Thursday, October 28, 2010

13th Sept week of work and first Kendo lesson

I think a morning cup of tea is the most moral boosting, world okaying thing a company can do for its employees. Oh, sorry, is my colony showing? That just reminded me. On Saturday we were given badges with our flags on to wear for the dance parade. I proceeded to wear mine all night, long past when the stars of the southern cross were accused of being “pixilated hearts” and the Union Jack pointed out by the only British guy as meaning “I own you”. When the Irish asked why I would insist (as they would, insert awkward war here) I naturally replied, because I LOVE Britain. You only have to look at my appreciation to the cooler of tea in my work life to understand. I kid, but I haven’t met an English person I haven’t found hilarious, either intentionally or no.
Also, I’ve never been to Britain. This may be integral.

Sitting at work today, toothbrushing in the office finally began to make sense. When the majority of your meals involve seaweed, it stands to reason that public (nay, sauntering) toothbrushing around the office would become a natural part of culture. Being stabbed in the back of the head by ones vigorous brushing/schedule pointing is okay, because noone wants a sea monster breathing over their shoulder.

Saw a bunch of lizards today. I remember the learning as a kid about the concept of a lizard losing its tail in the event of an emergency, and realized for the first time it’s not a case of a lizard “losing” its tail. It’s not like, oh, wow I’m in trouble! Better drop this thing! As far as I know living beings can do a lot but they can’t decide to drop a limb on a cellular level. No, a lizard has to physically pull itself off of its own tail. That would be like, that man who was trapped under a rock by his arm, except instead of a knife he just pulled his entire body off. What the shit man. Lizards are the most extreme things out.

May have had a little too much time to myself today.

14th September
Today I had a suspicion the students were out to get me with their shyness. Luckily it only lasted a little while and I bounced back with a red pen in hand and a bunch of plural form marking. There is literally no time to feel sorry for yourself, a tremendously useful part of life here, because feeling sorry for myself is my all-time favourite hobby.

Hung out with Holly this evening, we went to a second hand store and got some sweet Japanese things for my apartment. I have a kimono, an old painting, and a Viking ship in a jar. Life is good. Also, had McDonalds for the first time in months. It was nostalgic.
Found a Kendo uniform in my apartment. Yes, we tried it on. And it was awesome.

15th. Classes went better today. Got a bit frisky with my Japanese at lunchtime with the ladies next to me, learning other teachers names etc. Also asked the Kendo coach if I could watch sometime. Excite! Took train by myself to the city for another Japanese lesson. Started sketching as a way to pass the time, it goes so quickly! I think I will always love trains.

Corrected more grammar today. A few of the English teachers approach me with questions, and it’s then that I realize how horribly ambiguous English really is. It has even culminated in me googling ridiculously obscure grammar rules and looking up shades of meaning in my dictionary. I think it’s somewhat reassuring to everyone to see even an English speaker get confused. Or horribly world framework destroying. Whatever. Still, it’s good to get into it. Bitching about grammar has become the new version of talking shit at work I think.

I have got to get out of this mentality of saving things for my memory. I caught myself today putting aside the post-it from a teacher asking if we can talk grammar. And the wrapper from my first rice cracker. What do I expect to do with all this stuff?

Kendo first day
This afternoon was my Kendo spectatorship. The instructor doesn’t speak English, so one of the teachers came to help. I thought I would sit at the back and watch, but I was given two swords right off the bat. The first is a heavy wooden Katana, which is used for warming up. (No contact striking). Then we use the Shinai, or a bamboo practice sword for actual training. I was shown a couple steps, and where to put my hands. Then I was given a steel mannequin wearing armour to work on. At first you are afraid to hit it, the sword is so light it feels like it will break. But they are built for it.

The hardest part about this was the Keie (sp?) – the yell, anyway. When you begin your attack, you shriek YA! And slide your foot forward. Then when you strike, you shriek the name of your target and stomp as hard as you can while simultaneously leaping forward and striking. Then you glide past with a specific sort of run with your sword out like a galloping horse, then use the momentum of the sword to swing you around at the other end while continuing your wail. It’s an effective and terrifying effect if you know what you’re doing, unfortunately in my case I do not. That said, hearing “so, so, so” (roughly equivalent to ok ok ok) after feeling like a galloping, squeaking, walloping idiot, quickly makes your life.

There is a ridiculous amount of etiquette to Kendo. Aside from learning the appropriate technique for Seiza (the painful kneel) there is a bunch of bowing, commands, hierarchy, drawing, sheathing, string (representative of blade) placement, onegai shimasu and arigato gozaimasu-ing to remember. And this was all in the first lesson. Tip of the iceberg, my friend.

After my wee go, I got to watch the others. These are my students, and they are terrifying. Their “games” are these ridiculously fast attacks and the sound of frenzied bamboo on armour and eerie shrieking is really something to experience. Watching them, I could not even dare to hope. At the end, because I’m a teacher, the students brought me tea and clustered around me for some words. (They are expected to do this with every teacher – because usually of course the teacher is more skilled or knows what is going on or Japanese) Of course, we all know I am none of these things so I just said thank you one hundred times and bowed my way out. I really don’t know what to do with all this respect. Where did it come from? How did it get ascribed to me?

When I went back the office, drenched in sweat and slightly traumatized, all the gym teachers (possibly the last stereotype on earth I thought I would ever get chummy with) were so excited for me and to know how I found it. Heartwarminggu..

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Weekend in the city

This morning I had some Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door. How do you politely turn someone away when you do not speak the same language? You can’t just shut the door in their faces. Anyway, it wasn’t an option as I was excited to try my Japanese on the poor ladies. We managed to struggle through some introductions, then they thrust a book at me with an English introduction and pre-set questions on it, to which I told them I was Christian and already had a bible. I’m not, and don’t, but I have like 2 copies of the “free” Hare Krishna bible that people stand over your shoulder at ATMs to “give” you and I think that is close enough. Multiple gods forgive me for I have been burned before.

Last minute decision (after profuse bowing and no-thanking with my guests) to go to Miyazaki City. It seems whenever things are not going so well (see end of prior entry) I tend to get a little location reckless. Cue numerous awakenings in different NZ cities. It appears Japan is to be no different.

Anyway, met two of the Nichinan girls on the train, who were on their way to an international dance festival. I decided to tag along, and ended up being allowed into the parade. I was quickly bustled into a fetching green coat, a NZ flag thrust into my hand, a sweet dance demonstrated, and off we went down the streets of Miyazaki, dancing our foreign little hearts out en masse. By dance of course I mean sweat. A special memory is Muqing and I’s brief (but momentous) outrageous and excessive interpretation of the (already fabulous) moves.

After this we wandered past some stalls, Kelly was there so of course by wandered past I mean ate our way past- on our way to dinner. I’m going to stop saying the food was delicious and you can just assume that whenever I mention eating that it was delicious. 3 years of a BComm and my efficiency astounds me. There were some funtime international games, in which I received the pity prize at the end. Not to matter though, because it was a piggy bank in the shape of a COMBI VAN. (Not really it’s a post van but the similarities are there).

To accompany dinner was a sweet wee Irish gig, which spread out onto the street as we left. Also on the street were beer venders and a Micheal Flatley bastardization performed (minus leather pant) for you, Rose, and every time I insisted we watch Lord of the Dance instead of Bambi. I would say it culminated in that moment, but to be honest it comes out quite regularly. There’s nothing quite like tippy tapping away in your own (isolated) circle at a packed, shovey Taupo bar while your sister barrels people down with her techno lawn mower to your left. So Rose I can assure you, be it irritating a bunch of NZers who will likely follow you into a bathroom for some friendly reconciliation or alienating kind Japanese couples just trying to walk down a street, not a lot has changed in the area of inappropriate jigging.

Well, after this we went to a nomihodai at the same bar I (wisely) decided to leave after the orientation welcome party. It was here I realized sho-chu may have a similar effect to vodka, which, for those I may have lived with before, is a substantially useful piece of information and may very well save my life, if not at least a few bruises, scars, and broken bones.

Anyway, karaoke again. Why Sam, why do we always choose the most ridiculous songs we can? We tried to rap and it was exhausting, loud, and probably only hilarious to ourselves. Worth it. After leaving we went to an international food store (don’t ask why it was open at this hour, it’s like some magical land) where I found TIMTAMS. Also got asked if I was anorexic. Do I exude my town from every pore?

After this a few of us went to a tiny tiny bar. The bartender was shy but wonderful, an Italian trained Japanese chef, and does it all in a tiny kitchen setup smaller than my desk at work in the corner of a bar smaller than my hallway. We had some delicious drinks, then four of us continued on to the next establishment, karaoke. At 4am. Two hours of karaoke later, we emerged into the sunlight to chirp “ohayo gozaimasu!” to everyone we saw. By now it was me, Miles, Kate, and John. While the big parties are fantastic, it is also nice to concentrate on smaller groups of people and value their company as more than a pre-packaged set. (Which I am terribly grateful for, without the set I would have died of loneliness long ago).

After hitting up a 7/11 for a healthy breakfast, we went to the river to generally sit around. We found tied to a park bench a plastic bag of goldfish, which some festival goer had left. What a surreal, surreal life I now lead. Exhausted, we slept. Under a bridge. In the grass. I must have been tired, considering I’m allergic to most of nature, and spiders and snakes live there.

Giving up on sleep for the most part, we went back into the city some time later for lunch. For someone who is sick of talking about themselves I do it an awful, egotastic lot. (That’s not a typo I just made it). There’s that whole thing of moving and having the opportunity to recreate yourself, but I keep getting too excited about where I’m from and forgetting. Taupo, you’re like this big horrendously beautiful core that I love slightly more than I bitch about.

Anyway, it was nice to see the city in a dayish light, even if I had no idea who I was or where I was going. Finally, the train home. Most exhausting ride of my life. Again, coped. Body you are my best friend. In my notebook I wrote that as fried, and then (after scribbling) added, “I love you, misspellings and all.”

First week of teaching

8th. My first lesson was way too easy for the students. They flew through the activities and we were all left looking at each other. I assumed by their blank expressions and inability to speak that they all hated me, but when I read their notebooks over there were so many detailed questions that they hadn’t wanted to ask aloud. There were even little notes like “Tiffany is beautiful!” (Beautiful was a vocab word for the day). One student didn’t write anything, just my name with flowers around it. How could I grade that down? This has been a common occurrence, when sometimes a lesson does not go well, I will leave feeling like I destroyed my students will for English life. Then someone will yell a random word I taught them, or read loudly from an English book in my passing, and everything will be wonderful again.

9th. Had a welcome lunch with the English staff today. I thought it would be all staff, so I wrote a thankyou speech in Japanese. They all speak near perfect English, but I read it anyway and they clapped. It is always a source of amusement (and mild frustration) how seriously people react to me in certain situations. Case in point: My supervisor told me “You are a very hard worker. Just don’t be so… Nervous”. I think there is a substantial group of people (most likely Taupo ones) who would fall over in shock at hearing hard work AND nervous in a sentence describing someone who once fell down a flight of stairs and off a bench onto a coffee table in quick succession. Work me and abrasive, uncouth me just can’t seem to reach a happy midway point. Still, I suppose a school is no place for a dinosaur.

Well I compensated for my easy lesson plan by making it ridiculously hard. We didn’t get through all of it, but I felt good about it anyway. A couple more tweaks and by the end of the day it was perfect! Ended today ridiculously relieved the students aren’t quite as shy as I had been anticipating, and besides, they are so obedient they do whatever you say anyway. Although I do have one student that whenever I ask him a question, he just says “NO.” But, at least they aren’t yelling puck you miss and throwing chairs.

My favourite area at work is the copying room. Clear your minds gutter children! Walking out of that room with 35 copies of a lesson YOU created is the essence of fulfillment. That is, if you are the excitable consistency of cardboard and easily pleased as I am. Also my first work pen ran out today. That means over 7 days I have written an entire pen. EXCITE

Tonight I went to my first Japanese lesson run by Paul, in the city, with Holly (new beautiful English friend). It’s cool now that when people patter away at you in restaurants and you stand with a blank smile, nodding equally blankly, with a fist full of monopoly money ready to thrust forward at the first opportunity, there is a chance you may know exactly what it is that is being said. Unless they deviate by one word, in which case, you’re back at square one, monopoly guy.

It’s almost bad how easy it is to get by with “kore o kudasai” and “arigato gozaimasu”. I don’t know the names of anything, because all I need is the magical phrase for “this please”, a dexterous pointy finger, and ridiculous levels of politeness. It’s the easiest way, but I also want to learn MORE, as I know how much it makes my day when people have a crack at English. Even the 7/11 guy who said thank you instead of the arigato spiel I was like YES. GOD.

Silly things happened at home this week, Taupo is as Taupo does. Hard to concentrate on life in Japan, but also brings in an element of gratitude for the place just for enveloping me the way it has.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sports day and first work party

Sports day 5th Sept and work drinks

Sports day. This was amazing. The opening ceremony involved traditional dancing, some sort of sweet karate dance, flag dancing, and team dances. During the team dances it absolutely poured. It was such a mixture of hilarity and sadness watching those kids dance in the rain in their gym uniforms. I really didn’t know what to think. So, I took photos. I had nice conversations with the music, language and art teachers, and generally stood around.

Watching the students actually brought me back to primary school, when you cross the line and are given a number to take to the tent and be written down. I think it only ever happened to me once, at a swimming day. Probably in the dolphin dives or something ridiculous like that. It was nice being on the other side of the desk though, giving other people those memories. Also, I got to hold the ribbon. Famous much.

Another thing that struck me was how upset these kids got. The red team lost, and they just cried their hearts out. The team leader who yelled ‘ICHI NI!’ the loudest during marching was just this silent, red eyed shell of his former self. Even through packing up all the chairs and stuff, it was like they had just received horrible news. Then again, I suppose any Japanese person in NZ would be equally shocked at our heckling, ref-abusing, “sports days are for fags anywayz” losing response.

Right. After sports day I had my first work party. There was ‘random’ seating, except I was to be placed next to an English teacher. (Thank god). The food was delicious. We were only allowed 2 beers each at this place, but 5 beers later people were still bringing them over. I was asked to say a speech to the PTA, and stammered out a ‘minna san um…’ before someone called out ‘Eigo!” So I got to prattle away in English about how much I loved coming into school everyday, and how grateful I was to everyone, while they all stared politely. When it came time for translation, the teacher next to me bellowed a suspiciously short rendition which got a suspiciously rowdy cheer. Another English teacher told me that he had translated my speech to “I am very grateful and I am going to drink lots!” If only he knew how prophetic this was to be.

Teachers started coming up and asking me questions, by which I mean they asked in Japanese, were translated, and then my response was translated. I think all these teachers were gym teachers. There was the remark that NZers drink much like Japanese people, which I think is entirely true. We drink to relax, for an excuse to be social. It’s not so much the alcohol that does it, but the environment and the shared consensus between everyone that it is okay to speak freely. Again, some form of conditioning.

After the dinner we went on to another bar. I did karaoke to ‘I love rock n roll’ and everyone cheered. When I realized what I had done there was a brief period of oh god. But I think because everyone else did it, it was the best thing I could have done. I also called the old PTA ladies “kirei desu!”, mimed passing out whenever anyone offered me shochu (they drink it straight or with water), and told my principal (at least three times) that I was in “the best school in Japan!”. I was told that the higher up bosses usually went home early at enkais. As it turned out, he was there until the end, which was helpful when all the English translators and females went home and I was left with gym teachers. It seems my ongoing fate to stay out with burly males getting outrageous. He explained this hilarious metaphor to me; I think it’s the equivalent of the cougar in NZ. He said the spots on this woman’s dress were like the dapples of sweat horses get, when you run them too hard. I hope, I desperately hope that’s actually a real metaphor and not a huge miscommunication, because it is hilarious.

On the Monday when I walked into the school, the principal said “Tiffany! Saturday night” As I desperately tried to recollect and habitually braced myself for being fired, he continued “you ate a mountain of soba!” Apparently at our last bar I had eaten a huge bowl of noodles, to everyone’s admiration (shock and possible disgust). I am so glad that of all the foreign drunk traits that could rear their ugly heads, mine is the dinosaur.

School culture festival and my foray into the Japanese language

3/4th Oct. School cultural festival. I am working over this weekend, first for the festival and then for sports day. Basically I sat in the hall for two days with about 500 other bodies, hoping I wouldn’t leave a faint sheen of sweat on my chair when I stood up. Luckily I had some beautiful student singing to keep me entertained, and student plays. I didn’t understand most of them, but I was surprised at how outgoing the students become on a stage. It was somewhat similar to Spirit Week, actually. One group did a Japanese version of Cinderella, dressed in drag. Hilarious. For how little of the two days I actually understood, I still quite enjoyed myself. If only I didn’t leave soaked in sweat at the end of every day.

I also got to walk around and look at the students artwork etc, there was some amazing stuff. There are always one or two people who shine at high school. Each class had to do a big piece of artwork, and it was so detailed. One class did an entire mural made of coloured toothpicks. So much work went into it, and for such a small place I felt bad that more people didn’t see it. So I took photos, for all of you. Of course, I’m not putting them here, but one day I shall.

It was nice (and somewhat disconcerting) to see how nice the students are to each other. Girls play with each other’s hair, boys play drums on each other’s shoulders. It’s interesting that we consider ourselves so open and free compared to Japanese people, but I can’t imagine casual touch like that at a NZ high school. It’s either hooking up behind gym sheds, boxing on the netball courts or throwing rubbish bins at each other.

At one point my supervisor called me something, and I wish I could remember what it was to ask someone, but it sounded like “oriko san” or something. I asked what it meant and he said, smart or serious but cuter. I looked it up, and the closest I could find was a word meaning ‘old’. Did I just get called a little nana in Japanese? The similarity between this and the fact that many NZers also call me nana (on the odd occasions I’m not drunkenly and obnoxiously fencing with their table ornaments) makes me wonder about my life choices.

On the 4th I helped set up chairs for sports day. I was told I was the only ALT who had ever helped. I wonder if perhaps it was more that they didn’t know how to ask. I have been in a few situations where I feel I should be doing what everyone else is doing, but haven’t because I wouldn’t know the first way to go about it. Still, nice to have a hardworking reputation to line up alongside the nana one. Party invitations here I come!

Today I was left alone in the staff room with my vice principal. Earlier in the morning he had bellowed at me about Taupo, and the fish there. Armed with this information, I sat at my desk for no shit about an hour, looking up words and particles for a conversation. I then memorized my script and approached the bench.

‘Sumimasen.’ ‘HAI’ ‘Er, tanoshii desu?’ ‘HAI’ (upon seeing my terror – omg he’s busy) ‘NOT BUSY DOZO’ ‘May I try in Japanese?’ ‘NN?’ ‘Ah, Nihongo o tame dekimasu ka?’ ‘HAAI’ ‘Miyazaki-shi wa, tsuri ni shimasu ka?’ ‘DE.’ ‘Um’ ‘TSURI DE SHIMASU’ ‘oh, hai, de.’ ‘HAI.’ ‘Um, nani, um, mizu, or, kawa, or mizumi?’ ‘HAI, OCEAN DESU. (some unintelligible Japanese where I thought he was saying he drinks while he fishes but it turns out he was talking about salmon which is also pronounced sake) ‘Ah, um, sakana sukuri nani desu ka?’ (momentary confusion as he realizes I didn’t understand what he just told me, which was exactly the answer to this question) ‘SEA BASS, (a bunch of other types I didn’t understand.)’ ‘Oh, hai, um, arigato’.

Then he repeated the same sentence about 5 times, I was pretty sure he was saying we should all go fishing sometime (there are a couple other avid fishers in the office) but I was still at the stage where I could barely tell what was someone’s name and what was a word with a meaning. Also, I wasn’t sure if it was a polite “omg we should totally hangout sometime!” or a genuine invitation. So I feigned ignorance (NB. No feigning necessary) until an English teacher came to help out. I think he was pretty surprised to see me up at the VP’s desk getting chummy. I think this was when everyone realized I didn’t actually know any Japanese. So the reply was translated, and the invitation extended for fishing and for me to practice my Japanese on him whenever I liked, as ‘he was the least busy in the office’. So far I haven’t, which I regret, but for the life of me I can’t think of any other topics. Often he comes up and bellows something, but I can never reply on time or in Japanese. Still, there is hope. With a dictionary and an hour or so to prepare, there is hope.

Week of work from 31st Aug


I love sitting at my desk. I can think about anything. And then I can look it up, and follow it through a range of different dictionaries, through Japanese, to English, to history and science and back again. I love it. Mother Tongue is the best book ever, just by the way.

Today there was more sports day practice. I have fallen in love with the sounds of 500 feet standing to attention. Perhaps I was meant to be a tyrant. Today we also did school aerobics. I was dragged out the front as an instructor. It was actually awesome.

Was asked today if I would hold the Finish ribbon for the sports day relays. Considering I came second to last at my sports day in primary school because the last kid got asthma, and I wagged half my college sports days, I cannot help but sense a certain irony in this. Long, hot day. I have a sweet cap and clipboard to go with my tracksuit and authoritative pose. Had a cool hybrid English/Japanese conversation with the art/music teachers. As I biked home a student busted out `cyacyacyaIloveyoucya` I accepted it graciously.

Tonight I cleaned my bathroom. It was mouldy, everywhere. It is set up as a wet room, so you can shower anywhere in it, all over the floor. As I was cleaning I stood on my sheep dip tub to clean the ceiling and rocked my entire world. Japan lesson: Tubs are not attached to anything.

1st. Making my poster today. Everyone points at my parents and says ohh so young!! Two teachers asked me about cycling. I had to admit that while my family are semi professional I struggle to cross the bridge without wobbling into the sides. I was told today on my lunchtime walk to the 7/11 that “you are cute, so if you want a ride, ask the male teachers and they will take you” Haha. Beautiful student singing outside the window all day.

2nd Oct. All I have written down for today is “love of rice balls”.

Weekend of 27th Aug - Fire festival!

Okay so I am now so behind on my blog that I am just going to start copying and pasting, with no photos or editing. One day I will make these beautiful. Just, not today.

27. Dinner out with Devon I think, and one drink at home.

28. Got the train to Nichinan with Devon. After a healthy McDonalds (which involved me royally screwing up Kelly’s order due to ignorance of the fact there was an English menu on the reverse side) we all lined up to be bound into our Yukatas. Yukatas are like a summer version of a Kimono, not quite so intense but definitely restrictive. I kindof enjoyed the feeling though, sortof like being in a small space. We were literally tied into these with towels and a big thick strap of material around your stomach.

So Devon and I continued on with Julian and Naho down to Cape Toi, south of Obi. (Further south? Could it be?) I met Shin and a few others for the first time. I was glad to see the only other New Zealander and Shin came back from a tent with a plastic bag full of beers. The New Zealander I can only expect, but this was a sign Shin and I were to be lifelong friends. Anyway, we settled down with about 10 other JETs. I ate a “hotdog” sweet meat on a stick, served in a plastic bag. We watched a sweet traditional dance, involving traditional costumes and cowbells. We also watched Taigo, extreme Japanese drumming. I think I got a video, I will try upload it for you. It was intense!

Then the fire throwing started. 20 or so guys, literally throwing fireballs at a 100m stick, trying to light the tree on top. The legend is that there was a massive serpent (the pole) and a great warrior threw fire in his eye, or something. So it is recreated every year. Naturally the foreign corner was the loud one shrieking with every near miss. (And, well, every miss). We cheered insanely when one man got it, about 20min later. Then all the fireworks went off. And they were intense!! They weren’t the longest, or the most ornate, but for some reason they were super close to us and pretty much swelling into our faces. It was so cool. The only time I’ve been that affected by fireworks was at New Years in Taupo and my state was such that it is questionable as to whether there were fireworks at all. Of course we (I) lost our heads and squealed like children.

From the festival we traveled to (yet another) nomihodai. I love these things. The novelty will never die. I had a delicious drink which was pretty much yoghurt and vodka but without the horrendous curdle. Japan, I don’t know how you do it. I prostrate myself before your wisdom. Ate some delicious food. Who am I kidding, all food here is delicious. The entire time I’ve been here I’ve had two bad meals, and one was a 4am 7/11 piece of chicken.

While we were eating and having a casual drink, I could hear some sort of rattling, on and off, to my side. I looked over, and Shin was discretely rattling a cardboard box in such a way that it looked as if something inside were trying to get out. My curiosity piqued, I had to ask. And then the beer bong was brought out. In the middle of a restaurant. Did anyone care? Probably. Did they tell us? No.

Yes, I did NZ proud. Twice. That under my belt, I proceeded to practice my Japanese on the Japanese participants. I learnt “Daijoubu?” as in, are you okay? And “daijoubu.” as in, yes I am okay. I also told them about the “is your Japan sore” debacle (see earlier post) which led to the catch phrase (wailed) “My Japanese is sore!” I also learnt that I had been spending the last week or so asking people what their stain (shimi) was, instead of their hobby (shumi). I also hugged a Japanese man. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but that’s not really done.

Across from us was a big, rowdy, Japanese nomihodai. I met a couple of the girls in the toilets who mimed the bong. They just wanted to ask about it, but I took them back upstairs and announced “these girls want a beer bong!” Yes, we took the bong over there. Yes, their boss did it. And then kissed Julian on the lips. Hah! From here we had bean (edemame) fun, sticking them to our faces and suchlike.

From here we went to another bar, one that I don’t really remember much from except I told them how to make a Jelly doughnut shot. They kept asking “are you sure?” and I was like, yes. I ended up getting a cup of curdled mess. Orientation lesson 101: There will always be a learning curve, and there will always be miscommunications.

(Yes, I drank it.)

Home again home again.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A typical morning.

26. Now that I have been here a week or so, let me walk you through a typical morning. 6am. Wake in panic. Nap until 7. Pack work bags. One with diaries, phone, etc. Other with work clothes (pre-selected based on cleanliness). One bag is always plastic because a sunny day turns to a downfall in 0.2 seconds. Make toast and marmite. Lament decrease of Marmite. Burn toast. Perform toaster surgery. Scrape. Eat. Tie hair, brush teeth. Get into matching tracksuit. Turn off AC which goes from the second I walk into my apartment to the second I walk out. Roll up futon, stow in slide. Notice `have you turned off gas?!` sign I was forced to make in my second week. Check gas. Turn off. Pick up rubbish bag with craftily camouflaged goods. (There was so much junk in my apartment when I arrived – this weeks rubbish center treat is mouldy gym shoes) Put rubbish in cage constructed for marauding animals. Load bike with bags. Unlock. Bike to school, past rice paddies, old people, jungle, and eventually town scenery. Ohayo gozaimasu and bow to everyone I see, even in cars.

Walk up school hill to a chorus of student "hello"s. Into staffroom with mandatory ohayo gozaimasu! (Rude to neglect this greeting.) Go to changing room. Attempt to mop up sweat with sweat towel. Fail. Put work clothes on anyway. Pick up morning paper work from cubby. Try to decipher. Give up and put in desk. Attempt to dry in AC, or if AC is broken (like today) sit and sweat face off. Sitting and working by 8.10.


Another terribly late, fragmented entry with no pictures

A week of work beginning 23rd August. (Yes I am that far behind). Still not teaching, but today had my formal staff introduction. There are so many procedures, places to sit, to take your shoes off, to be directed, to stand, to speak. The worst is my confusion with the "come here" hand signal (the same hand flap we use to say stay there or go away). I feel like a lost lamb, or our blind cat Smeagle, I want to please but I just keep blundering into things. I'm not sure if it’s my special brand of awkwardness or every foreigner, but I have a sneaking suspicion I am particularly bumbling. Anyway, did a wee Japanese speech. Certain words get a bow everytime. I’m used to it now, in retrospect, but I remember for this speech I was like OMG THEY’RE BOWING when I passed off a perfunctory comment. Definitely threw me.

Our staff toilets make a weeing sound when you sit down – to mask the sound of your own embarrassment, I believe. Two weeks in instead of getting a fright (omg someone else is peeing in my toilet) I have begun to become conditioned to this sound, and when it doesn’t happen I am often at a momentary urinary loss. Pavlov you are onto something.

24. I found Milo in the grocery store! In Japanese, of course. But the packaging is unmistakable. I also bought some biscuits with a weird brown center that tasted as if it had quite literally been painted brown. I don’t know if it was msgs, or colouring, but it tasted like paint and I still ate them.

Well. Today I did my speech to the school. I was nervous, but when I saw the students I wasn’t so much. There are less than there were at Nui, and into the bargain there aren’t hulking 7th formers guffawing into their hands standing around the sides and punching each other. This was a tidy bunch of silent small kids, kneeling on the floor in Seiza position. One thing that threw me is that instead of the uproarious applause I was expecting (I just spoke? In Japanese? I’m pale?) I got a silent bow at the end. But then! As I was leaving the stage, I was motioned back onto it (do I come or go? Are you beckoning or am I fired?) and the head student came up. He then proceeded to deliver a speech to me, IN ENGLISH. I hadn’t had much experience with the students at this stage, but even now after two weeks of "hello! Seeyou!" I knew this was the stuff of miracles. Yes, I nearly got a tear, clutched my heart, said AWE, sputtered some incomprehensible English, flashed my big gaijin teeth and generally lost all my professionalism. He said they had been looking forward to my arrival. Me! Arrival! Looked forward to! WAH. It was so totally unexpected I was buzzing about it for DAYS.

25. Pahhhhhfect.

I like using chopsticks because it makes you concentrate on your food and the act of eating. You know every mouthful because you had to work to create it.

Today we had our first day of sports day practice. Sports day is like athletics day in NZ, except without the dressing up, wagging school, or banner stealing/burying. Practice was not practice of events, as you would expect, but practice of the opening and closing ceremonies of sports day, which included marching, handing over of plaques, raising of flags, and school anthem. For about 2 hours a day a week beforehand. The marching is definitely something worth seeing. These kids march around the (sand) field, in the 30 plus degree heat, in unison. We stand with clipboards and look authoritative. The first day of this I was like, really? I’m possibly 3 years older and definitely not smarter. But, power grows on you. When they pass the teachers they all (no shit) stick their right arms out away from their bodies, looking at us. The first time it happened I actually startled, and looked around me at the other teachers. Did anyone else just see that? Did those kids seriously just give me a third riech salute? No one seemed to notice anything amiss and I thought it best to spare on the history. It’s one of those questions that need 6 months and a night on the piss I think.

Also got my first `compliment that’s not really a compliment` today. I was told you often had to work through levels of meaning to get to the intended. I only had my biking clothes for the gym experience, so I turned up, in shorts and an "I love NZ" t-shirt. One of my teachers looked me up and down, and said, "you look like you’re going to a beach". Ouch.

Met a few of the students today. Many of them want to speak to me, but are afraid of their English. They begin with hello, and then beat a hasty retreat. I’ll have to learn to ask questions faster so they can’t run. A few were brave though, and mimed karaoke for me. It’s really the naughty kids that give you the best run for your money.

Went and bought some appropriate gym attire. As in, matching tracksuit. I’m that teacher.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Work for two days and Saito festival. No photos because I just can't deal with technology

"E to ne, you are so serious."

Okay so these two days I didn’t really write a lot of notes. In general I sifted through paperwork, old lesson plans, files and folders from previous JETs. I even found stuff in my desk from 3 years ago. I look up customs and words, and read my Japanese for JETs book. lot of people complain about this time but I loved it. I also spent a lot of time planning my first lesson, a worksheet on New Zealand. I made a poster too, feeling all the while like the student making a project. I stuck post-its all over my desk and everyone walking past stopped to have a look and point them out to one another. I even had one on my teacup. I wrote crudely formed speeches to practice on my coworkers and got jovially bellowed at in Japanese by my vice principal. He knows I don’t speak Japanese, but he expects people to fill in the blanks for him (which they usually do, thank god). He just launches and I do my best. I actually enjoy it, Japanese Panic Learning 101. Often I will realize what he has been talking about (with a dictionary, ten minutes later.)

Weekend after orientation

21st. Hopped on the train alone again, with a vitamin drink that I’m pretty sure is just lemon and barley, and a tank top like some sort of shoulder baring hussy. The train to the city takes about an hour, which means a lot of time for reflection. I used the majority of my time today in writing one text to Makiko, the girl I met at salsa. The text went something like, I enjoy! You are good. City, I will tell. Japanese I will learn. Try hard! Woah I just realized that Japanese people speak like Yoda. Or perhaps he speaks like them, you know, whatever. It would not surprise me to learn that the makers used English in Japanese sentence structure. In English the important information comes first in a sentence. I am happy. Japanese, the subject is omitted and the verb comes last. Happy am! It has been so interesting for me to see this coming out in students work. And, in my own when I try to write in Japanese. The words are there, but we each struggle on the level of timing. I hear the first part of a sentence and concentrate on that without realizing why, without picking up what it is that this thing is doing. Japanese students skip the first part and concentrate on the last, so they miss the same information because it is in the opposite place.

I have got to stop getting off track. This blog will never be up to date.

Anyway I have been struggling with my Japanese space phone in that it is too flash. Like an overly submissive wife it tries to do too much for me, and then abruptly runs out. This happened on the train. It seems to happen every time I am on my way somewhere. Anyway, met Keiran and Micah through luck alone, who took me to another NZers house. This is someone who has created a life for himself in Japan. It’s interesting seeing the types of people that do that.

Anyway, beers later we went to watch fireworks. This was my first Matsuri, or festival. It was so frickn lovely. Such a great atmosphere. People walking around in the summer heat under Japanese lanterns, eating chicken on a stick or fried octoballs (delicious). It’s like, a carnival without the trashiness, more like a school gala where families set up their stalls except it’s at night and there’s beer under blue tarps. It’s fantastic. Casually watched the longest fireworks I had ever seen (they have since been surpassed but it was the best for awhile) and generally just hung out eating things and soaking up the atmosphere. I can imagine how some people can feel on the outside in situations like this, but for me I felt so on the inside. Probably because I hijack peoples friends, families, and emotions. The sole fact that there were families there enjoying themselves made me feel like I was enjoying a family moment. Japanese childhoods must be so full of festival memories. It’s one of those childhood making places. I wonder what it is about certain atmospheres that make them stick in a child’s brain so that everyone seems to have similar feelings about them as adults. I even got bought a shaved ice. If I had ever been young in Japan, this is what I would remember. Unfortunately, I’m old, and this entry will probably surprise even myself in a couple of years. Pleasantly, though.

Alright. Got plum wine in a jar. Went to Saito. Everyone there was already drinking. Any possibility of a bad night went when Jordy was excited to see me. When you have such a new group you don’t expect to exist to other people, or if you do as some vague shade. It’s a process of gradually fleshing out forms. It’s always interesting looking back on first encounters. Who existed for you then, compared to who exists to you now. And who will exist in 2 months. And how they will exist.

Anyway. Pretty much just sat around and shot the shit. Tasted the most primitive drink I have ever had, some kind of mouth burning liquor with a SNAKE IN IT. We think we’re hard with our worms? Not anymore. Not until you’ve eaten a liquor snake. Don’t think anyone ate it though. One day I’ll be that hardcore. Probably on my last day on earth. No specified order of events.

Alright so we all headed out to a bar. This was a Nomihodai of epic proportions in that instead of a 2 hour time limit the all you can drink went until 5am. Again, I have to remember that this is a guide and not a challenge. This was my first encounter with Yakuza. At first I was nervous at their attention, but as time went on and they snapped their fingers over and again to get my glass refilled, this fear was replaced by acceptance, curiousity, Japanese lessons, back slapping jokes, and, finally, high-fiving over my tramp stamp.

Alright people in NZ already know that I struggle to stay awake at the best of times, and have no real stipulations on where and when I fall asleep. And this is just while sober. Cue 4am myself propped up on my arm at the bar, quite literally losing consciousness. As in, I passed out at a bar. It’s the stereotype, and it happened. Instead of throwing me out (unceremoniously, thanks Shed bouncer) the bar person merely moved my glass so I wouldn’t knock it over, and APOLOGIZED when I heard her and woke up. I just don’t know.

Well it was probably that point I needed outside time, luckily there is always someone in a very similar boat. Swimming Japanese stars are good Japanese stars. Stumbling home via the Southern Cross unfortunately, is no longer an option.

When the clock struck, five, like some sort of gasping parade of Cinderellas we walked home with the sun coming up, looking owlishly at the morning birds, who actually belonged. Stopped at 7/11 for breakfast and saw a hideous spider. Was too tired to really care. Slept in a car with the AC going, instead of the heater which is the usual NZ case. Switched it off partway through, due to my extensive flat-battery sleeping in cars training. Woke up feeling like a hot hungover blimp who tried to sleep in a car.