It's Been A While ...

Trip Start Mar 15, 2004
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Trip End Apr 16, 2005


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Thursday, June 17, 2004

Hello! Its been quite some time since my last message, so I thought it was time for a bit of an update. Things are going well in Japan - Kyle and I are still having lots of fun learning new things, and laughing at the strange things we see and do and now take for granted all the time. The rainy season is upon us so the weather is proving to be the biggest survival challenge these days. We do have an air conditioning unit, but we can't read the buttons - the only setting that yields cool air will only do so for one hour before it switches off. So, in the middle of the night the humidity will wake one of us up (usually me) to switch it back on. The humidity is so thick you can actually feel condensation forming on your body when you step outside. It feels like we are swimming whenever we try to move (and when I say 'we' I actually mean 'me' ... this is not nearly as much of a problem for Kyle as it is for me). My hair is usually still damp at night from my morning shower! No worries though - it should pass ... in about 5 weeks!

Mornings have been a bit rough in our neighbourhood thanks to several male cats who are extremely horny and use the spot right under our window to summon (non-existent) female cats. The noise that these guys make is absolutely unbearable - it sounds like starving babies screaming. The other morning Kyle ran out with some water to give them a cold shower. It's really gross - the stuff that nightmares are made of. People send their dogs out to hunt them down the sound is that bad (so then we end up with wailing horny cats and frantic barking dogs). Add to this the weekly woman's society meeting at 5:30am in front of our window, beside the horny cats (at which time you can sometimes find sleepy Kyle poking his head out the window shouting at them in English to shut up), the construction work that starts at 6am (the workers just get together to drop metal rods everywhere for the first few hours of their shift), the crazy politician who randomly drops by and drives his minivan in circles around our neighbourhood chanting, singing, and otherwise being a loud obnoxious pain in the ass using a bullhorn connected to his speakers, and the fact that there is no daylight savings time in Japan so the sun rises directly into our bedroom at about 4.30am, and you might start to get an understanding of why sleeping tends to be staggered. It sounds like there is a carnival on our street for two hours at dawn and then everyone goes away so we can sleep again. If it's garbage day, forget about it, because the singing garbage trucks make an appearance bright and early. It actually gets so bad that it all becomes very histerically funny. We just lie in total disbelief of all the noise that is coming from every direction so early in the morning.

Recently Kyle and I discovered our favourite cartoon characters - mine is Doraemon and Kyle's is Anpanman. The story of Doraemon is pretty straightforward - he is a cat-like robot from the 24th century of the future, who was sent back in time to help a down-on-their luck family. His ears were eaten off by rats, so he is afraid of them now. He has a pouch in which there is a secondary pouch (in case he needs to wash one of them) - he uses these pouches to store hundreds of cool gadgets. Anpanman's story may be a bit more heartwarming. He is a man who has a sweet bean paste filled biscuit head. When his head is baked he gains super powers and uses them to visit developing countries to allow hungry people to eat his head. When it's all gone he becomes weak and needs to return home so his Uncle Jam can bake him a fresh head - that's when the bad guys come to try to kill him. One of Anpanman's commrades is burnt toast head man. It's pretty funny.

As I'm sure most of you have seen from Kyle's Web site (www.spaz.com/rtw - click on the Japan link) Kyle is doing very well with his Japanese. He has fully learned one of the three written systems, and is working on the second. He has also been practicing spoken Japanese almost every day, and he is building quite the vocabulary. For example, he knows how to say spoon (supuun), lettuce (retasu), lobster (robusutaa), fork (fooku), lemon (remon), basketball (basuketto booru), and so on. He sits at the computer every night and exchanges little dialogues with the computer generated teaching lady. Me? I have been extremely lazy with my Japanese. I have learned 15 characters in one alphabet. Pretty pathetic. I just don't have any aptitude for the language, I think. I also have no dedication. I'm trying to fix that.

We are at the tail end of what is the longest working stint we will have without a vacation, and we are really looking forward to our upcoming long weekend in July. We are planning to take a biking trip ... but we haven't yet decided where. We will most likely hop on a train with our beloved bikes and travel somewhere cool and then bike from there. And yes, there will probably be some camping involved ... I'm not a huge fan of that part of the plan, but I'll cope. We are just keeping our fingers crossed for good weather while we are away. Two weeks after that we have a two week summer vacation! We have no idea what we are going to do for that holiday. Japan Airlines has a promotion right now, where you can fly anywhere in Japan for about $100 (you have to pay full return though), so we might take advantage of that.

Mosquitoes have also started making an appearance. The other night one was hovering around my ear as I was trying to sleep. I couldn't handle it so I got up and switched on the light. I settled back into bed, watching and waiting for the mosquito to return. Twenty minutes later he was a no-show, so I decided to throw in the towel and take the chance that it might find Kyle more tasty than myself (which they never seem to do). I got up to switch the light, and lo and behold - I had sat on the darn thing when I had settled down after switching the light on! How many people do you know who have killed a mosquito with their bum? Well now, a least one.

So I never realized what an impact Anne (with an 'e') of Green Gables has had on the world. They love her here. She's put Canada on the map. They don't know who the PM is or can't name any province except PEI, but they can use expressions like - she's my bosum buddy (translation - bosom buddy). It's hilarious. Apparently Road to Avonlea is a big TV hit here.

WORKING LIFE
For the most part work is pretty easy. Little to no preparation is required for most of our classes and we only work overtime if we choose - and when we do, it's always paid. I recently was asked to teach a business English class which has turned out to be quite a bit of work. Every Saturday these students study English for four hours, two of which are with me. The class is very expensive (about $65 per hour), and three students are enrolled (one is a design engineer, one a laboratory researcher, one an aspiring seeing eye dog trainer). The tough part is that there is no lesson plan. So, for the first class I spent the majority of the time showing them how to shake hands without going overboard (they tend to shake too much or don't know when to let go). Apparently they loved the lesson, so I was a bit relieved. Japanese are very awkward to work for, because they will tell you that they loved your class to your face and then go and complain about you to your school director. They are especially apt to do so for really expensive classes. Several of my friends have had some re-training as a result of such complaints, so I am really paranoid about these classes now.

PRONUNCIATION ISSUES
So a lesson I was working on with some adult students the other day called for them to describe how they pray. So, one student told us his routine - I crap two times, then I bow my head and send good wishes for my family, then I crap one more time and walk away. It took quite a bit of will power for me to contain my giggles. I did explain to him the subtle difference in meaning between the words crap and clap. I mean, what if you were constipated? Does that mean you can't pray until you're ready to go? They all agreed that that's not what Shinto is about.

Yesterday a staff person at school shouted across the lobby - Joanne, what does 'son of bitchee' mean? I told him he should say that more quietly and then he yelled - OK, what does 'muzza facka' mean? He wouldn't stop ... It was a riot. He knew so much foul language I couldn't believe my ears. I'll admit I asked him to replace muzza facka with dick-head ... I thought it was more polite - what do you think?

NICE STUDENTS
Like most teachers, I have a few students who come to my classes on a regular basis. It's really kind of nice. I chat with this one man - he's about 70 years old, a doctor, and enjoys taking photos in his spare time. After one class I asked him to bring in some of his pictures so we could see his work. So, the next class he gave me three of his pictures which he had blown up to 8 1/2 x 11 size and laminated. How nice is that? Another student burned a copy of Avril's and Alanis's latest CDs (they are both very famous in Japan). Others bring in helpful thing like maps of Japan, and give suggestions on good places to travel and eat. The other day one of Kyle's students gave him a bag of weird plum things (see the pictures ... words cannot describe).

STRANGE STUDENTS
More often than the super nice students though, I have weird ones. A little 8 year old boy in one of my kiddie classes has a mysterious body itch problem. Just looking at him makes me feel itchy now. It started one day when he came to class wearing little shorts. He sat cross-legged on the floor and stuck each hand up its respective shorts bottom ... and they met in his crotch area and barely left that region for the entire class. I finally couldn't handle it anymore and asked him to stop ... but he couldn't help himself and refused my request. At one point I was trying to give him a high 5 and had to give him a second to take his hands out of his pants ... one of the more icky moments in my life. I ended up writing him up in my roll book in hopes that a staff person would talk to his mother and get this boy some lotion. Poor little guy. The next class he showed up wearing little shorts again. Uuggh. but he was even itchier. Every time I turned my back he would sneak off and start rubbing various body parts on any sharp object he could find. Lord knows how many nooks and crannies he was able to contaminate while I wasn't watching. The next class he had a major booger issue. He sat down and started digging for gold while I madly scoured the room looking for tissue, and all the moms sat outside laughing at me. Luckily he ended up eating his prize, not flicking it away like he usually does. Little monster. I teach several classes where a parent accompanies their child into the class. Last Saturday I had to stop the class because I caught a dad picking his kids nose! I thought part of the reason for the parent being there was to manage these situations in a socially acceptable manner. What was he going to do with the booger if I hadn't given him a tissue? I don't even want to know. But, enough with the booger stories ... (unless you want to hear more ... just let me know, I've got plenty!)

I also get my fair share of strange adult students. I had a few lessons with this really eccentric lady. At the end of a class she asked me if I know where all the smart Japanese go. Then she told me that they kill themselves. Huh? She said that she was going to but her doctor advised against it. Then she left.

I also meet with the 'do nothing guy'. This guy literally does nothing with his time. I actually had to ask him what he likes to do because he never had anything to talk about. He told me that he does nothing except work, eat instant ramen (like Mr. Noodles) and sleep. He has no friends, no hobbies, doesn't like to go out, he does absolutely nothing. Conversation with him is a bit challenging to say the least.

IN THE NEWS
A few weeks ago a junior high school girl (12 years old) murdered a classmate because one had accused the other (over e-mail) of being overweight (or something like that). The insulted friend slashed the girl across the throat with a packing knife - in school. It was all over the news. What a terrible story. Although this is not common by any means, it is reflective of how superficial and body-concerned Japanese people - especially women - are. I was riding the train the other day with a little junior high school girl (probably 13 years old). She had one side of her hair in a pony tail and was working on getting the other side to be a perfect match ... for 30 minutes. She would brush, brush, brush, then tie it back. Then, out would come mirror #1 for the first spot check. If all was looking good, she would take out mirror #2 so she could hold one in front, and the other behind and get a back view of her coiffe. If all was still looking good, she would put mirror #1 and #2 back in her bag and take out mirror #3 - which was a 4 sided wrap around style mirror so she could rotate it around her face and check again. Inevitably this final inspection wouldn't meet her satisfaction and she would start the whole process again. It was driving me crazy. Many women here get so done up it is crazy. They will do any kind of maintenance on the train (curl their eyelashes, pluck, pull, adjust, squeeze) and constantly check their reflection on anything with a shiny surface. Men do it too, but women are far worse. Some women are wearing so much make up they look like street walkers.

There are things a few things about Japanese society that really bug me. They are so reserved that I can see why there are a lot of depressed people walking around. The other day I saw an older man fall down the stairs and no one offered to give him a hand. They just kept walking. I'm sure they didn't stop because they didn't want to embarrass him, but I felt so bad for him. When I drop something no one ever bothers to reach down to pick it up for me, or so much as take a stop back to let me through to try and grab it before it blows away. Before class one day I told a lady that her fly was down and she just about died. Her friend (who she had just spent two hours in class with) had never bothered to mention it to her. Not because she is unfriendly, but because she wanted to avoid an embarrassing situation for both of them.

My biggest issue has got to be with the male attitude towards women. They leer and snicker and make no bones about it. They don't try to hide it in the slightest. They will look at porn on their mobile phones with no shame and drool over attractive women no matter where they are or how old or young the women are. There was a Budweiser beer promotion at the subway and these high school girls were paid to stand around wearing basically nothing and hand out flyers. It was really disturbing. These girls weren't even really developed but they were wearing these tight little Bud spandex dresses that were cut so short you could see everything, and the tops were so tight they left nothing to the imagination. There was a guy who was standing with them supervising ... he wore a matching Bud coat and reminded me of a pimp. Anyways, crowded around these girls there could always be found a bunch of horny old men snapping photos. These girls were young enough to be their granddaughters. But, nobody has a problem with it. Apparently because I am half Asian I am not as intimidating to Japanese men as full blown white girls but am still different enough to be interesting, and as a result I get a good dose of starring, which drives me crazy. These guys are so rude, and never get embarrassed when they are caught starring - they just keep going and going. It doesn't matter if you tell them off or give them an ugly face, they just keep looking if that's what they feel like doing. I have men in class who will just burst out with comments about how I look, or ask me to go out for drinks with them, or whatever. No decency. I also had a stalker for a few weeks ... but that's over now, and the story is too long to tell in this update (which is getting too long already).

Well, on that note, I'll be off. Sorry for the really long update - maybe I'll try to send messages more frequently so they'll be a bit shorter. I hope everyone is doing well. Kyle and I think about everyone back home all the time and we miss you very much.

Take care of yourselves!
Joanne
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