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!)
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.
Back in 2014 I moved to Japan and had the experience of a lifetime. I was all set to be an English teacher, and ready to move to my first big Japanese city, Nagoya. It's located in the Aichi prefecture in central Japan. I spent a hot and humid August training, teaching, and exploring in the "peaceful" city.
Ça va bien. Et vous?
As a Canadian child, everyone learns French in elementary and junior high (and often high school as well). I believe it's in the hopes that it will encourage more of Canada to be bilingual, unfortunately...I grew up in Alberta where Francophones are reviled. I'm not kidding. It is perfectly normal for people to insult Québec (the French province) and its people. It's especially common in rural areas. This is largely due to the fact that Albertans believe they are responsible for sustaining Québec with oil revenue. While some Canadians dislike the French, the feeling was mutual. At one point Québec threatened to leave Canada and actually held a referendum. The vote was 50.58% against leaving with a 93.52% voter turnout. The 2016 US Election had a mere 55% turnout, and in 2008 (Barack's campaign year) there was only a 57.1% turnout. So yeah, Québec was deeply divided and invested. I've often heard Albertans lament the fact they didn't leave.
I may be Albertan, but my father is from Saskatchewan (the province next door), and my mother is from...dun dun DUN...Québec. While my father grew up in the prairies, my mother had grown up in Montréal-Nord with a large Catholic family. This was before the Quiet Revolution, so health care and education were in the hands of the Catholic Church - along with everyday life. It was the duty of every good Catholic woman to have as many children as possible. The Church expected to have loyal parishioners, but instead my mother and all of her siblings decided they weren't Catholic. When she left home, she left all of Québec behind, and eventually came out west to settle down. By the time I was a child, I never heard a drop of French. When my sister and I were a bit older, she taught us a few things to appease our adolescent curiosity, but that was it.
Part of growing up was pointing out how snobby the French are. Some schools had something called, "French Immersion" which meant that every class would be taught in French. One school I attended had split the school in two, some students were taught in English and some in French. This created a very real division in socializing. French kids stuck together and conversed in French blatantly, followed by sneers and laughter. As an Anglophone, it felt very rude. So began the theme of snobby French. While the French kids stood united in their secret language, everyone else commented on their attitudes. Bienvenue au petit Canada. While that behaviour was fairly tame, when I was in grade 4 during a parent-teacher night, my French teacher reprimanded me for being a failure in French class. She actually scolded my mother. Luckily my mother laughed it off, but I was incredibly embarrassed and hurt.
So why is an Albertan like me learning French? I'm part French, so that helps, but more importantly being bilingual opens a lot of doors. Especially if you ever want to be involved in politics or government. If I can manage to learn French as a second language, it'll be equivalent to a rebirth. Plus, better to try now and not later so I'm the object of public humiliation for weeks after...*ahem*
At the moment, I'm going to be taking French lessons until May. So far I've already learned more than my combined time in school. Who knows, maybe this could work out for me...
Here's the link for the gallery upload this week!
Next update will be February 17!
Hello everyone and thank you so much for visiting! I know it's been nearly two years since I last posted, and I just wanted to thank all of my supporters who stuck with me. Your loyalty means so very much to me. I hope that the coming updates help make up for such an extended absence. As to the reason why I was gone for so long, I could say that I was too busy but I think that's just an excuse. I could also say that it was due to numerous stresses, but again too much like an excuse. The truth lies more with how I began to feel about the site. The longer I spent away, the harder it became to think about. It was like a relationship that had fallen to the wayside, and I just didn't know how to restart the conversation.
Well, now I'm back and the site is going to be regularly updated once again! At the moment, I have put a lot of time and effort into sifting through thousands of photos I've taken, and creating galleries to peruse through. The galleries won't be available all at once, instead I will be uploading a different one each week. Each will highlight a different location, for example, the first gallery to be revealed for this update is Surfer's Paradise, Australia! It is one of the smaller galleries, but I think I'd like to start off slow.
If any of you are wondering what's happened these past few years, I'll clue you in a little. As I'm sure most of you know, I was in Japan 2014-2015 teaching English, and then I returned home to Canada after a very tough year away. After that, I was trapped in limbo. I didn't really have a permanent home, nor a job. Thank goodness I had my partner because he was incredibly supportive. He stuck with me while I was in Japan, and helped me maintain some semblance of sanity. When I came back, the first thing I did was chase an old dream. I decided to study for the LSAT and try and get into law school. I spent months preparing, and even took a course to help boost my odds of doing well. I ended up getting a pretty good score, just a bit better than average, and applied to several Canadian universities. I waited months to hear back, and while I waited I received offers from a lot of American universities, sometimes with offers of free tuition. I would have considered that as an option except it's usually pretty expensive after the first year, and it would have meant being away again. When I finally did receive an answer, none of them were positive. It was really unfortunate, but I think academic competition in Canada is incredibly strong since there's so few spots available. It took me a long time to come to terms with their responses, but ultimately I resigned myself. It was a shot in the dark, but I'm glad I tried.
Will I ever try again? Probably not, things being what they are. Canadian law schools don't hold interviews and put almost all of their weighting on your GPA and LSAT - you need a 4.0 and at least a 170. Just so you know, that's impossible to do with an Arts degree. I did well, but I never hit anywhere near a 4.0, mainly due to the fact all of my assignments were essays that were subject to the professor's opinions. I didn't know anyone who had an "A+" average, it was simply impossible. In order for me to attain the grades necessary to get accepted in to law school, I would literally need to go back to school for a degree in science, and that ain't happening.
While I was waiting to hear back from potential law schools, I got myself a job. I believed it was just going to be temporary since I would get an acceptance letter any day, but after I was categorically rejected I was once again stuck in limbo. I ended up keeping it for a long time until I just couldn't do it anymore. I worked in the call center for a major utility company, and came face to face with cubicle life in a corporation. Let's just say, I was never able to drink the Kool-Aid, and each day I could feel my soul being sold for pennies. Then I made a decision, 2017 was going to be my fresh start. I gave my notice and have not looked back.
So what am I doing with my life now? The first step for me was returning to the site. I think it's a big part of who I am, even if I did neglect it for so long, I'm happy to be back. On top of that, I've decided to buckle down and learn Canada's second language, French. I did take French in school, as does every Anglophone Canadian, but what I remember can be summed up by "Bonjour". I know it's a big commitment as an adult, especially since I'm terrible at learning languages. I managed to get by in Japan with basic Japanese, but I never learned how to properly converse. There was a huge mental block there, and I was better at reading and writing than I ever was at speaking.
Next, I'm hoping to become more politically involved by joining a party. If you're not Canadian, I'll quickly break it down. There are many federal parties you can vote for, but there are really only 3 that have any significance. There's the Liberals (left), Conservatives (right), and the New Democrats (left left). Right now the Prime Minister (equivalent to President) of Canada is Justin Trudeau of the Liberals. His father, Pierre Trudeau was actually Prime Minister years before him, and Canadians were so nostalgic that they voted his son in despite his real lack of experience (sound familiar?).
I want to join a party because what happens in my country is important to me, and I want to be a part of the conversation. I've always been politically inclined, but to be honest, deciding what party to join is a pretty big deal. I would finally be putting a label on it, when I've always felt it's important to remain moderate and generally impartial. I believe trying to maintain objectivity is crucial when analyzing an issue, but the truth is we all have our biases.
Anyway, that's all I really have to say for now. I will be updating weekly, and I'm scheduling the next update for Friday, February 10. Thank you so much to all my returning visitors, and of course thank you to anyone who's new to the site! Now please feel free to check out the first gallery: Surfer's Paradise.
From far and wide,
I dared to stride,
And never did I know,
True loneliness - my life was bliss
With vending row on row.
What did I need?
A drink maybe,
for weather hot or cold.
If cold, how nice,
how about some ice?
Matcha or choco?
Ice cream is sweet,
But soup to eat
Is lovely in the snow,
And all year round
In town to town,
No matter where you go.
One of the best parts about Japan are the festivals. There are so many festivals happening year round, and most of them are specific to the local community. They are a great opportunity to observe local talent and interesting traditions. There might be a parade, ancient palanquins, or even music and elaborate costumes. One thing is for certain, there will always be delicious food, and lots of people.
The Kikusui Matsuri at Futaarayama was a beautiful collaboration of an intense cacophony of instruments, and pageantry. There were many people dressed in traditional garb, and some prepared for a purification ceremony. I wandered around, lost in a world I've never known. I found the surroundings nearly overwhelming, and deeply satisfying but some people appeared distracted. There were some stares. They don't see a lot of non-Japanese people and I felt like a moving display, open to interpretation and hushed curiosity.
I didn't mind though. I was too busy admiring the intricately decorated horen or letting the ritual sounds thunder through my heart. There was something so spiritual, so wondrous that I couldn't help but become entirely enraptured.
I visited the local shrine often, since that's where all the events seemed to take place. I missed a lot of events actually, due to work conflicts, but I feel lucky to have witnessed a few, like Oshougatsu. The New Year's Day Festival started late December 31, and became unbelievably crowded before midnight. People were out drinking and partying in the square. I couldn't believe it. I could barely maneuver through the crowd - not a normal sight in the small city. They were lined up to visit the shrine and hopefully attain good fortune for the year. What surprised me the most was everyone counted down to midnight in English! It made everything feel so surreal.
Soon after New Year's Day, there was a parade of fire fighters, performers, martial artists, and even children. At the end, a long line of fire trucks drove past slowly. In the meantime, they maintained regular traffic in all the other lanes. I was astonished. A parade of this size and importance was still not enough to shut down part of a main street. Trust the Japanese to put efficiency and politeness at the top of their priorities, wouldn't want to bother people too much with an annual parade.
I visited Ueno Park in April during the finals days of hanami. Most of the sakura (cherry blossom) petals were gone, but it was still beautiful. Ueno has a zoo, a couple national museums and even a "lake". I walked around the park, visited the museum, ate small octopus on a stick and even had the opportunity to get in a swan boat with a friend for funsies. I enjoyed it!
During Golden Week, on Kodomo no Hi, there was a concert in front of the shrine. It featured several different bands, playing varying degrees of rock. Some bands were more metal, and others were more pop. The best part about the concert was the amount of people dressed up in some form of cosplay. I loved seeing such creativity and imagination sprung to life on the people around me. Most of them were college students, taking the opportunity to celebrate. Some were middle aged men simply enjoying the spectacle of wearing a skirt out in public. I ended up buying an album and tweeting about the event - I really did enjoy the music.
I saw so many festivals. One of my favourites featured a small market in a rural town. It barely covered a block, and was dappled with tents covering handmade crafts, and unique novelties. I saw old Astro Boy manga, a gold leaf ashtray from France, jade necklaces, baskets, food vendors and even a booth to make your own pin or keychain. I bought myself a figurine of komainu - which surprised the locals. I also bought some handmade jewellry, and designed a keychain alongside a 5 year old girl. All the meanwhile, I could feel everyone's eyes on me. I listened to elderly singers strain to hit the right pitch over the speakers, while pedestrians stared relentlessly. In fact, as soon as I started browsing, a man with a camera began to follow me. He wanted to know where I was from and if he could take a picture. I told him it was fine and he took a couple. Then some of the vendors wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing there. They were surprised by the presence of a foreigner to their little town (minutes away from a major tourist destination). Everyone had to ask. I thought it was sweet and enjoyed their curiosity. Although, the man with the camera kept following me and taking photos...guess I granted him the right to be my temporary paparazzi. It was sort of funny, and I think of those moments fondly. The sun shining brightly, the wind tousling my hair, and meeting some of the nicest (and most curious) people in Japan.
Compared to larger festivals within the city - the people kept to themselves and seemed too shy to approach me. Sort of an odd juxtaposition. All-in-all, Japanese festivals are entertaining and enriching. They're an excellent chance for anyone to become involved in the culture, and take part in something bigger.
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