Deriving symbolism from random crap

Heh, I know it’s been too long between posts when my parents call me out of concern because I haven’t written in a while.

So my one-year anniversary has come and gone. (Or anniversaries, rather: July 23rd was the day I left Atlanta and the US, July 24th was when I arrived in Tokyo, and July 27th was when I arrived in Tokushima and Ikeda.) There’s still no huge retrospective…I’ve done a lot of thinking and had many moments of reflection this week, and it’s really easy to put myself in the shoes of the ALTs who are currently wandering around Shinjuku, because I was exactly where they currently are on July 24th, 2005. (Except maybe I was a bit hungrier, since I asked for yakisoba with no meat at an izakaya I went to with some folks, and received yakisoba with ground beef. What a first dietary impression that made!)

The other big piece of news: I now own a car. It’s still technically not mine by name, but money’s been exchanged and it’s sitting in our apartment building’s parking lot. It’s an older car, but with not very much mileage considering its age. It’s been checked out and is in great condition. I’m now working on simultaneously getting my Japanese license, applying for permission from the police department to secure a(n official) parking space, and setting up a time when I can transfer the registration and compulsory insurance to my name–and I have to apply for the secondary driver/passenger insurance.

I spent today in Tokushima City, hitting up a bunch of shops (I now have new things for the apartment from Muji, the JLPT application from Kinokuniya, a new shirt from UNIQLO, and some other stuff–I also finally ate at Capricciosa–wow, that place rocks). Exactly a year ago, it was this weekend, my first weekend after arriving in Japan, that I first came into Tokushima City with Lindsay for the Clement Plaza rooftop beer garden (which is a monumental waste of money for vegetarian non-drinkers, but anyway–it’s a “tradition” or something, but last year’s was a conversationally awkward blur; it wasn’t set up to facilitate much meet-and-greeting). How far we’ve all come since then…Lindsay’s now left the country and has been doing a homestay with a Togolese family that has no indoor plumbing/running water, from what I understand. She should be getting her permanent placement soon.

I did make a really wonderful discovery today, though, in the form of Art Records, a store that’s been pointed out to me in the past but that I completely forgot about. It specializes in selling classical and world music CDs, for half the price of what normal Japanese music stores would charge! I saw flyers outside for several concerts and decided to step inside, and once I did, I started grinning from ear to ear. It’s been so, so long.

It’s funny, though, that it took me a year to discover that. I’ve walked past that store countless dozens of times without even blinking. I’m taking it as a sign or symbol of sorts, in that it suggests that there’s always room to learn much, much more about things I already have some familiarity with–but I do have a solid year in which to learn, and to enjoy the fruits of that newfound knowledge.

That, or I’m just lucky. Or dumb, for completely missing it, despite having people say to me on more than one occasion, “You know, this store has a really big classical music selection. I think you’d like it,” right as we’re walking past it.

At any rate, I’m off to sleep now. Tomorrow’s the regional sports meetup–this time, I believe that only Chalice and I, two of the nine area junior high ALTs, will be present. I remember last year, Lindsay and I hung out with Joe, Andy, and Andrew K. (and that’s where I met Jeff, Andrew’s pred and a 4th-year ALT now on the other side of the prefecture; he’s a guitarist/mandolin player, the organizer of the Open Mic Nights, and my musical partner on the Orange Blossom Special at the last Open Mic). I also remember feeling so strange about hanging out around these kids who didn’t know me at all, and I was wondering how they must’ve thought it was stupid that the new ALT came to cheer them on despite not knowing them. If only I knew–they all know me now, and I’m really looking forward to cheering them on tomorrow, even though, to be frank, our sports teams kind of suck compared to the others. But that’s okay! Ganbare!

1-year anniversary

My parents would be simultaneously proud and confused: I’m listening to Asha Bhosle right now. The classics–“Dum Maro Dum” and “Ina Mina Dika.” There’s some Kishore Kumar in here, too–“Roop Tera Mastana,” for example. It’s this 2-CD Bollywood music compilation I found online the other day; the first CD is classics and the second CD is modern songs. It’s therapeutic, listening to these familiar Indian instrumentals, particularly the three songs I named, all of which I grew up listening to.

It’s been a year, almost exactly. Taking the time difference into consideration, it was almost exactly a year ago that my flight departed Atlanta for Detroit, where I caught my international flight. In about 16 1/2 hours, it’ll be a year since we arrived in Tokyo. (Yeah, I’m that particular about time–but with something like this, wouldn’t you be, too?)

I want to write a retrospective…but I just don’t know what to say. Maybe I’ll come back to that.

We had our Miyoshi-gun farewell get-together tonight–print club, dinner at a local izakaya (which actually custom-made me vegetarian versions of dishes! Agedashi tofu with no dashi, harumaki with veggies only, and veggie tenpura! With the exception of the tenpura, that never happens!), and two solid hours of karaoke at Chantez. Andy’s already left Japan, and Julie just went home Saturday to Hawaii for two weeks, but everyone else was present (or at least put in an appearance), including Chalice’s boyfriend Joe. This wasn’t really a goodbye, though–it was the last time I’ll see (Iya) Joe before he goes to Thailand, but he’ll be back for Awa Odori, and that’s when I’ll truly have to say goodbye to him. (Though he’ll be in school in Toronto, which is almost due north of Atlanta, and if I go to school up north, it won’t be as much of a stretch to drop on him. He gave me a hug where he actually lifted me off the ground–no mean feat, considering that I must weigh at least 30 or 40 pounds more than he does.) Ellie also isn’t leaving for a while yet, and I have a couple of days left to spend with Hannah. Still, though, it was our last time hanging out as a group, and I’m really going to miss that.

It’s crazy to think that the new folks will start to arrive next week–two with Group A, and two the following week with Group B. I’ll finally get to meet Brian and Ashley and Justin, who I’ve all heard something from/about to varying degrees, and the mysterious Sally, who I know virtually nothing about. They’re the four newcomers to our corner of the prefecture. (If you guys read this–I know at least two of you do (hi, Brian and Ashley!)–we’re having welcome dinners the first couple of days after Group A arrives, if you’re in need of company during your first couple of nights here. You’ll get info on that from Nate at the prefectural meeting during Tokyo Orientation. We unfortunately aren’t doing the same for Group B, because the insanity of orientation will kick off only two days after you guys get to Tokushima, but if you do want company that Thursday, you should already have my phone number and e-mail address from the AJET welcome flyer. Don’t hesitate to give me a call!)

Right now, with regards to it having been a whole year…I’m a bit numb, a bit in denial, and a bit wondering how I’m going to get through a second solid year. I just can’t believe it. This year’s flown by, but just the word “year” has such a stigma of longevity to it…I kind of wonder if I can really pull off another twelve months. It’s going to be a busy a year, with a lot riding on my keeping it together–I’m making my list of schools and programs I want to apply to for grad school, and I need to pick up a GRE vocabulary book and study like crazy. I also need to sign up for and start studying for the JLPT–I’m probably going for 3-kyuu. I think that if I really studied hard, I might have a slim chance of pulling off the 2-kyuu, but since my focus is going to be on grad school, I doubt I’ll study as hard as I could for it.

As for what this past year has held…I’ll save that for another entry. I really need to get to sleep–this week will involve a lot of running around to do driver’s license/car-purchasing stuff, as well as starting in on my speech contest work. Have a good evening.


These last two weeks haven’t been pleasant. I was stressed over the situation with that class and the fight those students got into. I was stressed when I made a blunder in some overzealous posts I made on our messageboard and accidentally insulted one of my friends. I’ve been continually stressed over the issues with my stomach, which have been happening enough that I now know that they’re indicative of something at least marginally more serious. I was feeling really stressed and guilty today when we got all the car-buying stuff started simultaneously (the driver’s license application, the ownership transition, and the parking situation), which meant a massive amount of extra work for my poor boss–it’s a month-long process, and next week will keep us especially busy.

I’m very tired right now, and dreading that this stress is going to really screw with my stomach tonight and this weekend.

Sunday is our farewell party for our corner of the prefecture. It should be fun, but even though I’ll be seeing some of these people again around Awa Odori time, I’m not looking forward to the finality of it.

I have to go return a video. I hope I can find something while I’m there that’ll make me laugh a lot (if only they had The Birdcage!)…I really need to unwind somehow.


Found my first roach last night. I had all the lights off but the TV and was lying down, and I saw this black thing dart down the wall. I freaked out and jumped up and turned on the light–and breathed a huge sigh of relief as I saw that it was not a poisonous centipede. It sparked some crazy roach-related dreams last night, though.

As far as I know, he’s still hiding in the oshiire because I didn’t want him running around (and potentially on me) overnight. As soon as he ran under the door, I stuffed a towel under there to keep him in. I want to go ask my landlords to please put together some more of those roach trap things (which I had in my previous apartment but never needed because I never had bug issues in there…they’re like garlic, onion, and benzene or some such; roaches are attracted to the garlic and onion, but upon eating the chemical, it’ll kill them instantly), and I want to go pick up some bug spray of my own. And while it does make me cringe to think it’s running around where a lot of my clothes and extra bedding are, since roaches just feel dirty, I can at least wash those if I have to.

I also haven’t pulled off any of my day-trips, sadly…maybe I’ll head somewhere for the afternoon or something, just to get out for a while, but I want to get stuff taken care of here first, including finishing up my lesson plans for tomorrow. I’ve kind of taken my own time with organizing, and I’m almost done, but it’s still pretty cluttered, and I need to start decorating and hit up several stores in town for stuff.

The matsuri last night was cute! I ran into several dozen of my kids there, elementary and junior high–it was weird being recognized so often, since they live some distance away and it’s rare that I run into them here. Julie came into Ikeda straight after a day in the city, and we just bought food from the stalls and hung out and caught what ended up being a really cool fireworks show. The weather wasn’t as hot, since the sun had set, and we were away from the sweat-inducing stalls and the press of the crowd there, which gave us some breathing room. All in all, a really nice summer night.

A day of receiving

It looks like half of town saw my Walk Of Fame on Tuesday, after I missed my bus (or rather, after my bus missed me). I got several comments about it–from an eikaiwa student who owns a shop that I passed a couple of times, from the daughter of one of my eikaiwa ladies (the daughter is the mother of one of my junior high students, so I’m acquainted with three generations of Yamaguchis in the town), from teachers in an elementary school I passed, and from others as well. A bit embarrassing in retrospect, especially considering that I was really booking it (I was walking in step to Muse’s new album, “Black Holes and Revelations”–more dance-ish and faster than their previous work, but really good stuff and really good to work out/walk to) and had a big scowl on my face all the while.

The shop owner, though, an advanced-level gentleman currently enrolled in my intermediate class, immediately said, after I told my class about the nightmare that was July 11th, that if I ever need a ride, I shouldn’t hesitate to stop by his store and ask him, and he’ll take me wherever in town I need to go. It was a really sweet offer, and he reminds me of my dad in some ways, like in how he talks and his general demeanor. I really appreciated it. I find it funny, though, that he remembers the name of the Atlantan suburb I’m from, but I don’t think he remembers my name.

Today, after our eikaiwa classes, I did my usual Friday afternoon routine and had lunch with several of my eikaiwa ladies, and then (since I literally have 2 hours of nothing to do until my next class, and I normally would be languishing in the elementary school’s staffroom, trying not to doze off) we went to the house of one of the ladies so that she could conduct a tea ceremony, with real matcha (the special powder-based tea used in these ceremonies) and okashi (sweets). It wasn’t as formal or stiff as a truly traditional one would be, but the lady is taking lessons and was practicing how to present the sweets and the tea, how to turn it, and even what foot to start off with when rising and walking away. I didn’t realize it was such a precise art.

The aforementioned eikaiwa lady who’s the grandmother of one of my chuugakusei (I should just start using their names, shouldn’t I?) then gave me a ride, as usual, to my afternoon elementary school class, since she lives really close to the school. Usually, when I get out of this class, I have to get a ride with a teacher because the next bus isn’t for nearly 2 hours. However, just a minute after I stepped into the staffroom, a teacher I know, a former-junior-high-JTE-turned-elementary-school teacher, ran in and said, “Smitha, did you see Yamaguchi-san? She’s waiting for you out front!” I wondered if there was some mistake, and the teachers immediately got flustered and confused as to what was going on and whether this was the same Grandma Yamaguchi that they know (the granddaughter had just graduated from that elementary school the previous March), and how on earth I knew the woman…as soon as I mentioned, “eikaiwa no seito-san,” a collective, “Aaaahhh!” went up and peace was restored again.

It was such an incredibly sweet gesture on her part, too. She’s given me rides to this school regularly because she lives just down the street and it’s only a minute or two out of her way, and today she was heading to our neighboring town, which would take her past our BOE, so she decided to come early and give me a ride. She also had been paid a visit by an old friend who has American business ties, and that friend gifted her with a ton of Washington cherries–from the state, yes–so she wanted to come by and give me some! We also stopped by the house we’d been to earlier, so she could gift some to that woman as well (the woman was stunned, because she’s never actually seen real cherries before–I guess they aren’t grown very often in Japan?), and she asked me if I like cucumbers and ran inside and brought me out a bag with cucumbers and tomatoes from her garden. (She must have been psychic, because as soon as she said it, I started thinking, “Hmm, some of that refreshing pasta Lindsay got me hooked on, with plain pasta and cucumbers and tomatoes, would be really good on a day like today…”) She also gave me a ton of fresh basil and chives last fall. God, the basil was incredible. I also tried to make mashed potatoes so I could include the chives.)

Well, anyway, I survived to the end of the week–and now I’m not sure what to do with myself. I have a ton of cleaning to do, which I intend to spend all of tomorrow doing so I can go take day trips Sunday and Monday to Okayama and Naruto (and come back to see the Gion Matsuri fireworks in town Sunday night!).

I finally watched Ray last night, which I’d rented last Friday and is due tonight, and it was surprisingly good, if a little hasty from time to time in its transitions. I went on a major nostalgia kick, particularly during the scene where they recorded “Georgia On My Mind” (that scene was also a bit disconcerting, because of all his songs, I know that one the best, and hearing the exact version of the song I knew being used in the film made me really see that Jamie Foxx was lip-synching, a fact that I knew, but it was easier to suspend my disbelief with songs I wasn’t as close to), though it was promptly ruined by the jealous backup singer ripping it to shreds a second later, but it was restored when they reenacted the un-banning of Ray Charles’s music from Georgia and the instatement of “Georgia On My Mind” as the state song.

And as soon as I turned off the movie to rewind it, I discovered that of all things, Monsoon Wedding was playing on NHK-BS2! I stayed up and watched it for a little while…the first time I’d seen it I wasn’t thrilled with it because the bride is a stuck-up, selfish, unfaithful brat. This time–well, she still is–but I was smiling because it was such a pure and faithful demonstration of true Indian culture, and it felt great to watch it and truly understand the subtleties and social dynamics of those situations, which I’ve only experienced sparingly this past year. I took the film for granted when I saw those things regularly when living in the US. It was also cool to see really, really good, genuine acting by Indians outside a Bollywood/musical context. What wasn’t cool, though, was that one of the very first quotes I heard was the older sister of the bride, in her 20s or 30s, telling a little girl, “How come you’re still here?”, only to have the girl reply snarkily, “How come you’re still not married?” I actually blurted, “AUGH. Obnoxious girl. Die now.” (Kidding, of course!)

And yet again, I’ve succeeded in writing a ton about almost nothing. How about that?

Ashita wa ashita

Geez, I don’t think I’ve perspired this much in all my time here. It was kind of embarrassing, having to sit there and fan myself for 30 minutes before I finally cooled down.

So yeah, everything seems to be all right. The teachers weren’t acting out of the ordinary in the afternoon–and as I wrote in the last post, I talked to the school nurse, who reassured me. I also ended up getting a ride home (long story, which I’ll get into momentarily) from another teacher, and I let her know that I was pretty stressed/worried about how the day had gone, and she said that the teachers had talked about the incident and the blame is on the kid for not thinking before he acted. I still want to go talk to the principal, though, just to express my regret that this actually happened.

I’m also feeling a lot better today–there’s no tension in the air or anything like that. As Chalice says, “It’s daij, man.” She came by to drop off Lindsay’s copy of Lonely Planet Japan since she has her own guide which suits her needs more than LP does, and we ended up just talking for 45 minutes, which was great–she’s one of those people who really puts you at ease just because she’s so warm and mellow by nature.

But it’s almost funny how bad yesterday was–beyond this whole punching incident, it hit me that my entire workday was kind of crappy. In the morning, I missed my bus by ten seconds because I was across the (narrow, two-lane) street from the bus stop when the bus went by–if I’d just started running a little bit earlier, or left my apartment just a little bit earlier, then I would have had time to cross the street to the bus stop, so the driver would have seen me.

So, having missed the bus, I bought myself breakfast at the bakery and went to catch a train…only to get to the platform and have the train not be there. Or rather, it was there, but one track away from the platform, so it was intentionally out of reach. I asked one of the engineers hanging out on the platform, who told me that trains down to Kochi were canceled! I went to return my ticket, and the guy at the ticket window told me it was because of “oo-ame.” I called my boss and got permission to take a taxi, and got to school around 8:40.

On my way home, I left with enough time to spare so that I’d have a few minutes to wait for my bus. The light near my bus stop changes, so cars are lining up, and behind them, I see the bus pull up. The way it’s set up is that the road curves, and once you come around the curve, my bus stop is directly ahead, so directly in the line-of-sight of anybody on that road. But not this bus driver–before he even reached the stop, he pulled the bus to the right to get into the turn lane, and completely just blew right past me! I was standing there, staring open-mouthed at the bus as it went by…the worst part was that it was early, so the guy was obviously just in a rush to get back, no matter how many people he was going to ditch along the way.

I had about 40 minutes to kill till the next bus, and I didn’t want to go back to my staffroom, so I crossed the bridge across the Yoshinogawa (River), only to realize that I couldn’t get to the bus stop from there due to construction that was blocking the road. So, grumbling and frowning, I turned back–and one of my sannensei boys, a kind of smartass but good-natured kid, passed me on his bike, grinning and waving, which at least made me smile. Anyway, I hurried back across the bridge, down the street, and across the bridge on the other side of the construction, and made it to that bus stop (probably a 25-minute walk) with 15 minutes to spare. When there were about 5 minutes left till my bus was set to come, a teacher–the lunch lady/groundskeeper teacher (so not technically a teacher, but a staff member–out of all the staff members, she’s the only one whose name I can never, ever remember) came driving by, honked her horn, and pulled over to give me a ride to my place (her first question was, “How did you end up all the way out here?”). I talked to her about the day, and how bad I felt about what happened, and how worried I was about today’s and next week’s classes. In response, she said, simply, “Ashita wa ashita.” Tomorrow is tomorrow. And that’s totally true, isn’t it?

So I did freak out over what happened yesterday, in part because I think the way the teacher informed me about it made me feel like I’d somehow caused it. But there’s absolutely nothing I could do to prevent bullying to happen outside of class just because one kid made a mistake. (My parents saw my blog post and called me last night just to see how I was doing, and I told my mom, “If this had to happen, why couldn’t it have happened during, like, math class or something?”)

I just realized that I never recapped the weekend and the sayounara party and everything…there isn’t much to tell, but I’ll probably come back to it later.


This is a repost of what I just posted in our AJET forum:

I did a class today that I pulled straight from Teamwork Tokushima, using examples from Sunshine that the JTE I no longer team-teach with assured me that the kids knew. The game we were playing was the “wake up” game…I’ll think of a sentence, everyone’ll put their heads down, I’ll write one word of the sentence on the board, and one kid at a time will look up for each word I write, and afterwards they’ll all collaborate to form the sentence.

It seemed like it was going just fine…until just now, one of the teachers came up to me. Normally he’s really jovial and friendly, but he wasn’t smiling at all, and immediately, he told me that there was a problem with one of my classes.

So one of the kids in the first of the two classes I taught today (2 sannensei homerooms) isn’t very good at English. Because of my crazy shougakkou schedule, I really had no way of knowing that because I just don’t have a chance to get close to my kids and know (besides some obvious examples) which are strong and weak students in English. He messed up on a word, “chocolate.” (the sentence was something like, “This chocolate cake is very good.” Lifted straight out of Sunshine, as all the sentences I used were.)

After class, the two boys in his row came up to him and were asking him why he couldn’t do it, teasing him about how it was such easy English, that sort of thing. The boy, upset by the teasing, retaliated by HITTING one of the kids, who fell down. I think the kid fell and hit a window and broke it, because as I was walking by the homeroom on my way to my second class, no kids were there, but five teachers were standing around a window which hadn’t been broken when I was teaching in there earlier.

So in essence, my game, intended to be an easy and fun English review, caused a fight to break out, and it caused some major trouble today.

I feel mortified. I feel absolutely horrible and upset about this. And I have no idea what to do now or how to act. I’m most likely going to ask to opt out of teaching the sannensei next week, just in case, and that’s probably what they’ll have me do anyway. I have no idea if they’ll have me teach the ichinensei tomorrow (though I know I shouldn’t have a problem, because I’ve taught all those kids for 8 months while in shougakkou, so that same level of intimidation isn’t there with them). The teacher said that it’s okay, that it happened outside of class…but it happened because of my game. I’ve NEVER had a problem like this before. EVER. My shougakkou classes occasionally have snags because of really shy kids who freeze up and start crying in class, but never ANYTHING like this.

I really could use some advice right now. And some words of encouragement. I just don’t know what to do.

[EDIT, 3:35 PM] The kid is fine; he just scraped his hand up. Even though the nurse was really kind and told me not to worry and that it was a surprising situation but that it’s okay, I still feel really troubled about the whole thing. I’ve also gotten a lot of reassurance from the other ALTs. It really was out of my hands, but the way the teacher was talking, it seemed like part of it fell on me…I don’t know if there was anything I could have done to make things not happen that way, or if having a teacher in the room with me would have helped the situation, but I doubt it, especially since this happened after I left the room. There had to have been a bullying issue already.

Shamisen and chance encounters

This was a strange and strangely sluggish week, but it’s over (and the gnat bite has almost completely healed, yay!)–not that that means that I get a chance to rest, because our huge sayounara party takes place this weekend at a beach on the opposite end of the prefecture. It’s strange, knowing that these are some of the last conversations I’m going to have with a lot of these people, either for a while or ever. I know that there are quite a few I won’t keep in touch with, but there are quite a few that I fully intend to stay in touch with–so many wonderful people are leaving this year, unfortunately. But it’s also cool to know that a very large percentage of the prefecture’s ALTs seem to be coming out for this, including people who usually don’t come out, so I foresee having some good conversations and fun times this weekend.

Today’s Tanabata Matsuri, or the Star Festival, commemorating the one day of the year where, according to ancient lore, two stars are allowed to meet. I’d wondered what all the bamboo and colored paper hanging on Ikeda’s Ginza-Dori and outside random houses and buildings was about, but I kept forgetting to ask. One of my eikaiwa students today invited me to come out to see some Tanabata festivities on the Ginza-dori tonight…it actually ended up not being a full-fledged matsuri, but a 45-minute-long shamisen concert with a bit of Awa Odori thrown in (as always–a tradition that I love), and with proper tea ceremony tea and sweets being served. Terumi invited me to come for free, which was really kind of her.

I got there a few minutes late–the concert had just started, but I was by no means the last one there; it’s just one of those small-town things, where it’s okay to wander in during the middle and nobody really thinks the worse of you for it. (The performance was across the narrow street from where we were sitting–but it wasn’t so narrow that cars still didn’t drive in between us occasionally.) The person sitting down next to me made friendly conversation (“atsui desu ne!” is a sure-fire conversation starter here) as she was getting up, and a moment later, a woman sat down in her place with her back to me, and her husband pulled up a folding chair next to her. A few minutes, she turned around, saw me, and let out a surprised exclamation, and I turned to look at her and was caught by surprise myself–it was the woman I’ve run into all over town.

It’s so strange how we keep meeting up by sheer chance like this! And we always end up meeting in situations where we have a few minutes to talk as well. She loves linking her arm with mine or putting her hand over mine, and she has such a warm disposition, and she remembers everything I’ve told her about myself and my life from our previous encounters–she and her husband (who I haven’t talked to much, but who’s always quite friendly) are two people I always enjoy running into. And yet again, we never got to ask each other’s names…she offered to get me some more tea, and I told her that it was okay, I would get it myself and come back. When I stood up, only to have the ladies in kimono take my things from me since the performance had finished, I started to head back to my seat, only to see that she and her husband had gotten up and left.

On a slightly more exasperating and funny note, as soon as I noticed them leaving, I turned around to inquire whether the concert had finished, just to make sure, and saw Crazy Lady From The Restaurant Across The Street making a beeline for my vicinity (yes, Mom and Dad, that lady–and you know what, I asked my eikaiwa students today while we were talking about Japanese/western etiquette, and they said that my taking the pit with my fingers was not at all a big deal, and there was no reason for her to gasp!), and cringed–but she ended up going to talk to other people nearby, which let me slip out, hopefully unnoticed. I’m sure she means well, but she’s so batty and uptight and it’s impossible to figure her out…she ran into Hannah yesterday and offered her a ticket to today’s concert, but Hannah’s base high school was holding her farewell enkai tonight, so she couldn’t make it. The woman immediately became very cold, as if Hannah had deliberately affronted her, which was totally not the case, and when Hannah tried “waving the olive branch around,” as she put it, and made polite conversation, the woman just refused to go along with it. Even when she apologized for not coming and said, “Maybe next time!”, the woman snapped, “There is no next time!”

It turns out, as I found out tonight, that one of the reasons she was So Affronted by Hannah declining her invitation was that she was one of the shamisen performers. She was perched there, radiating this air of sheer pomp and not allowing herself at all to relax, and even when she and two other shamisen players abandoned their instruments to dance Awa Odori in the street while the others played, she still didn’t smile! Awa Odori is one of those things where you can’t not smile–every night I hear the taiko drumming from one of the dance groups practicing on the hill behind my house, and without fail it makes me smile. Plus, as traditional as Awa Odori has become, it’s just ironic that she displays such sheer pomp over “the dance of the drunken fool,” a dance which actually started out as something a bunch of drunk people threw together on a whim many, many years ago. The juxtaposition of those origins with her expression and stiff posture make me snicker–I can’t help it.

Speaking of pomp, on Monday I was running late and sprinted most of the way to the train station, and just barely made the train to my elementary school…I was sweating and took several minutes to catch my breath once I got on the train, and I looked around and saw this older woman sitting across from me with her nose literally in the air, staring coldly and disdainfully at me. How dare I sweat in July! How dare I actually have the energy to run for my train, instead of wanting to shell out ¥2000 for a taxi or go beg my boss for a ride! How could I dream of being so unwomanly as to not look immaculate? I nearly started laughing; the look on her face has really stuck with me, and makes me grin every time I think of it. It was preposterous how haughty she looked–an utterly priceless moment.

Well, anyway…after the concert, I decided to walk down to Sunshine to buy myself junk for dinner (mmm, pizza and ice cream), and the hazy, moisture-filled air combined with the clouds and sunset to cover the town in this truly magnificent array of colors. I snapped a bunch of pictures during my walk–it’s always nice to have these opportunities to see these mountains and this sky, now such a familiar and constant sight, in a new and refreshing light.

Huh…I have no idea how it is I keep writing long entries like this without even meaning to. I have a few more musical DVDs to burn and food to make and a ride to square away for tomorrow’s party, so I should get to it. I also should finish up with the LookBook–three full-color pages of info on Tokushima AJET for the incoming ALTs to peruse while at Tokyo Orientation. I’ve slaved away on them the past couple of days, and looking at them makes me feel really good, like a truly professional designer; I’m glad AJET’s giving me the opportunity to expand my portfolio. But anyway–have a good weekend, guys!


An update on my foot: it wasn’t a sprain, but a gnat bite. Ellie had the same issue, and neither of us can remember actually hurting our ankles at all. I asked my BOE staff and she did some research, and we both came up with the same conclusion. There’s this awesome OTC cream for bug bites called Muhi, specifically Muhi Ex for stronger cases like this, and it’s done wonders for my foot.

(And I’m currently burning copies of our musical DVD and just have the TV turned on, and they’re randomly interviewing girls on the street to find out whether or not they’re virgins. They’re also bringing in the girls who admit to being virgins to have some woman talk to them–I have no idea what on earth they’re saying, as I wasn’t paying attention and I think I’m better off not knowing–and at the end, the girls introduce themselves as virgins and do a brief self-introduction, as if to say, “I’m a virgin. Virgins eat this kind of food and listen to this kind of music.” It’s revolting that they’re making such a big deal out of something that’s such a personal matter, and that they’re being so immature about it! I did hear something like, “Oh, thank god, virgins still exist!” Of COURSE they exist! I’m proudly one of them. I’m not sure if this is better or worse than the “p.orn” (typed this way to avoid search engine spiders) I’ve found on late-night TV by accident, which consists of girls in underwear doing calisthenics, and random close-ups of their chests…I think it’s all equally cringe-worthy.)

So now that I’m a little more awake, I’m realizing that there actually was a lot more I could have said in that last entry–but I’ve had several people, including my dad, crack jokes about what a short-and-sweet entry that was, so maybe a separate entry is better.

Something that’s easy to lose sight of is that life doesn’t grind to a halt while you’re away. Stuff happens, people go places and do things and grow and change…it’s an inevitability of leaving a place for an extended period of time.

As we were leaving the airport, my parents let me know that our across-the-street neighbor, JoAnn Brandt, passed away in April. I’d been wondering how she was doing, since my parents let me know earlier this year that she’d been diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t go to the doctor regularly, so I guess by the time she found out, it was too late to treat it. This came as a nasty shock…she was a strong-willed, fiery Southern woman in her 70s, but still extremely active, very self-reliant, able to handle electrical and automotive issues on her own, intelligent and quick-witted, and very warm and caring. She was really involved with the seniors community, teaching classes to widowed women on how to take care of themselves and handle basic maintenance/errands that they’d depended on their husbands for previously, and even participating in a dance troupe that went to area retirement communities. I remember that one day when I’d gone by her house to ask her something, she invited me in and asked me to help her finish zipping up the back of this adorable black dress she was sporting for an evening out with the ladies. She always supported me, and she watched me grow up, since we moved into that house when I was in elementary school, and I’ve now graduated from university and my family’s still there. I always enjoyed going to her house and getting pulled into an inevitable hour-long chat–it was a thrill getting to know her and having her let me into her life. So to hear my parents talk about seeing her slowly deteriorate as time went on, and to come home and find that her lawn and flowers wasn’t in their usual immaculate state and that the house had been sold…it was difficult to absorb. The news of the cancer had given me time to prep for this inevitability–but it still was jarring to hear it.

The one thing I definitely didn’t expect when I went to Japan was people passing away in my absence. Then again, who really does expect that, and is it ever easy to deal with? Miss JoAnn (as I called her throughout the years) passed away in April. I also still think often of my good friend Adam, who passed away at the beginning of March–though I’ve come to terms with it, his death is still a huge shock, mainly because he was so young, only several weeks younger than I am. And my mother’s uncle, the father of the two second-cousins whose weddings I attended in December, passed away suddenly late last year. I wasn’t very close to him, but I was really looking forward to seeing him again after all this time–I have really fond memories of him from when we last saw each other in 2000-01, when my family was in India.

So…yeah. That’s one thing that’s never easy to deal with, no matter where you are, but I think being back home and around familiar people does make this news easier to handle.

Another sad inevitability is that your relationships with your close friends will also change. I’ve experienced a bit of a switch-up in the best-friend department–my best friend in high school and college no longer is anymore. It was a long transition that I think began months before I even left for Japan, but the distance and the challenges that this placement posed for regular communication between us finally sealed it. It was completely amicable–I still love and respect her, and we talk regularly, but things have changed and we both know it. I have several friends who I didn’t realize had come to assume the place in my life that she used to until this fell into place. It’s regretful, but it’s all right, and maybe it’s for the best.

On a similar note, I really am curious as to whether or not my friends noticed any change within me when we met up. I know I’ve learned a lot, but I don’t feel that I’ve intrinsically changed, and a year really isn’t that long–everyone seemed to be pretty much the same, but most of them hadn’t moved out of the metro Atlanta area. As much as things have changed at home–I’m wondering how different I’ll be once my two years here are done. I know I view some things differently now, but will I as a person have changed a lot? Will I lose more friends and family members, either through our relationship changing or through death? What else is in store?

Finally, the Atlanta retrospective

(Yes, Moshe, this is going to be a really, really long entry. Hush!)

My left ankle is currently swollen and aching. It got considerably worse after I sprinted nearly the entire way to the train station. It was itching because some idiot mosquito bit me in the same place, too. Luckily, the ice pack I made for myself out of my lunchtime Zip-loc bag and some breakroom ice cubes rid me of the itching and reduced some of the swelling–it just hurts now when I put my weight on it and is still kind of puffy. Besides the obvious disadvantage of the pain, it also kind of stinks because it meant that I needed to sit while in the classroom, and I nearly dozed off during my second class this afternoon due to the insane humidity. It made me feel like I hadn’t showered in several days, when I just showered this morning.

Today, I bade farewell to my JTE, who’s heading to England for two months this weekend to do English education research on an exchange program via MEXT (the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology). It’s interesting that they run this program for teachers to go abroad, as well as bringing us into Japan to teach. My teacher was saying that 60 Japanese English teachers are chosen annually and sent to various universities in various countries in five groups of twelve. Because of testing this week, today was my final day of classes (and starting next week, I have two weeks of teaching classes solo at my junior high–I’m excited and nervous simultaneously, because I’ve never planned a junior high lesson before), so today was my last chance to see her. I gave her my e-mail address, so I hope she sends occasional e-mails and photos. I’m honestly going to miss her, and I hope she has an amazing time!

Also today, during my taxi ride from my Monday elementary school to my junior high, the taxi driver–not my usual one, but a guy I’ve traveled with before–struck up a conversation with me about how much crime there is in America. This was something that also came up in my eikaiwa classes on Friday, when I proposed foreign travel as a topic for the day. I can’t help but be a little irked by what a naive assertion it seems to be; due to all the bad stuff they see on the news, it just automatically follows that “America is a dangerous place,” no questions asked. I’ve actually talked to people who believe that guns are everywhere and you’re in real danger of getting shot just by virtue of spending any time in the US! (At least part of that is due to the Halloween incident with the Japanese exchange student who was shot and killed in Louisiana.) At the same time, this is such an isolated country, and a relatively safe one in comparison, and they don’t really seem to be as aware of bias in their news as we out west are (NPR vs. Fox News), so how could they know?

I tried to explain to him that it isn’t just America, and that bad stuff happens in many countries across the world, and that though it’s mainly bad news out of America that they see in Japan, there’s a lot of good that happens as well, and that cities aren’t inherently dangerous places. (I also lied through my teeth and told him that Atlanta is quite a safe place to live–which it is, if you ignore that it had the highest crime rate of any major city in the US for a while, but that’s mainly in the more run-down, inner-city areas. Kennesaw, one of the more “southern” of the northwestern suburbs, actually has an extremely low crime rate because they require all residents to own a gun.) Yeah, it may not be a good idea to walk around in certain cities or areas of cities at night, but similarly, I wouldn’t feel so great about walking around Tokyo or Osaka at night, either. When I had this same discussion with my eikaiwa class (strange that I’d go months without anybody saying anything, and then it’d come up twice in 4 days), I urged them to not be afraid, and told them that they just have to be careful with their belongings and they’ll be just fine. I also emphasized that people in the US are in no danger of being shot just by virtue of living in the US, which was something they honestly thought (this was totally not the way I’d intended for this class to go, mind you), and that it’s really not any more dangerous than other parts of the world.

And I will admit that being in Japan has made me a bit more lax about some things. I know that nothing will happen if I leave my front door unlocked, that I can go to sleep on a train and not really worry about somebody stealing from me, and that I can take my wallet out in broad daylight with no real chance of anything being stolen (while I’m in this town–I certainly wouldn’t do that in a bigger city). That all changes when I go to any big city, though–in Kobe or Osaka, I would never be so lax. And when I was back home, I certainly felt more aware of my possessions and their locations than I usually do while I’m here…but then again, my alien registration card and passport were with me, both of which were crucial for me to return to Japan, and I didn’t want to inadvertently leave anything in the US that I’d need in Japan, like my cellphone.

I was curious about how much my perspective of the city would change in my absence…but to my surprise, it felt like I’d never left. It was astonishing how quickly I settled back in–even on the drive from the airport back to our house, it hadn’t felt like it’d been nearly a year since I’d been on the connector (where I-75 and I-85 merge as they go through the city) and the major Atlanta interstates, and while it did feel wonderful seeing the house again, the next morning it felt like I was just back home for a week, as if I were on break from school and had come up home for a brief leave from Georgia Tech’s campus. I felt a shade of the same dread that had gripped me the night before I left for Japan hovering over my head, and I was worried sick that I would feel even more homesick upon returning to Japan than I did before I left. I was back in a place where everything just worked in a way that I was really familiar with, where I had a choice of vegetarian food options, where I could drive with no problems, where I felt a keen sense of “home” and had a keenly intimate knowledge of the small details of the city, in a way that I know I just don’t and can’t have here. I’m no outsider in Atlanta, the way I always am here–as much as the community has welcomed me in and made me feel at home, I’m still the special guest, and they’ll just reminisce occasionally about me to the next ALT who comes along once I leave, the way they reminisce about my area’s predecessors to me.

I think the biggest surprise of all, though, was that when I got back to Japan, it felt like I hadn’t even been away. I mean, I felt a lot more relaxed and at ease than I did in the weeks leading up to this trip–I miss my family and friends, but my homesickness is pretty much gone, replaced with fond memories, relief and happiness upon seeing my friends, and the knowledge that the 14-15 hours on the planes back home actually go surprisingly quickly in the event that I ever do find myself needing to go home. That’s all I could have hoped for, and I’m really relieved that it’s fallen into place like that.

Some things did catch me by surprise, though. When Ethan and I went to Publix to buy ingredients for the dinner we were making at Bela‘s house, I actually was shocked by how huge Publix was–I’d forgotten the massive difference between our supermarkets back home and the relatively smaller ones in Ikeda. Even our Sunshine, which has a nice selection of foreign foods, doesn’t come close to matching up. I also was mesmerized by how freaking enormous the Atlanta interstates are, particularly on I-75 just north of the perimeter, where it’s 8 lanes wide going north, and around that many going south. EIGHT. I also had forgotten about how prevalent SUVs and those horribly ridiculous Hummers are, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen so many pickup trucks. That was actually my motto for the entire week–“it’s been a while.” I found myself saying it again and again every day.

There were a ton of highlights of this trip. The best part was definitely seeing everybody…my family; Terry and Ryan on Monday; Carol, Jason, and Laura R. for lunch Tuesday; Laura B., one of my best friends, for dinner and frisbee Tuesday night; Jenn on Wednesday; Ethan, Bela, Erik, Matt, and Kati for dinner Thursday; and Miles for lunch on Friday. I also got to talk realtime with Caroline, and my aunt Pradipa and my grandmother in Houston, though I wasn’t able to see them. The food was also quite nice–homemade Indian, restaurant Indian (SAMOSAS), homemade Italian, Chinese, Chili’s, Willy’s, IHOP, vegetarian Rice Krispie treats (!!!) and brownies, and Fellini’s pizza. And of course, the clothing and other shopping. (I’m so glad that Louise clued me into baggage shipping–I packed my carry-on with everything I’d need for my first several days back, but they ended up delivering my suitcase to my apartment the day after I returned.) The weather was hot, but the humidity was so low compared to Japan’s–yes, Atlanta folks, that’s how humid it is here–that my skin actually dried out a bit while I was there!

One thing that struck me after living for a year without driving is what a huge difference public transportation makes, and what a disadvantage Atlanta is at because it depends so heavily on its residents owning cars. MARTA doesn’t really get you where you need to go, and even if it did, our idiot county didn’t want “the wrong sorts of people” coming in (e.g., Hispanic, black, and poor–keep in mind that this is the same county that slapped those humiliating evolution stickers on its science textbooks several years ago), so they never extended the rail lines into the northwest suburbs. I know that once I return, I want to move to a city with a really good public transportation system.

I’m also finally far enough removed from Georgia Tech to come back to a campus full of fond memories that far outweigh the more trying times I had there. Tech is a campus that has a real reputation for breaking its students down and then building them back up, so I really knew very few people there who were truly happy in their classes–and I never was, and I hated hating what I did, until I switched majors, which drastically improved so much for me. This time around, I could totally gloss over all the politics and all the struggle that went with my two absolutely miserable years as a computer science major. The Swann Modern Languages building has been renovated and is beautiful. The school of Literature, Communication, and Culture, where my major was situated, is doing fine. The music department’s…well, it’s hanging in there. I got to spend several hours there on a couple of days, just wandering around and taking photographs and reliving the nostalgia, and seeing how campus has changed, and remembering the fond memories that accompanied so many places on campus.

I also realized, upon talking with my thesis advisor, that the reason I never had a lot of close friends in my major was because the LCC department was their one big cause and they could be a bit overly militaristic about it, whereas the music department and the orchestra were my cause. (I like to think my devotion to the GTSO and Georgia Tech music was a lot more positive, though. And in my brief time there, I think I did make a difference in some ways. It helped that nobody went out of their way to bash the symphony orchestra or the music department–except for this one arrogant idiot I ran into in line at the bursar’s office once, but anyway–while I did get a lot of flak for daring to be a “humanities” major at an engineering school. And what did it get me? An amazing cultural experience in Japan, which I can fully appreciate because of my culture and the awareness my major instilled in me, and which I may not have gotten if I’d let computer science completely run me into the ground.)

Generally, the culture in Atlanta also feels different, after living around people from the Pacific Northwest and from around the world, though this area of the prefecture in particular mainly has ALTs from Oregon, Washington, and Canada, with one from Hawaii (who went to college in Portland) and two from the UK (who I don’t hang out with often). That’s due to their sister-city relationships with various towns in the northwest. But I never realized what a cultural difference there is between them and us. I do enjoy Atlanta, I enjoy the warmth of the people and the atmosphere…but I do yearn for something a bit more world-aware, which I’ve gotten when I’ve visited other cities in the US. I can get that when I’m in Midtown and around Tech’s campus, by far my favorite part of Atlanta…but I can’t really get it anywhere else. At the same time, when hanging out with Miles (who’s spent a large chunk of his life in the southeast, though he’s lived a few places, and is now in Santa Barbara for grad school) a week from this past Friday, he mentioned that there are plenty of ignorant people in California, despite it being a markedly more liberal state, and that you just can’t escape stupid people. That’s true, but you can place yourself in an environment that generally agrees with your outlook on life and the world.

This was a trip for me to immerse myself in familiar surroundings, and it felt so wonderful to be back. I could already see that my views on and of some things have changed, though, and I wonder what would happen if I live in Atlanta in a long-term capacity again. It’ll always be my home and where I’m from, and I’m proud of it–it’s a great place with a lot of spirit and warmth. I just wonder where I’ll be after I return from Japan, and if it’ll fit the person I’ll be when I return. The lack of permanence of this situation is hitting me, since we’re coming up on the time of year that signifies a massive transition for the ALTs and the JET community, and seeing the preparations the departing ALTs are making is giving me an idea of what’s in store for me this time next year. It was a year ago that I was prepping to come over here–I still am not sure how much I’ve changed, or if I have at all (I’d be really interested to see what the friends I saw in Atlanta think), but looking back on that now, I do see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned. You can’t not learn while you’re here–this is just one of those Big Life-Changing Experiences. I’d be interested to see exactly how life-changing it becomes, and whether I’ll still be seeing the ramifications of my decision to come to Japan and my time here in the years and decades that follow.