Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Arriving in Nagoya

Pictured: Actress, Singer and Mother Yuki Uchida

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At 6AM Enka music that would wake all the dead in a Stephen King novel, rang out from the old, tinny Nagoya youth hostel speakers. Apparently it was time to get up. After a cheap, but grueling 30 hour journey (with various stop overs), Korean airlines had finally deposited me in Nagoya, Japan. Next I was whisked away to this youth hostel by seven Japanese women, whom I'd met while working as a program assistant for Columbia College in Vancouver. These young, kind, attractive Japanese women had done a homestay in Canada, and my job was to take them around the city.

I got to go out with some of the most beautiful, exotic women from around the world, take them hiking, sightseeing, dancing, out to dinner, and on romantic cruises. And they paid me!

In my sleepy reverie I staggered to the showers and almost bumped into two Californians named Jeff and Brian. They were both planning to teach English though neither had a job lined up yet. I had arranged my position before I came. Whether this was a mistake or not, I had yet to find out. After talking for a bit, Jeff, Brian and I exchanged contact information, and promised to keep in touch.

My friend Naomi picked me up at around noon and we went to meet my boss Mark for lunch at a local family restaurant. It was strange to see a restaurant that looked like home, but of course, was filled almost entirely with Japanese people. I felt uncomfortable as I was an object of attention as we waited for our table. This would be a challenge I would need to conquer, getting used to being stared at, almost everywhere I went. Being very tall for Japan, I stand over 6'2," I got a lot of attention wherever I went, even in a large city like Nagoya. Although, this Aichi city boasted over 2 million people, it was not very cosmopolitan, and I had vaulted into being a member of an extremely small minority, almost overnight. It has been said that for a caucasian, coming to Japan can give one an idea of what it must be like to be African North American back home. To a small extent, I think this is true. It is definitely a worthwhile experience to be a member of a minority for a while. It opens one's eyes to what it must feel like to be the only Chinese boy in an all caucasian class for example.

I spent the night in Mark's apartment having dinner and getting to know he and his family. The next day he proudly showed me the apartment and I tried to hide my shock. Even though I had read in Wharton's book, "Working in Japan," that Japanese apartments didn't come with much, it was still surprising to see that I didn't even have any lights. Mark handed me a small plastic light fixture, that if I am nice about, I would say looked like a K-Mart reject. "A friend gave me this." I could see why, I thought. Obviously not a good friend. We screwed it into the kitchen ceiling. At least I would be able to see what I was chewing!

According to him this apartment was huge. According to me, it wasn't much bigger than my bedroom back home in Vancouver. It was a 2DK in Japanese apartment lingo. I had a Japanese oil heated bath, which everyone should try at least once. It was very deep; like a big cube in shape. Although tall, I fit in it nicely and the water came up to my neck. It was very nice on those cold Nagoya mornings.

Jeff and Brian came over to my apartment a day or two later. I offered them the second bedroom until they found a place of their own. I'm happy I did as Jeff and I ended up becoming good friends.

Jeff being the taller and more striking of the two, landed his teaching position first. Brian struggled for a while, and finally was hired by a chain called Bilingual. Jeff worked for a school called Simpson. If either had been of an Asian minority or African North American, securing a teaching position would have been more difficult. Fitting the general image of what an English teacher should look and sound like (according to Japanese English School managers ) however, they both found positions relatively easily. Americans tend to be the most in demand, Britons too have their English school manager fans. Canadians rank as quasi- Americans, and New Zealanders and Aussies seem to have a tougher time landing a teaching position. Though thisseems to be changing. Aussies lately seemto have their fans.

My new friends were good company, often having spirited hockey games in the kitchen with the cockroaches. The roaches being black, almost looked like miniature pucks, and we would cheer as Jeff shot them out the door. "He scores!" They were very good hockey players for Californians! Do they have roach hockey in the USA? It really should be an Olympic sport, especially if they are going to include the luge! Be honest, when was the last time you luged? My friend back home is a real luger.(Bad Pun!) I won't mention his name though for fear of his being ostracized.

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