Monday, October 22, 2007

The Big City

As I sit in my local Internet cafe eating the complementary Miso soup and drinking unlimited glasses of coke, I decided it was time I graced the pages of my poor neglected blog. While I can't guarantee anyone will read it (and nor would I blame them since the last entry was May!) I'm going to give it a try.

This August presented me with some of the hardest months I've yet had to face. Moving house and starting a new job is always taxing, doing it in Japan was certainly interesting, and if things weren't stressful enough my year and a half relationship came to a somewhat messy end at the beginning of September. Finding myself alone and penniless in the big city was intimidating, and part of me wanted to throw in the towel there and then, head back to the UK and try again at home. As soon as I started taking the baby steps of a New Start though, it all began to fall back into place, and while there are still rocky patches, I'm slowly making my way down the mountain I thought I was stuck upon only a month ago. Here are just a few of the reasons I managed to stand firm in Japan.

My New Job

My two years of working on Goto never really felt like real work. I never felt respected as a teacher (except at Primary school) and I was tired of spending days at Junior High School sat at a desk wishing I could be at home doing something productive. For 2 years the work was bearable because the community and cultural experience of living on an island was so rich. I would never change my placement and have no regrets about my time there. I had, however, grown tired of doing nothing but make endless lists of things I should do (and could have done had I been able to use e-mail at work or been at home) and that's one of the reasons I moved. Seiha is a world away from the work I was doing before, and while I'm getting paid less, I'm happy. Everyday I work at a different school, and the classes are full of singing, dancing, games, and the students English is great! Some days are long, and catching the right bus can be a bit of a mission. My Wednesday morning often begins with a 10 minute stress, running from bus to bus asking if it goes to Himi, before I finally find the right one! Some days involve long train or bus rides, and others have lots of downtime between morning and afternoon classes. which is fine when I'm close to home but a bit pants when I'm further away. The Japanese teachers I work with are all really fun though. I love that I have someone different to chat to everyday, and that there English is good enough to joke and natter together. My favourite days are at Yumesaito, the shopping mall near my house. Those classes are always full of fun and enthusiasm and the teachers have great lesson ideas, plus the food court on the bottom floor has amazing foods from different countries with lots of free samples, yum! I really like feeling like a real worker, heading into work with everyone else at the start of the day, knowing people rely on me and respect me as a real teacher. No job is perfect, but I'm certainly enjoying this one.

My new Apartment.

I was originally supposed to be living with my now ex-boyfriend when I arrived back in Japan, but the break-up meant I had to find a new place all by myself. Thankfully the housing company I went to were really lovely and very patient about any communication problems. They found me a lovely little place only 7 minutes from the city centre. It came with a TV, fridge/freezer, washing machine, gas stove and air conditioner, all included in the rent! My first night was quite daunting, I didn't have anything except a futon and my suitcases, not even curtains! The next day I moved my stuff and bought essentials (like curtains) and it feels more like home already. Being close to the city is really nice, but it's still very quiet. All the houses around me are traditional Japanese style and it's like walking into the past as I pace the narrow alleys that lead me home. There are always lots of cats around to say Good Morning to, and the sound of a piano always fills the street in the afternoons. I haven't got everything I need yet, like a rice cooker or a table, but I have enough to get by. I'm enjoying little things, like having a bath that I can use, and a balcony to do laundry. I just wish I could keep the place a little tidier, but some things never change!

Time has flown by and I have to go back to work already. I have a day of Halloween classes, yey! I promise I'll write again soon though.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I'm just no good at writing in my blog.

I just got back from a week long trip to Indonesia. On my first day there I purchased a very cute notepad with a pink squirrel on the front in order to keep a journal. I didn't write in it once! I blame my poor blogging ability on a combination of being to lazy, busy and obsessed with watching CSI. It could also be linked to the fear that my posts are deeply boring, and contain mere lists of activities that I've recently done. I suppose my dedicated fans (now expanded from Grandma and Grandpa to include Emma) may enjoy an update though.

Indonesia was a wonderful country and thankfully we avoided any earthquakes, volcano eruptions, flooding and acts of terrorism that the FCO warns about. I was, however, bitten by a record number of mosquitoes despite coating myself with DEET ten times a day for half the week (I promptly gave up when I realised it wasn't working). As of yet there are no signs of malaria, dengue fever or other mosquito borne illnesses, which is a mere miracle after hiking through a tropical rain forest in flip flops shortly before dusk.

Aside from my malaria worries (I was maybe overly worried about this) Indonesia was a very relaxed and happy country, a dramatic change from tight lipped 'lets just sweep it under the carpet and let everyone harbor ill feelings and guilt' Japan. Melissa, Cristin and I were visiting a city in West Java to volunteer teach and experience the local culture. We stayed with a family (the father of which had lived in New Zealand for 7 years) and got to eat traditional food, sing traditional songs and learn a little Sundanese. The teaching was great fun, with many students full of enthusiasm and an eagerness to speak English. I loved the way students would stand up and introduce themselves with "My name is Alice, and I am a beautiful woman". They loved to make you sing in class, and then perform songs with you, or ask you questions that really pushed you.

The thrill factor of our trip definitely derived in transportation. Melissa and I arrived a day ahead of Cristin, and our travelling adventures began in Taiwan. After spending the night in a hostel where we had to fight for a room, we had arranged for the hostel manager to drive us to the airport. We had expected a car...we were wrong. We faced a pick up truck with the back covered in tarp. The manager suggested one of us ride in the front cab and the other in the back but we decided to share the experience. We couldn't help but laugh as we sat in the back on up-turned beer bottle crates eating melon pan and watching the highway. We arrived safe at the airport, and flew from Taipei to Jakarta. The flight itself was quite uneventful except for the fact that whenever the plane leaned forward or back it sounded like millions of tiny rocks were rolling down the air conditioning unit. Very strange! On reaching Jakarta and getting a visa, we were met by a student from the city we would stay in. The first leg of our journey was on a very comfortable air conditioned bus to Bogor. From Bogor however, we struck a problem. As we were travelling on a Sunday, traffic was very heavy, and the buses usually have to take a longer route. With this in mind our student guide decided to use a local form of transport that looked rather like a shoddy minibus. The minibus drove in circles for close to 30 minutes trying to find more passengers before finally getting on it's way. From here on Melissa and I experienced quite unique driving as the van weaved between buses and motorbikes, often making three lanes (where the road was wide enough) and overtaking as we turned corners, unaware of what may be coming the other way. As light began to fade, so did the van, and it broke down 50 minutes from the city we were heading for. A refill of petrol and pushing finally got it started again, but not without a few near misses from buses behind us. Thankfully that was the worst driving we really saw. The only other incidents to note are Melissa's fall from a motorbike (it was going very slowly and she only had a bruise) and a '3 person on bike' short ride after getting lost on our mountain hike. We had to go back up a very windy road and I was on the back clinging onto Cristin with fingers tightly crossed. It all adds to the excitement.

We taught for about 4 days in total, swapping between High schools and classes. The rest of the time locals English speakers took us to see the sights including a fishing village, a traditional Sudanese village, a mountain hike, rice fields, botanical gardens and a volcano. Melissa and I also got to attend a wedding. It was one of those trips you can't forget really.

On the way home we stayed over night in the airport hotel. This posed a slight problem as we couldn't collect our main luggage. When we politely asked the nearest airport staff if it was possible to be escorted to get our luggage, and then return to internal area, she laughed, hard. This made it very clear that I would be without a toothbrush for the evening. I had thankfully packed Pj's unlike Mel and Cristin. Mel purchased a t-shirt to combat the problem and Cristin slept in a raincoat!

Now, it's back to reality. Japan holds lots of great things (hot showers, sashimi, low crime rate) but the freedom of expression I had in Indonesia made me realise what I miss from home. We couldn't help but note that we learnt more about Indonesian culture, medicine and healing, gender issues, religion, politics and education in a week, then what we have learnt in nearly 2 years in inaka Japan. Maybe it's the language barrier and the culture here, maybe we're not asking the right questions. I know I've let Japan pacify me somewhat, and that I'm often prone to shrugging my shoulders and muttering 'shoganai' (It can't be helped) when a situation proves a little challenging. I mean, why face it if nobody else does? Japan's group culture mentality and rigidity certainly has pros, it's developed a society that's seemingly efficient and polite, always on time and well presented. As much as I love this part of Japan, sometimes I'd like to see a little bit more character, negotiation and understanding. I'd like to see people push the boundaries a bit more and question authority and rule, or just be a little more real. At the moment, I feel that freedom to express yourself within the group is still frowned upon. The old Japanese proverb "The nail that sticks out will be hammered down" still holds true.

With these ideas in mind, it's interesting to witness the other 'private' face of Japan. The seedy snack bars and soap lands where drunk business men spend time with beautiful young women instead of their families. The high numbers of people suffering depression and work related stress. The increasing suicide rate. Is this the consequence of the ever smiling, always working, public face of Japan?

I have a feeling that nobody's going to give me an answer.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Time to give up.

Yes everybody it's the start of Lent, 40 days and 40 nights in which Christians traditionally fast and give to charity. Being brought up in an increasingly secular country means that Lent is more of a cultural traditon than a rule. Shrove Tuesday is still a day where most families make pancakes, and people still give up some unhealthy activity or donate money or time to a charity over Lent.

Being in Japan didn't stop me from eating pancakes on Tuesday. I introduced this British tradition to Melissa and Carrie last year and was happy to snack together again last night. The pancakes did look more American than British, but lemon and sugar still worked as my favourite topping. Anyway, pancakes aside, Lent has begun and it's time to give up something. I'm giving up a range of things this year, but the most important thing is worrying. I worry all too much these days. I don't know where this bad habit has come from (mum!) but it's useless, time consuming and annoying.

Unfortunatly I've found giving up worrying to be very difficult so far. Does anyone have any hints or tips on how to kill off my worry bugs?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I don't want to write the story!

The sun is shining down on Kamigoto for the first time since winter hit in December and I feel happier already. I'm sure I'm being lulled into a false sense of security and soon icy temperatures will return. My JTE and I discussed global warming in the car today (spurred by the sudden return of warmer weather) and he informed me that the major increase in CO2 output in Japan was linked to people using to many plastic bags, and that Japanese industry had actually decreased their Co2 output. I persued the conversation further by trying to find out whether the increase in C02 output from rubbish was related to Japan growing as a consumer society. Even if a relation did exist, it doesn't explain why CO2 output would increase so much over a short period, and I questioned whether Japan's Industrial Co2 output included the companies working abroad, polluting elsewhere. My questions remain unanswered.

I have to be honest and admit that the main reason I'm writing today is because I don't want to write the stupid story I have to write for work. It's quite difficult having to squeeze 170 different grammar points into an interesting story for my 3rd grade students to use as a review. Frankly, I need a break, and I was due a rambling blog entry anyway.

January was much as I expected it to be, cold and slightly depressing. It contained good news and bad news. Bad news was that I was refused my transfer for Nagasaki. If I move there this August then I'll be starting a new job. The prospect is daunting and I'm exceptionally nervous as I'll be in a new job, new area with most of my close friends (if not all of them) moving on to new things and different countries. I do really want to stay in Japan though, there are still things I want to study and living in city (even a small city) will give me access to conferences, workshops and new experiences. Everything happens for a reason.

Good news is that I'll be visiting home this summer, for maybe 3 weeks. I hope to catch up with everyone that I haven't seen for so long. I'm both nervous and excited. As much as Japan has become a home, I've been dreaming of home far more since November, I think I need to see my family and friends. Things have improved on the work front too. Last April I got a new JTE at my other Junior High School. He's exceptionally strict with the kids, I'm scared of him. the students can only raise their right hand to answer a question, and they have to always know the answer. This method does ensure the kids have their homework done and the answers right (the alternative is an extreme telling off) it doesn't give much room for me. I, the smiling happy 'English is fun' ALT, can only stand to the side of the board looking serious (bored) about English and occasionally read out words for the students to repeat. At first I wasn't even being taken to class. Recently, I'd decided I'd had enough. I hated being dragged to class in the cold when all I was doing was worth 5-10 minutes of the lesson. I can't help or advise the students, or intervene in the class. I spoke to another teacher, and she spoke to the deputy head. From February 1st I've been given my own period, I teach by myself with the support of the homeroom teacher. I've taught three classes so far and the response has been great. I'm so much happier at work and the kids seem to be enjoying the lesson. I wish I'd asked sooner but at least I've acted now. Now that I know I'll be leaving in six months I have to make to most of my time here and do everything I can.

I better get back to this story though.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Happy New Year

It took far longer than I expected to write anything here. The run up to Christmas is always exceptionally busy and only now have I had the time to update you on recent events. I spent this Christmas in Thailand volunteering at an orphanage near the border of Myanmar. It was an incredible trip that I will write more about in a seperate post. I also hope to write up my trip to Korea and Taiwan soon too.

I returned to Kamigoto for New Year, and while the clock hit twelve I was inside a temple listening to the ceremony. It was a peaceful and reflective way to see in the New Year, and I welcomed a different way to celebrate. 2007 is going to be an interesting year for many reasons, but mostly because it will bring about lots of change. I have a great many decisions to make at the moment.

In December I applied to transfer from Kamigoto to Nagasaki city for my third year. It's very difficult to transfer for Junior High School ALT's, and it would be unlikely my application would be sucessful. There are a few things on my side, and if I happen to be lucky I may well get my wish. If things don't work out though I have to consider my other options. By February I have to decide whether to leave the JET program or remain in Kamigoto. I love the island very much, but with Carrie, Melissa and Genki all leaving this year, I'm not sure how I feel about staying. Furthermore, I feel I've done all I can's time for something fresh.

Thats not to say I'm not nervous. I'm scared of the potential change, life in an unfamiliar city where reaching into the community is harder. Living in a Japan where most of the foreign friends I have will be leaving, and the Japanese friends I have will be a boat ride away. I'm also nervous about the new people coming to Goto and knowing I'll still be close. I'm scared about things with Genki and how everything will all work out.

It's likely that I only have 6 and a half months left on Kamigoto. I want more than anything to make the most of them and not let them slide through my fingers as I worry about what the future will hold. I know I adjust well to change, and that when the time comes everything always works out fine. It's just the run up to things that makes me nervous.

For now, I have to organise myself for this year. I haven't started the New Year well in terms of personal organisation. My house is messy (the air con broke so I'm sleeping downstairs, the cold makes it harder to clean)and I still have Christmas presents to send. Once I get some of these things done, then maybe I can think about the next step.

Friday, November 17, 2006

I'm still here!

I'm just very busy. Promise an update soon, but for now, here is a photo of me to prove I still exist.

This is a dance outfit...I promise I do not wear this would scare the children.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Blog Neglect!

I was recently contacted by the authorities (my grandparents) to let me know I had not blogged in over a month, and my blog was suffering because of it. I have realised how lonely my blog had become and taken the time to update my avid readers (Grandma and Grandpa) about whats happening on this tiny island.

I finished the end of the summer holidays with a trip to Yokohama with Genki. We stayed there for a week and managed to go shopping everyday. The holiday was very relaxing, with a trip to Disney Sea and night at Yokohama Reggae festival (Shaggy was very amusing) it was a nice break away.

Since school started again things have been really busy. Me and Melissa are taking part in the Dance Festival in Sasebo and are currently practising 3 times a week. It's really great fun except that the dance costume includes white lycra pants. Nobody can wear white lycra and look hot...especially not me!!! The rest of the costume is very cool though, so I'm happy. Me and Melissa also took over the ekaiwa (adult english class) Sierra used to run. We've decided to give it a monthly structure, and now every month we cover new topics. September was Postcard descriptions, October is cooking, and November is festivals in America, Japan and Britain. We start every class with warm-up games and took down everyones details to help remember names. The class now has about 14-15 members when everyone attends, so we feel it's going well.

I'm still trying to exercise more, but it can be difficult to find the time. One of my schools recently started 'running' time three times a week. From next week I'll be joining in, even though I hate running more than any other form of exercise. I have managed to reduce my weight to 9 stone 2 (130 pounds), though I still suspect this is from eating so much sashimi and getting tape worm. I still have half a stone or so to loose, so on with the exercise!

In other news I went to Taiwan last week for a four day trip with Pippa and Melissa. I loved it there so much I'm considering teaching there when I finish on JET. It was a great blend of Japan and China and the people we met were so lovely and kind. We were very lucky in who we spent our time with and what we got to see on a short time scale. Next month I'm heading to South Korea for a short break with some of the ALT's on the island, the lovely Cristin will also be joining me!

There is lots of other important news, detail and photos I would like to put on here, but my time seems so limited these days. I'm sorry for the boring entry, but at least you know what I'm up to. Life is good, I'm happy and things are busy. Time is slipping away far faster than last year, and I'm scared it will be over before I know it. One thing I know is that I probably won't be home for a while. Living in another country is the richest experiance I could ever ask for.