Saturday, May 26, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
Yesterday I got lost and I had natto for lunch on the same day. Despite that it was a pretty good day. I went to my nursery school the night before my first visit. I wanted to make sure that I knew where it was. I found it quickly and was excited that it was so accessible. The next morning I left 30 minutes early. I arrived and noticed there were no students. I peeked in the door and a teacher came. I asked her if I was supposed to be here. It was very clear that I was not. I showed her my map and she told me the place I wanted was just down the street. No harm done I was still 20 minutes early. I walked in the door and children started shouting “Gaijin, gaijin”. Basically it means “Foreigner, foreigner.” I hoped I was in the right place. The strange looks I received did nothing to bolster my confidence. I went to the “office” and quietly announced that I was here (and early to boot). Stares. I looked at each face and no one even registered a hint of recognition. Yipes. I wound up in the wrong place again. Luckily a lady spoke English and told me that they did not need an AET. “How could that be?” I wondered to myself. “This is the place that my vice principal showed me on my map.” She reassured me that this was the place circled on the map but that again they did not need an AET (my title-Assistant English Teacher). She pointed to a different place and said it was a kindergarten. That was probably the place I needed to go. Ok, I would be a little late. They will understand (hopefully I can explain). I find the place quickly and again receive the blank look “cold shoulder” combo. Third time was not the charm. They pointed out a place on the map that was another nursery school. I was on my way. Ten minutes later I still had not found it. I noticed that my elementary school had called my cell phone (which meant that my nursery school had called them, I was in deep trouble.). I had a nervous feeling in my stomache (like the time I unintentionally hit Jana with a baseball bat when I was 7). I drove around a few more minutes. I was debating what to do. I could call my school and try to explain. Instead I decided to try a few more minutes. I saw a security guard and asked her where I should go. She asked a construction worker and he told her, left, then right, then it should be on the left side of the road (in Japanese). For a second I was excited I could understand (it was like finding a dollar on a sinking ship) then I remembered I was 45 minutes late (bad in America, even worse in Japan (ten minutes early=on time). I finally pulled up to the nursery school. It was the right one. They were happy to see me I'm sure (but they hid it very well). I think they were worried that they got a lemon. After apologizing profusely, they took me to the teachers room. I was the only one there. A lady that looked like she was in charge came in. We sat quietly. I tried to make small talk. I failed and she didn’t even make an attempt. Another teacher came in after about 15 minutes and said something that I didn’t understand, she left. Apparently I was supposed to follow her because she came back about 3 minutes later looking a bit peeved. I was feeling as if strike 3 had come and gone and I was quickly approaching 10. I walked into the room and 18 smiling 5 year olds came into view. We started the lesson and immediately I was comfortable again. I didn’t need to worry. I could't change anything that had happened and worrying wouldn't make me feel any better. The lesson went well. And when it was time to leave I felt much more relaxed around the lady who I perceived as being in charge. I left shortly after and went to my elementary school. When I arrived all of the important people (principal, vice principal, disciplinarian, curriculum director) were in the teachers room. They asked if everything was ok. I smiled and took them my map. I spent the next ten minutes explaining my journey (imagine lots of pointing and looking confused). The curriculum director left and quickly came back, took my map and said “no”. He pointed to off the map. He turned it over and drew an extension of the road. He jabbed his pen into the back of the map and chuckled. This was where my nursery school was. I apologized and left with the feeling that I was a disappointment but I didn’t care too much at that point. I headed upstairs to eat lunch with my fifth graders. Natto was on the menu (with mustard and soy sauce). Natto (fermented soybeans) is not something that I would choose to eat. However, I was on the spot with 30 some 5th graders watching each bite. I smiled as if it was the best thing I had ever eaten. I ate every bit just like mama taught me. I showed them the bottom of my container.
God really humbled me today. I was feeling self reliant and he showed me just how much I know and how big I am. A slice of humble pie and some rotten soybeans for dessert. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? I am glad that He gave me one too.
I was sitting alone in the English room between classes the other day trying to think of ways to represent Christ to a people that I can’t communicate with effectively. I was brainstorming and I was drawing blanks. I was thinking about Jesus’ ministry and I had the thought, Jesus could speak to the people he was serving. He spoke Hebrew. He was able to speak to them, encourage them, counsel them, and teach them. The immediate follow up thought was, Ah, and you speak Hebrew very well. That is definitely how you found out about Jesus. I know Jesus because his actions have traversed across generations. I took that thought and applied it to my life. Each day should be approached with the attitude of a man who can’t even speak, yet is able to represent Christ despite of his limitations. I can definitely handle the not being able to speak part but I need some help with the other part. Please send me an email or leave a comment if you have any advice on practical ways that I could use to be Christ without speaking.
PS Please forgive any misspelled words or grammatical errors. Since I left America my English has deteriorated. I typed "nevered", "badded" and "spoked", and those are just the ones I caught.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
I have an internet connection in my apartment so my posts should be more frequent and include a few pictures!
It has been a long time since I had the opportunity to spend some time on the internet. I should have my own connection in my apartment soon. I have been able to spend my time in my apartment doing things that were much more worthwhile. On that note I have been able to read my Bible a great deal while I am school. There are breaks during the day where no one will miss me in the teacher’s room and I am able to stay in the English room, read and recharge. I have found it to be a way to really renew my mind and purpose. I encourage everyone to try “Bible breaks” during the day. I was able to have my first real religious discussion with 2 friends. They come from opposite ends of the spectrum and both gave me their perspectives on Christianity in a foreign culture. I was excited to learn so much and humbled at the same time. I keep forgetting how little I know about the Japanese culture and how to relate to it.
At the moment I am trying to build as many relationships as I can with the people I meet. I have really been trying to learn the language so I can actually communicate, but it is going to be along time until I can carry on a full conversation. I can really relate to my students at school: we are both on the same foreign language level, we both pick our noses, we aren’t really sure if we like what we are eating for lunch and we really want people who are speaking in other languages to speak much more slowly. I was eating lunch with the second graders the other day and they had a few strawberries. I was sitting beside a boy who was obviously a clown. I told him what a strawberry was in English, he told me what a strawberry was in Japanese. Only he didn’t know that one of the first Japanese words I learned was the word for “poop”. He told me the Japanese word for strawberry was “unko” which is really the Japanese word for poop. I looked at him and smiled. He thought he got the best of me. But I knew better. I really have to stay on my toes.
Last Saturday was a fun filled adventure. I went to a friends house and we made takoyaki. Italians eat meat balls, Japanese eat octopus balls. We all sat around a griddle covered with indentions for the batter. We poured the batter (flour, egg, cabbage, ginger, onions) into the indentions and then they brought out the octopus. It was a tentacle. They sliced it in front of me then we placed a chunk in each ball. The batter then cooked for awhile until we where left with small hush puppy like balls with a surprise in the middle. I have to say that I really enjoyed takoyaki!! It was delicious. After that we played “gato ball” with his grandmother and a few of her friends. “Gato ball” is croquet.
I have never played. I have watched Alice In Wonderland. I was clueless, so here was my strategy: I hit the ball way too hard and missed the gates many, many times. I asked afterward who won and they said that I did. I think they were trying to be nice to the goofy giant. I know less about croquet than before I played. After that we went to a sushi restaurant that has a bar with a conveyer belt. They put plates of sushi on the belt you take what you want, they count how many plates you ate and then you pay by the plate. I ate natto again (fermented soybeans) hoping that it would taste better a second time. No dice. It was worse this time because the fish that it was on was old and mushy. Then I went home and took some nyquil and went to bed. I have been sick for a few weeks and can’t shake it. I don’t know where to get good medicine other than the doctor and I don’t have my insurance card yet. I hope that I haven’t been offensive to the Japanese people by blowing my nose in public. Usually I try to sneak off the bathroom to blow my nose but then I wonder if they think that I have other problems. I have been told that wearing a mask helps sore throats (a popular way of treating sore throats in Japan) so I bought a few and tried sleeping in one. I had to take it off because I kept hearing Darth Vader.
There were 3 surprises during lunch today. 1# The bread had a package of honey with it (HOORAY)!! 2# The honey had lemon flavoring and zest in it (BOOO). 3# I think the soup at lunch today had raw bacon in it.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
My first day teaching at school; it was great. I was accused of being Michael Jackson. There are so many things that Japanese children associate with America that are way off base. As I walked down the halls to the English room I was gawked at and it was really funny. It was as if I was the main attraction at the zoo. When I sat down at my desk I spent some time thinking about how funny the situation is that I put myself in. I am in a foreign country with no diversity. I stick out like a sore thumb. I don’t speak enough Japanese to communicate effectively, but I do speak enough Japanese to get myself in trouble by agreeing, when I have no idea what is being said. Imagine what Americans would think if we started bringing in foreign teachers who could not speak any English. Anyway while I was thinking all of this I had a huge goofy grin on my face because I think the aforementioned situation is hilarious for some strange reason. School lunch today was tame, pasta and a loaf of raisin bread. All the classes I taught went fairly well. I spent some time talking about my family and country then we practiced introducing ourselves.
During a conversation earlier this week I found out that cowboys are also known as Texas ninjas, something I had to travel to Japan to find out. The Texas school system should add that to their curriculum.
Mom, stop reading now.
I got a scooter and it is both exhilarating and terrifying. The Japanese drivers coupled with my lack of scooter training is a bad recipe. I will practice and soon I will be dominating the streets of Mito-shi with the scooter gang that I am starting; our name, the Texas Ninjas. We will probably wear bandannas and hit people with rocks and bamboo. I WILL get deported.
Let me tell you about today. It was raining this morning so I wore different clothes to ride my bike to school. The minute I arrive I being changing my clothes in the teachers locker room. I am midway through the process when I receive a call (on my sweet Japanese cell phone that is smarter than I am) and I say “Hey, what’s up.” Thinking it is one of my friends. Turns out it is the curriculum director asking me in broken English when I was coming to school. It seems that he doesn’t understand the phrase, “I am already here.” We spent a few more minutes in awkward half silence until I was dressed and then I walked into the teachers room still talking on my phone and I waved at him. He had some important information for me, which would have been very helpful yesterday. A morning assembly was planned to introduce me. I had dry clothes on but my hair was still soaked from the rain. I had worn a tie on a whim, but I did not have a sports coat or suit jacket (a must in Japan for ceremonies). We marched to the gym and I stood in front of 650 elementary students waiting for my cue. I kept wondering what they thought of me. I conjured up some hilarious captions for a few students who were staring at me, but for the most part I have no idea. The principal waved me on stage and I timidly walked to the microphone. I gazed at all the faces looking up at me and said, I am excited to be teaching English in Japan, so on and so forth, thank you for having me and I hopped on my horse and rode off into the sunset (Texas ninja style) only when I got off the stage no one moved. Apparently they assumed I was a mighty orator and I would rant and rave for 20 minutes about how successful the students would be once I was finished with them. About how I would single handedly teach each student to read, write and converse in flawless English. Instead my paltry 45 seconds meant that someone had to stall until it was time to go. So back to the podium I went. I decided to take the situation in a more light hearted direction and we sang some songs: Davy Crockett, the Carpenters, Up From the Grave He Arose and various other gospel hymns and I hummed America the Beautiful as a solo act. Just kidding… they didn’t send me back up there. The principal got back up and here is what I heard… “gibberish-Wade sensei-more gibberish-Wade sensei-more gibberish-Wade sensei (the entire student body turned and looked at me at this point). Here is how I imagine the speech that he gave.
“See the young man without a suit coat or sports jacket? The tall white guy who smells funny. Well, he’s the new English teacher. He demands your respect. He is a Texas ninja!! (this is the part where all the students gasp and looked at me in awe). You will listen to him and you will learn from him. I know that he really isn’t a good public speaker and I know that he is pretty goofy looking and has hair on his arms (a novelty in Japan), but I think that he knows some English and he can probably tell you some neat things about the state of America and the country of Texas.” After the speech I apologized too him for not looking as sharp as I could have and for not “speeching” very well. I think that I am forgiven but from what I understand only if I trim the hedges in front of the school until June and wash the vice principal’s car twice a week. Then the principal and I discussed the different types of music we like. Here is the play by play: Him: “Music, what kind do you like? Me: Jazz, Rock. What kind of music do you like? Him: “Speakers big. JVC made in America. Sony made in Japan. (He jams his finger into the front of his nose to demonstrate who he is talking about) I like movie music.” I love being lost in translation. I think that this experience will make me a much more effective communicator.
Today I am at school. I am not teaching any classes. I have tried my best to look busy, but I have nothing to do. There are no classes until Monday and I have already prepared for them. I think that I am on the bad employee watch list, either that or I am paranoid. I keep hearing whispers and bits of conversations that I can’t understand but I am positive are about me doing something horribly wrong and them trying to figure out how to tell me. I don’t like to beat around the bush. The bush is beaten past death in Japan. That is how they communicate. Fortunately I don’t know what they are saying to me. For instance, I had a meeting with my two kindergarten teachers and my vice principal (I am the only one who speaks English and not Japanese). I was so confused, especially when they would say something lighting speed and then look at me waiting for an answer. The whole time I was wondering what I was agreeing to (a common theme these days). After it was over with I just had to laugh for the millionth time at how helpless I am. I have no clue at all what is going on and it is still hilarious to me. I am not anticipating the day when I get frustrated instead of tickled. On another note, I have a four day weekend which I am looking forward to. Unfortunately my money is in the bank and the ATM’s close for the holidays (I guess there really are tiny people inside who need a break just like the rest of us) so I have 3 options: 1) relax and get some rest 2) go to the mountains and run around 3) ride my scooter across Japan.
I have really enjoyed eating school lunch with my students. I have eaten all my food thus far. To be honest I kinda like the school lunch here. There is always rice or bread and some kind of salad (tiny sardines and cabbage has been my favorite so far). I don’t ask what I am eating. Yesterday I spent the better part of my free time decoding the lunch menu for the month. Once decoded from Hiragana (Japanese characters) to Romaji (English) I still didn’t know what the dishes were so after lunch I wrote down what we had. I can fill out the menu so I know what we are eating or at least whether I like it or not. I have only eaten in first grade thus far and they are so cute. I can’t say that the conversation is too great. It usually consists of “Hello” the occasional “How are you” and the standard “Fine, thank you and you?”. One girl pulled out “How many people are in your family?” I couldn’t answer. My mind couldn’t handle the sudden change in topic (luckily she asked again, and then 4 times more after I answered). The kids have a standard eating outfit. They all put on these white jackets and masks and hats to serve food and then one student stands at the front of the class and gives a command for everyone to take their masks off. The students all have uniforms and they change at different times in the day.
1) arrive at school: navy blazers, white collared shirt, navy pants or shorts or skirt, bright yellow hat and matching umbrella
2) PE and recess: take off blazers, put on red cap (for boys) or white cap (for girls)
3) lunch: white mask, white jacket, white elastic cap with chin strap
4) cleaning time: same as PE and recess
5) leave: everything worn on arrival
The teachers all change clothes a billion times as well. I can’t keep up with what I should be wearing. I usually just wear the same thing all day while most teachers have changed their clothes for recess, PE, lunch and cleaning time. I am sure they think that I am weird for never changing clothes and I think they are weird for changing so many times.
I went to the fish market near Oarai beach. It was huge!! There were so many people and so many sea creatures. It reminded me of the food vendors at the state fair (except they were selling live sea urchins instead of cotton candy). They even had a free sample line. If you know me well you already know what happened. Being a sucker for free samples I tried all kinds of raw squid and octopus salad, raw fish and seaweed. I can honestly say that I Japanese food is very different from American food. I have only been here two weeks and I am already craving a juicy cheeseburger and greasy fries. Does Tastee Burger handle international orders?
I was able to go to a Japan wide gospel meeting on Monday. I was an encouraging but sobering event. I loved seeing people who are so different from me worshipping the same God that I serve. However, the keynote speaker mentioned that 99.8% of the people in Japan are not Christians. That is half the population of the US. That many people crammed into a country roughly the size of California, it makes for a wildfire if someone gets it started. Please pray that God touches these people. If he can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” then he can certainly continue to shape the hearts of the people of Japan.