I must admit that despite all the suave aromatics – the Hermès Poivre Samarcande, the Quince, Mint and Moss, by Union; Eau du Gloire by Parfum D’Empire, the sensual, elegant, gentlemanly lavenders – Sartorial, Jicky, Ungaro, Lavande Velours de Guerlain; the occasional spicier, and dirtier scent such as Czech & Speake Cuba or 4160 Tuesday’s spicebomb Shazam, among others, that, despite the olfactive prowess and style these scents show, and the trails of intrigue that they leave in his presence, I would trade them all in, in an instant, for the scent, on Duncan’s skin, of Coppertone SPF 30 UV Protect.
The boy will steadfastly not consent to a floral, and yet here he is, inadvertently wearing one; all fresh air, frangipani leis, salt-kissed skin, and manly, oceanic florality doused in sweet, delicate memories of waves, of the beach, of the sky, and freedom; a delicately arousing sillage, sun-fused with DNA and the epidermis, better than perfume, riveting; but a perfume nonetheless; I LOVE this smell.
Although the school term has ended, and there are plenty of people in beachwear headed for the coast wherever you look, fanning themselves in the summer heat as they wait to board the trains and buses, where I work, it is just the beginning; the ‘summer courses’ at the prep schools that practically all students in Japan are expected to attend if they are to stand a chance in hell of getting into the most prestigious schools, that they spend the entire summer attending. Think, for a moment of my colleagues (no, no westerner would ever be expected to work in such conditions, so fret not for the Narcissus and, also, please do not be writing comments commiserating on my poor existence or the supposed ‘banality’ of my work, something that education could rarely be accused of, I am fine).
No, I am lucky. I have more days off in any given year than on (how many people can say that?) and the fantastic number of holidays that I have was the very reason I took the job in the first place, and the reason that my writing for The Black Narcissus can exist at all. The other teachers, though – Jesus. Briefly I will describe the work situation, because I have woken up in such a fantastic, if ridiculously adrenalized, mood today, now that this horrendous eight day stretch of lessons is almost at a close ( I still have two weeks left in total of quite intensive teaching, and only seventeen days until the Lady Gaga concert – enough reason for my doolally feeling of excitement this morning in itself, there is a light!!) that I don’t want to wreck it : the sun is shining outside, I am blasting pop music in the kitchen and dreaming of freedom and the ocean and diving to the bottom of the sea floor from my favourite rocks in Hayama, even as I have to get ready, quite soon, iron my shirt and select a tie, for another day at bloody work in Hiratsuka.
No, I am a spoiled brat and I know it ( and no need to tell me that either, I know I am childish and self-indulgent, but I am Sagittarius to my core and always have one eye on the door. I just want to be free. Always. I loathe all restraints, a bucking colt, screaming for liberation and I would be the same in any workplace, whatever the job, I know it. Don’t you also feel as though you were about to explode sat in that bloody same chair before that same stupid computer? Don’t you just want to explode like Mt Fuji and just start dancing? Sometimes my spirit is just so……..wild and alive, so damn tempestuous and full of energy, that I am sure I am destined to return as a ghost. There will be no keeping me down).
Yes, I am highly conscious that I have a very easy life, grateful that I even have a job and can live the life that I do, so no need to tell me, Undina I know; I know that I can’t complain, yes I know I know know know (though have you tried teaching?! God it can be draining!). I do read the papers: I have been very upset by the Malaysian plane crash, the situation in Israel/Palestine, at the mess of the world. It affects us all. And yet……
As I have written several times before, because sometimes I have to just write what is happening in my life rather than blathering lyrical and waxing my muse about perfumes – I just have to, on impulse, I need this conduit, even if you don’t – compared to the relative bedazzling splendour of my life, the Japanese teachers have a schedule that should by rights be illegal and probably is. It is sick. Most of them in my school have nine 50 minute lessons a day for six days in a row, then one day off (on which all they can do is sleep like the dead or frantically try and prepare lessons for the next stretch), for a full SIX WEEKS; then a week off, then another three weeks of it until the regular term begins again after a desperately deserved eight or nine day holiday that they have been looking forward to all year because it is, in reality, the only time in the year that they can go anywhere.
They have ten minute ‘breaks’ in between the lessons, when students are usually asking them questions and they scramble to gather their materials for the next lesson, and no time for lunch, just grabbing a mouthful here and there. And, worse: the Japanese martryr-like self-sacrificing mentality is so strong that even when they DO have that holiday in the middle that I have just described, the manager has often seen fit, then, to make the teachers go on a ‘gashuku’ in the mountains during that precise week off. Yes, dear friends, this is an ‘intensive course’ (er, what was the nine lesson day, then?) where the teachers get no sleep, and teach ALL NIGHT, giving up the one holiday they do have; up at six, teach all day and all night, get no sleep, repeat. Repeat, rep…..
I am going to stop there lest my fury spilleth over and I start writing bile-splattered filth about this side of the Japanese character that makes me want to spit blood. No, I shall not. It is another culture, and as we all know, it is all relative. And anyway, the kids love it, or a lot of the more brainwashable ones do, and so do the teachers in some strange, affectionate way. Giving up their lives and sanity for the sake of educational goals that are bullshit to begin with, if you ask me. But it is all about ‘gambaru’, doing your best in order to achieve your goals, and to become a well trained Japanese for the future, so accustomed to having no free time as a youth, that as an adult, corporate slavery workplace sacrifice will be so second nature that you will never complain. At least, until that day when you dive in front of a train at Shibuya station. No, just ignore me. I have long learned ago, attempted, like Elsa, to try and let it go, to not let it affect me. As you can see, I have done really well in that regard.
My schedule is much, much lighter. And yet. As a European at heart, and in my soul, who grew up with the idea that the summer is all about freedom and having time off – all those wonderful childhood memories of the beach, and dancing around the hosepipe in the garden, just reading in some umbrous, bosky, dark green shade as the sky stretched beyond and life seemed eternal and I sipped on lemonade, I suppose I will just never get used to this idea of the summer being entirely taken up with ‘club activities’ and extra lessons. That this space has to be filled. Concreted in with organized activity, that people must be herded and corralled like sheep, with a timetable, an alarm clock always going off, or the lesson bell of the permeated classroom. No, really. THE ENTIRE SUMMER. The whole, f****ing summer! They have about five days in the middle of it all when the juku, or cram school, actually does close for a few days and the teachers nurse their mental wounds ( I have a month off, so I will be alright, Jack ), but other than that they all ‘return’ in September, psychologically incinerated husks ready to start the new term, whereas I am usually refreshed and ready for it all again as you should be, for the new term culminating in the ‘winter seminar’ which begins in the middle of December for three weeks (f%*$ you, we’re going to Cuba and Miami ).
And it goes on and on and on (they have a ‘Spring Seminar’ at the end of all this there is never any respite …….. why are they all still alive, why have they not all just committed suicide?
But as for this privileged fat foreigner, well, I myself have a month off to go travelling, a month in April, yes, I agree, it is like some kind of reverse discrimination, so unfair, but the country knows that ‘we’ just wouldn’t put up with it and might even try legal action were we forced to work under such slave-like conditions so they keep the foreigners at bay with cushy contracts – I am not complaining ( – except that I am)).
Yes yes yes you know all this Japanese crap about my life as it sometimes surfaces on here when I just can’t suppress it any longer and must rant, but as you also know I am not so callous and un-empathetic as to not be affected by my colleagues’ ‘plight’ (my company is one of the better ones, actually, quite a positive atmosphere and the compensation is very good) ; but it does affect me, it does, as I am so porous, and prone to osmosis, especially when some of the people in question are my friends that I see outside socially, whose eyes widen in disbelief when I tell them the truth of my own space-filled timetable.
And yet, at this time, when all my friends in universities and high schools are off for six weeks or more (as are all the teachers in the countries you are reading this in, so nothing special or extraordinary there): off at the beach, relaxing, doing their own thing……although rationally I know that this is my job and blahdy blahdy blah, blah-blah, in fact I walk around in a permanent state of teeth gritting infuriation except when I am actually in the classroom, when the gregarious professional that you might suspect does not exist actually does emerge : I am a showman, and give it my all. I do think that I am a real teacher. I care about the students and the quality of the teaching (especially considering how much the poor parents are paying for it: there is nothing more depressing, I can tell you, than a badly taught lesson), but having given it my all I suspect that this is also how Madonna or Lady Gaga or any other artist must feel when they wake up, mentally and physically mangled in the morning after a show and think, oh Christ, not another one tonight, I can’t, I just can’t, I’m going to cancel , exhausted from the effort and the depleting extroversion; the putting yourself out there, the being watched and thought over, the beacon of the lesson: the instructor.
I walk along like a deranged Asperger’s with Tourette’s, dragging my clodhopping feet and my f***ed up knee, muttering to myself with expletives (the language, people, the language this week! My mouth a foul hole of filth, spewing swear words and cursing the very pavement I walk on, just, just not being able to face any more teaching (the term began on April 3rd, it finishes on August 9th (at least mine does: for the Japanese teachers, the concept of ‘end of term’ is an impossibility, a mirage in the deserts of their computer screens)). Is that not too long, though? Are you feeling my blood pumping from the screen upon which you read these deranged, self-indulgent and frazzled words?
As a human being, not just a pawn in the world economy, I yearn for freedom – I am gasping for it – and, as I sit here, and the sun is blowing through the blue-skied plants outside, I can feel it coming.
And Duncan, in from a lovely day at the coast, or else from a fun day out in Tokyo, covered, always, in his delectable smelling Coppertone, flowers entwined in olive brown skin, a rush of the foam on the crest of a Kamakura wave, makes me practically hallucinate. The smell, so evocative, makes my mouth water, my mind rush with images so strong that my whole limbic system, so aroused and hyperstimulated that I cannot see the reality in front of me, made me feel, just now, that I already am on holiday. I woke up this morning, leaned over and kissed him, and the smell on his skin was so beautiful that I felt as if I were in heaven.