My real voice

In college, I spent a summer studying in Germany.  It was a language school setup, filled with foreigners, but in such a small town that everyone knew that we were studying German, and so everyone always spoke to us all in German.  I had already studied abroad a few times before this adventure, and I had learned firsthand about what works and what doesn’t work, in terms of language immersion.  I was dedicated to learning German, and so I made sure that I only spoke in German with others, even if they spoke to me in English.  This made friendships hard among the people in my program’s group, since they all used English together; I came across a bit snobby, but I was just really committed to learning German.

I made friends with other foreigners rather easily, though, and especially ones in higher levels of German, which was even better for me.  My German was improving immensely.  But this led to a unique situation one day.

One day, near the end of either my time at the school or my friend Paul’s time there (he’s British), I found myself faced with a desperate Paul, actually begging me to speak English.  Why?! was my repeated question to his pleas.

“Because I want to hear what you sound like!”

I don’t know if he was pleased or not by how I sound in English, but I spoke a little for him.  And it was way weird, using English with him, despite the fact that I’d heard him speak English loads, and that it’s our common native language.  I had just never used it with him.

And then this brought up a unique and interesting sentiment.  He wanted to hear me, and that meant speaking English.  I can guess that my native tongue was the one in which Paul believed my identity to lie.  I know that it felt like I was setting aside a sort of mask when I switched to English with him.  I even felt a little called-out… as though I had been hiding somehow, and it had been behind German.  The real me (I) lay in English, in the English part of me.

Yet, years later, here I am, missing the parts of me that belong to these different languages in which I have lived.  A part of me, true me (I), exists only on German, and others in French, in Spanish, and in Japanese. So much so that the real me (I) is this whole combination of languages – I feel a huge emptiness and feel not myself when I am using only English in my daily life.  I listen to Spanish-speaking radio when I’m in Houston, mostly because I don’t get to use Spanish often enough.  I read every night in French, and trade off an English book for a German one at times for my evening reading, too.  I regularly pull out a Spanish book to read, or my German audiobooks.  And I have noticed that I have been searching for a tolerably satisfying way to have Japanese in my near-daily life, too.  (For now, it has just been the occasional music, and a perpetual repeat of a certain song being stuck in my head.)  When I don’t have them all, it is as though a part of me is missing, and suddenly getting to speak with someone in them, almost reminds me of that mask I was setting aside in Germany with Paul… like I am again setting aside some mask I have been wearing.

Perhaps it is now a mask of monolingualism, pretending that I only speak English, while I long for the world to talk to me in several languages, all the time.

Anyway… I’m exhausted.  And I miss Paul.  He was studying opera, and was a really great guy.  I wonder if he’s been really successful with opera these past several years.  Maybe I can go see him perform one day.  That would be awesome.  ðŸ™‚

Post-a-day 2017

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Am I insane yet?

Have you ever felt as though you were going insane?  I have been in the US for four days now.  I feel like I am losing it.  I have conversations, and I struggle to maintain focus.  People tell me things, and I have only a vague memory of what wa said to me, without actually being able to remember anything concrete from the communication.  A coworker told me her name today, and I consciously felt as though I had completely lost her name.  However, when I threw out what felt to be a random guess at her name, the guess was correct.

Whether I am actually losing it, or I am merely living in a different state of consciousness relating to memory, I am not certain.  I am almost certain that it is all mainly due to the fact that my brain has not adjusted to the 14-hour difference in life here yet, nor to the constant English all around me, the combination of which puts me into a real state of confusion as my brain attempts to pay full attention to every bit of English it hears.

It really just makes me feel like I might simply be going crazy.  I know that I’m not.  It just feels like insanity settling into my head.

Post-a-day 2017

Getting to the airport

So, I still hate living in Japan, and it reminded me of this fact on my way to the airport this morning.  However, I also still truly love parts of this place and culture.  My trip to the airport reminded me of this fact, too.

As I struggled with three rolling bags and a guitar (I know, I know – stupid.  But it was unavoidable.), the terrible signage and lack of findable elevators was driving me insane, along with the constant rumble strips for hard-of-seeing individuals (I don’t blame anyone for that – it merely added to my struggle, is all, with the suitcase wheels constantly getting stuck in them.).  

So, rather than just being able to take an elevator to the right level, and walk flat to my airport train, and then take a second elevator down, I took what felt like an insane route, due to poor signage.  Struggling to exit the final tiny escalator (width-wise tiny), and get my stuff out of the way for the people behind me, I was totally I surprised to find myself outside with rain.  Yes, the whole station connects in a covered and underground area.  But this was the only path I could take, based on signs (which I know is false information, because I’ve been to the same area before, just from a different direction).  I finally gave up attempting to pull both big bags at once (one had the smaller rolling bag on top of it, and was somewhat impossible to manage off smooth, flat terrain), and just left one sitting near the escalator.  I trudged through the rain with the two bags, and wasn’t even sure how far I would go before turning back for the other bag.  I was unconcerned about leaving my bag, though, because 1) this is Japan, 2) it’s freakin’ heavy and hard to move, and 3) some station staff were standing right near it, and they saw me leave it there in my struggle.

I could tell the station staff guys were a bit concerned about my bag, so, when I found a spot covered from the rain, just around the corner, I propped my two bags against the wall, and started heading back for the other bag.  Of course, there were no signs for the train line I wanted, but that was no surprise – this is Japan.

As I came around the corner, however, one of the old men station workers was heading my way with my bag.  I thanked him in Japanese, and started to go to take the bag from him, but he asked in adorable English (meaning I understood, but it was not really correct at all) if I were taking the Narita Express.  I said that I was, and he just nodded, kept walking, and pointed up the escalator to the left.  I quickly grabbed my other bags and followed.

The big bags barely fit on the even smaller escalator we were using, but we managed.  At the top, I expected he might return my bag to me, but he again kept walking ahead of me, showing me the way to a train whose signs I still couldn’t find.

Remember that this is Japan (as if you could forget), so, of course, we came to a staircase now.  No alternate route.  None.  But we took an escalator to where we were, so it makes perfect sense for only stairs to follow.  But then, the upside of Japan came again, and a young-ish guy helped us carry the bags up the stairs, once he saw the station worker attempting to pick up one of my bags, as I carried another up with the guitar.  I heard the station worker comment to the guy that I was alone and carrying all three suitcases, and I smiled – people really can be super sweet here.  I in no way deny that.

So we continued on, and found our ticket barrier for the train.  I still had to buy a ticket, so he asked the window worker, and she sent me to the machines.  Unfortunately, the 7:13 train that was about to leave didn’t have any tickets available on the machine.  The next was at 8:00-ish, which started to put me into a panic.  I quickly asked about the 7:13 train, and my old man asked the window people for me.  Yet another station worker came from the window, and started tapping at the machine screen for me a few moments later.  Eventually, despite various issues, I got a ticket for the 7:13.  At least, it would let me on the 7:13.

Again, I heard the conversation happening about my being hitori desu! and mitsu desu ne.  The worker who helped me get my ticket then took over for the old man from the other section of the station, and took one of my big bags for me.  I thanked the old man profusely, and marveled one last time at his light blue eyes.  He wished me luck and courage.

I got stuck in the ticket barrier.  Yes, literally, because the one bag was too wide, and so the lady let me go back and bring my bag through the side area.  However, that meant that my ticket was eaten by the machine, since I didn’t make it all the way through the barrier.  And I only had so many minutes before the train.

The lady rushed over and opened up the ticket barrier, pulled out my ticket from a bin, and handed it to me, wishing me luck and courage, as well.  I thanked her greatly, and started rushing after the worker who’d taken my other bag.

We had just barely five minutes, and I could  tell we had far to go, simply by the fact that he was checking his watch and hurrying along so quickly.  The long corridor that greeted us as we rounded a corner made me a bit more nervous.  We rushed down the walkway, though, and he eventually declared that it would be okay.  He led me to an elevator (phew!), and we went down to the track.  The whole time, he had been talking with me, chatting about my stay and whatnot, and then telling me about where I could sit on the train.  Some good final practice for my Japanese, I suppose.  It was really nice to have someone to chat with me casually, though, especially with the physical stress and mental workout that had been going on so far today (and that still awaited).

He helped me on the train, showed me the secret seats in the wall, and wished me safety and good health.  After a few minutes on the train, the ticket checker guy who’d seen us get on came out of his little room and smiled at me as he walked past.  A few moments later, he came back and summoned me silently with the Japanese wave.  I followed, and he offered me a real seat in the cabin.  I thanked him, and collapsed into the seat.

Now, a bit of snacking and a bathroom break later, I am almost to the airport.  I don’t know how much my bags weigh.  One is for sure okay, the other concerns me a bit.  I’ve never measured 70lbs before, so I don’t know how that feels.  I’m a rather good judge for 50lbs, though, and my second checked bag is right close to 50.  My carry-on is way heavy.  But it might still be okay.  We shall see…

I still have to cancel my phone contract at the store, too.  And get through security with my Fuji-San hiking stick.  And make it on the plane, of course.  So, let’s hope for the best here, eh?

Fingers crossed!
P.S.  Oh.  And, as a side note, I happen to be sick right now, too.  It all started with the whole smoking at dinner the other night. My throat started burning then, and hasn’t stopped since.  :/

Post-a-day 2017

Hospitality Notes

I found one of the best notes ever, when I woke up the other morning at my friend’s house.

It was on the counter of the bathroom (technically, the room with the toilet).  It read:

Hannah 1/3

Good Morning!
I have few things to tell you.

  • Please make yourself at home ! ! !  Do not stress your self to worry things.

    2/3

  • Use anything in the house.  Do not buy things you do not bring to U.S.
  • Stay as long as you want.  even after I left for U.S.  I trust you.

    3/3

  • Let S—— out from my bed room after you get up in the morning.  So she can stay at the living room. (for food and water)

I was just delighted when I reached the end of the notes.  They were incredibly southern hospitality and totally Japanese at the same time.  The hearty welcome to make myself at home, combined with the fact that the sticky note pages were labeled with page __ of __.  I loved it (and still do).  I love good friends.

Post-a-day 2017

City Surprises

Making my way through the nonsense that is the Shibuya Crossing on a holiday afternoon, I am feeling almost desperate to be on a train home.  There are just so many people in my way, with no respect for my desire to be not here. Not that I actually expect them to know I want not to be here – I am merely noting their ignorance to the matter.  I am almost to the station, when a small but clear opening appears right ahead of me in the shuffling crowd.

I hardly have to think – in fact, I think I know what it is without thinking – to recognize the colorful lettering on the page of that folded-open notebook being held just above people’s heads.

FREE HUGS

I hesitate a moment, verifying that the holder of the sign is respectable/huggable.  Despite my being in Japan, I accept that this young Japanese guy is holding the sign, and trust that he knows what it means.  Perhaps especially because I am in Japan, actually.  

He’s young and Japanese, and he looks trustworthy.  I throw open my arms, and instantly see his face light up, as he says an adorable “Sahn kyuu!” (How the average Japanese pronunciation goes for ‘Thank you.’)  We embrace, and it is solid and long and wonderfully perfect.  I return the verbal thanks, with emphasis on thanking him for the hug (as opposed to his thanking my willingness or whatever on my end), give a gloriously contended smile, and go on my merry way the last few yards to the station.

I savor the experience, and especially the loving hug, as I wander goofily through the crowds up to the tracks.  Thank you, God.  You gave me just what I needed in order to feel I was heading the right way just now.  I am in the right place right now, and it is perfect.  Thank you.

Post-a-day 2017

Copycat, copy the cat

A friend is helping me prepare for my goodbye speeches at my schools. I wanted to do them in Japanese, and I wanted them to be good.  Yes, I could rumble my way through some Japanese and be mostly understood without much prep.  However, I want the speeches to be better than that, seeing as they will be each given during a whole ceremony thing at each school.  Not the time I want to be casual with my words.  Also, almost no one would understand the English anyway, if I gave the speeches in English.

All of that, however, is merely the precursor to this next bit…

This friend who is helping me, she’s helping me by recording herself giving the speech.  Why?  Because I want to hear a native speaker give the speech.  As we were discussing this, I mentioned that I do better copycatting someone’s speaking when I have never heard a certain word or phrase already spoken.  (If I have heard it already, then I usually have already learned the appropriate natural way of saying it, and can produce it on my own, without aural prompting or guidance.)

When I mentioned this to my friend, her reply caught me off guard.

copying is the basic way for learning 👍🏻

What?

And yes, it is so utterly and beautifully true.  As babies, we copy our parents and family members in order to learn to talk and walk and eat and do basically everything that we do successfully.  The same applies as we learn new behaviors theighout our whole lives, and it definitely includes learning to speak a new(foreign) language properly.

And yet, schools have this huge concept of ‘copying is cheating, and cheating is bad, so copying is bad.’

I once found myself in a meeting with fellow faculty who were arguing/fussing about preventing cheating in the school, while I was wondering what the whole big deal with cheating was on the first place. It’s not that I was (or currently am) approving of cheating – I was (and still am) simply wondering what the reasoning was behind this terror-inducing aversion to cheating.  It just kind of felt like a sort of blind belief situation, with no real background to support it validly.  It may very well be completely valid – I have just never sat down a brainstormed enough to find out if it is or isn’t.  And I was wondering in that meeting if anyone else had done that.  (Though I found it highly unlikely, so I didn’t bother asking – it would have just stirred up trouble.)

And here, tonight, my friend says that copying is like the basis for learning.  And with only a brief bit of thought, this idea, this concept, seems to make sense, and much more than the ‘no cheating’ one ever has.  

After a bit of discussion in this new topic with my friend, I discovered that the word in Japanese for “to learn” comes from the word for “to copy”.  I was in momentary disbelief, and then complete unsurprise – of course Japanese has that.  I can so see that, it makes such easy sense with the Japanese culture.

It turns out that the old word for “to copy” is 真似ぶ(manebu) (and the current is 真似る(maneru)).  The word for “to learn” is  å­¦ã¶(manabu).

Put more visually simple:

学ぶ(manabu/ to learn)
真似ぶ(manebu/ to copy)
真似る(maneru/ to copy) (old word)

(And manebu is the old word for maneru, but the have the same meaning.)
Wow.  Just wow.

I certainly plan to ponder this topic much, much more.  This concludes my thoughts so far, however.

Post-a-day 2017

Blessings through a headache

My head hurts.  I think I need food, water, And sleep.

As I thought about just now how my head hurts, I realized that I can express that fact/sentiment in five languages, and without even having to think about it.

My head hurts. (Duh)

Me duele en la cabeza.

J’ai mal à la tête. 

Ich habe Kopfschmerzen.

あたまがいたい。

Rad, huh?  My life is super blessed.  Thank you, God.  Now, I’ll have a bit more water, and then sleep!
Post-a-day 2017