T-21 days

Wow. So begins the final 3 weeks of this insane ride I will call JET 2: the sequel!  I remember thinking about coming back on JET, and when I do, I remember it as sitting on Heather’s couch, talking with her and her husband, Scott – and them asking me if I was crazy. Ha! I remember showing up in Tokyo for orientation, and Jo asking me if I was crazy. Didn’t I remember all the things that drove me insane when I was in Gunma? And since being back I have had a number of friends contact me about also coming back on JET and did I recommend it. So, here is my laundry list of what a total of 6 years on JET meant to me:

Pros

  • The wage vs cost of living is pretty damn good. Especially for the amount of responsibility (usually) expected of you.
  • You work for a board of education in Japan (or town office if CIR) but if things go wrong, you always have someone to turn to. Actually, many someones. As a JET, you can contact your Prefectural Advisor, CLAIR, AJET or many support groups. A lot of people I know work for private agencies, and when something happens they have no one to turn to for support. I can’t imagine that.
  • You get your ticket home paid for upon contract completion
  • You get to form relationships with people you would never have met if you stayed home. Many of your students/coworkers will hardly ever leave their region of Japan let alone travel overseas.
  • You get to really understand yourself, your  language and your culture really well. Nothing like teaching it to other people to get to know who you really are and what is important to you.

Cons

  • You are often not given enough responsibility to make you feel like you are doing the job you are getting paid to do
  • language/cultural barriers. Look at them all! Everywhere!
  • Having waaaay too much free time… or working ridiculously long hours that make no sense to you (depending on the work environment)
  • Often, JETs live in the middle of nowhere, and have very few young people or foreigners around; which means you are kind of forced to become friends with people you might not if you had the choice… this can be a pro and a con.  A pro as stated before, but it can be a con when you feel like your relationships are superficial and merely  based on proximity and not actual care for each other.  It leads to unnecessary drama.
  • Many ALTs in particular, claim to feel like ‘paid monkeys’ or ‘tape recorders’. While this ties into the lack of responsibility, it can go deeper to feeling disrespected or made to ‘feel like a child’.  This can be pretty depressing.
  • THE DAMN WEATHER. The lack of good circulation and insulation means winter inside is TOO DAMN COLD and summer is TOO DAMN HOT. There are really only about 5 months you can feel comfortable (in most areas of Honshu, anyway
  •  Having to go to work on days when there is no school, no students, no classes. This is ridiculous.

So, do I regret coming on JET? No.  I probably didn’t pay down my debt as much as if John and I had stayed in our jobs in Canada. I missed a lot of stuff in my family’s lives. Little ones aren’t so little.  My friend’s kids are getting so big.  I feel more comfortable talking via messages and text than on the phone now. And I am terrible at keeping in touch. (Luckily most of my close friends are too, so that is ok). I  kind of wish we had gone somewhere new, as I really want to live in Taipei, and if I had been brave, I could have sorted things out there easily too (especially because some of my best friends live there). But, since it was John and my first extended time living overseas, maybe a place that was a little familiar and where I could at least speak was a good thing.

To my friends thinking about coming back? I would recommend looking into ‘real’ teaching jobs. If you are a teacher back home, you can get higher paying jobs with summers OFF at IB schools.  But, it does mean a ‘real’ level of responsibility.

If JET is what you want to do (or if you are on JET now), my advice is this: make sure you use your experience and your advanced age (haha) to communicate better with your coworkers. Don’t stand at the back of the room for 3 years and then complain you had no input. Show your coteachers how you can be of assistance. Come up with lesson material that is beneficial for teachers scrambling to finish the text book. Make English come alive for your students. Get involved in your local community. Make an effort to meet more Japanese people. Don’t just rely on your foreign friends to be your social network.  Get involved with AJET whether it is at a local or national level. Build your resume on your downtime by taking online classes. Study Japanese.

And the big question everyone is asking ME right now, is what is next? I wish I had a clue… beyond 16 days in BC, and moving to Waterloo Ontario to be with John… I got nothing!

Ryusenji Onsen (竜泉寺の湯)

I have lived in Japan for a cumulative 6years and 2 months. That is a bloody long time. In that time, I have probably been to about 30 onsens – not as many as some, but still a pretty decent number. I would probably have been to more, if my stupid mistake of a tattoo at 17 didn’t mean I was denied access to a number of sweet places. Oh well. Live and learn.

My all time favorite onsen was probably Jigokudani, in Nagano. John and I went there 2 years ago, and hung out together in an outdoor onsen, in the snow, with a huge family of Macaque monkeys. It was surreal. Probably not entirely sanitary either… but still, pretty damn awesome.

Obviously not John or myself, but this is what the monkey onsen was like. With about 25 more monkeys crowded around.

My second favorite, was up in the village of Kurabuchi, in Gunma.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was cheap. And it was close to where I lived without any students being there, and I basically went there 3 times a week in the winters so that I didn’t have to be naked in my super cold apartment. Plus, my friend lived near there, and we would hang out and cook dinner after, so that was a huge bonus.

Kurabuchi Onsen

Anyway, that leads me to this past weekend’s experience, at what is now my 3rd favorite onsen in Japan. Ryusenji no Yu. This place was crazy. It was easily the largest onsen I have ever been to, with a tonne of options for your relaxation needs.  Normally, I don’t like those big places, but this place was awesome – and perhaps I liked it more because it was exactly what I needed this weekend. A few hours to unwind and relax.  I went there with my friend Monique, and her friend Ellis.  They were the perfect pair to go with – non Jets, who although they work together, didn’t talk about work the whole time. We just talked. And relaxed. We spent the extra 200yen for the pajamas, and then spent 3 hours moving from relaxation area to relaxation area.  Ellis got an 80 minute massage, and Moni and I went and hung out in these crazy outdoor sun chairs, which were partially submerged in natural spring water.  I then got a 20 minute intense massage, in which the woman who massaged me tried to dig a hole to the centre of the earth through my back muscles, using her elbows. It was crazy. But wonderful.  I almost cried. I actually made the mistake of telling her harder was fine, and then regretted it about 15 minutes in. 🙂

After that, Moni and I soaked some more, this time in a bath with silk in it. Lovely. I haven’t felt this relaxed in my neck in I don’t know how long. Then we had lunch, with a great view over Nagoya.  To be honest, I was then ready to go… but Ellis hadn’t actually been in the baths yet, just the massage room, so we stripped off the pjs and went out and found a salt sauna. Basically you scrub the crap out of your skin with this lovely salt, and then you sit in the sauna, and then rinse off. Lovely. Next up was the jet pools, where I let the powerful water jets pummel my really sore (thanks to Insanity) hamstrings and quads.

A bed of hot rocks, in a hot steamy room

Finally, I was getting a bit pruney and bored, so I went exploring on my own, and ended up having a short nap lying in a hot room filled with rocks.  It doesn’t sound comfortable, but trust me, it was amazing. I lay on my towel, so it wasn’t digging in my skin, but it reminded me of the volcanic sand baths we went to in Kagoshima when Kat visited. So hot and cozy.  However, we had said we would leave at 4, and I got the feeling if I didn’t round up the troops we would be there all night… so sadly I did one more dip in the silk bath, and we left.

I highly recommend this onsen. It is pretty easy to get to from Nagoya by bus or car, and is well worth the trip. I could easily have spent all day going from room to room, bath to bath. The food was awesome and cheap – the whole experience (massage, pajamas and huge towel to use, onsen for the whole day, lunch) cost me 4000yen. Money and time well spent!

 

http://www.ryusenjinoyu.com/este.htm

F U CIBC

Living overseas means that certain things that are easy enough to deal with whilst home, can be a huge pain in the ass sometimes. For example, finding out that your credit card has decided to start charging you a ‘payment protector’ fee, without your permission. Granted, it is only $13 a month, but the fact is, I didn’t agree to it, or even know it was happening. I looked this up online, and turns out this happens a lot, and other people are also pissed off about it.

So, I finally got off my ass and called the bank by their ridiculous EST closing hours, and got some dude on the line. I explained the situation, how I had not signed up for this and would like the charges not only removed.

CIBC: But, maam, this is with a 3rd party, so you will have to discuss it with them. Have you called them?

Me: No. I am calling you because there are unauthorized charges relating to CIBC on my card. Why would I call anyone else?

CIBC: Oh. I see. Let me look.   Ok, well, it looks like this charge started in March. Did you authorize this in March?

Me: No. I have not spoken to anyone at this credit card company in over a year.

CIBC: Did someone call you perhaps?

Me: You and I just talked about the fact I live in Japan and you have no cell phone number for me on file. So, no.

CIBC: Well, I have no way of knowing if that is true.

Me: How about the fact that I, a customer of yours for over 12 years, is telling you?

CIBC: I am sorry, I just have no way of knowing if you gave verbal agreement to this.

Me: What? I am telling you this charge was without my knowledge. Now, as you are telling me this isn’t through you, I would like to look into them being fraudulant.

CIBC: Well, I have no way of knowing if you gave permission or not.

Me: (HOLDING IN THE RAGE) Seriously???

CIBC: You have to call the company, give them your credit card number and personal details, and they can cancel it.

Me:  (not yelling, calm, I swear) So, you are telling me to call a random third party I never gave my details to in the first place, and give them all of my personal information, going against everything in the original agreement I signed when I applied for this card? Because they are charging me without my permission? How does that make any sense? For that matter, how did they get my personal information and credit card number in the first place.

CIBC: *click*

I then tried to call the Payment Protector number, and turns out their EST opening hours are even shittier than my bank. 😦

RAGE RAGE RAGE.

The final countdown!

I was going to put in a YouTube video of that song, but my stupid schools won’t let me access YouTube. Supposed to be working or something, I guess. However, you all know how it goes.

De de den den, de de den den den,

de de den den, dedle en, dedle nen nen nen nen, nen nen!

Or, um, whatever.

I can’t even type those word (the song title, not the attempt at typing humming) without thinking of Matt, Justin and Tim and that crazy ass Christmas in KL about a million years ago. Back when I was a first year JET for reals, and went to Singapore and Malaysia with way too many people that I didn’t know very well, drank too much on Christmas Day with those 3 aforementioned people, and wound up on a plane to Bangkok. True story. Pissed off a number of people I was supposed to be going to Penang with – still shocks me they are still my friends! ( ❤ Jo and Jen!) The reason I think of this song was because as the clock struck midnight in this insane night club, they played the final countdown (to.. boxing day?) and a life sized Santa and his reindeer swooped down from the ceiling. You can’t make this shit up. It was insanity. Everyone (yes, us too) went freaking crazy. It doesn’t help that the $20 entry for 4 people gave us a 40 of Vodka and a 2 litre of coke. We got shittered. So, maybe Santa was smaller, but he seemed life sized. I also made the mistake of asking for ice for our drinks from the bar, and then spent the 5 days we were in Bangkok mostly lying on the white tile floor of the bathroom. And then dealing with a parasite for 6 months.

But I have digressed. Wow, have I digressed.

Today is a monumental day. Today is the day I go to the travel agents to buy my return ticket to Canada. Yeah, that is right. I am coming back. Batten down the hatches! Or something… It is hard to believe that 3 years ago I was finding out I was placed in Motosu, and planning on coming back over here. I had all these plans and schemes as to how the JET programme was going to help me solve my debt problems. Hahahahaaha. That is hilarious. I mean, it was fun, and I am glad I did it, but no. Solve debt problems it did not. But that too is another story.

The big deal is, that this is it. I have 2 months left. Actually, less than that, as I am hoping to fly out on August 1st. I have 2 paycheques left before I am faced with unemployment. I have no idea if this gamble of buying a better car in hopes my successor will want it will pay off. My apartment is a mess. I have too much stuff and need to start shipping things home. I have limited time, resources and energy, and not sure how I want to use the combination to make these last 2 months the best they can be. I am also heading back to the great unknown. I realized, that since the year 2000, I have only lived a grand total of 5.5 years in Canada. In 13 years I have lived abroad for 7.5. What! No wonder I have no idea what things cost, where I am going to work, or who to use as a reference anymore. I feel… panicky. I feel depressed and elated and a whole shwack of other things I am not sure I can name.

I don’t remember the Canadian spelling of things. I had to think about paycheque. But how do we spell theater? Is it theatre? Color is colour, but what about donut and neighbor? I feel on shaky ground here. Do we say loo? Or is that England? Will people know what I mean when I ask them where the combini is? Or the lift? Will I be able to eat at a restaurant again and remember how to tip? How do I have reverse culture shock already AND I HAVEN’T LEFT YET!?

I remember my first trip back to Canada when I was on JET. It was in September of my second year (2003). My trip was long and a huge pain in the ass because I went through the US. I got to Vancouver, and my parents took me to breakfast. I couldn’t decipher the millions of items on the menu. My mom thought I was insane, and realized I was TRANSLATING THE MENU TO JAPANESE. Then, we went to the grocery store and I almost had a panic attack in the orange juice aisle. HOW WERE THERE SO MANY CHOICES!?

I need to go breathe into a paper bag.

 

I am fat.

I am not fishing for compliments. I am not trying to say you are fat because you weigh more than me. But, I, personally, feel fat. I not only feel fat, I feel unhealthy. Just a few months ago, I could run 10kms – not easily, but in a decent amount of time. Which for me, is about an hour and 10 minutes. Now, I would be surprised if I could finish it in 1:40. If that.  My knees and hips have been bothering me since the 38km run I did in early March. I have been using that as an excuse to only run sporadically, and have not replaced my weekly runs with any other exercise. My biking? Well, I did that for a bit and then it rained and now my bike has been living in Motosu City for weeks. Yeah.

This morning I stepped on the scale and I was 5kgs more than January 1st of this year. I actually got off and cried. I was so healthy in the fall, and worked so hard to be just 5kgs away from my goal weight. Then over the winter I crept up a bit, but I was still feeling good, and healthy. Now, I am 12 kgs away from my goal! What? That is 26 lbs. And before you respond with ‘numbers don’t mean anything’, I am well aware. I would be happy to be this weight if I felt fit and healthy, but I do not. My clothes are tight. It is hard to walk up stairs. I am tired ALL the time.  Yes, my knees and hip are a little sore, but I could be doing other things. I could swim. I could bike. I could do yoga. Instead I come home at night and sit around and watch tv and do very little productive activity. My active lifestyle has gone out the window. Yet, I am still eating like I did when I was running 4 days a week. So, it is not a surprise it has piled back on.

I haven’t posted on here for a long time, because I feel lazy and unmotivated. Not just in my exercise habits, but in almost every aspect of my life.  I put off meeting with friends, then I am sad because I feel left out and alone.  I am stressed about having to find a new job, so I search for jobs that might interest me… and then never apply to them because I can’t be bothered to make a new resume.  About the only thing I have decided to do and stuck to is rewatch all 4 seasons of Battlestar Galactica… (on season 3 already and it has only been 2 weeks… lame). My bank back home has screwed up some stuff and owe me money, but I have put off calling them for a month. My iphone bill is questionably large, but same thing…I have put off calling them for months simply due to laziness. My apartment is a mess. My bulletin board at school hasn’t been changed in months.

I am a disaster.

Basically, I need to get my shit together.  Like, now.  So, I have a plan of attack that I have already begun the implementation of.

  • Stop sleeping in.  New bedtime is between 10 and 11, and new wake up time is 6am. No more waking up with 20 minutes until work starts.  Started this last week,  and I have been using my mornings to clean, exercise and basically get my shit together.
  • Drink 2 litres of water a day. I am tired and hungry all the time, and my skin looks terrible. I have been drinking MAYBE 500mL of water a day. No wonder I feel like crap.
  • Eat better.  I have been eating a lot of quick meals like frozen pizza and junk because of my busy schedule. That stops. Or should I say, stopped. No more alcohol on weekdays.  (I will make an exception on my birthday 🙂 )
  • Cancel any plans that I have that I don’t actually want to do. I have 10 weeks left in Japan. I need to do the things I actually want to, and not just fill my time.  This includes not hanging out with people I don’t want to hang out with.  Stop making excuses, and just politely decline.
  • Exercise. This is the big one… I started the Insanity workout. A few years back I started p90x, but the chin ups did me in. Also, at that time I hadn’t been into running and so I started with a fitness level of about zero. Although I have gained some weight, I hope I still have muscle memory 🙂   I just completed day 3, and this might be the hardest thing I have ever done. To be honest, although it is in circuits of 3,  I can only complete 2 of the sets. And I am still dripping with sweat when done. My muscles hurt so much today. Again, after 3 days!  But, I took pictures on day 1, and I am going to use them to motivate myself.
  • Stop fucking around doing nothing at work. I only teach 3-4 classes a day. I need to make getting my shit together a part of my daily life. Allot a certain amount of time to job search, resume creation, cleaning up my workspace in prep for my successor, etc. I have already started a document for the newbie detailing working as an ALT in Neo (it is 10 pages already! eep) and am working on a comprehensive set of lesson plans for the whole year at each school.

So there we go. Up here in writing. Possibly the 10th time I have claimed on this blog that Ii am making a change. But here is hoping I can get back on track.

may sickness

I think I have 五月病. It is a real think according to the Japan Times.

Psychiatrist Hiromi Okuda calls the malady “a depressed state of mind” in her book “Buka wo Utsu ni Shinai Joshi no Kyokasho” (“Textbook on How to Prevent Your Subordinate from Being Subjected to Depression”). She says it is caused by a wide variety of events occurring at the same time in spring.

Symptoms include lack of motivation or a feeling of malaise, poor appetite, difficulty sleeping and the inability to enjoy pleasurable pursuits.

Ok, then she goes on to say that is isn’t an official sickness or anything, but it does sound a lot like what is going on with me, so I will take it. For the full article, read http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/05/08/reference/spring-fever-hits-workers-students-hard-after-golden-week/#at_pco=cfd-1.0. I know, I should make that a nice hidden link, but my computer is being a pain in the ass, and if you were paying attention you would see my lack of motivation means I am not interested in pursuing why that is.

I have nothing to complain about, honest. I am just in a funk. I have good friends, I have a good job, I am broke but that is a state I have been in for 15 years so that isn’t new (isn’t it messed up that the period of time when I had the most money was high school??), and I am relatively healthy (just getting pudgy again after not taking exercise seriously for too long). Golden week was fantastic – a beer festival and then playing games for 3 days in Osaka is not exactly a low-light of my time in Japan by any means.

To get over May Disease, Okuda suggests:

people tend to recover naturally if they can live more orderly lives with fewer assignments, and also by trying to avoid tense situations

So, with that in mind, I have cancelled a number of things on my May and June schedule, and I am going to relax… which will supposedly raise my motivation. Makes sense…?

Post spring break musings (aka Raygan’s Rambling again…)

I don’t want to work. I want to bang on the drum all day. I don’t want to play. I just want to bang on the drum all day.

This is going around and around and around in my head this morning. To be fair, I have been at my desk for an hour and I have already printed out the curriculum and word list for grade 1 and 3, and organized the first 6 lesson plans for grade 1 (that is approximately how many times I will see the kids before I depart in August, since I see them every other week). All I have to do before 4:30 is the lesson plans for grade 3 and the word lists and lessons for grade 4, which should take another hour or so. Oh, and meet with the teachers – only one of my new homeroom teachers is new, so this should be a breeze.

So, the slacking and thinking and reminiscing about my amazing spring break begins!

As almost everyone who would bother to read my blog or see this on FB knows, I went to England last week to attend the wedding of one of my oldest friends. This year, the finances have been… an issue… so I actually got to go thanks to some amazing family and friends sending me money for my 35th birthday. Thank you, my lovely friends and family. You are amazing! I cannot express how grateful I am. I was a bit stressed out and have been feeling guilty about not using the time to go home to see my family, but I hope they understand. I do feel recharged. That lonely place in my heart has been topped up with a lot of love and laughter.

To be honest, there isn’t a whole lot to tell, apart from the pictures that have already been posted. More will come, when Kat gets home and I snag her pics (I forgot my camera, so only had iPhone shots to share). The week was spent catching up with old friends, meeting some new ones, drinking a lot of delicious beer and cider, eating too much, doing a tiny bit of sight seeing, walking a lot, laughing so much I got numerous stomach aches, and realizing I am the crappiest packer in the world.

I was reminded of the fun I had when I lived in Darlington. The laughs with the rugby ladies, the way it was so easy to make friends and find like minded people. The great shops and products that can be found in England… I could happily become obese and extremely well groomed there 🙂 Although, their love of self tanner is a bit… excessive. I would love to live there again. I love the countryside, as well as the way the towns are laid out, and the market days year round. Hitting up an Abbey built in the 12th century reminded me how young Canada is, and how much I love history – even if I am a crap tourist, I can definitely enjoy wandering through some ruins. I also loved the camaraderie that came from being with people I have real history with. Kat and Steph are beyond being just my best girlfriends – they are my family, and spending time with them and the people who are important to them, makes me feel like my heart is truly full. They both have amazing partners who are a ton of fun to be around. And more than that, just easy to be with. I also got to spend time with Steph’s family – her sister Andrea and her husband Mark, her mom and her aunt Trish – all of whom are more like extended family to me.

On the downside, it made me feel more torn about my future. Where am I going to live? Why am I always going somewhere new, when I have so many good friends that I don’t live near. And family that I never see. Also, how can I figure out a way to live in England again? What would John and I do? How does teaching in Taipei fit into that? Gah. I am a disaster. Future plan? What future plan?

Being back in Japan, I also am feeling a bit guilty. Am I becoming too blind too see how great it can be, because of my wishful thinking for the next adventure? I realized while driving to work this morning that while I was away, Spring has EXPLODED all over my town. The brilliant pink trees are in bloom, as well as the white and soft pink cherry blossoms. I have, literally, 114 days left in Japan, and I need to make the most of them. (This means if you were ever thinking of visiting, DO IT NOW. )

I guess I should start making the most of them by getting back to my curriculum/lesson writing…. 😀

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