8. First Bikes
I’ve just made myself some soup from a package that I got from the local Circle K. If there is a field that the Japanese are truly unsurpassed in aside from musical toilets, it is pre-packaged food. We have pre-packaged food in the Americas, too, but here it is so much more elaborate. And even the tiniest little packets of chilli pepper (inside your cup of microwavable soup) have recycling instructions on them. And that’s a whole other level of complexity; there’s a day for burnables, a day for non-burnables, a day for plastics, a day for cardboard, and if you mix them up or miss a day the Japanese Garbage Gods will do more than just tell your ancestors. (They’re almost as vengeful as the Shoe Gods, so be careful.)
[Update: You know, as much as we bemoan the shoe requirements at our workplace, at least I’m starting to understand where it all comes from. Just look at what they used to wear for footwear in these parts; let’s just say that they weren’t wearing soft-soled sneakers outdoors hundreds of years ago. Some of those old jobbies would tear a tatami to shreds in seconds and probably even dent hardwood.]
So while that’s cooling off, I’ll try to catch up again. Too late, I ate it all, nearly torching the roof of my mouth in the process. And I washed it down with some Qoo, a forgettable kiddie drink but notable because it’s the very first bit of Japanese I was actually able to read (クー, a “ku” sound plus a long sign, so I was sashaying around my apartment saying "Kuuuuu!"). A juiceshed moment, if you will. I’ll take the sage advice of my cousin and hit the books later tonight. It’s nice not to have a necessary grocery outing eat up the whole evening. I like to feel like I’m living here, not just working or buzzing about hither and yon.
I’ve officially started teaching, and now I guess you could call me a primary school teacher. And I have one word for it: yikes. To go into all the politics and ins and outs and the wherefores would be wearisome for you and me, but let’s just say that it’s a learning experience. Oh, and the prep work! Even when there is a curriculum to follow, you still have to adapt everything.
The expectations aren’t stratospheric, though, and the Japanese teachers do most of the heavy educational stuff; we only teach certain classes. We’re kind of symbolic, and we help keep students and their parent’s money in the S.G. seats. Besides, we have to be there from 8 to 5 excepting lunch every weekday, so we should not have to take any of the work we do have home, but I did take How to Eat Fried Worms because Grade 4 (my class) is reading it. Sort of.
Sometimes, though, you’re tired, just off a tough class, and you flip open a student’s journal that says, “We went to the Hokkaido. I did ski. I like ski,” and you start to wonder if this is really what you wanted to do in life. (Hint: No.) It’s kind of a comedown from an earlier aspiration to be a professor of literature. I suppose if I want to do that, I’d better save up that twelve grand and head on back to Sainte-Anne and get my French, or get something, and then and only then go to graduate school, because as things stand now, the moment I step off the plane in Canada I’ll be a nothing again. (Although I suppose I could make a living lying to people like so many do, but I refuse.)
At least the students are pretty good, but they’re not usually the problem anyway. It’s everything else: the constraints, my limitations, their limitations, the language barrier, not knowing the customs of the school much less the country… the list could go on forever.
But we are still lucky compared to some. We’re not in danger of being fired and/or homeless for no good reason. And even though the apartment and the school and the job aren’t nearly as glamorous as I had envisioned, at least I have friends here. There are nine of us foreign teachers now (K. just arrived from Australia), and we’re forming quite a cadre. It’s enough fun that I have already decided to someday forgive my recruiter and Saint Mary’s liaison R. for this, and not just because she’s a sweetie – it’s really not all that bad here, and I guess it’s a great way to get your foot in the door of Japan without either extensive overhead expenses or having to lie to a potential visa sponsor such as GEOS or Aeon before skatting off. Still, be ready for some major jolts should you ever decide to do something like this. Quite frankly, I hadn’t bargained for them, but when I think about it I can’t blame any side for just assuming I’d have understood that.
Anyway, I think my situation will do nicely for now. I needed this kind of education badly. I’m a naïve person at the best of times, and this experience will help me wake up to some of the undercurrents that I have been hitherto oblivious to. Next time I’m in Asia, I’ll look to more materialistic and pragmatic ends.
[This time I spend blogging is time spent not learning hiragana or katakana… perhaps on that far-off day when my Japanese gets to a certain point, I’ll have to try posting in it. That’s why many of my posts from Sainte-Anne were in French; I had time constraints and had to combine the learning and the sharing.]
Day one of work brought with it too much information, and intense clutter. The second day was far better. You start to learn that not everyone does the same thing or prepares in the same way, and that is OK. Starting with the second day, there was also reasonable heat within the school – no more shivering in your coat trying to find where the previous teacher left off in your class’ grammar textbook.
On the second day at lunchtime, I took my bike out for the first time. And that was FUN; easily the most unadulterated sheer fun I’ve had in ages. I laughed like a child. Speed! Transportation! Quasi-independence!
My first stop was the Circle K, where I loaded up on a bunch of prepared things, including the soup I ate an hour ago. Then I stopped by the farmer’s market on the way home. Oh, that was divine! The smell of fresh produce! I mean fresh; I wish I could convey the smell to you. I got some luscious red tomatoes and strawberries, and I have yet to do anything with them except eat them on occasion, but maybe that is best. They’re so good that all you ought to do is eat them without adulteration.
That same night (that is to say, last night) after work, a bunch of us went for a longer bikeride out to Skylark / Gusto to eat, before shopping at the MaxValu (roughly the closest thing the Tokushima area has to Atlantic SuperStore). It was a great little adventure, with lots of balarious conversations, but you kind of had to be there. Tomorrow we’re going to go to a kaiten-zushi establishment, the kind that has a sushi conveyor as made famous in Johnny English.
Anyway, there’ll always be lots to see and do… as soon as the sun stops going down at 5:30. =)
Until Next Time,