Wednesday, September 10, 2008

See You In September

It has been a while since my last post, so this one is really, really long. I warn you, you might want to read this in phases. And there aren’t a whole lot of pictures, for you visual folk.

And now, allow me to quickly recap Tuesday, August 26—Tuesday, September 2. Warning, all sticklers for proper grammar! Complete sentences will not be used!

• August 26: Work on pricing tickets for Christmas vacation. Debate selling my soul to pay for a round trip.
• August 27: Another Nodame Cantabile night. Brilliant.
• August 28: Nothing of note, at least nothing that I can remember…
• August 29: Seminar in Kyoto. Not entirely boring, but it approached. New municipal JETs (those who teach elementary and jr. high or who are CIRs) only. I made my lunch and it was gross. Nighttime=tabimorimachinkofac√©. Or whatever it was called. An all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink buffet. Glorious. Also, I sang Pirates of Penzance on the streets with two other JETs. A couple of Nihonjin applauded and one sang along (technically he just warbled and mimicked us).
• August 30: Chill and recuperate.
• August 31: Meet up with another foreigner in Kyoto. We attempt to see a kung-fu class. Class canceled. Attempt to see a class at the large budo (martial arts center). Not allowed. Try again for Kyoto Assembly Church. Fall asleep on train, end up at a racetrack way past where I should have been. Failure. Go to bed really early and sleep off the disappointment.
• September 1: Panic because I don’t have lesson plans or schedules from any of the school’s I’ll be visiting within the next two weeks. Sell my soul to Galaxy Travel. Taiko is, again, amazing.
• September 2: Receive one fax for the next day’s visit. Panic because I don’t have a fax from the school for the end of the week. That evening is dinner with Nanami, who takes me and Margaret to a ramen shop and then to the Baskin Robbins in a nearby department store. Nanami was in a year-long exchange program at Broken Arrow high school and then spent two years as the University of Tulsa. It’s nice to be around a Japanese person who appreciates the beauties of Hideaway Pizza, and who can confirm to Missourian Margaret that yes, Hideaway is the best pizza in the world.

Now we can slow down. The last week, being fresh in my fatigued mind (you figure it out) necessitates a little more detail. Buckle up, kids. We’re heading for Detail Land.

I never thought I'd say it, but it's good to be back in the classroom. I taught at my first school last Wednesday, Shotoku Shogakko. I had three classes, first, fourth, and sixth graders, and reinforced my hypothesis that being a ham leads to cross-cultural understanding and internationalization. With the first graders I led them in reciting the alphabet (using ASL until I got to L and had to concentrate on how to make the dang sound in the first place) and Simon Says. Fourth and sixth grade played Twister to reinforce right/left and hand/foot, or rather, “Righto and(u) refuhto, hando and(u) footo.” I also ate with a sixth grade homeroom; the students ignored me for the most part while I ate curry rice and onion soup. Yes, it was a little awkward. Also awkward was when I had to introduce myself to the entire school and say “how I feel about the students.” Blah blah blah, I hope that we will have fun learning English together, I sound like a boor. Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. See you next month, kids.

That night I resumed calligraphy. This time around the kanji was
yama, or mountain. More flowers! I do love that class. They’re very encouraging, and it helps my Japanese.

On Thursday I met my supervisor, Inoe-san at the Umahori station, got lost with him (a.k.a. started walking toward the wrong school) and then arrived late to Shotoku Chugakko. That day I had one 2nd year class and one first year class (and a lot of time to sit at my desk). Class went well; the students really liked to shout, “Hello! Nice to meet you!” at me, no matter the distance between their mouths and my ears. The 1st year students made me self-introduction cards with pictures of themselves and gems like, “My favorites animal, a dog, yellow?” and “My dreams. Smile. Happy!”

Then lunch came. Had I known, I would have brought it. I had read that I could order it or head to a nearby convenience store. Turns out that no, I can do neither of those, and ergo someone must cough up a bowl of ramen for me. How embarrassing.

It did not end. I do not like to fill up my bowl-o-noodles to the top with water because I prefer less juice. The teacher watching me kept saying, “More, little more,” and pressed the button on the water dispenser for me until the water level had reached the line inside. Great.

I sat down, wrote a brief summary of the morning class in my journal, then turned back to the bowl of yet-uncooked noodles. I poured the packet of seasoning in, separated my chopsticks, and prepared to stir the seasoning into the noodles. The teacher came rushing over, waving his hands. I put the chopsticks down.

“Not yet, not yet! Must wait sreeeeee minutes.”

I told him that I understood, and that we had instant ramen in the states, too. I even explained the joke about the college students Ramen Diet.

He nodded and held up three fingers. “Wait sreeeee minutes. Not ready.”

“Hai, wakarimashita,” I said.
Yes, I understand. I won’t stir my dang noodles. “Three minutes.”

“Sreeeee minutes.” He then put the paper lid back on the bowl, then set a larger box on top of it. “You must wait.”

I had a sudden flashback of a moment at the day school, pulling a child’s hand away from a bowl of soup and saying firmly, “No, ma’am. You must use your spoon.” When the hand went back in, I pulled the bowl away. “Where is your spoon? I want you to use your spoon, please.” I pushed the bowl back to the toddler, who grudgingly stuck her spoon in the soup.

I nod vigorously at the teacher and say, “Hai. Thank you. Wakarimashita.”

I turned back to my journal and organized a lesson plan. I wasn’t starving, so I continued to ignore the ramen even after the three minute mark had passed. Unsurprisingly, the teacher visited my desk.

“You can eat now,” he said encouragingly, taking the box and the lid off the bowl. “It has been sree minutes. It’s ready, okay?”

“Okay,” I said. “Thank you.” Another Day Schools flashback.

I picked up my chopsticks and I ate.

On Friday I misread the train schedule and missed my train to Shotoku. In my defense, train schedules are not written in English. Feeling foolish, I called Paulette to see if she had the list of numbers for the schools. She read it off and I wrote it down, trying to calm my rising anxiety about a phone conversation in Japanese.

I entered the number in my keitai and waited. A man picked up, and somewhere in the sentence I heard, “Shotoku.” Alright.

“Sumimasen, gomenasai,” I said, edging away from the other people within earshot. “Eigo okay desu-ka?”
English okay?

“Etto,” the man said slowly.

“ALT desu,” I said.
I’m the ALT. “I missed my train.”


He didn’t understand, so I repeated it. “I missed my train. I will be late. Gomenasai!”

The man paused, then said something in Japanese that again involved the name of the school. Did he say
shogakko? “One moment, please.”

It suddenly dawned on me that I had called the elementary school, and he was trying to tell me that I wasn’t even supposed to be there today. “Iie, iie,” I said quickly. “Wakarimashita! Wakarimashita!”
No, no, I understand! I understand! No one responded, which meant that the man with whom I had speaking had gone to find someone who spoke better English. I hung up.

I dug through the papers in my backpacks, managed to find the number to Shotoku Chugakko, and called them. I explained, the English teacher laughed at me, and I apologized over and over again. I’m pretty sure that all the teachers had a good laugh at my expense (appropriately so), especially after I admitted that I called so late because I had mistakenly dialed the elementary school first.

I got more introductory notes from the two classes of 2nd years and the class of first years. Some of my favorites:

“I like dog and My boyfriend!
What do you like? Tell me.”

“I am basketball team.”

“My favorites
a hot dog

“I do not like English
but I like Social Studies.”

I also brought my own lunch. For the record, I did replace the bowl of noodles that I ate. The teacher who had supplied it was very impressed.

Earlier in the week it had been suggested by some JETs that we go into Osaka (about an hour and a half by train from Kameoka) on the 6th to go dancing. I had thought it would be a little bit of a day trip—meet up, find someplace to eat, go dance my legs off and catch the last train home. By Friday it had turned into an all-night pub crawl. Cross my name off that list, please and thank you.

Saturday I was in hermit-mode until Margaret called down and asked if I wanted to go out to eat. I dragged myself off my futon and met her and Phil for dinner. Mmm, tempura.

Afterwards they wanted to head to GooBea's Rock Bar around the corner from my apartment. Sure, I'll sit there and talk with the owner about our mutual love…for music from the 60's. He even put on a compilation CD and I provided some mild entertainment by singing along to every single song that played. So thanks, Mom and Dad, for discouraging me from listening to pop music while growing up. It's turned out that the Oldies station prepared me to bond with Nihonjin.

Also, I learned that the letter T in American Sign Language is the same as giving someone the finger in Japan. Good to know…Made me really glad that I stopped using ASL when I did at did at the shogakko. And lastly I learned that the Italian version of “Cheers!” is both the English onomatopoeia for the sound two glasses make when tapped against each other and a nihongo euphemism for male genitalia. Take note, Italianos. Learn to toast in another language.

By the time we left I learned that the younger bartender, Haruo-san, was in a not-half-bad band, and that they had a show in Osaka on Tuesday night. He took down our names (and Kim-chi’s, who had been there the previous weekend) to reserve tickets for us. On the three-minute walk back to the apartment my party had confirmed that yes, it was a bad idea to go into Osaka on a weeknight but, yes, we were going nonetheless. Come on, folks. The kid reserved tickets for us to buy. And he works at the neighborhood watering hole. And he has a perm.

How could we say no?

Sunday morning was lazy. I tore up a cardboard box that had once contained a set of shelves. I wrote in my journal. I did some laundry. I paid off the sleep debt racked up during the week. I texted Dara Han, a former JET who’s still in the area after 8 years, who had volunteered to help me find an aikido class. See you at 7 on Thursday, fellow self-defense enthusiasts. At about 3:00 p.m. I roused myself for reals and showered, getting my backside out the door to find church and no excuses.

I found God! Glory be, I found Kyoto Assembly Church. Third time really is the charm. The music is so-so (and there’s a lot of it), but it was so nice to be in a group of believers that I just sung my little heart out and didn’t care. Then I drank tea and talked with the pastors and other church-goers. The Nodame Cantible-watching party was to start at eight, so I made ready to leave, passing out my contact information to the people I had met.

And then. Oh, and then.

There are some people in the world who never learn to use the orifices on the sides of their heads. Perhaps their jaws are so used to movement that it is actually more difficult to stop talking than it is to find something else to talk about.

Lest I sound uncharitable (or since I do, rather), I will lay out my thought process. Let us keep in mind that I have an appointment, and church ended at 6:15.

Wow, this guy is really open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Wow, it must be nice to have God speak to you so clearly through Engrish signs and shirts. I get vague feelings.

Wow, this guy has a lot of stories.

Wow, this is a really long story.

Is this part about the difference between Canadian, Texan, and Japanese cockroaches necessary or a tangent? Maybe it connects to the part about God telling him through a t-shirt that he had an ant problem.

It’s definitely a tangent

Wow, I need to leave. It’s already 7:30 and it’s 30 minutes back to Kameoka.

Wow, I can’t even get in a word to say that I need to leave.

Wow, this guy just won’t quit.

Dude, shut up!

I felt guilty for my thoughts while he yacked, but that didn't stop them.

Monday/Yesterday I finished up my time at Shotoku Chugakko. I woke up late, threw on a dress (don’t worry, there was personal grooming and hygiene involved), grabbed my backpack, and rushed out the door. The half hour before eight o’clock is rush hour, with businessmen and women rushing to work and students heading to their schools. The road to the train station is especially busy, since several. About halfway to the train station I noticed a crisp breeze blowing in an area where I shouldn’t have felt it. I stopped walking.

My stomach dropped, my heard started pounding, and adrenaline coursed through my blood vessels. I reached back and brushed at the back of my dress, feeling bunched fabric and the edge of my underwear.


Logically speaking, in order to moon half of Kameoka, 43,000 people would have had to walk past. I know I did not expose my left lower half to that many people, but it sure felt that way. I pulled my dress out as quickly as possible, took a breath, and continued to walk as though with blinders on my head. I think I might have actually blushed. I know someone got to work or school and told everyone they knew about the dark-skinned foreigner whose striped panties were showing. There might even be cell-phone pictures floating around. Perhaps I’m being paranoid. Perhaps.

To top it off I missed my train again, then in a panic decided that even if it was a 40 minute bike ride, if I left immediately I’d still only be ten minutes late as opposed to 30. Plus it would be a way better excuse than, “Sorry, guys. I got out of my house on time, but it turns out that I walk too slowly. Darn skirt always hiking up and slowing me down.” I walked back to the apartment (pulling at the back of my dress with every other step), I got on my bike, panicking, and within ten minutes had arrived at the school. I was early. Turns out that it takes longer for me to walk from Umahori station to the school than it does for me to pedal there from my apartment.

I only had one class that day because one of the teachers was giving a test. I had been scheduled for two classes with her, so I pretty much sat at my desk all day and pretended to be writing something important while I journaled. I also studied some Japanese, none of which I retained. Other ALTs claim that they roam the halls of their schools and find things to do if bored. Maybe next time. The teachers here are always busy—if they’re not teaching they’re preparing for another lesson or leading a club. I never see them just sit and relax; even during lunch they’re going through the mountains of paperwork that they have to deal with.

That night I beat some drums at taiko with the gang. Taiko is the best club ever. The best. They pick us up, it’s free, they use as much English as possible (beat-o, uh-ryzum-uh, Japanese du-rum-u etc.), they feed us snacks afterward, and they made us our own taiko sticks. They made us drum sticks. Made them. The Japanese people did. For us. To keep. Plus, they let me play the really big upright drum; the experience is nothing short of creating one’s own earthquake.
I love taiko!

Today I discovered why Betsuin Chugakko had been my predecessor’s favorite school. Well, at least, I did after two bus rides and panicking when we kept going further and further into the wilderness. After riding both buses to their last stops the English teacher picked me up and drove me to the junior high school. Betsuin is the smallest school in all of Kameoka, with only 70 students. Perfect.

Even the most bashful of the Betsuin (I can’t write or say that without thinking of Bedouin) were at least minimally involved. I was able to pass my props and pictures around the classroom rather than simply hold them up. They asked the teacher questions about my lesson, not hesitating when they needed something explained. They laughed when I imitated a lemur’s run (it’s in my presentation. Leave me alone) and told me that my grandmother is cute. More points for Grandma. Tell her, someone. I also have in the presentation that she’s 97 years old and still energetic, so I’m fulfilling her wishes even from across the waters. A point for me.

I was also able to spend one period with the school’s only student in the special education classroom. She, the English teacher and I had some quality time together, letting her guide the lesson rather than me just talking about me. We talked about how to escape a tornado, why I’ve never been to a Disney theme park, and where wild horses live in the U.S. Cross-culturalization at its finest, if I do say so myself.

When all my classes were finished my supervisor picked me up. We went back to the BOE, where I typed most of this. To make the concert my fellow fools and I would have to hop on a train by 5:37. At 4:20 I prepared to depart the BOE, Inoe-san stopped me to inquire if I knew how to reach my school the next day. I replied that yes, I had instructions from two former ALTs on how to reach the school. Inoe-san and the other men in the department decided that they needed to make sure. They looked for maps, bus routes, bus times, called the school…At 4:50 I picked up my backpack and nodded many a time, telling them thank you so much for finding the name of the bus stop. Yep, in 30 minutes all we found was the name of the stop where I needed to alight, which I already had.

I rushed home, made and posted a birthday video for Barron, changed into casual clothes, looked up the train schedule, reviewed my instructions for the next day, repacked my bag, and left again. Margaret and I walked to Kameoka Eki to meet Kim and Phil for our grand adventure. Traveling to an unfamiliar Let me tell you, it was a tense, tense transition from Kameoka to the basement club in Osaka. Tense. Is repentance pointless if the sin is repeated? I was pretty quiet on the trip up. For a similar experience, review my “Nantes Trip” entry in the Angers Effect. It was like traveling with piranhas, and that’s as expository as I’m going to get.
We finally found the place and paid for our sweet, sweet reserved tickets. The first band up was Leonald (from Texas), who had an honest-to-goodness groupie following. The herd was only ten strong, but considering the number of people present, it was pretty incredible. Also, two members of this following turned around to see four foreigners (and three non-Asian faces) and jumped. Literally. They jumped and squealed and giggled like they had just seen hilarious ghosts.

Whatever, little girls. At least I can do more than headbang when I dance. I don't need to dye my hair blue to get stared at.

Leonald (from Texas) was all punk, all the way, right down to the roots of their bleached blond hair. Ah, it was priceless. I was put in mind of those children on kiddie leashes I’ve seen in grocery stores, pulling as hard as they can on the leashes attached to their backs. Watching Leonald (from Texas) was like watching those children break free, running up and down the aisles, flailing their arms and eating the coffee beans that fell out of the dispensers. Sure, I threw up the rock sign and clapped, but I laughed the whole time. Kim and I would occasionally turn to each other and say, “Are you serious?”

Next up was MMP, which we learned later stands for Make Money Project. Nice. This band took more of an alternative route, totally emo and endearingly into their rocky, soulful sound. The closest thing I can think of to their sound is Switchfoot with a little of the Backstreet Boys thrown in for good measure. If their songs came on the radio, there’s an 80 percent chance that I’d leave the dial alone.

Now I sit on the train, heading home from the concert with the piranhas. Sure, it was an unquestionably bad idea to go all the way to O-town when I have to be on a bus by 7:04 tomorrow morning. However, Haruo-san (the guy who works at the Rock Bar, remember?) and his band were great. For amateurs they were genuinely impressive. My props to Lewdic Juice and their funky, funky style. I thumb my nose at sparkly J-pop. I will take button-up shirts and alternative funk any day. I happen to be a sucker for a good slap bass.

The nice thing about being the only gaijin in the building was that every band member came up to us and thanked us for coming. Leonald members talked to us about how they had never been to Texas, but introduced themselves as Kevin, Paul, etc. Liars. The members of MMP said no,
we were great for coming to the show and gave me a high-five. Haruo-san actually hugged me (or opened his arms, then I stepped in and squeezed his middle. Yes, it was awkward) when I ran up to him told him how much I loved his band. And the Japanese don’t do hugs.

By the way, I’ll edit this later and put some pictures and video in. Right now they’re stuck on my phone, and I’m stuck on a train, and as soon as I get home I’ll hit the post button on this s(t)ucker and pass out. Rock and roll, kids.

Engrish moment of the day, courtesy of a taiko member’s hoodie. When I noticed it, I almost followed the instructions:

Gladly Smile

Yell Lustily

Wet Oneself Laughing

This post's glossary, in no particular order:

• shogakko—elementary school; grades 1-6
• chugakko—junior high school; grades 7-9

  • ichinensei—first graders (can be for any school)
  • ninensei—second graders
  • sanensei—third graders
  • yonensei—fourth graders (shogakko only)
  • gonensei—fifth graders (shogakko only)
  • rokunensei—sixth graders (shogakko only)
• Nippon—Japan
• Nihonjin—Japanese people
• Nihongo—Japanese language
• yama—mountain
• keitai–cell phone
• gaikokujin—foreigners (gaijin for short)
• eki—train station
• jitensha—bicycle
• genki—energetic, vigorous, active, etc.
• hajimemashite—“first time.” Used as “Nice to meet you.”
• (dozo) yoroshiku onegaishimasu—“Please be kind to me.” A closing version of “nice to meet you.” Used in other situations, but I don’t yet know why.
• Onegaishimasu—please
• J-pop—Japan pop.

The Who's Who:
Municipal ALTs: Paulette, Kim-chi, Yours Truly
CIR: Margaret
Prefectural ALT (at high schools): Liz, Phil
Former Muni ALT who stayed for eight years: Dara
Japanese girl/lady who introduced me to calligraphy and studied in Tulsa: Nanami
My supervisor at the BOE: Inoe-san (pronounced Ee-no-eh)
Guy who works at the bar and has an interesting perm and a band: Haruo-san (pronounced Hah-rue-oh)


  1. Dear citizens of Eventful City,

    I am campaigning for re-election because I truly believe that there is no need for change. I have successfully led our government through days on end of excitement, surprises, paranha attacks, and other such adventures. Indeed, what my candidate proposes is proposterous; that any citizen of our great municipality would be satisfied with JUST going to work on time, coming home, eating dinner, reading books, watching TV/movies, and generally hanging out with friends or self is RIDICULOUS. Vote LJR today.
    "Jiggy" Ryan: Keeping your city hopping as long as I'm in office.

    Most Sincerely,
    Mayor LJ "Jiggy" Ryang

  2. And why is it the most hilarious and best thing ever that Grandma is in high demand on the other side of the globe? That's probably the greatest thing I've ever heard. Bet she never saw that coming.

  3. Could you surreptitiously take a picture of the permed bartender rocker? And do you have any of Leonald (from Texas)?