Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I wanna be like Steven Seagal
Monday, September 22, 2008
It’s yet another exciting day sitting on my backside at the BOE. The other two ALTs are working in their schools today, so only I sit on this side of the desks. I have the lesson plans from the schools I’ll be visiting from now until October, I calculated all my travel expenses for church and schools until January, and helped my supervisor figure out how to pronounce the name Kenkel. I could just hear the Oklahoma accent slip in as the urge struck me to pronounce it loudly, “Kay-uhn-kel,” then slap my thigh and don a bolo tie and spurs. That I did none of those things is indeed a testament to my self-control.
As you might have guessed due to the infrequency of my updates, my schedule here is packed. I usually wake up at 6 (I may leave the apartment at anytime from 6:50 to 8), work until 4:15, get back to the apartment between 4:30 and 5:15, then have some sort of evening commitment. So, for those of you who wish for Skype appointments, please let me know an exact time, because on the weekends I power down and recharge. That means I sleep a lot.
On that note, a quick correction to the glossary. I listed shodo as the name for my calligraphy class. It should have been shuji. Shuji is basic penmanship (brushmanship?) and shodo is the fancy stuff. No hoity-toity fancy writing for me. I gotta learn the basics.
I’ll try to stick to the highlights, but it’s hard to gloss over anytime when I’m outside my apartment. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that unless I live here for years upon years (don’t worry, Mom and Grandma. This is completely hypothetical), every interaction with the outside world is an encounter. Every time a junior high kid nearly crashes his bike because he’s staring at me, I think I gotta tell someone about this. No conversations are mundane because I’m expending so much energy in the communication process. It’s surprisingly difficult to speak using the vocabulary that one thinks the listener will comprehend, then further simplify if the words are still too complicated.
To give an example, I’ll use the conversation I just had with my supervisor about travel dates as an example.
Me: Sumimasen (excuse me). I have the dates for when I will travel.
Inoe-san: Hai. Chotto (hold on a sec. Literally a little).
Me: Hai. I will leave here—point to the 21st of December
Inoe-san: Twenty one.
Me: Hai, hai. And I will return, come back, on January 12. Make a face that I hope indicates I want to request the 13th off.
Inoe-san, after sucking air through his teeth: Ah, please, come back, here.
Me, seeing that he’s pointing to the 7th: Ah. Well—Rub chin, suck air through teeth—this is difficult. There are no planes. No seat for me.
Inoe-san: Etto, school, on seven, opening ceremony, please come back here. Points to 5th.
Me: Gomenasai, I asked. I asked the travel company, can I come back here—pointing to the 5th—and they said, “No planes.” All the seats are taken. I can only come back here.
Inoe-san’s face changes. Clearly irritated.
Me: I will check again. It’s a white lie. THERE ARE NO FLIGHTS AVAILABLE.
Inoe-san: Please check. Yes.
Me: I do not think they have a place, but maybe if someone cancels, changes his mind. Then I might get a seat. But, it is very busy. I do not think there is a place for me.
Inoe-san: Yes. You check. Yoroshiku.
All three of the Oklahoma JETs are leaving and returning at the same time, so poor Inoe-san had to have this same conversation twice more. Then he went upstairs to ask Margaret to tell us that our return dates, collectively, are a problem. Not really her job, but she relayed the message. So I’ll fall from my boss’s esteem from now until Christmas, then slowly work my way back up through hard work and never, ever taking vacation again.
To rewind and update since my last post, again I give you the bulleted Week in a Nutshell:
September 11: A moment of silence for our nation. I didn’t realize how old I was until some of my school kids had no idea why 9/11 is an important day in the U.S. Even my oldest students would only have been 8 years old at the time. That Thursday was also my first Aikido class! Dara came along to help me understand what was going on, but for the most part (since it is primarily physical) I was able to understand the jist of the activities. Everyone spoke enough English to at least say, “Okay, yes,” when I did something right. Ah, it felt good. Steven Seagal and I are now practitioners of the same martial art. Can’t wait till I, too, start wearing nothing but Chinese pageboy-inspired leisure suits and leather jackets. He, by the way, is umpteen times more legitimate here than in the states.
September 12: A fairly mundane office day. All three ALTs were grounded, and I think we spent most of our time comparing our school experiences. Well, that and fretting over upcoming speeches. Do we butcher Japanese, or apologize repeatedly for speaking in English? I wrote a short speech in both, but the Japanese was really just a repeat of what I had said at the very first introduction. Negative points for creativity.
That night was the enkai, during which the short speeches were required. An enkai is an office party, most often to welcome someone into the fold, and that night it was Kim and I who were the honored guests. At 6:30 sharp we walked into the Bonne restaurant (some sort of Chinese place). Kim and I were handed microphones and asked to speak. Kim spoke in Japanese, talking about how she loved it here, and that everyone was so kind, blah blah blah. I spoke in English, speaking very, very slowly about how I loved it here, and how everyone was so kind and welcoming, blah blah blah. Food was eating, and after a little imbibing on the part of my coworkers, English was spoken. At one point I was called to another table to speak with someone who had spent some time abroad in Canada. That table soon became the English-speaking table (and not all members were intoxicated, mind you. Just some) with people coming and going to try out their foreign language skills. We talked about why eggplant is a funny name for a vegetable, how mukade and centipede have the same meaning, Kansai-ben, and peppers. Now that I think about it, the larger portion of the conversations I had that night revolved around local produce.
September 13: As usual, I was exhausted, and feeling the aftershocks of aikido class on my untried, doughy muscles. However, I dragged myself out of the house to bike for 35 minutes to Nantan High School with Liz. She was going to see her students play a tie-breaking baseball game, and I was going because I would have stayed in the apartment all day otherwise. Baseball and softball games were going on at the same time, which was interesting. It was hard to cheer, though, because the baseball uniforms of the two teams only differed in sock color (both were striped and mostly white to boot) and the tiny emblem on the sleeve and breast of the shirt. I would cheer quietly for Nantan baseball, look over to softball to see what was going on, return my attention to baseball and only after a few minutes realize that there had been a change on the field, and I had been rooting for the wrong team. Once baseball was over, Liz and I and our brand new farmer’s tans stayed to watch the softball team finish their game. We were the only fans, so I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me when girls in Nantan uniforms hail me on the street/in the grocery store with a friendly, “Ah! Eigo no sensei!” Ah! English teacher! There’s no mistaking me for anyone else in this town. It’s not as thought that other short biracial foreign woman was hanging out at the highschool softball game.
That night I met up with Kim and Matt and J.S, two other ALTs from elsewhere (Ugi, mayhap?). I had been industrious, cleaning my apartment, and decided that I had enough of productivity. It was already late, which meant that I wouldn’t have to stay out very long. Spread Bar, here I come! The bartender had spent a month in North Dakota when he was a teenager, and recounted how every day for lunch they had either hot dogs or pizza. So much for dispelling stereotypes about unhealthy, fat Americans. We also discussed the difference between Korean and American barbecue, about which I had no authority to speak. I and my Coca Cola hung out for about thirty minutes, then went home. Then I remembered, as I tossed and turned on my futon, why it’s a bad idea to drink Coke right before going to bed. Argh, 4:00 a.m!
September 14: Nothing of note but church. The pastor for the evening service was and will be in the U.S. for a few weeks, ergo the church’s senior pastor preached with a translator. Yipes.
September 15: Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday. Grandma, I raised a bottle of melon soda in your honor. Taiko at night.
September 16: Late pickup by Tsutsuji Elementary. Good times with the grade schoolers and a game that doesn’t make any sense. Dad is Barack Obama and I have an afro. Kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) with Nanami and Mayu (both calligraphy members), then found Dr. Pepper. Sushi is delicious, but it takes some convincing for Mayu to try Dr. Pepper. Success.
September 17: Timely pickup by Tsutsuji Elementary. Little that was remarkable. Margaret, turns out, was making a presentation to the International Club after my classes were finished, so I went along with her. The kids asked a lot of questions, oftentimes things like, “What do you think of the Statue of Liberty?” or “How large are the wheels or American cars?” Deep, man. Deep. One of the boys told his teacher that he hadn’t known hair like mine existed. Breaking down barriers, that’s what I do all day. Shuji/shodo at night.
September 18: Takeda punks, falling asleep on me. This junior high had some of the most welcoming staff and the most irritating students. They yelled questions at me, or would yell, “Nani des ka?” (what’d she say?) at the teacher when I would respond to them. I had distributed picture cards to the students, and they understood (thanks to the teacher, mostly, and not me) that they were to hold up the card when they heard the key word. The cards, if undesired, could be passed to a more willing participant. In two different classes I had a student take a card, put his or her head down on the desk, and fall asleep. I was ready to hurl chalk at their heads, but instead gently shook them (when they should have been holding up a dang card) and cheerily announced, “Ohayo gozaimasu! Good morning!” while the others looked on uncomfortably. It worked in one class, but only because the student was too eager to show off his English skills to the new ALT. The other student was immobile until it was time for them to introduce themselves to me. Then she came up to the front, yawned, told me her name and club, then went and stared out the window. Angsty teenage years. Ah, how I do not miss thee.
Aikido that night was an awesome stress reliever. The head teacher was there that night, and was definitely a tough love kind of guy. He got on to me for not knowing Japanese, which no one has done yet, but then later he congratulated me for learning so quickly. I also met a girl named Nana Ando, who was given the task of teaching me everything I needed to know. This smart cookie is a high school student from the nearby town of Sonobe, so her English is pretty fresh.
September 19: Biked to Takeda with Liz. The teachers were astounded that I would ride so far, though it was only thirty minutes or so. It reminded me of the Midwest, actually. The day was long, and I was sick of talking about myself for an entire class period. It rained on the way home, through my rain jacket, and I was soaked down to my skivvies. I was wet, had a headache, and was a little cranky. I needed comfort food. Hello, Mickey D’s. I feel like a stereotype every time I visit, but the Nihonjin are there, too. That night we had an Arrested Development initiation! Of the six ALTs in town, three of us had already been exposed to the magic that is AD. The other three needed schooling, obviously. We watched the first three episodes, and I reveled in the jokes that I could now repeat without looking like a complete idiot. Incredible. I’m having and incredible year.
September 20: Lazy crash kind of morning, then biked around Kameoka with Liz, Phil and Margaret. Committed to leading song service at church. What?
September 21: Way late to church. Thanks, typhoon. I was supposed to have arrived at church 40 minutes ahead to go over song choices, but my train was 30 minutes late. Another girl from Kameoka was there (had been dealing with health issues) who took the job of heading up, so I just harmonized and concentrated on not fidgeting. It was indeed awkward; I didn’t know where to look, and was concentrating too hard to close my eyes, raise my free hand, and sway like a good spiritually-involved worship leader. Good sermon. Kameoka girl drives me back, turns out she is certified to teach Japanese to foreigners, and will do so once her energy returns. New bestest friend.
The pictures here and in the following post are a sort of montage from the last few weeks. I am still reluctant to whip out my camera and gawk unless I am a) alone, or b) surrounded by other Japanese tourists who are doing the same. Ergo, the mishmash of photos.
Moment in Engrish provided by fellow foreigner:
To the gentleman’s credit, the bottom right of the short said, “Die early.” I postulate that the wearer’s intention was to put the appeal of drugs on trial, and thereby open the eyes of the general public to the “fine print” reality of drug usage. Right?
Posted by Laurel J at 1:42 PM