Tuesday, October 21, 2008


tuesday of midterms week. i sit and waste time while everyone else bustles around with thick bundles of tests bound through a corner hole with brown twine. the students head home (hallelujah half-days) before lunch and then we all have many hours to kill.
one of the pleasures of test time is that i can leave for lunch, so i walked to the bank today in the sunlight. the air felt like it was made of watercolor. it didn't exactly smell like the ocean, but it was a watery freshness that i've only experienced near the ocean. faintly i smelled old man cologne, the comforting smell of someone's father or grandfather, then maple syrup. i am surprised by my own reflection in a newly-cleaned window; its grimness betrays the heavy thoughts settled under my enjoyment of the day. i resolve to let those things melt and try to relax my expression.
two new, brightly-colored posters with children's faces are hung at waist-level on a grey wall. i marvel that they are undefaced and will likely remain that way, in spite of the hundreds of high schoolers who pass by them every day. japan is a different animal. even i am slightly tempted to moustache the posters, but i restrain the impulse.
on my way back, i stop to watch the baby minnows. the shallow water is so thick with them that it looks ropey and twists around itself. when i look up again, an old man is also looking down at them from a footbridge. my brief refreshment over, i expect the rest of the day to be mundane and tiresome, as most afternoons are past 2:30, when time officially stops.
however, i am surprised by the news that a teacher of qigong (i know, what?) is giving a workshop in the kendo room of the school. i have just eaten and am feeling lazy. i don't want to do martial arts or try to keep up in japanese, so i plan to give it a miss.
...but, my friend michiko wants to see what they're doing and i want to see the kendo room. we decide to 見るだけ (only look) and traipse up to the room. of course, when they see us peering in, they make place for us in the circle, and suddenly i am not so thrilled we came. with little ceremony (on second thought, maybe we missed that part since we were 15 minutes late), we are partnered up (i'm with michiko, since she can translate for me) and we begin...massage! if i had known it was going to be massage, i would have been the first in the door. i mean, this is japan; i haven't had any real physical contact in like two years!
as i look around at the faces of the attendees, i am stunned by who chose to come; our principal and vice-principal, mr. okuji (who i swore hated me for a year but who i eventually learned was just a "traditional japanese man" and whom i now adore), the nurse! there are men and women of all ages, and everyone looks ridiculously game, even giddy! it is a surprising sense of intimacy, looking around at my fellow teachers in their workout gear and 5-toed socks, ready to learn how to relax. even more surprising, no one balks at the men and women paired together, everyone blithely cooperates. there's plenty of laughter, and i'm shaking my head at this new facet of my coworkers.
we do shoulder and arm massages, feet, and legs. everyone looks at me to make sure i understand, mimicking the movements and contributing words until the whole room is focused on me and i blurt in japanese, "gotcha!" and everyone laughs. little do they know how much practice i have, but they all seem endearingly naive to the benefits of massage. i swear, most of them have never had one because they seem utterly surprised at how good it feels!
michiko is the quietest i've ever seen her (she's a little high-strung), and her eyes are glassy. i ask if she's ok and all she can say is 気持ちいい, "feels good." we all leave with big smiles on our faces, which in japanese is ニコニコ (niko-niko). best day at the office, ever.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

my chunky darling

have you ever tried dyeing your hair with a cow pie?
well i have.
my mom, the hairdresser, recently told me about some findings that a certain chemical in black hair dyes causes cancer. that isn't a huge leap in my mind; i mean they are chemicals, and one of the last things i want is a higher risk of cancer. she and i both dye our hair black, and we were both looking for an alternate solution. i bought the only black, chemical-free henna dye i could find before i headed back from the US this summer. a few days ago i gave it a shot.

what a monuMENTAL waste of time and energy. not only do you have to let the henna enjoy its coffee and news for three hours before you apply it, you can't use ANY metal instruments, bowls, clips, spoons, or even look at something metal the whole time. what's more, it smelled suffocatingly grassy, and it was the color and texture of a warm cow pie. delightful.

when it was finally time for the henna to crack its knuckles and get to work, i divided my hair off and started slopping the stuff on. it was thick and fibrous. chunks fell freely as i tried to work the thick stuff into my hair. i added water until it was the right texture, but it was still difficult getting it to adhere. i finally gave up on the chunks and just did the best i could to evenly apply it. THEN it began to drip. and drip. and drip. i couldn't keep up with the chunks flying and the drips snaking down my face, shoulders, and back.

i finally got the provided plastic bag around it, but then came the next ridiculous step--keeping it hot for twenty minutes or more. i was trying to aim the hairdryer into the plastic bag without melting it, prevent the drips from overflowing (not easy when the bag inflated from the hairdryer) and keep my hair warm enough to actually work. fail!
i finally got fed up and just wanted the filthy stuff OFF my head, screw the dye job. my hair was now nappy and disgusting and pretty water repellant. it took at least four washes to pry the plant bits off of my scalp.
in the end, my entire bathroom looked like it had been dive-bombed with dung, and i smelled like a feed lot for a week!