Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The one where I'm a little drunk.

Hey, all. I'm a bit drunk, which should do to explain all the spelling and grammatical errors.

Today was a pretty tai-hen day (which means it was difficult). I went to Nishi-Sho with my helper-friend, S-Lan. We taught the hell out of some kids (five lessons straight!), but it just tuckered me out. The worst part is that, although this is my last week of regular elementary classes, Nishi-Sho went ahead and scheduled me for an appearance next week; which is, in short, a dick move.

After finishing today, I had another turd-sandwich to swallow; a meeting with Mr. Asshat himself. I needed to discuss my air tickets home (which of course, have nothing to do with the BOE). Despite describing my position to multiple important persons at the Jr. High School, somehow, the whole thing needed to be settled by a round-table discussion. Which wasn't, by far, the highlight of the meeting.

Nigel, despite wanting to stay in Yoshimi (past his JET term) until next April, is being refused entry to the schools of Yoshimi. Which makes about zero sense. Basically, the BOE wants an ALT who is fluent in Japanese (Nigel is), who understands what is required of him as a teacher (Nigel does), and who poses as few problems as possible for the completely incompetent directing crew at the BOE (Nigel hasn't asked them for a thing for years). So. basically, they're asking for Nigel, only not Nigel. And, because of this bizarre understanding of the universe, they are willing to put Nigel through a legitimately hellish set of trails (Visa problems as an "instructor", a new apartment, a job search which is disrupted from the average teaching year, etc.). It makes about zero goddamn sense.

And also, true to form, my boss is a total asshole to me, as well. Instead of staying in my apartment until July 31st (which I have to pay rent for), I have to evacuate on the 26th, because of contractual limitations which make about as much sense as a fucking screen-door submarine. Needless to say, I was pretty upset at the whole thing, as it forces me to find temporary lodging for my brother and I for a week in Japan (which I naively assumed would be taken care of).

In any case, after such a meeting, I needed a little drink. I went to the yakitoriya nearby my house, and ordered dinner and a beer. While I was eating and drinking, I began to converse with the old men around me, and began to really hit it off. But, it was a serious mistake to reveal that my birthday was tomorrow. The guy next to me, an old retired gentlman, kept buying me beers, and refusing to take no for an answer. The female yakitoriya owner brought out a cheesecake, put a candle in it, and proceeded to get the whole place to sing "Happy Birthday" in English for me. I have to say that it's one of those memories that will always stay with me; a whole room of foreign people, mostly men, singing in a foreign language just because of something which involves me that I can't help.

I was deeply touched.

And so, my deadline is not only approaching, it is continually racing closer and closer to the present. It's a compounding effect, which can't continue on. I'm losing almost a whole week of time in Japan because of some shit-silly decision by my boss. That's a loss that I suppose I can forgive, but I'm not willing to give any more. Every single day has become a kind of adventure to me, like it was at the beginning. I'm starting to see things through the lens of "the last," which is probably not a good sign. In the same way that experience "The Last Day" over and over again at the elementary schools has begun to dull my experience of the last last, so my experience of life in Japan is beginning to experience such troubles. I'm doing my best to keep them at bay, and enjoy the little things that Japan has yet to give me.

Please, wish me luck.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me.

This is the last full week of elementary school schedule. And, although all my latest posts (when I've found the time to make them) are ostensibly all about the same thing, the evidence just keeps stacking up - I'm on my way out of here.

That said, I am totally overjoyed to be finishing up elementary schools. Sure, it's sad to have to say goodbye alot, but I'm beginning to feel like the time is right. Part of that is because I've already gone ahead and purchased my plane tickets for my return journey home, which I am incredibly pumped about. For starters, my brother Joe is coming to visit Japan for a week or so before we both hop on a plane out of Tokyo, headed for Europe. It's my virgin trip to Europe, but it seems like an excellent way to finish up what will certainly be remembered as "My Asian Year" ... that is until I opt to have another.

Somehow buying the plane ticket has made everything real and concrete; now I have a definite way home, a definite route with real times, an actual travel companion, etc. So, here I am. Rather than playing with an amorphous and uncertain plan, I've now got deadlines and a real sense of immediacy. I don't suppose I need to tell you how excited I am for this trip - Joe's my oldest friend as well as my brother, and I can't wait to share this trip with him, just the two of us. He's never left the US before, I think, and I'm really pumped to see his reaction to traveling in general. The first stop: Amsterdam. I've always wanted to go, and I'm more pumped about seeing a beautiful canal-city than any of the other stops we have planned.

That said, nothing can exactly be easy when I'm dealing with the Board of Education. Although I've taken the initiative to buy my own ticket - and made it abundantly clear that I am turning down the direct ticket from Narita to O' Hare that my BOE owes me, in favor of taking a pleasure trip, I still have to physically state my case to one of my least favorite people - Asshat. I honestly feel that I might incur some displeasure for deciding to take my return journey into my own hands. But, so it goes.

My birthday is on Wednesday. It's kind of weird to have a birthday away from home. I mean, as it is, I have made some really great friends, and I'm kind of excited to just go out for dinner and drinks with them, and just kind of enjoy what this birthday has to offer - a little different from previous years. But, the whole year's been like that.

Oh yeah! I forgot to mention! I was supposed to spend my birthday with the principal of one of the elementary schools - which I mentioned in "The Gaijin Files: The Case of the Energy Supplement". Well, he totally cancelled. ...In a really awkward way. He came to my house last Thursday, knocked on the door while I was talking to my brother in the states, and before I could answer, he opened the door. And I told him to hold on a minute, finished up my conversation, and ran outside, whereupon he told me in broken English "Your birthday ... My house ... No. No." So, I said "Some other place?" And he said "You ... me ... your birthday ... no." So, I asked in Japanese if he had become busy, or had other plans, and even in Japanese, he basically just said it was cancelled.

In a way, I'm really disappointed. Because, spending a Wednesday night getting Japanese-drunk with a boss who speaks very little English would at least be an interesting way to celebrate my 23rd birthday. But ... then again, on the other hand, it's probably for the best. I mean, I can't imagine things would just proceed totally smoothly all night - he hardly speaks a word of English, and my (drunk) Japanese is not good enough to carry an hours-long conversation covering topics that the sober mind shrinks from considering.

In any case, I've got a nice group of friends, a nice little city, a nice little bar, and a nice little life. And I couldn't ask for any more than that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Monkey Warning.

Yesterday was weird. For a few reasons. It was my last day at one of my favorite schools; Kita-Sho. The staff are all so nice, and extremely helpful. For instance, they always give me their BEST coffee cup. Which is such a small thing, but so nice. And snacks and help photocopying stuff. Also, the staff are always trying to learn English from me, and speak the English the know. It's just a wonderful place. Everyone felt really human, and I felt like I had made friends with some of the teachers, and actually managed to have a kind of friendly connection. A far cry from where I taught today.

I had a very easy time finishing up work today. I won't name the school, because there's no need to identify a school I won't miss too much. Today was horrible, though. I am overjoyed that I never have to attempt to teach either of the 5th grade classes ever again. Honestly, I don't think I've ever been so frustrated/straight-up-angry with children before. The worst thing is that they just don't understand you, so if you lose it and shout, they'll just mock you. So, I took some deep breaths and just reminded myself that while I am a super-cool, suave, funny, handsome and intelligent world-traveller, the kid who was screaming "I DON'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING! IT'S IMPOSSIBLE" while punching kids at random is just a 10 year old who is so caught up in sugar rushes and Pokemons that he can't focus on anything, besides trying to touch my penis, for more than 10 minutes at a time.

But ... it was also weird because ... today, we had a monkey warning at lunch.

Yeah. A monkey WARNING. For those not in the know, that means that there was a monkey, somewhere, on the loose. The principal had to walk around the school to make sure the kids could go out for recess. ...Because of a wild monkey. Honestly, what the fuck, Japan?

Monday, June 15, 2009


...For playing hooky. It's been a common occurrence lately. And I am not complaining. In fact, I am personally recommending it to you. Do yourself a favor; call in sick tomorrow and sleep in.

Last week, I called in sick on Monday and enjoyed my personal day at home - did laundry, prepped some things for moving, read a bit, and just generally took care of myself. It was great. Then I had my last day at Minami-Sho, as I told you in my last entry (Which, as Nicky J. did the public service of noting, was MUCH too whiny. As usual, Nicky J. is correct.). So, this week, when my usual elementary-day Tuesday rolled around, guess which school didn't need me to come? ...And guess which Jr. High assumed that I'd be at an elementary school?

I feel crafty about laying low today. In a way, I feel like my American work ethic is something I should seek to correct, rather than privately rejoice in. But, honestly, what's a gaijin to do? Today, if I went to the Jr High, I wouldn't have any classes scheduled, and due to some sports festival that's going on, I'd just sit at my desk reading all day. So, I didn't call it in. I didn't talk to nobody. Just sleeping late, and hoping no one will notice. ...And they so totally haven't! Score.

Additionally, I had ordered boxes for moving home, and they were delivered today! So, if I felt a little guilty about opting out of work today, there goes all the guilt! I was productive! The weird thing about the boxes is that they were in centimeters when I ordered them online. And, I don't know a damn thing about centimeters, despite my living in Japan for a year. I even converted to inches! And...somehow I ordered too many boxes that are way too big! ...I ordered six boxes. And, if I were crafty, I could fit everything I own into one of them. It's like 2 feet by a foot and a half by a foot and a half, or something.

Mo' boxes, mo' problems.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lessons Learned (So Far); Or, The Beginning of the End.

Today, I taught at one of my favorite schools - Minami Sho. The school used to be five-classes a day, everyday. But, as I mentioned before, the enforcer of this class limit is preggo, and enjoying her maternity leave - leaving me in a sweet position. Well, at least until today. After I taught my classes (All of which, I will have you know, I fucking ruled at! The 5th graders were so unenthusiastic, but by the end of the class, I had them eating out of my hand, begging to speak English.), I consulted a schedule only to find that today was my last day at Minami Sho. Ever.

I'm not sure if it's for worse or for best that the students didn't know it was the last time they'd ever see me. I mean, if I knew it was my last time to teach them, I'm not sure what I could've done differently - their grasp of English doesn't permit me to express myself, my limitations in Japanese would offer the same issues. And all that besides, what could I possibly say in class? I was brought to do a job, and I've done it as well as I can, and I've grown to love a lot of the people who were with me through the whole damn thing, and whether or not they know how much I've come to rely on their occasional presence doesn't really matter. All the laughs and discomforts and everything else is all rolled up into a big, retrospective memory. Slapping a melodramatic seal on the end of it won't make the whole thing worthwhile, I don't suppose. But, still, as I wrapped up my lesson with the 6th graders, I told them we'd do the second half of an activity "next time." I feel bad for misleading them.

As the students didn't know I was leaving, they all filed out of school as on any other day, at a time which usually finds me gulping down hot coffee, staring out the window, totally drained. This time, I stood in the hallway, as the children rushed past me, hurrying off to their afternoon playtime. As they ran past, they exchanged what appear to be fairly feeble parting words: "See you!", "Bye-bye!", etc. I waved, high-fived and saluted them. Sometimes, it's horrible to know more than other people, to be "let in" on a secret that affects everyone. I sure hope that they remember me. Perhaps years down the line, only as "hige-sensei" (beard-sensei). Perhaps not at all. Still, I'm happy to have given them the tools to say goodbye to me at all, showed them how to sharpen them and use them. Because of the limitations, to me, "see you" has almost the same ring as a more definite and serious word of parting. I wonder how I'll remember the whole thing in five year's time.

The teachers were all exceedingly kind to me, when they discovered it was my last day. They printed pictures of the students for me, made me a thank-you card, personally said goodbye to me, and ushered me out. I am sorry to say that after my first handshake, I was totally overcome with weeping. I never used to cry at such events, but ... I'm just so bad at saying goodbye. I often wish that I couldn't tell the gravity of an event until it's already past - that way I stay myself, don't muck anything up by being emotional, and I have a memory of my "last -----" to reflect on years down the road. I managed to mutter a tearful "Hontoni, arigatou gozaimashita" (honestly, thank you very much) as I slipped out of the teacher's room. One of the young male teachers who I've had a great teaching rapport with followed me outside after I'd collected myself, and told me "You always ... had the kids ... excited. And they liked English because they liked you. You are ... a good teacher. One day, I know ... you will become a great man." I managed to keep it together, after that. But just barely.

I'm just a little shocked. This is how it all ends, the whole Japanese adventure. Not with a quick edit from Tokyo to Chicago, not in a clean-break of a single "last," but this slow, creeping realization. The first tally mark in the reckoning of the great sadness that lies in growing to know a whole community of people, and having to say goodbye over and over, 1,000 times. When I lay it out in the abstract, it just breaks my heart. I know I can have the strength to say goodbye, because I had the strength to come here, and had the strength to say goodbye to the only home I had previously known. It's just hard to adopt a new place and watch it all slip away. One thing is certain, however; the fullness of my heart is sure to exceed the limitations of my vocabulary in this strange and foreign land. And unfortunately, it'll be difficult to explain myself with a smile this time.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The one where I went to Onsen, among other things.

This last week flew by, as they seem to be doing with startling speed, which is giving me a bit of anxiety - I still haven't started packing, I still haven't planned my return trip home, etc. The extra elementary school day, paired with some of the worst classes I've taught in the last 10 months spread over the extended week had left me totally drained (despite the assistance of TioVita).

Despite having to go to my least favorite school on Friday to teach some monitored classes, I had a pretty alright day. Except for the last class. 4th grade. One girl was crying. All class. There was a mentally handicapped boy, without an attendant, stealing my cards and knocking stuff on the ground for the whole period. There were six boys who refused to so much as look at me, and just kept pushing each other around and making fun of the special kid. The Home Room Teacher was doing his best to just get the girl to stop crying. I shouted over the din and chaos - but all to little or no avail.

And despite all that, I was still having an alright day. Teaching with S-Lan is always a bit more enjoyable than trying to manage alone. At least she can translate what I say to the kids/teachers. Plus, she's fine company.

But, after teaching classes, I ran into my "boss" (hereafter referred to as "Asshat") in the hallway, and he totally pissed me off. He initially told me that I did a good job and such, but when I was leaving to return to the Jr. High (a recent habit adopted by Nigel and I, as we're sick of sitting around at the elementary schools, twiddling our fingers. I shit you not when I tell you that the school I taught at on Friday, literally puts us in our own room, totally segregated from the "real" teachers. To just sit. The other schools aren't any better. A school near my house puts us in the teachers room, nice enough, but puts us in the middle of an aisle, so we're constantly moving out of everyone's way all day while we're twiddling our fingers. We started heading out after our last class, unless a teacher asks to talk about a lesson plan or something, because unlike the elementary schools, we have our own desks and work to do at the Jr. High. Anyway...), Asshat stopped me in the hallway to kind of talk me down for leaving the elementary school. And, guess what? It's some kind of decree now that I'm not to leave any of the elementary schools after classes, but I have to just sit at my desk and watch the clock until 4.30. There is not a shred of reason in it, not a shred of efficiency, nothing. I'm totally perplexed. And to be frank, whether or not I do what my boss tells me is entirely up to how I'm feeling on that particular day. I hate to sound so petulant, but I'm just so sick of this guy, it's silly.

Anyway, immediately after school on Friday, I caught the first bus to a nearby town, where I caught the first train available, to catch the second bus available to my friend Geoff's house for his birthday. I had a pretty good time, and got to talk about werewolves, ghosts, and the impending digital takeover of the world order. Not a bad night, all in all. Geoff's a really nice guy, and though he's a Kiwi, he studied U.S. government in college and is incredibly knowledgable. I'm usually in awe of his understanding. I'll be bummed out when we part ways, to be sure.

And then, Saturday morning (after a full night of mosquitos attacking me), I headed out with my friends Laura, Brian, and Dave to Gunma-ken to onsen. Onsen, for those not in the know, is an awesome part of Japanese culture - Ritualized group bathing in hot mineral springs. And I know exactly what you're thinking, because I was there once myself. You're thinking "Wait. Group bathing. As in ... naked ... with a bunch of other people?" Yeah, dude. Get over it, you prude.

I was really shocked how, once in the environment of onsen, it didn't feel weird at all to bare all to friends and new acquaintances. I mean, the most awkward thing was the myriad of bug bites I had received the day before. No one wants to look like they have chicken pox in a big ol' pot of people soup. Honestly, I don't think I've ever been so clean in my whole life, though. You can't just jump into the hot springs before seriously scrubbing yourself down. On Saturday alone, because of a shower in the morning and multiple trips to the pools, I took five showers and clocked over two hours in a bath.

I can't recommend it highly enough. I felt like a baby - all my muscles were too weak to do anything but chill out. The resort gave us stylish yukata to wear around the hotel, as well. Extremely stylish and comfortable.

So, going to sleep on Saturday night felt like being a baby, wrapped in nice cloth, relinquishing my grip on consciousness one finger at a time, rolling the moment around in my head a while before finally giving in. Needless to say, I feel like a new man, and almost all memories of last week have been wiped clean away (which makes it really hard to write a retrospective entry about them, by the way).

Despite all, I still may take a personal day tomorrow. Get some personal time in, sleep in, clean my shower, do laundry, pay bills, go shopping, etc. It all just depends on how I feel in the morning. I'll be sure to tell you the result.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Elementary school, TioVita, Birthdays and Me.

The elementary schedule is pressing on - which really should only mean one thing to me; my impending return to the home of the brave, land of the free. But, it doesn't just mean that. It means saying goodbye to all the friends I've made, it means packing up all my shit, and having to sort it all out beforehand. Most importantly, it means that I'm dead tired more often than not. Which gives me little to no energy to appreciate/figure out everything else that ails me. I've been doing alright for the past month, but this week has already been a nightmare, and I've got an extra special Friday at one of my least favorite schools to pull this week, while being monitored by "important" people. Weeeeee!

The classes this week have just been amazingly bad - kids are totally misbehaved, lesson plans are shit, I'm feeling horrible every morning before I even step foot in the schools, etc. Today, even while working at one of my favorite schools, I just couldn't manage to get my shit together, no matter how hard I tried. That is, until I met TioVita.

TioVita (pronounced "Cho-Bee-Tuh") is peculiar Japanese curiosity. As the clip shows, TioVita comes in a tiny little brown bottle. What the commercial doesn't tell you (in English, anyway), is that it's jam packed full of vitamins and other things. What other things? Well,, special things! Like caffeine! And taurine! ...and nicotine? Wait. What the fuck? Nicotine? Seriously?

Yeah. Seriously. My principal saw that I was dragging ass, and being the nice guy that he is, he gave me a bottle of TioVita and told me it'd make me feel better. And, it totally did. Almost crazy better (sidenote: Taurine+caffeine [three cups of coffee and whatever is in TioVita]+nicotine=laugh for no reason in class alot). So it worked ... but it's probably hella-bad for me. I'm still tempted, you know, just to help me make it through the next month. ...Not that I'm addicted or anything. I could quit anytime I wanted.

The school I was teaching in today is such a nice place. The teachers are friendly, classes are small, the kids are usually cooperative. All the kinds of things you'd want in an elementary school. Before I headed out (I've got a date to keep with a good friend who's going away. Yakitori, away!), I had a nice long chat with most of the office staff, during which it was discovered that I am celebrating my 23rd birthday on the 24th of this month. I was also talking about going to yakitori in Ogawamachi to see my friends, and hang with Brian for one of the last times in Japan, during which my drinking habits came into question. Before I knew what was happening, the principal asked if I had plans for the night of my birthday, a Wednesday. I told him no, and he told me I needed to come to his house and get drunk with him! So, that's it. I'm pretty tied into it. And, truth be told, I'm kind of looking forward to it, in a crazy way. I mean, he can't speak more than 5 words of English, and my Japanese, while partially intelligible, is not good enough for long, drunken rambling. And, anyway, it's a Wednesday! So, I have school Thursday morning, anyway. But...it's awkward to cancel, and he didn't seem to want to take no for an answer.

And, after school, he followed me out and said "Car, bike, my house, okay." And I smiled and said "okay." What I didn't realize at the time is that he wanted to follow me back to my house, so he knew where to pick me up on my birthday. What I thought was that he was either going to have me follow him to his house (presumably nearby), or that he would load my bike into his car and take me home, for some reason. Well, I thought I was following him, and he thought he was following me, and we just followed each other for a while, right through some nice farmland. It would've been a shame if it weren't such nice weather, and if I hadn't just drank the liquid equivalent to crack cocaine. As it was, we just laughed it off, headed the right way, shook hands and headed our different ways. I'll let you know how Drunk-Principal's-House-2009 turns out.

In the meantime, I need to pretty myself up, so Brian's got something nice to look at while we eat ourselves into a coma. Until next time.