Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Side effects of living in Japan may include...

...An incredibly high expectation of what your toilet (and other bathroom appliances) should be able to do;
If I got hit on the head tomorrow and forgot everything I've learned in Japan, the first thing that would jog my memory would be a Japanese toilet. Or rather, the sentient beings that hide in our bathrooms and pass themselves off as our toilets. I SWEAR that they know too much. Toilets in Japan know you're coming. They warm (or cool) themselves according to the temperature in the room. Some make flushing sounds when you sit down to hide your more embarrassing bowl movement noises. They NEVER flush too quickly or too slowly. Some even produce amusing jingles while you're sitting down and leaving. Some actually talk. There is always toilet paper, and ALMOST always an extra back-up roll in case of emergencies.

I've been to bathrooms where I never touched a single surface. The washroom door has a motion sensor, as does the stall door. The toilet does a song and dance for you, and thanks you in Japanese for "depositing your waste." The soap and water are all motion sensored-- and the hand dryer can see you coming a mile away. This highly automated experience can leave you expecting more from the world of toilets. And can devastate you when you visit, say, Thailand, where they're idea of a toilet is a hole in the ground with a murky bucket of water next to it.

...Temporary loss of awareness that you might be saying a double entendre;
This point may only resonate with my fellow gaijin living here. As a foreigner, you come to expect that people don't understand what you're saying. Especially if you're talking at the normal speed (and with all the slang) of a native speaker. I have had many instances where I've been sitting in a coffee shop with a fellow foreigner having a fast-paced conversation...and I blurt out something that can only be described as a Tobias Funke. (See here and here and here if you don't know what I'm talking about). Most people back home would immediately point out the obvious awkward moment, but here it gets unnoticed. And so, I get sloppy. I'm probably going to get eaten alive by my fellow cunning linguists when I go home...

...Partial loss of basic grammar in your first language;
Dealing with people that usually don't understand you unless you carefully pace your words with well thought-out sentences leaves you a bit between a rock and a hard place. As an English teacher, you want to only express yourself in the Queen's English, to give your students the best English experience possible. But sometimes it's just better to cut to the chase. Pronouns go first. Then functional words, or the "in-betweenies", like 'a', 'to', 'in', and 'the'. ESPECIALLY if you're in a bar late at night and you don't give a sh*t. Then functional grammar goes out the window (which is an idiom that no one understands here by the way), and you're left trying to convey that "yes, you DO understand what he/she said, and yes, you'll have another beer."
The fact that the Japanese language doesn't usually use pronouns AT ALL totally doesn't help. Japanese people that kind of understand English actually tend to understand it better if you use it more in the style of Yoda (WHO ACTUALLY SPOKE GRAMMATICALLY CORRECTLY- IF YOU'RE JAPANESE). Nouns first, Verbs second. But I digress.

...Hypersensitivity to body language and vocal tones;
If you've ever been in the presence of a group of people that aren't speaking your language, you'll notice that you can still pick up on their body language and their tone of voice. And if they're talking about you, you might even get that tingling sensation around your ears.
Living in a country where you can't understand anyone at first, you develop a sixth sense for what people are talking about. It's actually a brilliant life lesson. It took a total culture shock experience for me to REALLY understand how people were feeling around me. The uncomfortable shift of the lady sitting next to you. The twitch of a smile at the edge of someones mouth as they tell you a story. I never really realized the true importance of these little gestures until I came to Japan. To say that I was completely unaware of them would be an overstatement. I was oblivious. Now I'd like to think that I've gained some understanding in this unspoken form of communication. And it's a lesson I'll never forget.

...Uncontrollable urges to cover your mouth when you laugh;
This is just a ridiculous habit I've picked up while living here. I kind of hate myself for doing it, because I think it implies a shyness that I don't actually possess. But I do it anyways. It's just how things are done here.

On a completely unrelated note (cause that's how we do)... Christmas has invaded Japan. And it's not really Christmas. It's the twilight-zone version of Christmas. It's as if an ad-rep from Coke-a-f*cking-cola came to Japan and told them what Christmas should look like, and Japan complied as best they could. Because another opportunity to exploit commercialism doesn't go wasted here. If you give people the excuse to buy unnecessary sh*t, they will.

So there's Christmas lights, but no snow. There's Santa, but he's dressed in like Kolnel Sanders. And oh yes, they eat KFC AND CAKE for Christmas. So needless to say, I've been feeling mighty homesick for an actual Christmas. Despite what the other gaijin are saying;

I went to a beautiful park a week ago, and all the fall leaves were still on the trees. It's the first time in my life I've seen daffodils in December, so I'm going to post them. Mom, this is for you;

 I'd just like to point out that someone took the time and incredible effort to outline these puddles with white tape so that people wouldn't get their feet wet. I may critique Japan sometimes, but it's little things like this that makes me love this country more than anything.
Hey look, kids! It's Santa! Or Kolnel Sanders! Or just some white guy in a funny suit!

Lots of love, and goodnight :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dr. No

They tell us from day one that we shouldn't make friends with our students.

"It's messy. Too many problems could arise. It's best just to maintain a professional relationship."

Well that's all well and good, but reality dictates otherwise. As teachers, we create a bond with our students. We are supportive and friendly, and sometimes we connect to them outside that "strictly professional" relationship. And I'm not trying to suggest anything pervy here. Simple human connections are formed. We meet them for drinks. We share personal information. We talk. The word "bonding" comes to mind, but I don't like it.

Anyways, there is a student at one of my schools who has taken a shine to me. He's an exemplary student, always does extra homework, and makes a genuine effort to learn. I like him. I admire his ability (mostly because my inherent laziness says I could never be as good as him). In his day job he's a doctor, and a brilliant one at that. So when he requested more lessons from me, I was happy to oblige, despite my co-workers teasing that he was interested in "more" (that means my BOOBS, for those of you too dense to tell).

One day I was walking home from work, I take a deliberately long route home since it's the only legitimate exercise I get, and he pulls up in his SUPER expensive hey-look-I'm-a-doctor-car alongside me and offers me a ride to the station. I declined, since I was genuinely interested in my walk and trying to maintain that professionalism that the company is always pushing. Although a week later was a different story; I had seriously bad blisters on the backs of my ankles from a misadventure involving wet running socks the day before, and I had just missed the bus.

So I was walking in a constant state of pain, and seriously considering hailing a taxi- when he pulls up again, with the same offer and a cheery smile. I practically jumped through his window. What happened next was perfectly appropriate and nice. He was a gentleman; making small talk and talking about English lessons. He drove me to the station (I made a point of not letting him drive me all the way home), and said goodbye.

Flash-forward a couple months. Every Saturday, and sometimes Sundays on my walk home, he pulls up in his SUPER-AWESOME-SUPER-EXPENSIVE-MERCEDES-CONVERTIBLE and offers me a lift. And now, after accepting 5 or 6 rides, I can't say no. We've created a bond. We're friendly (and still always courteous). But sometimes I WANT to say no. Sometimes I want to say "please fuck off, I'm having a grand old time walking down this street, and yes, I'm fully aware of how ridiculous it looks."

So now I kind of dread walking home. Which is a shame, since it's one of my favourite parts of the day. It's my 5 km moment of solitude- away from overly-cheerful children, and fake-smiling Japanese moms constantly judging me. I catch myself looking over my shoulder for that oh-so-f*cking-beautiful imported car. I'm torn between this super nice doctor and his shiny automobile and my moment of bliss. But then yesterday, SHIT GOT WEIRD.

It was pouring rain (because in Japan, it rains in November, apparently). I was waiting at the bus stop to go home, but I had 30 minutes to kill before it got there. I decided to check out the bus schedule on the other side of the street, heading in the opposite direction, since they both ultimately end at a train station, and even though it would take a little longer, it would eventually lead to home. While I was on the wrong side of the street, I saw the doctor in his white mercedes driving down the route I would usually take to walk home. Which means that I missed him- my opportunity for a ride home that day, in the pouring rain. I wasn't particularly opposed to the idea of missing him, but I definitely saw HIM driving HIS CAR down the street away from me. I then proceeded to cross back to my side, and wait for the bus.

10 MINUTES LATER, HE PULLS UP. IN FRONT OF ME. As if I hadn't seen him drive off earlier and he was just "in the neighbourhood." Now, this set off some alarm bells in my head. Why the hell had he doubled back? This is a one lane road with nothing interesting on it. HE WAS LOOKING FOR ME. Now, am I total dick for thinking of this as suspect? Are my years of cynicism finally catching up to me? All signs point to yes... but then again...

So now I'm conflicted. Should I cut off all contact with this doctor-fellow before he gets the wrong idea? I have absolutely no interest in him other than for friendly discussion, and of course, the occasional free ride. But as they say... Gas, Grass or Ass; Nobody rides for free. I'm truly conflicted.

ON A TOTALLY UNRELATED NOTE!!!!! I HAVE DISCOVERED A COVEN OF FOREIGNERS IN UTSUNOMIYA. They are fantastic, and welcomed me with open arms and a rather overly-complicated hazing ritual, which involved capture-the-flag and a pizza parlour. It turns out that I am NOT the only white chick living here, as I once suspected. There are five of us. Here is photographic evidence;
Technically, this is only one person. But proof of one will have to be proof of all for now. We went to a sushi-train restaurant. This is how much sushi we ate. For serious.

This place is adorable. Little plates of food pass you by constantly, and you can pick up whatever you like and eat it. If you like, you can order something special, and it's sent out on a yellow bowl just for you, and it makes music when it reaches your table. Each plate is 105 yen. T'was awesome. T'will be back.

There was also an incident with a highly aggressive and territorial fish at a restaurant, but that's a story for another day.

The human did not win the staring contest.

Then there's this;
 "Pungency." For all your highly aromatic-tea needs.
 Pretty trees in November. Autumn makes me miss the maple leaves back home, but then I realize "Hey, it's November, and you're all freezing your a$$es off knee-deep in snow right now."

And this is a new friend. She says goodnight :)