Monday, October 20, 2008

The BIG post

Although things haven't totally set in that I'm actually in Japan, I couldn't be happier that I am where I am. The past four days have been incredibly hectic, allowing me only a few hours of sleep through my entire traveling period. Like I posted before, I needed to go to Chicago to get my finalized visa, but the time I spent there turned out to be really enjoyable. I've never even been to Chicago and didn't realize how much the city has to offer. The architecture is great, the food wonderful, and the people were really helpful. Even better was that I got to see my cousin who I rarely get to see, and we spent the night first at a bar on the 96th story of some building that offered amazing views of the city and some excellent martinis, followed by a restaurant who's food made the whole trip worth it.

The bus rides were pretty uneventful except for on the way back there was some high black guy that kept hitting on every girl he come into contact with, even ones that were asleep. But once I got back, I was lucky to get picked up by a few of my good friends who cared enough to see me before I took off for the great adventure and we had one last late night meal at Mickeys. So Kyle, Casey, and Brandon even though it's cheesy I just want to say thanks for doing that, it meant a lot.

Once I got back home around two in the morning, I still needed to pack everything so I ended up going to bed at around 5:00, having to wake up at 7:00 to get to the airport early and make sure all my tickets were in order. I hopped on the first flight to Vancouver where nothing exciting really happened. I met this guy from Portugal who was pretty cool though, and we talked for a good part of the trip except for the times I needed to fuel my puttering brain with some Sudoku or David Sedaris. I know absolutely nothing about Vancouver, but judging from what it looks like from the air, it seems like a pretty good place to vacation, or even live in. The city is huge, sitting right on a bay and surrounded by really lush forests and mountains. I wish I had had time to explore it a little, but instead I stayed in the airport and drew people for an hour or two. The time finally arrived to get on the plane to Osaka and once I stepped on the plane I already knew it was going to be a good flight. For one, international flights are very accommodating and provide free meals and an unlimited supply of booze for the passengers. Second, the first class seats were egg-like pods with little blue lights and leg rests. I pictured my seat with a down pillow and a comforter, and while it wasn't nearly as lavish as first class, it was a huge step up from how I'm used to flying. There were head rests that wrapped around my head, allowing me to rest my head against something without straining my neck, as well as nice screens on the seat ahead of me for watching movies. I also lucked out and sat next to the emergency exit so I got a lot of extra leg room. It's too bad I didn't have anyone to talk to, but the good selection of movies and strong drinks made the flight really enjoyable even though I didn't get any sleep.

Five movies and a few cocktails later I landed in Osaka, met by the infamous Flemming Lord. He's not what I had pictured at all, he's not even Japanese. He's a tall and lanky Englishman who spoke so quietly I barely understood anything he said. He had spent the last fifteen years in Osaka, but still seemed pretty unsure about how to go about doing anything. He was nice enough though, and helped me out with the money issues that popped up in the Osaka terminal. My last paycheck from the freelance work I was doing bounced, and since it was a huge check, when I checked my balance I was about $ 350.00 in the hole. Either it was the lack of sleep or the excitement of being in Japan that kept me from freaking out, but everything ended up working out just fine. Flemming bought me my bus ticket to Okayama City and gave me some pocket money to get started and then went his own way. Taking the bus was kind of a blur, as I came in and out of consciousness for the entire trip, and after four more hours of traveling I finally arrived at Okayama-Ekimae Station. After retrieving my luggage I was met by two women, both named Hiromi, who worked at Nova, my place of employment. They were really nice, and it was fun to joke around with them after the long trip, even if they didn't fully understand everything I was saying or my humor.

There's a lot that I've taken in starting from the first step in the city, and it's hard to organize my thoughts enough to try and type everything I've been thinking about. Just on the walk from the station the night I got here, I saw where the red light district was and discovered the greatness of beers in vending machines. There are also cigarette vending machines, but they require a card verifying that the buyer is over 20. That's not an issue for alcohol though, and even still for cigarettes, you can just go into a store and they would sell them to you no questions asked. Also relating to vending machines, there's a restaurant I've been going to quite a bit because its cheap and good, but you buy your meal through a vending machine and get a ticket and within 2 minutes you have your meal in front of you complete with a bowl of miso soup. Food can be really cheap, and I even found a place close to where I work that I can get a bowl of udon for 105 yen, which comes out to be just a little over a dollar. Wandering the city has been really fun, but sometimes I wish that somebody was here experiencing it for the first time too. I don't mind too much, but its a lot of stimulus that I can't really express in words and sometimes I want to glance over and get a look affirming that what I'm experiencing is as unbelievable as I think it is. I'm beginning to meet people though, so I'm sure this will all change as I start exploring the country a little more.

Since my visa didn't get processed until the day before I came here, I don't get my apartment until Friday so I've been staying in hotels. The first one was nice, and had a good breakfast. I knew that rice was eaten at every meal, but my breakfasts lately have consisted of pretty much only rice. This first hotel only had really good meatballs soaked in a thick gravy with rice and the hotel I'm at now has the best miso I've ever tasted served with baklava shaped rice things. However, my room in the hotel I'm at now is so small I don't have space to do anything. My luggage takes up 3 / 4 of the available floor space and I barely fit through the bathroom door. It offers a great view of the city though, overlooking both the train yard and the opposite side of the station. The photo taken at dusk is from my window. My apartment is a fifteen minute bike ride from the station so while it's not right downtown, it's close enough that I can easily get there. Plus there are restaurants, bars, and shops sprawled all throughout the city, it isn't really separated into different districts or anything. The apartment is called a 1k apartment meaning that there is one room plus a kitchen. I think that it's about 200 square feet but it has a balcony and a washing machine so I'll be happy. I guess I'll have to wait and see how I really feel about it but I'm excited to have a place to call my home.

My second day of teaching here went much better than I thought it would, even though I still messed up quite a bit. Before the teaching even started, I roamed the city to register myself as an alien to Okayama, but instead of finding the city office building, I found an enormous arcade named Joypolis, located in Joy Town. It's funny because a lot of stores have something to do with happiness. The day before I shopped at a supermarket / everything store called Happy Village and I couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculous posters and signs labeling the different aisles and special sales for the week. Anyway, this arcade was run by Sega, and I was surprised to find that almost the entire bottom floor was dedicated to claw games. I asked my manager Tom about it and he said that claw games, as well as gambling games, are more popular than video games. A lot of the prizes were Dragon BallZ action figures or bug eyed smiling animals giving the peace sign so I stuck to the video game section. I'm really glad I found this place because I haven't been to an arcade forever, and to just mash buttons with no idea what I was really doing felt pretty good. Once I get more confident I hope to take out the local fighting game champions and earn a little respect around here. Back to the teaching.

My first day was pretty rocky, and I wasn't ready at all for what I got thrown into. The first thing I taught was the activity section of the lesson, and me, not used to lowering my word count to give directions, thoroughly confused all of the students. Luckily Tom was there to help out when things went awry, and the second lesson I had to teach later that night went much smoother, mainly because there was only one student. Today though, I had to teach the entire lesson to a group of four, and everything was going good until I stopped the lesson ten minutes early because I misjudged when the lesson was supposed to be over. I'm glad that these students could speak alright English, because I almost got up and walked away before one of them told me that there was still a long time. Besides that little mishap though, I feel pretty good about how things are progressing, and tomorrow will be a new challenge: teaching back to back classes.

I've finished my training so from this point on I am an official teacher of English at Nova schools throughout Japan. While I was kind of looking forward to teaching in my own style, the Nova approach to teaching English will be a good test for me to accommodate what I think is right for what needs to be done. There is a pretty strict lesson plan, and the only variation really comes in a few areas with a couple different choices. What I do hope is to treat the students not like pets, talking in a higher voice and much slower, but like I talk normally. I tried it on the last day of training, and it not only made me feel more comfortable in the classroom, but I think the students felt more comfortable when they could tell I wasn't putting on some kind of act. I had today off, but tomorrow I start my first full day, teaching eight full classes. I think I'm ready, and I know that from here on out I'll only continue to improve.

Work is going good, but I'm still having some difficulties dealing with the change in lifestyle. I moved into my apartment yesterday and I kind of knew that it was going to be small, but I never imagined that it would be THIS small. The kitchen has a fridge that is barely bigger than a mini fridge, one burner hooked up to a gas line, a big sink, and a washing machine. There isn't even a counter to prepare anything on, and with only one burner my cooking options are pretty limited. Connected to the kitchen is my bathroom, that has one of the smallest showers I've ever seen and barely enough room to even sit down on the toilet. And then there's the main room, where I do everything else. Hiromi borrowed me one of her extra futons, and I couldn't help but laugh when she brought it over because it was hot pink and had leopard print on it. The futon takes up about half of the main room, so once I get a desk, I'll have to fold it up and put it in the closet so I can walk around a little. I was pretty bummed today when I woke up really sore from sleeping on the floor and realized that I didn't have any basic living items. No shampoo, no soap, no toilet paper, no clothes hangers, etc. It was my day off so I thought I would just go find some shops and pick up the basics, but my search ended up being a lot more difficult than I thought. The first dilemna popped up when I realized that I didn't have any yen and that I couldn't use the one ATM that is by my apartment. After pacing the streets for a while trying to figure out what to do, I finally just went to the train station and drew out my situation for the guy at the ticket counter. All my pictionary skills paid off and I got on the train for free and once I got into Okayama station I got some money out. I thought things would be easy from this point on, but not being able to ask anybody where anything is makes finding anything ten times harder. After some walking around I found shampoo and face wash as well as an iron. I still didn't have toilet paper or any clothes hangers which I really need since my work has a strict dress code.

I'm still finding out new things about my apartment. For one the entire bathroom is considered a shower. Because there isn't any space, I just have a drain in the floor and in the bathtub, and I'm supposed to stand outside the shower to wash myself and then jump into the tub of clean water once I'm all done. I haven't tried it yet, but it makes sense since there's no place to put a shower curtain and the toilet paper has a protective casing around it. There's also gigantic creepy looking spiders all over the place and today I tried to kill one that was hanging out on my balcony, only to have it curl up in a ball and then spring at me. I thought I killed it on three different occasions but the same thing happened every time. Supposedly its bad luck to kill the spiders here, and even though I didn't kill this one, if I see another one in my apartment I know its little secret now and it definitely won't get away.

Last night I went out with the two Hiromis from work, two of the teachers and one of their girlfriends, and two of Hiromi's friends. To put it simply it was awesome. We went to a restaurant where you sit on the floor and eat and I had a few beers and some really good food. It was a lot of fun just because everybody, even with pretty high language barriers between us, was talking like we'd been friends for a long time. I think the biggest difference between the Japanese and Americans lies in how the females act. Whenever they talk, they sound like they are saying something really important and are excited to get the news out. This applies to when they react to what you say too; everything is an exaggerated expression but it seems to be more of a genuine fascination than being melodramatic. The whole night made it seem like life here will just continue to get better once I make a few friends, and even with the demanding work schedule, the times I have to relax, travel, and meet people are really exciting to think about.


andrew.hake said...

awesome post Paul, definitely brings back some memories, although I was not on my own when I went to you are definitely doing a great job adapting and learning everything.

I can definitely relate to just the amount of stimulating stuff there is around you throughout the city, it is phenomenal.

Cool to see that you flew into Osaka, its a cool airport huh? that is even better you got some help from a stranger.

I highly recommend whenever you have some serious free time, to do what you can to begin learning the language. Email me anytime about that as I have tons and tons of resources, including a Japanese teacher that would be more than happy to help out as well. It will definitely make your day to day life much simpler.

The vending machines are the greatest things in the world, and the vending machine (purchase your meal and then walk in and eat it) restaurants are the greatest things ever invented, so much good food for so cheap. There is a lot of good food you will definitely have to try, and so much healthier overall. There is a energy drink out there called ナタデココ (Nuta de Coco) that is really good, little pieces of coconut in the drink and it is just great, i don't like coconut but I love that damn drink. I recommend it.

You have to capture one of those spiders and become its master!

so much more to say, but it is great to see someone else as excited as I was when I was there, keep up the good blogging ^_^

ItAteEverybody said...

dude..find skate shop..start thrashin'..