Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The elementary experiment, cont.

I have nothing but bad news to report to you kindly people back home. Last week, the elementary school teachers, the Junior High School teacher in charge of elementary relations, and my boss had a meeting. At this meeting, they were going to decide if either Nigel or I were going to teach full time at either the Jr. high or the elementary school, which I believe I have mentioned previously, would be a total nightmare. Hear me out:
It's not that I'm afraid of hard work, but five classes a day five days a week at the elementary school is bound to be a horrible idea. For one, the students' English capacity is barely over greeting and grouped vocab (foods, animals, etc.) For two, to take the lessons to the next level, one would need a much higher command of Japanese than I currently command to explain some grammar and functions of words in Japanese. For three, there wouldn't be any time to plan out the much-more-time-consuming elementary school lessons, because I'm busy teaching each period of the day, except the last 45 minutes, which is enough time to review the book (which I will have to disregard, because there won't be enough lessons to teach this often ... oh, and also it's all in japanese, so I need someone to translate it for me anyway) and write down some ideas. Four, the few games and songs that I have been turned on to during my time here are already getting stale, which requires the invention of new games and new songs. It's already too hard to explain simple games to the teachers, let alone inventing or reinventing new games with new vocab, or a new song with new choreography.
So, bottom line: this totally sucks for whoever has to do elementary school.

In any case, our boss walks in to our office today, and literally says "By the way, has anyone talked to you about next year?"
"No, why?"
"Because in January, The Single, White Gaijin has to go to elementary school every day...
"...and Nigel has to go every day in February."

So, we're alternating months, which I guess is something, but it really appears like the worst of both worlds. At Junior High, one person will be teaching double the usual load, and one person will be handling the entire elementary load all by themselves (without the much-needed and relied on help of our friend S-Lan!, because she probably can't accommodate to taking us to school once or twice every week). It causes all kinds of other problems, too. For instance, if I attend the Jr. High graduation on Saturday even though I'm teaching the elementary schedule, do I still get the following Monday off as a substitute holiday, or am I just stuck with any extra day of work?

It's actually really frustrating, and it seems like things just keep getting worse, a little at a time...though, this is the biggest all-at-once. I definitely have to request that the schedule be changed, maybe alternating weeks, or teaching only four classes a day and having help from the teachers to make lesson plans (like they're supposed to do anyway!), or something. I don't want to sound like a drama-queen, but I really might be coming back to America a little sooner than I planned on. I'll air my grievances, and make recommendations (if anyone will listen), and I'll give January a shot. But, if I feel like killing myself (living in a house with no insulation, biking an hour in the cold to work to teach five lessons with no help, and being expected to stay overtime to plan my lessons for tomorrow, so I can return after sunset to my cold house alone, too tired to do anything but sleep and wait for the next day...) I'll just quit, and tell 'em better luck next JET.

I sound like a wiener, huh? I hope I don't sound irrational - I know I am working and all. It's just...with the cultural and linguistic differences and all, on top of all this new stuff, it seems like a bit too much to deal with. So, if I don't think I can, I don't think I will.

But, hey, January is a long time away, right?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The elementary experiment

Hello, good reader. It's been over a week since my last update - with good reason, too. All this time spent at the elementary schools has left me feeling verymuch under the weather. Feeling about six feet under, to be sure. For the first three days, I thought perhaps I had managed to catch SARS, but thanks to generic American Dayquil, I was able to manage through the last week.
Elementary school was fine, in fact. No students tried to manhandle me, and despite some minor annoyances, the time flew by without much incident. I worked this Saturday, attending my Junior High's chorus competition, and so got this Monday (today) off work in exchange. It's nice to have a day to sit around and run some errands, to be sure. Many thanks to the nice ladies working at the post office that helped me stumble through the forms required to send money home.
As I mentioned in my last entry, Miranda July has an art exhibit in Yokohama, along with a couple dozen other artists including Yoko Ono. So, a couple of my friends and I met up on the way to Yokohama to go see what we could see of the world modern art scene. I had a really good time, saw some really good exhibits, and had a great day just getting out of the house and into a new city. Our visit coincided with some Thai festival in the bay area, which was fine with us, because we could eat cheap Thai street food and have a couple of Thai beers after trudging through the art areas.
My favorite exhibit was Pedro Reyes' "Baby Marx" - a socialist puppet show filmed and made into a movie trailer. Really great puppets, really wonderful video. Watch it! http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=o7VdMyNXWUM
Of course, Miranda July's exhibit was really good too, and I took a bunch of photos of myself there.
I've been slowly adding photos to my photobucket account. My name is allhailinformation, and you should look up my pictures, if you want. I will probably add a link at some point to make it easier...but, I'm not all the way done uploading stuff yet. So, enjoy and leave comments please.

Until next time, dear reader.

"What am I that can't help wondering what am I that can't help wondering what am I?"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Things are changing for the gaijin

On Friday, a new and good friend of mine came into town. I met Alan in Hiroshima, when I was visiting there with my friends Josh and Shannon. He was checking into the same hostel as we were at the same time. Later, we saw him at the Atomic Bomb Dome, and after that we were pretty inseparable. We karaoke'd twice, once for about six hours. Alan is on a Asian tour, of sorts. He flew from London to Moscow, and caught the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow, though Mongolia, into China, and got a ferry from Shanghai to Japan, when we met him in Hiroshima. He's gotten to take something like 8 weeks off from work, and this is his last week in Japan.
I immediately liked Alan. I think he's a very honest and kind person, and he's really quite appreciative of the people who are helping him through his trip. Not only is it good for me to get to hang out with someone who has become a friend of mine, but it makes me happy to help him with his trip, and meet up with him in Tokyo like I did today. But, before all that...
He came in on Friday, and we went out to meet some other English teachers at a nearby bar, and then something wonderful happened! I started talking to Japanese people in English and Japanese! Enough to actually have a conversation. And the bar owner and all of his friends are fixed-gear fanatics! So, we started talking about bikes, and I told them that I used to have a fixed gear, which is a lie, but I DO know how to ride one, and I like them fine. They told me that they're excited to be my friend, and I taught them some really bad English, and I'm pretty pumped to see them again. I made friends! I feel like a kid in Junior high, who's new to town and just ate lunch with someone he has something in common with. It's a pretty nice feeling.
So, Friday was good. The guys even let me ride their fixed gears, though I was drunk and the toeclips were really small, so I played it careful and called it quits right away. And Alan and I got to do some discussing about our favorite horror movies, and picked strange cocktails for one another. A really good time, actually.
And Saturday, Nigel, Alan, S-Lan and I met with S-Lan's friend, Haruko. We went to an Italian restaurant, and absolutely stuffed ourselves full of all kinds of food. I think between the five of us, we ate four pizzas, two big salads, some risotto, and a piece of desert for everyone. And after that, we stopped at Haruko's on the way home. S-Lan's family was there, and they were all barbecuing, and I had a really amazing time. I really like that some things are universal. In Japan, dudes like to get drunk and grill all kinds of food and hang outside when it's nice, just like back home; only here they grill squid and some kind of weird, smelly fish called Sama.
Today, I met with Alan in Tokyo at Yoyogi park, which is like Tokyo's Central Park. It's really amazing. Because space is limited, there are bands all over the sidewalk playing and practicing - I saw maybe 15 today throughout the day. I really love how open everyone is. In America, I think people would be way too afraid of criticism to play out in the open like that, in lieu of practice space, but it just goes to show how laid-back Japan is about that kind of stuff.
One of the craziest things about today was that every Sunday, some dozen Japanese men dress up like greasers, and claim part of Yoyogi park to dance to Rockabilly music, and show off their pompadours. It was a cross between watching Grease on fastforward and the more melodic sections of a Guitar Wolf show. Definitely wish I had taken pictures.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nightmare on Elm St. 3 has Lawrence Fishburne in it...

To celebrate Halloween, and get into the proper spirit, I'm watching The X-Files and every Nightmare on Elm St. For the record, Nightmare on Elm St. 2 is one of the worst movies I think I've ever seen...
Anyway, today was a new elementary school, which is always a little nerve-wracking. I feel a little like I'm stuck in a time-warp, like that Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day. Here's why; 1) the lessons are the same. I have been introducing myself 4 or 5 times a day at every elementary school. When I've visited once or twice, I might luck out and have a class or two for the second time. A new school just means that I definitely have to introduce myself at the beginning of each lesson. 2) The new teachers and principals (and the Hajimemashite's [nice to meet yous]) always put a little stress into the day. Usually, there's a low level of English, so yet again, I end up having the same limited conversation in basic English or basic Japanese (depending on the disposition and ability of the teacher/administrator). I don't want to be rude, and I am interested in meeting new people, but I hope you can understand how this could be a bit trying for me on occasion. 3) Every time I'm through introducing myself, I can predict exactly what questions will be asked of me. Despite the fact that one of my major talking points is what my favorite foods are, some kid will definitely ask (Ski na tabemono desu ka? What's your favorite food?), some kid will ask what sports I like, some kid will ask if I have a girlfriend, and some kid will ask what my favorite animal is. I mean, again, I understand that it's all new to kids, and because of the limited language, superficial exchanges are as deep and meaningful as we can get, but it can feel like I'm living the same school day over and over again.
Today was a little different. My Japanese is a little better, so I could muddle through a bit more serious conversation with the administrators and the coffee lady. And, hey, today I petted a rabbit and it licked my arm and my hand for like, ten minutes. I suppose there's nothing that bad about getting some affection. Lord knows I've been without it for long enough. I don't think I've hugged anyone since I hugged my brother in Chicago in July.
Ah, hell...I had a whole 'nother topic in mind for an update, but this'll do for now.
As an aside, I just found out about a Miranda July art gallery in Yokohama, which is maybe an hour and a half away. So...maybe that just became my weekend plans.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Otsukare sama deshita.

Alright. I suppose it's time that we sat down and faced the facts, you and I. My blog is getting boring, isn't it? I suppose it's only natural that as my life begins to stabilize, and I am not spending every night nervous about the next day and the rest of the year to come, and my encounters with pervo Japanese boys gets stale and less jaw-droppingly shocking, my blog would begin to slow down as well. As such, I understand if you quit reading. I mean, we've had a good run, you and I.
For my part, I intend to continue my recording of this experience, and I will try to make it as entertaining as possible.
But, the honeymoon is over. When I first got here, when I would take a dump, I would be giggling and thinking "I am pooping in Japan, on a crazy Japanese toilet! This is incredible!" And now, well...pooping is just pooping, taking a shower is just taking a shower, and riding a bus is just a riding a bus. Perhaps I'm losing my American perspective. It is a possibility.
In fact, today I was speaking with S-Lan (the great friend, who is the polar opposite of L-San, remember) and another English teacher about America. And these two middle-aged women could not believe that people live in a country where guns are allowed, and in some states, carried on people's bodies into public places. In fact, S-Lan told me about a Japanese exchange student some twenty years ago, who was killed by an American with an itchy trigger finger. It was Halloween, and the Japanese student dressed up, to go out and experience his first Halloween (they celebrate here, but my understanding is that they don't really trick-or-treat or anything). I think the student his friends were looking for a houseparty, and they stepped onto someone's porch, and the old man inside told them to "Freeze!" Well...since "Freeze!" is a really obscure word, certainly not in most foreign-speakers of English's vocabulary, the Japanese kid didn't know what to do, and started to run, and he was killed on the sidewalk in front of the house.
I guess that's the kind of thing that I would just shrug off in the states, and admit the "accidents happen," but my time here has really shown me how accidents don't really have to happen, and that safety is important. And, I'm not talking about gun-control. Just a manner of thought peculiar to America, where everyone is out to take what's yours and "community" is just a another word for church. On the other hand...
It's crazy to live in a country that didn't invent punk-rock. I mean, honestly, think about it. The counter culture here has accepted the fashion and the sound (though, how many Japanese kids can understand the deep meaning in CRASS songs, or the playful irony of NOFX?), but the kids here never stood up and said "Hey, fuck you and your whole way of thinking. We're on the outside and that's fine with us, because we think you're fucking insane."
It makes me wonder if you can have both; the American rebellious streak and the drive for individuality and particular counter-cultures as well as the warm sense of community and teamwork that I see everywhere in Japan.
Well, it helped me a little to write that out, even if it didn't help you to read it. Thanks for reading, in any case.

Big up to NC.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Three-day weekend.

After being deprived of my weekend last week, in favor of the school sports day, an enkai and a speech contest (not to mention helping out my little visitors), I finally get repaid this weekend, with an extra day off. Today, in fact! Happy Sports and Health Day, Japan! You know what I did to celebrate? I certainly didn't do anything healthy or sporty, and I spent a lot of time indoors. Thanks, internet!
I actually spent a considerable amount of time this weekend on the videophone talking to people back home. It's awesome the Skype is free, from computer to computer. Imagine if I had tried this trip 15 years ago. I'd probably have been sending letters and buying phonecards. You certainly wouldn't be able to read this blog right now. Instead, I can have instantaneous communication from one side of the world with another. I guess technology does have it's ups, as well as its downs.
The only kind of sporty thing I did today was help Nigel fix his bike up a little bike. Japanese bikes are different in a lot of ways. Like I have said before, we ride mama-cherries here, and it seems like everyone else does, too. But, there are a couple of things that make a lot more sense than the bikes at home. For instance, just about every bike has a tiny headlight on it, with an attached dynamo, powered by the rotating front wheel. No batteries, nothing. Just a tiny electrical engine that hardly takes any energy at all while pedaling. Also, almost all bike locks are attached directly to the frame, making it impossible to forget your lock at home (like I always did in the states). Anyway, Nigel and I figured out what Japanese degreaser looked like, got some lubricant and I cleaned up his chain and cogs, worked out a simple electrical problem with his lamp, and put on a new lock. Tiny maintainance, but it reminds me of how good it feels to work, even just a little bit, to better something right in front of you in a finite amount of time. Two hours later, Nigel's riding a lot better than he was, and it cost about 10 bucks.
I'd almost like to be a bike mechanic when I get back to America. But, that's only if my career as busboy/dishwasher doesn't pan out. Oh, boy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Okay, guys. Life is going on as life does. With school life settling into a groove and me finding my way as a teacher, familiarizing myself with the material and becoming more comfortable speaking Japanese and gesturing in English class, time is passing quickly. The weeks seem like the days did in August. It seems that I have to make a plan two weeks ahead of time to sufficiently prepare for it. All in all, I suppose this is a good thing; not that I am wishing away my incredibly valuable time here in Japan, but at least I am not achingly aware of the apparently slow passage of time. As it is, I can focus on the task at hand, do a good job and relax afterward without having anything close tot he high-stress situation earlier in my trip.
So, things are good.
My Japanese is getting really good, too. I mean...I can't understand everything. Not even close, really. But, today I spoke primarily in Japanese, and everyone could understand me. And, even though the coffee lady in the office insisted on speaking long chains of difficult Japanese, with some difficulty I could understand the gyst.
Although, today wasn't all farts and daisies. I thought I had to go to Kita elementary school, when in fact, I had to go to Toni elementary. This doesn't sound like a huge problem, really. The biggest issue was that Kita is about 30 minutes north of my my house by bike, and Toni is about 20 minutes south. So, after getting tired riding to Kita, I had to turn back around and ride for around 45 or so minutes to get to the other school. Hey, I could use the excercise, though.
During my long bike ride, I was listening to Dethklok to get me pumped up for the journey. And, you know what? Bizarrely, America isn't the only place that enjoys a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of metal bands. There's a Japanese version, too : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit_Metal_City . Well...not really a VERSION, you understand. But, it seems really similar. Basically, a young japanese boy moves to Tokyo to try to make it big playing Swedish pop music. One thing leads to another, and soon he's playing metal under the guise of Johannes Kaiser II. Check it out.
It's strange that things like metal irony translate, but other things like...oh, I don't know, not talking with your mouthful are totally incomprehensible. *shrug*

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Welcome, dear reader. This marks my first ever post from the comfort of my own home - that's right, we are internetted, people. It's strange how surreal it is to have the internet now; I really feel like those chimps in 2001: A Space Oddyssey, just banging on this damn thing trying to remember how it works, and what is worth looking at on the internet. Not that I've had much time at all type update, or just poke around the old internet. I've been busy with school and other things. I don't even have a weekend this weekend! Allow me to inform you...
Firstly, last night marked my first-ever official school enkai. Enkai means drinking party. They're really common in Japan, and they're viewed as a really good way for an entire officeful of people to blow off steam and get tanked. Nigel even came! He always told me how much he didn't like them, because once the teachers get a couple of drinks in them, who knows what they're liable to do/say/grab(!?!)/etc. Anyway, we went together and had a good time, and I really got to try all my japanese skills out in a real life situation. I'm learning a great deal, in any case.
And today, I had to wake up at 8 am to pick up Jay and Charlie from the nearby bus station. I met Jay and Charlie at Tokyo orientation within my first couple of days in Tokyo. Jay is a huge Radiohead fan, and is travelling Japan to attend every single Radiohead concert in Japan, and they are playing tonight and tomorrow night in a nearby city. Back when I met him, he asked if he could stay, so I'm setting him and his friend Charlie up here...but, there goes sleeping in Saturday morning. And at noon, I was shuttled off (to leave Charlie and Jay to sleep in my spare room) to attend a local highschool speech contest, to show support for a student that I have been helping with his speech; sure I didn't HAVE to... but, it's easy enough to sit and listen to kids' speeches, and it means a lot to him.
I just got back from that (and a little chilling and eating with Nigel, and a really cool friend of ours, S-Lan [her name is like L-San, but she is the polar opposite in disposition]) and I am so tired, I can hardly stay awake while I write this. It's good that I'm so tired, because tomorrow, I have to get up at 6 am to attend a town sports day. All day. From 7.15-??? Needless to say, I am so excited and thrilled that I can hardly contain myself. Seriously.

And after all that, after the total demolition of anything resembling two days of rest (hungover, boring, waking up early, helping out Jay and Charlie, watching townsfolk run laps and such), I'm off to work Monday morning, 8.30 like usual.
I have elementary school twice next week...but, hey, elementary school stuff is the subject of a whole other update. Right now, I am going to have a tall, cold drink, watch some bad TV and go to sleep. Goodnight, moon.