Sunday, April 18, 2010

Classroom Antics, Cell Phone Blues, & Reggaeton

Wow was this a packed day! I went to bed after Izakaya at around 1AM after having been plied with more Nihonshu (Sake) than I needed (or particularly wanted but I wasn't trying to be rude). I woke up again at 2am, then at 5am, then at 5:30am, then at 6am, then at 6:20am, which I figured was close enough to 6:30 that I'd best suck it up and face my day. I think I'd been so nervous about not waking up that I really couldn't sleep well. That and my small bladder. But I wasn't feeling particularly tired when I left my apartment and made my way by train and foot back to Ohata. I had two morning lessons and then the wildly intimidating PTA assembly.

My first class of second graders was observed by their mothers who sat in the back of the room and seemed entertained through the entire process. I had a few mild screwups through the lesson, the two major ones both being solved with relative aplomb. First, I had a CD for a “Good Morning” song that was given to us in our teaching materials (excellent) and I had planned to have me and the HRT teach the song to the second graders and then perform it with the CD. The problem was that after the song had been taught, the CD's pace was faster than I'd thought, and the kids were less than successful with doing the song (and looking a little frustrated). So in a quick flash of insight, I had us drop the CD again and perform the song “more slowly.” At this point, I started doing the song (with gestures) like a mega slow motion camera. The kids immediately got a kick out of it, and after a few seconds everyone was having a great time! After another runthrough of the song accapella (with gestures) the kids were able to do the song masterfully with the CD, and life was good.

The second mess up of the class was related to time management...again. For some reason, all of the activities and things to learn were done in a half hour, leaving another fifteen minutes to fill. I didn't have anymore flashcards or materials, so I ended up writing down more feeling associated words (we were doing “how are you today) on the board and teaching them. The kids weren't wildly into that, but after they had a basic handle on the vocabulary (which took 3 minutes) we then did a whisper down the lane game which ended with the kids in the front of the line running to the board and whacking the appropriate vocabulary with fly swatters. Luckily, any excuse to whack things with fly swatters can turn a dead lesson on it's end, so things went well and learning and fun were had by all. We ended with the song again, and the parents and children appeared happy, so it felt like a win to me.

My next class was unobserved, an adorable group of first graders who were really quick learners. Most of the time when I do my self introduction lesson, I can count on all of my students being from Japan, but twice I've gotten a child from somewhere else. This really adds a lot of fun to the lessons for me. I find their home country on the map, put a magnet there, and incorporate their country into the lesson as well. My first non-Japanese origin student was from Brazil (last Monday...I added a Brazil flashcard to my repertoire but have had to use it yet. For my second class, one of the little girls was from Bangladesh. She also clearly had learned a great deal of English at home, because when I said “I like cats” she popped right back with “what is your cat's name?” That gave me a chance to do my “I have two skinny cats and three fat cats,” lesson aside, which thinks to my cats all having names that indicate some aspect of personality or visual, allows me to teach a lot of vocabulary in a painless way. I didn't expect the first graders to remember much of it, but they surprised me, understanding and accurately responding with things like “No, three fat cats” and “Oddball = hen na neko. (weird cat). These kids were so much fun and so bright, it was a joy (even on a Saturday).

After classes, we had the PTA ritual. This is where we presented ourselves to the PTA and parents. This presentation was done in the school gym, where the PTA members sat behind boardroom style desks and looked dreadfully serious while the parents sat in the center as an audience, also looking serious. All of the teachers lined up in order of importance and gave a brief, not at all humorous self introduction. There was bowing, and humble language, and all that good stuff. I kept mine very brief, not wanting to screw it up (my name is Vashti Bandy and I am the new ALT, yoroshiku onegai Japanese, that was the basic gist of things). Then we bowed and left. As soon as we left, all of the teachers were talking about how nervewracking the experience was and how glad they were it was over. So was I. After that, Kyoto-sensei and Kouchou-sensei sent me home early. I was back in Toyota proper by 1pm, even with accidentally getting on the train going in the wrong direction and then having to come back.

With all of my extra time, I decided to go home and scramble some eggs and bacon (but the bacon had gone bad, so it was eggs and hashbrowns) talk to my mom for a bit, and then figure out how to pay my electric bill. During this process, I got a buzz at my door: my bank cashcard had arrived. It had a similar font and design to the envelope as the random piece of paper I'd gotten in my mailbox about four days before (that I couldn't read), so I figured, why not take that to the Post Office and see if they had my bank passbook?

If that didn't work, it was back to the Visitor's Center to see if the fine folks there could read it for me. But luckily, it was my bank passbook, and passbook plus cashcard meant “I can get a Ketiai!” (cellphone). So after a brief stop at the Convenience Store (Conbini) to pay my electric bill, I was off to AU to buy my cellphone. I'm not kidding about the convenience store either, that's how you do it here. You just go to the register, hand them your bill, and you pay it, they give you a receipt and boom...your bill is PAID. You even get a receipt. In fact, you can do practically EVERYTHING at the Conbibi! Make color copies, fax stuff, buy hot and cold food/drink, pay your bills (I paid for my reentry permit, guess where, the Conbini?!) Then I figured I had over two hours before I had to leave to meet Mie in Sakae (for clubbing), why not go buy the cell phone?

My Japanese has been slowly and steadily improving, but it was not up to the task of choosing a cell-phone plan in Japan. I mean, I guess to an extent it was as I have a cell phone, but my God was that complicated. I had some indication that this might be difficult because the last time I tried to buy a cell phone, I didn't have enough documents so while I couldn't get the phone at the time, I was given a large catalog in about four languages illustrating the cell phone plans available. I read it twice and still didn't have a great grip on what it was I wanted (or what the eighteen different plans meant in regards to my needs, which were BASIC). This is in large part because Japanese cellphones (keitai) have sooooo many features and options. What I wanted was a portable phone that did email (because in Japan that's the equivalent of text messaging). If it had a GPS that was a major bonus. That's it.
There were two areas of difficulty in regards to getting my cell phone. First, I'm a foreigner. So I had to show my passport with Visa, two forms from City Hall saying that I had applied for my Alien Registration Card and that it was being processed, my Toyota City address, and my Philadelphia address, (I gave them my paid electric bill too for good measure), and my company's phone number.

After gathering the documents (and searching the internet for my company's phone number), the man who was seeing me had to call somebody and have a conference with them about if it was okay to sell me the phone since I had all of this evidence (of what, that I hadn't stolen my own identity and had the real Vashti Bandy locked in a trunk somewhere...and what this had to do with my buying a cell phone anyway...?). And then things got weird. After the conference call, he asked me where I was born. I was like what...the hospital? You really need to know where I was BORN to sell me a cellphone? (I didn't say that out loud, but it was probably written on my face) No, he just wanted the city, so I said, yes I was born in Philadelphia. As an aside, in Japan, the concept of States doesn't translate, so he kept asking me what Pennsylvania was, a city...? I said it was a State, like a prefecture (which they have in Japan: I live in Aichi Prefecture), but that didn't really go over clearly. Then I said it was a state, and my city was Philadelphia.

Then it was another conference call, and I was approved to be sold a cell phone. Yay! First hurtle, crossed. Next came the harder part. I said I wanted a cheap phone that would allow me to make calls and send email (this is the Japanese equivalent of texting). And that I was only in Japan for one year. He handed me about eight different phones to choose from, all with different features, etc. I asked which ones had an English display, and he said all of them (phew). Then he asked if I was returning to the U.S. After I finished in Japan, and I explained that I was planning to travel around Asia and Europe. Then out came the color coded maps: some of these phones could be made to work in some countries but not others. Now the logical thing would have just been to say “I don't care, as long as it works in Japan.” I have Skype, I'm not planning to gallivant around the world with my cellphone from Japan. And also, when I get back to the U.S., I'm going back to my old cell phone plan. But because we were in question and answer mode, I ended up spending a huge amount of time trying to understand these charts and maps, etc. So now the phone I have will work in every country I'm planning to go to except Korea. And I doubt strongly I'm going to use it in any besides Japan, as it will be too damn expensive anyway.

Then came the cell phone plans. There was the EZ plan E, EZ Plan SS, and about four other EZ plans (if they have to tell you it's EZ, it's not), all with different features, different attachments, different prices, sometimes monthly, sometimes per data unit (whatever that is?), sometimes depending on who you were calling, etc. There was a two year plan that cut your monthly fees in half, a one year plan, a no year plan, etc. And that's not even talking about email, which varied in cost depending on plan, usage etc. There was the internet, television, GPS, etc. And then the cell phone promotions. Because I wanted to get my phone for free, I had to get six different options which are free for the next two months, but can only be canceled in May (I don't even want to tell you how long it took for us to figure this out).

To give you an example of how this buying process went, one question he asked me (discussing a feature) started out with “If your homepage is a bad homepage?” And I was like “Homepage, huh? Do you have to make a homepage for your cell phone and how much does that cost because I don't need it,” and he was like “No, if you have a bad homepage,” and I was like “What's a bad homepage? Is that like Hentai?” (porn) “because I'm not going to do that,” and he averted his eyes and said “no, no, of course not....” And I said asked, “then what's a bad homepage?” and he was like, “if you have a bad homepage, like, if you accidentally have a bad homepage on the internet” and I was like, “So if I accidentally go to a hentai site does that cost more, is that what you're saying?” and he was like, “No, no, it doesn't cost more, but if you don't want a bad homepage on the phone then you can do XKLJOIAHO” and I was like “What kind of bad homepage?”..and he was like “If you don't want to see it on your phone,” and suddenly, in the middle of this conversation I realized he was asking me if I wanted parental controls on my phone. And I said “I'm an adult. I don't need that.” and our conversation moved forwards again.

This guy was amazingly patient, considering I understood (as a high estimate) about 30% of what he was talking about. Some of this was language misunderstanding and some of this was just general misunderstanding because I some of the features/products and methods of payment are just things that don't exist in the USA. After 2/5 hours, I was the proud owner of a Keitai and running about 40 minutes late to meet with Mie. I called her on my cell and also sent her a mail to let her know I'd be late, and booked it.

I had the best time with Mie! In Nagoya, we did Yakiniku for dinner (cooked our own meat with BBQ style sauces) and then went to the Raggaeton party. Reggaeton is like fast paced Reggae that is highly influenced by the Spanish speaking world (it's mainly in Spanish). It was super fun! Mie and I did our part to get the party moving, getting out and dancing because everyone else was too embarrassed. Soon the dance floor was packed and Mie and I didn't leave until 4am. There was a DJ, live music from four different performers, alcohol and great new friends! I am so grateful and happy that Mie and I met because she's a super fun person! We said we'd go back again, so hopefully soon!

I have more to write about my day, but I'm going to cut it here because if I don't sleep soon, it will be tragic. So tomorrow's entry will discuss sleeping in the Manga Cafe, the Tokugawa museum, and other things.