Thursday, March 19, 2009

Japan - Day Four

March 19, 2009

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Joan is out for a run right now, on a slightly chilly, cloudy, and windy morning, a little different from the wonderfully warm last few days. We are going to bike over to campus to use the Internet and then run some errands.
Today is a national holiday – Spring Equinox Day? – so the kids are out of school, but the banks and stores are open. We don’t have any plans for the weekend, but as most of the current teachers are returning, there will probably be something going on.
We had a little party at our place last night. Steve Kostecke, my old Peace Corps Fiji buddy, who helped me get this job, got back the night before, so he came down the hall for a visit. Kristina, another current teacher, came down and loaded a Japanese language program on to our laptop. Then Josie and Dan, the other new teachers who live in the Arms, came up to chat. And finally, Kris, our new vice director, who also lives in the Arms, came over with some cans of “fruit alcohol pops” – a carbonated, sweet, slightly alcoholic drinks. I hopped on my bike around rode down to Lawson 100, the 100 yen grocery store and grabbed a couple cans of Asahi, Kirin, and Yebisu beer. So we actually managed to stay up past 9 pm! We were still in bed by 10 but slept in till 6:30 today…
Yesterday morning, the new teachers met with Steve and Kris to go over our schedules, grading, attendance, etc.. It seems like a pretty good system with a lot of flexibility built to accommodate different teaching styles and philosophies. I think this will be different than most of my stateside teaching in that the majority of students are required to be in class. In America, most of my students really wanted to be in class and desperately wanted to learn English; I had no problems with discipline and attendance.
With our freshman students fresh from the regimented high school system, it apparently can be a rough transition to the freedom and subsequent responsibility of university – should be interesting…
Poor Joan – the weather just took a turn for the worst and has started raining. I’d better turn on the automatic hot water kettle for tea.
After lunch of soba (thick, ropy noodles) and tempura in a tasty broth with seaweed, we met with the president of the university. He seems like a very nice man, but I think we will probably not see much of him in our time here. Our CELE faculty seems pretty insular and independent. He talked for awhile about the goals of the university and the English program, and then asked us some questions about us.
Then the new teachers who are new to Japan (Josie, Dan, and me [and Joan]), went with Terao-san, the KKB staffer who was our e-mail liaison during the application and stateside process, took us to the Musashino city hall. His English is quite good from working with all the CELE teachers and from studying in America. He also has a cool little cell phone upon which he was watching Japan play Cuba live in the World Baseball Championship. You’ll be pleased to hear that Japan beat Cuba something like six to nothing!
We took our first train ride two stations away and then hopped on a bus to city hall. With Terao-san translating, we filled out the forms and waited for our paperwork that proves we have applied for our alien registration cards, in case we are asked by the police for ID. I don’t have a real feel for how likely that is to happen, though… However, we need those cards to get bank accounts, cell phones, etc.. We will have to return sometime in early April to pick them up. We aren’t too worried about cell phones and such.
Since the apartment is already furnished and we can use the Internet at the school, we are holding off on buying any larger furniture, like a couch, or getting a phone/Internet at home. We are not sure what our expenses will be, and since I don’t start receiving my salary for a month or more, the $1000 or so in yen we brought is all we have for now.
Yesterday, after our 5 am start, we finished up our coffee and breakfast by seven, looked at each other, and said, “Well, now what do we do?” So we went grocery shopping. We went crazy and bought about $30 worth of groceries, including a tube of wasabi, that very hot, green radish/mustard that goes with sushi. We had it this morning with our fried eggs, onions, and rice – oh, the burn was good! The highlight of the grocery trip was when trying to figure out if Japan actually has pints of coffee creamer. I tried to ask the dairy person about it in my broken Japanese, but we were getting no where. He raised his hand in a ‘just a minute’ way and took off behind the scenes. A few moments later, he led an apprehensive young man back to us. It turns out that he spoke more than enough English and was able to help us figure out there was no creamer of the type we were looking for. We talked a little longer with him and found out that he was not Japanese, but, in fact, Mongolian, and was studying Japanese language and culture at another nearby university. It was a really cool international incident. The first man kept scurrying away to find other store employees and bring them to see our little drama play out. I think the young man’s name is “Bhurr-khet,” and we hope to use his translation skills in the future…

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