Friday, December 17, 2004
I'm due to leave my place in less than two hours. Sayuri is giving me a ride to Matsue, cos she has a meeting up there at 9:30 anyway. This is great, because I was previously looking for a place where I could park my car in Matsue for three weeks. I'll catch a bus at 10am to Osaka, and arrive there sometime around 3pm. My plane leaves shortly after 7pm, so I need to get to Kansai Airport at 5pm. This gives me two hours to navigate the trains between the bus station and the airport, which I trust won't be too much of a problem. I'll see about catching a shuttle directly to the airport, if possible.
Then it's 12 hours and 15 minutes to Chicago, one hour and 40 minutes milling about O'Hare, and two hours and 20 minutes to New York City. If all goes as planned, I'll be touching down at LaGuardia at 9:25pm, local time.
Mom and Kreg are picking me up at LaGuardia, and I'll be spending Christmas in Poughkeepsie; Chris has to work on Christmas Eve, then he'll be down to Pok for the holiday as well. Sometime between Christmas and New Year's, I'll be going to Syracuse to spend the rest of my holiday there. Dad's driving me to LaGuardia on the morning of January 8th, and I won't return to Japan until the afternoon of January 9th. Monday, January 10th is a public holiday in Japan (Coming of Age Day, for all the 20-year olds), so I'll catch the night bus back to Matsue, and then probably take the train back to Nita Monday morning, and sleep the rest of the day. Or go to a Welcome Back party that's being hosted somewhere in the area. It depends, I might desperately need the sleep, or I might desperately need the company.
Tane-sensei has my birds. She's such a sweetheart. I asked her two weeks ago, "Do you like birds?"
So I told her I needed to find someone to take care of them while I was out of the country. "Anyone, really. Teachers. Students."
I forgot to bring it up at Yokota, but I figured it would probably be better to get someone in Nita to watch them, to minimize travel time. So when I returned to Nita JHS this week, I still hadn't found anyone. Well, that's not entirely true; Amy in Kisuki had volunteered, but Kisuki's a half hour away, and apparently her apartment gets pretty cold. I've since discovered this isn't such a huge problem (someone on BigDaikon rationalized, "Some of these birds come from Florida, and sometimes it freezes in Florida"). But still, yeah, Kisuki's kind of far.
So I had the plane tickets, the bus tickets, and a bit of pocket cash graciously loaned by Mabel; my last stress was the birds. I said to Tane again yesterday morning, "You sure you don't like birds?"
"Mmm..." she thought about it for a minute.
I explained to her that it was okay if the birds weren't kept toasty warm all the time, but that it was more important that they be kept away from kerosene and other oil heaters.
"Oh, they don't like it?"
"It will kill them."
"Ahh, so ka."
She lamented the fact that she has only kerosene heaters, and I agreed it would probably be best if I found someone else.
But then during lunch, she said, "If you can lend me your halogen lamp, I can care for your birds."
"Yes! You can definitely borrow my halogen lamp! Oh thank you, thank you!"
So she came over last night and I showed her how to change the food and water, and told her that if they got too noisy, she could put a blanket over the cage to make them fall asleep.
So I've got to remember to pick up some Lucky Charms while I'm home; Tane said she wants to try them. "They're very sweet," I warned her, as most Japanese people don't care for very sugary things. She was unphased.
This post is longer than short, so I'll finish off now.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Right out of the starting block: "What do you think about 9/11?" Then he wanted to know what I thought about the Iraq war. These things are difficult for me to express in the full robustness of the English language, mostly because I'm not entirely sure what I think about them, but it was a real challenge to explain these things in a way that he (and the other two people at eikaiwa that night) could understand. So, okay, I was mostly concerned with explaining them to him, since he could translate bits for the other two.
"What do you think about the war in Iraq?" I asked him.
"I hate it. I think George Bush is a terrorist."
He's nothing if not opinionated.
"Are you a Christian?" he later asked me.
"Yes, I am."
"Most Japanese people are Shinto, right?"
"Umm...." They looked at each other.
Kenji said something to the other two in Japanese, and then, "Most Japanese people don't have a religion."
"Oh. But those who have a religion are Shinto or Buddhist?"
"I am Buddhist," he offered. "On December 24th, we are Christian. On January 1st, we are Shinto." He smiled.
"Oh." I didn't know quite how to respond to that, so I said, "In the U.S., we often celebrate each other's holidays, without 'becoming' another religion. I've celebrated Chanukah, but I'm not Jewish. Not everyone who celebrates Christmas is Christian. Do you mean something like that?"
Yes, they decided, that was more like what they meant.
It makes me uncomfortable when people here assume that I'm Christian just because I'm American; it makes me think that they don't have any regard for any choice I may have made to be Christian.
On a related note, Christmas itself is a well-known holiday, with its own Japanese traditions now associated with it, but it is wholly commercial. In the States, we always talk about how commercialized Christmas has become, but at least we know (or most of us do, anyway) the meaning behind Christmas, and those who don't believe that the birth of Jesus Christ is of any particular significance generally view the season as a time to remember our fellow man, and so forth... what I mean to say is that for most Americans (and if conversations with my other Western friends are any indication, for most of the West), the holiday season means something. And in Japan... I can't say that it does. It's all Santa Claus and Christmas cake. If it means anything more, I don't know it yet.
It's as if we started celebrating the Obon Festival in the States, but knew it only as a big drinking party.
"What do you do for Obon?"
"Oh, it's a blast, man. Best party of the year."
Though Obon is something with which I have only recently become familiar, an attitude like that just smacks of sacrilege.
I don't say this without realizing that we've probably already done this with a host of other holidays. And the Japanese attitude toward Christmas is a disrespect based in ignorance, so I can't fault them for it; I just wish that it weren't that way.
And it's why I want to be home for Christmas this year.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
Made by real Indians!
I don't remember the name of this restaurant, but it was a great place to escape the rain and eat something tasty. Pretty popular with the foreign crowd, too. But then, Hiroshima City probably draws more tourists than all of Shimane Prefecture.
Friday, December 03, 2004
Thursday, December 02, 2004
The 3rd-year students are doing a unit on giving directions using train lines. So I drew up this highly simplified NYC subway map.
Critique it if you like, but I already know it's severely flawed. My goal was to include several popular sites on as few lines as possible, and to make it easy on the eyes for students sitting in the back; I think it succeeds, but I'll know for sure when I actually do the lesson.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Itohara-sensei wants to do a Christmas lesson in two weeks, and he asked if I had any Christmas cards to show the students. "Mmm... not yet, but let me see if I can round some up."
So if you're up for it, please send me a Christmas/Chanukah/New Year's/Holiday card by this Saturday, December 4th. It takes about a week for cards from the US to reach me (Grammy has been writing to me faithfully about once a week since I've been here), and it'll run you about 80 cents (again, if you're mailing from the US--I have no clue what postage will be from other countries).
I can't tell you on what days I'll actually be doing the lesson. No one ever knows what next week's class schedule will be, let alone two weeks in the future, so the safest thing is to ensure they reach me by Monday, December 13th (when I have no JHS classes). I suppose if they were mailed out on Monday, December 6th, they might arrive in time, but that's cutting it close.
As I'm reluctant to post my mailing address here, I kindly ask you to e-mail me first; my e-mail address is at the bottom of the sidebar (the column to the right). I'll get back to you straight away with my mailing address.
And if you know anyone else who might be interested, please let them know, too. I would be one sad, sad gaikokujin (foreigner) if I got only one card.
Do it for the children.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
Driver lets woman off bus on Hamada Expressway
The Yomiuri Shimbun
HIROSHIMA—A bus driver has been fined for stopping on the Hamada Expressway in Chiyodacho, Hiroshima Prefecture, to let a 76-year-old woman get off the bus, it was learned Saturday.
The express bus run by Iwami Kotsu, which is based in Masuda, Shimane Prefecture, was traveling from Hamada in the prefecture to JR Shin-Hiroshima Station. The 53-year-old driver passed Chiyoda-Nichi bus stop at about 10 a.m. on Nov. 13 without noticing that the bell to stop had been pushed by the woman.
The woman asked him to stop and let her off on the expressway near a door to a road for emergency vehicles. But after leaving the bus, the woman found that the door was locked and was forced to walk back to the station on the side of the expressway. A driver who saw her walking informed police, who came to pick her up.
Yep, good ol' Shimane-ken. Let other prefectures make the news with reports of their group suicides and anti-social family-murderers. We'll take care of the negligent bus drivers.
Friday, November 26, 2004
I'm going to get some juice.
I like juice.
Grape juice, orange juice, apple juice, peach juice.
Juice juice juice.
See how juice hardly seems like a word anymore?
The harder you think about it, the more it just sounds like a bunch of meaningless sounds.
This is what's happening to me with the entire English language.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Oh, I thought, they're probably just scratching their heads over the fact that I've kept a positive balance for the last four months, or something like that. I wasn't in a hurry to contact them, but when I got home tonight from Matt's impromptu party I figured, well, it's noon in New York, and I'm awake; might as well ring the bank.
Turns out, that wasn't it at all. Four attempts were made to charge something to my debit card in mid-October. All were rejected because the wrong expiration date was given.
20th: $183.69 (twice)
All of these charges were made to Card Call Service. I'd never heard of it, and I agreed with Manuel (the fellow who took my call) that this did seem very suspicious, and that I should cancel the card and get a new one. While I was on hold, waiting for someone who would confirm that my card had been cancelled, I kept trying to think of reasonable, non-fraud explanations for this. None of my bills in Japan are handled through my US account, or my debit card. Only one bill State-side is automatically withdrawn from my account, but again, that's through my actual bank account, not through the debit card.
Then it dawned on me.
I received my new debit card in early October, since the previous one was set to expire in September (add a week or two for the trip to Japan). I waited a few days to activate the new card, since I wasn't in any hurry to do it, then cut up the old card and threw it away.
Within the Shimane JET community, we sometimes talk about whether our neighbors are going through our trash, re-sorting it for us; a few of us know for sure.
I guess I know for sure now, too.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Yesterday was full of ups and downs for me. Once in a while (in Japan or back home), I'll have one of those dreams that upsets me terribly in Dreamland, but after I've been awake for half an hour I kind of wonder what all the fuss was about.
I found out Friday that one of my students is in the hospital, and has been for several weeks. He's in Tottori, a neighboring prefecture, so I assume it must have been something serious. So I went yesterday with his homeroom teacher (one of my JTEs) to visit him, so she could give him some schoolwork. She told me he'd had two surgeries, but that he was doing better. I guess he really is doing better, cos we couldn't find him in his room at first, and after looking for a nurse or someone to help us, we saw him coming up the hallway, returning from the gift shop. He still has a tube in his throat, so he can't talk (not that I could have understood him if he did), and doesn't seem to have regained his full strength yet, but he was very happy that I lent him my copy of the newest Zelda game for Game Boy Advance. Poor kid must be bored out of his mind.
So yesterday I had something to do (visit a student), and someone to do it with (my JTE, who is the one with the mad English skillz, and is fun to talk with), but as soon as we parted ways in Matsue, and all the way back to Nita, I felt terribly lonesome. To top it off, I decided to watch Casshern. I'd seen it once before at a friend's house, but I enjoyed it so much I wanted to see it again. I'd just forgotten what a sad, sad movie it is. I don't think a movie has made me cry since I was six. In America came close, but I was in a theater with my dad, so that would have been not cool.
I'm actually in a pretty good mood right now. I have something to do (go to Taisha for a big Japan-wide festival--about the only thing our prefecture is known for; it's the time when all the gods all over Japan come to Taisha to discuss matters for the next year), and someone to do it with (I'm picking up a friend on my way, and we'll meet up with other JETs there), so I'm set.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Sunday, November 14, 2004
As I was changing my shoes, three girls who were standing near the entrance greeted me. Their eyes fixed on the cookies. "Hungry?" they giggled. I'd half-forgotten what I was carrying, then realized they probably had never seen such a large package of Oreos before. So I asked if they wanted one. "Yes, please," they answered, after much giggling and glances between each other and the cookies. They gladly accepted a second cookie each, as well, just before I headed off to the teachers room.
Tane-sensei, with whom I was supposed to help the students studying for the exam, was on the phone in what seemed to be a very important phone call. She apologized non-verbally several times as I waited, but it didn't bother me much. There were still a few teachers around (it was after 5:30pm), so I offered them some cookies. "Itadakimasu," they said cheerfully, before eating them. Since I knew the cookies themselves weren't anything strange and wonderful, I showed off the English packaging. "America's Favorite Cookie," it proudly proclaimed. The back of the package showed pictures of other varieties of Oreo: mini Oreos, Double-Stuffed Oreos, peanut butter and chocolate Oreos, mint and creme Oreos, and all-chocolate Oreos. Mini Oreos they have here, but they were intrigued with the flavored ones, and quite amused that some Oreos have twice as much filling.
Tane finished her phone call, and we went to the conference room where the two students were waiting. "Should I bring the cookies?" I asked. "No," she said, "the students can't have snacks."
All I did with the students (both boys) was act like someone giving them an oral test. I showed them a picture with a paragraph related to the picture, and they read the paragraph aloud and then answered some questions about the paragraph and picture, and then some questions about themselves. It was pretty short. We (Tane and I) also told them how they could have improved their answers. The first boy did a good job; he answered all the questions quickly and correctly. The second one had a harder time with it.
When we returned to the teachers room, I offered Tane some cookies (she had declined earlier, wanting to wait until after the test preparation session). After eating them, she said, "I think these are better than Japanese Oreo cookies."
"What? They taste exactly the same."
But another teacher who had eaten some agreed, and they could not be swayed.
Later that night was the English conversation class (eikaiwa). I'd borrowed some "proverb cards" from Tane. They have, well, short proverbs and sayings on them, half on one side, and half on the other. Ones like, Accidents/ will happen, and Be faithful/ to yourself. She taught me how to use them to play a game, so that's pretty much all we did in eikaiwa. After the game, we discussed the proverbs (though I also handed out a sheet that had the Japanese translations of each proverb). I went down the list and explained in what circumstances we might use each one. I taught them a few others that weren't on the list, and they shared with me some Japanese proverbs that are similar to English ones. For example, the Japanese counterpart to Accidents will happen is roughly, The dog walks and gets hit by a stick.
"That's it?" I said. "Just, the dog is walking, and it gets hit by a stick?"
A couple of proverbs on the list I wasn't really familiar with. Take the lead, and you will win, for example. "The sentiment is certainly present in Western culture, I just haven't heard this particular saying." But I was puzzled by To lose is to win. "I'm not sure what's going on with that one," I said. Tane confirmed what I'd been thinking: "Maybe it is really Japanese."
I taught them, Fish and houseguests stink after three days. That might not have been such a good idea. One of them said, "I did a homestay in another country for two months."
"Um, homestay is different. The proverb means, like, if you show up at someone's door and say, 'Hi, I'm in town, can I stay in your house?' you shouldn't stay for more than three days." To make myself clear, I added, "If I invite you over to my house for ten days, then it's okay for you to stay ten days."
The woman (whose name I have forgotten) who lived for a few years in Canada and New Zealand brought up A rolling stone gathers no moss. "Yes," I said, "I know that one."
"But in Japanese, it has opposite meaning."
"Moss is a good thing, so we say, if you move around a lot, you will not grow moss."
Also, If you're in a hurry, don't take a shortcut. I forget whether this means that you shouldn't be in a hurry, or that you shouldn't take chances when you most want to.
The last one, they couldn't figure out how to translate properly. Taterumonowa oya demoutsukae. They said it had something to do with using your parents when they stand up. Literally, the phrase translates as stand-person parents even-if-use, but that wasn't helpful. "Maybe it's not a proverb," they said. But I was curious, and said I'd ask someone at the Mid-Year Conference. "Oh no, don't do that!" they said. "Don't worry," I assured them, "I won't name names."
So ask I did, and I think I got the real gist of it: You should use the person who stands even if he is your parent. One of the JTEs I talked to said she relates to the saying this way: "In the winter, Japanese homes have one warm room, and the rest of the house is cold. We don't want to leave the warm room to get anything, so if someone stands up to go to the kitchen, everyone else says, 'Oh, can you get this, too?' 'Can you get this, too?'"
I think I will write my own list of proverbs to use, since some of the ones on Tane's cards are not quite Western, or are worded differently. For instance, we say, Necessity is the mother of invention, but one of Tane's sets of cards says, Want is the mother of industry. Sure, maybe somewhere people say the latter, but I don't know it. Besides, there are a bunch more interesting ones that aren't included on the cards.
Can anyone suggest any? I've already started a list, but I'd appreciate some additions.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Today was the Culture Festival at Yokota JHS. Earlier this week, I'd showed interest in attending, because I had yet to attend any event at Yokota. So Ikeda talked to the BoE, and told me that I had three choices: I could come to school for the whole day and receive a day's daikyu (compensatory time off, to be used at my leisure), I could come for half a day and receive half a day's daikyu, or I could come for one hour and receive no daikyu. I had no plans for today, so I told her to sign me up for the full day. It meant coming in at 8:10 like any other school day, but that wasn't so bad.
It was nice. In the morning, each of the classes sang a song, with one class member accompanying on the piano, and another conducting. Most of the conductors just stood in front of the choir and waved their hands, sometimes without regard for tempo or anything. One kid, though, did actually seem to be conducting; like, even the student playing the piano was following him. After that, the teachers sang a song, myself included because Ikeda had kindly transcribed the lyrics into romaji. After lunch, and after the bazaar where I bought a white stuffed gorilla for 30 yen, we returned to the gym. This time some students did a couple of skits, after which there were some girls on the stage with electric guitars and drums. I inwardly groaned, because I feared it would be a repeat of the Nita JHS Culture Festival.
At Nita, a few boys did a mini-concert with rock band instruments, but none of them actually played. I think the kid on the drums did, but the rest of them just pretended to play while they ran a CD. So, yeah, that's kind of cute, and it can be funny if they really try to make it look realistic. But they looked so unenthused. And instead of limiting their performance to one song, like they should have, they played three songs. Lame! I'd rather hear them play badly than hear them not play at all, and not even really pretend to play either. It wasn't anything.
These girls, though, did actually play their instruments, and even did a decent job of it. They played two or three songs, and then the kids had a fashion show, and then an all-boys band played, also for real. So this was better than Nita, but it went on for two hours. I was sitting next to Ikeda, and said, "The teachers are eternally bored." She nodded. They really were. I couldn't understand a thing the students were saying, but I seemed to be enjoying the performances more than the rest of them. They thought the fashion show was dumb—one mentioned something about vomiting—but, um, you didn't hear that from me.
The boys' band was a bit more coherent than the girls' band, and they played some upbeat songs, so I set to 'chair dancing.' If the phrase hasn't yet been coined, I've got first dibs: chair dancing is, well, dancing while seated. I just kind of bopped around a little bit, then said to Ikeda, "You know, it's not so boring if you dance to it." She said, "Mmm. Japanese people don't usually dance."
I stopped for a moment, then said, "Your loss," and continued chair dancing, because it really did help break the monotony. But I couldn't shake her words from my head, and the more I thought about them, the more depressed I became.
I can't ever remember hearing an American play the National Heritage card to justify one's personal decision. "No thanks," "I'd rather not," "Are you feeling okay?" yes, I've heard all those. But never, "Americans don't usually do that."
I was especially disappointed because it was Ikeda who said it. I'm not super chummy with any of my JTEs, but she more than the other four is one with whom I could really see myself becoming friends. She spent six months in England attending an English language school a few years back, and (probably as a result) her English is better than that of the other JTEs. I can speak almost normally, and she understands me. And this is a great thing, it really is. After fourteen weeks of saying to someone something like, "Will I be eating lunch at [insert elementary school] on Monday, or should I bring my own lunch?" and receiving, as a response, "Okay," and a smile and a nod, and then me saying, "No, I'm asking..." it's so nice to be able to say to her, "My high school band sucked," and receive, as a response, "Really? What was your school good at, then?" I also don't have to slow my speech, which puts me at ease.
In September, the ichi-nenseis at Yokota JHS took a field trip to Matsue. I went with them, and took the opportunity to go to the appropriate building to get my re-entry permit taken care of. (The office that handles such things is only open on non-holiday weekdays, so getting up there would ordinarily involve using a few hours' nenkyu (personal time off).) Since I was palling around with Ikeda, we both went to said building, which turned out to be the wrong one. (It didn't used to be, but they moved the office a few months ago.) So they placed a phone call to the appropriate office, and Ikeda spoke with a fellow there briefly, then handed the phone to me. "He needs to talk to you." Unfortunately, he spoke precious little English, and there seemed to be some, I guess, legal reason why he couldn't speak to me through an intermediary. I'm not sure why, because we didn't discuss anything important, only that I didn't need the re-entry permit for a few months, and that maybe it was okay if I stopped by some other day. As Ikeda and I left the building, she said to me, "When you were talking with the man on the phone, your English was very strange."
I laughed. "He speaks broken English, so I think he can only understand broken English."
So what I mean to say is that she's the coolest Japanese person I know, but now it seems she's less cool than I thought. (J-Bot mode = uncool) And in so becoming, I feel more lonely than ever.
"It was just one sentence."
"Yeah, I know."
"So, why does it bother you so much?"
"I don't know. I don't know. Maybe I expected too much."
I'm also bummed because, one, I didn't pace myself in this NaNoWriMo thing, and two, I haven't been keeping up on my Japanese studies. I could have pulled them both off, finishing my short novel by November 30th, and being prepared for the JLPT on December 5th. At this rate, however, they've created a conflict of interest, and I have to let one go. Since I'd be a complete fool to stop studying Japanese at a time when my ability to learn it is at its highest, it's gonna have to be NaNo.
And at the same time, I'm relieved.
Learning Japanese by absorption is next to impossible, since almost everyone I meet is so interested in (learning English from) me. Even just last night, I went to a Japanese conversation class in Yokota; I only recently found out about it, and it's held on the second and fourth Fridays of each month, so this was the first class I could attend. The price is right, too: 500 yen per month, which ends up being 4 hours of lesson. There were several people there, all of them Japanese except for Pannee, the CIR in Yokota, who speaks nearly fluent Japanese. One woman I'd met before, Chieko, speaks English fairly well, so I guess she was designated my teacher for the evening. (Everyone else sat around chatting away the rest of the evening.) She asked if I'd brought a textbook with me. I hadn't; I didn't know I was supposed to. So we found a children's book (the class is held in a sort of daycare room in the Community Building), and I started to read. It was mostly hiragana, so I could sound it out, but I didn't know what most of the words meant. Except mukashi, which means long ago. Just like English stories often start with, "Once upon a time," Japanese stories often begin with, "Mukashi, mukashi."
But even a hiragana children's book plus a dictionary doesn't make for a good learning experience. The Japanese have this terribly medieval practice of squishing their words together so that it appears to be one long word. And very different words may be spelled with the same hiragana (though they usually have different kanji), so looking one word up in my dictionary produces as many as eight distinct and very different definitions. And the two issues combined? If the "word" is ABCDEF, I don't know if it's ABC DEF, AB CDE F, A BCD EF, or whatever, and then most of those smaller bits have at least two different definitions.... Frustration.
At the end of the lesson, I told Chieko that I would be coming to the next one, in two weeks, and that I'd bring a textbook. She seemed pleased to hear that. "I hope you will teach me some English, too, next time."
Now... crap... how do I tell her, without insulting her or making her feel foolish, that if I'm paying money to learn Japanese, I really want to spend all of that time learning Japanese? It's easy enough to give her the English translation for a few words here and there, but that has a tendency to quickly degrade into a full-blown English lesson.
I'm beginning to feel deeply frustrated with my inability to understand what people around me are saying, with having to rely on someone else to translate the smallest things for me. Let this be the motivation I need to study my butt off.
Woo! I'm complaining about Japan and all things Japanese! It must be culture shock!
On the bright side, this new fabric softener I bought smells nice.
Friday, November 12, 2004
Player 1: Once upon a time, there was an old woman [play Old Woman card]. She lived in a cottage [play Cottage card] at the edge of town.
Player 2 [interrupting]: Ohp, I've got the Town card! [play Town card] She was very lonely, but there was a wolf [play Wolf card] who sometimes came to visit her. Now, this wolf was a talking wolf [play This Animal Can Talk card].
Player 3 [interrupting]: That's an Aspect card [play Interrupt Aspect card].
And so forth, until one player uses up all her word/phrase cards, and wraps up the story with her ending card.
But I haven't done it justice: the cards are quite varied, so the story takes many twists and turns. During your turn, you might think you have the rest of the story all planned out, but then someone interrupts you and completely changes it. And it's hilarious. I haven't laughed that much in a long time.
I was going to blog about something more interesting, but I forgot what it was.
Off to Japanese conversation class. Maybe I'll have some stories when I return.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Many people in Japan eat grapes without the skins. They just suck out the insides. I ate grapes once with some Japanese friends, and they warned me that eating the skins might give me a stomach ache. "I eat them this way all the time in America," I assured them, and they seemed assured.
I bring this up because Kenji, the 6th Grade teacher who also is in my English Conversation Class, made a quiz for the 1st and 2nd Graders. The questions were all True/False, and they had to guess the correct answer. One was, more or less, "Americans eat fruit with the skins still on." The answer was True. Then he wanted examples. "Grapes?" he asked. "Yes, we eat grapes in the skins." When he explained this to the kids, some of them said they eat grapes with the skins, too. I said, "Grapes, yes. Apples, yes. Bananas, no. Oranges, no. Kiwis, sometimes." They were surprised about the kiwis. I guess most people in the States peel their kiwifruit, but some like the skins.
Kenji invited me to sit in on his history lesson with the 6th Graders. "Japanese history has been influenced by America. Wouldn't you like to learn about it?" "Sure," I told him, "I just hope I'll understand. But he did a good job of translating for me. The lesson was about "Perry-san," the American who showed up on Japan's doorstep with four warships and demanded that Japan open its borders to trade. The kids even knew what route Perry took on his way from the US Atlantic coast to Japan. This was in, oh, 1853? So glad I caught that documentary on PBS just before I left, else I'd have been Miss Ignoramus. Then he asked me what famous Americans I knew. I mentioned President Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and President Lincoln. The kids had never heard of Franklin, and it turned out they new nothing more about Lincoln beyond the name. So I explained the most well-known facts about each man, and Kenji translated. Pretty cool.
Today, Ikeda-sensei told me that she recently saw Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, but didn't understand what Fahrenheit meant. "Oh," I said, "in Japan, you use Celsius, but in America, we measure temperature in degrees Fahrenheit." That much she may have understood already, so I continued. "The name refers to a book written by Ray Bradbury called Fahrenheit 451. Yadda yadda temperature at which books burn. In this story, books are illegal, and are burned, because the government wants to control the people." It took a minute to establish the fact that the book is fictional, and then I continued. "Michael Moore thinks the government is trying to control the people, so that's why he called the movie Fahrenheit 9/11; 9/11 for the terrorist attacks." She thought it over. "So, that's like Michael Moore. People watch his movie, and then they hate Bush; they think like him."
I had to laugh. "I'm sure that's not what he had in mind when he named the movie."
I should thank striatic, who actually has read Bradbury's book, for letting me know that, in the book, it's never quite clear whose idea it was to outlaw books—whether it was a government-initiated scheme, or just laws to meet the demands of the people—but I still thought Ikeda's comment was interesting, especially in light of this article, which Joe highlighted on his blog.
Oh, also, I've finally added a bit more to my NaNoWriMo book. Not a lot more, but enough to hopefully get more people interested in it. The more people who follow it, the less likely I am to quit. As it is, my future daily average word count must be nearly 2,500 words per day if I'm to finish on time. I figure, if I type at 50wpm (I actually type closer to 70), and if I allow two minutes thinking time for every minute I spend typing, then I only need to write for three hours a day. But then, that's three solid hours, which can be done for one night, maybe two, in an emergency cram session (just like college!), but is awfully difficult to maintain for twenty days in a row.
See? I do simple arithmetic to procrastinate from writing.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
I had two classes this morning, and then nothing after lunch, so I just sat in front of my laptop thinking about what I should write, listening to some music, and trying to keep my hands warm. Eventually Kyoto-sensei came around to tell me that, for some reason, everyone was gone, and there was nothing left to do. That's never been reason enough for me to not be at school before, so I was a bit surprised when he said, "Go home."
"Ima? (Now?)" I asked.
"As you like it."
I looked at the clock. It was 4:24pm. "Woo-hoo," I said in mock celebration. "Five minutes early!" Kyoto-sensei laughed.
I'll take the time here to mention that Kyoto-sensei and Kocho-sensei are not names of people, but rather titles; they refer to the vice principal and the principal, respectively. So there's Kyoto-sensei and Kocho-sensei each at Nita JHS and Yokota JHS. I rarely fraternize with the upper-ups at Yokota JHS—the atmosphere there is different—so most of the time when I refer to one or the other, I'm talking about the guys at Nita. I don't know their real names, and even if I did I'd never use them. I can look them up if I need to.
Yesterday I went to Minari Kindergarten. Sayuri, the woman who introduced me to the revolving sushi restaurant in Mitoya, is the teacher of the older students (kindergarten is two years here), so it's really helpful that she speaks English as well as she does. She made a game up for the kids to play that taught them a few colors and animals, as well as "stand up," "sit down," and "stop."
Now, the si sound is not native to Japanese; it can be represented with a bodgered pair of katakana, but this is a recent development and is not often used. The shi sound, however, is as old as the language itself (I presume), and is often used in place of si. For most of the game, I was the only one saying, "Sit down," but when the kids tried it, I couldn't help laughing. "Okay, I'm going to be a really big pain about this: the phrase is sit down. Ssssiiiit down."
I ate lunch there, too, with some of the older kids. It's so funny: they teach me Japanese. I think hone (ho-nay) is the word for bone (we ate fish that day). I tried to teach them Rock Paper Scissors. Not the game, cos everyone in Japan over the age of three knows Janken, but the words we use in English. These kids were convinced that the American version of Janken involves thumbs-up signs and guns. "American Janken, Janken pon!" they say in unison, and at "pon" they produce whatever sign they're going to use. "Nani? (What?)" I said, scratching my head. But I couldn't convince them otherwise.
Monday, November 01, 2004
Since I began this blog in January, and up until this morning when I composed the previous post, I have written 32,843 words. This information is visible from my profile, and includes both blogs, I believe.
32,843 in ten months.
And now I'm aiming for 50,000 in one.
And I'm studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which is on December 5th. It's just the Level 4 exam, but I know only ~10 kanji, and I should know 200.
Well, it's slightly longer than that now, and hopefully will continue to get longer and longer until it reaches that fateful mark of 50,000 words.
I have a sketchy idea in my head of what I want to do with it, but I thought I'd make it fun for you and interesting for me by taking suggestions from the Peanut Gallery as I write.
Please do us both the favor of at least skimming the most recent chapter before making any suggestions in the comment box. Anyone can comment, but if you comment as Anonymous, please leave your name so I know who to credit.
And tell all your friends.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
They're TIED! Okay? Claiming otherwise at this point is like saying, "In yesterday's typhoon, 4.5cm of rain fell on the east side of Route 314, while 4.4cm fell on the west side."
I'll come up with something more worth writing sometime later.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
This can mean only one thing.
That's right: the neighbors got a wireless router, and I'm stealing their bandwidth.
No, of course not. Most people in this tiny town don't have internet access, let alone require a wireless router. I'M FINALLY JACKED IN!
*cough*cough* I'm better now.
In other news, shortly after I signed on to Instant Messenger, striatic brought these two websites to my attention:
Commentary on the above
It's true: I can't view the site. Below is a screenshot of what I see when I try to.
You'll have to take my word for it that I didn't manipulate the screenshot in any way. I wouldn't have wanted to; I'm not antiBush. But this, I find puzzling. I can't imagine they would have done this without good reason, but I'm at a loss to suggest any good reasons.
Friday, October 22, 2004
Oh. My. Lord. This is hilarious.
Blogging Your Novel
I didn't hear about NaNoWriMo until last December, when it was too late to participate for 2003. But even though it was a long way off, I wanted to participate the following year. Wouldn't it be cool if I wrote a book while I was in Japan? I thought, still doubting that I would ever be accepted into the JET Program.
So here I am, in Japan, and one week before the start of NaNoWriMo.
I'm so gonna do it.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Woo! Day off! It didn't come without a price, though: I had to use one day's nenkyu (personal holiday) to wait out the swiftly approaching typhoon in my apartment, rather than in the teacher's room at Nita JHS. The students get the day off, but the teachers still have to report for work, since, I guess, the typhoon won't be hitting Shimane until late this afternoon. It would have been boring, boring, boring with nothing constructive to do, precious little with which to amuse myself, and no nearby JTE to pester (Tane-sensei is attending a conference in Matsue all this week). At home at least I can do some laundry, maybe start cleaning my apartment, and play Civ III. And write this entry.
Yesterday my kids had exams all morning, and then went home after noon. We teachers were able to leave after 3:30pm. I spent at least an hour on The Flying Pig, and ordered a bunch of stuff (Mom, forget about the graham crackers, if it's not too late). I also graded some poems the students had written. Poems are difficult to grade, because some of the broken English is really quite poetic. The rules for the poems were that they should be five lines long, and the number of words in each line was to be 1/2/3/4/1 respectively, with the third line containing three descriptive words on the topic, and the fourth line being a short sentence.
Take this one, for example:
How far continue
See top sky blue
While not all of the students stuck to the 1/2/3/4/1 pattern, this one clearly intended to, and I didn't know 1) what the student intended to communicate in the fourth line, and 2) how to constrain a proper translation to four words. So I left it as it was, and gave the student an A. All of the students got A's, because all of the poems were complete; sometimes I receive partially completed assignments, and really those are the only ones that get less than an A from me. I correct mistakes, but as long as the students clearly make an effort, and didn't just slack off, they get full credit.
Most of the poems were about the sea, the sky, the night. Some were about sports, a few were about friends. A good quarter of them ended with "Wonderful." But a handful stuck out.
This poem cracked me up:
beans. beans. beans.
beans is very delicious
I almost gave this one a lower grade for using the same word six times (more than half the poem), but I figured maybe this student was trying for the humor angle. And it made me laugh out loud. So an A it received.
The only war-themed poem:
Crying sad injure
Bring the war to an end
Again, with this one, I didn't mind that the fourth line had two extra words. It's an excellent sentence (I'm guessing this student copied it out of something, but it's used correctly, which doesn't always happen), and, except to follow the rules which clearly weren't important to Tane nor myself, there was no reason to shorten it.
The last one amused me as much as the beans poem:
dead or alive
But I love kendo
This one also almost received a low grade from me, because two students had submitted identical poems (with the same cursive handwriting--one of them had literally traced over the poem written by the other). But when I showed them to Tane-sensei, she said, "Ah, yes, they wrote it together." Well, if she was okay with it, how could I not be? She told me it's a "secret" because they don't want their kendo coach (who sits across from Tane) to find out that they described the sport as "hell life." I can't blame them—he's a pretty tough-looking guy. So mum's the word, okay?
Monday, October 18, 2004
Less-than-good news: They're slower than winter molasses to get it running. It will take 28 days. I'm supposed to get another form in the mail, fill it out, and return it, after which time I will be sent a modem, and presumably my internet connection will be activated. But I don't know if it will be 28 days until I get the Something in the Mail, or 28 days until the action starts.
But YahooBB was the ISP I'd wanted even before I arrived in Japan, if only because their internet phone service allows me to place 3 yen/minute phone calls to the US.
Right now, I'm high as a kite (in a purely psychological, non-medicinal way).
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
That's probably not the best way to explain it.
I'll try again:
The briefest friendly exchange makes me glow all over.
The smallest frustrations are huge.
Every feeling is intensified, and subject to change at a moment's notice.
I know I'm not the only one who feels this way; I've talked to other new JETs about it as well. Just knowing that is comforting.
Monday, I found Ziploc leftover containers at the local supermarket. I soared.
I also attempted five times, and failed five times, to send the same e-mail to my mother, only to receive notice, one hour later, that the message couldn't be delivered. That was a small disappointment.
After trying two more times in the last two days, I decided today that I would give her a call from my cell phone after lunch. I wasn't exactly loving today's menu, but I finished eating as quickly as I could so I would have a few more minutes to talk to Mom. Stealing out into the hallway, I dialed the number, but I got a recorded message in Japanese. After a few moments, the English translation began: I couldn't place an international call because my phone wasn't registered with KDDI for international calls.
The hell it wasn't: I signed up for a special international plan when I bought the phone, for the express purpose of making discounted calls to the US. So I dialed the number given in the recorded message, to talk to someone live. I got past the operator with my mad Japanese skillz: "Sumimasen... gomen nasai... eigo?" ("Excuse me... I'm sorry... English?") She transfered me to an English-speaking operator with an Indian accent. I explained the situation, and she put me on hold for several seconds. Returning, she said I should be able to place international calls starting tomorrow.
I have to wait a flickin' day to talk to my own mother?! My feelings are completely disproportionate to the situation.
Even two hours later, thinking about it still makes me upset. But I'm at school, so I won't get upset. I can't get upset; they'd think I was a total loon.
if you're reading this,
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
In Japan, a Wireless Vision of Future for U.S.
I stumbled upon it while trying to find English-language websites that my keitai browser can view properly. So far, I've just been reading a lot of bash.org. And of course, enjoying Flickr's lovely lovely keitai-friendly site.
Any more suggestions?
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
So yesterday afternoon, Tokue stops by the school as promised, and picks up my keys. I asked if I should come with him (desperate as I was to escape paper correcting), but he said it was okay, and I should stay. He returned with another fellow from the BoE about forty-five minutes later and led me down to the car, which was waiting outside the school.
I'd been hoping that it wasn't some stupid problem, like I really had left the lights on all night, or something I could have solved in two minutes on my own if I'd known what to do... but I also wanted it to be a problem with a relatively simple solution. And that's exactly what it was. It was the battery, but it was really shot, and needed to be replaced. So, not something I could have done on my own, but something that took maybe an hour or two to fix. Nice.
<a great sigh> And a teacher just informed me that I'd left my small headlights on all morning. I had to run out in the rain to turn them off, but fortunately the car started.
Anyway, after another jump start after school (with the help of that Other Guy from the BoE, whose name I should make a point of learning, since he was such a big help), I got the car to Juntendo, where Other Guy selected the correct battery. I was glad it was one of the ones under 3,000 yen, not one of the ones over 12,000 yen. I had to leave the car idling in the parking lot. Then we drove to the BoE where he changed the battery, which was pretty quick. All better!
Sorry if this post is boring. My life is kind of boring. I mean, I'm in Japan, which is pretty cool, but after a couple of months it wears off, especially when you know you'll be here at least another ten months, and probably longer. When I was driving home from school Monday, I was listening to a radio station that sometimes plays classical music, and sometimes American music, and sometimes other foreign (read: not American or Japanese) music, and sometimes what sounds like NPR. Just before I got home, they put on James Taylor's "September Grass," which I'd never heard before, but it was just so... home, that I sat in the parking lot in front of my apartment and listened to the whole thing.
It couldn't have been more than three or four minutes that I sat there with the engine off and the radio playing, but maybe that's what finally killed the battery.
Oh well. It was worth it.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
My car wouldn't start this morning, so I walked to the train station (where I am now), about 1km from my apartment. This is a shot of central Minari from a bridge I crossed. I took some more photos, which I'll post (on Flickr) soon.
Edit: To view the other photos, just click on the one above, which will take you to the Flickr website. On that page, click on "Emily's photostream."
Monday, September 27, 2004
Friday, September 24, 2004
Monday, September 13, 2004
If this is a problem in Yokota, it's probably also a problem at the Nita BoE.
I am typing to you from my laptop computer! Not because I have internet at my apartment, but because I brought my laptop to the Yokota BoE today (I used it at Yokota Elementary to show the kids some photos), and there was this little LAN plug sticking its head up, just begging to be plugged in. After asking permission, which was readily granted, I hooked ol' Bessy up to the internet.
Drink deep, Bessy. You'll not be tasting these waters again for some time.
But at least my virus scanner will stop pestering me for a few days.
Off to post some photos, while I have the chance.
Friday, September 10, 2004
Her name is Abigail, and she's about three feet tall.
I was wandering the streets of Minari on the second day of the Atago Festival (the night I didn't have to dance), when I found someone selling plants. I know she (Abigail) is a pomegranate tree, cos she had a plastic pomegranate tied to her when I bought her. Unless someone just has a sick sense of humor.
But I have no idea how to raise a fruitful pomegranate tree. Any suggestions?
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Cheese does not.
Granted, the closest I've ever come to high-quality camembert is the Old World Cheese section at Wegmans, but I know not tasty when I, er, taste it. And Hokkaido camembert is not tasty.
That is all.
- Place knives at bottom of kitchen sink.
- Fill sink with various other dishware.
- Periodically deposit water and food into the sink.
- Repeat for two weeks.
Yeah, that's right Mom.
It was an experiment....
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
But hope springs eternal. I hear there's a cable internet company that serves my area: 100Mbps for 3,000 yen/mo. Finally, something cheaper than in the States.
I've found that it's easier to drive properly if I don't think, This is the exact opposite of American driving, but simply take it as it is.
Actually, in that respect, driving in Japan is a lot like living in Japan.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
I have some new new photos I want to upload, but it may be a few days before I can do that.
Tomorrow is Prefectural Orientation in Matsue. Good times to be had.
Strange Japanese Television
The Long and the Short of It
E-mi-rii, Phone Home
Slimy... yet satisfying
Strangers in a Strange Land
"I'm fine, thank you, and you?"
Thank you and goodnight.
Monday, August 23, 2004
We hit Imai first. Unless I'm confusing my stores, Imai has a home supplies section, a book section, and a CD/miscellanious section. The book section about the same size as the Barnes & Noble in Syracuse; the CD/misc. section is larger than the corresponding section at the Syracuse B&N. Sayuri wanted to go there, and I was glad, because I remembered to buy an application for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test; I want to take the Level 4 test in December (Level 4 being the easiest), and I don't know where to find an application in Nita-gun. I also found their English book section, which is all of six shelves (note, not six bookshelf units, but six shelves within bookshelf units). This was, however, a big step up from the English book sections I've found in Nita-gun, qui n'existent pas. I resisted the urge to pick up Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country? and went instead for Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth and a color-illustrated original Winnie the Pooh book. Winnie the Pooh (mostly the Disney version) is huge here; Pooh-san, he's called. Snoopy is also very popular.
Next, we hit an electronics store, cos I wanted to buy a Canon WordTank G50. But this store didn't have the G50, so we went to McDonald's for lunch (the Big Macs and the fries taste the same, and they play outdated American music), and then to DeoDeo, another electronics store. There I found the G50... a thing of beauty.
I'm at the Nita BoE right now, and my supervisor Kawasumi is on the phone at the desk facing mine, talking about me and my kind. I can tell, cos he keeps saying "ALT." I've also picked out "eigo sensei" ("english teacher"), and "Sonya-san" (one of the ALTs before me).
Anyway, Sayuri asked the salesperson there if there was an English manual available, but there wasn't. I'd heard that English manuals were available for download online, so I wasn't too concerned. I ended up paying for it less than I would have if I'd ordered it from the above website, even before S&H costs, so I was happy. I also wanted to find some sort of USB memory stick, so I could transfer files from my laptop to a work computer, and finally get some photos posted. I was having difficulty explaining to Sayuri what I wanted, so I just walked around until I found something better: the Rio SU35. (Poorly Translated Site brought to you by BabelFish.) I got the 256Mb model, in a nice green color, and it weighs all of 40 grams. No English manual for that, either, but the saleswoman looked through the Japanese manual, and showed me that it was possible to change the menus to English, so that made me happy. Sayuri decided to purchase a cute little mini-disc player.
We went to a big department store, Saty, and there I bought a new bag, since all I've been using here is my everything-in-one-big-mess Adidas bag. The new one has five pockets, and is Crayola red. No longer will I spend thirty seconds at the cash register fishing for my wallet or change purse. I also found The GameBoy Game I Came to Japan Looking For: Harvest Moon for Girls.
Oh crap. Abe-san just came in--all the way from Yokota--to deliver to Kawasumi a stack of US tax forms. In English. So I imagine they're going to have a ball with that. I don't know how much of the process I'll be involved in, but I know that they're mostly for me to establish out-of-the-country residency, so I won't have to pay US taxes on the money I make in Japan. I also hear the forms have changed from years past, though that won't make any difference to me. Kawasumi looks positively delighted.
So, Harvest Moon for Girls is just like the regular Harvest Moon in that you run a farm and get to know the townspeople you live near, but in the regular version, your character is male and flirts with the ladies, and eventually marries one; clearly, this is is somewhat weird for most women. In HM for Girls, your character is female, and flirts with the fellas in town.
But better than HM, was the GBA game I found in Yokota the day before: Final Fantasy I & II. It owns. Now all I have to do is convince my supervisors that playing Japanese video games counts as "studying the language." :)
Then to the giant 100 Yen store; I forgot the name of it. But it is the size of, oh, your average local supermarket (read: not Kroger or Wegmans, but more like Peter's, if you know Syracuse). And everything costs 100 yen. Well, a few things cost 200 or 300 yen, but they are clearly marked, and are much fewer in number. I got some more bowls and plates and leftover containers, and some CDs of traditional Japanese music... some of which are more like remixes; I wouldn't consider bass guitar to be a traditional Japanese instrument. And some other fun stuff, too.
Oh, and a stop at Mister Donut and Baskin-Robbins, too. Yum....
The mp3 player that was supposed to have English text tucked away inside it? I've found how to change the menus from Japanese to English (or to Korean, if I like), but the selection won't take. I push the button, I hold the button, I push combinations of buttons, but the cursor just sits on "English," and nothing changes. There are some other problems with the device, namely the fact that it sometimes won't start up; it seems to crash as soon as I turn it on, and then won't work properly for hours. Fortunately, I kept the receipt, and there's a small DeoDeo in Nita, not far from my apartment, so I'll take it in there tomorrow.
Also, the English manual that was supposed to be so easy to find online is nowhere to be found. There are English manuals for older models, but I guess the G50 is too new. I did, however, get some help from someone on BigDaikon, who told me how to change the menu language to English; that helps a lot.
It's quarter to 6, and Kawasumi-san entreats me to go home. I have some shopping to do (nothing tasty to drink), and then one last dance rehearsal tonight before the big shebang in Nita tomorrow night; I haven't practiced all weekend, and it's a complicated dance, and I just realized no one will know what I'm talking about, since I explained it all in a "post" I wrote on my laptop, so just hold your breath, and I'll write more later.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
I passed the New York State Road Test on my half-birthday last September. And between then and my departure for Japan, I probably logged a total of five hours on the road, and that's being generous.
I'm leaving the Yokota BoE now to visit the junior high school and meet the English teachers.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
We even played a game of Guess How Old I Am. I guessed Hisako was 27 or 28; she's really 35, so she got a big kick out of that. She guessed I was 25, which is pretty close. We briefly discussed how we agreed that Americans look older than Japanese; but then she said that when she first met me, she thought I was 18. <shrug> When I had to guess Ko-chan's age, first I said 200, then 29, then when I seriously thought about it, I said 48. He shook my hand and said, "Arigato." He's 52, so it wasn't that big a compliment. And Mr. Internet is 54.
Ko-chan is also the director of Nita's own Japanese drum group, Blazing Drums of Nita Town (Nita no Hono-o Daiko). When I expressed an interest in learning how to play Japanese drums, he had me tap out a steady beat on the table with my fingers—1 2 1 2 1 2—on which he improvised. I was able to keep the beat steady (whew!); I guess the best place to begin is at the beginning. I told him that my brother plays the drums—"American drums" I said, not knowing a better term.
Nita is having a big festival next week Tuesday and Wednesday. There's to be music and dancing and street-side vendors, and I don't know what all will take place. But definitely music and dancing and street-side vendors. Ko-chan asked if I wanted to learn a traditional Japanese dance for the festival. Sure! I said. I want to get more involved in community activities.
Hisako invited me to her house the next day. She lives with her parents; her father is a Buddhist monk, and they own a large house on a steep hill about 7 minutes' drive from my apartment. That was fun. Her older sister and brother-in-law were in town from Osaka for the holiday. Last weekend was the Obon Festival (sp?), when people visit their ancestor's graves. The four of us drove to Hiroshima-ken to see tateana-style houses; the sister and brother-in-law work as architects, and are interested in different architectural styles. The tateana-style is very old; basically the entire house (which is a single room) is made of a thick layer of sticks and straw; I took photos, and when I post them, they will explain the style better than any description I can give.
We drove back to the house for lunch, then went to a nature park not far away. The sister and brother-in-law brought their dog Juju; I think she's a labrador retriever. The nature park follows a river through areas where the river has worn away at the stone in such a fashion that it looks like giants have dropped huge boulders in the valley. But the boulders didn't come from elsewhere; they are the same stone that makes up the river bed, worn away with time. Beautiful, albeit unbearably humid.
When we returned to the house again, Hisako's father was preparing incense to place before each gravestone; the graveyard is in the forest next to their house. We went with him, visiting the graves of their family, and of previous monks: Hisako placed a few grains of rice at the base of each stone while her sister poured a bit of water over the top. I took pictures, with their permission.
Sunday sucked. But the books I ordered from Amazon.co.jp arrived, so it wasn't a total loss.
Yesterday was the dance practice at the Nita gym. Hisako picked me up from my apartment. Her cousin Fuyuko was visiting from Matsue, so she joined us. And who else showed up but Mr. Internet, armed with digital camcorder and tripod. "Maybe in a little while we do Easy English Lesson," he smiled. He even had a short script written out: What Do You Say When You Meet Someone? I think he wanted Hisako and me to have a short dialogue, so we practiced a bit.
"Hi, Emily!" she said.
"Hi!" I replied, momentarily forgetting her name.
"How are you doing?"
We weren't sure where to proceed from there, and Mr. Internet was puzzling over the script, which I hadn't bothered reading. Pointing to it, he said, "The textbook say, 'I'm fine, thank you, and you?'"
(If you're not part of this inside joke, I'll explain it to you. Grade school education is highly standardized throughout Japan, and English textbooks are no exception. The big joke is that when students are asked, "How are you doing?" they reply in unison, "Fine, thank you, and you?" One of the speakers at the Big Tokyo Orientation told us that he took some Japanese students to the States once, and one of the boys came down with a terrible intestinal bug of some sort. They took him to the emergency room, where a doctor asked him, "How are you doing?" Though clearly in great pain, the boy strained, "Finethankyouandyou?")
"Nobody talks like that!" I said in my defense. I mean, it sounds like something appropriate, and it even is appropriate, but try saying it out loud; doesn't it feel a bit awkward? It's almost a little formal. In any case, even if people do say it, they don't say it all the time. So Mr. Internet scratched it off the list.
Then came dance time.
HOLY CRAP that was not the simple, cute dance I thought it would be. It's a beautiful dance and I would love to learn it, but the other people there had been practicing for two months. There were a few of us who were there for the first time, and we all stumbled through it together; the woman teaching us moved through it very quickly, and it's fairly intricate. Mister Internet caught much of our sweaty moose dancing on tape; maybe he's posted it somewhere. Lord, I hope not.
Ko-chan asked me if I wanted to dance in the festival. "I'm not good enough to dance in the festival this year," I said. "Maybe next year." Then I discovered there are two more rehearsals, so I said, "I'll go to the next one, and I'll decide then." In truth, I had a good time, but I was a little stressed out trying to remember which moves came when, and dealing with three people who wanted to interpret for me while I was just trying to follow the leaders' movements.
By the end I was quite tired and hot and feeling a little testy, so when Mr. Internet approached Hisako and me again, I half-whined, "Do I have to?" Hisako was also worn-out, and neither of us looked fit for film, so he decided we didn't have to do it after all.
But really, it was more the fact that he just showed up expecting me to do an English lesson that rubbed me the wrong way. I was trying to do my thing, joining a dance class, getting to know people, and when he presented me with a script, I felt like I was just some American monkey to him. I'm not opposed to doing online English lessons, in principle. But he had said we'd do a new one every other week, whenever I was working in Nita, and this was unscheduled. Also, 99.8% of Japanese people who would bother (or know how) to check an online English lesson probably already know how to introduce themselves. That stuff's really early in the curriculum.
Blubalubalubalubaluba... okay, it's out of my system.
I was bored out of my mind, whiling away the hours by putting sticky tabs in my new traveler's guide to Japanese-type book, when Tokue-san told me he was going to take me to look at cars.
Well, I perked right up. We drove a couple of minutes to a nearby Subaru used-car lot. Tokue talked with the guy who seemed to be in charge, and they went outside and talked for a minute, then went back in, and then Tokue and I returned to the BoE.
I had no idea what had just transpired until lunchtime, when Tokue summoned me outside. In the parking lot sat a small, light blue Subaru (Vivio?); my "new" car. Tokue drove it a little bit in forward and reverse, and then Abe-san came along. They spoke for a minute, then Abe told me that Tokue will be taking me out later this afternoon for a bit of a driving lesson.
I get paid this Friday, but I don't yet know when I will have to pay for it (probably sooner rather than later), or how much it will cost. But I am happy!
In other news, the Japanese men's gymnastics team got the gold medal at the Olympics, narrowly beating out the Americans; it was broadcast here during lunchtime, no doubt so that everyone could watch it. I guess the US was ahead by a bit toward the end, but the Japanese owned the high bar event. I was a little sad to see us lose, but if we had to lose to anyone, I'm glad it was to the Japanese.
Read more about it on this Chinese site.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Tonight Japan and the US are playing each other in softball. Go USA!
I have composed a few blog entries on my laptop back at the apartment, intending to upload them if/when I get internet to my apartment. Maybe I'll save them to disk and bring them into work so I can post them sooner. At this point, though, I feel like I'm e-mailing the same information to everybody, and I'm spending a lot of time doing it. So I will try to make this The Entry that Answers the Frequently Asked Questions. I may update it from time to time; I'll try to alert you faithful readers when I have done so.
- Where is Shimane?
On the main island, Honshu, at the western end, along the Sea of Japan. But I am farther inland, about 15 minutes' drive from Hiroshima Prefecture (though quite a bit farther from Hiroshima City, which has been nicely rebuilt in the last 60 years, in case you're wondering).
Here's a map. Here's another map.
- What's the weather like?
Hot and humid right now. Syracuse sees this weather from time to time, but usually not all summer. Today, actually, has been a bit milder. Most everyplace is air conditioned, which is nice. I have an air conditioner in my apartment, which is extra nice.
It's also rained from time to time. Nice, loud thunderstorms. There was a typhoon that crossed the island my first weekend here, but the mountains dampened it to something less spectacular than even a thunderstorm. It rained, and the wind blew a little, but when I woke up the next morning, there weren't even any leaves strewn about the road.
No earthquakes yet, either. Not that that's weather, but I thought I'd include it here.
- Does it snow in Japan?
Yes. The 1998 Winter Olympics were held in Japan, if you will recall. More specifically, it snows in my little corner of Shimane-ken. The locals were worried at first that I would have a hard time staving off the cold, but when they realized that Syracuse is at roughly the same latitude as Sapporo, Hokkaido (a fact that isn't really as meaningful as it sounds), and when they heard my tales of snow drifts as high as the ceiling, they were convinced that I'd be fine.
- How was your flight over?
Long and sucky. But I survived.
- Were you delayed by customs officials?
No. Which was good: they might have confiscated my NyQuil.
- How is your apartment?
Not bad. I'm on the second floor, with a nice balcony which runs the width of the apartment, and is accessible by sliding glass doors from both the dining room and the bedroom. The dining room and kitchen run together into one large room, and there's an extra room besides; right now it's holding all my semi-unpacked stuff, which is strewn about the floor. Japanese homes are typically smaller than American homes, but I think these apartments often accomodate families, so this one feels like a good size to me.
I have my own (small) washing machine, but no dryer, so I'm still getting used to this Fabric-Softener-Before-the-Last-Rinse-Cycle business. And also the Hanging-Wet-Clothes-Around-the-Apartment business. But I'll get the hang of it.
No oven, either. I've got a toaster oven, and one of these microwave/oven contraptions (it looks like a microwave, but it also cooks like a regular oven), but these are small. I have two gas burners for a stove. The sink is pretty normal, but low, so I have to bend over to wash the dishes. The refrigerator is small, but I don't need a big one.
I am also greatly relieved to have a western-style toilet. No squatting! It's still a little weird, in that it's got a trap-door function at the bottom, like I've seen on some RVs, but it conserves water.
I don't pay rent; this is unusual for JETs. So all considered, I've got a great pad.
- How do you like your job?
I haven't really started the actual teaching yet. The school year starts in April, and is arranged in trimesters. Between the first and second trimesters is summer vacation, so that's what's going on now. I alternate weeks between Nita and Yokota, and I report to each town's respective Board of Education each day, where I study Japanese and web surf (more and more of the latter, I fear). It hasn't been a complete waste of my time, since I've gotten to know some of the folks around both towns.
When I actually start teaching, you'll hear all about it, trust me.
- Does anybody speak English there?
A few. Probably more than I've met, and those that do are often initally shy about it. There's another ALT in Yokota, Mabel from the UK. She'll be teaching at Yokota Senior High School, which serves both Nita and Yokota. And there's a CIR, whose name I've forgotten (sorry!) who works at Yokota Town Hall. She's from Thailand, and speaks Japanese fluently. She's also very shy about her English, but really she understands quite a lot. We spoke briefly yesterday at the Yokota Coming-of-Age Day, where we each gave a small speech and were otherwise unsure about what was going to happen.
Almost everyone I've met under the age of 50 knows a few English greeting phrases. Many know more than that, but their English is more like a vocabulary list. As of yet, I haven't met any Japanese who are what I would call fluent.
- Is the field hockey game over?
- Who won?
- What was the score?
- How much Japanese do you know?
Not much. I've memorized the hiragana, which is the syllabary used for Japanese words. I've started working on the katakana, the syllabary for foreign words, which will come in handy at the supermarket.
Apart from that, I know a few greeting phrases, and a handful of random words. And Domo arigato gozaimasu, variants of which I must use half a dozen times a day on average.
- Isn't Japan an expensive country to live in?
It depends. For the most part, yes. Like I said, I don't pay rent, so that's one less financial burden, but this is unusual. Fruit is very expensive. When I can, I will upload a photo I took of some 6,800-yen melons; that's roughly 65 US Dollars; cheaper melons can be purchased for 1,000 or 1,500 yen. (I'm talking cantaloupes, here; smaller than a volleyball. I think watermelon is actually cheaper per each.) I've seen two peaches sell for about four bucks. I told my friend Sayuri that when they're in season, we can buy a kilogram of peaches for that price; she was surprised.
I can get Häagen-Dazs ice cream if I really want to; 300 yen for about half a pint. And as much as I want to get a car, I know it's going to be a big cash sink for me.
There's a gas station near my apartment, and I think I saw the price at about 100 yen/liter... but I'll check it again next time I go by.
On the other hand, there are these lovely, lovely 100 Yen stores. They're like 99 Cent stores in the States, but sooo much better. This is the Recent College Graduate's dream. I have another photo to upload of a bunch of stuff I bought there for about 32 USD.
That's all I can think of for now. If there are any more questions of this sort that you'd like answered, leave a comment on this post, and I'll include it on the list above.
Friday, August 13, 2004
He also asked if I wanted to go to dinner with him and Mr. BoE Boss Man tonight. At least, I think that's what it was. He mentioned "restaurant" and "six o'clock." And "date," though I hope he isn't fully aware of the connotations that term has; he's got to be, like, twice my age, at least. In any case, I agreed; I've never been one to turn down free food.
Since I found out today that I can't get Yahoo BroadBand here, nor Jen's SpinNet, I asked him how I could get an internet connection to my apartment. He furrowed his brow, and talked with Mr. Boss Man, while I looked up FLET'S ADSL online to further explain myself. "I know what you are asking," he said, and proceeded to explain that there are no outside ISP companies that provide internet to Nita, only Nita's own ISP company. Mr. Boss Man didn't know how/if I could get access from my apartment, and said that Kawasumi-san (my supervisor at the Nita BoE, inexplicably absent today) would know.
Mother muffin. This is either going to be very easy, or impossible.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Click on the photo, too.
I left the printed English as is, except to make some punctuation and spelling changes. And I also changed the name of the page, which used to read, "'Hello' says Emily." Cute, yes. But it had to go.
The fellows filming decided I should say, "Hello, everybody" when I was done with my little speech. I thought it was a somewhat unnatural thing with which to finish an introduction, but I fear I made it sound even more unnatural. This was the fourth take, though, and by that point, I didn't care.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
But it was not to be. Apparently sweet bean paste is a very traditional Japanese sweet, and this is what consisted most of the desserts we tried. One woman who was there who seemed to have lived in Japan for some time, said that these weren't really "desserts" in the sense of something eaten after dinner; they were very fancy and would be eaten during tea ceremonies. Many of the desserts we tried were very sweet, but in a tea ceremony, they compliment the bitter green tea. Myself, I had my fill of sweet bean paste. Right now I'm between the novelty, OhI'veNeverTriedThisBefore phase, and the familiar, MmmI'veReallyAcquiredATasteForThisStuff phase, and I'm smack in the middle of the gross-out, Don'tShowMeAnotherPieceOfSweetBeanStuffEverAgain phase. It's not that the desserts were wretched and made me want to spit them out of my mouth, but they were just too darn sweet and too... beany. And very dry, but then one doesn't eat biscotti either without a drink on hand.
If they wanted our opinions, they got them. Most of us were just not feelin' the sweet bean paste, though there were a few desserts that seemed to be well-liked. One was cheesecake with a bit of... um... something in the middle. Another was a vanilla sponge cake with that same... something in the middle. Another was kinda chewy, like a cross between jelly and juji fruit. There was one that someone said tasted like Turkish delight, but by the time I got up to try it, it was all gone. And another that was like a chocolate-filled cookie; it was dry, inside and out, but I thought it would taste good with coffee.
There was a video crew there, too, which I had not expected. During the event, which lasted an hour and a half, they went around and briefly interviewed everyone there. They talked with me, unfortunately, right after I'd eaten sweet bean paste shaped like a pumpkin.
"What did you just eat?" she asked.
"Uh, that pink pumpkin one there," I said, pointing to what was left of it.
"What did you think?"
"Hmm. It is very pretty, very visually attractive, but I thought it was too sweet, and didn't have much flavor. Maybe I would like it more if it had some fruit flavor or something."
She nodded and smiled and went on her way.
At the end, everyone got a box of some sort of sweet. Mine? They look like beans on ice.
I knew that a lot of the Shimane JETs would be in Matsue Saturday evening for the Suigo-Sai Festival, and I also wanted to go&emdash;for the fireworks and to get together with English-speaking people. But I wasn't sure how I was going to get back, since the festival started at 8pm, and the last train I could catch back home would leave around 4. I made the mistake of bringing this concern up to Tokue. Someone had shown us nifty.com, a Japanese site that contains an Japanese-English translator, but language translation programs have a long way to go yet before they can be used in any meaningful way, especially ones that translate between two languages with such opposite syntax. So Tokue determined that we should pay a visit to his friend in the Nita Police Department, Yushi (his first name; I think his last name is Nakamura). Yushi has a fair command of the English language, and had acted as interpreter my first day in Shimane, when Abe and Tokue took me out shopping. So I felt very silly bothering him in the middle of his work day, just to say that I wasn't sure how I was going to get back to Nita, but that I was pretty sure I'd figure something out. He asked for a photocopy of the fax I'd received from Ashley and Marcie, the Shimane Prefectural Advisors, so he could more fully understand what was going on. I tried to convince him that the entire fax contained much extraneous information, but he wanted time to read over everything thorougly (his English isn't that good), so I shrugged my shoulders and said sure. He came by the Yokota BOE again Friday afternoon, and I told him and Tokue that I'd decided to go to the taste-testing party, and see if I ran into any other JETs there who would be willing to put me up for the night. If so, I'd do that, and return Sunday; if not, I would still have time to catch a train back to Nita (since the taste-testing party ended at 3:30). Yushi said, "You have to be back by Monday." I said, "I know that...."
See how that last paragraph was long and mostly devoid of meaningful information? That was exactly how I felt about the whole matter. When I mentioned this to some of the JETs I met up with in Matsue, they said that it might be because my predecessor, Marion, left so early that they're protective of me. Marion's leaving had nothing to do with anything she did while in Japan, but okay.
So after the taste-testing party, I was able to find someone, namely Nina, who let me stay at her apartment overnight. So great, I was glad I could go to the festival. We had a few hours to kill, and someone mentioned that another JET, Cindy, was in the hospital. This was news to most of us, so a few of us went to visit her. She had a bad throat infection over a week ago, and she could see a big, white ball of puss at the back of her throat. She went to the hospital to get herself checked out, and when they checked her white blood cell count, they told her she would have to stay there. It seems that the puss from her throat infection was oozing, and the infection spread throughout her digestive system, and even into her sinuses, and within a day her body was racked with pain. She's quite a bit better now, though she's not able to eat much, and the doctors think she should be able to leave on Wednesday. We spent about an hour there, chatting about us new JETs in Shimane, and Cindy's condition, and we wished her well.
After that, Nina, her boyfriend Mike, Finton from Ireland, and I went to an Italian Restaurant. They make a good caesar salad, with proscuito and a spa-boiled (soft boiled) egg. And after that, I met with everyone else at the train station to head down to the lake and watch the fireworks. It was cool: I got to see again some of the people I'd met at orientation, and in general to forget that I was a foreigner. The fireworks were fantastic; I can't remember seeing any better than these. Maybe if I'd grown up near a large city I would have, but these were awesome. They had 6,000 fireworks to set off in half an hour. They'd do several, one at a time, then have a barrage of them all together, like a grand finale, but they did it four or five times throughout the show. My favorite individual fireworks were the ones that popped white, and then each of those pieces burst again into a smaller burst of color. They had ones shaped like cat faces and smiley faces and hearts, the success of which depended upon the orientation of the firecracker when it burst, since the images were two-dimensional. My favourite part of the show was when they launched the fireworks at a 45-degree angle, and they exploded right over the water, with lots of the glowing pieces landing in the water before they burned out. Chris, who was well on his way to inebriation, said, "And now we will recreate the attack on Pearl Harbor." I wondered aloud if the boat was sinking. But the effect was very cool.
I'd only ordered a salad at the Italian restaurant because I wanted to try "festival food." But after paying 300 yen for a can of iced tea, I was willing to wait even longer before I ate. And eat we did, at another restaurant, the name of which I've forgotten. We were able to reserve a room to ourselves, which was cool, cos we could talk loudly in English without bothering anyone. We were going to order everybody for oneself, but then we decided to order a bunch of stuff, and split it up evenly. I tried fried chicken knuckles, which is just fried chicken cartilage, and that was kind of nasty; it was like I was purposefully eating the part of fried chicken that, on any other occasion, I would purposefully spit out. Cow tongue, too, which was not as bad as I'd imagined. Some chicken (I think) in avocado and mushrooms—that was really good. Oh, wow, lots of different things, and not all Japanese.
It was the most wonderful thing to be able to string together several English sentences and not confine myself to simple words, not revert to bad sign language, not wonder what the joke was, not feel self-conscious, not puzzle over social propriety, not struggle to make myself understood.
Now I know how JETs become such fast friends.
Oh, and when I got back to Nita this afternoon, it was 32C, so I decided to catch a bus back to my apartment—except I got on the wrong one, and ended up all over southeast Shimane for an hour before the bus finally returned to my area. The driver was very nice. He didn't speak any English, but he communicated to me that he would eventually return to Nita, and then went so far as to drive me to my stop, even though I'm pretty sure it wasn't on his route. He gave me an umbrella, too, (!) cos it had started to rain. This was doubly good, because I'd left my umbrella at the Yokota BOE on Friday, and I won't be back there until next week. So I started out the bus ride feeling really frustrated with myself and the stupid Japanese bus schedule, and ended up in a good mood.