Saturday, August 11, 2007
Mako and I spent the day at my mansion yesterday, sitting and waiting for someone from NTT to arrive and get me hooked up. As the clock approached 5 PM, I got more than a little nervous. After all the trouble I've had with the cable company this week (you don't want to hear about it, honestly) I was genuinely afraid that the guy would simply not show up. Mako started calling people on my behalf to try and locate this guy, all with the quiet fear in the back of my mind that the appointment which Gary had arranged might somehow fall through.
Three or four calls later, including one to Gary, the guy showed up, sweating and apologizing profusely. Being a phone company guy, his first stop was the phone jack which is when the logistical peculiarity of my connection suddenly hit me. My only phone jack is in the kitchen near the floor next to a doorway. My computer is sitting in the air-conditioned room next to the kitchen where I sleep and watch TV. So all the wires he brought, along with a modem and a router, were set up right down there between a doorway and the kitchen sink. This is not the ideal position to place cables and electronic equipment! Still, it all works and my predecessor luckily left me a cable long enough to connect to the wall from the A/C comfort zone.
Other than that, Mako and I didn't get up to much yesterday. She cooked more food for me, some of which I'll be eating immediately after typing this message. We rented a couple DVDs to watch while we waited: the second Pirates of the Carribean flick and one disc of The Simple Life. It is my sad duty to inform you that Paris and Nicole are just as famous in Japan as they are in America. Thankfully, Mako wanted to see them just so she could understand exactly how vapid they are, so it's not like she finds them particularly interesting, amusing or even attractive. Personally, I find the whole thing hard to watch at all because it is painfully obvious that the entire program is an arrogant, calculated move to maintain their celebrity status. All of their "outrageous" behavior is so deliberate there's just no point. Surely all of the people who "hire" them know exactly what to expect, so how can they be angry when the girls goof off?
Oh, but the Pirates movie was a lot more fun than I expected. I guess I have to see that third one now? We'll have to see when our schedules match up again. Sadly, Mako is working through the weekend at her hotel's Bridal Fair (I told her to take notes) but it looks like we might have some free time during the week. She is very excited about the brand-new (to Japan, as of today) Ocean's Thirteen film which has plastered billboards all over the Hankyu Umeda station. Based on the art they've chosen to sell this picture, I would have called the movie simply "Handsome."
つづく... (Click here to read more)
Thursday, August 09, 2007
I'm sitting here in my mansion with a lot of free time on my hands. As I wrote yesterday, my BOE offers an extra seven days off during summer vacation and I have been strongly encouraged, if not outright instructed, to take those days during this August even though I just got here. So I have no work through next Wednesday, followed by a special Osaka orientation meeting on Thursday, which immediately leads into another day off. I'm still waiting on Internet, with cable TV looking to take even longer. I suppose I should get out there and travel but I'm a little put off by this intense weather. Plus, it's not like I've gotten any salary yet so I don't want to embark on any large scale adventures. There's always drinking, I guess?
All my news these days is being filtered through Japanese broadcasters so I only hear about issues that might appeal to the Japanese public as a whole. I know about the bridge that collapsed and Barry's record-breaking homer but I have no idea what any of the Presidential candidates are up to. In some ways, it's a little relaxing to not have to deal with daily updates on celebrity arrests or the bizarre, likely criminal behavior of the Bush administration. The flip side, of course, is that I get daily updates about Japanese celebrities and politicians who are equally as uninteresting to me. There is a pretty crazy scandal of sorts surrounding Asashoryu right now, but that's more frustrating than interesting. I want to see sumo wrestlers clash on the dohyo, not listen to endless prattle from the higher-ups about whether or not Asashoryu is allowed to go home during his suspension. And why does his stable master wear that shirt with little stripes on the shoulders? Who is that guy, an Admiral?
つづく... (Click here to read more)
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Let's start with the good news: at this point I have gone to two of the six schools I'll be visiting, and met with most of the staff. So far, everyone has been extremely kind and complimentary, apparently unfazed by my lack of experience. Everyone excitedly praises my mediocre Japanese, happily repeats things that I did not understand and constantly offers me tea to drink and little snacks to eat. One school in particular seems very prepared and enthusiastic about teaching English. We had a big meeting yesterday afternoon where a university professor came by, reviewed their lesson plans and offered structured suggestions. His presentation was the first thing I've encountered here in Japan that I would describe as "training" as opposed to the "demonstration" I saw in Tokyo. Even though he spoke mainly in Japanese, he wrote enough on the board and used enough English to really give me a sense as to what I should be doing with these kids. I hope I can successfully mimic his "lesson plan" structure for my own needs, although I will need some help figuring out all the Japanese terms he used.
There's also the matter of vacation time. It seems that I get an extra seven days of vacation time to take in August and September, although since classes will start next month I have been strongly encouraged to use these days in August. So even though I have just started, my supervisor Pat has been egging me to choose more vacation days. I keep inquiring about meeting more teachers, since I'd rather meet them before the students arrive, but I guess they're either busy doing their own things or they're taking vacation days too. I actually did want some time off to take a little trip with Mako (more on that when it happens) but at Pat's insistence I took off this Friday and nearly all of next week. Even still, there's two more days I have to use!
What's been frustrating me? My lack of progress on the media fronts. I tried to sign up for cable TV this week but I ran into a mysterious impasse. Even though I called, requested an English-speaking employee and apparently negotiated a reasonable package of channels, the call ended with "We'll call you back tomorrow." I had never heard of such a thing, but I agreed, figuring they were going to check my address information or something. Yet tomorrow came and went and no one called back. So I called back today, this time using as much Japanese as possible, to try and figure out what happened. The answer? "We'll call you back tomorrow." Never mind the fact that I already have the physical cable connecting my TV to the wall, there is apparently a multi-day process to decide whether or not to turn on my cable TV channels. I can only hope it's that simple, because if it takes four days to arrange a service appointment I'm just going to have to call someone else. At this point, the lack of Internet at home is actually interfering with my job, not just my personal comfort. Gary has been making phone calls on my behalf as best he can, but even he is receiving bureaucratic brush-offs at this point.
In the meantime, thank goodness for NHK. I may not be able to watch the Yankees, but I can actually tune to their BS-1 scrambled signal, enable the English audio and listen to the game. Plus, the nightly news regularly covers the Japanese players in America which, of course, includes Matsui. Aside from that, I can actually watch the Tigers play live every night, and as of today the huge high school baseball tournament has begun. Lucky me, there's non-stop baseball on TV!
つづく... (Click here to read more)
Sunday, August 05, 2007
I think the big problem that I keep encountering again and again is the overall sensation of helplessness, which I find to be one of the scariest, most unsettling feelings in the world. I have no confidence in my ability to teach children OR satisfy my employers, not to mention the language barrier which, at this point, masks 25-90% of the words that I hear in mystery. Yet everyone around me here insists that everything will be fine and that I need to relax, Am I the one who's crazy here? Is this all no big deal to the other JETs out there? Most of the new people I met at the orientation spoke little or no Japanese at all, how the hell are they coping with this?
As if that weren't enough, I am having real difficulty adjusting to the physical enviroment as well. I've been to Japan three times now, but I have never experienced it quite like this. Everyday, the high temperature is in the nineties with 85+% humidity. At night, it cools to the low eighties. I have an air conditioner in my apartment but I fear the huge electric bill I'm going to receive when all this adds up.
Let's try to get back to Mako and the weekend. First off, the trip down to see her on Saturday was not an easy one. August is a popular season for fireworks in Japan, and part of the celebration apparently includes dressing up in yukata. So I found myself on a very crowded train surrounded by young people dressed in traditional get-ups, all of whom were exceptionally chatty that evening. Train rides are usually an opportunity to relax but the crowds, the noise and the unfamiliarity of it all was kind of overwhelming. I felt like I wanted to stand up and shout at everyone to shut the hell up and dress like normal people! Obviously, I've had trouble fitting in around here but I've never felt more out of sync with the world than I did on that train.
As soon as I saw Mako at the station I pleaded with her to "help me" and she did, immediately, by simply smiling and telling me that everything will be OK. Superficially, this is a pretty generic statement but hearing it from her really did allow me to relax a little bit. I think her words have so much more weight because I know that she's trying as hard as she can to make things easier for me now that I'm here. And the first thing she did was get me a brand-new mobile phone under her name in order to avoid any red tape that my "foreigner" status sometimes raises. Now that I've got one, I have a number that I can offer to my co-workers, the landlord, and anyone else who might need to contact me in an emergency. Up until this point, Gary had been calling all these people on my behalf and giving them his phone number.
Once I was with Mako, Saturday night was pretty quiet. I had (that is to say, I tried my best to have) a conversation with her father that revolved around my future in Japan, which so far as I could tell did not involve a single mention of the word "wedding" or "marriage." Maybe he's leaving that up to us to decide? The way Mako described him, I got the impression he'd want a lot more say in that process. I'm fine either way, frankly, so long as I don't have to buy a kimono or something. Those things are hella expensive!
Today Mako came to see me, and my apartment, for the first time. She did her best to explain some of the things the previous resident left behind, much of which I didn't understand. The washing machine was of particular importance, because after an entire week in Japanese summer weather I had plenty of clothes that needed laundering! She prepared a nice lunch for the two of us, as well as cooking something on the stove for me to eat the following day. Overall, she seemed impressed by the apartment (which, strictly speaking, is called a mansion in Japanese) and the area, so it sounds like one potential course of action is to get married and have her move in with me. It would add to her commute significantly but it would save a lot of time and money vs. finding our own place.
In the evening, we went back to her home and all of us went out for yakiniku. I can't say what to expect at work, but if this weekend has been any indication of things, my in-laws are looking to spoil me rotten.
つづく... (Click here to read more)
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