Monday, June 26, 2006

The second part of my two-part Monday entry

[Since you probably won't see 'Orientating' before this post, I suggest you scroll down and read my thrilling descriptions of orientation sessions and my gustatory preferences. While I'm making meta-notes, I'll also add that I'm really going to try to keep the entries shorter eventually, but bear with me for now. Also, feel free to ask me any questions and I'll try and get to them.]

So I got up at 7 the next day; I tried to persuade my body to accept it by noting that it was actually 6 in the evening in North Carolina, but there was nothing going. We had breakfast at 8:15, and hadn't left by 8:40, at which point I was starting to get a bit antsy; after all, if Makuhari was that close, they wouldn't have put a train stop there. "Can we really get there in 20 minutes?" I asked. "Sure," Anthony said. "I've made it in 5 before." I was still a bit trepidant until we pulled up to the back gate of Kanda at 8:52; I made it to class on time.

Basically, the way that my school schedule works is that I have my intermediate Japanese class with 8 other students from my program. Every day. From 9 to12:30. Then we have lunch, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays we have our Contemporary Japanese Pop Culture class with Aratake-sensei (our Japanese teacher from UNC) from 1:30-4. Thursdays are set aside for field trips to various places in Japan, though, so those don't really count.

So we had class (which was entirely in Japanese), then ate at Kanda's La Paz cafeteria. Despite the name, its main fare is mostly Japanese dishes; I got something involving chicken and tofu which wasn't terrible. After that we had another orientation session, after which we were free to go.

Kanda University is actually a pretty neat place. Officially called KUIS, or the Kanda University for International Studies, it's a fairly small campus that focuses almost entirely on language-based majors (that is, English, Chinese, French, linguistics, etc.) and has a somewhat international constituency. One of the highlights is the SALC, a resource center where you can rent videos, books, etc. in various languages, or even watch them there--but you have to speak in a language different from your primary one to do anything. The directors noted that many of the students there were chomping at the bit to get their hands on some native English speakers, an opportunity I plan to explore sometime soon. I'll also try and get some Kanda pictures in the near future.

Anyway, we hung around there for a while before going back, getting dinner, and starting on homework. To give an idea of how fast we're going: in Japanese 101 and 102, we spent an average time of a week and a half to two weeks on a given chapter. Here, we're doing one every two and a half days. They certainly weren't kidding when they said this wasn't going to be a light summer program.

That evening I also talked to Takeda-san about her Internet connection. When I turned wireless radio on on my laptop, I detected an unencrypted connection named 'Takeda', but couldn't get it to connect. (Japan Paradox #2: How is it possible in the most technologically advanced nation in the world to only pick up one wireless network in the suburbs of Tokyo?) It turns out that they would have to bring somebody out to manually assign an IP or something equally inane, which would cost about 3000 yen. Apparently, another student would be coming in July 1st, and I could split the cost with them at that time. Until then, though, I was stranded at home without a Net.

This is way too much text at once. So here's a picture of my room.

(I believe that was also the day I made my TELEGRAM VIA BLOG post and recorded a few videos in which I sounded a touch glum. Mostly I was tired and cranky, and just coming down from the height of my culture-shock. I was trying to access wireless Internet in the SALC and couldn't get my computer to work, and the lady at the front desk was obviously looking at me in a chiding way for using my primary language, and I was completly thinking "I just want to talk to Hadley; I very strongly suggest you don't make me mad"; I ended up getting transferred to a help desk that nobody was attending to. I went home and slept. I'm a lot better now. Japan was still great anyway. :D)

Tuesday was just as hectic. Class was nothing new, though this time we ate at a cafeteria mostly trading in noodles--udon, ramen, soba, and the like. I grabbed a dish that looked like chicken but was actually tofu (you may sense the beginnings of a trend here), and listened to certain people in my group discuss certain topics that I'll refrain from repeating for the sake of everybody involved. Suffice it to say that we all got up from the table... somewhat amused.

More big blocks of text. Ergo, the train station we get off at to go to Kanda and the IES Center.

Later that day, at the IES Center, we all had individual mandatory meetings with Kudo-san to discuss the situations with our host families. Mine was alright, I supposed, but I was still a bit wary about the whole situation. Since I was one of the last people assigned a host family, I wasn't sure how much the decision to take me was Takeda-san's and how much it was IES's, I wasn't too comfortable with making an 80-year-old cater to my whims in the first place, and I felt like I was in general missing out on the 'host family' experience most of the rest of my group was experiencing.

I voiced these concerns (save the first one, naturally) to Kudo-san, and because she had mentioned Saturday that a host family switch might be possible, I told her I might like to begin exploring that avenue. She said it would probably take one or two weeks to find one, to which I replied, "Oh, take three if you need to. I'd like a couple of weeks anyway, just to see if I grow accustomed to this situation." After all, Takeda-san was very nice, quite permissive regarding curfews and all that, and a good English speaker, though her accent was, at times, indecipherable.

That evening, I finally met Matt, the other IES student. Anthony and I, for some reason, never really seemed to hit it off. Matt was completely different, however; it may have been that we were both just novices in Japanese, but for some reason we immediately clicked. As a 26-year-old physics major at the University of South Carolina, he had a rather unique perspective on the education system in general, and we talked at length about that, his experiences in Japan, and the various information about the homestay I had hoped to learn from somebody or another. By the end of the evening, I was feeling much more confident about the situation in general; not completely so, but not clawing-at-the-walls to get out, either. I planned to discuss this with Kudo-san the next chance I got, which would likely be Friday.

Anyway, Wednesday was the first day I finally started getting into a routine. Hopefully, this means it'll be the first day I get to tell you more about Japan proper--I'll be more descriptive soon, honest to Abraham. Bike to school, try not to fail the kanji quiz, eat at a nearby convenience store (a fairly popular option), walk to the IES Center for Aratake's class. Generally, we're going to have a lecture and a short essay due, but since this was the first week we mostly talked about our homestays and figured out how to use the subway system for our upcoming field trip. We got out early and I spent approximately forever on the Internet, a habit I'm really going to have to kick if I want to get more sleep. And given the coherency of my more recent posts, I imagine all of us can agree that more sleep is a good thing.

Two more things to mention quickly, though. Firstly, one of the things that's really caught my attention since I've been here is the Small-World Syndrome in action. You really can't believe how you can find connections with people no matter how far away you go until you actually... get out and go there. At the soccer game, for instance, one of the girls from Tuscaloosa was going to apply to UNC. Takeda-san herself had been there back in 1981. At IES, one of the Kanda University students working there had just finished a course in linguistics, something I'm sure we would have talked about for who-knows-how-long if I hadn't had to get going. Another student, Yuji, is a huge fan of the Chiba Lotte Marines, managed by Bobby Valentine, former manager of my quasi-cherished Mets. (I used to be a fan, then sort of stopped paying attention to baseball. Now they're leading the NL East and I can't start liking them again because then I'm a fair-weather fan. So it goes.) The stadium is about 500 yards from the IES Center, actually (in fact), another opportunity I plan to exploit utilize very soon. It's pretty fascinating, I suppose is all I'm saying.

Secondly, I've decided I'm going to have a Vending Machine Special of the Day conclusion to every post. There must be hundreds of various drinks in popular distribution; I'm going to try and drink a different one each time I buy one unless I fall in love with one or actually buy everything in sight. So, Special #1:

Pocari Sweat! Possibly one of the two most famous badly-named soft drinks of Japan (along with 'Calpis'), Sweat (Pocari? PS?) is actually one of my more favorite beverages so far. It's essentially a clear, watered-down version of Gatorade. While some prefer it for this reason--it's less sugary-sweet, doesn't pack as much of a punch, etc.--I'm not totally convinced. I'm still going to see if I can bring a bottle back with me, though.


At 9:48 AM, Anonymous tami said...

I am addicted to your blogs. they are never too long. i love the pictures too. keep everything coming. if you get to a baseball game and they have shirts, remember leah, tami, dennis, and mike.
we love you and miss you so much but the blogs really do help.


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