Current Events

I won’t write about the election. I know this is the space to do so, but I don’t think my voice is going to tip any scale out there.

There has been too much about it. Too much noise, too many opinions, too much grief, too much glee. And the instant backlash in too many directions – suck it up, love with love, be angry, don’t be angry, keep your head down, fight the power, love thy neighbor. It’s like America is a rubber band that snapped back in on itself after being pulled too tight.

I will say this: my students don’t know what to say, or what to ask. They can’t believe it. One of my older students is afraid. One of my economics students is worried about the TPP. Some laugh, because they believe he is a joke and don’t understand enough about politics to see what he means for my country. They ask me what I think, how I feel, and what it all means.

What would you say?

Here’s what I’ve been saying, “Well, I’m scared. I’m upset. I’m confused. But I have English to teach, and we have work to do.” And I leave it at that. Soapboxing here does nothing. I am honest, because it’s best. I am brief, because I won’t waste words that will go misunderstood. And I focus on my work, because otherwise I’d start ranting and raving, which doesn’t help my EFL students and doesn’t help me.

I feel as though anyone who goes abroad has an obligation to build good relationships and set a good example. Now? Now I’ll have to work harder, because now we have a president who is regarded as a dangerous buffoon by the global community. Now I’ll be pre-judged, and I’ll have to try and explain what is going on back home.

I know people on both sides. I pass judgments of my own, but judgment doesn’t solve problems. Communication is essential. Teaching is essential.

 

So that is what I do. I teach.

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Be afraid, Have fun

Quick update: I’ll be uploading several posts within the next few days. I got behind on posting, but I have been writing.

Thus far, orientation appears to be 95%:

  • If you do any of the following, you’ll be fired
  • How to handle low motivation students who don’t want to be in class

And 5%:

  • Have fun and be enthusiastic!

It’s…well, I’m really susceptible to authoritarian language for some reason. I recognize that I don’t want to obey as much as I did when I was an uptight, stalwart teenager, but the vestiges of that are still alive in me. So, when I’m told over and over again that if I lose my red folder I’ll be terminated, the only thing I want to do is lock that folder away and never touch it again. Unfortunately it is the most important thing I need for my job as well, so I feel like I have to carry around a bit of radioactive material with me every day.

The language is interesting – there’s a hard edge to everything, yet it’s all smothered in giggles. Everyone should have fun and never step out of line. I haven’t been here long enough to put my finger on it, but there’s this odd cultural back and forth. I’m watching the veteran teachers shrug off inconsistencies and hard redundancies as “very Japanese.” I don’t know what that means yet, but it’s making for some language that is very at odds with itself. We get rules that are described as both ironclad and unnecessary.  Be afraid. Have fun.

Does this mean the stereotype about Japan having rules for rules sake is not a stereotype?  So far, all I’ve been given are rules I must not break. And they give them repeatedly, and couple them with stories of who got terminated for breaking said rule. Today, for the third day of orientation, I’ll be given a list of classroom procedures that I must do every day…or else? I thought it would be a little more lax – that the unyielding wall of procedures was a smokescreen to weed out those looking for a free trip to Japan. It’s looking less and less like that is true. As our teacher contact put it, “If you can find happiness here, you can survive anywhere.” Yeah. I couldn’t tell if that was a translation issue or not.

I’d say it’s also difficult being the new person. My fellow “new” teachers have all at least taught for my company before, or have taught in Japan. And the veteran teachers say, “But we all know already…” a lot. I stop them every so often, but it’s intimidating, feeling like I’m the one person who doesn’t know what everyone already understands, especially as concerns the cultural divide. I have the least amount of experience teaching ESL, and the least amount of experience teaching in Japan. I keep worrying that I’ll get found out, even though I’m perfectly qualified.

I’m writing this to find a silver lining – like, if I can make this work, then really I can do any job out there. Not just ESL – any job. I’m not going to let all this doom-and-gloom get the better of me. So what if one teacher solemnly looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re working at [redacted]? Good luck, you’ll need it.” I mean, that’s how all the best stories start, right? Going into the break, the wormhole, the maw – that’s how you become a protagonist.

I’ll be happy to get out of here for a day – I’m going to go sightseeing this weekend with one of my new compadres. I need a reminder that I’m across the largest ocean again. The daily sushi simply isn’t enough…

 

 

In the Interim

I got back from Japan.

Then I lost a job.

And so I applied for a job in Japan.

I went to the Grand Canyon.

Now I’m heading back overseas…to Japan.

I’m not sure this is where I’m meant to be. I don’t think this is my final stop.

But this blog will go back to what it was in the beginning – writing about living in a part of the world, while talking about teaching and the EFL/ESL experience.

To those of you who missed me – I’m flattered.
To those of you who find me – enjoy!

How do you prefer to be groped…?

It’s the wrong verb.

That’s what is scratching at the back of my brain throughout this alcohol lubricated conversation. It’s a housewarming party in the suburbs around Brussels, at a gorgeous house of an acquaintance in the small town of Lustin.

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Seriously – movie quality home.

And we’ve all been drinking a little bit, the Europeans and the visiting Americans. They’re rolling their own cigarettes and have themselves decoratively draped over lawn furniture like so many Ikea mannequins. I have this theory that Europeans, especially French speakers, like to see what American limits are in terms of conversation topics. To see if we’re as Puritanical as our stereotypes make us out to be. Then again, it could be because I am a woman, and love to talk. Who knows the inner workings of the human mind…?

That is why, in the setting sun on the hillsides, full of beer and/or wine and sausages, I find myself discussing the nuances of breast fondling.

It didn’t start there. First I got ribbed for going to Charleroi. The general consensus is that I’m very foolish to think that 1.) I would find anything of interest in a poor town like Charleroi and 2.) That I thought I would find anything about my family. I explain that I did not anticipate meeting family out of the blue, but that I wanted to see where my family lived. This prompts some more gibes about being from Charleroi. To any of my readers who have a less than savory neighborhood around their city, imagine being teased for being from there.

Charleroi – first you tear down my ancestral home to build a shed, and now you don’t have the decency to have a good reputation!

But back to the breasts. I’m not sure how we got there, really. I just assume that because there were Americans present the Europeans decided to see if they could make us blush. Jokes on them (not really – I would have ducked out if things got too raunchy or uncomfortable. It makes me sound a heck of a lot cooler if I don’t admit that though.)!

I’m trying to keep things clean – as clean as possible. I am, after all, and ESL certified teacher. English vocabulary is one of my strong points, and the nuances of the language appeal very much to my writer’s sensibilities. The two gentlemen in question – and to a lesser extent, the three women with us – are trying to get information on the proper way to touch a woman’s breasts. Surely, we are all unique?

Yes, the woman from Antwerp prefers the underside.
Yes, the woman from Brussels prefers the top.
(You don’t get to know mine unless you get to know me and I deem you worthy.)

But ultimately, under it all, there’s something bothering me about the whole conversation. It’s not that the questions are intimate, or that they’re very forward for casual acquaintances. I actually think it’s best to discuss intimacy with acquaintances, since you are unlikely to see them again and don’t have to worry about such revelations coming back to haunt you.

No, it’s the word, or to be more specific, the verb. See, the men keep using the verb “groped” as though it’s a good thing. No one has explained to them that when one “gropes” one is searching for something they can’t find, most usually in the dark. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you grope about. A woman who is groped is often groped without her permission, by some jerk (male or female) hoping to grab a bit of mammary.

For all you ESL students, “to grope” can have a negative connotation when applied to the human body. It implies – heavily – that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Better verbs for describing what you would do, once given permission of course, include:to stroke, to fondle, to caress, or even to touch. These are, in my opinion, better words, and as such convey a far more romantic idea than groping, which is what that one man did to me on a tram once. That memory is not a pleasant one.

Back to the backyard discussion – I eventually reach the above conclusion, that it’s the verb that makes the idea unattractive. This leads to a raucous series of miming verbs, where I try to pantomime groping, and they in turn provide very unattractive interpretations of touching a woman’s chest. Laughs are had by all. One of the men (who I learn later is the mistress [note: I need to find out if the male concubine is called a mistress. It’s not a gigolo because he’s not getting paid] of one of the women) proves his sophistication is really an act because he’s giggling like a young boy as we, the women both European and American, lament the fact that these are the reasons we are dissatisfied with the state of affairs.

So much more entertaining than teaching adverbs to teenagers, though….

I hitch a ride back with one of the men, who turns out to be a complete gentleman. He neither fondled nor groped me, and it was just the two of us and a long ride to Brussels and a full moon and everything. Eh voila!

So it is past midnight for the second night in my brief stay in Belgium. Jet lag and general fatigue are wrestling about in my bloodstream. I’m either faking being awake, or I’m dead asleep. The bed doesn’t care one way or the other, and at this point neither do I.

Belgium: Flight of Fancy

It’s been awhile since my last update. I did not write about the rest of my Mexico adventure. For this I am sorry – it was a wonderful time, and I realized that I have many reasons to be content with my life. It was powerful, but also awkward in a “well what do I do now?” kind of way.

Turns out I travel. That is usually the answer in my life. I go somewhere else and see what there is to see.

In researching my family history, I learned that we have ancestry in Belgium. I have never had a reason to go to Belgium, though my Dad and I have talked about visiting for a couple of years now. Then I learned a friend of mine was going to Brussels because a mutual acquaintance had moved to Belgium and was having a housewarming.

Student loans will be there till I die.
I will never be debt free.
So why not go to Belgium
And see what there is to see?

IMG_9106

I presented the trip as a family history project, which is how I convinced my Dad to help me financially with getting to Belgium on short notice. I’ve done it once before – I went to London to search out the woman who corresponded with my Grandpa during World War II. That trip did not yield fruit – all I got was a cool National Archives ID and I scared a man who probably thought I was the immigration police.

This time I would do better, I thought. I have a whole binder and a bunch of useful documentation done by an extended family member. I was going to find Charleroi, Belgium, and explore the homeland of my ancestors. I surprised my friend by asking if I could crash the housewarming party – though naturally I offered to help with the set up and such. She agreed. Dad agreed. I agreed, and off I went!

And so it was I arrived in Belgium on minimal planning – the closest thing I’ve ever done to just up and going somewhere. A weekend bag, my passport, and a giant binder full of photocopies. I arrived with the dawn. My first impression was good – a mix of village and city. My hotel was in Brussels, and a very good deal for a place near the EU Parliament buildings. It all went by in a bit of a blur, which I think is true for all airport to hotel transfers. Everything blurs in highway and the backside of buildings.

On the drive over, my Taxi driver Mr. Kiss (no joke) gave me a brief introduction to the city. It was a good opportunity to warm up my French, as I haven’t spoken it in some time. We chat about the transformation of the capital, the new and old architectures vying for attention and space. He offers to be my driver for my stay, but I demure. I plan on using trains and the metro for the bulk of my travel. Also I am on a strict budget, and the luxury of a personal driver is not one in which I care to indulge.

I decided that, given the short nature of this trip, I needed to hit the ground running. So upon arrival I immediately connected to the wifi and found the hours for archives. There are several branches of the archives in Belgium, with several in Brussels, so I was a little intimidated. Luckily, through some quick research and cross-referencing, I found the archives which would most likely have information on the birth records for churches in the Charleroi area. I took photos of Google maps for my phone (which did not work in Europe) so I could find the metro, and then the archives. I downed a bottle of water, and headed out.

A good use for the cell phone when maps are not readily available.

A good use for the cell phone when maps are not readily available.

I could feel jetlag gnawing away around my edges even in the morning – a consequence of not sleeping well on the plane. But there was no time for drooping! I was on a tight schedule.

Impression of Belgian metro – relatively clean but expensive for a metro. More expensive than Paris, at least (unless Paris has upped the fares for single tickets).

With increasing bleariness I locate the Archives. They are closed for lunch. This was not mentioned on the website. I sit out in the sun by a canal and drink caffeine. This area of town seems more workaday than tourist, and there is a air of slight neglect on everything. Beer bottles and trash are tucked into corners of broken concrete, and there are the bits of graffiti here and there, but the streets and the canal waters are clear.

I’m stalling out on the bench. The pleasantly warm sun is not encouraging me to stay awake. It’s reminding me how much I love afternoon naps. There is nothing to do in the immediate area – no park or monument to distract me. No grocery or gift stores. Just a series of dark brown brick residencies built above halal shops and travel agencies. I can’t play games on my phone because I need to preserve the battery for looking at maps (I don’t plan on getting back to the hotel until late).

A small, unassuming building housing rows and rows of history

A small, unassuming building housing rows and rows of history

Now dragging instead of skipping along, I manage to make it through the hour and return to the Archives building. It is now open, and I drop off my belongings in a locker and get buzzed in. The building is low and cool. Most of the lights are off, and sunlight filters through windows along the top of the back far wall. There is no one in the space under fifty (and that’s me being generous).

There does not appear to be an information area, so I approach a white-haired man behind the only counter visible. I ask about birth records for Charleroi (I’m super proud of myself for looking up the words “birth records” in French), and show him my binder. After some back and forth, I learn that there is a gentleman going through microfilm who might be able to help me. I also learn that there is not a soul in the building who speaks a lick of English.

Normally this would not bother me – I can muddle through enough French to get my ideas across. But this would require a highly specialized vocabulary set that most French courses would not think to teach. There is no chapter in my high school (or college) French texts that contain “Useful vocabulary for researching lineage.” I looked up some key words I thought would be useful, but beyond that I’m stuck using context clues and hoping for the best.

A tall man with halitosis shows up and takes an interested look at my binder. I point to Charleroi, and then we’re off in the microfilm. It’s exciting – I haven’t used microfilm since I was a nerdy elementary school kid at the library. Microfilm has such a lovely old-timey feel to it. It won’t tell you anything itself – you must look for your information. You have to know what you want before you think to go scrolling through those rolls of film. Granted, it’s more time consuming and finicky, but I can appreciate that in research.

In the process of going through the film on the monitor, we (me and tall man) collect a curious collection of aged researchers. They look at my binder, and talk among themselves since I’m falling deeper into jet lag stupor and admitting that my French is falling along with me. They ask why I did not call ahead, why I decided to just visit instead of communicating through e-mail. I explained that the fun is in the doing. Anyone can just write back and forth these days. I like to put my hands on things. I don’t think this impresses them – I detect a note of something like bafflement. They’re totally confused as to what I think I’m doing, or why I’m going about it in such an old-fashioned way.

Don’t they understand that the point is to go out into the world to find things?

We don’t find anything. The records for the registry in my binder do not reveal anyone with my surname from the towns listed. I’m too tired to follow it fully, but it sounds like there is some debate about the spelling. Monfort vs. Montfort. Perhaps there is an error in the immigration papers? The identification of the town? Am I staying around for the week? No, just the weekend. The nice woman who has been chatting with me shakes her head. The archives are closed over the weekend. It’s a pity I’m not staying longer, but perhaps I could e-mail them my information when I get back to the United States. They’d be willing to help me search.

Ah, e-mail. Traditional overseas correspondence these days. Not hands on, but long distance requests. There’s not much else I can say to that. I know that I interrupted all of their projects. Seriously, they were all deep in their own work when I showed up. The tall man with bad breath said he could take a few minutes to help me. The lookers-on just stopped what they were doing. And then the cheerful American with her fat binder yielded no results, and their projects needed to resume. I shoved all self-centered thoughts deep down so that they wouldn’t pop out (they were very vain thoughts about fuddy-duddies and no sense of the moment).

It’s 3pm. Time to head out to meet my friend and the acquaintance.

The canal near the Metro - pretty pinwheels on both sides broke up an otherwise dull cityscape

The canal near the Metro – pretty pinwheels on both sides broke up an otherwise dull cityscape