when deer attack

23 05 2008

I’ve reached a point of stagnation with my cultural adaptation.  I think it’s mostly a language thing, but I basically spent the last four hours in a car on the way to eat with the other junior high school teachers, sitting quietly and zoning out to different things that we drove past.  Maybe it’s just one of those nights where nothing makes sense, but I didn’t understand any of what was said except a few sentences here and there.

In the past Japanese people I was at parties with would make a special effort to ensure that I felt included, and while I still get the occasional question about life in America (which I usually don’t understand and thus can’t answer), it’s more likely that they just assume that my Japanese has somehow gone from piecemeal to fluency overnight, are taken aback when I don’t understand something, and then give up.

Someone pointed out that it’s actually a skill in itself, speaking to foreign people in your own language too.  I try not to change my English too much in the classroom, but in day-to-day conversations, I certainly do.  I’m also almost positive that the Japanese people that I understand the easiest, speak to me differently than they do to their friends.

Anyway, this recent feeling of exclusion topped with the other events of the night—ditching taiko to go with the junior high teachers, being in a car that hits a deer on the way to restaurant and the two-hour aftermath thereof, finally getting to the restaurant and being stared at by people at another table—hasn’t left me in the best of moods.

I’m sure this’ll pass, just like every other funk I get into.  It’s just a pain in the ass that as the capstone of an otherwise great week, I once again feel like the black sheep.  Well, I am, but that’s beside the point.

Did other people who have spent time abroad in equally homogenous cultures (do they exist?) find themselves feeling this way?  Like tired of always being the odd one out?  Or have any other points of view on the matter?  Do share.


hello america

22 04 2008

Thinking about my two-week vacation to America is fucking with my head more than I thought it would.  About a week ago, I was swearing off my job about how boring it was, and how I had no friends in my town blah blah blah cry me a river.  And now, all of a sudden, I’m a perky as a percolator.  What happened?

Well, honestly nothing.  I’m not doing any more or less work at school (well, today I had to grade the first years’ handwriting assignments and save a student from a nose bleed of epic proportions).  Last weekend was plain Jane—I met up with friends and watched It (not scary!).  I’m not running any more or less than usual.  So my conclusion is that it has to be the fact that I’m flying home tomorrow.  For a VACATION.  Time off.  No plans (OK, minimal plans).  No work.  No studying.  No linguistic crises.  Staring at other people instead of being stared at.

But, it’s not like I planned this trip home on Monday.  I’ve had it in the works for months now, so I guess the only difference is its proximity.  The time is nigh.  I must pack.  I must print my tickets.  I must GET MONEY FROM THE ATM OF DOOM.

The irony of it though, is that now that my spirits are lifted (because of the trip?), I’m feeling energetic at work and thus a little guilty for leaving while things are on the upswing.  Rather than the usual of just being different, I feel like I’m making a difference (especially with my first year students who have just started learning English).  I suppose this is a good thing; at least I won’t be dreading my return and staying for another 14 months after that.

On a slightly related topic—if you’re someone I’ve lost contact with and you want to meet up during my break, just email me and I’ll try to work out a time.  I’ll be in the United States in various States (of the union) and states (of mind) from April 24th to May 8th.

blogging about tv.

14 04 2008

In case you ever wondered what watching Japanese TV was like, let me take you through the last bit of channel surfing I just did.

I started watching something innocuous—a game show where they have a giant screen in front of the contestants projecting their “opponents:” a giant shackled wooly mammoth, a panda armed with nunchucks, and a T-Rex that shoots sword-wielding fireballs.  And the questions?  Well, things like, reading really difficult kanji and translating REALLY easy English words.  I think ALTs all over the country let out collective sighs when the conestant couldn’t translate the word 銀行 (ginkou, “bank”), but instead just said “I think so too” over and over.  At least I won’t feel so bad about not making English professors out of these kids.

Then I caught a few minutes of a show where famous male actors went on dates with unknowing regulars and acted like total assholes until the women broke up with them in a fantastic shower of spilled drinks, thrown purses and slaps.

Next there was a show where women stopped other random women on the street and told them what was wrong with their outfits.  No makeovers, no free shopping sprees—just what was wrong.

Then there was this other game show where the contestants were on a treadmill, and every question another contestant answered, the non-answerers’ treadmills’ speed would increase.  Well, until they couldn’t take it and fell on their face.

Now the members of SMAP (J-Pop phenom) have cooked for young ice skating superstar Mao Asada, and in return have been put on a machine that spins at the same speed she spins during her triples.  There’s a lot of screaming, but no vomit yet.  I’m watching and waiting.  Oh wait.  Now they’re hiding in fear trying to play against Japan’s Olympic table tennis superstar, Ai Fukuhara.  They’ve also managed to offend her coach by nicknaming him nikuman (“meat dumpling”).

But the winner for the night?  An hour-long program (well, I couldn’t honestly watch for more than a few seconds between other channels) about EAR CLEANING.  Proper tools.  Proper technique.  Frequency.  Depth.  Unassisted or assisted by your wife.  For an hour.  WTF?

I usually live these days not thinking about where I am, but night like this remind me that I am totally in Japan.  Totally.


13 04 2008

I finally added the last entry from winter vacation, aptly titled the last night.  Aren’t I witty?

random, old newspaper clippings

13 04 2008

I lied. These aren’t random at all.

Front page of the Hidaka Shimbun

I managed to make the front page of the local (3 page) paper.

Can you read it?

Hidaka shimbun. This time I got sub-prefectural coverage.

Page 28 of the prefectural newspaper

Page 28 of the Hokkaido newspaper. Who knew running a marathon was such a big deal?

the birds

5 04 2008

I was waiting for a friend outside Sapporo Station, just people (and bird) watching. This large (really large by Japanese standards) man comes and sits a few benches away from me and begins feeding the pigeons. Not a big deal. I’ve seen this before.

Some junior high girls come too and whip out a bag of bread from their backpack and begin feeding the pigeons too. I guess I had stumbled into a pigeon feeding convention or something. I guess, though, that there’s a lack of stigma with pigeons here that there is in cities in the States. This man was totally content, not only with feeding the birds, but with having them climb all over him to get at the bread waiting in his hands. The girls were the same way.

And I guess I was too. One of the girls suddenly comes up to me and puts a piece of bread in my hand, which was immediately followed by five or six pigeons. I could have been grossed out by it, but I was really just enjoying the weather and noticing how interaction with animals has such an effect on me (and other people too, it seems).

If they had crapped on me this’d be a different story.

fat man and the birds

taken on my phone–pardon the lowish quality


20 03 2008

For some reason, I’ve come to Japan and turned into the dumbest driver on Earth.  In the States, I had a flawless record, and while technically that’s still the case (the police have yet to officially get involved), I have managed one-up even last weekend’s antics.

Yesterday while driving in Tomakomai, I tried to follow what looked like a short cut on the most accurate map in Japan.  Not accurate enough.  I found myself driving around some random industrial park trying to make my way back to a highway.  I don’t know why I didn’t just turn around.  Part of me wanted to prove that the map wasn’t all that bad and that somehow, somewhere, these gravel roads next to unused train tracks would reconnect to the highway whose bridge I could see in the not-too-far distance.  Well, it didn’t.  The only thing I found was a pile of snow.

It was a bit deeper than I thought.  No matter how much I dug out from under my tires, or how hard I ran my engine, there was no removing my car from this mini-mountain of snow.  Quickly getting over any sense of pride I had, I called my supervisor who warned me it would be an expensive, difficult endeavor to get my car out.  Not wanting to spend any money, while he looked up phone numbers, I went exploring this industrial park on a Sunday to find it appropriately desolate, except for three men shootin’ the breeze.

Three men shootin’ the breeze at a TRUCK company!  A truck company which sold TOW trucks.  So, for 0 yen and 0 cases of beer, these two men dragged my car off of its little mountain and I went merrily along my way.  I think they were excited to having something to do on an otherwise uneventful Sunday in a deserted industrial park, and I was glad to not to give up my first-born son or be stuck in the middle of nowhere forever.

It’s a good thing I’ve been practicing Japanese, or I’d have no car, no children and no composure.