Thursday, October 29, 2009

Uh oh...

Look at me, already a week in and I can't even stick to my own rules... Ah well! Work in progress, work in progress...

The occasion that inspired today's post involves doctors. And language barriers. And blood. Intriguing? (Warning: Chronicling of the check-up escapade has minor instances of maybe-TMI. You've been warned.)

So, I am over my influenza or whatever it was that I had. When they shoved the extra-long-and-bendy q-tip up my nose for the flu test, I knew I was in for quite a ride when it came to medical stuff and Japan and me. As my friend Alison, who accompanied for translation and moral support, said, "You were like a mummy!" Which is pretty amusing, but also cold comfort when you're the one with a q-tip investigating your sinuses and scrambling your brain like eggs for breakfast.

So yes. Flu/bronchitis/whatever is all done. But, everyone employed by the City Hall here is required to get some sort of routine check-up thingy (there's a word in Japanese for it, but I like that description better). And mine was scheduled for yesterday. On Wednesdays we AETs don't usually have class at the middle schools because that's when we're scheduled for elementary and kindergarten visits. I don't know what lucky star was shining down on me, but I didn't have middle school class, elementary, OR kindergarten! So, instead of sitting at my current middle school grading papers all day, riding my bike for half an hour to get to City Hall for my check-up, and then riding all the way back to neighborhood where that middle school is for a library visit we had in the afternoon, I decided to do my paper-grading at the Board of Education and save myself an extra bike trip.

I literally graded papers from 8.15 to noon. It was very boring. Towards the end, I would flip back through the graded stacks and find ridiculous mistakes that I had missed the first time. Crazy things, like, "We was swimming in ocean. I was fun." (Which brings me to another point - the loss of my mère langue - but I will save that topic for another day.) So lunch was a welcome break. It had come to my attention earlier that the forms they gave us to take to the check-up had a whole section we had to fill out beforehand. In Japanese. The only reason I knew in advance was because the other two AETs had found out the hard way when they got to the doctor's the previous day and had to play charades with a nurse to try to fill it out. Somehow, I don't think charades and medical matters are a safe combination...

Anyway, after lunch I pointed this out to one of my supervisors, who then thought the best way to help me fill it out was by reading the kanji for me so I could then circle the applicable things. Problem: Just because he reads me the kanji doesn't mean I know the word. How would I know words like "high blood pressure" and "nephritis" in Japanese??? *Not* standard vocabulary, I would say. Luckily Alison lent me her awesome translation skills again and I was able to have the form properly filled out before scampering off to the building across the street for my check up.

It started out okay. Really, I thought everything was going to be alright. I signed in, and then they sent me outside to a big bus/van thing. Ash and Fig (the other AETs) had given me a heads up about some of the tortures I was going to be subjected to, so I assumed this was the chest x-ray. It was. But so I climb up in the bus/van with two other women getting the check-up, and then everyone starts taking clothes off! And I'm just standing there like, "Uh, someone wanna tell me what's going on?" And then the x-ray tech (male, I might add) pops his head in and tries to mime what I'm supposed to do. I nod so that he will go away, which he does, and then I ask the women what I'm supposed to do. Eventually I think I have it figured out, and he takes the x-ray, but I'm still kind of bewildered that no one is really telling me what's going on.

So, I put my shirt back on and the tech tells me to go inside. I wander back in, trying my best to look hopelessly confused (not very hard for me at this point) and luckily a nurse grabs me and shuttles me off to the bathroom. Next thing I know, I've been given a little green cup - a light goes on in my head: "Oh, I know what this is for!" It was literally just a paper cup, like you might drink coke out of at a party. Except it had a little line inside so you knew where to fill it up to. After a brief panic that there would be no soap (Japanese public bathrooms very, very rarely have soap - luckily this one did), I had made my way past this obstacle and was trundled off to a little table where they checked the pH and then checked my height and weight. The woman asked me if the numbers were normal, and I had to just nod because I still don't get this metric stuff. And then it was off to the next booth.

This was where I started to get stressed out. It was a vision test, and the woman did a bad job explaining what I was supposed to do. And the second a foreigner has to ask someone to repeat something that was said in Japanese, the very SECOND that happens, you can see the wariness light their eyes and a wall goes up and you know communication will not be happening with this person. So naturally, when I asked this woman to repeat the instructions, she automatically froze up and instead of repeating it slower, called someone else over to help deal with the burdensome foreigner she'd been saddled with. Eventually I thought I figured out what I was supposed to do - there was this little joystick thing you had to jog in the direction c's of various sizes were facing. She showed me my results, and I didn't know what they meant, but I'm pretty sure it meant "not good," seeing as that's how my vision tests usually turn out. :)

It was at this point in the carnival of horrors that I noticed they were drawing blood at one of the booths. This was when panic set in. I know I'm a big baby, but needles sticking in my body really freak me out. So I'm sure when the lady at the next booth took my blood pressure it was higher than normal, because I was seriously going crazy trying not to think about syringes full of my blood.

After blood pressure I was ushered over to the booth from hell. The lady was very nice, and pulled out an English translation of the procedures for me. Which was awesome, because I think that was actually the first time that I've ever had blood drawn. She put the rubber cuff thing on me, and I think she saw the terror in my eyes and my shaking hands because she kept telling me, "Ganbare! Ganbare!" (Come on, you can do it!). I obviously survived, but just seeing a syringe full of my own blood compounded the stress of the afternoon and I thought I might burst into tears.

Next came the old man doctor. This was just plain awkward. At first it was normal things, like looking in my ears, feeling the gland things near your throat, et cetera. And then he wanted to listen to my heartbeat. So I pulled up my shirt, as I was asked to. And then he was like, "And you bra." And I was like, "...Wha?" And he was like, "Yup, go on." So there I was, sitting behind the curtain, feeling like I was at Mardi Gras, but without the added bonus of free beads. Now, I don't really think of myself as particularly prudish, but can you really hear a heartbeat better through a person's nipple? Better acoustics? I dunno. But it couldn't be over soon enough for me.

Next curtained area. Lady straps me to a table and attaches suction cups on wires to my chest, for some sort of EKG thing. This one I had to try really hard not to laugh out loud at, just because of the sheer absurdity of the situation. I had to chant in my head, "Be a grown up be a grown up be a grown up" to keep the laughter from bursting out, but I still couldn't keep the smile off my face. She probably thought I was a weird foreign creeper.

And finally, FINALLY! The end was in sight! I had to do a harmless hearing test, get the band that they had wrapped around my elbow to stop the bleeding removed and I was free to go off and deal with my trauma on my own.

The library visit was fun, but not enough to overshadow the scariness of the check-up. I think it was just a combination of not knowing what I was supposed to do, having people frustrated with my foreign-ness, having many tests done that I had never experienced before, and the blood drawing that came together to make for an awesome, awesome afternoon.

I have to go to work on Saturday. It's Parents' Day, so not only will I be teaching on a weekend, but I'll be doing it in front of kids' parents. Pressure, much? But in exchange they gave me today off. It was fairly productive, mostly because it got off to an early start when one of my supervisors thoughtfully called me at 8.15 in the morning when he knew it was my day off. But, I now have a re-entry permit in my passport, which means I can leave Japan and come back multiple times without causing problems with my work visa and whatnot. I also had a nice lunch in Kyoto, got some Christmas shopping done, and got some props on sale for my Halloween lessons I'll be teaching for the rest of the week.

And now, I will be going to bed. :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's off to the races!

So, as you can see, my first entry occurred in July, and not much has happened since then. (Except Santi commenting to tell me what a sad, sorry blog it is. Haha.) I had issues getting a picture on the heading, and getting it the right size, et cetera et cetera. I just gave up for awhile, and on top of all that I’m just not very good at starting things.

BUT. But. Then Michelle, way over yonder at grad school at LSE, came up with a brilliant idea – a way in which the two of us can keep up-to-date on each other’s lives, while more or less compelling the other to do the same. A blog challenge of sorts! We both have to post at least 3 times a week. Any sort of entry, as long as we post. I believe Michelle will have reliable internet soon, if she doesn’t already, so may the games begin! It is my pleasure to officially say….

Welcome to my blog! I have no idea how many people will actually read this, so I suppose it will be for my own benefit (I’m sure someday I will be grateful someone made me write down all my adventures and shenanigans in the Far East) as much as for the amusement of those who care to follow said adventures and shenanigans. If there is anything in particular you are curious or have questions about, please don’t hesitate to comment or email me! When the shadowy specter of writer’s block strikes (dun dun DUNNN!) I’m sure I will be glad for the inspiration. J

Rather than starting off with something heavy and long and throwing you right into the middle of my life in Japan (such as it is), I thought I would start off with something I love very dearly. (As does Michelle, and since she’s the one who finally prompted me to do the blog thing, I dedicate this first entry to her! J)

What else but a list?

Things I’ve Learned in Japan (So Far) (In No Particular Order)

1.) Turn on the porch light before opening the back door at night. It gives the cockroaches ample warning to scurry away before I set foot outside to rescue my laundry from their dirty little clutches.

2.) Humidity is not my friend. It makes my hair frizz, my skin go crazy, my food go bad way sooner than it should. And it seems to have none of these effects on Japanese people! I just don’t get it.

3.) On that note – There are many things that I just won’t get in this country, no matter how long I live here. Whether it’s a deathly fear of the flu combined with no soap in public bathrooms, or leaving classroom windows open and then complaining about how cold it is, nothing will change the cultural and personal experience I had growing up, and thus some things will always seem very strange, if not outright backward, to me while living in Japan.

4.) Public transportation is nice for a while, but then the shine wears off. Even the half hour commute to Kyoto from where I live has gotten to be irritating. At first it’s fun and exciting, woohoo, I’m part of the commuter culture, I’m saving the environment! And then, the millionth time you’ve made the same series of motions of getting on the train, riding, switching lines, waiting, riding, it is very boring. Japan has a whole market catering to this, with stalls selling magazines and newspapers and books at all the train stops. But I can’t just pick something up for some light reading on the way home – it would require too much effort to slog through the Japanese, and would probably only succeed in irritating me more.

5.) I already experienced this once while studying abroad, but it’s nice to learn it all over again – in Japanese, it is okay if you don’t finish your sentences! In fact, it is even natural in some contexts. Maybe you’ve heard that Japanese customs and language are all about suggestion and indirectness, and while this can often backfire on us foreigners trying our darnedest to communicate in Japanese, it is also often a lifesaver. You start a sentence, but didn’t really think it through, and now don’t know how to finish it. Just let it trail off with a well-placed “…” and chances are your listener will be able to infer what you’re talking about.

6.) Japan is a drug-happy country. And I mean in the prescription drug sense. I’m sick right now, and they think it’s the flu. Influenza is a virus, so no real drugs for that, right? WRONG. I have I think 3 pills I have to take twice a day (one was something about “pro-biotics,” I don’t remember the second one, and the third is to counteract the nausea the first two cause), throat syrup and coughing pills to take as needed, and some heavy-duty acetaminophen to bring down the fever if it comes back. And all of this for less than $25! Wowza.

7.) Japanese convenience stores are amazing. Unlike their American counterparts, the food isn’t half bad, and it’s relatively healthy. So, when you’re on your way home from work and you realize you just don’t have it in you to cook that night, you can just stop and grab a nice box o’ Japanese food! And they charge so much for this stuff at restaurants in the States…

8.) Japan needs more sidewalks. Now, I know I don’t live in the Middle of Nowhere, Japan by any means, but people who live in Kyoto still tell me they consider Kyotanabe to be “inaka,” or country. And walking on one of the main roads heading downtown I often find myself jumping into the spider-infested canal/ditch/deathtrap to avoid being sideswiped by passing vehicles. (I’ll save the spiders and the deathtraps for another entry.) And what sidewalks there are, they’re pretty rundown. Most are passable for walking, but when I ride my bike on them and go from crossing a road back to the sidewalk, the consequent jerk as my bike vaults the none-too-smooth curb has often sent the belongings in my basket flying. Amusing, yes. But not when there are people around to stare.

9.) Elementary school kids are for the most part AWESOME. They are excited about English, excited about having a foreigner in class, and excited about whatever game I decide to make them play. And they LOVE “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” They make me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, not just in the abstract sense that someday they might have to use English and they should start learning now, but in that they actually have fun doing it.

10.) I can survive without many appliances I would’ve considered if not essential, at least something I’d really want to have around. I have no TV. (That’s what the internet is for.) I have no microwave. (The stovetop or toaster oven usually does the trick.) I have no actual oven. And I managed to survive quite a while without the toaster oven. Granted, I still have my computer and camera and fridge and whatnot, but I think it’s pretty cool that I can live a mostly normal life without these things that I’ve considered a given up until this point.

So for now, I will leave that list at nice, round 10. Especially since each item kept getting longer and longer. Let me know your thoughts, questions, anything! Feedback is nice. J And you will hear from me again soon! At least 2 more times this week, right? ;-)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Testing, 123...