07 February 2013

Housing Update

Moving sucks, even when it's to a wicked cool place like Tokyo.  I just want to get that said and done.

Since last July it seems I've moved every one or two months.  It seems that way because I have.  And I'm tired of it.  I never thought I'd say this, but I'm ready to be stationary for a bit.  Well, not stationary, per se, but I'd like to have a steady home base.  You know; a place where I can keep my things, decorate how I want, and generally just turn into a home.  I thought I'd be doing that when I moved to Mississippi, but that was a bit optimistic since the job I accepted there was specifically for a year long position.  So I moved to Tokyo on the premis that I'm staying for a while-- at least a year but probably two or three.  Even though I moved only two bags full of stuff, it's still moving, and I still loath the process.

I've been in Japan for a month now, and I've already moved twice; first into a guesthouse in Tokyo, then to Fukushima.  In about two weeks I'll be moving back to Tokyo.  But I think I've finally won the battle, at least temporarily.  When I move back to Tokyo I'll move into my new apartment, which has a two year lease.  Yes, you read correctly.  I'm planning to live in one home for two years!  I haven't had a home for that long since I lived with my parents as a child.  What makes it more tantalizing is the thought that I could, technically, stay there for as long as I can renew my visa. I highly doubt that I'll be doing that, but still.  I could.

I've also fallen in love with my apartment.  It's one room, a bathroom, and a "kitchen," which consists of a single gas burner and a sink.  The refrigerator is in the room instead of the kitchen because it can't fit in the kitchen.  The building is old.  This shows the most in the kitchen with worn shelves and grease-stained walls.  BUT it has a glorious selling point: a wonderful wrap-around balcony that probably more than doubles the floor space of the apartment.  And it's in a great neighborhood to boot.

And so I find myself in a bit of a dilemma, which is complicated by my impatience.  I want to be in my new apartment now.  The thought of creating a home for myself-- of really unpacking my bags-- nags me to start the process as soon as I can.  Now!  I'm spending an increasing amount of time online looking at the Google Street View image of my apartment building, wondering how I might arrange my one room, thinking about what furniture I might need (and what could fit), and designing my future container garden that will without a doubt be the envy of the neighborhood.  But then the other side of the equation comes in: I'm incredibly poor and in significant debt.  I can't afford to put a lot of money into my home.  Thankfully, my new job will drastically help alleviate that situation, but again, I want it all now.

And then of course, even if I had boatloads of money, what's a reasonable amount to spend on a home you plan to be in for only two or so years?  What's more important: having my perfect home oasis in the city, or being able to take an extra trip to Cambodia or Vietnam?  Frankly, I want both.

And so I've issued a challenge to myself.  First, be patient.  More importantly, be content.  I'm convinced that is the first step.  It's also the hardest for me.  Second, I've decided not to spend any money on furnishing my home.  My amazing container garden?  Repurposed containers, found seeds, and maybe some dug up wildflowers from the country.  I'm also going to fashion a rain barrel to cut back on watering expenses.  I'll have only as many pots and plants as I can obtain for free.  My furniture?  FreeCycle and dumpster diving.  I've already started to investigate alternative materials like milk crates for creating furniture.  By not spending any money, I feel like I'm killing two birds with one stone.  I'll have clear parameters while I'm creating my home, and it'll be a lot easier to pack up and leave knowing I didn't spend much or any money while I lived there.  I'm looking forward to updating you on this process, and I'm always open to ideas!

05 February 2013

Moving to Fukushima

During the last days of training, my company asked if I'd be willing to move to Fukushima for three weeks to cover for a teacher on paternity leave.  Since my company would pay for my apartment, transportation and some other fees, I saw it as a convenient way to travel a bit and learn about a new area of Japan.  I eagerly accepted.

Some of you might remember hearing about Fukushima after the 2011 earthquakes and the subsequent nuclear power plant melt down.  Fukushima City, which is where I'm living temporarily, escaped most damage from the earthquake.  Japanese engineering excels at guarding against earthquakes, and the city is too far inland to be at risk from tsunamis.  Additionally, the city is fairly far away from the contaminated zone around the power plants, so there's little or no danger from radiation.

Fukushima City is located about 200 miles north of Tokyo.  Traveling by shinkansen, or bullet train, the whole trip took less than two hours.  Shinkansen are fairly luxurious modes of transportation.  They seem to float and glide along the tracks-- I didn't feel any bumps, sharp turns, or jerks.  For the first ten or fifteen minutes I gazed out the window admiring the speed at which the train traveled and the passing landscape.  I could see Mount Fuji dominating the distant horizon.  The whole experience was so tranquil that I fell asleep fairly quickly.

I woke up maybe an hour later and saw everything covered in snow.  We'd traveled far enough north that snow stays through the winter (it's somewhat rare in Tokyo).  We were also nearer the mountains.  I recall passing through several tunnels, always speeding along.  I had barely gotten used to the new landscape before we were at my station, and I was getting off.  One of my Japanese co-workers met me at the gate.  She drove me to the housing office to pick up the key to my apartment, then we went to my apartment to wait for my futon set.

(As a side note, the lock and key to my apartment look like something out of Star Trek.  When I have better wi-fi I'll upload a video.  The whole thing is pretty neat.)

Most Japanese sleep on a futon, which is a thin mattress, placed directly on the ground.  My apartment isn't furnished, so my company arranged for a futon to be delivered to my apartment.  It was supposed to arrive at 3:30, but it never showed up.  My co-worker had returned to work, so I was all alone in my empty apartment.  Just when I was feeling lonely and thinking I'd try to go to sleep I received a call from the school I'm working at.

"Hello?  Jeshi?" my new co-worker asked.  "Are you busy?  We want to bring pizza and have a party.  Can we come over?"

"Sure, but I don't have any chairs or places to sit."

"Ah, so so so.  That's ok.  We'll come at 8:30."

Suddenly feeling much less lonely and a bit excited to meet my new co-workers, I waited for everyone to show up.  They arrived right on time and with many treats.  They brought seafood paella, three pizzas, snacks, fried squid, beer, soda, juice, and perhaps the most thoughtful, eight cushions from the school.  They were worried that I wouldn't have something soft to sleep on, so they brought enough cushions to sit on for our party and for me to sleep on later.  Needless to say, I immediately liked these people.

We had a nice dinner, got to know each other, and in general just had a good time.  After they all left I tucked into my sleeping bag on top of the cushions and had a nice night's sleep.  Fukushima is pretty awesome.

My Birthday! A Quarter-Century Strong

I celebrated my quarter-century birthday on January 21st, and I'm officially closer to 50 than to 1. I remember I cried on my 20th birthday because I felt that I was losing my childhood.  I'm surprised I didn't cry on my 25th.  My childhood has long left me: I have the beginnings of wrinkles, I like to go to bed early, and I often ask for household goods around the holidays.  Another reason I didn't cry is because I had a remarkably good birthday, thanks in a large part to my thoughtful boyfriend.

I had to go to training on my birthday, so I brought everyone ice cream.  I enjoy being the center of attention on my birthday, so I reminded everyone to celebrate me.  They complied and sang me "Happy Birthday," and I think they did it willingly.  At any rate, they convinced me they were happy about my birthday, so I was content.

David came to the office to pick me up after work.  He wanted to meet the other trainees, but he also brought me a BIG present.  It was wrapped and beautiful, and David wanted me to open it right away.  It was a humidifier!  I'd been complaining at how dry the air in my house was and how I'd been brainstorming ways to add water to the air.  David remembered all this, so he picked out a really neat pink humidifier with an LED light.  It ends up being a beautiful night light in addition to making the air MUCH easier to breathe.  Thanks, David!

David and I then went to my house to drop off my present before heading to dinner.  David had learned about a Tunisian restaurant just north of town and wanted to take me there.  We rushed back to the train, got on, and about twenty minutes later we noticed that our phone reception was going in and out.  I'd been so happy about my birthday and presents and dinner I didn't pay attention to which train we got on.  Of course it was the wrong one, and we found ourselves on the opposite side of Tokyo!  I was so embarrassed-- after all, I got on the correct train at that station every single day!  That was the first time I had messed up the trains.  The mistake cost us an hour, which was problematic because David had to be home before curfew.  Even so, David was super kind and nice about it.  He kept saying, "It's your birthday, so I won't make fun of you."  Isn't he sweet?

We finally made it to the Tunisian restaurant, and it was everything I'd hoped for and more.  The food was amazing, the decor brought back tons of memories, and I got to use some Arabic with our waitress.  It was absolutely the best place to have my birthday dinner, and I highly recommend it.

03 February 2013

First Month Recap

I've been in Japan now for a month, and I have LOTS to write about.  So much, in fact, that it will take a few posts to catch everyone up.  Actually, I need to make a list:

  • English Teacher Training
  • My Birthday
  • Moving to Fukushima
  • Housing Update
  • First Days of Teaching
  • Japan: One of a Kind

Ok, so I'll start with teacher training.  The company I work for trains it's teachers in a two-week crash course.  Since all teachers are expected to teach 3 year olds through adults, there's a LOT of information to absorb.  

We started with kids training.  The bottom line: BE ENTHUSIASTIC!  If you know me well, you can imagine how I struggled with this, especially since I have roughly ZERO experience with very small children (adorable cousins excluded).  To complicate matters, I also caught what *might* have been the flu... It could also have been any number of other cold/flu-like illnesses.  For two days I had a temperature over 100, my throat killed me, I was congested, and I was extremely tired to boot.  I wore a face mask in public places to try to prevent spreading my illness-- I felt very Japanese in that respect.

One of my Japanese roommates, who's been a SAINT in helping me get adjusted to the city, noticed I was coughing at night, so she looked up a recipe for chicken noodle soup because she knew Americans frequently eat the dish when they're ill.  She made me soup from scratch!  It was her first time making it, and it was so delicious.  It was full of wholesome veggies and smooth broth.  I still haven't quite figured out how I might return her kindness. 

I'd been told that Japanese are very shy, and up until becoming ill, I'd noticed that most Japanese would politely ignore me.  I was pleasantly surprised, you can imagine, when several lovely Japanese women expressed concern for my health while I was riding the train one day.  

I'd thought I was feeling a bit better, but after a few minutes on the train to work I realized I was most definitely NOT better.  I was fortunate to find a seat when I first got on the train, so I was torn when I started feeling extremely ill: all I wanted was to get off the train and possibly throw up, but if I got off I'd definitely not have a seat when I got back on, and I wasn't sure I could physically stand up for the rest of my trip.  Eventually, I couldn't take any more, so I got off the train, found a bench, and put my head between my knees.  Thankfully, I didn't throw up, so after I was feeling a bit less nauseous I returned to the train.  

As I'd predicted, there wasn't a seat available, so I leaned against the door.  After a few minutes I couldn't even do that, so I squatted down in a corner and rested my head against the wall.  It wasn't a perfect solution, but it was the best I could do.  Not long after that I felt a soft tap on my shoulder.  

"Daijabu?" a woman asked me.  Are you ok?

"Hai.  Daijabu," I replied.  Yes, I'm ok.

The kind woman wasn't convinced, so she gestured for me to take her seat.  I gratefully accepted, desperately wishing I knew enough Japanese to properly thank her. Then before I knew it, several more caring Japanese women were asking me, Daijabu?  I did my best to respond in Japanese, and I truly hope that I communicated how thankful I was for their concern.  

I had to get off the train once more because I was still feeling ill, and when I got off the women gently helped me up and looked concerned.  I made it to work in time, and my trainers were kind and understood why I wasn't keen to jump up and down or run around for kids training.  Even though being sick isn't my favorite, I was pleasantly surprised at the care and concern that Japanese strangers and friends showed me.

The rest of training was a breeze when I started feeling well again.  I observed two teachers, and one of them is involved in marathon running and cycling.  He told me about some events that I might be interested in.  I feel very comfortable around adults, so adult training felt very natural.  The most complicated thing is just remembering the names of the seemingly endless types of classes we offer.