Friday, April 20, 2007

Starting School (again)

These past two weeks have ben rather hectic. Between getting over jet lag and starting a new job, not to mention various social obligations, I haven’t had much time for just relaxing. I feel a bit overwhelmed at the new job. There’s a lot more responsibility associated with this position which, combined with not having really used my brain much over the past couple years, has left me playing catch-up. They say if you don’t use a muscle, it atrophies. I think that’s happened with my brain, as well as any organizational skills I might’ve had once. But this is what I wanted, something where I could plan my own lessons and have a bit more freedom. Plus, I’m not working through a contractor anymore, which means no more writing monthly reports or having the vice principal stamp a paper every day to prove I was there (as if people wouldn’t notice if I didn’t show up to teach – there’d be an uproar).

The teachers at these schools are all lovely. They’ve been nothing but friendly and helpful. At some schools I’ve been to there is an underlying tension that makes the mood heavy and sullen. Even people not involved in whatever’s going on have a depressed look about them. One school is somewhat known as a party school, they definitely seem to have a more lively and carefree feeling than the other school, which is a bit more serious. It may also have something to do with the economic disparity between the two areas the schools serve, the Party School families are more well-off and the school looks newer. The Country School is more worn-looking and slightly dingy. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that it’s rained heavily all three days I’ve been there, so everything’s damp.

Part of starting a new job in Japan is going to welcome parties. The Party School, of course, had theirs first, last week. They look for any reason to go drinking, and it’s a common topic in the teachers’ room. The morning meeting one day consisted of, “OK everyone, please do your best today. I know it’s been a busy week, but it’s Friday and we can all go drinking soon.” I wasn’t able to make it to that one, but I’m not concerned. There’ll be another one soon. I did, however, make it to the Board of Education welcome party last night. It was held at the local Prince Hotel, a very nice establishment indeed. As it has every day this week, it was raining steadily, so I showed up in wet jeans and soaked shoes while everyone else had dark suits since they’d just finished work. And of course, as a new person I had to give a speech, on a stage, in front of everyone. At least I went last, when the guests were all bored of hearing speeches and had gotten good and liquored up. On the upside, the food was excellent. There were six or so courses, though the portions were divided between the eight people at the table. Each platter was placed on the biggest lazy susan I’d ever seen and rotated around so everyone got a chance. I stuffed myself with the uneaten sushi, and the guy next to me kept my glass full of beer, a full-time job for him. I had it easy, as he couldn’t drink more than a glass without getting red-faced and sick.

The ride home was not terribly fun. The bus that took us dropped everyone off at the train station, so I was left to walk back to the town hall and get my bike, then ride home. The wind on the way back made using an umbrella nigh impossible, so I ditched it and just rode back in the blustery wind and driving rain. My raincoat managed to cover my upper body but in doing so insulated me so much I arrived home damp from sweat anyway. It completely failed to help my lower body, so my shoes and jean are still drying out.

I was very excited to be able to ride my bike to work, and in fact when the weather’s good it’s a very pleasant ride. Not to mention I can leave at 8am instead of 7:20. The Party School’s a quite pleasant ride, either along the river lined with blossoming cherry trees, or an easier ride skirting the mountain that pops up between home and work. The Country School’s a bit more of a workout. The time’s only a few minutes longer, and it’s following the same road, but that road goes up and over a very steep hill and it’s frequented by large trucks. I was nearly run off the road this morning, and I’ve learned that my bright idea of using a poncho doesn’t work well when riding against the wind, nor when cars going by send spray up from underneath. I’m already working up a sweat, I hate to think of how it’ll be when it’s summer and the humidity’s 80% and pushing 30C.

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