Friday, September 29, 2006

itchy and scratchy: the skin disease show

the sunshine predicted for today is masquerading as clouds and rain, so the overachiever plans i had for getting out early on a saturday morning have turned into something i enjoy a whole lot more: nesting. my knitting is out--i have this sock on the run! it'll be finished in no time....and by that i mean many, many hours (but many fewer than when i started).

in other news, my legs are in sad shape. due to my continuing allergies (the asthma and itchy lips are gone, thank goodness), i have developed some unchecked eczema. that means i go stark-raving mad with itching and scratching, and it feels SO GOOD, AMAZING, UNBELIEVABLE until i get into the next stage...large swathes of red, bleeding, oozing and scabbing skin. (sorry, but it's true.) i know the consequences, but like a junkie, i keep going back to the itching...just a little more...just one little patch, until i'm crouched, fingernails extended, and my skin is happy for a few moments. i never learn. i do have some left over expired steriod cream from a similar rash i had a few years ago. the only drawback is, and i'm quoting my doctor, "it could do violence to your internal organs." what kind of choice is that!? can i at least pick which organs?

while i'm on semi-embarrassing topics, i'd like to delve into another one. women using public restrooms in japan frequently flush the entire time they pee so no one can hear and take offence at their humanness. now, i already had what's called a "shy bladder." unlike most of my colorado "relieve yourself anywhere around anyone under any condition" sisters, i actually need a little privacy. i wish i didn't care, but i can't help it. however, it's SO wasteful for every woman to flush the entire time she's going that the environmentalist in me rebels indignantly. in response to this need, many public restrooms have installed devices called Sound Princess (electronic water noises), but no such luck in this town. now i have a problem, will all the other women teachers be offended if i refuse to do the flush-pee? i mean, my shoes are waiting right there by the door--it's not like they don't know who's in there. will they overlook my behavior as a brash american girl flaw, or will they all get together and admit shyly that they now avoid the bathroom when my owl-print keds are sitting there because they are so unused to the sound of peeing that it troubles them? this leads to an even greater quandary: worrying about being judged for a totally normal human function isn't helping my shy bladder complex. i guess i'll have to resort to my friend katie's mind-diversion tactic and attempt to multipy 14 by 16 in my head.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

everything's great until it sucks

this morning i'm feeling remarkably cheerful in an "F-you" kind of way. this has been a challenging week. i had some really great days followed by some really depressing now i'm coming back with a combative friendliness. the days are gorgeous, and it's torture that i don't get to spend any of it outside. teachers are pretty much expected to even eat lunch chained to their desks. they have a lovely coi pond right outside my window, so yesterday i finally did what i would do naturally and went and sat by it for a very few minutes in the sun. the constant noise of thirty teachers having thirty different conversations in japanese faded away briefly in the sunlight. ahhhhh.

when i got back inside, everyone was concerned that i was "ok." sometimes it's really difficult to tell how much of myself i'm giving up in order to learn how to be here. i feel like i'm being myself until i do something like that and realize i've been holding myself back because i don't want to offend anyone. so today i'm standing firm on who i am. i even wore a sleeveless top to flaunt my american-ness. shocking! the tops of my shoulders have been hidden long enough.
just for kicks, i'll tell you about the morning meetings here at kinomoto senior high. all the teachers gather in the main teachers room (where most teachers' desks are, including mine). this is my one opportunity to scope out the three or so cute, young, male teachers with fabulous style. for a few minutes, different teachers speak to the group, and without fail, the skinniest, puniest guy (don't know what he does) always has a massive coughing and hacking fit near my desk. thanks for sharing. as the big meeting wraps up, there is about ten seconds of silence (everyone's taking a deep breath, no doubt) and then everyone explodes into chattering at once. this lasts about ten minutes, the bell rings, and then there is complete silence once again as all the teachers rush to their homeroom classes and i just sit here.

there are so many random scraps i want to tell you about, so i'll squeeze them in when i can.
on the 12th we had a fire drill. in the u.s. this just consists of everyone going outside in a more or less orderly way and waiting till they tell us it's ok to go inside. in japan, it's much more exciting. the fire department actually sets a wooden and cloth structure ablaze outside, and students get to practice using the extinguishers to put it out. this was fun to watch until a huge chemical cloud (from the extinguishers) enveloped the crowd and rained on my happy.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

holy crap, i might like this job

well, it's getting to be winter, i guess, since the thermometers have dropped below 80 for a few days in a row. time to pull out the blankets! that's what my friendly neighborhood superstore would have me believe. after two months of greasy sweat (looks as good as it sounds), it's difficult to imagine wanting to be anywhere but lounging in an icebath (maybe there ARE some advantages to having your kidneys stolen). like christmas decorations in october, the stores would like you to prepare for the next season NOW. most japanese homes have a kotatsu or heated table under which you warm your legs. romantically, i imagined this to be an eloquent, well-crafted wooden table. not so! mine is homely black plastic, but if it works, that's good enough for me. then there is a thick, quilted blanket/tablecloth that you drape over the table to keep the heat in (ah! but because everything is cunningly designed in japan, the table top lifts up so the blanket is sandwiched between the top and the legs). check it out. i think it seems dangerous to drape fabric over a heater which is resting on a straw mat, but then, color me inexperienced.

in other news, today was an incredible day. i was actually on a high from having a great class. one of my teachers doesn't teach as much as stand in a corner and say, "ready, go," so today i was prepared to have full control. the students actually listened to me, and because they are an advanced class, they could follow my instructions pretty well. they did the work i asked, we had a good discussion about the differences between high schools in japan and the states, and i even learned a lot!
in the freshman class, we're studying medical conditions. as luck would have it, the word students struggled with all day was a particularly challenging medical term; hence you could find me enunciating DI-A-RRHE-A loudly and repeatedly over and over for all the beginning classes. i mean, come on, how can you not giggle when you're doing that?

Monday, September 18, 2006

seek and ye shall find spiders

ok, ok people! all this pestering to see some impressive arachnids. well let me tell you this: if you go looking for spiders in japan, you're going to find them. and if you don't go looking, they'll find you. every day on my way down the hill to school, i walk my face into several newly-spun webs--good times. now i keep a protective arm up because i've actually gotten a web-in-the-eye which is too weird. i used to have a "no spiders in my living space" policy, but i've amended it a little. at first, i was killing them when i found them, but then i found a poisonous centipede (the dreaded mukade) caught in a spider web, and i began to feel more greatful for them. spiders actually aren't the worst thing you can find in your house. plus i find the little ones that hop like frogs oddly hilarious.
then there was the BIG one. i saw this guy for the first time after the previously discussed asthma attack. after struggling for days to simply breathe, i was so relieved to finally have clear airways that this wall-schnauzer, as i've taken to calling it, didn't seem like such a big deal. happily it was only in my laundry room, not my house.

i checked it out for a good long time (took pictures, and YES the eyes reflect the flash) and then startled it into scampering to a corner. these puppies can RUN. it could probably beat me in a marathon. there's no WAY i'm gonna be able to kill that thing with a shoe! it didn't seem fair that i was killing the little ones only because i could and leaving the big one alone, so i decided on a "if i can catch you in a glass, you will live outside" policy.
if this isn't big enough for you, here a photo of the "it's so big i'm moving back to the states" spider that another JET found in his house...i'd credit him for the photo, but i don't have his name.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

giving exercise a run for its money, or: becoming the toned, coordinated biker i never wanted to be

so i'm finally getting around to writing about this little thing we call my bicycle. my flat tire situation has been remedied, and i have my original green bike back. this is good because it's not as rusted as EVERYone else's bike, so it's easier for an unseasoned rider to make it up those barely visible inclines without standing up for more leverage. i always pretend i've just stopped at the store after a 20 mile ride instead of arriving sweaty and winded from my house six blocks away. not only am i unfamiliar with bicycle etiquette in japan, but there is the added excitement of expecting traffic from the opposite direction than it actually comes. a few times i've found myself headed straight for a car headed straight for me because i am on the wrong side of the road. slowly i'm getting used to riding on the left and avoiding old ladies on the narrow sidewalks (riding on the sidewalks is encouraged because it's a common practice in japan to wildly, but courteously, veer into the opposite lane to go around stopped trucks or whatever, and bicyclists in the street are pretty much in constant peril). day by day, my form improves. when i began, i was humiliating all of america with my lack of coordination. i would stiffen when riding through a tight spot of people or potted plants or pet store cages and then my laden front basket would wobble dramatically and i'd lose my footing on a pedal as i tried to get going again and...not exactly the way to win friends and influence people. but necessity is good for something, so i'm navigating better and getting something resembling muscles in my legs. this is all great. BUT. i admit it may not have dawned on me that i would not only have to find creative ways of carrying bulky, heavy objects home from the store but i would also have to do it in winter when it's cold and dark at 4:30. oh yeah! i don't have a car. this doesn't really phase me (i've been cold plenty in my life), but i know i will complain about it later. (just you wait)
here's my one-speed wonder:

i was under the impression that being forced to ride myself to the store every time i want food, batteries, or toilet paper might cause me to get in shape or something ridiculous like that. guess again. this is japan! they like it fried! they put mayo on everything! i'm illiterate and can't tell what's low fat! plus i've discovered a new treat. this comes from my love of eating ice and my love of making the ice taste better by adding something to it. it's called Chocolate Ice, or How to Get Fat Without Trying:

just ice cubes with hot chocolate powder sprinkled over them. yay! it's hot chocolate for summer!
oh yeah, and one more thing. i've been making all these tasty things to remind me of home (namely cookie dough, french toast, and pancakes) and they may also be combatting the healthful aspects of bicycle riding.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

hold on, hold on (neko case--check her out)

friday, at last. i'm in pretty good shape to relate my adventures because i'm not under the influence of desperate dread or euphoria, though i've hit both in the last week. i think the entire experience of working with JET is all about taking what miniscule bits of information you're given, making something out of them, and then convincing everyone you know what's going on.
monday: day o' depression. the classes went fine (i did my self-introduction in each one...even I'm sick of hearing about me), but when it came to planning the next day's class with one of my teachers, i had no idea what he wanted me to do. you could say he gave me a "blank slate." he claimed not to use the text book, nor could he give me any idea what vocabulary the students might know. so i proceeded to make up a "crappy lesson." in the meantime i was thinking, "if it's this hard to make one lesson with one teacher, how am i going to cover the other 16 lessons i teach each week and still have time to knit (or sleep!?)" a wave of can't do-it-iveness washed over me. then another bout of "what the hell was i thinking?"
when i pitched my ideas to this very, um, intimidatingly attractive young teacher, our lack of understanding/communication precipitated a parade of cringing and nervous smiles. finally he told me to teach the class a drawing lesson...they can learn english through an activity. that night, for the first time since i got here, i had trouble sleeping...i had an anxiety dream about my old landlady in durango...i got up way too early. but my lesson went great the next day! as an extra bonus, i discovered a western toilet in the ladies bathroom when, for weeks, i believed there were only japanese toilets. now compared with most american girls, i'm pretty cool with japanese toilets. i have, after all, done a lot of camping in my life. but there are just days i don't want to hover.

the rest of the week has more than made up for monday. i really enjoy the students; i don't think they'll ever know how great i think they are. i see my hand writing something on the chalkboard, and i marvel at really feeling like a teacher (and i marvel at enjoying it).
yesterday i met the last of my 13 classes, and later i rode to mos burger to meet kara and emily for a junk food/english fix. as i parked my bicycle, i was spotted by a mob of my female students inside. they jumped up and waved violently through the window, and i waved fervently back. i think being recognized (and acknowledged) outside of school officially marks my entry into a life here. just like turning that metaphorical corner, i have finally had the first warm feelings of belonging to this community. now i can't go anywhere without a student calling my name or waving, and that has made all the difference.