Monday, 1 September 2014

Underpowered

I spent the last few weeks before my university exchange hanging out with the new Japanese students who were arriving fresh that semester and doing not a whole hell of a lot else. Anybody who's done a study abroad or, for that matter, taught in a foreign country can probably identify with this lazy middle ground, the period in which you've completed all your preparations but you obviously can't start on the Next Thing until you arrive in your new venue. It's a little discombobulating because your day-to-day feels a little lackadaisical, yet technically you're doing exactly what you're supposed to. So while everybody around me was gearing up for classes, I was left a little adrift, which was fine, actually, because it let me catch up on my backlog of books and video games, and also gave me plenty of time to help this new group get acclimated.

More time than usual, in fact, as until this last year helping out the new group has been my customary task for the first few weeks of each semester. With all this white space on my schedule I was even able to get to know some of them a little deeper. Looking back, I think my first post ever may have left the impression that all the Japanese people I knew at the time were dicks, which was not the case at all. It was a pretty typical group, in that they were mostly people I'll never talk to again, some were pretty all right, and then there was one that I formed a genuine friendship with. She was a gyaru from Chiba, very stereotypically girly in matters such as fashion and colour-cons, and, you know, a little rough but unfortunately without the overt sexuality of an Oosaka gyaru. And yes I had a crush on her, of course I did, this is me we're talking about. Actually it's probably a good thing I left soon after, cause I'd have wanted to date her and if that had failed it would have been all awkward and stuff.

I did keep in contact with her while I was in Japan and she was in Canada, though, including one really awesome drunk-dial with her and a friend of hers, who was visiting, so she had to pretend that she was her cousin, so that the guy she was cheating on her boyfriend with wouldn't hit on her. President, who was rather smitten herself, got to be really good friends with her in the time I was gone. She even went to see her when she visited Toukyou (but didn't come to see me...pfft.) President's path to Japanese living began with some Japanese friends in high school, who introduced her to J-pop and Matsumoto Jun, and she's visited a few times, first on a field school and then on her own. To be honest I find that pretty courageous and savvy, given her limited grasp of the language, but she stayed at a hotel in Ikebukuro and everything, it sounds like it was awesome. She and this girl, I'll call her Lock-Up, went to the club where she was working at the time, and to Lock-Up, aaaaaaaand to the onsen. Yeah, she totally saw her naked. And President is bi so she was even able to appreciate it. So super jelly. And now Lock-Up is back in town.

This provided a bit of a brain-teaser for me until I was able to talk to her in person, and she clarified everything that's going on with her. Basically she's going to be taking the TESL program at my university, one a one-year working holiday visa, spending the extraneous six months working...somewhere. She hasn't really solidified her plans yet. Personally I would think that would be kind of an important thing to get sorted out before you travel across the Pacific Ocean, but then, here I am stuck in my home country and writing oddly personal blog entries only vaguely related to Japan, so what do I know. The interesting part of that is, she'll be taking classes with President, all day, every day. President applied to JET last cycle and got alternate, but no farther, so now she's going to get a formal certification to buff up her resumee (and skillset). So I sense good times in the offing.

Unfortunately for Lock-Up, she was compelled to, for a second time, attend much of the university's international orientation, a week-long event primarily informational in purpose but with quite a lot of lighter fun stuff as well. They teach them the finer points of certain immigration laws, school policies, very basic stuff as well as cultural things. Examples:

Canadians are very time-conscious. Being ten minutes late to an arranged meeting can be considered very impolite.
If a Canadian tells you they'll “see you later,” this doesn't actually mean they plan to see you later.
If a Canadian is passing by and asks you how it's going, and then carries on without waiting to hear the answer, it's not because they were being insincere. (It's because the question is meaningless and you're not really expected to reply.)
Pickup etiquette can vary between cultures. In Canada, if a girl at a bar tells you no, that means the conversation is over, not “try harder.”

And I fucking love it all. There's a video in there on safety (e.g. how not to get your pocket picked), which I don't think I've ever viewed from start to finish, but which I've seen so many bits and pieces of that if you put them all together I have probably seen in its entirety several times. That's how many times I've volunteered for this thing. Unfortunately, since I've been back from Japan, I haven't quite had the time...and if I'm being entirely honest with myself, my motivation hasn't been there like it used to be. During my exchange I started to think about building my future in Japan, which naturally necessitated meditation on what my professional career might be, and from that point on I was pretty much ready to sell my soul. Yeah, if 14-year-old Rude Boy could see me now he'd wonder what the fuck happened and how I ended up catching Lame, row row fight the power, but nowadays the coolest thing I can think of is working in an office. All this looking forward has forced me to simultaneously look inward, so I can't be all things to all Japanese people anymore. Not quite like I used to at least. It's all right. It's a natural progression, and...well, for me personally it never really paid much dividends anyway. It was worth it, in the end, to provide a useful service (translation and all manner of other assistance) to the people who deserved, but I just got used and burned too many times. Maybe I got a little tired of it.


Besides which, my work schedule interferes with like, everything else now, since I'm now working full time as a shift supervisor at a large chain of coffee shops that you have heard of (no, not that one), so despite Lock-Up's pleas, I wasn't able to come join her and alleviate her boredom. But President and I were able to meet up with her at one of the two decent Japanese restaurants in President's part of town. It was rather humorous in a Dostoevskyesque way, an intersection of three recent university graduates each desperately trying to get something rolling so that their lives can start. But it was great to see her, and she reported that a huge number of new Japanese students have arrived at my alma mater this semester. Things are getting exciting again.