Sunday, October 02, 2005

Blogging About Nothing

I got an e-mail recently from a friend saying he missed the daily updates on this blog, and wondered if my work had begun cracking down on me.

On the contrary. The time I have plenty of. It’s the stories I’m running out of. I sit down at the computer and think, “Right, time to update the blog,” and nothing pops into my head at all. I guess I need to go do something really exciting this weekend so I can start writing again.

In the meantime, here is a bunch of random stuff with no relation to each other (ala Brian Bork’s latest entry). None of these would be worth writing a blog entry about in their own right, but put together maybe they can give an idea of what I’ve been up to.

Return to Lake Biwa
Last weekend I went back to Lake Biwa with the same group of friends from Spanish class. We intended to do another Barbeque there, but again the weather was problematic.

I guess none of us checked the weather report in advance. A typhoon was coming in that day. It missed our area of Japan and went North, but still the winds were very strong. It was really cold and miserable and we had a hard time even setting up the Barbeque set. For some reason, I guess because we had made the trip all the way out there, we felt the need to persevere and carry out our barbeque anyway, but it was the worst Barbeque ever.

Speech Contest
As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the students in my speech class won the district competition, and has moved on to regionals. The speech teacher asked me to work with that student every day to get her ready for the contest.

I was more than happy to put in the time, but my big worry is that I know little to nothing about public speaking. And even less about teaching public speaking.

Also I had made the mistake of mentioning to the school that I did Informative Speaking in the forensics club in High School, which made my school think that I was much more qualified than I was.

Nonetheless, both I and the student worked very hard, and she made a lot of improvements by the end of the two weeks. She did not advance into the semi-finals at the regional competition, and she felt bad about that because I think the speech teacher had been putting a lot of pressure on her, but she did a good job.

Pen pal exchange with Israel
I’ve been continuing the pen pal exchange with Israel that I inherited from Monika. It’s a bit of extra work for me. Since my kids don’t have computer access, I have to type up all their letters and e-mail them. But the whole exchange is a good cross culture experience for all involved. It’s good for my kids, hopefully its good for the students in Israel, and I’m certainly learning a lot from it.

My students know absolutely nothing about Israel. And I mean absolutely nothing. They have no idea it exists, they can’t find it on a map, they’ve never heard of Jews or Judaism, etc. And the Israeli students are writing about their bar mitzvahs and Rosh Haanan. It means I have a lot of explaining and translating to do.

In my more cranky and stereotypical moments, I take this as more proof of my thesis that Japanese people don’t know anything about anything.

Granted of course my students are only in junior high school. But I knew about Israel when I was in junior high school. I remember discussing Israel in current events classes, and I remember where I was when I found out Rabin was assassinated. You probably have similar memories.

Of course to be fair in the West we feel more of a connection to Israel because of our Christian tradition. And Japanese students know more about China and Korea than the average American. But still…

Barbeques and Dinner Parties
People have been taking advantage of the fall weather to hold a lot of Barbeques and dinner parties. These are good fun, although they don’t always make good blogging material. Basically everyone just stands around and talks.

There was a really good barbeque a couple weeks ago. What made it so beautiful is it was right along side the river where the cormant fishing happens. At night the river was filled with Japanese lantern boats watching the cormant fishing. It was very beautiful to see from the riverside.

It was one of those moments that you just want to capture in time and hold forever. It made me really glad to be in Japan.

I tire of Japan
I should say, however, that those “glad to be in Japan” moments are becoming fewer and farer between all the time.

I know that recently I’ve been bitching a lot about Japan on this web log, and I don’t want to keep repeating myself ad nauseum, but every so often I feel the urge to vent again.

The problem is mainly at work. Living in Japan itself, if it was just the simple act of living here, wouldn’t be so bad, but I am really feeling like I’m over the ALT experience. I feel really isolated at school. I can’t talk to anyone in English because they don’t understand, and if I try and speak Japanese half the time they reply by mimicking my accent instead of giving me a serious reply.

As a result I feel really isolated, and I’m spending a lot of time in my head developing a very strong inner-monologue. I worry sometimes that I’m loosing a lot of my social skills, and that it is going to be difficult to re-adjust when I return home to America. Sometimes I worry that my very sanity is slipping away.

I’m also becoming more and more detached from my subject material. I really have lost all my enthusiasm for ESL or teaching English as a second language, and I view the classes I have to teach as more and more of a chore.

Why this is, and why it’s hitting me so hard now, after having enjoyed Japan for so long, I have a hard time saying. Other English teachers and ALTs who have stayed in Japan for a long time, as I have, often talk about “hitting the wall.” You are in Japan for a long time, you are having a great time and enjoying yourself, and then suddenly you hit the wall and you can’t stand Japan any longer. Most people agree that it seems to hit at about the 4 or 5-year mark, which is right about where I am now. Even my company supervisor, when I told him I wasn’t going to renew another year, told me, “That’s very typical. Most ex-JETs that we hire think they want to stay in Japan for a long time, but then after one or two more years they can’t wait to go home.”

Like all generalizations about human nature this is flawed. Some people hit the wall after only one year. Some people stay their whole lives in Japan and are very happy. But it sounds like for most people “the wall” is at about the 4 or 5-year mark. Which would make me about average.

Although sometimes I wonder if the fact that my attitude about Japan has deteriorated so rapidly is due to my change in location. In Ajimu I was in the countryside in the middle of nowhere, but the students were very good and the teachers seemed to enjoy their jobs. The atmosphere at this new school is a lot different. Every teacher in my school now is constantly complaining about how overworked they are. And the students all sleep or talk through English class.

Then again, if I think back to my last year in Ajimu, I felt really ready for a change then. And perhaps that is the main problem. Things haven’t changed enough. I’m still doing the same things I was doing in Ajimu, and really getting bored of it.

I have a lot of days where I sit in the office and just feel like my brain is turning to mush. But maybe every job becomes like that after a while.

Link of the Day
I really like Peter's post here, particularly the accompanying graphic.

1 comment:

vegetarian w/ leather jacket said...

Maybe think about it this way: With how much fucking money our government gives to the fucking isreali government...most americans don't know enough about isreal...I mean, I know nothing about Japanese foriegn policy...but I'm guessing japanese kids don't have nearly the reason to learn about this place...