Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Meaning of Natsukashii...

There is a word in Japanese that I absolutely love and it's natsukashii, which means nostalgic. I learned it last summer and I've been using it a lot lately. I most recently used it yesterday during lunch time. See, everyday at the JHS, there is a student message that comes over the PA, usually about what we're eating and any special announcements, followed by a couple of songs. Teachers and students usually provide a CD and give a brief description of what a specific song means to them. I had to do this one day, without any advance warning, and I was forced to pick a song from Mariah Carey's Greatist Hits. I chose "Dreamlover" because it reminded me of dances at Lachine High School, where Dal, Lenny, Reena and I, would "get down" in our freshest gear. Good times, totally natsukashii. Anyway, Ishikawa-sensei requested "Livin' On a Prayer" by Bon Jovi. Aside: I have always been a huge Bon Jovi nut. I can sing the chorus and sometimes the whole song on most of their tunes and "Livin' On a Prayer" is the gold standard when I go out to karaoke. So when this song came on, and my students continued to eat their lunch without realizing they were listening to pure aural GOLD, I was a bit sad. Yeah, they were born in 1991 and this song came out in 1987, but who cares! IT'S THE SHIT.

So while I was eating my cold fish and warm rice, I was thinking about how great this song is and how many times I've sung it at karaoke with my pal Ed. That's us belting it out last year at Jeff's birthday. I don't know how many times I've sung it with him, but we always give it all we have, with Ed sometimes losing his voice. I started to think that the time we've had here has been so precious and I'll be leaving with so many good memories. I actually started to tear up. I heart my time here. For those of you who have lived abroad or in different cities, what good memories do you have? What was hard/easy to leave behind?

I also got natsukashii a few weeks ago when the second grade class, who are going to Canada in a few months, were shown Canadian money. I actually picked up a $20 bill from the table and sniffed it, hoping to find that distinctive Canadian money smell. It was gone. But feeling it between my fingers made me ache for home and shopping on St. Catherine St.

Without a doubt, leaving here will be too bittersweet. My 9th graders will be graduating in two weeks and I know I'm going to bawl like a baby, just like I did last year. But this year's graduation will be even more sad for me as I've watched these kids grow and mature over a year and a half. So not going to be pretty.

Well, I'm going to Tokyo/Yokohama tonight for a three day conference for JETs who will be leaving in July. We'll learn about how to deal with reverse culture shock, re-entering the job market, and how to best use our experiences on JET in our future. I think it'll be useful for me. I'll also get to be in the BIG city, see my friend Petra, catch up with some old heads and window shop. It's exactly what I need right now.

So here is a big ol pic of me. I'm posting this pic to show you how much my hair has grown since I cut it all off last year. This was the first time that I was able to put it all into a massive ponytail and I'm oh so proud. I feel pretty, oh so pretty...

BTW, shot out to my "little" sister Lisa who will be 25 today! Happy bday sis!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

One big happy family - inside my head...

I got a couple of emails from friends and my sister who read my last blog and thought I was up to here with Japan and my sister said I should just get the hell out. When I wrote that post, I wasn't particularly upset or ready to pack my bags, I was just sort of venting. Yeah, I get frustrated, but I'm not going to quit. THINGS ARE GOOD. Trust me, I have my days, and who the hell doesn't, but for the most part, THINGS ARE GOOD. Let me just break it down for ya, huh?

The job, without a doubt, is tough. Keeping the attention of little minds, especially when you're not fluent in their language is not as easy as it may seem. Sometimes I want to pull my hair out, particularly now because the year ends in 5 weeks, and the kiddies know it. They've been acting like little assholes lately and their homeroom teachers are letting shit slide. It's irritating and sometimes stressful, but my relationships with the students are rewarding. Last week, some dude wrote an article about abolishing the JET Programme, claiming its a waste of money, students aren't really learning English and the whole thing needs to be scraped. When I read the article, I was nodding my head and pumping my fist in agreement with him. I could go on about the problems and possible remedies, but what good is that going to do me? I'm here NOW. The programme is still going on NOW. Rather than gnawing on the hand that feeds me, I rather just slap it some five for giving me opportunities unparalled.

I am so lucky and while it may seem that I focus on the negative sometimes, these periods are short-lived. I have too much to be grateful for: the mountains outside my door, my sweet little apartment, some semblance of a social life, health, love, money, future plans, my easy going students, and just being alive. And when shit gets me down, I just remember that I have 5 months left here and I better make the most of it. Japan has been really, really good for me and to me. That's all I can really say. But when you see me and talk to me face-to-face, you'll see that I've changed and for the better. And I can't shake a stick at that...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Honestly speaking...

I just want to get a few things off my chest. This is not a rant, just some... confessions.
Even though it was a new year's resolution, I believe I will be giving up studying Japanese imminently. I think I've fought the good fight and made a lot of progress from when I first arrived, but it's been slowing down A LOT as of late. I'm just not motivated. I've been self-studying exclusively for 18 months and I've hit my wall. I've hit it a few times before, but I think this is the end. I'm a student to the core - I need the student-teacher interaction, the homework, the tests. I could get that in either Ogaki or Gifu, two big cities that offer classes, but I gotta be honest: I'm not willing to put in the 2-2.5 hour round trip twice a week. I'd have to give up my weekly chat sessions with Shiloh, my eikaiwa (English conversation) group, going to the gym with Habu sensei, or my one free night a week. It's all about priorities, right? It's more important to me to keep my relationships and myself healthy. And I don't see Japanese fitting into my future. I rather keep my French, thanks.

I HATE being stared at. As a foreigner, I know it's to be expected in a homogenous culture. As a Black foreigner, I feel like a naked alien being pointed and stared at, and talked about. You know, I like attention to a certain degree, but I don't like feeling like I'm a one woman freak show. I know I'm not alone in this country, but I just find it extremely rude and disrespectful when people are openly staring when I'm going about my business. I'm keenly aware when people are talking about me and it pisses me off when people are so deliriously surprised to see a foreigner of my colouring. I especially hate it when I'm in my car and the occupants of the next car over will openly point, laugh and talk about me. Sometimes I want to yell "fuck off! Mind ya business that's all, just mind ya business." But I can't because not only do I represent foreign ALTs, but I represent Black Canadian ALTs. I'm looking forward to being invisible in public again.

Living in Japan was not my first choice. When I was looking into changing my life and experiencing something new, Japan didn't immediately pop into mind. I knew ex-JETs, but Japan seemed a little too...bland to me. (Don't shoot me - just an opinion). Aside from kimonos, sushi and karate, little excited me about the culture. When I think about cultures that are exciting and flashy-flashy, I think of China, the Mediterranean and Mexico. When I thought about Japan, I thought of quiet respect and tradition. I was looking for an adventure and a chance to really challenge myself and live outside my comfort zone. I did a lot of research and the JET Programme matched a lot of my needs and desires. There are a lot of sketchy programs out there and I wasn't about to give up a permanent, comfortable job for something that would find me broke, in slavery or dead on the other side of the world. JET suited my comfortable sensibilities and I can now say, without a doubt, that IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER FOR ME. Japan gave me a chance to SLOW DOWN. I have grown so much since coming here, and while there are little things that I truly, truly LOVE about this country, I absolutely and fiercely treasure my time here. For me, applying to JET was more about me than Japan, the job or the money. It's so selfish, but so worthwhile.

On the heels of that confession, here is another on a similar vein: I don't love Japanese food. Before coming here, I appreciated the subtle flavours, and over the last year and a half, I've tried a variety of interesting and sometimes utterly delightful food. But I'm not in love with it as much I savour the flavours of French, Chinese, Greek and Indian cuisines. Last week, I hit the food hall. I was having some kind of soba by-product that was boiled and I wanted to spit it out. I had a total stereotypical "Black" moment where I wanted to say "Yo, where's the hot sauce?!" I didn't, but I wanted to. I've had Japanese food 5-6 days a week, thanks to the school lunch I get. And while I've enjoyed tasting nearly every possible thing in the food repertoire, my epicurean desires are not satisfied. Dan, thanks for the suggestions to eat as much sushi here before I go home, but do you know where I live? I live in Gifu, a landlocked prefecture. The sushi is all right. Not like Hokkaido, where you guys are surrounded by water. Fish straight off the pier vs. fish shipped in. You can taste a difference, trust me. But don't worry, I'm going to eat all the foods that I enjoy before I leave and take some of the recipes I've truly enjoyed for those times when I just NEED a taste of Nippon.

I am looking forward to returning to an office. When I first began this adventure, I was a little bit tired of being chained to my desk surrounded by paper. And you know what? On the other side of the world, it's the same thing! But I am in the classroom less than half the time, so it makes a bit of a difference, but not by much. I thought teaching could have been a possible profession for me. But it ain't for me. I know, I'm teaching ESL, but teaching doesn't light my fire. I love the kids, I love helping them, but to have my own classroom and teach day in and day out is not for me. I think back on my advising job and I miss it. It was dynamic, it was ever-changing and it was interesting. But back then, it wasn't enough. I'm grateful for this experience because now, I don't have this "what if?" I want to go back to working with adults in an office environment where I can have some privacy, a phone, a computer and some responsibility. I know now that work is not the important thing to me anymore, but still, I know where I belong in the work world now, and that's a good feeling.

Ahh, much better. Thanks for letting me share. I don't know if I've done a good job with accuarately and adequately talking about the positive aspects of living here. There have been so many amazing moments, revelations, people and experiences. I really need to share those. I promise, I will soon. Trust me, most of my time here has been a dream come true. I'm so in love on so many levels and I sometimes forget to convey this on this public forum. My loved ones know that I'm really, really happy. This has been the best time of my life and I will never ever NOT give Japan its props. I think it's my nature to be more vocal about the negative stuff while tending to hold back with the really good stuff, except with those who I'm really close to. So people, it's really, really good, a lot of the time.

Anyway, not much new here. Last week, the gang and I went skating near Dave's neck of the woods. Fun on ice...

I'm excited because many of the Oscar contenders are coming to theatres here soon: The Queen, Babel, The Last King of Scotland. Yeah, we know what I'll be doing for the next few months. ..

It is absolutely beautiful here. Yesterday, it was 12 degrees and sunny. We might get an early spring which will make up for the nearly 2m of snow we got last year. I’ve been hearing that it’s pretty cold in Eastern Canada. I feel for all my peeps in Montreal and T.O. Sorry guys!

My one year anniversary of being natural is coming up next month. I think I’ll post a visual trip down memory lane soon…

I found this on a site when I was searching for a game to teach comparatives:

Teaching Tip:
The main job of an ALT in the school is to encourage the use of spoken English; both inside and outside the classroom. Refuse to yield to the urge to speak to your students (or teachers) in Japanese, even if you know that they'd much prefer it if you did. Insisting that they communicate with you in English forces them to practice, and furthers their command of the language. This is important!! Remember, you are not employed to speak or teach Japanese; you are employed to speak and teach English. Save your Japanese practice for your own time.

This is what I believed since day one. I feel vindicated.