Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hiro Wrap-Up

Im back from my training in Hiroshima. I wrote a bit while I was gone and took some photos of the super depressing A-Bomb tourist traps. You can see more photos on my Flickr page.

24 September 2007
Well, the euphoric phase ended abruptly. I shouldn’t have wasted all my serotonin on the first two days.

I don’t want to complain. I don’t want a complaining blog. I want to share all the wonderful and bizarre stories of life in a strange new land. But, c’mon, it’s me. As I mentioned before, I do feel a bit isolated here. I blame the lack of internet access as well as all the obvious. I feel like I am talking to myself in my head all day. I need this blog to communicate. Even though Im not online right now I am typing this on my Word program.

An internet addiction is a hard thing to break.

I need time to work all the kinks out. I am under a lot of stress and haven’t figured out my routines yet. I like routines.

After training today I went out with the other newbies to get food. I ordered rice and a “salad.” We parted ways after that (they’re mostly all living in Hiroshima) and I took the street car back to my area. I like knowing how to take this random public transit. That’s really fun.

I went back to the apartment I am temporarily staying in and took off my heels and slacks. Here, even when I dress up I feel like a slob. All the Japanese people dress so well. After changing into my jeans and mumbling a “hello” to my co-occupant I headed out on the town. I had no idea where I was going. First I went to the internet café, and to elaborate on the story with the Australian man who sat next to me, after he showed me how to switch the kanji off he asked me if I was working in Hiroshima. I said “yes” and then he invited me on a cruise on the 14th. Woa. I told him I wasn’t from around here and heading back to Kudamatsu. That shut him up. Why cant I have a non-creepy interaction with someone? You know, like “Wanna go get some coffee or a beer?” Maybe he works for the cruise line, I don’t know.

view from Hiroshima apartment

So I left the café when he was in the bathroom and wandered around Hiroshima a bit. I couldn’t really find anything interesting, so I stayed around the station. I bought a little notepad and pencil and headed for a coffee shop to draw. They actually had soy lattes so that was excellent! I was pretty exhausted and only did a few scribbles. I was feeling bored. So I stayed about an hour then headed back to the apartment.

I contemplated just going in a random direction and getting lost, but I do have work tomorrow. A partner in crime right about now would be nice.

Training is kind of intense. I mean, the work isn’t hard but the semantics of the lesson plans are a lot to memorize. The speaking English part is a breeze. Tomorrow I’ll be teaching my first lesson by myself. Im not too worried, but I do get nervous if Im being observed.

So the company is pretty shady with a few things. You get paid for 44 minutes every hour; a forty minute lesson with four minutes to prepare. But there is no way you could pull all the files, pick a lesson plan, and get yourself together in four minutes. And they know that. It’s sad they don’t just pay you for your whole work day. But it is a salary, so no matter how much work I do in between I get the same pay. But when you’re asked to come in twenty minutes early to plan it really is unsettling. Maybe that’s just my American attitude. At past jobs you weren’t allowed to even help a customer after you punched out.

Yesterday, when I was traveling to Hiroshima, I was having massive panic attacks about work. I took a pill, didn’t help. I heard some more stories about how the company is in trouble. I was already feeling really stressed out because I had to repack and take a bunch of trains by myself and start this new job. I thought I was going to vomit. Walking to the station with my suitcase was torture, with sweat pouring down my face. When I got to the Kudamatsu JR station I had to drag my bag up a ton of stairs, and then go straight down another flight. While I was doing that my bag began to turn, and it would have twisted my wrist around had I not let go. So my suitcase went tumbling down the stairs. Girls giggled. My laptop was inside. I started crying later while I waited at the Tokoyama station. Maybe I wasn’t crying, maybe it was sweat.

As far as my worries about the company as a whole, and my pay, Ive started to feel a lot better. Ive talked to a lot of people about it and it has put me at ease. The company is closing 200 branches this month, but they aren’t kicking the teachers onto the streets, they’re transferring them to other schools, and just kind of consolidating.

Plus, I found out I am at an advantage, because I have a fresh new work visa. Teachers whose visas are about to expire would be more at risk for getting the boot, people say. And at a certain point if the company collapses Id be eligible for unemployment!

25 September 2007
So day two of training was intense. I taught two full forty minute lessons by myself. The first one was a bit rough; it was only one student, a teenage girl. She went through everything super quickly and I had trouble improvising activities for her to do to fill the rest of the time. At the end of the lesson I asked her if she had any questions and she started giggling and told me she’d just had the same lesson right before! Luckily (since I was being observed), I spinned it super positively and told her, “Oh well, that’s great! Now you’ll have no trouble if you’re ever in this situation!” It was another teacher’s error that caused the repeat, but I handled it well and the student understood the mix up. The staff at work are very concerned about student satisfaction and want the student to return.

I went to dinner and had some pasta and coffee with co-workers. When we got back to training I started feeling really sick. Like, I was gunna puke. I excused myself and I kind of had a cold sweat and was totally dizzy and nauseous. I had my next lesson in twenty minutes. I couldn’t focus on preparing at all. I was just trying to keep myself together. And my supervisor was observing this one.

I told him I didn’t feel well, and that I may just jump up and run to the bathroom at any second. He was cool with it. I think people just get sick when they move to another country, you know? But I actually had a great lesson. I kept everything on track schedule-wise, and was really personable with the students. We made some jokes and I kept them laughing quite a bit. There were definitely things I could have improved on, which may not have been an issue had I prepped more. But all-in-all I feel confident in teaching. I taught the two girls in that lesson what “indie” movies and music are (totally useless information).

Oh, and Ive completely forgotten how to speak in a Boston accent. Im not kidding. I was trying to do an impression for my coworkers and I completely blanked. I tried to channel Lauren, and how Id talk if I was with her, but I couldn’t think of anything past “pahk the cah” and “it’s wicked hahd.” Ive been hanging around too many Brits and Aussies.

So tomorrow is my last day of training. When I get into work I have about an hour to prepare two lessons, which will be back to back. Then I have another two lessons later that day. And that’s it. Thursday I go back home and I begin work Friday.

I hope to do some sight-seeing and picture taking Thursday before I leave. You know, so I have it on record that Ive been to Hiroshima, and never have to come back. Actually, I think I come back in a few days or weeks or months for kids training.

Yeah, so… I blog about my workday. Super-fun stuff, eh?

26 September 2007
Ive been here a week, today.

It could be a lot worse. Please, tell me miserable stories so I can think about how great I have it. It’s the rumours that are killing me. Giving me terrible stomachaches and sucking the fun out of all of this.

I guess I have a choice: a) start looking for a new job and do all the hard stressful work that comes with that but garuntees I stay in Japan or b) go with the flow, see what happens, and if it all goes to hell buy a ticket home.

So why wont my anxiety go away?

For the last few days all Ive been surviving off of 7-11 food, coffee, and rice. I don’t mind, because I don’t have much of an appetite, but I think it has a lot to do with being in someone else’s apartment, not knowing where a grocery store is, and working eight hour days. I could really use some fruit.

I cant wait to get back to Kudamatsu tomorrow. I found out that my schedule has been changed and I’ll be working all my shifts at The Mall. Kinda cool, because it cuts my commuting time down to about five minutes, yet I wouldn’t have minded getting a little further away from home every once in a while, into Tokoyama.

I haven’t really been watching a lot of TV, but I flip through sometimes. Today I saw a show that was teaching French to Japanese people. It made me feel like I was fluent in French.

Random stuff about Japan: I cant understand a word anyone is saying. I fell in love with a train conductor this morning (he may have been slightly mentally incapacitated, I couldn’t really tell). People bike on the sidewalks. The schoolgirls do wear those sailor outfits. There is always the sound of the click-click-clicking of a woman’s heels behind you. You can tell a foreigner from a block away [from behind, in the dark] because we walk completely differently (the Japanese have a lot of bow-legged men and pigeon-toed girls). I have yet to see a robot (unless you count the people). Seriously, dudes, Hiroshima isn’t that cool (Osaka was amazing). Men of all ages stand in rows at 7-11’s reading comic books. Some of the girls here are so shockingly beautiful you want to throw yourself off your ninth floor balcony in a bout of self-pity. There is no soap or paper towels in the bathrooms evah. People here get really, really fall-down drunk. I’ve seen quite a few Japanese people being carried out of bars.

Everything is efficient and everyone is perfect, from the trains to the coffee shops. As soon as you stand up someone is there to bow and wipe your table at a café and written notes of apology are handed out if a train is ever late.

Some problems that may become bigger problems: today I was looking for a “Pepto Bismol” anti-nausea type product and stood in the aisle for literally fifteen minutes, and left the pharmacy empty-handed. I did figure out some products for heartburn, diet aides, and gas, but nothing for nausea. I was scared to just try something with a picture of a sad tummy because I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t laxatives. Would hate to take a few of those before work.

I am really tired. Im heading to the Peace Memorial Park tomorrow afternoon, before I catch my train back. Lots of pictures will be taken, I promise.

27 September 2007

My new attitude: enjoy all this while it lasts (meaning: go out drinking a lot).

Paper cranes from one of the memorials.I went to the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima this morning. Not a super fun place to visit, as you can imagine. It was really depressing reading about children being burned to death. But it was pretty, I just wish it wasnt so hot and I wasnt rushing to catch a train. I am a terrible tourist.

Schoolgirls around the Peace Park

A Boat Restaurant

Oh, and please, only encouraging comments. Im really stressed out enough. Lie to me and make me feel better. And my computer still doesnt work, Im using my roommate's. She's downloaded Skype, and you should too, so we can talk for free!


Jenna De Luca said...

I'm going to attempt to be encouraging so here goes,...

What you're experiencing right now is completely normal and rational. Transitioning to a foreign country is fucking hard, especially when you're doing it alone. Not to mention all the stress with the company.

Honestly, I think many many people feel the same way when they move to another country for a long period of time. Its scary and isolating. But at the same time, all of your experiences are WAY FUCKING better than your worst day at home. I think you know that.

Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone is the only way to grow and live. It hard, but most definitely worth it. You wouldn't have gone to Japan if you weren't ready for all of this. So, "hang tough" and try as hard as you can to go with the flow. It's okay if it's sucky for a while, such is life, even in Japan.

Well, I hope things look up soon.


Jon said...

I think you have everything under control. Nothing sounds any different than when you lived in Mass, just now there are giggling Japanese schoolgirls as a soundtrack instead of loud americans.

I can't believe they have 7-11s there! They don't even have them here in Montréal!
Hopefully i will talk to you soon.
Love you! said...

I love you and I will read this every day. You are amazing.

tofusquirrel said...

I fully agree with what Jenna said.

I love your flickr! Great photos! OF COURSE you fall in love with the conductor! When do you not fall in love with those transit people? haha! I miss being your partner in crime. Lets make that happen again! I can't wait to see you in Feb!

Frederik Jurk said...

Fun fact: I knew how to fold those paper cranes once. It took me about a day to memorize it, and it always impresses someone (maybe not in Japan, though). Then I forgot how to do it again. But it´s one of the easier Origami excercises.

I can understand how you feel, I get this weird sickness everytime I am away from my usual surroundings too. Maybe it´s a good thing you can´t beat those symptoms down with meds, I think you´ll get through this faster that way. Writing a lot always helps in those situation (as you did).

Internet addiction, tell me about it. I SHOULD BE DRAWING NOW.

red-handed said...

Wow, what a disaster. You've made a huge mistake. I can't believe you're not dead. Everything here in North America is perfect. Yesterday it rained ten-dollar bills!

Okay okay, it's not that great. For what it's worth, I do have some inkling as to what you're going through. I've moved to completely new places where I've known not a single soul three times now. And this last summer's adventure (read: completely dissolving my former life for the sake of a relationship) saw me working fifteen-hour days and lose twenty pounds by the end! Awesome!

Just hang on. Be like that kitty in the 'hang in there' poster (try not to think about how dead it is). Things turn corners. You'll see.

Email me your address and I'll send you some fun mail. Take care.

Mim said...

You are BRAVE, BRAVE, BRAVE and will do a wonderful job. Keep up your chin. Don't give up - everyone gets sick in a new country, new job, new friends,no internet! I couldn't do what you are doing - I'd fall down dead. You are very brave!!!

josh pincus is crying said...

hmmm, your writing makes the reader (me, in this case) experience what the writer (you, in this case) is feeling. very good. very, VERY good. i laughed, i cried, i screamed for more. as bad as parts of your experience sound, this is something you will remember fondly forever.
(jeez, i sound like someone's father. wait, I am someone's father.) Take care, kiddo!

Skulldaggery said...

I gots skype!

oh and KAMPARI...

and wow, I want to come so bad...

and, and... errr... I really want to say something really nice.

but I only can think of lame things.
and I don't want to say male things right now.

Prozacville said...

I don't have skype. But if there's a phone somewhere near you where I can phone to try and cheer you up, I will...

d said...

dude. you are the awesomest of the awesome. we're all sitting here jealous of you and the experience you're having right now.

i've never lived overseas, but i imagine that pretty much everyone goes through what you're going through right now. give it some time and you will adjust. don't worry about the company tanking. if that happens, deal with it then. in the meantime, just enjoy it. think of all the great stories you'll have to tell. and all of the great people you will meet. it sounds like the whole teaching thing is going to be a cakewalk for you, so without major job stress, you'll be able to hopefully enjoy living in kudamatsu.

i'm enjoying the blog and the pics.

ElizT said...

Wishing you fun and relaxation!

LSL said...

Well, from the perspective of a fellow Japanese ex-pat, every single thing you're going through is completly normal. I went through, honestly, EXACTLY the same stuff. God, if I could count the meals I ate at 7-11. Find a CoCo's fast (COCO Ichiban). It looks like dog food, but it tastes awesome, and I miss it all the time. Also, go to Italian (which they will pronounce Itarian) restaurants; it's messed up food, but it's the closest to "normal" that I found.

Every Japanese person around you is dying to talk with you. Really. They would just die to be your friend. I started out befriending little kids because they're the only ones I could half-way understand with my terrible Japanese. When I started getting brave enough to start up conversations with Japanese people my own age, I got so many friends and had so many amazing experiences. (Tell them you've never done Japanese karaoke before - that's all it will take.) Anyway, maybe post an address or something - I loved getting American candy to give to Japanese people. They'll freak and you'll be famous.

Hang in there. It's so completely normal, it's like I wrote it myself five years ago. Hang in there! You're not missing a thing in the States; all the crime and ugliness will be here when you decide to return. You're doing great!

Jeannette said...

i cant believe you guys read all that crap.

thanks for coming!

Anonymous said...

haven't even read ur suppper long post yet but i will.
Like i told u it will go by fast enjoy it. cause u'll be back in MA so fast and wonder if it was all just a dream. And u know wht when u get nback u'll feel the same outta touch and outta place for a while to.
It call culture shock to much to fast all comiing at u at once jamming ur senory perception. Trust me u'll get over it and wont even care bout it in a few weeks at best. and yeh the lil kids and girls will giggle till u leave lol and say tis is a pen. and u'll be called gaijin and u'll laugh cry and come back with more stories and experience to last u the rest of ur life so get out there and kick some ass, nicely that is. and draw draw draw that will draw new ppl to u and make them interested in wht u do. ok going to read ur hiroshima experience now.
michael dailey

Anonymous said...

cant believe u havent found a mcdonalds over there or KFC, but i see u have found the 7-11's lol. oh and if u dont write all that crap then ur friends back here wont ever know wht japan is like from ur point of view. and its a good place for u to vent and reconnect in a way with them. so keep writing drawing and picture taking it will take ur mind off the other stuff for a while. michael dailey oh in ur situation with the suitcase and the girls giggliing its a cultural thing. they dont know wht else to do so they giggle. it would be very inpolite of them if they laughed or worse acted like an american in a a similar situation.

Digital Scott's illustrationblog said...

Wow, what a huge leap you took! It must have taken a lot of courage to do this!

Digital Scott's illustrationblog said...

Thanks again for sharing it.

Dan said...

You should definitely start doing origami if you haven't already. Origami is awesome and they have incredible, wicked incredible paper over there. It's an absolute joy to fold. I've probably folded between two and three thousand cranes in the past five years and I highly recommend it. Especially with the paper they have over there.