Friday, March 24, 2006

Oh fuck/Oops, I did it again...

I feel like spring is finally here. Thank da lawd. Yesterday was absolutely beautiful for most of the day and it was so much warmer outside than inside. Today, I awoke to a bright, warm day and in the midst of the rush to get to work on time, I decided to dry my clothes outside and as I opened my window, I was yet again awestruck by the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. I actually paused what I what I was doing, leaned against the door and had a mental mini-orgasm. Nice.

When I was walking to school with the sounds of Beyone and Sean Paul bouncing on my ear drums, I was once again blind-sided by the sheer beauty of the snow capped mountains in the distance cutting across the perfect blue sky. That led me to have a "oh fuck" moment while I was enraptured by pure perfect beauty. People, I literally stopped dead in my tracks and exclaimed "oh fuck, that's so beautiful." Yeah, I'm a poet; bet you didn't know.

When I rode my bike to town this afternoon to hit the ATM before I leave on my trip, the sound of the Neo River was thundering in my ears and I had my second "oh fuck" moment. The water was so blue and clean. I'm falling in love with my village again. It is a rare thing to have so much natural beauty in one place, and even rarer to be slapped in the face by it to be reminded of what I have.

So, yesterday and today were the graduation/closing ceremonies for the elementary and junior high schools. The 6th graders bid adieu to their elementary school and there were some tears but none from me. I'll see all but one of them in a few weeks. I actually teared up though when I learned that Kai, a really bright boy, will be going to Nagano ken to begin junior high school. We'll also be losing his brother Riki, who is in the fourth grade. I'll definitely miss both of them. BTW, that's the graduating class, all 9 of them.

Today, the JHS had the closing ceremony and farewell ceremony for half our teachers and our kocho sensei (principal). I was cool until kocho sensei said "sayonara" and then my eyes started burning something terrible. One by one the departing teachers stepped up to the mic and gave their anecdotes and thoughts and damned if I couldn't hold myself together. When Tomomi, my neighbour, got up and began crying before she could utter a word, I did it again: I boo-hooed, but this time, I had no tissues, no hankies, no nothing. I'm absolutely TERRIBLE with goodbyes and I'm gutted that I won't see these people again, especially my JTE and Tomomi. Though we had some very small issues in the classroom, I accepted her old school approach and appreciated everything she did for me. From helping me set up my phones and internet, to driving me places, to taking me out for meals and tea and to the onsen, she's been the one Japanese person I could really count on. We had a really good working relationship and I think we respected and liked each other.

Tomomi also helped me a great deal because she's my neighbour, she's young and we communicate well. We've joked around and she's driven me places.
She's the only one in this village who knows what's happening in my personal life. She's an absolutely sweet person and I'm going to miss her.

When all the students formed two lines so that the teachers could walk down the aisle (they were also playing a song on their musical instruments), I was bawling. My JTE also hugged me (a big deal in Japanese culture) and I was a baby again. When I'm cracking, a hug or a hand on my shoulder causes me to fall apart...Needless to say, I'm alright now because everyone is still here, but the end of the enkai tonight might cause me to have a repeat performance. ..

So after 8 months here, with the past 3 being pathetically, ridiculously difficult, I will be going back to my beloved city tomorrow for a short break. I doubt I'll have neither the time or the inclination to update this but we'll see. There will be so much to do and so many people to see, but I'll retain it all and give y'all a proper update when I get back. There'll probably at least one major surprise I'll report when I return...Sorry, no hints. You're going to have to wait!

Peace out from N.V. (that's Neo Village to you.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Amazing Disappearing English...

Not mine, of course. Thanks to a steady supply of books, Internet access and the maintenance of this blog, my English is A-Ok. The disappering English I'm referring to is that of my JTE. Her last day here is Friday and I think she is under the strong impression that she will not be a JTE again. She now almost exclusively speaks to me in rapid fire Japanese, her spelling and grammatical skills have gone the way of the cuckoo bird and she's making embarassing errors in class (which I've decided to correct on the spot - fuck la politesse). Today she was helping one of the ninenseis, who are currently preparing their self intros for when they go to Canada, and she threw in the towel (actually, she literally threw in the pen) and told me to work on it. Ayyyy. (Sharp intake of breath) Chotto... It's a good thing I'm in a fabulous mood due to the fact that I will be on beautiful Canadian soil in about 60 hours (give our take the time difference). Ants. Pants. Excited. Discuss.

In other news, I had a fab weekend. On Friday night, in our quest to see the cherry tree in my village (not in bloom yet), Dave in I set off in his car for the 2km odyssey. However, we missed the bridge and ending up driving to town. On our way, we passed by the Neo damn and caught some serious vertigo as we watched the brown and white rapids rush by. We then made our way to Mos Burger for a classy dinner of burgers, fries and salad. We were feeling so ravenous/gluttonous, we had two burgers each. I'm not ashamed; I was on the PMS train.

Saturday morning we had to get up early so that we could finish the business end of me owning THE CAR. A usually complicated affair took approximately 10 minutes and 2500 yen to complete thanks to the original dealer of the car. After working out some details, Dave and I set off to hang out in the city centre of Ogaki. We parked at the mall and walked about 20 minutes to Landy's, a Brazillian speciality shop that sells AMAZING sanwiches, as well as other delectable things. We gorged on heavenly meat sandwiches and fries, and again, I'm not ashamed; the PMS train had officially pulled into the station.

After finishing our meal and using tissues to wipe away any evidence of orgy of meat, we walked back to the shopping centre and hung out like a couple of mallrats. We stalked the arcade and played my personal fave: House of the Dead (4). I jumped. I screamed. I killed zombies. I died. We also played the taiko drumming game which is always fun. There was also a movie theatre, but alas, we were not lucky enough to get find an interesting movie. We had made plans to eat dinner with Shiloh and her friend Andre (always eating, je sais), and we decided to head back to town. It was during this journey that I re-learned something that I tend to forget now and then: me, a man, a heavy vehicle and no sense of direction DOES NOT WORK WELL together. Add fuel, strike a match and watch the fireworks. I have to admit it; I get really impatient when I don't know where I'm going. It's irritating when I'm with my girlfriends, but for some reason, when I'm with a guy in a car, my temper is like hemorrhoids; it flares up. I go from a perfectly respectful, gracious, charming, beautiful person into a demon with a rash. I get short, I gnash my teeth, my hair goes gray. It ain't pretty. But somehow, Dave and I perservered and survived with the new knowledge that perhaps we shouldn't take any road trips alone in the future.

We had my oishii yaki niku and had a good time frying up meats on the grill in the middle of the table. I promise I'll post photos of this soon. The company was great, my belly was full and I was all smiles.

Sunday was a nice relaxing day and thoughts of Okinawa in 2 months time are on my mind. It's Monday today, 3:50 and it's a holiday tomorrow. Though the past little while has been particularly rough, it's getting better. It's April next week, the new school year will begin, I'm going home to recharge, I'm at my fighting weight and look fab and I'm really blessed. The cliched sunshine after the rain is beginning to peek through the rain. All will be well in Kaki land.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I'm so lazy and so hungry...

Anyway, going to keep this brief...can't concentrate. What we have here is an introduction to tea ceremony at my apato the other night during an English conversation class. Delish.

Here is my sannenseis that just graduated. All 14 of them. Here is a beautiful reminder of just how little they learned in English, but it was sweet nonetheless.

Here is my lovely new car.

Weekend begins in T-1 hour.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Aside from the winter my father died...

This has been the worst winter on record. Hmmm, maybe it has to do with any or all of the following:

* Living in Japan in super inaka.
* Being physically isolated and stuck in my apartment 5 out of the 7 nights of the week.
* Going into shiver overload trying unsuccessfully to get warm in front of the kerosense heater due to the lack of central heating.
* Japan: I love you/I loathe you"
* The lack of freedom and independence.

I can honestly say I have never felt so completely...ah, I can't think of an appropriate adjective. But I guess I can describe it: I sometimes feel like walking over to the wall and climbing it to the ceiling and crawling from one side to the other. And just staying there, just for the change...No, that doesn't quite do it. I can think of other things, but for fear you will try to have me checked in at Hotel Loony Bin, I will keep those ideas to myself. But suffice to say, my attitude this (past) winter has marked a real shift in my attitude. I internalize a lot more, to the point that it comes out in some heinous fashion, usually in someone's ear, to the point where I rather be standing outside naked. I look really normal on the outside, and more often than not, those close to me won't know that I'm having problems, but when it's revealed, it's quite spectacular, but in a very bad way. Thank God I don't have any vices or I would have become a very bad afterschool special.

But the good side (yes, there actually is a good side) is that I'm really reconciling what I can and can't change about me. For example, one thing I wanted to learn how to do is to live in the moment. You know, stop and smell the roses, be fully tuned in, etc. Well, what I've realized is I can't do this everyday, all the time. When I see something naturally beautiful, I can look at it, take it in, have it wash over me and fully appreciate it, or when I am having a great time, I'm fully there. But there have been some days, ok, a lot, over the past few months, that just suck ass. I think the fundamental reason why I don't try really hard to do "live in the divinity of the everday" is because I'm a planner to the core. Planning trips, financial planning, 5 year plans, planning just turns me on. So when things are crap, rather than trying to turn that frown upside down by hugging a tree (no pun intended, Shi), I sit down with my notebook and write about what I want to do. And that satisfies me. But unfortunately, since I have NO idea what I will be doing after JET, I'm at a stalemate. Oh, there are ideas. But I don't have enough info to make any headway. (I'm also a crazy researcher. ) I'm not going to get into the whys, but I can't move on the major planning til later. For short term plans, I also have to wait. Okinawa, Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kobe and Tokyo are all on the horizon, but since it won't be going alone, I'll have to wait for schedule checks, consenses and the like. So this is teaching me to take one step at a time. I'm going to Montreal first, so I can just think about that for now, and that will have to do. You take the good, you take the bad...(ref?).

Another thing that is just eating at me is the total lack of freedom and independence. At first it was relaxing to take a break from my previously hectic lifestyle back home. You'd be hardpressed me to find me home in the spring, summer and autumn, and I would take the winter to chill out and stay indoors. If I wasn't window shopping, actually shopping, going to cinq a septs, going to birthday parties, dinners, game nights, the gym, the movies or some other excursion, I could be found watching the latest installment of Crap TV, reading books or glossys, or gabbing on the phone. I had a fun social life and carried around an agenda to be sure I could pencil you in. And of course I knew that life would change in Japan, but it was shocking just how inaka I'm in. No convenience stores, no fast food restaurants, no grocery stores, no movie theatre, shopping centres or gym. Everything is at least a 40 minute drive/train ride away, and that's just the basic survival stuff. Entertainment is even further away. Staring at the walls in my flourescent lit apartment while Japanese chatter spills out of the TV is not healthy. Thankfully, I have a phone, the Internet, great friends and a comfortable apartment. But as an extrovert, you gotta know I need people. I should have listened when my predecessors recommended getting a car. But I thought I could survive without one. Actually, if I was just staying a year, I could have probably stuck it out. But I'm now at the point where I can say FUCK THAT! So I did what I probably should have done months ago: I bought a car. And not just any typical Japanese car. I bought a full on pimp-mobile: (ahhh, picture to come - Blogger pic uploading is down).
Yeah, I know it's a little excessive, but I wanted a four door sedan with a CD player, and I got that and more. When I was really needing one, a message came over the listserv and I was lucky enough to get it. I got a really good price on it so I'm really happy. This will relieve so much of the cabin fever that's been really strangling me the past little while. I'll be able to exhale soon...

Anyway, it's bright and sunny now and I think I will go for a run after school. I'll have my english conversation class tonight and hit the sack early.

Oh yeah, yesterday I was pretty proud of myself because I had to go to City Hall solo to get some preliminary paperwork done for the car. I had forgotten my dictionary and I had no one to help me out. Luckily, I knew what to ask for and I spent about 30 minutes chatting with a really nice lady who speaks no English, filling out some forms in Hiragana, using all my faculties to understand what the staff wanted and just doing the best I could. And the father of a student who will be starting Grade 1 in April asked if I could tutor his daughter in the near future. He mentioned something about food so I guess that will be my payment. More details will follow as they came. But it felt good to assert my independence yesterday. Real good.

I promise to post the graduation photos the next chance I get.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Season of farewells and welcomes...

It is near the end of the the Japanese school year and my 3rd (9th, to you Canadians) grade kids have graduated. It's a more than likely that I'll never see the majority of these kids again and it makes me sad. Let's rewind a bit, shall we?

On Wednesday, I gave my last lesson to the kids and it wasn't really a lesson as much as an exercise in having fun and being loud. We played a couple of games for the whole period and at the end, there was some chatter then a couple of kids jankened (rock-paper-scissors). Yuki was the winner (loser?) and she stepped up to me and told me how much she was going to miss me and that I was a good teacher. Then one by one, each of the 3rd graders came up to me, looked me in the eye and said a few words, in English. Of course I was touched and reached out to them the best way I knew how - pure, physical contact. Yup, I gave each of those Japanese kids a big, messy hug, and while all the girls and a couple of boys were receptive and hugged me back, a few boys stood rod straight and slapped me on the back when I hugged them. And one boy, Kazuyuki, actually ran away from me. But don't worry; I caught him and hugged the hell out of him!

At the beginning of the class, I noticed that one of the girls, Mami, wasn't there and I assumed that she was doing something important with another teacher. But at the end of the class when my JTE told me step outside, I found her there with Mami, who was sobbing uncontrollably. She managed to get out a couple of words before I started tearing up. We hugged furiously while she spilled fat tears on my shoulder and I told her that I will miss her too, that she'll big star and that she was one of my favorites. I HATE goodbyes, absolutely hate them, so I knew that the graduation ceremony would not be tear-free for me.

So here we are. Post-graduation ceremony, sitting in the teacher's lounge. I was right. It was a doozy. The girls were sobbing, even a couple of the second grade girls, and most of the teachers were crying and I wasn't an exception.

I'm beat now. I'm waiting to get the F out of here and begin my weekend, but I'll be back soon to post my pics. Later.

Monday, March 06, 2006

What's the point??? (Warning: Rampant cynicism and bitching ahead...)

Honestly, I'm fine. I'm not depressed, upset or angry. Just feeling cynical today. I guess it started during 3rd period. I was team teaching 1st grade JHS students and half the class is comprised of half wits...Okay, that's harsh. There are just a couple (okay 3) half wits, and a few who are a bit slow and the rest try really hard and are good English students. I like these kids, I really do, but as I was half listening to my JTE trying to explain English grammar in Japanese, I looked out the window and retreated into my own brain, and a single phrase came to me loud and clear: Kaki, what's the point? What is my real role as an ALT? Yeah, I know that we are here to help the children with their pronounciation and improve their language abilities, and of course, put into practice all that internationalization talk, but WTF am I doing here? And why have I decided to stay another year? It's been 7.5 months and I'm feeling like I can do this job in my sleep. Preparing for classes is a no-brainer, and while I still get butterflies the moment before I start a class, I don't feel like I'm using my whole brain, or I can learn anything more as an ALT. Trust me, I do my job well and do love interacting with the children, but is this challenging? Nope. Do I have faith that I'm helping these kids learn useful English that will help them in everyday situations? Perhaps at the JHS level. Am I confident that the the majority of these kids will be able to communicate with an English foreigner outside of school when their JTE is not whispering in their ear? Not at all.

I am well aware that perhaps my primary role is to show these students what exists outside of Japan and help spark their interests in foreign people, places and languages. But I wonder: why aren't they doing more leg work? Why is it that the majority of Japanese people will not emigrate or even live outside their own country for a stretch? Why is it that foreigners are imported en masse to teach the nation's children at an exorbitant expense, while a richer and more satisfying experience is a plane ride away? It isn't a question about money or time as Japan is a rich country and people do get vacation time (though its unbelievable how little vacation people take. 4 days vacation in year? Unique? No way.). Could it be xenophobia, narcissism, ignorance, all of the above or none of the above? From what I see, children are spoon fed and coddled, and individualism is a label that is shunned and ridiculed. I am grateful that my school has a homestay program that encourages discovery and research of a different culture (Canadian) and quite happy that one 3rd grade girl would like to move to Toronto. But what about the rest of them? I sometimes think "if I could just have this make sense to one child, it would be worth it", but would it really? I'm ambitious. I wish all my kids would have a fever for travel. But alas, at this point, that's not even on the radar.

Another thing irking me is the role of the teacher in Japanese society. While "sensei" (master) is attached to their name, I feel that teachers are overworked and underappreciated, but not by their charges, but rather by their bosses. They put in way too much overtime due to a mixture of a sense of duty and appalling inefficiency (really now, does any teacher need to put in a 72 hour work week?), while being available to the students long after the final bell rings. These teachers act as chauffers, tutors, motivators and nurses on top of their already stressful duties as educators, psychologists, disciplinarians, and parent. So where are the parents? According to the book Learning to Bow, written by one of the first ever JET Programme participants, once a child enters school, the teacher effectively becomes the parent, while the parent at home (usually the mother) is the hard-nosed, whip-holding, study-Nazi pushing their kids to be academic superstars so that they can get into the best schools. I don't know this for sure, but from what I can tell, the teacher, in particular the homeroom teacher, is the centre of a kid's world. And I feel that the relocation system can be better administered. See, the way it goes is teachers stay at a school for 2-3 years. Every March, teachers are told where they will be transferring to. 2 weeks before they go to their new school. I don't understand this. What is this?? I know it's their way, but it doesn't impress me because I don't like surprises. Bah.

There are so many things I admire about Japanese culture and I feel very fortunate about my placement because I truly feel cared for and I am kept in the loop, a lot better than a lot of my fellow JETs. But I'm still just a stranger in a strange land and these are just my observations. Please don't miscontrue anything I said as racist or anything of the like. And don't worry - I'm not going anywhere...

Ahh, Montreal. How I've dreamed of you. Just a few more weeks now.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Sun, rain, sleet, snow, snow, snow, rain, sun...all in 24 hours...

I was getting worried there for a sec. It had been raining pretty much non-stop for the past few days, which led me to believe that Spring was well on the way. Then the snow came. And it didn't stop. As I watched it float down furiously across the mountains and stick to trees, I wondered if I'd ever be able to retire my winter coat for the season. But now it's beautiful again, the heavens the colour of Crayola Sky Blue and the sun casting it's light as far as the eye can see. Thank goodness...

I had a fantastic day at school today, though one of my classes was cancelled. While I was slow and lethargic yesterday (no doubt my anemia is back, cue scary music), today I was bouncy, witty, charming and full of energy. My second grade class went swimmingly having spent 50 minutes laughing and joking with my kids. School ends in a couple of weeks and everyone knows it's coming. We've covered nearly all the material in the book, so I expect there to be fun and games for the next few classes. I've always loved the end of the school year, though here in Japan, it comes about 3 months earlier.

As I just mentioned, I was feeling pretty crap yesterday and cancelled plans for Saturday night. But my mood and body significantly picked up when I spotted the familiar white, blue and red envelope sticking out of my mailbox. Hello, a Canada Post envelope pour moi! Quelle surprise!! It was from Cheryl and though she had told me to keep an eye on my mailbox, it was still a happy surprise. I waited until after I had prepared dinner to rip it open because you can't tell me that anticipation isn't delicious foreplay. Well, Cheryl, who is one of my best friends, sent me season 4 of Law and Order (when Jerry Orbach (RIP - Lenny Briscoe) came on board and Chris Noth (AKA Mike) was still around, some Palmer's Cocoa Butter Lotion, a CD of pics of what she's been up to, a CD of old-school jams (Real Love, One More Chance, Back to Life, whu!!!!!!!!) and a handwritten note. People, I got up and shook my ass. Seriously, booty shaking, hip rocking, hand pumping dancing for 10 minutes. I react in a similar fashion each and every time I get a surprise from home, but damn, my body needed that yesterday. So happy. So satiated. 3 more weeks until I go home and hug my girls...They're going to have to hose me off of them.

Well, the Oscar's are coming up, and I'll be missing them. I think the Oscar's are my favorite awards shows and I feel so far away. But I've only seen a couple of the nominated films, but I'm dying to see Walk the Line and Hustle and Flow. Terrence Howard is so fine and I'm sure he deserves his nomination. Hopefully, I'll be able to catch these flicks when I'm at home.

Let's awful scene unfolded in my ninensei shogakko class(2nd grade ES) yesterday. I was doing a mass review of all the things I had taught them since September and decided to play a game to get maximum participation (the row game). It's really simple; you answer a question and you get to choose which row or column will sit down. When I got to the last student, Taiti, the other kids were picking on him furiously because he was slow to say what kind of fruit was on the picture card (oranges, I think). They were just howling for blood. Then all of a sudden, Taiti screamed "baka!!! (stupid)" and started to cry. Huge, sorrowful, LOUD sobs. And he wouldn't stop. And for the first time since arriving in the classroom to teach, the room fell silent for more than 5 seconds. And he just stood there, making the most awful sound with his wetness dripping down his face onto his desk. And the teacher did nothing. If I had written this post yesterday, I would have commented on my personal opinion of the male Japanese teachers I've encountered. It would have included flashy examples and anecdotes, scathy commentary and a nice bow to wrap it all together. But since I'm in a phenomenal mood, I ain't going there.

Ahhh. 1 more hour until the official start of the weekend. I think it will be a good one.