25 July 2008

Constant Vigilance

If you've read the fourth book and beyond in the Harry Potter series, you're familiar with the catch phrase of Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody: "Constant vigilance, Potter! Constant vigilance!" While Mad-Eye intended his warning for Hogwarts students who were unaware of the perils of the wizarding world, I do find the phrase coming to mind every so often during my daily-life activities in Japan. For your reading pleasure, my top 5 dangers to a foreigner in Japan (in no particular order):

1. Bathrooms
It's something I've become used to - the idea that "bathroom" means "porcelain-lined hole in the ground that just so happens to flush."

Of course, that's not all - two surprises wait for you outside of the stall:
A. No soap. I'll never understand why, in a country where cookies come individually wrapped instead of in sleeves for the fear that someone might get their cooties on it, there is not a shred of soap to be found in most bathrooms.
B. No hand-drying apparatus. This is a 75% inevitability - I'm occasionally pleasantly surprised by an air dryer that, unlike its American cousin, does the job quickly and effectively. In most places, though, you'd best hope you remembered to bring your handkerchief/wash cloth.

2. Pizzas
If you bring home a frozen pizza, expect it to have three toppings: cheese, pepperoni, and corn. Corn makes its way onto more pizzas than I can say, and I'm still confused as to why. Also, anticipate an encounter with a pizza that is topped with seaweed, egg roe, or mayonnaise...if not all three. (Yes, I have seen/eaten such a thing.)

Point in fact, anticipate mayonnaise to make a sneak attack on any dish you order. And, of course, Japanese mayonnaise is very different from the American kind, in that it is thicker and stronger in taste. (Read: Ew. Ew ew.)

3. Man Purses
Men will wear purses that in no way scream "manly." These man purses will also come in forms of man fanny-packs. To top it off, they will be name brands - as in, men spending small fortunes on their DG-covered purse. Do your best to not laugh.
Don't believe me? A picture's worth a thousand words.

4. Fashion and the Concept of Matching
I'm no longer scared or startled when I see a young woman wearing shoes a size too small (or a size too large) and an outfit with the coordinating colors of purple, gold, black, and either a blue somewhere between periwinkle and electric or some bright shade of orange. Fashion is just a different monster here, and (outside of affording some amusing Engrish on t-shirts) is in general just ... a frightening phenomenon you accept over time.

5. Katakana English
A lot of foreign words have made it into Japanese, and a good number of those words are from English. Great! I'll have an easier time understanding and being understood, right?
Wrong. Ooooh so so wrong.
Say "McDonalds" (even with a Japanese accent) and you'll get nothing but confusion. Say "Maakku" and suddenly everyone around you is thinking of burgers. "Beeru" means "building," whereas "beeeru" means "beer." (Do you hear the difference? I'm just barely able to, and it's rather a bad thing to confuse the two.) "Pah-so-con" means "personal computer" or "PC," and "depah-to" means "department store." In short, prepare for the most foreign of all languages to be your own.

15 July 2008

Schoooooool's Out for Summer!

AKA: Goals and A Little Bit of Looking-Ahead

I've been rather quiet here as of late due to a number of things. That's mostly because I haven't been doing much that I find worth reporting. I had some trips planned, but the weather and circumstances haven't been helping me out on this score.

Life goes on, of course. I only have five [cue chorus of angels] classes left until summer vacation starts. Six glorious weeks of no classes - joy!

Of course, with so much time on my hands, I have a lot I'm hoping to accomplish. So, for your reading pleasure, I present my list of goals for the summer break (in roughly chronological order).

1. Travel a bit with Laurel (July 19th - 21st)
Laurel, a roommmate from college and a good friend, is coming to visit later this week. We're going to do some traveling and I'm really looking forward to spending some time with her. And, of course, being seen around Japan with a 5'10 blond hottie.

2. Say goodbye to the departing JETs (August 1st)
;_; Not really a goal, but something I have to keep in mind.

3. Celebrate my 1 year anniversary in Japan (August 1st)
Of course, this directly coincides with the departure of the non-recontracting JETs, so I may fudge the date a bit.

4. Participate in Kid's English camp (in the mornings of July 30th, 31st, and August 1st)
Elementary school students plus other ALTs plus games ... should be a fun time!

5. Welcome new JETs (July 30th, August 6th)
The new JETs will come in to town and I get to ride around with the supervisor and show them the "sights" (the bank, the cellphone store, Pink Street...)

6. Participate in the UNESCO English Camp (August 8th - 10th)
Woohoo, English! Woohoo, earning 2 days of vacation time! I've high hopes for this weekend being a fun one.

7. Go home!!
I'm going home for a week...it should be awesome. If you haven't heard about when I'm coming home, I'm sorry - since I'll only be home a very short time, I'm limiting who knows about the trip so as to be sure to spend enough time with my family. I still love you!

8. Study for the JLPT level 3
The test isn't until December, but I'm worried about my ability to pass this test. This level corresponds to some 300 hours of study, so I'm trying to think ahead and be sure to study enough for it. My JET Japanese lessons ended in June and I've been slacking off a lot the past month - I've been enjoying getting back into the groove of studying an hour or so every day.
I'm such a nerd.

9. Get ahead on the "teaching" thing
I have a lot of goals for preparing myself for the next semester - having at least one game for each chapter in each grade, for example, and scanning my worksheets to make an electronic database of my files. I also want to finish my lesson plans for the rest of the year in elementary school. (Fortunately, I've only 11 of an original 30 left to plan!) This should take up a lot of my "sitting at the office with nothing to do" time.

10. Prepare for applying to graduate schools
I have a lot of investigating I need to do on this front, and I want to start doing as much of it as I can now. I've already got a file going on most of the schools, but I want to get some correspondence going with the faculty members and figure out a little more of what I need to do before applying.

It's only 10 things, but, now that I look at it, it seems like I won't really have a lot of the aforemtnioned time on my hands.
Well, as the Japanese say, "FIGHT-O!" v ^_^ v