Sunday, September 19, 1999: Flashbacks

I went to Noriko's house to help her with her homework today. I wasn't sure why she wanted my help, because she speaks fluent English, but I found out as soon as I sat down because she was studying some funked out stuff. It was hardcore academic linguistic theory. I couldn't believe that she was studying stuff like that. That stuff was some good exercise for the old gray matter, though. It was like being back in college. But I wasn't able to help her out that much, though, because it was really out of my field.

Monday, September 20, 1999

Today was the first day at Towa. It was raining on the way there so the first thing that happens when I get there is kyoto-sensei (vice-principal) gives me his sweat rag to dry off. During the humid summer months, many of the teachers and students carry little towels around their necks to mop themselves off from time to time. It wasn't really hot that day so he couldn't have been sweating, so I accepted it and thanked him. When Ms. Kishi came in I asked her to help me talk to kocho-sensei (principal) to get out of the speech thing. Worked out fine! Woohoo! No more speeches at Towa! But he did say something during the meeting and everyone clapped and I gave a little queen-style wave to the masses (the assembled teachers).

I was handed my schedule. It's great. I have like two classes a day for most of the days. There's a holiday, sports day, and festival day so I don't have classes on those days either. Man, if my supervisor found out about this schedule he'd freak out. I had no classes today. I spent most of the day, reading, writing a bit, and sleeping. A good day.

One of the teachers there, made a few rude comments about how I wasn't fluent enough in Japanese yet. The last ALT got along well with the staff (but certainly not the students) and spoke fluent Japanese when he came here and they have a problem differentiating between foreigners. If one ALT spoke fluent Japanese, they all should and that's that. What a jerk. I wanted to give him a good ol' fashioned American knuckle sandwich by the third such comment.

Ms. Hirano is a nice woman in her mid forties and she teaches the special ed class. She also speaks English (not too bad, either). Today she walked in with her arm and hand completely wrapped in bandages. I asked what happened to her and she claimed she didn't know. I saw her thumb poking out of the bandages and seeing it was all swollen up, asked her if she was stung by a bee or something like that. She said no. Well, what did the doctor say it was? I asked. He doesn't know, she replied.

HUH? What's up with that? We understood each other, but I wasn't understanding how she could be so calm when her arm was swollen up grotesquely and not even be curious about what's going on inside her. More strangely, the doctor didn't know and didn't run any tests to find out. He just bandaged it up. That'd never happen back home. I'd freak out if it did. So would anybody.

For some reason there's more tension at this school between me and the students. They don't seem as warm to me as at the others. And now considering how it's a better school than some of my "good" schools last year, that's pretty strange.

Ok, check this out folks.

SO, I'm sleeping in the smoking room, right? (It's the only place where I can find peace and quiet and I'm tired of sleeping at my desk.) And I'm awakened by some mumbling nearby. I open my eyes to see a teacher calmly scooping up my change and putting it in his pocket. (I had put the change on the coffee table because it fell out of my pocket when I lied down on the sofa.) WHOAH!! What's up with that??? I asked him what he was doing and said it was my change. Then he got it out of his pocket and gave it back to me. I think he apologized, but I was groggy and I couldn't be sure. Man, I gotta watch the teachers here more closely! This kind of thing isn't supposed to happen in Japan, or so they like to say.

My CD ROM drive finally came today! 56X! The thing is fast and works like a charm!

Tuesday, September 21, 1999

Today I didn't have time to shave so I tried to use my electric razor (luckily I had plugged it in the night before) only to find that it had officially died. The voltage difference has done it in. May it rest in peace.

Do you know that sound that you hear outside sometimes which sounds like it could be a running river, or lightly falling rain, or the wind through the trees? I love that sound. I heard it today.

Wednesday, September 22, 1999

I noticed something today at the morning meeting. The women teachers at this school outnumber the men by at least two to one but the grade leaders (head teacher of grade one, two and three) are all men. Hmmm.

Had dinner with a few ALTs and we planned a trip to Kada. We're going to take a boat out to a nearby island. I've never been there, it sounds pretty cool! Another holiday tomorrow. This one is Autumn Equinox. That's just such a cosmically important day that it's a natural national holiday, don't you think? (whoah, I'm getting too sarcastic for my own good.) Anyway, I like holidays. This one is probably left over from when Shintoism was much more important. Of course, there could be a hurricane. I really hope there isn't one, because our last trip kind of fizzled out because of the rain. When I got back from dinner, I tried to open my lock, and being the believer in the philosophy of "if at first it doesn't work, force it" I ended up breaking my lock into exactly six pieces.

Thursday, September 23, 1999

Yes! We finally made it out the door today. It seems whenever we make plans to do something cool these days, it always ends up being cancelled. Well, this time we actually went to the place. We had to take a train and then walk a mile or so, and when we figured out where the boat was going to take off from we would have to wait about an hour and a half. We ate lunch and went to the shrine at Kada (which is the site of a big festival every year on Girls' Day). The shrine was really cool and I guess they keep many of the dolls on display all year long around the shrine.

When we got to the dock, we saw a sign. That's right. Because today was a national holiday, no boats were making the trip to the island. We were so bummed, but the trip wasn't a total waste. We got to see a great shrine and on the way back we stopped at a store called "World Foods" where you can get lots of different kinds of western foods. I picked up some pancake, muffin and cake mixes, and some Dr. Pepper.

Friday, September 24, 1999: When it Rains it Pours

I woke up to the sound of rain. Sure it was hard rain, but it was rain. Not a bad way to wake up. I would have to say that waking up to the sound of rain is ideal, and waking up to the sound of say... an alarm clock is not ideal. Wouldn't it be great if all alarm clocks didn't make that horribly annoying reerrring beeping sound, but instead made the sound of rain falling, increasingly heavier? That would be really cool.

Anyway, the rain is important in this scenario because when I heard the phone ring shortly thereafter I thought it was the school telling me not to come in because of the hurricane and all classes were cancelled. I was reassured of this when I heard a JTEs squeaky voice on the other end of the phone. But she hadn't called me to tell me to stay home, she had called me to tell me to come in, she would pick me up. Isn't she generous?

Oh, man. When it was decided that classes were cancelled she thought she would call my supervisor to ask if I had to come into work that day. She couldn't have just asked the principal who would have just said to stay home, she has to call someone who would definitely say I had to go in. Despite the fact that there were no classes and no chance any students would come that day. I don't get that.

So I get ready (jeans and a t-shirt) and she comes by my building and we drive to school. I asked her what we should do there and she said that on such a day the teachers usually talk, sleep, or do whatever, oh, and maybe work. Like lesson planning. But if you're a teacher like me and have no lesson planning to do, and have been raised with an American work ethic then you've got to question why the hell you're going to work on a day like that. It makes no sense. In fact, it makes anti-sense, that's how much sense it makes to me. I felt like a kid being dragged to school against his will. A ten year old flashback. She flipped out when I said that all the other ALTs are probably still asleep and she apologized about a thousand times for calling my supervisor, Mr. Tsuyama. Sigh.

So we get to school, right? And they have their little meeting like this is just any other day and then they proceed to lounge about and do absolutely nothing. Many of them chatted the day away, one teacher made approximately 15 phone calls. Another teacher, who did the most productive thing I saw anyone do all day long, wrote the days (literally the days; Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc.) in her blank day planner for the next three months. One teacher sitting next to me spent exactly 25 minutes examining her nails.

At lunchtime we had a special bento (bento=lunch). Today was supposed to be sports day so they ordered special bentos. Ohhhh, yum! Well, not really. I couldn't eat the sazae (sea snail) because I have a slight allergy to shellfish. I could tell that they would get offended if I flat out just refused it (it's probably expensive) so when a JTE came around and said that the other teachers were wondering why I hadn't eaten the sazae yet, I tried to explain that I was allergic to it. Apparently that concept is impossible for most Japanese to comprehend (Some ideas are hard for them to swallow. You should see their faces when I tell them I don't drink! It's priceless!!), I think some of the teachers there still thought I just didn't like it (which I don't, come on, who am I kidding here?). After the JTE claimed the sazae at my bidding the other teachers stewed in jealousy that I gave the snail to her and not to one of them. (Hey, she asked, you know what I'm saying?)

But I got to go home after the snail bento, Thank God. I got home and ate something and played a video game for a while. The rain was dying down and I was just about to fry up some eggs when it occurred to me that it might be a good time to get a new lock. All of the sudden, a thought of terror streaked through my mind and I ran to my balcony.

My bicycle was no longer there.

I ran downstairs and searched the immediate area (in case it had been blown across the parking lot like in the last storm, but no, it was gone.

I called my neighbors to ask if they had put it somewhere out of the way to shelter it from the storm, but they hadn't. I was absolutely furious. That darn thing cost me about three hundred bucks and it was right out in front of my apartment building for a day without a lock and it gets stolen!! In fact, it was just there last night, so it must have gotten stolen very very late at night. Is there someone just wandering around, checking everywhere for unlocked bikes every night? I mean, what are the odds?? And what a load of malarkey; what everyone says about there being no crime in Japan!!

I did a quick search of the neighborhood thinking whoever stole it must have lived nearby or they would have never seen that my bike was unlocked. Didn't see it (of course) and I was so angry that I decided to go out and buy a new bike right then. I didn't care how much it cost. I was hoping that it would be some punk kid and that he'd go riding right past me. And he wouldn't have thought to remove the distinctive bungee cord I had tied around to the back rack on the bike so I would know it would be mine. If he did go riding past me or saw him outside the station or a store, I'd tackle him off and rend him limb from limb. I'd make him mourn the day his mother first kissed his father.

I walked. I walked for a long time, just stewing in my own anger. I very rarely get angry like this, I can't remember the last time. I guess I'm not too good at handling it. But I guess the walking helped because on the way back to my apartment (I had decided not to buy a new bike today, I'd shop around for a good price) I was able to put it into perspective. I decided that of all the truly bad things that could happen to me, getting my bike stolen is pretty low on the ladder. I mean, when I come back from a trip I half expect to see my place burned to the ground because that's just the kind of luck I have sometimes. Which is exactly when I realized that in my mad dash to hunt and then look for a new bike that I had left the gas on!

I ran the rest of the way home and saw something really weird. My bike was parked outside my apartment. It was not there before, I told myself, I am not going mad. I raced upstairs past the bike and turned off the gas and there was a message from my neighbors.

It seems that the perpetrators had returned the bike to the front of the park and then went over to the gas station to pick up a scooter. Apparently, one of their scooters was in for repairs and he had borrowed my bike to get around in the meantime. My neighbors were waiting at a nearby bike shop (they had gone there to try and stop me from buying a new bike, what great neighbors, huh???) and so I went there to find them and Ondria and Kristy. The gals had been passing by and stopped to talk. After much comment on the events of the day, my amazing luck and those little punks (whom I will still pulverize if I catch them, I made my neighbor promise to tell me if and when she sees them outside again) we went for dinner at Royal Host.

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