Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Japan - Day Three

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Ugh. It's 5:10 in the morning on Thursday. I woke up at three or so and had been tossing and turning fitfully for the last couple of hours. I guess we have not quite gotten away from jet lag, yet... I decided to write because it is a quite activity, and we are trying to be considerate of our two downstairs neighbors who are graduate students from China.

Yesterday was the first day of orientation for VFM's (Visiting Faculty Member). Those of us who live here (three new VFMs) met with Kris, the new vice director, who also lives here, at the mail boxes in front of the Arms to walk over to the university. We also met with Dan, the other new VFM at the Arms who had just flown in the night before from Chicago. It is a very pleasant 20 minute walk along shady sidewalks; we also passed the school playground which is to be the evacuation site for our neighborhood if there is an earthquake.

At the university, we met with the six other VFMs. They are already living in Japan and have come from other jobs, so they already have apartments, and most of them have spouses and children. It is a quite diverse group, although seven of us are American with one British and one Irish teacher. The experiences range from a lifetime of teaching in Asia and other countries to fresh of the boat. Overall, everyone seems nice. Throughout the day, we also met some of the current VFMs as they came in and out of the office to catch up on paperwork and other details.

First off, we met with the office staff of KKB, the international affairs of Asia University (AU). AU has about 500 international students, mostly from China, and also sends many students to study in America through exchange programs at sister schools, mostly in Washington state. Some of the staff speak excellent English and often serve as interpreters for VFMs who need help with paperwork, both for school and for living in Japan. Everyone is very friendly and seems very approachable.

The rest of the morning was spent meeting with two people from the administration office, filling out paperwork for ID badges, bank accounts, health insurance, and other bureaucratic things. Between their difficulties with English and our not being able to read the forms, it was quite an entertaining experience.

For lunch, we went to the school cafeteria and ate some uninspired food. You may have noticed in some of the random photos linked to the blog some shots of prepared bowls and plates of food behind glass. At most restaurants, there are displays of the dishes in these cases, all made in exact detail but from plastic. At the cafeteria, I picked one that looked pretty good; however, like most institutional food around the world, it left me wanting. Joan had been using the AU wireless Internet on campus and joined us for lunch. She went with some of the teachers to a local grocery store to bring back some bento boxes: prepared meals in plastic containers ranging from sushi to sandwiches.

The afternoon was a tour of the CELE offices. It is a really nice office with cubicles and computers for each teacher. There are a lot of teaching materials and supplies available. We have many more days of orientation that will focus on the nuts and bolts of teaching at AU. At first glance, though, it seems like a very professional set up and quite a step up from other ESL teaching situations. I also understand that because there is a total of 22 ESL teachers at CELE, it has created its on little faculty with a great deal of independence and flexibility. At most schools, there are not many ESL teachers, and they can feel isolated and under-supported.

We finished up around 4 pm, and some of walked over to Don Quijote, a bright, garish, tacky discount store – sort of a mix of Big Lots, Wal-Mart, and a video arcade. I guess it is the best place to get a majority of things. We have not been to enough stores yet to have a real feel of the different qualities of stores and prices. We have been really lucky to move into a almost completely furnished aparment; we have not had to go out and buy all the bric-a-brac of life. Also, we don't actually receive any of our salary for a month and a half, so cash in hand is at a premium.

After dinner (a wonderful meal of savory tofu, brown rice cooked in our cool automatic rice cooker, and a salad – Joan found red cabbage!), we took a bike ride to a local park I found the other day while out running. We inherited a detailed map, and when looking at it, I found what looked like a bike/walking path from near our apartment that led to a large open park. The path cuts through neighborhoods and stays off busy roads, giving an interesting look into people's backyards and gardens.

Still no work on the community garden plot we applied for with my vice director. We are still hopeful. Joan has already bought her first plant: a young Swiss chard and is babying it on the balcony. There is talk of expanding the operation to the front hallway/balcony where there is some public space that is not used by anyone and gets a lot of sun. Already the word has gotten out about Joan's crazy gardening skills, and some of the VFMs have come up to Joan and asked her to help them improve their container gardening on their own balconies. Kris, the vice director, is going to ask our landlord, who owns a lot of property in our area, if he might have a patch of dirt that we might use, as well...

After the bike ride, I tried to study Japanese but soon got drowsy. So I laid down for a little while on the futon bed around 7:30 pm and that was it. Hence, you understand why I am up before the sun.

Today we go back to AU to meet the president and then to city hall to apply for and receive our Alien Registration cards (we make little alien beeping noises every time we say that phrase). Without these cards, we can't do anything like open a bank account, register our bicycles, get a cell phone and Internet, etc.. Also, I guess the police could stop us at any moment and want to see our paperwork; however, I don't know how often that happens or what the penalty would be for not having the card.

Friday is free, so we have a three-day weekend. There are no plans as of yet, but everyone is getting excited about cherry blossom season which is soon to happen. People are talking about some serious cherry blossom viewing parties! In fact, on the news last night (I did wake up long enough to watch it...), they had the cherry blossom forecast for Japan, which looked like a pink tide advancing up a map of the islands!

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