by land, by sea, by dirigible

October 31, 2008

I forgot to take my phone off silent. Normally, in Japan, this isn’t an issue. Any uninvited noise emanating from your personal space is frowned upon over here, with the exception of slurping your food like you’re eating out of a bowl on ground level without cutlery. But this morning, it was a problem. Because my phone is also my alarm, and when the phone is on silent, the alarm ain’t very alarming.

So I overslept for the first time since arriving in Japan. During my frenzied bike ride to school, I visualised all the ways in which they would punish me. Embarrassing apologies to the principal, deductions from my paid leave, peltings with rotten fruit in the town square, all of it. So I snuck in. Seemingly morning meetings had already begun. It was like a ghost town. I’m in huge trouble for sure.

Because the Japanese base their entire existence around the notion of keeping up appearances. Even if you have nothing to do or contribute by remaining at your workplace, even if you would in fact be bothering your coworkers by your mere oversized gaijin presence, you are expected to stay. It’s J-group-think, or, as it is more commonly known around here, group-sink. If your co-workers are making the effort to be at their place of work, then of course it would be rude for you not to be there as well. If they are making the effort and keeping the world spinning by falling asleep at their desks or shopping for handbags online, then so should you. I just fail to see how I’m contributing anything by sitting around, trolling message boards, downloading games with the school’s bandwidth, listening to music on Myspace, and of course, the prescribed four or five hours of aimless Facebook patrol.

But that’s the way things are here. Long story short, I didn’t eat breakfast and pedalled like a bitch only to discover that they had quietly switched Monday’s timetable with Friday’s and I don’t have any classes today. Maybe I’m just not in tune enough with the J-lifestyle yet, but it seems like there are some discrepancies in communication versus expectation here.

In other great news, I have a stiff neck. This comes from sitting at my desk for hours upon hours with nichts zu machen. I discovered these two girls who like to play acoustic guitars in an adjacent classroom after school, so sometimes I invite myself in to jam with them. In this case, collaborative jamming actually means me butchering Elliott Smith songs, and them recording videos of me on their mobile phones. I keep saying ‘Youtube’ and making that J-style ‘do not want’ sign with my arms. The teacher I sit next to at work generously donated her sister’s unwanted acoustic guitar a few days ago, so that’s awesome. For those who are in any doubt, cycling home in strong winds carrying a hollowed-out guitar isn’t as easy or as fun as it sounds.

It’s getting cold. I don’t know how cold it is but I don’t like it. Things are looking grim. Last night I was wearing four layers, two of them woolen. We had okonomiyaki which was the one thing I specifically requested not to have because you never get enough food and it takes forever. It’s like a big fried noodle pancake that is drowned in the Japanese equivalent of barbecue sauce. Give me tonkatsu any day. We stopped at the foreign food store afterwards and descended upon it like ravenous zombies. The poor girl working there was probably so scared seeing the six of us blitz through the place. I feel kinda stupid sometimes when I go grocery shopping because Japanese people don’t often stock up on snacks and soft drinks and easy-to-prepare meals and bread and milk and cereal like us whities do. I can’t help feeling some degree of condescension each time I go through the checkout. In my defence, I do usually buy fruits and vegetables too, despite their outrageous prices (sometimes four or five dollars for a peach, that kind of thing). Last night I bought Cadbury chocolate and Tim Tams. Ohhhhh yeah.

This weekend won’t be as mental as the two preceding it. I think I’m staying more or less put. Considering going to a Halloween party on Saturday night and/or a house party. We have yet another public holiday on Monday, followed by the mid-year conference on Tuesday and Wednesday in the capital city. We’re kinda planning a trip to Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto) at the end of November, which I’m crazy excited for, but we need to book it soon or else spaces will run out.

Anyway, I had better go and attempt some more Japanese study. Or maybe I’ll just keep playing Metroid on my DS. Who knows.

So long, friends!

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