Wednesday, July 11, 2012

When Worlds Collide: The Update!

So I left this post off with two WTF situations in full swing. I now have dramatic conclusions for both. DUN DUN DUN! If you don't know what I'm talking about then read the first post here.

Well wouldn't you know it, my VP said, "NO." The night of my first post, I got a call from my JTE saying that the VP had said no to my use of nenkyu because I cannot leave Japan until August 2nd which is when my new contract goes into effect. Wait, so now the issue is with my new contract and not the nenkyu? It's like they're just looking for reasons to keep me here! At this point my patience is running thin with this situation, so the next time I meet with my JTE, I remind him that I have already bought a plane ticket and explain again how I'm properly using the nenkyu. No go. He proceeds to ask me if my plane ticket is refundable to which I say, "I don't know" out loud and "Not a chance that's happening buddy" in my head, which is then followed by him "suggesting" for me to contact the Hyogo Board of Education for support which MIGHT sway the decision of the VP. Commence the emailing. Three days and ten emails later of catching the BoE up on the situation and explaining my reasoning, I am told that I am in the right. Thanks for confirming what I already knew, BoE. Back to my JTE. I print out the emails and although this particular JTE's English is pretty good, he sits there for a whole class period worth just burning holes through the paper trying to comprehend all the colloquialisms. Finally, he tells me that the VP is on a business trip so let's take it to the Principal. Now, this may sound like a worse situation, but my VP is new to the school whereas my Principal has known me since I got here and has always been pretty chill about my comings and goings. With emails in hand, my JTE explains the situation to the Principal. Pretty quickly it's met with a "those emails are in English, I can't understand them," (fair enough) "call the head of the BoE." In my head I'm screaming "DO IT! Resolve this non-issue already!" The call was made, the emails confirmed, case closed. My JTE turned and said to me, "Congratulations!" like I had won a court case. I smiled weakly because I wasn't looking for a fight in the first place and didn't feel like I had won anything. I was put through a lot of worry and stress about a situation I knew I had handled correctly.

The other situation with my neighbor escalated to involve two more JTEs and a big dose of American freedom fighting. Since the original post, I was approached again on two separate occasions. The first time was by a JTE who side-saddled up next to me as I was walking to the staff room and proceeded to ask about when I would give my neighbor the money. Although I knew it wasn't an official tax, I told him that my JET contract states that these kinds of extra taxes are covered for me or I'm exempt from them completely. He tries to tell me again that it's not a tax and that my neighbor ALREADY PAID FOR ME. -WTF?!- "Why did she do that??" I asked as calmly as I could. "Because it was due," he said. UGH. I told him I'm sorry she did that and voluntary tax or not, I don't have to pay. We parted ways once we got into the staff room.
Two days later (today) I am deliberately approached by just my neighbor. She has a receipt in hand and a pleading look in her eyes. Now, don't let the receipt fool you into thinking this is now an official tax. I even get a receipt for fruit I purchase on the street. So after three minutes of the most broken Japanese I've ever spoken because I am full of blind rage at being cornered like this, the JTE nearby finally comes over and tries to explain it to me again. Upset as I was, in a very calm, cool, and collected way, I cut him off and said, "I know this isn't a tax. I know she has already paid. Regardless, I am exempt from paying these kinds of fees and I don't appreciate these efforts to coerce me into paying them." My JTE looked taken aback and said "But don't you feel bad for her? Besides, this money goes into the community." I said, "I'm sorry, but I didn't ask her to pay for me." He and my neighbor have a brief discussion and she ends it with, "I should have asked her first. Daijoubu (It's ok)." She walks away and my JTE says to me with downcast eyes that he feels bad for her and I have a strong American mind. Yeesh. Well, as a woman with firm beliefs and strong sense of justice, I'm used to being called worse. So once again, I'm in the right and don't feel like a winner.

Next, I'm going for a trifecta of Japanese bureaucratic BS as I continue the process of getting my Japanese driver's license. Fun, fun, fun! Thanks to the BS, that story won't be complete for a while.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When worlds collide

Today is one of those days when the Japanese workplace is really frustrating me:

First! After a few months of lamenting about how I'm going to be able to go home for the summer. I gave in to the only option I had that I thought wouldn't ruffle too many feathhers - to use up my entire nenkyu for next year with a couple of ::ahem:: extra days, at the beginning and the end. Fortunately for me, the lamenting I did earlier spearheaded a movement within the Board of Education that gave all high school ALTs in my prefecture an extra 5 days of summer-time only nenkyu (you're welcome, lol). So safe right? The extra days I took wouldn't be a problem now! Doubly awesome was that I heard I would get another five days due to the logistics of having 5 new summer holidays for this year's contract AND 5 summer holidays starting next with our next contract period which starts August 1st. YAY! But wait..I already booked my flight home and am only using 2 days in the month of July, so maybe I can have them roll over into next year like my regular nenkyu does? I asked my JTE and he said no. Great. Well, either way, I'm safe for my impending vacation home. Then I gave me JTE my flight schedule and even broke down how my nenkyu will be used to show that I'm within boundaries (well, at least now I am thanks to the last minute addition of summer holidays). He tells me that he'll check if it's -ok- with the Vice Principal. What? I know that it's customary to get the approval from your higher ups, but the notion that it could -not- be ok would leave us at an impasse. The reason it might not be ok is because after all is said and done (and because I can't roll over my newly given 3 days of nenkyu from July), I will only have 2 days of nenkyu for the year which is about 18 short of what they're comfortable with (an exaggeration but not far from the truth..ugh).

Second! My fellow teacher and apartment complex neighbor wants me to give her 15,000en (more than $150) for a 'community fee.' I originally understood this to be something official I'd receive in the mail, but today I was asked for it directly. I simply stared at the poor JTE who was translating what she was saying in a mingled look of 'are you kidding me' and 'kill me now.' My American mindset understands something labeled as a 'community fee' to mean a tax. If it's not a tax then it's a voluntary donation. So this is basically how the conversation went on my end:

Oh ya that, I never received anything in the mail.
I should just give her the money? Ok, but where's the official notice/statement?
Oh it's not coming? I'm suppose to hand it over to you because you're a community official?
Oh you're not? You're going to take it to the next town hall meeting where it will be collected?
Oh.. ok, so what services are being provided?
...None that apply to me..
...OH, this fee is voluntarily??
No, not voluntarily..just expected.. so I'm -supposed- to give this.
Ya, my mind isn't wrapping around this concept.
Yes, I get that it is all for the good cause of maintaining our community.
Yes, I get that everyone chips in.
Yes, I understand this is a local thing.
But wait, then who decides on the amount of 15,000en then?
Oh, the town hall meetings (that I have zero input in)..
So, if this is for community maintenance, why doesn't anyone cut my grass, like, ever?
Oh, because that's my school's property..
So, what should you tell her you ask? Tell her I feel conflicted about this.
Yes, I understand this is the Japanese way.
Yes... Yes, Yes.
::stare at each other awkwardly::

Besides all that, I had four very long classes today, plus interview tests. Needless to say, it was a long day..

I think this has made me appreciate the Land of the Free a bit more on my first Independence Day away from the States. Speaking your mind and making sense of a situation are not so much of a hassle or frowned upon there.