Sunday, June 29, 2008

"As we sing, as we scream, Fire Beat, Fire Beat."

We knew at some point in June the company would send someone to observe us. As of Friday, however, since there were only two working days of the month left, we thought perhaps "June" was a euphemism for "sometime in the next several months." But I wasn't terribly surprised at lunchtime when the head English teacher came up and said, "Your supervisor is hear to observe classes." Class started in fifteen minutes, and the English teacher I was to assist was in a tizzy. But I tried to relax her with, "They're not here to observe you, they aren't your bosses so they can't fire you." My favorite line of reasoning was, "Plus, we have thirty pairs of critical eyes watching us everyday." She was not terribly comforted by this, but overall it went well - I found that once I got absorbed in the lesson I didn't even notice the two suits at the back of the classroom. Afterwards, they were so kind as to talk with us for a while (since we had guests, we got to partake in the star treatment, which is to say we got tea in the tiny cute guest-cups.) They asked us questions on how our experience has been so far, and let us assuage some of our own worries. Headquarters is far away in Tokyo, so they don't visit little towns like this often, but it was nice to get some feedback and the feel of someone having our backs.

Luckily I'd dressed up nicely that morning, for the party in the evening. The head teacher for the second years quizzed us on what country's cuisine we liked most - "Nihon ryori? Italia ryori? Chuugoku (China) ryori?" I said Italian - though I love soba my stomach truly belongs to spaghetti. "Ah!" he exclaimed, and conveyed that that night's dinner out was to be at an Italian place. "Really? That's awesome!" but inside I was a little uncertain. See, everyone - and I mean everyone - has warned me not to try Japan's version of pizza. Everyone who has been to Japan, and, oddly, people who haven't have warned me. "They put corn on pizza," they say with a shudder, and I respond with a shrug. I hate corn in any dish, so corn on the pizza is no worse to me than corn on the cob. But I was unsure what they might make of my beloved pasta.

I needn't have worried - dinner was incredible. It was almost entirely unlike the Italian I know, but it wasn't exactly Japanese either. There were so many courses in tiny portions centered on large dishes, and each one was so beautifully arranged that it was a shame to eat them. I would have liked to take pictures but that might have been weird. First was a selection of crisp vegetables - broccolli and asparagus - wrapped in paper-thin slices of meat. There were some kind of small, dark-meat fish that had been breaded and decorated with some kind red vegetable that, embarrassingly, I didn't realize wasn't meant to be eaten until I ate a piece. There were halves of Japanese eggplants - which are much smaller than their American counterpart - baked in some sort of creamy sauce. There was a real green salad with wonderful, dark green, Romaine leaves (all the supermarket sells here is Iceberg, which bores me, so I've been deprived) with a light vinegar dressing. There was a savory custard - well, really like a very thick soup - with a delicious piece of brisket inside. Ahhh, I should have been taking notes because I forget everything already. But my very favorite course was what looked like a very round packed hashbrown (made up of the longest pieces, I don't know how they grated it like that) but as you ate away the crisp potatoes there was a tender piece of some kind of white fish inside. And of course there was dessert of a cake sliver and a spoon of ice cream (it's such ice cream weather), coffee for everyone else and tea for me. It sounds like a lot of food but keep in mind nothing came in more than a few mouthfuls, which is a little disappointing when you really like one dish and there's so little of it.

The conversation was fun as well. I sat next to the music teacher, which I was a bit scared at first because we haven't spoken before. But it turns out he's kept some English ability hidden, and we talked about what sort of music we like - he likes opera, and Lloyd Weber. I'll forgive him that since he hasn't heard Sondheim yet. I'm hoping I can ask if it would be all right to visit the music club sometime.

There's often a moment in Japanese TV shows about the working life when our pretty young heroine attends a drinking party with her coworkers, and gets unwanted advances pushed on her by her very inebriated boss. I found out that, in real life, there's a very sensible mechanism to avoid such a situation. At a certain point in the evening, all the men move to a different location to continue the party, while the females are left to make their way home at their own pace. The company told us at training that, while it was a good idea to go to a drinking party with the teachers to build good relationships, they didn't advise going to this "second party" if we felt uncomfortable. What they didn't specify is that it was a warning only for the men - women won't even be invited to the further festivities. This might be a little sexist, but it made me feel safe that the second the comments started to get a little uncomfortable the head teacher stood up and said, "Let's go." Though I felt a little sorry for the man who just wanted to stay and chat with the ladies and didn't really feel up to more drinking.

A. is fascinated with how different their personalities are at work and away. The most strait-laced teacher who runs his class with an iron fist loosens up an incredible amount - he was asked to make a "thanks for your hard work" speech near the end and started it in English, with "Okay, babies!" and ended it with "Now I'm going to teach you a little toast in Japanese that goes like this... 'Yoooooooowa.'" And then they dragged him away.

I love Japan - they work hard, they play hard.


And then the next day we went to Utsunomiya again! But that post will have a lot of pictures so as to not make this any longer I'll split here.

See ya, babies!

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