Monday, August 30, 2010

bfg on horrible-no-good-very-bad days

Yup, today was the day I almost cried.

With most JETs it happens the moment they are first alone in their apartment. With me, it happened where, without realizing it, I was super effected by something but haven't been paying attention to it. And then something small happens and I just want to cry. That was me today.

I woke up late this morning, I guess that was in essence the event that dominoed into what I thought was, though now it seems so pitiful, disasters.

Rushing to school and up the hill, I was only 4 minutes late because I didn't bother to stop at a combini having purchased most of my coffee, morning snack and drink the night before. But I still need to calm down, wipe the sweat off my face and change clothes. That takes longer than you think; every morning it feels like I just did a hard work-out which would rock if I were able to shower and wash my hair after. Instead, ringlets form from the sweat and even after having wiped my lower back and chest a gazzlion times droplets still fall down driving me crazy as they tickle me and remind me that I really must smell.

Not even given the chance to wipe my face this morning before I was jumped on by the super nice and gentle vice-principal whose Japanese is a little to fast for me. Basically he said tomorrow I had to introduce myself to the teacher's so to please prepare a speech. Okay, done. Sure. No problem. He goes on and on but I was like "MAN! Can't you see I am white and stink and sweat?! I know I am late but give a girl a breather." I just shut-up and nodded and smiled. He is after all so nice.

Walking to my desk I saw for the first time in ten days my supervisor Mi and another JTE Na who has helped me a lot in Mi's absense. They both say "Ah Vanessa! Lets go try out the projector."

I ignore them for a second drop my bags, take out a hankie, wipe my face. I put on a smile. "Sure! But do you mind if I change first?"

"Oh ! No gomen, gomen."

I run to the washroom but now that people are actually waiting for me, I can't give my body the thorough wipe down it needs and I am getting a little depressed.

Back with a smile. I desided to take the advice of one of the JET senpais and start my day over.

But all too soon, "Ahhhh! I don't think Japanese technology accepts MAC."

Frustrated. I was going to explode. I hate it when people who don't know the difference between a USB key and SD Card try to talk to me about technology. "I understand that MAC is rare but this is a projector; it doesn't care. The cables are universal. No, its something on my side." But there was no internet in the dinosaur room they call the Language Lab and that has no AC (which should be illegal by the way).

Ninty minutes later and I got the teacher's PC to work but not my MAC. I was too tired to care, "Okay. I will use your PC."

But the problem is that when I returned to my desk not only did I find out that I did not bring the power cord to my laptop but a conversion from Keynote to Power Point is not easy in the least. Much of my slideshow was lost and I couldn't even attempt to fix the problem since the laptop had little juice left (I was watching the 1960s film BUSHIDO in bed last night).

"Na-sensei, can I use your USB key?"

I tried to put the file on it but there was no room. Sigh. World at this point is against me.

Then Mi-sensei calls to me, "Vanessa, here are some papers for you."

It is an application to stay with a home-stay family during the autumn festival for a weekend. I was so happy having felt somewhat disappointed at my like of traditional Japanese life and filled out the sheet and sent it off right away. It is a first-come-first-serve basis with only ten spots and as I flipped through the pages I realized that  she had gotten this paper last week - I probably lost my chance because of her vacation. I could not help but be resentful. I don't care if she takes a vacation but stuff like this should have been told to me. That and the fact that my apartment issues have not even been mentioned by her or the school... well this was the point I = bitter.

Determined to fix the projector problem, I took loads of pictures of of the device and my laptop and sent it to the bf who was, when all is said and done, awesome. He really looked into it but it seems that the Apple site mixed things up as the product they were advertising for the MacBook Pro was not for it as there was no such port on my laptop. I did find the right one but it advertised that it is for the MacBook Air... not the same thing. Even Antonio, the Apple Mania Cult Leader, was frustrated by this. He is going this morning to the Mac store to make sure I buy the right one.

And through it all, I could hear people talking about me in Japanese. Sometimes laughing, sometimes "neing" and in my hyper-emotional state, I started tearing up. I wrote to the bf, "I just want to come home." It was the first time I meant it... how for just one moment I didn't want something new or different. I just wanted Sasha to talk to me in her silent and loyal poodle language and Antonio to bring me a coffee in a Star Trek mug and ask me which episode I want to watch this time.

I would even have settled for just leaving and going back to the apartment and working from there but no. This is Japan. You don't do these types of things and to be honest it was unfair. But with no computer I wasn't even able to do some much needed prep for lessons.

I desided to show the teachers, since the two OCI profs were there, my idea for my self-intro. They love my movie, "Please play it at least twice."

"Twice? Why would I do that?"

"You worked hard on it."

"Okay but I was going to talk the second time so the kids have some listening instead of just reading."

"Well, I really like music."

Okay than, twice it is.

I showed them the activities. "No, no. Just fill in the blanks is fine."

"Fill in the blanks!?" I could not help myself. "But, what are they learning by filling in the blanks. Nothing."

But they said how they thought my dialogue excercise was too hard. "Anyways, " Mi-sensei said, "copying is even too hard for most of these kids."

I wanted to cry then. Like fucking breakdown and ball. Is this to be my year? Giving kids fill-in-the-blanks?! How is this educating them...? I actually care and I just feel like I am bring trampled on.

And they all agree to meet me, to include grammar point, are into my idea of Mad Minutes (which I am stealing from my fourth grade teacher who used them for math class) but when it comes down to it, it seems as if they want a babysitter - to survive the 50 minutes and that is it.

I think I could have taken a little more control of the situation... but I didn't I just felt like I was being bitch-slapped and in all reality I may have interpreted their tone and mannerisms much more harshly. These women have both helped me a lot despite being so busy so I feel really bitchy writing this now. But at that moment...

Soon after, Na-sensei said we should go for my driver's license and... first success of the day! Not only was I able to get a rendez-vous tomorrow but I don't need to take an exam! Technically, tomorrow, I can walk into a bike shop, buy a bike and go home. This is where I need to remember all the good things - like how my new, "precious" friend Takako is actually taking time out of her Sunday to teach me how to ride a scooter. When I said I would pay for gas she shook everything that could move, "Nononono."

Actually, she is even helping me with my thesis and when I insisted on paying she wrote to me,

"Any way , I'm happy to help you. It might be my study,too. 

I don't wanna get money from you.
You are my precious friend, so I don't want."

I was so touched! I could not believe she wrote that. And in Canada, well - it is just not done. With the exception on my two bffs, Caro and Rose who for some reason share my "money is meant to be spent (responsibly)" philo, in Canada I would have had to pay. In Japan, in less than a week people I don't even know have volunteered their time and knowledge to help me with my work. I even got an email from an aquaintance who has no sentimental connection saying it would be a pleasure for him to help with a business article I need help with. My jaw dropped... this guy was helping me out in ways that others I knew more intimately could not. It was such a surprise! (and I immediately started budgeting gifts I would buy them HAHA!)

Its not just that though. Its the interest. All who know me know I can get... carried away when taken over by a plot line. My thesis is no different. Mention samurai and the conversation will go from how I still kinda really wanna marry one to why Bushido is bull (quoting Karl Friday here!). Call it politeness or their awesome ability to control their facial expressions but not only have people here, Japanese and non, listened they have offered me a myriad of sources from tv to kids books to cultural events that are all related. It really makes me feel like my thesis is alive sometimes. If only I didn't have to worry about paying tuition. I would just write it for the rest of my life!

But I digress...

Upon returning to school, the AC was not working so well. I was informed that since I was not going with a teacher tomorrows Diver's License visit would be vacation time and that my speech contest student would only be able to meet me at 7pm after school since he is in the tennis club and they have practice three times a day, 5 days a week and most Saturdays (!!!!!). What to do... I said I had my own classes for Japanese and asked if he could just leave a little earlier but that was met with silence. I wanted to pull my hair out. And I have a lot of fucking hair!

Cure for a bad day? Start over. So- I came home after this day and went to sleep for two hours, woke up and did just that.

Worked on thesis with Hiroko for an hour or so and we hung out, had some Chinese dinner and talked. I think the great surprise with having people like her help me is how our conversation turns to how fathers are like samurais or the philosophy behind gift-giving... Conversations like that drive me insanely crazy with happiness at how great it is to be alive.

I basically handled my day really badly... probably due to tiredness or ladytime or just being in a country that is so hot I carry a towel around with me, do double takes and wipe in between my boobs all the time and other embarrassing parts I don't want to mention. Certain frustrations which funnelled today in a bad mood but ended with friends. So all is well. 

bfg goes for a night bike ride in hopes of seeing more cats with half their faces bitten off. 
(and makes a list of things to do when in this situation again like scrub a floor or something and work the stress off).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Apartment

It is unfinished. Really, I am only living out of one room right now. October paycheque I think I will treat myself to a double bed, tv and a few more bookshelves. For now, I am very happy! though am looking forward to them fixing the "issues" at my place.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yeah That is Right BITCH!

Episode 2!

Its a slideshow because as open as I am about my sex life, I have no intentions of posting a film of me panting.

Fuck you Hill.

Episode 1: The Hill ~~ Going Down

Not Perfect but it gives you an idea of how I am going to die on this bike (and why I am getting a scouter to drive my scooter. Being Japanese not required. Cooking abilities a must).

In total, this is 1/3 of my way home from school.

Just to give you an idea, it takes me 40-45 minutes to get to school
It takes me 18 minutes maximum to get home.

Fuck You Hill!

bfg on empathy and my students

I think the best thing I can do for my students is continue learning Japanese.

Not just cause I have to (thesis!). Not just as a personal goal. I really think remembering the things that bore me, that frustrated me, that have humbled me and actually incorporating them into my lessons will help me be a better teacher.

Today was spent working hard at communicating English. Underline "hard". Scream it out loud in your mind and have it echo in your skull. Yup, that was my day.

I had two of my three speech contest attendees come to my office today. Night and Day, I tell you.

The first girl was unresponsive. In fact, the JTE told her she thought the speech was not very good and that the student should maybe try another year, but the student persisted. Normally, I am really into this kind of idea of strong, even sure-to-disappoint drive... But usually this is paired with an eagerness to learn and this student made it seem like I was shoving her head under water for over three minutes at a time.

"Your speech is about friendship, right?"

"Friendship? nandesu ka?"

I point to the first sentence in her speech which has the word "Friendship" in it. I repeat very, very slowly, syl-la-ble by syl-la-ble, "Fru-ren-du-ship-u." God, I even gave in and gave it a Japanese accent.

Nothing. Not a nod, not a yes. Nada.

The JTE in the background chimes in.

"Blalhblahblha Friendshipudesu."

Student turns to me. "Hai! Fri-en-d."

How can I train someone who doesn't even bother to learn the very topic of their speech which they supposedly wrote? I found out that she did write it in Japanese and had it translated by the JTE - something that if I were boss would be an intense no-no (see below). But I am not the Teacher just a humble ALT so I beefed up the speech as requested despite strong feelings of wrongness and recorded my voice so she could practice at home. I offered to meet her during the week but she asked if she could just do it after September 1st. "Fine." But I was disappointed.

My other student walked in during my lunch break but she greeted me with a shy smile and a heavy accented, "Hel-Lo. I am K--!"

People, I fell in love.

Four hours I spent with K--. I did the same thing; made her sentences flow nicely together, changed a few words here and there but her content is strong and really original. I am so impressed with her idea of writing about how the Japanese Soccer Team inspires her because they lost but stayed positive. "Same with my studying English." God, I almost fainted in happiness.

By "changing a few words" let me give you an example. She wrote how the team "effected" her to improve her English even if she fails. I taught her the word "inspires".

"Soudesu! In-spu-ir-ers!! I feel in-spu-ired by the soccer team."

K was still shy but she allowed herself to make mistakes if it meant expressing even a part of her sentence in English. In the end, we had a solid meet and I am so proud of her.

As a side note, the title of her work is Samurai Blue - yet another thesis moment.

In between my speech students, a group of third year high school girls who are not my students came in.

"Banessa! Do you remember my name?"

I always say the same thing. "No. What is your name?"


"And what is your friend's name."

I don't care if it is repetitive - I am the English Goddess and if the only thing these girls will learn is saying someone's name perfectly well so be it.

We laughed and I gave them candy from my not-so-secret stash in my drawer. I am not beyond bribery ;0

They asked me if I would help even though I was not their teacher. "Of course!"

I was actually starving at that point and was talking to the bf but when it comes to students nothing else matters.

"Can you give us the answers to this test." They handed me five pages to an exam.

"What test is this?"

"University Test." In Japan, you take uni entrance exams. In reality, you take an exam for even an Internet Cafe card in this country!!

"Ah! No."

"EEeeeee! No?!"

"No. We will do the test together."

And for two hours I sat with them and made them do the test. I was surprised at what they knew having only based my judgement of their capabilities on their listening and speaking skills. We did it together and I was so proud of them - encouraging them to return with as many tests as they like. "I will help you find the answer. I will explain it as best I can but I won't just give it to you." Off they went with their candy in pocket promising to return and thanking me for taking the time.

It was remembering this, how I as a teacher feed off the student who is open to learn if not eager, that I walked into my own Japanese language class this evening.

I went to the culture centre to find out about Japanese language classes in the community and discovered a place which provided free lessons Tuesday evenings.

Group Shot of Japanese Class
It is an informal gathering - a setting I usually do badly in. I like structure - the military kind. I work best when given a list and told, "Go!" But I forced myself to ask the questions burning inside me, mostly unexplainable grammar points I had come across in the manga I am currently reading for the Infamous Thesis.

I knew at first some other students were a little frustrated at the more academic, more formal questions I was asking. Most of the students are either bran-smacking new learners or pretty fluent but foreign and want to work on their accent and conversation skills. But again, my students in mind, I went on.

And ended up having such an awesome time.

Me and Old Man. He rocks I tell you!
We had a blast -that is what happens when
you put two people who love food together.
My teacher, an older gentleman who looks 60 so must be 100, was incapable of explaining to me in a way I understood. I remember my first student the one I was frustrated with at saying she understood but really didn't. With that in mind, I kept asking him again... and again... and again to explain. And finally we got it! It was awesome and it was like opening a door in my mind.

At break time he even bought the entire group coffee and from there we sat back and discussed my great love for sushi and the high cost of vegetables. I realized it was the first time in three weeks I had a conversation in Japanese where I wasn't talking about the weather or ordering something. A conversation on veggies may not be so awesome but right now, it has re-energized my batteries.

bfg goes to continue on her manga while listening to Ella F.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

bfg on book-shopping and dieting

On the first Shizuoka-City-JETs-get-together at a horrible "Italian" Resto, the sempai, J, categorically said female JETs gain weight. I am not sure how the conversation came up, but all the women at the table perked up ready to fire questions: Was it because they drank too much? Did they only eat Western food? Did they never leave the house?

I think deep down inside, with the exception of some who are already as slim as the Japanese women, we came here with some hope that the Japanese Effect would take hold and we would loose some weight. It is hard to hear that because my genes aren't used to it the excessive rice, love of fried food and, MOST ANNOYING, the obsession these people have with MAYO ten pounds won't magically peel off.

But I don't think any of those female JETs went book-shopping.

This weekend while most of The Others were in Hamamatsu partying, I decided to stay home, clean, look for scooters (I was unsuccessful) and start intense research on thesis. My advisor, Mr P, sent me a lovely list of Japanese sources. Originally it sent me into a minor heart attack mode thinking of translating all that Japanese kanji by kanji (since most of it is a bit more sophisticated than what I know) but then I realized he was indirectly narrowing my topic and therefore kinda shifting out other works I would have looked at. Though he wrote I could access them at the library, I was all too happy to go book-shopping, especially since I had not hit any of the used bookstores yet.

So off on Glinda I road with the wind at my back and a list all ready in katakana so the shopkeeper could read it if my accent was incomprehensible and some ISBNs (some of them were manga series so there would be many). I decided to go to Book-Off not just because the yellow and blue bright paint appeals to my personal aesthetics, it is just plain huge. A huge bookstore filled with books at a discounted price. Heaven.

BOOK-OFF; Night Shot!
In I go and immediately I felt so out of place. The shopkeepers sang their song "Irashyaimaseeeeeeeeeee." The long eeeeeeeee part an intonation that calls for the other workers in the store to acknowledge my grand entrance. Only a few customers looked up but I felt very self-consious and because of it my ability to read katakana flew out the window. I decided to not ask the shopkeeper, afraid he would begin to sing at me again and browse the shelves. It was mostly manga but it was heavenly. The books were so clean, so perfect... and most were at they were 105 YEN. Truly, paradise for the bibliophile.

I did find Slamdunk, a popular manga not ten years old that kids today still know and read (and watch since of course if the manga is popular, there has to be an anime). Intoxicated by the joy of having discovered one of my list-items, I purchased the first five volumes. The price of course was just a cherry on top.

Again, I set out on my adventure caressing the books at times with my fingertips just happy to be there the sensation of being an Outsider slowly dissipating as I touched something so familiar to me. I always loved bookstores because it is both humbling and exhilarating; you realize how little you know but its so exciting that you have all this knowledge ready to be devoured. As I neared the end, with no more successful finds, a spine caught my eye the bright green and pink colours demanding I give it a look. I pull the book off the shelf.



I read the katakana again, sure I have gone crazy. Then I realize there is also roman letters. Yup, Bastards was the title. I shook my head thinking to myself "Bad Translation" until I noticed the man next to me.

Now I don't know how these bookstores make money since it seems that all the customers just stand in front of the shelf reading the book. So at first this man's actions did not get me but my eyes caught the mega boobs in his comic and then I realized... oh! I returned to Bastards and sure enough, from the images I saw, was pretty intense erotica if drawings of nudity get you off. I almost bought the book as an relic of this memory and experience but then in a panic realized the whole "You are a sensei. People are watching you." bit we were told at every single one of the gazillion Orientations I attended. I quickly replaced the book leaving my curiosity for another time (in another city) and went my merry way to the front counter.

"Sumimasen. Bushido SIX-U-TEEN ga arrimasuka."

"Chioto kudasai." If sumimasen (excuse me) is 70% of Japanese, Chioto Kudasai is the other 29% leaving 1% for everything else (in case you are bad at math). Ask someone their name and they will probably tell you "wait a minute". At Shizuoka Orientation a JTE was speaking and he actually said half way, "Please wait a minute" and then put his head down and thought for a minute and then just started talking again. The thing that surprises me is when they use it and I have to wait like all of 2.576847 seconds. Still, chioto kudasai comes out.

I waited and then realized that two clerks were staring waiting to help. I felt guilty... I just need one of you. I repeated my request and they nearly fell over themselves. The man won out in the end because...

... he broke out into a run.

I kid you not. He ran. Now, when I walk into a conbini and if by some odd chance I catch a clerk who is not behind the counter sure enough the sound of running feet as they quickly remedy the error are sure to follow. This was something I always thought a little cute, though it shames me to write that since it sounds somewhat condesending but it is true - that is how I feel, and guilty. I mean what if the teller would fall down and crack their head open because they were running to their counter? The guilt!

But this... running to get my book? And the thing is, I wanted to know where it was so when I purchased other ones in the series I would know where to go. So after about 5 seconds of shock I quickly walked after him. I searched the rows until finally I found him and walked towards him, smiling. "Sumimasen. Bushiso Six-u-teen nai" he crossed his fingers to emphasize the point.

I was disappointed but then noticed we were in a book section. In my limited Japanese I said, "Korewa hon desu," This is a book. "Bushido Six-u-teen no manga o kaitaidesu," I want to buy the manga of Bushido Sixteen.

"Ohhhhh!" And off he dashed, running back to the counter yelling what I assume was "Do you know where B16 is... the manga" or something equivalent. Unfortunatly, as he ran and yelled, a little obachan got in my way and I could not follow him up the aisle. I turned back and made a right, thinking to run parallel. It worked until I couldn't see him anymore and I backtracked an aisle or two. He was conversing with two other clerks who then both started to run around. Not sure who to follow I went with Clerk #1. Back to the counter. Off to an aisle, down a section... And then finally...


I turn and another clerk is bowing to me. He hands me the first volume of B16 manga saying something like, "This had just arrived today. So sorry it took us so long."

This all took place in about less than four minutes. I took the book and asked, "2 ban?"

"Sumimasen. 2 ban nai." He bowed. I bowed.

BOOK-OFF Purchases
I bought 6 books for 1200 YEN. Heaven, I tell you.

It was not the entire list... So I then went to Toda books, basically the Indigo of Shizuoka; three carpeted floors of glorious, wonderful new books. I had gone the night before to look at books for studying for the JLPT exam and decided to return to see if I could get the other texts.

List in hand, I went to a clerk. "Kore ga arimasu ka?"

The clerk bowed and took the paper with two hands, then quickly typed the ISBN number. "Hai!" And off he ran but I was ready.

He made a right. I made a right. Mother comes in with two kids I take an extra right- left and run faster down a parallel line just to meet him at the end before catching him running down the stairs. Unfortunately, I was too big to doge the older couple but I was able to keep my eye on the clerk and when I caught up to him he handed me Volume 2 of B16.

TODA Bookstore Purchases... The SAMURAI magazine was
not required reading BUT I could not help myself.
The soccer team is called "Samurai Blue"
A thesis Moment!!
I had two more request and both times the dude ran. I got pretty good at following him though the fact that I am taller than the shelves and most of the customers helps a bundle.

It was a workout to be sure! I was SORE later that night and in Book-Off I was out of breath. No wonder these people are able to eat a jar of Mayo a day!

So, though I may be eating more rice in a week than I have in a year in Canada I think weekend book-shopping workouts may balance things out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

bfg on "Hanko this!"

I am at work now and trying my best to keep busy. It is amazing how the littlest things can take up so much time.

Hanko is  stamp in Japanese and the kids here go nuts over them. Especially if it means getting a price at the end. One of the recommendations during Orientation at Asunaro was to have a hanko card to encourage students to participate in class and do their homework. My predecessor did use hanko cards but I was really inspired by the design on the sempai JETs here, Sally L, showed us during our workshops.

So proof that I am not only chatting away on FB but working, voila my hanko cards.

Inside the Hanko/Name Tag card

The "Outside" where the name tag faces me
the In-class Phrases chart faces the student.
Folded in three

bfg on I scream!

Today was the hottest day of the summer so far in Shizuoka. It was so hot that I couldn't even bike up The Hill (at this point it deserves capitals... that and a dynamite stick). At school, kids dipped their shirts in water and wore them all day. That or it was their sweat. At a certain point same deal.

When I arrived at school, I felt dizzy and nauseated. Luckily, I was able to wait until 9:30am before having to go team-teach with Mi-sensei. During summer vacation, the kids in Japan go to school and take extra classes to keep up with their material. During the first week of September, every grade has Math, Japanese and English exams. Sounds pretty intense but I think it is a smart system since too often class time is wasted at the beginning of a year reviewing what students forgot. The teachers are still working hard and they have this time to be less formal, chat with the students and spend more time on studying and understanding. I just feel so bad that there is no AC in the school - only the teacher's room does and the temperature is regulated.

The day went by and I spent most of it busy making my hanko card for the kids. Inspired by some ideas during the Shiz Orientation, I thought to make the hanko cards into name holders. Anyways, they are beautiful and on my way out tonight I am going to go buy some stamps at the awesome shop by my house. I intend to use the hanko cards to bribe students to participate in class, write me letters and read.

Today I met a special student. In fact, I think I am in love with him and may have to bring him back with me. K speaks fluent English; his father is Japanese but his mother comes from another country where he grew up until four years ago when his family moved back from Japan.

"Your English is lovely~!" I said, so happy to be able to talk at normal speed. So hopeful.

"Oh no," he shook his head, "It has become dullish."

I have a student that knows the word dull. How does that happen? "What was the last book you read in English?"

Scratches his head... "A long time ago... about three years ago and it was my sister's book."  He seems to be quiet serious, enjoys reading SCI FI! and to be honest I wonder how he is at my high school which is for low-level students. But I am happy to have him - he is mine and I won't have to give him away for another two/three years (he is ichinensei).

Going back to my desk, I tried so hard to stay alive. Yeah, here it takes energy to exist when you are fighting dehydration and sunstroke in a blouse. When the clock hit 2pm, I realized I had not eaten which is stupid. May not be hungry but I have to eat... survival, remember? But just as I sit down a tap on my shoulder.

"isucremu, sukidesuka. ...?" It was one of the teachers with the pretty skirt, who always smiled and tried to talk to me.

"Ice cream. Hai. HAIIIII." I made a gesture which can translate to hot and Ice Cream is Yummy and I am fat.

She gestured for me to followed. I wrapped up the bento and did just that.

Down the hot, steaming halls we went, up and down sets of stairs until finally she brings me to a door. I should have changed my slippers since the was a rack with them in a varient of sizes but she didn't ask me to so I desided to conserve energy... I was not expecting this when I agreed to a dessert.

In we go greeted by the sounds of giggles. Two older women, obviously teachers, are laughing as smoke surrounds them. One is holding a huge silver container, the other stiring.

"Ahhh, ii!" The lady with the bowl dressed to the nines even in this heat handed me a bowl and gestured to what clearly translated to "Stir."

Boy, did I stir. I was sweating and angling my face so it wouldn't drip in the bowl. As I stirred Dressed Up woman took a wooden spoon skimming the rim of the bowl. "Bo -by?"

It took me ten seconds... "Bobby? From JET? British?"


"Yes, I know Bobby!"

She then pointed to herself. Translation: I work with Bobby.

"No way! Too bad he is at English Camp. It would have been fun." and in my head I added, to help me stir! I mean I was happy and having fun but being told several times how "jiyozu"/skilled I am at stirring felt like a hidden message of that is all you can do. Which is true but still!

As I stirred,  my teacher waved a fan and chatted away. I did love bearing witness to the sound of their chatter, it felt like I was in my grandma's basement kitchen rolling gnocchi on a basket. The other kept on pouring the liquid ice which burned my hand and irritated my thigh but was so cool. After, we ate the mango caramel sorbet as we talked about otakus and their children. I love how cooperative they are -everyone was working. We all cleaned up, we all ran around to grab this and that, we all, even me, squealed when the liquid ice burned us. As we sat and ate, they told me of each others homes and families which struck me as so odd and I had to do everything in my power to not change my facial expression as I listened. The other teacher told me about my senseis four children, rich husband and house by the water. Whereas mine told me of Dressed Up Lady's one child who is hyper smart but somewhat of a nerd (to which I said nerds are sexy and they just stared and said "Oh, but her son is the cute one" haha). Once I was told a fact which would surprise me like four kids, cause that is a lot!, I would turn to the person and ask "Honto!?"

"Honto." And they would nod.

Usually, I would say these things, like "I have a dog", "I speak French", "I dislike chicken." I think making this connection really helped me understand why teachers would, what I then thought, brag about me: "Vanessa sensei speaks English, French, Italian and Japanese!" It wasn't to brag about my knowledge (dude, that is nothing in Quebec I always say but no one listens) but to demonstrate at how well they know me and say, if I were Japanese, would maybe be to shy to say on my own. Though this is not the case, I think I am going to try it Japanese style for a while and see what happens.

In closing, no I didn't have my camera. I know... but the memory of the open windows, huge room with the green slippers lined perfectly and the sensation of liquid ice is still with me. I hope the Chemistry Lab kids appreciate the efforts of their teachers!!


This evening I went out for a beer with the gals and it was great. It felt good to be less strung up i.e. needing to do something; I think Internet has really liberated my life. I do have to take care of some paper work for the Driver's License since a scouter requires special papers. sigh. And I still need to get my re-entry permit though I am going to try to go with Mi-sensei when we pick up my alien card.

I was thinking of traveling around but I realize the trap I am setting for myself... always making this weekend the "exception". From now to December it is Thesis Camp for moi, that and teaching and living a normal balanced life with fewer excitements other than awesome students, adventures on The Hill, and crashing my bike into automobiles.

The only pleasure I can have is buying a fucking scouter. You must be so sick of this hill but its my blog so there.

So much sushi and I paid 1000 Yen.

bfg goes to make a to-do list.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

bfg can make small wishes come true

I will take better pics during the Festival, but this one is for you Al and all the SciFy friends.

bfg is now The Fool on The Hill

Before I say anything Japan related... Star Wars. Blu Ray. My lifetime.

So I am happy! Very happy. So happy I am thinking of buying a used PS3 in anticipation.

But first, I will have to buy a scouter.

Ah yes folks, the decision has been made. I need a set of wheels and I don`t want a car. Please not the use of `want` and `need`.

I can not do it anymore. It has just been two weeks but it is always the same. I dread coming to school and going home at the end of the day because deep down inside I am certain I will die.

And I almost have! How many times has a car turned the corner and almost killed me? About 1.5 times a day I tell you and always the last three block before I get to the bottom of the `hill` - not appropriate for the size of that thing, but anyways- which leads me up to school.

The hill is gynormous. It is also steep as fuck. It is the only time while I am in Japan that I have been significantly depressed, considering taking a free-ride down the ridge into the water since it would be less suffering than what I go through.

Eatten alive by insects. So much sweat I need to bring a towel with me and make pit stops to mop my brow and other areas. Aches while students with their parents drive up waving and pointing as they shout `ALT! ALT!`. On my way down, I go so fast my brakes hardly work and I am sure I will die but if I walk it makes the 40 mins extend to 60...

Above all else, it is walking into the staff room in excercise clothes, red faced and dripping as I feel the gushing flow of sweat down my back and teacher`s giggle as they look `Atsui! Atsui!` Atsui my ass! They don`t really sweat just stare at me. I don`t blame them for the staring - it is sickening.

Hence, my resolve for the scouter. It will save my life and though it may mean spending money for a time, it does mean survival.

Many people have said to me that I should just do it! It will make me fit! Yes, but I am not coming to school to exercise? No - to work and the thought of standing in front of the class while I scratch my armpits because they are irritated is just not a possibility for me.

Flood Under Fridge
In other news, there is a little flood in my apartment which has me concerned. The supposed fridge that functions in fact rotted the floor it was under. The landlord has investigated thank goodness and all should be well. It doesn`t bother me as much as the crack in the tub though. As you can see by the pics, not a pretty site. But I really do love my apartment. I think taking the time to decorate it and make it my own has helped me adapt and think of it as home. The decor is not finished but I am enjoying overall (though it will be even better when these two problems are fixed). I am just happy I went with my gut instinct and not buy my predessesors stuff. Many JETs from Shizuoka and Montreal have said they regret it - the stuff is old, doesn`t work or, in most cases, you realize it is just junk. They did have the convineance of sleeping in a bed the moment they got off the plane and not stress as much as I did... you choose what is right for you and I definitly did. Annoyed as I am about the fridge, imagine how much more so had I paid for it? Now I have to get rid of it but the landlord said he would and I can finally get the fridge I want. I just look forward to the day it happens and am hoping it is done before school starts.
Crack in Tub

Haven`t touched the thesis work in a week, though I did start translating the manga adaptation of Nitobe`s book Bushido. This week I desided to set it aside and focus on making a year long curriculum for all my classes and the lesson plans. Next week I have a meeting with most of my JTE`s (Japanese Teacher`s of English) and once my curriculum is confirmed I can make the sheets, start on the supplies but above all else kinda set it aside and focus my mental energy on completing this Master`s.

I am quickly learning that the true success of a good teacher, besides towering over everyone and not having to worry about disipline, is being organized; know what you are doing and being ready at any moment to explain why. At first, my supervisor seemed a little frustrated at my requests of having net on my computer since she probably thought I would spend the day on Facebook. I do spend time of FB, especially talking to other JETs, but today I made a calendar, did all the lessons for OCI class (my main class), made a list of supplies, designed my hanko (points) card for the students and started to outline my first lesson in detail; before leaving she said how excited she was at the fact that she knows most of the hard work is done! She was also very resistant at my idea of using `teachology` in the classroom but after I showed her some specific ideas she caught on. One of the major stresses is one`s relationship with their supervisor; be yourself and don`t be vague. I think the idea of computers scared her but showing her a movie of Sasha rolling around in the grass for my self-intro and how I was going to embed it in a power point presentation got her even more excited about our upcoming classes together.

Last weekend though I did have fun. Friday night after Prefecture Orientation (which I should be blogging about now but whatever), the Shizuoka JETs met up went to a few bars and a club. The night was great fun except at the end when my houseguest for the weekend had her bag stolen. It was not the smartest thing - she left it in a locker without locking - but everyone didn`t quiet believe here. `This is Japan! No one steals in Japan.` And I mean everyone said it, my new Japanese friends, my exchange partner Ken, the three police officers at the koban - they all looked at her surprised. It sucked because along with loads of money she had her passport so, for lack of a better way to phrase it, she is paddling up shits creek to be sure.

Best Coffee I ever had in my life
- served with Maple Syrup!
A moment where I really missed Antonio
We spent Saturday doing the paperwork and just walking around Shizuoka city. It reminds me of Saint-Hubert street in Montreal a lot; the wide sidewalks, the storefronts. Although the shops in St-Hub are shit and here they are just utterly amazing and I don`t understand how people can survive. I don`t even cook yet the kitchen stores. OMG - the sister and bf would die here. I reframed from spending money since most of my day was filling out forms and ... *drim roll* getting Internet.

That is right people, I have internet. The freedom. The wonders. How JETs survived pre-Internet, mobile phone I don`t know. I would die. I almost did racing my bike to 24hr Internet Cafes and drinking loads of Cola as I listened to suspicious sounds in neighbouring stalls. Still, they sanitize those places like mother-f**ers! I now have Softbank`s mobile to go: unlimited internet access, everywhere and anywhere I get a mobile signal for 4,480 YEN per month. Best of all, no 4 to 6 week wait with Yahoo BB nor concern if I ever have to move out because I wake up drowning in fridge-water.

Rolling Sushi. Cheep and oh-so-fresh
Sunday I met up with Ash and showed her all the malls and shops for taller, wider people such as moi. And while inside there were mega, mega sales and well... we couldn`t help ourselves. Softbank gave me 5,000 YEN gift-certificates so I bought loads of stuff but did not pay a lot. It felt good and very normal, like a right of passage. Ashley is fast becoming my `buddy JET` though I have promised myself that I will not be locked to the JET nishe. Hence the mega-ultra dinner planned for Wednesday with loads of locals, Ash and I.

For now, I shall get ready to leave my first Japanese class this evening! Wish this fool riding down the hill luck.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

bfg on meeting my students

View From Teacher's Room

I was honestly at the point of considering throwing myself out the window in the teacher’s room as it would mean possibly landing in the ocean, swimming in water instead of my own sweat.
The only rooms in the school which have AC are the teacher’s room, the computer room and the administrators room. But today there was a blackout frill. First day a fire drill where I am made to handle the firehose (that was a feat!) and now surviving a blackout. Dear me, could they not choose a cooler day to do this sort of thing?!
It was while I was gazing out to the Pacific that I heard it.
Giggles. “Helllll-Lo.”
I turned.
“Helllll-o (giggle, giggle) my name is... Sa--!” Laughter.  “uhhhh... uhhhh” She rolls her eyes as if searching her mind... “Nice to meet you!” She found them.
And it was that moment my friends I felt pure elation because I knew it was my first teacher moment. 
Sa- introduced her friend Yu-- whose English was pretty much non-existent but Sa-- made up for it in her gumption and spoke for them both. We talked for about forty minutes using many an electronic dictionary (3) and the dictionary on my iTouch to get by. 
A part of me became discouraged - they couldn’t understand the simplest sentences and I had to act everything out. For two girls it is fine, but a whole class!? I have no idea how I am going to teach these kids and actually succeed in disseminating knowledge instead of just entertain which I am starting to have the feeling is what most JETs end up doing. 
But there was some success, for example after ten minutes of searching and two teachers joining in. I taught them the word “synonym”. Can I just say, that is an awesome word to teach! Suddenly I was able to express to them that the word “exam” has the same meaning as “test”; they were elated. It really felt like I opened a door.
By the end we had a not-so-secret handshake and traded our favorite band names, me having introduced them to Carla Bruni and Feist. I think they were surprised when I zipped out the iTouch that I could text and type as quickly as they could. It totally put me in the “cool teach” pool... 
In fact, word got around that I got the iPhone 4 and now the soccar boys thing I rock and am rich. If only!
Sa and Ya are third year students coming to school to study for university entrance exams. They come in and out of the teacher’s work having written practice essays and solved algorithms seeking advice from their senseis. I had seen them many a time and even waved but this is the only time they spoke to me. And though the low-level of English is scaring me the fact that they are willing to put up with the Pictionary way of explaining things gives me more than hope. It makes me excited for September. 
I don’t have internet... in fact, I just got out of the shower and am getting ready to meet some other JETs in the area with a sempai (a JET who has been here for over a year) for some dinner and to speak English at a normal speed. But I wanted to write this down... it was vivid in my mind and my fingers were just itching to write.
I will be out of touch for a while since I am going to prison... aka Prefecture Orientation. I wouldn’t mind it but I have to sleep in these horrible dorm beds. So it goes.

*** written august 10th***

Monday, August 9, 2010

bfg doesn't know where to start so she just skips everything...

“What do you mean I can not Skype in a Wi-Fi zone?”
the salesclerk at Softbank didn’t speak a word of English. Had this situation been in Montreal, someone would have bitch slapped me with an “estee immigrant!” But this is Japan where the only sign this girl had a 10 hour working day was the one wrinkle in the back of her skirt. I was thinking of telling here but the horror that would cause! So she replies, “Japanese-Japanese-does not work-Japanese-Japanese-Japanese-only in Wifi-Japanese- Starbucks-and-McDonald’s-”
“Mc-Don-al-dzu?” I couldn’t believe it. It can’t be true.
“Hai! McDonald’s ... wifi.”
She handed me a piece of paper and sure enough - wifi at McDs people. And there is a 24 hr one right near my house.
So moments before writing this, as I order my cheeseburger the idea of free wifi overcame all sentiments of guilt that I was in Japan and eating McDs for the second time. Shame.
“3-ban Kudasai. Set-o desu.” which is roughly Number 3 please; drink and fries too.
Blah blah blah, he asked a whole bunch of questions like do I want lemon and/or sugar with my iced tea (I took both) what size for the drink, and to please wait a moment because in Japan we actually only make the burger once you order it.
As I waiting astonished at how clean and cozy this place it - leather couches, jazz music - I asked, “Wifi?” Intonating my voice to indicate question.
He smiled, “Sumimasennnnnn, wakarimasen.”
“You know... wi-fi.” And then like an idiot I stuck my finger in the air and did a Sci-Fi- 2001 Space Odyssey thing. The young man looked scared. “Sumimasen... forget it.”
He handed me my food apologizing a gazillion times for not speaking English. I said to him in English, “Of course not! we are in Japan.” He nodded and gave me a 90 degree bow. Full service at this McDs.
That is when I realized I had two fries on my tray. I return to said scared McDs High school Student worker. “2?” 
Annoyed at the succession of gaijin moments, I sat down opened the comp and stuff my face. Fuck it - two fries it is. 
Only no wi-fi. So I am writing this and will return to Carpacio to post.
My phone is ordered (iPhone 4 baby), my internet as well. My gaijin card is only ready the 27th of August but I went back to get the green paper because no one likes the white version it seems. Racists. 
I got lost today trying to find an electronic dictionary that costs more than 2 months of rent but no luck. I will just have to do it. Wouldn’t be so annoying if I didn’t have to pay for all my Tokyo Orientation (but be reinbursed in two paycheques. VERY ANNOYING).
The moment I have internet at home this will be a normal blog. Until then picture me riding Glinda, my awesome bike, up a steep hill everyday as cars honk and wave and laugh at me and my sexy blue rain coat. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

bfg on "it is not my fault!"

It really isn`t.

Wi-fi here non-existant and it took me three days to find an internet cafe. I now understand why - this is luxury people. The manga library in this place is enormos, I am sitting in this lovely sofa chair and with a press of a button I can have any meal I want for under 500 YEN (about 5$ canadian). Not to mention a bar of unlimited drinks...

So much has happened. My apartment is really starting to look beautiful. The tub is getting a vinegar treatment while I am out here, but other than things needing a good scrub I love it! Without the ability to post pictures though it is hard for me to write. So much to say. So I thought for now I would tell you about my first day of school.

Mi-sensei is my supervisor. She looks thirty so I will allow you to figure out just how old she is in White People Years. Mi-sensei was kind enough to pick me up in her car; "Please dress すずし" (cool).

Driving to school was overwhelming. I was trying so hard to consentrate on how to get to school but the roads in Japan they make no sense. NONE ARE STRAIGHT even the ones that may seem to be. The worst part was when I asked what the street name is; "Street name? This is too small a road for the japanese to give it a name."

So off we go turning the bend me so afraid that she will run over a cyclist. This is not to say she is a bad driver, in fact there must be something in these peoples genetic code on reversing into a parking spot perfectly in one try (albeit they open their driver door to do it). At the MiniShi\op, Mi-sensei made a sharp left and up the hill we went, through the forest that felt so much like home if it weren`t for the bamboo so thick and beautiful.

I love this about Japan - it is so plush. The paint here is fresh, the road signs are so clean and the variety of  shades of green here are a wonder to behold. The only thing that ruined the moment was the realization in the back of my head that I will have to climb this baby with my bicycle. Me on a bike... a frightful image.

The school is kind of on a cliff overlooking the ocean. they have binoculars in the teachers room though whether they are for spying on naughty students or for the scenery, I am not sure. Even for someone like me who hates sand and sun, it takes my breath away.

The teacher`s staff room is big and open with the AC low but in comparison to what is `out there` a havan. Mi-sensei was so busy running around that I just plopped down on my seat and looked around. It felt so good to see the view from my desk... all this wondering about what awaits me in Japan and here I am in a desk chair. It is so normal and very welcome. It does de-romantisize the whole idea of Japan but this is one of the many reasons why I wanted to come. There are desks in Japan. No they don`t fly though they probably have so function where it gravitates.

Mi-sensei had to leave soon after for a doctors appointment so I was alone chatting it up with the senseis as best I could with my 200 word vocabulary list. Everyone says `jiyozu` and I feel such shame knowing they mean for a white fatso. I guess I am skilled if we think of it that way. The people were really laid back and relaxed with one teacher actually wearing jean capris. I felt like turning her in just to see what would happen.

All of a sudden - `Vanessa! Please follow` And out the door I go, to the back of school for the fire assimilation. Yup, on my first day I had to take control of a firehose and wield that baby myself. It felt great because I sucked so bad I got all wet which was a cool relief. Thank goodness for sports bras as I was wearing a white shirt. The teachers cheered and yelled and though I understood about 1.459273% of it, it was in that moment of craziness I fell in love. again.

The rest of the day went by quickly. No enkai for me which made me sad but I think they may be waiting for the other teachers on vacation before we go. I am looking forward to the day! Lunch time I went to a Thai restaurant with another JTE (Japanese English Teacher) and a Biology teacher. The owner scared the bejezzes out of me with rubber spiders, scorpians juimping out of boxes and a plasic snake crawling up my leg. I only screamed twice - be proud.