Tuesday, August 7, 2012


If I wasn't old Japan hand enough to remember that the cole for my slaw is sold separately at 7-11, at least I had known (albeit learned through secondhand advice through my parents, who got it from a Yokosuka-bound Marine) enough not to sleep on the airplane. When I woke up the next morning at 6:30, it was after a mostly full night of sleep generated by a vigil in the upright-and-locked position, rather than the hallucinatory haze of semi-consciousness (made worse by bad, bad, late-night TV) in which I'd spent my first night in Tokyo last year after sleeping more than halfway across the Pacific. 

So I was awake enough at breakfast (new ALTs rate summer-camp steam-table fare, but are served on Noritake china) to make a stab at introducing myself to a passel of zombie foreigners over our coffee and powdered eggs. Of the travel-worn young people in suitcase-rumpled suits, the most awake, (thanks to their mere 3-hour time gap), and, after Americans, the most numerous, were New Zealanders, with lesser representation from Great Britain, Canada, Singapore, and points elsewhere on the English-speaking map. While I sipped a second cup of coffee, I hunted up as many of  my fellow new transplant Akitans as I could. There were a scant 13, a number that, against, for example,  Hokkaido's 42, seemed surprisingly low. Were they having trouble filling their ALT slots up in the northern land of "rice and snow"? Perhaps the old ones never wanted to leave... 

Our table's worth of Akitans filled up a scant corner of the massive ballroom we were herded into after breakfast, where, in, what I recognized as a strange permutation of a typical Japanese school entrance ceremony, we were blessed by a series of hortatory speeches by a quorum of special deputy-under-subalterns for international exchange, bedecked in white rose "Honored Guest" corsages, before being dispatched for a series of informative seminars, covering drink-driving (Limit: 0.0, including bikes, Penalty: the strappado over Yamagata Correctional Center's 50m lavacuda tank, Number of times so far warned: 5 and counting), how to build a good working relationship with the teachers you'll be assisting  (appropriately: alcohol. No,  seriously.), and advice on lesson planning, classroom control, and a hundred other things that I struggled to get down in my notebook. Unfortunate, then, that, as the afternoon wore on, the seminars became increasingly harder and harder to follow, my dutiful notes began to degrade into schizophrenic writing behavior, and the weight of handout papers increased to an astonishing poundage. You just can't lick these jet lag demons.

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