The scenic route

The headlights rolled along a fallen “DO NOT ENTER” sign along the dirt road before leaving it behind in total darkness.

“I don’t want to alarm anyone,” I said tentatively, really meaning that I didn’t want to alarm myself, “but isn’t this how all horror movies start? Kids exploring places where they really shouldn’t? In their dad’s car?!”

At sixteen, I was the only teenager in the group. Being in a car with twenty-somethings, I really didn’t want to be uncool. Even more than that, however, I didn’t want to die.

My oldest cousin chuckled, though not unkindly. “It’s ok,” he reassured me with his charming smile from the passenger seat. “Things only get crazy when it’s like, midnight, right?”

We all glanced at the clock. 11:55pm. Of course.

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Beyond the sea

Last week, one of my seven year olds stormed up to me between classes, ignored the girls I was playing with and huffed.

I bent down a little. “What’s wrong, Monkey?”

And at that, he released a rage of Japanese. Thankfully, his mother stepped in before he got to the end of his tantrum and raised her hands in apology.

“先生 (sensei: teacher)…ええ (ehh: umm)…go,” she explained, gesturing to me with one hand and continuing to soothe his shoulders with the other. “Shock.”

And suddenly, the first sentence of his rant clicked into place: “Why are you going back to Australia?”

At school last week, we started announcing to the students that I’m leaving my teaching post mid-June.

There are a few reasons, but none relating to the school community – which I openly love – and none that I care to go into today.

But, as soon as we began announcing it, everyone wanted to know: “Are you going home to Australia?” In fact, most people in Japan just seemed to assume it. So much so that I’ve overheard mothers asking each other whether they’ve heard the news that I’m going back to …America? Australia? They’d forgotten.

But for now, the question of whether I’m even going back at all isn’t guaranteed yet. It certainly is a possibility, but hopefully not the eventuality.

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Life in transit

“Do you think we’d still be friends if I didn’t live in Japan anymore?”

The question had been agonising me for a while. But when I finally picked up the nerve to ask it – after work when everyone else had gone home and the shopping centre was dark and silent – I tried to keep my tone as casual as possible.

I looked up from my phone to find my manager looking slightly bewildered.

“What?” she asked sharply, and then carefully, “why?”

I shrugged. “You know…” – No, her expression told me, I don’t know – “like, not that I want to go back to Australia yet, but I don’t know how long I’ll be in Japan for… you know, in the long run. And neither of us are great at messaging so we only really talk when we see each other. And I don’t know how quickly I’ll forget Japanese if I don’t use it every day or whether you’ll still understand my accent… Yeah. I dunno. Think we’ll still be friends?”

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Speak up (Part 1)

“Ok, Priscilla, start when you’re ready.”

I was 14. At a new school. My very first English speech. Which was printed and taped onto cue cards. And highlighted. Still didn’t help.

You know what else didn’t help? The class was full of future lawyers. No, really. Now that we’re not in high school anymore, a lot of them really did study law. Even in adolescence, it showed.

My hands were sweating. That’s gross. I was shaking. That’s embarrassing. Everyone was looking at me… Am I just quoting Eminem now?

“Priscilla?” the teacher repeated, not unkindly. “You may begin.”

I nodded. Squeezed my cue cards. Took a deep breath. And, finally,… ran out the room and into the toilets where I spent half the time trying not to throw up and the other half trying not to cry.

Not everyone likes public speaking. On that note, does anyone actually? But for me, that was the tip of the iceberg.

I like spending my Friday nights in bed with tea and a book. When I go out, I’ve usually got earphones in even they aren’t plugged into anything. If I burn out at the first hour mark at parties, I’m doing well. I grew up a little jealous of my charismatic older brother who makes friends and leads groups with ease and warmth.

It’s strange to think that someone like me would become a teacher where speaking in front of a class is the basic requirement.

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Greener pastures (Part 1: Japan)

I’m not going to stay in Japan forever.

Within the last month of zero updates, I celebrated Thanksgiving. Well, not that I was with my family. So I guess, as I’ve seen floating around the Interwebs lately, it was a “Friendsgiving.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I initially decided to write about what I was thankful for in Japan until I realised that I had dug myself into a hole.

Once I started thinking about what I was thankful for this year in Japan (and there’s a lot) I started to realise that if – or, more likely, when – I leave Tokyo, I’m always going to miss certain things that are unique to the city.

I didn’t know, and no one ever told me, that by leaving my home city, I was dooming myself to falling in love with other places and all their quirks. That I may never be completely happy or at home in one city again.

It’s hard to explain so I’m going to break this down into two posts: things I love about Japan and things I love about Australia.

As I continue to travel as I hope I do, I’ll fill you in on the perks of other cities too.

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No English

“Hi, can I take a moment to talk to you about the upcoming local election?”

I groaned internally. It was seven thirty in the morning, my bus was late and I was preparing myself for the awkward and inevitable “please don’t notice me” shuffle into the back of that morning’s lecture theatre.

So I did something I’m not particularly proud of but had gotten good and efficient results in the past.

I turned to the man and did my best impression of my Chinese-Vietnamese grandma.

“Sorry. No English.”

Usually, they smile as an apology and back away. Sometimes, they’ll try again but give up as my expression gets more and more confused.

But oh no, not this guy.

“DO YOU -,” I’m sure he didn’t mean to look so wild and aggressive, but I had to lean back to avoid his jabbing fingertips. “- LIVE HERE? HERE? THERE IS – AN ELECTION – GOVERNMENT – SOOOOOOOOON.”

He’s lucky I was only pretending to not understand him. If it wasn’t just a ploy, I would have well and truly started panicking by then.

Playing the foreign card doesn’t usually go well in Australia.

In Japan, however, it can be really convenient.

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A few of my favourite things

Today’s post is late. Actually, a lot of posts have been late lately. I’ll even admit, I didn’t write it until the very last minute. Apologies.

There are a few reasons:

  1. It’s a busy season for schools now;
  2. I just discovered sense8, the TV show, and have been binge watching since;
  3. I’ve revamped my efforts to study Japanese once again! (It’s an on-off process); and,
  4. I’m starting to struggle to find things to write about.

The last one is mainly because I’m at work for most of my week and well, the last thing I want to do when I finish work is to write about work.

Ironically, most questions I get are usually about – you guessed it – work.

So I thought I’d tackle one today: what are the best and worst things about teaching in Japan?

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