Tuesday, October 2, 2007

lunch and lively chats

Randomata: Lunch. Regulated school lunches were introduced during the occupation after World War Two, when food was pretty scarce. I believe every junior high school in the entire country offers school lunch of a similar form. Now, what I mean by 'school lunch' is a set schedule of meals that appears from the kitchen in the depths of the school, where it is prepared by the largely unseen kitchen staff. Old metal carts with noisy wheels are laden with exactly the right number of bowls, plates, forks and food for each student in a given classroom, and then rolled to that destination.
What I mean by 'offers' is that school lunch is mandatory and the students are not allowed to bring to school any other food whatsoever. They are most definitely not allowed to eat chips or candy, or suck on a soda during class. The meal is regulated by some board of health somewhere and, indeed, on top of smelling quite scrumptous, is healthier by countless kilocals than all the junk we ate back in school in nVan-city. The students arrange their desks in groups of 6 or so, while 5 or so aproned students play 'lunch-lady', doling out to everybody. Everybody says 'itadakimasu' together before eating (maybe 'we have been given,' loosely translated as 'let's eat') and, after, gochisosama deshita ('a feast it was,' -ish).

I have so many ups and downs every day I can hardly keep track of morning and night.
I am exhausted every morning when the beeping and buzzing starts at 6:15am.
I'm still exhausted when I stop pressing snooze and wake up at 7.
I'm slightly less exhausted if I wake up in a panic at 7:30 to find my alarm clock thrown out the window and have to rush out the door in 5 minutes to get to the subway on time. However, that is unenjoyable in its own way.

Gosh, with that opening, you wouldn't know that I'm in a good mood, happy with life at the moment! Aside from needing more sleep, I am pretty content today. And, as my mother always says when she wakes me up to watch the sunrise (practically), 'You'll sleep when you're dead."

Positive trends in indigenous communication continue since last week's post. I have ever so slightly broken out of my timid avocalic shell since my parents' arrival a week ago. I don't claim to be speaking volumes, or to be speaking particularly well; but I am speaking more - which is the important thing.

Since my delightful beer-enhanced conversation with those student teachers ten days ago, I have been more aware of the number of people who are eager to practice their english, and willing to listen to some choppy, butchered nihongo. Some people really, really dont know how or are not inclined to talk to me; that's fine. Many, though, are thrilled to say anything as short as 'hello' or as long as 'hey, welcome to the bar... ...(insert humourous conversation here)... ...it's 3am. go now. good night.' I am turning into a bit of a junky though, always asking people to explain to me what they are saying slowly, or what a certain word is in Japanese. I don't remember most of it the first (or fifth) time, but I'm hoping eventually it will sink in.

I have good news from my workplace too; perhaps my omiyage on Friday had a good effect. Yesterday, when i walked into the office, the as yet uninterested (or simply highly tentative) "business servant" (tea lady) said good morning to me. It might not sound like much, but when you have worked in an office with people for a month, and still not said a word to many of them, you'll understand its import. I also managed to glance at some names quickly and say hello to some people with whom I've yet to exchange even the most modest pleasantries - after a month!!! The simple pleasantries are huge in any office (or anywhere) in Japan and saying 'ohayo gozaimasu' in the morning is one of the only things many coworkers are capable/desirous of saying to me.

Later though, I was trying to say 'it is quiet' to the business servant, and I think i might have accidently told her to 'be quiet'... we'll see how she greets me tomorrow.

The contrite music instructor also seems slightly less distant. I sat in on a singing class yesterday - I didn't say anything, or draw attention to myself; I just listened. And I loved it!

The school is now preparing for the Chorus Contest, in which each class competes with a different song. We are not talking a one-minute comedic mock ballad; we are talking classic compositions with (grand)piano accompaniment and four sections of vocal ranges. All 750 students participate. Every class I have heard so far sounds incredible. If they are anywhere near as good as the band, I might just start crying right in the assembly. I'm not sappy, ok, I just like good music.

Hot on the heels of the School Festival, the contest ensures that teachers and students once more have of a ton of extra work to do, and so are no longer at risk of accidently going home after normal school hours. They work hard here. All the time.

After school today, I spent about an hour and a half chatting with two teachers in a mix of Japanese and English (meaning they switched back and forth, not me). They are the extremely friendly and delightful school nurses, one of whom received the omiyage moose. I was trying to explain to them that "I don't miss my home yet, but I want to. I am not homesick, but I want to be. I want to miss my home and be homesick because then I will know how important, how dear, my home is to me." This was quite difficult, because they weren't precisely sure of what I meant by homesick, and they didn't understand why I was saying 'I want to be...(sad + lonely + away + missing something dear). Then we tried to discuss learning other languages, and how difficult it is for a foreigner to understand the different ways of saying things, and how difficult it is for a native speaker to explain WHY we say things the way we do. It was most enjoyable to discuss something that induced more contemplative gravity than the obesity of my unlucky cat back home ("In Vancouver, I have a black cat. She is very fat, so I call her 'Fat'.")

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