Saturday, February 27, 2010

Contest of Gluttony: Sushi Ro 2010!

Friday night was the Contest of Gluttony in Wadayama: a night in which we descend like locusts upon a hyaku-en (100 yen is roughly one dollar) kaiten-zushi place and do all in our power to uphold the stereotype of the fat foreigner who eats everything in sight, not because he is hungry anymore, but just because it's there.

First things first. Kaiten-zushi is conveyor-belt sushi. Little plates of sushi motor by you on an endless conveyor belt. You can place special orders, but it is also perfectly common to just grab whatever looks appetizing as it goes by you. [Our favorite sushi place in town is kaiten-zushi, but the guy knows us all by now, and knows what we like to eat. He starts making it when he sees us walk in]

There is a menu, and a little intercom for the ordering. Special orders go by on little yellow props (also visible in photo, though the plates have been removed) In this case, almost all the plates are 105 with tax. In other kaiten-zushi circumstances, price is denoted by plate color. At Sushi-Ro, yellow plates means "this sushi has wasabi on it" and white plates mean it's without. You can also see little signs. The Gluttony Contest took place at a fairly big establishment, so they ride little explanatory signs in front of different sushi. At our place in town, which is much smaller, you just kind of grab and try, or you can ask the chef who is standing right there in the center most of the time.

Anyway! The plates are fairly small. On a regular night I eat about five. My maximum was an estimated seven. The contest was divided into brackets. The bottom tier ("Recreational Eaters"), including yours truly, was made up mostly of Shiso ladies (five of us) all having topped out previously at 7 or 8 plates.

Tier two, "Mid-tier Gastronomers" was for those who held records like 10 or 12 plates.

The big leagues, "Consumptive Behaviorists" was for the six people claiming anywhere between 14 and 20 plates. Our sixth (and perhaps shortest) Shiso lady (the cat JET) found herself in this bracket, amongst the big boys.

We're just here recreationally. Yes that is corn sushi. It was good, too.

I can't speak for the other tables; things were leisurely at our baby-bracket table as we selected and enjoyed various sushi treats. When I turned around to say what up to the consumptive behaviorists behind me, their plate stacks were already small towers.



The Cat is going strong! (9:03)

My strategy had to do with eating all day long before the contest and drinking lots of water and/or caffeinated beverages. I was hearkening back to Thanksgiving 2008, when I just remember eating more than anyone (including me!) expected me to eat. Maybe it worked, or I maybe I really needn't have worried.. although I also should not have forgotten that when merely permitted, and not even pressured, I can eat at least three desserts.

Yours truly won the lower bracket with 14 plates. I might have been able to have more, but that would have been needless; I'd already won!

Clearly my strategy also involved drinking lots of water throughout the contest.

Plus, 14 seemed an oddly appropriate number to stop with. I'd worn my Heckleball t-shirt because I wanted to 'intimidate the competition' with the scary skull on the front side.

Yes, that is my power hat on top of my head. And sweatpants, for stretchability. How could I lose?

Here, the big leagues do dessert.

I love the facial expression on The Cat JET.

But Big Brother JET is actually the winner of the upper bracket, eating (and keeping down) an unbelievable 31 plates.

Mirijet laughs at our poor aching Cat Jet, who topped at 27.

Bracket one winners, honorable mentions, and their foodbabies.

Big-eaters table, all said and done.

Overall, it was a ridiculous experience. Do I still love sushi? Yes! Would I recommend this activity to anyone at all, ever? No! Especially not those who are super competitive. The sushi restaurant made a pretty penny and we made for a lot of stuffed, sickish ferners.

Adventures in Impropriety

Two things. One: Being Hit On By Fifteen-Year-Olds.

Ever since I got here, there’s been this somewhat cocky kid (from sports day? “Number one cool”) who says things to me in English which, from a native speaker, would be clear trespass in the world of appropriate. He started with “My favorite food is lemon because it is your name!” So I pretended to think that comments like “You are delicious” and “I’d rather eat you than lunch” were innocent plays on words performed by an inexpert speaker of English.

Excellent. You can turn a perfectly innocent eye to many things.

Today, I saw him in the hall, and he said “I like you!”

Em: “I like you too! Let’s be friends.”

Him: “Friends..?” (gesturing a step up from that) “Friends.. ijou!” [More than friends!]

Em: “No, no, no, no; muri, muri muri!” [Impossible!]

I heard him telling his friends about it later and yelled up the stairwell, “I can hear you, you know! Don’t you be gossiping about me!”

EDIT: I talk to my students sometimes in a very conversational tone, as though they were understanding every word. I know they aren’t and half the time I’m counting on that. I dressed up in a skirt and my Emma Pillsbury sweater for my last class with the 3rd years, and I caught number-one-cool checking me out in the stairway mirror. I turned to the girls I was with and told them “That was so obvious, and so many kinds of not okay.” I heard The Maker of Spreadsheets in my voice, when I said it, and missed GHP.

Second thing: Gender Specific Title Bending

The three English teachers at my school are all male. This is normally completely insignificant, but the students are taught to call them “Mr.” when addressing them in English class. Most people will simply do a direct translation, and since sensei means ‘teacher,’ they’ll turn Mikan-sensei into “Mikan teacher.” But our English teachers are wise to the fact that we don’t say it that way in English-speakin’ countries.

So early on, the kids had a funny moment of greeting me in the start of class.

Ex: “Good morning everyone.”

“Good morning Mistaa Kermit.”

“Good morning class!”

“Good morning Mis..taa.? Emily.”

Some of them got it right, some of them didn’t but I laughed and told them for me it should be “miss” or just plain ol’ “Emily.”

Later on, one of my most energetic (noisiest, but sharp) first year boys (let’s call him Ryou) accidentally (?) called me “Mistaa” out of habit. This got a laugh so he started doing it more regularly, but not in class, mostly just in the hallways. He would wave to me and say “Hello mistaa Emily!” and sometimes dart into a nearby classroom to evade my wrath.

My wrath instead takes linguistic form. Whenever (and only when, because sometimes he doesn’t) I reply “Hello, Ryou-chan!”

Boys normally get the title “-kun” attached to the end of their names, is they are of the same rank or lower, that is. I’ve noticed the teachers often call the boys “kun.” They often call girls with either “-san,” or “-chan.” I think it depends largely on the personality of the girl. “Chan” is what they put on the end of Hello-Kitty’s name.


So it’s the cute-little-girl denotation. Hello Ryou-chan!

The most fun part for me is the reaction his classmates provide. They might laugh a little when he calls me “Mister Emily,” but they lose their damn minds when they hear me greet him brightly as Ryou-chan.

He hasn’t done it in a while.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

First Year Genki Spirit

I’ve been accused fairly recently of still having “that first-year genki spirit.” Well, accused is a fairly strong word and it makes it sound like being genki is a bad thing. Genki just means energetic and lively, high-spirited, and stuff like that. We have a lot of fun with the fact that in one of my classes, there is a kid named Genki, who also happens to be a genki kid. I’m glad he is; it would really suck to have to make jokes about the fact that he isn’t genki despite his name.

Anyway, the first year genki spirit is apparently the stage of JET life in which you still feel like your job makes some kind of difference, where you feel like all your efforts are not in fact wasted.

But to me, the more time I spend here, the more I feel like it’s important for them to import native speakers to help teach English. Mikan-sensei once straight up told me (when I said, “I’d like to do a little phonics work for like five or ten minutes each class,”) that Japanese teachers of English don’t know how to teach phonics. And with good reason.. they grow up with a language that does not differentiate between L and R, and not between TH and S, either, and to some extent, Z and J, and it doesn’t have the “er” sound and.. all kinds of other things.

I noticed it so profoundly the other day in my 4th grade class. The teacher there used to intimidate the hell out of me. He always participates and tries to help, which is great, honestly, homeroom teacher participation is essential, but they aren’t trained as English teachers, and he’s the product of a system that says a child whose name is pronounced Shota is Romanized Sôta.

There are a couple of different systems of Romaji, but I naturally like best the one I was first taught, which basically is, each Japanese character can be sounded out in English letters. There is no “si”.. the reason so many kids call the letter “C” by the name “shee” is because in the syllables, which for k go “ka, ki, ku, ke, ko,” for s go “sa, shi, su, se, so.”

When I first got my letter of JET placement and it said “Sisou” I remember saying, “Holy shit, Mom, I think they’re sending me to China.”

The other thing that happened in that class was a continuation of the epic struggle to get kids to differentiate verbally between “Tuesday” and “Thursday.” It turns out, Thursday is the hardest word in the world, because it combines that weird-ass TH combination in conjunction with the elusive “ER” sound no one is used to pronouncing. Dammit, Thor. The kids see a day that starts with T and has a U somewhere in the middle and spit out “Tuesday” every time.

Katakana-ized, it comes out saazday, which is at least recognizably different from chuusday (which is how we English speakers tend to pronounce “Tuesday”), but I hate falling back on the katakana, because the whole point of me being here and being adept at English phonemes is to teach them how it really sounds, not how it approximately sounds.

Still, I ask myself, if a sympathetic listener heard them say it, would they understand the word? That’s what I have to come back to.

It also took on striking hues when I asked my students at all levels to spell words like mat, sad, Sam, sat, etc. I said MAT and they said macch(i)? and I said MAT and they said matto? and I said MAT! and they said matsu?!

(head shake) …Mat.

Even my third-years (9th grade level) were doing this. Because you know that ka, ki, ku, ke, ko? For “t” it’s even worse: ta, chi, tsu, te, to.

They don’t understand the alphabet as its own unique thing, although they can sing the song and put the letters in order and they can draw the graphemes. But I know that understanding takes time. They only see the alphabet in relation to Romaji. Earlier on, my third graders (as in, 9 years old) hadn’t started learning Romaji yet. So the teacher explained that they couldn’t yet write their names in English letters.

Which makes the third grade and younger my richest unspoiled-by-romaji-learnin’ group.

The trouble is, secrets like there is a whole new world of sounds with this foreign alphabet are slow to dawn on people, or at least they were on me. Ancient Greek was a little like that. But even Greek is pretty close to my home alphabet. It’s hard to imagine that some language system uses sounds yours doesn’t. That there is more out there than you know or use or would ever need if you just stuck to your one language. It’s hard especially for a kid to see outside the structure of their world.

I know that takes a long time to sink in. So I don’t expect to make a difference in English learning overnight, or in one month, or in one year, even. Give me a couple of years, and some kids who really want to know something, and magic will be made.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Talk About the Weather

I wasn’t really willing to believe what I was seeing when the weather report was calling for highs of 16.. what with last week having highs more like 8.
But I had six classes today, and in every one we ask “How is the weather today?” and the kids respond with varying degrees of proficiency in English depending on their age and temperament.
I try to get the older kids to use two adjectives. “Sunny and…?” sometimes in the past they would say “hot!” because they’d just come in from running. But today I felt it too. Today I wore two pairs of pants (as always) and was sorry I did it.
Seriously, sometimes I set my heater on 17 because that is the temperature I would like my room to be. And it’s doing that out there right now, with the sweet sunshine.
I know we do ‘weather’ (along with day and date and “how are you”) because they are daily conversation topics that kids should know how to say, and which change every day. And in my country, we ‘talk about the weather’ if we can’t be personal with someone.
But to me, and especially here, the weather is personal, and it really does affect my day. Today I wasn’t afraid Jermaine would last forever, because the spring is coming, and it feels today like the freeze is broken, and Jermaine as a winter burn cannot stay for the warming wind. Today I had six classes, six, that’s the max that there are in a day, and they were grades 1 through 4, that’s six to ten years of age, and I couldn’t stay inside and rest during recess.. I had to go outside and give piggyback rides to first graders who somehow had not got enough of me in first hour. Because I had to feel the sun and smell the water in the myriad water channels and find the rose-acorns (I have no idea what they are called for real).
JET of clearly Viking descent said something quite poetic the other day; he said people age year to year through the winters.. because they get all bent by the winter, and each spring they can’t quite stretch out to the reach they had the year before, as the years go on, we get older. I believe it.
But still, I’m never as old as I am in winter.
Tales from recess:

Cherry tree shade.

Storming the fortress.

Irrepressible ichinen and her pet gaijin.

Jump! Rope!

Seed pods that look like flowers.
[I really like this because I can't ever tell if this girl likes me or not; she doesn't respond well in class. But today after recess she presented me with a rose-lookin-seed-thingy. I asked her to hold it so I could take a photo or them both.]

(This is the one I'd picked up myself earlier.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday vs. Tuesday

No, I really had to work today to push the fifth graders into saying the two such that I could distinguish what they were saying. They see the letter "u" in both Tuesday and Thursday and somehow just slur it all into the same word.

In the continuing saga of Thursdays, this one should have been just banner. You haven't heard from the Thursday front for a week, because last Thursday was National Foundation Day which allowed me to hide from gale force winds indoors, watch Coming to America unedited, and pine for my far-off lover, rather than attempt to wrangle fifth graders into some kind of English learnin'.

Today it's back to the wrangling and the deck looked stacked against me from my waking vantage point. I still had that sore-throat feeling you get while a cold is starting its engines. I had forgone a shower in favor of those extra twenty minutes' sleep. I still almost missed the bus. Oh and Jermaine-site, AKA "Yakedo" is still around/infected. So you know. I'm on drugs for that and no longer to wear shoes with backs, according to the doctor.

And I was facing fifth grade again.

Yesterday, the Powers That Be sold the rights to My Life, The Sitcom. Coming soon is My Life, The Motion Picture! Yesterday was absolutely insane. If the sun hadn't been out, I might have had to cut someone. I pleaded "kaze" (I have a cold) and made some vague reference to the idea that I would eat with the second years on Thursday since I didn't feel well enough to do it Wednesday. I was secretly looking at taking the whole rest of the week off lunch duty, though.

So someone tell me why I feel great? Not only did I walk back from Big Elementary smiling, I did eat with the 2nd years, and I feel fine. Someone tell me, was it that MyLifeTheMovie has a greater budget for special effects (which I noticed when snowflakes began to float lazily from a relatively clear sky.. also, despite the lack of shower, it's not really a bad hair day--I still felt fine about the fact that it was picture day and no one told me)? Was it that I gave up on freaking out about never getting everything done and just tried to enjoy those brats? Was it the drugs I am now on thanks to Jermaine? I have no explanations.

Over the weekend I met a high school JET who mentioned preferring to work with the littler guys. I sighed and remembered how hard I hoped I'd end up in a high school. But when I was in class today, I wondered briefly how that HS JET would handle things in that ES class.. I tried to emulate the way I figured he'd enjoy just being there.

One of the 6th grade classes was like.. total bomb of plan. The other was epic win. I can't predict these things and I have no idea what comes next. But I am glad to be here, even on a Thursday.

Jermaine Goes to the Doctor


I went first on Friday, after my school's nurse delivered her grave look and shook her head, saying it would heal faster with more medicine.

My thoughts were, hell yes, give me more medicine, because here's the thing about Jermaine/Jermaine-site/Yakedo: it was a hilarious story. But it is still there. It's gone from being a little hassle to being a big change in my life. I can't swim. I can't run. And now I am actually forbidden (well, advised not) to wear shoes with backs. It’s kind of not funny anymore.

It's not so much that it hurts or that it cramps my style beyond all bearing. I can bear it. It gets in the way, but not in such a way as to constitute a full blown emergency all the time. But. It is still there, and it's been nearly four weeks, and it's not anywhere near gone. That's the real issue. I have Jermaine fatigue.

It was in this spirit that I left for the doctor's office Friday afternoon. The clinic I went to before referred me to a skin clinic south of town, so on I went. The doctor went on in Japanese to me while I stared at him wide-eyed trying to catch whatever I could about how to make it go away. I don't think he said much about that, only it was all I cared about hearing. I know he said something about how they get a lot of yutanpo (hot water bottle) burn victims this time of year, and how they are slow to heal.

Which makes sense, slow burn, slow heal. Plus it's cold and the cold does not make you heal faster. But OH AM I EVER OVER THIS. He prescribed a cream and asked me to come back sometime the following week.

On the way out of the parking lot, just for good measure, I backed Robin Red into a blue pole, broke the taillight glass, got blue paint on the bumper and red paint on the pole. I'm just glad it wasn't another car there.

So, I went on Wednesday afternoon for my re-check, because by then it hurt more often, and looked worse, and this time they had me sit up on the bed thingy and suggested I not look, thought it 'shouldn't hurt'.. then the guy took out what looked like a tiny scalpel and pair of tweezers, and I thought he was about to remove the whole gross-looking layer of whatever-the-hell, so I braced myself for the equivalent of tearing off a scab, only times a zillion-- which made what actually happened feel like the breath of a gentle breeze. I’m rather amazed at the gentleness and dexterity with which he operated on that horrible mess of mine. I ended up staring in wide wonder because I guess I like watching horribly gross things happen to myself. He removed a few small pieces of the.. um.. like white-surface, then put some of that cream he's prescribed onto a gauze square and taped it on there. This time the cream burned a little, and I think maybe he created a path for the cream to reach the burn through the buildup or something.

GROSS I KNOW. Then he prescribed me two days worth of pillz which I am now taking. And I just want to do whatever it takes to get this thing gone as fast as I can. If they said "pour this into a tub of water and soak your foot in it for an hour," I'd do it. I don't care if it hurt.. I don't think they understand me here.. I don't want to necessarily have painful things happen to me in public, but I would totally go into my house and whimper and cry and keep my foot in that material, if they told me it would fix it.

It's part of my system of belief, that things worth having (like a wonder-drug to just effing cure Jermaine already) have to be earned (like through pain).

Just as an FYI, I've tried to just use the name "Jermaine" to refer to the blister. I named it because it was so tall and had a life all its own. Now the blister is gone, and the infected site remains.

To see a photo of Jermaine when Jermaine was still.. a blister.. please click here.

Please do not click there. It's gross. The later iterations, however, are so gross I did not even take photos.


EDIT: In retrospect, I think the surface area occupied by the current burn is smaller than Jermaine was. Which is a sort of comfort. Kinda.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

“AAAAAGH!” counts as one line

The 2nd years ( = 8th graders) are still at it, and my wonderful JTE Mikan-sensei has not yet given up on having them write and perform skits in English.

My hopes were originally too high and too specific, but I am now willing to settle for understandable English, and every person in the group has to speak at least two lines.

I’m even so generous as to accept “MUAHAHAHAHA” and screams of pain as lines. That’s understandable to a native speaker of English, so…

A lot of my groups are very innovative. They are taking classically recognizable Japanese things and twisting them to their own ends. I’m going to describe my favorite.

Of all the traditional Japanese tales, it seems that almost every class has a group doing Momotaro. He is understandably popular, as the story is strongly connected with out neighboring prefecture, Okayama.

So in one class, there was a group making their way through the early part of the Momotaro story. Their characters were “old woman,” “old man,” “peach,” and “Momotaro.” (What about the dog? I wondered, what about the bird? Or the demons?) But I figured they would just rotate parts as the story evolved.

But yesterday they proclaimed their story finished, and when I read over it, I could not help laughing at their ‘alternate ending’ to this old folk tale. The story starts the same way as most iterations of Momotaro. Old woman goes down to do the laundry, finds a peach, brings it home, and her husband is like, ‘let’s cut it up and eat it!’

The peach protests, but the old man is mostly deaf, and he hacks it in two with his big knife.

Peach & Momotaro: AAAAAAAAAGH!

Old man & old woman: Oh my God!

aaaand.. scene.

Friday, February 12, 2010

not what I was going to write about

Someone tell me why some days I am the picture of existential panic and others I am as calm and happy as a snug little pet?

Wait, I think most of those days of perfect happiness start with a "Fri." That might help explain it a little.

Here we are and haven't seen the sun for a nice solid week. HULLO FEBRUARY.

But that wasn't what I was going to write about, no. Today is a Friday islanded between yesterday's national holiday (National Foundation Day), and Lupercal weekend (HAH - like I'm going to strip down and run through the streets of windy, frozen, rain-soaked Yamasaki), better known both in America and Japan as "Valentine's Day." But a steady stream of cloudcover has continued to roll across China and Korea to replace that which was overhead six seconds ago (yes, actually, yesterday I opened the front door and the wind immediately attempted to WREST IT FROM ME).

This Sunday is also the official start of the lunar New Year, and the Year of the (metal) Tiger officially begins! That's not the only double-whammy holiday this year.. as I was preparing my "Coming Events" board, I learned that both types of Easter fall on the same day (April 4th) this year, which only happens a couple of times a century or so.

None of this was what I was going to write about. Stop distracting me.

The plus side is, I can leave whenever I like today, because I drove myself to school. I didn't want to do this. I wanted to take the bus. I ran out of my house just in time to see it coming up the street, but I had no fear, for I've caught it at the corner before. I dashed across the street right in front of it actually.. the buses are pretty good about letting pedestrians cross. I guess this particular driver did not realize that my immense hurry was caused by none other than his arrival, and after I crossed the street, he drove on, with me staring after him sadly.

Then I felt really dumb, because having just stopped traffic to cross the street, I had to cross back to my own side. HAH. Damn. Today also happened to be the day the BOE returned their answer to my request to please let me drive my car only occasionally to work.. basically I am going to do that anyway, and I'd just like it to be legit if possible. They said if I am sick or injured it is okay. I guess I am currently injured... And for that I have to drive all the way back to Yama after work because I want to go to the doctor's. I showed the Jermaine site to the school nurse again and she said what must have been more or less "Yeah, that looks infected, maybe you should go get someone to give you some medicine for that mess." Excellent. In the meantime, ikebana which is normally Thursday was pushed to Friday. It would have been awesome to take the car today if I didn't have to go back to town and then come back out here for flower class.

The pains we take to keep beauty and life in our homes..! Speaking of keeping alive inside our homes.. my kerosene heater ran out of fuel yesterday and I was absolutely not going out front in that wet gale to attempt to refill it, and I was absolutely not going to fill it inside after the last time I tried THAT, so I just used the electric ones, which are passable, but which pale in comparison to my little champion.

None of this is even remotely close to what I was going to write about, at all.

Thanks for being here today, folks. It's time for me to do some Japanese HW and take myself to the doctor.

As per request of my brother (my actual, biological brother, mind you), I'm going to find a way to make the gross Jermaine photo optional in case you want to see it. I promise that you don't though; the girls asked to see it Superbowl Monday and were thoroughly grossed out.

Speaking of the Superbowl, I don't know whether to climb the walls in utter happiness or insist that I TOLD YOU the end was near and that 2012 gotta start somewhere, but I realize that perhaps not everyone grew up in a household where "When the Saints win the Superbowl" was interchangeable with "When pigs fly" or "When hell freezes over." So I chose the excitement option instead.

I still haven't managed to see the whole game, but I hope to eventually because what I did see was good, and what I heard about the second half was much better.

And now I really AM going to end this post so I can do whatever it was I said I was going to do.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Second Enkai

We had another enkai, work party, last night, and it was great. The venue happened to be a restaurant very close to where I live, so I grabbed my umbrella and made my way through the wet windy night. Walking or biking is always a great option, because the legal driving limit in Japan is zero. If you want to drink at all, you have to have arrangements.

I almost got seated next to Cutie-sensei, but wasn't; that was okay because I sat across from both the principal and the VP. I had a nice long conversation with the principal, for which the VP acted as translator. The principal ("Epic-sensei".. for his hair) has this habit of asking me questions about my life habits. Things like, "Did you eat breakfast this morning?" and the like.. I was sort of confused by it all, although it did seem to stem from a genuine feeling of goodwill and a desire to make sure I was doing alright.

Whenever someone walks by my desk and can see my computer screen, I always feel a little guilty when it's something clearly not work-related that I'm doing. Checking email, using gchat, etc... I don't feel abashed enough to close the window or try to hide anything, but I feel a little awkward. Occasionally when the principal walks by, he'll try to look at what I'm doing. He actually did this Wednesday, and since I had all of ONE classes Wednesday, and that one was the one-on-one special needs kid, and it had been first period, I was naturally on gchat.

As he walked away he asked me if I was doing something "difficult." Or tough or.. I don't know. Something taxing, basically. I said no (although it was a pretty intense conversation! ^_^), confused, until they pointed out that I was hunching my shoulders, a sign of stress. Honestly it was just me being haunt that he was cruising around my desk when I was doing anything but be productive (prepare lessons! make things for the bulletin boards! study Japanese!), but it took me by surprise that he seemed more concerned with my personal health or stress levels than my rainy-day work ethic.

But at enkai, he told me about his three daughters, and how one of them lives abroad in Korea, and that's why he always wants to make sure I'm doing okay, because he knows it can be very difficult to live far from your family in a different place and amidst a different culture. His daughter lives with her husband, so he imagines my situation to be different and more difficult, being spatially and culturally much farther, as well as on my own.

Other things I found out at enkai include that he is probably retiring at the end of this school year, and that I'm not the only one who suspects we're going to lose both Awesome-sensei and Kermit-sensei from our ranks. When VP told me this, I insisted that I didn't want it to be so. There are days when I don't like working with Kermit-sensei and Awesome-sensei, but on the whole, they're pretty good, and far better the devil you know. Plus the sentiment of good-feeling was all pervasive for me at this enkai. I liked looking around the table at the staff members I'd come to know at least somewhat over the last several months, feeling generally quite content and good about being there.

It might have been the three beers and a cocktail I consumed, haha. I told them I was part Irish and that's why I can drink "so much," but I really denied being strong to alcohol. I'm not, really.. they just think I am because I don't get the Asian flush.

Then it promptly ended, and I was walked home by Judo-coach-sensei, and I contemplated the meaning of being home at 9:30, kind of drunk, while the wind tried (and succeeded at) sneaking in through the mail slot in its howling.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Stinky little bastards

I’ve been bulletin boarding “like a champion” since I got back from winter break. I used to hate the bulletin boards with a sick-fearful passion. I knew the kids didn’t read them. I was wasting paper and ink and time to make them. And they never looked nice..!

So I broke down and returned to what I understand. I papered the boards slowly, one by one (of the four, one remains: I’m waiting til I get the letters from Peter’s Japan club in America), surrounded them with dollar store bordering, and titled them “What’s Up” “Coming Events” and “The Emporium.” I’d take a picture, but today is so humid the walls are sweating and every paper item anywhere in the school is warped and sagging.

“What’s Up” was first. It used to be “Hungry for English,” c/o my predecessor. I was loath to take down the board heading until I could properly hope to replace it. It’s just the general board in the main hall. Right now it sports a changeable days-of-the-week thing, and a weather thing. We had these sorts of things in the elementary classrooms where I was a sub a lot of times.. the kids go through it each day and say “Today is _____. Tomorrow will be ____ and yesterday was _____.” The packet came with all three, but I just put up “today.” And the weather one, I just put up “today” also.

“Coming Events” (formerly the first-year board) is the calendar board which I use to talk about holidays and other such things. My hope was to keep there a bunch of coming events, both in Japan and also American holidays.

“The Emporium” (formerly the second-year board) is where I’m putting information about what the kids can buy with their Emi dollars, which they get for volunteering in class and winning games if we play them.

Anyway, one thing I discovered when I was taking down my previous work or my predecessor’s headings is that stinkbugs like to cluster up and live under paper you put on bulletin boards. I had never had the misfortune of killing one of the little bastards myself until I ran one through with my scissors while trimming bulletin board paper. Someone once told me that they “smell like grass,” and it was actually true. I decided there in the freezing hallway that their pungent grassy smell was preferable to the smell that the heater in the staff room was at that moment making by being turned off and then on again by the tea lady for its refilling.

But I hate stinkbugs on principle. They are terrorists. They operate on a system of deterrence. “Yeah, kill me, go ahead. You’ll be sorry though!” They create a reverence for their lives that is not based on their actual inherent value, but on the fear that we will suffer if we harm them.

Remember that time I had one in my pants? I told you about that, right? How I was in a hurry and threw on some pants on the way to the martial arts festival. And once in the car, rubbing my knee, noticed that I was not alone in my pants. There was something right by the crook of my knee and I knew by its size and shape instantly what it was. It must have gotten in when the laundry was hanging up to dry a few days prior. I tried not to panic.

But dude. If there is a stinkbug in your pants, how do you not just take off all your clothes right then and there? I did not want to freak out because I didn’t want to upset the little bastard: he might stink me. And that would be undesirable. Through a series of events, I lost the thing and hoped it had just fallen out of my pants, but feared it had not.

My fears were right. Instead, it had moved to the other side of my knee and gone back to sleep or whatever a stinkbug does in someone’s pants. When I rediscovered it, I tried to get it out of there, but ended up just chasing it up my leg until we (yes, WE) were able to nick it out of the top and flick it out the window. We sat at the red light watching it sit on the pavement, wondering if it would get run over. The Other Georgian said she hoped it didn’t. I found that I really did not care.

My dust-hockey partner (cleaning time student who was also assigned to the staff room with me) likes to tell me “gaida are very delicious, okay?” quickly adding “summer only!” when I suggest he demonstrate this assertion by eating one himself.

Every time I see a student freak out about having one crawling on the wall or window near their desk, I smile and remember that I have tangled with the beast quite closely. And I do not think I lost.

Things that are easier in Japan: glasses

Even before I came to Japan, I was looking into getting a slightly stronger pair of glasses. My old glasses weren’t really a problem, but they seemed to fall short in dimly-lit far-seeing situations like theatres. I also wanted new glasses for scenery gazing.

But I don’t understand insurance and eye doctor visits and deductibles and charges in my own country. It is natural to assume that in a foreign country, navigating that mess is difficult tantamount to not-worth-dealing-with. But I tentatively asked people like my JTE and keeper Mikan-sensei, and our Japanese teacher what the procedure might be, and where to go to get an eye exam.

They were all a little vaguely confused and suggested I just go to the glasses store.

So the day Jermaine was born, I did just that. Heke accompanied me first, and we were later joined by The Cat. We ended up in Himeji by the end of it, browsing frames and exclaiming over how easy this whole process actually was.

Once I picked out my frames, I looked into a little machine, requested higher power, tried on some trial glasses that made me look like a classic nerd in eighties depiction, and then my glasses were produced in about twenty minutes for under fifty dollars (well maybe not with the conversion rate, but still).

I don’t wear them all the time, because they are heavy, and my old ones are still sufficient. But when I want to see far, they are there to provide me with super vision.

So, thanks Japan for making that at least a bit easier.

I am about to destroy the fridge

I sit next to the break area in the staff room. There’s a little couch, a fridge, a coffee pot, a hot water machine and a tea dispenser, etc.

And the fridge is buzzing. And maybe it’s always been this loud but I never noticed before because my laptop cooler sounded like a jet engine warming up. I actually replaced it because the thing because I was embarrassed that my coworkers had to suffer that grating noise. And because getting it to be on/stay on required me to fiddle with the connecting power cord all the time, and was sort of like searching for signal with bunny-ears on an old, busted TV. You had to find the right angle for the cord, and it was never quite the same, and then you had to prop it up with coffee mugs and whatever else you had around. The new cooler is very quiet and is easy to keep on, and compact for traveling. But it doesn’t keep the computer as cool as the old rickety one, so I’m keeping that one at home for its usefulness. And because throwing anything away in this country is a total pain.

When my fridge was this loud in Kansas, I shoved it. That usually shut it up. When that did not shut it up, I actually called our apartment complex maintenance people to be like “HELP, FRIDGE.”

It is also reminding me of noise pollution and dolphins.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Two weeks ago, the decision was due as to whether one would continue on another year as a JET, or not. I just realized I have not written about that yet!

I said yes, of course, I want to stay. I've rehearsed all the reasons, but the basic underlying notion is that when I imagine that I only have six months left in Japan, I feel terrible. I feel choked and trapped and desperate. It is simply not enough time to do all that I want to do here. (This is not a surprise; I doubt there ever will be, for any place)

I briefly considered not recontracting based on my reaction to leaving the US after Christmas, but ultimately, that very reaction was an echo of the same symptoms. I didn't want to leave because I had more I wanted to do, more people I wanted to see, and in general, more I wanted to say. The difference is, I'm not planning to live in Japan for 'the rest of my life.' Once this gig is over, it's over. And when a gig is this sweet, you've got to really work it for what it's worth. This opportunity is a goldmine and I'm not done yet.

What, to have only one autumn in Japan, and it already be over? To have only one Japan spring to look forward to? And only one year of trying to remember names and faces and impart some English verbs to these students? Only one year of the ridiculous stupidity I've displayed? I should stay if only to validate those lessons learned..!

Honestly, the question in my mind had been more of whether I would stay just two years, or three. ^_^ This, however, is not a big deal, as I don't have to make decisions like that for some time, and I am sure I will be equipped to do so when the time comes.

Even though I more or less knew I would stay, I basically refused to say as much. I take commitments pretty seriously (it's just a personality thing I have), so I am not going to say "I'm staying," until the paperwork is turned in. I don't like to go back on my word or decisions, so if there is even a grain of a chance that I will change my mind, then I won't deliver sentence.

Now that the decision is officially made, and only major understandable catastrophe will prevent it, I can say, I've decided to stay.

I have no idea how I'll feel a year from now. One drawback to this time schedule is that everything could change in April. They rotate teachers around the school system after they've been in a place for around 5 or 6 years, and from what I understand, two of my three JTEs are pushing that limit. I could have two totally new people to work with once April gets here. I might get really awesome and engaging co-teachers. I might get teachers who SUCK [at working with me and using me effectively in their classes]. Either way, I am predicting that I will lose at least one of my partners in English.

This change in April isn't just English teachers, of course. They move VPs and principals too. I'm pretty sure to keep them, and Mikan-sensei (the guy who is kind of like my keeper, and of the three, my favorite co-teacher).. but I am aware that a shift in personnel means a shift in the entire feel of an office environment. I could go from a happy and laid-back office to an office full of xenophobes without even leaving my desk..!

This was calculated in my decision to stay. I'm glad I get to keep Mikan-sensei, and for the rest I'll just have to take my chances in the mystery wall.

This is just one thing that can contribute to a complete change of heart between my decision date 2010 and decision date 2011. I'm sure you'll know which way the wind is blowing as the seasons change.

A mini-update on Jermaine: I killed him quietly on Wednesday night because I thought that surely after a week and a half, he was too disgusting to go on, and also that the wound underneath must be MOSTLY HEALED BY NOW. The first: true; the second: not so much. What ha' happen' was, It began to heal really well from the outer edge inward, and I guess planned to meet in the middle once it healed its way there. So the middle was (is) like this horrible gross wound and the outer edge is almost fully healed..! I had the nurse approve of the disgusting shade of gross that the wound happens to be (I wanted the pink of new-healed flesh and I get the red of.. well..)...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Two Kinds of Rain

There are two kinds of rain I have observed since I returned from the US.

The first is Warm Rain. Not to suggest that the rain itself is warm; it is not. But as this type of rain falls, the air temperature is rising. This is the kind of rain that came with the "January thaw" and it has the somewhat unappealing side effect of causing the school building to sweat.

What I mean is, the building, made of stone and concrete and whatever else have you becomes a place of condensation. Everything: the walls, the floors, the mirrors and windows. Everything gets coated with a layer of water because the bones of the building itself are still cold as the air warms.

But I couldn't 'give a care'-- I'll take the warm air that comes with this 'warm rain' and be grateful for it!

Today's rain is not that rain.

Today's rain is the valley-in-fog-all-day, at freezing point, temperatures-drop-throughout-the-day-instead-of-rise-and-peak-at-like-two, kind of rain that can only be summarized by the word shitty. It's "I wore two pairs of pants and two shirts and a sweater and I'm still cold" weather.

I'm trying to convince myself it's "go to Japanese class" weather, but my inner child is insisting that it most certainly is NOT that, and is instead "eat soup, read a book, and go to bed early" weather.

I keep hearing Lewis Black in my head, about the greyest day you've ever seen.. and I feel like it being February first is not a great start to a usually abysmal month, weather-wise..

"Normally in February in Boston and in most of the rest of the country, the weather is grey, rainy grey, sleetgreyraingreysleet, snow grey, every day it just gets greyer and greyer and greyer. You wake up one day and you go 'I'm not comin to work!' Boss goes, 'Why not, you sick?' 'No, it's too grey! I don't know if it's dawn or dusk. I don't even know why the sun bothers to come out.' Then you wake up, and it's the greyest day you've ever seen. And the next day, it's even greyer. And that's usually Valentine's Day and that's the day you look at your wrists and go hey! Maybe I should slit 'em to see color!" - Lewis Black, classic