Friday, October 27, 2006
In other news, I killed another huge spider today. This time, it was in my shower. It was a scene right out of Psycho. I can't believe I'm thinking this, but I'm looking forward to the snowfall, i.e. the bug genocide that will soon occur. But under no circumstances am I looking foward to the cold, damp temperatures INSIDE my apartment...
Thursday, October 26, 2006
The Importance of Being Important...
ALT. Assitant language teacher. Assistant language teacher. That's what I am here in Japan. Some days, usually at the elementary school, I am actually running the show. From conception to design to execution of English communication lessons, I am the boss. Though I am supposed to engage in team teaching with the homeroom teacher at the elementary school, I only do this in 1 out of 6 grades. And that's fine. I like being in charge and having the responsibility. It gives me something to do when normally there would be nothing. I research games, make worksheets and handouts, select the singing music and consult textbooks for inspiration and direction. Most of the time, my lessons are the bomb rather than a bomb. I'll be blunt - English is not the most important, or even an important subject in the curriculum, so after the first few initial months of learning the ropes, I was figuratively, and sometimes literally, on my own. Sometimes, I'm all alone in the classroom (a big no-no), managing the little ones, and I like it better that way. During these times, I'm not an ALT, I'm the language teacher.
This is at the elementary school.
At the junior high school, it's entirely different. My JTE runs the show. He plans everything and leads the classroom, and that's fine, because that's his job. He's a trained English teacher and I'm his assistant, and that's also fine. But what's not fine is how I'm often relegated to the sidelines while he goes over grammar points, vocabulary and verb tenses only in Japanese. I've wasted hours over the past year and a bit just standing there, watching the interaction and trying hard not to daydream lest he chooses to utilize my knowledge and have me join the conversation.
What is difficult for me, and what continues to be a recurring theme in this job is how unimportant I am. I'll admit, I feel somewhat important to the kids and I'm proud with how far I've come with them, and not necessarily in terms of their English skills. And at the end of the day, I know it's what matters the most. But it's that feeling of being useless, of being expendable, that eats away at me.
I think it wouldn't so bad if I wasn't so damn lonely in the day time. The Japanese office culture is SO different than back home. People are perpetually busy and have very little time to do things other than what they're doing (however, I've also seen that the teachers I work with are amazingly inefficient with their time). I do speak to the non-English speakers, but our conversations are so brief due to the language barrier, but it's cool that we at least try. From time to time, I have really good, non-work related conversations with the science teacher and my JTE, and my JTE has apologized for not talking to me more (which was pretty sweet). When we got a new Japanese teacher who is fluent in English, I was so happy and my JTE was like "It's good that you've now got someone to talk to", but she's just as busy as the rest of them. I'm dying to get to know her better, but she's got a job to do so I'm on my own.
I'm not sure if I can adequately explain all of this without sounding like spoiled brat, but it really, really hurts. But I'm thankful for the internet, this blog, my books, the telephone and the weekends. I'm also thankful for those times when I feel useful, like I'm a real part of the team. Last week, all the other teachers were busy so my surrogate dad asked me to take a group of 10 first-graders (7 year olds) to the bus stop and wait for their buses to arrive. That was the first time it had happened and I had several little heart attacks during the 20 minutes we were waiting by the road, but it all went off without a hitch. They got on their buses, each yelling "Sayonara, Kaki-sensei" and I yelled back, waving and calling out each of their names. For me, this was a big something, out of a day filled with a whole lot of nothing.
I'll be handing in my recontracting papers next week when I have a free moment to to discuss it with my JTE. The NO box will be firmly checked. I was going to wait until the new year, but there's no point. I'm not going to change my mind. I was going to hang on to them , just in case, but no matter what happens, I'll have to leave. While I believe that work is something you do in order to live, I need to feel like I'm worth something, like I'm earning my pay. Like I'm important.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
I've been feeling a little restricted for a little while which has led me to feeling frustrated with living in Japan in general, and Gifu in particular. Don't get me wrong: living in the country has given me a sense of relaxation and peace that have been elusive for the past few years, but sometimes, it's just not enough. And particularly on the weekends. Back home, there'd be a multitude of places to go and things to see every day of the week, and while I spent quite a bit of the past year exploring and traveling, a newly enforced budget and a desire to stay a little closer to home has made for more weekends in either tiny Neo, or Dave's larger town, Ena. This is nice, but sometimes you just want to just go somewhere that doesn't take an hour to get to. Or sometimes you just want to see something that isn't just fully about Japanese culture. You know - maybe a play or an art exhibit or something from another part of the world. Luckily, on Saturday, the crew and I went to Nagoya (over an hour away) to have dinner at a Brazilian restaurant, Nova Urbana.
In Montreal, I started a little dinner club with my closest girlfriends and we christened ourselves Dining Divas. We met once every month and laughed, got ourselves up-to-date with each others lives, exchanged cute little $5 gifts, and dined on delicious meals and drank copious amounts of wine. I really miss those times, and with such crazy schedules with my friends here, I decided to make a Japanese edition (without the $5 gifts).
So on Saturday, Fab Food Fiends (FFF) had our first dinner and I think it was a success. While the meat distribution was pretty disappointing (like 3 or 4 small pieces of incredibly delicious meats), there was live music (by a bonafide Brazilian band) and live dancing (including some Capoeira - Dave and Ethan, remember that god awful movie Monkey brought over one year when we went up north? Yeah, it was kinda like that, but with a Japanese chick in a low cut shirt and ass pants, and no blood), spending time with close friends was pretty sweet. And for a very brief time, I felt like I wasn't in Japan.
I'm in the mood to vent, so I'm going to fire off a few things that have been frustrating me. Here goes:
- The high cost of everything, particularly fruits and vegetables. I've been here for over a year and I still get major sticker shock at the shops. I've got my mom's voice in my head saying "Oh hell no am I paying that much for mangos!" It also makes window shopping not fun at all. I bought 8 apples today because I thought I should treat myself. Unfortunately, it cost me nearly $7. One day, a co-worker told me Japanese fruits cost so much because they taste better than those found in Western countries. I looked at her sideways. You know what was going on in my head: Does KN gotta choke a bitch?
- Japanese TV. An exercise in banality, stupidity and horrid WTF-ness. I've seen too many shows featuring Pan-kun, a chimpanzee forced to wear clothing and participate in an array of humiliating tasks. Where is PETA?
- Horrendous clothing. Slouch socks. Ass shorts. Jeans with part of the thigh cut out and a garter belt in its place. Bride of Frankenstein hair. Obviously too tight/too big/too uncomfortable shoes. And people have the nerve to stare at me. I can't change my skin colour. But you can definitely change your stupid outfit.
- Ridiculous driving techniques. Arbitrary use of hazards and stopping on one lane highways.
- People who don't slow down when speaking to you when it's obvious you aren't getting what they are saying, even when you ask them to slow down.
- Katakana English. I-ee hay-tu ee-tu. If you had to read that 4 times to get it, welcome to my world.
- Losing my English, to the point where I make mistakes teaching English to my students.
- Not having a decent selection of English books close by. I've kissed my Amazon privileges goodbye for the sake of leaving Japan with no debt.
- A lack of delcious, non-Japanese food. I'm an amateur foodie. Food matters to me. I like fusion and all, but not when the the common denominator of the cuisine is Japanese. I can think of 3.5 restaurant dining experiences here where I've nearly wet myself from having food-gasms. That ain't enough.
- People, not everything is sugoi (awesome), kawaii (cute), or omoshiroii (interesting or fun). Get some new adjectives..
Bien, maintenant je suis fatiguee. Ah oui, je manque le francais. C'est une peu d'une surprise pour moi, specialement que je suis anglophone. Mais franchement, je pense que je besoin un peu de variete, un peu de excitement. A ce moment, tout est tres...boring. Je suis desolee pour le mauvais francais et le manque des accents...
Monday, October 16, 2006
I had a really good Saturday this past weekend. Dave and I woke up early to start our respective days - I was heading to my first washi ningyo (Japanese paper doll) making class in Seki and Lord Blackwood was off to play paintball in Mie-ken with a bunch of socialites from the Gifu/Seino areas. I was pretty stoked at the prospect of doing some bonafide Japanese arts and crafts and set out in my car to make the 1 hour drive. The class lived up to my expectations and then some. A gang of rag tag gaikokujin (foreigners) descended upon the home of the very amiable Chisako-san, a radiant Japanese woman who has been teaching doll classes, mostly to foreigners in English, for about 5 years. One look around her war room, and it's obvious that she is a master in the way of the doll. There were five students in total and she helped us create dolls as beautiful and unique as each of us. The doll I made was called the Temari, which translates to a ball wound tightly with colourful threads, which is what my doll is holding. It took us about 3 hours to make our masterpieces (made entirely out of paper) and we stopped about three-quarters through to break for lunch. We headed to a nearby Italian restaurant that had real bread to dip in real olive oil and I was in heaven. The pasta was pretty Japanesey, as was the dessert, but the bread, oh the bread, how it made up for it.
The class itself was definitely pleasurable for me. I'm not a very crafty girl, though I knit as a hobby and can be creative when inspired, so this was a real treat for me. Already, I feel that washi ningyo making will be a definite highlight of my time in Japan and I intend of making Chisako-san's class a priority for me.
Saturday was also a good day because I saw a battalion of monkeys in a field. It was awe-some. At first, as I was passing by, I thought they were statues because they seemed to be frozen, but I quickly realized they were in fact quite alive, so I reversed on the 1 lane road, stopped my car and put my hazards on and stared in wonder and amusement. I also cursed myself for not having my camera with me. BLAST! I took a few crappy pics on my cell phone camera, but they were less than inspiring. I learned a very good lesson that day - always have my camera on me.
Later on in the day, I hooked up with the crew and inspected their gruesome bruises from paintball. D-dawg had a particularly nasty one on his stomach, but unfortunately, I didn't think to pick up my camera to capture the heinous wound. I also didn't think to document a particularly hair-raising experience on Friday night. After I returned home from a welcome/goodbye enkai (party), I was getting to take a shower when I noticed something black and very fast zip by. Since I had just taken off my glasses, I was as blind as a field mouse so ran to my bedroom to get my specs. Armed with vision, I cast my eyes in the direction of where the thing ran to. To my shock and horror. I recognized the intruder to be a spider. A large, large spider. I screamed and hacked, yelling for David to come and save me from the beast. After much screaming, jumping up and down on the bed, near tears and a couple of false hits, my hero slayed the arachnid and deftly cleaned up the carcass and its entrails from my tatami mat*. It took me some time to recover from this incident, but I'm on the mend as I valiantly slept in my bed last night.
Since I've realized that I've been slacking on taking photos, I will be more consistant with photographing everything from the mundane to the exciting. I intend on leaving Japan with quite a few scrapbooks and for that I've got to keep snapping.
* While I'm usually a very truthful writer, the intimate facts of this story had to be changed to protect the innocents. I will say, however, I was not the only one screaming on that fateful night.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
While I was in Montreal, people would often ask me how much time I had left in Japan, and after rapid calculations in my head, I came to the above answer. I can hardly believe 14 months have passed since I left my warm cocoon of 5-a-7s and near complacency, and now I can hardly believe I have 10 months to go. I'm often reminded that THE END IS NIGH everytime I look into the faces of my kids. I got my re-contracting papers today, and much to my chagrin, my JTE had forgotten that I spoke to him about my plans post-JET, as in after July 2007, so he was dismayed to learn that I will most probably* be leaving Japan 10 months from now. I have until February 2 to submit my signed papers, so they're just going to have to wait til then.
Other than that, I had a great weekend. Unfortunately, at this moment, I don't have any pics to share (I'm hoping to steal some from the hot Scot), but we went to one and a half festivals. The first was a Mino paper lantern festival, which was beautiful. The second was the Ogaki festival, which was celebrating god knows what and we happened to stumble upon. It was just cool to see some lovely people I haven't seen in a while and get to know some others a bit better.
My main squeeze has a very funny blog that offers a different take on Japan and life in general. Check it out: http://adventuresofblackwood.blogspot.com Each new entry keeps taking the place of my favorite one.
Also, read this bit of poetry that knocked my socks off the other day: http://dancingchaos.blogspot.com/2006/09/on-cover-up-girl.html Sigh, I was missing Coco Cafe at Jello Bar right about then.
* probably as in "I'm saying this right now because I don't want to disappoint you, but I'm leaving Japan in 10 months."
Thursday, October 05, 2006
This was the theme song for me and Dave's time in Montreal. I'm not a huge fan of Justin's but damn, that song is addictive.
As usual, my time in Montreal just zipped by, but with the added pressure of getting ready for Ayanna and Raj's wedding and showing Dave around (it was his first time in the "New World"), life just zipped by in hyperspeed. This trip to Montreal filled me with a myriad of emotions: I felt happy to be home and surrounded by all things familiar, I felt a familiar sense of stress from being pulled in so many directions, guilt from simply not having enough time to see EVERYBODY, shock and sorrow from the shooting at Dawson, a desire to not live in Montreal again, and then sadness when it was time to say goodbye again. Overall though, it was fantastic to see those I love and introduce David to everyone who matter so much to me.
We did so many things, went to so many places and met so many people. We vistied the usual tourist hotspots like the Old Port, Mont-Royal, Downtown and The Main, we ate at Le Biftheque and Schwartz's and made a special trip to Ottawa where we visited Parliament and had dinner with sweet Steph. I also did a couople of firsts: I visited St. Joseph's Oratory (stunning) and ate a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's (delicious, much to my surprise. I don't really like smoked meat. Yes, I was born in Montreal). We also hit a local brewery (3 Brasseurs(?) on St. Denis) but unfortunately we did not have time for a proper French meal (Julia, I was gutted. We tried, we really did!).
Luckily, however, Dave had a poutine and had a party in his mouth. We also had some delicious West Indian at Curry House (chicken curry, how I've missed you), and had mouth-gasms at V.I.P. (REAL Chinese food, how I've missed you). It was my 2 sisters, my mom, Dave and I, and we ordered about 10 dishes and finished EVERYTHING. While I was disappointed that we couldn't go to Hot and Spicy because it was closed, V.I.P. was exquisite.
I'm not going to go on and on about this trip because honestly, it feels so far away from now. I'm back at school, nearly over jet lag, and I just blinked and now my calendar for October is full. It was nice to come back to school and be greeted with "Ohisashiburri desu!" Long time, no see. It was especially nice to get greeted with hugs from co-workers and the younger students. I really felt loved and missed.
But hanging it with the crew was pretty sweet. I want to send a special shot out to Dahlia and Steven, who put Dave and I up for nearly a week and were the perfect hosts. They opened up their beautiful (and spacious) home to us and made us feel like family. I've always thought of Dal and I as sisters even while I was going to university in Ottawa and she in Montreal. Weeks would go by with no word then we'd fall back into things so easily. D, I'm so happy to have reveled in your good news and I'm so happy for you. Thanks for everything.
That's about it for now. I'll leave you with some pics to peruse. Time is starting to wind down and filling my head with all kinds of ish...Will share soon...
Oh yeah, if you're a natural Black woman, a fashionista, or someone with time on their hands and loves to read quality writing, then I heartily recommend www.afrobella.com This is my new favorite site and I've been spending hours reading everything on it. She hits the nail on the head on Black icons, hair issues, age issues while reviewing beauty products. I don't feel like I'm wasting time when I read this site. I feel like I'm learning!
Monday, October 02, 2006
I'm back in Japan, back "home", after a brief sojurn to Montreal, and getting here was one helluva trip. Montreal itself was great, though filled with emotion, and I got to explore the city through a tourist's eyes as I took David around. It was his first time in the "new world" and we did the city good and even headed to Ottawa for a day. It was a freaking whirlwind (I'll post all about it a couple of days), but it was nothing compared to leaving Montreal and trying to get back to Nippon ville. Ok, Dave and I got to the airport 2 hours before our 8 a.m. flight on Monday morning. I thought 2 hours would be enough time for us to walk the security gauntlet but I was wrong. I'm not going to get into the facking debacle, especially since I re-enacted it for my 8th graders today, but it was retardedly and unnecessarily long. After running from one end of the terminal to the other, with 5 minutes to spare, Dave and I boarded the plane only to find out that we would be waiting for some poor suckers who were held up in customs. 40 minutes later we were off. The only thing was we only had 35 minutes to make our connection to Osaka. Yeah...we know how this ends, yes? A sprint through the terminal, a garbled question, a negative response and A LOT OF SWEARING. FUCK FUCK FUCK! SHIT! MUTHAFUCKA! (My personal fave.)
But my dear readers, things worked out for your heroine. OR DID THEY??? Dave and I were comped a night's stay at the always pleasurable Days Inn (thanks to Dave's stellar negotiation skills - "Is there any way you can give us a free hotel room?" said in the sexiest Scottish accent EVER.), we faffed around in Fort Worth, Texas, ate a "Chinese" buffet in the hotel's lobby, had fajitas and burgers at Chili's, saw Dr. Phil, caught the Jet Li flick "Fearless" at the theatre. We had a pretty good time interacting with the locals in BumFuck, Texas. We had an awesome night's sleep (only my 2nd since landing in North America) and made our plane to Osaka. However, by this time, my sore throat and running nose had turned into a full blown cold and the 14 hour ride was not pretty. Landing became an issue because my sinuses were so blocked up and filled with nasty that I felt like my head was going to explode. Remember that scene in Mission Impossible III when Keri Russell is screaming about the pain in her head and she's convulsing, then that chip in her brain explodes turning her brain to mush and fucking up her eyes? Yeah, I was sure that was going to be me. I'm not one to make scenes in public, especially those involving tears, but man, I was hurting so bad and there was so much pressure in my head, that I just let myself go. 3 stewardesses were tending to me and poor Dave was watching me lose my mind but still trying to help me to breathe and unblock my ears to relieve some of the pressure. I shudder thinking about it...
Anyway, I deboarded my plane with my head intact and grateful to have to experience behind me. I should have been giving thanks AFTER I left the airport. Our luggage, which we hadn't seen since we left Montreal effectively 3 days before reappeared in Osaka. Mine was fine, but Dave's was infested with ants! Now, Dave is usually a calm and rational man, but he lost it. That was the proverbial straw. More swearing ensued. Dave had his bag searched by customs. I think this trip took 5 years off his life.
This has turned into a rant. My head hurts. I'm out.