Fan Mail Q & A

“Brandon, this is your mother. If you don’t update your blog, you can say goodbye to care packages from home.”

Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration…my mother never sends me care packages. No hard feelings, though – I am slowly getting used to no longer receiving “XOXO” notes in my school lunch. Truthfully, many people have been nagging me to write a post, which is quite flattering. Alas, my devoted blog readers, I, like my mother during Christmas letter writing season, have writer’s block. I suppose this is a bad and good thing; I am leaving you in the dark with my lack of communication, but perhaps living in Japan is starting to feel normal. Which unfortunately means sushi and squat toilets just don’t have their new-fangled glamour anymore. However, lacking a blog post, you all stepped up in asking a myriad of questions about my Japanese lifestyle, which in turn gave me inspiration to write a post!  Thank you for helping me find my inner Steinbeck, Stine, Seuss, whichever. So without further ado, here are the answers to your various inquiries.

What time is it there?
11:09 AM. 6:09 AM in Dubai. 9:09 PM  yesterday in DC/Ohio. 6:09 PM yesterday in California.

How’s it going?
Pretty relaxed. My kids are still awesome. The weather is still chilly. Preparing to go to Thailand in a few days.

What? Thailand?!
Yep. 5 of us are headed over there for 2 weeks for a Thai Christmas and New Years. We’ll be seeing the sites and eating delicious food in Bangkok, trekking in the northern hills of Chiang Mai, and relaxing on the southern beaches of a few Thai islands.

Isn’t it dangerous?
The airport has been open for a couple weeks now and a new government is in the making (which I don’t know makes it any more safe), but I think we’ll be fine. I won’t pack a yellow shirt, just in case.

I know you’ve said this before, but what exactly do you do again?
I am living in Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. The “T” is pretty obvious – I am teaching English in a junior high school, two elementaries, and two kindergartens. The “Exchange” aspect is a bit harder to define because it deals with that ambiguous yet important term: “grassroots internationalization.” I like to think the “E” in JET  means my kids teach me to make sushi and I show them how to fry peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

What age kids are you teaching?
3 through 15 year olds. As back home, the kindergardeners are ridiculously cute, elementary schoolers are full of energy, and the junior high students, as one teacher aptly put it, are kids trying to be adults, so they’re just crazy.

Wait, how are you teaching them English when you hardly know any Japanese?
Hey now, my Japanese is moving along swimmingly. I’m just about at the proficiency of a dog; I can usually respond if spoken directly to, with simple commands. But, when my Japanese fails me (as it usually does), I rely on my Japanese English teachers. In every class I work with at least one other teacher, known in the educational world as “team teaching.” It usually ends up that Japanese is spoken in my classes about 80% of the time anyway, so it’s really more of a lesson for me (although most of my kids do make a concerted effort to speak English when they’re around me).

Are there many other teachers that you hang out with?
Almost all of the extracurricular hang out time with teachers occurs during enkais, or work parties. This is a chance for teachers to let their hair down and enjoy sashimi, sake, and (at least for me) observing coworker behavior that is never displayed during working hours. I’ve discovered that it only takes about a beer to 1) get many of the teachers drunk, and consequently turn bright red in the face, and 2) instill them with enough courage to test out their English skills (which are surprisingly good). Similarly, a few cups of warm sake in me and I’m suddenly fluent in Japanese. The combination makes for very entertaining conversations. (I should also note that Japanese sake is much better than what I’ve had back home. I don’t know how my friend and I managed to drink an entire bottle of it…microwaved)

Outside of enkais, my social life revolves around the fellow JETs in my area. An abridged description of this rag-tag group:

In Shichinohe
Courtney – 3rd year JET, my Big Sis in the program, is smitten with the Joker from The Dark Knight, and has helped me out of many an awkward situation at the onset of my Japanese experience.
Taka – 1st year JET, lives in my apt. building, Halo 1337 hackz0r, loves a good dance party, and can usually be found playing 6-8 online poker games simultaneously (at home and at work).

In Towada (about a 20 min. drive away)
Aaron – 1st year JET, Canadian (and therefore a big proponent of saying “oot and aboot”), kendo master, and has an extremely eclectic music selection, including Japanese reggae metal.
Allie – 2nd year JET, has the much-coveted knowledge of the best places to buy/light your own fireworks, how to bake cookies in a toaster over, and where to find the tastiest raw horse meat in the city.
Bryan – 1st year JET, my spooning partner in San Francisco and Tokyo, king of trivia, and his arch-nemesis is the ostrich at his agricultural high school.
Juliet – 2nd year JET, South African (and therefore insists “tekkie” and “jol” are real words), skilled artist, and when drinking, enjoys bidding ridiculous amounts of money for absurd things.

What else is new?
Well, a few weeks ago I was in a kimono contest. Layers and layers of stifling clothing and painfully small wooden sandals aside, it was quite an experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t win (although it was a big hit when the lanky gaijin spoke some local Aomori dialect during the interview portion). For participating, though, we all received pictures of this bizarre dancing albino man.

Albino man

Also, Taka, Court, and I recently went to Tokyo. Humongous city, lots to do and see, and (very unlike Shichinohe) many nightclubs and dancing to be done. It was an awesome, exhilarating, and exhausting time, but truthfully, I am glad to be back to laid-back life in Shich.

Plenty. They’re all around the age of 40 and married. Awfully nice women, but haven’t done much for my love life. I’ll let you know when it comes out of hibernation.

Have you seen The Wire?

Oh, well the 4th season is about a guy teaching school in the inner city and one girl in his class slashes another one’s face with a razor blade. Has anything like that happened in your class?
Wow, fortunately, no. But I have been kancho’d. As the picture depicts, it is quite a popular pastime among Japanese youth.
The Kancho
On my first day at one of my elementary schools, after being kancho’d, I looked back to see the perpetrator give a sly look and blow over the tips of his forefingers, as if blowing smoke from a gun barrel. I have since nicknamed him Mr. Bond.

That’s it for now. Please don’t hesitate to send any more inquiries my way. I’ll be sure to respond as promptly as I did for these.



2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ko-te-ni on December 20, 2008 at 8:44 am

    I’m not the one who can do the awesome mob-meeting-crashing-Joker laugh. Admit it. Deep down, you’re pretty smitten yourself.


  2. Posted by rrrika on December 22, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    I just used the word “swimmingly” before reading your blog.

    and you KNOW the reason things with the ladies have been put on hold. I’m sure there is a copy you can buy on the streets with dubbed voices and inserted sushi scenes…


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