Wednesday, June 16, 2010

By no means at all

I briefly flirted with the idea of being a hacker. This was terminated when I was informed that I would have to download and install an entire new operating system in order to steal internet from the staff room. I wanted to take it quietly, but that sounds like a lot of work. I am just not that technically savvy, although I may happen to have friends in those places…

I thought I was pretty clever until last night when someone told me that every ALT has internet except me. This pushed me to the breaking point of lameness and required that I start opening cans of complain-til-someone-fixes-this-shit at work. I am currently recovering from that cold, so that helps me be a little less patient and a little more like, omgwtf can you just do this one thing to make my life better?! kthx.

So even though everyone is holy-crap busy all the time, I decided to ask Mikan-sensei. But when I got to school, he just looked so damn overworked (because he is) that I decided to ask the VP instead. The VP is always engaging me in deceptive conversation which leads me to believe his English is basically my English, but actually, it’s not (go figure).. he sounds very natural most of the time, so it makes me feel all confused and not-listened-to when he doesn’t immediately get what I am saying, which is actually a fairly frequent occurrence. Anyway, I figure if the VP regularly has time to ask me about movie quotes, he can totally take a few minutes to re-bless my laptop with the gift of internet and save me the trouble of downloading linux to haxor it.

My recourse of late has been offline gmail (which I kind of love for some reason) and then knowing that any really important information (should anyone choose to share any of that with me) could be communicated via cell-phone email/textmessage. Which is another lame way to say, I was reduced to cellphone email for my connection to the outside world between the hours of 7:15am and 4:50pm.


But today? Today I FORGOT MY CELL PHONE on its charger and so even though I did march up to the VP and ask, no really, is there any way I can get internet on my computer? And even though the technically inclined teacher checked it out, and even though they called the BOE to get the password (because apparently the BOE has that, and people here do not, or some crap), the computer guy at the BOE has the day off today (and we all know what a “day off” means… he is either at home sick or he is retaking the driving test for the 45th time, etc. UNLESS he is like Miss Piggy-sensei who just has every Wednesday off…) so I do not have internet either.

I started out thinking I would slowly progress toward having internet by any means necessary, but I ended up (NOT) having it today.. by no means at all.


Monday, June 14, 2010


People are jerks.

You might overlook this in your day-to-day life because it makes the living of it easier. It’s much more pleasant an experience to think things are “funny” rather than “annoying as hell,” or that they are “cute” instead of “stupid.” Inquisitive, not invasive, a teaching opportunity, not asinine… the conversion list is endless and it’s an interface on operating system that you wonderful kindhearted souls must use to function without your head exploding all over everyone all the time.

But when you find yourself short on patience, let’s say, you didn’t sleep well that night, or you got a cold, or something, suddenly all the jerk actions of all the bastard people become way too apparent. Suddenly it’s possible to have a beef with everyone. Suddenly you don’t have the internal resources required to rise above shit like you normally do. The irony being that other people will during this time think that YOU have suddenly become a jerk, when actually you are just seeing the jerkiness of all others clearly for the first time in a while.

Soooo I have had a cold recently. And I have about had it up to here with basically everyone. Okay the kids are actually mostly okay, except for those smartasses who make a point of not trying and then make sure you notice it. And there are a few staff members who have stayed out of my way (what, because they just can’t be bothered to even think of having my back? Thanks a lot!) and I can think of two staff members who have been, dare I say it, nice to me today.

Everyone else just wants shit from me and doesn’t have any idea how to be courteous, helpful, or understanding.

Mostly today I am just frustrated at Miss Piggy because I’m sick of her complaining; today she is really energetic, rushing me off to class five minutes early when I clearly have too much crap all over my desk and papers IN MY HANDS that I am trying to sort before my next class.. thinking she is cute or clever or whatever. But like.. not helping students on their worksheets for some reason. Getting me to make her copies for her because… whatever. Arg.

Also, I feel overworked today because I have four classes at the middle school. This is silly because until recently, that was the norm. But lately, two is the norm, giving me the rest of the time to do things like plan elementary, and then catch up on other important life tasks like trying to keep my email inbox under better control, or trying to study Japanese.. (None of which I have done today, nor will I ever be able to EVER AGAIN, JEEZ) Now, I do recall that I was always astonished at how behind I always seemed when I was trying to cram even just staying on top of work (that elementary planning and creating materials will get you every time) into the time I had, so the change was secretly kind of awesome. But I never felt overly put-upon to go to four classes in a day here.

But TODAY good GRIEF you want me to sit through FOUR classes?! Two of them with the awesome awesome crew of first-year (frogs) but with Miss Piggy, the others with the sweet and kind-approaching Newbie-sensei but with those awful second-year kids (the mice) who just stare at you rather than participate in anything ever?!

It's been a few days. A couple days back I sat at the sushi bar with Big Brother contemplating why no one in this town gives a damn anymore.

Having a cold makes me crotchety and entitled. So all you jerks had better start treating me better and at least PRETENDING to give a shit~!



Wednesday, June 9, 2010

littler fish

I always used to say that the easiest thing to learn is something you have already learned before.

Academically, I still think that’s pretty true. I almost feel like this is a companion entry to the one immediately previous because it also has to do with taking a long time on something. Only this time, in a progress-oriented way.

I decided that it takes me six years to get comfortable with a language. Six years, no shit. I guess it would be different if I were studying something intensively and focused on nothing else.. maybe the time would shorten up, then; but I’m not sure I could study Only One Thing for, you know, like two or three years, and still retain my sanity.

So when it comes to language, I have to move in stages. There are certain things I look at on the first go round, learn them only insofar as I have to (memorize for the quiz), and then just consign them to the currently-out-of-reach mental box. It’s not that I’ll never have what it takes to master those concepts, it’s just that I don’t have the time/energy/motivation/knowledge background right now to even want to deal with them.

Kanji’s like that. I had much bigger fish to fry than literacy for a long time. Honorifics and humble speech are like that, too. I joke about the ridiculous complexity of the Japanese writing system (which I am beginning to enjoy, go figure). You may also have heard me complain about how there are actually like twelve levels of formality for speech. Well, it’s not so. There are totally more than that.

But twelve is really all I probably need*, seeing as how I most likely won’t be having an audience with an emperor anytime soon. If I do, I’ll just have to hope that he, like everyone else that deals with me in this country, will be understanding that using those freaking levels is hard, and not as high on my priority list as learning how to just ask a train station worker a question with more words and less miming.

Thing is? If I think about it and formulate the question in my mind before approaching a station worker, as long as I’m not in any hurry, I can do that now. So I look down at my little chart of honorific and humble verb forms, and I kind of sigh, because.. shit. I guess it’s time. Twelve, though, really? Jeez. Not that it’s any easier for a nonnative English speaker to navigate the hemming and hawing we do instead to set a tone and show respect or lack thereof. I think in Japanese, you can ask a favor of your superior fairly directly if you use the right words.. you know, can I receive the favor of you allowing the rudeness of my requesting to get a ride to the work drinking party? Whereas in English I feel like you kind of more just.. make statements like I really want to go to the work party, but I don’t really know where it is, or how to get there. Can you tell me how to get there? Can I get there by walking? Oh you’re right, that is kind of far. Is it out of your way? Oh you would? Thank you so much!

I’m not turning Japanese. I always frickin’ have been.


* Obviously, you don’t really really need them. But it’s nice to know they exist when you go into a store or restaurant and the servicepeople, who have to be saying things like “How can I help you?” or “What would you like?” are using words that you cannot conceptualize, despite your basic vocab skillz. It’s kind of like the way a waitress will never say “What do you want?” which is simple/straightforward both grammar and vocab-wise, but instead “What can I get for y’all?” or “What would you like?” .. and would is all kinds of trouble as a modal verb and all this BS, when you really think about it.

But seriously, the service in Japan is mostly just insane(ly good), and it will only confuse them if you try to tip them. Go to a cafe in Japan once in your life just to hear someone say what must actually be “We are honored that you have graced us with your presence, I beg that you allow me to serve you,” and then not expect extra cash for it.


I’ve been thinking lately about fatigue.

When we were at orientation at the beginning of the whole JET adventure of mine, there was a seminar on “Culture Shock” which is now called “Cultural Fatigue.” The speaker kind of made a joke about how the “fatigue” term is harder for people to understand, and sort of elicits the response just take a nap, whereas “shock” seems a lot more dramatic.

But not to me. Shock is something that is short-lived, intense but momentary. Personally, I’m okay with crisis. My mind is much more geared to dealing with things like intensity-in-the-moment. In my naivety, I believe that there is no great shock I cannot stomach for that one horrible moment in time.

It’s the moments that come after that really scare me. It’s the prospect of the time that will go on and on. This is what makes a thing like loss difficult for me. It’s the way loss means it’s going to be gone for a long time, the way the future stretches out before you suddenly lacking something. I’m not scared of having a bad day – I’m scared of real lingering unhappiness.

So the long-term-ness of the strain implied by fatigue is, to me, much scarier than shock, culture or otherwise. It’s not the moment of holy shit, there is corn and mayo on this pizza but no pepperoni, but rather the months and months you will go before you have decent pizza. But even that is fully bearable because, heck, what’s six months (and this example is just pizza—there are far less unhealthy, trivial things to deal with) of bad or no pizza? Really, what’s the rest of my life with no pizza? I’d say it’s pretty tragic, but in all seriousness, I wouldn’t care that much.

What’s scary about cultural fatigue is having to do things in a way that doesn’t fit with your own desires or ideas. It’s exhausting to want to make a difference and to feel that you don’t. In more general terms, it’s fatiguing to want something and not get it.

The scary side of fatigue is facing the prospect that it doesn’t get easier or better with time, it gets worse. Shock is something that happens, and sucks, and then slowly mends, like any old wound. Fatigue, to me, sounds more like a deteriorative disease.

The problem is not that you had a fight with your sig-O. Fights are good in a lot of ways.. and very often, they are pushes to progress that wouldn’t otherwise be made (in that way, they can keep you from stagnating). The problem is not a fight. The problem is when you have fights all the time. About the same damn thing. And progress never seems to get made. The problem is stagnation.

I never worry about a cough, or a cold, or a sore throat, even when it’s particularly painful or shitty. I only worry when it’s been three or four weeks, even if the cough is minor.

I don’t care that the kids are wild/incapable of attention for English class on the last period of the day on a Friday afternoon. But I do care if they are like that every week and I only ever get that time slot for the rest of forever, or they turn out that way in my class no matter what time of day I go. It will take three weeks for me to figure this out/admit that there is something I need to see about fixing.(Then I sigh and feel tired because of the prospect of the way I now know I have to do something ‘bout it, as opposed to being tired because of all I’ve done.. I get tired in advance.

But actually, the ironic thing is, sometimes you really do just need to take a nap or something. Sometimes you just need a little something to allow you to turn around on the way you look at a thing. Sometimes you just need a figurative breath of fresh air. It can start with something as simple as getting a better handle on your own physical health.. making sure you get enough sleep, eat well (I’m telling you, spinach has serious vitamins happening), get a bit of exercise (swear to goodness it helps with sanity), brush yo teeth, etc… well being on top of one thing leads at least me to feel better about trying to get atop another.

I’m writing this now.. from a point of view of being scared of fatigue, not really being mired in it. I’ve said that I fear or dislike change. But I also greatly fear lack of change (as a component of fatigue)—which is a logically flawed fear to have, since change is impossible to prevent.

I guess it’s like they say, though, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The overarching things don’t change. The atomic things don’t change. Stuff in between never stops changing. Shocking.

Friday, June 4, 2010

good morning

“Good morning!” I blink. It must be a teacher because… Most students don’t stand in the doorway of the copy-workroom to talk to me. But it’s one of my third-year girls, one of the ones I like the best because she, for example, is willing to stand in the doorway of the copy-workroom to talk to me. There are two best friends with almost the same name, but this is the prettier of the two, so I remember her name as the one that sounds weirder in English.

“Good morning!” I smile.

“Your skirt is very.. good!” she says. “Very cute!” there are “o”s lingering on the ends of her words. skaato, guudo, kyuuto. I don’t mind, although maybe I should.. it might be my job to mind.

“Thank you!” I say and smile again. I really like this skirt. Something about it makes everyone think I made it myself. I guess it looks kind of homemade. It’s just prairie enough that it wears easy, washes easy, but it’s long enough to wear to work. It’s not very businesslike, but it’s fine for a Friday. Or any day. Who really cares what I wear. Except for the 3rd year girls, of course, and that one teacher who is nice enough to compliment me on new haircuts and anytime I try something adventurous with an accessory.

As she walks away I glance in the mirror above the workroom sink. “God I look like a crazy person,” I note, trying to smooth down the left side of my hair. Normally the left side will lay flat and it’s the right I have to worry about. But I guess the humidity will play havoc no matter what I try. I give up, slice up my phonics worksheets to their proper size, hole-punch them so I don’t have to collect them (but I probably will), and march my brown tennis-shoe self right out of that workroom.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You Never Know

It’s currently pouring. Just an hour ago, it was sunny and warm.. pleasant in the shade, anyway. It’s one of those delicious summer storms in this, the so-called rainy month. It’s only day three of this rain-month but it’s rained two out of three days.

Today was weird. I didn’t feel like teaching class, but I did feel like chilling at recess. I think working in elementary schools is taking years off my mental age. I think that may be a good thing. But I didn’t want to run or be athletic like I sometimes do. I have a little bit of a sore throat, a little bit of a cough..

And that kid that normally seems to exist solely to make one hour of my day really suck… that kid was for some reason carrying the class activity. He’s actually pretty sharp, that little ADHD punk, and even when he was getting stuff wrong, at least he was still participating.

I guess you just never know.

And even though it’s now June, it still gets chilly enough that one needs sweaters in the morning and evening. And sometimes in the afternoon, too, right after the rain. What is up with that? I’m not complaining; it’s just weird is all.