around and back again

weill in japan: day 13

Week two of classes has begun, and my body has begun to reject the fact that they start at 8:30 AM. This morning, I woke up at 7:12 AM, giving me just 18 minutes to get out of bed, take a shower, put on clothes, gather my things, and head out the door. I made it, but the week has only just begun. I don't know how long I can make it before I arrive late due to oversleeping. Today, I bought a battery-powered alarm clock in the event that a power outage resets the stereo's timer. The clock can also set itself from radio waves broadcast throughout Japan (and only in Japan). Not bad for a simple-looking gadget I picked up for about ¥1000 ($8.50).

The dollar is now worth about ¥116.50, its lowest level in months. Bad news for people like me who want their dollars to go further. Maybe I should have taken more cash out last week when the rate was slightly better.


Milestone: I had my first shot of espresso this morning, for the explicit purpose of staying awake in class.

I have two professors for Japanese class: one encourages open discussion, while the other has us mindlessly repeat passages as if they were scripts. This recitation helps build diction and accent skills, but is also very bad for morale. I'm not the only student who finds this repetition to be incredibly boring.

Our class lost four or five people after Friday. Those people transferred to the next-lower level after being unable to cut it at this level.

and the rains come again

Barely a week after Typhoon 6 came roaring through Tokyo with high winds and pounding rains, and mere days after a minor earthquake, Typhoon 7 is projected to hit Tokyo on Tuesday morning just in time for my morning commute. It's the same drill as before, except that I'll actually be awake to bear witness to its force. Oh joy.

Typhoon 8 has apparently subsided before coming near Japan, but Typhoon 9 is already showing up on maps. It looks doubtful that another typhoon will hit at least for the time being. Meanwhile, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake was detected fairly far away from Tokyo today. It's not a good time for weather here.

speak english

Since I look, act, and sound American while here, most people get the impression that I only speak English. Other students at ICU have reported the same routine that I go through: I am introduced to a Japanese person, they ask me a question in English, I answer in Japanese, and they act very surprised that I'm able to answer in Japanese. Sometimes, the person I speak to will try to steer towards English, perhaps because he/she wants to practice English with me or he/she doesn't feel my Japanese is good enough to carry on business. Sometimes, they're right on the latter point: for crucial matters like going through Customs or dealing with medical situations, I think I would be more comfortable with English conversation. I don't have nearly a large enough vocabulary to deal with all sorts of specific conversations, although technology and games incorporate a large number of words borrowed or contracted from English.

On a few occasions, I've been asked to speak English with someone just out of the blue. This sort of thing just doesn't work: try asking an actor to perform a scene on the spot, or asking an author to write some fiction at a party. Speaking about nothing in particular leads to awkward conversations like "Hello, how are you? I am fine. (silence)" I've had more involved conversations in chat rooms.

On the other hand, sometimes it can be refreshing to share my feelings in English when I can't do so in Japanese. That's one of the driving forces behind my keeping this journal during the trip, for example. I also can talk with my fellow students in English to explain my circumstances. Of course, English isn't the only language of choice; much like at Carnegie Mellon, there are also groups of students who prefer to share their experience in Chinese or Korean instead. Japanese seems to be a universal language of sorts, since it gives everyone in the class a level playing field.

It's once again getting late, and I should be getting some rest. I only hope that the typhoon stays away until after I get to campus.