Monday, February 17, 2014

5-Month Update

Saturday marked my fifth month in Japan, and I can’t believe it has already been a month since my last update. Time is flying by! It has been a crazy busy month at work (more on that later), so I haven’t seen or done much. Nevertheless, here are a few firsts of the last month:

*I got my first ever visit from Jehovah’s witnesses! They were visiting a neighbor when I got home from work and came over to talk to me. To be honest, I didn’t really realize who they were until they left—one was a Japanese woman whose English was decent and one was a Peruvian woman whose English was nonexistent. Needless to say, we had some communication difficulties.
*I got called a gaijin (foreigner) for the first time (to my face). This was surprising mostly because, before I came, the internet told me it would happen all the time and it hasn’t. In this instance, it was pretty harmless. We were practicing “My name is” and “Your name is” in class, and a student said jokingly, “My name is Nihonjin [Japanese]. Your name is Gaikokujin [foreigner].”
* I had my first experience with a public restroom with no toilet paper (not that they were out of toilet paper—that you were supposed to bring your own). Again, the internet told me that this would happen all the time, but this was the first time. It struck me as funny that this happened not in a small local place but in Nagoya Station, a huge transportation hub.
*I experienced my first snow in Japan! I woke up to an excited text from one of the other teachers (a southerner for whom snow is a big deal) saying, “It’s a winter wonderland outside!” I didn’t feel the need to frolic about in it like she did, but some of my students were excited about it that day. It was more slush than proper snow, and despite sleeting on and off all day, it was gone the next morning. It has actually snowed one more time since then, and my boss canceled classes for the day! The other teacher from Michigan laughed when I couldn’t understand why they were canceled over an inch of snow.

*Bonus not-first-time experience: this week, a random old man walked up to me at Seiyu (read: Japanese walmart), told me I was beauty [sic], asked where I was from, told me America is a great country, thanked me, and walked away. I’ve had a number of these brief, one-sided interchanges. I seem to attract harmless old men with limited English skills.
*I made chocolate from scratch for the first time! Giving chocolates for Valentine’s Day is a big tradition in Japan, and I decided to take on the challenge of making homemade chocolates for my friends and students. Most of my evenings last week were spent testing different, often frustrating chocolate recipes, but I finally created one that was perfect. I was ridiculously proud of myself for it!

Dark chocolate coating with two layers of milk chocolate truffle inside

Last weekend, I finally made it to the local library, which was small, bright, and so quiet I barely dared to breathe. I worked in my local library for four years before moving to Japan, so I was actually a little emotional about going. This library lacked Putnam’s historical feel, squeaky floors, and the smell of old books, but I wandered the shelves for a few minutes and it felt like home. The books were organized by the Dewey Decimal System, and it was nice to see those numbers again and pull up my mental card catalog. My friend helped me sign up for a card, and I checked out two children’s picture books in Japanese, one of which I returned because it was too difficult.

I went back to the library today and browsed the children’s books again. I stuck my head into the kids’ playroom for a minute and forgot to take my shoes off. I thought the two little boys inside were telling me off for that, but my friend told me they were saying I could come in. I also discovered a whole shelf of picture books in English. I considered (but ultimately passed on) Winnie the Pooh, but I steered my friend to Paddington Bear when she asked for a recommendation. Meanwhile, I was psyched to find this for myself:

After the library, we took a long walk along a riverside path that I had never gotten around to exploring. The river itself wasn’t very nice, but the surrounding area was interesting. It was quite beautiful even in winter, so I can’t wait to see it when the cherry blossoms are out. My friend showed me her old junior high school, which was along this route. Some girls were running laps around the school and they yelled hello to me—in English—because that’s apparently what you do when you see a white person. When we were out walking today, the same thing happened with some high school boys.

February in Nagoya

Visiting the library was the most exciting thing I’ve done all month, mostly because it has been crazy busy at work. At the end of January, we had student progress reports and 2-month plans due on the same day. Lesson planning proved rather frustrating this time around, because a lot of my students have finished their textbooks but can’t start a new one until new classes start in March. I’ve been putting in a lot of extra time making review worksheets and tests, and I can tell they’re getting anxious to move forward. New classes also means we have to write reports for any students transferring to another teacher’s class. I’m losing quite a few of my favorite students in the changeover, which is proving really difficult. I’m constantly surprised by how attached I am to them.

With new classes comes the departure of three teachers from the school and the entrance of three new ones. The new teachers started their training period on Friday, which was our snow day, so it was quite an easy first day for them. For their welcome party on Saturday night, we went to the same restaurant where we’d had my welcome dinner and gorged ourselves. I ended up at a table with two of the new teachers, so it was nice getting a chance to chat with them and get to know them.

Surprisingly good potato ice cream. Note the Thomas spoon; I was the only one at my table to get one.

After dinner, some of the veteran teachers (yes, I am no longer the newbie!) introduced the new teachers to karaoke. It was by far the craziest karaoke experience I’ve had to date, and I actually ended up leaving early because it was so loud and crowded in our little room. Nevertheless, I feel like our new coworkers were properly welcomed and initiated into the craziness that is Japan.

It hit me earlier this week that it has been almost exactly a year since my JET interview. Only a year. I can’t believe it has been only a year, because it feels like so long ago, almost like a different person ago. My class of three year olds got a new classmate a couple weeks ago, which really threw them for a loop. One of them is quite sensitive to change, and he has taken to following me around the classroom, climbing into my lap, pulling me over to sit next to him, and constantly saying, “Sensei” in such a sweet, unsure way that it breaks my heart. It struck me this week how amazing it is that this sensitive little boy—who still needs his mom to be in the classroom—now trusts me enough that I’m his comfort. It is little moments of realization like that that completely rock my world and make me remember the magnitude of everything that has happened since that interview a year ago. I can’t believe that my life is what it is right now, but I wouldn’t take back a single moment of it. [/end sappiness]