Cell Phones: A Serious Epidemic

Recently, I have become aware of a serious societal problem that knows no boundaries. It is a problem that surpasses the constraints of racial, cultural, societal, and even geographical rules. And the problem that is quickly becoming a world wide epidemic is the cell phone- or keitai, hand phone, or mobile depending on your country of origin. The real issue lies not with the cell phone itself, but peoples reactions to it.

Do you remember the first cell phones? I have a vivid image of Saved by the Bell actually. Zack Morris, being the cool guy that he was, of course got his hands on this new technology somewhere in later seasons. And even though his phone was huge, he kept it in his back pocket, always prepared for any emergency situation that came up. And that was exactly the purpose of the first cell phones. They were for emergency calls.

In high school, I got my first cell phone. It was my grandpas actually, and why my grandpa was so tech savvy, I still cant comprehend, but I had it on loan-out during basketball season. Like Zacks phone, it was big and bulky. It had a phone book and the ability to make and receive calls, and that was where the technology ended. I only had permission to use my phone to call my parents during away games, when the bus was about twenty minutes from the school. That way my parents could be ready to pick me up and I didnt have to wait in the dark parking lot in the middle of winter, freezing in my cheerleading outfit. I remember that those calls were so rushed. The goal was to keep the call under a minute so that I wouldnt waste any of the precious minutes on our plan. And once I got my license and my own car, I kept the phone around just in case my car ever broke down while I was roaming around the countryside during my overly active high school days.

At the time, the phone was so cool, but once I realized that it could only make calls in emergency situations, it just became a dead weight at the bottom of my gym bag. I often lost track of it, or left it at home charging for days on end.

Once I went away to college, one of my first big adult moves was to get my very own cell phone. I felt very cool with this phone because it had a color screen. Other than the color screen, there was not so much to do with the phone- no camera, texting cost about a million dollars, and internet access wasn’t even a dream. I carried my phone around all the time, mostly because it made me feel very cool and adult-like. But if I forgot it in the dorm, then no worries.

But slowly, as the years went on, and especially after I moved to Japan, cell phone technology kept advancing by leaps and bounds. My current cell phone has a camera, a video camera, internet access, a bar code reader, a dictionary, an mp3 player, an  ebook viewer, and a pedometer…just to name a few. And I don’t even have an iPhone. When it comes down to it, almost everything a person could ever need is now included in basic cell phone functions.

But, having a wide variety of functions is not actually the inherent problem with today’s cell phones. The problem is the power that people have given their phones. And there are two kinds of power: communication and organization.

Have you ever noticed that cell phones take top priority in our lives? Dont try to argue with me about this. You are simply in denial about the truth of the situation. Think back to the last month. I am willing to bet that at least once you have answered a call or a text while in the middle of a conversation with a real life person. And even if you took the higher road by not answering or responding, you definitely know who called or texted you because you checked the caller ID. Or maybe you panicked because, horror of all horrors, you left your phone at home. Do you stress out all day and worry that people wont be able to get a hold of you? I always rush home and immediately check my phone for all the calls and messages I must have missed. Yeah, more often than not, it adds up to a whopping zero. I am definitely not as popular as I like to believe that I am.

With all of the cool and convenient functions on cell phones nowadays, people are becoming more and more dependent on their phones. I know that in my own life, my cell phone has become an irreplaceable commodity. I seriously believe that I could not function properly without it. I don’t even bother memorizing peoples phone numbers anymore, and actually I never see most peoples numbers because I can just exchange info via infared. I have absolutely no idea what any of the important people in my life’s numbers are.  The only numbers I still remember are the ones I memorized when I was a kid and actually had to dial numbers to get a hold of my family and friends. There are a ton of pictures on my phone, great pictures from vacations that are only located on my phone. The calendar function keeps track of schedule. I would probably die if I ever dropped my phone in the toilet. My whole life would go down the drain in addition to my phone.

So, my new goal, hopeless though it may be, is to detach myself from my cell phone. I am going to start memorizing numbers and writing appointments in a planner. I will no longer sacrifice real life interactions with people for the sake of my ringing phone. I hope that those of you reading are not as sadly addicted to your phones as I am, but if you are maybe we could join Cell Phones Anonymous together.


Living in the Land of Five Seasons

Did you know that Japan actually has five seasons? I am not kidding here. If you ask any Japanese person, they would definitely agree with you. In addition to the regular four seasons, experienced in every temperate climate around the world, Japan also has a rainy season. Now, before I moved to Japan, I was under the impression that rainy season was reserved for places that also had a dry season. You know, places like the desert or Savannah. But, even without any deserts or savannahs, Japan has claimed their own rainy season. And, conveniently enough, their rainy season fits very nicely into a one-month time frame.

June is the rainy season. If it rains anytime before or after June, inevitably people will complain about the amount of rain because its not happening in June, the appropriate month for rain. I used to think that this way of thinking was kind of stupid. I mean seriously, who actually believes that you can fit the patterns of weather into so neat a package? Japanese people believe it with the utmost confidence. In May, things like umbrellas, rain coats, and galoshes become as widely advertised as sandals and UV clothing. And people pay for these goods. I have seen people pay $30 for an umbrella. As an outsider observing the scene, it all seems a bit illogical. But what do I know? Maybe Japan has succeeded where the rest of the world has failed. Maybe they have some sort of secret deal with the forces that control weather in order to not only get this bonus season, but to control its time frame as well. But as a repercussion to taking matters of weather into their own hands, Japan has to bear copious amounts of humidity, only to be rivaled by countries bordering the Equator.

Setting aside all the possible reasons as to why this tidy time frame exists, I return to the original question: who would actually that patterns of weather can be so neatly boxed into a specific time frame? I hate to admit it, but this past spring, I have become one of those very people. It has rained almost non-stop for the past few days and I caught myself complaining about the rain by asking Why is it raining? Its not June yet. I have even been debating buying a rain coat before June starts.

Its embarrassing and seeing it in writing makes me feel a bit stupid, but it is what it is. I guess that when you live long enough in a culture not your own, inevitably you will start adopting some of their ways of thinking as your own. But not to worry, in the areas that really matter, like warding off demons, I will never waver. Throwing beans and cucumbers at demons is too much of a waste of food to ever buy into as believable.

Memories from Hiroshima Day 3

On Saturday morning, Jen and I checked out of our luxurious hotel and made the long, yet pleasant walk back to Hiroshima station. Once there, we locked our bags away and got on the train to Miyajima.

Miyajima is one of the most famous spots in Hiroshima, and also a World Heritage Site.

It’s a small island located about twenty minutes outside Hiroshima by train. Getting on the train was easy enough, and we found ourselves seated across from a dad with three little girls. At first we found the girls to be extremely cute. But soon enough, we learned the truth of the matter: these girls were wild and uncontrolled by their dad, who spent the majority of the train ride ignoring their antics, or pinching their ears as punishment. The youngest, about three, alternately spent her time spinning around in the aisle and shrieking very loudly when she got dizzy. The middle girl, maybe around six or seven, kept climbing all over her dad, laughed just as loud as her younger sister was shrieking, threw a temper tantrum, and spilled a huge amount of glitter on the train floor. The oldest girl, maybe around eleven, seemed to be like the mother of the two younger. She was embarrassed by their actions and tried to keep them in line. But really, who is going to listen to their older sister when their dad is just blatantly ignoring them, and thus giving his permission for them to continue their antics. We were worried that this family would also get off at Miyajima, but, to our relief, when after we got off and the doors had closed, they continued to torture train passengers.

Though Miyajima is accessible by train, the area itself is an island. Thus, you have to take a short ferry ride to get there. And though I’ve been on ferries before, it was my first ferry ride in Japan, which actually isn’t all that noteworthy, since Jen and I were the least touristy people on the ferry. While everyone else stood at the rail, taking pictures of the oyster diving docks, the approaching island, and the gate that Miyajima is famous for, we spent the ten minute ride shivering and complaining about how cold the wind was and that we should definitely sit inside on the ferry back.

But in spite of the annoying kids on the train and the cold ferry ride, our day at Miyajima was really great.

The island has deer walking around being photogenic. And unlike the deer in Nara, who are extremely aggressive for food, these deer were content to just relax while they had their pictures taken and were petted by the many tourists, though there were many signs in multiple languages advising against touching the deer. Jen and I were hesitant at first, but as you can see in the picture, we too decided to ignore the rules.

The island is most famous for two attractions: Itsukushima shrine with its sea torii, or gate, and one of the top three scenic views in Japan, visible from the top of Mt. Misen. Jen and I made plans to see both.

The gate was beautiful. It sat in the middle of the bay, directly opposite the shrine that it was built for. We learned that the gate is free-standing, supported by rocks placed in the horizontal portion at the top of the gate. It seemed almost miraculous that the gate didnt fall over by the moving tides or stormy weather. We first saw the gate in the morning during high tide. When we came back down the mountain later in the afternoon, we discovered that during low tide, the gate is completely accessible on foot. So, we joined the crowds and crossed the bay to get a view of the gate up close. And up close, it is huge!

And on a side note, the gate is also covered with barnacles, which I had never realized were living creatures until one of them reacted to me touching it. I had a moment of sadness for all of the barnacles that have been scraped off the bottom of ships, but I recovered quickly and then proceeded to touch as many barnacles as I could in order to get them to close up in defense. Sometimes I seriously act like a little kid.

But before low tide, we adventured to the top of Mt. Misen to get a look at the view. For the majority of the trip, we rode in cable cars to the top area. The ride took about about twenty minutes and even included a cable car transfer!

But once at the top, there was the promise of seeing wild monkeys. There were even signs alerting us of proper monkey etiquette from the monkeys point of view. This one was my favorite. Unfortunately for us, the monkeys were secreted away, probably sick of all the tourists taking their pictures and telling them how cute they were. Or perhaps one monkey went a little crazy from all the direct eye contact and they were all embarrassed and hiding out for a few days. 

In any event, we started the hike to the peak of the mountain. After almost a half hour of walking up inclines and climbing steps, and feeling a little out of breath, we made it to the top.

And again, on a side note, we passed lots of women wearing skirts and heels. I was having enough issues and I was wearing shoes made for walking. Were they even thinking about the days activities when they got dressed that morning? Japanese women…

Once at the top, we took a short break and had some ice cream from the little store that was up there. Of course, at the top of a mountain, there would be ice cream, drinks, and noodles for sale. So much for the awe of nature. Setting that aside, the view was beautiful. The sky and sea were so blue. As far as views go, this one definitely ranked up there for me, being an ocean lover. Luckily for us, the climb back down was infinitely easier.

We didn’t take an ice cream break on the way down though. But we were definitely starving by the time we made it back to the village area. We decided that we would just eat at the very first restaurant that we saw. The very first restaurant that we saw didn’t actually look that good, nor did the second. But the third was delicious! We ate fried oysters, oysters being a Miyajiman famous food, and spent a good amount of time relaxing and resting. We then carried on shopping for souvenirs and just enjoying the feel of the village.

Finally around five, we got back on the ferry and headed back to Hiroshima. We spent the rest of the evening until our bus departed shopping and relaxing at Starbucks. Our bus back home was equally as sketchy as the one that had brought us to Hiroshima, but at least it worked well and provided us with blankets. Jen fell asleep quickly, but I was stuck awake. Then one of my headphones broke. So there I was with one of my headphones not working, when the man behind me started snoring softly. And of course he had to be snoring by the ear in which the broken headphone was in, so I couldn’t drown out the noise. Needless to say, sleep was a long time coming. What a way to end such a nice vacation.

Not My Daughter: A Review and Thoughts

I finally just finished reading Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky. The book is about three high school seniors who make a pregnancy pact. The three mothers of these girls are also friend and business partners. Set in a small town, the book centers on the the moral debate of the definition of good motherhood, focusing on the perspective of Susan, one of the mothers and principal of the high school.

I had high expectations when I started reading this book. My roommate had recommended and lent it to me. I admit that the idea of a pregnancy pact among teenagers was intriguing, especially in today’s time. Instead of placing the focus on the girls, the book instead tracks with the emotional progress of the mothers. The book started out interestingly enough with the discovery of not only the three pregnancies, but also the pact. But after that, the book just started feeling repetitive. Apparently, pregnancy pact moms have only a limited range of emotions- anger, anxiety, and guilt.

The book dealt with the same two issues: the mothers accepting the pregnancies, and Susan keeping or losing her job as principal. I actually had to take a long break from the book more than once because I was so frustrated with the characters and how single-minded they were. Each mother fit into a stereotypical mother box and rarely ventured outside of that line of thinking. Susan is the cool single mom who is friends with her daughter. Sunny is the strict mother who is too concerned with appearances. And Kate is the mom with a house full of kids and not enough money to go around. As you all know, I am not a mother. That being said, it is hard for me to completely understand the perspective of the three mothers as they deal with their daughters pregnancies and the town reaction, but there were times that I just wanted to throttle them, Susan especially. For the most part, the mothers were so concerned with making sure their daughters were happy and having a normal teenage experience that they didn’t make them face much of the reality that their pact decision to have a baby had wrought. Instead, the mothers took on all of the reality themselves and allowed their daughters to live in a fantasy world in which their decisions didn’t have any personal repercussions.

And as I was reading, I just couldn’t believe the mindset of these three girls. They saw absolutely nothing wrong in what they were doing. They were so caught up in having babies, that they couldn’t look beyond their babies. They were so willing to give up everything to have get pregnant and got so defensive when anyone, let alone their own parents, questioned their motives and acted anything less than elated. They expected their haphazard plan to go off without a hitch and for everything to go perfectly because they wanted it to. As unrealistic as that kind of perspective might be, I can confidently say that it is indeed an accurate depiction of the perspective of a teenager. I remember being seventeen. I thought that every decision I made was right and no one had the right to doubt me because I was an adult. I rarely thought about the future ramifications that those decisions would have. Thank goodness I have learned better. I wish that the author would have explored the development and change in the three girls as they discovered that getting pregnant and having babies was not quite the walk in the park that they had expected.

Instead, the book focused most of its meat on the town’s reaction to the pregnancy pact. The book is set in a small tourist town in Maine, and had there not been constant referencing to emails and cell phones, I would have sworn that I was reading about a story set in Mayberry. The biggest opposition was the school board, anchored by four grumpy old men who spent the entire book being the stereotypical antagonists to Susan’s continuing battle to be a good principal and mother. They had no character development and were there strictly to make you rally around Susan, in spite of the fact that she was doing stupid things like paying for all of her daughters maternity clothes and letting her daughter continue her normal life as though being pregnant was just one of the many extracurricular activities that she involved in. I never really felt threatened that Susan would lose her job, despite all the effort the author put in trying to make me feel that way. I mostly just felt tired and sad for the town folk who made teen pregnancy a measure of good or bad motherhood and thus the determinant in whether or not a woman could still continue in a position of authority.

Overall, the book was a three out of five for me. It definitely wasn’t bad by any means, but not a book that I’m likely to recommend. But if you think it might be worth a read, check it out.

Discovering my Own Alter Ego

Yesterday I was teaching a lesson and the goal of the lesson was to describe people’s personalities. One of the discussion questions was “Which person in your family are you most like?” Now, I have been a teacher long enough to know that that has the potential to be a really difficult question to understand and automatically launched into an explanation by giving my own answer as the example. “I’m most like my grandma because we’re both independent, a little stubborn, and quiet.”

Now, for the first two characteristics, my students were following along, but when I said that I was quiet, everyone, all fifteen of them, had the same shocked reaction of “What???” After a moment of confusion, I realized that the Rachael that they know is not the Rachael that I would describe myself as. So, I explained the the English teacher Rachael is a lot different than the normal life Rachael. They all laughed and then started their discussion groups. But while they were happily chatting about their families, I was mulling over the explanation that I had given them.

After much thought over the next few hours, I realized how true that statement really is. In all my teaching glory, I am actually a very loud, energetic, crazy, vivacious person. But I wouldn’t go so far as to describe myself in those terms in my everyday life. I think that most people would describe me as crazy, but I don’t think the other adjectives necessarily fit. Of course, ask my roommates, and you will get a whole other list of characteristics that might be more on par with my teaching persona. So, I continued thinking, why am I so different when I teach? Usually English teachers take two routes. Either they don’t change their personality whatsoever when they step into a classroom, or their original personality is just magnified. For me, neither really seems to be true. For the most part, I am a really laid back person. Not too much phases me, and I just tend to roll with the punches.

The real question that I have to ask is, ‘Where has this teaching personality come from?’ Is there some hidden personality inside of me that has lain dormant for years and finally has been given its freedom by my change in profession? If I stop teaching, will I eventually develop multiple personality disorder from trying to rebury this alter ego I’ve acquired? Psychiatrists would most likely say that I am repressing some hidden emotions or feel dominated by the personalities that surround me and feel no freedom to fully express my true Rachael. I think that there is a name for this kind of problem- the Wakefield disorder. Pictures of  SWEET VALLEY HIGH for sale

I feel like I’m my own Sweet Valley High twin. In real life, I am sweet, boring Elizabeth Wakefield who never causes ripples and plays by the rules. But in the classroom, my inner Jessica takes over and I become vibrant and full of life, if not a bit reckless and wild.

Perhaps, someday in the future, I will find a way to blend my two personalities, but for now I will just experience my Elizabeth and Jessica independently of one another. Maybe I should start changing my hair style and clothing depending on my teaching schedule for the week. Either way, I am going to be stuck with bad hair and clothes fit for the disco.

Memories from Hiroshima Day 1

For Golden Week, Jen and I went down to Hiroshima on a three-day trip. We both really wanted the chance to relax, but thought it would be a waste of the holiday if we just hung around Nagoya the entire week. So, after much procrastinating, we bought the tickets, booked the hotel,  and did a bit of research about Hiroshima in the month preceding our trip.

We had originally planned to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) down to Hiroshima, which takes about two and a half hours. But when we discovered that it cost about $150 one-way, we opted for the overnight bus. Fare for passage by bus was about half the price, but it did take eight hours to get there. I think the appeal is that you can just sleep your way to your destination. While that works for some people, such as Jen, I do not have that luxury. I find it extremely difficult to sleep while on public transportation surrounded by complete strangers. I mostly just dozed the night away. The only redeeming part of the bus was the fact that it was a double decker bus and our seats were on the second floor.

We finally made it Hiroshima, and at 7 AM, the city was very quiet and peaceful. But that sense of peace was quickly interrupted by our frustration at our complete inability to get out of Hiroshima station. Seriously, I swear that I have never seen such a poorly designed station in my entire life. After about twenty minutes of roaming around, we finally made it out on the right side of the station and began the walk to our hotel. Please keep in mind that neither Jen nor I had ever been to Hiroshima before and we we following the directions on various maps that Jen had printed from the internet. The real purpose of these maps was to guide us to various cafes around Hiroshima, but we didn’t let that deter us.

After much walking, we stopped for breakfast, reanalyzed our maps for about the hundredth time, and set back out on our way. After walking for what seemed like days, but was more like an hour, we finally found our hotel. And in the that hour, we never got lost; we just underestimated the distance from the station to our hotel.  And I believe that somewhere in the midst of our walking Jen discovered the GPS function on her iPhone, which came in extremely handily for the rest of our trip.

When we arrived at our hotel, the ANA Crowne Plaza, we realized, after the front desk person offered to show us to our room, that we might have underestimated the class level of our hotel. Somehow, we managed to get an excellent deal on a high-class hotel. So, we were guided to our room, and after being shown how to operate the key card, we walked into a ginormous room! I mean, sure, Jen and I had to share a king size bed, but the room had a living room section and the bathroom was completely separated from the rest of the room by an entryway. After spending so much time staying at tiny, cramped hotels in Japan, we were more than a little impressed.

At this point in the day, it was a late 10 AM. We dropped off our stuff, took a moment to catch our breath. Then we were off on our second adventure of the day- to see Peace Park and the A Dome. Luckily for us, both sites were about a five minute walk from our hotel.

Jen and I were a bit apprehensive about going to Peace Park. After all, we are citizens of the country that created the reason for the Park. But, we needn’t have worried.The park itself really had a sense of peace and calm to it, and people were friendly.

Visiting Peace Park really was an experience. I was prepared for a real tourist attraction, half expected for the people of Hiroshima to advertise the evils of America and war through their park. I found nothing of the kind. Instead, what we found was a beautiful monument to not only remember the tragedy of that event, but to move together towards a future free of bombs, war, and hatred. I hate to admit this, but I really didn’t know much about the bombing of Hiroshima other than the fact that it had happened. Peace Park was an education into the lives of the people that were affected.

People from around the world have made paper cranes to send to Hiroshima.

The bomb exploded directly over this building. Because of the force, much of the actual building was left intact and has been preserved as a way to remember the past even as the rest of the city was rebuilt.

One of the highlights of the day occurred while we were at the A Dome. We were approached by a group of elementary school girls. They gave us a piece of paper informing us that they were students studying English at ECC and if we had some time, they would like to ask us a few questions. After giving our assent, we had a grand time answering all kinds of questions from our names to our favorite Japanese foods. Very seriously, they wrote down all our answers and seemed genuinely interested to learn our answers, sometimes translating for each other. The girls, all 9 and 10, were so cute and excited to talk in English, even if they were a little nervous. At the end they gave us a paper crane that they had made themselves, the sign of hope in Hiroshima, and then gave us origami paper along with instructions so that we could make our own paper cranes.

After lunch at a cute cafe and a lot of walking around downtown Hiroshima, we went back to our hotel. Jen went to the hotel’s gym to run, while I took a quick cat nap. We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around before heading to dinner. Originally, we had decided to go to a Spanish restaurant. But after blindly following Jens GPS, we found the restaurant, only to find that it was closed for Golden Week. Instead we ate at a delicious Thai place. It turns out that one of the guys working there had studied at university in Nagoya. Small world. We headed home and after studying- French for Jen, Japanese for me- turned in early.

Why does saving a tree have to be such a hassle?

This is what happens when you forget to recycle your cardboard for about, oh…three months or so.

Yes, that is a bag explosion that you are seeing in the picture. Once freed from the constraints of the closet, the bag lost its support system and had no other choice but to expel its contents all over the living room floor. But really, when cardboard recycling is only twice a month, what else do you expect? We- and when I say we, I mean Jen, because I never wake up early enough to take out the trash- usually do pretty well taking out all the other trash, but the recycling always seems to be a hit or miss situation.

Okay, I also have to admit that this was only round one of all the cardboard we had stored up in our closet. Not pictured are all of the milk cartons and mailing packages. All in all, once Jenny and I bound everything up, we had a total of four stacks of cardboard all ready for recycling.

We did all of this about a week early. After having missed so many times, we figured that making like the Boy Scouts and being prepared was our best option. The cardboard recycling day was fast approaching and we decided to take it all out the night before so that there would be no possible way that we would forget to recycle. We divided the stacks and made it to the trash area, floundering for only a minute. After dropping off all the cardboard, I have to admit that I felt a certain sense of satisfaction.

The next day, I opened the closet to get some toilet paper, and to my utter dismay discovered a bag of cardboard recycling on the floor of the closet, a full large bag full of cardboard. Somehow, Jenny and I completely missed it. Talk about bursting my bubble. Oh well, there’s always two weeks in the future… that is, if we actually remember it next time. I wouldn’t put any bets on success.