Monday, September 28, 2009

Summer is Over...?

Despite having a full six weeks without classes from mid-July until the end of August, I seem to have lost any ability to engage in anything terribly productive. To be fair, I have started running (in preparation to run the Chicago Marathon in 2010 with my college roommate) and chronicling the experience. But even so, that only accounts for a handful of hours. The rest have simply fallen through my fingertips and I find myself in the midst of school in full-swing feeling like I'm barely keeping up.

So I thought a brief recap of my natsuyasumi (summer vacation) was in order. Hopefully it'll help justify my two month absence but I doubt it. This came to mind today at school as I thought to myself, "How is it still this hot?!" These past couple weeks we've been pushing 30 degrees Celsius. But it's not the heat that's wearing me down (it's almost October!); it's the humidity. This is what I'm living in: after school I went to the 100 yen shop (equivalent to the dollar store in the States). I picked up a few things including a box of chips. I ate half the chips before dinner (oops) and then finished the rest off a few hours later. In the interim 3 hours between opening the package and then finishing them off, my chips went stale. It's that humid.

So, although the calendar and my school schedule seems to point to summer being over, Mother Nature isn't convinced.

The summer began with farewells and welcomes, as August is the changeover for JETs. It was a mix of sadness and excitement since I had to say goodbye to some very good friends but also have had the chance to meet some new and very amazing new JETs. There's an oddly strong and yet somewhat distant bond between us ALTs.

We are throw out of our comfort zone so completely, all our vulnerability left hanging out as we struggle to understand the world we've landed in and our place in it. This kind of vulnerability creates very deep bonds between people. And yet there is a temporary feeling to our time, our lives here. Japan, for most of us, is just s stop along the way and in a couple years time we'll be back in our home countries. This creates that distance between us.

At the beginning of last year I met all the English teachers I'd be assisting in the classroom. One teacher in particular I could tell I'd get along well with. But I also remember telling a friend that I'd probably become friends with her just in time to leave Japan since life in school is so structured and there's no real time for forming friendships. She's also one of the kendo coaches. So anytime not spent int he classroom is spent in practice with the kendo club.

However. This summer the students were busy with a volunteering activity one Saturday and so there was no kendo practice. My teacher invited me to her house (she lives with her parents) to eat lunch and try on yukata (the summer kimono). Her parents were lovely; her mom made a delicious lunch and her dad was the official photographer. I was able to practice my Japanese since both her parents had only a little English-speaking ability.

I accidentally mixed up the words for brother and father and told her mom that my brother is over fifty (she paused for a moment and then with a quick laugh emphasized the words more clearly so that I could correct myself). Just to be honest, they're about as similar in Japanese as they are in English.

I spent two weeks back home, seeing both sets of grandparents, catching a Cubs game, and visiting a couple dear friends from college. A break well worth the long flights.

Then it was back to Okayama to prepare presentations for the new JETs' orientation week. It was nice to have something to do at school for a change. During natsuyasumi we don't have classes but school, for all intents and purposes, is still in session. Teachers and students come into school to participate in club meetings and sports practices. They prepare for Sports Day. And the rest I haven't quite worked out. And yet we all come in and look busy.

I read books, checked email, visited the school library, went home for lunch (doing some chores in the meantime) and chatted with teachers. I had weekly Japanese/English conversations with one of the English teachers who wants to practice her English. We'd come up with a topic and then she'd talk to me in English and I'd ask her questions and then it'd be my turn and I'd talk in Japanese, struggling to be understood and all-around kind of failing at the language. It was great practice. In Japanese and humility.

And the it was time for summer to owari (end) and get back to teaching. My days at Oku JHS have been much busier. My supervisor has taken a leave of absence to take care of her sick mother so I am filling in as much as I can for her classes with the other English teacher who now has to teach classes of 40 instead of 20.

There's a time for everything and though summer can be a bit boring at school, it is a nice break from the hectic school schedule. I wasn't able to appreciate the break as much last year since I had just arrived and the informality of natsuyasumi confused me. It still does but I try to just go with it these days. When in Rome.

Give it about another month and my posts will be absorbed with descriptions of how terribly cold it is. For now, though, chips last less than three hours if left out of their packaging.