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Notes from one month to go September 26, 2004

Posted by LHK in Japan.
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Since so many people have been leaving work lately, we’re seeing the beginning of what will soon be an influx of new teachers. Today’s addition was Pete, a rather nondescript pimply guy from Melbourne who spent most of today being nervous and easily suggestible. Two Saturdays ago — the day I left for Australia — east Tokyo was disgraced with the presence of Michael, from Perth, who tops all the Western-boys-running-amuck-in-Japan I’ve met this year in the department of all-around assholeyness. From the moment he comes into the staff room, he doesn’t stop running his mouth about his blusteringly confident revelations about his whole two weeks in this country. Every time he starts a sentence with, “Did you all ever notice how all the people here…?” I try to tune him out, but that’s hard because his voice probably carries to west Tokyo, and he’ll grinningly interrupt any conversation you’re trying to have with any more polite member of the Nova Kinshicho staff.

I had an empty lesson period to work on some stuff for next month’s kids lessons, so I was working in the staff room while Michael, Pete, Eric, and Melanie were on their break period. Let me say that I would have rather been teaching a lesson — any lesson — than sitting in the staff room during those forty minutes.

Michael, his mouth full of supermarket bento box sashimi, started on his generalizations about us today, trying to show Pete the ropes of working at Kinshicho with an annoyingly declarative, pointed tone of voice:

“Yeah, this branch is pretty boring. If you want to go out with other Nova teachers, you’re gonna have to find them from different branches, because these guys don’t go out.”

“What?” I said. “I go out all the time. And a lot of us teachers just had a party the other night.” Thinking: just because we don’t go out with YOU, doesn’t mean we spend all our non-work time sitting in our little apartments eating Cup Noodle and watching Japanese TV dramas with production values lower than the individual 20-second commercials that occur in their breaks.

He also told poor, impressionable Pete that “most Nova teachers don’t go out very much,” in a tone of voice that made it sound like he’d gone out and tested this hypothesis in all regions of Japan. I responded offhandedly with the fact that a lot of the teachers I’ve known here fully admit to spending most of their paycheck on drinking and going out. Not me, fortunately. And not Eric, either, who was sitting next to me at the round table in the middle of the staff room and commiserating with me via well-timed eye rolls. It’s funny — we never much had a rapport in the first six or so months I worked here. If we had break together, he would sit and read and I would sit and read, and in the two or three minutes before the bell we might simulate some polite conversation: “Soo… what’s your schedule look like after break?” But lately, we’ve been getting along really well. As the two “veterans” in the room at the time, we suddenly had more in common than we ever imagined we would. Here we were in complete shared rage over these people invading our comfortable little east Tokyo working life, making crazy claims about our existence in this country, Eric’s standing at 13 months, mine at 11.

Michael was saying, “I think most of these guys are married. That’s why they’re so boring.”

Eric spoke up, “I’m the only married one. And Harper’s engaged. And that’s it.”

He wasn’t listening. He went to the bathroom to clean some bits of sashimi and rice out of his teeth, and I looked at Eric and made a dramatic hair-pulling motion. “And that’s all I have to say,” I said.

Earlier in the day, Mert had asked Michael for a file. Michael came up behind Mert, whacked him on the ass with a thick lesson book, and said, “Here you go, sweet cheeks!”

Class One Asshole. I’m almost hoping he tries to whack me on the ass with a lesson book, too — just so I have a reason to finally vent all the rage I’ve been storing for him. And I’ve only worked with him two days! Luckily, he’s part-time, so I’ll only be seeing him for one lesson period on Thursdays, and then about half the day on Saturdays. And only for the next four weeks. Dorothy and I were saying that we really don’t care if the work people fail to organize a going-away party for her, me, and Luke — there just aren’t many people on the staff who we care to say proper goodbyes to anymore.

***

Tonight I packed a box to ship home. On top of all the thick pajama pants and stuffed animals and running shorts and superfluous bars of soap I packed in it, I put a treat for myself. It seems a certain Japanese candy company picked my brain and determined exactly what would make me spend money on junk food: they have created Royal Milk Tea Pocky. My two Japanese addictions, together in one perfect little stick! I’ve got too much junk food in the house right now — four varieties of Arnott’s biscuits from Australia and three types of handmade chocolate Dorothy brought me from Hokkaido — so the Pocky is being shipped via sea mail, to rendezvous with me in Atlanta at some later date.

***

Today’s student question: “Do you know sumo?” I’m a very patient person, but one day I fear I’m going to burst and say, “NO, I have been here for more than eleven months and I have never heard of this ‘sumo’ of which you speak. Please, tell me about it!”

It’s sumo season again in Tokyo, by the way, and I work one train stop away from the sumo stadium. This means I have occasionally had the pleasure of being squished between two wrestlers who sit down on either side of me. I’d love to have a photo of that — 50 kg foreigner in work clothes and heels between two sumo wrestlers in robes.

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