Monday, February 25, 2008

Police, Severed Heads and Dragons

With a title like that I have a great deal to live up to, huh?
The other day I was riding my scooter to school on the usual route and I noticed something strange. Someone was standing smack dab in the middle of the road. I slid my hand off the throttle and braked slightly. As I came closer I recognized the colors of a policeman and he happened to have his hand extended. “Stop in the name of the law.”, his hand said. “Ok, I guess” I thought. I rolled to a stop and he approached me. I peered out of the narrow slit formed by my wool hat and muffler (I have been told I look like a ninja). He said something that had a hard time penetrating my helmet, and aforementioned layers. I shucked my helmet and hat and pulled my muffler down around my neck. His eyes widened when he realized what he had on his hands. A bona fide foreigner. He asked if I spoke Japanese and I wisely made a few grammatical errors in my response (a better chance he wouldn’t want to mess with questioning me--I know what you are thinking, they were staged mistakes, I PROMISE). He asked to see my drivers license and I complied. As he was examining my permit I wondered if he knew about the red light that I had run two streets back. Was he that good? Are there spies around? I couldn’t help but begin examining escape routes. I thought maybe we could fight. I have watched my share of 24 and have absorbed some serious combat skills through osmosis. I nixed that idea when I saw some other folks coming down the road. Plus I am not quite ready to get deported. I decided to wait him out. I glared fiercely at him (a bluff in case he could smell fear)
*EDITORS NOTE Wade would like you to believe he was brave and intimidating but in reality he looked like a frightened hamster.

He asked me what my job was and I told him I was a teacher. He grunted handed my license back and told me to take care. I spent the rest of the day wondering what that was all about. As with the 1,302, 213 other events that I have experienced in Japan, I never found out. Instead I did what I always do and wrote my own story line. Here’s what really happened. Bigfoot has been terrorizing the countryside and the police have been put on purple alert in case he hijacks a scooter and rides into town for some tender city folk. Therefore they have to stop and question everyone on a scooter who fits the profile. I personally, am thankful for their vigilance in protecting my safety.

I awoke 4 days ago to find that my water was not working. I had forgotten to pay the bill, of that I was certain. I packed my bags for the debtors prison and prayed for a nice solitary cell, with a window and a pinball machine. On the outside chance that there was a building wide problem I text messaged (called c-mail here in Japan) a friend a few doors down and received the reply I had been hoping for. Someone had backed into a pipe that protruded from the water tank for our apartment thus leaving the residents without water. I went to school and was brushing my teeth in the teachers room (a common occurrence after lunch but apparently illegal before) when my principal walked by and noticed that I was sawing away at my pearly whites. He looked at the vice principal then back at me and began mimicking my brushing and then held out is hands as if to say, “What in the world are you doing?”. To which I replied, “Mmym wabbba wazznnnott wooking vvvisss mornnnigng.” Silly me, he doesn’t speak English

*EDITORS NOTE Regardless of his principal’s English skills he couldn’t have understood what Wade was saying because, as you can see from the story, he sounded like a blubbering idiot and if I remember correctly had toothpaste drool running down his chin.

I was just about to attempt to explain the situation in Japanese when he decided I wasn’t worth the trouble and walked off, vice principal in tow, headed for the morning assembly. I quickly finished brushing and hurried off to find some sort of vindication. I caught the two in just in front of the gym and offered an explanation for my actions. Here is the translation, “Last night....the car...met...water tank...kkroonngg (this was meant to invoke the deep reverberating sound of a car smashing into a water tank, I also smashed my fist into my palm for good measure) What a success!! Except those weren’t looks of they were looks of confusion...or was it excitement... frustration...happiness? It is hard to tell sometimes, I guess I could chalk it up to whatever I wanted, so I did...a smashing success. After the assembly the vice principal and I walked back to the teachers room. As we were entering, he announced in English that I was dirty. He did understand!!! My initial surprise was soon overpowered by my need to defend myself. He told everyone that I was dirty again, this time in Japanese. Now everyone knew who the stinky person was.

*EDITORS NOTE Wade didn’t really smell that bad as he had showered the night before. However he was silly in saying that everyone was aware of his stink only because the vice principal alerted them. In reality, had Wade been stinky, their noses would have alerted them long before the vice principal did.

“Sling some mud of your own, Wade.” I said to myself out loud.

*EDITORS NOTE I rarely understand the things that Wade writes, he tends to ramble, make up words and has has yet to master the comma, but when he states “I said to myself out loud”, I think he is referring to speaking out loud to bolster his confidence. He once told me, “When I say it things out loud I feel a little braver. Kind of like when there are monsters under my bed and and I tell them “I AIN”T afraid of you.” to convince myself and them I’m not afraid of them.”

However it hadn’t rained for awhile and we were inside to boot. I surveyed the room with fiery eyes but I couldn’t find an ounce of mud in the place so I let it slide for the 1,000th time and laughed it off. Chuckling, I loudly said, “Naw”. That seemed to square things away, so I sat down and chuckled to myself.

The other day I arrived at school to find that I had a present on my desk. One of my fellow teachers had made some beautiful origami dolls and left them on my desk. First, I had to find out who made them. I asked around and came up with a few names. My partner and I then rounded them up and brought them back to the station. We set up a lineup and had a few key eyewitnesses in to see if we could find the culprit. One in particular drew a great deal of attention and I called her into for questioning. She cracked easily, long before I had to do the good cop-bad cop routine. I thanked her for the beautiful origami and then asked if there was some cultural significance behind the dolls. There was, but I didn’t quite understand everything so I can’t explain it very well, lets just say these dolls are seen frequently around this time of year. I never know what to do with things (gifts and such) that I receive. I have put a great deal of thought into this and still don’t know how to handle this particular situation. Culturally should I leave the gift out for all to see, proudly displaying what I have received and bringing honor to the person who gave me the gift or should I carefully put the gift away and admire it later so the giver doesn’t receive unwanted attention and I demonstrate the importance of the gift by treasuring it enough to ensure its safety. Another thing and maybe the most important is the follow up, the “Thank you”. My mom always made us write thank you notes after birthdays, christmas and graduation. Since I am far away from the judicious knuckles of my mother (and the painful “Head Knock” I experienced so many times in my childhood and even as recently as when I returned home for Christmas in December) it is safe to say that I have neglected to utilize the “Thank You Note” method. I would like to first, publicly apologize if you feel I was ungrateful and second, thank all of you for the gifts that you have given and hopefully continue to give in the future.

*EDITORS NOTE It seems that Wade is trying to apologize for not writing thank you notes and at the same time offer a thank you for all future presents. He expressed to me off the record that he would like this to apply if he is ever married. He thinks that referring her to this point in time, when he publicly “Thank youed” the world, will get his wife off his back and save a lot of time. How ridiculous!!

Back to my story I chose to utilize both of the previously mentioned methods. I left the dolls on my desk until it was time to leave then I carefully placed them inside a book to protect them. Three days later when I was digging through my backpack for a pencil I came across the head of one of the dolls. Apparently there had been a vicious battle in my backpack and she had lost to the other doll (picture below).

Oh well, at least they waited until they were in my backpack to fight. It would have been awkward to explain why one of the dolls I was proudly displaying (yet planning to treasure) was missing a head.

As you know I have been carving a somewhat Japanese themed chess set. Here is an update on my progress. The board and all of the pawns have been completed and two of the knights (in the form of dragons) are finished.

*EDITORS NOTE The first dragon Wade carved looked very similar to Barney The Dinosaur and kept singing and dancing. I deemed it unworthy to do battle on any chess board and told Wade as much. He whimpered and whined but in the end recognized my logic. He was forced to revamp his dragon approach and I feel (thanks to my insight) that the subsequent dragons are much more fierce. What Wade has yet to tell you is that he has had several similar incidents while creating this chess set. Lacking the skill that some of us possess he has butchered 5 other pieces. Breaking hats or slicing off limbs is a common occurrence and I will be surprised if he ever completes this set. Just have a look at Barney and the Dragon.

Chessing (as I like to call it), is dangerous and the pieces have been stained with a little more than polyurethane and a clear finish. I would like to say that I am careful when I am carving but that would be untrue.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I have been neglecting my blog lately. Mainly because I am trying to regain the tiny bit of Japanese that I knew before I went back to America and forgot it all. I had a great Christmas vacation full of relaxation and family time. I was able to return home for Christmas and visit my family and a few friends. My mother didn’t know I was coming. One of my friends (Erisa) who is from Japan and is studying in America visited our house for Christmas. My mother knew that she would be there but didn’t know that I would too. After two layovers one around 8 hours and the other a 2 minute dash filled with visions of missing my flight, I arrived in OKC. I spent about a day and a half visiting family and a few friends that I could get ahold of and then flew to Lubbock with Erisa. After a short drive to Lockney I was finally home. I wondered how my mother would react. Should we call an ambulance for one or both of us? (I thought she might maim me for not telling her I was coming). I waited for a few minutes for the others to go inside and then waltzed in. It was perfect! She was so surprised. I am amazed that she didn’t find out. Everyone in the family knew and everyone in town (well almost everyone anyway). After some tears and repetitive incoherent questioning she finally settled down enough to understand that I was able to come home to visit for the holidays. I think that she thought I was bringing a wife or girlfriend home to visit without telling her. I told Erisa to expect that so she was a good sport about it. It was great to visit my family and friends and to catch up on everything that has happened in the past 9 months since I have been gone. It was strange to be back in America where I could understand everything that was going on and to be able to communicate so easily and without the nerves that always accompany using my broken Japanese.

After returning to Japan I have been trying to catch up on sleep and working on my chess set. My dad was able to help me put the board together so I feel like I am close to finishing even though I have only finished carving the pawns. I had to clean my apartment and it took awhile to sweep up all the shavings and sawdust. I still have the fresh scent of pine in my apartment (and maybe a few stray slivers of wood).
Last Monday I went exploring in Tokyo with Austin. We had a good time trying to figure out the train and subway system, asking for directions and maps and what not. We went up to the observatory in one of the buildings in Shinjuku and looked aout at Tokyo. Coming from a town of 2000 people it is amazing to me to see a city that has over 12,000,000 people. When I was counting I only saw about 11,432,891 but I am sure that the others were hiding somewhere.

EBC started back up last Sunday and it was good to see my friend and reader. He speaks excellent English and he could teach me grammar if he wanted. He asks some great questions too. You know the kind that make you ask yourself questions. It is great to get his perspectives on the Bible and life in general. He has so much wisdom but it is difficult to get it out of him. I guess that will come with time and patience.

February promises to be a busy month with two ski trips. I am excited to ski in Japan, I just hope that they have boots big enough for my hooves. Well, if I want to play chess soon I had better get back to carving. I will try to post again when I am finished (might be awhile).


So I caved and decided that I should post again before I finish my chess set. I have been convicted of forging foreign currency (there might be any English word for that but I have forgotten it). The Mito city curriculum requires that we teach shopping. I decided we needed a little boost of excitement in class so with some help from a friend or two and a website I created some American money (the 1 dollar bill) with the picture of my principal instead of George Washington. I was ready to mass produce the bills (i.e. make copies) when my principal put the brakes on. I am not 100% sure why he shut it down but I think it was because he didn’t want students to tell parents and parents to tell friends and friends to tell relatives and relatives to tell the Emperor and the Emperor to tell President Clinton (has that happened yet?) and President Clinton tell my mother and my mother insist that I come home because I was breaking the law and in need of a timeout or worse yet a spanking from the splintery ping pong paddle she was so fond of.
If that was the case then crisis averted. He asked me instead to put a picture of a statue in front of the school in place of George Washington. It looks pretty good but I think it would have been more fun the first way. After printing them out I was cutting them out at my desk and every one who saw them told me I was a criminal and I told them I wasn’t and then offered 50% to keep quiet. I don’t think my brand of humor is appreciated at my school. I am moving slowly with my comedy routine instead of breaking out at one time and giving the impression that I am loony. A joke here, some sarcasm there and soon we will have a recipe for funny.

EBC started a couple of weeks ago and I have the same student as before. I am very excited that he didn’t ask for a better teacher. He could definitely teach me proper English grammar and I am a little nervous that he will soon be fed up with my ignorance. In the first few classes back we tackled some tough topics and I learned a great deal from his wisdom. Hopefully I will learn from his grace when approaching a topic or question he knows we might differ on. Bulls in china shops are not good, but bulls in Japanese shops are even worse.

Two weeks ago I caught a nasty cold and had to call in sick. That proved to be a difficult task. I called but didn’t really know what to say. So I described my condition and asked for a sick day. The phone was then handed to my principal who talks incredibly fast and I think he told me it was ok to stay home but then again he might have given me the alternative of staying home and losing my paycheck for the month or going to school. I chose to stay home and chance losing my paycheck. I didn’t leave my bed all day. The next day I called again and jumped through the same hoops, except that I received a call at noon from my vice principal, asking what my room number. I told him and then he ended the conversation with what I thought was a, “Whelp we will see you tomorrow or whenever you can come to school.” (a rough translation). Thirty minutes later my door bell rang and it was my vice principal delivering some much needed survival supplies. I was very pleased. I hadn’t been shopping in awhile and was on my last piece of bread. I was going to have to move on to ketchup and sugar for sustenance if he hadn’t brought me that food. However there was a price to pay (that and he saw how messy my apartment was). He politely requested that I visit the doctor. He brought me the address and working hours. It was very close to my apartment. I after he left I decided to give it a shop. Maybe I would get some medicine; then again I might ask for a appendix transplant if I slipped up in Japanese. I awkwardly shuffled in the door and glanced around. I made my way to what I assumed was the reception desk. I described my symptoms being sure to avoid asking for an extra appendix. After filling out some forms I sat down and waited to meet my doctor. The thought occurred to me that I had no idea what kind of doctor I was visiting. Visions of explaining my fever, ache and cough to a plastic surgeon, anesthesiologist, podiatrist, and others
flashed through my mind. They called my name. I went into the examination room. I answered a series of questions and then had my shirt wrestled up around my neck by a nurse that snuck up on me. The doctor listened to my lungs and heart and then prescribed some medicine and told me to go home and sleep. The nurse then gave me my medicine and told me the times and amounts that I should take. This proved to be the most difficult part of the excursion ( I am convinced that I have taken the correct dosage of everything, except the horse tranquilizer, (I opted out of that one) ) I walked out amazed at how easy that had been. My first doctor’s visit in a foreign country conducted in a foreign language. All that and I was only diagnosed as having a low IQ and a severe cold. The next morning I was still under the weather but began seeing the silver lining later in the day. When I returned to school the next day my classes were all cancelled and I “rested” at my desk all day. During lunch I ate with the teacher’s room staff (vice principal included). It turns out the disarray of my apartment was a topic of conversation while I was absent. When asked if I had a girl friend, a snide remark slipped from someone down the table. Loosely translated, “Of course he doesn’t, he would have a messy room if he did.”