The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

就職 Job Search

Hello dear readers. Daniel and I have settled into our apartment pretty well at this point. Monday (3/22) marked one month since we moved in (yay, rent day!) and everything is starting to seem familiar. We have a handful of meals that we (rather, I... sorry dear) make in rotation. Our favorite is fried chicken and mashed potatoes. I am quite thankful that potatoes, chicken, flour, oil, and eggs can be found almost anywhere in the developed world. Once a week or so I make a big batch of it and we have leftovers for a few days, which yields us barbecue chicken sandwiches and chicken parmesean. However, the last time I made it, we somehow ended up with no leftovers at all, even though I fried 11 chicken tenders... hmm....

Most of our days are taken up by computer activity, which I would like you to think is chiefly comprised of job-hunting... but other things get thrown in there too (check my Word Challenge score to get an idea of what takes up much of our time). Slackers we are, we do a fair amount of work throughout the day. Honestly, the job hunt is in full swing now. We check for new job listings on a few different sites, and apply if something looks good. Daniel has been doing a lot of work for the English classes he's teaching at the Korean Baptist Church down the street. He's not getting paid (yet) but it's really good experience and he's taking it very seriously. He spends hours making worksheets and lesson plans. He's almost finished with a series of coloring pages for the kids, one for each letter of the alphabet. While he does that, I study Japanese or hunt for jobs... or write blogs.

For a while the job hunt was a bit discouraging because we felt like we were sending out a ton of applications and not hearing anything in response. We've been encouraged lately, though, by various things. Daniel has made some good contacts at the church, and I've had two interviews now. My first one was in Kobe a couple of weeks ago with a major chain English school. It was a very long, stressful, tiring day (lots of hoops and lots of jumping) for me, but at least Daniel got to go site-seeing in Kobe. They ended up offering me a job, but they wanted to place me in Kyushu, which is on a different island from where we live now, and we don't want to move out of Kansai right now. I wasn't sure at first if turning it down was the right decision, but I had another interview yesterday, so I'm feeling better about the opportunities still available.

My interview yesterday was at a preschool where they only speak English... most of the teachers are native English-speakers, and soon the kids are all speaking it too. I had at least five 4-6-year-olds come up to me and say “Hello, how are you? What's your name? My name is ____” without even being prompted. I was astonished not only at their speaking (which kids pick up easily at that age) but also at their writing. There was writing on display that looked like something a first for second grader would write in America, and these kids were not just pre-schoolers but also writing in a second language.

I think my interview went pretty well, but I won't hear an answer until next week. Something sort of funny happened, though. The woman interviewing me said that Daniel could wait in the school lobby (it was cold and rainy and no coffee shops close by), so he was sitting out there reading Japanese stuff the whole time while I played with the kids and such. A couple of times I looked through the window and saw some guy talking to him... I assumed it was one of the fathers or something. Much later, after my interview, the lady interviewing me introduced me to "her boss," who I guess is the owner... and it was the same guy. He talked to me and Daniel for a while and seemed very impressed with him. The boss started telling my interviewer about him, saying stuff like "This guy's been to 18 countries in Europe!" He suggested that we open our own school and such, which I guess is a good sign for me... if the owner thinks we're that cool, then I guess he'd probably like me to work at his school. Anyway, after we left, I said something to Daniel like "well, nice job impressing my possible future boss" and he was all, "huh?" He'd had NO IDEA, even the second time, when we were all talking together, that this guy was the owner of the school. So, blah blah blah everyone thinks Daniel is awesome etc.

Anyway, I won't know about that for a while but I have another interview on Saturday for a part-time position. I'm not sure how that could work out... if I get the preschool job, I might be able to fit the part-time gig into my schedule for extra money and experience, but if I *don't* get the preschool job, I'm not sure the part-time people will take me without a work visa. So we'll see.

Other than that... not much has been happening. It rains a lot here, which I suppose is a seasonal thing. We went out to eat with some people from the church last week, and had Japanese/Korean-style food, which was pretty good. The only thing that was a bit strange to me was the sauce. It was a fried pork chop, covered in a sweet sauce that had an oddly familiar taste. It was red and sort of looked like enchilada sauce, so I supposed it was tomato-based. At first it didn't bother me much, but after eating most of it I found that the sweetness was getting stranger and stranger to me until I just couldn't finish it. I finally figured out what the oddly familiar taste was... it was apple. The sauce was a tomato-apple purée. It was good a first, but just too sweet after a while. Daniel happily ate the rest of my portion, and I focused on the sprout salad and miso soup, which were delicious. Afterward, we went to the Vacuous Coffee Shop, which was enjoyable as ever. The waiter remembered us and we tried a new dessert... chocolate cake with fruit. It was good, but not as goo as the strawberry parfait we had the first time, so I think we'll stick with that in the future.

Things are still a little up in the air for now, but I have more faith that we'll eventually end up on solid ground. じゃ、また!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

First Week in Japan!

Like most of my blogs, this one is long overdue. I always want to catalog every single thing that happens, and with each day that goes by the task seems more and more insurmountable, so I put it off longer and longer. As usual, in order to break the cycle I have to compromise and forget about chronicling every detail. Sadly, this means that you only get to read the abridged version, but I'm guessing most of you don't want to spend four hours reading my adventures. I'll try to hit the highlights.

Daniel and I arrived in Japan on Saturday, February 20th around noon. Our journey started on Thursday the 18th when we left my house in Springfield at around 9:00 am to drive to the Tulsa airport. My parents drove us there, and we met one of Daniel's aunts in Tulsa for lunch before heading to the airport. Our flight left around 5:00 pm for L.A. In L.A. we had quite a layover, then at 12:30 am on the 19th (L.A. time) we left for Seoul. We landed in Seoul at 7:00 am on the 20th, then had one last short flight to Osaka. All told, we were traveling for about 36 hours (from the time we left my house) until we got to our hotel room in Osaka. I don't sleep well on a plane, so I was running mostly without sleep for that time. It was not a great experience... I hate being on airplanes. Still, as uncomfortable as it was, everything went smoothly and we were on schedule the whole time.

I was a bit nervous about immigration, though I really shouldn't have been because we had proof of a return air ticket dated within 3 months of landing (a tourist visa lasts 90 days, and that's all we qualified for upon entry). We waited in the immigration line for the better part of an hour, and when we finally got up to an immigration officer, he looked over our documents carefully, then decided to let us through. Japan requires you to fill out a landing card, like the UK, so we had to hand that over along with proof that we weren't going to overstay our welcome. Then (and this is the best part), we were fingerprinted and photographed by the immigration officer before we could go through. About a year ago, Japan started doing this for every person who passes through immigration. They say it's for the "prevention of terrorism," though I'm sure they use it to prevent illegal immigration too. I don't have a problem with it necessarily, but I imagine that it would not go over well if the US government tried to implement a similar practice. I'm sort of torn on how I feel about the US using something like that... on the one hand, we are at a significantly greater risk of terrorism than Japan and a system like that would probably help catch people, but on the other hand it's a little Big Brother.

When we finally got into Osaka, we rested up in our hotel room for the rest of the day.... mostly just emerging to find food. On Sunday we went to the old palace and scouted out the neighborhood we would be moving to on Monday. There was actually quite a lot to see, because our apartment is about 5 minutes' walking distance from Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi, which are major shopping/entertainment districts in Osaka. We have walked around both of them quite extensively now, and I was thrilled to see that a *huge* new H&M is opening in Shinsaibashi on March 6th! I think you all know where I'm going to be this Saturday. It's opening right next to the Lush in Shinsaibashi-suji (street), so the shopping addictions I acquired in London three years ago will continue to be indulged.

On Monday we dragged our 200+ pounds of luggage from our hotel to our apartment, which was no small feat. I had suggested that we might make things easy on ourselves and just take a taxi, but Daniel was confident we could handle it ourselves. I figured we *could* handle it, I just didn't particularly *want* to, having been through a similar ordeal twice before and not finding it particularly enjoyable. It was just as unpleasant as I had imagined it would be (and a good deal more unpleasant than Daniel had expected), but after two subway stations and several blocks of narrow sidewalks, we arrived at our apartment.

The first time I saw it, I very nearly cried. I have now resolved to be grateful for my circumstances, as I will have the most extraordinary character after surviving this place, but it was quite a shock at first. I knew it would be small; and really, it's not the size that bothers me. I got used to living in a very small space when I was in France, and though my place in France was roughly the same size as this one is, I definitely prefer my French apartment. My main issue with our place right now is that there's no light at all. Even though we have windows in every room, if we don't have lights on in the middle of the day, you can barely see well enough to shuffle from the bedroom to the bathroom. All of our windows open onto cinder block walls, so even though we don't go down stairs to enter the place, it feels like we're living in a basement.

The second bad thing about our apartment (and this ties with the lack of light) is the toilet. I was really afraid that we would end up with a Japanese-style squat toilet, but Daniel assured me that that was unlikely since it's an apartment for foreigners, so they should have western-style appliances. Well. That would have been nice, wouldn't it? When I first saw our toilet my heart sank, but at least we're getting the authentic experience, right? Right.

The last annoying thing about our place is the tiny, tiny kitchen. I had a tiny kitchen in France, and honestly I like a few things about this one better, but the thing that kills me is the lack of counter space. There is literally no work surface at all. I have a gas range with two burners (which I like very much) and a sink. Then there's the fridge, which is nice and roomy (bigger than my French one), and on top of that a microwave and toaster oven. If I want to chop or prepare anything, I have to take it in to the table in the main room. Also, doing dishes is more difficult because I don't have anyplace to dry them or drain them, so I basically have to wash, rinse, and towel-dry each dish individually and put it away. I've taken to washing and drying the largest dish first and placing it on one of the burners, then stacking all the other dishes on top of them.

Besides those things, the place is fine. I like the shower/bath room, because we have a nice deep (if narrow) bathtub and a Japanese-style shower, which basically means you get to sit on a little stool as you shower instead of having to do all that tiresome standing. =) We have a gas water heater and *never* run out of *extremely* hot water, which is more than I can say for my home in the States (hi mom and dad!) =D. Our main room is cozy and has an electric heater so we stay pretty warm most of the time. I love our kotatsu, which is sort of like a coffee table with a heater on the underside, and a blanket attached under the tabletop. You slip your legs underneath the table, surrounded by the blanket, and get to stay nice and toasty.

For the past week Daniel and I have been getting settled in our new place. This mostly entails figuring out how to use everything, how our routines are going to work, and in general how to go about daily life here. We have found a few different grocery stores and are experimenting with what products we like and what sorts of things we can cook at home. We've been exploring our neighborhood and where and how to get what we need. A couple of days ago Daniel went to a big electronics store nearby, Bic Camera, and got us set up with a Japanese cell phone.

Last Friday was our one-year anniversary (of the day we met in London), so we went to a fancy-looking coffee shop across the street from the nice grocery store we like. It was really great. We shared a strawberry parfait and he had coffee while I tried a "royal milk" tea, which I figured was probably English-style tea. All of the cups and dishes were china, and the waiter was very nice. It felt very fine and formal yet also relaxing, which is great because it's name is "Kajin, Relax Coffee Shop." Like most attempts at English in Japan, their sign was full of funny grammatical errors and awkward phrases. Above the door it says something like "It creates a vacuousness in the head." Because of this, we've taken to calling it the "Vacuous Coffee Shop," but it has become one of our favorite places and I look forward to going there again.

For the last couple of days we've been doing things like putting our resumés together and looking up job opportunities. Today I started feeling like we were really getting somewhere, because I was contacted for a job interview! I'm really excited about it really puts me at ease to feel like we're making progress. We're also going out to Ibaraki tomorrow (a suburb of Osaka) to talk to some about ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) jobs. Things seem like they're moving along so I'm feeling better about our prospects, and hopefully we'll both be employed within a few weeks! I'll keep things updated. If you want my address here send me an email; I always love letters!