Sunday, 25 September 2011
One thing I would say about when I went to the dentist in Japan is that I walked in, showed my little health insurance card (faded so much it was essentially just a piece of card) and I was immediately taken in for a check up...no forms (well a tiny form with my name and stuff, but let's just say I found it easier to fill out the form in the JAPANESE dentist in JAPANESE than I did to fill out the re-registry one in my ENGLISH dentist in ENGLISH.) No waiting...certainly not true of British dentists where you often enter in broad daylight, just before lunch, and, in spite having an appointment that you were on time for, emerge from the light-deprived sterility to find that 6 hours have passed, it's dinnertime yet you can't eat, drink or speak. It was all relatviely fuss free for a hypochondriac country prone to fuss dealing with a foreigner. The biggest fuss was when I put my slippers on the dentist chair carpet (see Communication Breakbown).
Of course, I couldn't understand the dentistry terms in Japanese, but the lady had a book with English translations, as if she had been expecting a foreigner to waltz into her surgery, in the middle of a rice filed in Ita-where (drenched and bewildered as it was typhoon season and typhoon+bicycle is not a happy combo). She pointed wildly at her book which had many medical terms that I didn't understand in English anyway. One thing she did do was cover my mouth with purple dye, then ask me to brush my teeth. Then we looked in my mouth with the mirror thing and saw the bits that still had purple dye as they were the places I didn't brush. I thought that this was SUCH a clever idea and went on ranting and raving about how it had changed my life and how amazing and forward thinking everything in hypermodern Japan was, until finally telling a British friend of mine who said that she had had it done at school in the UK 20 years ago and couldn't believe I hadn't. May have taught quite a few teachers and children a slight mistruth about the UK there...naughty ALT, doing more harm than good.
Whilst in a primary school once in Japan, I went along to the assembly which was all about how to clean your teeth. It had all the bog-standard things you'd expect from such an assembly in the UK too...information about how often to clean your toothbrush, a power point presentation, 6 kids with the flag of a country each hung around their necks who ran around the hall a few times in a fake race to demonstrate which country's children had the least fillings and a prize giving at the end where every child with no fillings was made to stand up, recieve applause and then was rewarded with a piece of tinsel to drape around themselves. All the usual.
In this assembly, Japan came last of the 6 presumably random countries, with the most fillings. I think the UK came second after Mr. perfect Sweden, beating the USA. I've heard that Americans think the Brits have really bad teeth...well the flag-necklace-running-race in Ita-where PROVES otherwise. Actually, I've found this incredible confusing graph from Gapminder online, which, if I'm interpreting it correctly which I'm fairly sure I am not, also places the UK as having better teeth than Japan and the US, so HAHA!. Link to graph.
Actually, a few American friends seemed fairly shocked that I'd gone to the dentist in Japan, as they'd heard horror stories. Their horror stories were that you get SILVER FILLINGS instead of the perfect little white ones. I opened my mouth each time, including to relative stranger, because I was that offended, to show my two silver British fillings...not just Japan there. Maybe that's why Americans think we have bad teeth...because we are loud and proud with our fillings instead of being shallow and coy about them.
Another part of the assembly featured empty bottles of softdrink with sugarcubes inside them to demonstrate how much sugar there was in each bottle. That was a really great visual and I can honestly say that I drink a lot less Coca Cola since seeing it. There were 15 cubes I think in one 500ml bottle!! Pocari Sweat, my fave J-drink was much better with something like 8 (still disgusting though, not stopped me going to the Japan Centre in Picadilly and buying a couple of bottles since being back in London though!) These bottles are STILL on display in the school TROPHY CABINET (or they were in July, assembly was last year) and the assembly won some sort of prize and was in the local paper. I didnt' see any assembly judgers present, but I feel very priveleged to have experienced a prize-winner.
I did notice that very few children had braces in Japan. Quite how Japanese children have more fillings though, I am not sure. Firstly I thought, it's their awful sugary school lunch, but, then I thought, I used to drink Coca Cola for lunch every day after the age of 11 I reckon, which is not possible for kids in Japan - they only get milk until the age of 15. There were also vending machines at my secondary school with chocolate and crisps...not so in Japan, where, surprisingly seeing as you often feel that vending machines outnumber PEOPLE 2:1 in Japan, schools are a no-vend area. Also, all the teachers and students brush their teeth after lunch in Japan, which we don't do in England (they used to do it in my office in Paris when I worked there though, so it's not only Japan). My only conclusion on the reason why Japanese children have a lot of fillings is their good old trait for hypochondria and fuss which means they put them in just to be on the safe side, even if there is no cavity to be seen. Problem solved!
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Of course, I wish I could say that my problems here in the UK stem from the fact that I am an example of perfection in my communication style in Japan...not so. I recall not long from the end of my stay in Japan that in ONE DAY I managed to not contradict a man when he said his granddaughter was a bit slow, and instead agree, fall asleep in the waiting room at the dentist's, wear my special dentist surgery's slipper onto the MINISCULE piece of carpet situtated at the bit where you put your feet when you sit on the leany-backy-dentisty chair, put there surely only to catch out the gaijin, over-confident in outdoor shoe-indoor shoe-slipper-toilet slipper-bare foot CHAOS that is Japan's complicated shoe system...why that TINY piece of carpet just there that you had to be bare foot on...WHY?? And also I was in the school's announcement system room and managed to play some music on the loud broadcast outside the school when I thought it was only playing in the little room I was in...bit of the Norwegian Eurovision entry for the kids outside on the PE field. That was all in one day too!
So, what I am telling you is that I left Europe 2 years ago a fully competent member of British society and, I think, Austrian society, to being some kind of half-way-house, not fully competent anywhere and not to be trusted alone in public at any time...I might get myself a sign to go round my neck saying "WARNING: just been living in a strange country, high risk of social awkwardness and head nodding," or maybe I'll just give in and buy myself a Dunce's hat...embrace my new-found incompetence!
Friday, 9 September 2011
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
I still had many articles that I was planning to write about Japan (I have a list) and there is so much that can be said about settling back into London after two years in the safe little bubble of Ita-where, so I am thinking of re-opening this blog under a new title soon, to post ridiculous stories of me bowing at people...I can sort of see London from the inside as a Londoner, but also from the outside as a foreigner now I think, so I'm sure there's something interesting to be said...watch this space.
In the meantime, as so much of this blog has revolved around the craziness that is the Japan gift-giving-omiyage custom, I thought you might be interested to know just what 2 years working (hard and with a big smile) can earn you in presents (and cost you in extra baggage)...I was very lucky to receive - 2 yukatas, 3 pairs of geta, 1 yukata pouch, 2 bags, 2 dvds, 2 posh green tea cups, 1 baumkuchen, 6 bouquets of flowers, 1 3,000 yen gift envelope (20 quid), 1 10,000 yen gift envelope (70 quid, all from one headteacher....WOW, couldn't bow lowly enough, my nose almost hit the floor), 21 packs of letters from kids (so happy with those...many a tear shed), 1 booklet of notes from teachers, 2 letter boards from teachers (sort of decorated piece of cardboard with teachers signatures, messages and photos), 3 letter boards from students, 1 letter board from a friend, 1 letter board from my taiko group, some home made sewed macaroons from the home ec teacher, some home-made sewed sushi by the home ec club, 7 fans
2 certificates saying how amazing I am in Japanese I can't read, 1 huge photo album with letters and photos from students, 2 special edition 500 yen coins, 5 sets of photos of things I have done whilst in Ita-where, 1 bottle of shochuu, 1 tub of hair gel (from my hairdresser...insane!), 1 bookmark, 3 straps (for mobile phones), 2 photo frames (1 with super-cool photo of my taikoing), 1 poetry book with Japanese and English translations, 5 paper aeroplanes from students...aaaawwwww, 2 posters/pictures from studetns, 1 notebook, 1 bag of homemade cookies, 2 tablecloths (!!), 2 taiko drumsticks signed by my group, 1 taiko drumstick carrier bag which I LOVE, 1 happi (google it), 1 taiko headdress that I don't know how to wear, 4 mini Japanese cloths, 1 homemade J-pop CD, 1 pack of stickers, 1 Mount Fuji paperweight (?), 1 pack of origami paper and 2 fairly creepy dolls that mean that I will find love...basically I have brought half of Japan home with me, so if you see on the news that Japan has no stuff, you will find it all in a house in South East London.
Like I say, I am likely to still write the odd bits and bobs on here about Japan and about London and my rediscovery of it...I'm scared! Anyway, please keep checking the website or "Follow" it. Japan, I will miss you so much, you have treated me very well! Everyone, please visit Japan! And, do not forget about the awful affects the tsunami and earthquake had on so many lives and the continued affects it has on people's lifestyles and the economy...please keep giving! Ganbatte Japan! I leave you with one last little piece of info...sushi-less was such a catchy title, I went with it, but, this blog is in fact based around a big lie! There is a gorrrrrgeous sushi restaurant in Ita-where, about a 5-minute-walk from my flat...sorry (big nose-hitting-floor bow).
Thursday, 30 June 2011
Thursday, 23 June 2011
We have bought a new rice cooker at school (another long, drawn out, fussy decision). I feel like this is a history lesson of sekihan-gate with the "Causes" and "Triggers." So...they decided to test the rice cooker (not sure why a new rice cooker wouldn't work) on exam day by making shit loads of sekihan, thereby hopefully ending both rice cooker fuss and the "what should the teachers do for lunch fuss?" simultaneously. Which I suppose it did, only to offset it with the biggest fuss I have experienced since being in Japan. The first huge box of sekihan arrived. 21 plastic boxes inside. Large plastic boxes, each one with enough sekihan to feed two people probably. Bear in mind that many staff take time off on exam day, so we are looking at about 25 staff and 21 boxes (42 portions) of sekihan. Then comes big box number two. That's 25 staff, 42 boxes and 84 portions of rice. Cue fuss. Dishing out lunch is fuss enough at the best of times. Mid-fuss, along comes big box number 3. That's right: 25 staff, 63 boxes, 126 portions of sekihan. Sekihan hysteria is breaking out. The secretary yells at the 20/25 staff who are for some reason ALL needed to give out the sekihan (I dont know why I'm criticising - I was one of them) "Still only start with one box per table, in case there's not enough for two." OK, Japan's culture might be different to many, but even here 63 boxes of rice go around 25 staff twice. Everyone is discussing how much they should eat, how many family members/neighbours/passers-by they can dish their sekihan out to and we just about settle down to there only being about 10 boxes (20 portions) left over, when, I kid you not, I yet out a yelp as BIG BOX NUMBER FOUR comes in. Keep in mind that it's the lady responsible for school lunch carting them up the stairs, so no-one can be rude, we all grin (if she can see us grinning behind the pile of sekihan boxes on our desks) and go "mmmm, loooovve sekihan, thank you!" until she leaves the room and we all burst into tears. We are now on 84 boxes, 168 portions of sekihan, and what's worse, we are down to about 18 staff as 7 others have taken holiday only for the afternoon and the selfish beggars have got away with only one box each.
It was at this point that I thought to myself...THIS is going on my blog as fuss of the f***ing year. Little did I know that it was only just beginning. I refused to take a third box of sekihan, saying that I lived alone, it wasn't fair. I've been told that it's freezable, so I have two portions eyeing me up from inside my freezer as we speak...I never want to see the stuff again, let alone eat it. ANYWAY, the fourth big box is sitting on the side being ignored and the fuss is dying down, when stupid stupid stupid me (full of one box, two portions of sekihan that I've wolfed down, because I didn't want to take 3 portions home) decide to throw myself right into the centre of the fuss. Why oh why I thought any more sekihan-related discussion, no matter how simple it would appear to be, could go down without a massive fuss, I do not know. I was thinking mid-original-fuss that we should have just rang the community centre across the road, or the town hall, or any other workplace in Ita-where the day before and mentioned that we were going to create a world's supply of sekihan and not to bother bringing lunch the following day...but that would have been too simple I suppose.
However, I thought (STUPIDLY), all is not lost. I was about to go to the Board of Education in the town hall for a meeting. I mumbled to the nurse next to me "maybe I could just take a few boxes with me to the Board of Education, seeing as I'm going anyway", thinking that it would just help to ease the problem. She said "good idea!" Let's ask the nutritionist, who had to ask the secretary, who had to ask the Deputy Head, who had to ask the Head (I'm late for my meeting already). We spent a long time discussing (all 6 of us, including the two most important people in the school (wages well spent)) who I should hand it to at the BOE, how much I should take, whether there would actually be any left over at the end of the day (!!!). I said "don't worry, don't worry, nobody's asked me for it, they aren't expecting it, it was just an idea." In face, I said that almost as many times as I'd been offered sekihan. I wanted the ground to swallow me up, even hell would be better than hearing the word sekihan again. I wish that I had never ever spoken, when will I learn??? "Do you think they want it?" chirped the head teacher. "Well WE clearly don't, the town hall has more than 18 staff in it, and we already have at least 4 portions each - the fact that I didn't want it didn't stop me being accosted with it" is what I thought. What I said was "sou desu ne." But I was in for the long haul now - I couldn't get out of it. The Head teacher wound up ringing them to warn them it was coming. (Mid-conversation by the way, another bowl of sekihan arrived, as there were no more plastic boxes). Then they remembered that I go around by bicycle. "You can't take it by bicycle!!!" The whole staff room starts wetting themselves. "Mark-chan" whimpers someone. I was like "I can." It's all in boxes, I have a basket and a backpack, I wasn't gonna take the whole 84 boxes, I was thinking about 10? "No, no, no." "muri muri (impossible)" We fussed it out for another 15 minutes (my meeting was supposed to have been over by now), and the final decision was that the poor school nurse, had to get signed out by the head teacher to make a special trip to the Board of Education just to deliver 10 boxes of sekihan that they didn't even want!! Let alone a blog post, I could write novel about this one sekihan episode.
Monday, 20 June 2011
Tuesday, 7 June 2011
Saturday, 28 May 2011
About one minute after the bell for the start of third period went the other day, a teacher came running into the staff room, said something that I didn't really understand and, quick as a shot, every teacher in the room stands up and the fuss of the century breaks out. All the teachers started opening doors, going in and out of the toilets and stuff, evidently searching for something. I asked, and then followed suit, on finding out that they were searching for a boy (we'll call him M-chan) who was one minute late for class. It crossed my mind what would happen if a 13-year-old was one minute late for something in the UK, and just how long they would have to disappear to cause a scene of 10 teachers strutting around the school shouting at eachother "Have you checked here?" "Have you checked there?" etc. I actually think somebody would have to be missing overnight. It turned out that M-chan was wherever his PE kit was somewhere downstairs. What did they actually think could have happened to him in one minute anyway? Especially as this is a boy whose mind works about 10 minutes behind everyone else's anyway, testamented to by the fact that he is often referred to with the little girls' suffix -chan instead of -kun for boys. He's like a toddler trapped in a late 13-year-old M-chan body. Still, very dramatic fuss all round.
Thursday, 26 May 2011
Student : "I'm hard."
Student : "I'm hard." (and his mates weren't around so I don't think it was to make anyone laugh)
Me: "Ermm...hard isn't really a feeling, do you mean angry? strong? clever?
Student : "I'm....hard. Every day I'm hard."