Where is my mind?

So, I've been walking around in a haze for the past few weeks. I've been swamped at work trying to learn and then teach several new curriculums that all happen to occur within the same short time span. I've been exhausted and stressed and that's only made life harder. Perhaps bad things only happened because I was already in a bad state of mind. But happen they did... and like my sudden workload increase, they occurred all at once.

Dustin and I struck gold before we'd even walked into the realtor when we found an advertisement for the dream apartment outside the realtor's office. We carried it in, saw it minutes later, and fell in love on the spot. My main criteria, a huge kitchen, was more than met. This apartment is 5 minutes from the train station, right off the only main street in Nagaoka, closer to our friends, our Nagaoka schools, our office... in a word: perfect. The rent is almost half the amount we pay now and it's at least double the size of our two apartments combined. We were told to get a Japanese person as a reference and to be prepared to pay about 4 months rent up front as realtor fees, "gift money" and deposit. We came in that week with one of our Japanese bosses (our reference) and plenty of money. All of the required paperwork was signed. We were prepared to move in July 6th! Yippee! And then... suddenly everyone changes their mind. They insist we need a guarantor, someone to take responsibility for us "in case." I asked all of the Japanese people I'm friends with, and not unexpectedly, they declined. Having only known even my closest Japanese friends for 7 months, I wasn't surprised that they didn't want to have the possibility of me skipping the country and them having to pay for half a year's rent looming in the background of our still relatively new friendship. Our bosses and the people who work for the head office all said it was "impossible" for our company to help us out, since Peppy already provides (and by provides, I mean forces us to live in and pay rent for) [crappy] apartments. When we couldn't convince anyone to sponsor us, the realtor suggested using an insurance company. We then filled out these forms, and only after we submitted our application did they tell us that we would need a guarantor. There's still a possibility that we will get this apartment. They are still "thinking about it." They've asked to copy our bank books, pay statements, passports, and foreign residence cards. We're crossing our fingers.

All of my foreign friends whose fiancées happen to be Japanese have had no problems whatsoever finding amazing apartments and getting into them swiftly. On the surface, Japan is a friendly and America-loving nation, but when it comes to certain formalities essential to accommodating to a country, they can be quite racist.

Of course, being in bad spirits about the best apartment in the whole wide world slipping through my fingers, something would happen to make it all worse. We had a meeting at one of my schools in Nagaoka, so I woke up, got ready to go out the door, stuck my keys in my bike, and pedaled across the bridge to my school. When I got to the meeting, my boss and several of my coworkers were already inside preparing for our long day of demo-ing upcoming Summer School lessons for each other. I rolled my bike immediately inside the classroom and joined them. After the meeting, we were all packing up to go and someone asked if anyone had the spare keys. Since it was my school, I'd brought my keys along with me and they should have been dangling off my bike where they had remained all day keeping my bike in the ready position. I reached for my keys and saw, to my utter horror and disbelieve, that my key chain had broken (presumably somewhere on my 30 minute bike ride) and the classroom keys were missing. I spent the next several days retracing the path I'd taken that day, tearing apart my bags, laundry basket, and apartment. I even went back to the koban to report them missing. 

The nice policeman who helped me this time was younger than the cute little old man that was so much "help" with my stolen bicycle, but he had far less patience. My Japanese has improved immensely since my last visit, but my ability to form sentences that are both polite and make sense is a bit lacking. I practiced what I need to say and got out, "I lost the keys to a children's English school on Ote Street maybe. It is 3 keys and a green keychain." He helped me fill out the necessary form, but we ran into trouble when he asked me to describe the keys. Ummmm... When I stared dumbly back at him, he asked how long they were. Unfortunately for him, he got the same blank stare. He then asked how many centimeters they were. At this point, I was worried and embarrassed at the same time. I know that I've measured things using centimeters back in elementary school and perhaps once in a science class in college, but when asked to give the measurement of something you've never even considered measuring in a unit you rarely use, the thought is terrifying. I felt so ashamed that I couldn't even tell him how long my keys were. His keys were laying on the table, so I pointed at the short one and said "2 keys are this." I then pointed to the long one and said, "1 key is this." This didn't really help. He asked me to draw them. Hmmmm... I'm not much of an artist, so I started to trace his key. He took the pen and paper away and finally said, "I understand." He related to me, in Japanese that I'm sure made much more sense than my own, what I had been trying to convey. He talked to the main police station and ensured me that no such keys had been turned in and that if they found them they'd call me and blah blah blah.

It's been 3 weeks and no luck. I confessed my irresponsibility to my boss. Apparently, the company is nervous that the high crime rate in Japan [extreme sarcasm there] will strike in the heart of Nagaoka and whoever finds the keys will somehow realize what those keys  will unlock Of course then, they will unlock Peppy's doors and steal a cornucopia of construction paper or perhaps a fax machine. They have decided to change the locks, and guess who's paying for it? Luckily, they are only changing the locks on one of two doors. For some reason or another, it is going to cost between $300 and $600 to do this. Whoo-hoo! AND, I get to inconvenience one of my Japanese teachers/friend who I think already feels a bit weird around me since I asked her to be a guarantor, therefore putting her in what she saw as an awkward position when she had to come up with a nice way of saying, "No." 

I've been trying to think positively and be more present in every waking moment. I thought I was doing a bit better, but today, my mind wandered away for a bit and I lost yet another set of keys! Since the incident with my broken key chain, I've been keeping my bike keys separate and only putting them in my bike when I'm riding. Now they are much smaller on their own, making them infinitely easier to lose. I have no idea what I was thinking about when I got off my bike and headed to the train station to leave for work, but it certainly wasn't my bike keys. At some point later in the day, I noticed that my bike keys were not in their normal place in my purse. I put it out of my mind while I was teaching, but said many silent (and a few voiced) prayers that my bike would still be there when I returned and that my smiling Troll key chain would be dangling from the bike lock. 

When the train pulled into Nagaoka, I was off, walking as fast as I could to get to my bike. I approached the place where I just knew I had parked it and... it was there! But no sign of the Troll. Luckily, the Japanese bike companies and the bike lock companies have learned that people lose those tiny keys, so I had a spare of my bike key and the key to my extra lock back at home. I borrowed Dustin's bike, went home to get my spare keys, and headed out to meet some friends for dinner. After dinner, I grabbed my bike and started on my way home. I couldn't stop thinking about where those keys could be. I worried about whether or not the finder of my keys could somehow link them to my bike and steal it at a later date (yes, I know logic just as ridiculous as Peppy's). I thought that Dustin and I should switch our extra bike locks, so that they wouldn't be able to open my original lock with the key they would have found paired with the key to my bike. Mostly, I was disappointed that my Troll keychain was gone. I really liked that. Just as that last thought popped into my head, I looked down and saw a little Troll laying face down in a potted plant on the side of the road about a block away from where my bike had been parked. This key chain, too, was broken! Deeper in the plant, I found the key to my extra bike lock. I looked around to see if my bike key was anywhere, but no luck. I have no idea how they got there, but I have definitely learned two important lessons: 1) Be aware of what you are doing at all times, 2) Invest in a high quality key chain.


Turning Japanese, I think I'm Turning Japanese, I Really Think So.

In April, I started Japanese classes. I certainly haven't learned every nuance of the language in a mere 2 months, but I have greatly improved my ability to bumble my way through the occasional very brief conversation in Japanese. And I know all of my katakana and hiragana characters. The more complicated kanji that sometimes represent whole words, on the other hand, still elude me.

Once I learned all of the katakana and hiragana characters, I started reading every little sign and billboard I saw. It reminded me vividly of when I first learned to read as a child and would call out what was on every billboard as we passed it driving around the city and on family vacations. The first time we went out to eat after I'd learned my Japanese alphabets,  I sat at the table reading off every drink on the cocktail menu, slowly and tediously. Dustin was quite embarrassed. He told me it was like being in a restaurant in the U.S. and overhearing the person at the next table saying, "Mar... marti... martini! Scr... screw... screwdri... screwdriver!" I've since made sure to read my menus silently.

Besides learning a bit of Japanese, my Japanese class has given me a great sense of empathy for my own students. Now, when they stare back at me mouths agape with bewilderment, I can remember back to Tuesday morning when I had the same expression on my own face. When I first started teaching at Peppy, it was easy to find the students' utter lack of understanding at times very frustrating. Trying to learn Japanese, which is so very different than English, has shown me what a difficult task it must be for my young students to tackle English. It's become almost automatic to slow down my speech when I'm teaching.

I've finally reached the point where I speak in Janglish (Japanese/English) most of the time. The grammar and sentence structure are typically English, the vocabulary and the occasional verb are in Japanese. For example, instead of "We're riding our bikes to the train station." I would say, "We're riding our jitensha to the eki."I can make a few intelligible sentences, but I mostly speak in broken Japanese at the moment. By this time next year, hopefully, I will be tackling kanji and be able to have conversations that don't center around what time things occur and where things are located. Ganbatte, me!

In other evidence that I'm assimilating to the Japanese culture... My boss just got an iPhone and he was much better at exploring it and figuring out all of the wonders it holds than I was 7 months ago. I love my iPhone as much as one can love a phone, but I was always pretty disappointed that it didn't have the almost imperative fancy emoticons that all other Japanese cellphones come with. After having his phone for less than a week, my boss found the emoticons under the international keyboards (Check the "emotiji" option under the Japanese keyboards if you've an iPhone of your own and want to be more Japanese.) and shared his discovery with me. Yippee! All further SMSs and e-mails will certainly be sprinkled with the little pictographs, no matter how little sense they make. I will find a time to use the picture of the Russian flag or the blood-filled syringe. I just know I will...