Monday, November 22, 2010

bfg on Japan Attack

I have this habit of thinking of the worse. I mean the ultimate worse. Please remember I have a vivid imagination - I can think up anything.

I also have this habit when people approach me that I am under attack 'cause I did something wrong: I broke something; I shoved something; I owe you money; I looked at you strange; I snarled at your cat; something that I did that I am probably totally unconscious of. It is kinda selfish of me to think that way - like the world centres around me - but so it goes.

So last night at 4am when I was doing the finishing touches of the last final exam I had to do for OC I and the Doutor Boy came up to me, I almost shat in my pants. I was listening to music and he caught my attention by leaning forward.

             Holy Moses! How long has he been standing there? Boy, he is standing    
            really straight. Oh crap! What did I do?!

He was standing super straight and he was not smiling. In fact, he was almost frowning but not really. Okay, his face had tension. And his eyes were all small. I was scared. So scared I forgot he was Japanese. Baka-bitch moment #827374

              Boy, this is scary. What did I do now...? Did I crack that cup? I knew I put it  
             down too hard. Shit! No, no. Was it the toilet seat? I really need to stop 
             experimenting with those buttons in the toilet they must thing I do some    
             serious Number Two every time I go....

He finally spoke after not blinking for a like a minute. By then I had removed my ear phones, which were blasting "Love the Way you Lie" on repeat, and gave him my most brilliant smile. Make it hard for him. "I ... am... sorry to interrupt you but I must speak with you."

At this point I was ready to vomit.

              Why me? Why do I get the sickos! I mean, I look like shit. I WEAR A 
             WINTER HAT in here so the smoke doesn't get into my hair and this guy 
            "must speak with me".

".... I am very sorry but...."

              Oh no! It is the toilet. Stupid Vanessa. Stupid stupid. What other 24 hr cafe 
              is there around that actually serves real coffee? Nowhere that's where! 
              Fuck! Maybe it is because I plug in my laptop....

"You bought a toast before...."

             Brain fart. Not where he should be going... Did I like forget to bow or  
             something? I always say thank you!

Smile! "Yes, I did!"

"With strawberry jam."

"Yes. I always take strawberry jam." Strawberry jam is one of those things when you eat it the world is at peace, all is well and you have no problems.

"And there was a grave error."

               The dude used the word "grave" What the fuck did I do? WHAT!?

"The toast is 200 YEN..."

                Idiot Vanessa! Did you give him like a 50 YEN instead of a 100 YEN?

"I am so sorry!" I go for my wallet.

"No!" The most expression he had so far. "You paid 210 YEN. We are so sorry for this error."

               You mean... I didn't do anything?

"I didn't do anything..."

"We are so sorry." He gave me a receipt and the 10 YEN. I start laughing hysterically.

"Your English is so good!"

"Thank you!"

And so we continued our conversation for a minute or so where I learned he was a Shizuoka Uni student and working late nights. Nicest guy, always makes my toast with a nod. That is why I was so surprised when he was ubber-serious, you know?

So now I am friends with Doutor Boy! Which is lovely because I do spend so much time there. His English is amazing though... think about it! He used the word "interrupt" and "grave". AMAZING.

And again, the moment the 10 YEN fiasco cleared up and I asked him a question about himself, he seemed a little surprised but was so open and just happy it seemed that someone noticed. Maybe too that he could use the thing he has been studying. I mean I feel like a BILLION dollars when I tell a taxi driver how to get to my house here. All to say - there is something I can not get my finger on but I love how the process of meeting someone in Japan really is like blossoming. Slow but really opening up.

This does mean of course I won't be playing with the Doutor toilet. For a while anyways. I tell you though, it is a wonder of Japan to behold.

bfg gets ready for furniture shopping with Yuka! Success!! Even though I am poor.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

bfg on 37%

I just got out of the bath. Like, really... I stood up, wrapped my big purple towel around me, flopped on my bed, opened my computer and the fake M&Ms I got from Muji and started this.

I took my first bath today probably since I was a kid. It is possible friends may have stuck me in a bath during an evening of drunken stupper but that doesn't count as I do not remember a thing.

It was wonderful. I got some fruity bubble bath from my friend for my birthday and I put that in. It felt like I was a Duchess or something. New white tub. Fruity water. An awesome manga to read in the bath... Divine.

Confession: I lasted ten minutes. By then, the idea of just sitting somewhere doing nothing gave me such anxiety I had to get out. Am I really that Japanese?

My skin is still tickling and my cramps have really subsided so I can understand why the Japanese say they don't feel "clean" with just a shower. Except needing to end it early, it was really nice and may be the thing I needed to get over my nervousness and go to an onsen. Actually, now that I am writing this maybe not. So it goes in Vanessa land.

Busy day but awesome. I tutored my little Miko-chan this morning. We invented a skipping rope spelling game which rocked. We played cards and learnt new words... the great thing about one-on-one teaching is how I can shift gears suddenly and turn everything into a learning experience. Even jump rope. It is something I want to do in my class but I like the skill and experience. I have been in classes with teachers like that but I don't know how to do it. I am a list woman. I write a list, I cross it off and I love every minute of it. (In case you are wondering, yes I am tutoring her on the side but she is a family friend so I am doing it for free. On JET you are not supposed to accept any more moneys and as tempted as I would be in Shizuoka everyone knows everyone. And if they don't, they soon will!)

I missed my bus but still made it to the library on time. I volunteered at the local library to  read in English (or French or Italian) to little kids. No other word for that than great. Sometimes when I read the FB status' of my friends teaching in younger level schools I am a little jealous at the "oh so genki" remarks. Do not get me wrong - I am not made for elementary school but I do like the squealing and running around in hour doses. About 10 kids came today and it was great. The were super into the the book about Casey and Barney the dogs who ran in the snow. The giggled and clapped and yelled "Omoshiroi!" about a hundred times. And god, Japanese kids are so dam cute. I loved how at the end even the old lady who was listening came up to us and said, "Tanoshi!" I couldn't help but giggle and for those thirty minutes I really forgot about my to-do list. It was more relaxing than my bath! Me drowning in the excitement of six year olds. Not to mention books.

After that I helped my friend plan her Christmas party for the 12 kids she tutors. We are going to write letters to Santa Clause and bake cookies. So cute! It will be my one Christmas party and I am excited about it since it will probably be the closest thing to an actual Christmas Celebration for me this year.

And then - yes the day is not yet over - off to MUJI where I bought the nephew, the bf and my students some Christmas presents. That is when I saw it... the chair.

Back home I have Neal, my Reading Chair. I found his Japanese twin brother in Muji the first time I went there. But 10 000 Yen plus 1500 yen for shipping made it not worth it. But today - everything was 10 % off. It was like almost free! I bought the chair, pens and the presents I kinda mentioned above. The sibling arrives on November 28th along with my Disney tickets. Bliss.

List of trips I am planning: Vietnam in March, Montreal early May and Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Tokyo early August. My treats if my 3K word count blossums into 20K and I actually pass. Oh, post-masters life is going to be so ... different!


That said I was tagged to do this on Facebook but thought here would be more appropriate. Learning someones reading list is a sure way of getting to know them. heehee

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. (BBC, Guardian, whatever)

Instructions: Bold those books you've read in their entirety. Italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read only an excerpt. 

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien - I read up to Half way threw Return of the King. My favourite is book 2.
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible: My parents were so scared when I told them I wanted to read the Bible. And I did it. hahaha. Book of Amos is my favourite.
7 Wuthering Heights --Emily Bronte: I own several copies at home though.
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell: my shame. Dark stain on my book list.
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman: and I plan on going to Oxford in 2012 to visit my friend and reread the series. Sigh of pleasure.
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa May Alcott: Yeah. I am still super pissed she didn't end up with the neighbour. That never made sense.
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier: But I am dying to! Birthday present!?
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien: I don't think I can. Never liked his writing style just his ideas.
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife – Audrey Niffenegger: meh.
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell: in High School. I met my best friend there because we were reading it at the same time.
22 The Great Gatsby -- F Scott Fitzgerald: three times in one day the first time. I love this book.
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath –  John Steinbeck  
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina –Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen: my ONLY austen unread. ANOTHER BLACK STAIN
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - William Golden: And I never will. What retard put this here?
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown: In one day.
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabrial Garcia Marquez: Yes, unfortunately I read this piece of garbage.
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving: and every time I think of it I think of my friend Cathy Humes!
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery: and all the other nine
47 Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaids Tale - Margaret Atwood: fuck you atwood. This is SF. Face it.
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding: love it.
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan: God. English at its best.
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martell
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love in the time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez: better but still bleh
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov: amazing.
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas: YES YES YES. 
66 On the Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80  Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - Charles Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker: I just bought it and wrote a paper on it but haven't read it HAHAHA.
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad: YES twice. Better the second time.
92 The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint Exupery: In English and French
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John  Kennedy Toole: I could not finish this horrible book.
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie & the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo


= 37% read. Glass half full.

This list sucks. I was scared there would be no Dumas. There is no list without that man's name on it. 

Memoirs of a Geisha though? Confederacy of Dunces...? Really? 

I really need to catch up on my Dickens. Shame.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

bfg on fucking japan

Table of Contents


1 - Why I fucking hate Japan

2 - Why I fucking love Japan



Like any good epic, a forward is required if for no other reason than to establish myself as a posh-Edith-Wardenesque type of writer. Is it working?

Tonight was supposed to be simple: Come home. Change. Fight the urge to nap. Go to Doutor and write at least 500 words for my thesis and clear out some ideas I am having a significant amount of trouble expressing without facial expressions, bodily noises and hand gestures to accompany it. Go home. Curl in bed with SLAMDUNK and actually get more than 5 hours sleep.

Right. I did all that. In fact, I am in bed right now. Curled up. SLAMDUNK volumes 11 & 12 are right by me saying, "Vanessa, please read us. Open us. Use us. Please. We need you." But something happened - see chapter 2 - and I just feel like I have to write it while the feelings are fresh and before I convince myself that perhaps shutting my WOP mouth would be better then telling the world about fucking japan. Oh me, oh my.

Chapter 1

I fucking hate Japan.

I am sick of the banking here. It is shit. It is shits creek without a boat or a paddle or a pair of underwear for some protection of any kind. The people are wonderful and nice but the hours are garbage, I can't get the convenience of whiping out the CCard and buying stuff (and getting points!). So I didn't really think about money until coming home, realizing I had enough money for supper but that was about it.

"No problem," Relaxed Vanessa told Scolding Vanessa. "Tomorrow is pay day! Just go to the bank in the morning and get money."

Relaxed Vanessa won until Brain Vanessa woke up and reminded all of Vs that one does not get paid in the morning. One gets paid when the bank opens... what is that, 8am? I am supposed to be on the train at that time.

Relaxed V chips in, "No problem just buy tickets with the Credit C... - FUCK YOU JAPAN."

So the no credit-cards-think-ahead-about-your-money-in-your-wallet business is not working out too well for me. I am a woman of the modern era. I manage all my bills online, pay them, save what I have to save and spend the rest until the sun don't shine.

Now, if I didn't have to go to the retarded JET "Mid Year Seminar", which is in essence bureaucratic masturbation of the worst kind, I would be fine. But no! I need to pay just over 1100 YEN to get my ass in some Workshop whose outline I could just read in an email and it would be as rewarding.

That said, some of you may be current JETS- as in future current JETs or now current JETs - and wonder at my resentment for having to go. All this week, I had to run around and reschedule my classes because I have to make them up before the test. The teacher's wouldn't meet for whatever reason - they are pretty busy themselves mind you - so it is difficult organizing a whole ring-around of class rearranging for that. AHHHH!

This also means that the following week I am teaching 4 even 5 classes in one day. That is disgusting.

On my way home though, Nicer Vanessa was telling Bitch-ass (no I am totally not over ass words yet) Vanessa "Well than Miss Smarty Ass. How would you organize MYS?"

I had to think long and hard on this one. Not to long - I have a thesis to write! - but I could see how it would be difficult, and there will always be a Grumbler, likely with a name that begins with a V because what can I say we are just like that, who is unhappy. But the one thing that was wonderful was seeing the other JETs, especially my fellow 1st years, and blurbing out everything. Everything.

"... and so Smart V, I would structure this support group style. Have a circle where people can share what is working for them, what isn't, ask questions and just be way more free style talk about whatever. Basically just meet, preferably over food that won't clog an artery. Our lunch was so much more rewarding where we sat down and just got to talk without thinking about the time, or spot light, or anything and let it out. Mixed in with some jokes and some "Oh I need to try that" I would say I would want to spend an afternoon doing that." But never, ever two days. Perposturous. And what are ridiculous activity to assimilate an activity in 10 minutes.

Since this is the bitter chapter of my post, I will comment yet again on the lack of insulation in this country. Rebuild your homes Toshiba-land and stick a personal computer in them while you are at it! My windows shake if I blow on them. I pee with a blanket and sometimes I wear my scooter helmet in the house to conserve the heat in my body. I also wear my helmut because for some reason I am hitting my head on doors and counter edges these days - don't ask. I am COLD people and I am from Montreal! Go figure! I never ever want to stay home and being at Doutor all the time is definitely saving me loads of cash on the hitting bill.

My lamentation, at least my written one, shall end here. For now.


Chapter 2

I fucking LOVE Japan

So yeah, the thesis. Lots of time at the 24 hr cafe. Lots of computer time and wearing jeans and toques with truck drivers and people who missed their last train for company. We are a cool, rough gang but we like our Doutor coffee and so...

A few days ago, a lovely young woman sat next to me. I was dying to compliment her on her dress which was like a potato sack and looked utterly gorgeous on her. I would wear that and people would probably pay me to take it off. This girl looked stunning with her carpet material red and yellow shoes, dark leg warmers and dark purple stockings that are so like my own it made me think of us as instant sisters.

After 5 hours and several coffees we smiled, nodded, giggled and then just said "hello" to each other. M and I now repeat this every night pretty much - just sit there from 11 pm to about 3am, she drawing manga and I trying to figure out ... thesisy things.

Today, I was with my friend A Lot Of Snow - my Native American name for Takayuki - typing away. The Thesis Partners both gunning for a December deadline. And so I think when M saw us she may have felt like she was intruding the great typing rhythm we had going - no honestly, I may need to record an album - and sat somewhere else. When I was leaving I plopped into a chair beside her.

"Ha! I am sorry I was really into my work. How are you?" This was said in half english half Japanese. This is probably my first friend whose English proficiency is equal to my Japanese. Weirdly enough, I am pretty excited about this - you know actually talking in Japanese outside of school and service situation.

"Daijyobu!" And then she takes out a bag. "ageru." It was for me.

A bag of cookies she made for me at the pasterie where she works. She also drew a manga drawing to go with it.

I was so touched. So moved. All I do is sit next to her and we giggle over being tired and drinking too much Doutor water and she went and did something Japanese that moved me to tears.

Of course, I opened the bag and ate some cookies which made her laugh. We talked some more and she is going to make a Christmas card for me which I will send Luca as a present. So exciting.

I know I said this before but it still just amazes me how beautiful friendship is with the friends I have made here. Perhaps it is because what they can not express in words - be it due to shyness or just language barrier - they express with a small but so thoughtful token. It really makes me feel so appreciated and loved and I miss home at that moment but know I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Well maybe one other place.

DISNEY LAND. No no no.


YES BIYACHES! I AM GOING TO DISNEY ON THE 24th and 25th OF DECEMBER. Minnie and Mickey show, carolling, rides, the alice and wonderland room - all await moi. How can I not love this country? How can I not drown at the awesomeness that is qitche and corny Disney?

Admit it. Your jealous? And wait because I plan on wearing poka dots, bra, undies and all. Polka dots. Because Disney and Japan can't have it any other way.

That said, I don't do Epilogues. That is just overkill.

bfg pretends to go to bed but really intends to finish SLAMDUNK.

Monday, November 15, 2010

bfg on sharing the love

So I think now is the time JET applications are sent in. TO THINK I was doing that this time last year... I was writing my thesis proposal too and going crazy because the JET application was so intense. I mean a lot of it is just your CV but you have to somehow fit them all in these really small boxes. APPLICANTS! Pay attention - one girl got her placement because she had nice handwriting on her application. True story. She didn't get into JET because of it, but she was given a high-level school because one of her work duties would be to comment on several essays. Crazy thing this JET program is.

I remember one of the most difficult parts was my list of placement preferences. Kobe, Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto were out for me because the odds were SO against me to get it. So, instead, I made a list of all the things I wanted.

1) Access to bookstores, preferably one with some English books.
2) A place I can buy clothes for a large white woman with an Italian ass.
3) A place that had a lot of museums and places to visit so that I don't feel like I always need to travel far and away to experience the "real" Japan.
4) No snow. I want to know what it is like for once in my life.
5) A place that was central enough so I can travel all over Japan for relatively cheep.

I showed the list to two people: my thesis advisor and my Japanese student. The ThA said to definitely consider Shizuoka. My student recommended another city that starts with a Y (yes, I forgot sorry!) and Shizuoka. So the Shiz got first place.

How many people do you know got everything they asked for on a JET application? NONE. But I did. I got the Prefecture I wanted, in the city I wanted, the teaching level I wanted (high school). I did not get a high-level school which was my dream but they didn't ask for it on the application so !

Am I still happy I got what I wished for? HELL YES!

In Shizuoka, I get an apartment subsidy which was something of major concern for me (it covers a little less than half my rent). For someone who is sending half her paycheque home, every little extra counts! One of the MTL JETs who got Toyama Prefecture had to pay Key Money, a "gift" to the landlord, and 2 months rent up front. This was ridiculous! Though you do need to bring cash to start off with 3K is a little too much... and that was just for her apartment.

Also, the trip from Tokyo was short and sweet. I mean it sounds like nothing now but let me tell you Orientation is hell, a hell where you just want them to shut-up so you can sleep. Getting to your place so soon is a blessing in disguise.

Also, Shizuoka is a super safe place. Even for Japan, many friends I have made here who have recently moved here comment at how wonderful it is to be able to leave your helmut in your bike basket/ on your scooter seat without worry of it getting stolen. I left my iPhone in my bike basket three times downtown and it was untouched. For someone who is always out studying until 2, 3 am every night it is somewhat comforting to not have to concern myself as much about just things. (I should say a girl got her bag stolen in one of two nightclubs in Shiz. The bag was found with her papers and stuff but her 70000 YEN went missing. But that is a long complex story which I can sum up with honestly, if I saw 700$ and didn't take it I would call myself stupid. I digress.)

Shizuoka has so much to offer in shopping, convenience and places to see (cue FB pics). Basically, my prof was right; it really checks off everything on my list. I highly recommend if you are considering applying to the JET Programme put the Shiz as an option.

I almost forgot the most important part of Shiz! I'M HERE. And I host one hellofa party. Ask the stray cats, even they get a piece of the action.

Anyways, just in general if you need any help with your application just give me a shout! I have no problems with helping out if I can!

Friday, November 12, 2010

bfg on the worst thing that could happen did

I like Justin Bieber's music.

There. I said it. Let the vegitable throwing, tsking and Facebook un-friending begin.

It was not intensional. It happened... I was chained, forced. I fought the whole way. What can I do?

It started when I had the bright idea to teach 5 weeks on Canadian Music. This way, I would teach them the grammar points "I like..." and "I prefer..." and also, get these kids into answering WHY they like something. The WHY question is not a popular one in the Japanese school system.

"Banessa sensei. On the test, you ask if they like Celine Dion."

"Yes." I waited for the point.

"And then you asked why."

"Yes." Still waiting.

"Well, why?"

Um, maybe because I want my students to engage in an actual conversation with someone and not just nod their heads in yeses or nos.

Anyways, I proposed the idea the JTEs were like, "Who were you thinking of?"

"Well, I am thinking Celine Dion and Shania Twain... " which is great. I adore Shania, love Celine and I ended up doing a whole DIVA lesson that is working well. Plus, these are mega stars so am justified.

"Oh, and Justin Bieber."

Shit. "I guess." But I felt I should give in to the suggestion. They rarely offer anything so when they do I feel like I should oblige. Not to mention that every other 16 year old knows about the Beaver kid. So, what to do...

I decided to introduce the whole unit with him. So for the past two weeks, I have been watching One Less Lonely Girl and Somebody to Love over and over... the first couple of times I tuned out. Or so I thought.

"Banessa! so jyozu!"


"Know all words." And I do. Every one. "Thanks." I wanted to rip the kids hanko card in half.

Then it moved to class conversation. "Okay so, do - you - like - Justin - Bieber?" I asked this really slowly.

I was floored when a student raised their hand and said, "Do you like Biever?"

Whoa, I gave that kid like a million hanko. "No! But I think he is a good dancer."

"Ehhhhh! Banessa sensei Bieversukinai!??? Demo, Banessa sensei dance."

"" I looked to the JTE with the Spock expression "please translate, this Vulcan does not understand" eyebrow thing though not as well.

"They said you sing and dance so how can you not like."

What to say at that point... I was dancing. I knew the words. That night I downloaded his CD and learned that the kid knows how to play the TRUMPET. I mean shit that is kinda cool... as well as the drums, piano and guitar. Respect.

So there you have it. I have gone to the Dark Side of the Force. I will have to buy myself one of those Japanese sick people masks and paint it black.

bfg returns to thesis. Yes, that again.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

bfg on the troubles with getting high

I get high when I teach. Especially when I see my students raise their hand to answer a question... holy moses, I get thrill and chills everywhere.

These are the kids who hid their faces in towels and under the desk? Do not get me wrong, some totally still do, but I can say I have about 50% of them talking and VYING to speak. 

For example, some of my students have gotten into the habit of not just raising their hand but also of STANDING UP and saying, "Hai! Hai! Banessa sensei! Hai!"

My favourite is Genki Boy, a 3rd year student who is so god dam cute I want to wrap him up and bring him home. I try my best to only call on him once because I don't want to show favouritism but it is sometimes difficult. For example:

"Okay guys. What colour is this?" I flip to a new Keynote slide where it is completely covered in pink. Obviously, I was teaching colours. 

Genki boy raises his hand as do about 12 other students in a class of 19. 

"Megane girl!"


"Yes! Pink. Okay memo!memo!memo!" I say this to get them to write it down... it is my hint that it will be on a test. 

"Okay. So show me something pink. What is pink?"

Now, Genki Boy had raised his hand again and I saw him but he had already answered several questions and Shy Boy #2 in the back of the fifth row was semi-raising his hand...

"Shy Boy #2!" But right as I said it and pointed, Genki Boy JUMPED out of his seat, ran to Shy Boy #2 and stood in front of him so it was as if I pointed at him and answered. " Pen is pin-ku." He held up his pen.

I tried so hard to be mad but we all laughed and I gave them both hanko.

So, shit like that gets me high. I love teaching, I never want to stop I can go on and on like a Durasel battery. So after class I get a little low where I am shacking from all this energy inside. I usually calm down by collecting hanko cards and tests and listening to music. That class, I did just that humming Neil Young's keep on Rocking in the Free World as I picked up the yellow hanko cards of my 3rd years.

A student came up to me. "Sumimasen Banessa." She had the JTE with her.

"Yup!" I smiled but I spoke too quickly.

The JTE took over. "She does not understand her mark."

I look at the test. On the cover I put the marks of all three sections added them up and put both a mark on 30 and a percentage. "What is the problem?"

"Well, why is it 11?"

Now, had I been a little calmer or more sane in general I would have decoded this as a "there is a mistake with the 11 on 30 grade on this girls test". What can I say - another baka-bitch moment.

"Because she didn't study. How should I know?"

"Well, this does not add up to 11?"

I looked down. "Ha! No it doesn't."

I turned to the student. "Come see me at lunch, okay? Because I have to change the mark in my book and in the computer."  I paused and made myself speak super slowly. "I am so, so sorry."

In all, I mad an error on three students' exams. With the other two it was the difference of one mark. With this, the girl went from an 11 to a 21 on 30. Talk about ultimate baka-bitch moment. I feel so guilty thinking she had to experience a moment where she looked at the test and was like "OMG, I got 36%". Horrible.

She came as asked at lunch and handed me the test. I changed the mark in the computer, in my book and on her paper. Then I took out my new stickers that I was saving... "You can have ANY sticker you want. As many as you want."

I had sparkling Minnies, Goofy and friends that popped out. Huge stickers! She could have had any of them. The sticker world was her oyster.

She pointed to the simplest of them all. A Mickey smiling. No popping, sparkling, frills, ripples or florescent colours. Just a plain small Mickey. 

Okay. "Okay." I take sticker and put it on. "What else?"

"Eh? Daijobu."

"No! Don't you want the mega-awesome Minnie?" I started being Italian by pealing the sticker off without waiting for a response.  I was just going to put it on.

"No. I like Mickey."

"But you can have more." I started pulling out other stickers like cupcakes and driving signs and Canada flags.

"Okay." She made an O with her fingers. Bowed. Walked away while still facing me. Turned. Ran.

I wanted to give this girl stickers to ungulitify myself and she denied me this. She could have had ANY of those stickers and she took Simple Mickey. Now I call her Simple Mickey girl in class. She smiles. The students are enjoying their English Native American style names I am giving them. Trust me, it is much better than me trying to decipher between the five Ryosukes in my class!

bfg returns to reading for thesis. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

bfg on why I suck ass

I like using the word "suck ass". It is really disgusting. I never realized that until I told someone, "You rock ass." and then they said, "That is disgusting" and then I visualized it and yeah... totally raunchy. Now I use it ALL the time.

So, I was reading some of my blog posts and I realized that they portray evil, bushy eyed Japanese English Teachers. When in fact, usually they are nice, wonderful and generous people.

So I thought to share a few anecdotes, the first one being about how I ... do things ass-like.

I actually go in early in the mornings. I get my tea, I make photocopies, I fix my scooter hair... you know. Do things. In Canada, I never gave a rats ass about my job. But here... I want everything to be perfect. Sometimes, I see the perfectionist my sister is with her kitchen in me when I prepare for a lesson. If there is one black spot on my photocopies I go bessurk, call the teachers in and demand a cleaning so my students can have perfect stencils. I won't use the recycled paper and I like my tests on A4 paper stabeled not large poster paper that is so ugly. Yes, they hate me when I photocopy. I am the Photocopy Bitch. Fuck, that would make a good Halloween costume someday.

So this morning, there I was happy to have made it alive, since who knows when I will be trampled to death by a wild pig, when M sensei, my supervisor, came up to me. M sensei is in her 50s but looks about 30... maybe 31. She is so cute - no other word for it. She is so tiny and cute like a mouse in a Disney movie. She is so kind and is always in a precarious position. I mean imagine this 4 foot 9 little thing between an Italian giant with flying hands and the "stoic" vice-principal? Yes, do light a candle for her.

"Banessa-sensei! Good Morning! How are you?..."

"Alive." I smile! I am a sadistic ass-sucker.

She stares. She blinks. "Okay... ne!? So, teachers tell me you must put back projector. I am sorry but you must."

Now, this requires some context. Anyone who knows me knows I can not spell. When I tell my students "Spelling Counts" the inner-non-teacher-Vanessa cringes in guilt and shame at having broken a promise long ago to never care about English spelling because it makes no sense. When I was dreaming about being Michelle Phiffer in an urban school back in Canada, I was struck with terror at the thought that I HAVE TO WRITE ON A BLACKBOARD (or Whiteboard). Holy asses! I can not do that ! No way. Nervous. Sweat. What if I do not shave my pitts that day? What if I misspell Canada and then forever I have branded the word "Kaca" as the name of my country in the minds of 40 students!?

But, Eureka! I have Jingu, my trusted computer companion who just happens to be a sexy delicious Macbook. I can do all my writing there and just project it all on the white board. I never thought that Toshiba-Sony-Land would have ONE projector for an entire school. Never.

So when I came to the Shiz... yeah man, it was so hard. I had to STEAL this projector. Sometimes I have to hunt people down. And though I have some shame, I abandon it all and RUN after the principal for the computer keys if it means not having to write on that board. Terrified is what I am and when afraid I am at my bravest or worst. It depends on your prospective.

So when M sensei told me I had to put back the projector, it suddenly got very hot in the room. "Ummmm, but then how am I guaranteed to have the projector. I mean I actually use it EVERY CLASS. And I am doing a unit on Canadian Music... , "where I spent HOURS downloading music videos and making crazy memo sheets and writing the lyrics because the stuff online has no proper punctuation and I felt guilty giving my students a stencil with the improper use of apostrophes, "so I can not teach without it. No way."

"I understand." Her face became flushed. I think she is afraid of me. "But it is the way."

And there I went like a fat-assed Italian baby I actually said, "Well, that way is shit."

Yup. The shame. There I am being mean first thing in the morning to the person who is my voice and it is totally not her fault. Later in the photocopy room, "M sensei! I am so sorry about this morning. I am just frustrated with "the way". Not with you." We chatted a bit and she said she totally knew and that I am very kind which is why I have so many Japanese friends (not nearly enough) blah blah. And then I said, "I have a temper you know."

"I am getting used to your ways."

Oh god. Total, donkey moment.

But I am honestly pissed. I mean we are 45 teachers plus a staff of part-timers... ONE projector!? Ridiculous! And what if someone uses it when I need it. Granted, I did make the JTE's make a poster with my schedule and post it on the cub board where the projector is which says PLEASE DON'T TAKE THE PROJECTOR AT THIS TIME (I made it in English but asked them to translate)...

It is not just that... Anyone who knows me knows I can not spell and I hate the sounds of bodily noises. So the gargling, testicle shifting, sniffing, not to mention noodle slurping... I may have to choke someone or harakiri myself. So, only when I am correcting, I plug in some Neil Young or Eminem and correct away. At first, I thought the teachers thought I was a cunt and some probably do since I don't make the kids bow or say crazy polite things to me in greeting, but since they see me doing this after my work hours... now the running joke in the office is "When is Vanessa not correcting?"

But this past week I have been sick and I (re)discovered something wonderful... my disgusting LL Room which is a snap shot from the 1970s at their worst! But I have a set of speakers I "found" which I just took to the room and use to play music from my computer really loud while the kids work ... now I go there, plug in my iPod and work away in a huge ugly room where I don't have to shiver with disgust (just from cold) and can blow my nose without guilt (since that disgusts the others around me).

All to say, I am not so nice right now... but I am trying to be a really tough teacher on top of it all for my 1st years... I am doing it military style - if they don't do their work -5 hanko, lunch hour and after school with Vanessa conjugating verbs and they STILL have to do the work... Studying, bonus assignments, extra help... with some of them I am getting somewhere but it is soooo much work. I love it. I just wish I didn't have a thesis to wrinkle my brow over. It feels like the world is on my shoulders sometimes which is so solipsistic of mean but is the truth.

But now that I have written this and spent about 2 man on an absurdly large Amazon order all in the good name of "thesis research", I feel better. Thank guys!

In other news, Blue came to see me the other day.

"Banessa sensei. Here! For you!"

It was a Disney bag and a letter. "Happy Birthday!" I almost cried. I did after because it was the most thoughtful present - coasters with famous Japanese water-prints on them. "Blue! No, your birthday is important! This is too much..."

The teachers were staring. Blue talking seems to be big news.

I didn't know what to do. Should I bow or look away or something? Fuck it, I thought, I'm white. I gave her a big bear hug. "Thank you! This means so much to me!"

The letter was amazing. She told me what she wanted to be when she grew up and why... it was so touching, and real and awesome. It was an awesome teacher moment which she will probably never know how much I will cherish forever.

There is one other anecdote about my experience in Japan... actually I would have to say to date it was my most difficult experience with culture shock.

Two weeks ago, I was on a high having taught two classes semi-successfully. Coming back to the teacher's room, I heard something strange... "Is someone crying?"

No one answered of course. I spoke English and I didn't really expect anyone to answer... I just went off in search. It didn't take me long to find Lisa wailing with Y sensei, her male homeroom teacher, standing to the side facing the WALL and a female teacher chattering away in a voice I would use when having coffee with a friend. I didn't understand.

Now anyone who knows me knows I can not spell, I hate bodily noises and I have an active imagination. So, when I saw Lisa crying and two teachers one of which was speaking in a low voice... I was certain something bad happened. "Oh My God, did her father die? Her brother!?" Lisa is so lonely... her parents are divorced and she never sees her father or brother. She also never sees her mother who drives to Hamamatsu everyday. To feed herself, she buys food from the conbini... her English is superior so we talk during lunch sometimes where she told me these things and I had to nod and not cry. Fuck, I cry a lot.

No one answered me and I waited and could not help but watch and worry wanting to support her but knowing it was not my place.

I never thought they were talking about hair.

When it was over, I chased Y sensei down. "Y sensei! I am so sorry, I don't want to be rude and please don't answer if it is private but I saw Lisa crying and I want to help if I can. " I braced myself for the news.

"Oh, ummmm" Now Y sensei spent loads of time in the States and he often travels to New York so he probably knew I was going to freak. "Oh, it is just her hair."

"Her hair?"

"Yes. In Japan, your hair has to be black."

Okay... did something happen to her mothers hair or something? I turned to look at Lisa who was sitting down and trying to calm down before heading out. "I am sorry. I do not understand."

"Well, Lisa's hair isn't really black. It is now dark brown... She spent time in the sun and it highlighted her hair..."

I waited for the line that said "so it caught on fire and she has to wear a wig" but it never came. "So?"

"Well, she has to dye her hair and cut it."


"Yes, I know this is strange for you..."

"Okay, but why was she crying..."

He explained, the poor man, but I could not understand. They had her crying in front of all the teachers and her class mates some of which were still staring at her because her hair was OFF brown.

I was mad. "That is ridiculous. This girl is doing badly in school, she is abandoned by her parents, she hasn't had a decent meal in months and you are telling me all this is about her hair! I am sorry but ..." I guess I shouldn't have said anything a part of me was saying "When-In-Rome" but the big part of me was just saying on a higher, moral level that goes beyond culture and tradition there is a fundamental right and wrong. And when this young woman is faced with so many personal and educational hurdles that requires the support and discipline of her teachers but is handed a severe punishment for hair colour... "This is wrong, Y sensei. This is just wrong."

I went to Lisa a few days later... I wanted to tell her what I thought but THAT for sure was not my place. I told her I was sorry she was even in the situation and that she can always talk to me. But even writing this I want to put my fist in the wall... this girl has so much potential to blossom into a beautiful AND intelligent woman. Right now, she misbehaves in class sometimes (like not hand in her work) for the attention she gets from the teachers... she is lonely. "I am sometimes lonely Vanessa sensei."

I end it here. I am happy I wrote this but my hands are trembling in anger right now. More coffee and I am going to outline my my Nitobe section for my thesis. I need to learn how to put work away and live my life. But when you hear words like that... it just stays branded in your heart.