Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving? ...When was that, again?

Yeah, Thanksgiving came and went, and I don't think I even stopped to think about it once until after. No reason to, really. I miss eating with my family and spending all day watching football (which in truth, I don't care about at all), and trying that one experimental dish on the periphery of all the classics. I miss the laughter and my constant assertions that Thanksgiving "just celebrates the theft of a country from its genocided inhabitants" and that "really, there's a whole lot more to be sorry about than thankful for,"....much to my family's constant amusement.
In short, I guess it just doesn't feel much like any kind of holiday. But, if I were constantly reminded of it, it might begin to bother me, only because I miss my family and I would note with a heavy heart their absence on a day that we used to share together. But, hey, it's over and done with and next year, I'll probably be carving up the tofurky ... much to my family's amusement.

Josh came to my house this weekend, and I'm thankful for that. I had a really long week, teaching Elementary school every day... just a sneak preview of what's to come next year. The kids were overwhelmingly great, actually. My Japanese is getting good enough to have conversations over lunch and I even made my first joke in Japanese! I'll relate it:
I had just finished class, but the room I was teaching in has a special flooring, so you can't wear your shoes inside it. I was putting my shoes back on, and one of the 6-grade girls pointed at my shoes and said "Gaikokujin" which means "foreigner", just to illustrate to her friends how big my feet are, I guess. But, I pretended I couldn't hear correctly, and replied "Eh? Nani? Gaikutsujin?" which means like "Eh? What? Foreign-shoe-person?" In retrospect, I should've tried for "Daikutsujin," which means "Giant-shoe-person". Perhaps next time.
Anyway, I had a long week of smiling and dancing and singing and washing my hands before and after everyclass (kids are germs in school uniforms, man), and it's so great to be able to sit around and drink expensive scotch (a little gift to myself) with a good friend and watch horrible horror movies all night.

Anyway, there's a whole lot to be thankful for, and I guess I am. Though, I still maintain that Thanksgiving is built on a strange Disneyfied American myth ... I guess I can afford to take a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to be here, as the first person in my family's history (like, genetically, back to the origin) to get drunk and watch the sunset over Mt. Fuji.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Karaoke overdrive

I've kept my loneliness on a long leash the last few days. In fact, I've been so social, it's hard to remember why I'm lonely in the first place. Both Friday and Saturday nights, on this beautiful and mercifully extended three-day weekend, I stayed out late, singing my guts out until late in the morning.
Friday, I met with some fellow English teachers in the nearby city of Higashimatsuyama. We ate at a great Korean restaurant and then went to my favorite local bar (not local exactly...but, the next town over), The Blue Lagoon. It's a bit of a Gaijin bar, with a number of foreign English teachers and a number of Germans working at a Bosch plant in Higashimatsuyama. The upside is that I'm picking up a little German, though it's just the bad stuff that you shouldn't say. On a lighter note, I've been enlightened as to the nature of the German custom of sitspinkel (spelling is definitely incorrect). Basically, I guess it's generally accepted that men have to piss sitting down. I have so far refused to participate in this experiment - and not because I'm a chauvinist pig. I aim for porcelain, and generally avoid backsplash. Anyway...
We met with some of my new Japanese friends - the fixed-gear enthusiasts - at the Blue Lagoon before heading to a nearby karaoke place. Karaoke lasted until about 2, and then all of the Gaijin went home. I felt a strange sense of accomplishment sitting in a room full of my new Japanese friends, with no other white people to translate or comment in slang English with. I felt like they were really my friends, and not just an interesting form of scenery, or something. We were actually talking about real things that I care about, which is incredible. I'm really glad that I memorized the Japanese word for Capitalism - Shihonshugi. I'm sure I caused some confusion, but we all had a laugh, and my new friend Saiko-san even drove me home at 4 am! How nice is that?
And the next day, I woke up and hung around the house for a little while before visiting my old friends Josh and Shannon, who as I've mentioned before, just moved to Tokyo. This fact single-handedly destroys any possibility of loneliness. I'm just so happy that, though I can't see them on a weekend night for dinner or something, I can always visit on the weekends and stay over. If I don't snore too loud, that is.
Anyway, we all met up with my new French-Canadian friend Martin. Besides bearing a passable resemblance to Will Moffitt, Martin's a really funny guy and has been teaching me some Quebecois French slang. He's been here for a number of years, and has been studying Japanese and Japanese culture pretty seriously, so he's also a great guy to help explain Japanese history and things. We ate at a traditional Izakaya, which is an old-style Japanese pub, sort of. We ate some great stuff, including grilled squid, and I even tried a natto omlette. Natto is fermented soy beans, and it kind of tastes like feet...and the taste sort of lingers and the smell permeates. Live and learn.
One of the most amazing things about Tokyo on Saturday was that Martin showed us an AMAZING record store, tucked away on the 8th floor somewhere, and while I was perusing, I got quite a shock. I found a Bluesanct Records cd on the shelves. That doesn't sound that impressive in itself, but Bluesanct is in fact my ex-boss MKL's basement-based record label. I nearly shit a brick, seriously. How amazing is that. Something recorded and packaged and sealed a few blocks from my house in Bloomington is now residing on the other side of the world with me. I really like I ran into MKL himself in Tokyo, or something. It was like finding an old friend there, among the Will Oldham records. I also have a much-increased notion of how famous MKL probably is, on the international scene, and of what a pleasure it was to get to know him and work with him at the record store.
After all this, we went to Josh's favorite bar in the whole world - Bar Plastic Model. I grew to love the place during my time there. It's an 80's themed Otaku bar, with great Japanese new-wave music and anime and VHS tapes of Japanese commercials and stuff. It's also about 8 feet wide by 15 feet long. It's amazing.
And to top it off, we decided to stay out until the first train 5.41 am. So, we went to karaoke, and managed to run into some really drunk Japanese guys that were really nice. They paid for most of the bill, and we drank a lot and sang all night, and I even managed to keep up singing in Japanese! The guys were totally crazy, and kept shouting that we needed to "Keep drinking!" By the end of the night, one of them was passed out cold, and another guy just kept on hugging us. It was really, really, really fun.

This post is going to remain positive. It was an amazing experience. I really love that I can be with Josh and Shannon here. I remain really worried about what my job might be, as I have been, and as I will be. But, for the present, I'm gonna have some tea, read a good book, and just smile and be glad that I've stuck it out, and I have friends here now, and a social life to go to when I'm feeling down. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kawagoe, etc.

Winter is taking hold of my little agricultural town, and though the weeks are speckled with sunshine and clear skies, there's an overall sense of retreat and return. Like the grizzly bear and the shrew, I too retreat into my hole to hibernate. I have been spending a lot of time napping and watching movies on the internet at home, with possible detrimental effects to my mental well-being. To rectify this, I decided last weekend to get a large-size dose of social life.
I went out drinking with some other English teachers at one of my favorite nearby bars, and decided to spend the night at my friend's house in order to accompany the group on an English tour of the nearby city of Kawagoe the next day. Kawagoe was beautiful, and I'm really glad I went. We walked around an old buddhist temple, saw over 500 hand-carved statues of monks, and went to the old-town district (Ko Edo - Little Tokyo), and walked through an open-air lane of candy makers and sellers. Really great time, to be sure. It did a great deal more for me and my spirits than sleeping in and taking a bath ever could - and really, I'm only 22. I have a bad habit of acting like a middle-aged woman from time to time (but read wine, a good book, and a hot bath are really the cure for most minor ailments.) When I'm out doing new and fun things, I hardly think about my situation, or how lonely I can get to be away from friends and family. And I'm a little more determined to keep getting out there, seeing if I can try to find a new place once a week, or enjoy an old one in a new way.
On a related note, my friends from around Osaka moved to Tokyo yesterday, in fact. I will be taking many day-trips to go visit them soon, which, while bad for the pocketbook (about 20 dollars to get there and back, plus whatever incurred expenses), is great for the spirits.
The same day as the Kawagoe tour, I experienced a different kind of cultural event - the red light district. I was meeting some friends in a bar in a different city, closer to Tokyo, and had to walk through what is known as "Whore's Alley". It's not as sketchy as it may sound, but basically it's a lot of "Snack Bars" and "Massage Parlors" with ladies standing on the street trying to catch your eye. It's a little awkward, but then again, it's one of those cultural things that are difficult to avoid. I even saw a family pushing a baby in a stroller through the alley, though! ...So, it can't be all that sketchy.

As far as the changes to my job in January go, I am really fearing the worst. Every time I try to talk to anyone about my concerns, I just get shooed away or directed to a different person. Basically, there are three people deciding everything, and each of them tell me to speak to someone else. But, I have scheduled a meeting, only it's scheduled in mid-December...which is pretty close to the January inaction of the changes. My worry is that it will basically serve more as a meeting to tell me what the schedule IS rather than what it could be. And, if that proves to be true, I'm going to get pretty upset, because I've been trying to air my concerns and work with my employer to find a mutually beneficial plan with the main goal of helping the children learn English to a higher degree. I think I've said this before, but they see me more as a teaching tool, like an English tape, than as an employee. And, if they just lay this horrible plan into my lap in December, I'm at least going to threaten to quit, and see if that gets them in a more cooperative mood.
Don't think that I'm ungrateful. I'm really happy to have gotten this great opportunity to come to Japan and teach and learn so much. It's been really wonderful. But, as far as the administration goes, I've received very little help of any kind. The only people that have been interested in helping me to get comfortable in Japan and embrace my role as a teacher are Nigel and S-Lan, and this new plan only serves to keep us from each other. I depend on their help so much, I really don't know how I can do a much more difficult and demanding job than my current one without any of the help I'm receiving now.
As far as quitting goes, though it is a bit dramatic, I just don't want to find myself working for a group of people that don't care anything about me or my well-being. They see me as an object, and parcel me out as they see fit, despite my wanting to just talk the plan over, and air my worries and concerns (that could be remedied easily, if they'd just listen). And frankly, I just don't know if I want to continue a working relationship with someone that won't even give me the decency of a meeting (except once the plan is already de facto enacted, and any discussion is rendered useless).
So, in any case, there is a dark cloud hanging over my head that is accompanying the oncoming winter. It's a kind of deep nausea of uncertainty, and it isn't likely to go away anytime soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sick Again

The scope of this blog may be too wide. I feel a bit too out of it to give a proper update; this will just a couple of non sequitors about what I've been up to lately.

Last weekend, I went into Akihabura. I felt as if I'd gone to a totally different world. The contrasts between my rural town and Akihabura are vast; one a small agricultural community on the one hand, and a multiracial, neon-light-populated technological wonderland on the other. For those of you not in the know, William Gibson's depiction of the super-modern Japanese techtown must've drawn heavily on his experience in Akihabura. Nigel needed a new computer, and so we kicked around Akihabura and dodged around a crowd of people that never seemed to die down to look at used computers. I have never seen so many shops. Easily, within a couple blocks of the station, there were a few dozen if not a hundred electronics stores. ...It was a practical sensory overload.

The greatest thing about Akihabura was the food. I was mentioning to Nigel on the train how much I missed Middle Eastern food now. I haven't eaten hummus or falafel in months now. I was really missing it desperately, and as soon as we stepped out of the station, there was a kebab place nearby.'s not exactly falafel, it was in a pita and tasted awesome. I am really so happy to find things like that where I'm least expecting them here.

And today and tomorrow;
Nigel and I are at a conference for our job with other English teachers from around our prefecture. Of course, I became miraculously sick the night before these conference. It isn't too terrible, but I'm realizing how weak my body's defenses are here. All the germs are different from the germs back home, and my body hasn't been itnroduced to any of them before.
"Single White Gaijin, prepare to be sick all winter!"
"Aye aye, cap'n."

Anyway, the conference was fine today, except I was sick. I am sure that right now, there are 100 English speakers blowing off steam in some fashion or another, but I got coffee with someone before hurrying home to sleep for three hours and relax. Eh. While the situation isn't ideal, I gotta look on the brightside. Maybe by coming home early today, I freed myself up to hang out a little tomorrow. Maybe.

I gotta find something to eat, and eat some medicine. Thanks for reading, I miss you guys.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Just like all the rest...

This is my addition to the millions of blog pages written about the same subject.
...Mine is even a few days late.

Barack Obama is going to be the new president of the United States of America.

I have never been more proud of my country, and this is a strange, new feeling for me.

...maybe I'll be able to go to the Dr. when I get home, without worrying about bankruptcy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

100 days...

Can you believe it? As of Monday, November 3rd, I will have 100 straight days in Japan. I'm not sure how I feel about that, in all honesty. It feels like it's going all-too-fast, but sometimes I feel like that's how it should be, because I can miss home so much. In any case, the sun rises and the sun sets, and I guess I've just been losing count until recently.

Anyway, yesterday was Halloween. This is the first year of my whole life that I haven't dressed up or done anything fun. I watched a bad horror movie online and then I slept for 11 hours straight. I talked about Halloween to the Jr. High kids here, and it's sort of shocking how much people don't understand. I was really struggling to explain why getting 10 lbs of candy (they don't know what a lb. is...), and having some middle-aged guy chase you and your friends around with a chainsaw is totally awesome. It's a peculiarly American thing, Halloween - as Nigel is quick to remind me. There is something amazing about Halloween - the night when the suburbs are full of dads pulling scary tricks, and kids are so buzzed up on Walmart bulk-buy candy that they can't see straight. *deep sigh*

Anyway, I suppose I'll just have to Halloween twice as hard next year.

I talked to one of the Jr. High teachers about my concerns concerning my elementary school deployment, and the teacher was totally receptive. I mean, these are real concerns, and not just means of escaping work - I am not trained to be a full-time teacher, I cannot speak fluent Japanese, and I don't think I can work five classes a day. She seemed receptive, and she scheduled a meeting with my boss. My hope is that I'll be able to tell my concerns and have them heard and adapted for; time will tell how it all pans out.

But, I am less afraid of the future than I was. I think, if I am honest and hardworking, that the teachers will see that and respond accordingly. I think that if I cannot work as much as scheduled, they will meet my pleas, and that is perhaps as much as I can ask for at this point. They will meet my pleas, and I will be considered a partner in the Japanese education system, and not a resource. Because, I am not a fountain of English; I am a human being, just like everyone else here. And even though other people might be afraid to say it, I can't stand working too hard and being underappreciated.

I'm a scared boy. I've learned a lot, but I'm still a scared boy a long way from home, and I need a friend, not an increasingly demanding job. We'll see if things pan out. Until then...