It has the the ranking of all the poker hands.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
A couple of weeks after the "grass in the soup" incident, I was at Ai Kindergarten. Sayuri, who speaks some English and is the only kindergarten teacher who invites me to her kindergarten, said to me, "Did you hear about the problem with the school lunch before?" Yes, I told her. "Yes, it was serious," she said. "There was glass in the soup."
Glass?! It was glass in the soup? Geez, now I understand what all the fuss had been about. Stupid R-L ambiguity. My JTE had tried to tell me "glass," but I heard "grass." Sayuri continued: one of the cooks in the lunch preparation center was trying to get the last bit of spice out of a glass jar. She knocked the jar against the side of the pot, and the jar broke.
But there was a considerable time delay involved; we weren't told until most of the students were more than halfway through their meal. My guess is that the woman thought she'd picked out all the glass, and didn't tell anyone about it until some time had passed. Then someone above her (correctly) decided that no one could be certain if all of the glass had been removed, so it would be better to scrap the whole dish.
The lunch preparation center is adjacent to Nita JHS, but they prepare lunches for all of the elementary schools and kindergartens in Nita as well. That's how Sayuri knew about it.
That is all.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Grammy's Christmas present arrived last Wednesday. My doorbell rang at about 5:30pm, and it was the mailman carrying a large box for me. The mailman. Not Mr. UPS, not Mr. Leading Postal Service, but the mailman. Oh, I am so going to miss Japan Post. He had me sign the sheet, and then he was on his way. I'd asked Grammy for another afghan and a couple of small throw pillows for the back of my car; Dad wrote to me on the day she mailed everything and said she couldn't find a suitable afghan, so she bought me a quilt instead. When I got the package, I saw that everything was individually wrapped in Christmas paper, and that she'd also included a pair of socks and a fifth mystery package. I call it a mystery package, cos it wasn't listed on the customs form, but really I think it's an afghan. Cos the paper is torn a little bit. But shhh! I already opened the socks (I guessed correctly that they were in the smallest package), cos I need all the warm socks I can get, but everything else I'm saving until Christmas Day. It makes me happy to see a small pile of presents in Christmas wrap in my apartment.
Also, two or three of the presents came doubly wrapped in a white drawstring garbage bag, which I took great pains to untape without damaging it. Can you believe it?! That garbage bag came from America, that magical place! But seriously, I'm saving that thing.
Häagen-Dazs has a berry custard pie parfait.
I have not received a newspaper since last Saturday, and I'm missing a couple from before then. Actually, the only newspaper I've gotten this entire month was on Saturday, December 3rd. I subscribed to the Daily Yomiuri over a year ago, and have enjoyed reading it. Every once in a while, for whatever reason, I won't get the paper for a day or two (sometimes because of a "media holiday" which happens across the country, sometimes I don't know why), but I tend to ignore it. But last Thursday when I'd only received one newspaper in a week, I wrote to the Daily Yomiuri via their website.
I have not received any newspapers since last week. My apologies for this electronic message， but I don't know who to contact in my area. The weather has recently been poor， but I'm missing some newspapers from before the weather turned. I didn't receive any papers last Thursday or Friday (12/1 & 12/2). I may have received one Wednesday (11/30)， but I don't remember right now， and I'm not at home to check. I received a paper on Saturday (12/3)， but none since then. Is it possible for me to receive the back newspapers that were not delivered?Came the answer the following day,
Regarding your recent inquiry, we asked your local agent to restart delivering to your address and also to deliver the back newspapers that you could not receive.Huh? I didn't want to end my subscription. I didn't tell anyone I wanted to end my subscription. I didn't even have a conversation with anyone about the Daily Yomiuri in the last couple of months. What's going on?
According to your local agent, they received the phone call from a person like your Japanese colleague and he/she asked them to end your subscription.
However, we appreciate your reading The Daily Yomiuri again.
[My local agent's phone number included at the end.]
To make matters worse, I still haven't received any newspapers. So I wrote to them again today.
I'm very surprised to hear that someone cancelled my subscription on my behalf. I signed up for the Daily Yomiuri on the English website, and I assume that when I finally leave Japan and end my subscription, I will do so again through the website. I do not want to end my subscription now, nor have I said anything to any Japanese colleagues about the Daily Yomiuri that might have been misconstrued as my dissatisfaction with the paper or its delivery. This is a complete mystery to me.The "Shimbun-san" (Mr./Ms. Newspaper) comment isn't (intended to be) as sarcastic as it may sound. The guy who owns Daido, the book/music/sports equipment store in town, is sometimes called Daido-san (though his name isn't Daido); sometimes people address others by their workplace if they don't know their real name. Even some foreigners are called Gaijin-san (Mr./Ms. Foreigner). The latter might be another kettle of fish, but what I mean to say is that that sort of thing does happen, though I suspect it's not terribly formal.
More mysterious is that delivery of the Daily Yomiuri still has not resumed. I have checked my old newspapers and confirmed that I received the paper for Wednesday, November 30. But since that date, I have only received the paper for Saturday, December 3; I have received no other newspapers in December, neither new nor back papers.
I thank you for providing me with the phone number of my local agent. Could you also provide me with his or her name? I don't know that addressing him or her as Shimbun-san will set the right tone for future communcations.
But This Just In (seriously, like, 90 seconds ago)
We are very sorry about this.I wait with bated breath.
We have contacted to your agency at the moment.
They will deliver the newspaper tomorrow. and also, reply to us about what is going on.
After that we will give the email to you.
Häagen-Dazs' berry custard pie parfait is delicious.
I have plans for Christmas Day! Yea! James "the Canadian" is having a Christmas party at his house in Yokota. Turkey, pies, brownies, potatoes, gingerbread houses, and other tasty vittles. Oh yeah... it'll be so good.... Especially the turkey; it's not so easy to get turkey in Japan. He's had to order most of this stuff online.
Next week will be the Christmas party for my English conversation class. We'll be making plans tonight, so I don't know what all will happen yet, but it was good times last year. I taught everyone a song I'd written about Oninoshitaburui, and we played pass-the-parcel with the gift exchange gifts while singing the Oninoshitaburui song. Good times, it was.
I have to leave for conversation class tonight in about half an hour, so I'm going to sit under the kotatsu until then and warm my toes. 又ね。
Thursday, December 01, 2005
or Things You Wish You'd Never Read
I just finished removing two very large clots of wax from my ears (and I highly recommend having long hair if you want to attempt this activity in public). Seriously, these things must weigh a gram or two each, and they're dark, dark brown, almost black. Yes, that's nasty, and you're lucky my phone makes a loud noise whenever I take a photo (a sound that I can change but can't turn off), else you'd have more than a written description.
I've been told by a couple of doctors in recent years that I had a lot of wax in my ears, but neither offered to irrigate them for me (once because I was in the beginning stages of a dizzy spell, and the other time I don't know why not). My fingernails are the longest they've been in months, and in a fit of boredom here in the staff room, well, my fingers got itchy, found something soft, and started digging.
And I really can hear better. Like when I move my head, I can hear my hair moving across my corduroy jacket. At the moment, I can hear my good friend Peter Gabriel very well. I think my left ear might still be a little plugged, unless the teachers to my right are just shuffling their papers really loudly.
Sorry. I'll post something more sane soon.
Monday, November 21, 2005
But first, while I've still got it in my mouth, there is such a thing as salt candy. Cheeky Supervisor gave me a piece, insisting it was delicious. It's sweet, and kinda salty. I don't know how else to describe it, except that it reminds me of gargling with warm salt water, and that reminds me of yuck.
He gave me a piece of molasses candy a couple of weeks ago, in an attempt to make up for the Werther's he'd swiped from me, but I don't like molasses. He asked me what kind of candy I do like.
He still hasn't replaced it.
But back to the students. Here's something I've had sitting in my notebook for months now. I think the assignment was to write about their favorite part of the school day. Most kids, naturally, wrote about their free time between lunch and fifth period, and some about their club activities. This one, though, was a little different:
My school has a end finish time.The next one is one of the poems the 3nensei students have to write, which featured prominently in my last edition.
Because Thank God!
We can go home at last.
TiredAccording to my JTEs at Yokota JHS, this poem was written by a boy who "always writes like this." I was really at a loss as to how to grade it. On one hand, he only used three words. On the other hand, it made me laugh, and I think that was intentional; he effectively communicated something. I gave him a B+.
I'm very tired
I'm very very tired
These last two are from 2nensei at Nita JHS writing about their summer vacations.
Tuesday, August 16It's funny that she seems to be defending herself.
I was sleepy.!!
I was tired. [sweat drops]
I was sleepy!!
I went to bed at ten.
The next one is my favorite:
I went to a flea market last Sunday.Whoa, what a plot twist! Did anyone see that coming? This kid's got a future in Hollywood. On second thought, maybe Japan needs good scriptwriters more than the US does.
There CD and books and clothes.
There were lots of people.
They were lost in the forest.
It was terrible.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
It's pretty small.
From the bottom of the photo, it's about six feet (two meters) to the wall and balcony behind me. You can see the front door at the end of the hallway/kitchen. Out of view to the right of the hallway are the toilet room and bathroom (they're kept separate from each other in most Japanese domiciles).
The low table in the foreground is the kotatsu. The tabletop lifts up, and you drape a thick blanket over it and replace the top. Attached underneath is an electric heater. Plug it in, turn it on, and it's an immensely cozy place to sit and read (or play Game Boy) for an afternoon. You're not supposed to sleep under it (something about catching a cold), but Shhh....
The ceiling (not shown) is really high, as are the door frames. I'm about 5'7 (170cm), and when I stand in the doorway between the main room and the hallway, I can just reach the top of the frame with the heel of my hand. The sliding glass doors (double-paned!) to the balcony are two meters tall. I think this is more typical of modern apartments. And modern cars; they've got tons of head room.
I'm standing on one of the three tatami mats that make up my sleeping space. A foam mattress on tatami seems to be the perfect thing for my back. Offscreen to the right are the TV, DVD player, and Super Nintendo, all infrequently used, all sitting on the floor. I need to do something with that corner, especially since I know that the day I get this apartment just the way I like it is the day my supervisor will find a bigger, nicer one for me. Might as well hurry the process along.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Of course the candy horking increased significantly when my desk changed a month ago. He was right there when I was organizing the drawers, and helped himself then. Actually, I think he just looked at it, and read the front of the bag like he didn't know what was inside, so of course I offered him some. Last week he tried to tell me something—I think it was that he'd been horking my candy while I was away from my desk, and that he'd replace it. But between his English and my Japanese, I couldn't be sure.
Today, about ten minutes ago, I opened up the drawer to get something. Remembering the candy stashed at the back, and Cheeky Supervisor sitting next to me, I pulled the drawer all the way open. "Dozo," I said, gesturing to the bag.
But the bag was empty. Yep, he'd already eaten it all. This time he really promised to replace the candy. "Yes, the same kind, please." I'm not entirely sure why I bought it in the first place, as I rarely eat it myself; I think I bought that bag last year. So it's not the fact that my candy is gone that gets me, it's the fact that he snuck it out of my desk.
You can probably guess why I call him Cheeky Supervisor.
A few months ago, when I was checking out new apartments, CS and I drove out to Yakawa on a warm June day. Getting into my car, he promptly closed the windows, turned the air conditioner on high, and aimed all the fans on himself. The temperature was maybe 28C (82F), and Yakawa is five minutes away, so it seemed excessive.
Cheeky Supervisor helped me move apartments, which was very kind of him. He, with Stimulant Man (that's the best name I've got for him now; I'll talk about him sometime else) did most of the heavy lifting. They drove the big truck to Yokota, while I drove my car, and my (real) supervisor and another office lady drove separately. CS and SM got to the Yokota apartment a few minutes ahead of the other women and me, and had already started to unload the truck when we arrived. It wasn't until everything had been moved in and everyone else had left that I realized someone had used my toilet (No. 1), and the water had not yet been turned on. This was a Friday, and the water was not due to be turned on till Monday. As it was, it wasn't turned on until Tuesday or Wednesday, and after then it took three days of ventilation fan and incense cones to clear out the smell. I have no real proof of which guy it was who used the WC, but I know who my money's on.
For a few days this summer I wore a new pair of sandals someone had gifted me: wooden soles painted with butterflies, and thin straps with purple sequins. I probably wouldn't have bought them myself, but since they were a gift, I thought I'd give them a try. At five o'clock one one of these days at the BoE, the chime sounded and we all got to work sweeping the floor. Cheeky Supervisor was sweeping near me, and noticed my shoes.
"Pretty," he said.
"Thank you," I smiled. So far, so good.
He paused, then asked where I got them. "Juntendo?"
I glared at him. Juntendo is the local hardware and home supply store, sort of like Home Depot. Fair enough for him to think I'd gotten them someplace local, but even Kuraichi, the supermarket next to Juntendo, has a decent shoe section; that might have been the better guess. In truth, the shoes had come from Shoes AiLand in Matsue.
So all this might make it sound like the guy drives me nuts, but really I like him. He's funny, he talks to me, and he helps me with car stuff. And he looks over to see what I'm doing on the computer every once in a while.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Months ago, in late May, Dad sent me a short e-mail asking if I was homesick, and if there was anything he could send me. I wasn't feeling especially homesick at the time, but a couple of nights later I had a dream.
A man and a woman were engaged to be married. They were very important people, like the president or much-beloved politicians. They wanted to announce their engagement, but were afraid of the fuss and trouble the media would cause.
Then they were married, traveling from the wedding to the house they'd just bought. They walked up to the large, old house, and when they reached the porch I became the woman. I thought to myself that most women walk into a new house and wonder what they're going to do with the place, so as I crossed the porch I started to wonder what I was going to do with the place.
The front door was open, and I saw that the house was not empty; in fact, it was fully furnished. As I walked through the front door I saw that it was exactly like the house I grew up in, with crocheted afghans and newspapers on the floor, with dolls sitting on the backs of armchairs, with a lamp on the endtable—everything was the same, and I gasped so loudly that it was an inhaled scream, and I started to cry. And after I knew I'd been dreaming, I cried even harder.
I wrote Dad back the next day and asked him to send me one of Grammy's afghans.
The truth is,
I miss you.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
For the curious, I suspect my vertigo is of the benign paroxysmal positional variety.
For the nosy, I've always taken the wait and see method of treatment. Every time I've had a bad dizzy spell, I've only been hard-core dizzy for about two or three days, and then less dizzy and more just lightheaded for about a week afterward. So it really doesn't make sense for me to try to treat it with head positioning exercises as described on that site, cos my symptoms go away too quickly.
So I'm in a weird funk. I've been stuck inside my apartment all day. I didn't go to school, I cancelled my English conversation class tonight, and I e-mailed the couple that I teach English to on Thursdays to warn them that I might not be able to have them over tomorrow. I'll decide in the morning if I'm okay for school. If I go, I'll leave early and take the train. I probably would have told my JTE by now that I won't be well enough tomorrow, but the second-years have interview tests, and if I don't get to them now, they'll have to wait two more weeks. I feel kind of cut-off from the world, even though I've been e-mailing and text messaging a bit this evening. I watched Fahrenheit 911 tonight. Boy, is that a bad movie to watch when you're sick. Well, for me it was. The woman that he interviews several times throughout the movie, she reminded me too much of Mom, and that made me really sad. And for anyone who cares about American politics, one way or the other it's gonna get you riled. I turned on the lights, which woke the birds up, so they've been keeping me company. My apartment is a mess (which is part of the reason why I'm reluctant to have the couple over), but I can't bend over to pick anything up. I've got my kotatsu blanket and rug in a pile in the front hallway, because there's nowhere in my apartment to store them while I wait to recover enough to put them into place. Yes, it's getting cold enough that I brought the kotatsu stuff from the Nita apartment. And I still feel like crap, of course. I can eat, but not much. So all of this has converged to put me in a somewhat depressed state. I'd go to bed now, if I could be assured that I'd sleep straight through the night; it's awfully hard to get a good night's sleep when you're sleeping upright. At least I don't have to move my head to use the computer, and the keyboard is kind of warm.
So! Enough of this pity party. Let me recount for you, in reverse chronological order, a summary of the last two weeks' events.
Sunday, Janelle and Orasa (the two other JETs in Okuizumo) and I went to a festival in Mizawa (a village in Okuizumo) with the Japanese class. There's an old castle that used to be in Mizawa, and it may even have been famous for something. This festival was to mark the 700th anniversary of the year the castle was built. We met the students at Mizawa Elementary (which I had previously not visited, so now that's 10 down, and Kamedake Elementary to go). There was a "warrior procession" of people dressed up like samurai and re-enacting what I believe was the introduction of the rifle to Japan, a re-enactment that involved many impressive bangs and pops, and a couple of misfires, too. I got sunburned. !! I keep forgetting that I'm not in Syracuse anymore.
After the festival, the three of us drove to Matsue to do some shopping at Uniqlo for warmer clothes—poor Orasa, from Thailand, thinks it's winter already. We picked up Mabel on our way into town, who had broken her foot the Sunday before. After Uniqlo we had dinner at an Italian restaurant next to Matsue Station. Not the one with the crazy clock, the other one.
Saturday, Janelle, Himene, and I drove to Matsue for lunch and to look for shoes (cos it's hard to find shoes my size in Okuizumo), and met up with Signe, Trevor, and Matt at Shoes AiLand. From there we went to the Friendship House in Izumo for a big games night. I played poker, and came away with an extra 1,700 yen (~16USD) in my wallet. Signe really cleaned up, though. We're going to have to watch her more carefully in the future.
Last Wednesday I explained the US Electoral College to my English conversation class. Whew!
Sometime last week Toothpaste Maniac told me how she thought it was strange that the Shimane JETs had held a fundraiser last February to raise money for UNICEF to help the areas affected by the big tsunami, but that we weren't doing anything to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I wasn't so certain myself, but I said, "When I ask for money for people in my own country, maybe it feels like I'm asking for money for myself."
"No," she protested, "nobody thinks that. Besides, there are other ALTs in Shimane from other places in the world. And the CIR in Okuizumo is from Thailand...."
"Very true. But maybe the Thai government doesn't have enough money to help all of the victims of the tsunami. The US government has a lot of money."
"But they aren't helping enough."
"Well," I chuckled, "that's separate issue, isn't it?" She agreed with a laugh.
Two weekends ago was the welcome party for all the new JETs at Mt. Sanbe. We had way too much food to barbeque, and not enough coal to cook everything that was brought. I, for one, managed to escape gastrointestinal illness. The cabins we stayed in were really nice; I want a house like that. I played games with some friends, then went to sleep and left Sunday morning. I ended up getting lost on the way back home. Not really lost; just I somehow got it into my head that Kawamoto was between Sanbe and Unnan. Nope, Kawamoto's clear on the other side of Sanbe. So I drove half an hour west before I realized my mistake and turned around. But the weather was beautiful.
The Friday before that was an enkai with the BoE folks. It was my first BoE enkai since the towns merged. It was an interesting night. I'm only at the BoE every Monday, and usually I visit elementary schools or kindergartens, so I don't actually spend a lot of time there (except for the summer, but everyone else is too busy to talk), so there were a lot of people at this enkai who were still very curious about me. One guy insisted that I visit Hiroshima City and Kyoto, then go back to New York and tell everyone I know about Hiroshima and Kyoto. This same fellow thought that Anchorage was in eastern Canada. "A-nkora-ji," he said. "What, Anchorage?" I asked, "in Alaska?" No, no, that wasn't right. So I spent the next couple of minutes trying to figure out what he was really saying before getting out my Japanese-English dictionary, looking up Anchorage, and showing him that it was, indeed, in Alaska.
But what really took the cake was my conversation with Mr. BoE Boss Man. He asked me how many boyfriends I had. "Oh, five or six," I said dismissively. "I can never keep track."
"Oh, I see," he said. "So, you have... travel friends... and, uh... eating friends... sex friends... and... taiko friends... how many friends do you have?"
I turned to my supervisor, who was sitting next to me, and gave her my best WTF?! expression. She laughed nervously. "I think... he drink too much." Yeah.
Edit Oct. 21, 2005: Actually, now that I think about it, it was Mr. BoE Deputy Boss Man who asked me about sex friends. Mr. BoE Boss Man talked to me, too, but his choice of conversation was much more respectable.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Later in the teachers room Kocho-sensei asked if we were all feeling okay, and we were, cos it was just grass, right? They wrote up a letter to be sent home with all the students explaining what had happened. So that was mildly exciting.
And plus I've had a headache. But that started before lunch, so I'm not too concerned.
Yesterday I had my first class with the 3rd years this semester. Beckham is the 3nensei JTE at Nita, and also the homeroom teacher of this particular class, so they were especially genki, considering the 3nensei are relatively reticent. I'd written out some sentences that followed a particular pattern (namely, "[Something] is [important/easy/difficult, etc.] for me, because [reason]"), and was reading them aloud to the class; they had to listen to me and figure out what I'd said. There was a part of one sentence that no one could figure out, except one kid who responded suddenly with the correct answer. "Oh," said Beckham, "You are so smart!"
But between Beckham's pronunciation skills and the students' listening skills, they thought he'd said, "You are Sauce Man!" "Sauce Man! Sauce Man!" they teased the kid, even after Beckham corrected them. Sauce Man was on fire yesterday, providing many correct answers, and every time he did, the boys around him continued: "You are Sauce Man!" He was pretty good-natured about it, though, and even at one point corrected them. "No," he said, "Shouyu (soy sauce) Man."
Every year there's a seminar in November for all of the ALTs in Shimane, as well as some JTEs. Last year it was Beckham's turn to attend, and he with a couple other JTEs did a workshop. I decided I wanted to see how this workshop turned out, and boy was I in for the unexpected. They did a model class where the workshop attendees were students, and Beckham played the ALT named—here's where he gets his nickname—David Beckham. He wore his favorite soccer jersey, and tried to act all cool and confident. So awesome. The workshop on the whole was pretty fun. I can't say that we really learned anything except for one possible lesson plan, but it was fun, and later other ALTs who'd attended thought it was really cool that my JTE had been willing to be all goofy like that in public. I was surprised; still waters run deep, I guess. The next time I was at Nita, I told Beckham how much we'd enjoyed his workshop. He prefered to forget it had ever happened.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
That morning I got a call on my cell phone. Who was it but Toothpaste Maniac. Since I'm never awakened by a phone call on weekdays, I somehow got it into my head, in my semi-conscious state, that it was Saturday. So I looked at the caller ID display, thought, I wonder why TM is calling, and answered with a cheery, "Hello!"
"Hello," she said. "Are you coming to Yoko-chu today?"
"Umm... huh?" I'd heard her say Yoko-chu (Yokota JHS), but somehow I thought she meant Yoko-sho, the elementary school. Why would I be going to the elementary school on a Saturday?
"Are you coming to Yoko-chu today?" she repeated.
Something was wrong, and I became aware that I was really disoriented—my immediate family will testify that I'm a difficult person to communicate with when I've just woken up. I also began to realize that today might not be Saturday, but I didn't dare ask TM what day it was, because that would only make things worse. I looked at my watch: ten minutes to 9. Then I realized... Tuesday!
"Oh no! Gomen nasai! I'm so sorry!"
TM started to laugh. "Overslept?"
"Oh man, the alarm... I don't know what happened. I'll be right there."
"Okay, because you have a class with me first period."
Ghaa! I have so few classes at that school, to be late to one made my tardiness twice as bad. "Ah! I'll hurry."
"I'll leave a note on your desk. When you get here, please come to class 2-3."
I scrambled to get ready and ran to school. In the front of the school yard was the principal with a couple of administrators, examining a decorative carved stone. Lovely. They wished me good morning, and I gave a sheepish "sumimasen" (excuse me), which they inexplicably found amusing.
Trying to be discreet, I snuck into the teachers' room where only a handful of teachers were. I made my way quickly to my desk to find the note TM had left for me. But one of the other JTEs was across the room using a computer. "Emily!" she sang. "Good morning!"
"Good morning," I groaned. "I'm an idiot."
Toothpaste Maniac gets her nickname from an exchange we had within my first month of teaching. Brushing your teeth after every meal is something that's preached in schools in the US, but we rarely practice it—never, if you went to my schools. But at my schools in Japan all the kids and most of the teachers brush their teeth immediately after lunch. I thought it a bit strange at first (cos newbies tend to think different = strange), and then decided that it was, well, actually a very good idea. So I brought my own toothpaste and brush to leave in my desk at each junior high.
A couple of days after I'd started brushing regularly at Yokota JHS, one of my JTEs came up to me after lunch and gestured to the tube of Crest in my hand. "I haf hiss," she said while brushing her teeth.
Looking down at the tube, I said, "Crest?" I hadn't seen it in Japan, but I remembered that she'd spent several months in England.
She nodded, her mouth still full of foam. "I co'eck hoofpase. I'm a hoofpase maniac."
Monday, September 26, 2005
Since I really don't feel like dealing with those sorts of problems, I've decided to create nicknames for many of the people I write about. Of course any of these people, if they were to read something I wrote about them, would recognize themselves easily, and maybe some friends and co-workers would recognize them, too. But since I'm not printing lies, I'm not as concerned that they might know what I write about them as I am that they might think just anybody on the planet can learn about their personal lives.
And in case anyone is wondering if I'm just stealing an idea from Azrael... yeah, I am. That doesn't mean it's not a good one.
Today I will introduce Kool-Aid Man. Kool-Aid Man is one of the gym teachers at Yokota JHS, and his desk is next to mine. He gets this nickname for often answering, "Oh, yes!" to my questions. Not quite what the real Kool-Aid Man would say, but his enthusiasm is about right.
"Kool-Aid Man, does this kanji mean 'summer'?"
At the enkai in July to mark the end of the first trimester, Kool-Aid Man and my JTE and I were having a conversation, and while listening to my JTE I ate a bit of what was left on my plate with my chopsticks. Kool-Aid Man saw this and said, "Oh, Emily, chopsticks, very good!"
I rolled my eyes. "Mainichi! Kyuushoku! I've eaten lunch next to you every day for one year! OF COURSE I can use chopsticks!!"
I mentioned this to some of the new Unnan City JETs shortly after they arrived last month. Kool-Aid Man got a lot of sympathy: "Well, that's how Japanese people break the ice. They find something they can compliment you on. He was just trying to start a conversation." Ordinarily, they'd have been right. I've lost count of the number of times I've been complimented on my chopstick skills, and usually reply to such praise with a simple "Domo."
But Kool-Aid Man has no excuse, because:
- He's a charismatic, outgoing guy who doesn't need to resort to petty compliments to get a conversation going.
- He's known me for a year.
- We were already in the middle of a conversation.
To Western Girl's first complaint, I agree, "Just get used to it" is probably the best response. Whether old people are nosy is another topic of discussion, but if they are, they are nosy about everyone.
But the more I thought about Western Girl's second complaint, the more I thought the publishing company had missed an enormous opportunity to teach students about relating to foreigners. Japanese Friend's complacency ignores what real Japanese people can do to prevent this problem.
I mean, think about it: when was the last time you complimented someone on their ability to use a knife and fork? If you can think of any time at all when you did this, it was probably a compliment offered to someone very young, probably about two or three years old. Two- and three-year olds in Japan can use chopsticks easily. Granted, it is a tricky business to learn how to use them, but it doesn't take a very long time; Mabel even found, when she first arrived in Japan, that the hungrier she was, the better she could control her chopsticks.
Japanese people also never ask each other if they can use chopsticks, and I am highly aware that they ask me only because I'm foreign. Many questions, of course, fall into the category of Things One Only Asks of Foreign People, like, "Are you from America?" and, "Do you speak Japanese?" While these two are fair (if oft heard) questions, it seems clear to me that any foreigner who has lived in Japan for more than a month probably knows how to use chopsticks, and so I think that this would be clear to any Japanese person, as well; what remains of this question, then, is the distinction between the one asking the question and the one answering it.
It reminds me of a young woman from Africa I met a few years ago—I confess to having forgotten what country she was from. She told me that when she first came to the U.S. she stayed with a host family for a time. Her host mother gave her a tour of the house, showed her where the bathroom was, and then asked if she knew how to use the toilet. In fact, I don't think she even asked; she just launched into an explanation of how to use the contraption. The young woman, of course, was deeply offended. In comparison, being asked about chopsticks is pretty mild, but the idea is the same. "You are foreign, so you do not know our ways."
I would have liked to have offered the following flowchart to use before asking foreigners if they can use chopsticks:
- Has this person lived in Japan for more than one month?
- Yes: STOP. This person can use chopsticks.
- No: Go to the next question.
- Are you dining with this person now and are they using chopsticks?
- Yes: STOP. This person can use chopsticks.
- No: Go to the next question.
- Have you ever dined with this person, and did they use chopsticks then?
- Yes: STOP. This person can use chopsticks.
- No: Ask at your own risk.
In summary: Chopstick comments make me feel infantile, and I never like to feel infantile. Chopstick comments make me feel foreign, and being foreign gets old really fast. The overall effect is like my freshman year of college—living at home, not knowing anybody. Freshman year sucked.
I would keep this rant to myself and avoid offending Japanese friends, but I am not the only person who feels this way. If there was just one bit of advice I could get to stick in my students' heads, it would be, "Foreigners are not strange and mysterious creatures; don't treat us like we are."
Interestingly, though, I can't recall any student ever commenting on my chopstick use; I've just had teachers say to some kids, "Hey, look, Emily-sensei is really good at using chopsticks, huh?" So maybe things are getting better.
But where was I? Ah, Kool-Aid Man. So the chopstick comment is the only strike against him; on the whole he's one of my favorite teachers. He doesn't mind when I bug him every so often to pronounce some kanji a student has written in an English assignment so I can look it up in my dictionary. And he pays (the right kind of) attention to me during enkais—a favor that goes a long way in my book.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
I uploaded all of my Mt. Fuji photos from last month. Take a look at them—the view from almost-the-top is still pretty cool.
The typhoon that blew through the other day doesn't seem to have done much damage in Yokota. Classes were cancelled Tuesday, but teachers still had to show up. Classes were cancelled again yesterday, and rather than endure the same mind-numbing boredom as Tuesday, I took the day off. I took today off, too, but only because I slept through my alarm and woke up half an hour after school had started, then found out from my JTE that I didn't have any classes anyway.
I walked to Picco Picco for lunch, craving a hamburger. They have a stash of manga for customers to read, as well as several children's books. Today there was a book I'd never seen before about a cat who lives a million lives, each life full of adventure: sailing oceans, living in palaces in the company of kings, queens; he himself is a king among cats. Then in another lifetime he meets a lady cat, and they fall in love and have lots of little kittens, and they grow old together. And one day she dies... and the old cat cries and cries... clutching her limp body to his belly, huge tears, wet and frantic eyes to heaven, his mouth open wide, the roof of his mouth and his rough pink tongue, he wails... and he dies, too, and never lives again. And I could not look at that picture anymore, so I had to leave.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Monday, August 08, 2005
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
A) You know exactly how many nationals from your country were injured or killed in last week's London bombings.Post a comment, s'il vous plaît, regardless of your answers.
B) You know exactly where to find out how many nationals from your country were injured or killed in last week's London bombings.
To clarify: B does not refer to a Google search or a hunt around Yahoo News, or anything like that. When I ask if you "know exactly where to find" this information, I mean you heard, read, or saw it on the radio, in an article, or on the TV in the last day or two, and have since forgotten the exact number, but one glance at that bit of news would refresh your memory.
Friday, July 08, 2005
I found out about the London bombings from Erica, of all people—we're more like acquaintances than friends. She called me about three hours after it had happened, looking for Mabel. Shortly afterward I set off to pick up my laptop (though I was already planning to drive to Yokota with a car-full of stuff anyway), then stopped by Mabel's afterward to watch the news while she tried to get in contact with some friends of hers in London. I think they're all okay.
I spent the better part of this morning trying to make my apartment look something close to "clean," and while I accomplished quite a lot, I'm sure my supervisors didn't notice. Actually, four people came from the BoE to help me move my stuff. So awesome. Abe-san, my proper supervisor; Tokue-san, my sort of supervisor; Hiroe-san, a woman who speaks some English; and, oh, what's his name, the guy who sits next to me at the BoE and drinks nicotine-laced energy drinks at 9am and is always taking over my desk when I'm not there. Taira-san? I think so.
The women arrived first, and Abe-san heard my birds chirping. So I brought them out and showed them to her, and she didn't freak out; good sign, considering I didn't ask if it was okay if I kept animals in the apartment. I got the birds cos I knew I probably wouldn't get anywhere by asking if I could keep a cat.
Tokue-san and Taira-san showed up shortly afterward. Tokue, the cheeky guy that he is, made no attempt to hide his amazement at the mess of my apartment, especially the bedroom where the birds were kept and which I haven't swept of feathers and millet.
But then we were quickly on our way. The washing machine, the large bureau, tables, cabinets, shelves, and a few boxes of stuff all made their way to Yokota in three cars. They brought the fridge over this afternoon while I was here at school; I don't feel the leastwise worried about leaving both apartments unlocked. I wouldn't do it routinely, and might have some reservations about doing it overnight, and definitely kick myself on those occasions when I wake up in the morning and discover that I hadn't locked the door when I came in the previous night, but yeah, I don't mind doing it for a few hours during broad daylight.
On my way to Yokota I stopped by Poplar and bought some cold drinks for everyone, and when we'd finished moving the stuff into the new apartment I gave them each a bar of Mom's soap. I made sure Tokue got the vanilla one, since he'd seemed to like that scent so much when Mom sent me a few bars back in August. Of course it's not such a big deal until I explain that my mom made it. So if you're living in Japan and your mom makes soaps, keep some handy to give as small thank you gifts.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
But I went through with it; I signed the papers on Monday. Over the weekend I'd thought it over and decided that I could live with it, and as long as my successor never found out where I'd been living before, they wouldn't be the wiser. Yokota is far enough away from other towns that it has some of its own nice stores, and I'd be closer to Mabel and to her successor when she arrives. So, stamp here, sign here, and done.
Abe-san had mentioned a few times trying to get me into the same building as Pannee, the Thai CIR in town. I'd never seen Pannee's place, and didn't even know where she lived, but even after we signed the papers for this small apartment, Abe said she'd let me know if there was an opening in Pannee's building. Since I hadn't actually a clue what her place was like, we went with Pannee to see it.
Oh, it's quite nice. Smaller than my current Nita apartment, but larger than the Yokota place I'll be moving into, and in the center of town. And the windows! It has so many windows, the place is full of light. I was really surprised: I'd thought this whole apartment thing was completely settled, but Abe is still willing to find me a really nice place that I can live in comfortably and feel proud to pass on to my successor. It makes my decision to move to the smaller apartment more bearable.
But still I must move, and I don't know how long it'll take to get internet in the new apartment. It won't take nearly as long as it did last year, because ISPs do exist in Yokota, but I'm not even getting water and electricity until tomorrow, when my big appliances and furniture (fridge, washing machine, bureau, tables) are being moved, so I can't give an ETA on the internet just yet. In the meantime, I'll try to suck up to Kyoto-sensei at Nita JHS and get my very own LAN cable at my desk there (like the one I've got here at Yokota JHS), so at least I'll have access next week. I might just leave my computer at the Nita apartment for a while and visit it every evening before driving back to Yokota. Strange arrangement, but it'll work until they cut the electricity/phone there.
So if I'm not online much over the next few weeks, I humbly and pre-emptively request your forgiveness.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
One of the more memorable stories the 3rd year textbook is called "A Mother's Lullaby." The pace at which each class goes through the book varies, but it seems most classes get to "A Mother's Lullaby" right about the beginning of the second trimester, just in time to clobber the new ALTs over the head.
A Mother's LullabyI was blindsided by this story shortly after arriving. Sitting at my desk in the teachers' room, I really struggled to control myself. Everything about everything was new and exciting and confusing, and this story reminded me of the more uncomfortable aspects of my living in Japan, the ones I don't like to think about.
A big, old tree stands by a road near the city of Hiroshima. Through the years, it has seen many things.
One summer night the tree heard a lullaby. A mother was singing to her little girl under the tree. They looked happy, and the song sounded sweet. But the tree remembered something sad.
"Yes, it was some sixty years ago. I heard a lullaby that night, too."
On the morning of that day, a big bomb fell on the city of Hiroshima. Many people lost their lives, and many others were injured. They had burns all over their bodies. I was very sad when I saw those people.
It was a very hot day. Some of the people fell down near me. I said to them, "Come and rest in my shade. You'll be all right soon."
Night came. Some people were already dead. I heard a weak voice. It was a lullaby. A young girl was singing to a little boy.
"Mommy! Mommy!" the boy cried.
"Don't cry," the girl said. "Mommy is here." Then she began to sing again.
She was very weak, but she tried to be a good mother to the poor little boy. She held him in her arms like a real mother.
"Mommy," the boy was still crying.
"Be a good boy," said the girl. "You'll be all right." She held the boy more tightly and began to sing again.
After a while the boy stopped crying and quietly died. But the little mother did not stop singing. It was a sad lullaby. The girl's voice became weaker and weaker.
Morning came and the sun rose, but the girl never moved again.
The revised New Horizon textbooks retain this story, and update it with truly depressing artwork. The new Sunshine textbooks, written by a different company, have an even more depressing Hiroshima story, which I won't go into now—maybe later if Shimane ends up choosing that textbook.
So in case any new ALTs lurk around this blog, you have been warned.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
And I'm proud to report that this blog is currently listed at No. 4 in a Google search for "Emily Watkins."
For a long time some viola-playing girl has had the No. 1 spot, though it appears she hasn't touched the site since 2001—a combination I find unconscionable. The next site down refers to an Emily Watkins who's been dead for almost 100 years (my name returns a lot of genealogy-type sites, especially when you stick my middle name in there). Third one down right now refers to a high school softball player; this page is pretty current, so I don't mind it. Every Emily Watkins deserves her day in the sun.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
With the kids from Chicago in town (more on that some other time), one of the optional activities planned for them was a firefly viewing in Maki, a village in Yokota. Mabel and I were interested in seeing these fireflies, so I called Tanabe-san and got directions to Maki. He said we'd know the place by the cars parked alongside the street, and we shouldn't go past the traffic light. Something about the elementary school, too. And off we went, in search of Maki and the fireflies.
Well, we found Maki with no problem, but where the fireflies were was a mystery. We got to the traffic light, but saw no cars parked on the side of the road. Drove a bit past the light, turned back, then made another turn at the intersection toward what I hoped was Maki Elementary. Good guess: there it was. We pulled into the parking lot and stopped the car so I could give Tanabe-san another call. But just as I was fishing my phone from my purse, a man came out of the school.
"Konbanwa" (Good evening), he said.
"Konbanwa. Ehh... hotaru wa doko desu ka?" (Where are the fireflies?)
Doubtless he heard my accent, and responded in English, "Ah, just a moment."
He disappeared back into the school while Mabel and I had a good laugh mocking myself. "Where are the fireflies? Where are the fireflies? Most random question in the world."
The man came back out a few moments later, followed by another man, and good-naturedly asked, "Where are you from?"
A bit startled at this non-sequitur, I said, "Uhh... Nita." (Lately this is the answer I give when asked this question; I know it's usually not the answer people are looking for, but I've been here a year and have gotten a little tired of being The Outsider. Now I kinda know why Rohan, when I asked him where he was from, answered, "New York City." Of course the question I should have asked was, "Where did you get your lovely accent?" and the answer to that would be, "Jamaica.")
But right, I said, "Nita." Both of the men looked a little startled, and surprisingly didn't correct my "misunderstanding," so I said, "Chuugakkou no ALT desu" (I'm the junior high school ALT). Oh, they perked right up. "Hajimemashite!" (Nice to meet you!) they both greeted me. "Nihongo wa ii desu ka?" (Japanese is okay?)
"Nnn..." I shook my head, "sukoshi..." (a little).
They invited us into the school, and the first man introduced himself as the school's sixth-grade teacher. The other guy, I don't know, maybe he was the principal or vice-principal? So the sixth-grade teacher sits us down, sets us up with coffee (black and cold), and says something about good timing. He brings me a copy of a lesson plan. ?! What does this have to do with fireflies? The sixth graders will be taking a trip in September to Hiroshima City (this seems to be a popular destination for sixth graders in Shimane), and they will be encouraged to speak to foreigners and get their signatures. So this teacher wants me to teach the kids some basic introductory phrases, and stuff like, "Where are you from?" and, "Please sign." (I did something similar last year at Fuse Elementary.) Okay, sounds good. Then we have to decide on a Monday (I do my elementary visits on Mondays). Unfortunately there remain only two Mondays during Yokota weeks before the beginning of summer vacation: one has already been booked by Yakawa Elementary, and the other is a public holiday. I told him he should call my supervisor and/or the vice-principal at Yokota JHS to find out if I can visit during the week (Tuesday-Friday); sometimes they're okay with that.
But this still had nothing to do with fireflies! I was beginning to think that he'd forgotten, or that I hadn't made our goals clear; but once this more pressing matter was settled he turned his attention to my more pressing matter. Between his broken English, his dry erase marker, and Mabel's Japanese skills, he managed to communicate to us that there were no fireflies: we had come a week early. But the other guy, well he was a firefly expert according to the sixth-grade teacher (he had a few fireflies in a small terrarium), and he could show us where the firefly spot was. So after introducing Mabel and myself formally, we were on our way to find where the fireflies would be. Maybe one or two kilometers from Maki Elementary, he lead us to a bridge over a stream. There were indeed fireflies there, maybe a dozen on each side of the bridge, so it looked to me like we were right on time, but he told us that this show qualified only as "a few" fireflies.
The flash pattern of Japanese fireflies is different from those in Upstate NY. While the fireflies in Upstate NY make little blips every four or five seconds, Japanese fireflies stay lit for about one second, then go dark for two or three seconds. Mabel says they look like fairies. We agreed we have to come back next week. Hope they're photogenic.
Friday, June 17, 2005
An excerpt from that article:
The film documents North Koreans' extraordinary devotion to Kim [Jong Il], who is viewed in the country as a semi-religious figure. He is kept at the center of national life through everything from propaganda cartoons for children to state radio broadcasts in every home. The film shows how the volume on radios in North Korea homes can be lowered but not turned off.So a British filmmaker and an American reporter saw fit to mention this radio as characteristic of a highly propagandized household in a totalitarian regime, and I have one in my dining room.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
The other day I came home at 8:30pm and thought to myself, Wow, I bet I could do TWO loads of laundry before ten o'clock. And I did. And it was good.
Such has become my life.
I've just returned home from eating out with Rebecca. We had dinner at Minari, a restaurant in Minari (they're not really the same name; they sound the same, but the kanji are different), which is the village in Nita where I live. I know the guy who owns the place (see the beginning of this post), and he gave us free ice cream at the end of our meal. It was funny, really: we'd finished eating and had decided we'd go to Poplar (the local convenience store) for ice cream when our dinner was half-digested, and after sitting around and talking for about an hour, we were just shifting our weight to get up when Ko-chan brought us two dishes of black sesame ice cream. Lucky!
The recontracters' conference in Kobe the other week was good. Those of use who live out in the sticks welcomed the opportunity to spend some time in a large city. It's different living in a city. You can ride the train for fifteen minutes, get off at a stop near the center of downtown, then think, How shall I entertain myself? Walk five or ten minutes, and entertain yourself, then walk another five or ten minutes and entertain yourself some other way. It's nice. Living in the sticks requires more planning than that.
The people who were at this conference were the same people we were with in Tokyo when we arrived (at one of the post-arrival orientations), but as Mabel pointed out, it was very different. At the recontracters' conference there was no mention of how weird Japan is or how scary it is to be living so far from home. Nothing about natto or whether Japanese toothpaste contains fluoride. In short, we've all sort of gotten the hang of it. And that's a nice feeling.
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Monday, May 30, 2005
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Friday, April 29, 2005
I've been trying to figure out how realistic this "Important Notice" is, and all I can think of is, "Not very."
Important notice for Japan Tourist modelsSo let me get this straight: A foreigner-friendly computer which can be serviced in Japan and, so far as I can tell, can be purchased only in Japan, should not be used in Japan.
Tourist models are neither designed nor manufactured for the use in Japan.
Refrain from using them in Japan.
If these Overseas Models were super-duper, state-of-the-art computers available only in Japan, and if this were a gimmick to increase tourism to Japan ("Visit Japan, get a new computer, and be the envy of other foreigners!"), that might make sense. But they're not, and it isn't.
Edit: I should point out that Sony's own website states that Sony Overseas Models are "products that you can use both in Japan and overseas."
Thursday, April 28, 2005
I just like the way this turned out.
Thick clouds were moving in over Matsue after I passed the driver's test. This is the stoplight just out of the parking lot of the Driver's License Center; the building is behind the camera and to the right. Lake Shinji is straight ahead.
One room, six English teachers, and myself, and no one spoke a word of English for the entire meeting.
Of course they're far more comfortable speaking in their native language, but it would've been nice, what with six potential translators in the room, if someone had filled me in on the discussion from time to time.
Got me scratching my head as to why I was even there.
But in the end, going to the meeting was better than going to the Board of Education after lunch (which was the only other option, as everyone at the junior high school would be at their various meetings). The meeting let out at 3:30, and as it was held at Minari Elementary School, I just walked home afterward (and got some watercolor pencils at the stationery shop along the way). Finishing off the day at the BoE would've meant sticking around till 5.
Tomorrow is the beginning of Golden Week. Friday, April 29th is Green Day. Tuesday, May 3rd is Constitution Day. Wednesday, May 4th is National Holiday (yeah, just National Holiday). Thursday, May 5th is Children's Day. All of these are public holidays. And the way the days fall this year, one can take personal time off on Monday, May 2nd and Friday, May 6th, and get 10 days off in a row. I won't be doing that, as my plans for the week are currently few and, when they do materialize, not likely to be complicated. So far the only thing I know for sure is that I'm taking Ikeda-sensei out for dinner on Saturday; her birthday was last week. Tane-sensei's birthday is next week, so I'll ask her if she wants to do anything.
Walking home from the meeting at 4pm, I passed a roadside temperature readout: 30°C.
It's been many moons since I've broken a sweat from walking down the road. But there's a good breeze blowing, and golly, I just realized this weather is perfect for drying laundry. I'm gonna go to the store and get some sturdy hangers.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Nothing like a little suspense to make things interesting....
The crank turns (two consecutive 90-degree turns) on the narrow roads looked really difficult from the observation room, where I took the photo yesterday, and from the back seat of the car, where I sat while the woman before me drove her test. But when I was actually driving, they weren't so daunting.
When we got back inside, we (five of us, all female foreigners) waited in chairs while the examiner called us one by one to tell us whether we'd passed or failed. The first one left after talking to the examiner: she didn't pass. Likewise, the second one left immediately. The third woman came back to the seats: she'd passed; words of congratulation were given. The fourth woman also came back, but she was just collecting her things.
He called my name, and I walked up, trying to convince myself that I'd failed, even though I felt pretty good about how it'd gone. Sure enough, he showed me on the little course map that I'd made a right-hand turn from the left-most of two lanes. Crap. I would've had points deducted for something like that in New York, and in Japan they give you no room for mistakes: it's all or nothing. He also made a point of telling me that my crank turns could have been better, that I should have turned closer to the insides of each turn. I didn't know why he was wasting his breath on style points.
Then, "Ii desu," he said.
"Ii desu ii desu?"
"Hai, ii desu."
"OK desu ka," I said, pointing to the seats.
"Hai," he said, and motioned for me to sit down.*
I couldn't tell what miniscule mistakes the other women had made that caused them to fail, so I thought that I was a sure goner, which made the news of my passing mark difficult to accept. So I went back to my seat and told the other woman, "I passed... I think." But this was confirmed a few minutes later when I was called up to have my eyesight/color vision checked.
I am now a fully licensed driver in two countries.
"It's good it's good?"
"Yes, it's good."
"Is it okay?"
Monday, April 25, 2005
Laugh at me for writing down my birth year according to the Gregorian calendar (80) instead of by potentially ambiguous Japanese emperor calendar (55). Share this misunderstanding with your nearest co-worker, and laugh again.
For extra punch, perform the above at the Driver's License Center, after you've thrown a bunch of Japanese-only forms in my face, rattled off a bunch of instructions to me in Japanese, and waited impatiently for the ten minutes it took me to not really figure out what they all mean.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Where the days are longer, the nights are stronger than moonshine.
You're gonna go, I know...
Cos the free wind is blowin' through your hair
And the days surround your daylight there.
Seasons crying, no despair,
Alligator lizards in the air.
In the air....
I'd bought a copy of America's Greatest Hits a year or two ago. I ripped the whole CD, though I really just got it for "A Horse with No Name." But about a month ago, on an unseasonably warm afternoon, I was just shuffling through the songs on my iPod, and I came across "Ventura Highway."
How could I not have discovered this song earlier? I'm pretty sure I actually listened through the whole CD when I bought it, but somehow this one flew under the radar.
Or maybe I heard it just fine, and it wasn't until now, with the sakura in the warm sky and the smell of earth under my fingernails, that it's made me feel like topping off the gas tank, rolling down the windows, and driving till autumn.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
As a Southerner, I’ve never though it weird to talk about the weather. Nor to refuse all initial offers, to insist upon an offer even if you don’t really mean it, to offer compliments to be polite, and to turn them aside in order to be polite. I also understand perfectly well getting upset if someone doesn’t apologize for having you doing something that you wanted to do anyway, or offer to pay for something that you want to pay for. All favors should be initially refused (and possibly refused a second time). If the person really wants to do it, they’ll insist. Just basic politness I learned growing up in North Carolina; thankfully it applies for the most part in Japan. (Now in New York…) ... In fact, it’s downright frustrating for me to be in New York because people have such an impatience for small talk. Makes them seem rude.I very nearly replied to this comment on the blog's page, but decided it was off-topic enough that it should be done on my own blog. So here we go.
I can't speak for other New Yorkers, but there must be a non-trivial number of them who feel the same way that I do about what kind of behavior is considered polite.
Regarding compliments, well, it depends on the compliment. If I believe the compliment was made in good faith, i.e. the person complimenting me really meant it, I say either, "Thank you," or more humbly, "I'm glad you think so." To deny this kind of compliment would be, in my mind, to call the compliment-giver a liar. If I say to someone, "You're really good at dancing," then I have watched them dance, thought they were good, and decided to comment on it. Of course, other compliments are just meant to be polite ("Nihongo wa jouzo desu ne," when my Nihongo couldn't get me past the Level 4 JLPT) or to flatter me ("You have the most beautiful voice in the world!"). In New York, I roll my eyes and say, "That's not true." In Japan, I omit the rolled eyes.
So where compliments are used as ice-breakers, I don't see a problem with denying their verity. But in other circumstances sometimes the most appropriate action is to accept the compliment gracefully.
Refusing a favor when you would really mean to accept it is a behavior that, in my view, borders on the obnoxious. If I've offered to do you a favor, I meant it when I first offered it. If you refuse to accept it, I assume you really don't want to accept. In my mind, if I refuse someone's offer only to expect them to make that offer a second (or third) time, I am expecting them to do more work to accomodate me than if I'd accepted in the first place. It also puts the one offering the favor in the awkward position of trying to know when to stop offering. Maybe people from North Carolina and Japan intuitively understand when enough is enough, but how many refusals must I hear, or how adamantly must one refuse, before I know the person really means it? All this "asking more than once" business leaves room for people to offer favors without really meaning it. Offering a favor becomes just a polite gesture, rather than a true offer of assistance. And what if I'm on the receiving end of a "polite favor"? How do I know if they really are interested in helping me?
And we all know how gracefully I deal with small talk.
Ach, maybe all this just comes naturally to people who have grown up with these social norms, but they're confusing and wholly unnecessary to me.
I'm mildly sleep-deprived, so forgive me if this post seems a bit ramblesome.
And I probably won't get to blogging about the World Expo this weekend, but I'll get to it. In short, mostly good with small patches of lame. High temperature 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
I don't know what to call it, so I call it a box. Some Japanese residences have them. At various times throughout the day they make some noise, usually announcements about events in town. I'd heard about them from other JETs who had them in their apartments, and offered words of sympathy to the stricken.
My heart sank when my supervisor informed me last week that I, too, would soon be subjected to this monstrosity: the towns are merging and every home must have one. I groaned audibly. "Nihongo, Nihongo, Nihongo," I said, mimicking the announcer's voice. "Wakarimasen (I don't understand). Can it be turned off?" No, but I could choose where it would be placed. In the apartment entrance, I said, far from my bedroom. She went off to find some more information, and returned with the news that, in fact, I would not be able to choose its location, as all the boxes would be installed in the same place in each apartment, but there would be an Off switch. "Ah, good," I sighed in relief.
She told me the installation would take place on Saturday, when I planned to be in Aichi. But when I returned, everything in my apartment was exactly the way I'd left it (for better or for worse). Ah! No box!
Until 6:30 this morning, when I heard an ominously familiar tune.
"Ichi! Ni! San! Shi! Go! Roku! Shichi! Hachi!"
Dear God let that be the neighbors' radio on way too loud.
But the chirpy piano continued to sound as though it were coming from the dining room. "Ichi! Ni! San! Shi! Go! Roku! Shichi! Hachi!"
That stupid warm-up exercize music. I caught it on TV one morning at Tokyo orientation, and you can see each stretch, but on the radio it's just some guy counting to eight over and over in time to the music, periodically calling out instructions that I don't understand. During the summer they broadcasted it from a speaker in a lot near my apartment, and some of the neighborhood kids would run to the lot and do the stretches.
But I am not seven, and this is not summer vacation, so being awakened by a perky radio broadcast at the crack of dawn, let alone one I can't understand, makes me really grumpy; the thought of being subjected to this for the rest of the time I'm in Japan frosts me.
Edit April 7: Duh, I forgot the punchline. I cannot turn the box off after all. Wednesday morning I stumbled out to the dining room and had a look at it. It has a volume control, but that was already set to its lowest level when it woke me.
However, further examination has revealed a pair of wires attached by philips head screws. Perhaps it can be dismantled for the time being and repaired before I move out.
Friday, April 01, 2005
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
I hardly know what to make of this, so better that you educate yourselves.
Ask your favorite search engine to return webpages containing the words "Takeshima," "Shimane," "Japan," and "Korea."
Then run the same search again, only replace "Takeshima" with "Tok-do."
And since most of the results for either search will be for Japanese news outlets, make sure you hit a Korean site, too. They'll tell you why exactly South Korea is so pissed about this. The Japanese news is notorious for reporting that the Koreans are pissed, but rarely give any explanation.
Takeshima means "Bamboo Island."
Friday, March 25, 2005
I'm glad the schools here have ceremonies to say goodbye to the teachers who are leaving. When I was in tenth grade, I made the audition for the next year's show choir at my school. Mr. Windheim was going to be our teacher, as he had been for the past, oh, twenty-something years. That September when I got my schedule there was no teacher listed next to Show Choir, only a line of asterisks. During math class on the morning of the first day of school, I asked Matt Pellow about it. "Mr. Windheim retired," he said.
"He what?!" Why hadn't he told us the June before? I never got to properly say goodbye.
The school had hired a new music teacher, but she couldn't leave her former school without giving them x weeks notice, so our class went through several substitute teachers during the first month, none of whom knew a thing about choir directing. One guy tried to make us write papers about some kind of music history. Took us to the library and everything. We decided we'd all do a bit of research for the same paper. I went home and typed it up, making the appropriate number of copies, and Aimie printed out different cover pages for each student in the class. I think it was on Native American music... I really don't remember a thing about it. On the due date we all handed in our identical papers. Never did get any feedback on it.
But I digress. Last night's enkai was one of the better ones I've been to, maybe the best so far. I hate to say it, but I think I prefer the enkais where everyone pays attention to me. I mean, of course no one likes to be perennially ignored, but if I am dining with other English-speaking foreigners, I can participate in conversations without being the subject of those conversations. I can listen in and add my own thoughts whenever I like. But my Japanese is still very poor, and when I dine with Japanese people, I'm usually the only native English speaker in the room, so in order for me to participate in conversations, everyone around me must deliberately speak in a way quite different from the way they would if I were not there. If I am to enjoy talking with others, they must be acutely aware of my presence and make changes accordingly. Consequently, these conversations tend to focus on me, what I like, what I think. If there's a JTE nearby, she's usually dragged in to translate from time to time, which sometimes is helpful and sometimes is annoying. At Yokota's graduation enkai last week, for instance, the fellow sitting to my immediate left called down to Ikeda-sensei, a few seats to my right, and asked her something. She replied with, "Nuu-yohku shuu" (New York State).
"Did he just ask where I'm from?" I called down to her. She nodded. "Oh come on," I said to nobody in particular, "I could have answered that." He certainly could have phrased his question, even in Japanese, so that I understood. And this fellow even speaks some English; he's said too much already, he can't fool me now.
But having Ikeda nearby was very helpful at the second party last night (oftentimes after enkais, a smaller group will continue on to another, less formal party, at a nearby late-night restaurant or karaoke bar). A couple of guys (one married and one not) and Kimachi-sensei (my JTE's wife) were sitting across from me, and the married guy tells me he has a question for me right about the time Ikeda gets up to use the bathroom. So he starts telling me about the single guy, how he's 26 years old and lives with his parents and plays tennis and is looking for a girlfriend between the ages of 26 and 36. All that took about three minutes to explain, and all the while I'm thinking, What do I have to do with this? Kimachi-sensei wondered the same thing. "Me too. Why?" she said, looking at them. When I knew that I didn't meet the age criteria, I relaxed a bit, but I still kept on guard for the possible set-up.
"Ikeda-sensei," I whimpered when she returned. "What are they talking about?!" They filled her in quickly and she started to explain everything that I already understood. "I get it," I said, "I only want to know why they're telling me this. Are they just making conversation?"
A few more words passed between them, and she said, "They want to know, do you think it can work? Ten years age difference. That is like if you marry a 14-year old. You are 24?"
"So, fifteen years old. San-nensei," she smiled.
"No." I chuckled. "No. No. But when people get older.... My mother is 50 and my stepfather is 41."
"Really?" she said, surprised, and started to tell the other three in Japanese.
"Wait, wait, lemme do it." So, with a bit of help, I managed to explain to them the age difference. "Good marriage," I said. That made the single guy happy. The married guy told us that his wife is six years older than he. I get the feeling that marriages between older men and younger women, sometimes with a significant age difference (more than ten years) are much more common in Japan than they are in the States... but I have no idea how common marriages between older women and younger men are.
If Mr. Single Guy (I swear, that's gonna be my nickname for him now) were living in the States, my first piece of advice would be, "Move out of your parents' house." But in Japan it is very common—and socially acceptable, it would seem—for single people to live with their parents. Even married people sometimes live with the parents of one spouse. Tane-sensei grew up in Nita, and lives with her folks in Fuse (that village in the north part of Nita) now that she is teaching here. Ikeda is from Matsue, and while Matsue is a little far to commute every day to Yokota, she goes up on the weekends and stays with her folks, even though she has an apartment here. I guess with all the shuffling around they do, it's nice to have a fixed point to call home.
Today is my last day at the Nita Board of Education. Ordinarily I'd be at Nita Junior High School on a Friday, but yesterday was the last day of school, so the next two weeks are Spring Break. Not that I get time off; I have to use personal days to get out of work, so instead I'm just reporting for duty at the BoE. Which means I have lots of time to blog in the gaps from the last two weeks. I think the thing I'll miss most about this place is having a computer at my desk. It's slow as an ojiisan in a Carry Truck, but it works and it's online. The people, yeah, they're all nice, I'm sure, but I hardly know them. Yokota BoE has always been my "real" BoE, which is to say that they're my contracting organization, so I know the people there better. Next week when the towns merge, I'm not sure if anyone from the Nita BoE will move to the Okuizumo BoE, or if it'll be staffed entirely by Yokota BoE people. For that matter, I don't know who will be rotated out of the Yokota BoE at the end of the month.
I had thought it was just teachers, but it turns out many professions shuffle their employees about their prefecture, moving every three to six years. Yushi is a police officer in Nita, and he sometimes attends my English conversation class. Last time I saw him, he said he was packing his belongings, because he suspected he would be transfered elsewhere at the end of the month (the, I guess, fiscal year begins in April, and this is when these moves take place). He didn't know for sure, and certainly didn't know where he might be transfered. So not only is it stressful to move—and more so for those with families, who must decide whether they will all move, or if just the one who is transfered will move—but they are given very little notice. Maybe two or three weeks. Tane-sensei told me on Tuesday who would be leaving Nita JHS (but made sure I understood it was "top secret" until the 24th when the students would be told). Ikeda-sensei held out until... well, I never did find out from her, but from Kimachi-sensei, one of my Nita Japanese Teachers of English, whose wife works at Yokota JHS. And I found out from him yesterday, at the same time as the students.
So of my five JTEs, Itohara-sensei at Nita JHS will be moving to Daito JHS. This is not such a bad move for his family, because Daito is immediately north of Nita, and his family lives in Fuse, the village in Nita which is closest to Daito. He'll have a slightly longer commute, but that's about it. My two favorite JTEs arrived just last April, so I knew they weren't going anywhere, but I'm a little sad to see Itohara go. I like all my JTEs, and I don't know how well I'll like the woman who will take his place. Kimachi says she's from Hiroshima, but that's all anyone knows about her. Maybe we'll get along swimmingly. Kimachi was not so optimistic. "I will be the only male English teacher!" he lamented.
Oh, someone just turned on the TV here, and the local station is broadcasting some program about the history of Nita, it appears. Mostly a narrated slideshow. A bit of nostalgia before Nita and Yokota are absorbed into each other.
I feel fortunate to be here now, being able to know each town individually, and witnessing their merger. Not that life will change dramatically after March 31st, but... well, I don't know how it will be different. I guess we'll all find out.
This slideshow is part of a larger ceremony taking place a couple of blocks from here, and televised live. There are lots of old men in the audience. Oh, and the head BoE guy at Nita, he's on stage now. I hardly wondered where he was going when he left here an hour ago.
All this is mildly interesting for me, and about a tenth as interesting for you, so I'll stop the play-by-play.
Yesterday was the farewell ceremony for the teachers who are leaving. Six each at Nita JHS and Yokota JHS. Since this is a Nita week, I attended the Nita JHS ceremony. So Itohara is leaving, and so is Kasuga-sensei, the art teacher. She speaks some English, and last year she used to come to my apartment with Tane every week for some English/Japanese lessonness—I think we spent 90% of the time on English, but I did learn some things about Japan. She lives in Izumo and drives over an hour to get to Nita every day; she'll be transfering to Hiikawa, a small town immediately east of Izumo, so her commute will be shorter (and less treacherous, avoiding Rt. 26 during the winter). The other four teachers I hardly knew. At Yokota, the only teacher I really knew was the music teacher (and I didn't even know his name), so I'm not too sad about their leaving. It'll be interesting to see who comes in to replace them.
Last night both schools had farewell enkais. The folks at Yokota asked me a week ago if I could attend, so I accepted their invitation. The folks at Nita asked me one day before if I could attend. Nope, sorry, Yokota booked me first. But it was good to participate in some sort of farewell event for each school. Kyoto-sensei at Nita joked yesterday, shortly before I left for Yokota, that I should be split down the middle and half of me taken to each enkai. "Ow ow ow!" I exclaimed.
Got a women's luncheon to attend with the Nita ladies now, so I'll write more when I return.