A Difference of Opinion

Thursday, August 31, 2006

It is amazing to me how different we all are. Every ALT reacts completely differently to some of the exact same situations. I think this experience will really bring out and amplify our differences.

I remember someone telling me that there were times when she just wanted to come home and be alone. In fact, I’ve heard a lot of people say that. I can’t imagine what they’re talking about. I’ve never felt that way.

Today, I feel that way.

Tomorrow I have to give two speeches. One in front of the entire teaching staff and another in front of the entire school. Not cool.

My principal wants the Kochi News station to come in and video (and god forbid interview) me doing one of my first lessons. If not the first of the first!!! Two teachers have told me that they spoke to the principal and told him that it would probably be very difficult and stressful for me to be video taped but he told both of them at separate times that he thought it would be ok.

Yeah ok no.

I asked someone if it was just going to be Tosayamada news. I thought for sure no one would care about some random ALT since there are over…I don’t know….a bunch of us scattered all over Kochi. And she said no, it would in fact be broadcast all over Kochi. Do you know how big Kochi is?!?!? It’s like the entire state of Florida News Station!!

Not cool again.

I took my glasses in to be repaired. I specifically asked the woman if it would be ok to be quoted a price and then decide if I wanted to buy it. She said that would be fine. But today, she calls and says she ordered the frames and it’ll be $150 for the repair or $400 for entirely new frames. Which would I like?

I almost lost it right then and there. I mean really lose it. I don’t know if I can afford that?!!? Sure, I have the cash but I’m going shopping for a bed frame in about 5 minutes and that’s gonna cost a pretty penny. I feel like I’m bleeding money and another $400 is going to seriously effect me!

I went home and freaked out. Now I feel a little better and I’m actually considering buying the glasses. I do love them. And I remember telling my mom that they were worth the $400 what I first got them 4 years ago. *sigh* Maybe this time I’ll be more gentle with them.

Chi Chai Monchan

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I inquired about my internet situation and I was told that I probably won't even get the paperwork for another month. After I get the paperwork, then I mail it back and THEN they send someone out to hook me up…oooooooh, you have no idea how depressed that made me. I actually went home an hour early because I was so upset. Ah, being unhappy makes me lose my appetite!! So not cool.

So, I'm posting from school now. I'm going to go over to Adam's place sometime soon and post everything I've written so far and then in a month I'll do it all over again!

Though most of you don't know it, I've been going through a lot of "culture shock" but I'm slowly realizing that's not the case. I'm learning Japanese and I like it here. OH, do I have stories! But back to the point for now, it's not that I'm having a problem with the culture, it's that I'm lonely!

When I was in America, I would go absolutely crazy when I was alone for too long. I've always lived with someone. I've had my family and then after that I had my roommates. I don't have any problems with Japan right now. In fact, I am so damn lucky, it's crazy! But I'm still sad because I live alone. I know there are a few of you who have witnessed my crazy loneliness issues. Christina (old roommate) knows because she would have to nurse me back to health once she finally returned. Adam knows because I spent an entire weekend at his place randomly because I didn't want to be home alone (remember the DDR pics? Febuary 20th to be exact. And my dad knows because over the summer when I was home alone, I would just start talking about random things, and he was the first person home so he heard all of it! I just needed someone to talk to!

So, right now it's depressing to be at my apartment. I don't feel like cooking ever, and I don't want to really do anything there but sleep. Oh, I finally got a cover for my futon – whoo. Thought I was going to dye of "white-trash-itis. That's when you do things that only white trash do. Like sleeping on a mattress that doesn't have sheets. My next goal is to buy a bed frame so I can get off the floor!

So anyway, I don't have internet and I don't have cable, so being at my apartment is all about the boring.

But, let's get to how lucky I am.

One of the things that they say about JET is that everyone's experience is different. Everyone says I'll get sick of hearing it but ya know what? It's so true that I don't get tired of it. It's amazing how true it is. It's everyone's situation and mostly how they react to it. I'm learning slowly that I'm not a very typical JET.

A lot of people here don't really understand Japanese culture. Especially the girls. They say that things are much harder for girls than for boys. I haven't noticed it yet but when I do, I'll be sure to blog about it. ;) Aside from that, most of the girls will get a chip on their shoulder (at least in my area) where they hate Japanese guys because they treat their girlfriends poorly, and they don't like Japanese girls because they are frivolous and jealous of their gaijin power. Pretty much they get tired of trying to learn the language and culture when they got thrown into it in the first place without any preparation! I know a bunch of people who have been here for a while and still can't really speak much at all! You can get away with it too!

I, on the other hand, have studied the culture and there are plenty of times when I could have been insulted but I understand that it was a cultural thing and the person is actually just being Japanese polite and not American rude! HA!

I was hanging out with my Japanese family the other day. They see me as a person and not the token gaijin (more on that later), and so when they complimented me on my Japanese ability and culture skills, I looked at them and pretty much told them to be serious. I don't know hardly enough and I feel like it's really not that great but not for lack of effort or anything. They told me that they were truly impressed because every ALT before me never learned Japanese. They also never ate anything that still had eyes. They said that they really thought it was a cool thing that I was trying so hard and that I was so different from the other girls. I was really flattered.

Ok, such luckiness.

Well, I've been adopted by a Japanese family. I go over there all the time to have dinner and spend the night. It's a bit of a ways away but they actually live right next to my second school in Odochi so I'll be spending every Sunday night there so I won't have to ride the bus on Monday morning. Too bad I can't do that for Tuesday night as well. (I go to Odochi every Monday and Wednesday. 40 minute bus ride and school starts at 8:20. You do the math)

I've been told that most everyone will see me as the token gaijin. That means that they only want to be friends with me because I'm gaijin. I was expecting that but I haven't seen it yet. The Shinozaki's see me as me but they know that being an American and a Gaijin are what make up who I am though they are not only who I am.

Next, I have a friend in Tokyo, Tomoe, whom I met while I was in college and I'll probably go visit her at the end of this month. She's a genuinely nice and interesting person and I hope I get to see her again soon.

I have another friend, Aozora, who goes to school in Osaka. I'll probably be visiting her later as well. She and I totally get each other. She loves American culture as much as I love Japanese culture and we really fit each other. We understand each other. We are really good friends and that makes me thrilled beyond belief!

I have my friend, Tsubasa, whom I met while I was in high school when he first came to America with the Tosayamada exchange group. We've kept in touch and tonight we're going out drinking! He's not friends with me because I'm just a gaijin. He's a great guy and I'm lucky to have so many close friends and I've only been here for three weeks! (Exactly.)

So I have friends and I didn't even realize it. I'm not the token gaijin and I really get along here!

The next thing that people warned me about was that when it's convenient for the Japanese, they will treat me like a gaijin and at other times they'll treat me like a Japanese person. It just depends on what works best for them. Well, I haven't noticed such maliciousness yet so I asked Adam about it. He said that it was very difficult at times. When you get into the classroom, they want you to act and put on this gaijin show for the students and only speak in English and be fun and interesting and full of magical gaijin facts. But then when you get back into the teachers room they want you to act like a Japanese person and follow all the strange rules and policies as if they were native to you.


That's exactly what I was expecting!!!!!

I'm expecting to follow Japanese rules. I am here to learn to do things the Japanese way. You know, when in Rome…? But at the same time, I'm supposed to bring this knowledge of my home country and kinda show it off as a walking talking example. Ok, I can deal with that.

Who are these people that think they can be an exception to every rule just because they aren't from here?

If anyone goes to America, they are expected to speak English and understand all the etiquette rules. Why shouldn't I expect the same thing in a different culture?

Eh, this is a really long post.

In the end, I have really good work conditions. I love my coworkers. They're good people. I was put in the newspaper today. My picture is horrible but if everyone else likes it, whatever. I love my extended family, and if I listen to happy-go-lucky music, I feel better and it helps to lessen my anxiety. Hope I get over this loneliness!

Thanks for the comments. I love you guys so much!!!! And you have no idea how I miss you all!!

When I Smile, My Headphones Fall Out

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Well, well, what a roller coaster! I wish I could post all my recent entries but I still don't have internet. I'll get it soon! Trust me, no one's more frustrated than I am. Everyone sends me emails, but they still think that I'm having issues with the heat! Ah, if only.

So far I have about 20 pages written. It's long and not always humorous, though it's never sad.

In the end, I'm happy. And I'm getting over culture shock…for right now. It comes and goes, and I get super depressed, and then the next minute I'm super happy. I've gotten used to feeling a lot of anxiety and I just remember that soon I'll feel better. As much as I love my apartment (and I do), the main source of my depressing feelings are that I live alone. In the end, that's my biggest problem. I'm getting over being stared at and I'm learning Japanese slowly. I always know enough to get me by. It's only frustrating when I want to tell one of my many stories or explain myself. I can't. I just can't. And I know that the people I'm talking to don't think any less of me, but I feel less about myself (does that make sense?).

I'm disappointed in myself but then I'm also proud. I've been told that the previous ALT’s never ate food that still had eyes, and most of them didn't speak any Japanese.

When it comes to food, as you will read in my big batch of posts, I love all Japanese food. I'm actually shocked and amazed at myself! I've tried some pretty weird things and actually liked them!

For example, when I was waiting for the plane to Kochi from Tokyo, I bought a bento lunch box that looked interesting, and one of the rice balls had a these little squiggly noodles that were about an inch long. They were crunchy and pink so I picked one out and asked someone what it was. He told me that it was a tiny fish. I took a closer look, and lo and behold, it still had its eyes and scales and spine! I could see everything! I shrugged, put it back in the riceball, and continued to eat. It was crunchy which made me a little queasy, but I made myself get over it when I realized that it didn't taste bad at all.

There is something that I think one day I'm going to be forced to eat and that's Natto. I don't have any interest in it other than staying as far away from it as I possibly can. It's a type of bean that has been fermented and it ends up growing this gooey clear mucus so that when you pick it up with your chop sticks you get this string of goo that goes everywhere. I hear that not only does it look and sound gross, but it smells wretched as well!!!

Well yesterday I was at the Shinozaki's (where, as you'll read, I've been spending a lot of time at…Ex-Boyfriend’s family) and they gave me some fresh okra. I have never been a big fan but then again, this time it wasn't fried like the Southern okra dish usually is. Instead, they chopped it up in very thin slices and…I don't know what they did with it but it had the gooey stuff that natto has all over it!!! I almost died. It didn't smell bad it just looked gooey!! AHHHHH. Kae (Mom) gave me a little bit and told me it was a challenge. It didn't smell bad and I for whatever reason, I am always up for new foods, so I ate it. Needless to say I didn't go back for seconds. But it actually tasted kinda good. It tasted fresh and the gooey stuff was a tiny bit salty. That's all. I just couldn't get over the slimy feeling in my mouth. Maybe next week I'll start craving it. That's the norm for me I suppose.

I'm not going to get into a lot but I've been making my home here slowly. At times I love being here and at other times I just want to go home and die. Seriously. It's always the two extremes. They come in waves and they tell me these feelings are normal. Maybe I shouldn't be telling anyone this because I'm not supposed to know myself, but the JET program likes to keep it on the DL that every year a couple of people will kill themselves. They don't want to go home because they feel like they're letting everyone down, but they don't want to be here either. I can totally see that. I know it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but since I've been here, I feel a lot of obligation towards everyone. I want to make them proud and I want to impress them and I feel like I should do my job well and not half-assed (which I could totally get away with!). I somehow doubt that'll happen to me, but just know that it has happened before to other people. They have a very nice support group from what I hear. All I need are friends…and maybe a roommate. Christina, where are you?!?!?!?!?!

I've met some of my students and they all seem really happy and excited, and I can't wait for school to start on September 1st! They say that being an ALT sucks in the month of August because there's not a whole lot to do except to be bored (and write blog entries). When school starts, I'm sure things will get a lot better! Oh, every time I see a student walking by the teachers’ room and staring at me, I smile and wave and they smile and wave back. It's a great feeling! But then my headphones fall out! ;)

Ichigo: Check!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

It’s amazing these horrible waves of stress and anxiety over nothing that usually follows such complete happiness.

I stayed the night over at the Shinozaki’s house (ex boyfriend’s family) I really do love them. They love me too (^u^)

They live right next to my second school…about 40 minutes away. They live closer to the school than the bus stop that I get dropped off at! Maybe I’ll sleep over at their place every Sunday night so I don’t have to get up so early on Monday…hmmmm

Okaachan (mother) sells bento lunches to most of the teachers at that school so she told me that she would make mine too. Ahhhhh! She’s totally my Japanese mom! I’ve confirmed a stereotype though: everyone says that you have to beg to actually be able to help someone. They were usually talking about school work but when I was at the Shinozaki’s place I kept asking to help and it was always the same “no no, ok desu!” I’ll break her down though.

Their family isn’t westernized but it’s not typical Japanese as far as I can tell. Okaasan calls her husband “shinji-kun” which is his given name and a not so honorific name. It’s usually the term that is used to talk to a young boy. Usually wives call their husbands either Otoosan (father) or name-san which is like Mr. or Mrs.

I noticed that he would sit at the table while she was cooking and she would make his meals a little different depending on what he liked. I think most people would see this as a completely sexist situation. But to tell you the truth, I know that my mom does the same thing. My dad usually helps but their kitchen only holds about 1 ½ people. So…I can understand why he doesn’t help….though I think that is a little sexist. But only a little! My mom will still do special nice things for my dad and vise versa so I’m not surprised to see the Shinozaki Family do the same thing.

So, I stayed in their guest house desperately wanting to help cook or clean something. It makes me feel less useless. I helped Wakako with her English homework. Wakako is the only girl and as far as I can remember she’s….9? I don’t remember. She’s super cute and if I bring someone with me back to America when I visit, it’ll probably be her….for now. I don’t know, with everything recently, I change my mind every other day.

…..right, so I was at the Shinozaki’s house. Neither one of us speaks a whole lot of the others language but we managed pretty well and they understand me and I understand them as people. Okaasan took me shopping and I was thrilled! I got some big things that were too much for my bike like a laundry basket and I also picked up my Canon Wordtank C50!!! (electronic dictionary) I figured out how to change the language to English super fast and bought it instantly. I’ve had my eye on it for over a year now. But I was sadly disappointed when I realized after the fact that all the Japanese is in Kanji and I can’t read jack crap. Story of my life.

As for the title, ichigo is Japanese for strawberry and I have never seen so many strawberry flavored things. I’ve never been a big fan but the Japanese really know how to do it. I love about half the strawberry stuff. The other half is just sugary crap.

Oh, I also told the Shinozaki’s about the Cow Piss drink. We all had a hardy laugh. Good times :)

I find comfort in unpredictable things. Wakako started playing some popular Japanese music and I think because I’ve always liked some pretty annoying songs I really got into them! It was refreshing because it gave me a change to sing Japanese without caring what I was saying and it flowed very nicely which was a step in the right direction compared to my typical choppy sentences.

On the other hand, I hate coming home after hanging out with people unless it’s late at night and it’s time to go to bed. I just hate the feeling of coming home to an empty house and having nothing to do but clean. It gives me horrible anxiety. I hate anxiety. But how do you tell your body to stop worrying about nothing?! I always find a cure though. I might be living alone but that doesn’t mean I am alone. ねぇぇぇ(^_^)v

Getting Better

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Yeah so the ups and downs continue but overall I’m feeling pretty good…at least for now.

Yesterday was the first day that I came into work since last Wednesday. I talked to my supervisor about how I had skipped out in such a rude way even though I didn’t actually break any rules. She was surprised. She didn’t think it was a big deal. That made me feel really good.

I finally got a chance to ask her a bunch of questions about my cable, internet, and foreigner’s card which I should have gotten way long ago. All the answers were satisfactory and I left feeling really good.

Actually, when I woke up yesterday morning I was a complete wreck. I didn’t really want to go to work, I just wanted to sit in my room and never leave…though there’s nothing here anyway. But I went into work and I felt miserable the majority of the day but as time went on I ever so slowly started feeling better.

At lunch time Tainaka Sensei (the woman who is going to Largo in October) asked me if I would like to join her for lunch. I don’t know if it’s a rule to invite the gaijin to lunch everyday or what but it’s the best time of the day! I love being invited because I don’t really know what to do for lunch when it’s vacation time. When school is in session I can opt to have a bento lunch or I’ll bring it….when I learn to cook Japanese food. But for now, I love going to all the different restaurants and learning what people like. I’ve learned to say “what’s the most popular thing?” because I always said that in America when I didn’t know what to order…I didn’t always get the best results but I’ll still use that line a lot. So glad I can say it now. Especially since I can’t usually read the menu. (the better restaurants are the mom and pop shops that only have kanji menus and no pictures…and they specialize in only one thing like Udon)

So yesterday at lunch I was invited to go out. We all piled into the car and drove to Inoe which is the next town over (really close actually…by car) and we had lunch at a very famous Curry place on the “beach”. It was very nice and we ended up seeing some students who thought it was so damn hilarious that they caught their teachers out on their lunch break! The girls were actually really awesome and after meeting them I started feeling a bit better. They were so happy and even though they didn’t know a whole lot of English they really wanted to try. They weren’t shy about it at all. I can’t wait to start working with them :)

On another note, I’ve found that Japanese people love Ramen and curry. About half the shops on the street sell ramen and 1/3 of all curry places are Indian curry. I actually have yet to try the ramen because I disliked it so much in the states…maybe it’s better here. I think that’ll be my next experiment ;)

When I was riding my bike home around 4, I was feeling great and on top of the world. I ended up going to Kochi city and partied with some ALTs. I like those people. They’re good people. But they’re not my people. I’m here to make Japanese friends and though I don’t think that my Japanese friends will really understand me, the ALTs don’t really understand me either and they’re all from the states!!!! We are all just different people with different ideas and priorities.

Did I mention that Kochi as an entire prefecture supposedly consumes the most amount of beer in all of Japan? I’d look it up myself but I don’t have the internet.

Ok, so some things that I’ve noticed about Japan…or at least Kochi in general. (keep in mind that all of Japan in not exactly the same. Every prefecture has it’s own quirks)

The latest fashion is layers. These people could be sweating to death and they’ll have layers of shirts and skirts over jeans and whatever else they can think of to accessorize themselves (both men and women) They also like to wear long sleeves so the sun doesn’t burn their skin. They love the white skin business. I on the other hand wear as little as possible to beat the heat. And I do a pretty good job too (beating the heat not revealing my skin or keeping from burning. I’m actually pretty dark right now)

Next, there are a few of the same people that I keep running into. No one specifically but maybe it’s because we all ride the same train or shop at the same places but I keep seeing them. Just a observance. That would never happen in the states. It was very rare to run into the same person at the grocery store! Unless they worked there.

Finally, my favorite drink of the week is calpis. In Japanese it’s spelled “Ka-Ru-Pi-Su”. It’s really tasty. It’s kinda milky in color and it has a familiar sweet flavor but I don’t know where I’ve had it before. We don’t really have anything like it in the States. But we call it cowpiss…cuz that’s what it sounds like. HAHAHAHHAA

I’m not in Florida, Nay America, Nay North America Anymore

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I always expected that I would change on this trip but not into a horse.

Yesterday I had a vacation day so I went to the AEON shopping mall. I had been there before and I was really looking forward to it. I remembered it being very western and it had a million and one shops and floors and floors to choose from…but my memory does deceive me often.

It was only two floors and the others were all parking garage from what I could tell. Too bad I couldn’t use one of those floors.(ie I need a car) I had to walk down the street to get there and I almost drowned in my own sweat. Again, it’s not so much that it’s hot, I just sweat a lot. And regardless of how ineffective my antiperspirant seems to be, I never go home with BO nor do I smell many people. If I do smell BO it’s usually on a gaijin!*

After that I was pretty exhausted. I actually went there feeling pretty good but as the day went on I felt worse and worse. I got an email from my mom that made me actually realize how home sick I am. This is difficult. But then again no one but me said it would be easy.

I didn’t find what I was looking for at AEON but I did find some random things that many people told me I’d never be able to find. I’m pretty impressed because people that have been here for more than a year are surprised by what I find. But I can never actually find what I’m looking for!!! Oh horrible irony.

Around 3 I walked back to the main shopping district in Kochi and met with my friend Monique. I had plans to hang out with her the entire evening but I had forgotten that every Wednesday I have an adult conversation class. I practically lost it right there. I didn’t have a lesson/topic to take up an hour and a half with a class of people that don’t actually want to talk and I just didn’t want to do anything!

Monique decided to come home with me early to help me out but in the end I did it all myself but I felt much better just because she was there. Afterwards she convinced me to go to spend the night at her place and go to a BBQ the next day (today). So I agreed because I felt so low and so depressed that I knew I needed some friends and sitting in the office doing nothing wasn’t going to make me feel better. But I hadn’t been into school since last Wednesday and calling off of work on such short notice is a big no no. But she has been here for a year and she sounded like she knew what she was talking about. Also, I have 4 days of summer vacation that I need to use anyway! Lastly, I was planning to take my vacation day on Friday, so I emailed my supervisor and told her that I wanted to switch the days.

I felt like I made a horrible mistake but what was done was done. Everything in Japan when it comes to dealing with people is like walking on egg shells. There is nothing spontaneous about this city if not the country as a whole. It takes a lot of talking and beating around the bush to really get anything accomplished. I’ve only been here two weeks and I’m already sick of it.

So I went home with Monique. We went out for dinner and as the night wore on I felt worse and worse and worse. I went to bed miserable. I knew that I’d have fun as the BBQ but I felt like I needed to be at work and I felt like I was letting them down! They were expecting me to be there! It doesn’t matter that I’m not doing much or that everyone else is on vacation themselves. It’s the principal I guess.

I woke up in the morning just as miserable as when I fell asleep. I was realizing with every moment that I wasn’t happy and I am in fact quite sad. I wanted the comfort of home but the thought of going home only made me feel like a failure which only made me feel worse and in the end I had a panic attack. (I somehow think that I’m making an understatement here. I fucking freaked the fuck out!)

It was around 8 in the morning so I woke up Monique to talk to her about it. She made me feel better but she herself is pissed off at her own situation so I don’t think she really did as much good as she thought she was. She wanted to be realistic but right now I just need hope.

I got my shit together and by 10:30 I was piling into a car with a bunch of Japanese people and we were off to the BBQ.

All the people that came with us were pretty westernized and if they weren’t then they really liked gaijin so it was cool. Most of them spoke a little bit of English and they mostly spoke easy Japanese so that I could understand. They were really kind and I had a good time. But I couldn’t shake my anxiety for the day. I would forget about it but it would always be there.

We ended up taking three cars up the mountain to a river where the sand was really a bunch of tiny rocks and it was hotter then hell but the water was freezing. Everyone went swimming but me. I told them that I was spoiled because my dad always heated the pool for my sisters and me. Also, I used to live in Florida, there’s no such thing as really cold water! But I got my legs in and it was a whole lot of fun.

The actual bar-b-queing was really delicious. All Japanese BBQ seems to be the same but that doesn’t matter. I love Japanese food and thank God I do! Because if I didn’t I’d really be screwed.

Actually, by the end of the day we were roasting this thing which seems like a cross between a sweet potato and an actual potato. It’s like a white sweet potato. Anyway, we roasted them and it reminded me of an Anime that I had seen before when I was first getting into Japanese stuff (Tenchi Muyo….7 years ago) and it brought me comfort. Some of the things on my list of things to do here is to actually experience some of the things that I’ve seen on shows before. I know that sounds stupid, but those little things like eating yams or wearing a yukatta at a fall festival were what really got me interested in Japan in the first place.

When the day was half over another ALT showed up. She has been here for two years and she’s actually leaving tomorrow to go back to Maine. I asked why she was leaving and then told her not to tell me. I don’t want to hear anyone else’s stories of why they were leaving because at that moment, I couldn’t remember why I was here in the first place or why anyone would like it here. She said that she was actually going to miss it a lot and she wishes she could stay. But the time for recontracting is in February. If you happen to be in a bad mood because of the weather at that time…well, many people wish they could change their minds but what happens in February stays in February. (does that make sense?)

We actually got to talking and she was really surprised at how much I knew about Japanese culture and how to deal with Japanese people. She said that she was just learning some of the things that I was telling her about and I’ve only been here two weeks and she’s been here for two years. I was flattered, and I think she’s actually right. And that made me realize that even though Monique has been here for more than a year she isn’t me and she doesn’t work at my school and I have to deal with them in my own way and if that means not taking a day off on the spur of the moment then so be it!

But whatever, this knowledge about Japan is really a double edged sword. Yeah, I understand a bit of what is going on around me but I don’t know enough.

A new ALT from the states said that he didn’t care that he didn’t know a single thing about what was going on around him. He said that he never studied the language or culture and leaning on people wasn’t a problem for him.

If only we could all be so lucky and carefree.

I, on the other hand, know just enough to be frustrated with everything. But the ALT that I was talking to at the BBQ actually made me feel really better. She said that because I understand all these differences, as soon as I get over this initial culture shock, I’m going to do great. And I think she’s right. I know what I’m doing. I’m not an idiot! I just have to learn to be different.

When I was on the way home I still hadn’t shaken my anxiety. It was way smaller but still in the pit of my stomach. But on the train ride home things started to feel familiar and I walked into my apartment and felt relief. I haven’t made this place completely mine yet but it’s still mine. It’s my home and I run it the way I want to. There’s a comfort here I never knew I had. But I remember thinking that this place would become comforting quickly. I thought that even before I left Florida. It’s strange when I’m right. I always expect to be proven wrong.

And then I took a shower and realized that my glasses are broken.

Why doesn’t someone just shoot me?

*gaijin: I’m learning the real meaning of this word. To me, it means foreigner. But the real word is Gaikokujin. Gaijin is an abbreviation for the real word I think but it’s more like slang and it actually is a bit derogatory. I like the word so I’m going to continue using it but I won’t be using it so freely when I speak to other Japanese people.

Everyday Chu Chu

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

This past weekend (Sunday, Monday and until this afternoon) I was working at an English camp for Minami High School which is in Kochi City. There were 8 ALTs including myself and a few teachers. There were 7 groups: apples, bananas, cheese [me] dragons, eggs, fried chicken, and grapes and there were about 5 people in every group. There were only 4 boys total.

On Sunday afternoon we all piled into a chartered bus (they don’t have school buses here) and drove a mile up into the mountains to samuegusa..or something like that. It was very beautiful and there was a huge lake but we weren’t able to go swimming or really ever go outside because it was a bit dangerous. The mountain was quite steep… in every direction.

The students all ranged in English ability. I couldn’t help it but I ended up playing favorites. I tried to hide it as much as possible but at times it’s just difficult. I had 5 girls. One had very short hair and the best English ability in our group (hazuki) Then, there were two girls who looked really similar because they had the same short permed hair cut (chigusa and konoka). Mina was super quiet (but not the quietest) but was always paying attention with really wide eyes. She surprised me many times because things that I did really affected her but I wouldn’t know it until much later after the fact. Then there was Moe who was my least favorite. I’m sorry to say it because my girls were really awesome but Moe had the worst English ability of all the students at the camp. This is not why I didn’t favor her (I didn’t dislike her by any means). She would always tune out everything I said because she didn’t understand anything. Most people didn’t understand but she never really tried. Also, and less importantly, she had a habit of picking at her dry skin. She was constantly itching her arms and they were all scabbed up. I wanted to smack the back of her hand and say “no!” but I didn’t. Mostly, I’m disappointed that she didn’t try. If she didn’t care about it, why was she there? I’m expecting this from students in regular classes but these students were supposed to be the cream of the crop at Minami High School!

I ended up surprising myself quite a bit. When I first got there I was afraid of doing things completely wrong and really disappointing my students but Monique (the ALT coordinator from Jamaica [all the other ALTs were from America…boooooring]) made it clear that this camp was mostly about having fun while speaking English. There were no lessons and no vocabulary to learn. It was just fun English. I also thought that if my students weren’t genki (excited) then there was no way that I’d be able to pick up the slack and bring all the energy to the group myself. It’s like having a one way conversation…which I seem to be doing a lot recently.

And on that note, I ended up bringing all the energy anyway and really doing a great job with it! The other ALTs all had their own style but they were great people to work with and I never felt like I was doing a worse or better job! My students didn’t give me as much feedback as American kids would but I understand that and when they would do things like smile and show that they kinda understand or that they are at least having fun, then it was enough to keep me going. I also was able to actually get answers out of them with jokes…that don’t seem to translate. I don’t get it!!!!

For example:

Nina Sensei (they call me sensei…CUTE!): I have two stories. One about camping and one about the fall festival. Which sounds interesting to you? (<-- I learned real fast that that’s a dumb question because…)


Nina: Do you like camping? Or Festivals?

Students:….. (they start looking at each other…I know they understand damn it!)

Nina: Camping? Festivals?....

Then I change my voice a little to be more high pitched and I say

“No Nina, I hate camping! I think camping is stupid!!!.......I love festivals!!!”

Sometimes they giggle…mostly they kept looking at each other…so I continue

“No Nina, I hate this lesson. I think you are stupid!”

Seriously, Japanese students would never say this and I know they don’t think this one bit, I’m just trying to get a reaction!

By this time I usually get one ‘bold person’ (I use the term loosely) will say that she likes camping and everyone else will agree for agreeing sake.

This all sounds frustrating, I’m sure, but it’s really not all that bad. The kids (Sophomore high schoolers) get into it after a while. And it’s not like I’m doing anything that really takes a lot of effort anyway.

So back to my group and not just the other students that I worked with. My kids were the cheese group. They weren’t the most energetic and they weren’t the most talented but they were great girls and they hold a special place in my heart for being my first students. I hope that all of my future students are as good and caring! But I think that’s too much to ask for. There’s always going to be a couple of bastard kids…I haven’t thought of a good way to deal with them yet because Japanese school teachers don’t punish students for anything other than having cell phones so I’m looking at no help!

But I digress.

I’ll post pics of my kids in my gallery later. They gave me a certificate at the end and it is so cute! One girl wrote in her daily journal that I am “high tension” and most of them said that they like my smile. I think they were surprised at how energetic I was at times. I was surprised myself. Maybe it was because I really wanted them to feel accepted by me and I wanted to kind of impress them with my super genki gaijin powers!

Now, there were a few students that weren’t in my group that really stuck out to me. Of the groups, my girls were pretty average but there were two groups that just looked like they were older and they were more sophisticated you could tell. Everyone at the camp wore makeup but these girls dressed more provocatively (they weren’t forced to wear their uniforms, thank god) and they were mostly taller and ….. just older. They were just trendier. There was a point to this but I can’t remember.

Anyway, so there was one girl that I found talking to two other ALT girls. She was badgering them about how they both had boyfriends. (The Japanese love to badger people, I don’t get it at all!!) She would say over and over again “everyday chu chu”. Chu is the Japanese sound effect for kissing. So she’s saying that they make out with their boyfriends everyday. So when I came in she pointed at me and asked if I had a boyfriend, and I said no, she said…oh, not everyday chu chu. So I asked her and she in fact did have a boyfriend…and the annoyance began. Every time after this, when I saw her at a meal or in the hall she would point and say “everyday chu chu!” so I would repeat just to keep making fun of her and then she would do it back to me all over again. We got up to, like, 10 or 15 “everyday chu chu”s and it got really old, REALLY FAST! But she loved it every time. Weird. Her boyfriend lives in Hiroshima so she assures me it’s not everyday chu chu. But I’m sure she chu chu’s him over the cell phone every night ;)

The next student that stuck out to me was one of the boys. I originally didn’t have anything to do with the boys because there’s only 4 of them and what do I care? But this one did a couple of things that made him stand out (and that’s big in Japan when no one really stands out) First, he had pretty much no English ability. But he always tried very hard. He never stressed himself out about the English. He never worried about it. But he always wanted to involve himself in the activities almost more than other students even though he couldn’t speak English. Effort goes a long way for me as it should anyone. Next, for one of the culture activities, he threw on his sumo panties (or whatever) over his pants and showed everyone how he does sumo as his extra curricular activity. He’s been doing it for a few years I guess. He’s not fat or anything but he was larger than the other boys. I also caught the girls that I sat with at lunch checking him out. I wanted to know what was up so I asked. They said that he was on his third bowl of beef rice. Most people couldn’t finish one bowl. wow

But what made this guy stand out to me the most was when we had chill time. Chill time was something that Monique had to work hard to put in the schedule. Last year the kids were running around so much that they never had any time to relax at all. So this year, Monique added a half hour (once on the half days and twice on the full day) when the kids could do their own thing. The ALTs were supposed to set up stations of different activities that the kids could choose to do or not do. I set up an Uno game and he was one of the first students to join. He and this one really outgoing teacher were really into the game and it made the game so much fun! They already knew how to play but some of the rules were a little different so I taught them the American version. After a while they taught me the Japanese version and the small details actually made the game seem completely different and it actually went by faster! Like…5 or 10 minutes per game. I didn’t even need to shuffle the deck once! In the American version, we had to shuffle the deck many…many times in one game.

So during these games we would be saying stuff but the point of me being there was to speak English so that’s exactly what I and everyone else did. I almost forgot that I was allowed to speak Japanese at all. But poor Ryuji (the sumos name) only spoke Japanese so he would be sitting there next to me cursing and mumbling under his breath the entire game. It was hilarious! Because even the people who did speak Japanese didn’t respond to him one bit as if he were just talking to himself!

It’s the little things.

Finally, there was another reason why I was so surprised at how energetic I was. On the first night, after the students went to bed, the adults had an enkaiwa (drinking party). It was very low key and was really just everyone sitting around and relaxing. My roommate and I (McKenzie) went to bed around midnight because we were exhausted and were completely dead to the world in 5 minutes. I ended up waking up around 4am because I had to use the toilet. (I hate drinking alcohol for that reason) When I got to the bathroom I saw a girl standing there and she looked like she was leaning over the sink and just finishing up. She spoke to me in English and asked why I was up. I told her I had to pee really bad and promptly walked into the stall.

By the way, to get off the topic again, it sucks to use those squatter toilets while you’re drunk. It sucks when you’re half asleep too but I’m happy that I’m getting used to it. I don’t have to hang on the walls as much and I hear it’s go for my hips. We’ll see.

ANYWAY, so I’m in the stall thinking about how that girl was really cool to be speaking English so early in the morning and I should give her something for her great effort. When I got out she was still there. I asked her if she was OK and she actually said no. I was kinda surprised actually. I asked if she wanted help and she said yes. Wow

I was still half asleep so I woke up McKenzie. It turns out the girl in the bathroom was in her group. While they were talking I woke up a main teacher because this is something that really should be dealt with by a native Japanese speaker…or someone who can actually speak Japanese.

As soon as the teacher got there, she sent us both to bed. We noticed that the teacher was also sending the girl to bed as well. This seemed a bit prompted for someone who looked like she was about to throw up. (did I mention she motioned to me that she was going to throw up?)

I went to bed and didn’t worry about it.

Until 5:15am when she knocked on our door. McKenzie answered to door because I was completely disoriented. I kept lifting my head and saying “huh?” because I just didn’t get what was going on until the girl standing in the doorway started crying. Apparently she wasn’t sick, she was having anxiety about being away from home. She wasn’t able to sleep because she was so upset.

So, being the good ALTs that we were, we stayed up playing cards and listening to soft music until it was time for everyone else to wake up. (about 6:30) At around 6am I heard other students that were walking the halls and upon investigating, we found out that it was girls who were getting up early so they could put on makeup. I’ll never get it, but these girls spend HOURS in the bathroom over stupid stuff like makeup. I hate it when my hair takes 10 minutes to style!


So, at around 6:15 I left to go take a shower (not that there was a rush to get into the bathroom before anyone else because most Japanese people shower at night)

Oh, the bathrooms and showers were communal btw (not unisex though). The hotel also had an onsen (hot bath). Very nice.

When I got back from the shower, McKenzie told me that the girl’s dad had come to pick her up. (it’s an hour up the mountain by the way and that’s if she lives close to the school which most students don’t)

That wasn’t the only student of McKenzies to bowed out before the end. Another girl in her group actually got sick and had to go home. There were only two people who left early. Poor McKenzie!

That was pretty much it for the camp. I had a great time and I’d do it all again in an instant. I was still going too when everyone was saying there goodbyes. I wanted to go out with the other ALTs whom I love but they were dead tired and just wanted to go home. My apartment is too boring….there’s no one here…..

But I made plans for tomorrow so no worries!


Japanese culture update:

Chu-hi (hi like hello) is a can of Japanese “sake” which is like a cocktail. It’s super sweet and in different fruity flavors but it really good. I prefer it to beer. My flavor of choice as of right now is Yuzu which is some strange fruit that is rumored to only be in Kochi. I have no idea though.

Oh, there are lot’s of things in Kochi that are “Kochi only”. There are certain fruits and certain foods or items that are exclusive to Kochi. This goes for every prefecture. Sometimes there are even special flavors of pocky!

I need to get cable TV. Right after I get internet. I heard that cable is a good way to get some English news (though I could use the internet but I’d like to know what’s important to Japan as well) and I also want to keep in touch with what my students think is popular since if one person in Japan thinks it’s cool then everyone thinks it’s cool. Besides, the entertainment value of cable is a plus too ;)

I’m thinking about buying a bed frame for my futon. I don’t like sleeping on the floor. Everything else ends up on the floor too. Including dust and crap which I refuse to vacuum every single night!

Tomorrow, I have plans to visit AEON (eeon) which is a western style shopping mall. It’s more expensive but it’s like 8 floors. I know I can get everything I’m looking for and then some. I’ll probably hang out there until Monique is done with work and we can hang out.

I think I’ll take my summer vacation days. I won’t really be doing anything at work so they won’t miss me and I won’t be bored behind a desk. Now the question remains with what I shall do with this extra time?

Last thing, I am consistently surprised by how many bugs there aren’t in my apartment. I’ve heard many a story about different bug annoyances and how one must guard against them. I have done my best but I have also practiced high risk behavior. Mostly, to get a breeze going through my apartment I have to open the front door and the back door. The back door has a screen but the front door has nothing. My predecessor left some smoke incense that is supposed to keep the bugs away but I doubted it would do much of anything. So I turned off the lights in the rooms that I wasn’t using so I didn’t attract the bugs and crossed my fingers. I have done this sort of things many times since being here and I have yet to see one bug. I don’t get it. I don’t think that smoke stuff really works THAT well. Maybe it’s my location. I don’t know. But I’m not complaining!

Today’s accomplishments

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I rode my bike home tonight. It was dark. I was buzzed. I was in a skirt. It was raining. I used an umbrella. All at the same time. I see this as a major accomplishment.

Just imagine a chick in a skirt swerving along the rode as she held her umbrella in her hand and rode home. I’m impressed.


It’s All Uphill From Here

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m not having as great of a time as I thought I would be having. The way that things work is that when you first arrive, everything should be peaches and cream and slowly things start to wind down after the first month and you begin to get upset over superficial things like “I can’t do anything. I don’t understand anything”. Then, after those feelings, some time later, euphoria comes back and you realize that you’re learning and you’ve made some friends and created a life here. After all that comes the real serious depression when you begin to start getting upset over less superficial things like “I just don’t like the way that people do this. I’ll never enjoy certain aspects of this culture. I’m tired of this crap!” After that is the real moment of truth. If you get over that, then you’re in the clear and you go through these waves but nothing as extreme as the first two bouts of depression and euphoria. Or, you can go back home and not have to deal with any of this crap.

So, the question remained, where did my euphoric feelings go? Why wasn’t I so excited and why didn’t I just love everything just because it was new?

The answer: because it wasn’t new

I am a very special case. It actually makes me feel a whole lot better since I’ve figured it all out. When I first came to Japan in 2001 and again in 2003, I had euphoric feelings. Everything was new and special and fantastic and I couldn’t get enough of it. I took it home with me and those feelings lasted me up until now. That’s 5 years of euphoria and not just one month. I totally lucked out on that!

When I got here, instead of looking around at all the neat stuff, I said “alright let’s get this show on the road! I want my apartment cleaned and I want the internet. I want to get my lesson plans going and I need some groceries while I’m at it. I wasted no time in settling down. As apposed to most everyone else who look around wide eyed at the floors and the walls and the people and their clothes and just sit around exploring. I just got down to business. None of that other stuff interested me.

So now, there are two types of people when it comes to new JETs. The one’s who have been here and the ones who haven’t. The ones who haven’t don’t really know Japanese and so they get along fine because everything is new and wonderful and even if they did understand Japanese they wouldn’t understand anything else. Then there are the people who have been here and most of them know or have studied a lot of Japanese. So they don’t have the whole new feeling though they may be much happier than I am. They also don’t have to worry so much about the language barrier. I on the other (third) hand, do not speak so well but yet not everything is new to me either. So…I’m stuck in the middle. I can’t do jack crap because I can’t communicate but I can see it. I can feel it right at my finger tips. I know what I want and I’m so close!!!! But I just can’t do it. Not without some Japanese language knowledge.

However, every day that passes I learn more and more and am able to communicate that much more. I’m doing more and more on my own and it’s only been a little over a week!

So, this past week has been quite eventful. On Thursday, I went to Kochi City to have an orientation meeting. In my opinion, it couldn’t have come sooner, but I’m glad they gave us time to get settled a little first. It was by far the most informative meeting I have been to since being accepted by JET. I think I’m really going to love my city.

I got a few tips on how to shop around and where all the good places are. I learned some great lesson plans and I met a lot of great people in my area!

Thursday night we all went out to a nomikai party. Nomu is the verb for drink and kai is for party (well…in this instance) We went up to a beer garden on a hotel roof. HA

It was on the 5th floor where there were large tents (tent tops with legs…not like camping tents.) and it was all you can eat and drink for 3200yen (~$30) I absolutely love Japanese food and an all you can eat was perfect!!! Also, Kochi is the second largest consumer of beer in Japan (Okinawa apparently got the #1 spot) But Japanese beer is way weaker than American or European beer. Besides, I can never tell how much I’ve actually drunk because everyone pours beer for everyone else and we all have these little cups. So before I even finish my tiny cup, someone is pouring me more! My favorite wasn’t the beer. It was a blue mixed drink that tasted like grapefruit juice and had close to no alcohol. Whatever. I wasn’t there to get wasted. I instead had a blast mingling with everyone!!

After that, there was the nikai (ni for two…kai for party…) where half the people at the nomikai went out for more drinks and karaoke. I didn’t go because I had to catch the train home which stops running at midnight (though it was only 10ish) and I had to get up at 6 the next morning so I could catch the train back and do it all over again!!!

The second day was better than the first. I woke up in a decent mood. The sake I had the night before had no effect on me (hangover wise). While getting ready to go I found my CD player and decided to take it with me on the 40minute train ride. My GOD it was wonderful! I can’t believe how great of a mood I was in just from listening to my music as I rode along. A bike ride is not complete without music. How could I forget that? (I ride my bike to the train…) I was on a high the rest of the day.

During lunch I had to run into the market area to pick up a watermelon. I was going to a bbq with my old host mother and I couldn’t show up empty handed. We were having a problem getting the plans solidified. Something that would have taken all of 5 minutes in America took 2 days when mixed with Japanese indirectness and my inability to speak or read the language. So I felt bad about it and decided to bring a very expensive watermelon. No matter, it was worth it (only $12)

After the meeting I immediately went to the bbq and really enjoyed myself. Yuumi was there (old host sister) and her friend Yumi (my sisters old host sister) Man it was great to hang out with some old friends. We were never and I doubt ever will be all that close. But the familiarity was really nice.

Today, I’m going to a tug-o-war party. I’m on the gaijin team and from the way it sounds, it’s going to be a little bit of tugging and a whole lot of drinking and mingling. Maybe eating too. GOD I love this country ;) I’ll do whatever it takes to hang out with people!

Tomorrow, I start English camp which lasts until Tuesday. It’s considered part of my job (though I would have done it for free) and because I “work” on Sunday I get a nenkyu day or a day off because I worked an extra day. Then, I found out that I also have 4 summer vacation days on top of my normal vacation days, just because. But I have to take all of these days off before September…so that leaves…like…2 days of actually going into work! I don’t think I’m going to take them. I won’t miss them and I think it’s important that I get things together. I have a second wind and I know what my first few lessons are going to be like!!!

Oh, right, English camp. So it’s going to be a bunch of high schoolers (mostly girls) and I get a group of 6. Apparently the kids are really genki (happy/excited/enthusiastic) and I’m looking forward to some more smiling faces :)

A series of ups and downs

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sorry for taking so long to write this post ;) I’ve been doing things and when I’m not doing things, I’m sleeping.

I’m slowly learning Japanese. I’m slowly picking up the normal procedures that go on everyday but it is a slow process and I have only been in Kochi for one week. Only one week. I have lost all track of time. It doesn’t feel like forever but it doesn’t feel like a short amount of time.

I have changed quite a bit already though. When I talk to people, I throw the word “maybe” around like it’s water. Maybe is a word that Japanese people love to use when they speak in English. I doubt they understand it’s full meaning. The reason why they use it is because in Japanese usually they’ll say something like “it seems as though” or “I am not certain but…” because the Japanese don’t like to lie so unless they are talking about something that is a hard fact, they will say “maybe”. Perhaps it’s become their habit but constantly they’ll use it inappropriately. For example, the teacher that sits next to me is going to be going to Largo in October. She says “Maybe I am the teacher who will go to Largo” or when I asked what time I should be at work, my supervisor said “Maybe 8:30 would be a good time to go to work” in other words, get your ass to work by 8:30 or something bad will happen. So now when I want something, I’ll say “maybe blah blah will be best”. I get good responses with it. When I am direct, I get blank reactions. I kinda hate it.

When a person is learning a new language, often they will become tired easily because it takes a lot of brain power. This is true. But I find that it’s very tiring to talk in English as well. I have to speak so slowly and so deliberately, that it’s almost like I’m speaking a different language. I have to choose my words carefully and often my true meaning is lost because I use such simple vocabulary. But whatever, if I used more complicated vocabulary, no one would understand and that’s not what I’m going for.

So, on to more fun things!

On Monday night I was invited to the Obon festival in Odochi. Obon is a festival of lights. When the sun goes down, people will place paper lanterns on the water and it makes the most beautiful display. It is to call all the deceased ancestors home by showing them the way with lanterns. There are usually fireworks and the usual festival foods and games. I dressed in the yukata that the first exchange student who ever stayed with us made for my mother. It is a beautiful purple with Japanese fans printed on it. It is a very traditional yukata (summer kimono). Despite it being for summer, it made everything way hotter. But that didn’t matter because I was having so much fun.

Yuumi’s mother, Nishimura Mari, (my host mother from my last visit) picked me up and we went to the house of Shinozaki-san (I should really know her name. She is my favorite person here! She is Sou’s mother) I didn’t realize it but the Shinozaki family lives right next to Odochi high school which is my second school that I visit twice a week. It will be a 50 minute bus ride. If I can get my cell phone working, that won’t be such a bad ride.

Ahhhh yes, my cell phone. I got a very cool cell phone that I paid extra money for because it works as an MP3 player. But I can’t get the software to work on my computer and even if I could, rumor has it that my music won’t play on it anyway because the music is not copy written. I’ll shoot someone straight in the head if that’s the case. The littlest things have been making me want to fly off the handle. I have lost all of my patience because I don’t have anywhere that I can relax. I am always trying to understand Japanese and I am always speaking in simple English. So I don’t have anywhere that I can call comforting. There are small problems everywhere. They add up, ya know? And for most of them, I need someone elses help. I want to solve them myself! Ahhh, it’ll take time.

On the other hand, I love typing on my cell phone (it’s a total love hate relationship). I sent a Japanese message to a friend and it was way easier to write in Japanese than it is in English. Who saw that coming?! Totally not me. But I really like it. One more very good reason to learn Japanese kanji!

So back to the Obon festival. I got there and it was a huge deal! I went into the Shinozaki residence and there was Wakako, Sou’s little sister only she was….9 now? And not 7. It’s a big difference. She was shy around me at first and then warmed up to me. I was happy about that. I saw Sou’s mother and she was the first person to give me a big huge. It felt so good. People in Japan don’t get the whole hugging thing.

Inside was a lot of family members, extended family, and friends. Everyone was sitting on the floor at tables and eating lot’s of food and drinking lot’s of beer. I have never seen so much beer at one table. They should have just pulled out a keg! It was nice to relax with them. It reminded me a little of American get togethers because everyone was laughing, eating, drinking, and being loud. I liked it a lot.

And that’s how my life is these days. A series of ups and downs. The more down I am, the higher I go up by the end of the day…usually.


A list of things that I love about living here:

1. Food. I absolutely love Japanese food. This might sound stupid but as long as it doesn’t have a lot of fish in it, then I love it! Contrary to popular belief there is a lot of food that doesn’t have fish in it. And I don’t even mind the fish. It’s the squid, octopus, and shell fish that I don’t like. Salmon is awesome! But not common. At least as far as I have seen.

2. People. I love these people. They are so kind and understanding. They are quite tolerant too. They have the patience of saints. No lie. Maybe I’ll talk about that later. Japanese children have got to be the most annoying things on this earth but they are so cute that you can’t hate them. It’s a weird mix.

3. My apartment. It’s such a perfect size. I just need to pick things up off the floor and vacuum. It’s much cleaner than I was expecting and there are no bugs. This is awesome!

4. Fellow JETs. I wanted to stay away from JETs as much as possible because I want to learn Japanese and I want to make Japanese friends. I always thought that it was easy to always just hang out with other JETs. But not only is that not going to ever happen because they are so few and far between, but it’s actually a nice breather to talk to a fellow native English speaker. It’s refreshing and it doesn’t happen often. Twice since I’ve been here.

Oh, I met Steven in Odochi as well. He is the ALT for Odochi middle school. Very good guy!

5. The view. Right outside my window is a mountain. Well, there are mountains in every direction. I think I’m living in one big valley. It’s beautiful! I can’t wait for fall when all the leaves change!!!

6. My bike. God how I love riding my bike. It’s a simple granny bike and it squeaks when I push the left brake too hard. Also, the ride isn’t so smooth and so I’ve begun to jiggle in places that have never jiggled before. But despite the mountains, there aren’t a lot of hills in Tosayamada so I don’t really strain anywhere that I go which is nice.

7. Katakana. Katakana is a Japanese alphabet for foreign words. Mostly, they are English words written in Japanese style. It has saved my life countless times. I can go into any store and understand the basic idea of a product because of the katakana unless it’s a completely original Japanese item which will have pictures :)

8. Japanese festivals. By far my favorite thing about Japan. I have been to two festivals so far (wow, in only one week!) and they are wonderful. There are so many people and everyone is having a good time enjoying lot’s of food and beer and each other’s company. Now I just need some Japanese friends to enjoy my time with!

9. My cell phone. I know. It’s a total love/hate relationship but I can get in touch with people so easily and that’s wonderful since I don’t have the internet yet. I love communication!

10. The weather. Surprised? I am too. I really like how in the evenings it’s so cool. The breeze feels fantastic. And as long as I wear the right clothes during the day, the shade can be a lot more enjoyable than the AC. Since I like the warmth so much, I know I’m going to die in winter!!!! I won’t miss sweating though ;)


The principal is having a field day with my employment at Tosayamada high. He loves the idea that I’m from Largo. Personally, I don’t think it’s SUCH a big deal because to me, anyone who was from Largo and wanted to go to Japan would go to Tosayamada. The problem is finding someone who wants to go to Japan (and actually follows through with it) I’ve met plenty of high schoolers who want to do the same thing I am doing!

So, this morning, my principal wasted no time in taking me around to visit the Mayor, and the superintendent of the school board…right? I don’t know. I met the Mayor and some other really important people in the education department.

We all sat in nice offices that were barely air conditioned and drank cold tea (love the cold food stuffs) and they politely talked about me in Japanese. I only caught a few things. It was mostly about my history as a Largo student etc etc.

After all that running around, my principal then had me sit down with a newspaper reporter to talk about my experiences and why I chose to work at Tosayamada. I really don’t think that my presence here is this big of a deal, but I don’t mind the attention…I think… I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m going to be misquoted from translation errors.

For now, I have my first English conversation class to teach. I have no idea what I’m doing.

I usually watch TV until it’s time to go somewhere but I only have 4 channels. You can imagine that they are crap but I’m holding out on getting cable. I want to make friends and I don’t do that in front of a TV screen! I want to go out at night and not sit at home!!! I will succeed!!!!!!

Watch me

Lost And Found

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I spent all of today getting lost, found, shopping, lost, found, lost, found, home, lost, found, lost, lost, lost, shopping, shopping, home. In that order.

I decided that since I went shopping in Kochi City yesterday, perhaps I should get to know my area a little better and go shopping for some things that I need for the apartment like an air filter, light bulbs, and cleaner (my apartment is a dusters dream)

I ended up getting lost a whole lot more than I actually spent doing anything else. I went all over the place and nothing is really all that far away, 10 minute bike ride at most, but getting lost means doing a lot of back tracking.

Also, sweating isn’t so bad in the end. My skin actually feels better after taking a cold shower and washing off. I feel a little healthier. Also, my apartment isn’t as hot as it used to be. This could be because I’m getting used to it or it might be that something has physically changed about the place. It could be that the outside weather is different than it was when I first got here or that my AC unit is working better because I’ve been using it so much. What I really think is that the walls are actually cooler. Two days ago I was looking for an outlet and to look behind my desk I stuck me cheek against the wall and it was really hot! I think that the constant ac and wind running through this place has actually cooled off the walls and it only took a few days. I wonder how much my electricity bill will be…I don’t think very much.

All the running around today left me with a sunburn I think. I haven’t actually taken a look in the mirror but I can feel it when I scrunch my nose and I’m starting to get heat rash on my forehead. Not good.

Other than that, I got a lot of really good stuff! I got my light bulb and filter, cleaner, stove tinfoil so it doesn’t look so ugly, a washing bucket, sponges, some interesting foods, and a book!!! Every time I go anywhere, there are magazines to be sold and I don’t usually have a chance to read them because 1, I can’t read and 2, there are always a lot of other people reading them first. Especially boys. Depending on the time: during the day men will be reading the naughty magazines and then some current events but at night suddenly the hoodlum teenagers will pack themselves in shoulder to shoulder to read the naughty mags. It’s so funny. They blur everything out anyway!

But I keep passing this one bookstore and I had actually been in it before but I couldn’t find anything that looked interesting. I went in again today and picked up whatever I could find because I was so tired of wanting to read one and never actually doing it. I am very pleased with my selection too. I can’t read it, but it looks interesting which is the point in the end.

A couple of things I wasn’t able to pick up like an electric fan and some special things for the bathrooms like a little shelving unit for both the toilet and then one for the washing machine too. I can’t fit them on my bike but once I make a friend who has a car, the first thing on the agenda will be to go down to the local Family Center and hook myself up. They’re not badly priced either!!!

It’s Not All Bad

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I’d like to say that this entire experience thus far has been bumpy but not bad. It’s difficult at times and I complain about it but that doesn’t mean that I’m having a bad time. I’m having a great time. I’m just frustrated.

Where are my euphoric feelings?! This is supposed to be culture shock. The first stage is euphoria and then frustration. How come it got skipped over?!

Anyway, I went into Kochi City again today. I was told that the 100yen shop there was better than the one here in Tosayamada. I realized later that every time I want to go to Kochi I have to spend 700yen ($7). I feel like I’m bleeding money! Suddenly 700yen doesn’t seem like a lot of money. If I were still in the states I’d be pissed that I had to spend that much! Though, it’s really not that much. At least not now that I’m on salary :)

As I was saying, I went to Kochi City to go shopping. I got there around 9:30 but most everything doesn’t open until 10. Crazy. Already the sun was making me sweat profusely so I got a chocolate ice cream. It was fantastic. The heat makes some things way more enjoyable, like ice cream and water and cold showers.

Speaking of water, allow me to digress yet again. I have been to the grocery store twice now and both times I have gotten a 2liter bottle of crap water. It’s not normal water. It’s special mineral water that is supposed to help you and blah blah crap crap it tastes sweet and I just want normal water damn it! The first time is understandable. But the second time, I went in there making sure that I got some good stuff. I stood there for a while feeling like an idiot like I did the last time. Every time I go to the store people stare at me and I always feel like I’m in their way. In fact, I avoid isles where there are other people so I don’t have to divert my eyes or so I don’t have to pretend that they’re not staring at me (you know, it might just be me but I really don’t think it is). Anyway, this second time I sat there looking at the water and every time I saw something I thought might be good, I realized it wasn’t. So then I spot a bottle called H2O and I think, there’s no way I can go wrong with that! So I get it home and wonder why it looks a little cloudy. All sports water looks a little off clear. And that’s when I saw it. It really said Super H2O. God help me I need some real water! The peach juice I picked up is good though.

Where was I? Kochi City. So I got the ice cream and I’m looking at this map that my predecessor left. It sucks because there are no street signs. Because the streets aren’t named. Ugh, I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that. ANYWAY, I find the 100yen store and I am very pleased. I got half the stuff that I really really wanted. Some things I didn’t get because they were too big to take on the train with me back home. Like a little basket to help organize some of my toiletries or a small laundry basket. It’s just cumbersome.

After that store I went wandering around. I went into different shops and saw a whole lot of interesting things, but nothing worth buying. By the time I decided to go it was only noon. I thought it was a bit early especially since I didn’t have any other plans. (except clean and it’s too hot to do that.) This is about the time that I realized that people were starting to line the streets where the Yosakoi dancers would be going through. I was told that they wouldn’t be dancing Saturday but I was pleasantly surprised. I sat down on a very hot wall and let my butt sweat it out. I sat there for almost an hour because I was really tired. (There is nothing worse than falling asleep when people are watching you out of the corner of their eyes*) When I realized that the dancing wouldn’t start until 2, I decided to get up and walk around. You could see the spots on my shorts where I was sweating the most. Those were also the places that felt good when the wind was blowing ;)

I walked around for a while realizing that if I looked at the strange clothing, I would get to stand in the AC. Those clothes got real interesting real fast. Finally, I found a McDonalds. I know I know, I’m in Japan, why go to McDonalds?! Well, I don’t like eating Japanese food when I don’t have a Japanese person with me. It’s hard to know what to do or what to order. There’s very specific etiquette that you just can’t get from a book. Also, I heard that the Teriyaki McBurger was worth checking out. So I did. I got the teriyaki burger and loitered in McD’s until the dancing started. I watched that for an hour and a half then went home. A day well spent I think. Also, the burger was really good but nothing like a real hamburger. It looks like a regular one, but it’s really sweet. I’d say it’s my new favorite but it’s so different that it’s in a category of its own. I still like the double cheeseburger too!

So yeah, I sat in McD’s for a little while writing notes to myself since I had nothing better to do while I loitered. I started people watching through the window. You know, I never understood the appeal of people watching and now after doing it for about 15 minutes, I still don’t see the appeal. It’s totally boring. I’d rather be with those people and interacting with them than just watching them. I would think that would go for most other people as well. Maybe I’m wrong…but I doubt it ;)

In the end, things are going along bumpy, like I mentioned before. But not badly. I’m having difficulty doing simple things like get a membership card for the grocery store. On the other hand, I’m really making out well with my simple Japanese. As long as there are no problems, I can order food and ask people for directions no sweat. It’s great! I haven’t really needed my dictionary once! Not that it would help. It’s a useless little book. I need the Canon Word Tank C50! Now that is a mother of an electronic dictionary. I’ve had my eye on it for quite some time. Now the problem remains in finding an electronics shop. *sigh*

* I’d like to note that it really sounds like everyone is staring at me. First, I’m certain that a lot of it is just in my head. Sort of like if I stare at someone they will stare back and I’m doing just that. I might just be the one starting it. But a lot of the times I’m not. And the second thing is that not everyone is looking at me. It’s about 5% of everyone that I pass. That’s not a lot when you think about it, but it’s more than no one!

Also, most people automatically assume that I speak Japanese which is contrary to the statistics. The statistics is that most Japanese people will not want to talk to a gaijin just because they don’t want to speak English but that didn’t stop a little old lady from sitting next to me and commenting how hot it was. Or everyone that I ask for clarification goes on and on like I can understand more than 2 words even though I’m giving them a completely blank look. It’s not bad. I just gotta get used to things, that’s all. It’s gonna take time.

It's a Heat Wave

Sorry for the late post. I wrote most of this yesterday, but I ran out of time to finish it. I'll start writing todays now, but lord knows if I'll post it before I leave. Sorry!

Ok, Tokyo Orientation was total cake. We all knew and expected this. However, where I am now, is completely overwhelming!!!!

Where to begin...

First, I am facing a lot of firsts. Not just because this is Japan but because some things I have just never done before. For example, I've never lived alone before. At first, I didn't notice that I was doing anything weird until I made a noise and realized how loud it was against the silence. Coming to school and socializing is a treat...I haven't even been here for 24 hours (T0T). Next, I have never hung my clothes to dry on a clothes line before. This morning was a first. A nice big spider was using it as a web holder, but I told him off and I doubt he shall return.

There are some things about my apartment that I love and others that I don't. I love that it's mine and I love its Japanese style and cuteness. It's the perfect size for me. Not too small or too big.

What I don't like is that I can't cool it the way I am used to. Normally, we have central AC. No such luck. I have one room that has an AC unit and it cools that one room which happens to be neither the kitchen nor bedroom. So I slept in the living room last night. Futons are super easy to move and I'm happy about that. I'll post pictures when I have Internet at my house. I am using my computer at work, which is running windows 98. I doubt it has USB.

Yes, I am at work today. It's not bad at all. I'm glad to be given something to do instead of sit at home in my hot apartment which only gets hotter as the day grows longer. I read what my predecessor left for me and that's when I became overwhelmed. She has so much information and it's all important. I read it through once and I'll probably ready it again tonight. There is information from how to sort my trash to how to get on the bus and what's expected of me in class at each school. I have names to memorize and lesson plans to write.

Which brings me to the actual meat and potatoes of being an ALT. It's not about living in Japan or learning Japanese. It's about teaching students. I have no training for this. I have no idea what I'm doing. Everyone makes it sound so easy. In fact, it's so easy, they don't even need to train for it. Clearly, living in Japan will take all my time and energy. I need not devote any of it to my job.

I'm sure in the end I'll learn that it's really a cake job like they say it is and I'll laugh at how much I worried about it. But I doubt it. The laughing part, not the cake part.

So...it's freakin' hot.

Allow me to explain this correctly.

I hate yogurt. (This has a point). I have always hated it and I will always hate it. But every time I see it in the store or every time I watch someone eating it, I think to myself 'my, that looks good' and I try/buy some, only to remember that I hate it. This same mentality follows into hunger. When I am hungry, I can not imagine myself having ever been full before. Clearly, I have always been hungry and I will never be satisfied. So I order a lot of food and when I am full and can not eat any more (and have loads of food left over), I think that there is no possible way that I will ever be hungry again, etc., etc. This happens every time. Without fail.

So now, I am cool. I am in the teachers' office where the AC fans are running and I am quite comfortable. I think to myself that there is only this feeling of comfort and when I walk outside there is no way that I could possibly be uncomfortable. Right.

This morning I was sticking to myself. Sitting down was a chore and standing was painful. I have never sweat so much in my entire life. It was dripping down my back and my underclothes were soaking wet. Hence, I did laundry today.

This was because when I arrived at my apartment, everything was opened up. All the windows and doors to let the breeze or lack thereof, in. When everyone left, I closed the place up and turned on the AC. I then stripped down because I was about to pass out. The AC however only works for one room, as I mentioned above. I was hoping that it would extend to the bedroom, but that didn't work out, and I learned that the hard way by waiting a few hours before I said F*** it and slept in the living room.

Packing hasn't gone well because I am too hot usually to do much of anything including walking between rooms, but also because there's already a lot of crap in it. My predecessor left some really great stuff like towels, hand soap, toilet paper, etc. that I wasn't going to bring with me because I can get it here, but that I didn't actually have time to go shopping for last night. And with the growing list of things that I do need, it's going to be much more than a single trip to the ¥¹¥Ñ (su-pa, supermarket). It's only down the street but I have a bike with a basket or a huge purse/bag. There is no way that I can carry everything that I want/need.

Learning to be Stupid

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sorry about the funny posts. I’ve been having a serious problem with the internet. Once I get it at home, everything will be much smoother. I haven’t been answering many people’s emails because I’ve been running around and I don’t really have a chance to sit and think of a response. Sorry!

Already I can tell that my English is deteriorating a little bit. For now, I speak in Japanglish which is neither Japanese nor English. I’m surprised at how much I know and understand. I think that it makes things run much more smoothly. On the other hand, I still can’t read for crap and that makes things difficult.

I can usually understand simple conversations that I hear around me like “Are you going to Kochi?” “Do you sell water here?” “Wow, that girl is pretty” (they’re talking about me)

I can hear people talking about me. It’s funny, but mostly people just stare politely. They’ll be looking right at me and when I turn to look at them, they turn away. I almost don’t want to look at anyone because I’m afraid that I’ll make them nervous!

Last night on the train ride home from Kochi city, it was about 9:30pm and this guy sitting right across from me actually whipped out his phone and started taking pictures of me. I’m sure he thought he was being discreet but….no.

How do you react to that?! Do you turn to the person talking about you and tell them that you can understand them? No. Do you smile at the guy and pose for his picture? Maybe, if I weren’t so tired. He’d be really embarrassed though. Haha

So anyway, I got out last night with Fukui Sensei (one of the English teachers) and saw the Yosakoi festival. It is held every year in August and lasts from Thursday…or Wednesday, until Sunday. It’s a celebration of life and it’s relatively young, only 50 years old. People break up into teams ranging from 50 to 150 people of all different ages and they dance. When I say dance, I mean DANCE and all day for the entire festival. There are over a hundred different teams. They close off two major roads in Kochi city and people from all over Kochi (think of it like people from all over the state) come to dance. Each team follows a big truck that they have decorated and it plays really loud music that they dance to as they walk down the street. It’s very organized. Each team has unique costumes and they all dance to about three different songs over and over and over again all day from 2 in the afternoon until 10pm.

I want to do it next year, it looked like so much fun! The only thing that would stop me is the heat. I watched everyone dancing at night, so the sun wasn’t even out and I saw people dripping sweat on the floor right in front of me. Their outfits were soaking wet and they would almost leave puddles where ever they walked (danced). They all looked like they were having so much fun though.

So, I have no internet and no cell phone. This is kind of a pain in the ass because there are some people that I want to meet up with but am completely unable to. Even if I can get a hold of them via internet while I’m at work, I can just see it taking a bad turn.

So where would you like to meet?

Oh, that place down my street that sells yakiniku.

Which street?

You know…that one by the other street.

Gotcha. You see, no streets in Japan have names. I thought that maybe some really important streets had names…but I was wrong. Trying to get directions is ridiculous. I have a single map from the internet (in Japanese) so that anywhere I go, I have to count the streets that I cross so I know where to turn. Soon I’ll learn land marks but for now, this is ridiculous!

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