Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fukuoka! Plus Feb 11th-18th


City. Bought a bunch of tea and books, probably my two favourite things in the world aside from people. Got on the bus to FUKUOKA, biggest city in Kyushu and one of the places on my “to do” list in Japan.

Picked up at the bus stop at 10pm by Abbie and Alyshia, where we proceed to walk straight to the clubs. We check my giant pack as a coat and I proceed to get giddy over a. foreigners in the street. b. bartenders that speak English. c. signs in English. Rice paddy girl makes it to the big city! The music was cool, the dancing was fun, there were even American gangsters wearing sunglasses in the club and hollering “it’s my SAWNG!” It still felt distinctly Japanese, ie. The dancing was timid and there was no sluttiness or grime, but it was still a great, great night.


Stayed at Abbie’s apartment. Sat in respective beds (in different rooms) catching up on all that had been happening in the last 6 months or so. (Abbie is a NZ JET who I met at orientation in Wellington and hadn’t seen since.) Our lives are so different, due to our locations.

At some point it started snowing, which was beautiful. Cultural adventure time! First, it was a big shrine. The snow was cold and drippy but worth it, as it made everything doubly beautiful. Sometimes it was wet sleet, sometimes pretty flakes, sometimes just dumping down on us. There were pretty tourist streets and HUGE peals of thunder going back and forth. We had ramen and mochi (rice paste) cakes, went up the biggest escalator I have ever been on which literally takes you up the side of a hill, decided against the museum then went back to the house for hot chocolate and cake. It was perfect!

Watched The Castle with Abbie and Jamie, nice chill afternoon. Went out for dinner with some of their friends to an Izakaya, which was cool and good company. Got more drinks and some random chocolate crepe chips, had some NZ wine and sat under the kotatsu (a warm table with a blanket over it) and talked some good old NZ shit.


Got up, got packed, went to the city. Said my goodbyes to Jamie and Abbie, who were lovely hosts. Spent the day shopping, which was so overwhelming I almost couldn’t buy a thing. It’s hard when you’re surrounded by so much that’s unfamiliar to remember exactly what it is you consider normal. There were shops full of just anime costumes, gothicwear, and clothes to make you look like little bo peep, which is super hot in Japan right now.

Bus home, a good 5 hours of traveling. Read The Road by Cormac Macarthy. It’s good. I don’t know why we like the apocalypse so much.


Happy Valentine’s day! Got “Tiffany san’d” by one of my students today. Cute.


Valentine’s lessons in my classes this week. On asking for words to describe a person someone ran up and wrote “erotic”. Well, it’s not wrong? Today was also the first time I’ve ever had a student put their head on their desk and bellow “GNOH” when the bell rings for the class to end because they want it to keep going. Great feeling!

Have become obsessed with Jersey Shore. Why?


Had Jodo today, realized I have lost ALL my fitness. (Still a patchy relationship with Kendo due to previously injured calf.)


Had games lessons today. Fun but exhausting!


Trouble sleeping lately. Taking its toll.

Today I saw my vice principal wander up, seize a phone that was ringing, bellow, “HAMA-CHAN. SHIMAOKA.” drop the phone and walk away. Silent laughter.

Feb 5th-10th - Normal life

Jan 5 - Saturday

Spent all morning watching music videos of strong independent women. Accidentally watched “Sober” by Pink. Stopped watching videos.

Packed a wee picnic and went for a walk to find the mountain next to my house. Easier said than done. My apartment is literally at the foot of a mountain. But do you think I could find my way up there? First I followed a long farm road that took me around the side of the mountain. Then I walked up a road that started to look hopeful, but there was no trail and I was literally just walking on an asphalt curve into oncoming traffic. It started to get dark and I still had found no safe place to stop and eat my picnic, so rather than be hit by a car I admitted defeat and left the mountain to be conquered another day. Had my picnic at home, complete with bottle of red and soundtrack from the Last Unicorn, the second most traumatic childhood movie after Watership Down; complete with desperately alcoholic skeleton and depressed King who thought having a son would make him feel better but instead got post-natal depression and started eliminating Unicorns instead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 1 person date = 1/2 a success.

6 - Sunday

Went to city to go shopping with Kelly and Devon. Finally found a Korean/Japanese (there are two versions) song I legitimately like, instead of just politely bopping along. It’s called “Keep your head down” by Tohoshinki. I like it.


Work. Some quotes from today. “If you have a desk job and eat three square meals a day, you WILL get fat.” I am not fat (unless you put me next to a Japanese person which obviously doesn’t count) so don’t care, but have never had a desk job before and I am concerned about how used I have gotten to sitting still for literally 6 or so hours a day. Terrible, terrible. Bodies aren’t meant to be stagnant like this.

On the subject of JETs who only stay for one year. It’s often hard to gauge how Japanese people feel about things, but there is one lady at my work who says what she thinks even more than a foreigner does. (More on her later.) But today we got onto the subject and she said this, “we feel like people just use us as a stepping stone to get on with their lives. But this IS our lives.” This was interesting because a. Yes, we do and it’s unfortunate but not entirely hard to fathom. But b. Instead of making me feel sorry for them because JET participants don’t stay long, it made me feel sorry for them because this is their lives. Then again, they probably feel sorry for all of us “stuck” in our careers in NZ. It must just be an own country thing.


As I biked into school this morning there was a line of teachers out the front. I got welcomed into the school with a chorus of “ohayo gozaimasu” that started at one end and kept going as I walked past each person. It was fun. I think it was more for the benefit of some school visitors, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Biked to Nichinan, came home and ate so much sugar I went to sleep and had a dream I had diabetes and had to have my feet cut off. Got up mid-dream, stumbled to my fridge, flushed my Timtams down the toilet. Woke up in the morning confused and hungry.


A Swedish man came to school today to talk to the students about the Aurora, which he studies in Sweden. The presentation was in English which meant I finally understood some science in Japan. Yay!


Today my supervisor came up and talked to me through a cat mask he had made.

I have “music lesson” written down today, but I don’t actually remember doing any such thing. Was also the first big earthquake in Christchurch. Went for a run. Stopped at the tiny hardware/everything shop and bought the biggest apple of my life and my first packet of cigarettes in 3 years.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jan 30 - Feb 4 - Still aware it's nowhere near May

Bed. Ill. (Not related to below post)

31 (Mon)
Go to work. Vomit. Go to nurse. Hold “bucket” (large envelope with tissues stuffed into it – can’t help but assume Japanese take spew samples) between knees. Go to hospital. (There are no doctors, everything is hospital). Put on drip. Just FYI, drips are unbearable. Needles I don’t care about, but it took everything I had not to pull the thing out of my arm. It’s cold, you can feel it filling up, it’s unnatural, it swells your cells and makes you smell like you’re rotting. Unless I’m unconscious I’m never going on another. Got my diagnosis (gastro infection), went home, feeling like I wanted to fall out of my own body. Had to use a day of my leave for all of this, as if it was a wee jaunt to the fun factory. Vowed never to tell anyone when I was sick in Japan again.

1 (February)
Went to work, (I’d rather wear a mask and die at my desk than take another day of precious precious leave). My classes were super genki (energetic) because they heard I was sick and thought they would have to study without me. It made my day a lot easier.

Going stir crazy from illness and lack of Kendo, so went for a run. Ash from volcano tore up my lungs, but shit son it was worth it to be doing anything at this point.

Shinsplints (obviously, we should know by now Tiffany does not exercise without injury.) Had two giant classes (40 kids each) but the kids were great. I lent them Bon Jovi to listen to while they ate their lunch. Jodo was cold but nice and social. Which are probably the three signs that you’re not doing it right.

Did Valentines lessons today. Most entertaining were my students embarrassment and their touching messages, “I love Ayaka because she is good at basketball”, “I love Nasu because he is short”, that sort of thing.

Made a pre-planned speech (literally, I write conversations at my desk) for my Kendo teacher (doesn’t speak English) about my unfortunate calf condition. He was really kind-hearted about it and today I went back for one hour. It hurt like goddamn hell and I limped out the door. But still worth it.

Went to Muqing’s for Kelly’s surprise birthday. It was so lovely! I love having these girls in Nichinan. It seems we have become masters at making woe into entertainment. Drank too much soda and got kindof hypo. It’s the little things.

Doing debating with my classes. Thought they would be awful because of the dreaded blank-stare and silence, but after ironing out a few things they turned out to be quite fun. I think once you know the class and have had a few jokey lessons with them it’s good, they would have been murder earlier on in the year.

Finally realized what all the students say when they come to the staffroom. It has changed from “name lkagioan;gai;h teachers name lkjaigna; iurtoignvnm” which I always reply to with “hai douzo” (come in) which sometimes gets them in trouble, to “name, reason, teacher’s desk or availability, haite mo ii desu ka(is it okay to come in)”. I literally read it in my textbook, heard a student at the door say it, looked up, breathed a loud YESSS and then it was set in stone for life. I still say “hai douzo” everytime.

Went out with the ladies from work, where they proceeded to ask which teacher I liked. I mistakenly answered my supervisor and then was hurriedly explained to amidst shocked looks the concept of like and LIKE. They then went on to traits, how old I’d go, body type, and proceeded to sort all the male staff into potential boyfriends for me. I am touched.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jan 28th - Training day and host/ess party

Jan 28
Training conference in Miyazaki city. I went with one of my JTEs, who has lived in America and is even more direct than I am, sometimes terrifyingly so. I always have really interesting conversations with her about culture, and she helps me understand a lot of the underlying feelings in Japan. Getting to the conference was great, it was just like a big family reunion. We were all so excited to talk to each other, and my JTE said she had never seen so many foreigners in one place so she couldn’t help looking at them. She also picked out the goodies and the baddies just like that, after barely meeting them. It was funny and awesome to see.

We all sat and listened to a speech, which wasn’t too bad. What I found best was my JTE’s shock. We listened, as Westerners do, with half an ear, doodling in our books, slouching in our chairs, shifting, slurping water, asking abrasive questions in order to show off, nodding occasionally. I’m surprised we didn’t do the “get the last clap because I’m a badass” game. This astounded her, as the Japanese style of listening is face forward, arms still, back straight. They are riveted to the speaker, whereas we only look at them to see where they got their pants from or to count the buttons on their shirt or swiftly if they audibly stumble to see their fail.

We had a discussion group on the role of an ALT. Usually in groups I’m like, sweet, I can sit back and do nothing. But this time I somehow got speaker, which was actually cooler than I realized. I can never really decide if I’m going to be a loudmouth or a demure waif, because it seems there is no middle ground. Anyway, all my diplomacy could not help the miscommunication of “Japanese goal of education” which, apparently, is a buzzword to foreigners meaning “militant and unyielding small robot shaping”. I'm realizing more and more that the things we consider "oppressing" aren't really the way that we think they are. It reminds me of burkas and our angry feminist tirades on how they're sexist and poor them and we should all be allowed to show our faces as women in order to put makeup on them and appeal to males. It’s interesting to me to see these things unfold, and makes me wonder how many times I miscommunicate myself in my life. Probably 9 times out of 10.

Went for lunch with my JTE, where she showed me her amazing perception on the couple of hours that had passed, which took me probably about 5 months to get around. Then we went back for mock classes, which were not boring at all and actually really helpful. This sounds sarcastic, and if it were any other time it probably would be, but this time I was genuinely entertained. I think because we see each other so often socially, it was really cool to see the second years don their teacher hats and imagine what they are like in their classrooms. Obviously without the heckling, which I also heartily enjoyed. A NZers gotta have their fix. Anyway, that’s another thing about the social group we are part of. It’s easy to forget, not only are we all foreigners coping with Japan, but we are all also teachers. It’s like, imagine if your entire friend group at home were teachers. Of the same subject. To children. Weird, right? But we forget, because there aren’t exactly any foreign engineers or landscapers to add to the mix.

After the day I got a ride to the city with Lach and his JTE, who is super chill and relaxed, seeming more at home on a hammock with a ukelele than in a suit in a tiny car. Yeah, I'm a stereotype machine. As well as seeing people teach, it’s cool to see them interact with their JTEs. Everyone seems to have made friends, which is a far cry from sitting at our desks, fighting off panic attacks, waiting for our JTEs to come and collect us a full 6 months prior. When I think that I was ever afraid to meet my supervisor I smile. He looks like Gandhi and gives me photos of his cat. All is well.

Tonight, because we are all already in the city, we have a planned event. It’s a host and hostess party, which is the Japanese version of pimps and hoes. As one of my NZ friends poignantly put it, when she saw our “slutty” outfits and realized we weren’t out to a fancy dinner, she realized just how cute Japan was.

Devon and I went to get our hair done professionally at a Japanese salon, (white people dressing as Japanese people dressing as white people...) and the man ripped a giant flower off his own salon wall to put in my giant bun. Service here is indescribable.

The event itself… I had a great time dancing. At some point the heels come off (as heels are wont to do) and I have a vague recollection of slipping and sliding around a liquidy dance floor in fishnetted toes and having a group dance-off with a wall. Add some shards of glass and it could almost have been home.

After spending about an hour in the foyer, Matt and I went for food and brought it back to our adoring masses. (Adoring masses may or may not have had bear shaped donuts quite literally shoved into their adoring faces).

Muqing won the host competition, which I take as a personal achievement considering that for this feat to happen I had to wake her up, push her over, hold her upright for the majority of the judging, and then holler my face off, thus (literally) drowning out any semblence of the idea that it may be out of the ordinary for a female to win Male Best Dressed. And, thankyou.

After this, we went to the conbini where I bought an average of eight cakes and proceeded to take a bite out of every one. This occurred shoes in hand, mid-conversation with “conbini friends”. With my 12 words of Japanese, I am somewhat of a conbini superhero. I know, I know. I think we made their night but then again I am one of those who could be vomiting in your fruitbowl and still think I am making your night.

An awful day at the mall which really just culminates in me staring at my food court tray.