A Blip on the Radar


Well, it’s been about half a year. I suppose it’s time for a full update.


First of all, I’m now living in Shizuoka with A., leaving home at 6:30 every morning and walking for 6 minutes, taking the train for 21 minutes, and riding a bike for 10 minutes to get to school every morning. A., on the other hand, can get to work in 15 minutes by bike, and generally leaves home around 8:20 a.m.


We started out getting up an hour apart while attempting to share a common bedtime, trying to reconcile my tendency to crash into bed when I lack the power to remain standing with A.’s inclination to chat at precisely this time. After several weeks of “Why don’t we talk any more?” vs. “Why do you refuse to let me sleep?” we agreed that we had to get up at the same time for the sake of peace. So now she gets up at 6:00, and I save enough energy for chat before going to sleep. It’s all about compromise.


With the help of a Herculean friend at a shipping company, we managed to move the both of us on the same day for about $100, including lunch for Hercules. Given that the landlords gouged us for $5000 for the right to move in, it was nice to save a little something somewhere.


And despite their various objections, A.’s parents are now the financial guarantors for our apartmentnot that it keeps her mom from voicing disapproval whenever she comes to visit. As for her dad, the last time I saw him, he proudly displayed his knowledge of English over a diagram of the testicular operation he’d just undergone. I’ll be going to visit them  for two days next week.

A Farewell to Evil

In December the Shadow of Evil at long last passed from The Village, replaced by a benign New Zealander I’ll call Newzy.


Newzy rode into The Village to find a wary populace. The children, from whose insatiable grabbing and poking I’d once been forced to incessantly defend myself, seemed afraid to come near him. Conversation, particularly with young female staff, was regarded with open suspicion. The teachers at my mountaintop school, who once offered me weekly lifts, were unwilling to let him in their cars. The Internet, my daily playground, was now off-limits. And the bike I’d used to get to work every morning, the one that had once survived a plunge into a drainage pipe on a downhill hairpin turn at 40km/h, had somehow been totalled beyond repair.


The six-year-olds in grade one told Newzy that the last ALT had been “strange.” The junior high kids preferred the word “dirty.” Soccer-sensei offered the astute advice, “Don’t drink too much.”


Newzy provided St.Nick and I with a wealth of fresh gossip: his predecessor had once wandered drunk into the junior high cram school (“juku”) and started turning over tables; his first—and only—adult lesson had consisted of, “Right, today we’re doing numbers… So, what’s your phone number?”; after a Thursday night drinking at taiko practice, he slept through a lesson that Number Two had come down to observe the next morning, then got a doctor’s note giving him a week-long illness that cleared up completely by Monday; and at the junior high, he would sit in the teacher’s room and put his hand on the knee of the young English teacher who’d rebuffed him. She was grilled about their nonexistent relationship and transferred at the end of the year.


However, it was only after an embarrassment involving the police that the town officially requested a change. As the story goes, he passed out in a farmer’s truck one night, and when the farmer and his wife discovered him the next morning he was so dead drunk that they thought he’d committed suicide and called the cops.


Newzy arrived at the beginning of January.


So now St. Nick can safely visit the supermarket in The Village again, and he can stop spending his free time thinking of rude names for the only other foreigner in the area. Of course, now St. Nick complains that Newzy could talk a leg off a chair, while Newzy calls St. Nick “old grumble-guts,” so we may have replaced The Evil with The Odd Couple.


When I finally met Newzy a few months ago, he was surprised to find that I wasn’t the giant everyone in town described me to be, and further grumbled that whenever he declines to play “Fruit Basket” the kids insist, “Mike ALWAYS played Fruit Basket!”


The little liars—I had a once-a-term limit on Fruit Basket. But it’s nice to be remembered well.


As for the true fate of my bike—which I still can’t believe was actually destroyed—as well as the “he said/she said” conundrum that so tortured me last year, I doubt that I will get any closer to answers.


All I know is that Mrs. Peel has told Newzy that he’s “Too serious… Just like Mike.”


Both her kids just graduated this year. Through Newzy, I wished them well.


At school, the third-years graduated at the end of March, and I watched all of my favourite students leave forever.


They marched out to the front gates down a path lined with applauding teachers and junior students, some sharing glances or nods with me, but all moving steadily on their way. As the column approached its end, however, Shin suddenly strode right up and gave me a solid left-handed handshake. He was a good student. It’s one of those moments you appreciate.


Happily, I still run into a lot of them at the station in the morning.


Otherwise, I’m a little bored. When I was interviewing for this job three years ago, my key reference made a brilliantly accurate assessment of my key weakness: “He gets frustrated when he isn’t being challenged.” I’ve been doing this too long, and the challenge is waning. I’ve coasted through the first few weeks of school, and I don’t know if things are going to change. Something needs to be different next April, but I’m not sure what. As I poke my nose further into the upper echelons of my company, I’ve come to debate whether I want to try to fix the mess I see up there or wash my hands of it entirely.


My boss is leaving this summer, and although several staff recommended that I try for it, I seem to be the only person who didn’t apply for her job. But I know what Number Two does and roughly how much she gets paid for it, and with all my writing assignments taken into consideration, it doesn’t come to much of a difference (I've been writing lesson plans on the side, under the direction, would you believe it, of Valvalis of the Wind. She even once sent me an e-mail including the words, "I value your judgement." I've been honing my techniques for managing difficult managers). I also made quite a bit doing training and helping out with things around the office over the spring break, and the only hassle for me was transportation.


Number Two is in charge of all the ALTs in our branch, and with the number of people who come over here without the slightest idea how to take care of themselves in any language, the extra headaches just aren’t worth it.


To be fair, nine people out of ten are great. But that tenth person just seems to suck up the energies of an army when something goes awry.


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