German Rank

By the time I arrived in Germany for my summer of German language courses as a precursor to my Fall/Winter study abroad semester, I had done the whole foreign language study and foreign language immersion thing a couple of times already – I knew what I was getting into and how I wanted to go about it.

True fluency was my goal, and I knew how to manage that.

The day I arrived, however, my German was absurdly limited and rather laughable…. I could hardly ask questions, let alone understand the answers (more on that some other time).

And so, by the time I was visiting with the others in my program’s group (they had also arrived that day), and had met the head of my program, everyone had been socially established in terms of their levels of German ability.

One girl was ‘the head’ of the group, so to speak, another was ‘the absolute beginner’, and the other few were sprinkled in between them… I openly declared my poor abilities that had been used throughout the day, only somewhat successfully, and expressed concern of not placing high enough to receive credit for the German courses back at my college (you had to be at least in the second level for the courses to count, and I was worried that I might be ending up in the beginner, first level, based in the day’s events).

In other words, I was ranked ever so slightly above the absolute beginner girl, and just barely below the girl who’d studied for a few semesters already (two years, I think, actually).

However, I wasted no time in immersing myself with the German-speaking head of our program, and got help from her immediately for the things I knew I would need and want to say starting the next day, when I would be interacting with all the people at the school and taking a placement test and starting classes… again, I had done the foreign language thing before, and I was knowledgeable about how to function on minimal vocabulary and grammar – I could make anything work, so long as I had a certain set of vocabulary ahead of time.

And so, to my delight the next morning, what I had prepared myself to be able to share with others about my absurd travels getting to that small town in Germany, ended up being the essay question on the placement test!

Therefore, to my pleasure and total surprise, I was placed in none of the beginner level courses, but in the first of two intermediate courses!

Since I had arrived late the day before (again with the telling another time), I had missed the regular times for the placement tests, and everyone who had taken them then was already in the first day of classes while I took my own placement test (along with a few other people who weren’t in my program, but who were also studying at the language school that month).

Therefore, when I walked into my intermediate level class – this was after multiple verifications that they were sure they were putting me into the correct class – and I found ‘the head’ of our group sitting at one of the tables, there was a brief moment of shock for the both of us, as I blew apart the ranking of our whole group by jumping rank so obscenely (I use obscene, because it rather was obscene, in a sense).

She was not happy, to say the least.

Two weeks later, when I already matched and, in some areas, had surpassed her German capabilities, I had voluntarily removed myself from the ranking altogether.

Rather than be a part of the group so much, I had become ‘the outside associated’, someone who isn’t truly a part of the group, but who comes to visit and gets along well with everyone whenever she does.

I never spoke English after that first day, not once… and that was enough to set me away from the group hierarchy.

(Okay, I did speak English once… this British guy seemed like he was about to cry one day, while begging me to speak English, because he so desperately wanted to hear how I sounded in English, since he had known me for weeks but had heard none…, but that was genuinely the only time I did it while there.)*

And it was wonderful.

In the second month, we had a similar situation happen with the new group arriving and joining our ranks… everyone was re-ranked, with me still as an outside associate for the first round of people, but ranked in a real place by the new folks (just above ‘the head’ from the first month)…

For that month, I was ranked below a new ‘head’… however, a month or so later, when we had all moved to Vienna, Austria, I was fully removed from the ranking system by all the new people, too… I had real friends who were native German-speakers, and certain parts of my German were better than anyone else (not all parts, though, because five years does teach one a lot, so the new ‘head’ definitely had some knowledge on German that I never really intended to have)… and I still used no English.

However, I eventually started throwing in the occasional bit of English just so they wouldn’t hate me so much – speaking only German had kind of pushed me way off the ranks… almost no association at all anymore…, but I got rather pushed back out by some when they discovered my many friendships with non-foreigners….

So, yeah… essentially, I ended up a distanced associate, and that actually was really great for me… I was there to learn German and learn German-speaking culture, not American anything (which was mostly all that my group had to offer), so I did just that: I learned German and German-speaking culture by being a part of it.

And it was awesome.

And I still found the hierarchy of our group to be hilarious, especially when I blew a hole in parts of it again and again. 😛

That was rather fun, actually.

I wonder how I would have felt had I been a regular member of the hierarchy, and not the super-gifted member that I was… hmm…

Post-a-day 2019

*Something tells me that I might have used the occasional translation with the outright beginner girl for the first few weeks while she got her bearings, but we kept that rather hush-hush and between ourselves, so no one really heard or knew about my occasional English words to her.

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Karate

Whenever I do this teeth whitening thing, I have to keep his little blue-light mouthpiece in my mouth, gripped between my teeth, for five minutes.

Afterward, I spit out the excess gel in my mouth and I wash off the mouthpiece.

Whenever I’m in the cleanup stage, I’m always adjusting my jaw, stretching its muscles, and feeling around my teeth a bit with my tongue.

As I do this, I find myself remembering strongly my days of American karate in my youth.

For sparring, we had to have a rubber mouth guard to protect our teeth… I remember how, every time I got a new mouth guard, my mom and I would be in the kitchen, trimming edges, boiling the rubber, and mashing my teeth into it to make it mold perfectly to my bite and teeth.

It was always so exciting to me, for some reason I cannot yet understand… perhaps it was the specialness of the whole process, like we were doing a whole (and real) science lab experiment, tongs and boiling water and all… and it was for me… so it was something unique and special and process-filled, specifically being done for me…

Perhaps that was a large part of it…

Whatever the case, I always enjoyed it, forming my mouth guards.

Especially the bit of biting down on my mouth guard, squeezing my teeth tightly, and wedging them each into the rubber, claiming specific territory to be forever theirs in that particular mouth guard…

Whenever we did spar, and I got to wear my mouth guard, I rather enjoyed sucking and chewing slightly on my mouth guard, tasting the rubber, feeling the tiny rebound it provided when I clenched my jaw and released, hearing the squishy sounds of saliva being pushed around and in and out of the mouth guard’s coverage area as I clicked my teeth (with the rubber between them, of course) together several times in quick succession… and then tasting again, as I held my jaw snug and sucked everything out of the mouth guard.

It all seems odd to me now, considering it and sharing it, but also still quite familiar… I don’t see myself doing half these same things nowadays, yet I remember them fondly nonetheless.

And, every time I whiten my teeth, I am filled with a few drops of that excitement and delight brought it me for years by karate…, making it a unique and somewhat special experience so far as teeth whitening goes. 😛

P.S. I love finding words that I’ve known for years, but whose language of origin I didn’t initially speak, but now speak, and, therefore, as I cross the word anew, I suddenly see it from the eyes of this language I now speak, instead of as a foreign word with meaning I must struggle to remember… karate is one of those words… from my American eyes and ears and mind, it is pronounced the American way and means merely a form of martial arts… from my Japanese eyes et cetera, it is pronounced with a Japanese pronunciation, it means 空手 (からて), which literally means “empty hand”, and it is a form of martial arts… and, somehow, the two are simultaneously the same thing and two totally different ones… so it goes… 😛

Post-a-day 2019

Japan all around

Japan is on my mind and in my life right now.  Recall that I watched the film “The Last Samurai” a few weeks ago.  I then watched it with the director’s, Edward Zwick’s, commentary the other day.  I had a cry-fest the first time, and was utterly touched and in love with samurai even more so than I already had been – I’d respected their skills and revered them as a whole function of class – and then I had a mind-whooshing wonderful exploration and discovery with the second, specifically leading me to appreciate even more the talents and passions of 渡辺 謙 Ken Watanabe*, the man who plays the lead samurai in the film and who plays ‘the Japanese English-speaking character’ in almost every Hollywood film these days – a man I’d already appreciated for his acting skills in “Inception” and other Hollywood films**.  And so, here I am, weeks after first watching the film, and I’m still thinking about the samurai, and I’ve added 渡辺 謙 (Ken Watanabe).

Therefore, when selecting what to wear for today that was unique and warm – the weather is suddenly chilly here, though it was genuinely hot and humid two days ago – I settled on one of my haori (use 羽織 to search online and get the right pictures on Google), the sort of winter jacket piece for kimono***.  The half turtle neck I usually wear with it was unfindable, and so I selected something else that was the same color, but textured really neatly (and then found the other shirt, but preferred the textured one, anyway).

That’s all my own conscious doing.

Today at work/school, the classroom we were using for the yearbook class for which I was subbing was an English classroom.  I happen to sit in a student desk, instead of the teacher’s, and what is directly in front of me?
This:

image1

I asked the students what book possibly was being read that had this on the board, and they concluded that it was a history book.  That is, students had merely used the board in the classroom during a free period, and had put up notes in preparation for a test or quiz in history class that was on that time period.  I was totally ready to read whatever novel it had been for English class, though… Oh, well…

And then, this evening, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop with my mom – her having the intention to read and I to work on my paper for school, but both of us kind of just chatting and catching up on things for the first almost-hour – explaining my outfit to her, one that she has declared to be genuinely great in terms of style and in terms of how it looked on me (and which multiple people had done throughout the day, including people who never comment on my outfits, which was really funny and cool all at the same time), and it turns out that the textured shirt I’d selected, though I hadn’t realized it when I’d selected it, was also from Japan.  I’d just remembered that I hadn’t worn it yet, but had been wanting to for a long time, and just hadn’t found the right situation and clothing combination, and had genuinely forgotten that it, too, was from Japan.  My mother, as we chuckled about the specific funky shop where I’d bought said shirt, then says that, ‘See, there are things you really liked about Japan.’

I agreed with her entirely, and mentioned how I know I want to go back and visit plenty; I’m just not so sure about ever even considering living and working there again.  However, I’ve just had a lot of Japan on my mind lately.  Learning about 渡辺 謙 (Ken Watanabe) and his language situation for the filming of “The Last Samurai”, made me consider whether I could be that kind of person in Japan, in Japanese film.  I have a natural tendency to pick up on accent quite well, and Japanese was no exception to this for me.  Could I go back and model and act successfully?  It’s definitely possible, but is it very likely?  Could I get the visa to give it a go, even?  Hmm… These are the thoughts that have been on my mind the past few days (though not for the first time).  I want to go back to Japan, but I also want to have something to do while there, even though I’ll only be visiting, technically.

And so, I suspect that I’ll just keep this all in mind, and, eventually, I’ll find a way back to Japan (and have a spectacular time while there).  Perhaps, either here or there, I’ll find a way to meet 渡辺 謙 (Ken Watanabe).  Maybe he’ll let me do an interview with him.  That would be stellar.  And possibly a really good idea.  Hmm…  Well, we’ll see.  For now, I’m just surrounded by Japan, intentionally, unintentionally, and even from outside sources… and I kind of like it…

🙂

*Yes, the Japanese version is with the last name first, read Watanabe Ken.  And I tend to say it that way now, though I didn’t do it intentionally and I didn’t used to do it.  I guess it is just automatic for me now, after having lived in Japan, to say a Japanese name ‘Japanese style’, so to speak.  In my head, every time, I say “Watanabe Ken-san”, but I already tend to leave out the -san with people who don’t understand it, and so the same happens with 渡辺 謙.

**When hearing what Edward Zwick had to say in the commentary of “The Last Samurai”, it had me question if that film had been 渡辺 謙’s (Ken Watanabe’s) first real role in a Hollywood film, thinking that it quite likely must have been.  I found it amazing, because I feel like I’ve known him as an actor for so long, that it must have been before 2003 that I first saw him.  After some consideration, though, I realized that, seeing as how 2003 was 15 years ago, it did actually make sense.  Sure enough, after dong a bit of checking, it seems that “The Last Samurai”, in 2003, indeed, was his first Hollywood film.

***Fun Fact: Kimono literally means “wearing thing” or “thing one wears”.

Post-a-day 2018

Another letter from Japan

Another letter I found regarding my early time in Japan.  I’m not so sure that I ever sent this one either.  I think they both were intended as drafts, but time kept passing and more kept happening, making me want to add even more… and so I never sent anything. 😛

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The short version (A Recount in Which I Cut Out the Complaints)
 
I live in Toride, Japan, a suburb of Tokyo, and have an apartment, with about 2/3 of what I need in it (a significant improvement from a couple days ago).
Figuring out how to sort trash took a week, but I mostly figured it out with the help of a Japanese friend I made.
I have a new phone and new bicycle (new to me, at least).  Both were killer expensive.  It’s a 45-minute ride to my main school, 10 to my secondary school.
We aren’t paid until the 21st each month, so I had to bring a boatload of cash for my apartment and initial expenses (apparently credit cards are only used in half the locations the US and Europe use them.  Also, bank cards have single-transaction price limits, so everyone always asks if I want to split my transaction when I use my card. (Not that I understand it, but someone translated it once, and I recognize the phrasing + body language now.)
I have a futon, which is a lame version of a mattress, but practical for the lifestyle here (supposed to hang it in the sun every week to kill germs on it, which is usually needed, because it’s hella-hot, and most people don’t really use A/C, even if they have it), and mine seems to be okay-ish for being able to sleep.
A new friend, Sammi, and I talk every evening/afternoon/night just to check in on one another, and to help each other out with whatever questions we’ve each developed about how to function living here (she lives on a little island and is the token white girl foreigner).  And also just to chat about whatever.  Calls are always free to receive, but dialing out costs after 5 minutes, so we go back and forth setting a timer, and hanging up and redialing every 4 minutes 45 seconds.
I have almost nothing to do at school, but my school requires me to be here.  My whole curriculum is written up for the year, and I am only an assistant in class… so my job is essentially to be present in class, and help in class.  Not spend August preparing for classes.  A drastic difference from what I used to do as a teacher!  So I spend my day working on Japanese, and finding ways not to fall asleep at my desk.  I’m not always successful.
The sun comes up around 5am.  I wake up with it, despite the curtains and my eye covering.
I’ve made four good friends who are part of my program, and one Japanese friend, who is a friend of a coworker of one of those four US friends.  The — (my program) people are Jon(athan), Katarina, Sam(uel), and Sammi.  Japanese friend is Rie (ree from reed + saying the letter “a”). Distances from me: Jon/Rie 25 minutes, Katarina 40 minutes (Tokyo), Sam 2 hours (on the beach), Sammi no clue (she’s on a far-away island).
I’m kind of sick of sushi, but that’s probably just because it’s all I had from 7/11 for several days while I had to wait for my predecessor to give me things she had for me for my apartment (fridge, dishes, etc.)
Sammi is my shopping buddy – we talk on the phone, and she helps send me pictures of things she was given, so that I can find them in the incomprehensible store (e.g. this is a photo of my dish soap, I think… look for the words…).  We both enjoy the adventure of it.
Speaking of the store, the bicycle parking area looks loads like a car parking lot.  And it’s used, too.
I experience my first earthquake last night.  It was a 4.6, and I was scared out of my whits.  I was on the phone with Sam when it happened.  I said, “Is that… I think that’s an earthquake,” and then couldn’t even talk, as I lost the ability somehow.  I was quite shocked at how I responded – I knew logically that it was a tiny earthquake, nothing to cause concern.  Yet my body and emotions went psycho-freakout on me, and I even cried when it ended 30 seconds later. Sam asked if I was okay when it stopped, and all I could say was just, “Give me a minute,” and then could finally function again after I cried.  Totally weird, but I’m glad I had that emotional support for my first one.*
*There actually was one last Wednesday night – a 5.4, I think – , but I was dead asleep in my hotel room, so didn’t notice it.  So this was my second earthquake, but the first one of which I was aware as it happened.
Okay, I think that encompasses plenty, though definitely not the whole.  Send inquiries my way.  ;P  Love you all!!
Peace
Hannah
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Post-a-day 2018

A found letter from Japan

I found this today.  It is from last August….  I suppose I sent it out in an e-mail to people… but I might have just considered sending it out, and never actually did it.  I have edited only the name of the town… just ’cause… you know, Japan.  😛

…………………………………………………..

My dearest family (and my friends who are like family),
I write to you from my new home in T—, Japan.  It is a small suburb of Tokyo, with a whopping (supposedly, anyway) 100,000 people.  I am tasked with assisting English language teachers at two different high schools in the town, one of them an art school, with specialties in painting/drawing/arts of that sort and music, and the other school a sort of engineering-for-mechanics-esque school.  My vagueness is purely due to the fact that no one seems to be able to explain to me about the schools.  On that note, no one seems to be able to explain anything to me clearly.  Guess that’s why I’m here in the first place – to help them with English, and to learn Japanese.
Going along with the lack of understanding point, I literally have no idea what’s going on around me a good amount of the time.  I was sort of trapped in my apartment the night I moved into it – I had purchased a futon (Japanese version of  a mattress – not too sure if I’m fond of it yet, ‘cause I miss my bed, but I think I can handle the futon alright) and toilet paper and towels, but that’s it.  No one could give me a map of the area (and didn’t think of it except for when I specifically asked for one); I didn’t have a copy of my address; and I don’t speak Japanese to be able to ask people for directions to get home if I went out and got lost.  Oh, and I had no phone or internet to look up where on earth to go without a paper map.
And, the best part: My predecessor told me that she had a lot of things she was giving me, so I wouldn’t need to buy most things like a fridge, storage, dishes, “that kind of stuff,” she said.  Way-to-be vague… 😛  So I had to eat food from 7/11 until she delivered her stuff to me… three days later.  No way to cook anything, because she has the electric burner for me to use.  No way to keep anything cold, so I couldn’t have fresh food of any kind for lunch at work (slash at all, since 7/11 isn’t entirely in the category of ‘fresh food’).  No way to feel like I’m not just possibly going to die (Yes, I realize the drama here.).
On top of it all, I was super stressed that I kept asking about going at least to get me a phone number, so that I could use the internet to function (map, translation, where to buy what, etc.), and they, unconcerned, mentioned that someone could take me some time next week “probably”, but I had to know exactly what plan I wanted and from which company.  Thanks, dude.  And how exactly do you propose I figure out that information with no internet, no map of the town, and no Japanese skills?
How did I solve the problem?  I went to meet another ALT (Assistant Language Teacher (Terminology for my program)) in Tokyo.  We’d become friends during the brief orientation in Tokyo earlier in the week, and she was up for helping my get a phone, so I didn’t have to stand in the 7/11 parking lot for super slow, choppy internet anymore (which I’d only discovered the night before).  Plus, I just needed some love.(1)
So I spent the day in Tokyo.  After two hours in the phone store, and using a translator (real person) on the phone, I had a new phone and a decent phone plan for the next two years.  We then went to Starbucks for a break and free wifi (for my friend to use), and we each caught up on all of our e-mails, messages, etc. from a million different people.
We then walked around a bit, and visited the Tokyo Tower area.  I had this realization as we passed one part of a temple there, that still hasn’t fully hit me.  Back home (USA), we have houses, etc., designed to look like traditional Japanese architecture, yes?  When I was looking at the temple building, my background, passive thought was the same as when I see such styles back home… and then I realized that this building is not made to ‘look like those buildings in Japan.’  This building IS ‘those buildings in Japan.’  It’s still sinking in.
(1) I can note here that I’d actually gone down to Tokyo that Friday night, just after discovering that I had internet in the 7/11 parking lot, which is down the street from my apartment (so I was able to find it without getting lost or anything – FYI streets don’t exactly have names here).  I was absolutely ready to cry from the stress of sitting around, waiting for people to take forever to accomplish tasks – unfortunately, my supervisor has never done this sort of thing before, so she had to have everything explained to her multiple times – and not knowing how I was even going to get dinner (I only found the 7/11 that night).
A friend who already had a phone (because he speaks Japanese, and so figured it out while we’d all been at orientation), happened to be in Tokyo for a festival with a coworker and the coworker’s friend, and invited me to come down for the evening.  So, I managed to access train schedules (just barely with the internet connection there), screen shotted them, and set up a rescue plan, should things not work out (i.e. I knew 7/11 had internet, so I’d go find any 7/11, and the friend would come find me there), before rushing off to Tokyo.
I walked right into my friend when I arrived in Tokyo, and was given a nice, big hug.  Hugs are really one of the best medicines.  We watched the tail end of the festival (very cool with dancing performances and drums and bells all along this long street), and then all went to dinner.  Turns out I only live a town over from the coworker’s friend, and she and I decided to be friends.  (We’ve been in touch ever since.)
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Post-a-day 2018