’s violin concerto the next morning. It’s always nice to wake up to a familiar piece.)

The next day, I was off to the airport–I chatted with a girl in the airport shuttle who wasn’t really familiar with Japan and was really relieved when I told her the vowel sounds were pretty much the same as Spanish. I picked up my boarding pass from the HIS/No. 1 desk, checked in (this was the first time I’d heard the name Kota Kinabalu*, a town in Malaysian Borneo** where our plane stopped for an hour before reaching Kuala Lumpur; it was obviously major, because the plane went from being half-full out of Osaka to full-capacity out of this town), ate a waffle for breakfast at one of the restaurants, and then went to India for 10 days.

*I remember having to spend a while on Google to figure out the name of this place, because I couldn’t for the life of me remember it. It doesn’t help that there’s a town here called Kitajima, so I kept thinking the town was Kona Kitabalu, or maybe Kita Konabalu, or…you get the idea. It’s like those old Bugs Bunny shorts where he can’t say “prestidigitation” without mixing up the syllables.

**The only reason I even knew we were in Borneo was because I asked the headscarf-clad woman at the counter of the gift shop. She obviously thought I was kind of stupid for asking, though I asked it as humbly as possible, because I really just didn’t know. We all had to get off the plane for about an hour and then re-board to reach KL, and had to do the same on the KL-Osaka leg as well.

I still think about that trip often. I really want to go back, but I also want to see a lot of other places while I’m here, so…we’ll see. I’m still in touch with Raghu, brother of Prasanna’s now-wife Sushma, and I keep up with Sush through occasional conversations with Prasanna. I’m really glad to have them both in my extended family now. It was especially interesting viewing India through a slightly older set of eyes, and not being at all intimidated by all the staring the way I was when I last went in 2000-01 (which was also my first trip there in 16 years). India felt foreign in many ways then, but this time it felt far more familiar, especially after having lived in a rather distinct and separate culture for the last year. I know there’s a lot I still don’t know (and one of the relatives I met there was “kind” enough to laugh at me any time I made mistakes about customs and terms I’d never come across in the US–yeah, way to make me feel better, huh?), but I felt like I knew a lot more this time around. At the same time, the thought of someday traveling to India on my own kind of intimidates me, and I guess it shouldn’t, considering where I now am, right? It just feels like such a different ballgame, especially considering that I’m an Indian American and not an out-and-out foreigner, which affects how I’m viewed/treated by some people. Anyway, it’s something I’m sure I’ll take on in due time.

In short: India was and is still awesome, on many levels. I think the trip has definitely influenced my experience in Japan since then, and how I view the country and myself. I’m really looking forward to when I can go back, and curious as to how much it’ll continue to change my views and ideas with each subsequent visit.