Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Foreigners in a Foreign land

Usually I'm pretty easy going. I don't stress too easily. I don't often get hit with culture shock. I get along well in Japan. It's a good life. But sometimes, I get reminders that I'm an outsider, and will be for a long time yet...

Before, when I worked in the church English School, I was basically the only teacher. I did just about everything myself. Which meant I wasn't often bored. I was in control. That's always fun. :-D

Now I work in a public school. I live this rather odd half existence there. Half the time, I'm not sure why they bother to pay for someone like me. I rarely have anything to do. I'm not a full teacher, so I don't have teacher responsibilities. But I'm not a part time worker either, so I need to show up when the other teachers show up. I understand some Japanese, but not enough to know all that's going on around me. And of course, everyone is busy. It's not really practical to expect them to translate everything for me. When the teachers actually have time and are not stressed out and running around, they have fun casual conversations. They joke around with each other and tell each other stories. I can rarely join in. I am a staff member, but not really.
Even the students pick up on this. They like me for the most part, but they don't respect me as much as they do the "real" teachers. (although, I suspect that I get more respect than most ALT's because I actually attempt discipline.)

Like I said. Usually this doesn't bother me. But today it kinda made me sad. It feels... lonely.

I am living here, but I don't know if I will ever be fully accepted here, no matter how long I live here or how fluent I become. I love Japan, and that makes me sad.

But I can't just go back home either. I'm not the same person I was before. I have grown, changed my perspective. I don't fit in at home either. I don't see things the same as before. There is a gap in experience between me and my peers. I no longer fit.

I'm a funny shaped peg without a hole.

Well, that's not really new for me. I'm used to not fitting in and being different. Sometimes I embrace that. Sometimes I mourn it. (I'm guessing you can figure out which one I'm doing today.)

But it reminds me once again of a thought that I have often. This is a good reminder of what it means to be Christian. When we become Christian, we leave our old country behind and enter into a new and glorious Kingdom. We gain a new citizenship. But we can't enter it fully yet. We are waiting in our old country with our new passport and certificates, and we don't know when we can go in. But now we don't fully belong.

Sometimes we can hold a duel citizenship. Some countries let you do that. Some don't. But it's never the same. There are choices you have to make. The cultures don't match. You have to choose which to follow. The culture where you are? The culture where you are going?

We are stuck in a land of red tape, trying to live our lives here until our new ones begin.

There was a bigger, grander point to all of this when I started writing, but I've lost it. There's meaning somewhere burired in all this rumination.

But I guess for now, I'm left with a more real experience of what it means to be "in the world, but not of it." I wonder if Jesus felt like this too, living in this sinful world, in but not of it. Always present, but never really fully accepted. If so, then I can rejoice a bit, knowing that Jesus mourns with me, and I have a shared experience with my Lord.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The fresh breath after the storm

Today a typhoon hit Japan. It said in the news that this was something like the first typhoon to directly hit the mainland since 2007. I don't know so much about typhoons. We hear about them every year, but I guess the don't often hit directly. From this far inland, I can't tell much of a difference from when they hit and when they don't. There's lots of wind and rain in both cases.

Anyway, today the school was worried about canceling classes. They were talking about it yesterday, and we were supposed to wait for phone calls in the morning telling us if there was school or not. Problem is that they make the decision at 6:30. I leave my house at 6. :-( So I have to get up and get ready and get most of the way to the bus before they let me know if I have to go or not. Fun.

They called me, and said that school was canceled for the students, but the teachers needed to come in. So I kept walking to the bus stop (30 mins in the rain, in not so comfortable shoes, but the only ones I have that are sufficiently rain proof. I really need some rain shoes.) I get on the bus, and right before the bus takes off, I get an e-mail from my company, telling me that I don't have to go to school. I e-mail back and said that the school told me to come in. Bus starts, and I don't really have much chance to make a decision. I'm on my way to school.

First part of the walk, the long one, didn't get me too wet. There's good sidewalk in my area. But near the school, there are almost no sidewalks. The rain started to fall harder. Fortunately I had thought ahead and brought a skirt to change into, and spare socks. I had planned on getting wet. What I forgot was that the on the road to school, it's very easy to get splashed by passing cars. And there are lots of big trucks on that road. Yeah, I got splashed. Less than a 10 min walk, and I get way more wet than the first walk. Now what I didn't think to bring was a change of underwear. Yeah, I got soaked that much. Great start to my day!

Go to school, change clothes, laugh with some of the teachers about it. I like days when the kids aren't there because the teachers are really relaxed and we can usually eat together and I can talk more with them. It's a nice atmosphere. But when the kids aren't there, I have absolutely NOTHING to do. I brought a book. Been at school less than an hour when my company calls the school and tells them that I don't have to work. (seems to me that it would be common sense. the other part time teachers hadn't been called in. I live freaking far away, and I have to commute either by bus or train. Trains don't run in typhoons.) So they tell me I can go home. After all that. Time to go back out. Fun.

Problem being that my next bus didn't come for an hour and the wind was blowing really hard (rain had stopped though.) I wanted to ride my bike back to the station so I could save money and have it to ride in the morning(I had left the bike at the school the day before because of the rain.) So I decided to see if the wind would die down. I waited about an hour. The time for the bus came, but the wind was still pretty strong. The schedule I had said there would be other bus during the 10 o'clock hour, so I decided to wait a little longer. When I decided that the wind was just not going to get any better any time soon, I decided to walk/ride the bike. I left my wet clothes at work, changed into the better shoes for walking now that the rain stopped, and went out.

Turns out it wasn't so bad riding the bike in the wind. The wind was warm (morning was cold.) so that was nice. Going out, I notice tree branches and leaves littered everywhere from the wind. I actually like wind. Reminds me a bit of Texas, minus the dust. Made it in time to grab breakfast from McDonalds before getting to the bus stop. Only to find the schedule had changed and there was no longer a bus during the 10 o'clock hour. The bus really does run at the most inconvenient times for me. :-( Next bus? 11:35. I have an hour and a half. That's a long wait, so I decide to try the trains.

Get on the trains, which are all delayed or canceled because of the winds. I can actually get home using trains in either direction, so after some deliberation, I decide to take whichever train shows up first. It goes one stop, and then... stops. No trains are moving again. I wait for about half and hour and decide that it would just be better to go back to the bus stop and take the bus. Buses can operate in the wind. Trains don't like wind.

So I exit, (paying for a completely useless train ride.) and walk back to the bus stop, about 30 mins. I make it in time. But now there is a huge line. I'm not kidding. It was long. Everyone else wanted to ride the bus too, since the trains weren't' running. I wondered if we could all fit. Somehow we packed onto the bus. Quite the adventure.

Get back around 12:30ish I guess. I get a little something to eat and drink and head home. Almost 2. 8 hours later, very tired, poorer and accomplished nothing. Yes, adventures in commuting. But walking outside wasn't so bad after the rain stopped. It became a nice day actually. I took a nap.

Anyway, the main point wasn't to tell you about my day, as fascinating as that was (please insert dripping sarcasm here.) I had a nice little analogy that I thought of while coming home and seeing the after effects of the storm.

The whole week leading up to the typhoon (which happens to be the week of my birthday) was rain. I hate rain. It's troublesome and depressing. And I just don't have the right shoes for commuting in the rain. (I didn't commute so much before, so it hadn't been this big of a problem for me yet.) It's oppressive.

The typhoon comes in, stirs things up. Brings more rain, and then wind. But the wind begins to blow the rain away. After the rain, the sun comes out and the air is fresh. I love the air after a typhoon. It's so clear. The wind is refreshing to me, clearing out my soul. You can see the debris of the storm. Branches and garbage littered about. There will need to be some clean up, but it's easy to see where. Dead branches have been ripped off trees. Weak things torn off. It just feels like a new start.

It feels to me like how God moves through our lives. We get caught up in the dreariness of living in our rainy hearts. The air is humid and oppressive. Skies are cloudy everyday. Not hard rain, just persistent rain. Bringing our spirits down.

Then God brings His Spirit moving among us. Things get a little hectic for a little while, but that's what happen when you have something as powerful as God moving around you. But when it's over, the air is cleared. You can breathe again. You have some cleaning up to do. No one stands before God without realizing the need for "clean-up." But God has done some of the work for you, stripping of dead branches, pruning things that aren't were they belong, or overreaching themselves. Sometimes taking healthy parts too. Now all we have to do is pick up the pieces. Not as hard as pruning ourselves. But there is hope in the air now. Hope left from God's Spirit. The darkness has been chased away. Light shines again. And I smile as the wind frees my spirits.

I am tired and sore from today's adventures in commuting. But when I look back on it, it's not such a bad day after all. My spirit is just a little fresher, my breathing just a little clearer. It's good typhoons don't come everyday. But I do like the air after a typhoon.

Today wasn't a bad day at all. Praise God.

Friday, October 02, 2009

snapshots of my week

I took my camera to school last week and the week before to help some students with a speech contest. (two of the three girls placed and get to go to another speech contest next week!)

I decided to take some pictures to put up here. I have trouble putting up multiple pictures for some reasons, so please just bear with me. Enjoy!

School life

Some pictures from my school.

Starting with the entrance. Teachers and 3 year students go directly to the second floor. The rest of the students use the first floor.

When you enter the school, you have to take off your outdoor shoes and put on indoor shoes.

There's not so much difference. But that's what you do. In my school, all the kids have the same shoes as part of their uniforms. The shoes are white sneakers, but with color coded accents. The colors are red, blue and green, but I've forgotten which colors go with which years.

There is also a locker area for the teachers. We get doors on our lockers. The one picture is my locker with my name on it.

And then there is a picture of the sinks that are everywhere. I don't know why, but they are everywhere. You can wash your hands, get a drink, etc.

a hitchiker and the way home

Here are some pictures of my trip home. First we have sunset from the school entrance.

Next a couple of shots of my bus stop. It's more often dark than not recently. But now I can ride the train home at nights, which get's me home faster. Costs a bit more, but I like saving time too. Makes me less stressed. (and less bored waiting an hour for the silly bus.)

I ride a bike from my school to the train station (where I can catch either a train or the bus). One day I found a hitchhiker! (and I ride the bike for about 20 mins! I'm just impressed!) So cute!

Bibles and manga

I mentioned in the previous post that the Gideon's had come to my school recently. It was fun. I was greeted by some first year students asking me if I was a Christian. I told them yes, and they showed me a Bible they had just received. They weren't quite sure if they were allowed to keep it or if it was a bit too suspicious. I told them it wasn't suspicious, but if they didn't want the Bible I would take it and find it a home. One kid gave me a Bible, and one kid who didn't get one was like, "I want it." I spread word around that I would take any unwanted Bibles. Then one of the kids asked me "Who is Matthew?" I said "Jesus' student." "Who is Jesus?" What a wonderful opportunity! During the morning meeting the Principle made an annoucement about the Bibles. The schools are not allowed to promote religion (yet they were reading about Mother Teresa?) but since the Bibles were handed out before the kids entered school property, they were allowed to keep them (just not read them in class.) I told the teachers too that I would take any Bibles that weren't wanted. I ended up with a nice stack on my desk. I like the Japanese style of Bibles. It feels nice in your hands. One of the teachers seems a bit shocked that I wanted the Bibles. She was like "you will get so many! There will be hundreds!" Turns out, I only got 40 something Bibles. That's pretty good considering there's about 900 students in my school! I gave them away to some missionaries who were happy to get them. It was fun.

The other pictures is of this cool new Manga Messiah book series. They are telling the Bible stories in Manga form. This has been done before I know, but this time they did a good job! It looks professional and nice! It's quite believable. It's wonderful. Comes in English and Japanese. This is one of my Japanese versions of the old Testament. (a new one just came out this month. I can't wait to get that one too!)


This is a picture of the English textbooks we use at my school. Actually, I think all the schools in the city use the same books, but don't quote me on that.

Notice that they are thin and paperback. Not what I remember from jr high. But this is basically what all the textbooks look like. Some are a little more thick. But these are actually given to the students and you don't reuse them like we do with textbooks in the states.

The open page is a reading section for the second years. It's about Mother Teresa. I found that interesting. (same week the Gideon's came to our school handing out Bibles.)