29 May 2006

The Look

"the look...of love...is in...your eyes..."

Not quite.

I first heard that song on "Austin Powers," and I love it, but beyond those lyrics I know nothing about it.

After nearly one year of living as a minority in Japan, you start to take inventory of "the looks." By that I mean, the various expressions with which strangers check you out and make sweeping decisions about your character and your place in life after a 2-second glance. Sometimes they stare much longer than 2 seconds, but the judgment is clearly passed in 2 seconds or less. After thousands of strangers give you these looks, you start to become outside the outsider, or outside of yourself, and you see the entire situation from another point of view. You look for a way to amuse or entertain yourself while patiently enduring the gazes you can otherwise do nothing about. You start to notice a pattern. And then you start to categorize all the ways people see you before they know you.

  • The Alien. What is that thing? I've never seen anything like that in my life. Is it hostile? What is it doing on my street? Should I be afraid? Can it eat rice? Has it heard of chopsticks?
  • The Foreigner. Look at that girl, she is white, but does that mean she's from America or France or Brasil? I think Brasil. None of it really matters, because she's not Japanese. She is different, different, different. If I don't look at her maybe I can forget that she's different.
  • The Invader. Foreigner. Damn foreigner. You don't belong here. Go back to wherever you came from.
  • The New Species. Hmm, that's interesting. Don't see one of those every day. In fact it may be the first time I've ever seen one like that. Sure is interesting. Kind of nice to look at. I wonder what it eats. I wonder what happens when you poke it right there.
  • The English Teacher. Ah, she must be an English teacher. Typical.
  • The Exotic Babe. Whoa, a white chick. Dude. Whoa. A white chick. Do you have a boyfriend?
  • The Princess. She is so white, it's like she's from a fairy tale. I can't believe people can have skin like that. She's so beautiful. I wish I had skin like that. She looks so refined.

I'm sure there are a few more that I'm forgetting...but when you hear people whisper as you walk by, or when they look at you so long and hard you think they've turned to stone, or when they take 1 second to decide they don't want to sit by you on the bus, language barriers and lack of words don't matter anymore. The messages are clear.

28 May 2006

School Festival

Sorry I haven't updated lately but 2-months-in-advance departure preparations have made life hectic. I've been busy mailing boxes home, requesting return dates from the board of education, worrying about pension returns, compiling helpful information for my successor, etc. Nothing too exciting as of late.

However, it looks like somebody threw a party in my calendar -- almost every weekend is booked until my return to America: firefly festival with Mayumi, movie weekend with Meegan, dance performance with a teacher in Kyoto, perfume museum visit with me myself and I, a couple going-away parties, and the fastest-approaching: the 3-day school festival. It begins on Saturday and lasts until Monday, so I will be working through the weekend with regular work hours. (Luckily, pending rain changes, I will have Tuesday and Wednesday off). I'm really looking forward to the festival because the students have been preparing for MONTHS, and I'm excited about spending time with them outside the classroom. I should be tired but happy when that is all over, and hopefully students will feel the same.

11 May 2006

Dan Is Coming to Visit - AGAIN!

On Sunday we'll meet in Tokyo and travel around a bit before coming back to Fuji. This time we hope to work in some karaoke, a fish market or two, and sushi -- there's a great conveyor-belt restaurant I want to take him to. I took the whole week off because the kids have exams and I wouldn't be teaching anyway. So this week I've been working overtime to complete everything ahead of schedule.

Between now and the time Dan arrives, I'll be summer-proofing my apartment again. It is slowly but surely getting warmer, wetter, and more humid. This means I have to re-vamp my closet fresheners and dehydrators to prevent my clothes from growing mold or mildew. This also means I have to reinstate the lovely roach traps that look like insect party barns. Like where sororities and living groups held their semiformals in college -- the roach traps are little cardboard barns with sticky dance floors. Only the poor roaches don't get to tap their feet too long.

Roaches are gross, yes. But I prefer them to something that stings or bites.

10 May 2006

Please Remember

No matter what is going on in your life, no matter how many mistakes you've made or how screwed up you think things are, no matter how much baggage you carry, no matter how much is weighing on your shoulders, no matter how convinced you are that you're not good enough...please remember that people love you, and would rather have you and each and every little thing that is "wrong" about you than to have no you at all.

This is a fact.

I am so very sorry.

08 May 2006

A Rice Cake a Day...

could never keep the doctor away. At least, not if you're an employee of the Japanese public school system. Teachers have to get check-ups once a year. But once a year is not "365 days," it's once every calendar year. So even though I've been here for only 10 months, yesterday I had my 2nd medical check-up, because the law requires "one check-up a year." If you are easily grossed out, don't read this post. But frankly, the point of my blog is to report life in Japan. Frankly. And I cannot STAND their medical system.

First of all, thank goodness I am under 30. Because of Japan's extremely high rate of stomach cancer (due to high levels of salt and stress), everyone over 30 has to drink a disgusting liquid and have their stomachs either x-rayed or probed with a camera. The doctors come to your place of work to perform the exams. Can you imagine a strange doctor sticking a tube all the way down into your stomach at your workplace once a year just for a check-up? And it's required by law.

Luckily I got to skip that part. However, I still had to fill out all the forms and "endure" other tests, such as a rather rough EKG, blood tests by glove-less nurses (which really freaks me out), vision tests, and yep, the dreaded cup-in-the-bathroom test. Now. In plain English the medical form says "All of your health information is confidential. We never show this information to a 3rd party." Somehow, I found this hard to believe. The form goes on to ask you all kinds of detailed questions, such as how often you eat, what times of day you eat, how many times you use the bathroom, etc. Invasive as it feels, the paper is the easy part.

The difficult part is that you are not supposed to consume ANYTHING after 8pm the night before your exam. No food, no water, no chewing gum, nothing. Yet 15 hours later you're expected to pee into a cup. Guess what? It didn't work. My body doesn't hold liquid for 15 hours so by the time my check-up rolled around the nurses were not happy. In fact they acted personally disappointed in me. Too bad! Next time, let me drink! I briefly wondered if they would ask me to return another day to complete my tests. Then I laughed it off.

As usual, the nurse drawing my blood had trouble finding a vein. As usual, it bruised rather badly. Today, my school's nurse came up with 2 English teachers (because she only speaks Japanese) to inquire about my arm. Evidently the doctors had called my school nurse to inform her of my condition. I complied and rolled up my sleeve, which resulted in much cooing and ooing and awwing over my red and purple inner elbow. They told me to ice it. I thought it was nice that the blood nurse had been concerned about me. But then, the nurse changed the subject in Japanese. My heart started to beat faster because I knew what was coming. In my pereferal vision I saw my two vice-principals, 2 older male teachers, and a younger female teacher, all within 5 feet of my desk. All of these people could hear the nurse saying in clear, loud Japanese that I had not completed the urine test so please return another day to pee in the cup. I was mortified. It was obvious to me that everyone was listening. Really, they had no choice. I thought about how the form promised no one else would know anything, and how half my co-workers now knew that I did not pee in a cup, that I had little veins, that I had trouble with a rude nurse, that I bruise easily. I am still mortified. I looked at my school nurse and the embarrassed English teachers who were translating, and I said with a smile, "They have my blood. I am not going back." This led to a "discussion," or a polite argument, for the next 10 minutes, about how I really should spend my own transportation money to complete a test I just had 8 months ago in a country I will leave in 2. And, they had my blood. As far as I was concerned, that was good enough. Some foreigners become disenchanted with Japan because of the pressure and expectation to always do what you're told, just like everyone else, without even the spark of a question in your mind or an inkling of desire to go against the grain. In some cases I can tolerate this well. But damnit, I decide when I pee. And that is THAT.

Surprise, Surprise

the pictures I didn't know he took

06 May 2006

"In the Neighborhood"

...no-it-is-not-a-love-hotel (just bars and restaurants), my favorite store-front painting on a sweet shop (owned by a teacher's relative), koinobori (carp streamers) for the childrens' festival...

Fuji San, Fuji Shi

All photos compliments of Dad. :)