Archive for the ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’ Category

a june cocktail hour at the family mart   5 comments

Friday, June 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my third cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart again tonight. I find it hilarious to meet here because it’s so ridiculous and unexpected.  Who would have thought of having a happy hour sitting out in front of a Family Mart (like a 7-11)?  Of course, I give credit to my Brit friend, Graham, because he’s the one who started the ritual. We always have a grand time here, so I think you’ll enjoy. 🙂

I only have three more weeks and one day of teaching, and four weeks on my contract. But… who’s counting?  After August 1, I’ll travel around Japan for one week, then I’ll head back to the USA on August 8.  If I have time for a July cocktail hour, I’ll be sure to send out an invite!

Please do tell me about your summer.  Have you traveled anywhere exciting over the summer months? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books? Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?

June here was a long and tedious month, teaching 5 days a week with nary a break in sight.  At least in May, we had the Golden Week break, but in June, it was just work, work, work. On the weekends in June, I went to Fuji Five Lakes, Enoshima and Hasadera, Asakusa and Senso-ji, The Big Buddha in Kamakura and Hasadera again, and back to a neighborhood near Ueno.  I also went on a couple of shopping sprees because June is the rainy season and some of the weekend days were tainted by drizzle and downpours.

The biggest challenges I had to deal with at work this month were:  1) the tedious marking of 55 poorly written academic essays; 2) long and stifling days in the office because the university wouldn’t turn on the air-conditioning until after June 9, and then only when the temperature was over 28C; 3) general lack of motivation and ability of the students, 4) the infernal dust in my apartment, hard to get rid of because I have carpet and no vacuum cleaner.

Work is drudgery, not at all rewarding except in rare moments.  I feel like I have reached the end of my teaching-abroad career.  Though my teaching gigs abroad have given me many opportunities to live and travel in a country, to delve deep and to experience a culture, I simply no longer enjoy teaching non-motivated students who have little reason to learn English. As miserable as the adjunct teaching jobs in America are, at least the students want to study abroad in America and are motivated to succeed.  This is not the case for the students I teach when I’m abroad.

Monday, June 5:  Walking to work this morning, I had to take a picture of my favorite pink house with laundry hanging on the balcony.  My half-hour walks to work have generally been fine, but now that it’s getting hotter and more humid, I’m not thrilled to be dripping with sweat by the time I arrive at the office; as the office is not generally air-conditioned, I’m in misery even after I get to work.  Oh, how I hate the summer heat.  I am a cold-weather girl through and through.

laundry at the pink house

Thursday, June 8: I made my weekly stop at Kiyariya.  This time, the server presented me with a poorly translated English menu in addition to Kenji’s beautifully hand-written and changeable menu. I ordered the gyoza from the English menu. Of course I had the delectable eggplant and my draft beer. 🙂 Everything Kenji prepares is fabulous. 🙂  Not only that, but the atmosphere, the service and the music are delightful.

Gyoza at Kiyariya

As I left the restaurant this time, the server, who speaks a smattering of English, walked me to the front door and said, “See you next week!”

Tuesday, June 13: Tuesdays and Thursdays are my nights to eat out because I get off at 5:40.  On M-W-F, I get off at 6:30.  I never feel like going out on those late work nights.  This evening, I stopped again at Curry Naan and enjoyed the same meal I always have: vegetable curry and a huge piece of naan.  And of course my 100 yen beer. 🙂

I love listening to the music in both of the restaurants I frequent.  I don’t recognize most of the songs I hear at Kenji’s, but I like them very much.  Here, at Curry Naan, you won’t find Indian music of any kind.  Here it’s all classic rock, especially the Beatles. A favorite here seems to be Paul McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said:”

That people will find a way to go
No matter what the man said
And love is fine for all we know
For all we know, our love will grow – that’s what the man said

There’s John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Stand by Me,”  along with his version of “Happy Xmas (War is over).” Then there’s a whistling song I’ve heard before; sadly, I don’t recall the name of it. What an interesting array of music for an Indian restaurant.

Vegetable curry at Curry Naan

Thursday, June 15:  This evening, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart for a couple of beers.  We found it hard to believe, but some Japanese guys were occupying our chairs!  We ended up going to a park on the other side of Fuchinobe Station.  I had never been there before, but it had a nice pond with three swans in it.  There was only one bench with a back, and we sat there and talked for quite a long while.  He’s of the same political beliefs as I am, so we had quite an involved political discussion – of course, it was an agreeable one. 🙂

Friday, June 16:  June has been all about the hydrangeas. I’ve made several weekend outings in search of them, and here are some I see on my way to work.

hydrangeas in the neighborhood

Sunday, June 18:  A month or so ago, I went to a Meetup in Hashimoto and met a nice Japanese lady named Reiko.  She added me on Facebook and we’ve been in touch through Facebook chat.  As we were chatting on Sunday morning, I mentioned that I planned to go shopping; after all it was forecast to rain that afternoon.  She said she’d meet me one metro stop away at Kobuchi, and she’d take me to her favorite discount stores.  We did just that, walking quite a distance to get from one place to another, and enjoying lunch together at one of the shopping malls. I had worn my favorite sandals with heels, but with all the walking, I regretted that decision.  My feet were killing me! Total steps while shopping: 10,326 (4.38 miles).  It was a fun day and I came away with too many tops and one pair of pants. 🙂

Monday, June 19:  Our lecture topic this week was Cultural Expectations in the Classroom.  To give the students a feel for American classrooms, I showed them the Key & Peele Substitute Teacher video from Comedy Central:

I reminded the students of my first days in class with them, when I couldn’t pronounce any of their names. I’m not sure the students got the humor, but I certainly enjoyed it. 🙂

Earlier I said I don’t generally go out to eat on Mon-Wed-Fri because of my late work hours.  However, this Monday, I felt like a treat so I stopped at Kiyariya.  Once again, I enjoyed the wonderful eggplant, and this time I ordered grilled fresh barracuda.  It was delicious!

my favorite eggplant dish at Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kenji’s artistic menu

Tuesday, June 20:  We continued the theme of Cultural Expectations in the Classroom, with today’s lesson focusing on discussions about the topic.  I promised the students I’d show some classroom scenes from great American movies, so I showed several episodes from The Dead Poet’s Society. After showing two preliminary videos for context, I showed my favorite scene.  My students laughed as I wiped away the tears in my eyes and told them I always cry at this scene.

Thursday, June 22: Thursday night seems to have become our night to stop at the Family Mart.  This time, Dee joined us.  You can see our cozy little spot below.

Dee and Graham at Family Mart

Friday, June 23: Today was a special Yukata day on campus.  Many of the girl and boy students wore yakuta on campus.  Yukata comes in cotton fabric and is worn during the summer season. On the contrary, a kimono comes in silk fabric. I took some photos of my rambunctious “I” class.

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my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

Tuesday, June 27:  On my way home from work tonight, I stop again at Kenji’s place, Kiyariya.  This time, they have an English menu and I choose a delicious shrimp dish from that.  Every time I leave the restaurant now, Natsumi, the server, walks out with me and says happily, “See you next week!”

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Shrimp with sauce at Kiyariya

Wednesday, June 28: Today my students presented their inventions.  As I only have my G class on Wednesdays, their inventions are shown below.  They had to do a sales pitch for their product, telling why people should buy it, and what it does.  They were really cute and inventive. 🙂

Click on any of the posters to see a full-sized slide show.

Thursday, June 29:  Today we had debates in class where the students had to prepare for opposing sides on the topic:  Single-sex schools are better than mixed-sex (co-educational) schools. I divided the class in two and gave them time to prepare.

It’s difficult to get Japanese students to speak aloud under any circumstances, but this was an exercise in futility.  For one, even though they had plenty of time to prepare, you’d think I just asked them a question on the spot, for as long as it took them to formulate and speak their arguments. Then, when they spoke, they all, without exception, spoke in katakana English; in this botched English pronunciation, they add an “o” sound to the end of words.  Even my best students, whose English pronunciation one-on-one with me is great, resorted to this botched English, which is typically spoken between Japanese students.  Sometimes, I think the good students don’t want to appear too smart or too capable of speaking English, and in a whole-class speaking session, they resort to katakana to fit in with their classmates. It drove me absolutely crazy, and I wanted to jump into the middle of the debate and call them on it right away.  I restrained myself during the debate session but resolved that I would speak to them about it the next day.

After work, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart, but again, we found our plastic chairs occupied by a couple of Japanese guys. Graham said that he has never found people occupying those seats except when he’s been with me; he said I’m jinxing our Family Mart gatherings!  Haha.  Anyway, we had no choice but to go to the park and sit on our bench.  We had a very enjoyable conversation about a variety of subjects from politics to books to relationships to everything bizarre and wonderful about Japan.  A cool front must have been moving in because it was breezy and comfortable, though still a little humid.

After one beer, I went to use the public bathroom at the end of the pond.  Japanese toilets have all kinds of flush mechanisms.  Some are buttons on the wall and others are on the back of the toilet.  There are also other buttons of unknown purpose; they are actually to call for assistance, but it’s hard to tell which is which.  Tonight I accidentally pushed the wrong button and a loud beep burst forth from the toilet stall, and it kept going and going!  As I hurriedly walked out of the stall, trying to be inconspicuous, a man from the office nearby came running toward the bathroom to see what the ruckus was about.  I bowed and said, I’m sorry!  I pushed the wrong button!!  I’m so sorry!  He probably had a good story to tell his kids that night. 🙂

Friday, June 30: When I asked a couple of my strong students why on earth they were speaking in katakana English during yesterday’s debate, they said they wanted to make sure their classmates could understand them.  I told them they are perfectly capable of speaking correct English and they should not cater to their classmates, but instead be an inspiration and a role model for correct English pronunciation. They apologized profusely.  Speaking to the whole class, I told them all to STOP with the katakana!!!  I said I’m going to be on them from now till the end of the semester because if they go on their study abroad in the fall and are speaking like that, no one will have a clue what they’re saying!

Happy July!  I hope to hear from you all soon. 🙂

a may cocktail hour at the family mart   5 comments

Wednesday, May 31:  Cheers!  Welcome to my second cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart tonight.  We’ll sit out front on the plastic chairs.  It happened quite by accident that I began stopping by this Family Mart on my way home from work. I’ll tell you about it after I get you a drink.

It’s either beer or wine here at the Family Mart, so take your choice.  My favorites are the Japanese beers, of course: Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi.  Asahi and Kirin are my favorites. I’ll be happy to treat; just tell me what you’d like.

Please do tell me about your May.  Have you done anything unusual or just followed your normal routine?  Have you traveled anywhere?  Have you read any good books or watched any good movies or TV shows? Have you visited any gardens?  I took weekend or day trips to: Meiji Shrine and Harajuku, Sankei-en in Yokohama, Mt. Takao, Kameido Tenjin Shrine and the Nezu Museum, the Imperial Palace East Garden, Kawasaki, Odawara Castle and Hakone. Here are a few tidbits about my May.

Monday, May 1:  I went with my colleagues to an Izakaya, above the Pachinko parlor near Fuchinobe Train Station.  An Izakaya is an informal Japanese gastropub, a casual place for after-work drinking. Izakayas have been compared to Irish pubs, tapas bars and early American saloons and taverns.

We drank a couple of mugs of a delicious ale and I ordered an avocado topped with a kind of wasabi-gel, along with some sushi. My friend Graham ordered a kind of pickled mackerel. The whole evening was planned by our Aussie colleague Rob in order to celebrate our only holiday this semester, coming up on Wednesday: Golden Week.

The funniest part of the evening was when our Irish colleague Deirdre told us about these “uraynals” in London that pop up from the ground to allow men to pee after they’ve been drinking at the pub. She kept referring to “uraynal” this and “uraynal” that, and I admit that at first I had no idea what she was talking about.  Finally it dawned on me that she was saying “urinal.”  I said, “That’s so funny you keep referring to them as “uraynals,” because we call them “urinals” in America.”  My American colleague Joe said, “It’s like when we used to say Ur-anus and now we say Uran-us.”

Later, after the conversation turned to other things, I complained that if I kept drinking all this beer, I’d have to pee on the way home; and there was nowhere to do so. Deirdre said, “Oh, that’s never a problem in Japan.  There’s a 7-11 on every corner, so you can pop into one and use the toilet.”  “No,” I replied. “There is not one 7-11 between here and our apartment.  There is NOTHING on that long walk home.”

Joe said, “Don’t worry, maybe you can find a “uraynal.”  Just don’t forget to wipe Uranus.” It was hilarious, and we all laughed long and hard at that one. 🙂

Tuesday, May 2: After work, I stopped at a place called “Beauty” for a haircut. The stylist, Atsushi Matsunaga, wearing makeup and tiny-checkered pants, and sporting a helter-skelter haircut, tried to understand my desired haircut. I showed him the picture I always show everyone.  I pointed to the shaggy bottom of the model’s hair. He said, “Oh… shaggy!”  When he started cutting, I told him to make it shorter; he said, “Oh… short and shaggy.”

He started cutting the sides of my hair with thinning shears, but it wasn’t getting rid of enough of my hair. I always hate it when people use those scissors on my hair because it shows they’re going to be timid in their haircut.  I have very thick and unruly hair, and I often have trouble getting stylists to cut enough of it. I drew Atsushi a set of pictures to show I wanted the bottom straight and not angled at the bottom.  When he finished and they dried my hair, my hair looked like a helmet-head.  I knew it was because he didn’t put enough layers in the sides.

I drew another set of pictures showing a helmet head, thick and straight at the bottom, and another picture with a more rounded profile, sharp at the bottom.  He said “Oh, sharp! – Short, shaggy, sharp!”

That’s the haircut I got, though without enough layers.  When I came home, I stood in front of the mirror with my pair of dull scissors and butchered it some more, chopping more layers into the sides of my hair. 🙂

Tuesday, May 9:  My apartment was getting dusty, but as it’s carpeted and I don’t have a vacuum cleaner, I wasn’t sure how to clean it. One of my colleagues, Dennis, told me I could buy a roller with adhesive on the outside that I could roll over the carpet to pick up dust.  After the roller gets filled with dust and hair, you can peel it off and use the fresh piece of adhesive underneath. Tonight, I stopped at the 100 Yen store on my way home from work and bought one of these rollers, along with a Swiffer mop.  When I told Mike about the roller, he said it sounded like a large lint roller with a handle.  That’s about right.  Using it on my dusty carpet, after blow drying my hair every day for over a month, the roller picked up a lot of dust after just a couple of sweeps over the carpet.  I had to keep unpeeling the dusty adhesive tape, and using successive layers underneath.  It was quite a project.  I wish I were in a ground floor apartment as those have wood floors, easier to keep clean.

Thursday, May 18:  On Thursday night, I walked down a different street than normal to get home and I saw a cozy restaurant that enticed me inside.  The owner, Kenji, who speaks a little English, graciously welcomed me.  His fabulous restaurant is called Kiyariya.  Kenji is a talented and artistic chef, and he has created a lovely little place that I have decided will become one of my regular dinner stops.

You can see Kenji in the picture below with his thumbs up.

Kiyariya

Kenji handwrites all his menus daily in beautiful calligraphy.  I couldn’t read this Thursday menu, but somehow I was able to ask Kenji if he made shrimp tempura; he told me he did. He also served me his fabulous eggplant soaked in olive oil and herbs and topped with grated radish.  It was delectable; I wanted to linger over every bite. My meal of course was accompanied by a draft beer.

This is his large platter of marinated eggplant from which he serves small dishes garnished with herbs and grated radish.

eggplant at Kiyariya

Kenji on the right at Kiyariya

When he brought my shrimp, okra and potato tempura, it was artistically presented.

Shrimp tempura, artistically displayed, at Kiyariya

I sat at the bar at Kiyariya; a fabulous selection of music was piped in.  It was dark, with a cozy atmosphere, just the kind of restaurant I love.  Immediately, this became my new favorite place.

I took a picture of the menu and showed it to some of my students on Friday, and they told me most of the dishes were fish.  I love fish, so that only reinforces my love of this place. 🙂

Friday, May 19: On Friday night, I ran into Dennis next to a billboard right outside the campus gate. He was taking a picture of a QR Code and trying to pull up a map to an Indian restaurant called Curry Naan.  I asked if I could tag along because I love Indian food, so we tried to follow the map to the restaurant.  After losing our internet connection and the map many times, and going around in circles on the confusing streets of Fuchinobe, we finally found the restaurant on a side road off the route to our apartment building.

I was so excited to have found this place, and not that far from home.  Since this first visit, I have also adopted the habit of eating here at least once a week.  My meal is always the same: vegetable curry with a huge piece of naan, a small salad and a 100 yen beer. 🙂

Curry Naan

Tuesday, May 23: I had told some of my colleagues about Kiyariya, and this evening after work Tobi asked if he could come along with me to eat there.  We took our place at the bar, where Kenji showed us his fresh arrangement of fish choices for tonight.  The neatly lined-up array of fish stared at us from the tray, and Tobi and I each picked one to try.

Below is my favorite eggplant dish, Kenji’s menu and my beer.

Kiyariya

After dinner, as Tobi and I walked a couple of blocks down the street, we ran into Graham and Paul outside the Family Mart.  There were only three chairs outside, but one of the Family Mart employees brought us out another chair.  We enjoyed a nice long and boisterous cocktail hour right outside the Family Mart.  This has become another weekly event, except when we find someone else occupying our chairs!  It’s a blast!

Tobi, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

me, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

Wednesday, May 24: Tonight I went out of my way to the Gourmet City for a big grocery shop.  After loading up my basket, I remembered that I had forgotten to get cash, so I checked my wallet to see how much I had.  I had only 1,000 yen (less than $10).  As you can’t use the Japan Post debit card at stores in Japan, only at ATM machines, and my card didn’t work in the ATM at the supermarket, I had to go around and put everything in my basket back on the shelves.  What a bummer!

Thursday, May 25: Tonight Paul and Graham took me to one of their favorite restaurants, Jonathan’s, on the other side of the Fuchinobe train station.  It was sort of like a Denny’s in America.  I ordered a pizza and I told Graham to help himself to a piece.  He said he’d wait to see what I didn’t want.  As we talked and drank beer, without thinking, I gobbled down my entire pizza. I felt bad because I’d offered Graham a slice, and I think he was waiting, mouth-watering for a piece.  What kind of friend am I?

This month, I finally finished The Color of Our Sky (it was just okay) and started reading The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.  I also got involved in watching The Good Wife, which I’m enjoying immensely.  I tried to watch Amelie for about the millionth time on Netflix, but it only had Japanese subtitles. 😦  I feel like I’ve done a lot of exploring of Japan this month, mostly because we had that five-day holiday for Golden Week.  In June, the rainy season is supposed to be upon us, so I fear that will curtail my adventures. 🙂

 

an april cocktail hour at the yakatori grill   5 comments

Sunday, April 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my first cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local yakatori grill tonight because my apartment is either a rabbit hut or a dog kennel, depending on who is labeling it. You can just order what you like at the bar.  As for me, I’m having my favorite Japanese beverages: a sip of hot sake followed by a cold swig of Sapporo beer.  My sister in L.A. taught me that combination, and I’m sticking with it here in Japan.

I hope all is well with you.  I apologize that I haven’t been able to keep up with all my fellow bloggers and friends as I would like.  I work 9 hours a day, walk a half-hour to and from work each day, and then collapse in the evenings.  Every weekend day I go out, trying to see as much of Japan as I can in the short four months I have.  Then I edit my pictures and post blogs about my explorations.  I simply don’t have the time to keep up as I would like.  I figure there will be time for that when I return home, as I’ll have no job and nothing to occupy my time.  But here, now, I must take advantage of this opportunity to explore Japan.

Please do tell me about your spring. I hope yours hasn’t been as cold and rainy as mine has been here in Japan.  Have you planned any travels or taken any trips? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books?  Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?  Have you done any cooking?  Have you gone on any political rants?  (I have gone on a lot of those lately!)

As for me, this month has been all about getting acclimated to a new apartment, new job, new neighborhood, and new culture. This is just the kind of adventure I love, living and working in a place, getting immersed in the culture, digging beneath the surface.  It always gives me a boost of confidence when I am able to successfully negotiate challenges under these circumstances.  Here are a few tidbits about my month.

Friday, April 7:  Today was my first day of classes.  I teach G, H and I levels, a total of 56 students.  “A” is the lowest and “L” is the highest, so I teach the intermediate, or second from the top quarter, of the second year students. It went fairly well, except I realized right away that my “G” class was a very low-level.  A group of girls and two boys sat together at the back of the room and seemed totally disconnected from the classroom lesson. My “H” class was wonderful, but my “I” class, the last class of the day, from 4:50-6:20, had 8 boys who sat at the back of the class cutting up, and the girls were pretty chatty and noisy as well. Because of the “G” and “I” classes, I realized right away I needed to create seating charts. I created one immediately, separating all boys in the “I” class, and separating the group of low-level seemingly disinterested students in the “G” class.  This also helped me to learn the Japanese names; this was quite a learning curve as I knew nothing about Japanese names.  In China, all my Chinese students took English names, but that is not the case in Japan.  I didn’t know boys’ names from girls’ names; neither did I know how to pronounce any of them, so I was one confused teacher.  I’m sure my students found it quite amusing.

Our administrator met with us to talk about an urgent issue: the sponges in the “pantry,” which I would call the employee kitchen.  This kitchen is mostly for the Japanese staff, as we foreign teachers are pretty much relegated to our own office, caged off from the rest of the staff.  We’ve been told not to speak to the Japanese staff unless necessary.

In the meeting, we were informed that the two small pink sponges on the right of the sink are expressly for wiping the countertops. The large yellow one is for cleaning oily things like Bento boxes.  The large pink sponge next to the yellow one is for cleaning glasses and cups.

Our administrator said, “Sorry. You know — this is Japan,” and she laughed.  🙂

I have about a half-hour walk to work every day, and the first day my feet were killing me because I wore my work flats with the required knee-high stockings.  I decided I would need to wear walking shoes to work; it would be impossible to wear work shoes for a half-hour walk each way.

My first full week of work was stressful with planning and teaching; the students are a lower level than I expected, and they don’t seem motivated.  Planning time seemed in short supply, but my goal from the beginning was to never bring work home with me; after all, I am in the office 9 hours a day.  I was able to do this in Oman, and my goal is to confine my work to the office here too.

Monday, April 10: My Monday lesson was a “shock lecture,” the purpose being to shock the students into realizing how difficult this Academic (Applied Skills) course will be.  The students were to practice note-taking while listening to a high-level lecture about genetics and Mendel and pea plants.  If they managed to take any notes, it was just random words; they certainly had no understanding of the lecture.  It was long and boring as hell.  The biggest problems with the lecture for them were: 1) vocabulary; 2) the topic; 3) speed of delivery; 4) their inability to concentrate; and 5) the length of the lecture, according to a survey I did in class. In effect, everything.

Tuesday, April 11: It rained all day today. It was cold everywhere, classrooms included. In the evening, walking home, I ran into my colleague Tobi and we decided to stop for dinner at a Japanese yakatori grill on our way home.  The husband and wife owners were kind and jovial and the place was warm and cozy.  The menu was only in Japanese and the owners spoke no English, so it was a challenge to communicate what we wanted to eat.  We didn’t even know what kind of restaurant it was at the time!  We had sake and beer, peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, shishito peppers, and yakatori, a Japanese type of skewered chicken. The preparation of yakitori involves skewering the meat with kushi, a type of skewer typically made of steel, bamboo, or similar materials. Afterwards, the skewers are grilled over a charcoal fire. The bill was quite high however, and I wasn’t sure of the prices of each item we got.

a mom-and-pop yakitori grill in fuchinobe

The bar had a bunch of Hello Kitty things lined up on it.  On the wall over our table were unopened packages of weird things from about 40 years ago, such as stamped postcards and old miniature toys.

hello, kitty!

After leaving the restaurant in the wind and rain, I broke my second umbrella when the wind kept blowing it inside out.

Thursday, April 13: Less than one week after classes started, my “I” class was out of control.  The boys kept laughing it up, speaking Japanese, and being generally disruptive. One student kept putting his jacket on upside down and then passing it to his friends, who also put it on upside down. I could see the class was spinning out of control, so I had to figure out what I would do to solve the problem.  One of the reasons I don’t like teaching any students below university age is because of discipline problems, and this behavior was like that of middle-school students. I knew this semester would be a disaster if I didn’t get that class under control.

Friday, April 14:  I had a talk with my “I” class about their behavior.  I told them their disruptive behavior yesterday was a big problem for me.  I said, “They’re paying me a lot of money to come all the way from the USA (not really true!) to help you improve your English so your Study Abroad will be successful.  Yesterday, I felt like I was teaching middle school.  That’s exactly why I teach university students and I refuse to teach middle school because I don’t need those kinds of problems in my life. If you are interested in studying  with me, I’m interested in helping, but if you’re not, I’m not interested.”  At that point, I rolled out a new seating chart, separating all the boys.  They weren’t happy about that, but they finally settled down and worked well together. Near the end of class, I thanked them for being so respectful and cooperative and I allowed them to leave 5 minutes early.

The school cafeteria is pretty good and the food is reasonably priced; there, we can get hot udon or soba noodles, or a white sesame ramen.  My colleague Graham, a Brit, told me he tells the cafeteria servers to give him “squashy soup,” which means a lot of noodles but only a little broth. Later, I was informed by a Japanese friend, it should be “skoshi” soup.  When I went to lunch with my Irish colleague Dee one day, she forgot what she was supposed to say and she said “squishy soup, please.”  I got a big laugh out of that.

Dee told a story of hanging her laundry out to dry on her balcony.  One of her shirts fell off the balcony behind a wall.  A young Japanese man brought it back to her on a hanger all washed and ironed; he had found it and cleaned it because it had gotten dirty when it fell.  This is typical of kindnesses offered by the Japanese.

Friday, April 21: Today’s class was on counterarguments and rebuttals.  I nominated a student to do a role play with me at the front of the class.  The student was to play a teenager who asks his mother to borrow her car to drive to Nagano with 3 friends.  The teen just got his driver’s license 6 months ago and has driven 10 times with no problems.

In class “I,” what I call my rambunctious class, one boy student, Daigo, got up to play the teenager.  Here is the role play we had.

  • Daigo: Can I borrow the car to drive to Nagano?
  • Me: Who are you going with?
  • Daigo: My friend’s mother.
  • Me: Just you and her, alone?
  • Daigo: Yes.
  • Me: It’s not appropriate for you to go alone with your friend’s mother. She’s twice your age!
  • Daigo: But I’m in love with her.
  • Me:  She’s married!  You cannot borrow the car and you cannot go with her.
  • Daigo: But I want to go.  Her husband works and she’s lonely.  I love her!

The class was cracking up laughing at this ridiculous role play, and I was laughing right along with them. It was quite funny, but I’m not sure they got the whole idea that this was a counter argument and rebuttal, because later, when they had to write a thesis statement with a counter argument and rebuttal, their rebuttals were actually more counterarguments against the original thesis!

Another student in class “I” fell asleep in class.  I stood over him and said, “Wake up.  If you don’t wake up, I’m going to count you absent. If you’re going to sleep, then you need to leave the class.”  Then Lisa behind him fell asleep!  Ugh.  I hate these kinds of problems!

Saturday, April 22:  Today I went shopping in Machida, a busy commercial area two stops away from Fuchinobe. When I arrived, I bought a cinnamon waffle, which I’ve seen every time I’ve gone to Machida to change to the Odakyu Line. But there was nowhere to sit and eat it, and I remembered I learned that the Japanese think it rude to eat while walking.  I went to Starbucks and ordered a half a club sandwich just so I could sit down and eat my waffle!

I learned a few things while shopping in Japan.

  1. You have to take your shoes off before entering a dressing room, especially when there is carpet in there.
  2. You have to wear a hood over your head to protect tops from makeup or hair dirt or oil. The hood is made of a material similar to dryer sheets like Bounce. It’s a pain because the hood gets all caught up in the neck of the blouse when you pull it over your head, and it comes off anyway!

Monday, April 24: When I got home at around 7:30, after stopping at Gourmet City for some groceries, I realized that my company phone wasn’t in my purse.  I’ve heard we will be charged an exorbitant sum if we lose that phone, so, in a panic, after gobbling down some sushi and a few sips of beer, I hopped on my bicycle and rode at top speed to the university.  I knew I’d never be able to sleep at night without knowing if I’d simply left the phone in the office or permanently lost it.  Luckily, I found the phone sitting right on top of my desk.  Whew!

In April, I kept busy watching Frankie and Grace and Love on Netflix in my down time. I’ve also been plodding through The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi.

I hope you’ll tell me about your spring!  Since I’m so far behind on my cocktail hours, a May cocktail hour will follow shortly. 🙂

 

aoyama gakuin university   5 comments

Wednesday, April 12: I’ve almost finished my first full week of teaching with Westgate Corporation at Aoyama Gakuin University Sagamihara Campus.  My employer is actually Westgate, and they hire us out to the university.  The university’s program is a two-year program within the School of Global Studies and Collaboration; I teach second year students who will be going on a study abroad in the fall semester to either Malaysia or Thailand.  We’re supposed to help them improve their English skills for their study abroad program; this program is meant to enhance their understanding of different cultures.

Here are some pictures of the campus.

Aoyama Gakuin University Sagimahara Campus

According to the university website, the university was founded in 1949, offering an education in line with “the founding spirit” based on the Christian faith. The aim is to nurture individuals with a strong sense of social responsibility and morality to contribute to ever-changing society. The university is also strongly committed to language education and international exchange to promote international understanding.

Aoyama Gakuin University Sagimahara Campus

Though the university was founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church, and there is a chapel on campus, neither students nor faculty are actually required to be of the Christian faith.  However, we can hear church music and bells on campus, and students have a special chapel time set aside each day.

the chapel on campus

Our teacher office is in the building on the right in the photo below, and the huge cafeteria is on the left.  Bento boxes are offered by kiosks, prepared meals are sold in the 7-11 on-site, and hot meals are sold in the sprawling cafeteria.  There are displays of the food, and machines that list the price and the dish in Japanese (machines on one wall name them in English, thank goodness).  You push a button on the machine, put in your Yen, and then collect a ticket.  At the back, you take your ticket to one of the serving stations depending on what you ordered: a station for udon, ramen, soba, fish or chicken dinner, etc.  You then stand in line, hand your ticket to the ladies behind the counter, and they serve you up!

Aoyama Gakuin University Sagimahara Campus

the chapel

the chapel

the chapel

I have three classes of 18-20 students, 56 students altogether.  I teach all three classes for 90 minutes each on Monday, Thursday and Friday; on Tuesday and Wednesday, the three classes are spread out over two days, giving us some planning time.  I plan four classes a week (repeating the lesson for each of my three classes).  I work 9:30-6;30 on M-W-F and 8:40-5:40 on Tu-Th.

If it seems confusing, you’re right, it is.  I have to keep referring to my schedule to see when I work and where I go to teach and which classes I have.  But, that is always the nature of teaching.

So far my students are a pleasure and seem eager to improve their English for their upcoming study abroad.

notes from my sagamihara neighborhood   8 comments

Wednesday, April 12:  I live in a small apartment owned by Leopalace in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture; my building is a 20-minute walk from the Fuchinobe metro stop on the JR Yokohama Line and a 30-minute walk from the university where I teach 9 hours/day Monday-Friday.

In our small parking lot, we have one of Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines.  These vending machines can be found on corners throughout Japanese neighborhoods every couple of blocks or so.  On the bottom row, where you see red labels, are the hot coffees in cans. The top two rows offer cold coffees in cans, soft drinks, juices, and flavored waters.  During my first two weeks, I often ran out to the vending machine in the mornings to get a coffee. But it was a pain because I wasn’t sure it would be acceptable to go outside in my pajamas.  I dutifully got dressed, went outside to get the coffee, then put my pajamas back on.  After all, who doesn’t like to drink coffee in their pajamas? 🙂

the vending machine in the parking lot of my Leopalace apartment

I’ve been now experimenting with various coffee options since we don’t have any kind of coffee-maker or kettle in our apartments.  First, I found small cup-sized paper filters (cone-shaped with flat bottoms) in the supermarket.  Then I bought some coffee grounds with pictures on the package showing the coffee grounds placed in the filter in the cup and hot water being poured over the grounds.  That didn’t work too well, because as soon as I poured the water into the filter, the filter, weighed down by the water and the grounds, sank to the bottom of the cup, making for a murky, ground-filled cup of coffee.  That certainly wasn’t a good option.

Next, I bought a small jar of instant coffee.  I drank instant coffee constantly in China, Korea and Oman, so I’m used to it.  However, for some reason, the instant coffee grounds didn’t totally dissolve.  It’s Nescafé and the grounds are finer than the other grounds I bought, but since the jar’s contents are written in Japanese, I’m not sure it is instant coffee.

Recently, one of my colleagues told me he uses this cone-like filter with a cardboard contraption that fits around the top of the filter, suspending the filter at the top of the cup as you pour hot water into it.  Each filter is pre-filled with just the right amount of coffee.  Wouldn’t you know the Japanese would invent a genius contraption like this. 🙂

the coffee contraption

I love living in a new culture because even the most mundane things, like figuring out how to drink coffee, are adventures.  Everyday life is far from monotonous.

Below is the view of my top floor corner apartment, #201, from the vending machine.

My apartment is the top corner one on the right from this vantage point, which is on the other side of the building.

Mine is top right. 🙂

I love my Japanese neighborhood.  The houses are compact with tiny carports or little garages housing colorful compact carts. Many neighbors have created beautiful gardens in their postage stamp-sized yards; some of these container gardens spill out into the street, giving pleasure to passers-by.

a house with a garden

another home garden

flowers with umbrella

I am surprised to find a few brightly colored houses interspersed with the brown, gray and white ones.

house decked out in pink

The trees in people’s yards are often either trained into bonsai shapes or trimmed into ovals, cylinders or balls.

another Japanese house

This is one of my long stretches on my walk into town.

the long walk home

Here’s another long stretch.

the long walk continues

Closer to town, I find some cute little bakeries and cafes.  I haven’t yet tried them out, but I will do so soon.

Last Tuesday at this spot, I heard three fighter jets roaring overhead and of course the first thing I thought of was North Korea.  I couldn’t find anything special in the news about N.K. though.

some cute shops close to town

One of the stores in town is a Beauty store, and inside are personal care items like lotions, shampoos, and toothpaste. I went in one day with a specific list: nail polish remover, hand lotion, body lotion, conditioner. I stood staring at the shelves for a long time, unable to figure out which item was body lotion vs. body wash, which was conditioner vs. hair “milk,” and not seeing nail polish remover or anything like it.  Unable to communicate with the only person in the shop, a male cashier, I had to resort to putting each item into my translator; he patiently led me to each item in the shop and, voila, my trip was successful. 🙂

Back closer to my apartment, about 1 1/2 blocks away from home, is our friendly Seven & I Holdings: 7i – which of course, we simply call 7-11.  I didn’t know this but according to Wikipedia, Seven & I Holdings was established on September 1, 2005 as the parent company of the 7-Eleven Japan chain of convenience stores, the Ito-Yokado grocery and clothing stores, and the Denny’s Japan family restaurants. In November 2005, it completed the purchase of US-based 7-Eleven Inc.

So they are the same, and all owned by a Japanese company.  A 7-11 in Japan is much like Wawa in the U.S.  Every day the shelves are filled with freshly prepared boxed Japanese meals, arranged prettily in plastic containers.  You can get almost anything here.  Too many nights, I’ve eaten dinner picked right off these shelves, and they’ve been quite tasty.

our neighborhood 7-11

Here are a few other narrow streets in our neighborhood.

a neigborhood road

a bonsai garden

We even have some cherry blossoms blooming near this multi-story apartment building.

sakura in the neighborhood

more cherry blossoms

This past Saturday, when we had a break in the rain, I rode my bicycle to the Gourmet City supermarket to stock up on food for the week.  I rode a different route than I normally take and happened upon this cute vermillion shrine.  My shiny new blue bicycle is in front.

a cute little shrine and my trusty bicycle

the shrine up close

The two guardian dogs seemed quite friendly and didn’t snarl one bit.

I love this little shrine.

the tiny red shrine

From the vermillion shrine, I took a detour down a side road and found this exuberant garden.  From there, I kept going to a canal with a walking/biking path beside it, and I rode down that for a while, admiring the big houses on a small hill across the canal.

Cherry blossoms in the neighborhood

In route to the supermarket, I found this row of cherry blossoms in bloom.

sakura in samigahara

Gourmet City is a good-sized supermarket / 100 Yen store a couple of blocks off our route to the university.  I like it because it’s not like the huge multi-story “c-spot superstore.” I don’t enjoy shopping in those huge places that are similar to Wal-Mart or K-Mart.  Now that I’ve discovered Gourmet City, I think that’s where I’ll be doing my shopping.

Every encounter I have with Japanese salespeople is delightful and bewildering all at the same time.  At Gourmet City, I load up a small basket with groceries and place it on the conveyor belt.  The Japanese cashier says hello, followed by a string of other words that I can’t understand but sound sweet and friendly.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to pull up the simple word for hello, “Konichiwa,” but my brain is so slow that by the time I finally blurt it out, the woman has probably said “hello, how are you today, my children are Tomoko and Nene and they are talented at violin and piano, and I love to do flower arranging and my husband works for one of the big car manufacturers…”  My hello comes awkwardly late in the interaction.

In the meantime, she is running all my goods over the price reader, chattering the whole time as if it’s the most normal thing in the world that I should understand her.  When she finishes, she tells me the amount and I open my purse.  The total is 3,684 yen, so I pull out three 1,000 yen notes and then start digging in my change purse for the balance.  I can’t tell one coin from the other (10 yen coins look like US pennies and 100 yen coins are like nickels).  In my confusion, and noticing a line of people growing behind me, I hold out my chain purse to the cashier, and she digs around in there and pulls out the coins she needs.  I place my notes and she places my coins on a little tray (I finally figured out I am always supposed to put my money on a tray rather than handing the money to the cashier), and then she takes the money from the tray.  After that, I say “Arigato,” and she says “Arigato blah, blah, blah (a lot of other words)” and she bows to me and I bow to her.  We bow back and forth several times each, smiling away the whole time.  Then she hands me some plastic bags with my basket and directs me to a shelf where I see other people bagging their own groceries.  I bag my groceries and leave, loading up my bicycle with the bags, and ride speedily home.

I love all the bowing.  It sometimes goes on so many times I lose count.  I bow, they bow back, I bow again, they bow back.  Japanese interactions are one huge bow-fest!  This always makes me smile because it all seems so respectful, quirky and charming.

I’m enjoying my sprawling yet homey neighborhood with its: neat narrow streets; cute homes with flower and container gardens, rock features, and bonsai trees; compact cars squeezed into compact carports; cherry blossoms; tiny vermillion shrine; and trusty vending machines and 7-11.

I’m also getting used to the complicated trash and recyclable collection days: Monday and Thursday for burnables and non-burnables, Tuesday for plastic bottles, cans and containers, and Friday for cans.

This morning I left my house at 7:45; we start early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so this was my first day to leave so early.  All along my route to school were Japanese schoolchildren walking in orderly lines to school, wearing colorful galoshes, carrying umbrellas with heart and flower patterns, and lugging huge mailbox-shaped backpacks on their backs.  Each line was led by an adult.  At first I was surprised, thinking they were going somewhere with their teachers, possibly on a little field trip during the early morning school hours, but it was definitely odd to be doing that at such an early hour.  I wondered who formed the lines and where they originated.  There were scores of lines converging from all directions, with maybe 10-15 students in each line; like ants on an anthill they scurried along with definite order and purpose.  I finally figured out that the lines served the purpose of school buses in the U.S.: one driver – a parent – driving (leading) the children to school, but without the bus.

This world can be so delightful sometimes. 🙂

 

two orientations in tokyo … and little kindnesses   11 comments

Friday, March 31:  We have a full day orientation in Tokyo today, so two of my colleagues and I leave our apartment building at 6 a.m. to negotiate the Yokohama and Tokyo metro system.  We walk 20 minutes to Fuchinobe, where we take the JR Yokohama line (local) and get off at Nagatsuta.  We then switch to the Tokyo Denentoshi Line (Semi-Express) for Minami Kurihashi, getting off at Shibuya, Tokyo’s busiest station.  However, we don’t leave the station, as we switch to the Tokyo Metro Hanzoumon (Express) line, getting off finally at Kudanshita.  All of this takes 2 hours, door-to-door. Much of the time, the trains are packed, with standing room only.  We figured this would be the case on a Friday morning, and we were right.

The Tokyo metro is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  Below is a photo of the map.  We are on the outskirts, indicated by the circle around Fuchinobe on the lower left quadrant of the map.  Yokohama is further south and to the right on the lower left quadrant.

One thing I love so far about the Tokyo metro is that every station has a restroom!  I wish the Washington, D.C. metro had the same.  It is so civilized!  It’s always a relief to know I can stop if I need to.

We don’t see this on the Yokohama line, but on the Tokyo line, white-gloved uniformed conductors with hats stand evenly spaced on the platform edge; they whistle and wave yellow cloths or red plastic batons to signal the platform is clear and the doors can be closed. It’s a delight to watch.

The Tokyo Metro system

At Kudanshita’s Exit 5, we’re to turn left at the Starbucks on the left and go straight to Bellesalle Kudan, a large building, possibly a conference center.  Since we’re an hour early for orientation, which begins at 9:00, we get coffee at a McDonald’s near the metro instead.

The morning session is for new teachers to Westgate.  In the afternoon, the returning teachers join us.  All of us are teaching in the accredited program.  Westgate’s other university program is called the extra-curricular program.  I believe that starts later in the month.  There are nine teachers at our university in Westgate’s accredited program.

At lunchtime, I go with two of my colleagues to an Indian restaurant and have an impressive airplane-shaped naan, dal curry and a mango lassi.  Some of us wish it wasn’t lunchtime so we could enjoy a beer.

After orientation ends at 5:00, and we are back on metro, we’re on the lookout for the Nagatsuta stop. We think we are going in the right direction but we’re not certain. A tall thin Japanese man with gleaming brown Oxfords, longish straight black hair and glasses which give him a nerdy-smart look, overhears us discussing this conundrum.  I notice him inclining his ear toward us and then checking the metro map and counting stops on his fingers. I say to my colleagues “He’s helping us,” and he turns to us and tells us we have four more stops, saying Nagatsuta and putting up 4 fingers.  When we get to the station, he says, “Here.”  He is so kind to help us out without speaking any English and without us asking.  I say “arigato” and bow to him.

It is rainy and cold as we leave the station and the guys are walking so fast I am practically running to keep up with them.  Tobias doesn’t have an umbrella and wonders whether he should go out of his way to the big pink superstore to buy one.  He decides against it, and on one long stretch on the way home, a man suddenly appears and offers a bright green umbrella to him.  Two kindnesses in one day.  I say, “All we need is a little kindness in the world.”  I feel especially happy for these gifts, and relieved to be far away from the U.S.A., where kindness is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Joe and I go to the 7-11 for a few things.  Suddenly, Tobias, who had gone straight back to his apartment, comes to the 7-11 to warn us that the guy selling television subscriptions is hanging around the apartment building.  I don’t want to pay for using the television in my apartment as I never watch it.  Everything on it is in Japanese, except maybe a couple of stations, and I watch everything I need on my computer.  We have been advised not to answer the door to this guy.  Later, he returns, close to 8:30 p.m., knocking and ringing the doorbell, but I pretend I’m not home and don’t answer the door.

Today’s dictionary word of the day is Weltschmerz (Velt-shmerts), which is German.  It means: sorrow that one feels and accepts as one’s necessary portion in life; sentimental pessimism.  The word makes me think of the Japanese man on the train, who seemed a little sad and resigned, and Mary MacKenzie’s complicated and doomed love affair with a Japanese nobleman in The Ginger Tree, and the line from the novel: “There is nothing like living in a country as an enemy alien to really thin down the roster of your friends.”

I was happy to get home to my warm apartment (well, it took a while to warm it up after such a cold and rainy day), especially after the long walk in the rain in my flimsy clothes.  I enjoyed a prepared dinner from 7-11 of tiny mussels with veggies on rice, spicy cucumbers, and an Asahi beer.

Saturday, April 1:  Luckily we don’t have to go into Tokyo for our campus-specific orientation until 10:00, so I have a bit of a leisurely morning.  I prepare my first breakfast in my tiny frying pan: scrambled eggs with grape tomatoes – except without a spatula. Another thing to add to my list. Now that I’ve bought a few things and my suitcases have been unpacked, my apartment is starting to look a little cozier.

I meet my colleagues by the vending machine at 10:00 a.m. and we’re on our way to a different location in Tokyo, the Westgate Corporation office.  This time we walk 20 minutes, take the Yokohama Line to Machida (7 min), then get on the Odakyu Line Rapid Express for Shinjuku (26 min), which is standing room only.  At Yoyogi-Uehara we transfer to the Tokyo-Metro Chiyoda Line (23 minutes).  We get off this line at Yushima.  All told it’s about an hour and 20 minutes.

As soon as we exit the Yushima Station, we go in search of a ramen restaurant.  One of my colleagues has lived off and on in Japan for eight years, so he knows exactly what to look for.  We find a cozy little spot where we order from a machine covered in pictures.  I have no idea what I am going to get, but the picture looks enticing and a young man informs me that it has baby shrimp in it (always a selling point!), as well as some minced pork.  We sit at the bar and soon the waitress brings three steaming bowls.  I have ordered #2 spicy (out of 5), and it is perfect.  I could have eaten a bottomless bowl of this soup.  This is the best meal I’ve eaten in Japan so far.  I guess since most of my meals have come from 7-11, that’s not surprising!

ramen noodles with pork and shrimp and #2 spicy broth

During lunch, I talk with a young Japanese man who works in quality control at a machine parts factory.  He is heading to work after lunch. He’s very friendly and I really appreciate him for making an effort to speak English with us despite it being a struggle for him.

It turns out the Westgate office looks somewhat like an apartment made into office space.  It’s a warm and inviting place for a small group meeting.  Reiko, CDT (Curriculum Development and Training), is very organized and has a laid-back demeanor. We get our schedule and it looks like I’ll be teaching three classes a day on M, Th, and F, 90 minutes each, around 20 students in each class.  Each of the three classes will be the same lesson, much like what I had in China, except I had four of the same class in China. That means one prepared lesson plan per day.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll also be teaching the three classes, but spread over two days.  It’s good, because it looks like we have planning time built into the schedule.  I will also have an English Camp class to lead, which is conversation where students can just drop in.  It seems I’ll be teaching until 6:30 three nights at week on M, Th and F.  As a morning person, that isn’t ideal.

After our orientation, we backtrack to Fuchinobe by metro, and I peel off to visit the pink superstore, where I buy a bedside lamp (it’s really a desk lamp, but it works), a 3-drawer plastic container for my jewelry, and more hangers.  When I return home, I hang up the rest of my clothes and store my suitcases in the loft.  I’m feeling pretty organized. 🙂

For dinner, since I had a big lunch and am tired from our day and from lugging stuff home, I eat half of a shrimp and pasta dish I got, again from my trusty 7-11, accompanied by a slice of bread and an Asahi beer.

We have the next two days off, so I plan tomorrow to take the same metro route I took today, and visit Ueno Park to see the cherry blossoms; the peak is supposed to be this weekend. I’m using Walk #9 from my Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City book.  The main problem with this book is that it doesn’t tell you the distance or the time.  The walk looks pretty exhaustive.  We’ll see how that goes. 🙂

from bwi to sagamihara: settling in on the other side of the world (& moving into the future)   12 comments

Monday, March 27, 2017:  It’s an odd thing to consider how time marches on, whether you’re ready for what’s to come or not.  Preparing to live and work abroad for the fourth time, this time to Japan, I knew the things I had to do.  I made lists.  I did the things on the list and checked them off.  Each day passed, bringing me one day closer to when I had to leave.  Sometimes, during the preparation time, it seemed the day would never come.  And then it did.

So, at 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning, my alarm went off and I got up and got ready.  Mike drove me an hour to Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport.  Although Dulles Airport is only 20 minutes from my home, it was a lot cheaper to fly from BWI.  Westgate only reimburses $1,200 for a round trip ticket, so I opted to fly for $1,328 from BWI rather than for $1,800 from Dulles. At least I’m only out-of-pocket by a little over $100.

At the airport, I checked my two bags, one large and one medium.  I packed only warm weather clothes, with a few light layers.  After all, I’ll be in Japan for spring and summer.  I didn’t want to bring a heavy winter coat and then have to deal with bringing it home later. I brought a carry-on bag and my personal item. Mike took a picture of me and said goodbye.  I was on my way.

Me at BWI on Monday morning – the journey begins

My American Airlines flight took off at 7:59 a.m. for Chicago O’Hare.  On that 2-hour flight, I talked nonstop with a woman from Iowa.  We shared stories of our children.  She told me her son is doing well, married with children; he has a decent job and a strong work ethic as a pool painter.  However, as an early teen, he had many emotional struggles, including two suicide attempts that luckily failed (once he drank lighter fluid and another time he took an overdose of Tylenol). She teaches at a Christian school and is delighted with the elementary age children. She wonders if both her son and husband are bipolar, but they’ve never been diagnosed or medicated.  Her husband is a homebody and loves nothing better than to sit in front of the TV with a drink in his hand, while she says she’s adventurous and loves to travel to visit her grandchildren.  Of course, I shared some of the struggles with my children as well; my followers know something about these.

A 32-year-old young man in the row ahead overheard me talking about going to teach in Japan and he turned around and asked if I would be teaching with Westgate.  I said yes, and he said he would be too; this would be his first time in Asia.  He has taught in Central and South America.  He said his parents want him to get a permanent job so he doesn’t keep ending up back at home between gigs.  Ah, the life of the vagabond EFL teacher.

I had a two-hour layover at Chicago O’Hare, at which time I bought the book Silence by Shūsaku Endō. It has been made into a movie which I have yet to see — about two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan, a country hostile to their religion.

We boarded on time and took off at 12:55 p.m. for the long flight (13 hours) from Chicago to Narita.  On the plane, I alternatively ate, slept, and watched movies. One was a Japanese movie with subtitles called After the Storm, about a former prize-winning novelist, Ryota Shinoda, who now works as a private detective; he wastes all his money gambling such that he can’t pay child support to his ex-wife.  He tries to sponge off his aging mother and her pension. He still loves his ex-wife, who he finds, during “off-duty” private detective work, is dating a wealthy Telecom executive.  He still sees himself as a great novelist, although the only writing he seems to do is jotting one liners from his friends on post-it notes, which he places on a bulletin board in his shabby apartment.  Some of those lines are: “Don’t envy the future.” “It’s not so easy being the man you wanted to be.”  When he tries to bond with his young son, Shingo, during a typhoon, shored up in a pink playground cave, his son asks Shinoda if he is now what he wanted to be when he was young.  Shinoda replies, “What matters is to live my life trying to become what I want to be.”  I love that line. 🙂

I also watched Jackie, about Jackie Kennedy’s attempts to preserve her dignity and her husband’s legacy after his assassination.  The movie wasn’t that compelling to me.  Toward the end of the flight, I began Bridget Jones’s Baby, which I was actually enjoying, but I didn’t get to finish it because we landed. 🙂

Tuesday, March 28: I arrive at Narita Airport at nearly 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday.  Somewhere along the way, I’ve lost a half a day.  I check my two large bags at GPA, a baggage delivery service, in Terminal 2, then take a bus to Terminal 1.  At the counter, GPA has a stack of forms provided by Westgate with our names and addresses.  I tell them who I am, hand over my bags, and take off for Terminal 1, where I’m to meet with the Westgate staff.  The baggage is to be delivered Wednesday, March 29, between 6:00-8:00 p.m. at my apartment. What a great service!

We then wait around in a lounge area until 5:55, when a Westgate employee escorts three of us teachers to the Narita Express to Yokohama at 6:15, arriving in Yokohama at 7:47 (1 hour and 32 minutes).  This train has bathrooms on it, much to my delight.  I was a little worried about the long commute to our apartment with no bathroom breaks!  At Yokohama, we get on the JR Kehin Tohoku line at 8:13, switching to the JR Yokohama Line at Higashi Kanagawa, arriving at our station, Fuchinobe, at 8:54 p.m. There, Satoko, our Program Coordinator (PC) at the university, meets us and takes us by taxi to our Leopalace GUILIANO apartment building in Samagihara City.  I’m so glad she gets a taxi because the walk is 20 minutes from the station and I would have been super exhausted (and freezing in my light layers) if we’d had to walk after that long day(s) of travel.

Below is my apartment, #201, as seen upon my arrival at around 9:30 p.m. I discover there are no towels in my apartment, and I didn’t bring any.  There are no cups from which to drink water, and of course, I have no water and no food.  I have a tiny desk with a TV, a small table, two very uncomfortable chairs, a closet, a ladder to a sleeping loft (where I don’t intend to sleep), and a tiny bathroom and kitchen area.  We also have a fancy heating/fan system to dry our clothes in the bathroom. I’m provided with a futon, sheets and a cover quilt, and a tiny pillow filled with some kind of seeds.

Our PC has set up our wi-fi, and I catch up on emails briefly, and then suddenly my wi-fi network disappears.  I try to send a text message to Satoko about it, but I can’t figure out how on earth to send a message on the Westgate-provided phone, so I end up calling her about it.  In the end, I have to wait until tomorrow.  In the meantime, I get on with Verizon and set up international data for $40 a month for 100 messages and 100 MG of data (that doesn’t go far). This is just so I can keep connected until I get the wi-fi properly set up.  I text back and forth with Mike and then try to got to sleep, but as it’s essentially 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard time, I have a hard time falling asleep, despite being exhausted.

I try to read, but with only one overhead bulbous light, it’s hard to see the pages properly.  Also, just as I get sleepy, I have to get up to turn off the light.  Getting a bedside lamp of some kind is one of my first priorities.

Wednesday, March 29:  Luckily there is a Seven & i Holdings (7-11) on the corner a block from our apartment and I walk down in the morning to get coffee, breakfast (some egg-filled sushi rolls), paper towels and toilet paper.  As I didn’t pack a towel and there isn’t one in my apartment, I have to dry off with paper towels.  I mistakenly use a converter with my hair dryer, and the electricity burns out the converter.  It now seems I need to go in search of a hair dryer.

At 10:00 a.m.,  I meet three other teachers from our building, and we walk 20 minutes to City Hall to meet Yukari to register our address with the municipal authorities and get our national health insurance card.  It’s funny, this is the first place I’ve lived abroad where I actually have an address!  We’re told to return at 3:00 to complete the registration.  We have a lot of time to kill, so Yukari walks back with us to our apartments (another 20 minutes) because apparently everyone’s wi-fi networks have disappeared. One of my fellow teachers, Tobias, and Yukari and I grab lunch (steamed dumplings and spicy cucumbers for me) at the 7-11 and eat on the floor of my apartment, while Yukari helps us sort our wi-fi out.  Finally, I’m connected. Hallelujah!

I take off back toward the train station, another 20 minute walk, and cross over train tracks to the 100-yen store.  In the middle of my shopping spree, Yukari phones me to return to City Hall, where we get our residence cards and national health insurance cards.  Then we head to the post office to open our bank accounts, which takes some time.  Cool stamps beckon, so I’ll have to return to buy some.

I return to the 100-yen store to do my shopping, buying towels, sponges, a trash can, clothes hangers and miscellaneous stuff. Before crossing the tracks again, I buy a prepared package of sushi, along with several cartons of juice, which I take home for dinner.

I think I’ll be doing a lot of walking here in Japan as our apartment is in a neighborhood far away from everything except the 7-11.  It takes 20 minutes to walk to the train station and it may be a 30-minute walk to the university every day.  We’re not allowed to ride a bicycle to work; the walk will be nice until it gets hot and humid. 🙂

All in all, I walk 21,510 steps today (9.12 miles)!

Between 6:00-8:00 p.m. this evening, I have two deliveries. One includes my two suitcases, which I start unpacking immediately.  The other is a “living essentials” box from Westgate.  It has in it a small frying pan, a saucepan, 2 plastic bowls, a fork and a spoon, a cutting knife and a package of toilet paper.

Slowly, slowly, my apartment is becoming a home. 🙂

Thursday, March 30:  I have a leisurely morning, as we have no obligations until Friday.  I buy a can of cold coffee (I am confused as to which cans are hot and which are cold), and then a hot one, from the vending machine in our parking lot (110 yen).  I drink the hot one and put the cold one in the refrigerator to heat in the microwave tomorrow morning.  I eat a breadstick and pomelo yogurt from the 7-11 for breakfast.  I have a long talk with Mike on Skype where he fills me in on what’s going on with the kids and I tell him about the settling in process here.

I take a shower but don’t wash my hair because I still haven’t found a hair dryer.  After my shower, I decide to try my hair dryer without the converter, and find that, alas, it works without it.  So I take another shower, this time washing my hair and drying it.

I walk to the Fuchinobe Station and buy a Suica card for 500 yen, adding 3,500 yen for transport.  I take the metro two stops to Machida.  Here, I find a lot of big department stores.  I go into one, which is 8 stories, and head to the basement where I grab some small tempura shrimp and vegetable items for lunch.  They’re too heavy, so I only eat half and carry the other half home.  I also go to the floor with Tokyu Hands, where I buy a nice towel, an insulated coffee mug, an umbrella and a nice hot pink laundry basket.  These were expensive, 6,156 yen (~$55!).  Heading back on metro, I see the university out the window, with its mustard-colored buildings and small chapel.

Since I’m near the station, I drop into the 100-yen store to buy some clothes hangers so I can hang up the rest of my clothes.

Lugging my heavy bags back to the apartment, I pass the bicycle shop and I can’t resist buying a bicycle for 11,015 yen (~$99).  Even though I won’t be allowed to ride it to work, I can still ride it just to run errands as we live so far from everything. I figure that gives me transportation for $25 a month, even if I have to dispose of it for nothing at the end.

The owner of the bicycle shop is a 40-something Japanese man with a shiny blue jacket and curly longish hair.  His mother, wearing a brown plaid jacket and pink rubber slippers, is better able to communicate with me despite not knowing any English and me not knowing any Japanese.  She understands my intentions.  They tell me they’ll have the bike ready for me in a half-hour, as they must strip off the cardboard and styrofoam packing and adjust the seat and handlebars, so I walk back to my apartment to drop my purchases, hang up my clothes, relax a bit and then walk back to get the bicycle.  I love it!

buying a bicycle

On my new bicycle, I ride around town randomly, and then go in search of the university. I find it, and try to zip right through the gate, but two uniformed guards stop me.  I guess I’m either not allowed to take my bicycle on campus, or maybe I’m not allowed to go on at all since it’s out of session. In an attempt to explain the situation to me, one of the guards speaks into an app on his phone, which translates (awkwardly) what the problem is.  It’s something about going to the East gate to drop my bicycle.  It all sounds too complex and I’m not sure I am really allowed to go in, so I say never mind, I’ll return another time.  The guard speaking into his phone seems to find communicating with a foreigner quite humorous, and is lighthearted about it all.

After all this running around, and walking 15,157 steps (6.42 miles), I am exhausted. I return to my apartment, eat the leftovers I bought from the department store, accompanied by a Sapporo beer, and write in my journal.  I’m asleep before 8:00 p.m.! Tomorrow we have an early day; we will leave by 6 a.m. to head to an all-day orientation near Kudanshita Station in Tokyo.

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