Thursday, January 31, 2008

The drive.... (part 3)

(please access parts one and two of this fabulous and nail-biting adventure before reading below...)

Day 3

With sick stomachs, swollen eyes, and weary heads, we four headed once again, for the third time in a week, to the driver's licensing station.

Kerianne and I prayed for course B. Todd and Justin, both male, and in the lead for passing, didn't care either way. Todd, the zen master, was bound to score due to his calm nature, impressive demeanor, and fluent Japanese tongue. Justin, who is a master of all trades, was bound to pass just because he is Justin. Kerianne, who was reduced to tears during practice runs, and myself, who heard nary an encouraging word about my excellent driving skills, knew we were doomed. But course B it was for us four.

Zen-master Todd agreed to go first, which was probably a bad idea for the rest of us. He smoothly finessed the course with ease, and as the Japanese instructor debriefed to our translator after his run, he secretly translated himself, and informed us that the instructor had paid him a complement, a rare, rare occurence in Japan. If only one of us was going to pass today, we had decided it was going to be Todd.

Kerianne, nervous-as, but confident, went as well. Although a bit slow, she did very well, and in the debriefing, the translator, whom Kerianne was fortunate enough to have had the night before, informed the Japanese instructor that the previous night's practice instructor had been impressed with her driving skills. One point for Kerianne.

Justin just did it. That was all there was. He just did it.

Now as for me, I myself am not a zen-master, nor did I have the confidence of Justin, or the kind words from any translator (and even if he had been there, he still would have found some way to put me down!) that Kerianne had. I knew, that of all four of us, I would be the only one to fail...

One thing I did well? I remembered the EXACT order of operation upon entry of the car (and if you think I'm joking about exact, I am not:

lock the door,
adjust your seat,
adjust the mirror with your LEFT HAND ONLY,
fasten seatbelt,
turn on car,
shift into drive,
release emergency brake,
look left, right, left,
pull out, parallel, while missing the curb.

Although my driving was ok, I did miss an indicator during one turn, and forgot to check for bikers two times. I just knew I was doomed. The wait time between test and results was torture - three hours to wait, wondering, just to find out, as I was sure, that I had failed.

(is this dramatic enough for you yet??!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The drive.... (part 2)

(please refer to part one of this trilogy before reading below)

Day 2

The theory of the driving test in Japan is much like it is like really LIVING in Japan. You don't do things the way you have done or know is right, but instead, you do it just like they tell you, whether you agree or not. And if you don't agree, you fail.

We showed up a week later for the mandatory $70 practice tests, where we got to get in the car with a Japanese driving instructor, and a gaijin (foreign) translator. Luckily for me (as has been my luck all week), I got to ride with the dopey gaijin, the only male, who, unfortunately, didn't have a kind or encouraging word for me all night. It obviously was very helpful on my self-esteem and confidence for the real test...

The driver's course consists of two routes. You have to memorize and perfect both, as you are told 30 minutes before the real test which one you'll be driving.

The first instructor told my gaijin that I was driving so fast (yes, I know, Mom, it is hard to picture) that he 'was sweating like a pig.' Really, guys, I was CONVINCED I was crawling at snail pace.

The second instructor had no issues at all and I did well. Shocker that my gaijin still had nothing nice to say. At all.

On the way home, my friendies and I went over and over the courses in preparation for the next day's test. We talked and talked and talked and talked until we were blue in the face, and although it might not seem like a big deal, it really, really was. Failing meant humiliation, failure, more costs, days off schools, sub plans to be made, appointments for practices and tests, and more paperwork.

To give you an idea of how traumatic this all was, let me top all of that off with some rumored facts, that were shared with us by coworkers during the weeks leading up to the test:

Only 1 out of every 5 people passes.

Low-cut shirts won't help.

If you bump a curb, you fail.

Our school's average pass rate is 3 tries.

Women don't pass.

Men don't pass.

Old people don't pass.

If you're too young you won't pass.

You won't pass.

Needless to say, when I got home, all of my fingernails were gone (much to the dismay of my second graders, who were banking on me to win a nail-biting contest with the principal) and I had accidentally eaten a whole column of a package of Oreos (much to the dismay of my friend Tera, who wants me to lose an inch off of my waist in order to fit into my bridesmaid dress in March).

It was a rough and sleepless night.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The drive...

Trying to obtain a legal driver's license in Japan is absolute carnage.
The 57 point process is neither easy or quick, and begins long before new teachers arrive in Japan. The moment our positions are secured, we are asked to submit paperwork and copies of current licenses to our school secretary, so that as early as January (it was May for me), the conversion of paperwork and legal documents for the licensing process can begin.

Although I know how the story ends, my flair for the dramatic is now kicking in. Therefore I have to say that this story is so awful (which isn't far from the truth), that I can only bear to tell it to you in multiple parts...

Day 1

On day one, myself and 4 of my coworkers headed down to the driver's licensing station, which is one hour from where we live, to turn in our paper work and take the written and vision tests that are required before we have to take the actual road test. I drove my own car with my pal Todd, and my other friends, Justin, Kumi, and Karianne drove in the car ahead. We made it on time, no problem.

The Japanese are very thorough about EVERYTHING, and Kumi, being Japanese/Venezuelan with three passports had issues from the start with her paperwork. We were told at first that Kumi would likely not make it through the paperwork process, but, being wrapped up in our own talk, we just gave an 'awww' and went on our way. When my turn at the window came, I was feeling good and ready to go. I mean, it's just confirming paperwork, right?


It turns out that when I was hired, in May, and sent a copy of my Iowa driver's license to the school, in May, they neglected to tell me that if I were to renew my Iowa driver's license before coming to Japan, which I did when I was home in June, that I would need to submit new copies of my new license. Since I didn't, the months of paperwork that had started in May, were invalid, since the license I showed (new Iowa driver's license, obtained in June) did not match the copy they had.

Wendy was done.

It didn't make me feel better that Kumi made it through just fine, no issues. I was the only one of the four who was told I couldn't get my Japanese license.

Luckily, by the good graces of other gaijin (foreigners), I was able to work with the HR lady to, that day, obtain the necessary translations of my current license, and made it back to the center on time, barely, to take my test. My friends, having passed the test three hours earlier, while I was making a wild goose chase around town, had left hours before I did, leaving me alone in the cold, smelly Japanese office that is the driver's license station. I was able to take the written test, and passed, but barely.

Needless to say, many tears were shed that day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Being a novice

My life is busy, in a self-inflicted kind of way. I won't bore you with the details (because that WOULD be boring), but for the sake of my mother, who always loves to hear how I am, the answer is fine.

But enough! Today I am going to write about my new passion: skiing.

Do you know how much it costs to ski? To gear up and really ski? A lot.

In the last two weeks, I've bought a new ski jacket, ski gloves, ski goggles, ski shirts, ski socks, ski poles, ski boots and a ski bag. The only thing I haven't bought? Skis.

My friends are die-hard skiers. I suck at skiing. So, much like my life (sigh), I am faced to ski the green slopes by my lonesome. But, I don't mind. It's just another part of this routine I call Japan.

Have I ever told you how much it costs to live in Japan? It's a lot. (And what does this have to do with skiing, you ask? I'm getting to that...).

You see, when you live abroad (or maybe it's just me), it doesn't feel like you are really living, but more like you're on vacation. So, you spend money as if it were coming out your ear (really, maybe it's just me). Did I flinch last week when I did buy those skiing gloves for $60? Maybe for a moment. The ski boots for $300? I didn't bat an eyelash.

This weekend, in an attempt to NOT be such a novice, I am even having private ski lessons. It is my goal, now, to ski well by the time I leave Japan. I can officially say that I have been skiing this month more than I have ever been in my life, and I am loving it. Good thing too, for the sake of all my new gear. Seriously.

So, Nagano (yes, that's where they held the winter olympics!), here I come.

Small children, beware. I am taller, faster, and heavier than you (and my brakes don't work yet...)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Things I've Come To Expect in Japan

When I go shopping, I have to take off my shoes before entering a dressing room.

While I'm changing, a GOOD saleslady will turn my shoes around for me so that when I come out of the dressing room, they are facing ahead and I can just slip them on.

OTHER sales ladies will forsake the shoes altogether and just snicker (or, as on a recent trip to a local store, openly laugh) at me when I go in. I am never sure why. Sometimes the don't stop until I leave the store. Even after I've proved that my rear (snugly) fits into the same jeans as their rears do.


Small children will stare at me wherever I go.

When I am feeling nice, I will smile at them.

Sometimes I wave.

And if I'm grumpy, I stick out my tongue.

It's funny, though, that no matter which of the three I do, they always huddle closer to their mommies.


When I go to Daiso (my favorite store) in heels, I can see over the top of all the aisles. Which makes shopping truly convenient. Especially when trying to find friends who I'm shopping with. Or brooms or something.


The nicest people (consistently) are those who work at Starbucks. Or, at least, I guess those are the ones I see the most. So, maybe that's a bias opinion.


Telemarketers and street sellers avoid me like the plague. (woo hoo!)

In fact, the look on the door-to-door salesperson's face when the door opens and they see me is PRICELESS...


When I go to the petrol station, I order legulah gas.

And I am quietly accepting the fact that it will be years before I can order Pizza Hut. Sigh...


It's just what you come to expect as the norm, I guess. Maybe it's what keeps life interesting. You know, legulah gas and all.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008


The COOLEST thing about the 2008 elections?

The Iowa caucuses!


Because EVERYBODY in the world is reporting from there!

And why is that cool?

Well, it works to my advantage that EVERY news show is being broadcast from the streets that I remember and love and see so little of.


In fact, on tonight's Evening News (CBS) and yesterday's Today Show (NBC), both did a bio on Iowa and the people. I'm just searching for someone I know.

But, as someone with an ear out in the world, rumors spread that Iowa may be relieved of it's primary caucus position if more people don't get out and vote. A little more than 10% of people are expected to turn out (in a state where 94% of the population is white, another political mark against us!).

So, get out there! Caucus! Come on Iowa, you can do it!

(and keep those cameras rolling!)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Survivor Man

Err... Survivor Girl, that is...

Have you ever heard of the show Survivor Man? They take this guy and put him in the most random places in the world to fend for himself and live off of what the land gives him. Like the show Survivor, but just for one person. I always thought it sounded like a great concept for a show, until I became Survivor Girl. Yesterday...

Imagine, if you will, the WORLDS WORST POSSIBLE SCENARIO. I found myself in it yesterday...

I was driving down the street (lah de dah) in my friends Roger and Kerry's car, on my way to the bus station to pick them up from their trip home. I made the choice to take my eyes off the road for two or three moments, and before I could look back up again, I hit a curb, immediately flattening the front tire.


So, I pulled into an empty lot to check the damage and assess the situation. My assessment is as follows:

1. I've just wrecked someone else's car.
2. It's bloody freezing outside.
3. I know how to fix a tire, but can't be bothered to get out in the cold to do it.
4. I don't speak the language and can't call for help.
5. EVERYONE I know is out of the country. EVERYONE (not just most people, mind you).
6. It's a holiday - nothing is open.

So, I check my mobile phonebook to make sure there's nobody I can call, and I find Kumi's number. My friends Kumi and Daniel are around, in fact, I am slated to have dinner with them later in the evening. I call and call and call, but Kumi doesn't answer her phone. I don't have her home phone, or Daniel's mobile.


I'll just have to fix the tire myself.

Easy enough, I guess, until I opened up the boot and realized that Roger doesn't have a tire kit in his trunk. A tire, yes, but no tools to fix it. No jack, no wrench, no nothing.


So, let's review: I can't fix the tire as there are no tools. I can't call for help from a friend, I can't communicate with the locals, and it's a holiday, so everything is closed.


What would you do?