Sunday, December 09, 2007

Before, During, After: Part Two, now with a surprise ending

In light of recent events having nothing to do with my family, this is section that I have the least tolerance for writing at the moment. I could go on and on about the events of my family visiting if I were in a more neutral state, and hopefully when there’s a bit of time between me and these events, I will. But now, this section with all the cute cultural mishaps, the whole, “Oh, Japan is so crazy and lovable” shtick that’s been beaten to death since the late eighties, this is what I can't I bring myself to write.

It has the family reacting to me having Japanified myself without realizing it:

“Why are you always covering your mouth and giggling now?”

“I do not!”

“And you apologize all the time.”

It has me realizing how weird common things in my daily life are, like people wearing surgical masks on the street, the occasional woman walking around in kimono, teams of employees shouting “Irasshaimase!” at you as soon as you walk into their business establishment, and removing or changing your footwear multiple times a day in front of seemingly arbitrary thresholds. Also inviting people you just met to hang out bare-ass naked with you in a hot spring.

It has adorable experiences of my family visiting my pre-school classes. The one to two year old class, as soon as they saw three extra foreigners in the room, backed against the wall and stared in silent horror, and not even a round of the Hokey Pokey could bring them out of their shell. I advised my mom and sisters to take off their large coats to demonstrate they weren’t concealing tentacles or extra legs. The kids were probably intimidated by the number of them, because my family managed to leave relatively unmolested. Except Shunsuke grabbed my mom’s crotch.

It has everyone we randomly encountered being so delighted to see us. The little pottery village woman explained the designs of her plates with the few English words she knew: “Rabbit. Moon.” Then she sent us away with a ton of free stuff. Generally we went away from every local shop or stall we visited with free things, tea, our pockets filled with sweets and mikan. And my co-workers, my Japanese friends, my clients were so fucking kind. There were gifts and favors and flattery, and invitations to children’s weddings that were still at least ten years away. It was the kind of warm, fuzzy experience that reminded me why I loved Japan.

But it all quickly came to an end.

My action-packed week left me exhausted, and the night they left I came down with something bad. I don’t know what it was exactly. Cold-like symptoms. Nausea. Dizziness. Fever. But it was so bad I spent all of the next day in bed shivering and sweating and crying. In Japan, if you have any kind of ailment, it usually gets prompt and obsessive attention from your co-workers, who will likely call it a cold and ask if you’ve been to the hospital yet.

Colin told me that at his school, there’s a chart of all the absences due to illness for each day. Every absence is either categorized as cold or influenza, as if no other conditions existed. His theory was that any mild illness is considered a cold, while a more severe illness is considered influenza.

What I had certainly wasn’t a cold, so I made the mistake of calling it influenza when I mailed my Japanese tutor that morning to cancel our lesson. I hoped by the beginning of classes at five, I would be able to teach, but at around one I decided that was probably impossible and explained the situation to Yoshiko in a mail, once again foolishly invoking the “I” word.

A sidenote: I’ve had to call in sick three times in the past year and a half that I worked here. For a normal job, that sounds like a lot, I suppose. But each time was an extreme circumstance, and when you keep in mind that I teach different people every day of the week, it means I’ve never canceled on any class more than once. And one of those times, Sayaka reduced me to tears as I was calling in and I had to beg her to let me go home. She called me back a few minutes later to tell me that the mothers of my students were angry with me. Lots of crying in this entry. But lots of crying in this job, I guess.

Anyway. By the next day, I was feeling significantly better but still crappy. That’s when the calls started. Everyone was freaking out about my condition and wondering if I was still able to work, asking, “But how do you really feel?” I foolishly thought that this was because they were actually concerned about my health, and eventually admitted that I still felt pretty bad. Sayaka talked me out of doing my four o’clock, and told me that with influenza, you have to take three days to a week off. I sighed and rued the moment of cloudy judgment that I typed those words.

When she asked if the doctor had given me medicine, I responded, “I didn’t go to the hospital.”

“You didn’t go to the hospital!?!” She gasped at the other end of the line. My heart jumped a little at the angered incredulity in her voice.


“Then how do you know you have influenza!”

“Because of the symptoms.” My voice was losing strength, and I knew I was in trouble.

“The what?”

“The symptoms, um, the way I feel, the um,” I struggled to try to explain the word, but she interrupted me.

“Please go to hospital. If the doctor say you have influenza, you can’t work tomorrow.”

So I went to the stupid country hospital in my town, paid a thousand yen to have the doctor take my temperature and tell me that I don’t have influenza. I mailed Sayaka the news, and told her that I thought I felt strong enough to do my last class, which was an adult class and didn’t involve any singing or dancing or dealing with unruly fourth graders, but what will we do about the other two classes? I asked this thinking that we could reschedule them or just skip them since they’re my boss’s kids and their friends, so they don’t bring in any money anyway. Her response was, “Since you’re fine, please come.” That left me little choice.

A few days later, after Colin’s constant insistence I mailed Yoshiko to check up on the renewal of my visa, since it expires in early January and we suspected she had done nothing to move the process forward. In the past, she had given me plenty of guilt trips about how much money I’m costing them and how we all have to make sacrifices. But when I met her in September or October to discuss the status of the visa next year, expecting another guilt trip or reluctance, she instead acted like there was no issue at all and we would start the renewal process around November. Anyway, I got no response to my very polite mail inquiring about my visa renewal. A few days later I mailed her again, asking the same thing, still with no response. Then about a week ago, a Monday, she called me, asking if we could have a meeting at 2:00 the next day. I told her I had a class at 2:40, but she said that it was fine, it would only take thirty minutes.

At that time, Yoshiko and Sayaka told me that immigration had become strict, and you had to prove that you’re paying your foreign worker a living wage, so they can’t afford to sponsor me, or any other foreign worker.

“Until the end of December you’re still an Educo employee, so please do your best!” Sayaka said.

I listened to them being awkward for a while, and when Yoshiko asked if I had anything to say, I told her, “I wish you would have told me this two months ago so I would have had time to find another job.”

To which she told me there are no other jobs, which is a complete lie. There would have been other jobs a few months ago, when I still had a year to commit to one. They’ve completely screwed me over, and I’m angry with myself for trusting them. Yoshiko always showed an almost overbearing maternal concern for her employees’ well-being, so I didn’t expect their assholishness to reach this level. She’s left me without a visa, without a job, and with no chance to find one before my current visa expires. I should have known that with the many creative and passive-aggressive ways they’ve managed to mistreat me over the past year and a half, that they would have no problem doing this to me. I ended up tolerating it because of my students, and now I’m losing them too.

My plan is to try to stay in the country until August, and take as many students as I can with me when I leave Educo. I know for a few of my classes, it’s very important to the students to be taught by a native speaker. The ones who don’t have a long relationship with Yoshiko will continue with me. But I expect to lose at least half of my classes, if not more. The same students and families who readily took me in and made me feel welcome and valued and stuffed me with candy and gifts every week will readily cast me aside. Because how could they side with a temporary foreigner over their prolonged business relationship? After all, it’s just common procedure to treat your foreign teacher in such a way. It doesn’t mean anything.

I realize that this entry has completely devolved into an artless, semi-informative realm. It’s probably too confusing to even be informative. I wanted to write about the juxtaposition between bad Japan, good Japan, and bad Japan again once my family was gone. But that was before I realized how bad it would actually get. I can’t write what I was going to write before. It would be fake and forced. I wanted to mention something about how I found myself doing the exact same annoying things that people had done to me when I first came here. I found it hard to explain what we were doing to my family, why we were driving somewhere then leaving the car at an arbitrary location, taking trains, changing cars, or what was next on the agenda because everything is so fucking complicated. Back in the day, I would have given anything for my boss or co-workers to give a single sentence of explanation of these elaborate processes so every little thing wouldn’t be completely shrouded in mystery. Like my hosts when I was new here, I stressed out, I concealed the unpleasant bits, and I did whatever I could just so my family would leave loving Japan. I had willingly participated in the façade.

And now I’m wondering where that nice Japan went.


Blogger Eileen said...

That sucks Cassie. I can't believe they did that. In any case you could take some time to enjoy not having to be there anymore...

6:46 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Hi Cassie! That really sucks. I am so sorry to hear that they are being such bastard assholes! I hope you can take your clients away from Educo. Jerks. I'm sorry you'll have to end the year on that note, but I am really excited to see you when you come back so we'll have to drink and bitch about your shitty Japanese boss.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very sorry this happened. I know you did a great job for them and didn't deserve what you got. I'm pulling for you, though, and looking forward to seeing you at the end of the year!

8:20 AM  
Blogger BilabialBoxing said...

Japan can crap my hands. You hear me?! Crap my hands! I'm ready to go home.

12:02 PM  
Blogger GLE said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:05 AM  
Blogger janamarie said...

Hi, marie again.. holy shit, cassie. the bastards. though it's not exactly new for a foreign-language company to treat its teachers like shit, i still thought that at least on a personal level you'd be treated with respect.
i know what you mean about being so touched by the warmth and generosity of everyone you meet when you're the token gaijin in a little town, and then wondering later how genuine it all was. it makes me sadder than i can say.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, yo! This sounds like a case of a little retributive sabotage. Do you have access to copious amounts of cocaine to be planted in Educo's head office? If not, I'll ship some.

And I started a new savings account to (hopefully) gather enough funds to jump abroad. I'm still wary as I'm on my own next semester, but I'll keep you posted.

Punch 'em in the groin,

7:22 AM  
Blogger archipelagic said...

Thanks to everyone for leaving supportive comments. I'm obviously going through some tough stuff now, and in my experience when bad things happen, people tend to disappear. So thanks for not disappearing. And in Marie's case, thanks in particular , because we've never even met and your words have made me feel a little better. Also, sorry I just posted another really nasty entry.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Natalie said...

They've just lost the best teacher they had. I saw you with those kids. They don't realized how much they just screwed themselves and their students over, too.

Don't let the fuckers get you down.

10:37 AM  

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