Sunday, August 26, 2007

hopefully spongebrained infantile lummox

I can`t read or write, I don`t know how to speak, and I am just now learning how to cross the street safely. I am the mind of a child in an alien`s body wandering around a foreign land.

See, the language is different, they drive on the other side of the road and - ooh, ooh - I got my Alien Registration Card the other day, so I really am an alien now, woo hoo.

At times my ineptitude frustrates and at others entices: the immediate future holds unending learning for me, which is a pretty exciting thought.

In the meantime, I have to get used to people talking AT me and feeling rather dimwitted because, despite their best efforts and intentions, I have no idea what they are saying. Signing up for an internet cafe club card, the attendent anxiously stuttered the same word over and over again at me for about 30 seconds, not able to think of a better way to explain what that specific portion of form required: my date of birth! When paying later, I embarassed us both by complaining that I was overcharged for my time usage, not realising that she had included my sign-up fee in the price. Sigh.

I have always admired bi- and multi-linguists, and long since envisioned as one of my life goals the acquisition of another tongue. I guess this is my chance, because the desire to NOT feel stupid should be a strong motivator for me. There is a very basic level language profficiency test in December, so there I aim my sights. Tomorrow I meet a little old lady language instructor who will hopefully help toward that end.

More immediately, I get to practice my select and misremembered formal, polite phrases tomorrow when I have the first day at my real job, meeting the principal, staff, and students. The kocho-sensai (`principle,` I think) is a very important, intimidating, and aloof superior, even to long-term staff. Watashi wa kowai desu - I`m afraid.

Friday, August 24, 2007

to miss what once you loathed

After four long years of English Literature at Uni, I miss Shakespeare - how crazy is that?!

I just finished reading Huxley`s `Brave New World,` wherein John the Savage criticizes civilization with his snippets of self-taught Shakespeare. I am quite excited to report that I had pangs of desire to read those of the Bard`s plays that I haven`t yet read, and even - hard to believe, I know - to reread some of those I have. Sadly, the Complete Works I was going to steal from my father and stuff in my bag was one of the ten or so books that simply could not fit. Othello, The Tempest; Macbeth and Hamlet once more: they shall have to wait.

That is, after all, the point of going away, right? To miss what once you loathed.

I am also very excited for my parents to visit at the end of September - NOT to say I loathed them before I left home. Again, I`m just saying that going away gives me the opportunity to miss them. Already more than before I look forward to each email and phone call from friends and family back home.

See, I`m trying to be only positive this post because, really, I do have a lot of positive things to say.

I have been enjoying my little set up immensely. I have started developping mini-routines for waking up in the morning, and meal times, and reading, and - did I mention I have a coffee maker? Caffeine bring man who push button much happiness.

I eagerly anticipate many new and exciting adventures over the course of the year. Primarily, just being here.
I also do want to learn some functional japanese literacy and vocabulary - which will be a long haul, I assure you.
Then there is teaching for the first time in my life, more on that later (term starts in two days).
Then there are the other adventures that the Hokkaido Association of people like me (HAJET) brings: specifically, a pan-Japan soccer tourny, a musical if I can get up the nerves and energy, and hopefully a Habitat for Humanity trip sometime in the spring, which is something I have always wanted to do.

Of course, I have yet to pay even my first months rent, so I have no idea how far my salary will actually stretch. And, I have yet to start my real job, teaching, which is the purported purpose of my being here in the first place.

It`s been basically three weeks since I left home, so if I came home after a year, it would be only 49 left before I went back! I am definitely not even thinking about whether I would want to stay another year or not, though some people are already swearing that one won`t be enough for them.
As I promised myself, I won`t even attempt to evaluate anything so large-scale as my life or the future until at least a month into living here. But with time in Tokyo and more orientation here in Sapporo, and then this liminal quasi-existence of not-really-working every day, I feel like I might need to wait for a month after school starts before evaluating what has, by then, been a real, lived month.

And yes, just pushing self-evaluation back a month, and then another month, and so on, is a method of living that can go on indefinitely. I have learned in the past, for me personally at least, that the less I evaluate and think philosophically, the better for the spirit of living in the moment, and the less existential angst.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

toilets, trains, and migraines


Ok, so being in Japan doesn`t stop me from getting migraines; that`s a little disappointing. We were heading from our meeting with a Board of Education bigwig, to go chat with a Global Issues highschool english club, having just stepped off the subway, when the familiar and detested splotchy patches appeared on my vision.

Follows: a squeamish sub ride home, 5 hours of the day wasted trying to sleep the pain and naseau away, then soreness, achiness, and just general unpleasantness which will linger all night and greet me the next morn as well.

But the subway system, at least, is quite remarkably efficient, though slightly expensive. The payment is electronic and easy, your trips recorded on the back of your prepurchased card; you don`t even have to slow down as the machine reads your ticket, though the turnstiles WILL rapidly swing shut their hip-level plastic mini saloon-style doors and barr your path if you try any shenannigans.
I think I mentioned already that the city only has three intersecting subway lines, but they can get you pretty much anywhere important lickity split without too much headache - unless you`re me, apparently.

Since I am here in the J-spot, and I haven`t pointed out any glaring exoticisms, I figured I should mention a few random things.

It is not just a stereotype: Japanese-style toilets truly ARE just a hole in the ground, that sort of looks like a half-buried, elongated and skinny toilet bowl which you somehow squat over, facing the wall, with your pants down, and do your business, with nothing to help hold you up, and without getting anything on your pants and feet. Many public places have at least one western style toilet though, thankfully. Toilets often have a tap above their fill-tank that runs after you flush, so you can wash your hands right there. I don`t understand this, because I usually like to get away from the toilet as fast as I can...

There is meat in EVERYTHING (though I don`t know why I go straight from toilet to food), even if it is not obvious from the label. It took a lovely grocery store till lady about 5 minutes to find the meat ingredients on some plain tomato pasta sauce I bought the other day. You buy a nice looking danish that would clearly taste awful with meat in it. You examine it carefully first, to make sure there isn`t any meat in it. Excited, you bite into it and think you have hit the jackpot, until you take your second bite and realise that the meat has been hidden in the very centre of the danish, cleverly and impossibly disguised to look like just more danish!!! People still look at me like I am crazy when I try to tell them I am a vegetarian.

One thing that I like is the Japanese predilection for drain-basins. The entire counter area of the kitchen is a shallow basin that will drain into the sink, which is actually quite convenient. In the bath, the tub takes up half the room, and a handheld shower head hangs from the wall beside it. But the entire floor of the bathing room slopes toward a drain in the middle, so you actually have tons of room to wash away the humidity-induced permasweat. Lastly, the cute little washing machine sits in its own little drain basin. I don`t have much to say about that; it`s just cute. Nobody has drying machines, so everything gets hung up outside. There is something very quaint and enjoyable about this whole process, not to mention its energy conservation.

All you can drink parties are the norm, which is strange as Japanese people (I hear) can`t actually hold their liquor very well. In any case, you pay your 20oo or 30oo or 40oo yen (if it comes with all you can eat), and then you have two hours to get stuffed and stupid. If it`s a club, you pay the cover charge and drink away the night. There are bars, but one drink is usually extremely expensive. All conbini (convenience stores) sell alcohol, some very cheap, so it is kinda like all you can drink, anywhere you go, at any time. So, if that`s your bag, this is the place to go.

Quiet time is 9pm. That`s that, so quiet down. If you aren`t quiet after 9pm, your neighbours above and below and around will call your supervisors and you should be very embarassed. I imagine it doesn`t happen that way for everybody, but that`s how it happens for us foreign assistant language teachers!

I feel like I am being a little bit negative right now. That might be influenced by my migraine yesterday, and by the fact that I am hurriedly trying to squeeze stuff in before I head home for the day. I have so many positive things to talk about, but they demand more patience and contemplation to formulate, so I guess I am just sort of leaving them out.

Hopefully I find some more time to write tomorrow, and I wil think of more randomata exotica as well.

Friday, August 17, 2007

sheep and technology

I feel like a sheep.

I have been surrounded by fellow english-speaking teachers like myself, from around the world, since I got to Japan - most of whom, it seems, have far greater Japanese speaking and reading abilities than myself. The result is that I have been doing a lot of following, sitting in the back of the group, being a sheep. Whenever any new situation comes up, or anything moderately complicated needs doing, I have to let someone else do all the work for me. This has included early transportation and exploration of Sapporo, applying for our Alien Cards, reading mail (for bills), getting a bank account, ordering food at restaurants and, today, ordering the internet online, as well as pretty much everything else. Not to mention the fact that my apartment, my job, and my entire life for the next year have been planned by somebody else, down to the very route I will take twice a day, every day of the work week.

Now, I`m not exactly complaining. I simply could not have done a lot of this stuff without others there to help or, basically, to do it for me. And I shouldn`t be too mad that I know less Japanese than others who have studied it, been here before, or who have lived here for 5 years now (or 25) and speak it fluently.

Yet I do tire of being a sheep. I almost want to distance myself from the group because I feel like I have no power or independence in the constant herd of us moving around town. Plus, having everything done for me and following other people around means I learn nothing, or at least, I learn a lot more slowly than I would on my own. If I were here on my own, or stationed in a small town, every step of getting my life set up would be in my own hands. I would have to learn the words I need to get by, instead of just hearing someone else use them.

On the plus side, to switch out of the negative tone, having competent Japanese speakers around meant that I could order the internet today, and I should be hooked up in my home in two to three weeks.

Along those lines, I was plugging in all of my rechargeables yesternight, and I suddenly realised the extent of my personal technological acquisition and transformation. Whereas a month ago I had nothing battery powered, I now have:
1. an intense digital camera (which has received many an `ooh` and many an `aah`);
2. a laptop (which has many AWESOME photos waiting to be uploadeded, and should be useful once my apartment is wired up);
3. an iPod shuffle (which rocks and, by the way, makes an awesome necktie pin);
4. and a hot cell phone.

The cell phone in particular is a big change for me, as I have essentially boycotted them for the last 4 years. See, I have mixed feelings toward ipods and cell phones, because it seems people are constantly running away from the moment, constantly disconnected from their immediate surroundings. People with plugs in their ears are generally less approachable than those without, and ignore the world passing by; people txt msging and chatting on their phones aren`t really focusing on the friends that currently surround them. I have already caught myself writing emails and messages on my cell, losing track of what`s going on around me, which seems disrespectful as well as... I don`t know, it`s just not very harmonious, not very zen!

Woops, hopefully you just slipped over that diatribe rather than feel any of the venom was directed toward you. After all, contrary to what I just said, the cell phone has allowed me a facile connectivity and spontaneity severely lacking in my personality, even in the first week I`ve had it. And listening to music when you enjoy a jog, or some beautiful scenery flowing by on your commute, can actually offer a heightened experience, often hard to attain in the silence or stifling thoughts of my mind.

So, yeah, I have mixed feelings about it all. Except my camera.
That I just love!

I have so much to say but this post is already long and rambling. I haven`t even mentioned the crazy sudden shift from deathly hot and humid to misty and chilly. Two days ago, the heat was painful; that night, the heat wave clung to life, sweltering until four in the morning before suddenly and noticeably succumbing to the cool winds of a new weather system moving in from the mountains. Interestingly - unfortunately - the heat is due to return in a day or two.

I also didn`t mention working with some more Japanese students yesterday, nor attending the Obon Lantern Festival in Nakagima-koen (a beautiful park downtown). I only felt a little out of place as I followed the line of locals, released a floating candle down a gentle stream, then folded my hands and contemplated my ancestors. I mean, I thought about thinking about them, anyway. The chanting of the monks at the beginning of the ceremony was beautiful, despite the incongrous hum of the portable gas generators; the lamps flowing in a line down the stream were majestic, despite the metallic sheen off the industrial scaffolding that formed the ceremonial bridge. Truly, despite my unnecessarily pointing out these contrasting juxtapositions, it was beautiful.

And there`s much else yet unmentioned!

Monday, August 13, 2007

I`m alive!!

I feel distanced and disconnected.

I haven`t had a chance to send emails or check my facebook or write in my blog or talk to my family and friends in about a week, and I`m starting to freak out!

So far I`ve been okay, but the lack of connectivity is wearing on me. I could go to a internet cafe (they`re very nice, with comfy chairs, tons of snacks, sometimes even the possibility of staying all night and having a shower) but I`ve been counting on being able to use the internet at work. However, today, my first day at the office, I can`t figure out how to connect my computer to the wireless network here, so I can`t put up the posts and pictures that I have on my personal laptop. I`m using one of their laptops, with a slightly different keyboard and none of the materials I want to work with. It will probably be a few weeks, maybe a month at the outside, before I actually have internet in my home.

So, as a short update, I`m alive. In fact, everything has been going quite well. We haven`t done any real work yet, and we haven`t been spending much time with Japanese people, mostly just with fellow JETs. We hiked up a local mountain/hill yesterday and got an awesome view of the city and the surrounding mountains. I have been quite fine so far, living on my own for the first time, but I think that I will start to feel lonely and disconnected if I can`t pretend to talk to people online in the comfort of my home.

Hopefully I`ll figure out how to hook up my laptop, so I can show off all the fun I`ve been having so far!

Monday, August 6, 2007

reflections on a life left behind

Sojourner's Highlight: Plan an adventure and live as if stalked by death (and I mean that in a good way)

I sit cross-legged on the bed in my room on the 15th of 50 some-odd floors that make up the 5-star Keio Plaza Hotel, downtown Tokyo, Japan. I enjoy the air-conditioning, and reflect.

The month before leaving was an incredible time for me. Knowing about my upcoming trip gave me endless energy and enthusiasm to enjoy life to its fullest. It was kinda like knowing you’re going to die, so you live every day like it’s yours last, but far less moribund. You know: carpe diem versus memento mori, the same but different, six of one, half a dozen of the other, you say potato, I say apple of the earth.

Anywho. Every day was awesome. I saw more people than I would ever normally see, and I enjoyed my time with them even more than normal because I had so much energy to put into it, and I was determined to absorb their presence as much as possible, every minute I had left with them.

I did more activities than I would ever normally do. The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail was the most challenging and out-of-the-box of them all. But other opportunities that I would normally turn down or pass up for later, I eagerly accepted. Dinners, parties, going out on the town, seeing movies, going hiking, going shopping, seeing the fireworks.

Of course, this hedonism entailed much increased expenditure of income that was no longer in-coming, and was enabled by my recently dis-employed status. The fact that I was determined to have only a certain amount to bring to the J-spot with me, and that I simply accepted the necessity of spending on new clothes, equipment, etc, meant that I splurged like never before. My camera alone is an expensive expense I would not otherwise have considered, were it not for the exotic, exciting, eye-opening nature of my then impending trip to and life in Japan.

Just like the Juan de Fuca trip, I can’t convey what it felt like to live through the experience of life up to my leaving. I had confidence and energy like never before, was less reserved, less hesitant, less miserly and less miserable than ever before, and appreciated my life and the people around me in a way I hadn’t felt before.

This past little while, life has been awesome.

The trick will be to maintain that energy, confidence, and willingness now that my departure has occurred, and my ultimate destination for the next year, Sapporo, has almost been reached.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

3:33am, T-Minus 9 Hours 12 Minutes

Sojourner's Highlight: Procrastination was fine in university, but don't employ it universally.

I'm an idiot.

I know it's early in the post to be repeating myself, but upon realisation of the magnitude of my idiocy, I feel the revelation bears reiteration: if you couldn't tell already (because it was news to me) I'm a huge idiot!

I had not spent ONE minute prior to today (actually, now it's yesterday) attempting to pack my luggage. In fact, prior to today I didn't even know which luggage I would be using. Actually, I'm still not really sure which luggage I'll ultimately be taking with me.

I spent all morning gathering my belongings from around the house, as well as throwing nearly all my clothing into the laundry (three loads). Eventually, I amassed a large pile of my miscellany upon my bed and stared at it in confused horror. Then I proceeded to attempt to stuff said miscellany into my clearly too small duffel bag-thingamajig.

In the middle of the day, we had a JET meeting to receive our tickets and passports back. Surprisingly this was the first time we actually found out when our flight leaves tomorrow/today. (-Oh, and my criminal check was in the JET office, buried deep in their pile of growing miscellany.) I could have simply checked the airport website, but that thought never occured to me. So, interestingly, neither my doting mother nor devoted father will be able to attend the usual Airport Farewell. Fortunately my awesome eldest brother has both the desire to accompany me to my departure and the vehicular means to enable transport thereto.

By the way, I know 'thereto' is a really dorky word, but at this time of night/morning, I think my imagined audience can forgive me.

I don't know what else to say, really. I'm in an absolutely bizzare, but calm, content disposition presently. You know, 'it hasn't sunk in yet.' Not quite real yet. Imminent, yet still hard to believe.

I will write a post more thoughtfully reflecting back upon this past few weeks, perhaps killing some of the 10 hour flight to Narita, Tokyo. For now, mostly I wanted to impress a warning upon any other likeminded idiots out there with a procastinatory academic modus operandi: you can B.S. your way through a paper the night before it's due without too much trouble; however, you can't B.S. baggage into being bigger. Plan ahead, pack earlier.

this is no time for blogging!!

Sojourner's Highlight: Pack sooner!

I need to clean up my room, my crap, my garage.
Should I have bought another tie or two?
Orientation meeting today.
Dinner tonight.
I leave tomorrow.
I need to pack-
how the hell am I going to pack?

No time!


Thursday, August 2, 2007


Sojourner's Highlight: The week before you go is not 7 days, but 168 hours to the minute.

For Example:

8:30am - 12pm Finish some landscaping in the yard of a nice lady I do some work for.

12pm - 1:30pm Do a 'rapid shop' buying (only) TWO articles of clothing and a plug adapter, in case I do end up needing it, and subsequently freaking out once more about spending too much money and reconsidering whether my appearance actually IS important and I SHOULD be spending this much money on clothes. Also, while at the mall, exchange some dollars into Yen, provoking many thoughts about my insufficiently thought out banking/credit/money situation.

1:30-1:50 ish Write a BlogPost while simultaneously trying to contact the Consulate of Japan because the JET coordinator cannot locate my criminal records check, even though I know it's in their office somewhere.

1:50-2:30pm Probably go to the police station and request another crminal records check, somehow making them rush it so it only takes a day this time, instead of the 10 in the snailmail it took last time, so that I can take it with me to pre-departure seminar on Friday and I am allowed to go to Japan after all.

2:30pm-3:30pm Have some lunch, get back to reading one of those japanese 'historical novels' because I stayed up till 2am the other day finishing the Deathly Hollows.

3:30-6ish Visit with cousin-friend, for a hike or coffee or something, deep conversation, and a heartfelt farewell.

7ish - 11ish Visit with Juan de Fuca companion, possibly going to fireworks, possibly simply seeking that quality time that is so hard to come by.

11-1am Get my bag out and stuff some stuff into it to see just how much stuff I should be able to stuff in my luggage.

I'm pretty sure yesterday was busier, though.