Let`s see. What`s new? Thanksgiving was good but uneventful. I didn`t do much. In fact, it was like any other day. I was going to make a one-person thanksgiving dinner but then decided it was too much work when I got home from school and just made a chicken stir-fry. Living in Mozambique for two years kind of dulled the ache I feel for American holidays. I do love both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but if you aren`t reminded of family get-togethers and all the jazz that comes along with the holidays, you tend to treat those days like any other.
In good news, I bought my ticket to fly to South Korea for Christmas. I am planning to spend a week there, splitting my time between Seoul and Busan. I am traveling with a friend from here and I`m hoping to visit some Peace Corps friends and a high school classmate while I`m there. I am hoping that the whole situation with North Korea calms down beforehand. It`s really bad timing. It`s like the time in college when I was days from my trip to Italy and the pope died. True story. People flocked to Rome and it resulted in ridiculously long lines. Somehow, I think that I would be facing the opposite problem in South Korea.
School is going well. It feels like I am constantly at the elementary school - which might explain how I caught a horrible cold. It wasn’t your typical “ah-choo” cold. It was one of those long, drawn-out colds with night sweats, fever, sore throat and other unseemly issues. All those children and their germs. I wore a sars mask for the first time at school and it was pretty magical. People wear masks here when they are sick or are afraid they are going to get sick. No one could see my face. Of course, everyone asked "you have a cold?" And then they wanted to know my symptoms and told me I should go to the hospital. Japanese people, much like Mozambicans, go to the hospital for the smallest cold. So they seemed kind of shocked when I said no to their recommendation and said I didn`t need to visit the hospital. It would be a waste of time, in my opinion, when I could just self-diagnose. And it would just cause extra stress because I don`t speak Japanese well and when I am sick, I lose my ambition to mime with my hands.
In sad news, one of the tires on my bike is punctured and I have to walk everywhere. I don`t mind this so much as it gives me exercise, but it`s definitely more time-consuming. I get my cardio in on the way to the gym rather than at the gym, I suppose. Glass half full. I visited Ojika`s public gym for the first time once last week and it is actually a cute little gym. Some of the equipment is outdated and may have been proven at some point to be ineffective in the quality of exercise it offers. I half expected to see that slimming belt machine that women stood there, wearing around their hips in the 1950`s, thinking it was providing a workout with the smallest contribution of standing there on their part. But I used the weights. I do this because I am a wuss. I`m not a wuss because I lifted the weights at the gym. It`s because I could lift weights for free at the high school but there are always students and a couple of male teachers in there and women don`t lift weights in Japan. At least not on my island. I would rather not get gawked at and no one uses the public gym weight room that often. So, I am planning to go a couple times a week probably. I bought a more powerful flashlight if I have to walk home in the dark. I was pretty excited about that flashlight when I bought it at the 100 yen shop. Maybe it`s because I like to put batteries in things. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.
So I have decided that I am going to write about a couple of things that drive me bonkers. First and most importantly, there is no insulation in Japanese housing. If you want heat, you have to buy a space heater, a heated blanket, a kotatsu table (a table with a built-in heater) or start packing. I have none of those and so far, wearing a hat, socks three shirts, a pair of pants and a long dress over all of that to bed has been working for me. But it will get colder so I imagine I will have to break down eventually and buy a space heater that I will become paranoid about whether I turned it off or not once I am school. It`s like my bad relationship with curling irons in high school. I probably put several miles on my old Dodge Shadow turning around to run home quick before school to make sure I had unplugged the curling iron – a paranoia that eventually expanded to the toaster and oven burners. One might have called it mild obsessive compulsive. But it`s not like I had to switch the light on and off an even amount of times before leaving the house.
Next, formality. I know. I know. I am not really that surprised by how formal everyone is in Japan, especially after coming from Moz and having to call everyone “o excellisimo senhor director, etc., etc.” But people in Moz were also far more blunt. If they didn’t like something, they would tell you. In the states, we obviously don’t have a problem with expressing our opinions either. But in Japan, what is said always errs on the side of politeness rather than the truth. In some ways this is good because people avoid confrontation and angry outbursts. But I am of the opinion that confrontation and outbursts are sometimes exactly what the doctor ordered. Who hasn`t screamed into a pillow at least once in their life, right?
And sometimes, I realize that I should put my foot in my mouth after the matter. For example, I have learned not to ask people if they went on a vacation. I asked a person this after being gone for several days and it was extremely awkward. To me, as an American, going on a vacation is great and everyone should use their vacation time to travel, have some much-needed fun and relax a couple times a year. Asking about how a trip went is just a polite courtesy. In Japan, there is this inclination to always appear busy and to work yourself into the ground. People will often spend 14 hour days at the office and this seriously impacts their family relationships and home lives. Much of the time, it is men working the long hours, leaving women to be the main caretakers of the children. I have been reading articles on Japanese society and the effects of such long days at the office. People are marrying and having fewer children at an older age. Some people can`t cope with the demanding work and withdraw from society to become “hikikomori” or people who don`t leave their homes and isolate themselves from society. And many younger people, referred to as “parasite singles,” live with their parents into their late 20`s or early 30`s because it is just easier and more comfortable. In my opinion, a healthier balance needs to be found between work and home.
Next, I still get flustered whenever people stare. I grew used to it while I was in the Peace Corps but it still can get bothersome. I always walk up a hill to school and there is always a group of guys standing outside in front of what appears to be a burning barrel, having a morning meeting before they all get in their trucks to go fishing or whatever their profession is. They always see me coming up the road and then stare when I am not that far from them. I guess I could say that innocent curiosity is fine when a person stares but when you have seen me before and realize that I probably won`t be gnashing my teeth and speaking in tongues anytime soon, it becomes rude to stare and it makes me fight the urge to go all Portuguese Erin on them.
One thing I have noticed with languages is that I am a totally different person in each. In Japanese, I am far more reserved and quiet because I can`t speak or understand the language that well yet. Portuguese Erin is a totally different story. She`s kind of a Sasha Fierce. This was the Erin that wouldn’t think twice about insulting someone if they were being rude. I never realized how aggressive I was until my sister came to visit me in Moz and a guy was being rude near the market and I made fun of his stutter right to his face. It just came out and I don`t know where it comes from. All I remember was my sister pausing and saying “did you just make fun of that man`s stutter?” I think that may be my survival of the fittest language. English is my normal self – a reasonable portion of everything. And I can crack jokes. I miss having someone around who has a similar sense of humor and finds the funny in the same things I do. I am definitely excited for my family to come visit in the spring.
Christmas is in a few weeks! My only decoration is a red and green tablecloth that some other ALT left behind in Ojika. I don`t really see a point in making or buying a bunch of decorations if the only person who is there to appreciate it is me. I am just fine with keeping the decorations at a minimum and randomly listening to the five Christmas songs I have on my iPod. I might make Christmas cookies. Key word there is might. A lot of these kids have grown up with ALTs telling them about Christmas, so I think that shoving it down their throats anymore would be tiresome. I will try to do some kind of activity or game with them at school. Last week, I had 4th, 5th and 6th grade and we all played Christmas bingo. Tomorrow, I have 1st, 2nd and 3rd and take one guess as to what game the Japanese teachers want us to play. I curse the invention of the game.