Friday, July 31, 2009

Day and Night; or a Duck Tales to be Remembered.

In twelve hours time, I'll be on an airplane headed away from Japan. ...It's difficult to expand in a novel way on that line of thought.

But, things haven't been all butter and happy-go-lucky coincidences: the moving company had some trouble with my things already, though I've sorted that out; my American ATM card wouldn't allow me to access my account, rendering me totally penniless (a harsh recollection of my visit to Vietnam); jumping off a train that was supposed to go to the airport, but terminated early, only to return to the initial station and find out that the direct lines to the airport had ceased for the evening, etc. Lately, I'm just too stressed out to be able to relax. It'll be nice once I'm away from Japan and I'm not translating for Joe all the time, and I don't have to worry about saying goodbye to anyone, finalizing bills, etc. I can just kind of go with the flow and try to be at the airports on time.

Man, I just don't know if I can sigh deeply enough right now. Just like, 20 minutes ago, I totally exploded on Joe because of my ATM card stuff. It always gets me incredibly frustrated, but there usually isn't someone listening to and commenting on my call. And usually, something as important as having enough money to eat for two weeks isn't at stake. Of course, I feel like a total jerk, and I've already apologized. But, I am really pumped to decrease to amount of responsibility I'm currently handling, in all the ways it's coming to me.

I have made a new resolution for the trip. Every time I start to get frustrated about something, I am going to sing the theme song to Duck Tales. Check out the translations, too. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that the Duck Tales theme song is the most translated song in the history of mankind. Somebody, please fact check that. I did already. In my gut.

Tomorrow, I'm going to get very drunk on an airplane, spend 12 hours in the air, and land four hours after takeoff. Eventually, I will be back in America.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bourge joints.

Bourge. As in Bourgeois.

I've finished my ties to the town where I'd lived all year. The rooms are empty, my things are in boxes, somewhere (hopefully) headed to the ocean (at some port). I hope to see them again in a month or two. ...depending on shipping schedules, of course.

Man, I have so much to type, but I'm running on a schedule here. It seems that Joe and I just keep jumping out of moving vehicles, and we always hit the ground running. It's Tokyo, it's morning, it's evening, we're drunk, we're eating, all lights and sounds and (sometimes bizarre) smells. It's sad to think that I've just three more days in Japan at all, but the merry-go-round keeps turning so fast, I can't really focus on any one thing.

And, as far as the Bourge joints goes, it's a bizarre situation. My brother Joe works in a bar in the basement of a hotel. And because his paycheck has some hotel affiliation, he's considered to be a hotel employee. Because of his classification as a friend of the Intercontinental Hotel Corporation, he gets severely discounted rooms. So, yesterday we stayed at a hotel with rooms about 300 dollars a night, and we paid 55. People were calling us sir, everyone was wearing suits, the restaurants in the hotels were minimum of 40 dollars for an appetizer. Basically, it was a terrible capitalist nightmare.

But, the views are amazing. And, really, I feel more like we're scamming these places, almost. On the other hand, as I walked into the four-story lobby (with a CHAMPAGNE BAR on the second floor), wearing my CRASS shirt, carrying everything in a backpack rather than an suitcase, swearing my balls off, I wondered if maybe I'd set on fire. Much to my surprise, I didn't ignite, but I certainly started wondering if there was a place in Hell for a person like me. I can't decide if we're scamming these places, or if we're enjoying the rich life on a normal budget. And, can I lament about the situation of the workers if I've had a Manhattan on the rooftop bar of a 5-star Tokyo hotel?

Or, maybe I'm just thinking a little too much. In three days, that'll probably stop. I'm Amsterdam bound.

(I am extremely sad to be leaving all the friends I made in Japan. I can't yet imagine what my life will be like without them, though I've done some wondering.)

Oh, and one more fucking thing! I am so glad that I don't work for Yoshimi machi's BOE anymore, because my boss, Asshat, is a total shithead. I've complained a lot about them, but by far, the worst thing that they had done was taking advantage of S-Lan's generosity, without ever saying thank you. But, Asshat's gone far beyond that. He called S-Lan to tell her to make sure that I personally thanked L-San for all her help this year. ...I haven't even seen that monstrous woman for 10 months, thank God. I really can't believe what an asshole he is. Rather than personally thank S-Lan for doing his job for him this year, helping Nigel and I do our errands and such, he's using her as a tool to translate for him that we need to thank a weird, manipulative basketcase for being so weird and manipulative.

What a shithead.

But, that's literally miles behind me now. In a handful of days, it'll be even further. Whew.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

As it turns out, I found the perfect way to commemorate my time here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh God, oh God, oh God...

Tomorrow my brother arrives in Tokyo, which is a clear signal of the end of my life in Japan. Not to say that my brother's visit is a life-ending experience, but rather that my whole life here will cease, in favor of an extended vacation. Which is...probably, a good thing. I left the school for the last time today, deflated of all pomp and ceremony. After the speeches, after the two months of saying goodbye, it ended like it started; Nigel and I chatting about bullshit as we walked to our shitty bikes, to take our customary ride home.

If anything, if I'm able to compute this whole thing at all, it's a minor shift. No doubt liquor helps a bit - I've been drinking a lot lately, as I've been totally stressed out and it helps me to just chillax. In the abstract, I'm able to think about my absence, but ... in a kind of buddhist way, contemplating my absence in a place with so many emotional connections, while possibly a good addition to my quest for enlightenment, breaks my heart a little. In fact, I'm leaving a good teaching position, where I'm helping students achieve their dreams of international connections and international friends in favor of washing dishes in a small town in Indiana.

Ehh. I don't know. By the time my brother comes tomorrow, I'll only be able to think about which karaoke place we're going to next, before we take off for Amsterdam. I'm thankful for that. If I just had my own loneliness as a guide through the memories of the past year, I'd probably be a lot more upset. With a drunk fraternational relation, it's not so bad.

I just had dinner with two nice Japanese people. I'm really going to miss having eccentric Japanese people pay to have dinner with me. I don't imagine that's something that will happen in America often. Though, of course, one never really knows...

Oh God, oh God, oh God...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Speech finished. One of the final nails in the coffin done away with, I have nothing but time at work for the next three working days. No classes, no responsabilities. Just sitting, all day.

The speech has been hanging over my head for the last 2 months. Speaking to a room full of 800 people is always a little nerve-wracking. The speech itself was probably pretty funny, as it was punctuated with tears that I was probably even-more-hilariously attempting to fight back. Here's the rough version, for posterity's sake.

"I have a dream ... Err ... wait, wrong speech. Good morning everyone. I want to thank you for taking me into your school and making me feel at home. You're all wonderful students and teachers. Thank you. (break for sobbing). When I left my home in America, I left all my family and friends behind, and I was very sad and lonely. I thought that when the time came to go back to America, I would feel like I'm going home. But, I don't. I just feel like I'm leaving home again. (break for sobbing, awakward throat-clearing coughs). This school is my school. Thank you very much."

Of course, now I feel like a tit. Thirty second before the speech and 60 seconds after, I was totally fine, all smiles and laughs. Hell, I even started with a joke, of sorts! But, for whatever reason, I just had to make my final impression on the kids a bearded man in a sharp suit clutching a microphone and speaking in a high-pitched voice in between weeping-noises. Great. My legacy rules.

Tonight is the enkai. And ... I'd like to think that the enkai will go a bit better than today, though I don't know. I have another (drunken) speech to give to all the teachers. And, of course, I'll be saying goodbye to all my friends at school. I hope I don't foul it up by being all weepy.

This is my 100th post. I feel like celebrating, but I don't know how. We've come a long way, honey.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The sunsets have been beautiful for the past few days, which I'm accepting as a consolation for the heat during the day. It's been getting to be the mid-thirties Celsius (dang ... I needed Google to tell me was around 95 degrees Fahrenheit). The period of golden color the hour before sunset seems to go on for two, the mountains on the horizon are silhouetted by the warm-colored sky, and the day's heat is swept away by a slight breeze off of mainland Asia. Today, as I was returning home after work and grocery shopping, the rice fields were an amazing green, stretching into the distance with no breaks, except for one old Japanese farmer, making his way through the rows of rice plants, checking on their progress. I wish I had my damned camera.

In a matter of days, I'm giving my farewell speech to the entire Jr. High. My final day of work will be one day from tomorrow (he said as he drew in a sigh). After Friday's speech and closing ceremony, I'll have one last enkai with my coworkers, which is sure to be a night of debauchery. Food to the max, whiskey to the gills, karaoke til the early hours. It's a wonderful thing when Jr. High teachers cut loose. They're such ... interesting people? I sometimes have wondered what the social grouping of my Jr. High school would look like through these refined eyes. I imagine some things would stay the same. I will be pretty gutted to say goodbye to some of the teachers, though. I really feel like I've made some close connections, and a final night will be hard to take.

But, then again, it's about time. It seems to me that I've been leaving for the last two months, and I'm about ready to have done with the whole thing, and have myself a little vacation to Europe. Fuck yeah. Because, even the little things are just grinding me down. Singing Olivia Newton John's cover version of John Denver's "Take me Home, Country Roads" with the first grade almost always makes me choke up in a weird way. The strange thing is that, early on in my travel, when I was still incredibly homesick, I would sing that song at karaoke and become nostalgic for my parent's patch of dirt back home. And, like most other things, having a chorus of children echoing the sentiment that I'm missing my "home far away," and that hey, I really "should have been home yesterday," can bring a choke in my singing voice. Goddamned children's choirs.

After I leave, I don't know what to do with this blog. It was begun to create a chronicle of my times here, and offer a kind of personal connection to those of you back home who care about my day-to-day (okay, sometimes week-to-week) affairs. And, although it's served me as a really wonderful lens for looking at my life, as well as a nice avenue for a productive writing excercise, it's usefulness is about come to an end. Even though my name has always been a misnomer (I mean, I'm not exactly single, though ... I'm not sure that that's a disqualifier for being "single" ... I am solitary, usually...), the move back home destroys the point of the blog, for all intents and purposes. I think, at most, there will be a few blogs once I get back home. Because, let's face it, I may need to vent about the return to America. Culture Shock is certain to be more severe upon returning home, and my friends can only stand hearing so much.

But, as it is, the sound of my things being packed into boxes sounds the deathknell of Single White Gaijin. ...If I were more intelligent, I would've saved all this for the 100th post. I suppose the 95th will have to do. Thank you, as always, for reading.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Botchan, and a bike in distress

Oh, hello there. I just finished a novel by Natsume Soseki, that he wrote around 1905. It's very famous in Japan, and is maybe a story akin to America's the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was gifted to me through my good friend Zensho, and it was so good that I devoured it in two days. But, that's not surprising. I knew that I would get into it, as Japanese literature is almost always amazing (if you don't believe me, read Haruki Murakami).

What was surprising is that the book captures perfectly a lot of my experience in Japan, despite what I would assume to be a huge cultural rift, as well as a hundred years seperating Botchan's story from my own. The basic story is this, a young (23 year old!) Botchan gets out of university at the dawn of the 20th century, and becomes a teacher in a far-off prefecture do to a lack of serious life-planning. A page out of my own life, only the prefecture was a bit farther for me than Botchan. Even though the young protagonist speaks Japanese, the dialect of the new prefecture is so strong that there are often communication problems. Additionally, the fast-talking Tokyoite Botchan has a completely different notion of how to go about doing things than the backwater staff and students, and is constantly seen as rude or pushy, which is a common problem for foeigners in Japan. We're used to straight talking, and clear directions from our bosses, which in Japan is avoided as it seems pushy. Additionally, there's one other young teacher that becomes his confidante and happens to be the only person he can speak freely with. This young character corresponds to Nigel in my situation.

It even has a situation wherein the shithead, crafty, pansy boss is lying and sneaking his way into forcing a teacher to leave. Basically it boils down to the two against the crafty boss, with a lot of parallels to my situation over the last year.

I guess it's just interesting that, in fiction, you can find something so far removed from your life in general that can still apply. Finding this novel at the end of my trip has really mellowed me out about my impending return. It's kind of given me a little space to appreciate the my situation in an abstract scenario, which is pretty excellent.

Additionally, riding home from work today I was thinking about my mama-cherry, which is rapidly deteriorating, and how it can stand as a metaphor for my experience in Japan. Basically, my bike has just been breaking one piece at a time over the months, keeping pace with my slackening desire to keep teaching. Although, I sometimes wonder if I'm not making a mistake coming back to the states after only one year, I've lately found that the Jr. High classrooms can be kind of uncomfortable ... just like my bike. Additionally, the other day, something just snapped; in my bike's case, it was one of the rear spokes. In my personal case, it's the realization that my brother Joe will be in Japan in less than two weeks, which kicks off the start of the European Tour. As a result, I've totally lost it at school; full of jokes and enjoyment, and a total loss of professional spirit. In fact, yesterday, I was kicking off a class with a song, as we usually do. It was a song from Aladdin, "A Whole New World." I was with one of my favorite teachers, and I just ... kind of lost it. I told him "You be Jasmine, I'll be Aladdin! Let's do this!" and jumped on a desk and began to serenade the 45 year-old teacher in front of a bunch of bewildered students.

After we were through (with gestures!), one student looked around and began to clap. I totally got a slow clap, although I did instigate it a bit. As the student looked around, I just said "No, no, no. It's totally okay to clap. We're amazing. That was amazing, really. We're excellent," and much to everyone's surprise, it started the whole class off.

Man, my life is just ... not gonna be weird enough for me when I get back home.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ohisashiburi ne!

"Ohisashiburi ne" means something like "Long time, no see," which is in itself a calque from Chinese (perhaps the two are related, I'm unsure...). In any case, I'm trying to say that it's been a while since I took the time to update my blog. I wish that I had some cool excuse that didn't reflect poorly on me. But, the truth of the matter is that, in addition to being a little busy figuring out packing and traveling and all that mess, in my spare time, I've been playing games for my Nintendo DS. I bought a few of them just before my birthday, as sort of a birthday gift to myself. Needless to say, if I was planning on being productive, I took the wrong approach.

So, besides conquering continents from my adversaries in Sid Meier's Civilization: Revolutions, what have I been doing? Well, for one thing, I've totally finished my elementary school days. But, I know how tedious it can be to re-read what appears to be the same stories over and over again. Trust me, it can be even more tiring to live them over and over. My last day ever, not only did I not shed a single tear, but I managed to get a couple of laughs out of the teaching staff with a little banter. Which, I suppose proves to me that I'm ready to leave. I've had six practice goes, and in less than two weeks, I give me farewell speech to the whole of the Jr. High School, by far the most trying ordeal. I really feel quite close to the teachers at the Jr. High, and it will be seriously tough to hold it together on that day. But, I knew it was coming the moment I arrived, and there's nothing to be gained by pretending that I didn't. So, there's that.

Additionally, I've got a definite move-out date for my apartment. Though, per usual, Asshat and the BOE are being total turds about everything. I am totally not surprised, and I don't imagine that, if you've read more than two blog entries, you are either. Basically, although I'm paying rent on my apartment until July 31st, I have to vacate by July 26th, because that's when my contract ends. It doesn't matter that my apartment will just lie empty for a few weeks before the next guy comes (because they're quitting the program that brought me over and entering into a contract with a new company, the next ALT won't arrive until mid-August). Basically, I guess it's an only slightly veiled admission that the sooner they can get me out of town, the better. But, I'm beyond caring too much. I just want to be finished with the whole thing, and I'll be happy if I never have to see hide or hair of Asshat ever again. Here's hoping.

Speaking of the next ALT, though, I heard some miserable news. In their infinite wisdom, my rural town has decided that the two new ALTs will occupy two totally different jobs: one going to the Jr. High every day (excellent), and the other going to a different elementary school every day of the week (horrifying). I really feel so bad for whoever is stepping into those shoes, to be sure, especially if they're fresh from their foreign country, like I was when I arrived. I don't want to sound dismissive or shitty, but I think the BOE has a lot more on their hands than they'd intended, because I can't imagine that anyone could handle such a tough job day-in, day-out, without any serious help from the BOE. But, we'll see.

Last week, I stopped off for some okinomiyaki, an omletteish, pizzaish Japanese food, with a new acquaintance and his friends. First, let me tell you how I met the guy. I went to onsen with my friends, a week ago last Friday. You may remember onsen from Gaijin Adventure #89, The Case of the Bubbling Foot Bath. In any case, I was sitting naked in a pool of hot water, and another foreigner sits down near me, and I start just shooting the shit with him for a minute. It turns out, he's french and he works for a french company near where I live. Cool enough. And when I'm ready to rinse off and get dressed again, I say goodbye and figure that I'll never see him again. Only, the next day as I'm standing on a train platform to catch a train from Higashi Matsuyama, I see him waiting for his train. So, we have a laugh about how coincidental the whole thing is, shake hands and jokingly say that we'll see each other later. And the next day at lunch, I walk into a restaurant with my friends and see the same guy eating lunch with his co-workers.

So, I figured, hey, fate is fate. Every time you meet someone, it's like you get this chance, and you don't know what it's for, but it's a certain kind of chance. To make a friend or an enemy, learn something new, tell an old joke, whatever. And in the course of 48 hours, I had rejected two chances, so I decided fair is fair, he introduced me to his friends and we agreed to meet for dinner the next week. One of the coolest things is that one of his friends is Moroccan born, and speaks arabic. So, when I met her, she told me her name was Aziza, and I told her that's a wonderful Arabic name. I asked her in Aabic if she could speak it, and we had a little conversation in Arabic! It's been a long time for me to use Arabic, and I don't imagine I'd find many other opportunities to do so in Japan.

So, I was eating Japanese food, speaking Arabic with someone while the whole rest of the table was speaking in French. And, in a really awesome way, it's moments like that that make me realize how wonderful my whole last year has been. Because it wasn't just a door to Japanese culture, and it wasn't just a reflection on my own upbringing (though I obviously did my best to analyze and understand both), but rather it was a kind of awakening to world culture; meeting people from everywhere who all congregate together around one of the world capitals, Tokyo.

I don't know. It was just really nice. Anyway, I guarantee that I'll write at least 100 blogs. So, that leaves only 3 or 4 more, I think. Of course, I could always write more....