In high school, I applied to an exchange student program. It would send some students from Torrance to Japan during summer vacation. I don’t remember how long it would last for, but the students would be sent to Kashiwa, which is Torrance’s Sister City in Japan.
Unfortunately, my application arrived at the Torrance City Hall too late—because apparently the USPS is completely incompetent and took nine days to carry my application 3 miles. So I didn’t get to go to Japan.
For a long time, it seemed like any attempt I made to travel to another country was going to be stopped by something. I was going to go to Costa Rica with my Marine Science class in high school, too, but that fell through also (probably due to some poor planning, or else some school district interference).
But anyway, my point—I didn’t know how many of these programs there were! Santa Cruz also has a Sister City (Shingu), and apparently, so does a city in Belgium!
Belgium Exchange Students—August 23th
Last week, Enoguchi invited me to an orientation for some middle school students from Belgium. I picked up Melissa from the train station and drove us to Miyoshi, where the orientation was taking place. It was actually at a “michi no eki,” which basically just means road stop. It had a nice little restaurant and court yard next to all the rice fields, and there was a burger joint right next to it.
There was a ceremony with a lot of introductions and speeches—mostly just the city council people introducing themselves, then the Belgium people. Kim translated for everyone, and even though it was really difficult—they kind of sprung their speeches on her—I think she did really well. I didn’t understand everything (and the microphones weren’t working well), but that’s my problem. Haha!
After the ceremony, we went outside to eat soba noodles in the COOLEST WAY EVER.
Whaaaat? What is that? I’ll tell you: It’s a bamboo chute that they are sliding water and noodles down. You catch the noodles with chopsticks and transfer it to your bowl. And then you eat the noodles while you’re standing there. It was AWESOME.
After that, we had other food—sushi, tea, fried chicken, pears—and then we did the traditional summer practice in Japan: We smashed watermelons.
I had heard a lot about this, but I’d never actually seen it, so it was pretty exciting! Because the entire day was about the Belgium students, they got to smash the watermelons. I took a lot of pictures of them, which is kind of creepy, but I’ll post a few anyway, just so you can see the watermelons. It was really funny.
This whole thing gave me an idea—I really want to show my students a piñata now. It has nothing to do with English, really, but… it has something to do with Southern California culture, I think, if not all of California and the Southwest. Right?
Ah hell, I just wanna smash a piñata.
Anyway, the orientation was pretty funny. The Belgian boys were flirting with all of Mike’s female Japanese students, which was making him feel like a protective older brother. But at one point, he was teaching one of the nicer (and less touchy…) boys how to say “You are pretty” in Japanese.
Mike: “Say this: Anata wa kirei desu.”
Belgian kid: “What does that mean?”
Mike: “It means ‘You are pretty.’”
Belgian kid: [to Japanese girl] “Anata wa kirei desu.”
Japanese girl: [looking terribly confused] “Anou… [Um…] Thank you.”
For a moment, she just stared at Belgian kid, and then suddenly, she turned to Mike.
Japanese girl: “YOU!”
Mike: [throwing his hands up innocently] “I didn’t do anything!”
The whole experience was pretty hilarious, because neither the Belgian kids nor the Japanese kids had any language in common—English is not a Belgium national language. But they communicated okay anyway, and I think they got along pretty well. (There was one kid who was a little too… He just touched the girls too much, and in Japanese culture, touching is kind of inappropriate. I don’t think the Japanese girls knew how to react though.)
Chiba Orientation—August 24th
We had one of our final orientations—if not the final one—in Chiba City. I felt bad for missing so many days of work—since I went to the Belgium orientation, too—but this one was actually required…
As with the other orientations, I’m sure it felt really pointless to most people, but I’m really glad we had it. It was nice to reconnect with the other people in Chiba, and it just reinforced our support system. None of the information was really new to me, but whatever. They worked very hard to organize it to make it useful, and everyone could use some reminders.
We did get a packet that gave us some valuable information though, like e-mails for people we can contact about problems, what to do in case of emergencies (like earthquakes and tsunamis), and links to event calendars.
We also met our “Block Coordinators,” who are JETs in our area that can help us out, so that was useful, too.
I went to lunch with Cameron, Ella, and Deanna. We got some pretty awesome Indian food. The waiter may or may not have been annoyed with having foreigners in his establishment.
After the orientation, we had an hour to kill. I followed Kiwi Mike and some others to an arcade where we played darts! It was just like home, except the dart boards were electronic, and they weren’t in an Irish-style pub. So, actually, it was nothing like home.
I played a game with (let me see if I can remember their names) Lauren, Andrew, and… maybe Zach. Anyway, they were cool! They were all from the mid-West, and when I told them I was from California, one of them—Andrew, I think—said, “Yeah, you have a West Coast accent.”
I wanted to ask what that meant, but I didn’t get the chance. XD I actually can’t hear a huge difference between my accent and the mid-West… But I can hear an East-Coaster a mile away. Hmm…
Anyway, darts was awesome! I’m getting a lot better at aiming. I started out slow in the end, but I think that once I got used to the darts, it went better. I ended up in second place! Andrew won, with over 400 points (it was 420 at one point, and I think I got way too excited; such is the effect of Santa Cruz).
The best part of the orientation experience though was the after-party.
The After-Party: Chiba Orientation Welcome Dinner
When people drink in Japan, they drink. I feel outclassed. I mean, I don’t drink a lot anyway, but I feel really behind when these people drink.
I asked Kim about it sometime during the week before—Japanese people are always portrayed as lightweights… who also drink a lot.
Me: “So, which is it? Are they really just lightweights, or do they just drink a lot?”
Kim: “Both. The drinks are really weak, and they drink a lot of them.”
So that answered that question! Also, apparently for people who aren’t knock-out lightweights, we can just say “tsuyo” or something if we want them to make our drinks stronger.
The restaurant we went to, called Hartley’s, was… hilarious. Of course they picked this place for foreigners, as though all foreigners are American. Our Aussie and English JETs were looking around all night asking, “Is this really American? What is that thing?” (Chris, at one point, pointed to a lasso and asked what it was and how it works. I don’t know whether it’s good or bad that we were able to explain it to him.)
The dinner was pretty good—despite the Western (seriously Wild West-ern) décor, the food was very Japanese. And delicious. But the most important thing of the night was the company.
People are frickin’ hilarious when they’re drunk.
Apparently, I am too. o__O
I met Kim’s friend Chris, who I think I managed to totally weird out. Haha!
Me: “I think I’m making a weird first impression.”
Chris: “Yes, yes you are, but you’re also blowing my mind.”
Basically, I just told him some weird facts about sex shops. |D I don’t even like sex shops; I just happen to have gone to a few with some friends who really like them.
We didn’t only talk about sex shops, but that’s the weirdest conversation I had all night. Haha! I thought it was worth mentioning.
The dinner’s organizers bought the entire restaurant for the night (and we had to pay ¥4000 for dinner, by the way), so no one really stayed in their seats. Everyone walked around and ate off everyone else’s plates and ordered drinks at different tables. I didn’t move much, but I figured that enough people were moving around.
The people at my table rotated pretty often (we were right next to the restroom), so I got to meet a lot of people.
And that is how I met gamers.
I was sitting at my table, and Andrew sat down next to me. He was joined by his friends, Zach and shitIcan’tremembertheotherguy’sname, who sat in the booth opposite me. We just started talking, and one of them mentioned gaming something—it might have just been video games, which normally wouldn’t be too exciting (everyone plays video games these days). I decided to chance it.
Me: “Um… What about tabletop gaming? Do you guys do any tabletop games?”
Zach: “Oh yeah, definitely!”
Me: “OH THANK GOD. I’ve been really missing gaming, and no one in my area seems interested in playing.”
Turns out, they don’t play D&D—I actually have seniority on them with that, because I’ve been playing for three years—but they do Warhammer and similar games. We talked about starting a campaign together.
And then they asked me where I live.
|D Apparently, all the tabletop gamers in Chiba are in northern Chiba. They all live WAY up north, about three hours by train away from me. Still, we added each other on Facebook, so there’s a chance that we might get together someday to game. They probably already game together all the time, so I just have to hope that they’ll invite me someday. |D And I might have to DM if I want to play D&D. Scary!
(While I’m thinking about it: When the three guys sat down at my table, they asked where I was from. Andrew said, “Not the Midwest.” The other guys said that was cool, and I told them I like what I know about the Midwest (WISCONSIN CHEESE FTW). I managed to avoid telling them where I’m from. I was actually feeling a bit judged about being from California for the last week… so it was a relief that that didn’t come out and become that sort of focus of my personality. “Oh, she’s a Californian.” I feel like people turn away from me when they find that out…)
Eventually it was last call—cue Closing Time by Semisonic—and we all filed out of the restaurant. A lot of people went to a bar after dinner, but Kim and I didn’t want to miss our bus and have to crash in Chiba City. Kim had to come back the next day anyway for her riding lesson (she rides horses), but she didn’t have any of her gear.
We parted from everyone else and headed toward the bus station—or at least we headed in the direction Chris pointed. We were both rather drunk, and I thought at the time, “Gee, it’s sure lucky Victor taught me how to use my phone yesterday.”
Because he did. I had no idea how to use the map function, so he showed me how to search for a location and directions. I pretty much led the way to the bus station, not really having any idea where I was going. So, you know, thank you elPhone.
We found the bus station easily enough (only got lost once, and really, we just went 100 yards too far instead of turning left), but we both needed to use the restroom really badly. We went into the train station to ask where one was, but the door downstairs (where the restroom was) was locked. Nooo~!
We were also running out of time to catch our last bus. Luckily, we ran into Chris again, who found us a restroom (I think he felt bad for us poor drunk girls). Then I admitted that I wasn’t sure how to actually find our bus—I knew the kanji characters, but I had no idea where the bus would be stopped for pick up. I told him we only had three minutes, and he looked at a map and started running. Kim and I followed—drunkenly, probably—and Chris got us to our bus just in time. We had about a minute to spare.
The bus ride back was long (2 hours maybe?), but I think it was pleasant. Kim and I talked a lot (again; we always have trouble with transportation, don’t we?). When we got back to Tomiura, I walked Kim halfway back to her apartment. We actually talked about some pretty gnarly stuff on the way there—because we were two girls walking in the dark, we started to talk about being attacked at night. I had been reading a lot about rape culture recently, so I brought that up…
Yeah, not a very light conversation. XD But it seems to be pretty relevant right now, with everything happening in politics—and to my friends.
Recently, a friend of mine was insulted by Daniel Tosh, a comedian, when she was at one of his shows. He claimed that rape jokes are always funny, and she got mad and shouted out that they were never funny. He brought on more funny by saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got gang-raped right now?” (Comedy Fail, and not just because he kept talking about rape. That’s just not a good comedic response to hecklers.)
If you’re as interested in the study of rape culture as I am (well, mostly I’m just interested in critiques on male-dominated societies which is all of societies, really), here are some links to what I’ve been reading:
The Captain Awkward blog entry has some great outside links too, that I recommend. They’re written into the entry as references.
Sorry that this section kind of ended on a dark note, but I think people should be aware of this stuff anyway. :/
Also, apparently in Arizona, you are now pregnant two weeks before conception? (I know that’s kind of an overblown statement of the actual new law, like the “pizza is a vegetable” law, but like the “pizza is a vegetable” law, it has some roots in truth.) Honestly, though, when I read that, I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to feel outraged. LOL. WHAT? IS THIS A JOKE? Arizona is trolling us.
We’ve joked about it a lot (in a half-joking, half-WTF kind of way) over the last week. (By “we,” I mean me and the other female ALTs. The guys have kind of joked about it in uncomfortable, half-hearted ways.)
Me: [in the ocean] “Fun fact: The ocean is 70% whale sperm.”
(That’s made up, by the way; I was kidding to freak out the other people.)
Kim: “OH NO! Now you’re probably pregnant with whale babies!”
Me: “OH NO! THAT MEANS I WAS ACTUALLY PREGNANT TWO WEEKS AGO!”
I went to karaoke with Ebony, Jeff, Victor, and Mike on Saturday, August 25th, but because I’m about to write another entry about karaoke, I’ll just talk about it then. There isn’t much to say besides that it was fun! Haha.
Also, I went to the beach with Ebony and Kim, on Sunday, August 26th! So it was a busy weekend. There’s not much to write about it—we went to Chikura beach, where I went before with Mike, Victor, Jeff, and Ebony—and the waves were brilliant.
Here are some pictures!
So yeah, I’ve kept pretty busy.
Cast of Characters
Melissa as… a 2nd year ALT in Tomiyama. She goes to Tokyo a lot on the weekends to go to concerts. She likes Dir En Grey, which is one of the few Japanese bands I’ve heard of—a friend of mine in high school really liked them.
Siki as… the Block Coordinator of Block 8. 8 IS GREAT. He’s very friendly and helpful. I had a ton of questions for him—mostly about, “Where the hell can I find a pool around here?”
Cameron as… an ALT in Sosa. He is from NorCal. He talks about the Bay Area a lot, like everyone else from the Bay Area. (Haha!) At orientation, he said that every time I said something funny, he always imagined that afterwards, there’s a “BAY AREA!” shout. Maybe that’s only funny to the two of us.
Ebony as… a 2nd year ALT in Maruyama. She’s from New York.
Ella as… an ALT in Kamogawa.
Deanna as… an ALT in Choshi City. She’s from Australia. I talked to her and Kiwi Mike about the difference between American and Australian universities.
Kiwi Mike as… the Mike at Tokyo Orientation! He’s from New Zealand—hence, “Kiwi Mike.”
Kim as… a new CIR in Tomiura. She lived in Asahi last year.
Chris as… an ALT in Sosa. He is from England.
Andrew as… a 2nd year ALT (I think; maybe 3rd year). He won at darts, and he games!
Zach as… a 2nd year ALT. Andrew says he’s the man to talk to about tabletop gaming.
Bus: About to leave without us.
D&D: Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game based on story creation, character arcs, adventure, dice-rolling, and fighting imaginary monsters. (And in More Than Heroes’s case, screwing imaginary people.) I always find it really hard to explain to people who have no idea what it is, so I usually just say, “You sit around with your friends and tell an adventure story together.” Think Lord of the Rings fanfiction. Whatever.
DM: “Dungeon Master.” I used it as a verb in this entry, but it is actually a noun. In D&D, the Dungeon Master runs the game, acting basically as “Banker” (to use a term from board games) and storyteller. They supply the monsters and in-world characters.