Language and culture

It was interesting, talking to an Indian man last night and having the only common language between us be Japanese. I’m not used to that–I’ve been under the impression that a lot of Indians speak English due to the British influence in India, but I guess not. (This was the chef at Masala, the restaurant on the 5th floor of Tokushima station that serves mediocre curry and amazing naan.)

I was in Tokushima yesterday afternoon and evening, just hanging out and getting out of Ikeda for a while. I’m starting to stock up on more winter clothes (I love you, Uniqlo), though my furniture situation is still unchanged, but my supervisor’s thinking about what we can do. I also took a look at some jackets–really expensive, but I’d imagine the price would be similar at home; I’ve never bought a real, heavy winter jacket before. I just have a knee-length wool coat. I haven’t made any purchases yet, but I may have to soon.

I had another fun language encounter this evening, when I went by the 100-yen store to try to find dehumidifiers, except I couldn’t remember the Japanese word for “dehumidifier,” so I tried to explain that I wanted a plastic box that makes the air not humid…except apparently “mushiatsui” doesn’t mean humid, because the really nice and well-meaning (and cute) clerk kept asking, “Samui? Cold?” He finally pulled out a pad and a pen and I sketched it, and he figured it out, only to realize that it was sold out. Boo.

So, happy Halloween, and happy early Diwali/Deepavali/however-you-spell-it. No costume this year, and my 100-yen reindeer antlers finally broke beyond repair (it cracked my kids up today to see me walking around class with one droopy antler, though), but that’s all right–helping a bunch of kids to make masks of their own was dressing up enough for me. I have a few photos I’ll post soon, whenever I get around to downloading and editing my photos. (And Aimee–I did snap some photos of the river/fault area for you, when I was walking from the train station to my school this morning. Hopefully you’ll see something of interest there.)

Tomorrow I have a class that I’m stressing over…it’s a double-length class at the school I go to every other week (but this’ll be the first time in a month that I’ve been there–I’m going there 4 out of the 5 Tuesdays in this month, actually), which is stressful in and of itself, but it wouldn’t be bad except that the kids’ parents and apparently people from the community want to sit in and watch it! I would have easily spent at least half the class doing the Halloween party thing, but that’s obviously a no-go for tomorrow. So right now, I want to spend one half talking about Halloween and its equivalent in other cultures (Japan has one called Obon, Spain has La Dia de los Muertos, and there are plenty more), and I want to spend the other half talking about Diwali. I just don’t want it to be boring…for the Diwali half, I’m hoping to do illustrations of the Ramayana story that inspires the North Indian celebrations (the South India one is a little less auspicious–a battle between Krishna and some demon/evil force–but the Northern story just makes for better storytelling because it’s detailed and longer–time’s my big concern), and while it would be cool to attempt to do some religious art, since Hindu art is absolutely beautiful, I may have to take some liberties and chibi-fy everything so the kids will have more fun with it. (Sorry, gods.) I also want to show the kids examples of kolam and give them paper with dots on it so they can try to draw their own. I’m just trying to figure out how to make this all a little less boring, the first half in particular.

It’s funny how Japan is putting me in touch with my own roots so much. I just hope that what I found online is accurate. (Mom and Dad, I may be giving you a call tonight just to verify my facts.)

And in the spirit of Diwali, I’m finally going to use the new vacuum I bought a couple of weeks ago. I’ve never vacuumed in the 3 months I’ve lived here–I’ve dusted fairly regularly, but a tatami room throws a lot of particles into the air just by virtue of being what it is. I had a couple of books sitting on the floor for a couple of days and I had to wipe them off when I picked them up.

Okay, time to get to work…I’ve been thinking about putting together a photographic Day In The Life, and just taking photos of my daily routine and all my schools over the next couple of weeks and compiling them online somewhere. Let’s see how that goes–now that I’m back online, I’ve been trying to work on an update for my Pirates of Dark Water website, and I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to motivate myself to do any serious web work. I think the fact that I’m on a laptop (instead of having a separate keyboard and monitor) and sitting on the floor (instead of at a desk) is contributing to that. That’s also why I haven’t been updating my Flickr account too much. Well, hopefully I’ll get it all together soon, so I can keep you all updated and keep on top of my design/web coding skills.

Anyway! Later, guys. :o)


I figured out how to turn the heat on. SCORE.

(yes, I’m wasting a whole entry just to cheer about this. My hands and feet are no longer numb!)

Three months

Today’s the 3-month anniversary of my arriving in Tokushima prefecture and the town of Ikeda (a third the size of my hometown, with the heat of Nevada and the humidity of Florida, it was reputed) and setting foot in this apartment. I spent today throwing Halloween parties at the 2 elementary schools I teach at on Thursdays, paying off the balance on my plane ticket to India, and spending time online doing research for my eikaiwa classes tomorrow morning (to no, or very little, avail, as usual). Lindsay came over for a little while tonight as well, and we hung out while I offered her tea and cookies (Danish butter cookies, Mom and Dad, the ones we buy at home all the time in those dark blue metal tins–I bought a tin for one of my schools without realizing I’d already bought something else to give them, so I have to finish them off now…it looks like I’ll have very willing help, at least).

I’m going back and reading the Word-file journal I kept up–I haven’t updated it over the past month or so, but I guess that’s all right; I have internet so I can definitely document the more important things that I want to remember, and I’ve been writing down other observations. It’s interesting to see how far I’ve come. I remember honestly freaking out a little bit once I got here and saw how old and run-down the town was, and how small and barren and empty the apartment was, and how I was missing so many appliances, and how I thought I didn’t have a pillow to sleep on (I did and just missed it), and how my big Herbal Essences shampoo bottle leaked a bit but I didn’t have a washing machine yet to wash the leaked-on items. (I’d brought Sam’s-Club-size bottles of Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner; the conditioner I finished about a month ago, and I’m just finishing up the shampoo now.)

I’m also laughing about how I wrote how I was considering leaving the air conditioner on overnight because it was oppressively hot. I’m trying to translate my a/c’s remote control right now, because room temperature is somehow considerably colder than it is outside in the evenings and it’s a bit nippy in here right now. I can only barely remember what it was like this summer.

I’ve come pretty far these past 3 months. But it’s funny, because I can’t believe how quickly they’ve flown. Recontracting season is beginning, but I only now feel like I’ve really gained a foothold here, and I still don’t have all my furniture, though my boss came to talk to me today about getting a wardrobe. (It’s totally not her responsibility to help me out, since this wasn’t at all specified in my contract, but I really do appreciate that she’s trying so hard to make sure I’m settled, despite juggling her work on top of taking care of Lindsay and me.) I’m only now really beginning to settle in, and so much time has already gone by. Before I know it, it’ll be time to make the decision on recontracting. Three months ago, I was so worried about how I’d manage, and now the question of whether or not I want to commit to another 12 months somewhere in Japan is approaching pretty rapidly.

But my apartment does have the 2-range stove and microwave/toaster/oven and TV/VCR and washing machine that were promised, as well as the kotatsu and fridge and futon and A/C that were already here. And I have 2 plastic chest of drawers (one in my oshiire, one in my tatami room), a tall bookcase that’s serving as my kitchen pantry, a short bookcase that’s sitting next to Allison’s old TV stand that Hannah donated, a pedestal fan, an extra futon pillow, a shower curtain, and a lot of lived-in clutter with no place to go just yet. (And a ton of persimmons.) This is serious space management–I thought I’d be ready for it since I was used to living in the dorms at Georgia Tech, but I’m not used to dealing with not having anywhere to put these things! I’m not living out of my suitcases anymore, but the box my parents shipped my winter clothes in is still serving as a clothing storage unit in lieu of my having a real chest of drawers and a wardrobe. (I think that when I do get a real chest of drawers, this plastic one will move to the back of my oshiire–that’s my futon closet–and serve as storage for out-of-season clothes and other stuff I’m not going to use regularly.)

I was hoping to write something more introspective, but it’s been a long week and I’m a bit tired, and I should get offline and keep working on translating my remote, which I’ve been wanting to do for the past week or so. Maybe future entries will make up for it. (And I lied again–still nothing about my kids, but I did at least take photos at my 2 elementary schools today. I’ll pull them onto my computer and upload them soon.) Good night, folks.

Okay, so I lied

This entry isn’t going to be about my kids, like I promised (sorry, Michelle). Instead, it’s going to be a really short one on generosity.

I have about 30 persimmons (or “kaki” in Japanese–they’re in season in southern Japan, if you didn’t know) sitting around my kitchen, courtesy of one of my eikaiwa students, one of the women in the board of education, my landlord (I think–I came back from class one day to find a plastic bag hanging from my doorknob with kaki inside), and a woman who I’ve only seen in passing because her house is situated on a slope overlooking the bus stop where I am 3 afternoons a week (though she went all the way up to her house and back down just to give me a bag of kaki).

Aimee, a longtime online friend–almost 9 years’ worth of on-and-off correspondence, in fact–just offered today, out of the blue, to mail me her extra winter and long-sleeve clothes that she no longer needs because she isn’t living in a frigid area anymore and she bought too much to begin with, even before finding out that we do in fact wear the same shirt size. And she’s offering to do it completely for free, asking only for Hello Kitty earrings or Japanese rocks (she studied geology) and pictures of the Yoshinogawa fault line.

I gave Terry back home a call tonight (well, two, because my modem cut off in the middle) and she’s definitely coming to Japan to visit at some point next year. She even has a backup lined up in case our friend Ryan can’t come–her friend Della, who I’ve met and who’s a total sweetheart. I love having this internet phone–I just hope the calls are as cheap as they’ve been marketed to be and that I won’t have a nasty surprise waiting for me (to balance out the pleasant surprise my cellphone bill will be, due to an utter lack of use and the upgrading of my plan).

I don’t know what I did to deserve such warmth and generosity in my life, but I just hope I keep doing it.

Good night, everyone. I love you all.

My eikaiwa classes have presented me with a new and unprecedented source of discomfort: now, it seems inevitable that if I ask my students what they did in the last week, they’ll tell me they went to one or more funerals of friends.

For the past several weeks, there seem to have been quite a few deaths among the friends and acquaintances of my eikaiwa students. Some of the funerals made my students miss class, and other times they would tell me about it while recapping the week’s events. The majority of my students are at least 50 years old, with quite a few in their 60s and even their 70s, so I guess they’re reaching The Age where this starts happening to people in their lives on a regular basis. The most awkward part, though, happened in my intermediate class, where several of the women are pretty much inseparable friends. One of them attended a funeral of a person she and another student were friends with–and that second student hadn’t heard this person had passed away until the first student brought it up in class. She had to dig out her handkerchief and wipe at her eyes and silently compose herself for a moment.

And I don’t really know how to handle it…of course I’m sympathetic and I offer my condolences, but when it’s a class setting (albeit a loose one, but still, I’m the teacher and they’re my students, despite being older than my parents for the most part) and not just a group of people talking casually, what do I do? How can I gracefully and tactfully move on with the class?

My classes are sort of falling into place…sort of. For now I’m sort of depending on the fact that my JTE at my junior high has her own lesson plan she incorporates me into, because it frees me up to concentrate on how to make my elementary school and eikaiwa lessons work. I’ve wanted to write more about how my classes actually go, but it’s tough to just summarize them without just parroting back the basic lesson plan, because every class is very different. Each group of students, whether 8 or 58, has its own very distinct dynamic. I have elementary classes which are really happy to see me, and others which are shy and harboring on unenthusiastic. I have classes that I can share some real rapport with, classes that I can joke around with and that already share inside jokes of a sort with me, and I have classes where I wonder why the kids won’t say anything and whether or not it’s something I’m doing to make them keep their distances.

All my classes are at different points, too…there are of course the 3 grades of junior high kids, and each grade has 2 homerooms, and though I’m only there one day a week while they learn English daily, I can already see that some classes are pushing ahead a bit while others are falling behind. And I have some super-genki (and, dare I say it, loud…I wonder how my JTE doesn’t lose her voice trying to shout over those kids) kids and others who stare blankly at me and then exchange knowingly helpless grins with their friends.

And among my elementaries, due to the differing schedules and the staggered start times while the term was lurching to a start, I have one school that’s 3 weeks ahead of some of the others. I have another school that won’t meet at all for the month of October, but I only go there every other week anyway. It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep them straight and to keep up with all of them. I have a day where I have 2 back-to-back elementary school lessons, and the first school’s a week ahead of the second, so it isn’t just as simple as repeating my lesson. I also have to tweak my lesson subtly for every class, and the students themselves will take the rules for my games (heh, “my”–more like ideas from Dave’s ESL Cafe,, and the Teamwork Tokushima writers of old, with some tweaking to suit my purposes) and interpret them a little differently in each class.

At the same time, when I use really vague terms like “a lot of effort” and “I plan lessons” without elaborating and giving details, I don’t know if that really helps any current or prospective JETs reading this. So for example, here are a couple of the games I’ve created/doctored:

  • Face Race: this was adapted from Dave’s ESL Cafe. I wrote eye, nose, mouth, chin, ear, and hair on separate slips of paper and put them into a little Zip-loc bag. The classes are already divided into teams, so I’d have the team members come up and janken (rock/paper/scissors–it’s huge here) to decide the order of the teams. I’d then have the teams compete against each other to draw a face on the board the most quickly. It gave the kids a chance to get really creative, and they did some really crazy and hilarious stuff.
  • Robot Game: after I ran the kids through the English words for directions (which many of my kids already knew to some degree, because my predecessor treated these English classes as real lessons and taught them a lot of stuff…but having someone ask you, “left wa nihongo de nan to iimasu ka?” is different than actually using it actively, which is my aim with all these games–to get them to use English in small and fun ways). I then had one person from each team come up, one at a time, and stand at the front of the room. Their team members would have to tell them, “go,” “stop,” “left,” “right,” “back,” and so on, and have them navigate around the room. Sometimes the teachers jumped in and made kids move back and forth and back and forth, which made all the kids start giggling. If there was a lot of time, I’d have each of the kids be the robot, and if there was still time, I’d jump in at the end and have all the students in the class take turns commanding me around the room.

Since it’s October and Halloween’s in a few weeks (and they do know Halloween–Universal Studios Japan had a huge fright-themed parade with lots of folks in costume parading around, and a lot of Halloween-themed decor as well), I want to start doing more season-themed activities for the next few weeks, and then having a fun Halloween Day either on the day of or the week before. I found a sheet of 16 Frankenstein-like figures in one of my Teamwork Tokushima packets (they’re seasonal publications put together by former JETs that are full of games for elementary, middle, high school, and special needs students, as well as English club and eikaiwa situations), with subtle differences between each face, and someone had come up with a game asking how many had hair, how many had big noses, and so on. So I did that yesterday, and then asked the kids to color the faces in and went around asking them to describe one of the faces, including what color the face was. For next week I want to come up with something else that progresses English while using a Halloween theme. I think about 3 or 4 of my schools are within a week of each other; the stragglers should still get at least 1 lesson before Halloween Day, where I want to have them make masks and jack-o-lanterns (on construction paper) and give them candy while talking to them about Halloween out west. I doubt they’d be at all interested that it used to be an old festival to ward off the spirits of the dead, so I won’t really bother with that.

I also really want to talk about more international/world-related things with my eikaiwa, since they’re very interested in me as an English-speaking person as well as a multicultural person. One of the students in my intermediate class is currently in Australia, so it would be cool to do a unit in there using some more advanced conversations, like a travel agent scenario. I’d also like to have them come back to me (beginner and intermediate) with several minutes of content prepared on different Japanese customs, and maybe we can have a food day, where I dig up a bunch of easy-to-make foreign snack foods and have everyone prepare something different.

I do have a lot of planning to do this week, to get that started…I’m out of town from Saturday through Tuesday. I’m very eager for this week to be done with so I can travel again, but to finish the week off I still have a lot to do.

Strange day

I got my first disparaging/insulting comment yesterday.

I was at one of my elementary schools–afternoon classes were canceled (due to the school having a Human Rights Day where parents could come in and watch their kids’ classes as the teachers talked about equal rights for everyone and being kind towards your fellow man and whatnot), but they’d forgotten to tell me since last Friday was a holiday, so I walked in and was met with confused-then-alarmed-then-apologetic looks. The teacher of the class I work with walked in and sat at his desk, looking thoroughly exhausted, and I said hello and gave him a polite smile and a bow, and he looked at me, blinked sluggishly, and went, “Eh?” It was cute. ;o)

Anyway, a little later, one of the teachers, one who spent some time in the US and speaks English, offered to take me around to see what all the classes were doing. I thought that was sweet of her, so I went along, and she explained what each class was talking about as we went, and talked a little bit about the differences between American and Japanese schools.

As we were walking down a hall to get to the last 2 of the 6 classrooms in the school, we passed some woman I’d never seen before, possibly a parent. She smiled at us and then said, in Japanese, “Sensei, it must be a burden on you to have to take care of this ___!” I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was an insult describing me and pitying the teacher for having to babysit me, and essentially saying that because she assumed I was a foreigner and therefore knew nothing about Japan or its culture or language, it was a big nuisance for the teacher to deal with me.

But justice was at hand: the teacher immediately smiled back and replied, “Oh, no, no, it’s no problem at all! And she speaks Japanese very well!”

The smile on the woman’s face froze in place. And after a brief moment of silence as she and I stared at each other, she mumbled a quick “shitsurei shimasu” (excuse me, I’m intruding) and hurried off.

I’d almost forgotten that there were some people who really didn’t take kindly to foreigners, considering that I’d had an exceptionally warm reception thus far. I was able to brush off her comment quite easily, but it left me feeling fairly uneasy–I am a foreigner, in a country that’s literally 99% Japanese. It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

I also had to deal with a perpetually drunken guy who likes to go eikaiwa-hopping (like bar-hopping, except he goes to a different eikaiwa every week). His English was quite good, better than the ladies in my intermediate eikaiwa, but he said he really wanted to join my beginners class, or something…and one of the normally warm and sweet women in my intermediate class took a minute to talk to him in fairly icy tones, and I later found out that he’d come by before and my predecessor had told him to not come if he was going to come drunk. He behaved himself, and was fairly friendly, if a little odd, but he did interrupt several times with totally unrelated questions. But it’s weird–I was put into kind of a strange situation. These students all knew him, but it was on me to take the authoritative step. And later that day, I spent 50 minutes going back and forth with one of the women in the community center who was trying to tell me something about him, except I just couldn’t understand her…finally, though, with the help of Excite’s babelfish software, we figured it out, and essentially he isn’t allowed back because of a 10-person-maximum rule my predecessor had instated, and somebody had called to request the 10th slot in one of my classes the week before he came by the community center and invited himself over.

Other than that, things are going well…it’s just hard to keep up with all my elementary schools, because I think there’s one that’s now 3 or maybe 4 weeks behind the one that’s managed to convene every week since the start of term. My junior high’s okay–it’s a relief to not have to manage those classes and to follow my JTE’s lead. I also got a really cute hand-drawn thank-you card from my two speech contest girls–oh! They ended up not winning; both of Lindsay’s kids at Ikeda Chuugakkou won, which honestly surprised everybody, Lindsay included. Everyone did agree that my kids were the most natural of the bunch, though, but despite 2 of the 3 judges being past/present ALTs and agreeing that the contest should be decided on who seems to have the best grasp of how to use English, the contest was decided based on Japanese criteria: did they memorize everything and not pause or lose their place at all? We all think it’s pretty unfair, and rote memorization says nothing about how well you’ve mastered a language, but…well, oh well. My kids know they did well, and they’re doing just fine.

The one thing I’ve been lamenting is the lack of a classical music following here–but there’s a concert tomorrow with music arranged by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra that I’m going to with Yuri, the fiancee of a JET in Sadamitsu; and I’m taking my violin when I go visit Louise next weekend in Fukushima-ken, so we can play some duet music or something together; and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra themselves are coming and doing a pops concert within the next couple of months; and there’s a romantic piano concert up in Takamatsu during midweek in early November. When it rains, it pours–except it’s raining classical music, which is totally fine with me!

The weather’s also started to chill a little bit–I had to wear my fleece several days last week. But just in time, my box from home arrived on Thursday, so I have all my winter clothes, DVDs, a few books, shoes, my stuffed hippo Crinkles that I’ve had since I was a little kid, and food (peanut butter, Velveeta Mac&Cheese, Thin Mints, Famous Amos chocolate-chip cookies, and vacuum-sealed Indian curries). It was like Christmas! So many goodies in one beat-up but resilient box. I may go make some macaroni now and then go and walk around for a while, so…till next time.

Posting from school

(Sorry about the weird cut-off entry before. I didn’t realize that Ctrl-S, which I inadvertently hit when going for the shift key, would post the entry.)

I took the train this morning, walked the mile-ish in the searing heat and uphill, spent 10-15 minutes cooling down and almost 2 hours patiently waiting and trying to look productive until my class started…and then I found out that today’s schedule was changed and I don’t have any classes today. But it’s my day to be at school, and I have speech contest coaching at 4 PM, so I have to stay, instead of heading back to town and running errands and working on my elementary school/eikaiwa lessons (all my planning materials are at my desk in the community center, and I have nothing I can plan for my JHS classes). There was a thread at Chiisai Sudachi about what to do to kill time, and spending time online is one of the things you shouldn’t do…but there are no English clubs at this school (only athletic ones and the brass band), I only did my first classes yesterday and have 2 more sets which will both be self-intro sessions, and…yeah. Nothing to do.

So classes are in session–but what they say about September is true; it’s a crazy month. Last week I had no class Monday or Wednesday due to prepping for the sports day that was this past Monday, and last Tuesday I would have had class but Typhoon 14 canceled that. That’s my junior high situation; my elementary schools are still falling into place. I’ve now taught at 4 of my 6–I had introductory lessons last Monday at one school and last Thursday at two, a secondary lesson at one Monday (before heading off to my junior high’s sports day), and another introductory one yesterday. And next week we have Monday and (I think) Friday off, Tuesday’s the sports contest, and because my junior high has a culture festival Saturday and Sunday, they have no school on Tuesday and Wednesday. I was skipping all my classes Tuesday for the speech contest regardless, but I’m only visiting my elementary school next Wednesday now.

The thing about my Tuesday school, though…it’s not far, but it’s a 25-minute drive because 20 minutes of the drive are up a mountain. I’m going to eventually learn how to drive, but this is one school I CANNOT drive to. The BOE and the school know it, so they’ve decided I’m only teaching biweekly lessons there that are 2 class periods long. It’s almost a shame, because the view from the school is breathtaking, and the school itself is beautiful, with really friendly and welcoming staff and really fun students. That isn’t to say that all my schools haven’t been that way, but they really particularly extended the red carpet to me yesterday.

Another ironic thing–the more schools I go to, the more tenants in my apartment building I meet. I met a teacher yesterday who lives next door to me. So now I know the other 3 tenants on my floor (all 4 of us are teachers), 2 tenants on the 3rd floor (1 teacher, 1 high school student), and 1 or 2 tenants on the 2nd floor, and I know of 1 gentleman on the 1st floor. I guess our building has essentially become teachers’ housing–even married teachers will live here during the week and go home to their families during the weekends. And high schools here are almost like colleges–junior high students have to take entrance exams to get into the high school of their choice, and they either have to travel or move to attend said school. It’s not like at home, where I went to the high school 2 miles down the road just because it was the closest one. My brother’s in a math/science magnet program at a slightly further-away school, which is roughly equivalent, since kids from all over the county apply to get into magnet programs like that. But he still lives at home. Here, it’s quite common for students to actually move out.

Generally, I’ve really been enjoying myself. The idea of planning lessons is still really daunting and intimidating, but I’m getting help and trying to figure things out. The hardest things are keeping track of all the schools (each class has made slightly different progress, so while my Monday elementary school knows the full alphabet, yesterday’s didn’t), figuring out what I want to do next, and keeping up my energy level…once my schedule settles down, I’m visiting 2 schools/locations every day. Every class has a different feel to it…I team-taught two 2nd-year junior high classes yesterday (the equivalent of 8th grade in the states…and it’s honestly a big relief to have someone else, namely my Japanese Teacher of English, take the lead), and the first was really quiet and barely smiled at all, but the second was full of energy and really fascinated by my self-introduction and the following lesson.

A couple of funny/embarrassing moments: at one of my Thursday elementary schools last week, I had all the kids do really basic self-intros that they already knew how to do. One girl got through “my name is” and “I am from”…and then she started crying. There were 3 teachers also in the room, though, so one went over to her and coached her through the rest, and then we ended up playing a game that got the kids running and moving around the room, and she had a huge grin on her face, so that was really gratifying.

Before all that, though, they had a Q&A with me, where the students could ask me questions in English (I responded in Japanese to make it easier for them). After they finished, one of the (male) teachers chimed in with, “This is question they’re probably too shy to ask but that I’m sure they’re wondering…do you have a boyfriend?” (Right. I’m sure they were wondering about it. ;P) I ended up getting the question at least 3 times that day, out of nowhere–nobody had ever brought it up earlier and nobody has done so since.

And yesterday, after playing the same running-around game at the mountain-top elementary school, I launched into my lesson…and didn’t realize I forgot to tell the kids to sit down until their teacher chimed in and asked if they could sit. That was kind of bad, but nobody looked particularly upset…the kids just looked relieved to be off their feet, and I apologized about 7 times for it.

We’re also sort of approaching that point where the initial “new shiny feel” is wearing off. The town hasn’t lost any of its warmth, though I’m getting a bit irked from the stares I still receive from the same people I see regularly (my train this morning was the same one I caught yesterday, and at least 2 of the 3 men aboard today were on yesterday, and though they stared openly at me then, they did it again this time), and I’ve honestly gotten a little burned out from the general submissive nature that many women, particularly on TV, exhibit. And anime…oh my god. There are actually a few series that I might consider keeping up with (amazingly, there’s this show about American football that’s not bad, and I saw one yesterday titled “Ja Pan,” as a play on the name Japan, but refering to bread, since the Japanese word for bread is “pan”…there’s also Naruto, which I kept up with at home, and which is coming on tonight!), but most of it is such trite, overdone crap. The absolute worst I’ve seen is “Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch,” a shoujo anime (if the name didn’t give it away) about 3 girls who transform into mermaid princesses decked out in super-frilly dresses who beat enemies by singing at them into their magical karaoke microphones. I don’t have to even understand the dialogue to know what’s going to happen next, because it’s already happened dozens of times in other series.

Past that, though…I’m also realizing that while all the ALTs/CIRs here are my friends essentially by default, I really have only known them for 6-7 weeks, and I don’t know them well at all. I got a bit of a shock last week from one person in particular…things ended up working out generally, but it’s sort of opened my eyes. I’m generally a trusting person, but I need to use common sense and realize that the friendships I’m establishing here just don’t parallel the ones I have back home, or at least not yet. We still have so much more to know about each other. And for me in particular, it’s tough to really build on some of the friendships I started to make with people elsewhere, since I have no way to see them except for taking the trains, and they’re far enough away that I can’t just be spontaneous about it.

But no situation is perfect. This is normal life. I’ve stopped looking at it as a break away from my life and am now seeing it as the next step of my life. I have an apartment and a job and friends here. I buy groceries and pay utilities. It isn’t just a vacation–not anymore.

Though speaking of vacations, I talked to Louise and we want to plan some kind of trip to somewhere in between both of us (she’s north of Tokyo) in a month when we both have a 3-day weekend. It’ll feel so good to see a familiar face, and she herself was saying that she feels a bit lonely there because she has nothing in common with many of the ALTs who are there and they haven’t been extremely welcoming…maybe we can find a Starbucks and hang out and reminisce.

Okay, lunch time…wish me luck in finding something to do that makes me look productive!

Posted this yesterday, but it didn’t go through

I’m thinking that instead of just writing about what I’ve done every single day (which is what my Word-file journal has consisted of lately), I’m just going to directly start posting in here about my actual experiences and thoughts about the country and culture, because that’s what I really want to come away with and hang onto for years to come. And I think that was one of the original aims of this journal that I’ve since overlooked.

In the last month or so, I’ve experienced:

  • my first classes (2 eikaiwas, which are adult conversation classes and fairly casual, and 1 elementary school lesson, which I can reuse for the other 5 schools…no junior high classes till next week)
  • language barrier issues (minoring in Japanese does nothing for you unless you get out there and actively use the language…I wish I’d realized this while I was still in school, but at least I still know enough that I’ve been able to get by just fine)
  • 2 enkais (employee parties, one for my Board of Education staff that welcomed me and said goodbye to my predecessor and that I didn’t have to pay for, and a start-of-term one for the teachers at my junior high school that was a lot more expensive than I realized)
  • half a typhoon (it veered north and we only got a really windy rainstorm last night)
  • some homesickness, and feeling pretty isolated and a bit depressed and out of sorts (weird, because I do have 2 other ALTs in my building, but they have people here they’re already close to and I miss having really close friends near by)
  • Japanese roads (no driving yet, but plenty of riding, which is more than enough to keep me from learning how to drive…though my job’s requiring me to learn now)
  • food difficulties (I’ve eaten egg in some form or another on an almost daily basis…I’m really worried about where my cholesterol’s going to be once my time in Japan is finished)
  • massive use of public transportation (pretty much unheard of in Atlanta, which is a very car-heavy city, but here I take buses and trains everywhere, and I love it!)
  • humidity, humidity, humidity (…enough said)
  • fame and fortune (er, sort of…I’ve been in the town newsletter, and when the Tokushima JETs had orientation several weeks ago, we attended a ningyo/puppetry demonstration and were allowed to play with the puppets afterwards, and someone was there videotaping us–it turns out he’s with the Tokushima news, and they got a close-up of me from below, so I evidently looked extremely tall…I heard about this from my eikaiwa students, fellow teachers and BOE/community center employees, and even my landlord, though I didn’t witness it myself. So fame, but not much fortune, unless you count my getting paychecks)
  • making international reservations (I’m going to India in December! The ticket vouchers and visa paperwork are in the mail)
  • the requisite stomach problems (it figures that Pepto-Bismol was the one thing we didn’t pack–but we found the Japanese alternative)
  • intensely beautiful natural surroundings (mountains all around, and when doing a homestay in Kamiyama we hiked up to a waterfall, and the weather’s either been hot, cloudy, or rainy, but nothing worse, and it was all beautiful)
  • compliments on my chopstick usage
  • a culinary faux pas…you apparently do eat the pits of the tiny bean-like plums that come with your food, and you do not take the pits out of your mouth and put them back on the plate; this one actually elicited a gasp from our host. Nice.
  • impromptu and planned speeches (the planned one was to the 130-odd students and dozen or so faculty at my junior high school; the impromptu ones were at enkais and teacher meetings)
  • repeated issuing of my jikoshoukai (self-introduction)
  • inquiring about vegetarian food, to the point that I have my spiel completely down pat because I do it once every several days
  • that I’m already getting tired of what little Japanese food I actually can eat, and I miss really robust and flavorful foods
  • some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had, courtesy of a restaurant in town with a cook that actually was trained in Italy (of all the places to find an authentic bistro, it’s in our town!)
  • amazing, amazing authentic Sri Lankan food on my birthday
  • a huge outpouring of warmth and support from the other ALTs in my prefecture, specifically on the north side–despite all of us being strangers, 11 of us got together on a Monday night (last Monday, in fact) to celebrate my birthday
  • many, many stares (the vast majority of which dissolve into warm smiles and bows once I greet them, bow, and smile, but they almost always expect me to do it first), and cars slowing down so the drivers can take a look at me
  • the huge impact baseball has had over here (they air every single game involving a west coast team, I swear, but they’re all American League, so I can’t watch the Braves in action)
  • a strong feeling of patriotism for Atlanta, and a strong(er) wave of disdain and disgust for the Bush administration, now that I can view them from non-US-media-influenced eyes
  • an acute helplessness at not being able to help others in my country out during a time of need (I’m of course talking about Hurricane Katrina), and outrage at how poorly the situation was handled and the depths that the people themselves sank to, in and outside the affected areas
  • guilt and helplessness over trying to not seem like I’m slacking off at my job (I have nothing to do…my eikaiwas right now involve minimal planning since I’m trying to get the hang of them, and I only really have to plan one elementary school lesson and then tweak it for all the different schools I go to, and I’m an assistant teacher at my junior high and the teacher doesn’t plan the lessons till the night before)
  • realization that Georgia is indeed a lazy and lax part of the country (Lindsay and Hannah, the other ALTs in my building, are from the Pacific Northwest, and they have very conservation-oriented mentalities, much more so than anybody from home does)
  • realization that not all parts of the US shut down on Sundays the way Georgia does
  • realization that the world really isn’t such a foreign place, and while basic customs might be different, the same warmth and generosity is prevalent everywhere, though especially in smaller and more personal/personalized towns, as compared to big mega-cities like Tokyo or Osaka
  • realizing how much I love and miss my friends and family
  • realizing that whenever I do return to Atlanta, many of those friends won’t be there anymore, and I’ll have to essentially start over, the way I started over when I came here
  • realizing that I’m probably not going to get around to taking my GREs in time to get started on applying for masters programs in the fall of 2006, and staying for an extra year in Japan doesn’t seem like a bad prospect at all right now

…and if I think of anything else, I’ll jot it down and add it here later.

Just a quick one

I’m here and I’m all right. I have to run in just a bit, because they’re delivering some new appliances to my apartment…my predecessor moved this past week, so they finally got to go through his things and see what they could give me, and they deemed many of the things to be too old, so I’m getting his VCR and space heater, and otherwise I’m getting all new things–TV, 2-range gas stove, microwave/toaster/oven, washing machine…it’ll be wonderful. Though I’m struggling with making the optimum use of my limited space, but I’ll figure something out. I’ve spent less money than I realized, so I can splurge on some space-saving furniture (like a small entertainment center/TV stand and a wardrobe for my clothes).

In general, my weeks have been really uneventful, but my weekends have been extremely busy. Oh, I’ve been posting photos to my Flickr account, so please do take a look…I have about 100 more from the past week or so that I have to put up (and I tried last night, but it didn’t quite work). Let’s see…2 weeks ago we met up in Tokushima City for a get-to-know-you evening; we’d split up into 6 groups (of my group of 8, I was the only girl, though the guys in my group were just great) for the English camp we worked at last weekend, so the 2-weeks-ago meet-up was to let us get acquainted with our groups and to tour the city a bit. Last week was an English camp from Friday through Sunday for junior and senior high schoolers, and then dancing the Awa Odori in Tokushima City, and then some orientation on Monday, and this past weekend was a homestay in a beautiful, beautiful town called Kamiyama.

I’ve been meeting a lot of people and I still don’t have everybody’s names down…it’s funny, because before I got to Japan, I’d posted to our AJET messageboard maybe 7 or 8 times, but people would go, “Oh yeah, I recognize you from Sudachi!” I also had people who’d found this site (probably through Sudachi as well) and would say, “Oh yeah, I found your website–I feel like I already know you!” It’s been surprising but kind of funny. But the JETs here in general are a great group–there’s nobody that I don’t like and we all get along so well.

I’ve also visited all of my schools now…I’m currently in the process of figuring out how to get my first eikaiwa (community language classes) set up for this Friday, and figuring out my school schedule. I’ve been going to my junior high, Ikeda Daiichi Chuugakkou, and coaching these 2 wonderful girls for the upcoming JHS English speech competition. My elementary school situation is still ambiguous; my board of education cut back on those classes for me so that I wouldn’t have to drive through the really narrow mountain roads a lot, but it’s effectively screwing over the students as a result, because they’re going from having weekly classes to monthly ones and they’ll never learn anything that way. I already told my boss at the BOE that while learning how to drive on those roads is quite a challenge, I wouldn’t mind doing so if it means that the kids get more classes.

This is sort of a vague entry, I know…I’ve kind of decided that I’ll wait to start putting entries up until I set up internet access at my place. Though if I get a chance to post them beforehand, of course I’ll do so…I just spend all my time using Hannah’s computer on catching up on websites, replying e-mails, and uploading photos, so by the time I finish with that, 2 hours have passed and I don’t want to intrude on her kindness any longer. I’m on a laptop at work now, but it’s old enough that it won’t support my USB flash drive, so I can’t bring the entries to work and format/put them up from here. I have to run, though–thanks for reading, and I’ll definitely write more soon!

I’m in Ikeda

I should make this short, since I’ve probably spent more time than is appropriate online to respond to e-mails and check in at my usual websites…but I’m here. I just have very little internet access, and I sort of forgot that “very little access to e-mail” also means “very little access to this journal” as well.

Japan has been wonderful so far…but you know, I’m still sort of in denial that I’m away from home. There’s a bit of a language barrier, the architecture is so different, vegetarian food isn’t nearly as prevalent as in the US, I walk everywhere and maybe get rides from people or take a train for the really long rides, I have to bag my own groceries and only buy what I can carry…but it hasn’t been a rough transition at all.

My apartment is much smaller than I thought it was going to be, but I’m managing…there are quite a few things I have to get from my Board of Education that they promised me in my contract but didn’t provide me. But I’ve been managing, and mooching off Lindsay, my at-one-time predecessor, and Hannah, the other ALT 2 floors down. And Dave, my actual predecessor, is trying to shed as much of his stuff as he can before he moves back to Canada in 2 weeks, so he’s been selling a lot of it…I got a bookcase yesterday and 2 plastic shelves I can use as chests of drawers today, and he donated a bunch of hangers and an ancient rice cooker, and I may be getting his washing machine as well.

The community here has been so warm–people have really helped me settle in and have made sure I had food to eat. I’ve so far met the 2 eikaiwa (adult conversation) classes I’ll be taking over, and yesterday I met my Japanese Teacher of English, who I’ll be team-teaching with at the junior high school. I’m going over today to help out with the annual speech competition–I’m looking forward to that.

I apologize that this is so short, but I’ve been online for 2 hours and probably should go back downstairs to get other things done. Plus, I’ve been responding to e-mails and such all morning and feel like I’m getting really, really redundant. I’ve been keeping up a daily Word file journal on my laptop–I’ll try to post as much of that here as I can, though parts of it are sort of personal, and though this laptop is old enough that it doesn’t even read my USB jump drive, which I was hoping to use to upload my photos. But yes, more later. Take care, everyone!