One of the coolest things about being an ALT (if you’re at an easy-going school) is that you get to leave fairly early. I’m often finished all my teaching responsibilities by 2:30 in the afternoon, and by 3pm I’m looking at the front door.
I have private students most every evening, starting around 6pm usually. That gives me a few hours to kill. I slay them writing, usually at an Internet cafe. Somewhere where I can relax without prying eyes and inquisitive minds reacting to and dissecting my every movement. I know it sounds paranoid. But, I’ve questioned my state of mind so often that I’ve come to accept it for what it is, whatever that may be.
All I know for sure is that a respite from Japanese people does wonders for my disposition and so I take them whenever I can.
At least that’s how it used to be…
This year, I’ve noticed, I’ve taken to staying in the office way beyond the hour that used to find me in the wind. Sometimes I’ll look up from the computer terminal where I’m composing the words you guys come to read and the clock will read 5:30pm!!! Sometimes I go fuck off with the kids, join in in their club activities, play basketball with the boys, or Tennis with the girls, or listen to the band rehearse, or watch the Ping-Pong wizards Forest Gump it for an hour.
Ironically this is just what the companywould like for us ALTs to do. We don’t get paid for this time. There’s no such thing as overtime, far as I know. We’re contracted to work such and such hours a week, and anything beyond those contracted hours are on us. But, the company has no problem suggesting, without demanding, that we do the types of things I’ve taken to doing of late.
The other day I was in the teacher’s office, and caught myself saying “ostukaresama desu” (Don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya) to some teacher who’d said “o saki ni shitsurei shimasu” (Yyyyyabba dabba doo!”) And it struck me the rarity of this reversal of roles. I was always the first one to be yabba dabba dooing out of the office.
And, I wasn’t the only one who noticed.
Yuki-sensei, one of the teachers I’ve been working with for 4 years or so at school B, came and took the seat beside me the other day. I looked up from the post I was writing and smiled. She can’t speak a lick of English and speaks Japanese a mile a minute.
“Why are you still here?” she asked like I’d broken some rule. I noticed some of the other teachers in the silent office were also curious as to the why.
“I work here, I think” I replied, then smiled to soften my sarcasm. She really is a nice lady and has never given me any shit. I didn’t like her tone, though. It sounded really proprietary. Like working late was a Japanese prerogative. It reminded me of an Eddie Murphy skit on Saturday Night Live where Eddie puts on make-up to look like a white person, and finds out that white people get shit free and have parties when black people aren’t around. I was wondering, maybe after I leave and the office is gaijin-free, the party begins.
“Usually you leave earlier, right?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “but…”
I was about to tell her I had work to do, but she knew like I knew that I didn’t. That my workload was no heavier than it had been the three previous years and I rarely if ever stayed late. And, when I thought about the real reason I realized that I hadn’t consciously decided to stay later. It just sort of happened. I looked around the office at all the faces of the people I see everyday. Takahashi was sitting across from me hammering away at the keyboard, stopped typing and smiled, waiting patiently for my answer. Hoshi-sensei was over by the fax machine, fingers on the controls, eyes on me. Even the vice-principal was smiling, sitting behind his desk with his arms folded, waiting for my response. The whole office was giving me the EF Hutton.
All that attention unnerved me a bit.
“…I’ve just been busy lately,” I lied. She looked satisfied, though, but I could tell, somehow, that she hadn’t bought it. Everyone else resumed their pretense at work, as well.
I couldn’t bring myself to say the real reason. That the only Japanese people I find tolerable most of the time are the ones I know and who know me. That every time I leave that office I like to be on my way to another sanctuary. Either to my home where I don’t have to tolerate the nonsense of the masses, or to a cafe where I can focus on my private student and block out to the best of my ability the nonsense going on around me caused by my presence in the Japanese world, or to an Internet cafe where I can find solitude…
I wanted to tell her that this office here is one of the few places I’ve found in all of Yokohama where I can encounter friendly faces free of fear. Where Japanese adults respect me and Japanese children adore me and life is relatively good. And, though there are a few other places and people that meet this need of mine- like with my girl, or with my J-homies- at work, I’ve found, is the only place where this need is abundantly met.
Maybe I’m underestimating them but I don’t think they’d understand.