Thursday, December 29, 2011

Aw, you think you're important?

I was never very keen on talking to complete strangers.

Yesterday I was at Barnes and Noble, the only big chain bookstore left in America, asking about a book on North Korea. With Dear Leader's demise there's obviously been an increased interest in the country, and I've had my own interest piqued in both Koreas since moving to Japan. I've been reading more articles about the post-war friction between Japan and South Korea, particularly the tension surrounding the issue of comfort women, and I'm slowly collecting titles of books I want to read.

I had wanted to pick up Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, a book about the lives of some North Korean defectors, but they were out of stock. My mentioning the country was apparently some random woman's cue to start talking to me.

"Oh you're interested in North Korea? Why is that?"

I thought it was kind of a dumb question considering who had just died, but I politely answered, "I moved to Japan and I'm trying to learn more about the politics of the region."

"I used to live in North Korea!"

"Oh, really? Are you a defector?"

She gave me a coy smile. "Oh no, I lived there for four years. My husband was the head of the UN there. We used to have dinner with Kim Il-sung all the time. My husband used to be on TV every night and people would recognize him and think he was a god, since he was seen with Kim Il-sung."

About then was when I reached my maximum bullshit level for the day, so I politely excused myself. I tried to find a list of UN people in hopes of finding a photo or something but I couldn't, most likely because this woman was lying.

Supposing all your claims are true, random lady from Barnes and Noble, do you really think I care about your husband's former title? Did you want a gold star sticker for all the wine you had to drink and food you had to eat at Mr. Kim's table while his Communist regime allowed his own people to starve to death? Did you or your husband ever do anything to try to alleviate the suffering of everyday citizens? Do you care that most people there are brainwashed into thinking the entire Kim family are immortal gods who control the weather? Do you even care about some of the horrific things that are written in the very book I was asking about?

Obviously it doesn't matter how many titles you acquire in your lifetime, you can still be a complete idiot. Nonetheless, thank you random lady for reaffirming the advice my mother gave me as a child: don't talk to strangers. 

They might make you that much dumber for having to talk to them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Conversations with My Students: Spelling is Fun!

Once a week I am blessed to be in the presence of five very high-level older elementary school students. They range in age from 10 to 12, and they're all very well-rounded kids who tend to have a little too much fun in my class. There are four girls and one boy, so naturally the boy gets picked on a lot.

Photo mostly unrelated. I did make those at work :)

In Ms. Carly's class, Japanese is never to be spoken unless you want your chair taken away. But they're not quite old enough to have learned swear words in English, so the girls recently figured out a clever way to insult the boy. Apparently he had been doing some impersonation or generally acting stupid the entire class, so the girls had to point it out.

Unrequited Love Girl: Carly, Carly! The Boy is a B-A-K-A (idiot).
Other three girls: AHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Idol Girl: No, no, he is H-E-N-T-A-I.
The Boy: *Thinks for a moment* Japanese is hentai (horny/perverted).
ULG: Ah no he is... S-U-K-E-B-A!
Me: B-A? Are you sure? I think it's B-E.
Me: S-U-K-E-B-E. Not sukeba.
ULG: Ah okay. The Boy is S-U-K-E-B-E (pervert/lecherous).
Other three girls: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Twihard: The Boy is so funny... *nearly dies laughing*

At this point everyone, including The Boy, are in tears from laughing so hard. Unrequited Love Girl (she has a pencil case that says that) was clutching her stomach saying it hurt from laughing, and that in turn made everyone laugh MORE. I'm surprised no one came in to see what all the noise was about.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Twas the week or so before Christmas...

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope everyone is thoroughly enjoying the holiday, since it's on a Sunday and no one in Japan or America has to work. I certainly enjoyed this view at Waikiki Beach on Christmas Eve.

A while back dearest Marissa decided not to go back to America for Christmas, so we had a little Christmas get-together at her ENORMOUS apartment. Seriously, the company put me in the tiniest little studio and Marissa has this huge 1RK apartment with enough space for a queen sized bed and two burners in the kitchen. TWO!

The girls got me a totally legal copy of TegoMass' newest album, Tetsuya <3 on the cover of the latest EXILE magazine (that I refrained from buying a few weeks ago since I bought the J Soul Brothers cd + dvds), and the Dolly Wink eye shadow that I've been wanting since the summer. 

Tracy and I got Marissa some GANTZ postcards we managed to find in Nakano and some other things she doesn't remember because NINO AND THAT OTHER GUY IN LEATHER SUITS HEEEEY.

Marissa and I got Tracy a Totoro blanket and a bunch of nail polishes. Revlon makes scented nail polishes in Japan, so I got her the pink peach-scented one.

I also brought over this sake that was left for me in the apartment by the last teacher. Drank half the bottle and didn't even feel it! Lame.

Tracy and I also impulsively bought a few Christmas cakes. In Japan people eat regular cake, absolutely no special ingredients whatsoever, at Christmas and call it Christmas cake. We also bought a crepe layer cake which wasn't that good.

And now for some really bad photos! I don't think we managed to take a good one at all.

And a wonderful time was had by all!

Mini-Post: I'm home!

 I'm in Hawaii, my dear homeland, for the holidays. I'll post about my (early) Christmas dinner in Machida and alcohol later. For now, I'm gonna spend time with my family and enjoy the warm weather.

Beautiful downtown Honolulu.

Merry Christmas to everyone in Japan and everyone in America (including me!) has mere hours to get those last-minute Christmas gifts!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Imperial Gardens

A few weeks ago I walked around the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo. It's free and open to the public, which is great because paying to get some culture all the time sucks. It's kind of strange being able go from the sprawling urban jungle of downtown Tokyo to these amazing gardens by just crossing a street, but that's part of the magic of this city.

I'd also like to mention that a few years ago a crazy British gaijin removed all his clothes and jumped in the moat that surrounds the gardens. No wonder the right-wingers want us out of this country - no Japanese person would ever think to jump into the Emperor's moat, much less naked. Onto the photos!

Was the inspiration for this photo the big stone wall or the young salarymen?

Perfect for a desktop background.

What I'd do every day if I were the Empress of Japan.

My outfit that day was also pretty awesome, not that I got a proper picture of it. This was probably one of the last nice days were I could get away with wearing tall socks.

More info on the gardens here. I'd suggest paying a visit when it gets warmer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Conversations with My Students: Fighting with Four-year-olds

Recently I got mad at a four-year-old. I usually get mad at four-year-olds for things like whining, crying, or generally being impudent, but this time it was over something more legitimate.

I teach one little girl who is very high-level and knows quite a bit of English. Her mother is fairly conversational and her grandmother speaks very well. The little girl knows the alphabet and knows the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters.

Obviously this child's name isn't Noob, but it's actually a very convenient substitute for her name.

Me: Okay Noob, where is little "o?" Like in your name, you have two, N-o-o-b.
Noob: No! (In Japanese:) That's not like my name.
Me: Excuse me? *Writes N-o-o-b on the board* *Points to "o"* Okay so this letter isn't "o?"
Noob: *Obviously thinking* (In Japanese:) It's "o" but not like my name.
Me: OMG. I promise you, this is how you spell your name.
Noob: No!
Me: OKAY FINE. *Hands her a board marker* How do you write your name?
Noob: *Writes N-O-O-B in all uppercase letters*
Me: OMG I am fighting with a four-year-old over letters...

Highlight of my English teaching career, obviously.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shameless Purchases Post

Welcome to another Shameless Purchases post! I've been dropping some serious cash on various things this past week, and I'd like to share them with you~

Seriously, how do I sign up to drive the EXILE/J Soul Brothers truck?

First up, my beloved Sandaime J Soul Brothers released their new album! Check out their ad trucks rolling through the Shibuya scramble, easily one of the best random things in Tokyo. I bought the album set as a reward for taking the JLPT, and what a reward it is. The set contains a brand new CD, a DVD with four videos and two making-of clips, and a live double DVD of Nidaime vs. Sandaime AND some show the entire EXILE Tribe did. HOT DAMN.

The best clip is the "Fighters - Round 3" PV, where the performers get their crazy free-style b-boy skillz on and are completely adorable and make me want to marry all of them - even the one who can't decide what his look is supposed to be and looks weird most of the time because of it.

Yes, this is the second album they've released this year.

Caroline has been gradually cleaning out her apartment, and bestowed upon me a great deal for her old jisho and JLPT N3 study books. I've been wanting a proper electronic dictionary for a while but have been holding off since even the cheapest ones are a few hundred dollars. I am now super legit with this jisho and can even bust it out in class with Mittens and Slightly Racist Teenager when they don't know something. Mamegoma is totally staying on there and will be getting company shortly~

Full color touch screen is pretty badass.

This is the greatest Christmas card I have ever seen. Tracy described it to me a few weeks ago and it made it sound like all of my wildest dreams come true. I found it at Loft and it is WAY cooler in person. I'm gonna send it to my grandmother, I hope she finds it as mesmerizing as I do.

And finally, I did my nails! I've really come to like these little pa nail polishes, they're cheap and come in all kinds of great colors.

Looks better in person, I promise.

Now somehow I've got to save SOME money this month, hopefully I won't have to do too much more Christmas shopping before I get paid and go home.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Survived the JLPT

This past Sunday I and many other foreigners all across this great nation took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test!


Since I live in Saitama my assigned test site was Saitama Daigaku, which seemed like a typical Japanese campus and thankfully nothing terrible stood out about the place.

I got to my test room about 15 minutes before the test began, and it was almost all men in the room! It was quite intimidating walking in and having all these eyes staring at me, and all men on the side by the door so I had to keep my best bitch-face on so no one would talk to me. There were two other American-looking girls, maybe two Filipino girls, and two really loud Chinese girls. I nervously took a seat at the back because one of the proctors was speaking and I did NOT want anymore attention, but he came over and told me there was assigned seating and led me to my seat. Embarrassing!

My nerves settled down as we started the exam period, mostly because it took so damn long to even start. Each test section began with a 15-minute block of time dedicated to checking our test vouchers, checking that we were in the correct seats, passing out the exam materials, and filling in information on the test booklets. They checked our pictures on the test vouchers THREE TIMES. And there were two 30-minute breaks between the test sections, so we all wasted at least an hour and 45 minutes doing nothing. I was annoyed.

The test itself wasn't too bad. The test prep book I bought was well worth the money and I knew how to do each section of the exam without thinking about it. Practicing online with iKnow also helped a lot, there were at least a dozen items on the test I knew directly from that study service. There were a few items I blindly guessed on, but I felt confident on at least 85% of the written exam.

The listening section was harder, but only because I cannot bubble in numbers very quickly. The conversations were fine but I'd only get through bubbling in half of the answer and the next question would start, and then I'd get all panicky and flustered and miss something. I think I did okay, though.

Overall, I'm glad I took it and I came out of the test a lot more confident than I thought I would. I will receive the results of the exam next February. In the meantime, I'm going to buy the new Sandaime J Soul Brothers album + dvd + live dvd tomorrow as a reward for all my hard work!

WORK IT, NAOKI. I love muscles, too!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Things the Japanese Do: Go to the Doctor for Everything

I was the unfortunate victim of food poisoning this past Wednesday. Dinner came back up the way it went down at about 2:30am and I spent the rest of the night running to the bathroom. I didn't get much rest and I certainly didn't feel good, but I also knew skipping work the next day would be pretty bad. I got through my Thursday classes, slept a good 12 hours that night, and still wasn't 100% better today but I got through it.

I didn't go to the doctor since I knew what made me sick and I doubt any doctor could give you medicine to cure food poisoning. I took some good ol' Pepto-Bismol, tried to keep hydrated, and didn't have any problems.

The best things in life are pink~

This is generally what we do in America when we get sick - self-diagnose and medicate with over-the-counter drugs. If you've got the sniffles and a cough, you take some Dayquil to survive the workday, eat some soup when you get home and go to bed early. If you're still sick after a while or you get worse, then you go to the doctor. If you're prone to getting sick in certain ways and already know what the doctor's going to tell you since you've been there a million times before with the same thing, you skip going altogether and treat yourself unless you need a prescription.

I can think of a few female friends who have been prone to urinary tract infections. Maybe their moms or sisters got them a lot, too, so it's not necessarily something they can always avoid and the infections just sort of happen. They drink a lot of fluids, namely cranberry juice, and maybe buy a bottle of cranberry pills. It's not a big deal and they know at what point they should visit the doctor, if ever.

It's very different, and not necessarily better, in Japan. People go to the doctor for every little thing in this country. The first time I wore glasses to work my manager asked why I was wearing them, and I told her my eyes felt a little dry so I decided to skip wearing contacts. I suppose she immediately assumed my eyes were going to fall out of my head and asked me three times if I needed to go to the doctor.

One of my coworkers went to the doctor last week and I'm still not convinced they needed to. They were fine the night before when I left work, but still somehow needed to take half a day off the next day came in looking perfectly fine at 2pm. Did I mention I went to work half dead after puking and pooing my brains out the night before? Another coworker once went to the doctor for a headache and came to work 2 hours later. If I did that back home I'm pretty sure the doctor would tell me to go get some aspirin and laugh about it with the nurses.

Having a fever is also the ultimate kiss of death in this country. If you have a fever, you NEED TO SEE A DOCTOR NOW. Back home, I'd probably take some ibuprofen and drink more water. You can call in sick with a fever and be left alone, but if you have any other sort of severe symptoms like having lost your voice or body aches you better be at work or school. Kids come to class with all sorts of disgusting sicknesses going on, but if they have a fever moms will keep them at home as if that were the only legitimate reason to do so.

"Suck it up, Timmy! Time to go to English school!"

I realize part of this attitude comes from the fact that the Japanese have this great nationalized healthcare  system (paying to see a doctor? PSH we don't do that here) and there are tons of little private practices all over the place. In my neighborhood alone, there are a bunch of chiropractors, pediatricians, and dentists, and there are at least two women's clinics within reasonable walking distance; there's also an English-speaking doctor on the other side of my station. If you don't like a doctor at one clinic, you can try a bunch of other clinics in a relatively small area until you find one you like. Even in a comparable metropolitan area in the US, it's just not as easy to get to a doctor's office and you're kinda stuck with whoever your insurance allows you to see. Why would you go to the doctor in America? You're better off diagnosing yourself and drinking 10 bottles of cranberry juice.

I haven't been to the doctor yet since coming here, although by Japanese standards I'm sure I've had a few episodes that warranted a trip. Maybe I'll call out the next time I have a headache.