Strange stuff

Yesterday was the big Thanksgiving feast in Kawashima–a lot of fun, and it was great getting to see people from the east and south that we Westies so rarely meet up with. There was plenty of vegetarian fare–the stuffing was divine.

I took a train in with Julie and Ellie yesterday, and a couple of stops before ours, a guy came by to punch our tickets. I’d stowed my bag on the shelf overhead, so I stood up to get it, and as I was pulling it down (I was at that point where I knew I wasn’t completely balanced), the train pitched to one side, and I let out a slight, “Oh,” and went toppling backwards and crashed to the floor. Everyone was staring, and the ticket guy was simultaneously flustered/concerned/trying hard not to laugh…thankfully, the only thing hurt was my pride. It made for a good laugh all around, at least.

We also had a carousing game of charades, where I ended up with some random movie I’d never heard of, and Katie (scorekeeper) let me know it was a p.orn movie, and I blurted, “I am NOT acting that out!” And completely randomly, despite my doing nothing but standing there and looking flustered, Elliot just lazily dashed off the name (Debbie Does Dallas, maybe?), out of absolutely nowhere. So it worked out in the end, at least.

The weird thing about the day was that it was a midweek holiday, so we had to duck out to catch a 9:40 train that put us back out west around an hour later, so we could get to sleep early enough and make it into work. I was really tired and out of it for no good reason today, though, despite getting to sleep in a bit because I didn’t have to be anywhere till 9 AM. I actually drank 3 cups of coffee in the afternoon before finally coming out of it a little bit…it was crazy.

Another weird thing about today…I get to Horse Street Elementary nearly an hour before my class due to the bus schedule. This is the school with the principal I have a really good relationship with and who’s regularly invited me to bring my violin in and play for everyone. For a while I’d just go sit in her office and hang out there until I could go to class, but since there have been special visitors to the school, she’s had me sit at her desk in the teachers’ room instead, so I’ve just been doing that lately and chatting with the other teachers. For whatever reason, though, today we hung out in her office and talked for a bit, before she actually invited me to go back to the teachers’ room and chat with the other teachers. In essence, she was kicking me out of her office. It was just sort of strange all around…if she had guests coming, she could have just asked me to sit in the teachers’ room to begin with. But on top of that, she also followed me into the teachers’ room and hovered over the teachers and actually asked them to talk with me. I don’t know if I was acting strangely or something…I ended up chatting with the vice principal, who came in after the principal finished hovering, and I’m pretty sure the principal asked her to chat with me while they were in the hall.

There’s also another teacher who sits on the end of that row–well, I think she’s a teacher, or maybe she’s the school secretary (actually, she probably is, come to think of it); she’s just 3 years older than me and we chat every time I come to that school, so I do look forward to seeing her every week. It’s cute–we have the same cellphone, and she has a Toy Story desktop wallpaper, and I have a cellphone charm of one of the green 3-eyed aliens from Toy Story (yay, ¥100 store!), so that was pretty cool. She also checks out my Flickr account regularly now and is really interested in looking at my photos, and she shows them to the other teachers–the principal was asking me about a couple of them today.

And actually, even more weirdness…about 20 minutes before my class, suddenly we heard this rumbling, and the windows above the sliding doors leading to the rest of the school started to shake. Everyone looked around at each other in alarm and wondered if it was an earthquake (which would make it my first)–I looked outside, though, and the kids were still playing in the yard, plus I hadn’t actually felt a vibration in the ground…but it wasn’t a helicopter that caused it, because we would’ve heard it.

I really should get to sleep…I have my final 2 eikaiwa classes of the year (all the Miyoshi-gun ALTs are canceling our classes so we can go Christmas caroling at our junior highs and the Hashikura special needs school, and I’ll be in India after that, and then it’s one holiday after another), as well as my 5th and final class for the semester at Three Ropes Elementary (this class is so behind, poor things–I have other classes that have met 10 or 11 times!)…the last class I had there was a Halloween party, so I’m torn between planning something fulfilling or just having them have fun with English and western culture. I’m pretty sure the latter will win out. And right after work, I have to run home, get changed, grab my violin, and run to the train station so I can meet Andy and carpool with him into the city for Open Mic Night at Bell’s Bar, where there’s a grand total of four acts. Great! I’ll probably go first, since people will have a higher tolerance for non-rock music when they’re sober. I’ll be bringing my camera and having friends take photos of me playing, so hopefully a few of them will come out okay enough for me to post them somewhere…I’ve actually been wanting to bug one of my photographer friends to photograph me with my violin for a while now.

Oh, and today…well, now yesterday, since it’s past midnight, was my 4-month anniversary of arriving in Japan. One-third of the way there! Recontracting is sounding a little less daunting, now that I realize how quickly the time’s going to go…plus, it means 20 more vacation days next year, which I can use to properly go volcano-watching as well as do more international travel, maybe back to the US. Anyway, we’ll see–still almost 2 1/2 months till I have to decide either way.

(Ethan–30-35 minutes. ;o))

Where everybody knows your name

A bit tangential, but wow, the massive GM layoffs at home are even hitting Georgia, and the huge Doraville plant is being closed…it’s been there as long as I can remember, and Doraville and the GM plant kind of go hand in hand. It’s going to be strange returning home and finding it essentially abandoned.

I went to Daily Mart tonight to find plasticware and cups and to stock up on veggies so I can make a big salad for the Thanksgiving potluck the ALTs are having tomorrow (it’s Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan), and while I was there, I saw a bunch of people I know: two students from the beginning eikaiwa class, a student from my intermediate eikaiwa class, one of my speech contest girls (the kendo girl–she always gives me a huge, warm grin and wave whenever she sees me), the music teacher from my junior high, the teacher who “supervises” my class at Horse Street Elementary, and even someone I didn’t immediately recognize (who I saw again at the ¥100 store upstairs).

Actually, yesterday when I was walking home from the bus stop, an older man on a motorcycle and decked out in full biker gear got off a quick, “Smitha, sayounara!” (goodbye!) as he passed–which was really cool, except that I have no idea who he was. And while leaving the train station on my way home Saturday, I passed an elderly couple who also greeted me in a warm and familiar way (which made a high-school-aged guy walking nearby start commenting to his friends in Japanese slang about me (I got, “What the hell was that? Who’s she?” before I passed out of earshot)–heh, silly punk). And on that same topic, earlier that day, I’d been browsing thick down winter jackets at Uniqlo and was looking through the men’s jackets, and a couple of guys (high school or college) walked by and stopped by the jackets, without even really looking at them, and one of them made a comment about me browsing the men’s clothes…never mind that, you know, I’m bigger than the average Japanese woman, and I was taller than them. (Hahaha, dorks.)

I love being able to understand people when they talk about me. It’s just too bad that I don’t have the Japanese ability to be able to dash off spontaneous responses. Despite speaking so much Japanese, even at Daily Mart today, I kept blurting, “hi!” Not even “hello,” and definitely not “konbanwa” (good evening) or “tsukaresama” (thank you for your hard work…heh, Mat, I’m not a tired shark this time!). That was surprising–maybe I’m just tired today. I do need to keep studying, though. My Japanese has gotten a lot better since I got here, but I really need to keep up with it. The JLPT is coming up–I’m not taking it, but I honestly don’t even know what level I should test for. Sankyuu? Definitely not nikyuu, that’s way out of my league…but I had a shot at it once. Maybe I can pull myself up to that level again sometime.

I will miss you when you are across the sea

I almost wonder if someone requested this for me, or maybe for another to-be JET Programme participant.

We drove 2 hours yesterday to Kitajima, to the Fuji Grand theater there, to watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (good, but lots of things I wish were much better…the Really Important Part was stellar, though, but the very end left a sour taste in my mouth), then Julie and I headed into Tokushima, where we found the music store! I bought a stand and inquired into having my bow rehaired and whether there are any orchestras actively looking for new members (yes, one week and a couple thousand yen; and they weren’t sure, since the person who would know wasn’t in that day), and we had Julie try out a 3/4-size violin, which she felt really comfortable with. We also went by Uniqlo (I wanted to buy a jacket but didn’t have money, so I’ll probably buy one in Osaka next month, unless I find myself back in Tokushima-shi with time and $70 to spare before then) and had dinner at Big Brothers, which is an American-owned bar/restaurant that caters to Tokushima’s foreign population and is a kind of comforting presence. We then ran to catch a slow train back out west.

Today, I bought a real chest of drawers! No more depending on cramped plastic ones for me! Unfortunately, I’d have to assemble it myself, but fortunately, the only one left was the store display one, and they said they’d deliver it this week (I think…I still have major problems understanding really polite/formal/honorific-laced Japanese, with all the “itadaite”s and “yoroshii”s and whatnot). The wardrobe they had would have really clashed with this room, and I have an aversion to white-painted furniture…let’s just see how this chest of drawers does, though, in case it works well enough that a wardrobe might not be necessary. I do miss being able to hang up my shirts and suits, though…

I have so much Christmas/holiday shopping to do. I have to pick up gifts for the orphanage, figure out who to send gifts to and who to write cards to, buy things for my family, pick up something for my Nightly Secret Santa…too bad that the only stores I know about in Ikeda are the grocery stores, the stationery store, and the 100-yen store! This should be fun.

Fuyuyasumi plans

It’s confirmed: my family will be in Osaka for Christmas (hellooo, Loft) and Kyoto for the new year! Thank goodness for Toyoko Inn chain (which I’ve never stayed in but have heard great things about)–incredibly enough, one of their Kyoto locations actually has (or had) vacancies. We’ll probably be back in Ikeda in between, so I can go cash in one day of work before the winter holidays set in, and we can take a day trip to Hiroshima or something like that, which would also give them a chance to take the Shinkansen (bullet train–Hikari, specifically; I love that name) between Hiroshima and Okayama.

I’m sitting under my kotatsu (oooh, my kotatsubuton are double-sided, so instead of the slightly-clashing-with-the-teddy-bears bright tan, I have a more gingham-inspired blue that complements the teddy bears quite well. I hope my successor isn’t male…I should have selected a more gender-neutral set of kotatsubuton, but after leaving behind the ones at the Daiki Home Store in search of more selection and going to Ikeda Family, I didn’t want to drag my boss back to Daiki once I realized that most of Family’s were really crappy-looking). If you’re wondering what all these words are, a kotatsu is a heating table. It has a grill on the underside, and you plug the table in and flip a switch to turn the grill on. It also has a removable top. You take your kotatsubuton (two individual futons) and put one on the floor underneath the table, and put the other one on top of the uncovered table, and you put the cover back on and sit under the table. I’ll be sure to take a photo for Flickr at some point.

However, now I have the problem of figuring out where to put my actual sleeping-on futon…

Okay, I have a few stories I want to begin to relate, from that list of topics I’d compiled yesterday, and then I should get to sleep.

Yesterday (Wednesday), I was walking to White Background Elementary School, which is closest to my junior high. As I entered the schoolyard, I passed a few girls who were outside on the playground equipment (I guess younger kids’ classes end before the older kids’ do?), and we had the following conversation:
Them: “Hello!”
Me: “Konnichiwa!”
Them: “Ehhh?? Nihongo shaberu no?” (You can speak English?)
Me: “Hai, sou desu ne.” (Yep, that’s right.)
Them: “Doko kara kita no??” (Where’d you come from?)
Me: “America kara kimashita. Daigaku de nihongo o benkyoushimashita.” (I’m from America. I studied Japanese in university.)
Them: “Uwaaa~! Zenbu eigo dake shaberu to omotta…” (Whoa! I thought they all only speak English…)
Me: “Iie! Takusan hito wa gaikoku no kotoba ga dekimasu.” (No! Many people can speak foreign languages.)
Them: “Ehhh, sugoi…” (Wow, awesome…)

They were completely amazed and fascinated by it. I was grinning on the rest of my walk across the schoolyard and into the main building. That’s me, shattering stereotypes left and right…

And one more before I go to sleep: in my 1st-year junior high classes on Monday, the JTE was conducting a memory game (which I really blatantly spiked and used in my elementary school lessons this week, mwahaha), where all the students received action cards depicting “studying” and “riding a bike” and “cooking” and other stuff like that. The person who started would say, “I’m playing basketball.” The next would say, “She’s playing basketball, and I’m eating lunch.” And so on, with each person listing all the things in order that the previous people were doing. After half the class went, the teacher turned to me (during the first class) and asked me to recite the entire chain thus far, which I was able to pretty much do.

Between the first and second 1st-year English classes I team-teach on Mondays is our hour lunch. During that time, I have a tendency to forget everything that went on in the first class. As a result, when the second class was in session, I was just sort of watching stuff and not really paying attention to details or absorbing anything. And then the JTE turned to me after half the class had gone through the game, and I wondered what he was doing at first…but then it hit me, and I blurted loudly, “Ohhh, crap.”

The kids burst out laughing and my JTE really got a kick out of it, too. (Hey–I was teaching English slang!)

It won me a few pity points, because while the kids weren’t allowed to help each other, a few of the kids were very kindly correcting my mistakes or forgiving unchecked ones I made. One of the perks of being a teacher–We Can Do No Wrong. [Palpatine]”Unlimited POWWWAAAHHHH!!1″[/Palpatine]

Heh, anyway, I think I should go to sleep now. TGI-freaking-F!

Reclaiming my feminist side

During the past couple of days, they’ve been showing a lot of (or at least, marginally more than usual) footage of Princess Sayako, since she just wed a commoner and must say goodbye to Japanese royal life as a result–under Japanese law, if a woman in the royal family marries a commoner she’s no longer royalty, since she as a woman is ineligible to assume the throne. (They’re thinking about changing it, though, since the princess’s brother and his wife have only been able to produce a female heir. A lot of Japanese people are in favor of letting a woman rule, which would be a big step.)

It makes me so angry, though. And I’m not talking about her not getting to rule and having to give up the life of a noblewoman. I’m talking about how she constantly has this maddeningly calm and cute smile on her face, as if she refuses to let herself display any real emotion because that’s not how a “true lady” acts (no, that‘s not a “look of love;” that’s the same vapid smile she wears in every single media image!). I’m talking about how in every image, moving or still, of her with her husband, she’s always two to three steps behind him. She never, ever walks beside him. And I’m talking about how she’s made the decision to marry this man and become a housewife. She’s a member of Japan’s royal family, and she’s going to become a housewife? (Well…apparently she does have experience with a part-time job as an ornithologist, interestingly enough.) According to the articles I’ve read, she’s being seen as an inspiration to many Japanese women that they can find love later in life…but she should run with it and show them that they don’t have to buckle themselves down and become “the little women” when they tie the knot.

This is where the cultural divide hits me the hardest, I think. It’s so disconcerting to come from a country that stresses gender equality, while this country is blatantly male-dominated. I know that it’s seen as a real honor to stay at home and take care of the family–and I definitely am not looking down upon women who choose to give their all to the raising of their children, because it’s an honorable decision to make. It does bother me, however, in instances where the woman voluntarily decides to serve her husband, where maintaining the household becomes her sole duty in life and she looks up to her husband instead of the couple regarding each other as equals. In Japan, that seems to be the case quite often, and the media images of Princess Sayako are proving to be no exception.

We’ve had this “talk show” project in our 3rd-year (a.k.a. 9th grade) junior high classes, where pairs of students will come up to the front of the room, with one being an interviewer on a talk show and the other being a special guest, who’s there to talk about how they split up the housework. In these scenarios, I’m the commentator, who provides closing suggestions for each pair. I actually have to restrain myself from cheering on the women who make their husbands do everything and claim that, “I think we are sharing the housework very well.” I should have joked along, in hindsight, and said that I agreed that they split up the housework well and it was nice to see the wife taking a break, but instead (in the case of kids who “wash the dishes and clean the rooms and take out the garbage”), I always would say something like, “I’m sure your children are very busy with homework, so you should help them by doing a few more chores.” I did take great pleasure in berating the guys who did nothing while their wives did everything. (These are completely hypothetical families, and this was all completely in fun, and everybody knew that.)

Today, though, I got this sudden but very passionately strong urge to start up an after-school Women’s Empowerment Club at my junior high. (Yeah, like that’d go over well with the kocho-sensei.) I know that I’m being extremely critical, and I don’t want to be–these are the sweetest kids, the most cheerful girls, and they’ll always strike up conversations with me whenever they’re in the teachers’ room on other business, and I really adore them. But I just cannot stand how, any time they’re confronted with anything remotely challenging, they start giggling, whining, stamping their feet, and flailing their arms, as if they’re little children. It absolutely horrifies me every single time I see it, and that’s not an understatement at all.

I know that middle school students in the US aren’t particularly mature, but speaking from my experiences, while there were girls who made themselves look clueless (usually because they thought it’d make themselves attractive to guys), there were thankfully few of those at the schools I attended, and many of my classmates’ parents have worked to install a much greater sense of equality and self-worth. My parents never taught me to believe I was any less than my male counterparts; on the contrary, they’ve pushed academics throughout my life, and I never was even aware of gender inequality as an immediate issue I had to personally face until college (Georgia Tech, 4:1 male-female ratio–especially pronounced during my first 2 years, when I was a Computer Science major, which has roughly a 13:1 ratio; I distinctly remember there never being more than 10 girls in any of my 100-plus-person lectures). All my friends’ parents are the same, at least in the sense of instilling a greater sense of equality and self-worth.

So, coming from a background where I routinely competed with girls and boys academically and otherwise without gender ever being an issue, it’s appalling to me to see these girls acting like this. I wish I could figure out a way to tell them to kindly please grow a backbone, though that’s harsh and awful and it’s not completely their fault, since they’re a product of the society and culture they were raised in. (God knows the pop culture totally perpetuates this “childish female” role…yet another reason why I can’t stomach watching most of it.) But I wish I could make them aware of the fact that they don’t have to dumb their personalities down like this, that there’s no reason for them to doubt themselves at all, that they’re smart and wonderful and have the potential to grow up to be strong and capable women, and all they need is self-confidence and the will to just be themselves. They just have to believe they can do whatever they set their minds to, and there’s no reason for them to dumb themselves down to appeal to the tastes of their classmates, because if they shoot high, they’ll eventually end up with men who want more than just pretty faces and submissive personalities, and these men will respect and complement them, instead of viewing them as “the little wife.”

(whew, that felt good. I have more lighthearted stuff to relate, but I’ll end this on this warm-and-fuzzy moment for now.)

Anatomy of a sweat drop

I was thinking the other day about how several of my major-specific classes are really doing me some good, or at least making me aware of issues I wouldn’t have been conscious of, like semiotics/symbols and signs. I was drawing a sheet of verb images to make into cards for my elementary school kids, and it hit me how different some of the symbols and general imagery is here. Back home and in the west, everything’s just really simplified, but here, everything’s really manga-fied, which comes with its own way of depicting emotions and settings. I’m pretty sure the kids will be able to figure out what my “stick figure” dudes are doing (far easier to do stick figures than actual illustrations), but even on road signs here, the way they convey meanings is really fascinating, since they actually use manga figures several times, for animal crossings and other things.

Maybe it’s not strictly a semiotics issue, since semiotics deals with the reasonings behind why certain symbols have certain meanings…but at the same time, how did the sweat drop and the big eyes and the smooshed bodies with big heads come to be? What meaning is there behind the big eyes (well, that one’s sort of obvious) and the sweat drop and all the different mannerisms/idiosyncracies of the medium? How did these signs come to become the primary, if not the only, way that Japan and Japanese people depict simplistic things? I know that Osamu Tezuka essentially invented the anime style with Astro Boy in the 60s, but he alone couldn’t have been responsible for how completely entrenched in Japanese society that style is today.

Well, it’s something to think about, anyway. It’d be fun to do some research into the history of Japanese animation and apply these representational theories to it and see what we get.

Wow, I have a social life

From today’s second class for the first-year junior highs…

“Hello, everybody!”
“Hello, [Mr. JTE] and Miss Smitha!”
“What day is today?”
“Fine, thanks, how are you?”

It was scary how simultaneous that was. It’s a running joke that the response to, “How are you?” is so mechanically ingrained into these kids, and I’ve definitely seen evidence of it in my junior high classes (my predecessor taught all the elementary school kids various reactions, like, “I’m so-so/sleepy/great/sick/etc.,” so I get a variety there. But I didn’t realize the question itself was seemingly predetermined, too!

So, upcoming events…

  • maybe dinner/bowling tonight with the Miyoshi-gun folks
  • hanging out with Miyoshi-gun folks later this week
  • Thanksgiving dinner at Katie’s house? (As long as they don’t reschedule it to December 6th or so. I’m really, really craving a real American meal like that. Minus the turkey, of course.)
  • Tokyo Symphony Orchestra concert with Kelly and Jim next Monday
  • a couple more violin lessons before the holidays
  • Christmas caroling at all the junior high schools in Miyoshi-gun all day on December 2
  • getting my butt in gear on grad school applications and everything they entail (it’s already too late to apply to one of the schools on my list–there’s no way everything will fall into place by the beginning of December)
  • donating gifts for orphanage kids…there’s an annual orphanage visit, but it’s happening while I’m in India
  • INDIA! Three weeks!

It’s weird how much my schedule for the duration of this year has suddenly filled up. Half of that is due to e-mail/AJET forum activity just today.

I didn’t think to start Christmas shopping this weekend…whoops. I don’t even know if I’ll really get a chance to, to be honest. Hopefully just seeing me for the first time in 5 months will be a big enough present for my family. ;o)

Holy crap!

According to the unofficial score report at the end of the GRE, I got an 800 on math/quantitative! That was a huge surprise–I was sure I’d screwed it up, and there honestly were several questions that I just made wild guesses on. However, I got a 580 on verbal, which puts me at a 1380–definitely not good enough, for my personal standards (I’d like to break 700–I want to match or surpass my SAT cumulative, which was 1470) and for the grad programs I’m considering. I’ll have to spend the next month cramming vocabulary, because that’s really what killed me, in the antonym and analogy sections–that and reading comprehension, I’m pretty sure. Oh, and that score doesn’t count the essays, which are worth another 800–I think I did fairly well on those (I aced one but didn’t have a chance to really bring my thoughts full-circle in the other, though it was a topic that interested me), but we’ll see.

I started the day off in a really embarrassing way…I left my apartment 10 minutes before the bus was set to arrive, instead of the 15 I know I have to allot to get to the bus station (but I never, ever do). A charter bus with Osaka listed as its final destination passed me on my way there, so I started running…it sat in front of the station for a few minutes, though, and I know that the person who got out to check tickets saw me walking/running towards the station, but s/he got back on and the bus pulled away anyway before I could get there.

I actually shouted, “No! Matte!” (wait!)–I’m sure that had to have woken someone up. But the bus didn’t stop, so I just stood there, silently going, “Oh crap oh crap oh crap…what do I do, I can’t catch a later bus, this day has cost me over $200, I really have to take this test, what do I do what do I do….” To make it all the more painful, when I looked at the other people waiting in front of the bus station, they were all staring at me. I was too silently panicked to care, though.

It was then that I noticed that another charter bus heading to Osaka was pulling up…it turns out that was the bus I was supposed to be on. So I climbed on board silently, completely embarrassed by my histrionics, and kept my mouth shut for the duration.

I slept for the first half of the ride, and woke up as we were approaching Awaji, so I was greeted by the view of the brilliantly blue water. The ride from Tokushima-ken to Osaka is really a beautiful one, especially if the weather’s right. (We also stopped at the highway oasis that has a coffee machine that offers soy lattes. I love that.)

I also couldn’t find the GRE building initially–I got really turned around because I didn’t realize that the 2 exits for the Nakatsu subway station were pretty much right across the street from each other, and I thought the map on the GRE website covered a much bigger area than it actually did. I then found a building that had a 7th floor, like the directions said (I thought 7F was a building number, not a floor number–whoops), and took the elevator up, only to find a locked/keypadded door for an architectural agency. It turns out it was the next (and much bigger) building. So yeah–I’m glad I left with plenty of time to spare. I’d heard the place was supposed to be easy to find, but after I found it after 15-20 minutes of searching, that’s when it hit me how obvious it was. Gotta love when that happens.

So I went in and took the test…it’s actually a pet peeve of mine when people don’t change the refresh rate on their monitors to something better than 60 hertz (70 or 75 is perfectly viable! Do people not realize what a strain it is to have the corners of the monitor flickering in their peripheral vision at all times?). All the monitors in the testing center were set at 60, so I could definitely see the screen flickering. I was really worried I was going to get eyestrain and come out of the test with a killer headache, but I ended up being all right. I also finished by 4:30 instead of 5, and that included taking an “experimental” section that they randomly offered to some test-takers with questions in new formats that ETS is thinking of trying out. As a result, I’m registered to maybe receive $100 or $200 or something in the mail in a few months, so here’s hoping for a very welcome surprise sometime next year. I wish those questions counted, though, because they were easy.

So, yeah, GRE. And now I have a month to improve on this. Pretty much none of the words I’ve been cramming for the past few days were on there…don’t you love when that happens?

Oh, I have a question for people reading this–are the test scores cumulative? Rather, if I do score higher than 580 on verbal next time, but my math isn’t as high, will my new score for each section be the highest out of all my times taking it?

Other stuff I did today…

  • saw a rainbow over Osaka, almost as soon as we crossed into Osaka-ken from Kobe
  • bought New York style bagels, twice (the first time for brunch, the second time to bring a few home, along with maple-walnut cream cheese–Bagel & Bagel is so wonderful)
  • bought food at Subway twice (ditto, except the first time was an early dinner, while the second time was to go)
  • went to Starbucks in the HEP5 (it’s interesting how therapeutic a mocha frapuccino has become for me)
  • went to Uniqlo and bought toe-socks
  • began to learn my way around Umeda and the train station
  • wandered in search of Japanese goodies for India and ended up stumbling across quite a few interesting places in the process

Oh, I’ve also discovered My Store. It’s called Loft, and it’s a 7-story department store (but then again, all department stores in Japan seem to be multistored)…the reason this one in particular has been so claimed, though, is because the entire 6th floor is devoted to stationery and paper and art supplies. THE ENTIRE THING. I had to drag myself away, literally, to go catch my bus home…I didn’t buy anything, but god knows I was so tempted to! The rest of Loft is comparable to what I’d assume IKEA is like (I’ve never been inside one–Atlanta’s first one opened just a few weeks before I left for Japan). If I were living in or near Osaka and had a car, I totally would have filled my place with the store’s merchandise. Even if I had a car here, I seriously wouldn’t mind driving to Osaka at some point just to load up on awesome things for the apartment. I definitely intend to pick up a few (ahem, “a few”) things from there when we’re in the city in December.

Okay, it’s been a really long day and I’m exhausted…tomorrow seems like it’ll be pretty long as well, with heading into Tokushima for the musical meeting and cleaning like mad before Julie comes over for our first violin lesson. I wish I could really sleep in…but that’s okay. Good night, guys.

GREat fun on a Saturday (har-har!)

You know…at this point, there isn’t much studying I can do that would have a big effect on my GRE performance tomorrow. Not that that helps, because I’ve had such a hard time motivating myself to study all evening, and while I feel really confident about the math, there are several sections of the verbal portion that I know are going to slaughter me–namely antonyms, analogies, and reading comprehension (geez, I could get through Saussure and Wittgenstein and Derrida just a few years ago, but I can’t answer simple questions on simple passages in a standardized test now).

A couple of things bother me on principle: I pride myself on having a pretty good vocabulary (it probably comes from being one of those hard-core spelling bee geeks in elementary and middle school, and I still get really excited about the yearly broadcast of the Scripps(-Howard?) National Spelling Bee on ESPN), so it’s humbling that I’ve never encountered or just don’t know quite a few of these words (I’m also learning that the meanings of many words are noticeably different than what I’d always assumed they were–“prodigal” was the big shocker; it means wasteful. Wasteful!). It also bothers me that in my years of reading these texts on media theory and reading the work of these major media and representational theorists, as well as more traditional literature, these words were virtually never in their writings. All this work for something I won’t end up using afterwards…bah. ;o)

I wish I could go for a run or something, except that it’s rainy and chilly.

Oh, so they delivered the December CLAIR Japanese correspondence test today–too bad I haven’t even begun working on the November one yet. Heh, oops…I’d better get on that next week. I’m glad I chose the intermediate level to refresh what I’d already learned.

So anyway, tomorrow consists of this:

0700-1050 – bus ride from Ikeda to Osaka
1050-1215 – wander around Umeda, try to scope out some stores to buy gifts from later, eat lunch, remind myself where the Hankyu Entertainment Plex/Plaza is so that I can raid their Starbucks
1215 – head 1 stop north to Nakatsu to find the testing center
1300-1700 – GRE (dun-dun-duhhhnnn…)
1700-1915 – wander around Umeda in a dazed, zombielike state and hopefully buy pretty Japanese stuff
1930-? – bus ride back home

Yay for 12 hours of sitting. Good grief. And all that traveling in one day, too…I’ll be sleeping well tomorrow night, for sure!

Sunday’s going to be fairly busy as well–the Tokushima JETs put on a musical every year, with this year’s theme being Peter Pan, and Joe’s arranging a meeting for it on Sunday afternoon, so I’d like to head into the city to do some shopping beforehand. (I definitely want to volunteer to help out with doing any visual work that needs to be done (programmes, sets), and it would be a lot of fun to actually be on stage as well…) After I come back home, Julie in Mikamo is coming over that evening for her introductory violin lesson! She’d approached me about it a few weeks ago. I’ve never actually taught violin before–I’m really excited about this, and so is she.

All right, so for tomorrow, I need to remember these things:

  • passport!
  • bus tickets
  • money
  • Prometric testing info
  • CD player, CDs, batteries (gotta do something on the bus besides study and sleep…)
  • camera, just in case

Okay, I should at least browse through some more of the “essential vocabulary” and jot down some notes to study while on the bus tomorrow, as well as get my stuff together and figure out what to wear. Wish me luck! I’m already planning on taking it again when I’m with my family in Osaka in December, but it would be nice to just get it out of the way in one shot.

[insert profound title here]

I’m in the community center, upstairs in the computer room, taking a quick break from GRE cramming to check in, since it’s been a few days. There’s an intermediate/advanced shamisen class meeting in a nearby room on this floor, and while the music is a little repetitive, it’s comforting to hear music being rehearsed–it makes me think fond thoughts about Georgia Tech’s orchestra, the Couch Building, our conductor’s cheesy but funny musical humor (“I can’t conduct electricity tonight,” “That’s so slow that it’s almost like you’re backing up, like you’re inhaling” (to the winds and brass), “It sounds like a flamenco dancer falling down a flight of stairs” (to the percussion), “That’s as flat as a mackerel’s ass”…and so on–hi, Ron and Pete!). I really miss them, as well as the whole orchestra crowd.

So speaking of the GRE, I am indeed heading into Osaka on Saturday to take this godforsaken test. 4 hours on a bus from the station here in Ikeda, with 2 hours to spare before the 4-hour test, then wandering around like a dazed zombie for another 2.5 hours before the 4-hour ride back home that evening. At the very least, I hope to eat vegetarian food (SUBWAY!) and maybe stumble across a store that sells traditional items so I can pick up “omiyage” of a sort for the relatives in India I’ll be seeing this time next month. I’m doing fairly well on the practice stuff–the math in particular; I’m glad it’s all coming back to me now! I have to spend tonight and tomorrow focusing on vocabulary and reading comprehension, though, because those are the two areas that are going to slaughter me if I’m not careful.

And speaking of India, I’ll be there in less than a month, and soon after, my family will be coming here! I’ve been talking to my parents pretty regularly to plan things out–I’m taking my laptop with me so that I can download the hundreds and hundreds of photos I’m sure I’ll be taking during the 10 or so days I’ll be there. It’s not nearly long enough, but it’s definitely better than nothing, and the fact that I’m going to see two Indian weddings (and then probably get hit with the inevitable barrage of, “So, Smitha, when will it be your turn? Huh? Huh? Huh?” questions–especially since one of the two brothers getting married is at least a year younger than I am, and I’m coming up on the Big 25 “Deadline” next year and haven’t even been on a real date–no, Random Internet People, that’s not an invitation of any kind), as in real weddings actually in India and not in Pittsburgh over 15 years ago, will more than make up for it. It’ll be great to see all these relatives, too–we’ll be in Hyderabad and Bangalore, so I can see both my grandmothers (who will be visiting India during that time), as well as extended relatives I haven’t seen since we were in India last time.

Plans for winter break (from school, but not from sitting at my desk downstairs) are still falling into place, though I do know I’m taking off a few days at the start to meet my family in Osaka. We want to go to Kyoto, and I brought up the idea of going volcano-watching, which they’re actually happy to do, as long as there’s stuff to do in those areas, so maybe we’ll head down south (since heading up north in winter when they’ll have come straight from Atlanta, City of Nonexistent Winter, is ridiculous) to Kyushu and check out Sakurajima and a few others.

Oh, something else rather important…my boss brought out the recontracting papers earlier this week. And she asked me immediately if I’d decided yet. I had to tell her no, but I couldn’t convey why I hadn’t, and how this is one of those decisions that I think about every single day, and how so much is riding on whether or not I 1. actually do apply for any masters programs that would notify me before the start of February as to my acceptance, 2. get started on requesting recommendations and my statement of purpose (yeah, really late in the game here…), and 3. if those do indeed fall into place, I actually get accepted somewhere (preferably not Georgia Tech again, since it would be much better to go somewhere else and I’m really frustrated and thoroughly disgusted with the blatant anti-arts attitude on that campus). And if I don’t…if I slack off too long…should I go back and try to find a job involving visual design or the web or Japanese or more than one of the above or none of the above? Or do I stay here and stick it out for another year? I’m leaning towards going home right now–but like Hannah has said, which I agree with, I’m not going to make the decision until the time comes for me to make it. So much can change between now and February 3rd.

Okay, I should get back to studying…wish me luck!