Funny you should ask. The short version is, I make a nice pile of cash-money for teaching English in English. Yes, I've finally found what I'm sure my parents think is my dream job. I get paid to talk. It's a little bit more involved than that, but not really. It's more facilitating talking amongst people who don't much experience speaking with a native English speaker than anything else, but a high school student could do this. The schedule is easy enough. Saturday and Sunday I have a 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. shift, I get Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, and the other three days I work 1:20 to 9. Classes are 40 minutes in the mornings, 45 in the afternoon and 40 again in the evening, with five minutes prep time and five minutes ''grading'' at the end. There's a ''Voice'' class where students can go and spend all day, if they want, talking in a less structured environment than the classes. Overtime is easy to come by - I simply call the main office the day before, and if they have anything for me they call be back the following morning. I worked my first day of overtime yesterday. Once I got to the school it was fine - it's actually a convenient system. Nova schools everywhere have the same filing methods, same lesson plans, etc. So it's easy to a take a teacher from one school and plop him into a school elsewhere. Of course, finding the damn place was a bitch and a half... Right. What else? You want a sick day? Call in that morning. Want to reduce your schedule? No problem. Want to move offices? Easy enough. The Nova support system is very convenient and helpful. The only real stress in the job is dealing with students who don't want to speak. If it were a public school, or a place they were being forced to go to, I would understand. Some of the high schoolers I teach are extremely reluctant to open their mouths because their parents are forcing them to come. But many of the adults have severe shyness issues, and it doesn't make any sense. Why throw money at something that you don't want to do? They're just wasting their time, and more importantly, mine. But some of the students are great, and really seem to enjoy coming in and talking. Some are preparing for trips abroad, and for others, Nova is their hobby. (For a couple of them, it's their only hobby. Sketchy, no?) The real challenge with this job isn't the work, it's the country. Learning a new language, customs and culture all at the same time makes work a haven, at times, from the craziness and the fucking unbelievable number of people here and the neon. Speaking of work, off I go.
If you think Britney Spears and other popular music in America is a vacuum of good taste, consider this: the Japanese adore Bon Jovi, the way that the Germans adore David Hasselhoff. One of my students today refused to say ''Bon Jovi sings badly'' on the grounds that it wasn't true. I think my job title needs to be amended from English teacher to ''cultural ambassador''... Funny you should mention cultural differences. Oh, I was going to skip the reporting on the butchering of the English language here. There is so much mangled and inappropriate English that I just take it for granted. Like a Japanese woman I saw in Shibuya wearing a jacket that said, ''Black for Life.'' But walking home today, I saw a young woman, maybe 16 or 18, that was no different from her peers except for one glaringly unexpected English term that must not go without mention. If I'd had my camera on me at the time, I would've stopped her for a photo. There was a white circle on the front of the blue sweatshirt, with a white silhouette outline of a fist and forearm inside the circle. There were speed lines trailing the fist. Below the circle it said, in big capital letters, ''FISTFUCK.''
I've deleted the link to ''pictures of Tokyo'' in a post below because it was going to the wrong place, and it doesn't seem to want to be fixed. But if you go to Katie's blog you'll see links to the pix in one of her recent entries.
The town I live in is a little collection of concrete boxes and unimaginative architecture called Ageo. Soft 'a', hard 'g', long 'e', and an 'o' tacked onto the end of it. It's got some nice gaijin living in it, and I've got a big apartment, for the Tokyo area. Other than that it's fairly unremarkable, and probably worth moving out of at the first possible moment. What can I say, I'm a city kid. Give me the urban jungle, or stick me far away from everything (preferably far away from other people), but the 'burbs drive me fucking apeshit. But last night wasn't bad. Went to my first party in Japan, a Halloween party. Because, in Japan, space is limited and noise is frowned upon, parties are often held at an izakaya - a local bar. There were about 30 people at this bar, located somewhere probably still in Ageo but really between Ageo and someplace that, well, wasn't Ageo. Six of them dressed up. Now, Halloween has been my fave holiday for a long, long time. When only six people dress up, it's downright sad. Two Aussies, the bar owner, a waitress/cook, a guy from New Jersey and me. Fortunately, 3000 yen - about $25 - got me all I could eat and drink, and a good time was had by all. Photos, of course, will be forthcoming.
The problem when you have a blog and limited Internet access is that when you're actually in an Internet cafe, you feel obligated to post. Even if there isn't anything worthwhile to say. Although, I did find a tiny little izakaya in sleepy Ageo with the best collection of Scotch I've seen since Edinburgh. It's a bit pricey, but if I ever get that craving... Plus, the bartender is friendly, and a decent chef to boot. Oh, Katie has put up some of the photos I've taken. I haven't, because I'm lazy and there's been a pile of emails to deal with, but you can now see pictures of Tokyo.
Contrary to what you may be imagining, the Happy Biking Dance is not the latest craze in the Tokyo club scene. The Happy Biking Dance is what happens when you're in a country where it is customary for bikers to ride on the sidewalks, and a pedestrian suddenly darts out from a shop or dark alley into the path of the oncoming pedalist. The biker hits the brakes and swerves right to avoid the pedestrian. The pedestrian swerves left to avoid the pedestrian. Left for the pedestrian is, of course, the bikers' right. The biker now jams the wheel to his left. The pedestrian, also acting under his own adrenal dump, mirrors the biker again. The biker then learns the hard way that not only do cars drive on the wrong side of the road in Japan, but the brakes on bicycles are also reversed: the left hand-brake is for the rear tire, not the front. And so, we have the Happy Biking Dance. If you start with enough space in between the two dancers, you can really get some good moves in... Sigh. The biker is starting to think that this whole "bike-to-the-Internet-cafe" business is for the birds.
Well... No. Not at all. Not in the slightest. Not that I haven't appreciated the help of what we call "random acts of kindness," but I could get by fine without them. Still, it's amazing that you mention to people that you're gaijin, or you're going to be in Japan, and suddenly a veritable community of ex-pats springs forth from the ether. (Not that I was much of a "pat" in the first place, but that's really a discussion for another time.) So, if you're in some way interested in Japan, gaijin or not, post a comment. Let me know who you are and where your Web presence is, if you have one. Next time I update the "Other Voices" section, I'll toss in a bunch of new links.