Friday, April 25, 2003

Some random musings:

It's election time in Japan. Unlike back home, here they hold them on two different weeks, with one half of the contested positions each time. This week, my town is one of the ones holding its election.

During election time, the candidates and some of their staff drive around in cars with loudspeakers mounted on the roof -- like the Bluesmobile advertising a concert. It's sort of the more polite version of the black vans. . . . I often see and hear these cars as I'm walking home from work. Yesterday, on my way home, about four of them passed me, politely waving and reading campaign slogans. One of them stopped, and the candidate looked at me and said, "Arigatou, sensei. Otsukaresama," before he moved on. I guess it was a good idea for me to attend a couple of PTA functions.

My friends and I have simultaneously hit a low in the culture shock cycle, we think. For me, I have an added difficulty, in that the only people my age I can really talk to are the English teachers. That's okay, but for the fact that this year they are all homeroom teachers, and thus have no spare time to just chat (and, alas, sometimes no time to plan team-teaching lessons). Plus, none of them live in this town, so after school is out, I'm pretty much by myself. I sometimes get to see my ALT friends on the weekends. They're fun to hang out with, but occasionally I'm forcibly reminded that I'm six or seven years older than most of them, and our frames of reference are somewhat different. (One of my friends is five or six years older than me, but he has more to worry about than dealing with us young'uns. . . I'll say no more, except for this: He has had to hire a lawyer.)

My supervisor at the school board came to my desk yesterday to tell me that for some reason they'd forgotten to set up a deduction in my pay for the school board's social fund -- set up to pay for all those welcome parties and other staff functions. Because I haven't been paying this fee, I had basically gone to a lot of parties and things for free.

Matsuo-sensei seemed braced for an argument -- I'd been supposed to pay into this fund from day one, but since I hadn't, about a hundred dollars of fees had built up, and she had to ask me to pay all of the back fees, as well as start paying from now on. (�500 a month, since August of 2001) However, I didn't bother putting up a fight, but just said that it was okay. She seemed a bit surprised, I think. I then went on to explain that every school I had ever taught at had the same kind of fund set up. (I think at Prosperity Heights we called it the "Sunshine Committee fund.)

Sometimes I think that people forget I've been a teacher before.

I may have mentioned earlier that last Wednesday (the 23rd) was my birthday -- or maybe I didn't mention it. Anyway, just for fun, I asked a few classes how old they thought I was. Most students guessed pretty close, although a few started clowning around and saying that I was over 50. I hope they were joking, anyway.

Occasionally, students ask me questions like "How do you say 'baka' in English?" or "How do you say 'aho' in English?" I took some advice from one of the English teachers, and began responding, "Wonderful!" "Smart!" "Cool!" The correct answers would be "idiot" and "dumbass," or words to that effect.

My friend Doug noticed that many students in his town have taken to flying the bird at each other. Whenever he sees this, he rushes over and exclaims, "My god, you're doing it wrong, it's THIS finger," whereupon he sticks up his ring finger. The really funny thing is, they believe him, and now the kids flick each other off with their ring fingers. I don't think I could get that to work in my town.

So, yah, I'm tired, lonely, and culture-shocky. However, the trip to Hiroshima starts tomorrow. so we'll see if that helps. And, I'll probably have more photos to post in my photo album by next week.

Catch you on the other side,


Tuesday, April 22, 2003

It's been a stressful week.

I am happy to say that my time actually in classrooms is increasing. I have been repeatedly assuring people that I honestly don't mind doing things like vocabulary and pronunciation drills, or reading the dialogues from the book. That, plus it's actually embarrassing to be sitting in the teacher's room doing nothing, while everyone else in the room is busily working.

Plus, it's rather depressing to show up all ready to go to work only to be told that you're not needed. . . .

A lot of students are still somewhat nervous to speak to the resident foreigner. Many times, when I say hello, students will maybe say "hello" in response, but they'll always giggle or laugh (depending on if it's boys or girls), and try to sneak away from me.

I believe that the solution is to get me in their classes more, so that they become more comfortable with the fact that this giant American is in their midst.

Well, I'm trying. . . .

Still, it's quite frustrating at times. Thank goodness next weekend is a long one. Some friends and I are going on that trip to Hiroshima for a few days. Spending some time away from Kagoshima will probably do wonders for all of our stress levels.

Here's hoping, anyways.

Still trying to maintain that positive attitude. . . .


Saturday, April 19, 2003

Having a hopeless crush sucks.

. . . .it's been a long evening.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The longer I stay here, the more interested I become in Japanese popular music. (I wish I could say it was because I'm finding it easier to understand, but no.) I've even toyed with the idea of sending a copy of some songs that I like to an American radio station, to see if they can get some airplay. However, the only station that I know of who's playlist isn't controlled by some national conglomerate (if I recall correctly) is KS95, and I don't think they'd take the chance either. Anyway, I've got my J-pop mix playing on iTunes as I type this. Utada Hikaru, SMAP, Chage & Asuka, sone anime stuff, a very little bit of morning musume. . .

Today was a really gorgeous day. The weather was nice enough that people didn't look confused and ask me if I was cold when they saw that I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Instead, they were shedding layers, or bemoaning the fact that they can't shed layers, because it's too warm.

Today was also good in that it's the first day in a long time where I was busy all day. Four classes out of five today. I had a blast. Almost felt like home, for a moment.

Let's hope it lasts. . . .!

Saturday, April 12, 2003

From the Mainichi Shimbun ("Daily Newspaper")

A fairly strong earthquake jolted the Satsuma district of Kagoshima Prefecture on Saturday afternoon, the Meteorological Agency said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage to properties, police said. No tsunami warning was issued following the quake.

The temblor that struck at 1:28 p.m. registered 4 on the 7-point Japanese intensity scale in Akune, Kagoshima Prefecture, and 3 in the Kumamoto Prefecture cities of Yatsushiro and Hitoyoshi and the Kagoshima Prefecture city of Sendai.

The focus of the earthquake, which measured an estimated 4.9 on the open-ended Richter scale, is located to be about 10 kilometers below the ground of Kagoshima Prefecture, the agency said. (Mainichi Shimbun, April 12, 2003)

Satsuma-gun is immediately north of my district, Hioki gun.

Only a small proportion of Japanese believe treating foreigners unfairly is discrimination.

So this afternoon, at around 1:30, I was rushing around getting ready for my English conversation class (which, of course, I was running late for). As I was putting on my shoes, I heard this really odd sound from the apartment above me (I thought). It was kind of hard to describe. Every once in a while, I can hear footsteps, or a vacuum cleaner, from upstairs, but this sounded more like...something heavy rolling over a hardwood floor. It stopped after about ten seconds or so, so I paid it no mind.

Just as I was about to leave, the phone rings. It was Jonny Rasmussen, fellow St. Olaf alumnus, now living and working in the Tokyo area. I was glad to hear from him -- we hadn't had the chance to chat for a while -- but I hurriedly informed him that I was just on my way out. He then managed to stop me in my tracks by saying this:

"Are you okay? Did you feel the earthquake?"

My brain slipped a gear for a moment. Then, I responded, "What earthquake?"

Jonny saw a bulletin on TV that said that there was an earthquake centered on the Satsuma side of Kagoshima Prefecture (that's the western peninsula, where I'm at) and wanted to make sure that I was all right. I spent a few seconds claiming that I had felt no earthquake, when I suddenly realized: So that's what that sound was!

After reassuring Jonny that everything was fine (power and water still on, nothing broken, trucks with loudspeakers still driving around blaring campaign slogans), I headed out to Ichiki-cho for my class. When I got there, I asked them about the earthquake. Reactions ranged from "yes, I felt it quite strongly" to "there was an earthquake?"

But, when I returned to the Ichiki station to catch a train for Kagoshima City, I found out that a few scheduled runs had been canceled due to the earthquake, and I had 45 minutes to wait for the next train. An annoyance, to be sure, but if that's the only inconvenience I have from my first earthquake experience, I'll take it, and call it a good deal.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

I'm still amazed over the fact that Apple Computer Japan was able to get my computer back to me over the space of three days -- and on a weekend, no less. I wonder if leaving the OS switched to Japanese helped any? Heck, they even cleaned it up for me, and vacuumed most of the accumulated cruft out of the keyboard.

Today is my first day back at school after spring vacation. I don't have a lot to do as of yet, because this week is mainly testing and orientation for the new school year. I've been told that the schedule is still in flux, so I don't know when I'll have English classes to help out with. (Neither does anyone else, yet.)

When I got to school today, I was pleased to see that my desk was in the same spot that it was last term. It was really messy, but it wasn't my fault for a change. (Hey, since I wasn't here at all during spring break, who can blame them for using my desk as an extra storage area?) Also, it took a bit of work to find out where my chair went.

Somehow, that kind of depressed me.

So, anyways, I'm sitting here in the teacher's room, typing up another weblog entry for your edification. (yes, I'm hauling out the hifalutin' vocabulary. I don't get to use it anywhere else.) When doing nothing, it's preferable to do nothing here at school, where at least a few people are able to converse with me.

Monday was the entrance ceremony for the schools, and I attended the one at Higashiichiki Junior High School. When the time came to introduce the staff, the principal couldn't remember my last name. It didn't really matter, I guess, because nobody ever uses it anyways. Besides, all of the new students knew me from when I visited their elementary schools last year. And, now all of their parents know who I am, too.

Four of my friends were planning a trip to Shanghai for our next long vacation (Golden Week, at the end of the month). Of course, thanks to SARS, those plans were shot. Plan two was to go to Korea, but it's too late to make those plans -- the ferry sold out, and plane tickets are too expensive. So, they had to go to Plan three -- but there wasn't a plan three. So, they (and I) paid a visit to the travel agency (now somewhat annoyed with us due to the cancellation of a few trips) to see if there was any chance of getting the hell out of Kagoshima Prefecture for a few days.

Somehow we got an amazing deal for a trip to Hiroshima. The last time we asked about Hiroshima, they quoted us a price of over $500 just for round-trip airfare. The train was similarly priced. This time, the price was under $400 for round-trip airfare and three nights of hotel stay. Sounds good to me. Now where did I put my camera?

I've been averaging about four hours of sleep a night lately, so usually by now (1:00 PM) my brain starts to shut down. I'll have to wrap this up for now.