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!

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