Friday, December 21, 2007

And continuing with the theme of toilets, I spent the night on my knees worshipping mine. It was only a matter of time before the raw fish, beef, and even an egg the other night was going to catch up with my Western stomach.

I'm still going to work today though. I'm not teaching but going to the office for a meeting and then going out with my boss to get my alien card, set up a bank account, and buy a cellphone. I've waited too long for these things to stay home now.

Monday, December 17, 2007

O-toire wa doko desu ka

When you prepare to go to another country one of the first things you learn in that language is “Where is the bathroom?” When you come to Japan, I’ve learned you should also ask, “How do I use the restroom?”

How? You say. It can’t be hard, just drop your pants, sit, and let nature progress. Except in Japan most public restrooms are equipped with squat toilets, which like the language, I am struggling to master. There must be a specific way to position myself without worrying about accidentally peeing all over my pants (it hasn't happened yet but I’ve come close!) Though there is a call button for when you are in distress, perhaps for those of us who miss the toilet? Maybe they have spare pairs of pants waiting for us clueless foreigners? Somehow I doubt it, and even it were true I don’t know enough Japanese yet to explain my embarrassing situation, although if pressed I suppose I could come up with something like “toilet I don’t understand.”

Unlike the countless books I have on how to speak and write Japanese, none of them broach the topic of how to use the restroom in Japanese. So far, I just cross my fingers and hope to get the bidet toilet. I motion to the people behind me in line that if they want the ceramic hole in the floor they are free to have it. However, sometimes there isn’t one to be had or I simply cannot wait, but when I am lucky enough to get one I cheer, Yay! Yay! I got the bidet! But even this bidet doesn’t look like its French counterpart. (Which on a side note, I also never could determine how to use the bidet in my French apartment for anything other than washing my socks in. Obviously I fail in cross-cultural restrooms or WCs as they are know outside the U.S.)

This Japanese bidet is a normal looking toilet but with lots of exciting looking buttons that spray water on your private bits. There is a dial to control the water pressure, usually several buttons to aim the spray in various directions, and one button I haven’t tried yet that looks to me like it might play some music to go along with the flushing. Seriously, it has a music note pictured on it. More research will need to be conducted. The part I do like is the heated seat, which is very nice considering the schools I work out only heat the teacher’s room. That’s right, it’s December and there is no heat.

And during one particularly cold morning this week, I discovered why fancy technologically advanced toilets are side by side squat toilets – the fancy pants toilets must be expensive. Most organizations can’t or won’t put out the money for more than one. And since no one wants to sit down on an unheated toilet seat in the dead of winter, why not squat? People have been doing it for centuries. There is one lone regular American looking toilet (as in no heated seat) at one of my schools and with a loud yelp I had this epiphany. Suddenly for the first time I thought maybe I should have picked the ceramic hole in the floor.

Except that I didn’t want to teach my first graders having peed on my pants. Although if anyone were to understand they probably would.

Men have it so easy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


After three and a half weeks I think I am settling into teaching. It is easier here in Japan than it was in France. In France I had the students on my own. Away from their teachers who could assign extra homework or threaten to call their parents they were little monsters delighted at the chance to give me a hard time. I had no authority and even less French. But here, I am with the teachers and due to cultural differences they are less inclined to give me a hard time, (however that isn’t to say that my theory that all thirteen year old boys regardless of race or culture are obnoxious isn’t true, because so far I am proven right.)

I teach at four different schools – two elementary schools and two junior highs. To some teachers at the junior highs I am the living breathing equivalent to their tape recorders. I repeat vocabulary word after vocabulary word and recite ridiculous skits modeled after supposedly realistic English conversations. Last week though I have been asked by two different teachers to bring activities with me designed around the grammar points for that week, and I had great success with two activities and marginal success with another one (as in I won't be playing it again anytime soon.)

But at the elementary schools where English lessons aren’t yet formalized, I am a superstar. Which is why I think these two schools will quickly become my favorite. Both the teachers and the students seem more interested and excited for me to be there. I plan the whole lesson, so there is more freedom to have fun but also more room to flop. My lessons on Christmas vocabulary went over well and I can’t wait to go back after the winter break and teach them body parts…I want to sing the Hokey Pokey and play this game called Doctor, Doctor, where they “bandage” different body parts with toilet paper.

After this week, I am finally done with my self-introduction—a five minute speech that I have done three to five times a day for the last two weeks to every class at my four schools. I talk about Cincinnati, Georgetown College, my family, and my dog. The younger kids yell out “sugoi!” which is cool in Japanese, while the junior high girls giggle at the photo of my grandmother. They thought she was a very cute old man until I told them her hair was just short. And my picture of Max has been introduced to gasps and laughter nearly every time, although one student, a special ed girl, cried for five minutes straight because she thought he was so scary looking. I answer the same questions over and over again.

Do you have a boyfriend? No I don’t have a boyfriend.

What food your favorite Japanese? I like sushi.

What sport do you like? I like Baseball.

Do you like Japan? Yes I do.

What favorite color? My favorite color is blue.

I had one fifth grade boy who was very excited to learn I didn't have a boyfriend. His very next question was what kind of men do I like. I said, with a sly smile, tall men. Japanese men aren't known for being tall and unless this kid has a growth spurt soon, he will be no exception. His face fell. Later in the class, the students had to come up, shake my hand, and tell me their name. This kid, with a michievious smile, came to the front, stood on the tippest of his tippy toes and boldly introduced himself. He still only came to my shoulder. He might my favorite student (even if he isn't my type! ).

Monday, November 26, 2007

There are times when it is a good idea to follow the advice don't get in cars with strangers that your parents taught you when you were small. For example if you are six and a creepy man with a combover offers to show you his puppies, they are in his van, just follow him. Don't go with him!

But then there are times when it is a good idea to throw caution to the wind and climb into the car with someone you have just met and will probably never see again. Like when you get lost in Tuscany and a nice Italian woman offers to drive you to your hostel. Or you miss your bus in Ireland and rather than lugging your suitcase the three kilometers into town, you decide that it's better to thumb for a ride.

Or for example, this Sunday while I was pottering around town when an older man called out "Jennifer!" I didn't recognize him at all, but I have met so many people this past week that he probably did know me. Let's call him Mr. Hinui (because I think that's what he said, I'm still struggling with names here.) He invited me to get into his car, but didn't have enough English to really explain why or where we were going. He took me to a prehistory museum outside of town and then found me someone who spoke English well enough to explain what I was looking at. Then it was back in the car, with a quick stop at the local Circle K for some ice cream, and then we drove up to Mount Zao to see the view of all of Tahara, the Pacific Ocean, and the bay, (I'm on a peninsula.) We ended our outing back at Tahara Castle where he originally found me at the town museum, where he left me with another man who spoke English and could explain.

Mr. Hinoi, or whatever his name was, slipped out while I was watching a video at the museum so I barely had time to say arigatogozaimase for the impromptu tour.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I'm Here

I arrived in Japan last Friday night. And they put me to work right away teaching on Monday. I've also had my picture taken for the city's monthly magazine, had tea with the mayor, apple juice with the Head Chairman of City Council, and there is a karoake party in my honor tomorrow night thrown by the other Americans here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Down to the wire

So the last week has been a little hectic...

Wednesday - talk to Consulate and decide $0.65 stamp will get visa back to me in time. Then remember that Monday is Veteran's Day and it won't get it to me in time. So I send a DHL overnight envelope through the Cintas mail room (and get the company rates so I only have to pay $14.00 for there and back.)

Wednesday night - Happy Hour at the Irish pub down the street with friends from work and goodbye party for me.

Friday - Visa arrives!!! Last day of work! I still manage to have a couple of meetings, finish an account review, write a memo, and run some sales reports before I leave early and do some more packing.

Saturday - Fly to VA to see my papa (that's grandfather in hick) before I leave. It gets a little "cloudy" on the way there. So much so that we have to radio flight service and figure out what to do because Dad is VFR only, or visual flight rules. That means we're stuck on top because he can't legally fly through the clouds. We ended up diverting to TN and spending 4 hours at the airport there before it clears up enough that we can land in VA.

Sunday - Sister and brother-in-law are up from Louisville. We hang out and then go to the Thanksgiving Dinner at church. One of the deacons is a semi-professional photographer and takes a family portrait since this will be our last chance for awhile (and since we've gained three new people in the last six months!)

Monday - move the rest of my stuff from the apartment. Have several arguments with my father on where everything is going to go. Hurt my knee moving my gargantuan mattress. I get a voicemail from my roommate that evening that says, "I miss you already. I think you should come home." :-(

Today - pack, pack, pack, write some on exchange fic, pack. Call credit card company. Call bank. Stop by doctor's office to pick up script. Get pictures developed. Buy more space bags. Have dinner with roommate. Watch House. That's the plan anyway...

The next time I post I'll be in Japan!!!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Still Here

The Best Friend is not a morning person. Sometimes I will call on a Saturday afternoon around three and she will have just pulled herself out of bed. Because of this the timelines of the working world often frustrate her. She believes it to be reprehensible, even morally wrong, to call someone before 9:00 in the morning. Yes, she gets into the office between 8 and 8:30, but she's getting her coffee, reading her email, and settling in for the day. If you really want to be considerate, you won't call her before 10:00. She can be ready for the world by 10:00 if she has to be.

So having heard the above tirade more than once, I was a little alarmed on Friday to see that she had called at 8:04 in the morning. I thought maybe her car broke down and she needed a ride to work or maybe it was a family thing, but I knew it couldn't be because she had just called to chat. Not at 8:04 in the morning. So I called her back.

Me: Did you call this morning?

BF: Yes! Are you still in town?

Me: Uh, yeah.

BF: (sighs in relief) Oh good. I just hadn't heard from you since last week and I woke up this morning panicked, thinking you had already left for Japan.

The one time she remembered to tell me she was going out of town for a week on business and I remembered that she had told me she was going out of town for a week, and she comes home panicked because I hadn't called her to invite her to dinner or emailed to ask if she wanted to meet for lunch.

To calm her down, I assured her I would give her plenty of notice before I left the country for ten months. And then we made plans for today. I'm heading out to the bike trail this afternoon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


The Board of Education in Japan has my paperwork and now I'm just waiting on them. I haven't been particularly patient. In the meantime, they've announced I'm leaving at work and have started interviewing my replacement. I'm answering a lot of questions again and again, but the one that comes up again and again is:

"So, you speak Japanese?"

"No, but I'm taking some lessons online."

"What?!? How can you go to a country where you don't speak the language?"

I haven't come up with an answer yet that seems to satisfy. I keep trying to tell people that since I'm quite obviously NOT Japanese that most people won't be expecting fluency from me anyway.

I will be in Georgetown again next week to meet the mayor of Tahara City. He will be there to further promote the sister city relationship between Tahara and G-town, (which is how I got this gig in the first place.) Since I'll still be in the country, I've been told it would be a "great gesture" if I were to drive down to meet him - part of the duties of being a representative of the College and State of Kentucky.

I especially love representing Kentucky since I only went to school there for four years and know practically nothing about it, other than people like to say which county there are from rather than the city (as there are only about three cities of any size in the whole state.) And then there are ironies of being known both for Bourbon whisky and the most dry counties in the US.