January 21, 2009
I just had one of those evenings that makes me glad I’m still sticking it out over here.
So Wednesdays are generally the shittiest day of my week. Today, work was no different. 3 classes back-to-back with some of the worst kids and weakest co-teachers in the school, where all the girls sit around raising their skirts and applying makeup, and all the guys sit around straightening their hair and plucking their eyebrows. It doesn’t really matter what we say, because they aren’t listening anyway, and even if they were, they wouldn’t understand a word of it. One of my students was stumped the other day because she couldn’t remember how to write an “s”.
Then, I have a rushed lunch hour, which is of course 40 minutes, including the time I jostle with said kids to try and muscle to the front of the horde gathered in front of the counter in the lunchroom to order some decidedly un-nutritional-looking fried-meat-and-rice combo. After chugging that down faster than I probably should, the bell rings and I’m off to another class with similar students. Then, I get my first break where I get to sit down for an hour and mark all the retarded shit I’ve amassed throughout the day, before heading off again to my final class of the day.
The final class of the day is easily the best, like a reward for the rest of it. It’s ESS, which stands for something like English Speaking Society, and it’s a handful of kids from the English course (this is the only time I see them), who actually enjoy English and are interested in learning it. It’s also the only place where I get any real say on how I teach, so we get to do much more interesting things like play games and watch movies. And it’s cool just talking to kids who are actually able to understand what you are saying, or if they don’t, are willing to try and understand. Because some of these kids are actually pretty interesting people, and happy to talk a lot. Except the one who has gotten all sulky on me recently since she saw me going to dinner to with another girl. She told me I broke her heart and has been pouting for about a week since. But I think she’s coming round. This is where things started picking up.
After ESS, I came outside to find a good solid level of rain to ride home in (this was still part of the “shitty” portion). I arrived home drenched, had time to quickly change clothes, and then bolted back off to the train station to head to Osaka. I’ve been getting annoyed at how little I do in the weekdays, and how small my circle of friends really is. So a friend of mine in Osaka told me to come along to one of his regular Wednesday night swing dance lessons. I figured what the hell, and stood on the crowded train for the hour trip over.
The class takes place in a pub and was apparently remarkably empty – maybe due to the rain – but there were enough people there to raise a good atmosphere. The woman taught us a smooth little dance step for dancing alone, then we moved on to partner practice. Needless to say I did an excellent job, and wowed everyone with my incredible dancing ability and natural rhythm. The age group was generally a touch higher than my usual crowd (or what I imagine mine would be like if I had one), but they were all nice people and good fun. And they had some great dancers! After all the formalised practice, the dance floor was just opened up for a free-for-all, and people were grabbing and swapping partners and swing-dancing like crazy – all looking so totally cool as they did it. I would definitely want to be able to do that. I might keep it up. I seem to get along with the people too – I’m already going to one girl’s birthday this weekend.
After all that, it was time to take the train back home. I was dreading this because to be honest, when you’re tired and wet and cold, an hour train ride late at night alone – especially in the stone silence that must be strictly observed in all Japanese public transport – is the most deadly boring thing ever, and a hell of a way to kill your buzz. However, I happened to board the same car as two women dressed as geisha, which made things a bit more interesting. Living in Kyoto, I’ve become kind of accustomed to seeing women in geisha get-up parading about, but in Osaka, they’re pretty rare. I wondered whet they were doing there – they seemed pretty far away for tourists dressing up, but the novelty pirate-costumed Donald Duck stuffed toys they were carrying also didn’t look too professional.
Geisha carrying Donald Duck toys seemed funny enough, so I asked them if I could take their photo. They agreed, and then I started talking to them. They had a few interesting things to say, and seemed to be enjoying putting on the geisha persona. But after I had been talking to them for a while, I realised they weren’t faking it – these were real geisha! Or, at least, one maiko and one geiko (the levels of geisha in Kyoto). They told me about their work, about their facepaint, about the fact that they can’t disturb their hairstyle for a week after it’s set, having to sleep with their face on a hard block, and about how they had just been serving at a business party with 1,000 customers. We kept chatting away all the way from Osaka to Kyoto, and as time went on, they got less and less formal (though still retaining a certain dignity), and I began to realise that they were the real deal. Their agent/colleague was also there, and we talked a lot, ending up drawing a couple of other girls standing next to us into the conversation, as well as two old ladies, one of whom was laughing so hard she was crying and had to sit down.
A large and lively conversation between a whole host of complete strangers in the middle of a busy train in Japan is a rare thing, but as annoying as it maybe was to the grumpy salarymen who were trying to sleep, I found it bloody awesome. The train thinned out, and the last little while was spent with the two geisha, their manager and myself playing shiritori, a Japanese word game. Just stop and contemplate how random that is. Sitting on the long-distance commuter train, happily playing shiritori and joking with two geisha, neither of whom I’d met an hour before. It’s these kind of random events that could only happen here that make me realise I’m still adventuring. And I’m glad I can have those realisations from time to time. The geisha ended up getting off the stop before me, and I know that they live quite close. I hope I end up seeing them around again sometime soon!