Sunday, August 9, 2009

In brief

It’s a rainy Sunday morning here in Shiso. The past week has been a whirlwind, so I’ll try to give a little rundown here:

The 31st, my parents and I drove to Nashville. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really time to visit the classics dept, nor the Parthenon (for me; I think they might have gone later). It was strange to be in Nashville, but not for a visit, nor for school. The Hutton Hotel was pretty sweet, ultra-modern. Pre-Departure Orientation was basically informative, and the reception was pretty cool.

Saturday the 1st, my Nashville cohort and I went to the airport at something like 5 am (only three hours before flight time). Our flight to Dallas was delayed, so we got to hang out in the airport for an extra hour. Luckily for us, they held the plane in Dallas. I think it had its own delays, as well. I spent 12.5 hours between a Taiwanese woman and a Nashville JET, watching movies and TV. I don’t watch a lot of new movies, nor TV, so it was kind of fun to get to see some stuff (House, 30Rock, How I Met Your Mother, and then X-men: Wolverine, Star Trek). We got fed a few times. It was basically 4:30pm local time everywhere we flew, chasing the sun across the Pacific. Longest. Day. Ever.

We arrived in Tokyo at, predictably, about 4:30pm (it was the 2nd of August, there). By the time we got through customs and to the hotel via bus, it was about 7. Most of us were tired beyond all reason, since 7pm Tokyo time is about 6am Eastern time. I half-consciously talked with Australian orientation leaders at the hospitality center for a while, looking for dinner partners until two British girls mentioned they were going. We wandered out into the streets near the hotel and ended up dodging raindrops into a sushi restaurant. I paid 600 yen (that’s around 6 dollars, give or take) for the best sushi I’ve ever had. It motored by on a little conveyor belt, and each mini plate indicated price based on its color. By the time we were finished, it was about 9, and I felt like that was a decent bedtime, so I went to join my two Nashvillian roommates and crashed.

I woke up the next morning at about 4. Monday the 3rd was day one of orientation, which to me quickly began to resemble AWA in a business suit. It felt like all these Japanophiles were milling about, going to panels in their classy attire, attending teaching demonstrations and functions while casually pretending not to be crazy about anime. Like AWA grew up and went to college; it was really fun to imagine that way. My roommates, though, (and I’m sure much of the JET population) seemed differently motivated to become JETs.

Anyway, that night was prefectural going-out night, at least for Hyogo JETs (that’s me!), so we went to a nearby establishment for nomihodai, or “all you can drink” time. At first I wondered why we had never taken to such things in the US. The cover charge was a bit high, and then there was a time limit on our party; I imagined what would happen under such circumstances in, say, Lawrence, and decided it was better we don’t have nomihodai there. I can just imagine someone trying to get his or her “money’s worth,” within the time limit. It can only have led to intense immediate drunkenness, most likely followed by sickness.

Either way, I managed to stay up later and wake up later because of it! Tuesday the 4th’s panels and teaching demonstrations seemed a bit more useful and interesting than those from the day before; all in all, orientation was simultaneously really helpful and totally useless. Unable to give anyone the particulars of their own situation, they had to just try preparing us for the JET experience in general.

That evening, since dinner was not part of orientation, Aasritha and I met up with Allegranzi and Ritsuko, friends from J-Hall at Vandy. We had a delightful dinner (whereat Ritsuko ordered for us all).

The next morning (Wed the 5th) we all went our separate ways. Hyogo JETs got to travel by shinkansen (bullet train!) to Osaka. The train and train station experience were great.. that thing is seriously fast. From Osaka, we took a bus to this centrally located educational training center, where representatives from our various boards of ed took us to our towns. Shiso was only about a 40 minute drive from this central location.

What’s significant about this particular transition is that it marked the end, at least temporarily, of my time with Americans (and Aussies and Kiwis, etc.), as well as with people who speak English as their first language. The pair who picked me up did not speak much English, nor does my supervisor at the BOE. At first, this was fun. Being at orientation in Tokyo, I’d not really felt like I was in Japan. I hadn’t yet gotten to practice my Japanese at all. But it soon became frustrating. My Japanese, while it could be worse, leaves a lot to be desired. I have a feeling that much of it is stuff I learned and then forgot, and that it will return fairly quickly. This doesn’t help on the first day, though. I couldn’t remember a lot of vocabulary, so expressing myself was not easy. I tried to have conversations with my drivers on the way (one of whom, Inada-san, was with me for most of the day, and the following day too), and happily, they indulged me with the patience to listen to my broken Japanese questions.

I was totally awed by the mountain vistas as we exited the highway. Misty cloudforms swirled around their tops, although I don’t think they are all that high. They are steep.

That day was tiring. We picked up a translator at the municipal building, then went to get my photo taken, then to get my registration card, and so on. We didn’t even get to the apartment til that evening. My BOE people (Inada-san and Matsue-san) had taken me to the grocery store, where I got food for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. After they showed me around the place, they left me to unpack. I did a bit of that, but I went to bed really early.

The next morning, my BOE friends came to ride the bus with me to work. I got my first glimpse of my new school, and met the principal there and some of the teachers. An English teacher gave me a tour of the school. It’s summer break for them right now, but a lot of kids are still around, as they participate in club activities. They were all cute and seemed eager to greet me. Their English teacher, Kubo-sensei, had them say “good morning” to me in English as well. The rest of the day was for more errands, the apartment contract, getting a phone, setting up a bank account, internet, etc. It was incredibly wearing, even though Kubo-Sensei was serving as my translator. I’m pretty sure doing all of those establishment things in one day would be tiring, even if I were doing it by myself in English.

It was kind of stressful, interacting with my BOE contacts and co-teachers at times.. because I want to be professional with them, and even impressive, but at the same time, I am entirely dependent on them. It’s a bit of a fine line to walk, trying to be gracefully dependent on someone; they are so helpful and kind, and yet I do want to respect the boundaries implicit in a working relationship. At the bank, Kubo-sensei asked if I were tired, to which I quickly agreed. He then asked if I were alright, and I said I was. What else could one say? “No, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”? I was feeling pretty alone, despite their helpful presence.

When I got back to the apartment, I unpacked a little bit more, considered whether I should just eat canned pineapple for dinner (since it was left in the cabinet), and then took a nap of death from 6 until 9, when I was awakened by people at my door. The Americans.

Caitlin and Heke are my neighbors in this building, but I had been under the impression that they were both away travelling. Caitlin has just gotten back from the States, actually, and Heke will be leaving soon. They had come to see if I wanted to have a beer with them. I happily joined them, and even had some instant soup of Heke’s. It was kind of a relief to meet them, and know they’re there. Heke can even read Japanese, though Caitlin claims my Japanese is better than her own is even now, after her first year.

The next day, I was to go to my school by bus on my own, which was very easy, especially since I was the only passenger. The bus men helped me find the right stop. I spent most of the day in the office looking through all the materials there on and around my desk. I want to understand what I can and should do, and what those before me have done. One teacher had her daughter there, and she patrolled the office killing flies. We kept the windows open all morning, so she had her work cut out for her. Someone else was going to the nearby convenience store at lunchtime and let me come along so I could get myself some lunch. The vice principal, who can speak English really well, pronounced me “Emi-sensei,” and then decided to speak to me in Japanese only. I was actually pleased with this, because I do want to practice, but then if there are words I don’t know, it’s still possible to communicate. One of the other English teachers drove me home at the end of the day, by which time the office population had dwindled significantly.

Generally, my school seems friendly and even kind of laid-back. I think I’ll fit in pretty well, if it goes like this, because I’m pretty friendly and laid-back too.

That was Friday, and I went to dinner that evening with Heke and Caitlin at an okonomiyaki place. Saturday morning, I went for a bike ride around my town in the morning, and got thoroughly sweaty. The area is absolutely beautiful, though.

That afternoon, I went with Caitlin to Jusco, a sort of shopping mall nearby. We got some random effects, including Brita pitchers (designed to fit in Japanese fridges!) and groceries. When I got back with my groceries, I finally felt like my apartment was becoming more of a home. I think this happened to me in Kansas, too. Until you have food around, you’re just.. camping, or something.

That evening, Caitlin and I got sushi; another JET turned up just as we got back, and he turned out to be Lee, my co-teacher for the adult conversation classes (eikaiwa) I’ll be doing Thursday night. Caitlin had to go to a meeting, and I was on a mission to get soda water (to drink with our plum wine) for the evening’s viewing of Baby Mama. Lee went to get dinner, and when he and I had gotten back, he hung out in my apartment (which I was suddenly assiduous about cleaning) until Caitlin and Heke returned and were ready to watch the movie. It was nice.

And so here I am, on a rainy Sunday morning in Shiso. The rain makes it a lot cooler. While I was in Valdosta, I looked up the population and found that Shiso and Valdosta are similar in size. One of the RAs referred then to my new town as “Japdosta,” and it does feel like it in a lot of ways. The humidity and heat factor being one. There is much more to tell, of course, and I’ll be at it. I want to vacuum today, and try to get a bit more organized. Til then!

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