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Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Day In The Life Of A Happy AET

Vinnie sent me a link to this video, asking if my life in Japan was like this, 26 years ago:

Watch it… it’s a wee bit long at 18 minutes, but a lot happens in a day.

So… similarities? Differences?

I’m pretty sure I would never, ever start my day to Hall & Oates or have time to make any breakfast that would involve me standing over a stove flipping whatever the heck junior high school assistant English teacher Reyn Halford is flipping. Cool name.

Cereal and milk… though I did once accidentally pour cold brown tea on my cereal because the container it came it looked like a chocolate milk container. Gah! I only did that one.

I was, and am a night owl, and will try and sneak in as much sleep as possible in the morning. I’m not the grumpy sort, so rather than be nasty, I’m just a wee bit tired… but get up to speed very quickly.

My apartment building had something like 40 bicycles under the covered bike racks… I didn’t live near a train station or train tracks… I was in the middle of a 50,000 person city in the tallest building (at that time), on a wing… I had lots of privacy and maybe saw a neighbor maybe five times in three years. Maybe not even that many times.

Bicycles are the main use of transport for us AETs. I was early in the JET Program (1990-1993), and my predecessor, Cheryl Menzes, who was the first JET in the city, was a small in stature person… so me using her tiny red bicycle was a non-starter.

They built me a bicycle from parts and I had a solid 18-speed bicycle - navy blue - with a bell and a basket, and a light for night riding.

While the average he-man would snicker at the bell and basket, trust me… the basket is a welcome addition, and the bell will save your life.

Interesting that Reyn’s school entrance involved going up stairs… all my school entrances were on the ground floor.

I used the school plastic slippers wherever I went for indoor stuff… making whatever suit and tie (I always wore a tie, even with a sweater) outfit look slightly less dignified.Although... in retrospect, the shoes I am wearing in the top photo are hideous. A pity you can't see my pony tail in the photo. The hair band matched my shirt. Always did.

Reyn’s school had a cabinet for shoes… my schools all had shoe racks or cubbyholes. minor differences.

You’ll notice Reyn just squeezed in to school mere seconds before the bells went… that’s a western thing, to be sure… you just sit there while everyone talks in Japanese and you try and look like you care.

Meeting with the co-teacher… sure… many of the Japanese teachers of English were very enthused to have the AET come in to work alongside… especially when the AET has a great personality like Reyn.

Is it just me, but does it appear as though he isn’t that tall - or are the Japanese getting taller.

Student AET relations - yeah… it was like that… but I also think it had something to do with the fact that the Japanese become complete effing lunatics whenever a camera or, in Reyn’s case, a video camera are placed anywhere in their general vicinity…. and I’m not just talking about the students… adults too… though more often than not, some shy female (kid or adult), will wave their hand in front of their face as though someone farted, and turn away from the camera (which is their right, of course).

Lunch… well… it appears as though Reyn was served his lunch outside his classroom and had to carry the tray of loaded dished and bowls into whichever homeroom was lucky enough to share space with him.

It is considered an honor for the students to have a guest eat with them… or so they are told, so it must be true.
No everyone understands the concepts of Star Trek. Man... those kids messed up my hair. This was probably my first school lunch in Japan... and I was still a newbie with chopsticks... but that is still no excuse for my I am holding them in that manner. probably a month later I would win a speed-eating contest with chopsticks, beating out the reigning Ohtawara City champ... a gym teacher from Wakakusa Junior High School. 
I was luckier than Reyn. Assigned “lunch” students would race down to the kitchen as the last morning class ended, pick up the designated stainless steel covered canisters and trays of various delicious dishes and cart them to the home room… Buddha help you if it was on the third floor, because that meant the four or five students would have to figure out how to haul up the food (and cutlery and empty plates and dishes) up the stairs… some schools might have an elevator… but truthfully, if any of my seven junior high schools did, I never spotted them.

Junior high school consists of grades 7-9 (ages 12-15), and regardless of size, each student will have to participate in the lunchtime chores.

While these kids get the food, the remaining students are in their homeroom moving their desks into a circle… setting up a place for their homeroom teacher, and me so we could face each other, chat, and eat.

Every student had to eat everything on their plate… no wasting of food. Everyone received the same amount of food. The girls would often have a difficult time finishing their food, and so en route to placing their plates back on the cart, would shovel remaining foods onto the plates of grateful boys and AETs.

As an aside, the lunch ladies in the kitchen would often set aside food for me to take home with me, with the knowledge that I had to bring all bowls back (clean) the next day. I never forgot, and they always obliged.

Unfortunately for us video viewers, we see Reyn having lunch where chopsticks are not being used. We had large plastic chopsticks for every meal… soup, too… you pick up the bowl and mix the soups as you push whatever is in it towards your mouth as you slurp up the liquid. When in Rome, eh.

Every day after lunch it’s clean-up time… adults do NOT help out… even if you want to. It’s mean to teach the students responsibility and respect for their own surroundings.

Reyn’s English lessons seem like fun. Mine were pretty much always: “Repeat after An-do-ryu-sensei.” It’s cool… I didn’t mind being a human tape-recorder.

Yup… apologizing for leaving before the last person is standard in Japan… apologizing for your “laziness”… but no one ever expects the foreign AET to hang around and pretend to do notes and reports or marking like the Japanese teachers do.

WTF class is Reyn doing? Dancing? Japanese folk dancing? I'm pretty sure it wasn't any old-school Japanese folk dance.

I did kyudo - archery, and taught night school English with the Ohtawara International Friendship Association, and later on when I was either more comfortable or greedier, I taught small groups privately in conversational English… you can make a lot of money doing that. I took in about $10,000 in three months. Of course… you aren’t supposed to teach outside of your JET job.

My Ohtawara Board of Education was cool… they never said boo to anything I did or wanted to do, with the one exception being my wanting to ride the motorcycle I had already bought. They saved my life, I’m sure. I didn’t and don’t know how to ride a motorcycle.

My apartment done in LEGO. I'm in the writing desk in the top left room. Not sure which woman that is with the ice cream.

I was probably a bit luckier than Reyn in a few regards… larger apartment and thus more space… but WTF… he had the temperature in his place up to 40C. That means central heating! Reyn had central heating!

I didn’t get that until about six months in after I nearly killed myself with a kerosene heater and thinking I didn’t need to have a window open. Not wanting to lose the city’s favorite gaijin… no, not Matthew… why does everyone keep saying that… me… they bought me a special heater/air-conditioner that could heat the whole three-bedroom apartment while not killing me softly as I slept.

I also had a Queen-sized bed… and while I have no idea if Reyn has a significant other, i rarely slept alone on the weekends. Ha.

Anyhow, thanks again to Vinnie for sending me this video, and to Reyn for creating it! Good job, buddy!

So… Vinnie… was my life a lot like that 26 years ago?


I had a smile on my face like Reyn. I liked the people I was with, and I’m pretty sure they liked me.

Yes… the more things change in Japan, it’s nice that Reyn has proven (at least for himself and I), that the song remains the same.

Nope… no Hall & Oates… not even “The Song Remains The Same” from Yes. I was more of a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana kindda guy.

Here we are now, entertain us.

I think it worked out that way for both the Japanese and myself.

Andrew Joseph

1 comment:

  1. Just because I'm sure you wanted to know {ahem} -- the WTF dance class in the video is Hula ... (but that last chorus line kick is decidedly not Hula). Also ... Hall & Oates ... ick ... but I am partial to "The Song Remains The Same" which is definitely not Yes ... (hmmm ... I could try to rephrase that ... but ... nah). Thanks for your nice acknowledgment in your blog post today! :-D