Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dreams come true and Nightmares realized

Oh my my my...I knew it had been awhile since I'd posted, but I didn't realize it had been 8 months! So I'm going to catch you up and I hope you'll bear with me there is some and much to tell.

The end of September brought calmer and cooler weather. Fall semester was much less stressful since I knew the students and understood what to expect as far as my schedule was concerned.  I didn't have any new classes and so when the students came back the only big concern I had was how much of their language skill had decreased over the break. Unfortunately, for many it was considerable, but luckily within a couple weeks of cracking the whip they were back to the level they were at when they left.  The entire semester seemed to blow right by. Before I knew it, it was October, November, December and then we were breaking for Christmas.

My students continued to improve and many of them decided to study abroad for the 2014 school year.  We celebrated Halloween with pumpkins and costumes. The GTFs all went to Thanksgiving dinner at our favorite (at the time) Nepalese restaurant and when Christmas approached we decorated the English Plaza with snowflakes, lights and a couple of fake trees. We even had secret santas amongst the GTFs (which I took great pleasure in sneaking into my co-workers cubicle daily to leave little treats) and the students were introduced to White Elephant gifts. I took off Christmas Eve day to go home to Oregon and spend the holiday with my family.

Travel during that time was limited to weekend trips into Tokyo to try a new restaurant (burritos and margaritas at Chile's in Harajuku and halloween shopping at Don Quixote in Roppongi Hills). I did take a very quick trip to Santa Rosa to see my grandmother when her health took a dip on a four day weekend, but the rest of my time was spent recovering from insane week days.

Being home for Christmas was wonderful. I hadn't seen the family since the previous May, when I was home for the study tour and 180 freshman students in tow. I couldn't believe how big my niece and nephew were, it was all I could do not to smother them. When I stayed with them I slept with Madison just to be closer. My nephew being the big boy he his saves his snuggles for grandma and mom, but I get his silliness and big hugs when he first sees me, so I'm ok with that. Before heading back to Japan, my mom and I flew down to see grandma again. It was a lot of  fun and felt very decadent to fly down and back just for a day, but certainly well worth the time and money.

I flew back to Japan after the first of the year (I got to celebrate New Year's Eve with my friend Alma at the Opera) and after 1 week of classes, I was off for a week! Oi! The school system here!! During my break I made a split second decision to go to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Back to school for a week to give finals, a weekend and then one more day and we were done. The first school year of my life in Japan was over. The year which seemed to crawl by with every single second filled with tasks upon tasks was finished. I was a first year teacher and living in a new country and I survived...I more than survived I think I did pretty damn well!

Many of you are thinking to yourself or saying out loud "What did you learn Lee Ann? Can you speak Japanese now? Are you going to stay longer? Are you happy to went? Would you do it again?" Ok, Ok enough with the questions! The answers are Yes, Yes and Yes. I learned more than I can say. Mostly I learned about myself. My limits, my abilities and my capacity for bullshit. Yes, Japanese students spew as many excuses as American students. In all seriousness though, my students taught me as much, or more than I taught them, I'm sure of it. I know so much more about the English Language and how royally screwed up it is!! Goodness gracious! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to teach something when it isn't something taught, it's just innate!? I've learned many of the rules of the language, but also many of the ways we speak that have nothing to do with rules and everything to do with culture. For example, listen to the way people talk some time...not just the content of what they are saying, but what they are saying. Americans speak in idioms, phrases, quotes and rhetorical questions. Very little of what we say, taken literally, would make much sense.  I've needed to learn to listen to myself on a new level. It's been very revealing of my own speech patterns as well as helped me take notice of how others speak.

Can I speak Japanese...I speak some Japanese. I learned some slang and simple words just from listening to my students' frustrations in class. For example, I learned "seriously?" "difficult" "I don't understand"  and essentially "shit" just from my students. These aren't words I use they, are just ones I understand. From the lovely women who help us with everything from arranging re-delivery of a package to going to the post office or bank I've learned single words that express complex phrases like "this is a waste of resources (paper, time etc)" "don't be wasteful (food, time)" "amazing" "busy" "it can't be helped" and "super please help me with this." These words I use all the time and intend to for the rest of my life.

Yes, I'm staying longer. I have signed my intent, but I haven't heard back to find out if they intend to keep me. I have a feeling they will ;)

In February when school was out I spent some time in the office working on projects that kept getting pushed to the side during the school year and started packing to move into a new apartment in March.

The third week of February I left for Saigon, Vietnam. I stayed there for a week. It was an amazing experience. I traveled outside of Saigon to the Mekong Delta and a couple smaller towns to see the famous Cu Chi tunnels as well as the temple that is unique to Vietnams' religion. Most of the country is Catholic, but some still hold with their old religion. Saigon was insane, crossing the street was like a double dog dare. The motorcycles and cars don't stop, although they do watch for people, but they just swerve, not stop. It was loud and smelly. The food I ate was amazing and the amount of trash I saw on the streets and in the river was astounding.  I pray the people in Saigon are happy despite the government being unwilling to assist the people.  I definitely want to go back there is so much more to see just in Saigon, but I need to see the rest of the country as well.

From Saigon I took a bus to Siem Reap, Cambodia. That was an experience I don't need to have a again. 15 hours in a hot bus in bumper to bumper traffic going 35 miles an hour for hours and hours. The only positive part was we stopped in Phnom Penh to switch buses and I got to have some good coffee and meet a couple of interesting people who seemed to have been having a much harder go of it than I.

Siem Reap was everything and nothing like I imagined. It's a bit like seeing the White House in person. All the pictures take make it look like it's all by itself in the middle of nowhere, but it's really just plopped down in the middle of everything.

I arrived at night and by luck I was able to get a rickshaw from the drop off area to my hotel. He rearend a car on the way, but why not?! I was both surprised and not surprised. My hotel was lovely. Off the main road it was very quiet and a nice size. My room was spacious and overlooked the pool facing the west so I could see the sunset.

My first day in Siem Reap I was going to Angkor Wat. One of the places I'd wanted to see since I saw Tomb Raider in 2001. It was going to be hot. While the snow was piled high Japan I was much closer to the Equator and it was hot and humid in SouthEast Asia. My guide met me at the hotel and we left for the park. It was 9 am and I was so excited to get going. For the next 5 hours I walked in and around temples. I even hiked up a few of them. It was amazing. The only thing that ruined it for me was all the people! I wanted to be able to feel the age of the stones and sit in the quiet. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. My guide was knowledgeable and able to tell me some of the history of the temples as well as the stories of the carvings. Lunch was at a lovely restaurant just down the road from some of the temples. I was able to eat and then we took a nap in some hammocks. I was beginning to get a headache (I had a sneaking suspicion I was getting heat exhaustion) so I was eager to take a long break. By the time we decided to get going again, my head was subsiding but not gone.  After another 90 minutes of walking and hiking, I clearly was not going to feel any better. My guide wanted to make sure I saw everything that day, which I was glad of, but at a price. In the car on the way back to my hotel I ended up projectile vomiting everywhere!! I've never in my life had something like that happen! I did tell the driver to stop, but he didn't stop soon enough. After stopping and 3 more times  so I could throw up again, we made it back to the hotel where I ended up needing to eat stale bread, water and ginger ale for the next 6 hours to feel normal again.  I decided to play it safe and cancel my tour for the next day to recover. I know heat exhaustion is not something to mess with. The next day I slept,  hung out by the pool (in the shade) and read my book. I'm glad, for many reasons, that I stayed in that day. That night I got the news I'd been expecting and dreading. My beautiful grandmother had passed away. After spending many hours crying I book a flight back to Japan for the next day and then to Oregon the day after that. That was another adventure.

The only flight I could get back to Japan took me from Siem Reap to Kunming China to Shanghai to Tokyo. The next day I flew out from Cambodia, cutting my trip 5 days short. Going to Vietnam and Cambodia required VISAs and I knew that China required VISAs, but I also heard you didn't need one for less than 72 hours, so I was praying as I landed in China, all would be ok. It turns out, they were some of the nicest immigration officials I've ever dealt with. I was given a temporary VISA since I wouldn't be leaving the airport and I went on to find somewhere to spend the next 12 hours.  It seemed long layovers were common in this airport because there was a "hotel" which was incredibly expensive. I ended up in cafe where for a flat rate, I got a couch, blanket, tea and snacks as well as access to the WiFi. It was safe and secure and I was able to sleep for maybe 6 hours. The next day I flew to Shanghai and straight on to Tokyo. My only hold up there was having my bags searched because I had just come out of Shanghai.

Less than 15 hours later I was on a plane bound for Oregon and into my mom's arms at the airport. It was a difficult and also good two weeks. I'm so glad I was able to be with my family and be there to help my mom and be comforted by her as well.

Within 3 days of being back in Japan I started to move into my new apartment and the new team arrived. Since then it's been a busy whirlwind of activities and getting settle into new classes with 10 more teachers in the office.

This year I'm teaching several different kinds of classes and I still don't quiet feel settled into them. Most of my classes only occur once a week and with spotty attendance I struggle as to what the point of the classes when there really isn't much time to teach anything! Heading into the next week I have a better idea for the direction of a couple of the classes and I'm left struggling with 2 more.

With the summer quickly approaching and with it the humidity and heat I am dreading the days to come, but am thankful I can hide out in my air conditioned apartment. I'm taking piano lessons again and have found a new workout routine. Life has fallen into a bit of a more expected routine, but not boring or predictable by any means. I have some adventures to plan for August and look forward to making them happen.

It's 3:16 am , Japan time, I'm signing out and I promise I won't go so long without updating again.

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