Tuesday, November 28, 2006

pleasant surprise

There is always a certain small amount of dread when the boss calls for you. I always wonder what I did wrong (too many long lunches and coffee breaks recently? kicking a kid out of class?) or didn't do right (not selling enough books? not getting in early enough?). So when the bossman called and didn't tell me immediately what he wanted, I got a little nervous.

So, what can I do for you today? I asked.
Oh, nothing, he answered coyly.
Errr, so what can I do to help someone else out?
Uhhh, OK. So what's up?

Luckily my confidence hadn't flagged so much that I voiced my fear of being demoted to a normal teacher or not being allowed to train new people etc.

Finally he stopped me and asked how long I'd been working for (as SonicLlama puts it) Ye Olde English School.

...about a year and a half.... What's up? I'm feeling vaguely nervous.

Well, I want to promote you to C2! (teachers start as C1 and move up to C2 or C3) Congratulations and thanks for all your hard work!

Wha!?! Well thanks!

So, that's the good news for the day. I'm happy to be recognized for generally working hard more than hardly working (though there have been many of those days recently...). It's even the good type of promotion that means more money (another $100/month) and reflects the responsibility I already take rather than giving me more. So really, now I'm just more motivated and better paid. Good deal!

Monday, November 13, 2006


Just a little news.

My current 'teaching post' is out in the country and its a very welcome break from Tokyo. Its so quiet and I'm sleeping so much better. The new coworkers are cool too. I don't have wireless internet in my apartment, though so I'm a little slower about getting back to folks.

much love. and good work on the election!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Fearing America

Fearing America

I find that I am lying more and more. Whether I lie or not varies whether I think I'll see the other person again, if I have any initial respect for them, and the general political overtone of the situation. In clubs I lie about my name, my relationship status, etc. Outside, meeting normal people who are more curious than friendly, I say I'm Canadian. My accent is becoming more and more international as a result of working with very few 'mericans. I am slowly replacing American phrases with more neutral ones
I went to college in Eugene
changes to
I went to university in Eugene
solely for the purpose of avoiding confusion. College and university are not synonyms in the UK system.

I hear news of America. I hear GW quoted. I hear of peril in the Supreme Court, as well as lesser courts. I hear of the media sweeping the emails of one of Bush's cronies with the underage boy under the rug. I hear about the movies Jesus Camp and think about the Board of Education in Kansas. I hear about all the states slowly making it impossible for gays and lesbians to marry. I think about not signing the Kyoto treaty and denying the existence of global warming. The war in Iraq drags on. The US backs Israel and the violence in Lebanon. Everyday millions of illegal immigrants live in America as if it was third world nation.

Occasionally a high level and inquisitive student will look to me to answer some question about these things, thinking that there is a logical reason behind these decisions. I don't have a good answer about why evolution and creationism have equal merit in a science curriculum. I don't know why we think we can get away without cooperating with the rest of the world in terms of the environment and social movements. I have no answers.

I so saddened by the state of affairs in America. I am saddened that I am not proud of my country. I am saddened that I feel things will get much worse before they get better.

I quite simply don't know much about the wars in Korea and Vietnam, because that isn't something we are taught in school. Until I lived In Japan as an adult, I didn't even really realize that they are not neighboring countries with completely different and in many ways unrelated political landscapes.

I have a vague understanding about how and why Israel was formed but I have no good answers when my British friend asks me why the US would support the massacre in Lebanon. I don't know because I am ignorant about my own history. I don't know because this was only a small chapter in one university course (thank you honor's college so that I at least know something).

Without knowledge about what my country has done and what place it has really taken in shaping the modern political and social arena, I am ashamed to say that I am from America. How can I be a spokesperson when I am so ignorant of history that is only a few generations old? How can I be a spokesperson without becoming enraged at the current state of the country? How can I call myself American when I am so saddened by all that is happening?

It's much easier to lie and say I'm Canadian.

November 1st was my first day in Kumagaya school, which is a solid hour and a half out of central Tokyo. My first day I went out to lunch with my new coworker, a Scottish guy with the strongest accent I've ever heard a teacher have. Over a Kim Chi stir-fry I confess,

"I mean, of course I love and miss my family and friends. But generally, I don't especially like Americans."

He laughs. With a beautiful melodic accent he says, "Most ex-pat Americans I meet don't really like America." and then continues to tell an anecdote about the only real American American he's met in Japan and how utterly annoying she was. I have no fear that I will be such a consumerist who always speaks three volume bars above everyone else. I know that I am far from that type of American.

I just finished reading "The Motorcycle Diaries" by 'Che' Guevara and despite being a generally disappointing book (in terms of literary quality and narrative skill), it, in combination with all the factors mentioned above, has helped me realize something.

When I move back to America, I will not be satisfied being apolitical. When (if) I move back I must be an activist, a politician, a leader, a changer. I know that when I move back, if I am not devoted to changing something that I feel is so fundamentally broken, I will feel useless and a pawn of something I hate.

This is not to say that I want to be a politician or an activist. I don't. I don't desire a life so full of struggle and defeat. However, I can not imagine calling some place home that I'm so disgusted with. When I reconsider my plans to pursue a law degree with a specialty in biotechnology, I am struck by how trivial, socially speaking, this work would be. Despite the possibility that a career in intellectual property law would be intellectually and financially rewarding, I know such work will not change the social landscape in a powerful or beneficial way. I like the idea of studying for and passing the LSATs. I like the idea of the structure and pace of studying minute details again, but I know that some part of me would be sick with the knowledge that I was not going to use this effort for social change.

I know I cannot respect myself if I am part of (a pawn in) a system that is so self destructive and socially unequal. I feel this leaves me two options.

Option 1: i.e. the hard option. Return to America and get involved, get active. I don't know if I could return to canvassing as a career or what specific way I would be active.

Option 2: i.e. the easy option. Remain an ex-pat, continue learning more about the world, political systems, social interactions, and postpone my return 'home.'

Perhaps you will be unsurprised that I'm going for Option 2 for the time being. I am still planning to save up enough money to travel S. America for 6-8 months. I am still planning to come home for Christmas. I just cannot imagine, for the time being, returning to America as a working citizen.


addendum to Alison and anyone else who would like to contact me directly: my email is my name, firstlast@gmail.com. My first name being my full name with a c, one r, and two n's.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I feel like I've failed a little

(Joe, don't read this--stay in your "Japan honeymoon period" as long as you can. I swear it's all worth it. Seriously, don't read this.)

I came to Japan for many reasons, including not really knowing what else to do and being single enough to follow a whim without feeling at all responsible for anyone else's happiness. And so I came. At first I wasn't sure if I was happy about being in Tokyo but I figured if I can make this place home, I can make any place home. So that became my mission, along with learning how to teach, to make Tokyo home. At times, I feel I have felt success. I used to get along smashingly with the folks at Kaihin Makuhari. Kevin, Yoshi, Akemi and I would drink and sing all Saturday night and I felt included and good about being here.

When I came back in January, I made good friends with my neighbor, who I still see almost once a week, despite moving to a different part of town. I was sorta dating that ex-Boy and liked his friends. I'd go out with Kevin and Yoshi on Saturdays, or head into town and hang out with this other group, associated with exBoy, that laughed and were always friendly. During the week I'd meet my funny neighbor for dinner. I'd meet my 'truly a world citizen/couchsurfing' friend Yuri on the weekends. Even when I was becoming unhappy with the job, I felt like I had a social network. I felt like I was succeeding in making this my life. One of the reasons I got a new job was to have more time for my friends.

But somehow, this network seems to have run dry. Not a single person in this side of life wished me a happy birthday. While I wouldn't have wanted any big deal, or anything at all except an acknowledgment, a nod or a joke about getting older would have sufficed.

so I spent the day, teaching my last classes at Kita Senju, packing up my stuff, missing my mom, and feeling like a stranger in my life.

I mean, I have no regrets ditching the exBoy, even if I don't get in on the cool embassy parties anymore. And I do love my new apartment (it doesn't shake with each passing train!! and is in a safer neighborhood... etc), other than it doesn't come with the same neighbor (who probably would have remembered my birthday but is on holiday in Hawaii). And I like this new position better than a normal teacher in a lot of ways, besides Akemi, Yoshi, and Kevin have all moved on. And I have and am making new friends all the time.

I do have hope that many of these friendship seeds that I've been planting will grow into real friends one of these days (perhaps when all these new teachers get their cell phones)... I have hope that things may get better. I've also found a tango group on Mondays that seems to like me, even if it is just for being so weird and white (what a rare foreigner, she can speak Japanese!, one said AT me. but jokingly and friendly. his partner chided him for using the derogatory form of 'foreigner' and gave me an apologetic smile).

It's hard much harder to make friends here than it was in university (that would be the international English speaking... I mean, in college). I'm not sure exactly why. Some two ideas:

teachers are almost exclusively in a transitory state in their lives with no intention to settle in Japan. They have their families and best friends elsewhere. So, they don't really want to invest in new friends. Or, if they have decided to live in Japan indefinitely, they assume I won't. It's a good assumption, because I won't stay here forever, but I do want to invest in friends in the meantime.

when I meet people in work, they see me and I see them not in their natural skin. we are just all token white people in suits. It sounds stupid but it's harder to get to know someone without being able to judge them by their clothes. I suppose this is a good thing but since we are all suited up looking ready from the next young republican rally, I don't even trust myself looking like that. when one of my clean shaven, properly tied tie and politician's smile bearing coworkers started talking about how he used to eat mushrooms and tried to hop a train, I tried to picture him rugged and dirty and couldn't. All this time he'd been a closet hippy and I had no idea. After we got on well until after three weeks of sincere flirting, he mentioned his girlfriend. Perhaps a suit and tie, or a suit and heels in my case, are just a big time space continuum warp around the truth. I'm so confused.

I guess I just want to say that I miss all of you. I feel like I've failed to make a new life here, in part, because of the wonderful beautiful friends and family I left behind (and friends that are family). My friends here are fun... but they just don't hold a candle. My adventures keep me amused and that's wonderful and all, but I just miss the partners in crime that I had in you guys. I wish you were here.

Drop me a line and tell me what's going on in your lives. And to all of you who sent wonderful birthday letters and packages, thank you so much. I've really really appreciated it.

much love.

'puter petulantly capoots

alas, my harddrive in my lovely powerbook decided that I'd just dropped it one too many times and died. While I was (thankfully) able to back up writing and pictures, my music collection bit the dust. I have what was on my iShuffle and the contents of a few (like 3) CDs. I have gotten my 'puter repaired and am now repopulating my music collection.

If anyone would like to burn me one CD of mp3s, I'll return the favor. If anyone's interested, let me know and I'll figure out the details.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

I am NOT obese

and other stories. including, 'I am NOT spoiled stale unwanted Christmas Cake, dammit'

On many days, I do love Japan. I envy to poise that people have, even if it is a mask. I am fascinated by the 'wa' or harmony, even if it does stifle the individual creative instinct. But it makes the rebels and the artists even more appealing. I'm always curious about all the other ex-pats and what brought them to the here, what, now. I love the mix of new age technologies and skyscrapers, dotted with ancient shrines and rustic cemeteries. The blend of modern with traditional, the illogical xenophobia combined with the overwhelming mimicking of foreign culture, are all things that keep me in Japan.

But when I'm looking for stockings to go with my bubble wrap dress Halloween costume, I feel the echo of 'you are different' 'you are too tall' 'you are too wide' press down on me. When I muster up the courage to ask if the L-LL is the largest size they have, and she says 'yes', despite the fact that the dimensions really are much too small for my long substantial legs... I feel defeated. but I bought them anyway and sat on the train saying over and over to myself

I am NOT obese
I am NOT obese
I am NOT obese
I am NOT obese

so I turned 26 on Tuesday. This means that one year ago, last Tuesday, I turned 25. When I turned 25, two of my students explained to me about Christmas cake. Apparently, women are like cake, especially of the Christmas variety (though this doesn't have to do with nuts or funky jelly fruit, you can embellish the metaphor to your particular taste). So Christmas cake sells really well around the 22nd and 23rd, right? It's even pretty hot on the 24th. While there are significantly fewer buyers on the 25th, sometimes the remaining ones get swooped up. Unfortunately for girls like me though, sometimes the 26th roles around and...I'm still fucking single. At least I don' have to see those particular two students (who have mediocre marriages, I may add) anymore.

I am NOT stale Christmas Cake.
I am NOT stale Christmas Cake.
I am NOT stale Christmas Cake.
I am NOT stale Christmas Cake.

In many ways, I feel much more single this year than last. I guess, theoretically, single is single but up until I came to Japan, I hadn't been single for a while. For nearly 2 and a half years I was in one relationship or another (thanks guys!) and felt like I was moving closer to some sort of meaningful relationship that I wouldn't fuck up. But now, as Ani says,

Lately it seems like every one's joined at the hip
I'm so fancy. I'm so fancy. I'm so fancy free.
I am so fancy free.

While I am not always happy with my fancy free lifestyle, I am glad I didn't stay with people who were a bad match for me. To those guys, I hope you find 'the right girl.' I hope you also see that I wasn't 'the right one'.

Congratulations to all my friends who got married or engaged this year. You are all your own unique example of how it should be done. I'm envious but not the least jealous. Smashing job.

the sleepy mind is interfering with forming coherent thoughts, so I'll be signing off tonight as usual.

the adventures continue
(and I am NOT frickin' stale obese cake, dude!)