8.23.2007

Working for the Man

So I’ve started my job teaching English at Nova. Now, it’s not exactly what you’d imagine. The two main things that I need for my job are a lanyard and a McDonald’s drive-thru head-set. Sounds like a fabulous outfit, huh? Just imagine when I pair those with my frumpily pleated work pants and a dress shirt so moist from the walk to work that even the “dry creaning” guy cringes upon seeing it delivered every week.

Basically, I’m teaching English to people all over Japan via this antiquated web cam system called Ginganet. Who named it, I do not know. But I sure hope the poor guy’s name wasn’t Ginga. That would really suck for him on the playground.

I feel the best way to describe my job is to take you through a day in the life of Biru. (That’s Japanese for Bill because the fucking riceheads can’t pronounce Ls to save their atomically-shortened lives.) I’m not bitter, I swear. Moving on, I start my workday at 5:30am on Sundays and Mondays. My alarm jars me awake and after about 11 hits of the snooze button, I’m out of bed by 6:00. I take a nice cold shower using no hot water whatsoever. This isn’t to punish me in some sort of Buddhist manner but just to cool me off as I have no window in my room and as the sun rises, it brings with it about 90 degrees of pure hate every morning. So by the time I roll off my futon mattress and onto the tatami mat floor, I’m already sweating. After my ice cold shower, I shave. This never happened back in Jersey. I’d estimate that I shaved every 4 or 5 days with only one electric moustache touch-up every 2 days. I was perfectly comfortable with that. A little stubble never hurt anyone and shaving is such a fucking chore. However, the company handbook clearly states that only fully-grown-in facial hair is acceptable and any stages before that are strictly prohibited. Translation: if you don’t already have a lumberjack beard, now is not the time to start growing one. Unfortunately, that means I have to shave every single fucking morning or risk being sent home for stubble. Nova is Japanese for Nazi.

After shaving, I think about completely shirking the ironing process but instead I haphazardly run the semi-warm iron over the closest pair of dress pants I can grab while I mentally plan out which of my 7 ties I’ll match with the outfit. Some shirts just do not have a tie that can support their color and I just don’t know what to do. The dress code states that a knotted tie is a must but I can’t just not wear three of my dress shirts. I didn’t bring them all the way across the planet to hang in my room all year. They’re just too hip to be omitted from the daily rotation. So, I think some tie shopping may be in order soon. Anyway, after I’m dressed, it’s 6:30 and I’m already running late. So I pack up my bag making sure I have the following items: apartment key, iPod, sunglasses (tigers optional), cigarettes (for the much needed smoke breaks), money, train pass, lanyard, head-set and a train book. The train book is one of the most important items in my artillery as it lets me immerse myself in a comfortable world of fiction during the 20-minute train ride to work and ignore all of the “look, it’s a white man” stares I get. However, before the train is the daily stop at the one of fifteen (no exaggeration) vending machines on the way during my 10-minute walk to the station. Seriously, there is at least one vending machine at least every 100 meters and that’s downplaying it. Usually, they’re grouped in 2s or 3s with one being for coffee and green tea, one for Gatorade-like sport drinks and soda and the third for cigarettes. The Japanese are an extremely automated society. So I grab my steel, not aluminum, can of iced coffee made by Suntory Boss. Suntory Boss: Suntory is the boss of everyone since 1992. No lie, that’s the company’s motto. Cocky, right? I love it. So I got my coffee and I’m on the train and everything’s goin’ fine as long as I catch the early train. If not, I’ll be extra sweaty for my arrival at the office. I exit the train, push my way through the platform up to the main station. Now, I work at the Namba Station which is comparable to the 42nd Street Station in NYC. It’s fucking crowded. In the station, not even above ground, is an entire mall called the Namba Walk. I have to walk half the length of the mall (ten minutes) underground in order to reach my building which is adjacent to the Osaka City Air Terminal. I don’t know why it’s named that, there is a train station there. There is no helipad or runway there. Like I’ve said before. Japan is ridiculous. Maybe they sell air somewhere there, but I doubt it.

Anyway, I walk through the mall, past the art gallery, which consists of 25 paintings on the wall of the mall, and into my building. Once in the elevator, it’s a race to see who can put their lanyard on the fastest. On the company lanyard is my ID card that grants me entrance to every single door in the company. I mean every single door. You can’t get anywhere without this ID card. You need it to get to the cubicle. You need it to get into the smoking room. You need it to fucking wipe your ass. But that’s really only if you run out of TP. Just check before you sit down and you won’t have to bother with the ID card. The first employee to get their lanyard on shoves to the front of the elevator car and waits earnestly for the doors to open up to the 15th floor where the time cards are located. To get into the time card room, you have to swipe your card and for some reason, people treat it like an honor to be the one to swipe so there’s this little race to the door, but no one really acknowledges it. It’s just one of those things everyone does but never mentions. Anyway, if you win the race, you really actually lose because then you wind up having to hold the door for everyone in back of you and that just sucks, especially if you’re late. So I take my time. After I clock in, I have to check one of 22 television screens for my booth assignment for the day. The screens advise me of my booth number, the level of the student I’ll be teaching and what floor I’m on. I usually have to head up to the 16th floor to teach and once I find my cubicle, I’m ready to go. This is at 7:30am.

Exactly on the half hour, the bell rings, which signifies the beginning of the 40-minute lesson. The bell is the classic Bing Bong Bing Bong…Bong Bong Bing Bong. Then it repeats. Apparently, this tune is used all over the country as the signal for anything to begin whether it be a class, a workday, a meeting, etc. Even the trains use a little Mr. Belding xylophone system whenever they make an announcement over the loudspeaker. It’s a little childish but whatever they need not to go crazy, I’ll let them have it.

Side note: Japanese people go crazy almost every day. It is not uncommon at all to be late to work because of a “jumper.” At least once a month, according to multiple sources, some ‘salaryman’ (pronounced ‘sarariman’ and it means anyone who works in an office) takes it upon himself to commit suicide because he’s either overworked or just lonely. So, he files off his fingerprints, pulls out his teeth and jumps in front of the subway train of his choice, usually during the morning rush. They maim themselves so badly beforehand in order to die anonymously to save their family from public shame but seriously, if you stop coming to work, someone’s gonna notice and call your house. So I think it’s just for dramatic effect. If the train actually kills the sarariman, the removal team is called to clean it up and the whole thing is over in usually under a half hour. Then, upon arrival at your destination station, there are several attendants standing at the doors with little tickets that say there was a jumper, which caused a train delay. This ticket must be given to your boss so you don’t get in trouble at work. I’m not kidding. They have cards for this. Could you just imagine how much creative freedom Hallmark employees must have in this country?
Sorry your dad committed suicide on the train tracks but I’m even more sorry I was late to work! Haha! Just kidding. But seriously, my condolences. Love, Louis.

Back to the main story. Ok, so once the bell has rung, I have only ten minutes before the next lesson period begins. In that ten minutes, I’m supposed to socialize, have a smoke, grab another iced coffee from the break room and plan the next lesson, all in ten minutes. Obviously, I’m a very new employee because all I’ve ever managed to do in those in-between moments is plan my next lesson and possibly read a bit from whatever train book I brought with me that day, but I’m slowly getting better. Really, I am though. Just the other day, I almost made it all the way to the break room and had about two coins into the coffee machine when the bells rang. And of course, we’re not allowed to drink at our cubicles for fear of mussing up the ancient keyboard apparatuses. So I sullenly trudged back to my desk, coffee-less and therefore, energy-less, to plan my next lesson.

When planning lessons, you have to look at each student’s past lessons and see which ones they’ve taken and which one’s they’ve passed/failed in order to choose one that hasn’t been done yet or one that hasn’t been done in at least three months. There are about 50 different lessons per student level, of which there are 7, which gives us a pool of 350 lessons to choose from. The good thing about this is that since we teach 7 to 8 lessons a day, we repeat lessons like it’s our job, which it is. So, once you’ve taught one lesson, you know where you can rest during it, what might be hard for the students and what stupid little jokes you can make to break the ice. It’s very customer service-oriented, to tell the truth. So now that you’ve finally settled on something appropriate for the jappies, you have the remaining moments to look it over and practice the lesson in your head, if it’s new, and then you’re off.

The bell has rung and now you’re stuck with 3, at most, jappies for the next forty minutes during which you’re forced to converse with them, correct their grammar and basically schmooze them into falling in love with the English language enough to buy another lesson period. Students range from junior high schoolers to working professionals ( lots of people in the medical field ), to elderly men and women so bored with their lives that they’ve decided to conquer a foreign language. So far, my least successful student group has been older males who are around 30 and up. I know that must be quite a shock given my past dating history but let’s keep in mind that I’m not dating my students, but teaching them. With that said, my favorite students have turned out to be the housewives of all ages. These women are so much fucking fun. When I have three of them together in a class, I’m a fucking Don Juan and these women are giggling up a storm and learning at the same time, I really love it. They generally have loads of time on their hands and are prohibited to work by their husbands so once they’re done cleaning and/or cooking for the day, they’re completely free and need something to fill the gaping holes in their schedules. So, that renders them very much open and willing to learn as much as they possibly can and their individual progress is absolutely astonishing. I mean, this one lady Hidemi has only been studying English for a year and a half and she said to me yesterday, “My husband is a silly man. He no let me touch the computah because since I don’t know how to work computah good, that I might make computah sick. How can computah get sick? He say something about a weerus (virus) but I don’t berieve him. Computahs don’t get sick. They don’t take medecine.” Frankly, I’ll be ecstatic when I can get that ridiculous point across to someone in Japanese.

So that’s the gist of the lesson. Lots of silly phrases that need correcting and a lot of Japanese egos that need coddling. Once I get through eight of them, I can happily clock my ass out of there and hit the streets. Unfortunately, the streets can only be hit every so often due to the subway closure time of 11:45. Who the fuck is ready to go home at 11:45? This curfew is ridiculous. So you have three options: 1. Get your ass home at 11:45 and save some money and lose some friends. 2. Go home whenever you like by paying $30 for a taxi who won’t even bring you directly to your house because there are no fucking addresses so you’ll still have to walk from a subway station or local landmark. 3. Stay out until the subway re-opens at 5:00. Oddly enough, option 3 has been the most popular one so far, even considering our early work schedules. But let’s think about this. The job doesn’t really require that much effort. You’re sitting at a computer and as long as you look clean, no one can tell you smell like a vagabond. Also, you’re already in your work clothes from the night before so there’s no need to change because you still look semi-professional despite the cigarette burns on your collar and the sake stains on your tie. The only thing that really ever needs to be taken care of is your sweaty-ass face. Spend a night out in Osaka and I dare you not to sweat as profusely as a sorority girl in a clinic. I guarantee you; you will be moist. But not to worry, that’s nothing a few wipes of a deodorized wet-nap won’t ameliorate. So that’s the latest in the life of Biru. Do stay tuned as I hope to move to a new apartment next month, which should definitely be providing me with some new material. My roommates will be a red-neck hippie Canadian from New Brunswick and a black valley boy gay from San Diego. And people say the Real World was stereotypical…

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