Behold, the school lunch! Called kyushoku (給食) in Japanese, it beats out what I used to eat growing up. I’m already recalling the nightmares about the microwaved grilled cheese sandwiches and leftover Special K.
The meals pride themselves on being balanced. Carbs, fiber, and meat are what make every child in this country fired up and ready to go. That day just happened to be chicken curry, rice, edamame salad and some kind of pickled vegetable. I often find myself trying to emulate what I eat so I can escape from the grocery store with more money in my wallet.
Every day, the beverages are the same: green tea (for teachers only) and milk. Remember me telling you how fatty Japanese milk is? The proof is there on the carton. In the area my local lunch factory operates, I’m served the same lunch no matter which school I’m at during the week. All of Japan, though, dishes up its food in various ways. No tray is the same.
As an ALT, I can either eat with the students or in the teachers’ lounge. I’m lucky because I get the chance to experience both. I wish I could say hanging with the staff is an exciting time for me but I usually turn my thoughts inward and attempt to focus on not falling asleep. Being with the young ones proves to be a similar thing but every once in a while, they will surprise me and ask me questions or chatter about me amongst themselves. Through this one-sided interaction, I’m slowly becoming approachable. Miracles don’t happen overnight!
Here is the breakdown of my lunches with the teachers:
Sit down to the meal presented on my desk.
Quickly analyze if there’s anything I’m unfamiliar with.
If there’s anything wonky on my tray, I’ll ask about it and attempt to eat it.
If I’m confident about what’s staring up at me, I usually scarf it all down.
When there’s something of obvious foreign origin, there is a giant soup pot in which I can dump my food (if I eat it and don’t like it) or I can leave it for someone else to eat (if I haven’t touched my food yet).
There is no “Thanks for the food!” (いただきます, ita-da-ki-masu) or “That was delicious! Thank you!” (ごちそうさまでした, go-chi-so-sama-deshi-ta)
Here is the breakdown of my lunches with the students:
Walk into the meeting room.
Find my tray (I know because it has my name on it).
Journey to whichever class I’m assigned to eat in and sit quickly.
Wait some more while the students on kitchen duty serve everyone.
Finally! All the students have their food!
The class leader says “Let’s eat!” and it’s a race to the front to get whatever leftovers that are well… leftover (I’m usually grabbing more rice because I think they think I don’t eat much. They can tell my butt that).
We all chow down.
Clean up is the same no matter where I go. Soup bowls go with the soup bowls, rice bowls go with the rice bowls, and the head bone is connected to the neck bone. I never did figure out where everything goes after that.
A post about busy nothings, there are more to come.
Autumn has come to remind us that winter is not too far away. The wind and rain has become a bitter a lover – biting at my skin instead of caressing it. Lately, however, the sun has been shining. Like the bipolar weather, I too am experiencing times of happiness and times of bleak depression. Two times this week I have found myself in tears as I battle the raging torrents of self-doubt. Some days it feels like it will carry me away and I will give up the fight to find myself and what I stand for. The stress of wanting to show these kids I’m not an alien is really weighing down on me and has, unfortunately, caused me to come down with a cold. The fact that I have no Daddy or Mommy to baby me makes me all the more depressed.
To take my mind off of my tiny troubles, I will talk about what I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: my apartment. I live in what’s called a LeoPalace. They are a franchise that provides furnished apartments for single people. Each place is provided (basically) the same things: a folding table, bed with storage space, TV, mirror, two chairs, microwave, and washing machine. I was anticipating something that would fit in my bedroom back home but was pleasantly surprised. I will tip my hat off to the Japanese. They know how to utilize space. My only complaint is that I wish I had more cupboard/shelf space. This desire is even more pronounced due to the arrival of care packages from home.
My building is seemingly out in the middle of nowhere when it is, in fact, surrounded by several houses. There are just rice fields taking up the space in between. It’s a nondescript thing painted in blue and white stripes. Over time (with a bit of help from Toby), I have discovered the secret to the lights upstairs. One unit sits on the ground floor while the unit next to it is the one situated upstairs. It’s the door that’s on the foundation that leads upwards. My scaredy-cat self can only imagine what it’s like coming home in the dark of the night and having this spooky, gaping mouth staring you in the face.
Walking in, I’m greeted by the quiet stillness of the hallway. My shoe box is on the immediate right. The small doorknob that permits me access is often the place of rest for my wet umbrella. I used to have a pink rug edged in lace there until I got paranoid there was mold/bug eggs embedded in the carpeting. All of the floors, with the exception of the bathroom, are made of wood. I want to find the idiot that put the laminate down because he could have cleaned better beforehand. My parents already know how much the dust drives me crazy. What’s nice is that I feel a little more at home after noticing the dust bunnies behave in the same manner as at home.
After a few feet, you’ll notice the sorry cubbyhole that is my kitchen and pantry on the left and my laundry “room” on the right with the bathroom being immediately next to it. I can’t stress the amount of times I’ve stepped out of that place and almost killed myself slipping. In home improvement stores, I see small benches and chairs specifically for the bathroom, but I may just use one as a stepping stone from the tile to the laminate. At least the space is cramped enough I won’t have far to fall.
The kitchen space, as previously mentioned, comes with a microwave, fridge and storage space. I don’t care too much for the storage because I’m used to such luxuries as a garage and mass amounts of shelving that allow me the opportunity to organize and avoid burying things that need to get eaten sooner rather than later. Microwaves cook hotter in Japan and they don’t light up when you open them. (I suppose I could count that as a blessing. I don’t have the chance to see the funk and gunk splattered on the inside.) At the time this picture was taken, I was recently moved in. Now, the following is crammed in there:
Panko bread crumbs
Sweet potato syrup packets
Instant miso soup packets
Pancake mix (I use this flour when I’m breading things)
Consommé soup packets
Hot chocolate mix
Rice seasonings (ふりかけ)
Beef tomato soup
The fridge itself is very similar to an office unit but the freezer is more spacious. Unfortunately, during the writing of this installment, the fan on it decided to go out. The landlord was nice enough to offer English-speaking assistance and, between my company and theirs, my new unit should arrive this week. (I just hope my kitchen wagon still fits in its space. It’s where I store my dishes.) I’ve quickly discovered that, if I shop like an American and act like the world is going to end, things go bad in there startlingly fast.
I have issues with the cooking range and not because it’s electric. Coming to Japan, I didn’t realize I would be asked to go from a full four-burner gas-powered stove to a dinky two-burner contraption. Again, I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth because if a natural disaster happened, I wouldn’t have to worry about the stove blowing up on me. The sink is nothing special; nor is the tiny cabinet above it.
Across from the “kitchen” is the W.C. I can’t say bathroom anymore because the toilet room is definitely not where I would take a shower. It’s interesting how quickly I got over the novelty that is the Japanese toilet. All units differ in the options and features available. Mine comes with a sink that uses the water from the tank and a bidet that will clean my backside whenever I desire. My favourite feature is the heated seat.
After the short journey through that half of the apartment, we come to the anti-climax of my story: the bedroom. The only cool thing about this place is the outside monitor. It’s the “only window to the outside world.” (Did you catch that reference?) Beats peeking through a peep hole. Also, I hate the storage space under the bed. It’s dark and spooky and, when I first moved in, this was the spiders’ favourite place to hang out. I now have my luggage under there and make sure to move them around when I clean.
I do my best with what I have and can see myself becoming comfortable. Now, if only I can get over this cold/flu/whatever the hell it is. (Side note: nothing is scarier than looking for cold medicine when you can’t read the characters on the boxes. So, I’ve been treating with ibuprofen and vitamins.)