Busy week

So much has been going on. Lots of musical-related stress–rehearsals were extremely busy and productive (Friday night, all day Saturday, and most of the day Sunday), though opening night is this coming Saturday and there’s still so much to do. I have to finish my robot costume (started, ran out of masking tape), get the helmet from Kirsten and finish painting that, modify pantyhose for my Nose Extension Technician mask, and figure out where my black socks went, or buy a new pair. I also have to find a place where I can print 400 copies of the playbill tomorrow, due to several unexpected snags keeping me from doing it tonight, and due to my leaving straight after work Friday for the opposite end of the prefecture in preparation for our Saturday show.

Was sick Monday, was kind of sick yesterday, and was out of work both days. Am currently wondering why my washing machine seems to enjoy smashing itself into the wall every single time I use it these days (and why Japan can make such fantastic cellphones but such horrible and archaic washing machines)–to the point that one of my neighbors just rushed out onto his/her patio to figure out what was going on. I think I have to call a repairman.

I also have to figure out next week’s end-of-the-year world music/dance lesson. I’m thinking I’ll pull out my salwars and kurtis, and maybe my violin, since many of my schools have asked me to bring that by; I’m not sure when I’ll have time except for Sunday night to put it all together, though.

I picked up my cellphone yesterday and it’s apparently working fine now, though it looks a lot more scuffed-up than I remember. The weight of it feels right in my hand, though, and it was nice to put my charms back on (a Totoro/makkurokurosuke one and a rather pretty one from Unpenji, temple 66 of the Shikoku 88). All my messages and photos are indeed gone, which is a shame. I made myself a really quick Pirates of Dark Water landscape “desktop” wallpaper, which makes me happy–there are some really beautiful landscape matte paintings in that show.

The weather’s getting warmer. Today was nice enough that I only needed my jacket when I went back out after getting home from work.

Oh, and my JTE told me today that my proposed April schedule came in to my junior high, and both she and my principal were shocked/concerned by how rigid and busy it was. I’m guessing it’s in part for their benefit as well as for mine, but they’re actually in touch with my board of education on my behalf, trying to appeal for a lighter and more flexible schedule for me. The way it is right now, I have no way of rescheduling any of my classes (something which is an occasional necessity at my junior high) since I’m spending a day and a half at this one elementary school, which locks everything else into place depending on the availability of the other four elementary schools.

All right, back to the grind. Today was literally nonstop at work–I didn’t really have any time to myself from the moment I got there to the moment I left. I had another teacher eikaiwa till 5PM tonight at the same elementary school I’ll be teaching at in April. I even spent a chunk of my lunch break running around to four homerooms to plug the musical. I hope some kids come out on Sunday–the third-years sounded really enthusiastic about it.

Believe it or not, this was going to be a short entry…oops. I get the feeling there’ll be more of these “I swear this was going to be quick” entries over the next few weeks. Crunch time is here.

Walking zombie

Thoroughly exhausted. Twelve hours of rehearsal and prop-building today, and seven hours of prop building yesterday, and another full day tomorrow. This week, I have to…

  • finish painting, and properly air out, the used motorcycle helmet we’re using for my robot costume
  • get paint and brushes (or just spray paint), and cardboard boxes, and make my robot costume
  • work on my face covering for my NET costume
  • strengthen my already-weak back, since I’ll have to be bent at about a 90-degree angle from the waist in order to adequately play Monstro the Shark (originally a whale, but a shark’s more doable for our purposes)
  • finish the programme
  • work out where to print the programme for our first performances next weekend
  • do sound mixing

I also have to do the graduation certificates for all my 6th graders and plan an end-of-year class–probably variation of the music/dance class I did last winter, to go out on a fun note. I’ve been rushing on phonics to have as much of the BogglesWorld initial sound worksheets done by next week, to save the following for my final 6 lessons.

I broke the news Tuesday to my Double-Length School of Doom. The principal wasn’t there, but the others were all surprised and saddened to hear the news, and the kids were especially adorable and outgoing that day, as if to rub salt in the sound that I would be giving up such a fantastic school. Chalice is going to love it up there for sure.



After work today, I stopped by the DoCoMo store to have my phone looked at. Lately–and usually at the worst possible times–if I try to call someone or someone tries to call me, I’ll see that the call is connecting and that the person has picked up, but I won’t hear anything–no ringing, no voice, no buttons being pressed, nothing at all. I’ve gotten it to work by smacking the phone pretty hard with the heel of my hand, but that’s kind of a less-than-ideal fix.

The gentleman behind the counter wore a suit and seemed to be a manager, and he was friendly but had a fairly thick Awa-ben accent, but I was able to muddle through and get the gist from his expressions and the words I did pick up. He took it into the back to run some tests, and I started looking over the new phones–there are some extremely well-designed and flat-out gorgeous FoMa models there that I would have seriously considered buying if I were staying for a third year.

Anyway, he came back, sat down with me, and told me that they’d need to take my phone for a couple of weeks to do some repairs on it, and in the meantime they’d issue me a loaner phone that was the exact model of the phone I own. I could transfer my address book via the infrared option to the new phone, and the repairs would be done for free.

However, I would lose all my photos, and all my saved k-mail messages.

I have about 100 keitai e-mail messages saved–birthday wishes, friendly or amusing or heartwarming notes, that sort of thing. I sometimes go back through them on down days to remind me that I have friends who care, and on my really down days last spring, reading over those did really help. I also have a fair amount of keitai photos, at least half of which were Engrish I found when I didn’t have my digital camera with me, though I’ve uploaded nearly all of my camera photos to my Flickr account already, so losing them wasn’t such a big deal.

Still, though, I really felt myself hesitating on handing my phone over. Those e-mails actually go back to the summer I arrived in Japan–the very first messages were from Laura in Atlanta, who I called on my 24th birthday in August ’05, and Joe, the former Nishi Iya ALT, sending me a message reading: “Wish you were here! – The gang” when I opted on resting at home instead of hiking with him and Lindsay and some of our other friends. I have birthday wishes, amusing half-alphabet/half-icon images from Chalice, messages from ALTs and other foreigner friends who’ve since left Japan…it was really a nice historic record of the people I’ve stayed in touch with.

I hastily e-mailed myself several photos–an Engrish photo I hadn’t sent to Flickr yet (Dagoba-brand health bars–huge Star Wars reference there), and photos I took with my phone of my mother and grandmother that came out really well. I’d also been exchanging e-mails actively with Justin and Chalice before I got to the store, and I quickly sent off an e-mail to Justin telling him to come knock on my door in case it took a while for my phone number info to propagate to the loaner phone.

That’s actually pretty amusing, because I’ve been slowly working my way through this book about keitais and keitai culture in Japan–Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life by Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Misa Matsuda. (I would’ve finished it already, but I keep bringing it to my board of education on days when it’s really sunny and the sun warms my back and neck as I read and makes me nearly doze off at my desk.) I feel as though my keitai is an indispensable part of my Japan experience. Even if I didn’t have one before this, now that I drive, I most likely would’ve invested in one. I use it mainly to communicate with people here by text and occasionally through phone calls. I’ve coordinated social outings and resolved trouble situations and e-mailed friends back in the US from my cellphone randomly. I use the dictionary and English/Japanese functions to check kanji and unfamiliar words dozens of times a day. I use it as my alarm clock in the morning. I’ve had it since my first or second week in Japan–it’s a way for me to stay connected with everyone and everything no matter where I am.

To be honest, I really was worried at the thought of having to survive two weeks without the keitai in case they didn’t offer me a loaner. With the musical coming up, I know I’ll have to dash off k-mails during the day to people to get last-minute stuff done, and many people only have my keitai number and not my landline. (In fact, while I was writing this tonight, Chris called me on the keitai to work out costume logistics.) What if I get lost or have car troubles when I’m driving all over the prefecture to our upcoming performances? Julie’s coming this week so we can go by a travel agency and work out plans, but how can we plan that if I’ll have no internet and no keitai? What if there’s a word I really need to look up or a kanji I really need to clarify? How will I wake up in the morning, since I know using my TV’s on-timer alone won’t be enough?

It’s crazy how that works; I remember how I swore I would never buy a cellphone when I lived in the US, but my parents got me a third phone on their family plan and forced me to carry one once I started driving. In Japan, keitais are a fact of life for so many people; the book even talks about the etymology of the term, how it actually refers to an extension of one’s body, and it’s interesting that that is indeed how Japanese people view their keitais, and how I’ve come to view mine as well. I’ve developed a routine and a way of life that revolve around having this in my life.

Obviously, this all came to me later, but it definitely explained my heavy heart when I removed my keitai charms from my phone (I have two currently; a strand with some kurosuke and the blue and grey Totoros, and a one with beads and cloth flowers that I bought at Unpenji the previous Monday, to replace the previous temple charm I’d had from Anrakuji that had become worn with age) and sent my address book via infrared to the waiting phone–exactly the same model as mine, same color and everything, though it just felt different in my palm, and of course it wouldn’t have the same background wallpaper because mine was a photo I’d taken.

I’d kept trying to tell myself to let go, that I’m so cluttered because I attach emotional and sentimental value to way too many little trinkets that are probably best left behind or thrown out. I think, after a while, I did finally start to let those photographs and messages go–I’m still in touch with everyone who sent me those messages, and I do have copies of nearly all of those photos elsewhere. It felt almost Buddhist in nature to let go like that. In the end, they’re just bits and bytes of data that have been assigned meaning entirely through their ordered construction (into letters or colored pixels) and the meaning and values and emotions we project onto groups of those specific constructions. I can hold onto the emotions of my friends without needing the bytes. It’s just nice to have that bit of confirmation sometimes, though.

The imposter is sitting next to me, glaringly obvious in its lack of loving wear and tear and Yoshinogawa wallpaper. Despite being exactly the same model as my phone, right down to the color, it looks too big and bloated and plastic to be mine. I’ll treat it hospitably and welcome its service, but I can’t wait until I get my keitai back.

Warning, mammoth entry ahead: Hadaka Matsuri and the musical

This weekend has been…exhausting. Saturday morning was musical rehearsal in Kamojima. It was a very sparsely populated rehearsal, but I finally was able to rehearse my shark scene on a stage with the necessary people. After the key fiasco on Saturday, I had to leave even earlier than I already was planning to, so that I could come back to Ikeda and go by the home store and make copies of my landlady’s key to my door and return it to her.

A few of us met in Ikeda to catch a train from there to Okayama, up on Honshu. The weather was positively miserable–dark, cold, and raining incessantly. We met up with a lot more people there, but ended up splitting off for dinner–since Brian had made our festival bookings through a group separate from the rest of Tokushima, I left early, thinking I’d be riding specifically with them. In the end, though, all the attending JETs boarded the same buses and headed to Saidaiji Temple outside Okayama City, the location of the Okayama Hadaka Matsuri–the Okayama Naked Man Festival.

(I put off mentioning “naked man” because the last time I uttered those words in my dad’s presence, upon coming home from the first session of a figure drawing class where I didn’t realize there would be nude models, he didn’t take the news well. (Okay, I actually did it more for dramatic effect, but anyway.))

The premise is that men of all ages (there’s a separate boys’ festival earlier in the day) wear fundoshi, which are sumo-esque loincloths, and go running around the temple grounds in the freezing February weather, dunking themselves in a fountain of icy cold water once for each time around the grounds, and shouting, “Wasshoi! Wasshoi!” (a phrase mainly meant to keep the participants energetic and moving forward). This is until midnight, though; they all gather on the main outdoor floor of the temple, on the surrounding steps, or on the ground around it, waiting for priests to throw blessed sticks in the air at the stroke of midnight. The men then fight for the possession of these sticks, because to end up with one when all the chaos has died down means you’re promised a year of good fortune.

It was crazy. I’ve never seen so many bare bums in one place in my life. Of our Tokushima group, all but two of the guys who went ended up running in the festival (only Brian and Andrew didn’t–but Rory, Josh, Joey, Jon, Mark, Hayden, and Rich did; we only saw a few of them), and once we arrived, we saw Rory and Josh immediately…and it was definitely a little strange and a bit awkward, seeing them wearing only a thin cloth covering their front (and even then, only barely) and not their back at all. Once we stopped–it was a crowded thoroughfare and people noticed the impediment to traffic–a bunch of Japanese people started stopping and staring at the two nearly naked gaijin, and some even snapped photos. There were guys staring at them with their mouths hanging open. Once we realized what we’d inadvertently started, we all started laughing–and then we left so the crowd would (and did) dissipate.

Our group consisted of eight Tokushima ladies and one guy. As the night went on, though, the crowds became too much and we ended up fragmenting, but Kirsten, Gilly, Jill, Andrew, and myself stuck together. We found a really prime spot where they were cordoning traffic in and out of the freezing-water fountain and pool, and we watched the groups go by–some were employees of a company that were hoisting a banner for their group, and others were just random groups of men bunched together. A few walked silently, a few walked briskly, and most jogged in rows, holding onto each other by the knots on the back of their fundoshi because it was the only thing they could hold onto. (I should also mention that they were given liberal amounts of sake to drink as the night went on for their efforts.) We recognized one of our JETs, a first-year named Jon, and he looked progressively pinker and more drunk with each of the three passes his group made.

While we were standing there, some Japanese guys around our age, probably university students, took notice of us and started shouting, “Wasshoi gaijin!” We ended up talking to them–they all had the spiky-haired wannabe-rockstar look that so many Japanese guys have. One told us in English that he was a Japanese boy, and another told me in Japanese that I look like one of his classmates, except she’s Brazilian.

Our group left the shelter of our covered vantage point and moved up to an uncovered hill with an excellent view for the last hour-plus of waiting until the midnight craziness happened. There were already hundreds of men on the dais, though, kind of pushing back and forth; there was this wave of slow back-and-forth motion there. But as it got closer to midnight and more men tried to climb up for a chance at the sticks, it got a little more dangerous, and people started being pushed off the sides and down the steps, sometimes a few stumbling, sometimes a few tumbling, and sometimes whole waves of thirty or forty people going down. A few fights broke out, and groups of ten policemen would sometimes fight their way onto the dais to pacify something or other. One time that happened, one of the guys involved in the fight actually started pushing at the cops themselves! If that happened in the US, the guy would’ve been taken down immediately, but this guy was a lot bigger than the cops and being a police officer in Japan doesn’t have the same physical involvement that it does in the US.

Midnight came–from where we were, we had a great view of the temple and grounds, but everything was too far for us to see details. Really, we saw a sea of dark-haired heads, lots of backs, then fundoshis and bums and legs, then men scattered down the steps, and then just a sea of dark hair and flesh and fundoshis around the temple as well (the crowd resembled chocolate chip cookie dough), and people were routinely getting pushed around as it was, so we couldn’t see exactly how the action intensified, except suddenly there were two or three men climbing on top of the others, and instead of arms sticking out of the top of the crowd, I think I saw a foot once.

We left before the end to beat the crowds back to our bus, which left at 1 AM and arrived at Okayama Station at 1:45. I was a little concerned because in the very brief time I’d seen Brian that night, he’d told me I had to go check in with Ashley at the hotel together (luckily, the same one as the other Tokushima folks–Brian booked me through a different group), which made no sense, but I was dead tired and kind of concerned about what I’d do if it weren’t an easily resolvable situation–but luckily, Ashley had JUST checked in and her check-in paper was in front of the lady I was talking to, so I just went straight up and called it a night.

This actually was very reminiscent of something I did a couple of years ago. The weather was the same–cold, rainy, and flat-out miserable. However, the occasion was a lot geekier; we were at Star Wars Celebration 3, a massive Star Wars convention in Indianapolis in April 2005, and five of my online friends (Andy, Emmanual, Emily, Nanci, and Nathan) and I camped out overnight to see George Lucas give a talk the following morning, at his first convention appearance in over 20 years. Once I realized the parallel last night, it actually made the rest of the night pretty amusing–though George Lucas and hundreds of men in loincloths are two very different things indeed.

This morning I was out by 9:30 to catch a 9:50 train back home, but my lack of money and the lack of convenience stores that supported my bank card meant no breakfast. Kirsten, Joey, and Gilly had run to make the train–we all had musical prop-building to attend to. I got back to my apartment, ended up completely zonking out for an hour totally by accident, and was over an hour late to the prop-building fest, where a camera crew from TV Tokushima was going around asking us questions and conducting mini-interviews and the like.

We’re down to crunch time for the musical, though. Dress rehearsals are next week and there’s still so much work to do–it wasn’t at all like this last year, and everyone’s really stressed out (the three leaders especially–Jordan, Joey, and Chris) and working hard to get everything done on time. My costume parts will only be made next week. And it seems that with each rehearsal I attend, I end up taking on more and more responsibility–but it isn’t just me. Chris wrote the musical with the assumption that we’d have as much interest for it as we did last year, and we don’t have as many people willing to commit to it this year, so everyone’s taking on multiple roles on and off the stage. My current list of participation is quite impressive, certainly the largest list of anybody in the cast:

  • Nose Extension Technician (primarily scene 6, when I actually have a full-on silent comedy routine as I make Jordan/Pinocchio’s nose longer and longer, but also in scenes 2 and 3, assisting with moving stuff on and off the stage)
  • Asimo the Robot (scene 1, one line)
  • Monstro the Shark (scene 9, real choreography involved, and one line repeated twice in Japanese)
  • Tokushima AJET Choir (scene 1, the very first thing to happen on the stage; about a minute of singing)
  • Publicity design (poster, finished, and playbill, in progress)
  • Sound mixing
  • Sound technician (unless we can find enough people willing to volunteer backstage, Joey and I are going to swap off manning the sound booth at all the shows)

As soon as Joey broke the news to me about the sound tech stuff falling on us at our end-of-the-day “conference,” this dialogue happened:

Me: Sweet, that makes seven roles for me this year.
Christine B: Yeah, that was me last year! What else can I do? (She was three separate characters and appeared in every single act.)
Chris: Yeah, how many times can Smitha put her name in the playbill?
Me: Yeah–ooh, Smitha Prasadh, Smitha Prasadh, Smitha Prasadh…
Joey: We should rename the musical from Pinocchio to Smitha.
Someone else: Smithocchio!
Chris: Prasacchio!
Me: (mishearing it as “Presario”) Haha, Compaq!
Everyone: …

I gave Sally a ride home and then met up with Julie and an equally exhausted Brian at Paparagi for a couple of hours because I really, really needed coffee and food and didn’t have the energy or wakefulness to make any myself–coffee plus Julie’s genki-ness kind of helped to energize us both. Brian also went to the Marugame Toys-R-Us and decided to buy me more Star Wars action figures! I now have Yoda riding a bug, Chewie, and C-3PO. Awesome.

And…that was my weekend. Naked men in the rain, and building props. And once again, these long entries are more for posterity for my sake than for you, so if you read all that, thank you!

Sluggish evening

I’ve been on a real hummus kick–I made some last night, and again for lunch today…and then my stomach gave me a very clear indication that I’d exceeded my chickpea quotient for the week, so I cut it out. It’s so strange–I’m usually not a big hummus fan, but it’s filling and healthy and refreshing. The mixture of lemon juice and garlic and sesame has hit the spot so, so well.

This week has been strangely exhausting, apparently for everyone. I got some folks together and we ate at Chonmage, this izakaya in Mikamo owned by Fumi, this awesome lady in her 50s with funky-colored hair that’s a different color every time I see her and who loves hanging out with the foreign teachers. Brian and Julie came, and Jordan had messaged me saying that he and James were rehearsing scenes for the musical but hadn’t finalized dinner plans–and they both came, along with Saori and her father (who actually remembered my name AND that I was vegetarian, even teasing me by offering me some of his raw-meat-with-raw-egg dish; I didn’t think he even really knew who I was, so that was quite cool).

We spent almost 3 hours there, and it was a lot of fun–a lot of very sluggish fun, though, because we were all very obviously tired, stumbling over ourselves, saying and doing stupid things (okay, maybe that was just me–Jordan said that the bathroom was painted interesting colors and we should check it out, so Brian got up to peek right as I got up to go use the bathroom, and for whatever reason, because I wasn’t paying attention as I slipped on my indoor slippers, I thought he went in ahead of me and was taking his own sweet time…about five minutes later, while still waiting, I wandered towards the front of the restaurant, and found him smoking a cigarette at the bar; he’d peeked and come out before I even got there).

Brian and Julie headed out, and I went back to Saori’s to (FINALLY) rehearse my few but important parts, which happened to involve both Jordan and James,who were both staying the night at Saori’s. That was a lot of fun–as the shark, I get to circle ominously around James and chew on his canoe oar, and I get to actually grab Jordan (Pinocchio) and shake him around a bit, before I realize he’s made out of wood (at which point I croak a really guttural, “Ehhh? Ayatsuri ningyou da! BLECH! Mazui!” and toss him away) and swim away, leaving behind a dead Pinocchio…and then reverse and do it all over again when the narrators pull out a huge remote control and reverse the scene to show that Pinocchio didn’t actually die there.

(While at Saori’s, I also ended up assuming the role of sound mixer, to compile the CD of in-order music and sounds to be played throughout the play. So now I’m the designer of the poster and the playbill, the Nose Extension Technician, Japanese-snarling shark, malfunctioning robot, and sound mixer. Wow. Talk about a girl of many talents.)

Well, the evening went well–until I reached for my keys and realized that my house key was nowhere to be found. My piece-of-[censored for sensitive parental eyes] spinning Atlanta keychain had fallen open at some point during the evening, the way it seems wont to do quite often, and my house key, the slimmest of the two, slipped out easily and fell somewhere. I looked everywhere–all my pockets, all through my bag, all over Saori’s house, around and in my car, and nothing. I called Ashley and asked if she could check to see if I’d locked my door (I knew I had, but you never knew), and she confirmed that I had, and Saori’s dad called Fumi to see if I’d left it at the restaurant…so I called (and most likely woke up) my landlady, and when I got back about 20 minutes later, she handed me her copy of my house key, silently and without smiling. Ouch. The first thing I did when I got home was to put the keys on a more conventional key ring. I’m leaving tomorrow’s musical rehearsal early to come back and make copies so I can return it to her before heading to Okayama.

This weekend will bring no rest for the weary. I’ll be sleeping very well on Sunday night, for sure, but not so well tonight or tomorrow. Catch you all post-Okayama!

The verdict…?

The confrontation and showdown I was expecting never happened. I was nervous about The Talk all day, and when I explained the situation more coherently to my JTE than I did when I called her in a really stressed state last week, she gave me some good advice and encouragement.

And then, I got to the elementary school…and the principal was out for the day. I ended up kind of blurting hastily to the vice-principal that I really preferred teaching 3 classes of 2 grades each, instead of 4 classes of separate grades and a 5th class of merged 1st-2nd-graders, he pretty much said that they would definitely consider it, since the schedule hadn’t been decided for certain yet.

I really hope it works out in the end.

So in other news, today was Singles Awareness Day, and it wasn’t too miserable this year…the thing I felt worst about was looking in the mirror at how chubby I’ve become this winter, and calling myself horrible names as a form of punishment for my slovenly and slothlike behavior. I don’t think I truly know how to lose weight–if I’ve lost any in the past, it’s been purely by accident, because even when I did exercise a few times a week and eat healthily, it never made a difference. Now I have these stupid back problems that are keeping me from doing anything besides going on long walks, and the weather and my schedule are conspiring to keep me from doing that too often. I also have no idea how to eat a healthy vegetarian diet that doesn’t involve a lot of carbs; the only kinds of salads that I like eating have pasta instead of lettuce or spinach as the base.

But anyway…whine whine whine. Today was surprisingly warm–I’m looking forward to spring so I can make myself walk for at least an hour every night, and to Mikamo on free weekends. My trips to Okinawa, Kyushu, and Korea will involve a lot of walking when we aren’t in transit, and if I plan Australia for Golden Week (any Tokushima JETs reading this–I’m looking for a travel buddy!), I’ll be walking a ton there, too. That’s a part of trips I do solo that I enjoy–the wandering and the good ache at the end of the day.

Anyway, that’s it for tonight–have a good evening, guys.

My day of slack

I got to work this morning and felt drained and unwell, so after about an hour, I messaged my boss asking if I could cancel my afternoon shougakkou (the Double-Length Class of Doom–this would’ve been the day I let them know that I wouldn’t be coming back after April, but that’ll be next week instead) and take the afternoon off, after my junior high classes wrapped up.

I came home, made myself a really healthy pasta salad lunch with a TON of veggies and sesame dressing, hung out, put on Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi/Spirited Away, and went to sleep. I woke up after an hour (after the movie had finished, but my TV was still on), turned the TV off and closed my eyes again, and woke up over 2 hours after that. Heh, oops.

I woke up and drank a lot of water–naps leave me feeling really dehydrated–and went out to the supermarket to pick up some things, then came home and slaved over my stove for a solid hour…but it was totally worth it, because I made sambar for dinner tonight. And it ROCKED. Now, if only I had the mix to make idlis…my life would be complete. There’s just something amazing about idlis soaked in sambar…but then again, I’m a south Indian, so of course I’d be partial towards that. I have a lot of extra sambar–it’s almost like a stew, with all the big chunks of veggies–so I’ll be making some rice in the morning and bringing that for lunch.

Anyway, I ate while re-watching the end of the film (the scene while Chihiro/Sen is on the train is an example of truly fantastic composition–animation, colors, music, mood and emotions…), and have been hanging out online trying to plan other stuff since then.

It’s been a very relaxing afternoon and evening, which has been really cool, and I feel a lot better than I did this morning. I think I need it, since I have a Big Discussion waiting for me tomorrow–I have my weekly class at that school requesting the huge load of classes for April, and I’m hoping to talk to the principal about this situation afterwards. (It’s funny–we have a “make a wish and have it terribly corrupted” game thread going at the Tokushima forum, and today Jordan (who lives in the town immediately southwest of here) wrote, “I wish I knew why I only teach my elementary schools once a month as opposed to my neighbor, Smitha.”) Please wish me luck, because I hate confrontations like this, and this is the biggest one I’ll have had since the one with the Sleeping Lady in my eikaiwa; I feel like it would be easier at any other school, where I know I have a very good working relationship with those principals, while I really am not sure what this particular principal thinks of me personally.

Rest in peace, dear camera

It’s the middle of a long weekend now, and I got back about a half-hour ago from spending about 4-5 hours down in Kōchi City, in Kōchi Prefecture, to the south of Tokushima. I wanted to visit their famous open-air Sunday market again and just wander around a bit. I didn’t buy anything (I wanted to, but I spent too much time elsewhere, and when I got back to the market, it was closing up for the day and I was too late), but while I was there, I happened to run into one of my first-year junior high students and the science teacher from my junior high, over 50 miles from home. It’s always amusing when that happens.

Yesterday, I ran into a couple of my students and friends around town yesterday as well, when I went on an hourlong walk from my apartment to the train station closest to my junior high and then caught the train home. I’m driving out to Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture tomorrow–I’ve only been there briefly before, to see Utada Hikaru live, but we didn’t spend any time lingering in the city. Apparently there’s some fantastic Indian food out there…who knows, maybe some of my students will be there, too!

While I was in Kōchi, I attempted to take a few photos (just a few; I only lingered within a few miles of the station and wasn’t terribly impressed, though I like that they have trams)–but I was horrified to find that after a while, my camera refused to focus, and only would snap blurry photos.

From early on during my stay in Japan, I abused the poor thing inadvertently, when I put it in the pouch in the front flap of my shoulder bag and kept flipping the flap carelessly back to open the bag when it was lying on the ground, which was the equivalent of slinging my camera repeatedly onto the floor. I’ve dropped it a few times, too. Once I realized what I’d done, I immediately started being a lot more careful, but I was worried it was too late, that I’d done too much damage already, and I guess I was right. (This camera was a graduation/Christmas present from my parents, anticipating the acceptance into JET that wouldn’t come for another 4 months.)

Luckily, though, I somehow had this huge stroke of luck and won ¥5000 in gift certificates from some Yahoo!BB holiday campaign, and one of the participating companies is DeoDeo, a local electronics chain that has a location here in Ikeda. I’ll be using those gift certificates towards buying a new camera from DeoDeo, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. I’m looking for something that’ll produce higher-quality images than this camera has, something fairly economical but worth every penny, not too simple but not too complex. I’m considering a digital SLR, but let’s just see what DeoDeo’s selection is like.

As for my current camera, my Sony CyberShot DSC-P41…I guess I’ve beaten the poor thing into an early retirement. It’s had quite a good and eventful run, though, and it’s documented over 3/4 of an unforgettable two years of my life. I’ll be eternally grateful to it for all it’s done and all the memories it’s preserved.

More on the schedule change

It stands at 9 weekly elementary school classes right now. That’s an improvement, because a few hours it was at twelve per week. They’ve agreed to merge the first- and second-years into one class, but the superintendent and principal still want separate classes for all the other grades. I also don’t have to do the teacher eikaiwa; instead, we’ll just make an effort to speak easy English while in the staffroom, so it’ll be pretty unstructured. Chalice is also taking my Double-Length Class of Doom–I sent her a message which she hadn’t gotten to read, and then I called and explained the situation and she immediately volunteered the idea before I could bring it up, because she’s just awesome. I feel bad calling the school that, because now that I’m letting it go, as stressful as it can be to suddenly have the equivalent of 2 more classes in a week than usual, it’s a great school, adorable and new, with a really good staffroom and a sweet principal (I’m going to miss her in particular), and the kids are quiet but just wonderful. I also really like the teachers I work with, particularly the one who lives in my building and was my next-door neighbor before I switched apartments–he’s just a fun guy.

It doesn’t seem so bad when you just look at the number, because it’s like, “Hey, it’s just three extra classes.” However, I’m subtracting a class and redoing a class and adding four more. It still means a lot more work for me every week. There’s an elementary school in Ikawa that’s doing the same thing, but the Ikawa ALT has a much lighter workload. I understand that this is in preparation for the elementary school English classes that will be starting before too long–I just wish there were a better way of handling this. At least my boss is on my side, and I know her hands are tied, so I’m really grateful that she’s pulling so hard for me to get an easier load.

Suffice it to say, I’m really not happy about this situation. I know it could be worse, but instead of just dropping this in my lap, I wish they could have checked to see how it would affect me.

(This just in: something in the news where they mentioned “nishi nihon,” “chuugoku,” “shikoku,” and “tori influenza” in the same sentence. Ooh. It also reminds me of when I was doing animals with my shougakusei and held up a picture of a chicken, and one boy blurted, “Tori influenza!” It was priceless.)

Anyway, I’m off to Paparagi to unwind for a while with friendly faces, and then posing with my violin for Chalice so she can paint us later this evening. My regrets about not staying for a third year are now officially out the freaking window.


Looks like my days of slack are coming to an end, because starting in April, I’ll be teaching anywhere from 9 to 12 hours of elem. school classes a week on average. My biggest school has requested an ALT for all 6 grades and the teachers, and spend 1.5 days there per week. I’ll have 5 junior high classes (only one first-year homeroom) and two eikaiwas, one class at each of 5 elem. schools, and 4 to 7 classes (if each grade has a separate class) at this one elem. school. Wow.