Archive for September 2009

Catching Up

September 8, 2009

This summer was everything I could’ve asked for: a 2-week tour of the family with my country – umm, I mean a tour of the country with my family; a 4 day stay with good friends from Duke; 9 days in Singapore and Taiwan on my own; 20 cities, 4 countries, 2 all-night hikes, a hundred new foods, dozens of friends who enriched my imagination in the only 15 minutes we could ever spend together. Too much happened for me to fit it all in one email, so I’ll have to drop a couple pennies into your box each night throughout the fall. Which is for the better, because I was due for a style change, like the Fab Four after “Beatles For Sale.”

A couple weeks before my family arrived in Tokyo, my college laptop broke. It was a wonderful 5 years. So I went 2 months without a computer, which wasn’t as restrictive as you’d think because (1) I can send actual emails from my Japanese cell phone, though typing paragraphs with 2 thumbs would take a while even for James Patterson, and (2) this year’s junior high school teachers are literally always at school – they keep futons there and sleep in the office a fair amount – so I could drop in basically any time I needed to use the Internet. Anyway, it seems like a lot of people were telling Barack Obama “No we can’t” all summer so I didn’t miss much. My new computer arrived yesterday, and Japanese computers are as polite as I expected. When they make an error, they say “Moushiwake arimasen,” which means “There is no excuse for this.” And the Tiiiiiiimes, they aaaaaaaaare a chaaaaaaangin’, but Word just doesn’t feel the same when the default font is Century.

For the next couple months, I’ll be covering 4 additional elementary schools in another town to make up for a missing teacher, giving me 9 schools and 64 classes in all. Those of you who are math people, I’m sure, can already see why this was totally meant to be. Meeting new people is one of my favorite parts of the job! The new kids love my Mario ? Box. At today’s elementary school, all the kids switched between calling me “Mario” and “The President” so I was jumping around, throwing fireballs, and doing Mario Kart and “Yes we can!” impersonations all day long. It’s still 95 in the shade here. Even the elementary school teachers are saying, “It’s as hot as Hades.” I’m still leaving it all out on the field at recess and coming back utterly unpresentable.

I’m moving to a new house at the end of the month, so I need to dump off the 15 years of stuff past teachers have left lying around the house, including the 1200 books I organized and catalogued last summer. After I’m all ready to move out, I’ll take a week’s trip to Korea because the September holidays all run together this year! Then comes October and the English competition and Halloween party I wrote about last year. Beyond that is the HSK Chinese test in the beginning of November, and I’ll be retrying the top level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December (I just missed passing this summer, scoring 61% against a cutoff of 70%).

There’s a lot to handle, and my first week back I kept thinking about the next 3 months as a continuous succession of events just like that, so I fell into one of the classic stress traps: the cycle of lost things. I’ll realize I’ve lost something, I’ll put down what I’m holding to search for the first thing…and it turns up, eventually, but then I can’t remember where I put the thing I had before! Has this ever happened to you? At the very least, have you ever gone looking for your glasses when they were already on your face?

I was laughing off swine flu last semester, but now it’s actually here in my town! At an elementary school I visited last week, two kids had it, and now it’s up to twelve! It’s really heartwarming to know that the world is so international now, right? …Can I submit that last sentence for the “That’s not quite how I would have interpreted it” Hall of Fame?

Tonight I’ll write about the day that didn’t fit in with the others. In the middle of August, just a couple hours after I’d said goodbye to my family at the train station, I went into the city and gave a speech to all the new JET teachers about Japanese Office Culture. The month before that, I’d tried to write everything I learned about the subject over the last year…and it went 20 single-spaced pages. I knew it was more than I could ever say in 50 minutes, and I hadn’t prepared for the talk itself like I should have because I’d just been directing a 6-person family around Japan for 2 weeks. I’d slept 3 hours the night before, and then everyone came in and sat in the back of the room like junior high school students. So I went with my teaching reflexes. I taught thirty 22-year olds as if they were an elementary school class. Fifteen seconds of waiting at elementary means someone’s getting bored, and I loathe that. I jumped around and made arts and crafts on the spot and did impressions and used huge hand motions and I would have sang and danced, too, but nothing came to mind except “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which I couldn’t logically tie into the theme. People even thought I was Latin American because I kept speaking English extremely expressively with a Japanese accent. I wore them out, but they were happy afterwards, which, like in elementary school, is a sign I’ve done a good job. My boss in the city, Scott, and the Japanese supervisors on hand thoroughly enjoyed it, but Scott was still laughing about it went ten minutes later: “Your speech was like a waterfall, and they were all standing under it with just a cup.” One of the crazy things I said on the way (i.e. “the door to the teachers’ office is a sacred portal to another world” and “We’re All Dying, so Let’s Enjoy This Moment Together!”) was “The only thing better than a foreigner is a drunken foreigner.” This became a title for one teacher’s Facebook photo album. Which is just as good as being published.

Oh no, it’s so late! How can I possibly process everything I’ve experienced? Is that what retirement is for? I’ll just keep assembling the blocks, and eventually I’ll find the cornerstone.