Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Pendulum Swings

This has been the worst 24 hours I've had in some time. My cat Frannie died this morning (evening Philly time), which I found out just after I managed to get my internet working this morning. (a major task in itself, compounded by the fact I have no heat or bedding). This news was the cherry on a sh*t sundae of a 24 hours beginning as orientation ended and hopefully ending soon.

I found out at the end of Monday's Orientation/Training that (a) my apartment has no heat until sometime this morning (evening in Philly) and (b) because the LeoPalaces come furnished (a good thing), I didn't get the furniture pack (saving me 1500 yen/month, also good) and thus do not have a futon (a bad thing, no futon, no blankets, no heat = unhappy Vash). I'm ridiculously grateful that Steph bought me the Star Trek Snuggie I'm currently wrapped in. Graham (my recruiter) arranged took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to have a futon delivered yesterday evening, but the last day of training ran late and I got very lost finding my apartment (shocking), so while they tried to deliver the futon at 6:20, I didn't get to my apartment until 8:30pm.

With my key, I was given train and walking directions to my apartment that were entirely in Kanji, accompanied by grainy, awful maps from Google Maps, the same maps types of maps and direction I printed in Philly that got me (a) to the wrong hotel and (b) were almost useless to the cabbie for getting me to the Kyoya Ryokan. I understand the woman who handed me the directions is wildly overworked, so she basically pushed the directions over to me with a “daijobu” (okay, in Japanese) and then said for me to look them over and come back with questions. It was clear she was very busy though and I didn't want to bother her further.

The extra fun part of this map was the walking directions. With train directions, you can play “match the Kanji” and do okay, as I've learned, but walking is your real challenge. These walking directions featured a grainy Google map closeup with the letter A circled (which on google maps indicates where you're coming FROM, not TO), and two train stations also circled, these in Kanji, but thank God Kanji I could read—Kanji Movie Method hands down has helped save my life on this trip. One of the stations was the Toyota-eki (Toyota Station), and the other was the ShinToyota-eki (New Toyota Station). What I was supposed to do with these circled locations was a complete blank for me, because I wasn't sure if I was heading towards A, or away from it, or which train station (if any) I was arriving at. This is in part because the walking portion of the directions hadn't been expanded, thus it took someone else pointing it out to me for me to see “sanpou” = walking from Toyota Station to ShinToyota Station. The folks at the hotels, when they give you a map, are kind enough to draw a line from where you are to where you are going, and it makes a HUGE difference.

I went back into the orientation room, and thankfully Lem, one of my fellow Toyota ALTs, came over and gave me his contact information in case I needed help. I asked him about the directions, and he and Stan, another Toyota ALT, translated them for me with landmarks and I was ready.

To add to the travel excitement/up the level of navigational difficulty, through the four days of our orientation we were given a huge wealth of wonderful teaching materials. The materials (and training) were great, but sadly these materials also added about 30lbs (a low estimate) to the weight of my baggage. One of the ALTs mentioned the possibility of me having the hotel ship my suitcases to my new address, which sounded exciting but it also meant I'd have no clothes overnight (and with my luck that my luggage could end up lost,) which with no heat and only the possibility of a futon, didn't seem like it would work out for me. Instead, I took out the backpack Steph had lent me from her European and Israeli backpacking in college and that I'd had flattened in my checked-in luggage and loaded clothing and some of the manuals into there, distributing the multiple giant 8.5/11 flashcard books and CDs around the rest of my luggage. Stan, a Toyota veteran actually helped drag my tied together rolling suitcases to the Kanayama station, which was an unmitigated blessing for which I'll always be grateful. He also gave me his contact information.

I managed to get through the train system this time with only a few complications, most of them due to the fact that Japanese Public transportation is not very wheelchair /luggage friendly. There are some elevators and escalators at the large stations and subway stations in Nagoya, but even there it's not uncommon for an escalator to take you halfway up and then be followed by a flight of stairs to get you the rest of the way. Now I've been trained: if I see an escalator, I automatically look for an elevator instead—escalators in Japanese train stations are often a road to stairs. So from the Chiryu station, for me to transfer to the train from Toyohashi (“bountiful bridge” says the Kanji) to Toyota (“bountiful rice-field,”) I had to drag my luggage down a flight of stairs under an underpass, and then back up a flight of stairs to where the train stopped. A nice Japanese man helped me get it down (as the people around us were stampeding like a Spanish running of the bulls, not kidding here,) but he even wasn't brave enough to try to get it back up the stairs, so I had to take it in three shifts, ultimately missing my train.

I got the rest of the way to Toyota without incident, where I was greeted at the train station by a McDonalds and another Starbucks. It was like I never left! I was also doing really well with the walking directions, until I tried to orient myself at the ShinToyota Station. There, I asked an incredibly kind woman about my age (whose name I found out later is Arisa) where I was, since I didn't see the landmarks listed fuzzily on the map, and I'd already passed the ones that Lem had mentioned. She took one look at the map, squinted, turned it around, looked at the map again, and then asked in English “Can I show you?” Turns out she'd spent a month in California and is studying English! I said only if it wasn't a problem for her, and she said no problem. And so we walked and talked. And walked. And walked. Our walk was punctuated by exclamations of “taihen desu ne” = “that's really rough/huge/disaster” in regards to my luggage, and “muzukashii desu ne” = “very difficult” in regards to the map. Eventually she was lost too, though she lives here, and we both asked another kind Japanese woman with an adorable white dog if she knew where my LeoPalace was. She looked at the map, squinted, and said “muzukashii desu ne?” and Arisa and I both nodded.

At this point, poor Arisa, who was waiting on a call from her mother to meet her at the train station, had instead been out wandering around Toyota with me for at least 10-15 minutes and I felt horrible for it. The second woman lead us back down the hill we'd painstakingly walked up, and with a few starts and stops we're in front of a LeoPalace. Woman with dog leaves, then comes back about 30 seconds later as I'm trying to find my apartment and informs me we're at the WRONG Leopalace. At this point, the long metal handle on my large rolling suitcase breaks, leaving me with two broken suitcases that can only be rolled my the small handle on top that's meant for lifting them. (The other suitcase broke on my way to the Kanayama Plaza Hotel on Friday.) Arisa took my small suitcase (which makes me feel crappier because I know how heavy it is but I couldn't do it without the help), and a block later we were at the right Leopalace. I exchanged contact information with Arisa (we may grab dinner) and told her if she ever wants to practice English, just email. I'll do anything in the world for her. Seriously, for her and the other woman who helped me find the alley where my apartment is. If it wasn't for them, I think I'd have been sleeping in the train station last night.

I sent Arisa on her way, opened the door to my apartment, threw my suitcases in, tried to turn on the light and there was no response. Nothing. Darkness I have no heat and I have no electricity. The apartment is pitch black, the only light is a small glow across my “genkan” (entrance where the shoe closet is) from the outside light that is lighting up the area in front of all of the apartments.

Near tears, I propped my suitcase against the door to keep it open, sat down on the concrete area in front of my dark apartment, and tried to access the internet so I can could my supervisor. No internet. In the process of all of this in and out of the apartment, I also thought I had lost the tenancy agreement and my map from the station (though I'd actually left it inside on top of the washing machine). At this point, I sat down in front of my apartment and cried. I had no idea what to do. I was pissed off and totally lost. But hysteria is only useful for so long, so with the aid of a pack of tissues I'd been handed at the Kanayama station (stores just love to give you tissues in Japan), I walked back into my apartment to find the map, get my computer and find an internet cafe. But before I leave, I see a giant circuit breaker, thankfully at the front of the apartment where it is lit. I look at it and figure what the hell, I'll pull some switches. Fifty-fifty it kills my apartment, but my apartment was pretty non-responsive anyway, so what the hell.I tried all of the small breakers first, then the large one, and voila, I had lights!

Yay! Just having lights makes a huge difference in ones mood. I still didn't have internet (that took me a half hour to figure out the instructions this morning—I was too whacked out to even be able to find those instructions last night). After storing my luggage, (and in much better spirits though still somewhat pissed) I trekked out for an internet cafe to try and call the futon place to see if they could deliver today (still working on that—the 24 hour number seems nonfunctional but even if they can't I'm buying a sleeping bag today, as soon as I get my heat.)

On the trip to the internet cafe is when I got the first good navigation idea I've had since I arrived in Japan. I took a picture with my digital camera facing back towards my apartment (where I'd been) at every intersection, so that I could find my way home. This basically worked, though some of my ideas of what makes a good landmark were better than others. A man saw me taking pictures and asked in Japanese if I was taking “momento” photos (tourist) and I was able to explain in Japanese “Everywhere I'm always saying 'doko desu ka' and because of that I'm taking pictures from my apartment to here.” And he responded “Ah, shashin no michi!” and I said, “Hai!” It was exciting to me to be able to have that sort of conversation. He also gave me directions to the internet cafe. At first, I thought the McDonalds was the internet cafe because someone told me they have internet, but they only have internet from 9-7pm (as the woman nicely explained to me) after I couldn't find it. Still, while McDonalds is crap food in any country, it was better than nothing and hot. The internet cafe was actually behind the McDonalds, and for approximately $2, I was able to use internet for a half hour.

Of course, I couldn't reach the futon place, nor any family or friends. Feeling very alone, I started back to my apartment. On my way, I saw a sign for Karaoke, so I did Karaoke by myself for an hour. That sounds kind of pathetic, and it felt that way at first, but as I started singing songs from my favorite Japanese band (The Mass Missile) I began to have a lot of fun! Even after just three times doing Karaoke in Japan, my sight reading of kana and kanji is improving. Also, as with songs in English, there are many lyrics to songs that I've been mistaken about (“hold me closer, Tony Danza), so it's good to find out what the songs are really saying. At Karaoke, all songs have furigana which is also nice/wonderful/subarashii!.

Back at the apartment, I put on three more layers of clothes, two layers of socks, my hat and gloves, wrapped myself in my Snuggie on top of my towel and some laundry and tried to use the internet again in my “bed”. The universe was clearly watching out for me because while I couldn't check my email, Skype miraculously worked even though my internet password failed, and I was able to talk to Steph for over an hour. A best friend is an irreplaceable gift for which I am infinitely grateful. (and everyone wish Steph luck at her new job!)

I went to sleep at 2am Toyota Time. I woke again at 4am because I was shivering, but with some rearrangement of self and blankets, I was able to stay warm enough to sleep until 6:30am. I was sooo glad to see sunlight. I struggled with the LeoPalace Welcome Guide (written entirely in Japanese, kana and kanji, no furigana) and I learned from the diagrams that there are five types of “cable” boxes I could have (with five types of remotes, and two different systems, etc). I identified mine as a type five, and then through trial and error, managed to get myself to the Check-in Screen. This is not nearly as easy as it sounds. (especially as technical support is in Japanese only, “sumimasen desu”, so it wasn't like I could call someone) Once I was at the check-in screen, the diagrams and katakana were actually pretty straightforward, but getting there, like walking in Japan, was not at all intuitive.

That's when I read my mom's email from sometime yesterday that while was Frannie was not improving, she is stable, that my mom is sorry she missed my calls, and to call back anytime. I call, and Frannie has died.

I feel ridiculously crappy about this because I'm wondering how I missed her heart disease, or worse, if her underlying heart disease was exacerbated by something that I did. I know my mom feels even worse, though she shouldn't. I know she did EVERYTHING possible in regards to helping Frannie. She's at a Passover Seder now (which I'm feeling nostalgic for). It is possible that Frannie's high White Blood Cell Count was caused by cancer and not an infection, and this was just incredibly bad timing (the worst). I also know Frannie was 15 years old, but before I took her out of the house she'd been happy and stable. I was trying to do my best by her to have her be vaccinated before I left the country, but maybe that exacerbated her underlying infection that we didn't know about until after the blood work came back. In any sense, I feel responsible because if I hadn't made that decision, and if I hadn't been so crazy with the leaving that I'm sure I missed one or two of her antibiotic dosages, maybe she'd still be alive. Or maybe not. I don't know.

In short, it has been a rough 24 hours. So far though, still better than my first week at Graduate School. Knock on wood. I'm just praying that the pendulum shifts and things move back on an upswing again. I have had one positive sign. As I write this last paragraph, the maintenance man arrived, and he is outside my door working on my heat. At least I think that's what he said. Either that or he's here to rob my apartment, and good luck with that. If he can lift my luggage to take it away, he's a better person than me.

Pictures to be posted on facebook.