Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Stomping Grounds

Up and out of bed around nine.

Ouch. Head hurts.

This was not a surprise, considering the deluxe Daikan-cho bender I went on the night before.

However, the headache was not of the "Oh God Please Strike Me Dead Where I Stand" pain, or even the "Athena, is that you springing from my cleft forehead?" pain. It's more of the "Hmm, maybe I shouldn't have had that double shot of rum and vodka to cap off the night" kind of dull ache in the back of my skull. Comparatively speaking, not a bad headache.

Today was the last day teachers would be at school before the start of winter vacation (for them...students had started their vacation on the 23rd). I wanted to cruise around and see if I could catch up with some of my former coworkers.

Clean up a bit first.

Then out to Lisa's car (THANK YOU!!!!!) and off to the Izumo BOE.

The kind folks at Izumo's Board of Education took very good care of me for the two years I was there. Not that Hakuta treated me badly, mind you. They were also very kind to me. It's just that while I was the first ALT to work solely in Hakuta, Izumo had been hosting ALTs for quite some time, and they were used to handling them, much like animals in a zoo (the ALTs, I mean). Trust me, with some of the people that make it over here on the JET Program, the animal comparison is not as far off as you might think. There were times when I would think, "What does this say about me that I was let in on the same standards that these yay-hoos made it in on?"

Hopefully I am not being judged by the same standards. Hopefully some of the other JETs I consider myself fortunate to have worked with are not being judged by the same standards. Hopefully.

But there are times that I worry.

Anyway, I cruised over to the Izumo BOE to say hi to everybody over there. Up the outside stairs to the second floor and on inside, where I see everybody working. I nonchalantly say "Good day, everyone," and pull up my old chair and sit down.

The reaction was similar to that of the night before, although I think some people were concerned because there was this strange white guy walking in and pulling up a chair like he worked there. Then, recognition set in.

"Dustin! I was wondering if you made it back okay."

Snow snow snow snow snow was the weather report out of Hokkaido. A lot of people thought my plane didn't get off the ground.

Well, I'm back!

First off, a chat with Mihara-san. Mihara-san is the savior of the BOE, at least where us JETs are concerned. She has been working as the JET supervisor for several years, and she's pretty familiar with all the weird quirks that we can have. She also knows how to help us out with all of the stuff we have to take care of upon arrival, and all of the weird problems that tend to pop up during our time there. In other words, Mihara-san rocks. I can't even begin to express how much she helped me out while I was there. There were times when things started to get too crazy with work, and she was always there to help me out. She also took me to the hospital the night I almost died from that intestinal infection. I have her to thank not only for my sanity (or what's left of it...according to some of you jokers), but also my life. Mihara-san rules.

It was good to talk with her. She's had to send me some paperwork a few time since I moved up to Muroran, and she always puts in a little note of encouragement. Hell, that's saved my sanity more than a few times. We talked about life in Hokkaido and in Izumo, how thin I looked (flatterer), how English education was going in Izumo, how her family was doing, and how my job was going.

I also talked with all the other folks at the office. It sure was good to see them. Some of them didn't even realize that it was me sitting there. Apparently, I looked so natural that it seemed like I had never left. At least that's what they said.

After spending some time interrupting everybody's work, I decided to get on the road and try and catch a few teachers. First up, Yotsugane Elementary.

Out of the fourteen (fourteen!) elementary schools I worked at while I was in Izumo, Yotsugane was probably my favorite. Ms. Taihei, the teacher who coordinated my schedule on the days I taught there, was absolutely awesome. Although, the first time I met her, I was a little worried.

I transferred to Izumo in July of 2003. In August, we had a meeting with teachers from all of the elementary schools (fourteen!) in town regarding how we should go about having me visit schools. Basic procedural stuff mostly, scheduling, what kind of English activities to do, please meet Dustin, that kinda stuff. Ms. Taihei asked a lot of questions about things and seemed to be a little frustrated with the whole process. I thought, "Wow. I don't know if I want to go teach over there."

But after going there, I realized that the school, the teachers, and most of all, Ms. Taihei, were exceptionally cool. I always looked forward to going out there. There was a little break room in the back end of the office. Having one of these is not as common as you would think. Plus, Ms. Taihei would often have some snacks for a meeting we would have before I went to my next school.

Plus, Mr. Katsube works at Yotsugane.



Mr. Katsube, or Kat-chan, is one of my best friends in Izumo. We hit it off really well from the time I first met him. He's really in to getting his students motivated to speak English, and he's got an energy level comparable to mine. Which means that if you put us together in a room to teach, look out! You'll need to take some speed just to calm yourself down! He invited me over to ring in 2005 with his family last year, and on my last day at Yotsugane, we had a nacho party with his class, and he made a really touching speech that had both him and me in tears. One of the best friends a guy like me could ask for.

I saw him over in the gym coaching the basketball team, so I went over to say hi. We made plans to go out for drinks and whatever while I was in Izumo, so there will be more on that later.
In the office, I caught up with Ms. Bandai, aka Tomoko. She studied English while in college, and was also a really good friend to work with. I saw a lot of other good friends there, including Principal Suyama, who took me fishing once my first year in Izumo. I caught a puffer fish, which was cool. I was reeling the line out of the water and the thing kept inflating. It was making these weird kissing noises. Since they are so poisonous that you have to have a license to prepare puffer fish to eat, I pulled it off the hook and threw it back. But I can say that I have caught a puffer fish.

So I got to see a lot of familiar faces. Unfortunately, I didn't catch up with Ms. Taihei. Bummer.

But I drank a couple of cups of coffee. Not enough to burn off the headache, but enough to get caffeine in my system so I could continue my journey.

Off to the next school...Takamatsu Elementary. I wanted to see if I could meet up with Mr. Kawakami, another really cool teacher. He is another teacher who is really enthusiastic about teaching English. He's a great guitar player, and a big outdoors guy. Last May, we got together with a couple of other teachers and went river rafting on the Kandogawa River. That was an awesome trip. More on him in a few days.

I got out to Takamatsu and chatted with the teachers out there. Mr. Kawakami was not one of them. After a cup of coffee, I was off again.

Next, I went out to Nagahama Elementary. In my confusion, I forgot that a teacher I had worked with out there had transferred to a different school in Izumo. Yep, I'm an idiot. It talked with the teachers and staff out there, and then asked one of the teachers to call ahead to Kandogawa Elementary, where that friend of mine now worked.

During my time at Nagahama, I had another couple of cups of coffee. By now, my bladder was starting to say, "Hey pal, I appreciate the fact that you have a headache from last night's alcohol-fueled fun, but I'm starting to feel a little uncomfortable."

Over to Kandogawa, where I caught up with my friend Mr. Matsumoto. He gave me a tour of the new school building, which had been under construction while I was in Izumo but had been completed after I left. There was still some work going on, but the new building was very impressive. It even had an elevator, something I've never seen in a Japanese school before. I also ran into Mr. Iiguni, a really cool teacher who is an awesome photographer and designs some cool websites.

More coffee.

Next, I headed out to Asayama Elementary, out in the hills. The entire staff out there is really great, and the principal is a neat lady.

Me and the Asayama gang at a farewell party for me last June.

We sat around and chatted for a bit, and then I was off again. I went all the way out to Ottachi Elementary, my farthest school from where I used to live.

I talked with the teachers there for a while, and then headed up to a pottery workshop where I knew a few people. I stopped in to say hi, made a phone call to the father of one of my former students to see if we could meet up sometime (see December 30), and then sat down with the guys in the workshop and had some food (the first I'd eaten that day, I realized). Good eatin's.

After that, I headed back to Lisa's apartment, fed Jiji, did some work on my New Year's cards, and then headed back out for another night on the town.

I had made a call to Sachiko, one of the Super English teachers that I had worked with, and we agreed to meet up at Tsubasa, a bar where Miymi, another one of the teachers, worked. So I hopped on my bike, stopped by my old apartment building and said hi to the Shigiharas, some good friends of mine. They offered me some food, which I happily accepted, and we talked about Hokkaido and Izumo. After that, I was off to Tsubasa.


Sachiko, me, Miymi, and her mom out at Izumo Taisha last July.

Miymi is a strange character, which I mean in a good way. I have never seen a person with this much energy. Ever. Take Richard Simmons, clone him ten times, force those clones to reproduce to purify that bizarre energy, extract it from the clones and their offspring, and then condense it all down into one Japanese woman. That might give you an idea of what we're dealing with here. She is really cool, though. She was a truck driver for a few years, hauling goods around western Japan. How awesome is that? She spent some time in Australia and is really good at English, although she'd never admit it herself. She has an Australian flag on display at Tsubasa, so Sachiko and I love to give her a hard time by asking her if it's the New Zealand flag. She gets so mad.

Sachiko's another interesting Izumo character. She runs an English cram school in Izumo and has helped out with the Super English program for about a year now. She's really fired up about teaching English, and she's got the skills and the ideas to make the program work. She's also got a great sense of humor. I always enjoyed working with her and Miymi.

So we sat around at Tsubasa, talking about stuff, or at least trying to. Whenever the three of us try and get together at Tsubasa, they get the weirdest customers in there. This night was no exception. Whatever. It was still good to see them. And "Mama", as the boss of Tsubasa is known. Actually, the female boss of any bar is usually known as "Mama". In this case, it's pretty accurate, because she's Miymi's mom. I stuck with water all night, because I was still feeling that headache. They wouldn't let me hear the end of that one.

"You come ALL THE WAY back from Hokkaido just to drink WATER? What kinda man are you?"

Ummm, one with an annoying headache that I don't particularly feel like aggravating.

Then it was time to cruise back to Lisa's (cold) apartment and hit the sack. End Day Two.

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