Well, maybe it was time to join the workaday world. But after I started at a workaday job – a call centre – I quickly realized that I had to get out. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people still there doing great work. But for me, the environment was a little bit … toxic? Stifling? I felt more like a drone than a stakeholder? It wasn’t entirely my scene, if you follow me. So I started saving up every penny so that I could afford to go back to school and at least upgrade to the equivalent of a four-year honours degree, salvaging some respectability. And I did. (And I still got to go to PEI for August!) The vast amounts of reading and composition that go along with the study of English literature were a breeze – not so much that it was easy (but it sometimes was) or interesting (but it often was), but more because I had the thought of going back to the call centre to scare myself with.
Anyway, fast-forward a bit and here I am in Japan. Many things conspire to make this an important character-building experience: the independence, functioning as an adult, the job itself… The job itself hasn’t been a cakewalk. Sometimes I don’t like it, to be honest with you. It doesn’t pay particularly well, and there are a lot of responsibilities – not all of them are exciting, but all of them take a lot of time. But it’s been an invaluable education in language (both Japanese and English), working norms, time management, workplace relations… to write down every specific thing I’ve learned and experienced would take dozens of pages (and Miss Squires would get mad). The point is, $20,000 spent on a commerce degree at my alma mater wouldn’t necessarily get me the same kind of practical life experience that I’m getting here.
I’m also getting better at teaching, although I don’t want to teach as a career, for reasons that I can’t fully describe. There are three R’s to teaching: responsibility, resources, and rewards. There’s a heck of a lot of the first ‘r,’ and not enough of the other two, at least in my opinion. Of course, if you take “rewards” to include rewards outside of the strictly pecuniary ones, then you might have something. I mean, I love my students – they’re awesome. My co-workers are great, too. But I still don’t want to teach as a career. I’m just not ready for the prospect of cutting out flash cards and clip art and actually using Comic Sans MS (yuck!) beyond age 35.
Nevertheless, I can teach for now, and I’ve been getting more confident as I begin flirting with competence.
But how long should I keep doing this? I know this is a silly question to be asking after just three months, but it bears some thought, even though it’s arrogant to assume that I’ll be offered a contract extension or able to slip into another job easily.
Japan’s a fine country, but putting down roots here is out of the question – I’ve seen enough people who have, and I don’t want to become like them or be stuck in their situation, gilded cages though they may inhabit. Many people go on to marry and raise children here (sometimes the latter causes the former), and while that would work for some, it would be hard for me to pursue my educational and “career” goals in such a situation. The people who stay usually just teach in eikawas, or they’re ALTs. Who’d want to stay long-term in a foreign country where there is only one occupation available to you, when you could stay in your home country where potentially every occupation is available to you? (OK, a few people on working holiday visas sometimes work at bars or do other odd jobs – you can be some bar owner’s gaijin on a leash if that’s what you desire.)
There is another category of people – those that have significant skills in Japanese, those who perhaps hold advanced degrees or are skilled in a technical trade like software engineering. For them, it’s a different story. What I’m saying is that it could very well be impossible for a dilettante like me to morph into a skilled person while still living here. (And with a family? Forget it!) People like me end up working in eikawas, maybe also tutoring privately, and perhaps (in my case) wondering “What if?”
This won’t be me, because I’ll be going home eventually. I was going to speculate about when, but I’ve just now realized that it’s poor form to do so publicly. But I can tell you that I’ve already begun planning for the 2009-10 academic year and beyond. I’m going to start with (I say this with great embarrassment) Continuing Ed. Physics, Pre-calculus, and probably also French. From there I fully intend to get first-year university calculus, physics, and astronomy – all those things that I wished I could take but couldn’t, because I refused to spend money on non-credit courses. Well, no longer! I’m saving like a madman, and I’m going to spare no expense when I return in making myself into an educated person! I’m tired of reading xkcd and not having a clue (or a laugh)! I’m tired of reading about planets and stars and not understanding the jargon! I’m sick of not being able to try doing the things that I’ve always wanted to do because I was stuck on a humanities path! (And I wasn’t taking philosophy, which could have redeemed that somewhat.) I’m through allowing myself to keep paying for the crap I went through in high school! I’m sick and tired of just sailing mindlessly through life! It stops HERE!</rant>
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There will be a total solar eclipse in 2009, which until recently I was planning to witness. The path of totality passes not far south of Kyushu.
But there’s a catch. The eclipse passes over small, sparsely (and in some cases, non-) populated islands. You won’t just be able to show up on the day. They’re talking about allowing only 1,300 people into the area, and imposing a 3-day minimum stay and a minimum charge of $3,000. There’ll be a drawing to determine successful applicants.
Geez, another 100km further north, and this eclipse would have been a no-brainer.
Yakushima is not nearly as hard to get to, but it’s on the north end of the path of totality – totality will be reduced from six minutes to two. It’d still be special, but not worth planning one’s teaching sojourn in Japan around considering that there will be other eclipses in the future that will be far, far easier to get to (notably the 2017 eclipse - I’m totally Greyhounding my way down to that) and probably with a lighter possibility of clouds. [Woah, there's even an eclipse that goes over West Prince in 2024!] If I’m still here, I’ll try my best to get to Yakushima, but I probably won’t still be here – physics starts in early July of that year, my cousin’s wedding is in May of that year, etc..
While we’re talking about unique astronomical phenomena, I’d really love to witness this. =)