This week in numbers
My academic achievement rank in my class (of 8 students): 8
Days I was so lost in class I didn’t even know which exercise we were on: 2
Days within which I have to leave the country if I fail my classes: 7
Students who transferred to a lower class due to fear of the above: 1
Kanji I (re)learned and recognize consistently: 324
Times I was asked if I was going to get a part-time job: 50
Times I was offered a specific part-time job, without me asking: 2
Classmates who have part-time jobs (percent): 95
Classmates who work 40 or more hours per week (percent): 50
Time my home Internet connection worked smoothly (percent): 20
Days completed of Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s meditation series: 13
Informal sample group that recognized Oprah or Deepak’s names (percent): 0
... that recognized “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” (percent): 100
Days I have meditated at least 20 minutes: 7
Distance from Naha, Okinawa to Tokyo (miles): 986
Country capitals that are closer to here than Tokyo: 3 (Taipei, Manila and Seoul)
Days I had rice with breakfast: 6
Rice servings per day: 3.5
Times I eat per day: 6
Price of five small cherry tomatoes (dollars): 5
Price of ten grapes (dollars): 4
Times I was told: “we don’t have fish in Okinawa, the water is too warm”: 20
Rank of cheese pizza among most disgusting foods I have tried in Okinawa: 1
Food cost is a major issue as well. I have spent over half of my “living cost” money this week to get just a few fresh fruits and vegetables. Luckily, my roommate continues to cook traditional Vietnamese meals for dinner every night, and she is a smart shopper, so it isn’t too bad. The heavily rice-based diet is not very filling for me, though, so I end up eating about six times per day, including the moderate-sized snacks.
I desperately needed some comfort food one night, so I tried going to a Mexican taco shop on “International Street.” Tako-ya (taco shop), ironically, translates directly to “octopus shop.” I should have known better. While the food there was ostensibly Mexican, and they were playing Mexican music, I didn’t recognize anything on the menu as something I had ever eaten. I asked for a bean taco, not on the menu, but they refused to serve me one. They said they would only serve me something with beef or pork in it. So much for comfort food. So, naturally, I had pancakes at an Italian restaurant instead.
I was pretty good at using chopsticks before, but now I’m a certifiable expert. We use hashi (chopsticks) at every meal, and many snacks. I am proficient enough to eat almost everything in front of me with them. I usually don’t use a spoon even for soup anymore. The only thing I still have problems with is chicken drumsticks. Yes, you heard me right; we eat chicken drumsticks with chopsticks. Don’t give me that look; I didn’t make the rules. I just follow 'em.
Absolutely, positively the grossest thing I have had here was cheese pizza. This coming from the girl who has eaten dozens upon dozens of things she can’t even recognize, and certainly has never tried before. It was like eating cardboard drizzled with melted-plastic-shopping-bag. Yuck. I’ll take my breakfast of smoked squid on rice any day, or my snack of “natto.”
yoga, stress-busters & haari
One woman I met is a massage therapist... apparently, massage is covered under the national health insurance plan for $6. I plan on taking advantage of this very soon. This weekend, in fact. When a certain teacher walks in the room, I get so tense my shoulders instantly rise up almost to the level of my ears. I have to remind myself every five to ten seconds to lower them and to relax. I swear I want to give the teacher some Ritalin, though, to see what would happen. She is one of the three most hyperactive adults I have ever met, and even tops many of the ADHD kids I took care of. She is a nice person, though, so hopefully the massage(s) will help me enjoy her class more.
I also went dragon-boating (haari) for the first time. Next week is the annual dragon-boat races, as part of “Golden Week,” and our school has a team. After the first, last and only practice session this past week, I am now on the team. Before you go congratulating me on my physical prowess, please note that the team consists of “all students who are willing to show up on a Saturday.”
After the haari practice session, I went wandering around town looking for trouble and festival-type stuff, and found a big tent next to the nine-story mall (Ryuubou) on International Street. The three guys came out and did an excellent street dance routine, and then whipped out three guitars and started playing. The short snippet-video above does them no justice, but at least gives you a taste. Their energy level was incredible. I was impressed, and enjoyed myself thoroughly.
capitalism at itsbest/worst/not sure
However, because you can work on a student visa in Japan, many students actually come here for economic reasons. It never even occurred to me that you could help support your family while attending school in another country. But then, I’m pretty sheltered with respect to the economic realities most people in the world face daily.
Some students work two to three jobs for as many as sixty hours per week, and sleep through class because they are so tired from working. They may be genuinely interested in learning Japanese, but their class participation and learning can be pretty minimal due to how exhausted they are. I won’t go into a detailed analysis of the above system, but suffice it to say that like many capitalist institutions, it solves problems for some people, creates problems for others, and puts a bunch of money in a few peoples’ pockets.
It would be easy for me to judge the above, since I am lucky enough to have savings to finance my time here. I am most certainly one of the “one percent” with respect to my school peers. But I absolutely respect my classmates’ often Herculean efforts. They are working hard enough to not only pay their own tuition and living expenses ($12,000-15,000 per year), but helping feed their families as well.
I just wish... actually, I don’t know what I wish. I know there are things about the above that make me uncomfortable, but I’m not sure yet which come from my own privilege, and which are genuinely not okay. I need to have another look through my invisible knapsack on this one. However, a big part of my reason for needing to spend some time abroad was to learn about ethical issues like this, so I’m just going to have to wrestle with it for a while.
Talk to you again soon!