Friday, April 23, 2010

If there were a kilter, we’d be a bit off it.

This is the new story of my life: I keep thinking I’ll do things, and then I never do them. Mostly I have good reasons for it, but it’s still lame as an overall experience.

Things have been outside of normal for, oh around a month now.. ever since graduation, mostly, things at work have been changing, and being on vacations, and having visitors (not me personally, but our ShisoJETparty-all-the-time has been lately, well, a party all the time)… and there isn’t anything wrong with a party all the time provided of course that you are not trying to have work alongside it. I got some new furniture, so my apartment is completely different than it ever was (so if I refer to my “new apartment,” I did not move, I just rearranged out of necessity to accommodate the new couch and the kotatsu, aka The Biggest Flat Surface In The House). I’m still going to write about Kyoto, Tokyo, and Okinawa, and also the Himeji bike ride I helped to captain. Or I might not, since I think the photo sets are like photojournals in a way, and the visual might be the most interesting part!

Suffice to say I’ve had a lot of stress lately.. both good stress and bad stress, unexpected incidents and things I should have anticipated but somehow miraculously failed to.. I thought I would have a whole day Wednesday at my desk (because I had one class scheduled.. ONE), and I mostly did, but it was interrupted by the fact that, oh man! I have to make elementary lesson plans! And now I make them bilingual, so it takes about four times as long. THEN I was interrupted by the destructive antics of our Most Disruptive Student, who is usually such a good-natured little delinquint, I was totally not bothered when he came raging into the staff room Wednesday after lunch (someone had spray painted his bike with pink) because he and I are cool. He doesn’t participate in my class, but he always says hello to me in the hall. For example:

Kid: Hello!

Me: Hi! What’s up?

Kid: I .. am.. CHAMPION!

Me: Of what?

Kid: eh?

Me: (in Japanese) What kind of “CHAMPION”?

Kid: …………… Champion of WORLD.

Me: hahahaha, awesome. Okay be careful, don’t climb on the roof today.

So anyway, it startled the bloody freaking hell out of me when he kicked a plastic bucket and made it explode into shards. I began to pay attention to his words, which included “important thing” and “break/ruin”… he and his circle of big male teachers orbited near my (now conveniently at the center of the room) desk and the VP and other female teachers were like, Emily, come here.

And I was like, no, man, I don’t want to leave my desk, first of all this kid should not be allowed to disrupt me (not as in ‘they should physically subdue him,’ but as in ‘I am not scared of this kid and I do not believe he would lay a hand on me and if he did, I could probably take it.’), but second of all, I couldn’t tell if he was griping about his own PERSONAL “important thing” that had been “ruined” or if he was planning to ruin some other important thing. I realized right then that NOT standing between this kid and my precious little computer, lifeline of all I do, was not what I wanted. I mournfully looked at it and considered taking it off the desk with me into the hall, but I didn’t want to be THAT GIRL so I followed the other teachers out and sulked around. It was a beautiful day, that day.

Which is a comparative RARITY which is another problem: Spring has been cancelled due to lack of hustle? There are notable exceptions. Wednesday is one. The Himeji bike ride weekend is another. On the whole, the weekdays are shitty (rainy, grey, cold… right now it’s 10C. TEN.) and the weekends are a bit warmer with more sun, which is not too bad a deal I guess.. five for two. But the overall sluggishness of spring’s arrival is really annoying.

Anyway, that was a tangent. What I am trying to talk about is how Wednesday I guess I must have gotten a lot done, but it was none of the blogging/photoworking/recon I had hoped to do. I actually did not have time. When I am at work, basically, I do work stuff.

Which is how it should be, I guess, and I am getting used to that. But it’s still an expectation shift from doing all sorts of things for myself in those brief days of spring holiday.

My new teachers are pretty cool. I have mixed feelings about Miss Piggy-sensei. She is sweet enough, but I swear she has not yet HAD a good day. Every single time I see her she is suffering from something. Trouble is, she whines and sits there while the teacher on the other side of her (Hot Band Teacher) sneezes into her handkerchief, then glares at the handkerchief like she is SO NOT OKAY with having a cold because, man, she just has SHIT TO DO. I can really identify with not having patience with colds. It’s a far better mental place to be than the moany-complainy place, anyway. But oh, MP-sensei has a cold, or oh, a sore throat, or oh, her stomach hurts.

I mean maybe she’s just having a bad… three and a half weeks, right?

Miraculously, somehow, the classes I’ve had with her (three so far) and the first years have been more or less Wonderful. I won’t ask you to identify with the thrill of standing in front of fourteen Japanese children all grunting the “short u” sound in unison, but anyone who ever tried to get their kids to say “BIRD” instead of “BAADO” will feel me here. The last two weeks we’ve had what I guess I can call “phonics Friday” where we tackled vowels, first short, today long, and wrestled them to the ground.

Seriously, today I did a listening quiz that was brutal. I gave them a handout with squares, and letter sets like “P __ N” and “N ___T” four times each. Then I had them write the vowel in while I chanted “PIN” then “PEN” then “PUN” then “PAN” at them. Meccha muzukashii, since in Japanese, the short A, short O, and short U are all just “a”.. but I’ll be darned if they weren’t volunteering to put letters in the giant squares on the board, getting it right and making mistakes and generally just being awesome all over the place.

Partly this is thanks to Miss Piggy-sensei, because she asked me if we could do phonics for the whole lesson. Somehow between her suggestions and my materials and lack of accent (see: some Americans pronounce PIN and PEN the same) and coffee induced enthusiasm, we are hot to go. Partly the kids are just awesome. The first-year group (frogs, I’ve called them) is, I think..? made up of a lot of oxen (by the Chinese zodiac system), which happens to be my animal too. The mice class is actually made up of a lot of rats/mice by that calendar, so I find that kind of fun. (But that class is starting to come out of its shell a bit under the tutelage of Sweetie-sensei, my 22-year-old team teacher)

Those are anecdotes.. there is, of course, more. Elementary with its triumphs, challenges, and changes. The BOE being more bullheaded than even me (well, we’ll see about that). The Himeji ride (along with seeing my graduated dog-class boys biking all the way to the HS in the town where I live all the way from the town where I work) has made me think seriously about biking as a mode of transportation. I am hoping to buy a decent bike very soon. My closet unit collapsed, so my clothes are everywhere (but I am getting a much cooler clothes thing from George since he is moving out this weekend)…  Making new friends, seeing old ones, seeing old ones change, seeing people get closer to you and others further away… Losing chances for shit, gaining chances for other shit. The long and short of it is I have a lot of (mostly good) stress going on!

Now we (I) am gearing up for Golden Week, too. This is a string of Japanese holidays which basically makes the first week of May vacay. I am going to Hong Kong, and I am excited about it. It’s one more, perhaps the capstone disruption to the long string of disruptions since graduation…

Sometimes I think I am wrong to imagine that there is such a thing as “normal life” here… but I know there was a time when I had a schedule and I understood it. It’s not that I don’t want to do the stuff I get to go.. just that there’s a balance. Costs to things. Lots of thoughts on that lately (good things and their costs).. I think I’ll perhaps distill a more coherent entry on that later, as well.

If I have a moment. In which to do so.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I know I've been MIA. Three things, one is work. The others are, I am distracted by present and future disruptions to the normal schedule. And, I discovered something I am now working on in tandem to the blog. Here's a little taste, but there is more to come. Which will actually be relevant to Japan.

In other news it snowed up the Somegochi valley today. WTF JAPAN. IT IS APRIL. The cherry blossoms have come and gone. It is cold again.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Seconds in command

We all know that with great power comes great responsibility, but the reverse is also true. Responsibility automatically equals power. They’re really just two words for the same idea.

Today, I didn’t even study any kanji, and I’m totally fine with it. Because I’ve been working, all day. Doing real work for my real job, and it’s kind of nice to be back to that. There’s a weird listlessness, for me, about camping out at my desk, doing things that are for me and not my actual job, especially after a while. I got lazy about it. I would notice that I ought to do this, or maybe should do that; I should get all these name lists, I should make these worksheets, I should print more EmiDollars… I hit maximum listless yesterday when I found myself dying for a distraction from my distracted state of mind. I only did one lesson of Japanese all day. I don’t know what else I did, heavens. I tried to blog, but failed even at that.

Today I did stuff. I laminated and copied and colored and cut. I produced lessons plans for next week’s elementary and I produced materials for them.

I did all this first although I do have the Very First Lesson of the Year with the New First-Year Students on Monday, along with …Miss Piggy-Sensei? I’m not sure what to call her yet. But she’s Kermit’s replacement, and she’s striking me so far as a touch dramatic.

Her English is great, though, but it’s been hard to hear her these past couple of days because she’s been speaking very softly AND wearing a mask (because she has a cold), all of which makes for really difficult hearing. She gave me impressions all week of how she has no idea what to do and how she doesn’t know the kids at all, etc. And I’ve sort of just been over here… doing my useless ALT thing.. then she had me help her choose workbooks to assign and I realized I am the Assistant In Charge, for a little while.

I did not expect my oldest teacher to give me so much power. If anything I thought it might come from my 22-year-old newbie, but anyway here we are.

There’s a brisk sort of happiness in all this. There are perks to incumbency. I remember that it sucks to be new. I maybe forgot just how much, until now when I don’t have to deal with it anymore. It’s so hard for me to go into things not knowing a damn thing. Not knowing the kids, or their abilities, or the teachers, or how shit works in Japan…

Today I overheard the New Principal (Michael-Scott-Sensei) asking the VP about school lunch and how it works. I realized that the VP is probably more or less in charge of Everything right now, as the new principal is educated to our ways. Eventually, things will turn back and we’ll all resume our roles, I’m sure, but for now, the little people are big. We get our twenty seconds of fame.

I also have a huge respect for experience and incumbency in any workplace I enter. That is part of the reason I was so trepidatious when I descended. Now I ask for shit and make copies if I want to and use the laminator and borrow scissors. I didn’t know we HAD student lists like this (oh come on how could we not?) and I was terrified to ask for them. I have no idea why. Now that everyone else is new or dealing with new people, it’s so weird.

And the new people surprise me with English ability or just speak to me in mostly comprehensible Japanese, and it all just makes me feel competent, and today I even felt useful/productive! So that’s a win. I can’t believe it’s Friday.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Okinawa: Day two (Zamami Island, and camping)

Day two dawned cloudy, drizzly, but still warm relative to the frozen north we'd left behind in Honshu Japan. We boarded a ferry to the island of Zamami, not far from Naha (about an hour by fast ferry, two by slow). Both Zamami and Tokashiki were on our itinerary, both part of the Kerama islands.

BigBrother, Chi and I took the fast boat, and Cat and Adina had to go back for forgotten cell phones, consigning them to slow.

It turned out not to be a big deal whether you got there at ten or at noon, though, because nothing was open until 11 anyway!

View Larger Map
We wandered around the main town for a while, because luckily it had stopped raining for the time being. We stumbled upon a few things that would become significant later in our quest. We had goya (bitter gourd) champuru and Orion beer.

We found the school on the island and the accompanying koi pond.

Schoolyard koi.

We met a dog with a face like a teddybear. We inquired about kayaking and snorkeling, but the winds were too strong that day.


Once the others arrived, we hauled all our stuff along the road for a while until we reached the Ama area, where we were going to camp that night, breaking only to do a little beachcombing. And yeah I said camp. Wind and rain be damned. Although I kept having flashbacks to this time when I was a little kid and we were camping in a storm. I insisted that tents actually can blow away even when there are people in them. We had rented both tents and sleeping bags, and arranged ourselves in such a way as to fit all five of us (even Brother) in one tent, plus all our crap. It was kind of miraculous, but it was pretty big tent.

With that all set up, we rented bikes and rode back to town, stopping to visit our dog (later learned her name was Hana), then took the bikes to another beach. After that, the others declined climbing the rest of the mountain we could see, but I always gotta know what's around the bend, so I took it on. By the time they called me for dinner, it was raining and I couldn't see through my glasses; biking that hill was not the smartest choice of my life. But I really wanted to reach star-sand beach! Apparently, on the north side of Zamami there is a beach with little creatures that produce star-shaped tiny bits of.. whatever. It's only on Zamami and Taketomi that you can find this stuff, but I never did make it there.

We had dinner at a place we'd been trying to access all day (Deigo, next door to the kayak place, also next to the dog); we'd also been talking about trying Awamori, but hadn't found any yet. We asked at dinner at Deigo and they said they sold it by the bottle only. We were planning to go to a nearby drinking spot anyway, so we declined.

We wanted to spend as little time outside as possible by that point. It was dark and a little chilly, and raining for real. We made our bike-pack way across the street to Shisa, hoping to taste that Awamori.

When we sat down, we weren't totally sure of how to order. Something on a sign said something about 1000 yen per person, which confused me at first. We didn't see menus on the table for snacks or drinks... then the old deaf man set a bottle of awamori, a bottle of water, and five glasses down and we all just kind of looked at each other, bewildered at this mindreader of a man. After trying the strong stuff, we asked him if we could order fries, but that only confused him because they were already in the fryer. He later produced, unasked, a plate full of Fried Things. It was Awesome.

At ten, we had to return the bikes (six hour rental, though I doubt the dude was going to check in all that rainy dark), so we struggled back across our part of the island, a little drunk and a lot unable to see. Our ability to see did not increase once we got back to the campsite since we had not brought flashlights. Fail! We used cellphones and did our best to brush our teeth in the woods without running water (thank goodness for vending machines every 18ft selling water bottles). Then we all just crashed, I personally still in my clothes. If you saw what I saw of the showers, you might do the same.

At some point it began to really rain again in the night, and the edges of the tent got very wet. We all had to squish toward the middle with the effect mostly being that we kicked CatJET a lot. No one slept much, or very well. It was a bonding experience, I guess, pretty unforgettable at the least. In the morning we all crawled from our hovel and wrung out the things that had been near the edges, and packed up the tent and said good riddance to that.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Random things about Okinawa (an interjection)

One: Okinawans are supposed to be the longest-lived people in the world. There are tons of people over a hundred. AND I didn't see any of the super-bent shrimp-shaped old women there, either. They're doing something right. Maybe it's all that pork.

Two: Because of internationality and American influence, Okinawan vending machines (which seemed to appear every thirty feet) are sometimes stocked with stuff you don't see anywhere else. (The same reason you can get taco rice there)



Aaaand of course, the A&W restaurant. I had more rootbeer floats on this trip than I've had in the last year.

Three: Shisa, called shishi in China, are guardian lion-dog creatures that are often seen in pairs at the entrances to homes or other gate-structures. Usually, one has its mouth open and one closed. I have read different explanations but my favorite is that the open mouth is the "a" and the closed is the "m" representing the first and last sounds of the universe.. in English generally written as the "om" which is mantra-tastic. Also, sometimes one has a ball (the male?), and one has a cub (the female). I find it significant that they are protectors, but apparently they are known to be really rough on the cubs (squishing them with their paws, throwing them off cliffs, etc. to test their strength) as well. I love them because about ten years ago I had a dream about a creature strongly resembling a lion/dog which played with me in an enclosed courtyard. It threw me against the stone wall, and when I was really put-out about that, it assured me it was "just fucking with me," turned into a young woman, and promised to be my protector for ever.

Shisa are just everywhere in Okinawa, in all forms of fierce and comical.

At Naminoue Shrine.

At the Sanrio store: A

and, M

And, as the name of a bar.

Four: The local beer is Orion. The local sake is Awamori, and it's special because it's brewed from Thai jasmine rice instead of mainland Japan rice. It's strong, but I did buy a bottle of a mix of it and umeshu (plum wine) that is excellent.

Awamori! (Inside that Shisa bar)

Two of the other varieties of Orion: Rich and Southern Star. Mugi is still in my fridge because I tucked it into my carry on before getting on the plane..! Also featured, special pineapple-shiquasa chu-hi, not to be confused with hi-chu, which is also sold in these flavors and only in Okinawa.

Five: Famous foods include goya, a bitter gourd melon thingy, and the champuru style of cooking in which you kind of just throw everything together at once. Which is so my style of cooking. So it's probably more involved than I just said.

Goya champuru. And Orion beer. OKINAWA LUNCH number two.

Six: There are MONGEESE. Mongooses? Someone said a must-see thing would be a mongoose fighting a snake. Word. Apparently, Okinawa has a couple poisonous snakes. Or rather, apparently, mainland Japan doesn't really.


Okinawa: Day one (the sunny day) and first impressions

When I signed on to go to Okinawa, it was simply because I was in the mood to sign up for any and all group adventures anyone amongst the ALT group was planning. Kyoto? Hell yes. Tokyo? Sure! Okinawa? Why not?! I had the time (which is what really became the limiting factor amongst some of my fellows-- vacation days have become scarce here at the end of the winter), and the resources, and I like to travel and go on adventures.

So it started out as nothing more than that. But after Tokyo, I realized I would enjoy Okinawa a lot more if I knew something about it, what there might be to do there, and what I might care about down there in Japan's Hawaii. Fortunately, I had spring breeeaaaaak, which here just means you go to work and there is no work for you to do (even overachievers can't do much because we have no schedule.. having no schedule prevents you from planning, yes, a semester ahead). So I got to dedicate some time to wiki-fying my life and reading all about Okinawa.

To be brief, Okinawa is a set of islands, Japan's southernmost prefecture (and, I hear, the poorest?). It's located down there close to Taiwan, so historically it has strong ties to China, Korea, as well as Japan. It was called the Ryukyu Kingdom before it got annexed, and once payed tribute to China, then to both China and Japan, and finally was claimed by Japan. The restored castle on the main island, though, is distinctly totally different from any other Japanese castles you will see (I say, having seen only Himeji-jo and Osaka-jo firsthand, heh..), being bright red and covered with dragon motifs.

Anyway, it's an island and it's in the south, which is reason enough to spend spring break there, especially if your home city is experiencing freak snowshowers on March 29th. It was mostly CatJET's field trip, because she had been there before, and she wanted to spend some time on islands other than just the main biggest island of Okinawa.

Our itinerary was to arrive Thursday (the 1st of April), Adina and myself around noon, and CatJET, Big BrotherJET, and Chi around 9:30 (Adina and I took one more day of vacation than the others and took off early). We flew from Kobe airport, a tiny, new, and totally reasonable place which all went very smoothly. There's a direct bus from Yamasaki station to Sannomiya, and from Sannomiya it's super easy to hop on the Port Liner and ride it to the end of the line on the manmade Port Island off Kobe. I have to give it to domestic travel in Japan.. they didn't even seize my water bottle, just opened it up and smelled it to make sure it was just water. Adina and I had a lovely cup of ginger tea in the pretty and modern-looking place before getting on a plane headed south. (Even the plane was pretty awesome... we were flying ANA, and they had cameras down under the plane to show what was going on outside to all of us unfortunate enough not to have window seats)

We boarded a plane in drizzly, chill-swept Kobe and disembarked into sunny humid paradise. Seriously, we were almost giddy as we traipsed off that plane into a corridor filled with orchids of various types and colors. Look at the orchids, I exclaimed, those aren't easy to grow..! Well, maybe if you live somewhere not subtropical...

Ohmigod you guys, it's the airport!

And there are shisa guarding our baggage..!

We took the monorail to its midway station (Miebashi) and picked our way to the Guest House Kerama from there. I was immediately pleased that we were staying there when I saw the open common room and met the staff; we were renting a tatami room for the five of us, and staying there on Thursday and Sunday nights at about 1200 yen per person per night. That is meccha cheap, in other words. When they asked for 12,000 I thought it was just for the first night. The people were really friendly and laid back and welcoming, and the other guests seemed decent too. The place has two tatami rooms (of which E01 is nicer because it has more windows, unless you don't want that stupid sun waking you in the morning) downstairs, and a bunch of 'capsules' which were more like a cross between a tent and a bunk bed. Upstairs there is a female-only dorm room.

I had forgotten to bring a towel (curses! NEVER forget to bring a towel..!) but they lent me one with a smile and no charge; there was soap in the shower area, although I'm not sure if I was supposed to bring my own (I did but never used it). They also had hairdryers. All in all, it was a little like forgetful or too-light packer's heaven. I totally recommend it to the Okinawa-bound traveler and I intend to stay there again when I return to Okinawa.

Adina and I immediately changed into bathing suits, sundresses, and flip-flops, and spent Thursday afternoon wandering around with a dude we met at the monorail station and with whom we found the hostel. We found our way to Overpass Beach, visited Naminoue Shrine where I pleaded for good weather to defy the forecast of rain for the rest of our stay. I tried some shiquasa soda from a vending machine, and we had okisoba for lunch at a red-painted 'soba shack' that we spotted just down the road from the shrine.


Overpass beach is not, I think, it's real name. But it is how I remember it.

Still, an overpass beach is a beach. And freedom? Is freedom.

Naminoue Shrine, just above Overpass Beach.

That's a sweet shrine, you might say.

On the way out of Naminoue Shrine, I spotted these red flowers against the blue sky and was like, where are we?!

Okisoba is one of the must-try Okinawa foods. Okinawans eat pigs. Like, every part of the pig. So there is pork in basically everything you order. Okisoba is just soba [buckwheat noodles] (only, the noodles are not as brown or thin as the soba I know elsewhere) with a different soup and with squares of delicious fatty pork on it. Shiquasa (or shikuwasa) is some kind of citrus that is green and gives the impression of a like.. lime-grapefruit or something.

Tuck in!

We walked down along the river later, in a park which was labeled on the map as "Manko Mangrove Park," which still confuses me because manko is not a nice word, in Japanese so please try to be clear when you say mango, or that you love to eat mango and find them delicious if messy.

The park was really nice. We spent a lot of time taking photos of tropical flowers while we watched kids play soccer with adults, and old people walking on painful rock paths as a mental exercise.

This, like walking on fire, is all in your head.

There were flowers everywhere. It was awesome.

Slow children at play.


There were also lots of stray cats. In all out wanderings though, both here and when searching for overpass beach, all the people we passed were exceedingly friendly and even helpful. Which is not particularly new to me in Japan, except for the super-friendly/open part. Normally when I walk by a group of old people sitting in a parklike place playing games or just shooting the shit, they ignore me. This is perfectly acceptable. That day, they would smile, wave, and shout greetings in barely comprehensible Japanese (Okinawa, of course, has its own dialect!). When people are so direct with me it often makes me uncomfortable because I become sure they want to sell me something. But actually, they were just nice. Also, we saw a bunch of what must have been bum-shacks, which were elaborately constructed and even decorated and looked pretty homey and inviting. One was made of umbrellas. I formed my opinion of Okinawa quickly: warm, laid-back, friendly, and awesome.

Well, okay...

We returned to the hostel to shower and plan the next step; our friends were delayed, so we decided to have dinner without them.

Adina and I stumbled upon Kokusai Dori which is the major souvenir shop road, and got caught up in browsing until we forced ourselves to go back for Taco Rice, another Okinawa specialty which exists because of the cultural exchange and probably sheer numbers of Americans hanging around the area. We also tried the Okinawa nama-biiru, Orion, which tastes superior to our local draft beer (but who am I kidding, maybe everything tastes better on a smaller island?), at least to me.

The others then joined us. We discussed going back out to one of the cute bars Adina and I had discovered and hoped to patronize at some point during the trip (one of them right next to the Richmond Hotel, the other along the water right under the monorail, called Moon Bow).. but then we all unfolded our futons and just sort of passed out.

We would wake.. to cloudy skies.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Do you ever have moments you just hope your mother never hears about?

Did you also have a blog wherein you were obliged to write about your adventures, even the ones that you fear will make people back home groan in terror and throw their arms in the air crying out, she will never survive, this one! ..?

So one day back in like February or something I was waiting at the bus stop. It was super early in the day, and I had been dismissed early to go to a meeting at the BOE, but the only bus that would get me there on time was the bus that would get me to my house like an hour early. Oh well! So I was waiting for that bus.

My bus stop is right by a little store that has a little parking lot. Sometimes, cars drive into the parking lot and stop, as that is what parking lots are for. So it wasn’t strange to me when a little white truck pulled into the parking lot. What was strange was when the little old man driving the truck got out and started speaking English to me.

“Excuse me, where are you going?”

I blinked at him. Where was I.. what? Oh right, I was at the bus stop. I told him I was headed to Yamasaki, which was true. He offered me a ride. The thing about Japanese English is, when someone offers you a perfectly innocent ride (like, for example, when my English teachers would offer me a ride home, or to some school event), the words they usually use are “Please get in my car.” I can’t explain to them why this is a sketchy phrase, but it just is.

So this little old man I have never seen before is in the backcountry of nearly nowhere Japan speaking fine English at me asking me to please get into his car? What would YOU do? Well of course you know by my preface what I did… I hopped right in.

As the car pulled onto the road I wondered if I had lost my senses completely. But I do have senses, and I do use them, occasionally. When he asked where he should take me, I said the name of the store across from my apartment complex. No need to tell this guy where I lived, right? I told him I needed them to change something in my cell phone settings. Then I sat with my phone in my lap, ready to dial BigBrotherJET if things got weird.

We chatted, sort of (I had become inexplicably tense about the decision to ride in a stranger’s car, though he gave no indication of intending harm), along the way, and he found out I was headed to a BOE meeting.. and offered to drop me off there. But the meeting wasn’t for like another hour, as I’d said, and I told him I’d rather just make my own way down there.

It really confuses people when I try to tell them I have a car. They don’t get why I would be riding the bus all the time. Yeah, good damn question (sometimes, anyway). I got a new bus card today.. three months of rides to and from work for like 62,000 yen. That’s a lot of gas money, as CatJET pointed out. But I digress.

Somehow along the way he convinced me that I should see the little school he runs, where he teaches math, his son English, and his wife Japanese. This must have been after I found out he knew one of my adult English students, because once that suspicion was confirmed, I was able to relax a lot more. Anyway, I consented to have him take me to this juku (cram-school). So I went and poked around and borrowed a book and went home for only a few minutes before I had to run to the BOE.

Crisis averted, but social obligations hoisted. Because he had this starry-eyed dream of me coming to their juku regularly, allowing his son to practice English, and in return I could study kanji with his wife. I told him I had Tuesday free. Which is true. But it is also the ONLY free day I have and I just cannot take on another class. He called a few times in the intervening months but I was always too busy. I felt bad, but what could one do. Finally, he and his son came up to Ichi for BigBro’s and my class.. but it happened to be the night Brother had advanced students and I taught beginner. They invited me to get some coffee afterward but I was like, man, it’s 9:45, are you crazy? I gotta get home and go to bed!

I finished the book I borrowed that same day though, and meant to call him the next day to

But I could tell that all he wanted was for me just to hang out with them, and so I assured him that I did want to do that, some Tuesday, just not every Tuesday.

So, today, I went. We ate ramen, his son was super shy, and his wife taught me a little kanji afterward. It was pretty hilarious because the dude himself had to run off to teach his math class before I was done eating (um, I am slow).. and once I WAS done it was clear that we were all there basically to indulge his dream of having us all be there, and we had no idea what to do next. His wife and son were like.. what do we do next? Do you want to learn kanji? And I was like.. uh, I guess..

His son is really good at English, though, and was pulling out crazy words I never expect second-languagers, especially JHS/HS formal ed only (then just self-taught) to know. He had a pretty good ear and accent, too. I could tell he was shy about speaking English to me because I’m a native, and I always used to HATE speaking Japanese to native strangers.. also I got the impression that his dad was a bit too delighted to have a cute female foreigner to visit his roughly-my-age son to speak English.

So it was magically awkward, but at least it’s a warm night and the ramen was really good, and I ate chicken cartilage for the first time and it wasn’t half bad. Seriously you can eat anything if you fry the hell out of it.

Ready, Set… Change!

When I left, it was chilly and rainy, my desk was by the coffepot window, the cherry blossoms were in bud, and I had just lost two JTEs (Kermit, Awesome), a principal (Epic-sensei), cutie-sensei, and the school nurse.

I went to Okinawa which was awesome even though it rained most every day.

When I came back, my desk was in the middle of the room, I had two new female JTEs (nicknames pending, but one is 22 and one is like 50ish), my principal looked like a Japanese Michael Scott, it was 17 degrees and the cherry blossoms were in full explosion, I mean bloom.

We had special bento complete with squidlets* (to celebrate?).

I actually had to come in and set my stuff on my desk in stunned silence as people circulated through the room. Six newbies. Spring having this effect like I been here a year now. I know enough to get by, I realize, but not really enough to help the new English teachers much.

My new desk (same desk, new spot?) now comes with my own set of drawers. So my desktop is wider! But now I’m in the middle of the room, instead of at the outer edge. I can no longer look up and just see the whole room from my little corner. And when people walk by they will SEE what I am DOING, which isn’t a huge problem, only I’m on gchat all the time these days.. or doing things like writing blog entries.

It’s bad enough that teachers don’t get to go on vacation because they are too busy, or even if they aren’t, they have to look busy/be at the office alllll the time, so it’s extra not-nice of me to rub their faces in the fact that I have more freedom by sitting here paging through photos of Kyoto/Tokyo/Okinawa like I want to right now… (those posts, totally coming soon!)

There used to be three desk clusters of six desks each, and I was tacked on at the end of one along with the tea lady to make a cluster of 8. NOW there are only six in each cluster. We eliminated two desks..! I guess that is because we needed more support staff last year, and our special-est needs kid has graduated.

And of my two new JTEs, one is fresh out of college, and younger than me, as my VP kept pointing out. She keeps looking to me for pointers and I’m totally still half in Okinawa/recovering from that (catching back up on email, etc.).. the other was a counselor at Heke’s school. Both are fine at English when speaking to me so far… although the sum total English classroom teaching experience amongst the three JTEs and me is the same as the total of just me and Mikan-sensei. The two newbies have none.

But it was nice to watch the brand new students walk by in their ceremony, or check their helmets and shiny new bike stickers before they rode away in their new pressed uniforms and blinding white shoes, and see that their faces aren’t new to me, I have some idea of their personalities already.. and I have their names all written down on cards with their photos. I have some grasp of shit this time around, which is a nice thought.

I’m still not in overdrive yet.. I just put up something on the bulletin board, but mostly I’m just drifting.


Just as an FYI: Now that my 2nd years have become 3rd years and my 6th graders are 1st years, etc, I’m going to go back and assign them all animal names. The graduates were the 犬組 or dogs group.. the third years now are cats, below them rabbits/mice, and the new first years are frogs.


*tiny whole squid, served chilled, with some kind of yellow sauce.