Monday, November 29, 2010

Day off, general exploration of Miyazaki

1st Nov
My supervisor is so awesome. Case in point: on our way to teach our next class he pauses on the stairs, turns to me, and says, “we are going to feed the animals.” I never thought I would find Japanese humour as funny as I do, but it really appeals because it is so unexpected and deadpan. It’s like, they are aware it’s a joke, but they say it seriously, just in case you do not get the joke and so if you don’t laugh it’s not obvious that you missed it. Unless I’m just laughing at serious things they’re saying. That could very well be the case.

Day off for mandatory counseling. Went to the city, pretty much talked about how awesome life is, then sat in the sun in a pretty council garden reading a book and watching the giant carp clustering at my feet. At first they were really cool, but then I started eating a sandwich and looking at their giant fish bodies and felt sick. While in the garden I heard American voices, (very rare) so I emerged to find that (of course) I knew them! Which was a lovely coincidence because I got to end up hanging out with Tristan and Steph for the rest of the day. We had lunch (where there was a cheese pizza you would have loved Rose), explored, and went to the international store, where I ended up spending about $30 NZD on tea and biscuits. Worth every cent.

From here I went back to the French restaurant and threw around some more monopoly money. When you’re paying for things in thousands, it’s hard to know the value of things. Anyway, delicious food, wine, and company. As per usual.

Off to a French lesson! It was here I realized just how much of high school I winged and how lucky I was to pass anything. My lackluster pronunciation must have made my old teacher go home and cry at night. That or my habit of bringing in lunch, kicking back my chair, and catching up with my friends - content in the knowledge that I would never meet a real live person who did not speak English. I am so lucky my students are not me.

Brain suitably destroyed, it was to Sascha’s to watch Evil Dead. I haven’t seen an old horror in years, and yes I still suck at them. Hotel with PROVIDED NIGHTIES and onigiri/miso buffet (those were the options). Brief look at the science museum, where I got to show further my incredible ignorance of the French language by getting ridiculously excited over “strawberry coffee” which turned out to be strawberry milk because, apparently, a French word next to a flavour doesn’t always automatically mean a type of coffee or wine. Who knew?

Went for a gorgeous hike in Kitago in my work clothes, then exploration of Nango, early dinner and home. We manage to pack so much into our days here, one day off felt like an entire holiday away. It also unfortunately means we never actually rest, unless it’s between the bare minimum of mandatory sleeping hours. Then again, who wants to rest when there’s so much to do!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

30th Oct - Halloween party!

30th Oct Halloween party
Travelled with Akemi to Miyakonojo for the Halloween party. Man I love traveling. Found an awesome drink called Slat. Here’s looking at you, kid. Everyone’s costumes were so impressive. And hilarious. I re-made the Robin one from NZ, because I ALWAYS have a good time in that costume. Tonight was no exception. If you have ever been part of a Gaijin group in Japan you know what it is to be stared at. If you have ever done this in a group of COSTUMED gaijin, then you REALLY know. Our appearance was an affront on all Japanese sensibility. If that wasn’t bad enough, we proceeded to get excitable, loud, and stumbly also.

From the moment we got to the party I knew it was going to be a good one. The dance circle had already started, and the place was set up like a club. You have no idea how rare an atmosphere like that is in the dirty south of Japan. If I had known how grateful I would be for one night of something akin to Taupo’s T&G before midnight on a Friday, I would have spent a lot more time actually making it to town.

Special highlights of the night include:
Extreme dance circling
Sweet lights
Jono the power ranger’s sick moves (NZ owned thankyou very much)
Everyone’s costumes, good taste and bad
Extreme drink circling
Learning Japanese “takusan nomimashita! Nomitaiiiiii!!” (I have drank enough/a lot. I want to drink.)
A childhood hero in a toilet
Wonderful friends (level achieved)
Learning 6 people spewed, one on his shoes – I belong here
Morning tempura.

I would include low points, but there weren’t any. Although I did decide over breakfast the next day I was settling down and starting a family. I’ll let you know when I’m accepting husband, children, dog and white fence applications.

Got a ride back to the city with Noah, Mari and John, with another sick sick conversation of the type I will always love. Stopped at the river, watched people swim, ate a strawberry that wasn’t a strawberry. Oh sweet nausea.

Sugar fix. Coffee. Conversation. Topics included but not limited to: sugar addiction, psychoanalysis, people, Japan, life situations, gaman, Japanese, Trash-ese, culture, nutrition, periods. We are nothing if not varied.

Sascha’s restaurant for dinner. Delicious food and great entertainment provided by a small child playing with love cuffs and doing action fight sequences. Still a little too fragile to partake.

Train home, complete with refusal to think about the very big elephant in the room, which happened to be that on my way up to Miyakonojo I had lost my keys. As in, the spare (and only remaining) bike key, complete with my apartment key (chained together in the futile hope that I would take care of it more if it was attached to something even more important). On my way up I had stressed, then entered a state of calm whereby I realized I could die that night and so keys would be of little practical value. Alas, the train ride home was harder to ignore my potential hotel booking/Devon waking/ outside sleeping options once arriving in Obi. And then next-day-Halloween-clothes-to-work-ing and bilingual groveling.

After a marginally uncomfortable hour, I arrived to find someone had found my keys and put them in my basket, complete with a big yellow note of (I imagine) irritated but indulgent Japanese. This act of kindness made my entire life and I think added something substantial to my worldview. World, if you had any doubt, you're going to be okay.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

28th Oct Typhoon and Nabe party!

28th Oct Nabe party!
Shin and Miyuki came round tonight for a Nabe party. Because I am so far from anything, in the four months I have been in Japan I have had four visitors. And one was to hook up the internet so I am probably counting him against his will. Because of this I am reasonably certain I have forgotten how to receive guests.

So, we went to get Nabe supplies and I took advantage of the situation to get typhoon supplies also. (Scheduled for that Saturday.) I came home from this mission with prunes, chocolate koalas, milk tea, frozen dumplings and two bottles of wine. Survival is inevitable.

The preparation for Nabe was really interesting. Basically, it’s assorted food, in a pot. But so much more than that. It’s arranged like a big flower with carefully planned amounts of different ingredients for the best culinary experience. Then you eat it. Like, 5 bowls or so of it. (Each.) Adding more ingredients. Then, you use the rest of the soupy stuff for noodles. It was also really good to listen to Japanese, not from an understanding point of view but just to get used to the general rhythm of conversation.

After eating, Shin and Miyuki went through my kitchen cupboards, the ones I had given up on after my first day in my apartment. They found even MORE junky appliances that I didn’t even know existed, complete with food and ants from before moving here. I was so disgusted I just wrapped them all up in a plastic bag to throw in the rubbish. Whether they work or not means nothing to me, particularly considering my dinners consist of a sandwich and a rice ball eaten on my bike on my way home from Kendo. When did we start needing all this technology?

They then proceeded to go through my food and read me the directions on all the packaging. I am supremely grateful for this, because most of it I had bought and then forgotten about because I didn’t know the first thing about it. It was during this exploration that we realized the curry I had cooked a couple weeks back was grossly misunderstood. I had unknowingly bought a ten person block of curry, proceeded to mix it with one and a half cups of water instead of one and a half litres, and put it on top of mochi, or pounding rice, to eat it. Mochi is rice that is designed to be pounded into rice paste, of a glue like consistency. When they found out I had forced that concoction down my throat two days in a row, Shin literally lay on the floor of my kitchen and cried, he was laughing so hard. After this they MADE SURE I understood the directions on everything, even going through my freezer, told me next week we were having a CURRY party, and left, leaving me to live out the typhoon. On their way out, they mimed hanging up on me if I called them mid-typhoon dying of starvation. I love Japan.

29th: Typhoon. Didn’t happen. Thank goodness! During the week my supervisors had been printing out maps and weather images for me, drawing in our imminent destruction in red pen for my benefit. At first I was like, “zomg this will be my first typhoon XD!”, and then my supervisor was like, “if it comes. It will be a catastrophe for many people.” Anticipation of 5th birthday-like proportions for natural disasters is not good, guys. Stop it. It was horrible weather all night, I was sick, stayed indoors with vitamin C and wine, and listened to the rain. The next day, scheduled typhoon day, was bright and sunny.

Which means, halloweeeeeeen!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

25th Oct week of work

25th Oct.
So tired. Nothing a cup of tea can’t fix. Today I was told to dress formally for a staff photo. Realized halfway through the day that for me formal had = a little bit slutty. Looks like the Japanese scandalization has started seeping in!

I explained to the girls at Kendo what the English word “sweat” meant. There is a sports drink here called Pocari Sweat, so now they know why I find it so hilarious. Something I found interesting was more than their shock at finding out the meaning of the word, was their shock that people the rest of the world over didn’t drink it. They genuinely had no idea it was a Japanese thing. Indeed, a Japanese novelty that every foreigner wants to write home about or take a photo the first time they try it. (Just me? Okay.)

Also realized in Kendo we are only building up one leg. Every day a ladder is laid on the ground and we have to hop backwards and forwards over it, on our left legs only. One calf is going to be giant and I am going to have the maddest gangster swagger ever.

Accidentally let it slip to my supervisor when he caught me staring out the window that I am sometimes called a space cadet. We then looked it up in the dictionary together, discussed slang, and he taught it to his classes for the next week. Now students refer to me with it by name. He also asked me about my usage of “sweet” after I let it slip in the classroom. Now whenever I hand out a worksheet with a picture on it (I draw cartoons for my kids) he calls them my sweet pictures. Aww. One of the teachers who I don’t even teach with asked me to draw the answer for an exam question, and included it in the student exams with my name on it. Famous much?

Everyday I am given two notebooks from students who I don’t teach but want to improve their English. They write whatever they feel like, I make corrections, and write back. I love it. One of them is so wise. In her limited English she has managed to portray really intelligent concepts such as harmony with nature, the Japanese culture (and, how Japanese see their own culture) and the importance of connecting with people. I’m actually having real conversations with her, which is amazing. Also created a twitter account for my students, which I have tweeted on a grand total of three times.

One of my students said “I love you” in class today as I was walking between the desks. When I turned around they all acted like nothing had happened. Ah, I’m in a high school after all. They have also learned that if they make me laugh during the pronunciation test, I cannot pronounce the words. Makes for hilarious times and possibly the most self control I’ve ever had to exercise. On my way up the stairs after my last activity today I tripped, in front of 3 students. I think they were afraid at first to do anything, but I laughed my ass off so they did too. I don’t know how anyone can take me seriously as a shaper of minds.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

18th Oct work and 20th Oct weekend

Updating twice today in a desperate bid to get up to date.

18th Oct
Because my bike was stuck at the station without a key, I walked to work. I went to kendo, where my muscle memory finally clicked and things started to go smoothly. I even got told “good” which made the entire walk home in the dark worth it. Later on in the week the teacher who owns the bike gave me the spare key, so if I lose that I may as well go ahead and commit seppuku.

20th. Sore muscles from Kendo. Saw my first growling today! The poor student got bailed up in the staff office with about 3 burly gym teachers taking turns to get extremely angry at him. I’m not sure what it was about but one of them pulled his hair so it might have been about that.

Went home early on Friday. Had a nice night with wine in the bath and a jigsaw puzzle. Had there been Burger King I may very well have fallen deeply in love with myself.

On Saturday I got a ride with Holly to the city, where I went for a bit of a wander. Randomly saw Shin and Miyuki on the other side of the street. Japan is just like this, we are spread out hours from one another but still see each other everywhere. They showed me the English section in two bookstores over Miyazaki, a favour akin to giving me a firstborn in my eyes. I have never been so happy to see English print. I bought a bilingual book on the history of Kendo, a JLPT study book, a bilingual version of a kids manga (Doraemon), a book on the soul of Japan, and a book by Kurt Vonnegut which (like many of his books) was hilarious, tender and horribly depressing all at the same time.

For the rest of the day we kept randomly running into other JETs, so we decided to all meet up for dinner. The place we went to was Mediterranean, and I must admit I got quite a startle when the owner replied to our casual English conversation in English of his own. It’s easy to become complacent here, to talk about whatever you want whenever you want, in the misleading security of thinking noone around you understands.

Tonight was good in that I got to chat with a lot of people that I don’t see very often. Even though there are such a limited number of us, it is easy to chill with the same sub-sector. I enjoyed branching out and getting to know everyone a little bit better. Also, the mojitos were delicious.

Up early and off to a shochu factory in Takanabe that we had been invited to by Chris, a 5th year. Still not entirely used to the concept of doing things during the day on weekends that isn’t writhing around in empty McDonalds wrappers. This was a sweet potato picking place, and when we got there I realized the food cooked by “dutch oven” that we were going to eat was hangi food. Ohhhhhhh hells yeah. Also given beer. I think Japan is just asking me to be an alcoholic.

The best part about this event was the amount of kids running around. I teach at a high school so it’s easy to forget my novelty in a Japanese kid’s eyes. So we ended up with about 10 kids following us around in ranging ages, prattling away in Japanese and making fun of the way we talked. When we sat, they clustered around us. At first I was a tiny bit uncomfortable, I was a lumbering giant who does not know how to talk to children and afraid I would step on them, but their curiosity was just too endearing to deny.

I ended up making a good friend, I’ll put a picture of her on here later. She was about 8 years old and already knew about 300 Kanji. She was one of those kids who you can look at, even at that age, and think – you are going to go far. She sat down next to me and quite seriously taught me Japanese colours, telling time, and some new Kanji by drawing with her finger on the table. She managed to do all of this in expressive Japanese and the help of John, who rapidly became “translator-san!” and was often beckoned over by her hand. If I have a kid, that’s the kind I want. I really had to listen hard for this and it was good practice for me not to be able to fall back on the other person’s English. You think your knowledge of Japanese is nothing until you realize you’ve spent the last hour making yourself understood to a bunch of kids. I don’t know if I could teach elementary, because it was exhausting, but at least now I can see the definite values of it. You have to have thick skin though. The size of our noses, our wide mouths butchering Japanese words, our height, our love lives, all of this is subject to careful (and public) scrutiny. Through mime, if your Japanese is wanting.

24th. Took a terribly late train home. I got to spend it with Shin though, which made it worth it. I shared my multitude of train snacks, reinforcing again the fact that I do not stop eating in Japan. He taught me Japanese “mo mori, kaeritai!” which means, I give up, I want to go home! This phrase has come in very useful. We also opened up my JLPT study book for the first time. I was disheartened at first, because it has no English next to the Japanese. Shin quickly made it become clear though, and we managed to work through quite a few of the questions, despite my tiredness and awful student concentration. I can’t believe how much easier study is in a relaxed, social environment. I had a huge laughing fit when he mimed me falling asleep and my brains leaking out from studying. Then, in perfect timing, a fly landed on me as if I had died. We laughed so hard we cried.

Obi Festival - 16th Oct weekend

16th, Obi Festival.
This weekend was the Obi festival and probably my first weekend actually spent in Obi since I got here. Taking advantage of the proximity I cleaned my apartment and wandered down the road where the festival was taking place. It was set up quite literally within the ancient castle grounds (also just down the road – insert jealousy here), which was an interesting sense of history. The huge stone steps which had once been trodden over by warring soldiers were now lit up with fairy lanterns and covered in people milling around eating waffles and candy apples. I saw a whole bunch of my students, which was nice as I usually only see them hurrying to and from school. I was somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of holding a beer while talking to people whose minds I am helping shape, but apparently the drinking culture here is such that everyone does it, everyone understands it, and noone mentions it. I suppose as long as I am not sitting on the ground obnoxiously yelling at them, it’s the equivalent of a wine at the dinner table.

Well the festival closed down somewhat early so we milled for a bit, then headed over to Aburatsu on the train to a fun snack bar where we played, of all things, red black. A snack bar is somewhat expensive, but you are paying not only for drinks but entertainment. The people behind the bar do their best to occupy you by playing games, making jokes, asking questions, refilling drinks. It is an awesome idea, but also saddens me a little bit in that loneliness is so prevalent in Japanese society that there is now a massive marketing niche for it.

When it became time for home, I got a ride with Shin, Miyuki and Devon via McDonald’s. Here followed one of my funniest conversations in Japan. Among other things, two topics that come to mind are how I burn my toast without fail every morning, and came to Japan with a fat face. I’m not really sure how these became so entertaining except that instead of using my limited Japanese I use ridiculously contorted gestures to mime. In this instance it was of course the Tiffany Allan special of burning toast and, well, having a fat face. The latter began because we were talking about weight gain in Japan, and Shin told me I looked as if I had lost weight. We were trying to figure out why he would think this considering my time here has been one continuous meal, then realized that my ID photo, taken on my first day in Obi, shows up my swollen wisdom tooth in such a light that I do actually look like a rather plump specimen. I came home from this outing glowing from animated conversation and with a raspy voice. You know you’ve been obnoxious when your voice begins to lose range in the ‘yelly’ level.

17th. Up early with a hangover and the sunlight to see the Obi parade. It took freaking forever, as if they were sending each float down the entire length of the street before starting the next one on its way. In direct sunlight and chu-hi mouthed proportions, this is not the opportune activity it seems. Nevertheless, there were sweet traditional dances, geisha, costumes, and a SAMURAI ON A GIANT HORSE. I also saw a float made by my students and got to wave at all the teachers walking stiffly in their suits while I scandalized the elderly population in a summer dress. Physically unable to deal with the heat and vertical position any longer, Devon and I went to a nearby lunch place where I got my sugar fix and began to feel alive. We met up with Kelly, Muqing and Lola who had been in the parade and off drinking shochu, and proceeded to (once again) eat our way through the festival, which had resumed. I very nearly came home with a pet turtle. They had those goldfish tank catching games, presumably of the type which had been outlawed at carnivals around the world, not just with goldfish but with turtles. As in, you scoop one into a plastic bag and it is yours. A touch different from the $100 a pop household turtles of NZ.

As it grew darker I saw more of my students, who told me as I struggled to open my Japanese lemonade “Japanese boys know” and opened it for me. Then we watched an American enka singer who looks gangster but sounds Japanese. Very cool.

I also lost my bike key, so taxied home.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

13th Oct, work and bike fun

The overlap is beginning where I have been writing about things that happened so long ago with views that are current. Good in that you don’t get in the moment emotional rampages but bad in that I’m finding I’m repeating myself a little bit and the writing feels tired, somehow. Still, not much I can do, except write faster.

13th Oct. Went to make eggs today and realized they were two weeks overdue. Now, I had been pretty sure that I had been buying eggs every week. Which leaves me with the burning question: What have I been doing in the last two weeks if it has not involved eggs or grocery shopping?

Ate them anyway. (With the overdue milk- I should not live alone).

14th. Lots of spare time at work today. Used it for writing and extreme study.

After work, biked to Aburatsu on two flat tyres, where Kelly pumped them for me. You’re supposed to do this regularly, I’ve learned. Who knew? Found this out from texting my little sister (in NZ – she is the guru) asking how to go about changing them. Naturally assumed that once they went down I needed to buy new ones. Relieved this is not the case and somewhat impressed by the human race as a whole for imagining such a handy contraption. (New friends may or may not realize what NZ readers already know, in that I have a complete ignorance of the world around me in startling contrast to the academic (and now working) roles I find myself in.)

15th, dinner with the Nichinan girls. Always nice to catch up. Saw a student I literally cried laughing at in class that week as he (earnestly) mimed actions from cards I had written. Professionalism for the win. Also saw my Kendo instructor, after Muqing bailed up his daughter in a 7/11 asking if she worked there after she had come out from the toilet. Guess I’m going to be getting a beating this week.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weekend of October 10th, all-nighter in Miyazaki and Takanabe lantern festival

8th. Received a random invitation at work to go to the city for the night. Sure! It was raining hard so reminded me a lot of going out in NZ. Weather does not get in the way of outrageousness. We took the train into the city, which consisted of a couple rounds of chu-hais (like, shochu RTDs) and some snacks, like being in a bar, but in train seats. Upon arriving in the city one hour and some hilarious photos later, we began with dinner, which with a couple drinks lasted until about midnight. From here we went to an underground bar, which was actually like a real live bar! It had a dance floor and gangster music and everything. Of course, no one was dancing, but we soon sorted that right out. There was even red bull and vodka, it was like Finn’s except on a Tuesday, when it’s just you and some mates in your trackpants and work shirt because you didn’t expect to find such a sweet groove.

One baby tequila shot later, we were back on the street to find another establishment. Two of the people we were with (Japanese so not culturally wrong) ran up and pushed over a stack of bikes like dominoes. It was so bad but so so funny. We wandered looking for a Purikura machine that would accommodate our drunk asses, but could find none so all piled into a 24 hour passport photo machine. I have no idea what happened to that photo but I bet it’s just magical.

Onto a random Russian bar at 4am for a night-cap. We were all starting to fade fast at this stage, and the serious conversation of the merits of hotel vs. waiting for the 5.30 train was entered into and discussed at length. Deciding on the hotel, we caught a taxi out to the smutty area of town (sex toy and underwear machine type smutty) to a love hotel. Our reasoning was that because of the anonymity (the receptionist is behind a curtain so she only ever sees your hands you dirty dirty partaker), if one person paid and 4 people snuck in silently behind them, we could get everyone into the same room. We made it all the way up the lift and into the room before the phone rang and they told us there were cameras. Sigh. Sweet photo though – their only free room happened to be the S&M one, complete with red cage in the corner.

From this slight failure we carried on to McDonalds, for a 5am breakfast and (for me) a tiny upright nap. Finally we got on the train at 5.30, after a night of epic proportions. Waking up in my station an hour later, sweaty, gritty and red eyed, I got to say a hoarse good morning to my students, who were on their way to school.

Collapse into taxi. Home. Sleep. Wake. Poop. Sleep. Wake. Eat. Watch Glee. Weep. Eat. Sleep. Day gone.

Takanabe! Went for a lovely walk in the sun. Met John, had coffee at an awesome Jazz bar. He’s right, you walk in and are instantly transformed by the atmosphere. There is no outside, no responsibilities. Just Jazz, coffee, chilled out hosts, and my terrible Japanese.

Onwards to the lantern festival! This was beautiful. I’m so glad I made it, it’s definitely been the prettiest festival so far. There were literally hundreds of paper lanterns, made into sweet patterns and all over the ground for you to walk amongst. We met up with a bunch of other foreigners and pretty much dominated everything. I ate a squid on a stick. The Taiko was the most intense I have seen yet, there is really no way to explain it without sounding like an aboriginal.

Onto the enkai, learning a sweet game to improve your Japanese. It is much like the next word with the same letter as the end of the first word game, except …Japanese. This was also the birthplace of the –tion game, where you pretty much excitedly drink whenever anyone things of a –tion word. If you don’t think this sounds like the epitome of fun then you are not really living.
Had been feeling a bit ill all weekend, so this outing probably did not much help. However, the best cocoa I have ever had did improve things greatly. It was so good it didn’t even feel real, like some sort of nostalgia for that time I lived in a kid’s book of fairy tales.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kendo and teaching week of October 5th

Week of Oct 5th
Today in Kendo I got my foot taped by a student who saw my blister (left foot, rip under big toe and half of top pad sliding around). She sat me down, got the scissors, cut off the entire pad of my foot and threw it in the bin behind her. Then she sprayed some intense freeze drying shit on the raw part, taped it over, and melted the tape closed with a gas torch. Then she gave me back my Shinai to train for two hours. Everyone gets that exact same blister though. Then it turns into a callous, or a permanent open part. It’s the same on your left hand.

Kendo is hard for me not only physically but mentally. Not knowing the language can make it supremely frustrating not to know what is expected in a sport where the expectations are so precise. Sometimes, when the instructor has to stride over and physically move me, it is hard to figure out why I am there. Even so, I can feel some sort of improvement. Today I was even invited to attack the instructor. He hits me and yells at me in Japanese, but (amidst the terror) I like that he forces me to be more than I’m willing to be.

I also have my first backlog of work. I actually really like my job. Today I had a post-it on my desk asking if a teacher could come and talk grammar with me third period. HECK YES YOU CAN. I think I’ve already mentioned in these grammar conversations, I don’t know how we can expect people to learn English. The rules are so obscure and fidgety. I read an interesting article on how becoming bilingual is like gaining another soul, because of the impact of language on life/world view. Unfortunately I have to know Japanese to know for sure. Will keep you all posted.

Later in the week.
I felt sorry for the students in today’s pronunciation test, as the distinctions were between words like “pool” and “pull”. Come on now. Every self respecting NyuZilnda knows they are said exactly the same.

I’m learning you can’t take it all too seriously. You can’t teach a student a word and then feel responsible for all future use of that word. I keep wanting to be like, yes, it means this, but it also means this. And in some situations it even means This. But don’t say it to this person on this given day in this given weather. I suppose I’ve just got to have a little faith, enough to let my children out into the world with what I have taught and trust the world to fill in the gaps, to understand. And if you don’t, I will consume you. Not really. But to see how badly these kids want to communicate, and then how easily they are put off, is really heart rending. In half my kids notebooks they express the wish to go to America, listing all the athletes, movies, foods and popular culture they are burning to see over there. But then they continue that they never will, because they cannot speak English. (In English.) How sad is that?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weekend of 1st October, Nichinan party and jazz concert

Weekend of 1st October. Went for dinner with Julian and Naho in which they introduced me to instestines. Actually not bad. Continued to a houseparty at Holly’s which was a great gathering of quality people, as per usual. Generally sat around and ate everything. Not used to parties with so many snacks! More used to a bag of chips that someone spills on the floor and then a 3am ten course meal of everything in the fridge when the ravenous hunger seeps into the haze.

Of course the funnel arrived. Welcome to Nichinan funnels! They are so intense. Not just beer but cocktails, whiskey, food, plum wine, whatever is at hand. The mixed funnel of goodness. Learnt some awesome Japanese drinking games and re-played a couple good NZ ones with Julian’s help. Ah the memories. In my notebook I have written “I have never no longer such a great game.” Wise words.

From here we went to karaoke, where it was slightly outrageous. Someone (I will not name names) came back from the toilet wrapped as a mummy. Someone else fell off the table. What was he/she doing on the table? Setting the general tone I believe.

Well kick-out time means coffee and walk home time, which I got to do with Holly, always quality conversation. Then we all sat around talking about girls. And lay under the stars talking about peak states. A lovely end to an outrageous night.

The next day we all retreated to our separate holes to attend to our hangovers. I did my jigsaw puzzle, listened to music, and tried to make chips, which ended with me weeping into raw potato slices. The day/night improved however, with a touch of wine and a skype conversation with Rebekah. At about midnight, I heard noises outside my door. It sounded suspiciously like… puking. Of course such a thing was only a conclusion jumped to by an NZ mind and not fitting in Japan, so I passed it off as coughing. Then I heard banging, shuffling, leaning on my door, grunting and sighing. I passed it off as a wild animal or someone coming home from a tough jog.

The next day there was a pile of puke outside my door. Ah, nostalgia. The puke was like, solid. Like, porridge in the microwave too long. I actually felt sorry for the guy, to throw up something like that must have been like throwing up a sock. Rather than any sort of irritation, I was just somewhat relieved as I stepped over it that people are the same all over the world. Sometimes you just have to.

Off to the city. As I was in the station, someone approached me for a chat in English. This happens often, foreigners are so rare and some people are just dying to try out real live English on a real live native speaker. I absolutely love it. Anyway, in this instance, we chatted for a bit, and when I went to leave I got hugged. Now, this is a very rare occurence in Japan so I was very impressed. What was less impressive was that it turned into a slight hug rape, where it lingered and turned into some sort of swooping dive for the face. Thanks to clubbing in Taupo I used my extensive evasion techniques, bowed, and beat a hasty retreat, all without losing any semblance of ordinariness. Still, an incredibly odd thing to happen at midday in a train station in Japan.

From here I went for a wander. I think earlier on (much earlier) in this blog I mentioned that Devon took me to a tea shop where a man gave us fans just because we looked hot. I went back to this same shop today, and met the man‘s wife, who sat me down, served me tea and delightful English conversation. She told me about this incredibly rare coffee made from the poo of an animal that looks a bit like a possum. It selects only the best coffee beans to eat, then doesn’t digest them, and is followed around by some coffee experts with a trowel, I imagine.

After this I met up with John, and we went to Rebekah’s shop. This is an incredible shop. I am constantly impressed and surprised by the sheer variety of interests and places to cater to them here. This shop is focused basically on old French things. There are ancient christening gowns, tobacco tins, even postcards in French. So delightful. I even found a French version of Gulliver’s travels and an old grammar book. ´╝Čiterary geeks unite in all languages! How does she get all this amazing stuff? She goes to Paris. How fantastic is life. I was given a boutiquey hairtye with gorgeous beads. I wish I had more to give. My gratitude grows everyday.

Today I had my first rice wrapped in meat ball. I can’t remember what they are called but they are literally, rice, wrapped in meat, wrapped in cheese, wrapped in a lettuce leaf. 4 food groups – done. I was still recovering from this deliciousness (I dropped some on my own toes in my excitement) when Micah picked us up to go to a Jazz concert. Again, I am astounded by the variety of interests and things to cater. I think if everyone at home had like 10 interests and all the places to cater to them, we would be alright. As it happens, we don’t.

While I have been here I have been introduced to a lot of Jazz. It’s big here, not only for Japanese but among a lot of the other JETs. I can’t figure out why it’s such a small presence in NZ. To be honest, it is not what I would listen to often. I find it gets a little chaotic for my (slightly damaged) eardrums. But there are definite moments I enjoy and this concert was one of them, if half for the atmosphere. (And company).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An essay for my students

Okay so every week an essay goes out to the students from one of the teachers. It's generally an inspirational, stay in school type thing. This week was my turn!

Dear students,

You are already great students. You are already great people. You can only be the best that you are because there is no one out there who can do it better. So you have already won!

I know at times school can seem hard. Try to keep your mind open and take in as much as you can. One day, maybe ten years from now, you will find yourself remembering moments from your school life and you never know what those moments will be. It may be the colour of your rugby spikes. It may be meeting your best friend for the first time. It may be three words of a chemistry lesson or you may suddenly understand those two years of algebra. It may even be (and I do hope so!) a couple words of English you can use on a lost foreigner. So much of what you learn here you may not think of again until one of these moments. But these moments are the ones that make your life and we as your teachers hope to give them to you.

There will come a time in your life when you no longer need to learn. You will be an adult, even if you don’t feel like one, and people will no longer try to teach you things. What I ask of you then is this: don’t stop learning. See High School as a foundation, a taste of what you can learn. If there is one word in one lesson in one day that interested you, follow it! You don’t just have to learn facts or music or sports. You can learn about people, about life, about anything. Learning does not have to be structured and it does not have to ever end. Keep an open mind; see every day as a chance to add to yourself. You never know when you are creating a memory and you never know when what you learn will become for a moment the most important thing in the world.

From Tiffany

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Week of work 27th-30th September (note a month or so in the past)

27th September.
Not sure who’s energy I used today but there was a lot of it and it wasn’t mine. I probably sucked it from the universe right out of some starving kid in Africa and for that I apologize.

Didn’t have much written down today but at school a student came up to me after class to talk about music, (a massive breakthrough of extreme student shyness and language barrier smashing proportions). At Kendo I cultivated my first giant blister on the sole of my foot. On my way out the gate I called a student by name when he said goodbye (he’s a naughty one so I remembered it) and he just stopped in absolute shock. The look on his face and noise he made was worth EVERYTHING. As I biked down the hill another student yelled out “I love you!” Because it’s in English it’s like the way I use Japanese words, I have no idea of context so I just yelp whatever I’ve been taught and hope it fits. Entertaining.

28th September.
Tired today. No class but SO MUCH marking. Felt awesome to finish the stack though. Cheap thrills. I also found that someone had noticed that I drank black tea instead of green and bought a sampler box of like 5 different types of black and put it in the tea cupboard. It was so touching I nearly got a tear.

Went to Kendo tired, which is a massive mistake, but got put into armour for the first time. My teacher took me to the mirror and was like “okay?” Then he tied a cloth on my head and was like, “today, this is you.” Good feeling. Still having to be pulled up on etiquette pretty much everyday.

The student I called by name yesterday turned up at the Dojo (training room) after his baseball club, wearing an ALL BLACKS t-shirt! I could imagine this happening maybe anywhere that wasn’t my tiny Samurai valley town. So of course we were both wildly excited at this connection but still shit at each other’s languages, but the communication was near perfect. He mimed giants, then made explosion noises on his muscles to describe our rugby team. Hilarious. I also got taught some local words (because I’m in the South the Japanese is a bit different to mainstream Japanese.) In Nichinan alone, the word for tired is “dareta”. The word for sick/feeling crap is “oyoban”. So now not only can I be misunderstood in English in Japan, I can be misunderstood in Japanese also!

I don’t teach this student, but now that we have spoken, every morning when I am at my foot locker changing shoes to enter the staffroom, I will hear a little cough from the top floor of the classrooms while all 499 other students are sitting silently. When I look up, he waves out the window. Every morning. This is why I love my school.

29th September
Tired again, my lesson went down well though. It was on gestures and body language around the world and took ages to research and make from scratch, but I’m glad I did it as it was 10x more interesting than my textbook. In the words of my anatomy teacher in Chicago, “be interested and your students will find you and everything you do interesting.” Excellent advice - not just for teaching.

Sore muscles, but no Kendo today. Went and looked at another teacher’s postcards, he loves to travel and buys 100 postcards from every destination he goes to. It made me want to visit places I never thought I’d want to see. Places like Turkey, Singapore, even Korea and China. It’s weird, (and horribly stereotypical) I never thought of those places before as being beautiful.

30th September
Finished my first notebook! Still over a month behind in the typed version.
Today was one of my supervisor’s birthdays. She sits next to me and we teach together 6 times a week. She is so sweet. I gave her a Paua, it was good to see it go to a good home.

Marking is so mentally draining. I don’t mind correcting, but when it comes to grading and trying to be fair right across the board I have no idea how teachers do it. I hate giving bad marks! And even though it’s written totally wrong, whenever a student uses a lovely word or has a lovely meaning, I have to hold my red pen strong.

Been reading a bit this week, really should write something amazing of my own.

1st October
Today some students came up to the office with a pile of marking and recited “Hello, my name is (name). I am from (Homeroom number). Please mark our handouts!” When they passed it to me I saw the first page was a literal transcription of this conversation, written by their teacher. CUTEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN.

23rd-26th September, shrine, work, city, Nobeoka

23rd September

Day off. Spent the day cleaning, got one whole window sparkling! Well, the years worth of grime out of the runners anyway. Went grocery shopping for fun (and it is, there are still so many exciting things to try). Stopped at a shrine on my way home to eat my lunch on the steps. Was nice to have time alone, even though I usually need company to live. At the shrine I wasn’t sure how far in you are allowed to go, because everywhere seems private (even restaurants are like closed up little houses) but there is no real sense of “out of bounds” in Japan. And if there is, it usually has some sort of worker with white gloves employed specifically for the purpose of telling you just that. Anyway there was no one there so I ventured right to the back. (This shrine is like an empty house) It’s an odd sense of history. It’s like walking into someone’s house, kneeling at –their- alter, and recalling their prayers. There was a groove in the wood where people had bent their heads. Odd to have shared that, yet I may never find out what that shrine is for.

It’s nice that I can be so close to both forest and sea. At the beach there’s this feeling of being open, of enveloping the world, resting on other continents. In places like this shrine up in the hills it’s a feeling of being enveloped by the world, the leaves and trees closing over to give you a moment hidden.

24th Sept.
Today at school one of the gym teachers was wearing a T-Shirt that said “Run with the naked”.

We also had an emergency drill. One of my supervisors came up to me totally deadpan and said “We will have a fire and an earthquake. In 25 minutes.” “A fire AND an earthquake?” “Yes.” At the drill I could feel everyone’s discomfort in that in an emergency you are not allowed to stop at your foot locker and change into your outdoor shoes. You also cannot go barefoot. Your only option then, is to wear your indoor shoes outside L. On my way out I saw many teachers sidling along the walkways, one guiltily wearing gym shoes, and a cluster reluctantly pressing their backs against a building as if just touching it counted as “in”. When the drill was over there was a collective sigh of relief and rush to the taps to cleanse the soles.

Tonight I headed into the city for my Japanese lesson, and had such a nice wander that I decided to stay until the late train. I stopped into a lovely French restaurant, where everyone spoke French, Japanese, and not English. Still, I had probably the best meal and wine of my life, and managed conversation for a good few hours in all three languages. Mostly English because their “no English” is better than my “one year of French and currently living in Japan”. Such a lovely family. When I looked at my watch and saw that the last train had left two hours previous, they called a hotel for me, and then their niece walked me to the hotel to make sure I got in safely. Japan what have I done to deserve you?

25th Sept.
Woke up to a beautiful day in Miyazaki city. Went for a walk in the sun. I think the reason we love Japan so much is that we can trust it not to hurt us. The air is soft and warm (pollution jokes if you like). No one will yell at us or shoulder past or be aggressive in any sort of way. Everyone is thinking of each other, all the time. If you are afraid they are afraid for you. Even at construction sites there are people employed to stand out the front so that you don’t accidentally wander into a dangerous place. There are blind pathways everywhere. (Those knobbly yellow tracks on footpaths). For the one blind man out of maybe 100 people, a road anywhere. Your existence doesn’t end at the side of the road or where it forks. In Japan there is always a path under your feet, people to know where you are going even if you do not.

I don’t have it written down but I think today was the day I went out for lunch with Miles and Kate. If it was, it was superb sushi and delicious company.

After this Jordy picked me up and we went up to Nobeoka for the night to stay with Tracey, Lilly and Matthew. This was a wonderful girl’s night full of hair dying, wine, smack talking and hanging out. Nobeoka is a fantastic city made better by great company. Definitely refreshing to hangout with girls (and one ultra chill male sorry Matt) and a feeling of acceptance that depends on nothing. How refreshing. We also met a Russian mail order bride who depressed us endlessly but made up for it by scoring us a free pizza. Rectified in my eyes.
The drive home with Jordy was a late but awesome one. I got to listen to some hilariously insightful talk radio and have a dreadfully intellectual conversation. Also had Baskin Robbins ice cream OH HELLS YES.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

18-20th September Aoshima beach party and Takanabe

This weekend was a beach party about an hour away. Before hopping on the train I packed some camp snacks and stopped at a 7/11 for a wee bot of wine. In the store, the lady asked if I would like it wrapped. I assumed, wrap = brown paper alcoholic not break in your bike basket bag. Not so. 5min later I was presented with the same bottle of 16 buck chuck (a step above the 6 buck but not a big one) in pretty cellophane with a beautiful hand curled ribbon around the neck. What could I do but tell them it was beautiful? And not mention that not a drop of it would see a glass.

Upon arriving in Aoshima I wandered for a touch, looking for the beach. Next thing an elderly man has pulled up next to me with his wife. They begin to speak to me in Japanese, and I, ever the enthusiast, begin replying in my broken Japanese English hybrid. What I thought was a casual conversation quickly turned to me being ushered into a nearby office, where they called out a poor woman to help them communicate with me. Of course she knew no English either, so for about 20min I was made to sit quietly while they discussed me in rapid fire Japanese, turning occasionally to stare at me until I uttered a meek “hai?” then they would turn back and continue. All I could really make out were the words “alone” “camping” and “no food”. I explained with some sort of vague hand waving that I was meeting others. At that, I was quickly ushered back out onto the street and into their car. Stranger danger! I assumed they were showing me to the beach, but we drove for about 20min AWAY from the beach, and stopped at a resort where they tried to book me a room. Suitably panicked at this point, I called another JET who told me the Japanese for beach. They drove me back the way we came, PAST the beach and back to the office, where I assume we were to have another “conversation”. At this point, touched by their earnestness, I was about ready to cry with frustration and when I saw a Gaijin couple exit the train station I pointed and pretty much shrieked “tomadachi!” I said a profuse thank you as quickly as I could in case they decided to kidnap all three of us, then went and pretended to talk to two complete strangers who had no idea what JET or the beach party even was. In point, I used them as a shield from the eager, touching, and sometimes terrifying nuances of Japanese hospitality.

From this encounter, leaving the foreign couple somewhat nonplussed, I continued on my beach finding exploits. (Straight line). It was well worth it. The beach itself was beautiful, like an exotic island. There was even a wedding taking place, complete with beautiful flowers. I saw for the first time, growing, real versions of those fake lei flowers we sling around at winter parties where we pretend it’s summer and drink ten times our usual amount because the cocktails are pretty and people get their grass skirts lit on fire. Although I had found the beach I was still feeling fragile so when I saw Sam and a couple of his friends I was never so glad to see some pasty foreign faces in all my life. I then had the best swim in the world. And got called a cheesy Kiwi. Sunshine cheeseburger strikes again.

The beach party itself was quite subdued, but in a good, we’re on a beach sort of a way. It was good to be able to talk to so many people. Miles and Kate (Australians) bought me a bottle of Australian wine, which was lovely of them! Also convenient. We had a lovely down under toast with all the Aussies and NZers. (One.) I got to bond with Jordy, an enabling substitute who is saved in my phone as “stain sister”. I also finally got to meet Martine, who had been sending me emails while I was NZ and was an absolute gold mine of information and reassurances for the trip to Japan. So grateful and so good to put that influence in flesh form.

Side note: Down the beach was a big international beer festival. Considering I am not supposed to have gluten this was slightly painful on the heart strings, but I did meet some NZ ex-pats there. It was great to see people who have made themselves a life here.

Next day.
So beautiful and overwhelming to wake up and open your tent to the ocean. Worth everything. It was also a great chat with everyone as they emerged to bask in the awesome together.

Well, Aoshima over, I still had a spare change of clothes and a day off, so I went with Tracey and John further north to Takanabe. I was surprised and impressed by the car conversation, it seems hangover conversation around the world centers on the spiritual, the hilarious, and the downright taboo. I always thought it was a NZ (trash) thing, so I am glad to see it here.

On the way to Takanabe I had a weird experience in that we found a beautiful swimming spot at a river, like the clearest and most fern-gully-esque spot you could imagine, and once in the river I was terrified. Like, bone terror. Maybe it was the silence, the lack of visibility (high mountain walls) but I just felt this sickening horror. For some reason it centered on the realization that ohmygodIdon’tknowiftherearehipposorcrocodilesinJapanandI’minariver, but (although formidable) they aren’t exactly the most common panic inducing factor in life. I made myself stay in the water anyway. As I will always make myself stay!

From here we continued on, and once in Takanabe went to visit a shrine with a lovely clear little field of grass. You don’t realize how much you miss paddocks when all there are for miles are rice paddies and instead of front lawns people just have jungles. It was nice just to sit and be.

A big thing I was struck by this weekend was just how easy it was to hangout. I don’t know if we get along because we have to, or because we’re similar minded, but I am talking with these people as if we have spent years seeing the best and worst in each other. Perhaps it’s not a case of ignoring your interests for the people who are near but your interests taking you toward the people you should have been near all along. Also came up with a solution to World aggression which is oxytocin. There is an impossibility of anger with hair touching. Imagine if you will a bunch of soldiers before war lying around braiding one another's hair and resting. We don't feel like killing today.

After a lovely dinner out I got to fall asleep listening to John on the fiddle and Tracey on the guitar. Bless. There is something about string instruments and violin and cello in particular that just pulls me. After a healthy gluten free breakfast the next day and watching some hilarious British show that I have forgotten the name of, we went to see Takanabe beach. And oh my god. It’s exactly like Pukehina. So much so that it hurt a little bit. It was far too easy to believe my friends or family were setting up a barbeque and cricket just around the corner. I went for a walk and experienced probably my first substantial homesickness (amidst, of course, my supreme gratitude to be there). It was terribly hard to turn back and be in Japan. Luckily John and Tracey were waiting and they are just wonderful.

Well after this it was about time for me to take myself home. On arriving at Miyazaki station, a man saw me looking at the sign and helped me in his broken English to find my train. This kind of thing means so much to me. I also saw Shin, who makes my day everytime I just see his face. Some people just can’t help but be uplifting. On the train, with salt crusted hair, I looked out my window and saw Miyazaki city’s fireworks. I couldn’t believe my luck, it was so surreal. It was like the last grand finale of this cheesy 80s honeymoon movie that had been my weekend. All this country has done is cater to me, to an idea of perfection I didn’t even know I had and hadn’t even begun to dream.