Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ready or Not

As I get ready to leave Japan tomorrow (to visit the US), I feel very secure in my decision to stay a second year. I’ve watched the rice fields grow this time from little sprigs to nearly the height I remember from when I first got here. Everything that seemed so mysterious and new now has a backstory, a lead-up for the follow-through.. but it’s all still pretty mysterious again. I’ve decided that of Japan’s five seasons, I dislike the cold ache of winter and the lethargy of the rainy season, but the other three are actually not so bad, even the disgusting heat of August and summer. The anniversary of my arrival will come and go while I am in the US enjoying those things that I miss while I am here, but I am not yet ready to leave.

But I very rarely am. For the first time in a long time, it’s summer and I am not packing to move. Leaving any place is hard for me, and I almost always make it to the end of any thing in a scattered frenzy of last-minute packing and cleaning and barely making that insert-mode-of-transportation-here on time. I used to imagine that one day, when I am more grown-up, I will be fully ready well in advance and sit stoic for the change to descend on me. But I think that this, like the idea of getting ‘ahead’ on my ‘work’ is an illusory pipe dream, a nice hope, but never realistic. So I’m just going to have to do the best I can whenever I come to any big change or ending to minimize messiness without sacrificing meaning.

I get bogged down in the details. Because the details are what really mean stuff to me.

And even though I’m not having to pack all my earthly possessions and move (back) to a whole new continent, this week is still hard (in its own wholesome way). Stuff is still changing.

There is the more immediate/intense change that goes like, once I get back in a couple short weeks, half of my town’s JETs will be new people, and of the leavers, Heke and Big Brother will be long gone, with The Cat right about to follow on their heels.

And even if it were the same party-all-the-time group I’ve come to love, of Shiso ladies (and Brother), we’re also affected by the slower change of the turning of the year. Not one of us is the same person she (or he) was when I landed in Tokyo. Why should we want to be? Loss is both natural and inevitable. It’s just the piratical side of change, to which the upswing is new opportunity, and new people, places, and ideas to explore.

Even as I type this, cranes are lifting construction materials out of trucks and into piles on our outdoor field. I knew they were going to start work on our school building “soon,” but I had no idea it was going to literally be today. No wonder they made us move our shoes and start using a different entrance! I’m sure that by the time I get back, my workplace will even look different. C’est la vie.

When I return I’ll have plenty of time to clean out my desk and plan for the coming year (since I won’t need to spend that time reading all the materials I got from orientation/my predecessor), visit some club activities (since I won’t be paranoid/confused about where I am or am not allowed to go around here) and maybe even show some kids how much I suck at their respective sports, read novels, and maybe ..maybe even write more! Yay for summer vacation, right?

Ready or not.. it starts now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Once Upon A Time, I kept a blog…

Well! The first half of July was kind of a slog. Once you’re tired of something, more of it just makes you kind of.. even slower, or less motivated, or at least it does me! Now that the rain has rolled back and summer is here (as of this Friday, basically), it’s hot as blazes but that’s okay. I may have to start watering my tomatoes in the swelter, but at least I don’t have to worry about running out of clothes before I get a chance to do laundry..! (Laundry takes a sunny day, usually.. because even if you dry your clothes inside with a fan, they smell funny if they take too long in the warm humidity..)

I’ve been spending the last few days half on cleaning and half on getting out. It’s a three day weekend, but I’m staying in Shiso today just to keep my feet on the ground. I’m still pretty in denial about a lot of things, like how quickly I am leaving for America (don’t worry, I’m definitely looking forward to it, with an almost visceral realism I picture myself there).. only in practical ways am I in denial about that, things like packing and preparing what I will bring with me. I panicked yesterday and bought some souvenirs, but not very many. I guess it’s just summer.. I can worry about presents later, right?

I’m also in denial about the Great Changeover, or the Loss of Many JETs and Arrival of New Ones. A long time ago, I was looking forward to it, because I was excited about the possibility of what the new folks might be like. From there, of course, it was a totally open horizon. They could be ANYONE and so the potential for awesomeness was high. Now I know their names and placements. That isn’t anything really.. they are still completely blank on the radar, but somehow knowing that they are real people puts limits on the future? I don’t know how to explain that.

And I’ve also become more acutely aware, of course, of what we’ll lose here in Shiso. Simply put, I don’t wanna.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Well it’s July. I know that doesn’t mean the rain will stop, necessarily (it wasn’t, you know, in any way dry previous to June anyway); in fact, it probably just means it will get hotter and more uncomfortable. I was waiting to see giant fans appear in classrooms, twin counterparts to the big fiery heaters of winter.

They aren’t coming. And in a way that makes sense. I imagined the awesome whirlwind of flying paper that every room would become if we put fans all over the place. So instead imagine for me the kind of sweltering sauna that will exist if we don’t; I don’t have to imagine it, because I will be experiencing it myself.

June was kind of a rough month, which is unfortunate because I like the way it sounds. Early summer, so full of promise. But the promises kept were bugs, rain, humidity, mold, and summer colds (TWO in one month—coming in pairs I suppose, like the dreaded mukade)… two failed driving tests, too. My first real bout of full-on cultural fatigue!

And let me tell you. I like Japan. I’m glad I’m here. But this week? I HATE JAPAN AND WANT IT TO LEAVE ME THE EF ALONE! It’s too hot. It’s too humid. It lacks proper air conditioning. It hates me because I’m white. Its policies make no damn sense. Its children see no need to learn English and so scoff at my endeavors.

It is weird to me to see the summer arrive in full force like this. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year almost, since I arrived. It’s flown by, really, and yet I know I’m a totally different person (yadda yadda…) both in work and just life in general. I think that’s what made my snap of culture shock so bad. About now, lots of new JETs-to-be are trying to pack and daydreaming about the mysterious far eastern country they are about to invade. And lots of ex-JETs-to-be (that is, the leavers) are packing their stuff, puzzling over shipping rates, and thinking about the stuff they will miss when they have to go.

And I, for eleven months, have enjoyed this place, and mentally defended it against those who would naysay its ways, and found reasonableness in its ridiculous. I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back. I defended you, Japan. And you betrayed me. I bore the sick cold of your winter, and you repay me with a hundred percent humidity and dishes STILL WET in the drying rack after I get home at the end of the day. I dotted every i and crossed every t (figuratively, of course) and took lessons and studied hard for your damn driving test and the “advice” at the end of the second failed attempt was “Winker, Eye, Hand – you are/were (the beauty of Japanese being that you can just leave out the verb) very skilled at this.” (So, why did I fail?) –--“Winker first, then eye, then hand.”

WNFjet said after his first failed test that it was just because they wanted him to fail, they found a reason to fail him. I shook my head, certain that there must have been a reason, no matter how much he didn’t want to admit it. Because I knew I screwed up mine, so I mean, own it when you make a mistake and don’t act like people are out to get you. But maybe they ARE. (I would be, if I were testing WNF; I would be like, ‘you failed because your smarminess level was too high’) I’m totally up for saying “my bad” and “doing my best next time” when I have messed up; this time was really hard because I did a damn good job and still failed. Upsetting.

Pronounced once again unworthy to drive, I hung my head in anger and shame, got into my car, and drove the two hours home. Please tell me the irony hurts you too.

What hurts more is looking at my carefully weighed and considered vacation days and knowing I have to spend another one on this horrible endeavor. I’m hoping I can get out of this.. my VP laughed at me at first when I told him I’d failed, and I gave my It’s Not Funny face. I don’t think I’ve ever pulled that face in this entire good-humored year. He assured me that it’s okay to take vacation days during August since it is summer vacation. I vehemently expressed my desire not to. I asked about last year’s random Obon festival days off. Whether we’d get such days this year, and when, and if I could have him help me reschedule my test (since the instructions for doing so are all in Japanese) for such days off. He told me not to think about it so seriously. “The summer vacation is.. you know. Summer vacation.” This cryptic statement gives me hope.

So I’m scheduled for my THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM test after I get back from MY summer vacation (literally, “getting out of someplace” – I’ll be going to the US. Also, after the 1st of August I cannot legally drive and will be taking buses/trains to the test)… and I’m rather looking forward to the break. I also envy the kids their POOL class period when they have it. Damn.

Also, June is maybe the only unfortunate month in this country without a national holiday. Bring on July! Except the part where half my town’s JETs leave and get replaced with who knows what kind of riffraff. Leave off that part.

Addendum: while I was finishing up writing this, the principal of Big Elementary shut the windows and turned on the AC. I guess it becomes acceptable in July to do that. Someone tell the bus driver from this morning. JULY = HOT. YOU CAN USE AC. IT’S OKAY.

Second addendum: when I got home, the umbrella I bought this morning and then left leaning against a pole at the bus stop was still there, just chillin by the pole. I’m sure if it had been raining, someone would have stolen it. But I guess since it wasn’t, they didn’t. And this country ain’t so bad. Maybe.