Morning Missiles & Business as Usual

I had been in the throes of an early morning dream when a strange jingle erupted from my phone, which had somehow wound up under my pillow. Groggy and bleary-eyed in a state of half-sleep, I picked up my phone to turn off what I thought must have been an alarm I accidentally set. Just as I was hitting the home button, the words “Emergency Alert” registered.

It took a moment for them to actually punch through my brain-fog, by which time I had already cleared the alert from my screen without actually reading it. I texted my friend, who I knew would have seen it, to get the low down.

Our not-so-friendly neighbor, North Korea, had launched a missile towards Japan. I don’t own a TV, but a screenshot sent by my friend confirmed that our prefecture was in the predicted “Target Zone”.

Amidst a storm of facebook messages among the other foreign teachers in my city, the adrenaline was going strong. I got out of bed and thought to myself, “Well, if it’s gonna strike here, there’s not much I can do. But I guess first-things-first, I should probably put some clothes on?”

So as I’m skirting around the apartment trying to remember what constitutes proper clothing (lol), I was making a mental checklist of all the things I should throw into a bag in case I needed to evacuate. Also, where would I evacuate to? The closest “evacuation spot” is the school, which is across the street, but are there underground shelters for these events? Somewhere in there I sent a message to my friend and former coworker, who is Japanese, on the hope that she would have some wisdom to bestow upon me in this situation. She called me back, and white it turned out she was equally as concerned and confused, it was calming to talk to another person in that moment.

Then another alert came in, stating that the missile had passed over Japan. As quickly as the threat had materialized, it faded. I just kind of stood in my apartment for a minute processing the information. Then, thoroughly awake, I got ready for work an hour earlier than usual.

Of course, none of this is incredibly surprising. NK has been testing missiles and talking sh*t for a long time. Long before I came to Japan, heck, before I was even alive! For all the hot air the NK government blows around, I doubt it’s in  their best interests to go attacking anyone. But that doesn’t change the fact that “Hey, a missile has been launched at you, please seek shelter” are quite startling words to read first thing in the morning. On the bright side, I didn’t need to brew any coffee.

Despite the interesting start, the day has continued as usual. I taught some classes, ate curry for lunch, and am about to join the kids for souji. I’ll go grocery shopping after school, and might even get my lazy butt to the gym. In a nearby distant land, someone may be throwing a tantrum and making threats. Here, life goes on. Though I think I’ll finally put that emergency go-bag together as soon as I get home…just in case.

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Remodeling

The school where I teach every day is 60 years old, and it shows. The outside is looking worse for wear, the aged facade blotched with grime. The concrete walls are marbled by cracks resealed with concrete, reminders of large earthquakes in years past. Dust rolls like tumbleweeds through the halls, even after daily cleaning time. The place is so drafty that you might as well hold class outside, it wouldn’t make much difference.

The upside is that the classrooms and halls are full of natural light and a killer view of the mountains. I think back to the serious lack of windows and nasty fluorescent lights in my middle and high schools back in the States…I’d rather freeze/sweat to death in the sunlight than experience that again.

For the past two weeks, we’ve been enduring the constant interruption of drilling, hammering, and noisy workers meandering up and down the halls during class. After 60 years, our school is finally getting it’s first upgrade. The bathrooms are being remodeled.

Being the old school that it is, we of course have been stuck with the good old squatty-potties thus far. Although I have grown accustomed to them over the years, they are no more pleasant an experience, only a practice in tolerance.

But when I arrived at school this morning, among the pile of papers on my desk was an outline of what the new bathrooms will look like, and within that outline I saw it; the smooth lid, the fancy control panel on the side…one of Japan’s greatest modern technological gifts to the world, the washlette. Three settings for bum-washing and water temperature, heated seats, self-cleaning systems…all those bells and whistles are great, but simply having somewhere to park your bum is the greatest gift of all.

I have never been so excited about taking a dump my life.

 

 

 

Graduation Day

The 3rd year students graduated on Monday. The ceremony was three hours of continuous sitting, standing, and bowing. There were long speeches by some supposedly important people whom I have never seen before in my life, and one very emotional speech by one of my favorite graduates. I shed quite a few tears, especially when the 1st/2nd years and the 3rd years sang a goodbye song to each other. And then again as all of us teachers lined up on either side of the aisle to applaud as the students made their final exit from the gym.

Afterwards, the graduates have one last homeroom session, during which I retreated to the warmth of the teacher’s room to enjoy a cup of celebratory sakura tea. The cherry blossoms are preserved in salt, so it tastes less like what you imagine of “tea” and more like…well, salty flowers. But it wasn’t bad at all. The flavor is actually quite comforting, especially when you’re all broken up about your favorite students leaving you for the great wide world of high school.

As if I wasn’t already emotional enough, we all filed outside to applaud the graduates as they made their way from the school into the parking lot, where about an hour of mingling and photo-taking ensued. I lost count of how many selfies with various bunny, bear, and cat filters were taken that day.

Finally, I hugged the crap out of my self-dubbed “Crazy People”, wished them luck, and said my last goodbyes. Exhausted and emotional, I returned once again to the teacher’s room to eat my special graduation day bento, which wasn’t that great (it was cold), but it was nice to have something different from the daily kyushoku.

Mercifully, I was released after lunch and promptly returned home, where I collapsed on my sofa with a glass of wine and flipped through the yearbook before reuniting with my old friend, Netflix.

This was the second class that I’ve sent off from this school, but the first with whom I had developed a close bond. They were so much fun to teach, and always tried their best. It was quite fulfilling to see them learn and grow, and become comfortable enough to speak with me both in class and casually around school regardless of their English level. I will miss their smiles and shouts of “Happy Friday” echoing through these halls. I’ll always look back on the year(s) I’ve spent with them fondly, and hope that they can do the same.

A few Haiku

I was bored so I wrote some haiku. I find it’s a good way to pass time. Also somewhat meditative in that the challenge of achieving the right amount of syllables takes your mind off things. It’s been years since I’ve written any poetry. Here’s my mediocre attempt…

the school day is done

but it is only Monday

how will I survive?

 

I’m sick of cooking

I hate cleaning the kitchen

I just want to eat

 

winds like icy shards

surrounded by three mountains

there is no escape

 

the weather slowly

begins to warm into spring

but still the wind stings

Morning Greetings, Pt.2

(On February 6th)

Me: Hello, everyone!

Class: Hello, Ms. Rachel!

Me: How are you today?

Class: I’m *insert variation of “fine, cold, happy, hungry, sleep, angry, etc.”, and you?*

Me: What’s the date today?

Rogue student: It’s February….SEX!!!

Class: *uproarious laughter*

Me:

…..

….

The Extremely Handsome Banker

‘Twas a Thursday like any other. Except for half the school being out with the flu.

The flu stinks and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I can’t lie, I was enjoying my unexpected free period with a rare cup of coffee and some chocolates that a coworker had gifted upon the staff room.

I had just finished preparing my coffee when my friend, the school accountant, came into the break room. In a flurry of Japanese that I understood only the gist of, she asked me to help her bring some coffee in for a guest from the bank who had arrived for a meeting.

We prepared a cup of coffee and put it all nicely on a tray, which she handed to me and led the way into the front office where our guest was waiting.

The sight that greeted me as I rounded that corner struck me dumb. Not just quiet dumb, DUMB dumb.

Sitting there before me was one of the most attractive human beings I have ever seen. And that’s saying something. I am not easily shocked or shaken. I grew up in a house with 4 other kids, I’ve traveled solo, I’ve embarrassed myself in my life more times than I could ever hope to count. I don’t get flustered very easily.

But when I brought in that tray of coffee, I was lucky I didn’t drop it. Because holy cannoli, that man was gorgeous. No joke, this was me on the inside:

“Konnichiwa” was the only Japanese that didn’t promptly evacuate my brain. I delivered his coffee, smiled, and before my face could turn red as a beet I returned to the safety of the staff room. Now there was no question why my coworker had asked me to help her, that’s for sure.

After the meeting was over and the handsome banker left, the office ladies were tickled at my reaction.

“He’s handsome isn’t he??” “He has a good heart, too!” “He works at the bank just down the street *winkwink*.”

Of course I agreed, but then reminded them that my Japanese is complete crap and he doesn’t exactly speak English. Story of my life.

“Oh, nonsense!” they laughed. Then they gave me his business card. “Simple Japanese, simple English…you can talk face-to-face!”

Everyone had a good laugh over it, but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen. However, I am pretty sure I walked around school with a big grin on my face after that. It’s not every day that you encounter handsomeness of the caliber that maintains your happiness throughout the day. XD

And of course I kept the business card. Just for, you know…kicks. 😉

 

 

 

 

Happy Friday

These are my favorite days.

The fall Fridays, when the sky is clear and the sun shining, but the air is fresh and cool and free of summer’s humidity.

All the windows and doors in the school stand open, inviting the breeze to sweep through the halls and classrooms. Papers fly everywhere, but nobody really minds. It’s just the kind of weather that puts you in good spirits regardless of whatever else is going on around you.

The end of the week used to be reserved for 3rd year classes. My students would shout “Happy Friday” at the beginning of class and whenever they saw me in the hallway. (And I try not to think about how bittersweet it is, that they’ll be graduating next March and will take with them all the little quirky sayings and traditions we share.)

Now all my 3rd year classes have been moved to Wednesday. While I try to implement the “Happy Friday” tradition with the 1st and 2nd year students, it hasn’t quite caught on yet.

However, the 3rd years, also disappointed that our Friday celebrations have been disrupted, have taken to filling the ever-dreaded hump day with shouts of “Happy Wednesday!!!” I find that works it’s magic just as well. 🙂

Happy Friday (or Wednesday) to all!