parasitegirl: (Default)
It really is cultural. I really am a drinking-coffee-in-motion rep!

Yesterday Takai Sensei asked me how to use an insulated tumbler. You know, those insulated coffee containers with the sippy hole... At the end of the year Japanese stores fill with huge "grab bags" of mystery products for a set price low. These can be anywhere from 10$ to 300$ bags, depending on the store. Takai sensei bought a Starbucks mystery bag and got a mug, an insulated tumbler, a small lap blanket and some other stuff. He knows that I have a similar tumbler because it comes to school with me every morning.

He pointed at it and asked me what I kept in it...if the coffee came from home or from Tullys...was it hot or cold....We honestly had a discussion about it keeping hot hot, cool cool, and protecting your hands from the liquid inside. I discussed drinking coffee while walking, or the fact he could fill it with what he liked, coffee or diet soda, and drink and drive his way to school. Then he explained why he was askign all these questions. He is now convinced that he got a very good mystery bag.


I didn't talk to him about priming the tumbler on cold mornings with some boiling water, he's not ready for that yet. Baby steps.
parasitegirl: (Evil)
I underestimated how captivated Miyazaki Sensei was with the idea of "bowling American style" with a beer.

When we arrived at Young Bowl I noted that there was no beer for sale at a bar or in the vending machines. I thought that was the end of that! Silly me with my American ideas of liquor laws!

Miyazaki Sensei arrived and asked "Beer?"

He went to the vending machines and announced "No Beer!"

He then disappeared.

He returned from a quick trip to a convini with a bag of beers and stuff.

"Beer, Beer, Gin tonic, Beer, Beer, Ume Shu, Beer! American style!" And gave drinks to whoever could drink and was not driving (zero tolerance for drinking and driving here) insisting "American Style!"

Now, there was no way I was going to ask my American questions about how is it you can openly bring in and imbibe alcohol in a place that doesn't have a liquor license because that would open up those moments where I sound like a martian and teachers want to know if I am kidding. "And then at a certain time, and it varies from state to state, you cannot buy alcohol. We have no alcohol vending machines that work on the 'honor system'. We can't walk around in public with an open can/bottle, much less public transport, and we sure as hell cannot bring alcohol into a location which cannot legally sell it and strat openly drinking..." This is viewed as crazy talk.

Miyazaki Sensei

I would later go on to explain that flipping off pins and yelling "Fall, you mother fucker, FAAAAAAALLL" is not so much a sign that I am upset, but is part of how I play most games...and may also count as American Style bowling.

One more reason to love Miyazaki Sensei: When he gets really drunk he talks about his two sons and how much he loves them.
parasitegirl: (Default)
As I was walking from my On Paper school to my primary school my own shadow caught my eye: Medium handbag, the silhouette of a vintage jacket work with jeans, and the hand holding a steaming cup of coffee.

I come with cup-gripping action.

My first year or so in Japan I traveled down to Kamakura to see a documentary on Noam Chomsky. It was of interviews and speeches he gave shortly after 9/11. I remember sitting in the theater and seeing footage of people streaming into one of his lectures, people all bundled up and each clutching a cup of coffee. I thought, "Those are MY people." It was the first time I really thought of clutching a cup of coffee as something that marked me as American to some eyes.

I still can't believe that my first school here, the high school, allowed me my habit of drinking coffee during class. I mean, yes, I had taken a chance by explaining it as part of my culture....describing in detail the high school and college professors who would pause, sip, look deep into their own mugs as if there were answers to be held in them, tea leaves to be read, and then look back at us and continue...but that the actually let me do it was

I shared an office in the high school with 3 Japanese teachers of English and one foreigner. Yoshida Sensei was in that office for two years and we would spend a large portion of our time together drinking coffee and out-doing each other's Coffee Sighs of Delight (some of the other time was spent watching Friends or the latest Pixar film in the name of language study and singing aloud to bad 80's rock).

The elementary school is not a coffee drinking haven. They drink instant coffee here and have rules about brewing the fresh stuff when kids are in the building.

Nonetheless, ever since Tully's opened here two years ago I can be seen in the morning with my tumbler of coffee walking to school. Students ask where it is if I greet them in the morning without it. They ask "where? where?" and grip air cups. This Monday I walked part-way home with the twins in the afternoon. My Twin asked me where my tumbler was. They don't see the coffee as a morning thing (which it mostly is now) but as a "What Kathryn Sensei looks like outside of school" thing.

Today is the last day of classes. We had closing ceremonies this morning. After school comes the "forget the year party" with co-workers. At the high school these were lavish affairs. Everyone dressed up in fine clothing and drank to excess and then went to an after party of more drinks and perhaps cigars. They even rented the Disney bus with mouse-shaped wind ws to take us to the banquet room in the Disney resort the last year I was there. At the elementary school the staff is smaller and the parties more casual. This year I've learned not to overdress.

This year they've added something new. We won't be going straight to the restaurant at 6:30. We have a before-party party this year. We're going bowling first at Young Bowl.

Miyazaki Sensei asked me if Americans bowl. I told him yes. I told him that I had been in the bowling club in middle school, but was and am a horrible bowler. And then I told him that American style bowling is a little different than Japanese style.

Are the rules different?

No. But we drink beer when we bowl, what else to do with our cup-gripping action after dark? Bowling lanes serve beer.

A few years back my friend Jimmy and I spent an evening drinking and watching Hong Kong action films at his place, at some point we decided to take our intoxicated but attractive asses to the Tokiwadaira bowling lanes. We were shocked to find that there was no bar or beer vending in the lanes. Were we expected to bowl sober? Did the lanes stay open 24 hours....for SOBER bowling? Japan has no laws that prohibit the vending of beer and alcohol after a certain we'd assumed that 24 hour bowling would come with a 24 hr bar.

Miyazaki sensei has been flitting around the room sharing his knowledge. He suggests to the teachers that perhaps we should try American Style Bowling...and then explains the drink in one hand bit. "Americans, they don't bowl SOBER!"

If any of my co-workers ever come to Wisconsin, they are prepared.
parasitegirl: (Default)
For some reason, one of my emailed posts never arrived. Maybe it will show up tomorrow. If so, forgive the double post and I'll kill it when I awaken.

My job, one hour ago. This is how, on the average, conversations with me about paper-work play out.

(Of course, in Japanese)

Vice-Principal: Kathryn, do you have…(points to his electronic dictionary to the word that translates to "Teaching certificate")
Me: Maybe.
VP: huh?
Me: Probably. No. I don't know if I ever got something on paper. Maaaybe I did.

(You see, in order to be a yearly lecturer this certificate is required. To get one you need to go through the Japanese certification process that requires you to be...Japanese. I can't get one, legally. Legally, I need one. The board of education did something to ensure that I technically have one, but I don't know if I have a paper proving it or if it's something they did at the office.)

VP: Do you have it?
Me: I don't know! Why?
VP: So ,you can work this half of the school year (Oct-march 31)
Me: Ha! I got that from my on-paper school Wednesday! Wait!

(I pull out the form that says I'm legally working those dates)

VP: I also I need this...from the other school you say?
Me: It's technically "my school"
VP: But, what about your teaching certificate?
Me: Can you show me an example of what it looks like?
Vp: I don't have one...

Me: I need to know what it looks like. Then I can see if I have it. I get a lot of important papers. I put them in various important paper folders...but I don't know what they all ARE.

Vp: hmmmmm

(I go back to my desk and pull out my school related "Important papers" folder.

Me: This?
Vp: no
Me: This?
VP: (In English) May this?
Me: (assuming we're talking about borrowing) Yes.
parasitegirl: (seeyou)
This was the shaming "Who drank my beverage?" poster I put on the work fridge in the teachers' office.

For about two hours I would greet anyone near the fridge with the question, "Do you like Red Bull?" Without exception, everyone questioned blamed Takai Sensei, who has a history of devouring other people's food. I kept defending him "But, he drinks diet drinks. He's a diabetic who has also undergone heart surgery in the last year...he CAN'T still be drinking and eating things at random from the fridge!!"

But...he is. He followed my instructions as to where to buy Red Bull and replaced my  drink with two new ones.

For the record he thought he was stealing a can of coffee. While the flavor of Red Bull was unexpected, he liked it.


Jun. 6th, 2007 02:09 pm
parasitegirl: (Default)
A week ago Ms.Go told me about her cancer. She confided in me that she'd recently finished chemo, had had a small mass removed from her left breast, and was on a series of hormones that made her temp rush up and down. She then told me not to be surprised. She showed me she was wearing a wig. I wasn't surprised, by the wig. I'd noticed the mismatched grey hairs at her ears and neck and that her hair was always styled in a certain Rip Taylor way. Over the years I've become better at spotting wigs here. But I hadn't guessed cancer, I just guessed that she was eccentric.

She's got the most eclectic clothing of any teacher at my On Paper school, myself included. Her clothing has multiple fabrics and fabric treatments per garment, detailed straps, folds, and poofs that confuse even me. Today her pants are faced with pleather, puffy pleather. One day she an outfit which I am still unsure, was it a dress? A cape? A jacket? Something from Star Wars that I should have known? When I started working here I assumed that she must be an art teacher or music teacher (think back to your elementary school art teachers...many of you will understand) but she's a general homeroom teacher, 4th grade. She's new to this school (despite years of teaching) and we had the same welcome ceremony.

I've worked here for two months.

When she told me about her cancer I thought about America. In America I wouldn't be that surprised if a stranger at Home Depot or a coffee shop turned and told me, unprompted, about surviving cancer...much less a co-worker. But, I am in Japan. This is not something that the Japanese routinely do, divulge health information to co-workers. The fact of the telling outweighed the shock of the actual information.

She is eccentric and that I am foreign. I realize that a small role I play here is to be The Other. Perhaps she needed to tell someone and I served the bill better than most because I am so different. Maybe she tells everyone.

Now I have this information. And this is all I can really think of doing
with it right now.
parasitegirl: (Default)
Thursday I woke up early and took an assortment of decongestants and antihistamines for the day. Half my head seems to be full of something nasty.
Warning-san is here, and after a night of sleep he was more of less the human Warning that I know.
Thursday morning we both realized just how much sightseeing we had shoved into one week the first time he’d visited: gardens (Zen and sakura), Kyoto, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Meji shrine, Sword museum, Asakusa, Tiny bars, Expensive bars, cultural shows, performances in Ueno by the peace shrine, video stores, Samurai land, Akihabara (specifically the massage chairs)...
Warning-san didn’t have any idea what he wanted to see this time. If it was his first time and he pulled this, I’d be pissed, but this is different: Japan is just a three day stop before work in Thailand. The money and brain effort goes to Thailand.
We decided on Kamakura to see the big-ass Buddha and shrines and whatnot. Yokohama had been something we’d tried to see the first time and would be on our way back. I figured that after we saw the big-Buddha and a temple we could officially say we’d seen something and then could fuck-around by ear and laugh at clothing styles.
parasitegirl: (seeyou)
The way back machine presents Warning-San and Buggirl, intoxicated in 2000/2001? Back in the day we may have used the same off-the-shelf black haircolor, who knows?

God, short hair was cute and easy. I also miss being able to see in contacts.
parasitegirl: (Default)
I recently wrote about some of my memories from working at the caustic video store. One of those memories will be coming to Japan soon! I like visits from people I haven't slept with! Warning-San is coming to Japan on his way to being an intern in some law firm in Thailand. He should land around 3:30 today (Weds). He’ll only be here for three days and is crashing with me, I’ve taken a day off tomorrow.

more info

Dec. 9th, 2004 02:10 pm
parasitegirl: (Default)

So, my co-workers definitely know who I am dancing for…it seems lik.e my dance teacher, the other girls, and Wataguy are the only people in Japan who don’t know who今井翼(Imai Tsubasa ) of the duo タッキー&翼 Takki&Tsubasa…rumor has it we don’t watch enough TV.


This morning I got final permission to take next Friday off for this. I also showed the vice-principal some of the info sheets and pointed at the idol and said “Do you know him?” which is when the sounds of “waaaaaaaaaaa!” the Japanese version of “Ohhhmyyyygooooood!” broke out throughout the office, followed by smiling female teachers saying “Sign! Sign! Sign!” signifying that I will lose my beloved status if I dare return without autographs.


They are also familiar with NK Hall, where filming will take place. They didn’t know the show, which I think is called ズバリ言うわよ!(Speak Frankly!)


In order that you can get the whole surreal power of this, I have scanned one rendering of the stage…we will dance around the white raised stage. Today I will learn the music and email my measurements.


Large picture )





parasitegirl: (Default)
Winter is coming. I know it is not yet Halloween but I can feel it. Now I wake up early every morning as to eat my breakfast and read my e-mail in front of my full spectrum light box to get my regular 30 minutes. In prior years I put my light box on my desk at work. It was nice. I explained to my office mates, didn't explain to other people (I just acted like I needed a really bright reading light) and drank my coffee in front of it before my first class.

But now I have a new job and new Japanese co-workers. I don't want to explain the whole SAD thing. It's not really a country to be talking about such things with new people and I don't expect that they'll notice any difference. The giant light box would make an issue out of what is now routine for me. People who are close to me deserve a heads up, I write about it here (this lj exists in part to help my winter go smoothly) but I don't feel the need to tell everyone. When it comes to co-workers there is no need to say: "Hi! Don't mind the bright light. If I don't excercize and use this box then winter makes my emotional reactions go haywire, my body aches, I get sleepy at 4pm and I crave starchy food." I might as well just add, "And I can't join you for drinking parties when the moon is full because I grow hair all over my body and transform into a Werebeast... it's not that unusual where I come from. My mom does it as well but my father prefers to eat human brains."

There is only so much of your life that needs to be on display as a cultural ambassador.

The Naga

Jun. 22nd, 2004 11:55 am
parasitegirl: (Default)
I only have 2 more weeks of teaching class at my international high school here, but that doesn’t make all co-worker stories irrelevant. Some of these are too strange for me not to type up. And that brings me to The Naga.

The Naga is a new English teacher (although that’s only part of her name) and it’s her first semester ever teaching. It is also her first semester teaching an English Conversation class with no text book and TWO foreign devils as assistants: yours truly and the Humorless (but very professional) Jamaican. This is a situation that would make many teachers pee themselves and drink cans of sake on the train home. I can empathize; two native speakers and no textbooks can be a bit scary.

Naga is 27 years old, two years younger than me. When we got our new shipment of English teachers I was told we had a young single gal. Jimmy, the other American, was told not to fall in love. I honestly didn’t figure out that The Naga was the young one for a few weeks. Jimmy immediately figured out that there was NO risk of him falling in love.

The Naga isn’t old in a way you can clearly identify, but you wouldn’t be surprised to find that she is single. She’s not ugly. Her skin is clear, her teeth are normal, her body is petite and thin. But there is something too sharp about her features to be called pretty or cute, yet not distinctive enough to be dramatic or memorable. She favors pastels, but somehow the combinations always suggest older Japanese mama-sans and not young pink OL’s. If I were to describe her I would say she looks efficient and tidy.

Who wants to look tidy?

At first I thought she didn’t speak much English. Planning classes with her tired us. The pauses in conversation stretched out across my lunch hours and blocked my way home. But I was wrong to think the silence was a lack of language comprehension.

I came to realize her language level was much higher than I had initially estimated; I had to change my theories. I thought the awkward jags were because she is shy, which is in part true. She and I had long talks about how she would have to take initiative and speak in class. How I would not MAKE her talk, but that if she remained silent our class would slaughter and disrespect her in the other classes she had with them. She learned and improved.

But the silence masked another, more monolithic, flaw. She does not have most of what I consider to be very basic social skills. Her inability to judge how to joke and make small talk quickly irritated some of our co-workers. Jimmy, who shares and office with her, no long speaks to her. She’s made one too many comments about his huge forehead and he has retaliated against rude comments in a very unproductive passive aggressive way. And a few days she made odd comments which lead Jimmy to think she was hitting on him. And for a while I defended her. I said her problem was some flaw in social skills and that he and others should perhaps lightly comment on what they find to be rude WHEN she says it…train her as it were. And I taunted Jimmy with the phrase “Don’t fall in loooove.”

I had to defend her because I have to teach with her. If I start feeling disrespect or frustration about her the students will be able to smell it on me. They’re perceptive. And if an ALT undermines the respect of a teacher it can be very hard to regain control of a classroom. Besides, I could afford to be kind, I’m leaving soon!

But the small talk wasn’t the worst of it. I began to feel like she was seeking me out to ask probing questions about my social life, views, and so on. She seemed to latch onto me after the Humorless Jamaican showed himself very skilled in diverting her questions. This in and of itself wasn’t that strange. I’m the other unmarried teacher her age. She may feel we have something in common or she may wish to adapt some of my traits…Who knows? I often felt like her questions were an attempt to live somewhat vicariously through me. We started to have very bizarre talks ranging from questions about mormons to iron intake to her habit of drinking hot water all day long. I learned all about her favorite TV series (Fuyu no Sonata) and the necklace she wears and how it is connected to this TV drama. I also began to learn that she’s got a semi secret love of Anime and Manga and I didn’t hide my own knowledge.

Around this time more teachers were admitting to finding her a bit above and beyond the usual level of creepy and odd. I mean, we’re English teachers in a Japanese high school. I don’t think high school teachers ANYWHERE are considered model citizens of normalcy. If you remember your high school teachers it is due to the eccentricities that either engaged you or turned you off to the subject. Teachers are freaks. Truth. And the primary complaints were thus: She asks very direct questions that are often too personal for our working environment, she maintains intense eye contact for a painfully prolonged time, she does not respect people’s personal boundaries.

Let's review those last two complaints with some cultural context. She maintains intense eye contact for a painfully prolonged time and she does not respect people’s personal boundaries…IN JAPAN…Japan is not a touchy feely place. Sober people in Japan do not touch each other often and have very clear boundaries of personal space and eye contact. ALT’s can tell you that the amount of casual physical touching of others decreases dramatically in the transition from elementary school to Jr. High to high school. And it is intuitively understood by all that if you are packed ass to crotch on the train that everyone compensates for the breaking of personal space by fastidiously creating mental space by not making eye contact with the other people on the train.

The Naga had been sitting and standing so close to some of the male teachers that they felt the need to leap from their desks and fling open the office doors so that nothing would be misunderstood…okay…Japan land of the institutional harassment and men are going out of their way to say HEY! Nothing is going on!

And while I defended her, it was becoming less helpful. I would just tell guys not to worry, because she did the same thing to me as well. When we’d have our strange talks she’d pull the chairs so close and lean towards me. At moments our faces were probably about a foot and a half apart.

The weirdness started a few weeks ago. One day, after talking about lesson plans, she turned away from the Jamaican and latched into me. She’d brought a manga and began asking me if I liked to read comics. I explained that, yes, I do, but I still need Japanese comics that use furigana ( small writing next to kanji to show pronunciation) because it is frustrating to have to stop and look up new kanji each time I come across one. With furigana I can learn the new pronunciation and meaning and then move quickly. She showed me the comic, explaining the story. I joined in, reading enough that she could glean my general level of Japanese. She offered to make copies and add all the furigana herself and I told her that she didn’t have to go through all that trouble, really. It was all very odd, but I figured she was just trying to make friends and help me out…something felt strange but I ignored it.

Next day she comes to my office again. She’s got a different comic. It’s a collection of stories that all take place at a girl’s school and a movie had been made of it I don’t remember the name of it. I’ve blocked it out. We continue to talk and she continues to sit almost in my lap. And she tells me there is a part she wants me to read. I humor her. I figured it was time to watch the gaijin read. The act of being watched when I read out-loud, and these tests of my skill and proficiency always reminds me of the dancing bear, as in “It’s not how well the bear dances that amazes people, but the fact that the bear dances at all!"

So, I start reading this scene. It is two girls. One is sad because she is tall and undesired by guys…the other girl begins to ask if it must be a guy who loves her…I start to falter. Yes, The Naga has brought me a comic and flipped it open and asked me to read a scene in which two girls begin to declare their love for each other. There is no context for why me, why her, why this scene. And when I end she just sort of smiles and the conversations continues in the rambling illogical way it always does when I speak to her…

While I was reading it I realized that had a male teacher asked me to read any sort of love scene I would have questioned him directly…if a hardcore gal was hitting on me in a way I understood, I also could have dealt with it…but this was so random and without any recognizable landmarks I just remained confused as to what had happened and what, if anything, it meant.

My boyfriend thinks it is hilarious and wants more answers. I continue to report her oddities to him…last week she called me and asked me to come to her office so she could ask some grammar questions. She pulled her chair so close to mine that our knees were touching and when I had finished and asked “will that be all?” she began to rapidly re-examine the text as if she wanted to ask more in order to prolong my time there.

I want to finish our classroom time together before I even think about asking “so, what the fuck?” I just had a class with her ( the Jamaican is on holiday) and after the class ended she was standing, in silence, with her tidy head tilted and her knees knocked inward in the Japanese little girl pose of helplessness and transfixed admiration and I felt like running, not asking.


parasitegirl: (Default)

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