Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Change of Tune?

This will probably be the last entry for a month or so, because I'm off to Australia tomorrow. How exciting! I'll be visiting Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and seeing some long lost cousins who reside in that part of the world, and are bound to show me a good time.

There has still been no decision on the re-contracting front, and I think I'll wait until my birthday until I commit. There's an old samurai saying that goes something like this: "No decision should take longer than the time required to draw seven breaths." Don't worry, I've been having really really long deep breaths.

I did however sign up for the Returners Conference in late February. It's for JETs who are leaving Japan, to give them ideas and practical advice on jobs and career paths. Reading the information they sent me, it looks like a good event. I wish it was in January, before the re-contracting deadline.

So I will be approaching Australia with an open mind. I might find some interesting new opportunities and challenges down under. There must be a reason for the following fact from the BBC News Website.

"1.3 million Britons in Australia represent the largest number of Brits in any one country outside the UK. That's the same as the USA and Canada put together. "

Can you snowboard in Australia? I think it's possible. I had my first snowboarding trip of the year last weekend, in terrible conditions. Snowstorms, whiteouts and limited runs eroded my enthusiasm, and by far the best thing was the evening's entertainment.

11 people staying in one room on futons at the foot of the slope in Nagano Prefecture. 'Mafia' and 'Onsen Olympics' were the highlights. While I stayed fairly sober and clothed myself, several people got very drunk, and very naked.

Mind you, group nakedness is not an issue in Japan, were families can bath together and onsens offer all the amenities of a luxury spa at cheaper rates. I regularly bath in the natural hot springs at my local wellness resort! To be honest, I think I am at my happiest in Japan when I'm relaxing alone in the outdoor spring on a cold winters night. It's hard not to enjoy, but old naked men sitting too close to you doesn't always help.

I was asked about Christmas and New Year in Japan, and unfortunately I won't be experiencing it again this year. Christmas involves eating any kind of cake on Christmas Eve, usually involving strawberries from what I can gather, and calling it a Christmas Cake. On the 25th, all the cakes are reduced in price, after all, who would want to eat a cake on Christmas Day! What about a good old fashioned Christmas dinner? Why, KFC of course! From Wikipedia:

"KFC is so prevalent in Japan that many Japanese unknowingly consider it to be a Japanese Company. On Christmas day many families (who have made reservations weeks in advance), have their traditional Christmas dinner at KFC. Colonel Sanders has become somewhat of a cult figure in Japan. Not only is there a life-sized statue of the Colonel in front of every KFC, but his memorabilia like wind-up toys and figurines can be found at many toy stores throughout Japan."

What's that Mum? KFC is already fully booked?!

I guess we'll be eating McDonald's chicken nuggets for Christmas this year.

The New Year here is a bit like our Christmas. Food, family and religion. On New Year's Eve people will be lining up at Buddhist temples to be the first throw a few coins and pray for a good year at the stroke of midnight. I don't know, I think I'd rather be drunk at a party somewhere. Last year that somewhere was on the beach in Koh Phangan, this year, somewhere Australian.

I'll let you know how it goes. Next entry, New Year's resolutions? Could be..

That's all for now,
Merry Christmas to my friends all over the world, and A Happy New Year!!!

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Waiting for the Epiphany

These last two weeks have seen my second Thanksgiving in Japan, my second school teachers naked onsen party, my second round of Mid-year seminars, and my second attempt to buy everyone Christmas presents I can afford to send home.

So that's the repetitious life of the second year ALT in Japan. This weekend will be my Second JET Christmas party, then my second Christmas away from home, then my second snowboarding season will begin. Are things getting boring?

Not at all. Maybe I'm taking less photographs this year, but that's because it's all starting to seem normal. But normal in a good way, and in a better way than the first year. After 16 months in Japan, you start to get your bearings, adjusting and not only becoming accustomed to things, but actually starting to prefer them.

Am I three quarters or one half way through this experience? I mean I really hope that wasn't my last naked onsen party, but if I sign out this year, no more hot springs. It's certainly an interesting experience having your principle squat next to you in a lather of suds brazenly scrubbing his testicles over a small bucket.

Does another year mean only the same experiences again? Maybe not. This weekend I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test for the first time. I have to wait until February to find out if I passed the basic level of this internationally recognised qualification, I'm fairly confident. Unfortunately, as the JET careers website says,
"There are far too many people now that have been to Japan and can speak basic Japanese. You have to look at your other skills and experiences and find things that will set you apart and ahead of all of those others that you are competing with."
I'm damn well still going to put it on my CV though. So what else is new in the second year that will set me 'apart and ahead'? Well, I get to visit a new country this Christmas. I'll be on a beach in SE Australia in less than 3 weeks. That sets me ahead of people who haven't been to the beach in Australia.

In conclusion, the second year is so far a consolidation of the best experiences from the first, but without the fascination or inconvenience. What would a third year be like? All I know is that I like it here, and according to the Independent Online, that puts me way ahead of most people in the UK:
"What's your career resolution for 2007? If you're like the majority of UK employees then it's probably to find a new job. 70 per cent of workers have an overriding ambition to be somewhere else this time next year, according to a poll from the online recruitment firm Monster."
You could say I shouldn't listen to results about job hunting from a recruitment company, but it's food for thought. I guess what I'm saying is don't get that welcome party ready just yet..