Thursday, February 14, 2008

Time Flies When You're Married



Sayaka and I are celebrating our one month anniversary of marriage. It seems strange to be saying that after five years together (although two of which were apart because of long distance), but here we are.

It's interesting to note that we haven't had any fights since the wedding, not even a little disagreement. I'm not certain, but I think we got all the major kinks out during our overly long engagement period. It was long, but it needed to be.

There's more going on in a multi-cross-cultural marriage. It's not just about you... it's about you and everyone you effect, and throwing in an entire new culture into the mix creates an innumerate amount of obstacles and responsibilities you didn't have before. It sort of forces you to have dual identities, and you have to consider all the angels from each side, because if you neglect one culture or put one above the other, eventually it will be your failure to meet the demand of one or the other that will ruin your relationship.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear people who 'young and in love' say they've never had a fight. Obviously, these kids are in for a huge surprise when they lift the blinders and find out that they're involved with a freak, or worse still, a carbon copy of their mother/father.

Fighting is important in any relationship. Wait, I know what you're thinking... what is he off his rocker? But I can assure you, it's the truth. Of course I don't mean violence and abuse, because these things are always detestable, but in general minor squables, argueing, and ironing out the kinks teaches you how to better communicate and interact with your life partner. If you've never fought with your lover, then I doubt there's much love there at all to begin with. Just two people sharing a room and breathing the same air.

Real love involves passion, and passionate people often have strong feelings and opinions, and if they don't agree, well, then they don't agree. We're not obligated to always agree with our partners. And giving into your lovers every whim is just as dangerous as never catering to them --again it's about communication. And the more you are able to communicate yourself to your partner, the more apt you'll be able to deal with any situation which should arise.

With this said, I feel I should add that I didn't marry because of love. Or rather, I didn't marry because I was in love with being in love. Certainly love was part of the equation, but I married because I found a friend that I couldn't do without. Just like when you are hanging out with your best mates you may find one in particular you click with better than the rest with never a sour moment between you both. Every time you're together newfound adventures await you. These true friends are rare whereas superficial friends come by the bucket load. Yet real genuine soulmates --people you grow up with, spend your life with, and more importantly, whom you want to be a part of your own life... these are extremely rare.

I just happened to luck out and found mine. I only had to travel to the other side of the world, learn a foreign language, and try to charm a girl from an entirely different culture. But it was she who put the charm on me instead, and I've been under her spell ever since. More importantly, my soulmate turned out to be an extremely hot Asian chick. What a break!

It's true, we get on wonderfully, and we have all the passion in the world. So I suppose love was inevitable. Furthermore, we have a splendid time in each other's company --laughing together, being witness to one another, experiencing life together, and sharing the precious moments --all of them more meaningful when you have someone to share them with.

As for the lonely souls out there, don't give up on hope. God may not play dice with the universe but I'm positively certain Cupid does. So if you're lucky enough to go the way of Eros, as I have been, then my only advice is to cherish every moment because it won't come again. Until then, make the best of your time and don't wallow away into misery, because that's just pathetic, and well -to be frank- it's a major turn off. What it really means is that you're probably too uninteresting to have anything better to do, basically meaning a royal bore. So chances are, unless you get out there and put yourself on the line in order to make some meaningful relationships... love is going to pass you by. Not because you are undesirable, but because you choose to be. And that's no way to pick up chicks. Trust me. Love takes a bit of work, actually a lot of work, and even more so if you're ugly. So get to it, and happy Valentines Day!


Sunday, February 10, 2008

A LITTLE NET NANNY NONSENSE

Some more wedding photos accompany the recent Blogs. Please enjoy them as an extra bonus peek into our wonderful ceremony! As for the blog content, it's on Japan, but mostly unrelated to the wedding. More wedding Blogs will be on there way as soon as I finish editing some more photos for easy viewing, so stay tuned!

This week my school upped their website blocking, so now with the upgrade I can’t visit 90% of the sites I used to. This means my daily news reading time will be cut down quite substantially. Not that my NET browsing interferes with work, because it doesn’t. And this NEC work computer is old and ready to explode (or implode –whichever happens first) I wouldn’t dare download any programs on it. However, I had been using it to find some photos for Power Point presentations and the occasional desktop picture to keep things exciting.

Yet to my surprise, as I tried to view the pages I’ve visited every morning for the past two years, I was shocked to find I was denied access –not to just one or two of the sites but to all seven. It’s almost as if they decided I was wasting valuable time by staring at my monitor every morning catching up on world events as sip tea and wait for classes to begin. I wouldn’t be complaining except for the full hour of free time I have every morning with nothing to do before classes begin –I figured the news, a little in the know of what’s happening around the world, was the best thing to start my day off with.

Japan is pretty isolated as an island, but also in terms of how globally minded it is. I’ve found world events mean very little to the Japanese. Not because they don’t care but because they’ve chosen a neutral stance in global politics and with such a strong economy they really don’t need much of anything. This creates a very closed-off island mentality that can be down right infuriating. The Japanese are even aware of this closed-mindedness and have a saying “Ino nakano kawazu” which literally means “the frog at the bottom of the well can’t see” –or in other words, tunnel vision is limiting to the understanding of the world around you. Such is the case with certain people in this country –apparently including those who run the news networks.

Thus without the Internet news briefs a person could go out of their mind not knowing what’s happening in the world. Just to think my grandparents never even had this worry. The world was a much smaller place. Ah…simpler times. However, although I do enjoy the carefree atmosphere of Japan, I do care about what’s going on in my home country –especially with the Presidential candidates going full swing into the race for the White House. Even though it gets reported in Japan… they care more about whether the candidates like to eat Japanese food and the news reports are always sort of limited and queer, so it’s a good idea not to depend too much on Japanese news. Thus the Internet plays a big role in keeping me Globally awake to what’s happening in the world. “Savvy?” As captain Jack Sparrow would say.

But it’s in my contract that I show up at 8 AM, and as I was taught it’s better to be early than late, so here I am promptly 10 minutes early each morning waiting for my day to begin before the class bell rings at 8:45. I guess from now on I’ll just have to bring a book. Or two, or three… since I tend to go through that many a month on average anyway. I might actually crack open my copy of “The Fairy Queen” and get some serious reading in.


ABOUT WORKING IN A JAPANESE SCHOOL


Japanese schools are interesting. The teachers will arrive at around six to seven A.M.nine P.M. (on average). Although, don’t feel bad for them, because they’re not being worked rugged like teachers in America. All Japanese school systems are fully government regulated, and the job is as high paying and as cushy as a government job as you can get. Unlike the poor American teachers –which is a pay-check to pay-check job with too many hours of overtime for little to no benefits. That’s the great thing about being a teacher in Japan. and stay until around

Better than this is being an ALT (assistant language teacher) in Japan. As such I make good wages and am not obligated to pull the long hours. My duties are very lax, and I have more free time than I know what to do with, which means I can spend more time doing fun projects and engaging my students in a bit of cultural exchange. Even the regular teachers find they have too many hours and not enough work.

Since the Japan government governs their school systems with a strict series of mandates they officially hand down every textbook, lesson plan, and testing schedule, and so other than the occasional Open Class for the P.T.A., the teachers have very little to prepare for.

This can be a good or a bad thing depending on the quality of teachers at the school. Lazy teachers will chit-chat all day long (if the principal and vice-principal aren’t exceedingly strict), while other more energetic teachers will put in an astonishing amount of effort. This may be why Japan is broken up into low-academic and high-academic schools. The good schools get good teachers and more funding too.

When testing into High school for example, good test scores will allow a student to attend a fancy ivy-league-school-type academic institution. The rest of the knot heads, however, will have to attend the more or less decrepitated and lackluster institutions. It’s no wonder then such emphasis is put on standardized testing in this country. However, this is something I personally think needs to be amended –as it in no way fairly determines the genuine intelligence of a person, but greatly hinders their future opportunities –unfairly so. Also the indeterminate amount of stress on a child can’t be healthy, and truth be told, the amount of studying for test-prep and examination doesn’t seem to improve the students I.Q. efficiency when compared to alternative teaching methods and learning styles.

A good example of teachers who go above and beyond would be my own schools science teacher, Nakawa sensei. I remember my first day as a new ALT here well, because Nakawa sensei was building a real breathing mannequin. In fact, I thought it would end up being a robot. It is this kind effort which I admire.

Of course, with all the hours the teachers are required to put in here… they have more than enough time to do a little more and go the extra mile. Or, at the very least, they get paid for their hard work. Meanwhile, I still find a lot of leeway for discussing the newest issue of my favorite manga, such as Naruto and One Piece, with the really cool lady P.E. teacher Shimada sensei, who sits beside me.

Speaking of cultural differences in school, the first week of teaching in Japanese classes was a little strenuous for me. I thought the children had a major disciplinary problem, because they kept looking over onto their neighbor’s papers and copying the answers or whispering over their shoulders to their friend sitting behind them. It wasn’t just one or two students either, it was everybody! And the Japanese teachers just went on ignoring it as if nothing was going on!

I kept telling students to sit down and do their work, but normally my advice went completely ignored –by everyone. Then when one student would get out of control the teacher ignored that too. I was really shocked, but I was coming from the American system. In America In college the punishment is even more severe often ending in expulsion or academic probation. Of course American children are constantly made to feel a failure because they don’t quite grasp the subject, or else are too lazy to put any effort into studying. But I can’t forget that we’re constantly being taught to rely on ourselves, and nobody will pick up our slack for us. Think for yourselves, make your own dreams come true, but we never question why we’re never told to work together or rely on other’s charity –which without we could not do. during school, if I ever got caught cheating by copying or asking for the answers I would have been scolded and received detention.

Nevertheless, in Japan lazy kids are lazy with no repercussions. And the one’s that just don’t get it will still ask the ones that do for the answers –and the weight of their burden is carried on other’s shoulders. Thus team effort becomes vital in Japanese society, because social solidarity relies on everyone working together instead of just for the self. The selfish ones get left behind –and they have nobody but themselves to blame. In America these types always try to blame everyone else, because why could they –who have been brought up only to consider themselves and rely on themselves, how could they ever be wrong? No child left behind can be a daunting task when you find one child who deliberately wants to be left behind. In Japan the others pick them up and carry their fellow person, no matter how useless, because that’s what they’ve been taught to do. I’m not here to judge which system is better or worse, because I personally feel they are the two extremes. One is too overly focused on the self that it doesn’t have room for others, and the other is so concerned about other’s needs that it can’t even think for itself. A happy medium would be nice, but that’s just my opinion –take it or leave it.

At first I thought all of my students were a bunch of cheaters. But only gradually did I find that they worked communally –as a group. Something which I couldn’t grasp having been raised in a very individualistic mind set of ‘me, me, me… depend on me’. I really didn’t have a clue as to how ‘copying’ could motivate students to do better. Now I know that letting students communicate and share freely in class improves overall class grade averages.

Yeah, I know… that concept sounds weird. But because the kids all work in a communal manner they get to benefit from one another’s general knowledge. That standard never seems to change, however. Unlike America –genius is not allowed in Japan. It’s held back and curbed at every turn –which makes for a very bland yet very homogeneous culture. True genius is dangerous in such a uniform society. Mainly because it would disrupt the general knowledge standard –and the government would be forced to cater to the individual, reissue all of the textbooks to meet the needs of that one individual –thus breaking the communal system and upsetting how Japanese society functions. Sorry, but in Japan you’re only allowed to be genius on your own time. Everyone else is held back or brought up enough to meet the unchanging standards of the education system. Japan literally is the perfect model for no child left behind, but at the cost of never having a Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Elvis Presley, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, or any other extremely gifted or unique individual. They can all be moderately genius together, or not, together (of course this doesn’t account for the problem true genius when it arises –because although it can be curtailed early on—it can’t be denied or written out of our D.N.A).

Although there can be instances where a student abuses the system and takes more than what they are contributing to (class &/or society). Never underestimate peer pressure in a Japanese classroom, or in Japanese society in for that matter. It is enormous and unavoidable. Although they may not have eccentric genius springing up everywhere, utter and unflinching conformity is highly valued in Japan. Probably too much so.

For example, if one student constantly bothers others or hinders the class, or disrupts the class too much, the other students will eventually team up on him/her and give that person a brutal dose of their mind. Sometimes this comes in the form of in-class humiliation –a little bit of ego deflating. In these cases everyone can share in a round of point and laugh at the idiot –and this tends to send the clear message of, “Get your act together.” Other times it can come in the harsher form of bullying. Something which teachers are always on the lookout for. In schools with no discipline bullying can run amuck –and peer pressure bullying is often the case for child suicide in Japan. But it generally is just a harmless bit of banter directed at the worst abusers.

Certainly I learned a lot my first few weeks of class. I learned to be patient and not get annoyed when I would ask a student a direct question like, “What did you do on the weekend?” only to find them suddenly turned around in their seat facing their friend behind them asking them the answer to the very same question. In retrospect it’s kind of comical, but it is their way, and so it is a force of habit.

GREETINGS IN JAPANESE & ITS IMPORTANCE IN JAPANESE CULTURE


It took nearly half a year for me to make such minor adjustments and learn what was similar and what was dissimilar from my own culture—as well as what was expected of me and what wasn’t. Many things such as morning greetings, in which the Japanese will repeatedly greet each other with a cheerful “Ohayoo Gozaimasu!” even if they had already greeted you once or twice already, seemed to me a complete waste of time. Although harmless this needless banter really got under my skin (without my meaning it to, of course). Chalk it up to culture shock but I wasn’t used to having to repeatedly repeat myself for no good reason. Whereas in America you say ‘good morning’ once and if you see the same person again you needn’t bother saying ‘good morning’ a second time. It was a minuscule adjustment, but big enough to cause me some distress and really evaluate why I was being so irritated by it. Was I really that impatient of a person, or was it really just one of those little things so distinctly Japanese that I couldn’t force myself to fully adapt to it? Well, you’ll be glad to know I eventually did adapt, even though I still find the Japanese overly liberal with their greeting habits.

You might be shocked to learn that on average I say good morning approximately seven times every morning just having walked through the door. Each day I walk into the office I shout out a cheerful “Ohayoo Gozaimasu” and get numerous “good mornings” in return. The odd thing is when the school hour begins the Principal will address everyone with “Good morning,” and we reply. Next the vice-Principle will update us on any news or school events, but before he does he reiterates “Good morning,” and so do we. And next comes the teacher’s announcements…good mornings from all, and so on and so forth.

Not only this, but to think that I haven’t even said good morning to my students yet –which I will do in the hallway, and at the start of every class, and each time they enter the teacher’s office. I hope this is beginning to better illustrate what it’s like, but consider that we haven’t even gotten to the afternoon greetings yet.

Of course now I just sort of tune it all out and say the greetings as if on autopilot. But becoming accustomed to the numerous and multiple greetings, initially, took me some getting used to. Although, now and again, on certain formal occasions such as school assemblies, or P.T.A. meetings, and the like it can get completely out of hand. Instances in which I have to greet/stand/bow—greet/stand/bow—greet/stand/bow, etc., etc. still irritate me, and not because I find it a total waste of time and energy, but because there are only so many greetings a person can say before it does become meaningless. However, it doesn’t seem to bother me as much as it once did. Now I can simply put on my fake smile (something the Japanese excel at) and be polite to the worst of them, as if to say, “I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” It’s also given me more patience, and so, I guess during my stay in Japan I have benefited from a little etiquette discipline.