The internet has started being friendlier to me this evening. Since about 5 pm, it’s given me several 20 or 30 minute sessions of use before being interrupted by god knows what.
As I walk around town, sing and play with seven year olds, or wake up every morning and eat melon bread and drink cold coffee from a carton, I often think “this is an experience that I want to convey to others.” Since people have seemed fairly interested in this blog so far (you rock, Frankie!) I figure some lively descriptions of fairly mundane occurrences might be warranted.
Most people know about how Japanese students must clean their schools daily. I have vague recollections from my early childhood in the late 80’s, when Japan was poised to take over the world, of this fact being used as anecdotal evidence for Japan’s success – work ethic, basically. I might have bought into this myth before I actually witnessed students clean their school. Yes, everyone is assigned a specific location and team, with a supervising teacher, and a student leader, who must check, in a very official sounding voice, the satisfactory cleaning of their area. Yes, there are broom closets in every hall, and for 20 minutes, they bustle with activity of students cleaning. But they don’t seem to know how to actually sweep. Or mop. They are very good at spreading dirt around. During cleaning time, I usually try to find a broom and dustpan and sweep my way around somewhere. I don’t have to do much to fill up a dustpan so full of sand and lint and dust and dirt to make me start to sneeze. In terms of overall cleanliness, including paint job, condition of doors, windows, floors, etc, none of my Japanese schools compare to even the old Swanson Elementary school building in Palmer. And I’m pretty sure there were just one or two old dudes taking care of that place.
There is one thing that I would like to state for the record. Earlier this summer, in my pre-departure confidence, I perhaps suggested to many of you that I would be in Japan for, oh, probably three years, and not to expect to hear much from me, and, oh, I’m just going to traipse of to Japan and that will be the last of Sean. I apologize if I sounded like an arrogant haught. I’ve been here now for over a month, and while I don’t believe I have yet experienced culture shock, I am realizing the need for a balance between life here and the life I put on hold back home. Living in a place is much different than travelling to it. You have to learn things. You have to figure things out. You have to get along with people. You have to see the same people every day. You have to pay bills written in another language. You have to talk to people on the phone in another language. You have to get used to being watched while waiting for a train. While buying KitKats and Dr Pepper at the supermarket. All of these things are easily obfuscated amidst the excitement of travel, where things never get old, and where oddities or annoyances are more easily viewed with fascination and appreciation. Originally, my goal was to only update this blog in English about once a week, with the Japanese version being updated more frequently. I really want to improve my Japanese, and I thought that expressing my thoughts in Japanese would help, and I am sure it will. But I am already spending eight, ten hours a day or more expressing myself in Japanese, and feeling exhausted because of it. Putting thoughts down in English is a good way of taking a break from that.
One more point. Out of curiosity, I checked on the price of plane tickets back to the US for a few dates later this year and next year. They are well over $1000 dollars. I get 20 days of paid vacation a year, and will likely use some of it to make some long weekends and probably to visit Korea and Russia this summer, and Papua New Guinea in the spring (more on that later). I’m thinking August, during the Japanese school summer break, and the trough of a slimy, hot season, would be a good time to return. However. Any and all who would like to come visit are more than welcome. If you’re going to be passing through Palmer, I may even help with the price of your ticket, since you could serve as a courier of sorts to bring me things like toothpaste and bring back things like books and junk that I will have accumulated here. Seriously, I’m only about a 4 hour train ride from Narita Airport (3 or less from downtown Tokyo). I love having friends in other countries – it gives me an excuse to visit – and I am excited to be that friend to various those of you people.
Oh yeah, another thing. Writing in English is good practice, I think, to help keep a natural English place in my brain. After reading many of the memoirs and essays written by other JETs from years past, I have become afraid of my innate, intrinsic intelligence being slowly etched away by repetitive English drills, non-native, awkward speaking situations, Japanese, and the daily phalanx of t-shirts written “GRADUAL ACCRETION” and “Have a terrible summer!” So. Balance. That’s hopefully the key.