Sunday, October 6, 2013

Week 3 Recap

I set off by myself to explore the city and ended up just exploring stores within a four-block radius. I wandered around the neighborhood mall and bought something at The Gap (I think I’m doing Japan wrong), but I also bought a couple things that were made in China from a Japanese store with a French name—multiculturalism at its best. Because I had no idea about sizing, I ended up grabbing items at random off the clearance racks and, despite researching this very phenomenon before going, I forgot to take my shoes off before going into the dressing room. Baka gaijin.

After the mall, I headed over to browse a store the other teachers had told me about. It’s hard to find words to describe this place—it was like a party store (think kids’ birthday party, not liquor store), mini-Walmart, and paint factory explosion all rolled into one and condensed onto a single floor. It was quite crowded and a rather intense sensory overload. On my way back, I stopped at a couple parks near my apartment. By Michigan standards, they were a bit disappointing—rather sparse, unkempt greenery with a lot of sand—but it was nice to get a bit of the nature that I’m used to. Interestingly, they were both also raised a few feet above street level, affording a decent view of the area from the park benches.

Monday was also moving day for me—moving from the apartment I shared with another teacher during my training period into my own apartment. Though my trainer had originally planned to be moved out around 9 PM, that got pushed back to 11, 11:30, midnight, and then 12:30. This was fine with me, as I didn’t have to work early the next day and I know it’s no small task moving your life, and I eventually got moved in at 1 AM. Moving in was the first time I’d seen my new apartment, and I was relieved to find it beautiful and, surprisingly, just as big as my college apartment was. I’m no farther from the school than I was before, and it just so happens that my desk partner from work is my next-door neighbor.

Tuesday & Wednesday
My Tuesday classes were very low-key and eased me into my first day of full-teaching, which was quite uneventful. The students behaved, the lessons went well, and it was a very pleasant day of teaching.

Wednesday started off a little harder. My first class at the satellite school is a pre-kindergarten class of 3-year-olds. I was prepared for them to be rambunctious, and the parents watching through the window didn’t initially unnerve me like I thought it might, so the class started off pretty well. Near the end of class, though, two of the students got into a slap-fight. When I separated them, one stormed off and flopped down underneath the table and the other went to the window and started hitting it to get his mom’s attention. I kept the game going with the third student and eventually got the window-slapper back, too, but the girl wouldn’t come out from under the table until I changed activities. Even though I know the parents understand that these kids are very young and unpredictable, it was frustrating to have them watching the class when that happened.

Luckily, my next class went beautifully. This class is three upper elementary boys whose English skills are quite good. I asked them what their favorite video game was during the conversation portion, and they decided I was cool because I said mine was Mario Kart. Two of the moms came in to introduce themselves after class, and they were just the nicest women. Their English was decent but not so much so that we were able to carry on a regular conversation. More than once, one said something in half-Japanese, half-English and we worked it out between the three of us. It was very exciting—albeit in a dorky way—to be able to puzzle out those language barriers together, and talking with them was a really positive experience.

Thursday & Friday
Thursday morning, one of the Japanese staff members took me to open a bank account… sort of. In Japan, you can open a bank account at an actual bank and/or you can have a pseudo-bank account at the post office. With the latter, in an arrangement I still don’t quite understand, you have a bank book, an ATM card, a PIN, and all the other normal bank-type trappings with the added bonus of easier money transfers home. Since I couldn’t even tell when we first got there if we were in the bank or the post office, I just kind of went with it. I also used my stamp for the first time here! Whereas in America you sign documents to make them official, in Japan, you have a small, personalized stamp about the size of a dime. These stamps have four characters (usually your name in Kanji), but mine, as a foreigner, has my last name written in Kana (Kathleen was too long).

At work later on, a new student joined one of my classes. Though the Japanese staff had tested her ability and placed her where she needed to be, it was strange for me because she was the only student on whom I had no notes about classroom behavior or strengths and weaknesses. It turned out quite well. She was joining in by the end of class, and the Japanese staff at the desk said she was telling her mom that she had fun.

After my Saturday classes (which also went well!), I went out with one of the other teachers and a couple of his friends. Being the country bumpkin that I am, the subway is still an unparalleled adventure for me, and being introduced to the weekend pass did not diminish my awe (anywhere in Nagoya for 600 yen?! This is the best thing ever!). We met up with his friends after a 30-minute train ride into a city neighborhood called Imaike and walked to dinner. The restaurant was quite similar to others I’ve been to here where the food comes in small portions (e.g. two small skewers of 4 bites of chicken each), so we got a big variety. His friends—two Japanese women—were a lot of fun and quickly deemed my name far too difficult for Japanese to pronounce. Sidenote: We got unlimited refills on our table’s bowl of chopped cabbage with dressing, which is a far cry from, say, Olive Garden’s unlimited breadsticks. This is why Americans are fat. We also found a cockroach crawling up the wall by our table and, instead of demanding our meal be comped or calling the Health Department, we simply moved to another table.

Disclaimer: if you tend to worry, the next part may be hard for you. I debated back and forth about whether or not I should edit this story more, but I decided I want this to be an honest chronicle of all my experiences here—good, bad, and strange. Please know that I went in with my eyes open and, though parts of the night were very bizarre, at no point was I in any danger.

After dinner (and a random creeper hitting on our Japanese friends at the subway station), we went to a club (or, more specifically, got lost trying to find said club and eventually stumbled upon someone else headed there). It was okay—very small and easy to navigate—but it was very much a foreigner bar (translation: a place the slimiest foreign guys go to pick up Japanese girls who like their foreign-ness. Case in point: the creeper from the subway station was there, hitting on everything that moved). However, because we had missed the last train (which leaves before midnight), the station didn’t reopen for six hours, and not many places in the area stayed open past 2 or 3 AM while this one was open until 5, we decided to stick it out.

Because it was very hot and very crowded, I spent most of the night on the couches lining the perimeter of the room, talking to my friends and warding off the occasional guy who was striking out with the Japanese girls. At one point, the subway creeper tried to hit on me in the bathroom and another guy stepped in and stopped him, so apparently we weren’t the only decent people in the place. Later on, my friend and I sat in the corner and people-watched, waxing philosophic about human nature in a way you can only do at 4 in the morning while Austin Powers plays on the big screen in the background. All in all, it was a very surreal experience.

When it got close to closing time, we headed to Denny’s (yes, that Denny’s). Even though it wasn’t even 5 AM, the city was already getting light. After getting lost again—this time in a light rain—we discovered that Denny’s in Japan either (A) doesn’t focus on breakfast or (B) focuses only on Japanese-style breakfast. The menu was composed mainly of rice, noodle, and soup dishes, with one lonely French toast option, two egg dishes, and a single small pancake listing in the back with the desserts. Nevertheless, the food was good. When we were getting ready to leave, a man from the other side of the restaurant—who we later learned was deaf—gave my friend and me a handwritten letter welcoming us to Japan and the wonderful city of Nagoya. It was strange—in keeping with the theme of the night—but so nice and sincere that I didn’t know what to say.

My friend and I were back in the station shortly after 6 AM, on a train at 6:13 (thank you, Japanese punctuality), and split off to our separate apartments shortly before 7. I immediately collapsed and slept the day away (writing this post is literally all I’ve done today besides laundry). Weirdly enough, the doorbell rang while I was trying to sleep. After the third time, I dragged myself to the peephole in time to see someone in a work uniform of some kind leaving. I admit, I didn’t open the door and call after him. It could have been something for which I actually needed to open the door—I can’t exactly read the notices that come through my mail slot—but I didn’t feel too bad; the last time I answered the door, my friend took me to a foreigner bar and kept me out all night. The time before that, a man tried to sell me meat.

The view from my bedroom window--I couldn't resist watching the sun rise over the city before I went to sleep

Weekend Reflections
All in all, it was a tiring but encouraging week. I struggled with fatigue most of the week, but that was simply because I was stupid and kept staying up late. I still pulled some longer days this week, but I shouldn’t need to do that much longer now that I can actually plan during my planning periods. A couple discipline problems cropped up with my younger students this week, but they were the exception; for the most part, I haven’t seen much of the testing-of-the-new-teacher that I was dreading. I’ve also had some problems with time management in my classes, but I doubt that will be a problem once I get a better feel for what classes need the most time on what.

I admit, I was skeptical when my trainer said I’d feel totally prepared to take over after two weeks of training, but that has certainly turned out to be true. A lot of this can be attributed to the good system at the school—a detailed syllabus, coursework that makes sense, a clear organizational system for materials—and to my trainer, who worked so very hard to make sure I had everything I needed before she left. Whatever the reason, I am much more comfortable in my position than I thought I would be at this point, and I can honestly say I really like my job!