Monday, September 21, 2009

rambling on dreams

(I wrote this a few days back, sorry for the delay in posting...cheers!)

As some of you who read this may have noticed, I am not the most terribly focused writer. Though it is something that I enjoy doing immensely, I have trouble finding one thing to write about and sticking to it. I have a hard time finding a style of writing that I stick to. The world is too big, I observe too much, too many things change and my mind is too busy and always wondering for me to settle on just one mood or topic or vein to write in. I know that I have gone from introspective to humorous to informative and back again on these pages. For this I apologize to you readers right now. Please accept this apology because this won’t happen again. I won’t think of it again now that I am writing it off my mind and onto the page. Its better to just accept that this blog will be full of mistakes and ramblings and misfit writings once in awhile…I do. But please know that I wont be offended if any of you choose to drop out in reading at any point; I don’t expect anyone to read all of this craziness…

Okay, that said I am going to take off in another direction today.

I have spent my morning in the loveliest of fashions. I woke up and took a cold shower, (what I do here. Its still hot in the morning even though I know its fall back home in the US for all you Americans and that leaves are changing and the weather is beauteous…not here. Still hot. I think fall is coming though, I think.) and then got a call on Skype from my best friend/soul sister back home in Portland. It’s been wayyy too long since we have connected and it just felt so good to be in her company again. We talked life and dreams, successes and failures. It was easy and smooth and reassuring, it was refreshing and has helped remind me of my goals and reasons for being on this island. She has such gusto for life and the greatest desire to not just fill the rhetorical glass of life to its fullest, but to have it spilling gleefully over the rim. This friend truly always leaves me feeling inspired and passes great energy for exploring life and dreams onto me.

Dreams are, after all, only ideas that have morphed into such in our minds over time because they hold strength of some kind for us or give us inspiration to change or live differently. Sometimes it feels like dreams in our lives serve only to act as a compass of sorts for us. They point us in the right direction and keep our hearts and minds seeking a common goal, but where they will lead us none of us really know. This dream of mine to live and work abroad has turned out bigger, brighter, more confusing, funny and wonderful than I ever could have imagined. I love the adventure that it gives me everyday and most of all I love that I get the opportunity to achieve my goal in new ways each day by learning about life through hands on experiences. Sure, I don’t know what the hell is going on A LOT of the time, but it only challenges me to really seek the answers out and to use the resources that I have in my hands, my head and my heart in finding them and this is where I really learn. Living my dream is becoming harder and harder though without considering others and letting them in on it…

And so today I am taking a moment to reflect on and return the positive energy and blessings that have been bestowed on me from friends, family and strangers in the last few months and years. Life is good and not what I imagined it would be right now, it is better. My main goal in coming here was to learn about life and to learn about the ways in which it can be lived that I have never had the imagination to consider before. If the quality of life here is better or worse is only matter of personal opinion, there is so much more to life than meets the eye in Japan, so many hidden dreams and desires that an outsider to this culture may never realize exist in the people here. The Japanese are moving and shaking and dreaming up a storm, it is simply a much quieter storm than I am used to hearing brew. The difference here may be in the interconnectedness of these dreams and the reading of minds that happens flawlessly, without fail each and every day. .

There are small things that happen here everyday that change my mind about life as I know it so far. For instance this morning after I arrived at school I was informed at our morning meeting that our principal’s mother died yesterday. While I felt empathy for her I soon learned that that was not to be enough, not in Japan. My supervisor told me, “maybe (I told you about ‘maybe’ right?, it never means maybe) you could follow Japanese tradition and give some money to Kocho sensei for the funeral”. “No problem” I said, (you don’t say no to a maybe) “how much?” And so everyone here will give the principal money so that she and her family can help to take care of funeral arrangements. I’m sure that we aren’t the only ones either. I am stopping in this moment to consider how many other people, family and friends, of hers and the rest of her family are contributing to help lessen the blow of this for the grieving? When is the last time that people back home took up this sort of community to aid and assist when a coworker or distant relative has passed? I know personally that I am surrounded by many generous people (in the US) and have heard of many of them coming to the financial aid of one another when times are hard and what not, but they I think are the exception. This is what happens EVERY time someone passes on in Japan, EVERY time.

There is just such a sense of community here and the overwhelming feeling that the simple fact that these people share space and air is enough to tie them together in many ways and to be aware and to care for one another. They do it subconsciously and I don’t hear them bitch or moan about it one bit. That is just the way that life is to be lived; you consider everyone else in every decision, every dream, every time. As an American myself it is pretty extreme to think of this sort of mentality working back home, but isn’t it kind of nice to imagine it as well? Maybe they really have something here, and I dare say that they did not just stumble upon it. It is well thought out and has been established as such over years and years of practice. It’s a lovely way to live and encourages people to do more than just exist. It encourages people to give what they can and to find their own best path of doing that which they do best. They are setting their compasses toward common goals and doing it with the same vigor that we as Americans commonly do with only personal achievement as our focus. I think the ways of living here really do encourage compass setting aligning with dreams. Even if Japanese people seem reserved and polite on the surface, when I have the time and space to get to know them on the inside they are warm and generous and overwhelmingly joyful people. It’s my great pleasure and surprise to be in their happy company. I am learning so much about community and what it really means to live with other people and to share life with them. Though I anticipated on this being a growing experience I never could have imagined that I would be thinking and growing in these ways now. People. That is kind of what it is boiling down to for me right now. They are essential in our lives and I am beginning to understand that no matter how badly I want to be independent in this life that I need people just as much as everyone else does. I am learning that it is okay to be a part of a community who depend on each other and that by being a part of that community it does not mean that one has to give up their identity or their freedom. Whoa. This is big stuff. I don’t know if I should be blogging on this anymore. I think I will retreat to my comfy little journal and give this all a spin around the old brain some more before I elaborate or confuse any of you any further…

I kind of ended up on a little tangent there didn’t I?

Jeez. The wheels are turning fast and furious in Naru this morning. More later, I’ll try and aim for lighthearted/non introspective, okay?

Friday, September 11, 2009

the times they are a'changin...

I am listening to the Iron and Wine set at the Newport Folk Festival from this year. A festival that I have never made it to, but would love to be able to check out one day, make that must check out some day. It is where all of the greats have been, have started or have changed the music industry as we know it. I will never forget hearing about Mr. Robert Zimmerman’s set back in ‘65 from pops when I was still young and learning the first things that there are to know about music from him. He was telling me how Bob changed music that day when he plugged in his guitar and how hostile the crowd was to this change. They did not want change, it was unacceptable, they were booing rock ‘n roll because it wasn’t “folk music”. Just one fine example of how stupid and shallow people can be when they resist change. We all do it, there is no easy way to change and sometimes it is even painful. Change is often strange and hard, but when we try to embrace it and see it as a learning experience it somehow becomes easier to do and can many times end up even being a bit of fun.

For instance being here and living in a strange country, where nothing is familiar and one cannot depend on what will or will not happen from day to day. Take for example the preparations that are happening in Naru’s schools for the sports day festival that will be in a few weeks. They are asking the students, both elementary/jr high and high school to do both individual and group tasks that are military in fashion and require great physical endurance and rigidity. The sorts of things that they are asking from these students I told sensei Iriguchi, would never go over on American students. I told him that you would have a zero percent chance of getting them to do these things, he laughed, but knows it’s true.

Today all of the Naru students gathered on the common playground between the schools for practice, three different times. First we gathered and split off into our teams for the first time; red and blue. There were short introductions from the captains from each team and then the teachers introduced themselves as well. Being that the teams are red and blue, of course this means matching outfits and for the younger students matching hats as well. Though the adults don’t “match” per se, they do all dress alike, with the women donning hats and “gloves” for protection from the sun (and 50 SPF sunblock!), along with long track style pants, naturally. The men are in long track pants and polo shirts or soccer jerseys. I (of course!) am the only adult on the field who has sandals on (they’re Chacos! outdoor shoes people!) and shorts (hello, it is ninety degrees out!), and I roll up my old soccer jersey sleeves just for good measure and good tan, I mean, hey, I already stick out like a sore thumb, why not get a tan while I’m at it? After introductions the practice begins.

Iriguchi sensei tells me that the opening ceremonies (again, EVERYTHING here has an opening ceremony. The practice had on opening ceremony for crying out loud!) will consist of some talking and good wishes and then the marching, yes, marching. We are not talking band style marching or even military salute style marching, we are talking arms pumping at sides, faces clenched in concentration, high knees marching. These kids know that this is the real deal and no body is messing around, I mean no body. They begin slowly by marching in place and then proceed to making lines of all kinds and taking their marching around the field and into different formations. It is fascinating to watch them all move as one but then it gets even more interesting as they add shouting to their marching. This is the part that makes it fun for me and keeps me smiling while they are stern faced and calling out “one, two, one, two” in Japanese, while they are marching. Now to all of them “ichi, ni, ichi, ni” sounds like “one, two, one, two” and they don’t know what else it could possibly be confused with, but to the lone American it is sounding very, very different from “ichi, ni…” and it is now my private joke as I watch them marching round and round and yelling in rounds, “eat shi%, eat shi%”, it is seriously almost too much to handle and I have to laugh out loud. This goes on for what seems like an eternity and gets to the point where I am wondering if the ones who are better at English are actually saying what I think I’m hearing so I even ask Iriguchi sensei what they’re saying. He looks at me like I’m crazy and tells me “ichi, ni, you know one, two!?”. Affirmative, I am the only one who hears it and now I can’t not hear it. I’m doing my best to make my laughing solely internal at this point, so as to draw a bit of attention away from myself, but it is only working on every other go around the field. Every time they get closer I laugh harder and cover my mouth and look away. I’m nearly crying now because this is just so obscene. So there they all are, every school aged child in Naru marching round and round the field swinging their arms and lifting their knees high in perfect marching order yelling at the top of their lungs at each other and the world, “eat shi%, eat shi%....”. It is a top notch day in Naru.

The fun does not stop there though. There are still two more practices and much to accomplish for the day! We take a short bento break (lunch) and then resume the practicing and in my case, the observing. We are all asked to be involved this time as “dance” practice begins. I have been told that this is a “dance” that all Nagasaki-ken students/teachers are learning with the goal of it one day being known by every Nagasaki-ken resident. I have no idea if they will all ever have a chance of doing it together, but hey I like their motivation for uniting themselves with dance anyhow. The “dance” consists of many movements that are fairly easy, actually anyone could do them and honestly they remind me of some of the early morning PBS geriatric exercise shows that I have seen. Lifting arms and bending at the waist and touching toes. (There is a move where we are supposed to be imitating Chinese dragons, but I can still see an old lady getting it done.) As some of you may know (Abbie, Amanda and the poor girls I took 1 year of dance with in 7th grade) I cannot do anything that is choreographed to save my life. I am ALWAYS two or three or four steps behind and on the wrong side and really making a mess of things, as I am with said “dance” on the field with all of my colleagues and students. It is too much again and I can’t help the smile that is taking over my face and exploding into a laugh as everyone around tries very hard to get it just right and with the proper ‘genki-ness’ (excitement). Just when I think it can’t get any better, it does. The music changes in the middle of the song and samples about five bars from the classic Christmas song, “Gloria, Enexcelius Deu” (I know I have spelled that wrong, sorry to all of you who care about that sort of thing.) Now on top of wondering about the movements and which dragon pose or bouncing is next I am literally standing still with confusion as to why they have chosen this music to be in the middle of their prefectural-wide dance, in the middle of the summer. Is this Christmas in September sort of thing? Do they even know that this is a Christmas song? Am I really the only one who thinks that this is beyond hilarious? I am failing at the dance, badly. I don’t believe that all the practice in the world is going to get me past this hilarity.

Sports Day preparations are fantastic fun, to say the least and are changing my ideas of school and what and how we all learn and enjoy things and how different these ways can be. These are things that I never imagined I would see or that even existed. I am astounded, inspired and entertained beyond belief at the changes that happen in my world daily. Being flexible and learning to “listen to the wind” as I was instructed to do before I arrived, have proved invaluable. I’m glad that these changes have come. I am choosing not to bristle at change, though at this point I think it would be rather absurd to feel that way, and to be open to it each day, knowing it is coming, knowing it will be both strange and wonderful at once. Who knows what could spring from these changes? Bring on the rock ‘n roll!

ps-i apologize for all of the pictures that have been showing up blurry and strange and for not adding one here. i will try to get it straightened out and working as it should real soon...

love returned to those who are loving me

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Everyday embarassments

(Before I start, just wanted to share this pic with you. It's the view from the third floor (where I teach classes) of Naru High. Looks across the multi-purpose field to the elementary school and oh yeah, that's the ocean right there. Subarashi! This is NOT embarrassing, but I wanted to share it with you!)

There are so many things that I have learned to accept quickly as part of life here, but then on the other hand there are quite a few that are really taking some time to sink in for me. These are mostly everyday sorts of things that one must live and experience everyday to really appreciate living and being fully immersed in another culture and country. I will try to highlight some of the everyday examples I have of not adapting to these very well and working through the embarrassment. (again with the embarrassment I know, but I don’t see it stopping anytime soon…)

I start every school morning by walking to school. It’s a nice walk as I have said before. I walk on the side of the street (not the sidewalk, they don’t have those in Naru. The sides of the stripes on the streets are the sidewalks, seen here.) and it is sometimes very close to the cars that are passing. I hate to admit but I have more than once looked up at the oncoming traffic and begun to raise my hands in desperation at the driver to let them know that they are on the wrong side of the road only to remember that I am in Japan just in time to save myself with an energetic wave to them instead, which still kind of freaks them out because people here don’t wave, they bow. Yes, driving on the wrong side of the road is just hard to get used to, especially when you don’t drive. In my defense though, this usually only happens when I'm plugged into an old Dead tape on my walkman and lost in a jam...(thanks Sam!)

After my short walk up my big hill to the school the first thing that I must do when I enter the building is take off my shoes and replace them with my “inside” shoes (which are kept in these handy little cubbies seen to the left). This is not too hard to do, since it is the first thing that you see when you

walk into the building, but this IS hard to do for me when I am on my way out, because I don’t see the little cubbies and am often just focused on leaving. I have walked out in my “indoor” shoes more times than I can count, I have even made it all the way home in them only to realize it when I get to my front door! Drat! I’ve done it again! I’m starting to get better at it and have managed to not leave with the wrong shoes on for about a week now! One small success!

So after I change my shoes I enter the staff room, give my most energetic “ohayoo gozaimasu!” and settle at my desk. There is heaps of tea to be had and always cookies or some sort of sweet to have at the tea table so very soon after arriving I usually have to hit the head. This little saying has taken on a whole new meaning (Erin!) for me since I have arrived at Naru High school’s toilets. When I stand in the bathroom my head is literally three inches from the ceiling and if I am in a hurry and forget I hit my head on the bathroom door if I don’t crouch down before leaving. I have never felt tall in my whole life until now. I am a freakin giant here!

As the day rolls on there is lots of bowing and lots of thanking and apologizing for, well, everything. The students who need something from the teachers must first knock on the staffroom door and then stand at the door before entering. They then must ask permission to enter and for the teacher with whom they have business with by saying, please be kind to me “oniguyshimasu”. I have to each day before le

aving say the following to all of the other teachers with whom I work with because I need their forgiveness for leaving early, “osaki ni shi tsu, rei i shi ma su”. It is all about politeness here and it is taking a little bit of practice for sure. They all reply with the same thing everyday in unison as well, though I am still working on exactly what that is and what it means!

I have messed up the following a few times, but am proud to report that today I finally got it right! The Japanese apparently do not believe in paying janitors to clean their schools, especially when they have many able bodies ready to work! Each day at 15.00 the whole school takes broom, mop, dusting cloth or whatever they can and cleans the school. No one is exempt from this task as I (tardily) helped the vice principal clean the staffroom floor yesterday and the principal clean the entryway today. It’s really something to see the whole school at work and nobody complaining (they wouldn’t dare complain really). Like I said, I only sat at my desk listening to internet radio for a few days before I realized that everyone was gone and off working, and I, the lazy American was still sitting here in a daze. (Picture is of the nice clean entryway, thanks to yours truely today!)

After school lets out I usually take a stroll down to one of the markets to find something for dinner, since I can only fit about a day's worth of food in mine at home, one must really shop everyda

y. I have managed to 'jaywalk' a few times being completely unaware of it. See, there is exactly ONE stop light in Naru and I have only seen it red once, for a little old lady who was walking across the street. Roads really aren't that busy here so I never remember that if I'm going to cross right there I need to hit the button...well, I haven't caused any accidents but I have gotten some stares from some of the kids on the island and some smiling 'crazy gaijin' faces from adults in that intersection. I am going to try really hard to remember that light there now. Really, I am.

I've only managed to mess up my trash twice, whew! It's kind of a tricky thing here (Portlanders will understand, everyone else, not so much...). There are different days for differnt pick-ups, not too hard, right? But there are about 6 categories of kinds of trash and three differnt bags that they must go in which are all color coded and must be bagged and deposited accordingly. Oh and once you figure all of that out, you have to sign your trash. Yes, that's right, you have to put your name on the bag so they know who's trash it is, in katakana (one of the Japanese alphabets). First I couldn't figure out where to put the trash and took a stab at it and left it on my front porch. No good. My elderly neighbor rang my doorbell one Saturday and let me know that it was so. So I dragged said trash back into my house and waited for someone to help me. After getting in the know from much questioning of my supervisor at school I thought I had it down. I took the trash to the proper place only to have my other neighbors who were outside give me the big "X". You know you've done something wrong when a Japanese person does this to you, holding their arms up in a big X sign meaning, "NO!". I understood with my little knowledge of Japanese that I was a day early and that depositing trash in the dumpster before the pick-up day was "X"! After an embarassing dumpster dive to retrieve it, I think I have this one down.

So friends, you see it's really so easy to live in Japan. You simply must remember the small things and everything else falls into place. It's all different, but like they say in the USA, "it's all good".