aWhat else? So besides the harrowing brush with death, something else happened that I thought could only happen once. I was late, again. For the girl who's never been late in her life, I was going to set a record by being late TWICE in the country that SHAMES tardiness. The first time was totally the fault of the person who wrote the directions...but the second time was probably my fault. On my very second day of teaching, I was supposed to have an early meeting before my classes. I totally forgot about said meeting. I woke up, made breakfast, and began to eat when I got a call from my supervisor.
She was like, "Where are you?" and I replied something to the effect of, "just finished eating?"
"What? Did you forget?"
"Forget what?" I said, baffled.
"The meeting. The meeting we're having right now."
Instant, insane, and complete panic. I must have thrown on clothes faster than a magician. I tossed everything in my bag and practically ran. I looked at the time. By the time I was going to make it to the meeting, it would be half over. I sighed and felt immediate resignation. Maybe it would be better if I just showed up early for my classes (to be fair, I had to show up at least 2 hours before as per the Peppy Kids Club policy, but I was always earlier than that). I was at the station, when I got another call.
"Where are you now?"
"At the station."
"Going to my classes..."
"You need to be here. Now."
"I don't know how to get there..."
At this point, she passes the phone off to another teacher whom I haven't met because she can't deal with me. I get specific instructions on how to take the bus to the school. I first have to find said bus, because it's on the other side of the station. I get on the bus, but don't know what to do since this bus is different. The bus driver glared down at me from his perch and practically ripped the ticket out of the machine to hand to me. I muttered the destination, and he just said, "Hai". My stop came and went, I tried to get him to stop just after but he adamantly refused and told me to sit down. I sat down and waited for the bus to reach it's final stop. When I was getting off, I put the money and ticket in just like I did in Nagoya - expecting change in return. However, buses in Utsunomiya have a separate change machine for this purpose. I did not know that. The moment it happened, it triggered the bus driver into an unquenchable rage. He told me what I did wrong in Japanese and I shyly muttered, "Wakarimasen?" meaning, "I don't understand". He then proceeded to yell at me in a mocking tone, "Wakarimasen!? Wakarimasen!!!" The next sentences that followed were slurs against gaijins, I understood that much. I had never been so humiliated and hurt in public. He yelled at me to get off the bus and I did. I then had to run back to the previous stop as I choked back tears. When I finally arrived at the school, I took the wrong entrance (despite the instructions saying the contrary), and found nothing but hostility. The supervisor and my fellow teachers were cold. She took every opportunity to either ignore me, or belittle me. In fact, she soured every opportunity I had at a friendship in that circle. And every subsequent meeting she would remark on how I was, "finally on time" and "not like that other time when I was incredibly late".
When the awful, awful meeting ended, I found out there were no buses back at that time and I had classes to teach. I practically ran. Turned out, it was about a 45 minute walk. Ugh. When I finally made it back to the station, I saw some of my fellow teachers. They actually turned their backs on me and walked away. Then I noticed the station seemed very busy. I try to pay attention to the announcements before I finally take out my phone and find out all of the trains have been delayed to Utsunomiya. Now I was screwed again. I was going to be late to check in for my classes. I called head office and informed them the trains weren't running. They said just wait in the station and keep them informed. It took about an hour before the trains were back, and the train ride to school was about 45 minutes as well. I let head office know my situation, and they resignedly asked me to "try my best to be on time" and let me know it would still be considered my fault if I was late. Circumstances were apparently irrelevant. I spent the whole train ride prepping to run out of the doors when it stopped. And that's what I did. I practically flew by the man taking tickets, although he seemed unfazed - perhaps even found it amusing. I literally made it to the school within a minute of my deadline. I raced to the phone and called in. Head office was mildly impressed, and commented that I must have ran.
The next day was the earthquake. Truly, the week from hell.
Well, thank you so much for reading! If you like, I've made a gallery of photos from Nagoya! Ciao!
Japanese trains are silent. The engine may huff, the couplings will swing, and the cars can creak, but you won't hear a word. People bring silence to the train. It's an odd concept in North America since North Americans love to talk. There's laughter, sometimes overly loud music, and of course, conversation. Yet, in Japan, the silence is deafening. The few times I heard anything was often between foreigners or high school girls. Even still, the foreigners eventually learn it's a faux pas, and the girls always speak in hushed tones. The train became a prime example of Japanese etiquette.
For instance, if someone is carrying a backpack or any other type of bag, it takes up no space. If they sit, it's on their lap, and if they stand, it's between their legs and on the ground. Courteous. Polite. Efficient. That's not all. Say someone enjoys reading during their commute, they will use a book cover so no one may be offended and they are granted their privacy. In truth, I highly doubt there would be offense in the first place, but the thought is there. People listen to music, but you'll never see them move. No rhythmic bobbing of the head, or even a slight toe tap, and while you would think this was only true for the train...the night clubs always surprised me.
As I'm sure you've guessed, Japanese trains can be quite busy - especially Tokyo trains. Yet, there is no pushing or shoving. When the doors open, people allow everyone to disembark and wait in a self imposed queue automatically. The moment people are done leaving the train, the queue begins to board. Everyone respects the amount of time someone has waited, and respects the order. It was heavenly. I loved being able to trust that every single person understood the unspoken, unwritten rules of commuting. It made commuting safe.
But, marching in robotic synchronicity, and keeping absolute silence was sometimes painful. There's an absence of life. I can honestly say I hold politeness, courtesy, and respect in the highest regard, however...it was as if everyone lacked humanity. It was like the town from Footloose. Everyone was so morally upstanding, that it even prevented them from dancing. I wanted to be the person who breathed life back into Japan - well, everyday Japan. Japanese TV and media is another story. I think it's the only way they can express anything. Through over the top symbolism, and crazy hi-jinks. Trust me, in everyday life, people hide their eccentricities. Usually. Save for the odd man inexplicably wearing a girl's school uniform.
I digress. Japanese trains are efficient and always on time. If they're late (even by 5 minutes), either someone died, or the weather has actually gotten serious. Worried about being late for work? Just ask one of the many train staff for your proof that the train was actually late (chien shoumeisho). I'm serious, it's a slip of paper officially stamped, essentially acting as an apology to your employer. I had to ask for one a few times, but luckily it didn't affect me. I still managed to arrive early (thanks to leaving early and typically short delays).
Overall, the most impressive part about Japanese trains is the fact that so many of them are still running. I often took trains to rural Japan, and that meant riding on the oldest trains you've ever seen. Like the ones just after they were done with coal. They worked beautifully. Sure, they made a little bit more noise, and sometimes when they started moving again you could feel the whole train jolt and shudder as it caught up to the engine, but they worked perfect. That's another thing I learned about Japan, they believed in fixing things - not replacing them. Another quality I greatly admire.
For today's post, I've arranged a few photos from trains around Aichi. I've also included a few videos of trains in movement. They're a bit boring, but interesting. I hope you enjoy, and I'll be back for the next update on March 31. Jya ne! (See you!)
Thanks for reading! Next update is March 24! See you, Space Cowboy.
After a whirlwind of new experiences, it was time for some formal training. We were up at the crack of dawn ready to storm the beaches, office attire equipped and hair done up. Our first days of orientation involved introductions from different company representatives and reminding us that this would not be easy. They compared it to hell. They smiled, and we laughed, but we were mistaken - it wasn't a joke. The President of the company graced us with a brief introduction. He was an older Japanese man that didn't speak a word of English, and was accompanied by a translator, another man in the company. He asked us who we thought the top 3 private TESL schools were in the country. Interestingly, the top 2 had invited me for interviews, but I declined (it was 3,500 km away). This is when we found out PKC was the top 3 company for teaching English in Japan AND they had the same number of schools as KFC had restaurants. He was incredibly enthusiastic about this fact, and before he left we all recited in unison our new creed, "Otsukaresama desu!". It's essentially a formal way of thanking someone for their good work. We were sternly instructed to say it every time we saw a co-worker, started or ended a phone call with the office, and at meetings. It was a sign of respect. (However, it eventually became a tireless mantra that seemed to lose all meaning.) Each day we were up early, and each night we came home late - then everyone tried to relax/study in the wee hours, leaving maybe 4 hours for sleep. The first few days were learning how to deal with emergencies, and filling out incident reports. Then came the really brutal days - trying to learn the curriculum and teach it to students.
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