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Short Stories

The Japanese Sagas (Part 2)
by Kristin K. Trompeter
While teaching ESL in Aizu, Japan

The first day in which I taught all by my lonesome, I gave a class to 10-year-old girls. It went all right with the little girls laughing their socks off at my actions and facial expressions that are so comical because they are so different from theirs!

Later I had a class in a business called Mitsubishi Steel. I was expecting three students and ONE came. Of course, this meant that my plan for the class did not work in the least little bit. The bad thing about that was that my boss, Akemi - yes, I have two bosses: one as a teacher called Chad and the other as employee, the said Akemi - was observing me.

We survived the class, all three, talking about trolley cars, tennis, and hot springs. The last thing, the hot springs, is what was the most interesting for me and, as there are ones here in Aizu, I plan to try to visit them soon.

My work schedule is 12 to 9 with an hour for lunch. Normally I teach about 5 hours each day. The rest of the time is for preparing classes or coming and going from the Business English classes which are taught off-site at the businesses themselves.

We are six here in the school: three teachers (including the boss of the teachers, said Chad) and three office workers (including the boss of all, the aforementioned Akemi). We are so small that we will probably arrive at a level of intimacy very soon.

One example of this is that our welcome party was actually held at the house of Chad with his wife and two little girls. Also present were the two ex-teachers that Frank, the other new teacher, and I replaced. It was a lot of fun with too much alcohol flowing just as the Japanese stereotype would lead one to expect.

The question of being able (or in this case, unable) to read is quite something. Saturday we (Chad, Frank and I) went shopping for the things missing from our apartments. I, more than anything, was obsessing over not having a hairdryer. To be honest, as the last time I had washed my hair was Tuesday morning of the day I left Madrid! Yep, I was reaching new heights of disgusting, but there was no way I was going to wash my hair and let it dry naturally in this cold. I am still a Florida girl at skin level!

We went to an electronics store and I found the hairdryer section. It was so odd. They have hairdryers in the shape of curling irons! Except these are designed to straighten hair. I spent almost 15 minutes just looking at them trying to discern some way to differentiate them, but as everything was written in Japanese, I had no idea what was what and finally Chad told me, “Shit, woman, just pick one!”

So I did and we then headed to a Dollar store, what is called here, of course, 100 Yen. It was so enormous that I could have spent my life in there looking at things. (Not that the things on sale here are so different from those anywhere else, but they seem so exotic covered in Japanese script!)

The supermarket situation is very interesting. At least in the restaurants they have menus with photos. But in the supermarket, everything is written in Japanese, so a lot of the time, I have no idea what the product even is. Sometimes I can figure it out based on the packaging or the location in the store (refrigerated, etc).

But the majority of times, to be absolutely honest, I sit there staring at things without the slightest idea what it is. It is very surreal and humbling to not have the ability to recognize so many things, I swear to you.

I am basically buying sushi in prepared packages as I can usually figure out what is tuna and what is salmon.

I live about 7 minutes from my school. Next to my school is a supermarket. It is great. However, when I want to buy a lot of food, it can be a bit straining on the arms. Seven minutes suddenly seems equal to 20 when you don’t have a car.

However, I do have a bicycle. In fact, a bicycle with two baskets on it, a real luxury item here. However, you have to remember that I am clumsy. So, imagine me on the bicycle cycling through the streets with the two baskets FULL of stuff. When those baskets are full, I find steering the bicycle very difficult, a situation then aggravated even more by the fact that there are actually other pedestrians (and cyclists) on the same sidewalks as me.

Well, I shall surely get in a lot of practice, practice, practice!

Look for more of Kristin's Japanese Sagas in Boulder City Magazines to come.

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