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Japanese Christmas Time

December 13th, 2012 No comments

It certainly doesn’t feel like Christmas time. The weather is cold, but not freezing. Most trees have lost their leaves but many are still in the process of losing them and plenty don’t seem to lose them at all. As for snow, we got about 2 cm all last year combined so I don’t expect much of that either. You only really notice that it’s Christmas when you go shopping, as a few stores have Christmas sections (like the dollar stores) and they’ve got Christmas music playing all over the place, including supermarkets. Maybe some Japanese scientists discovered that Christmas music increases consumerism by some factor. Either way, as soon as you walk outside it just feels like Fall again.

At least among my fellow foreigners there is some minor observation of the holiday season. There were two Christmas parties this past Saturday, a pot-luck dinner at Kim’s apartment and then a relatively big Christmas-bash at Ben’s place just like last year. There was just a small gathering of people at Kim’s—her boyfriend Enam and the same people who came to my party celebrating my return to Japan: Hiroshi, Will, and his Japanese girlfriend. There was also a guy named Ravi whom I only met once before on our beach picnic last Spring. We had a smorgasbord of food from East and West, everything from a sushi platter to Kentucky Fried Chicken. Also some homemade tuna-salad. Nothing traditionally Christmasy, but we did say “Merry Christmas” when we toasted our drinks.

Once we finished dinner we all migrated over to Ben’s party, which was almost identical to last year except that Trey was noticeably absent and I hadn’t brought a flaky Chinese girl who went home with another guy. That guy—Dan—was there, and we had some very pleasant conversation. He used to work with K-sensei, and now he works with S-sensei whom I worked with last year. He agreed with me that she’s a nice person but very difficult to work with.

I hadn’t seen Ben in almost half a year so it was nice to get to hang out with him again for a little. I might not see him again for a few more months , but I guess that’s just how he is. I also got to see a bunch of other people I haven’t seen in equally as long, including a really nice guy and fellow fantasy-nerd Zach, who has the same plan as I do of doing absolutely nothing during the holiday break. But we made tentative plans to at least head into Tokyo one of those days.

I also met a few new people. Ben plays soccer so he knows a bunch of Japanese people so it was great to have a few native Japanese there as well. At one point I found myself having a nice conversation about the difference between English and Japanese culture when it comes to religion with an attractive Japanese girl who spoke great English. It wasn’t until I’d stepped away to use the bathroom and came back to find her talking to another guy that I realized that might have been some kind of an opportunity. I went outside for a smoke and casually mentioned it to Enam, who very forcefully told me to go back and touch her gently on the back and say we didn’t finish our conversation. I was feeling loose enough and confident enough to try that, but I didn’t want to interrupt her talking with the other guy. Enam came in and without my asking just went up to that guy and struck up a conversation with him, at which point I went ahead and did the “we didn’t finish our conversation” move on the girl. She was polite enough about it, but I quickly realized that we probably actually did finish our conversation because it suddenly felt awkward. I was thinking about what an overwhelming labyrinth of interaction exists between casual-conversation-at-a-party and the goal of serious-romantic-relationship and I lack both the experience necessary to navigate it and the motivation to try.

I don’t remember how our conversation ended but I did get a Facebook friend request from a Japanese girl the next day. There was no picture on her profile so I can’t be sure it was her, but I don’t think I spoke to any other Japanese girls at the party for a long enough time to warrant a friend request. In any case, the next event I host or attend, the option of inviting her exists.

Unlike at most social events involving drinking, I paced myself very well this time and consumed plenty of water throughout. I never crossed the line between buzzed and drunk, and I left when the party was winding down at midnight rather than the wee hours of the morning. Instead of what I’ve come to regard as an obligatory hangover after social events, the next day I felt relatively decent. I even felt up to go jogging in the afternoon.

There are no more Christmas parties as far as I know, so that was probably the only Christmas celebrating I’ll be doing all year. I’m not bothered by it though—I’ve had crappy Christmases before, and none will ever be as crappy as the one I spent working at the front desk of the Doubletree in Santa Barbara.

As for school, I wasn’t even asked to do a Christmas lesson this year, but in anticipation of one I’d bought a bunch of Christmas pencils and stickers back in America before my flight back. I was planning to give them as prizes for winning the Christmas game, but there is no Christmas game and the games I’m doing these last two weeks are mostly of one half of the class against the other, which means I don’t have enough to give to all the winners. So I came up with the idea of asking six Christmas questions at the beginning of each lesson and letting the students who answer them take a gift.

I hold up a flashcard for each question, starting with a house decorated in Christmas lights and I ask “When is Christmas?” Usually no hands go up at first but someone always tries eventually, and most of the time they say “December 24”. I figure Christmas Eve counts as Christmas too so I accept that answer. The next ones are very easy, as I have a picture of a Christmas tree and a picture of Santa Claus and I ask “what’s this?” and “who’s this?” and a dozen hands go up. I also ask what we say on January 1st (“happy new year”) which one person always gets, and the last thing I do is hold up a picture of myself as a kid on Christmas morning (which my Mom sent last year for the Christmas lesson) and ask “Who’s this?” Some students remember the picture from last year, but in some classes it takes awhile before they guess it’s me, but when they do everyone usually gets a kick out of the picture.

But the most interesting thing is when I hold up a picture of a church and ask “What’s this?” If you did that in most classrooms in the world, everyone would know right away, but not in Japan. A few know the word in Japanese but not English. There’s usually at least one student who knows the word “church” but sometimes they say “chapel” (which I accept) and there was one class in which nobody knew at all.

So that’s Christmas to the Japanese. Everyone knows about Christmas trees and Santa Claus and presents, but that’s as far as it goes. I imagine that most of the students are probably confused that a picture of a church is even included in the Christmas questions at all. “What the heck does religion have to do with Christmas?” they’re probably thinking.

But for whatever reason, there is one other thing that Christmas means to both Western and Japanese students: lots of time off. One more week, then it’s the start of what will probably be my least-needed vacation of all time.

Still Rollin’

November 14th, 2012 No comments

I thought I’d do a quick update post on what’s been happening lately. Even though it’s all pretty much back to the routine at this point, the routine is pretty awesome and worth preserving for future trips down Nostalgia Avenue.

Since I’ve been back and for the remainder of the school year, I’m only teaching with O-sensei and we’re only covering the extra material in the textbooks that the other JTEs don’t have time for. That means instead of teaching grammar points in which there’s a lot of natural lee-way for different kinds of games and activities, we’re doing boring textbook supplemental stuff like dialogs about giving directions or taking a message when you answer the phone. The first-graders have been the exception, our only guideline for the last two weeks being to teach the 3rd-person form of verbs (he plays, she reads, he goes, she studies, etc.). The last two lessons with them turned out to be two of the best I’ve ever done.

First, I was only supposed to review the verbs they already know. Not much to go on, but it gave me a chance to try an idea I’ve had in my head for awhile, to play a sort of baseball-game. A student comes to the front of the room and I pitch a little soft squishy baseball my mother bought for the Kyle-shop at them. They get three tries to hit the ball with their hand (almost all do on the first try—there was only one strike-out and it was hilarious for everyone) and when they do they reach into a cup with folded up strips of paper with Japanese verbs. If the verb is 走る (hashiru) they can get to first-base just by knowing what it is in English (run). They get to second-base by spelling it correctly, and third base by using it in an “I ___” sentence. (“I run home”). They hit a home-run if they can make a correct “He/she ___” sentence which they haven’t learned yet, but which I give them a hint at the beginning can be done by adding “s” to the verb. If at any point they make a mistake or don’t know the answer, I toss the ball at the other team and a student who catches it gets a chance to do what the batter couldn’t. If they can’t (or no one catches the ball) the batter is safe, but if they can he or she is out. I used little flash-cards of Mickey Mouse in a baseball uniform and drew the bases on the blackboard to illustrate the action.

                          3mickey_blue3mickey_flip

The students had an absolute blast with this game, and O-sensei and I were surprised at how entertaining it was for us. Because there’s such a wide range of student abilities, you had some only hitting singles or not even reaching first, while some hit home-runs with ease. Even students who messed up could be safe at a base and end up scoring for their team, but only if another student batted them in before three outs. The results were as varied as the students, with some classes ending the game in a tie, some just barely winning and some totally blowing out the other team. But by the end of the game, all of the students had their memories refreshed on a whole bunch of verbs, and those who really paid attention had learned how to make 3rd-person form already.

The following week (this past week) was the lesson for actually teaching 3rd-person form. I started by busting out my German and greeting the students with “guten Morgen!” and “wie geht’s?” and “das Wetter heute is sehr shön, ja?” and all kinds of other incomprehensible phrases that sound funny to them. I wrote “Ich spreche Deutsch” on the board and got them to figure out what it was in Japanese and then translate to English: “I speak German.” I then turned to O-sensei and asked, “Do you speak German?” which she does so she got to show off some of her Deutsch-skills as well. I then wrote “She speak German” and asked the students if that sentence was correct. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but in every single class there were a significant number of students who already knew that it should be “speaks” for a he/she sentence.

I then used “I play soccer / He plays soccer” as another example and explained that for almost every verb you just add “s” for a he/she sentence. I then went over some common exceptions like do, go, touch, have, and be, and in each case found plenty of students already knew the proper 3rd-person conjugation, so I acted like I was trying to stump them but they were too smart for me. Once that was done I asked if they were ready for a game, to which they always cheered.

This was a very simple game, but it might just be the best I’ve ever done. I divided the class into two teams—orange team and blue team—and showed them that each team had a “moja-moja” ball (a rubber puffer ball my mom also bought for the Kyle-store and is easily the most popular item) with the corresponding color. I had two identical sets of 35 cards with Japanese verbs—the same ones used for the baseball game—and handed them out to each team, with each student taking two and some three. I had 35 pages with an English “I ___” sentence and Japanese translation for each verb, and I’d hold up a page and call out the sentence. There’d be one student on each team with the Japanese verb corresponding to the sentence, and they would have to raise their hand and catch the moja-moja ball, then write the sentence in “He/She” form on their side of the blackboard. So if the sentence was “I speak English” you’d have one student from each team with a card that read 話す (hanasu) and they’d race to catch the ball and run to the board to write “He speaks English”, slamming the ball on the table when they were finished. The faster team would get 10 points, but as long as the other team wrote it correctly (and we made sure they always did) their team would get 5 points. That student would then stay up front to throw the ball to the player with the next card.

moja-moja

Some students had the hang of it right away and had no trouble scoring for their team. But what made it a great game was that when a student wasn’t really sure what to do, their team-members would shout instructions at them for how to properly conjugate or spell the words they needed. So if a student didn’t know that the 3rd-person form is “studies” and not “studys”, their team was sure to correct them as they were writing and to do it as fast as possible. Some students had no idea what they were doing the first time they went up, but from watching everyone else had it so figured out by their second time at the board that they actually won the speed points. They were clapping and cheering and having an incredibly good time, but also actually learning and reinforcing the new knowledge the whole time.

One of the classes got so loud that the teacher in the adjacent room complained to O-sensei afterwards that no one could hear her do her lesson, so we tried to keep it down after that but there’s only so much you can do. But in between every round I just held my fingers to my mouth and made a “shh” sound and they were so eager to keep going that the room would go from pandemonium to sheer silence in about two seconds, only to erupt again with noise when the next sentence was called.

Most times the game ended up being really close, with the lead changing back and forth and the team that started behind coming up to win. Only one game ended with a tie, but the losing side was never all that disappointed because just about every student had had two chances to go and just about all of them won at least one of those times.

I had to write about that lesson in detail because it may be a very long time before I manage to top it.

The other lessons weren’t as awesome, but quite successful in their own right. For the 2nd-graders, after the boring giving-directions lesson in preparation for their interview tests (saved only by the students’ amusement at my impression of Mario wandering aimlessly around a city map to their randomly-given directions) the next material was an even more boring listening-exercise taken straight from the textbook. There was practically nothing that could make that fun, but at least it only took ten minutes, after which O-sensei suggested we play a game I’d made for a random class I had to teach on a different day when some teachers were giving demonstration-lessons and I had an extra lesson with a group of only first-grade girls. For that I just printed a whole bunch of words from the part of their textbook they’d already covered and cut them up, folded them, and tossed them in a cup. A student would come to the front and proceed to take words and try to have their team guess the word either by using gestures, drawing a picture, or pointing to the object in the room if it happened to be in the room. They’d have three minutes to get through as many words as they could, and there were enough really easy words for each student to have some degree of success. We used the same words for the second-graders after the listening exercise and they enjoyed it as much as the first-graders had. As an added bonus, there was school this past Saturday because it was an open house when parents could come watch their kids’ lessons, and a few parents were there and apparently just as entertained by the game as the students.

Finally, I went back to my old tried-and-true Jeopardy game for the third-graders to review the story of the zookeepers having to kill the three elephants at the Ueno Zoo during WWII. I used the same categories I used last year: Missing Word (they fill in the blank with the word from the sentence in the story), What’s Next? (they find the sentence in the story and read the next sentence), Vocabulary (they say the English for a Japanese word from the vocabulary box for the story), Scrambled Sentence (self-explanatory), and Grammar (they choose from three verb forms or prepositions from a sentence in the story). They all remembered the game so no time was wasted on explanations, and many of them were very excited when they saw me setting it up. With six teams and one student standing up to be the hand-raiser for each team, rotating after each questions, it gets very competitive and exciting, especially when hands go up at the same time and I keep things interesting by letting teams with lower scores have the first shot. As usual, they all got really into it and had a great time. It didn’t matter at all that the material was a ridiculously depressing story about dead elephants.

And this week my material is a bland and boring dialog about taking a message from a phone-call, but once O-sensei and I get through the tedious textbook stuff I play the telephone game with the students, having the first person from each row come out in the hall and “take a message” which they then go inside and pass down their rows to the last person who then races to write it on the blackboard for speed-points and accuracy points. These relay games are guaranteed to be fun, but I gave it an extra twist by coming up with 36 funny sentences and going through the name lists for each class to plug one of the actual students’ names in the sentence, so their message would be something like, “Soandso is eating an elephant” or “Soandso wants to fight Obama”. I was a bit worried about embarrassing some students so I gave most of the embarrassing ones to boys who I know have a good sense of humor like, “Soandso is wearing a skirt” or “Soandso wants to kiss Lady Gaga”. I had no idea what to expect, but so far I’ve done it twice and it’s gone over quite well.

And that’s everything on the teaching front. On the social front, I had another fun weekend party this past Saturday, starting at an okonomiyaki restaurant with Kim, Enam, Jack, and Stephen and then migrating to another karaoke place for a private room with a fixed price for unlimited hours (until 6 a.m.) of drinking and singing. I still had a cold when we went out so I hadn’t planned on drinking at all, but it’s kind of a requirement for karaoke and I ended up once again going a little overboard. But—and I never ever thought I’d feel this way—karaoke is such a good time that the inevitable hangover the day after is just as much worth the price as the actual money. It was also just such a nice warm feeling to be back in Japan amongst friends, just hanging out and having a good time, carelessly crooning away to all kinds of music, mostly the stuff we all grew up with.

And there’s not much else to say about that or anything else really. Life is once again a constant series of enjoyable events from Monday to Friday, from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep. All I can do is squeeze as much appreciation out of this time as I can, as one day I’ll almost certainly look back on this time and remember it as the Glory Days. May they continue to roll.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , , ,

Epic Return, part 2

October 22nd, 2012 No comments

I’m back at school for my first full day since before summer break, enjoying all this down-time I have in which to do things like write blog entries. I’ll just pick up right where I left off in the last entry.

I’d been a little worried about the weather when I landed in Thursday and the rain continued non-stop throughout the night, but by the time I went for my jog that morning it had already cleared up and has been sunny and beautiful ever since. I was very glad about that on Friday as it meant everyone would be in a slightly better mood than otherwise.

I knew that when I went in I should probably say something formally to the school administrators, so I composed a little speech in my head and practiced it a few dozen times before going in. I kept it simple enough to do in Japanese, and it basically went like this: “Hello, everyone. For my absence, I deeply apologize. I look forward to working here again.”

I was finished with my jogging and grocery shopping with about an hour to spare before going in, so I used the time to take a little cat-nap while practicing my speech every couple of minutes. Before I knew it 2:00 was upon me, so I put on a suit and tie for the first time in months and proceeded to make my way to the school.

I didn’t want to arrive during the hectic period between classes so I timed it so I’d arrive just as the final period of the day was starting. I didn’t expect to see any students on the way in, but there were some in the window of the second-floor music room looking out as I approached, and they were the first to spot me and wave hello. I could already feel my spirits lifting, and they were high enough already.

The hallways were empty as I entered the building, slipped into my school-shoes, and walked upstairs to the teacher’s room. When I entered there were a handful of teachers there who were quite unaware that I’d be coming, and they all greeted me with surprise and friendly hellos. Two of the three main administrators were missing, so the only one there was the guy who just started this year. I walked up to him and delivered my speech flawlessly, he thanked me and we gave each other the formal yoroshiku onegaishimasu and that was that.

I then awkwardly walked back to my desk, which was of course covered with Heath’s stuff. I’d been expecting O-sensei to be there, the one I’ll be working with from now on, but she was apparently in a lesson with the special needs students at the time. One of the other teachers offered to take me down to say hello to her, but on our way downstairs Heath was coming upstairs. We decided I could just talk to him until O-sensei was ready, so we went back to the teacher’s room and finally got to know each other a little bit.

He explained the kind of stuff he’s been doing while they were gone, which apparently consisted almost exclusively of textbook work with a few scattered game days here and there. I told him the whole story of how I ended up in the visa situation in the first place, and regarding Interac’s part in it he said he wasn’t surprised. He’s only been working for them for a few years out of the 17 he’s been here, but he’s known people who’ve worked for them since they first started and has heard plenty of stories. No further comment there.

I was definitely glad to get a chance to talk to him and get a sense of the guy. He’s definitely a good guy and I’m no longer thinking of him as some kind of threat. He told me all about the speech contest, how all the students did well but M- was the only one who won something. He said Y- gave a great speech (the one I wrote for her) but she leaned on the podium the whole time so that might have cost her some points. As for the first-graders, he said they were robbed, that they did fantastic but all the prizes went to others, some of whom clearly didn’t deserve them.

I asked him how he’d compare this school to other schools he’s worked at and he said his favorite was a much smaller school of just 150 students because there was more of an intimacy that could develop between the students and teachers than where there are 600, but he said he had a great time here as well and the students are very friendly.

He speaks fluent Japanese but he did his best to keep that secret from the students. I was kind of happy to hear that, as now the little bit of Japanese I know can still manage to impress them.

As we were talking, a few scattered students would come and go into the teacher’s room and they were all surprised and happy to see me, which of course felt wonderful. More started coming when student cleaning time began, and I told Heath I was tempted to go out and say hello to everyone, to which he said he understood completely and to go for it.

The next fifteen minutes were absolute bliss wrapped in joy and smothered in ecstasy, as I wandered the halls and watched all my student’s faces light up with surprise and happiness to see me. Naturally, some were more enthusiastic than others but the ones I like the most tended to be the ones most delighted by my sudden reappearance. I pretty much stuck to the third-grade hallway, but stuck my head in a few first-grade classrooms as well once cleaning time was coming to an end. The second-graders haven’t been especially warm to me so far this year, so I didn’t bother going through that hallways and used most of my time to chat with the third-grade students who wanted to come chat with me.

Suffice it to say, any worries I had about my absence causing my students to cool off towards me went right out the window. My absence actually seemed to have quite the opposite effect, as it would seem to have made their hearts grow fonder of me just as mine did of them. In fact, I was so overwhelmed with joy by the time I was finished that it almost seemed to me that the entire nearly two-month-long wait had been worth it. If I’d just come back to work on the first day of school as planned, I would certainly not have been treated to such an incredibly warm greeting.

On a bit of a funny note, many of the students told me I look like I lost weight. I wanted to say, “That can’t be true, do you have any idea what my diet was like in America? I must have consumed more cheese in those two and a half months than the whole year I spent in Japan.” I took the compliment anyway, but I suspect I only look thinner by comparison with my sumo-wrestling replacement.

He was packing his stuff up to go when I got back to the teacher’s room, explaining that they’d told him since I was now here he no longer needed to stay. Once O-sensei had seen him off, she came back to discuss next week’s lessons with me. It’s not a normal week because the students have their Chorus Contest on Friday, which is why I’m not teaching every class and I’m doing games instead of textbook lessons. Whatever the reason, it’s fine by me.

I sat at my desk with my computer out, planning the games for next week just like old times and appreciating every minute of it. I wasn’t getting paid for the day but I couldn’t care less about that. I was going to stay until after school time and then go walk around some more, which is exactly what I did and got more super-warm welcomes from some of the sports teams practicing, one of which even gave me a thunderous round of applause.

I left in some of the best spirits I’ve ever been in my life, and totally pumped for starting lessons again on Monday. Unfortunately it’s only going to be two classes and they’re both second-graders, so it won’t be as awesome as it could be, but I’m sure they’re going to like my games and it’s going to be awesome in any case.

On Saturday I spent most of the day getting my remaining affairs in order, and in the evening I had my reunion party. Kim and Enam showed up with three of their friends, two of whom I’d met before at the hanami and one of which was the Japanese girlfriend of one of the two. Stacy came a few moments later, and for awhile we just hung out at my place and chatted. The last person to come was Atsushi, a Japanese guy who speaks decent English and whom I’ve met on several occasions before, so I was glad he came as well.

Because there were eight of us and I’d only reserved a table for five at Dohtonbori, the okonomiyaki place I really like, we had to change dinner plans because on Saturday night there was not enough room to squeeze the extras in. We ended up going out for ramen at the place right next door that just recently opened.

Atsushi had to go after that, but the rest of us went back to my place for another drink before heading out to a relatively inexpensive karaoke bar which is right across the street but I’d never noticed before. Togane apparently has a ridiculous amount of karaoke bars, but still not a single normal bar.

With the exception of Stacy who doesn’t drink the rest of us proceeded to get quite drunk and sing all kinds of songs as loudly and belligerently as we could. I’d never do karaoke in America but in Japan you get your own private room so you’re only embarrassing yourself in front of your own friends, which makes it a hell of a lot of fun.

Once our time was up we stumbled into a convenience store to buy some snacks, which we proceeded to devour back at my place before everyone else went home and I crashed on my bed to wake up the following morning with the obligatory-yet-completely-expected hangover. At least the party served its purpose though, as I was up late enough and woke up late enough to feel like I’m pretty much over the jet-lag. I did have to struggle to stay awake until 10:00 last night though, but I made it and although I woke up at 5:30 this morning it wasn’t too inconvenient, as I wanted to go jogging at 6:30 since it’s now that time of year where it’s getting dark as soon as school ends so I’ve got to go in the mornings now.

But aside from the early sunset it still feels like summer here. In America the leaves were already brown, many trees already bare, and the weather cold enough to keep the windows closed and maybe even fire up the heat at night, but the climate here is noticeably warmer. All the leaves are still on the trees and you can still be comfortable in a T-shirt during the day, so that’s nice.

And now I’m back at school and about to start teaching again in a little less than an hour.

It’s several hours later, so I’ve already had my first lessons. The first one went better than I expected with more enthusiasm from the students than I usually expect from the second-graders, but the second was much quieter and less into it. Still, it felt great to be up in front of that classroom again, and the games went over quite nicely. It should be much better tomorrow when I’ve got some of my favorite classes in the school.

The teachers are having a meeting this afternoon so all of the students are leaving an hour early, which means no Team C today but hopefully tomorrow. I’m looking forward to that as much as anything else, though it’s been so long I can’t be sure anyone at all is going to show up.

In any case, I’m back, it feels great, and (knock on wood) it looks as though there’s nothing but good things on the horizon.

The Latest Updates

August 20th, 2012 No comments

Things have been relatively uneventful since I got back to New Jersey. On Thursday evening I went with my dad to Easton, PA to join him on his monthly gathering of a few Lafayette fraternity brothers. We went to Porter’s pub, a place with a selection of about 60 beers, and if you try them all (usually not done all at once) you get your name engraved on your own silver mug which they hang on the ceiling. I tried a few beers and got my own mug started, which should be finished by the next time I get there thanks to my dad impersonating me.

And yesterday I hung out with Lisa, an old friend from high school whom I haven’t seen in years. We were pretty close for awhile but drifted apart towards the end, and she’s had a pretty rough time of it ever since her best friend Val died when they were 17. Her father just passed away on Monday and Lisa had gone to the funeral the day before, but other than some sadness over that she seemed to be doing very well overall. We had lunch at a diner in Clinton, then walked up Point Mountain, the highest point in Hunterdon County for some nice conversation with beautiful scenery. It was nice to see that she’s doing much better since the last time I’d seen her.

Finally, I finally got some new information from Interac last night regarding my visa situation, and the news was pretty good overall. They found out that if I’m in the country when the Certificate of Eligibility is issued, I don’t need to go to an overseas embassy to get the work visa. So as long as I get back to Japan before the processing is complete, I won’t have to leave Japan and I should be able to get the visa and be back to work relatively quickly. However, if the ironic happens and the process is rushed fast enough to get the certificate issued before my August 31st arrival, I’ll have to fly to Korea to get it done.

I’d also asked them about the possibility of working for the school as an unpaid volunteer while I don’t have the visa, and he said that wouldn’t be possible if I’m still on a contract, as on paper it wouldn’t look like volunteer work. They’d have to end my current contract early and draw up a whole new one for the remainder of the school year. After giving it some thought I realized this is probably the best option, and I sent them an e-mail this morning to ask about what exactly that would entail. After all, it reflects pretty poorly on Interac if their ALT can’t fulfill his obligation to work the full school year because of visa issues we should have been on top of, but if we demonstrate our willingness to work around the problem, that should be to our credit.

In any case, I’m feeling much better about the situation overall and it looks like whatever consequences ultimately come of this, they won’t be too disastrous. The worst thing that could still happen, other than a major financial hit, is that I won’t be able to help the Speech Contest students prepare and I’ll have to feel like I let them down. But I’m pretty sure the Speech Contest is open to the public, so I’ll be able to at least go there and show my support to the students regardless of my visa situation.

And that’s where things stand right now. Whatever happens, I’ll be back in Japan by the end of next week.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

California & the Slipping of the Sun

August 16th, 2012 No comments

I’m back in New Jersey already and freshly jet-lagged after an overnight flight from California. The rest of the all-too-brief trip there was great, but I’m too tired to go into the standard level of detail, and there aren’t too many noteworthy details anyway.

Friday went pretty much like Thursday with Krissi working until closing, but the activity that night was a free movie in the park instead of a free concert. I guess every summer in Santa Barbara they show old movies in a park at dusk, this year the theme being old sci-fi. The movie this night was “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers”, a title I’ve heard about but never seen, and it turns out my life was no poorer for having missed it. Just because a movie is a classic apparently doesn’t mean it’s any good.

After the movie, which I went to with Kevin, Rob, Jason, and Natalya, we split up and Kevin and I went to Dargan’s for a few drinks, then back to Kevin’s place where he promptly passed out, at which point I rode back to Dargan’s to get a ride back to Krissi’s place with her and have the standard pita/hummus snack before passing out.

Saturday was quite nice. Krissi only had to work until 6:00, so I went to lunch at Dargan’s and then walked along the beach up to Shoreline Park where I sat on my favorite bench overlooking the cliffs and read my book for an hour. It was cool because that spot is pretty much where I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire a year ago, and I was still reading it at that exact same spot a year later.

I timed my walk back to Dargan’s perfectly for Krissi to be finishing work, then headed across the street to the Press Room for a couple of beers. After that we had camping to prepare for, so we drove back uptown and did some shopping for supplies. It was a pretty quiet evening as we just picked up a less-than-awesome California pizza and watched some Netflix comedy until passing out.

Sunday was very busy. It was Krissi’s friend Diana’s birthday and she was having a champagne brunch from 10:00-2:00 at El Torito, the Mexican chain restaurant where she used to work. We got there half-way through and joined the small crowd. That was a very pleasant time and I got to meet some really nice people and school them on what life is like in Japan.

But we ducked out early to finish our camping preparations, which involved buying massive amounts of beer and ice, as well as a few food items we’d forgotten the evening before. We then loaded up the car with all the supplies, pretty much doubling its weight, and finally headed back up the mountains to Paradise Road and the Upper Oso campground.

No sooner had we finished pitching the tent and cracked out first beers then Kevin and Jason, who’d been hiking nearby all afternoon, rolled up and joined us for a few hours. They both had to work the next day though, so it was just Krissi and myself again for a few hours until midnight, when her room-mate Dave and co-worker Kelly—both very cool people—arrived and joined us for the rest of the drunken camping fun

We got up as soon as it started to get hot the next morning, and after a small oatmeal breakfast drove to Red Rocks, that mountain lake with the big rock you can jump off that Krissi and I hiked to last year. We spent the day in the refreshing coolness of the lake, drinking beer and making each other laugh hysterically. The water level was much lower this year due to the drought, so I was too nervous about jumping in again, but a lot of the other people there did and no one got hurt.

When it was about the time we were expecting the others to arrive at the campsite we drove back, but by then I was already drunk and heat-exhausted so I just headed to the tent and passed out for an hour. I tried to get up and join the crowd later, which now included Kevin and Jason again as well as Diana and her boyfriend, but the drinking-all-day-on-an-empty-stomach had already taken its toll and I just couldn’t hack it. I tried to recover by eating something but I just threw it up right away, and ended up having to duck out early and head back to the tent for another few hours. But I did get up in the middle of the night and join the last few people awake for the last bit of beer and conversation.

We were all feeling pretty terrible the next morning, but most left early because some had to work. It was just me, Krissi, and Kevin in the morning to overcome our hangovers and break down the campsite, which naturally took us much longer than it normally would. But we got the job done, then drove back into town for a nice breakfast at the diner, after which Krissi and I went back to her place for some amazingly refreshing showers and naps.

Krissi had to work until close again, so she left at 5:30 and I rode down there at 6:00 to get a delicious buffalo-wing dinner with Jason and Kevin, who apparently do that every Tuesday night. Somehow, by then I’d recovered enough to actually start drinking beer again.

When we were done at Dargan’s, I went with Kevin and Jason to the Old King’s Road, a British Pub around the corner, and had a few drinks there. I then bid farewell to Jason and went back with Kevin to his place where we had some interesting conversation followed by watching a few fascinating PBS nature documentaries.

It was about 12:30 when Kevin started passing out, so I bid him goodbye and rode back to Dargan’s to have a couple of last drinks as Krissi closed down the bar. Once that was done we drove back to her place where for the last time in who-knows-how-long I was able to indulge in some pita-and-hummus deliciousness.

My flight home out of Ontario airport on Wednesday wasn’t until 7:30 p.m., but because of the traffic situation Krissi wanted to get into Ontario by 2:00 and just kill time there until I had to check in. She and Dave had looked up things to do in Ontario the night before and discovered that there was a Jake & Busters very close to the airport, which is a huge place with arcade games, pool tables, shuffleboard, and multiple bars.

We managed to be ready to leave by noon, and we first stopped at the Fresco across the street from Krissi to pick up some lunch we’d ordered to eat on the way. It was without a doubt the best veggie-burger I’ve ever had, and I don’t think anything is ever going to live up to it.

Our plan to avoid major L.A. traffic worked pretty well, and we got to Jake & Busters at about 2:30. We first went to the bar for some obligatory drinks, then proceeded to play a bunch of the arcade games they had in this giant room that reminded me a lot of arcades in Japan, only with significantly crappier graphics. When it looked like we were running out of time we went to the other bar for one last beer, then got back in the car to drive to the airport. We were almost there when Krissi realized she’d read her watch wrong and it was actually an hour earlier than we thought, so we had a good laugh and drove straight back to Jake & Busters to kill the remaining time. We thought we’d play more games but we were both a little hungry by the time we got back, so we just went back to the bar and got some food.

As we drove to the airport we reflected on how quickly the time had gone by, but that it was nice how we’ve still managed to see each other fairly regularly over the years, considering how we’ve been living at least a thousand miles apart for so such a long time. I don’t know if I’ll want to spend the money to visit again next year, especially when there’s still so much travelling within Japan I want to do, but we made extremely tentative plans that the next time I see her, we should skip Santa Barbara altogether and just meet up in San Francisco, spend a night there, then go camping in the Redwoods the whole time, something both of us always wanted to do but never have.

After our fond farewells, I proceeded to go through the long but uneventful process of flying home, first a quick hour-long jump from Ontario to Phoenix and then a four-hour flight into Newark where my dad picked me up at literally the crack of dawn and drove me home. Because of the time-difference, by the time I got to sleep at 7:00 a.m. it was only an hour or two later than I’d gotten accustomed to going to sleep anyway, so hopefully the jet-lag will subside soon enough.

And now the journal is up-to-date again. There’s nothing to report regarding the visa situation, though I should have had some definitive answers two days ago. If I don’t hear from them by tonight I’ll make an overseas call and ask them what the situation is, but whenever I go a few days without hearing from them I start to worry. There’s been no mention of any possibility that I might lose my contract, but I can’t help but feel a little paranoid that some random thing I hadn’t thought of is going to blow up in my face and the next thing you know I’ll find out I can’t go back to work in Japan at all. At this point I don’t even care how much of a financial hit I’m going to take—I just want some kind of assurance that I can fully expect to be back at my school and doing my job at some point, even if it’s a few weeks later than I’d like to.

Hopefully I’ll finally have some solid answers tomorrow. It’s been a great vacation, but this dark cloud and possible sword hanging over my head have undeniably reduced my appreciation for it. As much as I’m enjoying my time here, I can’t wait to be securely back in Japan.

New York to California

August 10th, 2012 No comments

It’s Friday morning in Santa Barbara and I’ve got some down-time, so I might as well get the blog caught up to where I’m currently at.

Last Saturday, I went with my parents to see the new batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, at a dine-in theater, eating dinner afterwards at a very good Italian restaurant. I’d heard nothing but great things about the movie, so I was surprised to find that it wasn’t very good. At least no one shot up the theater.

On Sunday I drove up to Red Hook, New York to visit my grandparents for a couple of days. It was nice to see them again, and I also got to hang out briefly with my Aunt Marleen and her daughter Casey whom I haven’t seen in at least five years. My grandpa and I somehow managed to get through the two days surprisingly few political shouting matches (though some are of course inevitable).

I was back home for dinner with my parents on Tuesday evening, and the next morning I had to get up extremely early to catch my 7:20 a.m. flight to California. I flew from Newark to Dallas Fort Worth, where I had a two hour stopover which could easily be the only two hours I’ll ever spend in Texas, and from there to Ontario, CA where Krissi picked me up and took me on the two-hour drive from there to Santa Barbara.

It felt strange to be back here again, but not nearly as strange as last year. This time the cultural gap just feels a bit wider, as Japan is as rigid and conservative as it gets while the people here could not be more loose and laid-back.

We stopped at Kevin’s place (other friend from Voorhees High School) and hung out, with him and Krissi’s current boyfriend for a little while, then proceeded to get everything we needed to carry out our plan for the night, to go camping in the mountains like we did last time. We’ll actually be going camping again this weekend with a bunch of people for Krissi’s friend Diana’s birthday, but we wanted to have one night just to ourselves to get all caught up and reconnected. Like last year, it was a wonderful night filled with excellent conversation

We got out of there very early in the morning as soon as the sun started baking us alive in the tent, and drove back into town for some breakfast before heading back to Krissi’s place to take naps and replenish some of the energy our early wake-up had cost. When we got up in the afternoon we headed to a Mexican restaurant for some dinner, then Krissi had to go into her Irish bar Dargan’s to work.

I took a bike downtown to Kevin’s place and went with him and Natalya—the girl who brought us on last year’s beach bonfire adventure—to a free concert in a park across from the beach. The concert was a bunch of local youth bands, with all the musicians between 13 and 16 years old and the audience almost exclusively made up of families with young children. The bands were pretty good considering their ages, but the pop-punk/ska sort of music they played didn’t really appeal to any of us. We stayed until the last band was finished though, mostly amusing ourselves by watching the ever-increasing crowd of lame white people in front of the stage engaging in the lamest white-people-dancing imaginable. The last band was a group of three 16-year-old boys, and while they were impressive enough with their instruments, I couldn’t help but feel a hint of contempt for the over-privileged white kids getting to indulge their rock n’ roll fantasies at such a young age. It wasn’t so much their ages as the fact that they were clearly just mimicking everything they’ve seen adult rock stars do, including taking off their shirts on stage and basking in the screaming of the girls in the audience (rather disturbing in this situation, as all the girls were either under 12 or over 40). At the very least, it was an interesting experience.

Natalya and a guy we met up with there went off to eat at a restaurant on State Street while Kevin and I hung out on the beach for awhile, then we went to join them at the restaurant and had a little to eat and drink. After that, I biked back to Kevin’s place and watched a little TV, then biked back into town to head into Dargan’s as Krissi closed down her bar.

When she was done we drove back uptown to her place, then biked over to the nearest bar for one last drink. While we were there my exhaustion finally caught up to me, and while we were having a nice conversation with another guy there, I kept dozing off. We biked back to Krissi’s place, indulged in an awesome midnight snack of Trader Joe’s pita and hummus, then had a nice long sleep.

And that takes us to right now. When all is said and done, I’ve been having an excellent vacation. It’s nice to think it’s not even half over.

As for the visa situation, there’s apparently no way to know whether whoever handles the processing of Certificates of Eligibility will be able to get that done in time for me to return to Japan on a valid work visa by my scheduled departure date of August 29th. I got an e-mail from Interac yesterday laying it out nice and clearly for me. Either they get the piece of paper by the 15th, in which case they can mail it to me and I can get the visa processed in time, or they don’t and we have to start thinking about other options. Either I wait here in America until I get the work visa processed, in which case I might not be able to get back to Japan until as late as September 28th, or I could return to Japan as scheduled on a tourist visa, and just fly to an overseas embassy like in Korea or China once I get the Certificate of Eligibility. It might cost less to do that than to buy a whole other cross-Pacific plane ticket, but while in Japan I wouldn’t be able to work, whereas if I stay here I could make some money by delivering pizza or something.

I wrote back explaining that my main concern is the obligation I have to my school and my students, especially those in the Speech Contest. I said if there was any way I could go back to work unofficially, to do the same job and just not get paid for a month, I’d be willing to do that. I highly doubt that’s possible, but it might be the case that I could at least go in after school to help the Speech Contest students prepare. I asked them to look into that, and if they’d at least let me volunteer to help with the Speech Contest, then I would without a doubt choose to come back on a tourist visa and just fly overseas again to get the work visa processed as soon as possible. You never know, but I suspect that’s what will end up happening. We’ll see.

At least we’ll know for sure by the 15th what will have to happen. I’ll probably end up taking a substantial financial hit, but nothing I can’t recover from. In any case, I’ll just be relieved when the uncertainty-phase is over.

The Latest

August 3rd, 2012 No comments

I went to the Japanese consulate yesterday and got some clarification on my visa situation. There’s no need to go into all the details here, but the basic conclusion was that my only option is to obtain a completely new work visa. Even if I were to return to Japan before the 15th, I would have to go on a tourist visa, and you’re not allowed to obtain a work visa if you’re located in the country, so returning early would be useless. On the encouraging side, the consulate said a new work visa could be processed in just four business days as long as I have a Certificate of Eligibility. The problem is that the typical processing length of a Certificate of Eligibility is 31 days. The person in charge of the Chiba branch office told me that they’d plead with them to process this as fast as possible and have it mailed to me by August 15 which would give me enough time to have the new work visa ready by my originally planned departure of August 29th, but no guarantees can be made. Worst case scenario, I’d be getting the Certificate of Eligibility on September 13th and looking at an arrival date in Japan of about September 28th. So I won’t miss my vacation, but I might miss a month of school. I hate that idea, but if I have to live with it so be it.

As for who will be considered financially responsible for the returning plane ticket and lost month of work, that issue has yet to be breached. With any luck, it won’t have to.

But in spite of all this bureaucratic stress, I managed to have a great time yesterday. A couple of other college friends, Luke and Marc, came into the city to apply for visas to Brazil where they’ve got an opportunity to run a bar for a person they connected with in their travels. They came back to Mike’s apartment and the four of us spent all afternoon and night together, mostly just walking around and talking. It was really great to see them again and we enjoyed every minute of it thoroughly. I almost forgot about the consulate business altogether.

I just have to keep enjoying this trip moment by moment and not let the uncertainty ruin anything that would otherwise be a perfectly wonderful time. The worst possible outcome of this situation is pretty bad in the short-term, but not at all devastating in the long-term. As much as it will suck while the consequences are still ongoing and fresh, eventually it’ll just be a story to tell.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

School’s “Out” for Summer

July 20th, 2012 No comments

It’s the last day of school before summer vacation. There are no classes today—just a closing ceremony which finished a few minutes ago. I’ve still got to stay until the end of the work day though, but at least I’ll have something to do in the afternoon because (supposedly) we’ll be having our first Speech Contest meeting. I’ll probably be asked to come in every day next week for Speech Contest practice as well, so it doesn’t really feel like the last day of school—just the last day I’ll have to kill time in the teacher’s room. Even for the students in sports and clubs it’s hardly an ending—they’ll still be coming to school to practice over the summer break.

I’m a bit sad because this will be the longest period of time I’ll be going without teaching since I started this job, but it’ll be good to have a break from this life for awhile and return to my America-life for a month. I’ll be bringing with me all the fresh new perspective I’ve picked up here, and this life will still be waiting for me when I get back.

My lessons this week were sparse, but for the most part I was just asked by the teachers to give the students a fun lesson and play any kind of games I wanted. So needless to say they were a lot of fun and the students enjoyed them, so it was nice to end on a high note. For the English “Phrase of the Week” I taught the students “I’ll miss you” and “I missed you”. I’d say “Goodbye, I’ll miss you” and they’d say it back to me, then I’d walk out of the classroom for a few seconds and come back in and say, “Hello! I missed you,” which they’d repeat back. Then I’d do it again two more times, each time putting more fake emotion into it, pretty much fake-crying by the end of it. The students got a kick out of it and I hope it helped them to remember. At the end of the lesson, I said “Goodbye, I’ll miss you” one last time and they said it back to me. Even though it was kind of prompted, it still felt nice.

In social news, I had dinner with Kim and Enam last night in Kim’s apartment, and tonight I’m going to Lily’s birthday party, which will actually be at a bowling alley in Chiba. I haven’t been bowling in god knows how long, but I’m looking forward to seeing her and Jack, as well as a few other people who are probably coming like Stacy and Stephen from Interac whom I haven’t seen since our last visit to Tokyo. I hung out with Trey again on Monday night and I assume we’ll manage to get together at least one more time before I leave, because after that we might very well never see each other again. Such is this kind of life.

Lots of goodbyes going on. At least this time most of them are temporary.

Another Beach

July 17th, 2012 No comments

A Chiba Landmark

I’ve been to the Pacific coast of Japan many dozens of times now, but it’s always been the same beach. Yesterday I finally got a taste of a different beach, apparently one of the most popular in Chiba.

On Saturday I got a Facebook invitation from an ALT named Tim whom I’d met at the hanami back in April to come to a beach party in the town where he lives the next day. Although it was short notice I had no plans, so I asked a bunch of other people if they wanted to go too and ended up going with Kim and Enam. I also asked Stacy, Jack, and Lily, but apparently Josai students still had classes on Monday even though it was a holiday.

I have to confess I didn’t really remember who this Tim person was, but through the magic of Facebook we’d apparently ended up in each others’ friend network and checking his profile pictures jogged my hazy memory.

I hadn’t seen Kim or Enam since our own little beach party a few weeks ago, but it was nice to see them again too. We took an 11:00 train from Togane and after a twenty-minute stopover in Oami got on the south-bound train for the hour-long journey to Onjuku. Along the way I noticed them playing a fun-looking word game on their smartphones and I downloaded it myself. We were all so engrossed in this game that we ended up missing our stop, as before we knew it we were in Katsuura, the last station on the line. We had to wait another 40 minutes for the next train to come and take us back to Onjuku, the second-to-last station on the line.

Stuck in Katsuura Kim + Enam

Once we got there we headed into a drugstore to buy alcohol and snacks, then walked to the beach and found the “famous” camel statues that this beach is known for, and a few minutes later another one of their friends, a Scottish guy named Hiroshi, found us there. We all then proceeded to navigate through the substantially large crowd—much much larger than any I’ve ever seen at the beach I normally go to—in search of the gathering of foreigners. It took us awhile because it was a very large beach and there were a ton of people there for the holiday, but eventually we spotted them and headed over.

Onjuku beach Looks kind of like Santa Barbara

Tim also vaguely remembered Kim and Enam from the hanami, and there were a few other faces I recognized as well, such as Anand from the Valentine’s Day party that was so disappointing for everyone involved but me. A couple of girls from that party were also there but I didn’t even bother trying to talk to them. Ben was supposed to come too but he never showed up.

Ba-ri bo-ru The camels mean...I don't know.

After that it was pretty standard stuff, drinking and snacking and chatting about everything from sports to politics but mostly about teaching. We met a few new people whom we may or may not ever see again, and just had an all-around good time, a perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.

The view from our spot.

Although it was sunny, it was unfortunately also rather windy, to the point where sand was getting in our drinks and it messed up my camera so I couldn’t take anymore pictures (though thankfully it seemed to have magically fixed itself by this morning). After a couple of hours the wind really picked up to the point where it was no longer comfortable, so we all headed to Tim’s apartment for more drinking and chatting there. His place made me a little jealous, a sixth-floor apartment with a large balcony and breathtaking view of both the ocean and the beautiful hills so prevalent in southern Chiba but not around here.

And there’s not much else to tell, really. When Kim was tired we left and took a 7:00 train which got us back to Togane shortly after 8:00. While walking from the train-station I got spotted by former student, a particularly pleasant girl who graduated in March and who I was sad to think I’d never see again. So that was nice.

I had dinner at home and ended up getting to bed around 10:00 for a nice long sleep. The big advantage of drinking in the day is that as long as you finish early enough, you can be pretty well-recovered by the morning. I’m still a little hazy now, but I have no classes today anyway so it doesn’t matter. I’ve got a pretty sparse schedule this whole week, with no classes on Friday either. I assume there’ll be another enkai Friday evening but so far no one’s informed me about one.

And on a final note, I should mention that when I hung out with Trey last Thursday he went into this whole big pitch about how I should go to law-school, and he was persuasive enough to have me actually considering it. He said that once you pass the bar exam, you achieve a whole new level of societal status. You’re no longer just a subject of the law, but you can walk into any courtroom and file a motion—you have actual power. On top of that, it can lead to a political career. When Trey runs for office he says he’d really want to have me on his team, but he can’t put me in any position of real power unless I’ve got the credentials.

Aside from the fact that I don’t actually want to be a lawyer, it’s pretty tempting. I know that I could if I wanted to. Trey is going to Stanford, and I can not only hold my own in arguments with him but actually sway him over to my point of view sometimes as well. If I can argue so effectively with a Stanford law student, there’s no reason to think I couldn’t be a Stanford law student myself (though to be un-politically correct for a split-second, it might be more difficult for me as a white person to get into a school that prestigious). In the end I told him I’d seriously consider it, but no matter what I’m going to be in Japan for at least a couple more years. So we’ll stay in touch and he can let me know what the reality of being a law student is actually like, and I’ll make the decision later on.

It would undeniably be nice to actually have money and power, but I don’t know if it’s worth it at the expense of two things I truly love: teaching and travelling.

Games People Play

June 27th, 2012 No comments

Last night Trey invited me to his place to hang out again, and I came just expecting another night of documentary viewing and intense political debate. When he informed me that a couple of girls might be coming over later my first reaction was annoyance. I didn’t particularly feel like dealing with my female issues (such as they are these days) at the time, but I guess it’s been a long enough time since the last time (at the club in Tokyo) that I’m probably due for another round of flirtation-practice.

The girls didn’t show up for a couple of hours, and I had a very nice time with Trey debating politics and even discussing some deeper philosophical questions about the nature of the universe, and we were just sitting down to dinner when the two of them arrived. A couple of Josai students, naturally, and since I can’t really accurately record this experience without saying some less-than-flattering things about them I’ll keep their identities extra-secret by referring to them only as L- and K- and not even mentioning where they’re from except to say one of the colder parts of Europe.

I was immediately relieved that neither of them were particularly stunning, and as they sat down and started talking to us I became further relieved that their personalities weren’t all that magnetic either. They were both pretty sharp, and K- seemed nice enough, but L- was very aggressive and combative the whole time, acting as though the two of them were doing Trey a huge favor by gracing us with their presence and he wasn’t doing a good enough job making it worth their while.

When we finished our dinner she wondered out loud why it had taken him so long to offer them drinks, and when he told them what liquor he had it didn’t appeal to them so we all had to go out and walk to the 7-11. When they got to the liquor section she asked him, “What can we buy?” and he said, “Whatever you have enough money for.” She didn’t say it out loud until later, but apparently her question had been a cue for him to offer to buy them drinks. In Trey’s defense I said it’s American culture for the women to have equal power and to buy their own drinks, but apparently not where they’re from. He did apologize for his oversight, but she actually said overtly that when their drinks were finished they needed a reason to stay. Trey is not the kind of person to bow down to a woman so he just said, “Well, I would love for you to continue keeping us company but I’m not going back to 7-11 so I guess you can leave.” Apparently that’s the whole “play it like you don’t care” method and it worked because they stayed anyway.

While the four of us were drinking together we played a game called “Never Have I Ever” which is apparently an extremely common drinking game all over the world but which I’ve only seen on TV. Basically, you say something you’ve never done, and if another person in the room has done that thing they have to drink. It’s usually something sexual and embarrassing like, “I’ve never had a threesome” so you get to find out who has and who hasn’t. Since the goal is to get the others to drink, men can easily say things like, “I’ve never had a penis in my mouth” and then wait for the girls to go ahead and take their sip.

Of course one of the first things K- said was, “I’ve never had sex with a girl” so Trey immediately took a sip and I hesitated for a moment to make the mental calculation of whether or not to be honest. Of course they were all staring at me and asking me point-blank if I was a virgin, so I just brushed it off like I wasn’t sure about the rules yet (“were you supposed to drink when you have done the thing or haven’t”?) and I took a sip. It was enough to satisfy the girls but I think Trey knew what was up. I’ve never actually told him that fact about myself before, but now he knows or at least suspects.

At least that little lie made the game more interesting in my case, as I could have easily had them all drinking all night long by saying things like, “I’ve never touched another person’s private parts” or “I’ve never had a relationship that’s lasted more than a month” but these are intimate things I have no desire to reveal to a couple of girls I just met and who’ve done nothing to earn my trust or respect. But aside from that first time, I at least remained honest in my lack-of-drinking for all the rest of the questions, including “I’ve never cheated on a boyfriend/girlfriend” and “I’ve never given oral sex to a girl.” The girls said they respected that I hadn’t done either of those things, but if I’d been honest about the virgin question they’d have no doubt seen it differently.

So that was an interesting-but-uncomfortable experience and I hope I never get sucked into playing that game again.

After that we moved to the living room and got drawn into two separate conversations, Trey with K- and me with L-. She was showing signs of interest and I was being polite in pretending to not be as completely uninterested as I actually was. She was asking me questions about American politics and I was explaining things to her and giving my opinion, not trying to show off my intelligence but knowing that she was picking up on it anyway. I can’t deny there’s always an ego-boost to feel like you could have someone if you want them (especially when they’re acting like they’re some kind of huge prize), so at least the experience was enjoyable in that regard. Had I actually wanted her, though, it would have been a lot different. It’s a million times easier to impress women you have no trace of desire for whatsoever.

When it reached 11:30 they started talking about leaving again, and I pre-empted them by announcing my departure myself. Apparently they weren’t serious about leaving then either, because they stayed and L- asked me why I was leaving. “Because it’s late and I have to work tomorrow,” I told her, and she said that where she’s from they don’t accept that as an excuse. I told her I’m not from where she’s from. That probably made her like me even more.

They were smoking on the balcony when I went to get my bike so I exchanged a few more pleasantries with them before leaving, saying that we’ll probably see each other again. I couldn’t care less if I do.

The experience wasn’t at all what Trey had intended it to be for me. Instead of getting me hooked up with someone, it basically just reaffirmed my appreciation of being alone. I may not have ever had sex before, but it can’t be worth putting up with a girl like L- all the time. To be fair she had some good qualities, but the way she constantly acted like she was owed something just for bringing a vagina to the room was a huge turn-off.

It was all a game to all of them, and just like “Never Have I Ever” it’s a game I don’t care for. It’s interesting to take a stab at it from time to time, but I don’t make the game nearly as big a part of my life as most people do.  I’m probably a happier person because of that.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,