Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bonenkai: Forgetting the Year Party!

Although the Christmas spirit was next to nonexistent in Japan, the entire month of December was filled with end of the year parties called bonenkai (literally, "forgetting the year"), which I treated like multiple Christmas parties. I was invited to a bonenkai for each of my three schools as well as for the Board of Education. Let's review!

 Board of Education

The BOE bonenkai was held at an izakaya in Nago City, where we sat in benched-styled seating and cooked our own food in a nabe pot. Being a vegetarian, I cooked the vegetables and served myself first. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming with a band playing traditional Okinawan music while we ate. At one point the band stopped and asked my coordinator if I spoke English. My coordinator replied I spoke English and that I also spoke Spanish. To my surprise, the band began to sing in both languages! 

For the party, we were asked to bring an 1,000 ($10) wrapped gift for a gift exchange, but in the whirlwind of getting ready, I completely forgot the gift under my Christmas tree and I had to IOU someone for later. For the gift exchange, someone would be called up by the previous person and you were expected to give a short speech and pick a number from a box that was assigned to a gift. Before walking away with that gift, you had to call upon another person and the pattern would continue. I didn't know about the speech requirement, so I sat quietly as I began to formulate sentences. Ryuichi, a younger fellow who works at the BOE was called up. I noticed that he took quite some time to select someone and I made the mistake of looking up at him. Upon making eye contact, he gave me a sly smile and said, "Gabi, of course."  I gave a short speech in butchered Japanese and received my gift of a takoyaki maker (yes, the same one I used on Christmas). Afterwards, we karaoked the night away!

M. Elementary

 M. Elementary's bonenkai was held at a hotel in northern Okinawa. I don't have much to say about the event because I did not attend. I planned to attend, but I completely forgot. That's right, I forgot! It sounds terrible, and I felt miserable about it at the time, but I honestly felt terrible. Seriously! I went to the hospital/clinic the next day. I was so stressed over being sick, that I completely forgot about the bonenkai. Luckily, I never paid and no one held it against me. They were all genuinely worried as I am sure someone's grandmother's sister's daughter saw me at the hospital's waiting room and told them about it.

G. Elementary

G. Elementary planned the most extravagant of all the bonenkais and it was held at the Marriott in Onna Village. I know in the U.S. a Marriott hotel isn't exactly the Hilton, but it had the ambiance of one, as they rented a large ballroom where the beautiful decorations reminded me of a small wedding. Once I arrived, I choose and number and that number corresponded to a seat. I was a little bummed about the seating arrangement because I wanted to sit with the two younger teaching assistants, but my number placed me next to the 6th grade teacher, who is lovely, but our age difference made us have nothing in common aside from her class that we co-teach. Moreover, the tables were placed far apart from one another so everyone else in the room felt a little distant.

While we ate our six-course meal, they announced the top 10 schools news of the year. I'm not sure what happened to me that night, it might have been the ambiance or it may be that I still have not warmed up to this particular school, but during the announcements my listening comprehension dropped from my usual 70% to nothing. At one point I felt myself burning a hole into the table. I caught myself a few times and willfully tried to change my mood, but I would revert back to just staring into space, changing my focus on a different object in a room every few minutes.

Later, we moved to a separate room to have more drinks. Here the seating arrangement from the previous room was forgotten as I shimmied my way to the younger teachers. At around 10, our time at the Marriot was up and everyone began to leave for home. I stayed back with the younger teachers and we decided to head to an izakaya for further debauchery. The debauchery quickly turned to stress as my mother informed me of some terrible news back at home, which explained my previous mood (6th sense). At around 3am, we all left the izakaya, as I mentally noted a few phone calls I would need to make in the morning.  

K. Elementary

K. Elementary planned their bonenkai at hotel located in Nago City. This hotel was not as extravagant as the Marriott, but the set up was small and personal. At K. the teachers are split up into groups where they would plan the entertainment at certain parts of the bonenkai. I don't mean that someone would be responsible for hiring a DJ or something to that extent, instead the groups are the entertainment. This entertainment can be games, skits, songs, dances, whatever!  I was told a few days prior to the bonenkai that I would be part of the team that would provide the entertainment. My co-english teacher asked if I could put the the Cupid Shuffle and Feliz Navidad on a CD to use as entertainment. I did so and just like in English class I taught all the teaching and supporting staff the Cupid Shuffle (with a twist) and Feliz Navidad. It was a little embarrassing, but it felt so nice to be included. During the top-10 school news, a substitute teacher, who I originally met when he subbed at G. Elementary for a few months, gave a speech.

~Slight Tangent~

This teacher is 26 and is currently substituting for the 5th grade teacher at K. since she's on maternity leave. When I first met him at G. Elementary he asked if I had a boyfriend since we are both close in age. I told him that I did, but I later found out that he has a girlfriend living in Tokyo. Men are dumb! Am I right ladies? Either way, since he came to K. Elementary, he has not greeted me. Not once! Everyone knows about the ackwardness between us and they thought that the bonenkai would be the perfect time to bring it up.

~End of Tangent~

After his speech, the librarian announted that I had a question for the substitute teacher. I mentally died as I looked at him and said,「何であいさつしてくれないの?」or "Why don't you greet me?" Everyone in the room began to laugh as he nervously shifted from side to side. He explained that he was extremely nervous when he first came to K. and that he was so busy that it slipped his mind. The vice principal interrupted him and said, "No, you should apologize and say that from now on you'll say hi." The substitute quickly apologized, which caused another round of laughter. The principal and vice principal turned to me, gave me the thumbs up and said good job. 

As the bonenkai came to a close, we all linked arms during the principal speech. She stated that we were all a family and how lucky she is for having such a wonderful teaching team. I couldn't stay for the second half, because I had to leave to pick up my boyfriend at the airport. They all wished me a safe trip and happy new year. Definitely the best bonenkai ever! 

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