Saturday, 21 March 2009

To the next person who mentions Cool Runnings to me

Yes, I am Jamaican.

Yes, I have seen Cool Runnings.

No, I don't like it. In fact, there are few crappy movies that I so fervently despise for their ties to my national identity. Shottas and Rude Boys are close to the top of that list, but I won't get into a discussion about those two films (if you can even call them that) right now. One of the reasons (I suppose the main reason) I hate Cool Runnings so much is not so much the fact that it, like some other popular Hollywood movies, succeeded once again in portraying people from the Caribbean as buffoons. That, I've come to expect from Hollywood films - this idea that we island people only hang out and live "right by di beach, bwoy!"(Half Baked), smoke weed and don't do much else. Cool Runnings has managed to slightly separate itself from the rest by taking a few more ambitious buffoons and placing them in a groundbreaking moment in sporting history.  Inspiring story of these four  with nothing serious going on in their lives, blah blah blah, when in fact, three of the members of the real bobsled team were in the military. The fourth member was a railway engineer.

But, that stuff, the idiotic portrayal of our people as laid-back (read as lazy), not taking life too seriously and not really knowledgeable about the outside world, that's not what really gets to me about this movie. What really annoys me is how ubiquitous it is outside of Jamaica as a frame of reference when talking about Jamaica. I can't count the number of times I've had this conversation since moving to Japan:

Person X (usually a new student): What's your name?
Me: I'm Biankah. And you?
X: My name is ____. Nice to meet you.
Me: Nice to meet you too. Are you from Tokyo/Saitama?
X: Yes/No, etc. Where are you from?
Me: Jamaica.
X: [Did you say] America?
Me: No, no. Jamaica.
X: Where is Jamaica? Africa?
Me: No. It's pretty close to Florida, actually. (I then pull out a world map or atlas.)
X: Ah! Jamaica! I watched the movie Cool Runnings. Do you know [it]?
Me: (wearily) Yes, I've seen it. 
X: I thought it was very interesting.
Me: Really? (I then force a smile, groan inaudibly and mentally put a loaded pistol to my head.)

That's what happens six out of ten times. Since the Beijing Olympics, (thank god), people more often bring up our track and field team in conversation upon hearing where I'm from.  Sadly though, there are still more people who refer to that damned movie, and who honestly believe that it presents a realistic portrayal of life in Jamaica. It makes me sick.

So, to anyone out there who might read this before meeting me in person:



I hate the movie and I don't want to talk about it again.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

On Sleep

Shortly after I started teaching English in Japan (maybe a few months in or so), I conducted an informal poll among a few of my friends. Here's what I asked them:
What's the most popular pastime among your students?
The answer that came back from almost everyone was this:
I was dumbfounded. I was, for as long as I could remember, of the belief that weekends and days off were for pursuing some hobby/interest or the other. People actively did something in their free time, not sleep, I thought. At that point in time, "My hobby is sleeping," was the saddest thing I had ever heard.

Of course, at that point in time, it was still the honeymoon phase of my life here. I had just started living what I considered to be my real adult life (college doesn't count). I had an okay, not too demanding job, a nice apartment and a social life that brought me the very well deserved envy of many of my friends  back home (and some of my friends here too, for that matter).

Then Nova went bankrupt.

That's right. The sort of okay, not too demanding job I had when I first came here was working as a Nova instructor. Sitting in a booth teaching forty-minute lessons was not too physically taxing. Plus, I only had three children's classes per week, so I always had the energy to go out after work and the night before a workday with plenty of energy to spare for my lessons that did not require much preparation. 

But October 26, 2008 came. I was asked by one of my then co-workers what time I was supposed to start working that day. When I replied saying that it was my day off, the relieved response was, "Great. Good thing you weren't up and heading to work since all the schools are closed indefinitely." She had learned this when she got to work and saw the shutters on our school's door closed with a note in Japanese taped to it.

Time to look for another job, and another job I did find about a month later. Now, my days are filled with screaming  kids in the early afternoons and sleepy, demotivated junior high and high school students at night. I started this job working longer hours and commuting farther than before (and for less money).  As if that weren't tiring enough, as of this week my hours are even longer with the extension of the junior high and high school classes.  On Wednesday, I commuted for one hour to work, taught six classes over the course of eight hours and twenty minutes with only half an hour to prepare, commuted for an hour and a half to my train station and finally got to my apartment at about 11:20p.m. That's just a taste of what my work week is like.

Now I understand what it means to look forward to sleeping on the weekends. As I write this post, I'm thinking about how much I'm going to sleep tomorrow, on my day off. I'm imagining the feel of my futon...wait...that's not accurate because nowadays I keep entering a near-comatose state when I sleep. Sometimes I'm in such a deep sleep that not even the sound of my boyfriend's alarm clock, the most obnoxious alarm clock in Tokyo, can wake me up.

Right now, I'm looking forward to not hearing four and five-year-olds screaming, to not looking on in envy while exhausted high school students fall asleep in class and to not feigning interest in gardening for the millionth time. Tomorrow, I will sleep. I will actively enjoy my slumber. And it will be divine.