Sunday, June 27, 2004

Living on a tight budget

Yesterday I taught 9 classes although I was scheduled for 10. The last one of the day cancelled at the last minute so I got to go home early. Among the teachers, that's known as a "gift from the gods." Today I taught 10. That's quite a bit of teaching over two days. The other 15 classes are spread out over 3 evenings.

I never thought I'd be able to take on so many classes so quickly, but it's amazing how fast you get into the hang of it. There's only 5 minutes between classes to write a short note about the previous class, prepare for the next student and run to the bathroom. I had one 40-minute break for lunch today, so I ran across the street to the supermarket and got a small takeout meal of rice, shredded egg strips, and a couple pieces of sashimi artfully arranged on top. It was quite tasty, and at only $3.40. I also bought a bag of very tiny grapes which I brought home tonight to snack on.

Most of the food is so incredibly expensive! I gasp every time I have to go shopping! I'll never complain again about food prices in America! It's a little startling to walk down the produce aisle and see 4 kiwi for $6.98, or a large apple for $3 or $4. Cantaloupe-type melons are about $8 each. A watermelon slice (maybe about 1/4 of a small melon) is about $4. The half pound or so of grapes I bought was $4. Peaches will be ripe soon, and I'm dying to have one, but I know they will cost about $4 each.

Clothing is also extremely expensive. My feet are swollen from the heat so I've had only one pair to wear that I can still fit into. (I've worn them everyday for a month now.) Women have to wear heels (short ones, at least, with NYLONS) to work everyday, so I've been trying to find a beige pair of heels to buy. The cheapest ones I've found were at the train station where there's a cut-rate kind of store. Even there, they were $59. In the department stores, they're at least $100 for the cheapest ones.

Oh, a note about nylons. I finally found knee highs and they were quite inexpensive. I got 5 pair for $2.98. The really great thing about them is that they're cut shorter so they're not all the way up past my knees, which is nice. Also, they're a much lighter weight and don't feel as hot as my American ones. I'm thinking about buying Japanese pantyhose because they're probably also cooler than the ones I brought with me.

Simple, basic women's shirts are $69 and up. I bought a pair of summer-weight pants for work that were on the 50% discount rack and were $75 on sale. They were the only pants I could find in my size at any of the stores where I've gone. Probably another reason why they were on sale.

Most of the clothes are in size 0-4. They're cut differently, too. Sleeves are shorter as well as slimmer, and the arm holes are tighter. Pants are cut with no room for hips. Many foreigners have to mail order clothing or buy things when they take trips home. The only problem with that is the weight of the fabrics is heavier, and the styling is much different.

One of the teachers from Canada told me he had to throw away all his summer suits because they're unwearable here. The fabrics of our clothes from home are much heavier--even the summer fabrics. He said his Japanese suits were extremely light-weight and much cooler. I happened to notice a Japanese businessman on the train yesterday who was wearing another version of a summer-weight suit. In his case, the fabric was so light weight that I could see his white shirt through the back of his black suit. The lining was cut away. Overall, the effect was not particularly pleasing. Maybe he was just wearing one of the cheaper models.

Usually, the classrooms are air conditioned, but sometimes there's a battle going on between who likes it warm and who likes it cold, so I never know what to wear. None of the clothes I brought with me are anywhere near cool enough for my comfort, and I'm usually drenched with sweat by the time I get to work. Even the trains are often hot. Everyone told me the trains are air conditioned, but that's not entirely true. For some ungodly reason, they seem to think it gets cold at night (down into the high 60s or low 70s, but still very humid), so for early morning commuters, the heat is often on! It's not until the trains are completely packed and everybody's boiling to death that they finally turn on the AC.

On the mornings that I have to work, I leave around 6:30 or 6:45 and try to catch a train no later than 7, but it's usually very humid and hot even at that time of day. I've liked working evenings because, until lately, there's been a nice cool-ish breeze when I walk home around 10pm from the train station. My room, however, is always hot and smells strange because of the tatami mats. They smell like mildew (probably why I have developed an allergy), so I have taken to lighting incense to get rid of the smell. I'd like to have an air cleaner but I'm sure they're very expensive. When I priced curling irons, the cheapest was around $80 so I'm sure air cleaners are several hundred.

Nothing seems very affordable, but the other teachers have told me it will all seem different when I start thinking in yen instead of dollars, and especially when I'm paid in yen. We'll see.

No comments: