William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

12. Stories from the Weekend

12. Stories from the Weekend

January 17th

TGTIF. The second “t” is for “tomorrow.” It’s been quite a little week.

The numeration of the necessary adjustments to my teaching carried on into today. One fellow intern whose insight I sought after he watched me teach said that I need to be a lot more charismatic. I also wasn’t giving enough examples, and I was still going too fast – handing out the worksheet almost right away, and also not giving them half-a-sheet of blank paper for the after-they-finish doodling and/or coloring – a half-page that they used to get from the Australian teacher that I replaced mid-year. (Why the teachers are expected to supply paper for even the slightest bit of drawing or writing is completely beyond me. On the other hand, that reality really forces you to plan ahead, so it sort of ends up being a good thing.) Well, nobody told me about the after-math doodling; the teacher mentioned games in her notes for me, but no specifics. Some days I just feel like I’m being sent up the river without a paddle.

Anyway, I later watched this fellow intern teach. And he made it look easy! He also managed to burn half the class drilling the children on multiplication. He found little ways to make it fun, and there was a lot of laughter and most of the side chatter was even in English. I was duly impressed, and I’ll probably incorporate 75% of his techniques into my playbook. Not everything that he did would work as well for me as it did for him (that’s the case with everyone for everybody), but at the same time I’m pretty sure he wasn’t put on probation after he arrived. Of course, he was also a Presque Isle education graduate, and he’d been substituting in Nova Scotia before coming here. He clearly had a flair for what he was doing, too, although he did say that charisma is a learned skill.

This afternoon, I had to tape-record one of the student entries for the English Speech Contest. This business has been a ton of extra work, but now there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel, and I won’t have to waste hours trying to get the kids off of saying “forrowed” and “excraimed.” (Pardon my cynicism. But frankly, the odds of success are grim despite the work we’ve all put in, and the great swaths of free time this has taken up on all sides (including my having to record a CD of the speech at home, just because some earlier intern had had that idea) and I hope that they’re not too disappointed.)

It’s not that I don’t think the speech contest is worthwhile, it’s that they make me sit with the kids – usually one-at-a-time – for an hour on a one minute, twelve second speech. After thirty minutes, we are both bored to tears. And I’ve been doing this every afternoon except Wednesdays, but as you might know, Wednesday was when I was chewed out and the evening was shot anyway. Just to be clear, I do have to stay at school until five o’clock, but there’s an awful lot of prep work I’d rather be doing than being imprisoned with those kids for an hour. Twenty minutes would be far more humane, but of course their working parents don’t come to pick them up until after five. Thank God this is probably over tomorrow.

So today, I’m with my student, and we’re going to record this speech. We’re actually kind of excited, too, because we’re finally doing something constructive with the damned thing. (It’s a re-telling of “The Talking Mule,” if you were curious.)

But with one technical difficulty after the other, and the microphone and deck that works and the room it’s in being taken up by another intern recording his speeches, we didn’t start recording until five o’clock, by when I had been planning to go home, so I could bike downtown and exchange that money. (The kiosks for that close at six.) I was really frustrated. It took me forever to get help, too, but I still appreciate the help I got. I’m not the only teacher with too much stuff to do.

Anyway, we got the speech recorded. So then it was twenty-five after five, and I thought, gee, maybe I can still make it. So I tore out, tore to my place, tore off my work clothes, tossed on my play clothes, ran outside, got on my bike, and by then it was 5:35. Could I make it? Well, I figured there wouldn’t be any harm in finding out.

Problem 1: Using your headlight causes you to move more slowly; the dynamo gives you a surprising amount of resistance. So for much of the way I pedaled in near-darkness.

Problem 2: It was still rush hour.

Problem 3: A goshdarned train was sitting, parked, right in the middle of the goshdarned main street!

But after the levees, the bridge, and the train, I was whizzing though the downtown with about three minutes to go.

At the top of the hour, I leaped off my bike, fumbled with the lock, then ran across the street, through the hedge of the median, and into the Tokushima Central Post Office.

As I walked up to the counters where currency exchange is handled, I saw a man putting up his, “This counter is closed,” sign. He did it after serving someone, but before I had a chance to speak with him.

I got his attention as he walked around to the front. I held open my wallet full of Canadian money and asked “Doko des ka?”

He understood and made a closed gesture.

I pointed at my watch, and held up one finger, and he nodded. Too late, by one stinking minute! I couldn’t believe it.

Don’t get me wrong, the whole place stays open, bustling with activity! They just won’t exchange money for you anymore.


What I thought about Japan as I walked out onto the street and returned to my bike is entirely unprintable.

Still, I calmed down as I biked the long way back, getting a better idea of the lay of the land, and finally stopping off at Fuji Grand to get the good kind of hash browns.

At least now I know that I need at least thirty minutes to get into town, and that’s under ideal conditions – thirty-five or forty minutes is better still, and allows for a relaxed pace. Anyway, I’ll try again tomorrow; we’re going into town anyway for L.’s event, and so I’ll be taking the train and maybe that will work out more easily.

Like, I’m okay with things closing at eight and even the funny ATMs that shut down at night. That’s cool, that’s cultural. But this incident really p----d me off. It’s almost like J. put it, “If you want to exchange money, you have to take a day off work…”

Fiddlesticks. I’ll find a way. DO YOU HEAR ME, CENTRAL POST OFFICE?!?! I WILL FIND A WAY!!

* * *

January 19th

After 36 hours of sobering thought on this and other subjects, I’ve come to change my attitude.

Firstly, I don’t really need the money, and so the trip can easily wait until Monday, when I have day duty at the school (including opening the gates and doors in the early morning, and things like that) and can leave at 4:30. That should be plenty of time to get downtown before 6.

And as we were remarking at the show last night, you really have to admire the Japanese for having the gumption to say, “Sorry, we’re closed,” at x:00:00 without any hesitation. You could have been served at (x-1):59:59, but you were late. Can you imagine service employees back home doing that right at the top of the hour? Not usually; pressure is usually placed on them to go right on serving.

Also, I had a pretty good Friday. Friday is the busiest day on my schedule, and even though I didn’t get out of there until nearly 6, I felt that I could call the day a success. Sure, there were things I could have done better, but I felt like that I had gotten the most I could out of every single minute. It was a precious feeling, and one that gave me hope. By doing everything I can, I feel like I stand a ghost of a chance. And if I fail, at least I’ll know that I tried my best.

My last two students recoded their speeches, too, but I was ready for them this time. I had everything ready to go and only kept them waiting for maybe ten minutes as I tried to find an unlocked empty room. Also, their enthusiasm for the contest was contagious. We got the speeches down after just a couple of tries each, and we’ll see how things go from here.

On Friday night we went to the Awa Connection’s 2008 Tanoshima-night. We were just a few minutes too late to catch L. playing, despite mine and F. and K.’s best efforts:

At around quarter to seven, we start walking to the train station to catch the 6:58 train into the city. As we approach the station, we see a train on layover. With only two minutes to go, we start running. We zoom into the station, hurriedly buy our tickets, and hop on board.

About ten seconds after we board, a southbound train pulls onto the other platform. Gee, I hope that’s not our…

And then we start going north.

Luckily F. found this incredibly funny, and I had to admit that I did too, even though this meant that we were going to be late for the show. We got off at the next station and caught a southbound train at 7:14, so we didn’t lose too much time with this, all things considered, and I learned another lesson: “Never hop on a parked train without checking to see which way it is going.”

In town at Bell’s for the show, we saw some cool performances and a few people were eager to tell me a lot of the behind-the-scenes rationales for why things are the way they are around here. To take just one example, those ATM machines that close at night: Sure it means that you can’t get at your money at all hours, but on the other hand, how many “robbed at an ATM” stories do you hear about here? [In fact, when there’s any criminal activity here (and there isn’t much; murders and break-and-enters that in North America would be garden-variety grisliness, over here tend to make the national news), the reaction seems to be more puzzlement than horror: “Gee, why did they do that?”]

They also shut down the downtown cigarette machines at around 11 (or midnight?). Sure enough, they are on timers; if you walk around after midnight, you’ll see them darkened and flashing red; seeing this I thought that if you had come at x:59:59, you could have bought cigarettes, but as soon as it became (x+1):00:00, you would have been too late. And there’s a logic to this, too – it helps get the drunken revellers out of the downtown and on their way. (Actually, even by shutting down at night they don’t go far enough; if I had my way the machines wouldn’t even exist and there’d be no smoking in the clubs and bars. Even Ukraine now has no-smoking-in-public-places laws, and I’ll quite literally be holding my breath waiting for this to reach Japan. My poor clothes will be all the happier for it, too – eeyuck.)

So here’s my sound byte for the day: In North America, we use our technology for convenience. In Japan, technology is used to maintain order.

After Bell’s, L. and D. and I went out to eat Tokushima-style ramen (it was OK), and then we went back to Ingrid’s to meet K. and F.. Ingrid’s is another one of those must-see places in Tokushima. Yes, it’s another little bar (well, they’re all small, which is nice in a certain way), but this one has a cozy atmosphere and a breathtakingly beautiful owner / operator who likes foreigners. She runs the place because she genuinely enjoys meeting people, and so she’s uncommonly kind to her customers-turned-friends.

We sang lots of karaoke, and then three of us shared a taxi home: splitting the already-discounted cab three ways was great; it cost only about 420 yen apiece!

So with a few more new friends and a few more stories, it’s been a successful weekend. I plan to spend the rest of it at home, though – going out all the time is a dearly expensive pastime.

* * *

Ahhh… at present I’m relaxing with a beer after a productive nighttime bike ride.

I went to the 100 yen store and bought some magnet sheets and a good-enough map of Shikoku. (The really nice maps are in the magazine shop next door, but they cost 800 yen. I bought one of those for the Tokushima metro area, though. I keep it in its case in my backpack, and it comes in very handy.)

Then I went to the MaxValu, and not wanting to break my 10,000 yen ($100) bill, I went and paid for my bread, yogurt, and orange juice with coins. That made me feel pretty smart, but I guess it would be even smarter if I could do more with the cashier than gesture, nod, and say “thanks.” Well, that’ll come, I guess. And going out on my own is much a better opportunity to practice than sticking with the other interns. (It’s not a reflection on them; it’s just that we tend to create our own English bubble and rely on the already-able-in-Japanese to translate and interpret everything for us.)

After that I threaded my own way to the kaiten-zushi place, went a bit farther, then turned around and found a new way back to S.G.. It’s the perfect blend of shortcut, dark rice patty crossings (the fewer the better), and being able to cross the railway tracks at-grade (instead of climbing, which is tricky on our single-speed bikes). Maybe parts of this route were used before; in fact, I’m sure of that. But now I have a route that works for me, which is important because I have a feeling that in not too many months more, F. and I will be the ones leading people places, and directions and roads are more my passion than most people’s.

Now I’m putting my remaining coins in minting order to help me learn numbers. It’s easy to date 100 yen coins; they use Arabic numerals (although the years are in Japanese eras, but that’s not too hard either). But the dates on the 1s, 5s, and 10s are in kanji, so they’re lots of fun to decipher. Yep, I’ve got Saturday Night Fever, all right.

Tomorrow: How my first episode of day duty went, and what I hope will finally be the successful trip to the central post office. (I am NOT going to break that particular 10,000 yen bill this week!)
Tags: japan, work

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