Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Take Your Blog to Work Day

So I've figured out what the problem was with my netbook screen and taking my computer around. There's a manufacturer's defect that I discovered in Japan (I'd noticed it vaguely in the States but hadn't used the computer enough to recognize what an annoying problem this was until it became my primary computer) which means that if my screen is too bright, it goes to a full white screen. I can either take three months and ship it back to the States to repair it, or just turn the brightness down on my screen. I've been going with Option B.

But I'd also thought there was a positional issue as depending on what angle I held the screen, it would sometimes or sometimes not go white. Because I thought there was something loose inside the monitor, I was reluctant to drag my computer on the road, thus turning my extra-portable netbook into a super small at home desktop. BUT: I realized yesterday that the reason why the screen goes white when I close it to hibernate is NOT positional, but instead due to the fact that the screen automatically goes back to its original brightness after it hibernates. And so, with a quick FN and the down arrow a couple of times, the problem is solved. This means that these free periods that have been driving me nuts are now valuable time for blogging and writing fiction. Wahoo!

Hence this exciting blog entry. Since I have about three hours of free time scattered through today (the teachers are doing いんかい (don't know the kanji for this one, and because I don't have internet here, had to use my denshi jisho, which while it was not especially informative in regards to this word, did let me know that 陰核 (いんかく- inkaku) is clitoris. What a difference a syllable makes! Wonder when I'm going to get to use that one?)

(scrolling down as my Japanese coworkers can actually read the Japanese on my computer)

Also, tonight I'm staying late to do aerobics with a group of other female teachers at the school. It was really fun the last time I did it, now almost a month ago (I had to miss last week to pick up my Gaijin Card at City Hall as I thought because I was a week late that they'd send it back or something, who knows). So instead of leaving at 4:45, I'm staying around the school until about 7, and exercise starts at about 5:30. This time, I'm going to try not to get my ass kicked aerobically by my desk neighbor's mother. I doubt that's going to come through for me though.

So anyway, onto more exciting things, like what I've been doing for the past few days. Since we last left our intrepid heroine, she was learning a bit of Portuguese at Nishihomi Elementary. My major trials at that time included not getting lesson plans or schedules from the schools through my company as expected, at thus having to go it blind almost every day. I am happy to say that problem has been resolved. Turns out there was a mistake in the spelling of my email address, so some random person in the world has been receiving my lesson plans and schedules, but it was not me. I'm super glad that the problem was something so minor, though it was incredibly frustrating and annoying at the time. As a result of receiving my schedule, I was able to prepare four lessons for Ohata, and all went basically smoothly.

I also got the number on that group of fourth grade boys that so thoroughly drove me up the wall last time I was there. Life in regards to school—because I was always completely unprepared—had been so gosh darned difficult that their behavior had nothing in it to rattle me at all, so there's a blessing in that I suppose. The ticket to getting them running my direction was a combination of TPR (total physical response), games involving fly swatters and a willingness to share with them how to say things like “poop” in English. Things went a little awry when I tried to slow things down for a food related song, but once we got out the fly swatters and I refused to do anything until they settled down, things were well on track. I feel like I'm about 85% there (mostly because I went against my gut and attempted the song in my lesson plan...the gut is usually right). It was kind of ironic because after the lesson, the HRT apologized for the boys not listening, and I felt that they had been leaps and bounds above the last time. And next time, we're all going to be marching well in tune. It was a lot of fun.

I also got to watch the school's preparation for 運動会(うんどうかい – undoukai), the Sports Festival. I took video of it which you can watch here:

Undoukai is a huge deal here in Japan. No joke. All of my schools are busily preparing for it, taking time from class to work on flags and routines, etc. It's really an amazing demonstration. At the above school, Ohata (time for class...gosh these times go so much faster with the netbook!) (back now, gosh I love blogging at school. I will take another break at a very soon point to say goodbye to all of the kids as they pass by the door of our staff room. Last time I taught them how to say “baby” with the baby in arms gesture, and they all got such a kick out of it!) It's like a huge school fair that centers around sports. Or at least that's what I think now. Probably after I experience the real thing, I'll have a different impression.

My day at Ohata went wildly well, and afterwards I was feeling a bit introverted, so I made the decision to go to Jusco and go grocery shopping, go running, and then head home to catch up on episodes of Dexter online. Luckily that plan didn't work out. Instead, as I was getting ready to head out running, I ran into (almost literally), Erin, another woman from our company, also from the States. She actually went to school in Pittsburgh, practically in my backyard globally speaking. She was on her way to get 100 yen/plate sushi at a chain sushi place and that sounded like fun so I asked if I could join her. She's blond haired and blue eyed, and I noticed we got stared at a lot more together than I usually do alone (since everyone just thinks I'm Brazilian). I had actually gotten Erin's email address at our last meeting, but lost it twice (me and paper...sigh...) which I regretted at the time quite a lot, but regretted even more after I found out she was a fantasy writer. So in Toyota, there are at least two speculative fiction writers! I feel so lucky!

We bonded on writing and geek stuff and about life in Japan, including, (maybe because we are American) a ten minute intensive discussion about teeth. Erin was telling me that she has a British friend who when he goes out with Americans absolutely refuses to let them (us) get started on teeth around him. Apparently as Americans we're obsessed with dental care. Truthfully, these days I do feel obsessed with dental care, though now that I found Listerine at the Jusco, my teeth aren't quite such a disaster as they were which is a major YAY!

Now I can shift my obsession from getting rid of my gingivitis to getting rid of the giant roaches that have begun to appear in my apartment. It's getting warmer and more humid, and as such I've seen two of these monsters in the last week, and that's two too many. They seem to range in size between half and three quarters of the length of my pinky. The first I wasn't able to kill (I assume it went back down the toilet) but the second I beat until it was not only dead but in half. I don't know where the second half went. I got the head, so the rest is probably still alive somewhere, probably starving, pooping and eventually decaying somewhere in my walls. I find this very disturbing if I think about it for any length of time.

Mike gave me a good eHow page on my Facebook which I read over. I also found this excellent website on roach (gokiburi) killing products in Japan, what they are called, how they work and where to find them. (http://www.jp41.com/living-in-japan/kill-cockroaches.php) I am every grateful for the internet for providing me with these gems of information. On the other hand, I'm also a bit exhausted because I got the bright idea to start researching this right before I went to bed, which meant that I (a) couldn't fall asleep last night because every small noise made me thing “they're coming out of the walls” and (b) I couldn't stay asleep last night because every small noise woke me up thinking “they're coming out of the walls.” I found a detailed and informative website (which I now can't find) that also showed pictures of all the different types of roaches in the world so that you can identify the ones that are plaguing you. (this is a large part of the reason for my sleepless night). I have a good feeling that in Japan, I'm dealing with some sort of radioactively enhanced German roach species. As of now, I've bleached all of my surfaces, sponge cleaned my floor with bleach cleaning supplies in the kitchen/hall, plugged my drains, and I'm buying roach killer and actual bleach tonight (I've been using a bleach based cleaning spray: I know it's bleach because of the smell).

What is upsetting though is that because I live in an apartment complex, aside from throwing bleach down the drains and buying roach traps, sprays and powders (this environment may be too humid for boric acid though), there isn't a whole lot I can do to keep the roaches from coming in from my neighbors. This isn't really much different from Philly, though at least in Philly I have five cats, three of whom are real killers (and of course, I don't use toxic roach killing products around my loveable kitties, but since I'm alone, gotta do what you gotta do). I'm just praying these roaches aren't the types that fly. I can barely deal with the groundbound ones.

But yes, there's more to life in Japan than teeth and killing roaches. Like everything else.

After my great dinner with Erin, I headed to Jusco to finish up my grocery shopping. Just talking and hanging out with another writer here in Japan (and one who is actually working on a fiction project) was so inspirational for me! I started thinking about getting back to writing fiction, what I would write etc. None of this panned out on Friday, because by the time I was done grocery shopping, it was time to go to the Izakaya. I'd been neglecting Kogame (小亀) and putting my position as Jouren (常連) in doubt I felt, and I also just missed my Izakaya friends like Ito and Kato-san and Hitomi-chan, to name a few.

That said I was also EXHAUSTED so not at my best. This pushed my Japanese into the toilet because I could barely think, but I still had a great time. I also ended up meeting two very exciting people: our local Councilman Kamo Mikio and another man who is the father of the Toyota City's Olympic rower. We had a great time, and he gave me a Beijing Olympics pin from his son's go at the Beijing Olympics. His son is currently training for the next Olympics. He's in Slovakia, and I think there's a strong possibility that I agreed to go to Poland and Slovakia over summer vacation with these folks to meet him. I'm also going to be trying rowing in early June with a local team. I was so tired though, all of this completely slipped my mind when I talked to Steph the next morning, so I basically was like “oh no, nothing exciting happened. I just did my job.”

That night, I crawled home around 1:00am and passed out. I woke the next morning, chatted with Steph, watched some TV on my computer and then around 2:00pm decided it was time to do something useful with my day. Usually, around 11am or 11:30, I'd start looking on the internet for interesting places that were close enough to Toyota for me to bike to, but at 2pm, there wasn't much point in spending 1-2 hours on a bike just to come home, and I was still a little tired, so I just decided to explore my own backyard. Michael () supposedly has a painting in the Toyota Museum of Art, which is less than a kilometer from my apartment, so I figured why not go there and see it?

Of course, I wound up in the wrong building (because this is me in Japan) but this worked out because I saw an incredible Nomen mask exhibit and got to talk extensively with the artists. They explained to me about the world of the dead (Jigoku/hell) and how the masks were images of people in the land of the dead, their features frozen at the point of death, but at some point as charactures of how they had lived their lives (evil or good people). Hence some of the masks are scarier than others. This was really interesting and I had every confidence it would make it into a story in some way or shape.

After that, I decided to go running, and since I usually have no idea how far I'm running here I aimed for a Mcdonalds that a billboard at the part of Route 155 near my apartment said was three kilometers ahead. I figured if I ran that way once, and then ran back, it would be 6k. This was a great run! I actually ran a little bit longer because I (a) ran from my apartment to the sign and (b) kept running past my apartment and for about another five minutes because I didn't want to stop running on “Believe” from the Run Lola Run soundtrack. It did take me about 50 minutes to do this, which is slow, but I am happy to be getting back into shape today. Getting back into running definitely paid off at recess, when I played “Oni” (a form of tag) with some sixth grade boys. Fifteen minutes of flat out running. Good warmup for aerobics tonight I think.

After running I went home, cooked, and then finished watching the last season of Dexter. What a kicker of an ending. I am very sad. It feels weird, looking back over my weekend and thinking about how anti-social I felt. This was in part exhaustion, but also in part a shift in my understanding of my life here. I'm working to get back the things that were important to me in Philly, including running, biking and of course writing. These things do require one has some time to herself and some reflection. That's not to say I'm going into hermitage, not by any means, (this weekend is already filling up) but I just wasn't up to my usual level of socialization this weekend.

On Sunday I started Japanese classes at TIA. It seems a LOT of people tested into class A, which was a huge problem for the class A teacher who was a bit overwhelmed. The class is entirely in Japanese. This is not an immersion method exactly; it's because Japanese is the one language that all of us have in common here. This is completely obvious, but it was also a real mental flip for me, who is used to thinking of English (even now) as the primary language through which I get information. If there was another theme for my weekend, it was illustration of the shift in understanding that here, Japanese really is the default language. I know this intellectually, but instinctually, it's still weird.

So the entire class really was in Japanese. The other Japanese class I took in Philly (at the Japanese Language School) attempted to do this, but it was very easy (too easy) for everyone to drift back into English if something didn't make sense or wasn't completely clear. At this class, the teacher spoke in Japanese for the entire time. In this class, I also was the only American, and one of only three primary English speakers (two of whom were native Japanese who had learned English at International School in Japan and felt more comfortable with it, hence their taking this class). I had a couple of questions, one of which I asked the teacher, and the second I ended up talking to one of my classmates about 苦手 (にがて/nigate) which means things that others can do that you can't do; looking it up in my denshi jishou, it said “weak point” which also makes sense.

The first thing we did after basic classroom setup was Jikoshoukai. I volunteered to go first. I've given my Jikoshoukai in English and Japanese about a million times here so it holds no fear for me. But even if it had held fear for me, I'd have volunteered to go first (or in the first few people) because you don't learn anything if you don't put yourself out there. Which is why I volunteered to go in the first three for the exercise that included 'nigate' because I wanted to really use it where the rubber hit the road. I think I am going to really enjoy this class and learn a lot, which is very exciting.

After class, I had the chance to go to a BBQ in Nagoya, but before I went I wanted to make another go at the Toyota Art Museum to see Michael's painting. Of course I left my SD card for my camera in my apartment so I had to make two trips, and by the time all of that had happened, it was too late to go to Nagoya. Truthfully, I wasn't too upset about this because I was feeling introverted, so instead I went to the museum, enjoyed the art, then went outside and took my netbook for a spin. The exhibits at the museum had an otherworldly quality that was excellent in regards to giving me fodder for writing, and outside that evening I did start the first few paragraphs of a story. It's still in progress, so I'm not going to talk anymore on that until I have a draft. We'll see. (if not this than something else)

When I got home, I beat that roach to death. And cleaned. And ate. And cleaned. And talked to my grandfather and uncle on the phone. And cleaned some more. Still have some more cleaning to do.

Which brings us back to today. This has been a good day. It's now 4:30pm. All of my coworkers with the exception of the Tea Lady (a lovely older woman whose job it is to serve tea, organize and clean things as far as I can tell. It's a big job, and she's always working) and one other teacher have been involved in meetings all afternoon. This gave me the room practically to myself, a little lonely but okay. Now everyone has returned (yay!) and are handing out food products (double yay!). The room is filled with cheerful (and relieved) chatter as well as some whispered gossip. I am like a rock in a stream. I'm here, I have a place, but in regards to being effected by the movements of this flow, I'm just here. Typing.
Today I only had three classes, which ordinarily would have been reason for madness, but thanks to having my netbook, it was all good. My lessons today all went surprisingly well.

The most interesting was the first, where we had some four visitors, older gentlemen with salt and pepper hair in full suit and ties who looked over our class with serious expressions and notepads. Yikes! But the lesson went well, and I think we made a good impression. And clearly this was a serious situation, because I've been thanked by about 5 different people at school for doing the lesson today, including the Principal. So at least my three hours of preparation for this lesson plan actually paid off. That and having Jun-sensei, my HRT for this class, who is excellent. He had lots of great ideas for this lesson, which made it a success. Alone, I doubt that would have happened.

After that, it was days of the week with first graders. They did better at it than I'd thought they would because clearly they'd reviewed these before and even had a cute days of the week song that they mostly knew. Still, a lot of this broke down at the games section. None of them could handle the whisper race, though they tried gainfully. I guess I'm not the only one who can't understand small Japanese children when they whisper. And for Fruits Baskets, they all kept forgetting what day of the week they were, so that was a bit of a disaster too. This is in part, because as my HRT said, they're really only good with Sunday through Tuesday. Wednesday through Saturday tends to bite the dust. But everyone had fun. And they're six-year-olds, so yeah.

Last up was second graders and animals. Those kids got a huge kick out of playing Karuta and giving me viciously hard low fives. My palms were actually red when they were done. But all in good fun.

Now, it is almost time for exercise. I have been to the convenience store and gotten some food, so hopefully my blood sugar won't plummet halfway through the lesson. I also got some instant curry from the Conbini, and some kind of Mochi snack from a store near the Conbini. It was sweet and delicious. There's an entire curry section on the Jusco grocery store, but I still couldn't find the same instant curry that's in my cupboard. But the conbini had something close. Also got some ready to go Donburi. If it's like other ready made food here, it's sure to make a delicious dinner. After exercise and roach spray buying, I don't think I'm going to be up for much by way of cooking.

Ja ne!

For more of my adventures in Japan and onwards, please visit my blog at http://vashabroad.blogspot.com