This is my 100th post. How appropriate that it comes at this juncture; having been in Japan almost half a year. Though i will almost definitely be recontracting for year 2 (unless something catastrophic happens in the next 2 weeks), I am halfway through my first 1-year contract with Fukuoka Board of Education
So if you didn't gather, I spent the last 2 weeks in America, and now I'm back in Japan. Apologies for not blogging whilst still in the US of A. I had every intention to do so, but somehow the whole break managed to slip by as I ran from destination to destination.
I was really looking forward to my reverse-culture-shock in America. Indeed, when I deplaned, everything seemed strange and new. There were foreigners everywhere! and English everywhere, and holy cow, i was literate! I was meandering slowly through the concourse towards baggage claim, when I overheard some Japanese coming from across the hallway. I stopped and looked back to spot a Japanese couple who had come in on my flight, trying to retrieve a luggage cart from the Smart-Cart vending rack thing. In Japanese airports, carts are complimentary and simply provided near the baggage claim area, so the couple were perplexedly trying to pull a cart away from the corral without feeding the machine to unlock it. I turned around to offer a little assistance, and in Japanese, pointed out the payment slot. Oh how proud i was to tell them that it costs 300 yen. To return countless tiny favors Japanese people have done for me as a complete idiot in a country where I have no idea what is going on. I didnt even have to stop to think about why they couldn't figure it out because i have the clearest idea of what it's like to be in a place where the obvious to everybody else, can seem cryptic and impossible. They said thank you in English and i said "You're welcome" in my English teacher voice. What a "I'm a Japanese-speaking badass" moment that was. Oh you can only imagine. (Small victories, guys. bear with me).
So i was pleasantly enjoying my reverse culture shock. I met up with my dad outside who picked me up and we had lovely conversations on the way home about Japan and Japanliness. Then when i got home, suddenly the family dynamic snapped me out of it. The noise, the Nintendo wii, the foodstuffs. I was no longer a visitor from Japan, I was a son/older brother. And just like that, it was as if I'd never left. I was my same old criticizing, quietly observing the strange family dynamics self again.
America has changed a lot, though. Some of this is getting used to the Japanese standards of things, like how people in stores and restaurants seem so pushy by comparison for not greeting me with a smile.
See, in Japan, every time you enter the premises of a business, the clerks and employees are all trained to yell IRASHAIMASE (Welcome! Can I help you??) in the highest, most nasal voice possible. This is supposed to sound the most subservient. If they dont do this effectively, they can get fired. I actually hate it because the subservient voice is extremely annoying and ear-splitting, but i have to admit, something seemed off in America without it. Or perhaps it was just the lack of constant attention and fake friendliness, where clerks just say how much you owe without the grace of a complete sentence or intonation.
My 13 days in America were quite productive. I spent time with my family, of course. And my grandma, who lives all the way out in New Jersey (well in Florida, this time of year) came to cold, harsh Chicago for several days, just to see me while i was home. It was really a pleasure to spend time with everyone, and though we didn't do much real "catching up" per se, there was almost a sense that we didnt have to. It was as if things were untouched and the same as before. Like i had never left. We talked about day-to-day stuff and we complained and stressed each other out. Intense though the dynamic can be, it's a constant that is nice to come back to.
The day after i arrived in America, we went to my brother's and sister's piano recital, which was an excellent re-culturation experience. Everyone was decked out in their holiday sweaters and it was set in this old church. Joe occupied himself by putting his feet up on the kneelers and flipping through the bible. I occupied myself by biting my lip.
Lewis came into town a few times to visit, and i got to see a lot of good friends from high school, a lot of good friends from after high school, as well as some people i have rarely hung out with in the past, but am beginning to correspond with more, either by chance or by eclipsing interests in travel and Japan. It's interesting that I can continue to make new relationships in Oak Park, despite not having lived there in about 5 years now. Nevertheless, i hung out for the first time with many new people and seem to be developing new friendships. This is admittedly mostly due to facebook.
Needless to say I ate a ton of Chicago pizza, italian beef, as well as Diner and Mexican fare.
I played magic.
I drove around Oak Park collecting restaurant take out menus, which i brought back to Japan with me to use in my classes. I really want to encorporate elements of the real world into my lessons. It can make all the difference when you show them real pieces of life in the foreign language, rather than trying to teach from textbook illustrations.
I went to visit Margaret, who has babysat for my family since my birth. She lives around Ashland and 63rd, so i took the CTA out to her neck of the woods to meet her for the first time in my adult life. The other side of the green line is another world indeed and it was a really great experience. She picked me up at the train station and suggested we drive BACK to River Forest to get lunch. I said that was ridiculous and said we oughtta eat around there.
"Well we usually eat Soul Food"
So I had the most delicious fried chicken and candied yams and Mac and Cheese at a popular soul food join around Ashland and 80th. sugoooi.
It's long past quittin time now, yet i remain at my desk, so i will have to continue this update with my reintegration (re-re-culture shock) to Japan when i return.
Catcha later, beautifuls!
the loving family at supper
New Years party: Soul Train
the midnight soul train arrives
packing important American things