Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My fish think everything's gonna be okay.

In the past week and a half, it seems people have been glued to the news watching the disaster in Japan. It's been strange to watch it, because I'm 'here', but I'm not. I'm about as far away as I can be from the destruction (expect for Okinawa). Life here has barely been affected. The kids are raising some money to be sent up north, and there's been some news coverage of towns that look a lot like mine, but I can't tell anything catastrophic happened without watching TV.

One thing that is hard is to judge how bad the situation is. I'm fairly certain that the danger is downplayed by the Japanese Government and Japanese TV programs. I'm just as certain that foreign coverage is equally sensationalized. The French Embassy has told their nationals in Tokyo to leave, while the US only says you should consider it.

Of course I'm not in Tokyo. To usage any left over fears, I'm located in Kumamoto Prefecture. It's about 577 miles or 928.39 Kilometers from Tokyo to Kumamoto. The distance from Minneapolis to Chicago is 354 miles (in a straight line). That's pretty decent. Not to mention that Tokyo is on the East coast and Kumamoto is on the West coast. There are also mountains in the middle, so the wind shouldn't blow over here too much. Hopefully.

Finally, the really reason everyone should, is that much like the parakeet keeping miners safe, my fish are not worried at all. I found them peacefully sleeping side by side last night. Therefore, I don't think I'll stand in line at the airport just yet.

It's shaping up to be a beautiful spring. I was exceedingly disappointed this last weekend. We had Monday off as well for a national holiday, and it rained all three days. =(
Honestly, there's got to be a rule that at least one of the days is partly sunny for any three day weekend.

Although I've been busy the last few weeks, that will change shortly with the coming of spring break. I wasn't planning on traveling much for spring break this year. Last year I traveled quite a bit and now I just want to relax. I've been having fond flashbacks of when Audrey and I got our first apartment right out of college together. We used to have contests to see who could do the least on our days off. Ahhh, that was great.

To add to the potential lazing, I found a nice speaker set by Pioneer, two good sized speakers for either side of the TV plus sub-woofer for only $300. I'd seen the same set for $500 at other stores. So I purchased it as a belated to self birthday present. :D

One of the trees at my junior high has started to bloom. I think I'll do a series of picture blogs of the sakura as they come in. They breed sakura here like people breed dogs in the US. The plant them at schools and city buildings and parks. And then in the spring when the trees bloom we all take extra long lunches and eat under the trees. If you don't have work you go and drink and be merry under the trees. I like that the best.

I'll be keeping a look out at what happens up north safely from my sofa. I should be able to hop a plane to Korea or Singapore if things get really scary.

Thanks to everyone for your support. I hope that the photos I post in the next week help you see how normal life is here in Nankan.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jet Lagging into the New Year

2011 has finally arrived. It brings the beginning of a new life style for those of us in Kyushu, as the new Shinkansen is scheduled to complete sometime this March/April, which should shed an hour or two off of my trips to Osaka.

Although January is the coldest month here, it's definitely worth it to have all the bugs dead or hiding somewhere in the forrest. Damn bugs. Living here in January is COLD. My friends back in MN might be laughing, saying, '32 degrees? Cold?' but I will remind those of you living your posh lives with things like insulation and central heating that we don't have such comforts here. If you'd like a taste of my winter, just open your windows on the next 32 degree day and try it.

My parents came to visit last year at the beginning of April and Mom tried to heat my whole apartment with one pitiful heater (about the size of a window air-conditioning unit). I had to explain that the walls leak like a sieve and it will just break the heater using it in such a large space. Well, I probably didn't explain it that well or that nicely. I think it was more along the lines of 'What do you think you're doing!?'

In Japan, they tell you to forget everything about last year before you begin the new year. I like this. Forget and just let the new year come. Today I went to class and left the old year at the door. I had been quite worried. So many things didn't go the way I wanted last year. I became frustrated with my kids because I couldn't see that I was helping in any way. Also, I have to say: This is my third year here. I have done these games many times. I have taught these lessons many times. I have dealt with students who don't study and then complain that English is impossible more times than I can count.

Moreover, I'd become frustrated with the work culture here. People being married to jobs, not being able to have any free time at all, even to sleep. It just seemed so strict, so structured, and such a pain. The teachers I spend my days with can't ever go out for a casual drink after work. 1. There's no place to drink here. 2. Japan has a zero tolerance for drinking and driving. Any alcohol in your system earns you an immediate trip to jail, interrogation, and for ALTs, a trip home. 3. The teachers have to work on Saturday and Sunday unless they have small children and are women (and therefore the primary caregiver, and don't have any time).

Yet here I am. For all the bad things, I still like my life here. I like my freezing apartment. I like my genki non-studying students. They really are fun. (It's just hard to make games when they haven't learned the grammar.) I love going to my super market where all the cashier ladies know my name and look so excited to get to chat with me for a few minutes.

And yes, Mom, I love my restaurant that serves some of the most outrageously fabulous parfaits I've ever had. I'll have to get some pictures. Mom and Dad, if you have some of those parfait pics would you send me a copy? If not...guess I'll just have to go do some reconnaissance :D

So you don't need to be in a new place with a new job to have a new year. Leave the old one at the door.