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! ).