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.

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