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Wow…

8 Jun

So I did it again, I really feel behind.  I try to find some time to sit down and blog but as of late, I’ve been really exhausted.  Not exactly sure why.  I’ve been eating a lot healthier lately: tons more vegetables, less meat, etc.  I haven’t had fried foods in so long, I don’t snack on junk, most of the time I make my school lunch.  I feel proud of myself.  Plus, I’ve been taking lots of vitamins, too.

Another great thing, my Japanese is getting a lot better.  And I’m not sure how it turned up because it hasn’t always been there, but now on the keyboard drop-down menu on my Mac, I can choose to type in romaji, hiragana, or katakana.  Maybe my computer sensed a need for it since I’ve been using the character palette a lot more.  I can tell you one thing, being able to type in Hiragana on my keyboard is waaaaay better than selecting each kana from the character palette…

I haven’t been truly studying that much because I’ve been busy at work and exhausted at home, but my Japanese is improving because I am talking to more Japanese people and being comfortable with it.  A few weeks back after spending about 6 straight hours trying to hold conversations in Japanese I had gotten really tired – physically and emotionally – and felt like it was really hard for me to be in a situation like that… but the other weekend I went to a BBQ and there was only one other person there that was a native English speaker.  I also had a good amount of Japanese friends around so that may have done it, too… but I truly felt victorious… especially with my Kansai-ben.

To me, the Kansai dialect has much more life and vibrance than the standard Kanto dialect. Standard Japanese sounds boring, to me anyway. I like the verb and grammatical truncation that occurs all throughout the dialect.  I guess describing it would be like… hearing a Caribbean dialect of English spoken against a generic standard North American English dialect.  Different to the point that sometimes you have trouble comprehending the conversation going on in front of you and you’re a native speaker of English.

Anyway, gotta go. I smell.

I Am A “Samugari”…

22 Jan

The phrase goes, “if you can’t stand the heat…” but is there one for being unable to withstand the cold?  I am currently experiencing my “first” winter; one with actual snow and frost and ice.  On top of that, I’m living through it in Japan, the land full of people who don’t seem to understand the concept of insulation outside of thermoses and soup containers.  Currently it is 37°F/3°C outside which means my apartment is probably 1 or 2 Farenheit degrees warmer without the heater.

If you read the blog title, then you may be asking, “But what is a ‘samugari’?” No, it’s not some kind of special Samurai class (although that would be mind-blowingly awesome if I were somehow a samurai… hmm); what “samugari” (寒がり) actually means is someone “being sensitive to the cold” and that describes me to a tee!  I already knew before I arrived in Japan that I didn’t really enjoy winter, but my my; being here has elevated that sensitivity and disdain to levels nearing intolerance and hate.

Now, I try my best to fend off the cold with a nice combination of long johns, thermals, extra layers, big coats, gloves, scarves, thick socks, multiple layers of socks and hats; and I have 2 heaters, an electric blanket, and a kotatsu at my disposal so if you’re thinking “Just put on a sweater and, boom, problem solved!” then you don’t really understand what I mean.

The problem comes when I begin to peel off the layers and expose myself to the bare elements with no comforting heating machines to stave off the biting cold.  It’s as simple as having to use the toilet, both at school and at home. Japanese-style toilets are no problem – you don’t touch anything.  Western-style causes yelps of shock when you have to tinkle at 2am.  Lucky for me I picked up a furry toilet cover for only 100yen at Daiso (such a lifesaver, I tell you).  When it’s time to wash hands, ice-cold water rushes through the faucet and drives your fingers closer to frostbite than you ever want to be, spurring myself and many other ALTs I’ve talked to to second-guess the oh-so-necessary act of handwashing.  Another lucky thing is to stash anti-bacterial hand gel in your pocket to avoid the hand-numbing act of washing.

So already it seems like I’ve come up with some workarounds to avoid some of the issues that plague a samugari such as myself, so you might well be thinking “So shut up about it already“… but, no.  The ultimate, and yet-to-be-solved problem still remains: the shower.

The thing is, when I turn on my tiny little space-heater, I close the door to the front area of my apartment so that I’m only heating a smaller section and not wasting energy (think green!) but the problem is that the entry to my apartment contains not just that little space where you leave your shoes, but also my washer, sink, toilet room and, you guessed it… shower!  This means that while I’m sitting toasty in my tatami room, my shower area is the still the same freezing 3°C.

Let me tell you, the worst part about taking a shower is getting in and getting out.  Once I get in, the water is at a nice, cozy 100°F/39°C but even in the shower there is enough cold air to dampen the experience.  That’s why as soon as I get home from school, before even turning on my heater, I force myself to get in the shower before the sun sets and the temperature difference between indoors and out increases.  And once I park myself in front of my heater, post-shower… man… you’ll be hard-pressed to rip me away from that thing.  Like a suckling baby to the bosom.

Needless to say, the weather calendar says it should start warming up around mid-March, thank God.  I actually saw a website that said, “Japan is an island country and hence the temperatures never reach the extremes.” and that is truly funny.

5-month Restrospection

8 Jan

Okay, so I will freely admit that restrospection after only five months sounds kinds of lame; but as I get ready to head back to The Bay for a short visit with family and maybe a few friends, I know I will be asked many a question about everything I’ve experienced thus far.  This is a good way to get all that out because also, I’m pretty happy about some of the things I’ve done =D  So check out my little accomplishments after the jump! Continue reading

2008… What Did You DO To Me?!?!

29 Dec

I don’t know if any year of my life has ever been so epic and life-changing.  I was looking over the blogs from the past year and I can’t recall any other time in my life that has been as epic as these as these last twelve months.

In January my Grandmother was diagnosed with bone cancer and after a few months of caring for her weekly, she passed at the end of April this year.  My sister learned she was pregnant and the baby was born in October.  I had also heard from the JET programme about my application just before beginning my last semester of college.

In February I interviewed with JET and both my brother and Grandfather were in and out of the hospital a few times.  March was kind of quiet aside from working on school projects and trying to learn Japanese while I was still waiting to hear back from the JET programme about my interview… that was agonizing.  Oh yeah, and we moved.  I hate moving.

In April I found out I was accepted into JET and just two weeks later my Grandmother passed away.  I drove cross-country three days to attend the funeral.  I also found out the baby would be a girl.  In May I finished my final project for school and graduated with my Bachelor of Arts degree after what seemed like forever.

In June I just spent time with family and in July I spent countless hours staring into my closet figuring out what to bring to Japan.  I had a going away party and in August I moved to Japan.  The last four months of the year have been an absolute whirlwind.  I’ve picked up a lot of Japanese already, I’ve met lots of great people, and have traveled to several places across the country.

Nara, Japan

Nara, Japan

I’ve had many firsts this year, like a great leap in feeling independent and having a disposable income.  2008 made me feel death, life, divorce, ridiculous drama, knowledge, growth, accomplishment, fear, apprehension, shame, pride… and love.

If this next year is anything like the one that’s coming to a close; I should prepare to get my socks rocked off.  So let’s get ready to eat some mochi, drink some sake (everyone else… not me), and ring the temple bells into the Year of the Cow!

Me in Hiroshima

At Least They Know The Important Parts

17 Sep

Got some mail today that was A] actually addressed to someone and 2] actually addressed to me!!!  How crazy!  Of course, it was a bill.

NTT is ready to get their money for phone services so I opened the envelope because I can’t remember if this is one of the services I set up to auto-deduct from my bank account when I first came. >_>  Back home I’m used to itemized usage so I wanted to see if I could figure out how much I was charged for calls back home but all I could see was kanjikanjikanji! I recognize the kanji for month (月), day (日), and even [phone] number (号); as well as the kanji that’s in my address: 神戸市北区#### (sorry, those last couple kanji don’t need to be on here for safety reasons…)

So I know some basics but couldn’t get the information I’d wanted.  Then I look up to two pink boxes that show an amount of yen (円) and a date at the end of the month.  My deductive reasoning says “hey, that’s probably how much I owe and when I owe it.”  And wouldn’t you know it, that’s that only part of the bill that has any English whatsoever….

Crazy.

Crazy.

NTT is about their money for sure.  Way to do it.

Oh yeah; and everyone is freaking out about the weather this weekend.  Either way I have to be at school on Saturday.  If it’s sunny, we have Sports Day; if it rains…. we have Thursday class schedule (which means I teach 5/6 periods), and then come back on Sunday for another go at Sports Day.  And did I mention there’s a Typhoon moving North from Okinawa so that could stir up some rain this week?  Yeah… here’s the week’s forecast. Keep your fingers crossed.

This Week's Forecast

This Week

My 日本語 Really Needs Improvement…

15 Sep

Learning Japanese is tough, any sane person will admit that.  I know I have an advantage over many other beginners in knowing how to look up a kanji in three ways: by total stroke count, by radical + stroke count, and finally by pronunciation… now, the last one I don’t use so much because I don’t know how to say most of the Kanji… but if you give me a paper full of Japanese and my Kanji & Kana book (which has been EXTRMELY helpful, btw), I can work out the basic meaning of whatever you’re trying to inform me of… which is generally what I do everyday for a couple hours at school.

Right now most of the schools in my area are gearing up for Sports Day which ought to be pretty epic for me since I’ve never experienced this bit of Japanese culture; and if the daily practices are any indicator, this thing oughta be bananas.  I will definitely be packing my camcorder + tripod that day, for sure.  Since Sports Day is so “important” to the students’ education, every day the schedule is ridiculously modified so that the student body has a chance to practice together, as well as within their respective grade or sex; depending on what performance or activity they’re practicing.

As I mentioned, the schedule is changed every day… now, granted, they make annnouncements about the changes in the schedule every morning at the 8:30am staff meeting but, hey, it’s all Greek to me because when they get to talking, all I can pick out of the announcements at this point are the days of the week, times, and grade-and-class groupings.  Oh, and I learned 練習 “renshu” which means “practice” so….. yeah.  The only notification they offer up is a sheet of paper or two placed on my desk with the day’s schedule; so if I don’t have a class to teach or a lesson to plan, I start looking up Kanji and work out the basics, then I ask the teacher I team-teach with if what I scribbled down is correct… generally it’s good enough for me to get the point.

In terms of actually speaking and communicating with people…. I know what a lot of the basic particles mean or what their purpose is (ga, kara, made, wa, ni, o, etc…) but I get tongue-tied when it’s time to used them; so what good is that?  Right now if it’s more complicated than asking where the toilet is, how much something costs, or apologizing for not understanding what they’re saying (which I say a LOT -> “sumimasen, wakarimasen“) I am sort of left to pointing, gesturing, and using the few words I do know and hope to God they get the point.

For instance a few weeks back some of us went to an arcade after work… I bought an ice cream and before I was even 80% done with the thing, it fell off the stick and SPLAT! right onto the ground (and this was the third time with the same brand of ice cream, you’d think I would have learned my lesson by this point >.>)… I picked up the big hunk of wasted treat and chucked it in the garbage.  There was still a bit of liquid on the floor and I didn’t have a paper towel, so after wiping away a tear from once again dropping one of the most delicious ice creams I’d ever bought from a vending machine (and subsequently swearing to never buy that kind again) I walked over to the game counter where a bored-looking employee was and prepared myself for an attempt at successful communication.

Che was there and her Japanese is pretty decent.  She offered to help but I told her, “I got this… sorta” and she just watched as I stepped up to the counter and played charades:

ME:  Umm… sumimasen (excuse me)  uhh… アィス クリム (“aisu kurimu” -> ice cream) *gesturing ice cream licking motion + sound* SPLAT *gesturing ice cream toppling to the floor*… over there *points* gomen nasai (I’m sorry)

Swear, homeboy shook his head a little as he walked from behind the counter to clean the mess that the gaijin had created… my bad! As far as I’m concerned, Seventeen Ice (the creators of said irresistable frozen confection) has one of two options.

Grape-flavored Temptation

Grape-flavored Temptation

They either A] re-engineer the shape and design of their ice cream (hello!, FUNCTION over form, anyone?) or 2] stop making those things so delicious so I won’t feel the need to eat the push-pop-style tastiness!  Someone said I just need to learn how to eat ice cream faster, or bite it… but that goes against my philosophies of ice cream enjoyment!

Anyway, I’m tired (as you may be able to tell by this point) and I have to rest up for for Sports Day practice tomorrow. yay.