Saturday, April 26, 2008

Don't deny me my sweet moment....

Last night we had one of our work Beginning of the (School) Year/Welcome parties. I say one as there are actually three I'll be attending. Last night's was for our "dispatch" company (they hire us and then contract us out to the schools), a total of eight native English speakers and my husband as an honorary guest. The second party will be for the English teachers at the school and the final, for all the staff at the school.

This was not the best time of year to give up alcohol.

I really enjoyed last night for the company. It was great to catch up with the four teachers that work at the other school our company supplies teachers for. All the boys (there were seven guys and only two of us girls) really enjoyed the food. It was an all-you-can-eat meat (yaki-niku) and all-you-can-drink beer night. After living in Japan for a couple of years and eating little meat, my body can only process small quantities. It was also, however all-you-can-eat vegetables night. Mmm.. maybe they should have said all-you-can-eat beansprouts. Our plate of raw meat arrived with the vegetables - a huge pile of bean sprouts with a couple of pieces of carrot, pumpkin, cabbage, onion (cut too thickly so when you cook it on the flaming BBQ plate it's burnt on the outside and raw on the inside), capsicum and eggplant. We finished those and while the boys were ordering more meat and beer, us girls wanted some more vegetables. Our platter came with, I kid you not, another huge pile of beansprouts, a single small piece of pumpkin, a single small piece of eggplant, some more inedible onion and two small pieces of cabbage. I was hungry so I filled up on beansprouts (something I'm regretting today - that's a lot of fibre!) while sipping my green tea.

Don't get me wrong, the boys, and especially my husband, were in heaven. Our boss also very generously paid for it all.

After our two hours at the restaurant, we were off to a second venue. We made it into a cute little bar. There was a guitar and a couple of the guys took turns playing it. The drinks were flowing and again, despite really wanting a drink, I was very controlled and sipped my ginger ale instead. I got a chance to really talk to a couple of the guys that I only see at events like this and it was really great to catch up.

Before long it was time to go to the subway to make sure we didn't miss the last train home. I stopped at the convenience store on the way. After watching everyone else enjoy food and drink all night, I really just wanted something a little special to enjoy myself. As I've also given up chocolate, a small Haagen Daaz caramel ice cream sandwich seemed like the perfect choice.

On the platform, I took the first delicious bite. Ahh... heavenly sweetness filled my mouth. It was like a drink of cool, clear water after walking in the desert. The train came, we sat down and Adrianne and my husband started chatting away. I sat in the middle to busy savouring the flavour of my treat to talk. A Japanese man sat across from us. He watched us. Then in very well-pronounced English he interrupted, "Excuse me."

We thought he was going to ask us something, thought he wanted to know where we were from or to practice his English. It happens sometimes.

But no, instead, he looked at me directly and said "I'm very sorry, but in Japan, you can't eat on the train. You can't eat that. I'm sorry, but you can't do that in Japan."

I looked at my ice cream, the first thing I was enjoying the consumption of all evening and wanted to cry. Instead, I meekly folded it into its little plastic bag, placed it into it's paper box and let it start to melt, uneaten.

Luckily, at the next stop, he jumped out. As Adrianne said, it's most unlikely that he would have been so confronting if he wasn't about to escape the situation. I quickly got out my ice cream and enjoyed the rest of it even more for its added guilty pleasure status. It is so rare that a Japanese person will have enough confidence in their English to speak up like that, and even rarer for them to tell you you're doing something wrong. Why, of all nights, of all trains, of all carriages, did he have to sit across from me?

Last night, as I slept, I had a nightmare. We were in medieval times. Wayne was a knight and for some reason, we were in hiding for a few months. We were in a lovely little forest, very Robin Hood like. There was only one place to eat, and it was the only place to get food of any sort. We went up to find out the menu for dinner that evening. It was beansprouts. Beansprouts only. I decided we wouldn't eat that night.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Roll Call

You die! You Suck!

It feels really strange calling that out in class. But in fact, they are the names of two of my students this year; Yudai and Yusaku.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Seki Festival

Seki city, nestled in the base of Gifu Prefecture, with a lovely mountain backdrop, holds a special place in my heart. It was where I lived for my first year in Japan. It isn't a terribly exciting city, nor especially beautiful. But it has a wonderful sense of community and I made some very close friends there who will remain dear to me for the rest of my life.

Traditionally, Seki was a sword making town and in modern times has turned that trade into the creation of superior quality knives and other blades. Much of the city is involved in knife production in one way or another.

In April, they hold their Spring festival. This year, in the afternoon, dance teams from the Nagoya Do Matsuri performed for the crowd before the evening's event. What I love about this festival, is that the floats are different every year. There is a yearly competition between companies to create different floats and they are paraded down the old main street for judging. The floats are like giant lanterns, usually lit from the inside and sometime created to open up or have moving parts.

Even the dogs had dressed up for the night.

The floats are not pulled, but rather carried through the streets. Behind each float was a beer or sake cart to stop the boys from getting thirsty along the way. The further the float gets along the street, the wilder the path of the float becomes.

I had to take this shot for Contamination. Knew he'd like it.

There was one traditional float.

The Zenmai Zamurai made an appearance.

This was my favourite float of the night. The knife moved back and forth and the dragon's head up and down.

In this sword-making town, there had to be at least one sword-themed float.

The sword float opened up to reveal two moving puppets making swords in the traditional way and in Shinto dress.

This float was a lot like those in the Mino Spring Festival.

A Shachihoko. The mythical beast that adorns the rooftop of the Nagoya Castle.
As I will be saying a lot this year, sadly, this will be our last time in a while to go to this festival. I will miss it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pants optional

At the Gifu festival I went to a couple of weeks ago, it seems that pants were optional. There were lots of bare bums (some good, some I would have rather NOT have seen), but I only took a photo of a couple. I'd feel a bit like the pervey gaijin if I took any more....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A piece of paper soaked in pee

You just know it's going to be a great day when your school schedule declares it to be "Urine Analysis Day".

Yep, time for the school's annual health check.
While a full medical is not high on my list of fun things to do, I still get one every year in Australia. Unlike the one I'm subjected to at school however, it is done in the privacy of my doctor's office and with someone who has full knowledge of not only my own, but also my family's medical history. The school one is a generic, everyone has the same type of test.

To be honest, I'm not sure why we have to have them. I have asked, but was given an answer along the lines of "just because".

A problem I find with the school health check is that it is supposed to be confidential, and it is for all of the Japanese staff. For us native teachers of English (NTE) however, there are language difficulties. There is no way we can read the questionnaire and so have to sit down to answer the multitude of questions to our boss. Last year, in the staff room, in front of one of my male New Zealander workmate, he asked "Are you menstruating now?".

In my first year at the school, after answering all the questions, we had a blood test (they made a terrible mess of my arm), our weight taken, our heart monitored (and I was left the next day with a chest dotted with bruises), our waist is measured (though not our hips, which hardly gives an accurate waist to hip ratio for this curvy western woman), hearing and sight checked, retina photographed, blood test, blood pressure checked, a chest x-ray and of course the urine test.

Ahh... my personal favourite, today's namesake - the urine test. Bear in mind that all of these tests are not been done in a doctor's office or hospital, but rather within the school. The first couple of years we were handed a plastic cup and a strip of paper and sent off to the girl's toilets. We pee, soak the paper, empty the cup, and then come back, down the school corridors, passing students eager to say hello, with a piece of paper soaked in our own pee. Welcome to Urine Analysis Day. I find it interesting that it's called that rather than "Health Check Day", but maybe everyone else is equally as traumatised by it as myself, so that's the part that sticks out. Honestly, I've been having nightmares about it for the last week!

Another part of the day's fun was the TB x-ray. The machine came in a van which was driven onto school property. Once in the van, I was asked to take off my bra (because of any metal parts that are in it). I tried to wrestle out of it but not given much privacy by the radiologist. All the while I was in front of an open door, screened only by a thin curtain flapping in the wind with the baseball team on the other side.

This year, I'm seeking permission from the school to be excused from the x-ray. For personal reasons that I feel very strongly about, I am avoiding any x-rays unless in an emergency. Even though Japan has low rates of TB, I can understand and admire their reasons for wanting to be cautious. I'm asking if I can instead take a TB skin test. In my own time, at my own expense. I should get the answer on that one tomorrow. Cross your fingers for me.
Today's health check was actually quite quick and painless. I filled out the for with the help of one of the female Japanese teachers with the rest of the NTEs. We kind of just copied answers off each other. My friend laughed at how silly it was to be cheating off a friend on a health test. In the nurses room, our height and weight was measured, eyesight, hearing and blood pressure checked and then could use the bathroom in the nurses office for the pee test. All done!

The last couple of years, I've been given the all clear with just a note telling me that I should "change (my) life". Let's see what I get this year!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Happy New (School) Year!

Last week, here in Japan, the new school year began. As an Aussie, having grown up with the school year starting in line with the new calendar year, I find an April start a little strange. Having just come out of a horribly depressing Japanese winter however, I find the starting of a new chapter with the new signs of life a lovely idea.

I've only met a few of my classes so far. It's great seeing all the fresh new faces, especially the first grade junior high kids. They are so excited and so open to being entertained. The boys are looking swamped in their new school jackets, jackets bought in a size for them the grow into. In class, the blurting out of "My name is ..." is a thrill and an achievement to get excited about.

For me though, I'm starting this new year with mixed feelings. I know that I have one more year here. Part of me is excited and planning all the things I want to do and see in that time. The other part of me feels a bit like I'm trapped in a Groundhog Day moment.

Let me go back for a moment. My trip to Australia in spring holidays was great. Brisbane was really quiet as I was there over the Easter long weekend, a time when most Brisbanites get out of the city. Most of my time there was spent sorting out some business stuff and catching up with friends. One of my friends even had her baby while I was there, so I got a chance of seeing the new mum and meeting the gorgeous new arrival before flying out. Another friend is pregnant, and has just moved into her new house. Others have bought new properties, have new children, or children have grown up since I saw them last. There's a great sense of momentum in the lives of my friends and family.

Now I've come back to Japan. I'm teaching exactly the same lessons I taught last year and the year before that. Last year, when I was teaching them, I told myself it was the last time. Not in a bad way, but this time last year, we thought that we'd still be in Japan, but I wouldn't be working and would be starting a family. Now, one year later, I'm back doing the same thing, telling myself that my family will begin next year. You know those scenes they have in movies sometimes where someone stands really still and everything around them is rushing by. That's a bit how I feel right now.

Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to be excited about. There are festivals coming up, seasons that will change, lots of inspiration to soak up and preparations to do before the starting of a family. It's just that today, I'm having a little trouble remembering those things.