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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tales from the Shokuinshitsu Vol. 4

Tales from the Shokuinshitsu

Volume 4: In which it's not always about her, but it usually is.

I saw a wireless router up on a shelf when I first arrived this school about 2 years ago. For the longest time I didn't even ask about connecting to the WiFi because there was really no need. There's a LAN cable that runs to each person's work laptop, and I would never be doing anything on my phone that required heavy internet use - checking the dictionary, mailing myself a picture for work, etc.

So as the Beatles once said, I let it be.

One day I brought my own laptop to school. I needed to do something which required software not available on the work laptops. I plugged in the LAN cable assuming that it would connect without issue, but it did not. I know now that there was (and is) a proxy running, which meant I couldn't hop on to the internet unless I knew the IP address and port they were running it through. It's not complicated but it meant that I would not be using the school's internet unless I was told these specific values.

So I availed myself of the classic wisdom, "Ask and you shall receive."

Exactly one half of that worked.

I was told that there was no WiFi, it didn't work. At the time I was doing my best to play nice and thus really didn't question the things that I was told. There was no reason not to believe them so I took that answer in earnest.

At some point down the road, after the first teacher swap happened, one of the new teachers asked about the internet as well. I listened carefully to the ensuing conversation. It wasn't complicated at all though. That teacher was given a password to punch into her personal iPad, she thanked the one who relayed it to her and went back to work.

So there was WiFi and it does work. That's lie number one.

After that, I asked other teachers about using the internet, but none of them knew much about computers so they said they didn't know the password, or how they were signed in, just that they were. Frustrating, and confirmation of the first lie.

The school eventually bought a series of iPads for use in the classes. I have an iPad myself and I like it, but I'd be the first to admit that an iPad without WiFi is fairly useless. One of them popped up in an English class, and I saw that glorious monochrome triple rainbow, which could only mean one thing. By that point there were several things I knew: one, there is WiFi here; second, there are iPads; third, those iPads are definitely connected to the WiFi. I thought I would try again to ask about the internet but this time I framed it in terms of my iPad, reasoning it would make for a stronger case.

I think the accepted term here is "Swing and a miss."

I had a legitimate reason to use my iPad too. I wanted to browse the bookstore and download a picture book, because my kindergartens tend to send faxes on the day of, rather than in advance. I try to prepare many things, but sometimes (believe it or not) our plans do not always align when we fail to discuss them ahead of time.

The response was different, but still a no. I was told that it's very complicated to set up the WiFi. And as a compromise I was offered a cable to connect my iPad to the computer so I could transfer files that way. I offered my thanks but added that I had my own cables.

That response was really interesting though. I'd be willing to admit that possibly, there was no WiFi or it did not work when I first showed up. That's entirely plausible, but extremely unlikely. I know what routers are and people had been using the WiFi. This defense only confirmed that the first excuse was a lie. It's hardly a defense at all, to be honest. It was worse than a, "No," and far worse than being told I could not use it. This was, "There is, but I don't want to tell you."

Just last Friday there was an IT guy here who had been replacing the router, and possibly the modems. He announced to the staff that the password for the internet was different now. One of the teachers immediately shot up, "What?! Tell me what it is now!" He told the teacher, and I quickly jotted down as much as I could of the information being relayed to her. This is when I learned that there is a proxy server. The teacher complained that it was much easier before with just a password.

Ah yes, the smoking gun.

It was only a password? All the lies.

I was annoyed. A proxy is not that hard to figure out; one just punches in some extra numbers and it's done. The crux of my angst was centered on how much people had danced around telling me the WiFi information.

And to what end, I wondered. I would've been more comfortable with someone telling me that I can't use it because I'm American. Flat out discrimination would feel better than just being lied to. At least one of those two is honest.

As all the teachers learned the new information for using the WiFi I sat down and tried my best to write the parts of the IP, port, and password they were reiterating out loud as they typed them in. Everyone trailed off though and I could only get half of it. I heard the IT guy mention that the password was on the back of the modem - they didn't change the factory one. I went up and took a picture of it with my phone. At the very least I would have that piece of the puzzle.

One of the very new teachers (who is quite nice) had just set it up on her phone. I approached her and asked if she could pass the details along to me. In an adorably meek way she replied, "Someone else did it for me." Another teacher, the one who initially complained about the change, heard and came over. I had my phone at the right screen, ready to put in the remaining parts, but she just took over. She went back and then started hitting buttons on my phone as if I didn't know what I was doing.

Thus, the circle of frustration was complete.

But at least I have really slow WiFi now.


Thursday, June 4, 2015


I think I'm just going to start writing and see what comes out today.

Bottling up depression is dangerous and quite different than when someone bottles up anger. When one bottles up anger, it's apt to explode like a can of soda opening after rigorous agitation. Depression, is like putting a hole in the can first. And every time one feels like they can't tell someone about it for fear of coming across as a downer, whiny, or otherwise annoying, it puts another hole in the can.

I was driving with Mitsuko over the weekend and out of nowhere I unloaded. A lot.

I didn't shout or get mad at her, mind you. Nothing like that at all. I had a breakdown after another couple months worth of trying to repress what I'm thinking might be a deep-seated depression at my ineffectiveness and inability to do anything related to the reason I came to Japan on JET in the first place.

Every time I start to talk about how frustrating my placement is, it seems that someone will almost always inadvertently talk about how maybe "culture shock" has finally hit me. That's bullshit. It hasn't. I'm going to go on a limb here and expand this following point to more than just my current situation. The worst thing people can do is tell someone it's their fault when a given person is having problems. It makes them not want to speak up. What might have been handled in one conversation gets dragged out and repressed over an agonizing course of time. It takes a lot of gall to assume (and you are assuming) you know what someone is dealing with in their life, or in their workplace. So, stop it.

I love Japan. I have the best time on the rare occasion when I get to do a bit of traveling, exploring, and interacting with people who want to talk to me. It's my work environment that's destroying me.

I looked through my journal and for the past couple of weeks, every entry has opened with the following words:



Not today.

Or today.

I think you get the point.

Nearly every other day, while I was sitting here with little to do but collect my thoughts, there would be a phone call to the office. It came from the 2nd year teacher asking for help because the class was too out of control or there would be some kind of fighting that required all available (2nd year) teachers to run up and help.

I have been informally uninvited to these classes after several incidents (including an altercation with a student) wherein the teacher apologized to me once class was over and the students were dismissed.

So that's a third of the potential classes I can't go to. I wouldn't want to go anyway as it stands. I don't need to be insulted, have obscenities shouted, or be the target for paper airplanes, paper wads, etc - while I'm trying to talk. Unless they fix this I won't be making an appearance. I make use of the indefinite pronoun in this case only to point out that I don't care who corrects their behavior, just that someone does. I've had talks with the principal of the school about this, as well as the 2nd year staff. Everyone unabashedly agrees that something is truly wrong. But that is as far as the conversation ever goes.

Those who would teach these children are holding them under a faucet, waiting for the water so that they may wash their hands of the whole affair.

That's just one thing.

The former English teacher still haunts these halls. I don't know what she does other than tell me things I already know. Every time she walks near me I start to become a little bit annoyed at the possibility that I'll be dragged into a conversation I don't want to have. She'll say something in English that I don't understand - which is entirely not a problem. The problem is that she will phrase it in a way that sounds as though it's a new thing she's referring to. This causes me to ask, "What?" or state that I'm not aware of the thing she's just mentioned. Then when I find out what it is in Japanese I come to realize that there's nothing new and I'm on task, on schedule as always. She's just always trying to be on my case.  Let's have an example.

We have an assembly once a week. Every Wednesday morning in the gym the student council will go over any important news, and then any teachers wishing to make announcements will do much the same. She frequently reminds me about this - two years into doing it. It's not a friendly reminder though as she laments the information unto me with an elongated (mis)pronunciation of my name. She'll follow that up with a prolonged drawl oozing instructions out of her mouth to me as though I require it so. I have to hand it to her though, she knows how to sound like a complete asshole when she's trying.



"The meeting is todaaaaaaaaay." She will say with a rising intonation of impatience, sounding thoroughly annoyed.

"What?" I'm alarmed because she's expressing this to me as though it's something I am late or not prepared for.

"School meeeeeeeeeeeting.... in the gyyyyyyyym." I know you're thinking that maybe she just pronounces things like this and it's a complete misunderstanding. I'll put that to rest right now. She doesn't speak English like that to anyone else. I've heard her in and outside of class.

"Oh, the zenkouchoukai." I quickly respond both at ease and frustrated. First, she's not at the meeting. So I'm not late. I look at the clock to confirm it doesn't happen for 10 more minutes. Then, I looked at the rest of the staff room. Everyone else is still here so it's not as if I'm supposed to be there early.

Anyway, that's just one of many stories involving her. She never speaks Japanese to me, nor do I to her. Not since she made fun of it. The third volume of journals should really list her somewhere in the credits because she's got more screen time than anyone else in it.

Despite knowing there would be fallout I also canceled my school lunch recently.

Doing that itself was a process and required talking to multiple parties. One instance I remember quite well. It started when I talked to the quite nice JTE (with whom I get along splendidly) that sits next to me and it came up in conversation that I might be able to cancel my school lunch. I left it at that for a while, but eventually I truly wanted to cancel the lunch because of dietary reasons. I have to say first that I don't mind kyuushoku at all, and I almost always enjoyed it - Natto isn't food. I didn't drink the milk however, because who does, and I didn't want to eat the rice because I'm trying to lose weight and that amount of empty carb loading just wasn't doing me any favors. It's a lot of rice for those not in the know and wasting food (throwing it back in the bin to be later tossed) is unacceptable to me.

Eventually I talked with the office lady because she was in charge of collecting the lunch money every month. The former JTE, y, was there as well. I wasn't going to ask about canceling the school lunch on that occasion. Originally I was double checking how much I was required to pay for it. An important point for later: It's been a well known fact since I arrived that I don't drink milk, and as a result I don't receive any for lunch. Irrelevant to the milk issue, I found out a year later that I was being overcharged because I have a half day on Wednesday and thus don't eat at the school. This being the second year, I asked the office lady if the amount on my payment envelope was correct. It showed 5000 yen, which is the same it always was. She said it was right. I paused then explained the whole overcharged scenario to her, but I made a mistake. I had forgotten it was because of Wednesdays, and I mentioned milk.

She was confused then looked past me towards y, made a face, then explained it was because of not eating on Wednesday. Immediately I felt stupid. Of course that's what I meant to say, I just slipped up. She looks at me and says, (in Japanese, she doesn't speak any English) "Do you understand?" She looks past me at y again and repeats, "Does he understand?" Now of course I'm feeling a bit annoyed because I do understand, and now y has been brought into this discussion as well - something I did not want.

The office lady explains that she'll give me my refund at the end of next year rather than adjusting how much I have to pay now, which is ridiculous.

I say to the office lady that I understand, but we again go through this song and dance at which point y gets up and says, "Do you understand?"

Or at least she would have. As she got up I turned around and said, "No." She sat right back down.

If we weren't friends before, we sure are now.

A week after that I just told her (office lady) that I wanted to cancel it outright. I was done with it. It took a couple weeks before another person talked to me about it, because it somehow involved him. He said that they would look it but that it would require some phone calling and double checking to make sure I could be removed. His explanation was that there are people who work for the town that carefully balance - that word comes up so often - each meal and he worried that I wouldn't be eating enough, or eating a balanced meal.

That might sound sweet to you, but this is a person who made fun of my weight for quite some time after I arrived, and poked fun at myself and the other ALT in Kotoura-cho at our welcome dinner with the BOE people. After that dinner, I thanked him for his "kind words," and he respond thus:

"Those weren't kind words." Anyway, moving on.

They eventually picked a day when the lunch would stop for me, and now I bring a salad I make at home. Every once in a while though he'll stop by and ask if I'm eating enough.

Yes, I am. Thank you.

This is of course annoying because that same person will equally ask what I'm eating for dinner. I'm honest, and there's no shame in what I'm cooking. I don't eat unhealthy. Despite this, I've always received a warning to "not eat too much".

I won't. Thank you. 

I have plenty more to say, but I guess I should stop here.