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La Sekai Du Teravell
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Teravell's LiveJournal:

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Saturday, August 20th, 2011
12:56 pm
Does it count as a second marriage if it's to the same person?
Well, I did it. I got married. Which is not to say . . . well, technically -- legally -- we've been married for almost a year. At least in Japan, anyway. We did all the paperwork and took it to City Hall, and they stamped it all officially (they didn't even say 'congratulations'), and then we went out to McDonald's. We had a weird little congratulations party so that Dai's coworkers would be satisfied, since there's no way we could ask any of them to come to America for the real wedding. And I got the office people at Sunnyside to change my name on the school web site. It was kind of anticlimactic. So I guess what I should say is that, on August 6th, we finally had a wedding.

I would like to say that having a wedding sounds kind of easy, but in reality it was the most ridiculously complicated, time-consuming, painful, involved and generally troublesome thing I have ever done in my entire life. And I think a good deal of that was actually my fault. I was the one who was all like, "We're going to have a good, old-fashioned, local, home-grown, home-made wedding, without all those fancy things like wedding planners and caterers and tuxedo fittings and silly stuff like that." It sounded like such a good idea at the time.

Having a wedding is one of those things, like buying a house, that pretty much everybody who does it is doing it for the first time and won't ever do it again. So there's no way to benefit from experience, unless it's someone else's. I did have my little sister to brain-suck off of, since she got married last year. But her wedding was the normal kind, with caterers and tuxedo fittings and whatnot. Also, you can only steal so many ideas before somebody catches you at it. Plus, I'm kind of in Japan. So mostly I had to plan the whole thing by remote manipulation. Like the Mars Rover.

I won't call it non-traditional or anything like that. It was in a Christian church, for one thing -- the church that I went to for my whole life, with Pastor Kris, who is the most enthusiastic, adorable, loveable pastor on the face of the planet. She's from Thailand, and she was quite possibly more excited than we were about the whole international-wedding thing. (She read one of the Bible verses in Thai, just to make it trilingual.) It was multicultural, after a fashion. At least the clothing was. Dai wore a hakama, the thing that grooms wear in Japan when they want to be traditional. It's like a kimono with an extra apron-skirt-thing over it and a jacket-thing that fastens with a cord with a little pom-pom on it. He looked like he'd walked right out of a samurai movie. And the bridesmaids and groomsmaids (Dai's three sisters) all wore yukata, which are not traditional wedding attire; they're usually for wearing to festivals and things like that. But they're a lot easier to put on than kimono, and a lot cooler, too. And more fun and colorful. Not to mention a lot cheaper. Lindy and Dai's sisters all had one already, and I bought two for my bridesmaids Heather (cousin) and Tammy (old friend) last year at the end-of-summer sale, by stalking around the yukata shop with my cell-phone camera and uploading the pictures to Facebook so they could pick out which ones they liked.

I wore a white dress. Boring. I knew I wasn't going to match the decor properly, so I made my own train -- I bought a pretty kimono at a used-clothing store and, after who-knows-how-many hours spent stabbing myself with sewing needles all alone in my apartment, managed to turn it into a belt with a bow in the back and a train hanging off of it. Like everything I make, it looks pretty good as long as you don't look at the back -- or, in this case, the inside. The dress itself I got online, and my poor mother had to adjust the hem in three days to make it fit me. (That would have gone much more perfectly if I had realized that wedding dresses come unhemmed EVEN IF the size measurements say it's for someone exactly your height. Again, benefit of experience.) In and around showing the Ikeda Family all over America, I kept having to pop over to my house to stand on an ice chest while my poor mother crawled around me pinning things. And she kept having to excuse herself early to go home and sew. Words cannot describe how much I wish I'd known enough to click the 'custom size' button, even though the size 6 looked like it would fit me perfectly.

I made the flowers, too. I know, I know, it's kind of silly to 'make' flowers when they can be picked or ordered or something like that. But I thought it would be fun at the time, and so make them I did, out of fabric and ribbons and lace and paper and wire and A LOT of hot glue. I made everyone a bouquet that matched their yukata. It took me, of course, much longer than I expected (compounded by the fact that I underestimated how much work I'd have to do the last two weeks of school before summer vacation). I started almost half a year in advance, and there I was gluing and wrapping and burning my fingers late into the night two days before we were supposed to leave for America. They turned out okay, though -- like I said, if you don't look at the back.

Oh, and the music for the reception. My dad has a band, and he agreed to loan us his sound system -- a bunch of hulking big speakers to which we, anticlimactically, plugged in my iPod. I'd been suffering late into the night over what songs to use and what order to put them in (and HOW to put them in order -- I ended up renaming them all). And then Dai came skipping up on the night before we left with like five more songs, and I'm afraid got rather snapped at. I ended up bringing the computer AND the iPod, just in case of any more last-minute changes. And it's a very, VERY good thing I did bring the computer. That comes up later.

Oh, and the decorations for the reception. I almost forgot about those. We decided to have the reception in the Duncannon EMS Building. It's a big hall that the Duncannon fire and ambulance people rent out to try to make some money. It looks like an overgrown office, with a suspended ceiling and folding tables and folding chairs and no atmosphere whatsoever. At least, it was until the Ikeda Family got to it. Dai and I started making paper flowers about a year in advance. They're made of crepe paper, and you see them at festivals and elementary school field days and places like that. You fold the paper and tie it in the middle, and then when you want to use them you pull the paper up one layer at a time and it turns into a flower. Dai ordered the paper somewhere online, and we were both kind of shocked when we saw the size of the box it came in. In the end, we didn't even use all of it, and we still ended up with over a thousand flowers. Possibly five or six thousand. There were a lot.

Dai and I made most of them while watching Glee. I knew I wouldn't have the attention span or the motivation to keep making flowers unless I had something else to do at the same time. We finished the whole series, along with most of the Lupin and One Piece movies, folding flowers the whole time. (Back then, we still thought preparing for a wedding was kind of fun.) When Dai's mom found out what we were up to, she jumped in and made six hundred or so herself. We put them all in boxes and mailed them, still folded up, to my family in America. And they all helped open them up. I have no idea how many there were, but when I got to my house, Lindy's and my old childhood bedroom was completely buried in trash bags and rubber tubs filled with paper flowers.

I made the table decorations on the airplane, ripping Japanese paper into heart shapes while watching the kind of movies you only watch on airplanes and trying not to poke Dai with my elbows. Oh, and we got paper lanterns in Mino City a week or so before we left. Somehow (thank you, Ikedas!) that was enough.

The day before the wedding, we stuffed them all into the car ('them' being the flowers AND the Ikedas) and took the EMS building by storm. It was magic what they did. Lindy, Sam, my dad, Dai, his mom and dad and his three sisters spent practically a whole day in there. I was there helping arrange the tables until about lunchtime, when I went with Tammy and Heather to go frost cakes. (Lindy wanted to come, too, but then there wouldn't be anybody left who could translate. My mom was busily sewing, except when she took a break to bring everybody a giant bag of sandwiches.) I didn't actually see the finished product until the reception itself, but it was amazing. The whole place was covered with flowers -- hanging from the ceiling, stuck on the walls and the backs of chairs, everywhere. And it actually looked like a good place to have a wedding reception! It was colorful and festive and awesome.

In the mean time, I was baking the cake and frantically trying to finish frosting it in time for the rehearsal. Which, thanks to practicing a few times at home plus my aunt's recipe, my mother's wisdom and the awesome help of my sister and cousin and friend, actually did not get burned, didn't stick in the pan, didn't break into pieces, and possibly even tasted good. It didn't actually look much like a normal wedding cake (it was six yellow cakes in a circle with a bunch of brown cupcakes in the center -- sunflower. Sort of.) But I was kind of beyond caring. And, in the end, in spite of my mother's insistance that there wouldn't be enough, there was a lot more of it than we needed. A LOT more. As in, I think three or four people took home entire cakes. I kind of wonder if my mom didn't secretly bake five or six more when I wasn't looking.

And then the Moment of Doom. Lindy was set to be the Translator of Honor, and Dai (who wanted to make her life easy and also to keep his own time on stage as short as possible) had been saying all along that she didn't have to translate the whole service, just the key parts. We figured she'd just do Pastor Kris's sermon and the Bible verses, which she could read out of my bilingual Bible. So we spent some time before the rehearsal huddled up on the stage looking up the verses and sticking Post-it notes in so they'd be easy to find. But when we started the rehearsal, Pastor Kris was having none of it. "They came all the way to the other side of the world to see this wedding. I want them to understand everything!" Which is how, instead of resting up quietly the night before my wedding OR partying it up somewhere with my girlfriends, I came to be huddled up in the living room of the Bed and Breakfast with Lindy, translating things until 2 in the morning. At which point we promptly stumbled off to bed without even considering that we'd have to find a way to print the translations out the next morning.

And print them we could NOT. None of the computers in the church could recognize Japanese characters, my computer didn't have the right software to hook it up to the printer directly, and we couldn't even connect to the wireless network to e-mail the thing to Heather's smart phone, which she volunteered to let Lindy hold behind her bouquet. In the end, about thirty seconds before the ceremony started, we finally had to admit defeat and send my mother to put my laptop itself, cord and all, out on the stage. Poor Lindy spent most of the ceremony holding it (I'm sure it was heavy as well as unsightly), and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forgive myself for making her do that.

But the thing is, this is less than HALF of the work that went into the whole thing. My mom and dad arranged all the reservations and hotel reservations for the Ikedas' Adventure in America, and counted up the invitations (Oh yeah, I made the invitations too. And printed half the RSVP postcards upside-down. Again, don't look at the back.) My mom sewed and made frosting and bought supplies. Pastor Kris was AMAZING, and did more than I have ever heard of any pastor doing for any wedding EVER -- she made appetizers, she bought a ton of refreshments (including alcohol, with which she tried to get all the Ikedas drunk), she took Dai's whole family out to dinner TWICE . . . . Tammy and Heather saved my life more than once, including getting a spot at the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner (dumb no-reservations policy), finding stuff I lost, and helping me memorize my vow at the absolute last minute . . . . More people I know than I have ever seen in one place at the same time showed up from all corners of the Earth, some farther away than even me. They cooked, gave me things, stayed in hotels, dressed up, rode in airplanes with small children. For tiny little me.

I kind of said it in my speech (I had to make a speech), and I don't remember if I said it better there or not -- I kind of made it up on the spot because I had an entirely different speech planned before I walked into the church. But when I first saw the church full of people I knew -- every single one of them -- and saw how many there were, I was kind of . . . astounded. Because every one of them had helped me or done something for me in the past, had contributed somehow to who I am today. And that's not even counting the people who didn't come. If I had to collect all the people I owe a part of myself to, I think I'd need about nine or ten churches. Big ones. With folding chairs lined up in the back.

The one thing I can't forget after this is how many people make up my life. How many amazing people I know and how much they have created me and saved me and held me up, every day of my life. I don't think I will ever be able to say this quite the way I want to, but . . . I'm thankful.

And having a wedding was worth it.
Saturday, July 2nd, 2011
9:44 am
Hello, Internets! I am in a HOUSE.
I'M LIVING IN A HOUSE!!!! It's kind of unbelievable. As in I still don't really believe it. I keep waiting for someone to come and kick me out.

Before we bought the house, various people told me that, after I moved in, no matter what I would go through a "What have I done?!" phaze where I would regret everything. But so far, the only thing I regret is losing my commute. I exchanged a nice bike ride though rice fields and around mountains, complete with little old ladies who said "good morning" to me every day, for 45 minutes on Route 156, a three-lane highway with stoplights every six inches that are about two seconds long, so it takes you like 15 times to get through just one of them. And there are all these people from Nagoya who don't signal before they change lanes.

But everything else is just wonderful. The bathtub is HUGE, the kitchen is awesome (although I still don't remember what drawer I put everything in), and everything is bright and colorful and pretty and smells nice. I never in a million years thought I would live in a house this fashionable, and I'm still vaguely disturbed about it, but (somewhat to my embrarassment) I'm enjoying it immensely. I love the fact that the counter isn't too low, so I don't get a backache from washing dishes. And that there are windows all over the place so I don't have to turn the lights on during the day like I did in my apartment. And that the curtains in my bedroom open to the sides, so I can wake up in the morning and fling open the curtains like someone in a movie. And the closets! There are so many places to put things that I can't decide what to put in them all.

Mia is loving it, too. When we first brought her here, she wouldn't come out from under the bottom step in her under-the-stairs cat-box closet. But it turns out that it wasn't the house she didn't like, just all the people in it. As soon as we closed the door behind my coworkers and Dai's family, we turned around to see little white whiskers poking out of the cat door. Then came an ear and the rest of the cat, and she proceeded to stalk around the whole place smelling everything. By the next day, she was poking her paws through the stair railing, thundering up and down the stairs, and rolling around on the kitchen floor with her paws in the air like she owned the place -- which she does. And she can't get enough of all the windows. The windows in our apartment were all made of frosted glass, and even the sliding doors had the bottom half frosted, so in comparison this place is like the cat version of Deluxe Extra Premium Cable TV. She stalks the neighbors, squeaks at the birds, and greets us from the kitchen window when we come home from work.

Dai's mother brought us a bunch of official Introducing-Yourself-To-The-Neighbors presents (they're towels), and we went around to the nearest houses and gave them out. The next-door neighbors are awesome -- at least on one side. We have deduced that they are surfers, because they both drive really long cars and have super-dark suntans. And there's a four-year-old boy with hair down to his waist -- I thought he was a girl until I accidentally saw him running naked through the sprinkler out back. He has a little blue car, the kind you have to push with your feet, and he drives it up and down the road in front of our house, and randomly starts up conversations with us whenever we go outside. He won't tell us his name, though.

The neighbors on the other side are a little more mysterious. They have a one-story house, which is conspicuous consumption in Japan. Space is limited and land is expensive, so unless you're in a wheelchair, having a one-story house is kind of like having a swimming pool filled with champagne. It's by a really expensive house maker, too, and they put up the outdoor carport BEFORE the final tax assessment, which means that they don't care that the driveway will be counted as part of the house and they'll have to pay taxes on it for the rest of their lives. (Anything with a roof is counted as a room.) When we saw the house, we kind of expected really old people to move in, but they're a couple about our age. They drive conservative cars and seem to be gone a lot. When we rang the doorbell to give them our present, only the wife was at home, and she seemed pretty keen on getting rid of us -- she gave one-word answers and didn't look at us. I don't think we've done anything annoying yet (aside from building a ridiculously yellow house), so we've decided she must just be that kind of person. The guy owns a motorcycle, but so far we haven't seen him actually ride it. I caught sight of him just once -- he was out in the backyard, picking weeds out of the immaculate stones. If we want to make friends, I think we're going to have to stick with the surfers.

But, generally, things are pretty awesome. We still don't have a phone line, and due to various things it looks like we won't until August. But for the interum Dai has gotten hold of a cellular internet thing that plugs into the USB port and uses cell phone towers. It's a lot slower than real internet and I don't think it can deal with Skype or NPR, but at least it's something! So here I am.

Now off to go take things out of boxes! Let's see if I can find all those things I've been looking for all week.
Saturday, June 25th, 2011
9:38 pm
In Which Laura Talks Too Much And Too Fast, To Make Up For Not Talking Enough Before
People in Japan love to talk about the beauty of the four seasons. I wonder why nobody's noticed that there are actually five. The rainy season - poor, ignored season number five -- has shown up early this year, possibly as an attempt to get some attention. It's been spring, all sunshine and flowers, for a month or so, pretending to be about to turn into summer . . . and then all of a sudden the weekly weather forecast turned all blue, and here I am trudging through puddles again. It's that long, slow, sleepy rain that makes a constant, barely audible sound that's so soothing it's all anybody can do not to fall asleep right where they are. All the kindergarteners are in a bad mood because they can't play outside. They've got too much energy and nowhere to use it, so they all start running in the hallways and climbing up on the shelves and swinging from the curtains and other inadvisable activities that only lead to falling down on one's head and bawling loudly while getting yelled at by one's teacher. I understand where they're coming from (and remember doing more or less the same thing myself), but it's not any more fun being on the having-to-get-angry side. Especially not when you just want to take a nap.

Speaking of kindergarteners, I realize I've been so busy with my new class that I haven't even bothered to mention what class it is! I am the proud teacher of White 1 Class, five-to-six-year-olds. That means I went up a grade, and got to keep six of my old students! And I already knew most of the other students pretty well, although that didn't stop me from mixing up some of their names at the beginning. But I'm in Nen-Chou!! In Japan, I might mention, kindergarten is THREE years long. The kids start when they're three and "graduate" to elementary school when they've turned six. In the first year, Nen-shou, they get potty trained, sing some songs, do some dances, learn to share their toys and not to scream and cry when their mothers leave them at the gate. In the second year, Nen-chuu, the grade I taught last year, they start getting serious -- Ai-sensei and I taught them to write the ABCs, read basic three-letter words, stay in their chairs, use scissors, sing from the diaphragm, eat everything on their plate, play the pianica, run a relay race . . . . things that American kindergarteners, who are a year older, haven't even begun to consider trying yet. And now I'm in Nen-chou. According to all rumors, it is beyond anything you've ever imagined. At one point, we have to make them into an orchestra.

Lately I haven't been posting anything in LiveJournal. And when I do post something, usually it's about how I haven't been posting anything, followed by a vow to do better. It's not that I don't have things to say. I have so many things to say by now that if I tried to write them all they would take up the entire internet. It's just that I've got so many things to do besides saying them. I write little bits, but then I've got to go make dinner, or go to work, or go put all my earthly possessions in boxes and drag them out to the car. And, to be honest, the only thing that got me to post this now was having a deadline -- I'm moving tomorrow, and my new house doesn't have a phone line yet, and the phone company keep calling me to cheerfully inform me that they still don't know when they'll be able to put one in. So for a while my internet use is going to be limited to at work and on my cell phone. Both of which are slower and don't have an easily accessible apostrophe key. Which will probably make no difference to you, since I didn't write anything when I had the internet either.

But . . . yes. I have a house!! They finished building it, and last weekend they officially handed over the keys to us. It was really cool -- they had a construction key that they were using, but the real key was different. It was in a sealed bag, and they had Dai open it and officially unlock the door. And then you can't use the construction key anymore! The real key does something to change the lock so that the other one won't work anymore.

It was so weird to stay in the house and watch Arita-san and Sakai-san drive off without us. Up until the handover, we were only allowed to be there when someone else was there to let us in. But there we were, all alone in the house with a potted plant that Arita-san gave us as a present. We went around taking all the "Remove Before Use" stickers off of the light switches, and then went to the Circle K and got a picnic lunch to eat at the brand-new dining room table. And then went back to our apartment to start packing. We've been there a few times since, carrying stuff little by little. It still doesn't feel like I'm really allowed to be there.

It's so weird! But so happy. I keep looking at people who have houses and thinking, "Were you this excited? Did you have this much fun?" I always thought that all those things adults have to do seemed boring. But here I am, and I'm not bored at all!

The people next door have a little boy who looks like a little girl. I can't wait to find out what the rest of the neighbors are like!
Monday, April 4th, 2011
6:41 pm
The Cherry Blossoms Are Back
I know it's bad timing. But I still can't help but be excited about my house. Our house. A few hours to the north, a bunch of people have just had their houses washed away by tidal waves, and here I am jumping up and down because our staircase got delivered. But, at the same time, it seems kind of rude to not be happy about it. If my house got washed away and then I saw someone else building a house and not properly appreciating it, I think I'd be madder at them than if they were enjoying the process. So my way of resolving the issue is to be happy in a thankful sort of way. And randomly drop a lot of coins in collection boxes. Because it's impossible to not be excited right now.

We've decided almost all of our decisions now (It's going to be COLORFUL!!), and they've started to build it. It's crazy how fast it's going! We went to see it one day and it was just a foundation, a concrete square with a blue tarp over it to keep out the rain. The next week, it had become a floor with a roof sitting on top. And then two days later, it was a house! Apparently they made the walls somewhere else and brought them in on a truck. They put them up and hoisted the roof on top all in one day. It was the day before a huge rainstorm, and Dai, paranoid, went there in the middle of the night and tried to dry off the whole thing with two hand towels. The carpenter very graciously refrained from laughing when Dai went over the next day to complain. Instead, he kindly explained that it's perfectly fine for the house to get wet as long as it dries off completely before they put the walls and floors and things on and seal the wood up inside. Which it did.

The carpenter's name is Hagimoto-san, and he's possibly the friendliest Japanese guy I've ever met. He's more or less singlehandedly building the house right now, as far as I can tell; there are various other experts who are in and out, like the pipe people and the electricity people and the painting people, but Hagimoto-san is there more or less all the time. He's practically living there himself. He's the one who made the roof frame, put the stairs together, and made all the windowsills and the rails for the sliding doors and put the walls on. He's also, as far as I've seen, the one who signs for all the deliveries, lets all the other guys in and out, and arranges where they put all the raw materials. He even made a shelf in the kitchen to stack boards on because there wasn't enough room to set them all on the floor. (He promised to take it down before the kitchen gets installed.) He's got makeshift tables and benches and things all over the place, made out of leftover walls and stuff like that.

He talks our heads off every time we go to see the house. He's a bit of a rebel, he says, and he keeps offering to build us all kinds of things that aren't in the original plans. ("You sure you don't want a shelf here?") We kind of have to keep an eye on him, because he keeps trying to edit the floor plans. Some of his edits are pretty smart and useful -- like he decided not to wall off the end of the closet under the stairs, arguing that we could still put some small things under the bottom step. But some of them aren't so much. I caught him trying to put shelves in our coat closet instead of a hanger rail, because he thought it was silly to have hangers on the first floor. (They don't have coat closets in Japan -- probably because most Japanese houses don't have insulation and therefore most people don't actually take off their coats until it's time to take a bath.) Even after I explained what we planned to do with that closet, he was still doubtful. "You sure you don't want some shelves in here instead? I don't see how it would be useful to take off your coat right next to the front door!"

He says he likes customers who have their own opinions, and he asks us all kinds of things we've never even considered, like exactly what angle we want the arch of the kitchen doorway to be. He spent about an hour once making me decide exactly how I wanted the edges of the stairs. "Sure, it says here that they're going to be rounded. But how much do you want them rounded? And we've got some extra-long ones for the bottom two, but exactly how many centimeters do you want them to stick out?" I decided, after something of a lively debate, on just cutting off the corners and making each successive stair one centimeter longer than the one above it. He advised against rounding off the top edges of the stair treads, saying it would make them slippery, but I held forth that if he left them pointy they'd be more painful to hit one's head on. In the end, he reluctantly sanded them into a slightly-rounded shape. We're also making a cat door in the bedroom wall so that Mia won't scratch up our doorframe trying to get in like Pandora and Thistle do at home. Hagimoto-san randomly volunteered to put a sliding door on it so that we can still lock her out if we want to. Oh, and when he heard we were trying to decide what kind of oven to get, he offered to let us come to his house and bake something in his gas oven so we could see what it was like. He's a bit of a character, but I think I like him.

As of now, and probably mostly thanks to Hagimoto-san, it looks like our house might even be finished ahead of schedule -- like in the end of May sometime! The biggest snafoo is the kitchen -- it's a "system kitchen," which means that everything -- the cupboards, the stovetop, and the sink -- comes premade from one company. This one company happens to have most of its factories up north. Eek. But we were lucky to only have a problem with the kitchen -- apparently a lot of other people building houses right now are hung up on all kinds of building materials. The house next door, which at first looked like it was going to be finished long before ours, is completely frozen right now because they can't get insulation. (There are only three factories in Japan that make insulation, and I heard that all three of them are in the Tokyo area, where they had to shut down the production lines because of the daily blackouts.) We're really lucky that our insulation, and most of our other building materials, came from America.

Tomorrow is my last day of spring break, which means that I'm going to have to go back to merely peeking in the windows of the house after work, late at night when nobody's there. I'm going to have to go back to doing actual work, during actual working hours. No fun.

I already miss my class. It's so weird -- I spent a whole year with these kids, and I still can't really believe that so suddenly, just like that, they're not my students anymore. I keep thinking they'll all still be in my class. But I'm going to have a new class (I'm officially forbidden to say which one until the opening ceremony, even though I'm bursting to talk about it) and a new classroom and a new partner and a lot of new things to do. And probably a ton of after school classes, because we have fewer classes this year and therefore fewer English teachers. Fewer Japanese teachers, too, which means that they'll be riding the buses all the time, too, so everybody will be busier and grouchier. I'm going to continue my tradition of bringing snacks to meetings to sweeten everybody up.

This time last year, I was worried about everything -- I was starting a new job, I was still conflicted and guilty about leaving my old job, I didn't know what I was supposed to do or what anybody expected of me or even where I was going to live. Now I feel justified in leaving my old job, I like my new job, AND I'm engaged to be married and we're building a house! There is nothing in my future right now that I'm not actively looking forward to. Except maybe getting a mammogram. (They say you should, so I made an appointment. I've never had one before, but I've heard the machine is very cold.) I know it's kind of tasteless, timing-wise. But I still can't stop being excited. Being alive is a wonderful thing!
Saturday, March 19th, 2011
1:26 pm
All the TV Commercials Are Gone
I love Japan. For many reasons. But the biggest one right now is how all the people here are handling this disaster. If this had happened practically anywhere else, after the tidal wave there would have been looting, massive panic, people trampling over small children in a rush to get to the airport to save themselves, and angry newscasters trying to blame anyone they could find -- "More people could have been saved if so-and-so hadn't been incompetent!" "Why wasn't the government ready for a disaster like this?!" "The government is deliberately misinforming the public!!" As a matter of fact, exactly the kind of stories the overseas press are trying to make up.

But here, everyone is staying calm. Of course the people up in Sendai are shocked and horrified. But they're not blaming anyone. And they're not using it as an excuse to misbehave. It's amazing. People are going back to pick through the remains of their houses -- ONLY THEIR OWN HOUSES. If they're looking in someone else's house, it's only because that person couldn't get down there themself, and they're going to give their stuff back to them when they get back to the shelter. The shelters are running out of food, medicine, and gasoline -- but they're not angry about it. They're just calmly asking for more. The Japanese Self Defense Force AND the U.S. Military are helicoptering stuff around as fast as they can, in and around dumping boron water on the nuclear reactors and hoisting people off of the tops of buildings, and everyone understands that. The shelters all say, "We'll do the best we can in the mean time."

Everybody who wasn't affected is pretty much staying where they are, trying to conserve electricity and donate money. Sendai has declared that right now more people won't really help anything -- unless said people have specific skills, the last thing they need up there is more mouths to feed. When they get a bit more organized and start actually rebuilding, then they'll accept random volunteers. But, for now, the best thing to do is donate money -- the people who know what's going on up there can decide what to spend it on. And the people down here are listening. Pretty much every store you go to now has a collection box. I've seen ten thousand yen bills in some of them, too! (That's like a 100-dollar bill! And there are several!)

I'd thought for a few days that the streets seemed darker at night since the earthquake, and I finally realized why when I saw a handwritten sign on the door to the convenience store -- all the businesses are turning off their big outdoor billboards to save electricity. Since the nuclear reactors are all offline, the whole country is low on energy -- especially in the North, but it's all connected. The less we use, the more they have. I know these stores are sacrificing a bit of business for this -- if you don't go close enough, it looks like the store is closed. But they're doing it anyway.

But the thing that impressed me the most is the TV. It's not just that the news programs aren't being sensational, are broadcasting only confirmed facts, and are cutting out the most shocking parts of the video footage (they cut out all the parts of the tsunami videos where you could see live people getting swept up -- I found out later watching American news on YouTube.) It's the fact that all the commercials are gone.

According to Dai, commercial sponsors don't want to be insensitive -- there's nothing worse than the abrupt switch from grandmothers weeping over the crushed remains of their houses to "Are you troubled by the way your sofa smells? Now you can just spray it clean with our new patented product!" So they pulled all their commercials of their own accord. The news broadcasts on the first few days were almost completely uninterrupted and commercial-free. Even now that regular programs are starting to return (by which I mean things like the weather forecast and previously-filmed dramas), most of the commercials are still gone. The TV networks are filling up all the empty commercial spots with public service announcements about recycling, volunteering, and helping old ladies up the stairs. It's the most adorable thing I've ever seen.

A worse thing couldn't have happened to a better country. Ganbare Nippon!
Saturday, March 12th, 2011
8:48 am
All the newscasters are wearing hard hats.
I'm fine. To tell the truth, I didn't even notice the earthquake. It seems kind of impossible, but Gifu is far enough away that the intensity was only a 2 or a 3 on the Japanese scale, which you can only really feel if you're holding still. I'm pretty sure I was hoisting small children up on my shoulders at the time, and didn't notice a thing. It gradually crept in throughout the day. First there were comments from the few people who had been holding still and noticed it -- "Oh, there was a little earthquake a few minutes ago." "Oh, really?" -- and then rumors from people with iPhones that our little earthquake had been pretty big somewhere, and then Japanese teachers in the office trying to call their relatives and not getting through because the cell phone system in Japan, while awesome, can't deal with the entire country all trying to call someone at once. But I still didn't know how bad it had been until I got home and turned on the news.

The news looks like some kind of science fiction movie right now. There are cars and whole houses being washed away down the street like they were plastic bath toys. A wave of black water filled with broken timbers rolls through rice fields as people frantically try to drive fast enough to get away. A gas storage facility gasping fire. Nuclear power plants declaring states of emergency and evacuating everyone around. Houses flattened. Miles and miles of buildings just burning. And here I am sitting under my kotatsu, eating soup. I feel kind of guilty but mostly just lucky.

It could have been worse. Japan has such strict rules about earthquake-proof buildings that almost all of the damage was caused by the tsunami, not the earthquake itself. If the buildings hadn't been so well-built, Tokyo itself might have fallen down. As it is, pretty much everywhere the water didn't go is managing to pick itself up and put itself back together this morning. The shinkansen is running again. They've gone down to listing the train lines that are closed instead of the ones that are open. All the people who got stuck overnight in Tokyo are going home. Pretty soon these newscasters are going to finally get to go to bed. (The guy reading the news this morning is the same guy who was reading it last night. He looks really tired. And he's still wearing his hard hat.)

As for the places where the tsunami hit . . . . How do you even begin cleaning up something like that? Where do you start? What do you do when your house has been reduced to splinters and your car is up in a tree, and you yourself are waving a pink umbrella at helicopters from the roof of the nearest middle school?

I'm praying for all the people up in Sendai.
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
9:37 pm
I am going to rant now.
I think my life in Japan would be just about perfect if I could only have an oven. A REAL oven. One that goes under the stove and has two shelves and a big, squeaky door and is big enough to cook something that's bigger than a sandwich.

I know that wanting things is pointless, and as soon as you get whatever you want you just start wanting something else. I know that Dai and I are very lucky to even be able to afford a house, let alone one as cool as ours is going to be. I know that, by Japanese standards, my new kitchen is going to be ridiculously huge, and it's already kind of a waste on someone like me who is still resisting the idea of becoming a good cook because cooking is for pathetic housewives.

But I am going to grow up to be a strong, brave woman who is good at EVERYTHING, and cooking is part of everything. And I HAVE promised to get better at it. (Dai lost four kilograms since he started living in my apartment, and it's probably my fault.) And, secretly, I really, really like baking. I've been doing it a lot lately, and even starting to think that it might be fun to be one of those people who doesn't buy anything at the grocery store except raw ingredients. "Well," I would tell people, "you never can tell what's in pre-made foods these days. I know what's in MY cookies, though -- butter, flour and sugar!"


I made cinnamon rolls today and they're all half-burnt because in itty-bitty Japanese ovens it's impossible to put them anywhere that's not too close to the heating element. Japanese companies only deign to make those little microwave/ovens that are 1/4 of the size, four times the price, and have ridiculous touch-screen controls that nobody ever needs or uses. I don't need a steam function. I don't need fancy "Healthy Menu" settings. I don't need special options for every kind of food that you could ever possibly bake. I just want to put all my cookies on one big pan and be done with them in 20 minutes, instead of spending all day cooking them five at a time.

I'm very, very grouchy that I could have a NORMAL oven in my house -- for under $500! -- if only I could find a way to get it delivered to me. And convert the electricity. Or if even ONE Japanese company would get a clue and make one -- just one! It doesn't have to be fancy. All it needs is a temperature setting and an on/off switch. It could even be gas. I wouldn't complain too much. (People commit suicide with gas ovens. And sometimes they make your house explode. But I'd settle if I could bake a loaf of bread that didn't touch the top.) This is not an unreasonable desire! I just. Want. An. Oven.

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
7:52 pm
Once, just once, for the first time in a long time, I want to go to bed feeling proud of myself, thinking, "I did a good job today."

I cook dinner almost every day now, and it's usually some sort of a disaster -- either I make way too much or way too little, or I mix up things that don't taste good together, or I forget to do something important like peel the carrots. Dai doesn't complain. He just gives advice, which in a way is almost worse than complaining because I can't get mad at him for doing it.

And I've been driving a lot, to and from Bruce Homes and all over Gifu to do paperwork and stuff. And when I don't stall the engine 50 times or entirely fail to park, I get lost. Badly. I have a terrible sense of direction and I still don't know the roads around Gifu at all. For any place I haven't driven to by myself before, my average is about three stops at convenience stores to ask for directions. And when I finally manage to arrive at my destination, I'm late.

And then there's teaching kindergarten, which I am still not good at -- I lose my voice every day, I forget things, I can never manage to be looking in the right direction at the right time, and all my activity ideas are either too easy or too hard. Any time I'm certain I have a good idea (such as the two class play ideas I've been excited about all year), it gets shot down by my partner, with a tone of "It should be obvious how stupid this is." Any time I think that THIS time I'm really and truly being helpful, it turns out I'm just getting in someone's way.

I am smart. I am smart. I learn things fast. I remember them for a long time. I understand things that other people think are confusing. I have a lot of good ideas, and I'm good at solving problems in creative ways.

But . . . lately, I just feel stupid. There hasn't been a single day for months where I haven't messed something up, done something dumb, lost something, forgotten something, or made someone mad at me.

I haven't done anything I'm good at for a long, long time.

And it's beginning to drive me crazy.
Sunday, December 5th, 2010
2:43 pm
In Which Laura and Dai Are Both Extremely Impulsive
So, it looks like Crazy Plan #257 is a go. We're buying a house! Not just buying a house. Building a house! We had a big, long meeting with some guys in suits who talked really fast and used a lot of words I'd never heard before, not even on the JLPT Level 1. Luckily, Dai (in addition to being a fluent speaker of Japanese) went to a business high school. It's ridiculous the number of ways in which he is quietly, unexpectedly, efficiently useful. He's like a human Swiss Army knife.

Anyway, Dai got out his official stamp and stamped the papers all over the place -- the top, the bottom, over the edge of the City Hall postage-stamp-thing saying the filing fee had been paid, and at the boundaries wherever two pages came together -- and then this was ours. Or, well, the bank's. But we're allowed to live on it. (If you look on Google Maps, it looks like we bought a parking lot full of cement trucks. But they're not there anymore. Neither is the cement factory that you can see across the street.)

Because the house is going to be a part of the loan, we now have to decide what kind of house we want, so they can tell us how expensive it's going to be -- preferably before the end of December! Eep! So we've been spending all of our days off together being forced to drink coffee in the Bruce Homes model house, poring over pictures of houses with the CEO, Arita-san, and the architect, Sakai-san. (Another reason Dai is awesome is that he likes his coffee black, which means that I can have his milk and sugar. With two creamers and two packets of sugar, it starts to taste like something that might not be poisonous.) We told them we wanted as few walls as possible on the first floor. They kind of ignored us a bit the first time and made something that looks like a typical Japanese house, with one of those long, dark hallways right by the front door where it feels like you have to go half outside of the house to go to the bathroom. (There's a second door into the living room, so none of the heat can get out there in the winter, and you literally freeze your butt off. No thank you!) There were a couple of other random picky things, too, like a bathroom door that looked like a likely trap to smash people looking in the hall closet, but otherwise it was pretty cool. So we drank our coffee and debated, and then Sakai-san went back to his drawing board (perhaps literally?) and we went back home.

And I went back there today, braving Route 21 and its ten million stoplights all by myself (I didn't stall the car even once!) because Dai has to work on a Sunday -- yuck. I got lost (predictably), and Sakai-san even came out to meet me and lead me to their office. I had to drink coffee with just one sugar packet this time. I could admit to hating coffee and demand that they to supply me with tea instead, but I'm doing my best not to be a Demanding Customer in the hopes that they'll forgive me for wanting weird things like an oven and a coat closet. I figure that with anyone you meet, you only get a limited supply of weird requests, so you have to make them count.

Sakai-san had taken out the offending hallway, turned the staircase around, and moved the bathroom door, and suddenly the house wasn't just cool, it was SUPER AWESOME. It's just a tiny little house, really -- much smaller than my parents' house in Pennsylvania, and possibly even smaller than Dai's house, which is cramped and crowded and dark. But it's going to feel huge. The whole first floor is open, so you can see the front door from the kitchen and the living room. It's divided up by the staircase in the middle, but the staircase is going to be open with bannisters, so you can still talk around it and sort of see through it if you're making dinner and you're really curious about what's on TV. There are a ton of windows and two sliding doors into the backyard (THERE'S A BACKYARD!!), and the whole place is going to feel really bright and open and roomy, even though it's secretly really small. And for a tiny house, there are a surprising number of surprisingly large closets, too! Sakai-san said he's always wanted to design a house like this. I told him it was a masterpiece.

(I have to take this moment to say that I still don't feel nearly as grown-up as I sound about all of this. Emotionally, I'm still stuck on "Good grief, I'm building a HOUSE! I have no idea what I'm DOING!" But when you're sprawled on your bed looking at pages of colorful little diagrams, it's very, very easy to forget that it's all actually real.)

I, being a nerd, couldn't resist taking pictures of the diagrams. You can look at them on Facebook here. There's just one thing I can't decide, and that's how the kitchen should go. But I'm kind of too excited to think about that right now. SQUEEEEE!!
Saturday, November 27th, 2010
11:09 am
Big Things
Dai and I have been shopping. For something even more expensive than motorcycles. Even more expensive than COLLEGE.

It started out casually enough, on a rainy, miserable Sunday sometime last year. It was Sunday, so Dai was at my apartment visiting me (we weren't engaged or anything yet, but I officially owned all of his days off), and we didn't have anything to do. It had been raining and being cold and miserable for a long time, and we'd gotten bored of nearly everything there is to be done on cold, miserable rainy days. I was telling him about how one of my college professors (the most awesome newbie neuroscience professor ever, Sarah -- unfortunately, I forget her last name because she said we didn't have to call her by it) said she and her friends used to go out and test-drive cars for fun, because it was free. So we decided to go and test-drive . . . not cars, but houses.

Japan has this really weird real-estate thing going on. Well, I think it's weird because it's different from America. Dai thinks the American system is weird, too. Anyway, they've got these things called house makers. They're companies. Brand names. That make houses. I mean, why not? You've got computer companies, car companies, why not house companies? It kind of makes sense -- especially if you know that, by the previous housing standards (the standards that most houses people are living in today were built under) houses only really last, and are worth something, for about 30 years. (One of the house makers told us that. It may or may not be just part of the sales pitch.) When people move out of their house, instead of selling it to someone else, they usually just knock it down and resell the land. The next person has to build a new one from scratch. When I told Dai that we were the third family to live in our house, he was kind of shocked. "What?" I said. "It's not like they all lived there from the get-go until they moved into nursing homes. The house is only about 50 years old." He was even more shocked. His house, it turns out, is only about 35 years old, and it's been eaten by termites and is vaguely slanted. If you let a handful of marbles go on the floor, they'll all gather in one corner of the room.

So, anyway, there are also house stores. It's like a little fake neighborhood composed entirely of model homes, one from each house maker. You can wander around at your leisure, opening all the closets and poking in all the corners and sitting on all the furniture. Of course, every time you go in a house the salespeople come out of their office and try to convince you it's the best one -- a lot like when you're trying to buy a car. "This house is built of all-natural materials!" "This house is extremely earthquake-proof!" "This house is warm in the winter!" "This house is endorsed by a famous guy!" I mostly just got a kick out of all of the salespeople addressing me as "oku-san," which is what you call other people's wives.

One of the house makers did manage to convince us of something, though -- he invited us to go on a free tour (complete with lunch!) of the Sekisui Heim house factory. (Yes. They have a factory.) It was pretty cool, aside from the constant sales pitch. (They showed us a scary video on the bus about the dangers of defective houses.) There was an earthquake simulator and a special demonstration where they picked up an empty "unit" frame with a big crane and dropped it from 30 meters up. As for Sekisui Heim, I was mostly just impressed by how much of the price of each house must go into buying free lunches and factory tours for other potential buyers.

But, as for houses in general, we kind of got . . . interested. It didn't help that all the house makers had gotten us on their lists, and kept sending us catalogs. And I know that they always talk about how the interest rates are going to go up next year and now is the best time and whatnot, but, what with the whole economic crisis thing and everything, it is kind of true. Kind of, anyway. There's other stuff, too, like how the Japanese government is trying to raise the standards for house-building to the level of most of the other first-world countries, so they're giving out massive tax breaks to people who buy houses that actually have insulation and stuff. (And I refuse to buy one that doesn't. If I get to choose, I don't want to live anywhere where the bathroom gets below 10 degrees in the winter.) And they're thinking about raising sales tax next year, which is a big deal for something as expensive as a house. (Although they might just be spreading that rumor to try to make people buy things and improve the economy. That's my theory.) And then the fact that most house loans are 35 years long, so even if we started this minute we'd still both be retired before we finished.

Anyway, the conversations kind of gradually went from "Hee hee, look at this crazy model house! Who on Earth would actually want to live in a place like that?!" to "Ooh, look, this one has heat-resistant windows!" to Dai investigating the reputation of various house makers on the internet and both of us counting up our savings and talking about how much we would be willing to spend on a down payment. (Sometime in the middle there he proposed to me, and that kind of changed the tone of the discussion a bit, too.) And . . . it sort of seems as if we might have found one. It's called Bruce Homes, and it's a little, cute house maker that makes American-style 2x4 houses. (In other words -- INSULATION!) The company is cute and little and local and refreshingly non-brand-like. They "imported" the style and most of the building techniques from America and Europe, but they get most of the actual materials and stuff from local companies. And they're not all rabid-sales; we thought we were talking with a salesguy at first, but he turned out to be the CEO. Most of their houses kind of look like they might be a cafe or something, but they're cheap and cute and come with an air-circulation system thing that bears a strong resemblance to central heating. (The ducts are plastic tubes and the vents are these round things that look like smoke detectors halfway up the wall, but nonetheless the air goes from one room to another.)

And the Bruce Homes people even went so far as to make us up an envelope of information papers about plots of land for sale in the area. And we, once again having nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon, went on a road trip to go look at all of them. We spent the day trampling through weedy vacant lots one after another, poking around the neighborhoods and imagining. There was a long, skinny one in a neighborhood full of old people, a big, open one smack dab in the middle of a plain of rice fields (except for the giant factory right across the street), a whole block of unbuilt houses out in the countryside behind the kindergarten I work at (but way too far from Dai's work), a huge, swampy lot that used to be a vegetable field, and a bunch of others that we discarded without even looking at because they were too expensive, too far away, or obviously just plain silly.

And then there was the first place we visited, a remarkably cheap little rectangle, the last space in a whole block that's all been sold off to make new houses. (It used to be a cement factory. We looked on Google Maps.) It's right next to the bank of the Kiso River, which would be a bad thing in, say, Duncannon, but there are these giant embankments built all along the river to keep it where it belongs, and even if it did decide to escape, the opposite side is lower -- we checked. A lot of the river embankments in Japan have big roads along them, but this one doesn't -- just a dirt path and a lot of trees. And right across the river, there's a park with a riverwater aquarium and a colorful Ferris wheel that we could see out the second-floor window, if there was a second-floor window instead of just a big square of gravel. And it's astoundingly cheap for a piece of property that comes with all the groundwater pipes and electricity and everything already installed -- probably because it was the last one and they wanted to be finished selling the whole block off; the one right next door is a lot more expensive. (It might also be because there isn't a supermarket within walking distance, but I grew up in Duncannon, so I am not particularly shocked by this kind of thing.)

We both think it's perfect.

I feel like it's all kind of too sudden, too impulsive. (I am a massively impulsive person, so I have learned to be suspicious of myself in situations like this.) But then again, my own parents had already bought a house when they were my age -- as a matter of fact, I think they were on their second one! And, as Dai pointed out, if it's something we plan to do eventually anyway, we might as well get started now, while we don't really have anything else to worry about. Well, we're kind of planning a wedding for next summer, so "anything else" is kind of a relative term, but . . . well, you know. And it's not going to be an extravagant wedding. Aside from the plane tickets to America. Which I'm going to buy today. Eep.

I might be about to do something incredibly scary.
Saturday, November 13th, 2010
6:39 pm
The Spiral Deepens
Some time when I was in high school, I was in a shopping mall with some of my friends, and we were daring each other to try on clothes that we would never even think of wearing otherwise. And I tried on something -- I don't even remember what it was, but I remember it was made of black leather and I was embarrassed to come out of the dressing room in it -- and recieved the dubious compliment, "You know what? You would make a pretty good biker chick." At the time, I was secretly horrified. Biker chick equals motorcycle, equals loud, rough, rebellious, bearded . . . . well, if you're a girl only about a 50% chance of that last one. Maybe not if you're naturally blonde. And there I was, the ultimate geek girl -- braid down to my waist, 30-pound backpack, grades over 100% (that's when you get all the questions right AND do the extra credit), beloved among teachers and derided among peers. My idea of rebelling against society was doing my science fair project about paranormal phenomena. Little did I know.

I often like to think of how that me would react if the current me were to show up. I'm afraid she might be disappointed. I do a lot of things she despised, such as liking music that's popular (although only some of it) and exercising (but it's not to lose weight, it's to prevent Alzheimer's). Not to mention cutting my hair, eating raw fish, cooking, worrying about taxes, and being engaged to a truck mechanic. (She would have approved if she met him, though -- if she could speak to him, which she couldn't since I didn't learn Japanese until college.) But I like to hope she would have seen at least something to look forward to in her future. After all, she is me. And I like my life.

I'm not sure she could forgive me for this, though.

You see, I've bought a motorcycle.

Okay, so it's a little one. It's only got a 50cc engine, which produces less horsepower than my dad's lawnmower. (It's also lighter than my dad's lawnmower, and lacking in the lawnmowing apparatus department, which makes it significantly faster.) I'm not sure what that would make it, officially, in English. Possibly a scooter. But I'm going to keep calling it a motorcycle, because it makes me feel important.

Dai's dad, true to his promise, gave me his old car, a 20-year-old minivan-like thing called a Vamos. But it gets horrible gas mileage and it's big, and stick shift, and hard to park, and likely to fall apart at any moment, so I'd still been riding Dai's old scooter, a Honda Cub, whenever it's not raining. Until it died. It had been acting funny for a while -- in addition to the fact that Dai crashed it about three times in the past and the frame is not exactly straight, it was also having mysterious problems with the speed of the engine. It would randomly just stop running at stop lights, leaving me trying desperately to kick start it in the middle of intersections. But when I first started it, any time the engine was cold, it would rev itself like crazy, making me sound like a juvenile delinquent. And it's got this weird not-a-clutch switch thing that you use to change the gears (it's called a semi-manual, and it's much, MUCH nicer than an actual manual because it's impossible to stall), so before you start going you have to put it in first gear. And whenever I tried to do that with the engine going crazy, no matter how hard I was holding the brakes, it jumped about three feet in the air and tried to run away all by itself. A little too exciting way to start a Thursday morning.

I told Dai and he said it was the carburator, and it probably wasn't worth it to fix. That poor old Little Cub was old enough anyway. He doesn't need it because he has a Super Cub now, which I can't use because it requires an actual motorcycle license and anyway he drives it to work every day. And I have a car, which, in spite of its shortcomings, does not behave like a bucking bronco in the mornings or leave me stranded at stop lights. So -- and here's the big question -- did I really NEED a scooter?

I thought about it. There are a lot of things that make cars better than scooters. For instance, they have walls. Which means that you don't get wet when it rains, you don't get frozen into a giant human-shaped ice cube when it's cold outside, and in the event of a collision there's something there to hit the other car before you do. And they have four wheels, which significantly lowers the possibility of randomly toppling over. Plus, you can sing along to the radio. And carry stuff that doesn't fit in a backpack. And you don't get helmet hair. And you can wear a skirt.

But there are a lot of things that make scooters better than cars, too. Especially in Japan. For instance, PARKING. There is more or less NOWHERE you're allowed to park for free in Japan except shopping centers, and even there the hours are limited, there are weird rules, and someone else has usually taken all the spaces. It's like every day is Black Friday. Plus, I suck at backing up -- it always takes me three or four tries to get properly situated in the driveway. My mother's poor squashed yucca plants can attest to that. It's even worse on stick shift, because I also stall it a lot. So, if I have to go somewhere like inner-city Gifu (heh) where I'll have to back into a tiny, weirdly-angled parking space from a busy street and pay ten dollars per hour for the privilege, I'd much rather go by scooter and use the bicycle parking, which costs a maximum of about $2 per day (when it's not free), is really close to wherever I'm going, and does not involve ever using reverse. (Motorcycles don't even HAVE reverse. You just put them in neutral and push them.) Also, narrow streets. There are actual roads in Japan that normal cars can't fit through, and if you discover one by mistake you have to back up for a long way, causing trouble for everyone else around, until you can find somewhere to turn around and escape. Scooter? No problem. And they're nice for places with lots of traffic, too -- you only need about half the road, so if the person in front of you is doing something annoying like trying to turn right somewhere with no stoplight and two opposing lanes of traffic that's never going to go away, you can just go around them. While thumbing your nose at the cars behind you who have to stop. And if you run into a really bad traffic jam, you can always just turn off the engine and go on the sidewalk -- when the engine's off, you officially become a pedestrain. That's useful for getting lost, too (which is something I do often). When you're in a car and you miss a turn, you have to keep going until you find somewhere else to turn or go around the block, usually leading to massive confusion, getting more lost, forgetting where you were planning to go in the first place, and eventually crying all alone in a convenience store parking lot. When you're on a scooter and you miss a turn, you can just pop onto the sidewalk, walk back to where you were supposed to go, and keep on from there. It's like having a bicycle that's allowed to go on the highway.

Plus, little kids look at you like you are their hero.

Still, that doesn't really mean I NEED one. It would be convenient. It would save enormously on gas. (They get about 60 kilometers per liter, which according to Google is about 140 miles per gallon. A full tank of gas costs under $5 and lasts just as long as in a regular car.) But . . . need?

But then Dai showed me the Honda Solo. It has the exact same engine as that poor old Little Cub, but it's 200% cooler. It's JUST LIKE a bicycle. It even has the bent-around handlebars that some (good) bicycles have so you don't have to hunch up your shoulders. Most scooters (the ones old people ride) have this kind of chair-seat where you can sit with your knees together and your feet on the floor, but, being used to bicycles, I find that makes it hard to balance and steer. The Solo, on the other hand, has its little tiny fuel tank on top, like a motorcycle, where you can hold onto it with your knees, which makes it really stable. It's long, too, and it has really big wheels like a bicycle, which makes it easier to steer than those ones with little tiny wheels. And it's cool -- it LOOKS like a motorcycle, except for the special under-50-cc license plate and the fact that the engine is just a tiny little box.

The only problem? They don't make them anymore! For unfathomable reasons (possily related to the fact that most people who ride scooters are old ladies), it was really unpopular for the three years it was on the market, so Honda gave up and stopped making them. They've become more or less a collector's item. We looked on all the used-bikes web sites Dai knew of, and it seemed there was only one for sale in all of Gifu Prefecture -- and it was really expensive. But then, on a lazy Sunday when we were planning to go shopping in Masa, we drove past the Red Baron bike shop where I got my butterfly helmet and -- lo and behold -- there was one there, just sitting innocently out front.

And I thought, "That's it. God wants me to have a Honda Solo."

So now I do. It was about a thousand dollars, which is a bit expensive for a scooter but not in the unreasonable zone. And it's all silver, which is one of their more boring colors, but I'm starting to kind of like it that way. It's simple and elegant. And it doesn't clash with my helmet, which it would have done if it was orange or something. And it's just generally awesome! It's completely and utterly fun. Like being a kid and riding your bicycle down a big hill, only for a longer time and you don't have to use your sneakers as brakes when you get to the bottom. It's easy to balance, easy to turn, and it doesn't make your shoulders hurt when you ride it for a long time. And the first time I ever rode it, a little boy in the back of a minivan waved excitedly out the back window at me all the way down Nagara Road.

So I think this officially makes me a biker chick. My high school friends' dream has officially come true.

I'm going to need a leather jacket.
Friday, August 6th, 2010
8:57 am
Neener Neener Eek
I finally did it. I finally passed my driving test.

Yes, in case you were wondering, I am 28 and NOT 16, and I have, as a matter of fact, had my license for about 11 years. But this is not good enough for Japan.

I've heard various reasons. America leaves driver's licenses up to the states, not the federal government, so each state has a different test and Japan isn't really keen on combing through them all to find out which states match their requirements. Or, America is strict on immigrants with licenses, and Japan is just reciprocating. (This is the same reason only Americans can't get a working holiday visa here. I guess it is only fair.) Or, it's really hard (and expensive!) to get a license in Japan, and really super cheap and easy to get one in America, so they deliberately make the changeover a pain in the neck to prevent Japanese people from popping off to America for summer vacation and coming back with a driver's license. (It's actually cheaper to fly to America and back than it is to go to driving school here. Honestly.) Either way, if you're from Canada, you can just bring your Canadian license, fill out some paperwork, and they hand you your shiny new Japanese license. If you're from America, you have to take the test.

And the test is EVIL. It's on a course, not on the actual roads like in America. Every driver's license center has one -- it's like a little miniature town, complete with a working stop light, a fake railroad crossing (I would love it if they had a model train or something, but they don't), a couple of hills, some narrow side roads lined with hanging metal bars that swing when you hit them, and a whole bunch of random stop signs. For the real, original license test you have to memorize three different routes around the course, and when you get in the car the instructor tells you which one to do. And then doesn't say anything else for the rest of the time. If you make a wrong turn, you fail. So my test was still easier than the regular test, in that I only had to memorize one route. But still!

Since it's on a course, not in the real world, you'd think that it would still be kind of easy. You don't have to worry about other cars coming or anything like that. (Or, well, there are other people taking the test at the same time. But they're mostly just as nervous as you, and don't dive through red lights at the last minute or any of those other disturbing things that regular cars do.) I guess the people making the test realized this as well, and came up with a solution -- "Let's be super strict about really random things," they said, "like how far away from the curb you are and what order you check the mirrors in, and other things that are completely useless in real-world driving but will nonetheless make our test nice and hard so that people have to really suffer in order to pass it, and this will somehow reduce accidents in the real world, too."

Here's an example: Before you start moving, you have to check underneath the car -- I guess to make sure that all the wheels are still on, or no babies have crawled under there or something -- then get in, lock the door, move the seat up (you have to, even if you already like where it is), adjust the rearview mirror, put on your seat belt (of course), check the turn signal (Both directions!), and check the headlights -- even if it's not dark. THEN you can put on the turn signal and start moving -- after checking all the mirrors, of course. In the right order. That being rearview mirror, left side mirror, left side, rearview mirror (again), right side mirror, right side. Basically, you have to pretend to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

When you turn right, you have to check behind you (rearview mirror, right mirror, right side), signal, wait three seconds and check again, move the car over closer to the center line, then look right and left and actually turn. I asked the guy at the practice center why you have to check behind you so much when you're not even leaving your own lane. He said that that's just how it is. I asked why it mattered which side of the lane you're closer to, since there's only room for one car to be there anyway. He said the same thing. I concluded that this was code for "we just threw that in there to make the test harder to pass." I mean, I've ridden in a lot of people's cars in Japan, and not once have I noticed any of them doing any of this stuff.

The worst and hardest part of the whole thing, though, is not the test center's fault. It's the fact that I have to take the test on a car with a manual transmission -- in order to get licensed to drive cars with manual transmissions, which will allow me to drive Dai's car, which is, in this day and age, a car with a manual transmission. (It was cheap! Because nobody else wanted it.) I may have been driving for 11 years, but I have never driven a stick shift before, and I am bad at it. I don't know what gear to be in when, and I always let the clutch up too fast and stall the engine, and I frequently shift into fourth gear instead of second, and vice versa. I get the impression that, since this is an "easy" test designed to bully people who already know how to drive, I am kind of cheating the system by taking it in a type of car that I don't know how to drive. But there's not actually any rules about it, so they have to let me.

There's a practice center next door to the test center, with an identical course, where you can pay 4,500 yen (which is 1,000 yen more than the test) to drive around the course with an instructor who will tell you exactly what to do. I went there almost every morning, spending a ridiculous sum of money that still isn't even close to what most Japanese people have to spend to get their licenses. And when I came home, I sat in a chair with my eyes closed, holding a plate, looking ridiculous I'm sure, and went through the course in my mind. And I got better. At the course. And yesterday, I finally passed the test! It was my second try, which is apparently still pretty good -- it took Dai 10 tries to get his truck license -- and I stalled the engine twice and was certain I'd failed, but I think the test guy must have taken pity on me or something.

And here I am, with a shiny new Japanese driver's license. And I'm terrified to drive! I've been driving forever, and I've never had an accident (although I got a speeding ticket back in America), and I passed the test, which means that the entire country of Japan concedes that I am fit to be on the road. In addition to the state of Pennsylvania. But the real world is so much different from the test world. In the real world, there are people behind you at stop lights, and they get mad at you when you stall the engine and can't start moving. In the real world, you have to use third, fourth and fifth gear, and I still don't really know where they are. In the real world, you don't get to take five minutes to start moving on a hill with the parking brake, and you have to start moving fast to get through the spaces in traffic, and if you shift into second gear instead of fourth and suddenly slow down a lot somebody might actually hit you from behind.

In other words, Japan, the test isn't working! I slipped through and I still can't drive! Neener neener eek. What do I do now?

It's a good thing Dai is superhumanly patient. I am going to need some more practice.
Friday, July 23rd, 2010
6:33 pm
No More Pencils, No More Books.....
It's summer vacation! Just the sound of those words makes me want to jump up and down. When I think of summer vacation, I think of sundresses, swimsuits, Band-aids, going barefoot, running through the sprinkler, vacuuming ants out of the dishwasher, conducting scientific experiments by putting strange things in the freezer, riding my bicycle around and around and around our little half-mile-long street, and hours upon hours spent playing text-only Memory in Basic with Lindy on our Tandy computer (in color!!) while eating iced tea mix straight out of the container with an ice cube. (Hyeeeeeeeeena! *demented, hysterical giggles*)

But so far this year (my first real summer vacation since becoming a legal adult!) I have been slightly disappointed. That is because, being a legal adult, I am forced, by necessity and a bit of social pressure, to spend my summer vacation doing Legal Adult Things (not THAT kind of Legal Adult Things, you gutterbrain). Here is my list:

1. Renew my visa.
2. Tell City Hall I renewed my visa and make them update my Alien Card. (No, really, that's what they call it.)
3. Get a Japanese driver's license.
4. Finish changing my address. (I moved in April. But Softbank, the Post Office, and the Gifu Police Station -- who gave me my scooter license -- don't know it yet. And probably some other people too.)
5. Change all the things that are set to automatically withdrawal money from my Post Office bank account, because Sunnyside made me get a new one at a different bank.
6. Get all the Japanese paperwork stuff ready for -- Yay! -- marrying Dai.
7. Speaking of which, start planning . . . stuff. (Anybody want to bake me a really big cake?)
8. Get a new cell phone? (I want one JUST LIKE my old one, with all the same buttons in all the same places, only with a TV and a dictionary and the capacity to accept a memory card bigger than 512 megabytes, which they don't sell anymore. They don't sell cell phones like that, though, either.)
9. Bake stuff.
10. Write a novel.

Well, I cheated and ignored all of this stuff the first two days, because Dai had actual days off (!!), so we went to Mino City by scooter to get some special Japanese paper to make flowers out of (I'm not copying off of Lindy, it's just that it's a local Famous Thing and therefore must be incorporated! And they'll be different.) and saw the new Miyazaki movie based on The Borrowers, and then went to the beach. I managed to mostly not get sunburned, by dint of putting on new sunscreen once about every 5 minutes and completely covering myself with towels any time I wasn't in the water. Dai spent the whole morning bragging about how he has an evolutionally superior amount of melanin and doesn't need sunscreen -- and the whole evening complaining about how much his back hurt. I got sandburn all over my legs trying to ride the itty-bitty waves on a kid-sized boogie board, and we followed a crab around for about half an hour.

Okay, so I had a little bit of summer-vacation fun. But after that it was all pain. Things like "get a Japanese driver's license" sound nice and simple on a list, but actually DOING it is a lot more complicated and horrible. It's like one of those video games, where someone sends you to get a magical sword, and you go there, and the dragon tells you he'll give you the sword if you bring him the Water of Life, and then some old lady says she'll give you some Water of Life if you bring back her lost child, and the ogre says he'll give back the child if you bring him the Orb of Night or something, and on and on until the programmers run out of disk space. Before I can change my American license over to a Japanese license, I have to have all of the proper paperwork, and in order to get all of the proper paperwork I have to go to the Japan Automotive Federation and get my license translated by an official License Translator and get my parents to mail me my old passport (from middle school!!) and go to City Hall to get this random form that's so obscure and random and generally pointless that they haven't even bothered to try to think up an English name for it. (It has something to do with verifying the existence of my Alien Card, I think.)

So I spent my first Dai-free day of summer vacation scooter-ing all over the city of Gifu. I went to JAF for my translation, then City Hall to get some random paper about taxes that I needed to renew my visa, then Immigration to renew my visa, then stop off at the house of the coworker whose cat I'm feeding over summer vacation to throw some cat food in the bowl and then dash out the door, then the Gifu Police Station to show them my three-foot-high stack of paperwork just so that they could check it before they let me even make an appointment to try getting my license. I got horribly lost on my way to AND from JAF -- or, in any case, I managed to go from JAF to City Hall by the longest route humanly possible without leaving the country -- and my legs got horribly sunburned (THROUGH my sunscreen), and I didn't have time to eat lunch until after 5. It was just generally kind of horrible. And then I did nearly the same thing for the next two days -- driving school (the Japanese driving test is EVIL and I have to practice for it), cat, the post office, grocery shopping, then today driving school, cat, Immigration (to get my shiny new visa installed in my passport), City Hall (to make them update my card and also talk about some crazy taxes they sent me) and FINALLY here I am back at home -- staring blankly at the internet while sitting right under the air conditioner. It's HOT outside and I don't want to ever leave my apartment ever again.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and the driving school and all the city offices are all delightfully, wonderfully CLOSED!! I'm going to put on a sundress and ride my bike down the biggest hill I can find without using the brakes. And then I'm going to put some soda water in the freezer to see what happens. And then . . . . I wonder if the big, wide internet has any place you can download that Memory game. And I wonder if Valor sells iced tea mix.
Monday, July 12th, 2010
10:20 pm
It's been raining a lot recently. Which is only to be expected, I guess, seeing as it's the rainy season and everything. But this rainy season is a bit different from the rainy seasons I've begun (somewhat) getting used to. It's more . . . violent. It's less like rain and more like there are about a hundred fire fighters up on the roof with all their hoses pointed straight down at you. I'm sure you could use it to tenderize steaks. It's the kind of rain that makes you feel wild and alive -- and, like most other things that have that effect, could probably give you a concussion if you're not careful.

I stopped on the way home from work today just to watch the river. That's one of the best things about going over a bridge on a bicycle every day. You can do that whenever you want. The river these days looks like it's made of chocolate milk. It's brown and deep and churny and dangerous-looking. At the place where it goes around the bridge pillar on my side, there are all kinds of complicated waves and whirlpools swirling around. It looks calm for a few seconds, and then this huge bubble-like mass of water comes blorping up from underneath and breaks into big, dashing waves all around and there are splashes flying everywhere and then it all goes quiet again for another second or two. I feel like if I watch it for a long enough time I might be able to figure out the pattern, but I did and I couldn't.

I haven't been writing anything lately. Because writing is my way of thinking, and I haven't really been thinking about anything lately. Ever since I started this new job, I've been strictly in reaction mode -- watch, listen, learn, act. My entire brain is full of "What am I forgetting to do?" I am great at remembering things. But I am terrible at remembering to do things. If you tell me a story, I can tell it back days later -- not necessarily word for word, but without missing any important parts. I can memorize songs, dances, how to use Windows Vista, what network folder to save pictures in, what time lunch is, all kinds of new Japanese vocabulary -- no problem. But if I have to do something particular at a certain time -- for instance, give somebody medicine after lunch or mail a letter before the post office closes or bring my swim suit the next day or buy toothpaste on the way home -- it's just not going to happen. And, sadly, that is a lot of what being a kindergarten teacher is.

I've decided that I'm good at concentrating. Or, well, more like I'm not good at not concentrating. I feel like I have a certain amount of attention, and if I'm not using it all, I can't be content. For instance, say I'm doing something kind of boring, like writing all of my students' names on their workbooks. That's the worst kind of task, since it takes up just enough attention to prevent you from really thinking about anything interesting, but not nearly enough to be interesting by itself. So I start filling up the empty space. Talking to people is out, since writing people's names requires language abilities (at least a bit), and talking would get in the way. But listening is okay, as long as I'm not really interested in what they're saying. So I start evesdropping on someone nearby. That fills up the language part, but all the non-language parts of my brain are still doing nothing, and unhappy about it. So I start thinking about my handwriting, focusing on what letters don't come out right and why and how I could make them look nicer next time. That crowds out the evesdropping, but it's more interesting anyway, and less similar to what I'm doing, so it's easier. That leaves some more space. I start tapping my foot in a rhythm, and everything is perfect.

This is why I used to draw in class, why I still chew gum, and also probably why my classmates used to think I was a bit weird. It's also more or less been okay up until now. But teaching kindergarten is kind of crazy. You can't concentrate on one thing. Whatever you're doing, you have to keep watching 20 kids to make sure they don't do anything dangerous, and also keep remembering all the special things you have to do, like help someone do an art project they missed when they were absent as soon as they're finished with lunch and get everyone ready for the pool by exactly 1:15 and keep a particular eye on this one kid who never ever finishes his lunch on time and stop every 2 minutes or so to deal with somebody who wants seconds and hear every time someone calls your name and respond appropriately to whatever they say -- usually Very Important Things like "I have a new Spiderman toothbrush!!" or "Look! I put all my vegetables in my tea!". This sounds like it would be similar to the foot-tapping thing. But it's not. Because you have to hold things in your head -- not do anything with them, just hold them there, doing nothing, until it's time to use them. And you can't keep doing the same thing (or the same collection of things, as the case may be); you have to completely change every few minutes or so, drop whatever you're thinking about and think about something else that's completely unrelated. And whatever background activities your brain comes up with automatically to fill up the empty space, you have to stop them and make it do something else that's not perfect -- maybe it's too similar to other things you're doing, or still doesn't take up enough space, or you're not used to it so it takes up too much space and gets in the way of whatever main thing you're trying to think about, or it crowds out all the stuff you're trying to hold there and you forget to do stuff. It's hard. It makes me feel like I'm going senile. Already. And I am determined to be good at it as soon as possible. It's kindergarten, for Heaven's sake, not quantum physics! I can't be bad at teaching kindergarten! I refuse!

And I am getting better. I think. At least, I'm finally remembering how to think for myself, on my own time. Maybe that's because it's almost summer vacation! Which is, after all, the best thing about being a teacher! I can't wait.
Monday, May 31st, 2010
8:14 am
We're on our way home from karaoke with a bunch of people from my old job. I sang all the songs I liked and everybody sang along with me, and tried every flavor of tapioca milk, and now here I am on the back of a motorcycle, going home. I can still taste chocolate milk. My throat hurts just a little bit. The night air rushing by feels good, and Dai is driving just a little too fast, and the moon keeps disappearing and reappearing behind trees and buildings and clouds. The yellow reflectors in the center of the road blur into one long, glowing yellow line beside me. It's cold outside, but I'm being a human seatbelt around a warm human, and it feels cozy and nice. My head is all full of random things. I miss GEOS. I'm still nervous and worried about my new job and paranoid that my new coworkers don't like me. I'm sleepy. I'm going to America next week! And my little sister is getting married. And I love karaoke and want to burst into song again, except that my throat hurts and I'm too busy concentrating on not falling off the motorcycle. It's a beautiful, beautiful night, another one of those moments of perfect contentness in the midst of craziness. This warm human driving the motorcycle is going to be my husband someday, and I'm going to become this thing called a wife, and to be honest I really have no idea what that means or what it's going to be like.

But, right now, I think that it's probably going to be like this. And that makes me happy.
Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
8:48 pm
Shiny New Things
I am in love with my daily commute.

I hated it at first. That was before I realized that 1) it doesn't actually take all that much longer by bicycle than it does by scooter, once you factor in the putting-on of helmets and the like, and 2) there was a way to avoid the busy highway with no sidewalks. And it was a much pleasanter way, too. It takes about 20 minutes, which is enough time to get warm in the winter but not enough time to get sunburned in the summer. And it goes through a slice of countryside so ridiculously peaceful and idyllic that it feels like the opening to a musical. There's a little river, one of those Japanese man-made mini-rivers that's used for watering rice fields, and probably empty for part of the year. It reminds me of the Lazy River ride at water parks. It's about the same size and shape. Except there are willow trees with their fronds trailing in it in a picturesque way. And there's an elementary school, where in the morning all the elementary school students walking to school say "good morning" to me (in Japanese! Yay!) because they are well-trained and polite elementary school students from the countryside who are taught to always greet people. And there's a big, flat valley full of rice fields, where I cycle over those really narrow between-the-rice-field roads, and it doesn't matter which one I take because I can always see exactly where I'm going because it's perfectly flat, and it smells nice and in the evening there are lots of cute old people walking their dogs. (There will probably be hoardes of giant mosquitoes soon, though. Oh well.) And I go over the Nagara River on a RED bridge! And there are cormorant-fishing boats tethered up below, and they are special ones, because I happen to know that between my new red bridge (otherwise known as Aikawa Bridge) and the next bridge down, only the Emperor is allowed to eat the fish that they catch. And there's a tiny scary part with no sidewalk, but most of the cars are nice to me and go all the way over to the other side if they can, and there's a cute little supermarket with really cheap vegetables, and every evening the same old lady and university boy are working there, and they know me now and smile at me when I buy stuff. (As a result, I buy too many vegetables. Oh well. They're good for me.) And there's a street of peaceful houses with big vegetable gardens, where every evening I see the same cat, a white manx cat with black spots, patrolling the street. And almost every morning there's an old man who does warm-ups before he goes to work in his garden. (I know that's what he does afterward, because he always has his garden tools out and ready in front of him.) And there's a day care center with a playground across the street, and in the evening I can see the kids running out to meet their mothers. And there's a little trail that goes around one of those mini-mountains you can see all over Japan, where I can smell the forest and crunch fallen sticks under my bicycle tires, and then there's my kindergarten, all cheerful and yellow on the other side of a bunch of rice fields. Every day except Thursdays, when I have to ride Dai's scooter because I have to teach an after-school class at a different kindergarten, I pedal along through this ridiculous excess of idyllic-ness trying very hard not to burst into song.

Much to my surprise, I'm already starting to kind of like my new job, too. It's cute. EVERYTHING is cute. The buses are cute, with their ridiculously small seats and the cute color-coded decorations on the side and the way the students are taught to thank the bus driver when they get off. The little tiny tables and chairs are cute. The birds' nests in the rafters of the outdoor walkway are cute. (Although I've been told that when the eggs hatch I'll have to start cleaning bird droppings off the top of the shoe shelves.) There are even cute, extra small toilets for the kids, with stall doors that don't even come up to my shoulder. And my students, of course, are adorable. Noisy, but adorable. I get to play with them at the beginning and end of the day and at lunch time, and they speak adorable little English to me -- usually while trying to climb up my legs. Every time I sit down, three or four of them suddenly appear in my lap. They sometimes make me jewelry and cell phones out of Lego blocks.

That's the fun part. The not-so-fun part comes when I have to try to make them do what I want. I have to make them do things like sing songs, play games, do craft projects, serve each other lunch, go to the bathroom, come back from the bathroom, line their shoes up neatly when they take them off, share their toys, and write the letter A 15 times in a row. Of course, Ai-sensei helps me with most of that. Which, so far, mostly just serves to demonstrate -- painfully -- how much better she is at it than me. I'm not sure how much of it is because they don't understand English as well as they do Japanese, and how much of it is because I just don't have the proper SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ME aura, but whenever I'm teaching something, Ai-sensei has to rescue me repeatedly. I'll start talking and the noise level will start going up and up, and even if I stop and glare at them and tell them I'm waiting for them to be quiet, they just don't get the hint. And then Ai-sensei says, quietly and peacefully, in Japanese, "Laura-sensei is trying to explain something to you, but I can hear too many extra voices," and suddenly it's so quiet you can hear the bird outside rearranging the bits of lint in the bottom of her nest. I don't know how she does it. She's not even scary! She's the sweetest, most adorable little kindergarten teacher I've ever met, and I haven't once heard her raise her voice. I'm going to have to practice my mind-control gaze.

I do miss my adult classes. I miss some of them a lot. But kindergarten teachers are also interesting adults, and I get to hang out with them quite a bit, after school and when we're preparing for lessons and when we're cutting out hundreds and hundreds of little green felt flowers and stuff. So that's fun. And it's kind of fun being a kindergarten teacher. It's just the image. People pretty much just remember kindergarten teachers from when they were in kindergarten themselves, back when they thought that teachers lived in the school or something and were shocked by the idea of them having toes on their feet, let alone houses and families of their own. (Example: Ai-sensei told one of our students who's obsessed with trains that she takes the shinkansen to visit her parents. His response: "Pffft! You don't have parents! Stop kidding!") So even adults are kind of irrationally shocked when they discover you, a kindergarten teacher, doing things like going roller skating or riding a motorcycle. (Okay, scooter. It's top legal speed is about 20 miles an hour. But it LOOKS like a motorcycle, and people who aren't actually riding it sometimes can't tell the difference. Especially if they're four years old.) Also, 'kindergarten teacher' carries with it the connotations 'upstanding citizen,' which is kind of handy when you're a member of a minority group stereotypically known (sadly, somewhat deservedly) for binge drinking, disturbing the peace, and tracking mud into places where you're supposed to take your shoes off. "Oh," you say, "but I'm a kindergarten teacher." "Oh, well, that's all right, then. YOU can come in my bath house." Or so I imagine. I'm eager to try it out.
Monday, March 29th, 2010
11:29 pm
Sometimes when I'm lonely . . .

It tells you to kayak across the Pacific Ocean.
9:39 pm
I know where I'm going to live!!
And it's here:
Google Map

And I'm going to have the internet, and a refrigerator, and all kinds of useful stuff, and it's apparently BIG, and it's kind of close to Dai's house, and it's NOT close to a big shopping center so I won't be tempted to buy stuff. Because I've been packing my stuff to move and I have become extremely disgruntled with how many possessions I have and have vowed not to get any more. Oh, and there's a mountain across the street! From which centipedes will no doubt descend to attack me. But Mia will protect me. And at least I'm on the second floor! I'm also allowed to spend April Fool's Day moving in (unless it's all just a joke), and some of my very nice coworkers who live just upstairs are going to help. (Oh, and Dai is going to bring a truck. Possibly just as an excuse to show off. He has so many driver's licenses it's not funny. There are only about three vehicles left in all of Japan that he's NOT allowed to drive.) I'm actually starting to look forward to this!!
Friday, March 26th, 2010
11:36 pm
Today I . . . .
Rode a scooter on the road!! It was crazy and fun and SCARY!! Especially going through a tunnel and turning right and getting passed by big huge buses. But I didn't die or kill anyone! So I win.

Had a meeting at my shiny new job. It's cute and everyone's nice and I still don't know where I live.

Raced back to my old job just in time to teach a class.

Suddenly realized that I didn't have my house key anymore.

Called my new job. It was lying on the ground there.

Raced back to the new job (ANOTHER half an hour on a scooter in a suit), got my keys, and raced straight back to my old job to teach another class.

Didn't eat lunch until 5.

Had to say goodbye to my favorite students ever! And they made me a CARD and they wrote it in ENGLISH and I LOVE them both and I can't believe I'm never going to see them again ever and I'm going to miss the moment when they realize that they are madly in love with each other and invite me to their wedding! (They're 9 and 10 right now, by the way. But they're totally going to get married someday. English teachers know these things.)

Still have not finished cleaning up my apartment and packing.

Have to do the whole thing again (hopefully minus the key-losing!!) tomorrow. GAAAH!! ::flop::
Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010
9:52 am
I can fix everything! Suspend your disbelief.
I am contemplating something extremely crazy. I am contemplating having two jobs. This might be a result of the same masochistic streak that made me decide to have a double-major with two part-time jobs in college, or take so many classes in high school that I didn't have lunch one day of the week. (The Guidance Office made me sign a special consent form and everything.) I kind of thought I'd freed myself of it, but, well, here I am. I've got a kindergarten that wants me to become a kindergarten teacher starting on April first (unless it's an April Fool's joke....), and an English conversation school that does not have a replacement for me, and most likely can't find one in just a month. I've gotten a lot of advice along the lines of "Ditch 'em anyway!", but I've worked there for more than three years and I can't do that to my students OR my coworkers.

So here comes my brilliant, crazy, masochistic plan: I'll become a part-time teacher at the English conversation school, while working full-time at the kindergarten. This is not as impossible as it sounds. The English school is from 12-9, Tuesday to Saturday, and the kindergarten is from 9-5, Monday to Friday. But the most popular classes at the English school are the ones in the evenings and on Saturdays. A lot of my afternoon students are leaving in April anyway, either moving away or quitting to start a new job or school or something. The rest can be more or less easily gotten rid of into other classes that Rachel and Sam (the new teacher, not Lindy's boyfriend) are already teaching. That leaves the classes from 7-9 in the evening, and the classes on Saturday. I could still teach those. It would be crazy. It would be BUSY. But it wouldn't interfere with sleeping eight hours a night OR eating three meals a day, and I'd even still have a few hours of free time every day. So it's not like it would kill me. And I'd make a lot of money. AND not have time to spend it all! So, savings. And, as for the conversation school, it would be a lot cheaper for them to support me as a part-time worker than a full-time one, so they'd be getting a bargain.

This crazy plan hinges on one other crazy plan, which is getting a Japanese driver's license. Before April first. Because it takes slightly over an hour to bike from the kindergarten to my shopping center. (I tested it.) And, while that is healthy and good for the environment and whatnot, it's no fun when it's raining. It also cuts into my dinnertime.

Now, Japan is just as crazy as I am, and before I can even TRY to get a driver's license (they don't trust America, so I still have to take a road test), I have to produce:
My American license, with a copy of both sides.
A Japanese translation of my American license, from either the Japanese Automobile Federation or the American Embassy.
My driver history, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. (Luckily, this can be gotten online.)
You guessed it -- a Japanese translation of my driver history.
My passport.
My OLD passport, from middle school. Which, as far as I can remember, America destroyed when I got my new one. Oops?
A photocopy of pretty much every page of both passports.
Some other ID card, plus a copy of it.
My Japanese Alien Registration card. And of course a copy.
Something called a Tourokugenpyoukisaijikoushoumeisho. The web site fails to explain what this is OR where you can get one.
A 3 x 2.4 centimeter photo. Of me. Duh.
3,400 yen.

Wish me luck!
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