Mighty Caribou

Nihon News

September 7, 2001

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Beautiful Rising Sun

The following is taken from an email that I sent out:

Hello, hello!!

It has taken me a while, but I finally have dialup connection here in Obihiro. Cajoled one of the teachers who seemed to know something about computers to help me get signed up with an internet provider. Oh, the fun and games we had trying to communicate with each other; it is a good thing that most technical terms are the same in Japanese and English. Everything is an adventure here. From taking the bus to buying the groceries to getting unlost after getting very lost, nothing comes easily. On the upside, when I finally figure something out, or am able to communicate something successfully, there is a definite feeling of elation. On the downside, the constant struggle to communicate and fit in is exhausting. It is not only the language barrier that is a struggle, but the customs can be a struggle to understand, too.

Take something as simple as walking into the office in the morning. You must shout out a hearty "Ohio gozaimasu!" (Good morning!) to everyone at their desks and they will then shout out, or mumble out "Ohio gozaimasu!" right back atcha. This happens with every single person who enters the room.

Walking in the hallway during the day means that you must say "konichiwa" or "ohio" to everyone you see.

When you leave in the evening, you should (read "must") say "O saki ni shitsuree-shimasu" which essentially means "Sorry for leaving before you." There is some reply that the other staff mumble back that I haven't figured out, yet. I am slowly learning, though; slowly being the key word.

I am loving my life over here, though. Japanese folks will go out of their way to help you (provided they aren't the xenophobic type of folk, of which there are a few). My school got me a bike when I enquired about where to buy one. I visited a friend on the coast last weekend for a crab festival; when me and the other people being shuttled around in my car were leaving, we had the good fortune of meeting her neighbour who gave us a box of mackerel to take home with us. It is perhaps a great generalization, but I have found the Japanese to be extremely friendly and generous. Sometimes I find their kindness to be overwhelming.

As for life at school, there are few things for me to complain about. Many of my co-workers seem eager to try and communicate with me. One teacher, although he speaks little English, wore a tie with beavers and Canadian flags that he got in Calgary when he was there for a speed skating competition (apparently this teacher was ranked 1st in Japan for a while - speed skating is a *huge* deal in Obihiro). One science teacher, having found out that I taught science back at home, showed me an experiment where a yellowish, sickly looking liquid would turn bright blue when agitated and then return to its original state when it was left to rest. He tried very hard to explain it in English, mumbling "oxidation" many, many times. Very nifty. One of the Japanese English teachers studied the Bronte sisters in England for two years, and so I have had an interesting conversation with him about British literature.

The students are equally interested in me. In class, I have had them interview me. Common questions are "What Japanese food do you like?" and "Do you have a boyfriend?" Some rather unique questions have been "Is your hair permanent?" and "Do you want to be a bird? Why? Where?" I surprised a number of them by knowing that Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san, in Japanese) is the tallest mountain in Japan. They always seem shocked at my age; apparently I am considered to be quite young. Talking with the students is always an interesting experience.

Last modified: Thursday, 13-Sep-2001 08:19:16 MDT
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