December 26, 2007

thailand and cambodia

bangkok was cool. had some fun looking at the wats there and doing some shopping. got a thai massage as well. ate some awesome and crazy cheap street food. 5 of us ate several dishes of food with rice and had fresh squeezed orange juice for under 13 dollars.

we were in phnom penh yesterday and saw some of the city but mainly it was a stop before coming up here to siem reap. it's where angkor wat is. that's the place where tomb raider was filmed.. you know the ruins with the girl and the butterfly that she followed.

it's been amazing and hectic and jarring and breathtaking and just so interesting to see the sites and get to meet the people. tuk-tuks are sooooo fun by the way.

tomorrow is the 6 hour boat ride back to phnom penh. not so fun... especially being up until after midnight... but i had to call my family. it's christmas after all. and i figured if im already up late, might as well blog.

love everyone and miss you.

December 20, 2007

Hong Kong

Well that's a first. I was at Kansai Airport at my actual gate ready to board a full 2 hours before we took off. I wasn't thinking about the fact that Alana left on a Saturday and I was leaving on a Thursday. She said to leave plenty of time so as they left the apartment at 6am or so and had a 10am flight as well. So I was up at 5:05 and showered and dressed and left by 5:45 or so. I was a little dazed or I would have been quicker about leaving.

Nothing really of interest to say. I purchased a drink at a restaurant so I could use their internet so I could take care of some online banking stuff and check for any last minute emergency emails from Alana. I'll try and post as often as I can along the way on the trip.

From what I can tell, Hong Kong is very hazy... or smoggy. But then again I'm just at the airport. I can see some huge hotels in the distance, but I won't be able to visit here. Just passing through to Bangkok. Ended up on the plane with another JET from my prefecture sitting right in front of me. He's heading home to New Zealand. A nice 12 hours flying trip for him. Well, I don't want to ramble too long. I do enough of that.

December 19, 2007

Winter Holidays

Well, I'm just about to leave for Thailand, 11 hours and counting. (Why did I say that; I just got more nervous!) I've been sick for the past three weeks and have been lazy as a result. Well lazy with the extra things that I usually like to do, like keep up this blog, study Japanese, take care of myself. So, I haven't blogged since the 5th, I haven't touched a text book in about as long, and I have a jungle growing on the back of my neck and my fingernails need cut. But I'm trying to be happy since I'm finally feeling like I'm recovering, though I still have a bit of a cough and runny nose. And I am happy since I've made it through the end of ni-gakki (I think that's how you say the 2nd term) and am in Osaka ready to catch my flight.

I also finally managed to send out some Christmas cards and Christmas gifts. I had wanted to send out cards to a lot of people, but I was sick (and on top of that, I'm a procrastinator) and when I went to look at cards, the only place I had time to go to had ones that were super-expensive. The cost more that it would to send the card. They aren't as big with Christmas cards here. They are more into New Year's cards. The post office has a special box for them, I found out during my several trips there. And apparently they have a special system for them so that ALL the cards are delivered exactly on New Year's day. I didn't really know about this until too late as well. Maybe next time. I'll have to ask the teachers what kinds of cards you get and what you say in them. Anyway, so my Christmas mailing list was short and my gift list was even shorter. But I do love everyone and miss everyone! Even if I've neglected sending you emails that say so. And for those who I didn't manage to send something to:

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!

I know I've said in others that a picture post was coming and that they haven't appeared. But the really will be posted some day. Just not until after the 8th of January at the earliest. And likely not until after that weekend after I get back. And then of course I will have a zillion more pictures to post from thailand (which will probably take 3 months to post).

Ok, I really need some sleep tonight.

Wish me luck.

December 5, 2007

Shadow Puppets and Appearance Checks

The students have been testing all week. Something like 3 tests every morning and then no class in the afternoon. They went home Monday and Tuesday, but today they stayed in the afternoon for a shadow puppet show. Somewhat similar to the bunraku I went to recently in that there was a narrator who was out in front doing the voices and narration. Behind the scenes were the characters moving, but it was all in shadow puppets. Fancy ones. They were different colors with crazy trippy backgrounds. I have no idea what was going on, but it was entertaining enough. Afterward they showed us how they do it and then they did some of the traditional hand shadow puppets that we all know and love. But they did some that I haven't seen before, like a rabbit with the whole body and tail and a swan with body and tail and a snail and a crab. It was fun.

Then, the 9th graders (sannensei/3rd year students) had to go in to get checked for their appearance. Throughout the year I have noticed teachers commenting on hair or uniform, but today it was official. They all had to line up and get checked. Tomorrow is picture day. But not a regular picture day. They will have their picture taken to go on their high school entrance exam. Their bangs can't go past their eyebrows and their sideburns can't be too long. Girls hair is expected to be shoulder-length I believe. Boy's hair can't be all funky and sticking up as is the trend these days. They have to have clean uniforms appropriately buttoned and with their class pins and name tags neatly fastened. It's pretty serious. One teacher would comment on the student while another would write notes on a class roster. I have no doubt they will recheck the student before the picture is taken. I talked with the students who didn't pass. They will be going to the barber's tonight to get their hair cut shorter.

I'm not sure how typical this is across Japan. In discussions with other JETs, I've found that some people have less strict schools or at least schools where the students are not as well behaved and much less compliant. But it's interesting.

Oven!

Did I mention that I bought an oven?

Well, I did. I thought I would use it for the Thanksgiving potluck, but alas, I didn't plan well. Last night, I was determined to make use of it. I made some toast with the toaster setting and ate that with my dinner. And I had gotten a bunch of ingredients for a casserole that my friend makes. Couldn't find everything I needed, so I had to improvise a bit, but I think it worked out. I'm going to eat that tonight with some friends. Or maybe just one. I didn't sound too confident in the message I sent out to invite them. But I just tried it and it tastes good enough.

Let's see if I keep using it. If nothing else, it makes toast easier than the broiler thing in the range that's supposed to be for fish.

December 1, 2007

Singing with the Kyoto-Sensei

So, I meant for this week to be one where I got my apartment in order and got myself organized once again. But then I got sick and let that be my excuse to not do anything really all week on that end at least. Because I actually stayed busy otherwise.

I started off well by writing up a weekly schedule. You may recall that things were pretty slack at work in terms of ... well work. So I was studying Japanese every day for 2 or 3 hours in between classes and elementary visits. Well recently as you may have noted (although perhaps not as I've not posted, that in itself being a sign), I've actually been asked to do more work at school. This has given me little or no time for Japanese study at school and has made me more tired after school so that I go home and crash. Which actually isn't too different from before. I might have done some cleaning or gone out to do something with friends, but as far as doing something productive, I didn't really do. But now that I have to work at work, I am not studying Japanese and not taking care of my apartment or shortening my to do list, which includes various tasks from mailing Christmas gifts to organizing all the important papers that have amassed in a pile in my bedroom (futonroom?). Well, at the beginning of the week, I got my week scheduled out. Not so much a specific, do-this-then schedule, but more of a you have this free time here and this open time at work here, and these are some of the things that you should be doing then, so choose and do. I was starting to feel very rushed at school, but with the schedule done up I think I will be able to manage my time better and perhaps get back to studying some Japanese. There's a teacher who I have asked in the past for some help with my studies and who has recently come up to me multiple times saying she was free and could help me with any Japanese questions I had. Unfortunately, I've been working last minute on lesson plans each time. (Why can I not be concise?) All that to say, I made a schedule and didn't stick to it because I got sick. I hope after this weekend I start feeling better and can commit to it more firmly.

So, this was a perfect week to get sick. I didn't really have much to do. I didn't have a race to prepare for tomorrow, I didn't have to practice singing songs for a cultural festival, I certainly didn't have 3 demonstration lessons to prepare for and which were definitely not observed by board of education members including the superintendent, and I sure didn't have my long commute (25 minute bike ride to an elementary) either. Sure glad that all that didn't happen.

So obviously that all happened.

The long commute: Usually I don't mind it as that is one of the schools where I get to do what I want and I've been having fun with them. But it came on Friday in the afternoon, so at the very end of a long week. And just before lunch, I realized that I didn't have the typed up lesson plan with me at school. It was on my computer at home. So I had to race home to get it and come back before lunch. That worked out well enough and I didn't really have to race. (But I did have to race on Thursday when I realized that I had left my self-introduction posters at home right before my other elementary lesson which is only about 5 minutes at a leisurely pace away. So I was actually on time when I gave myself 10 minutes to get there. But that's when I realized I had to go home and get the posters. It takes 6 minutes at a leisurely pace to get home.... so a little math and... yes, if I were to go at a leisurely pace it would take me 17 minutes to get there making me about 7 minutes late for the lesson. So I raced. By the time I got to my bike and started heading out I had 9 minutes. Somehow, I made it to the school in exactly nine minutes. I know because I kept checking my watch and I arrived when the bell for class was ringing. Geez even my asides are too long.) Anyway, when I got there and started my lesson I realized that I had forgotten some pictures which were essential to a good chunk of the plan. I tried to make something up but that sucked, so I just decided to move on and stretch out the rest of the lesson and that worked. But this class totally wasn't into it like the other one was. So, I rode the 20 minutes back (it's quicker because it's more downhill). And I went home and just crashed in front of the TV. I watched some figure skating that happened to be on and I stayed up to watch the Japan vs. American volleyball game. I've been really into the World Championship that's been going on. I'll miss the game tonight though.

Demo lessons: Each teacher was to be observed for one period by a special prefectural person and evaluated on their lesson. During that lesson, about 8 or 9 local board members would come in for about 5 minutes to observe as well. Since there are 3 English teachers, guess who had not just one observed lesson but 3? Oh yes, that's right the Assistant English Teacher, ME! I wasn't too stressed about it because it's not so much me they are looking at, but the main teacher. But still the stress from the other teachers got to me a little bit. They kept coming to me to check the lesson plan and make sure we were clear. Which was great actually and I think all the plans went well. A couple of times I was thrown a curveball during the lesson, something we hadn't discussed, but it all worked out. And some good came of the evaluation. One of the teachers had been resistant to trying some of the interactive question and answer style that I did back home. I kept trying to explain it to her, saying it was like a discussion. We would read and then discuss by me asking questions that they answer. Well I finally just did it in class without her knowing what I was doing. After the lesson, she came up to me on her own and said that she really liked that and I said "That's what I mean by doing discussion!" And so we did that again for the demo lesson and lo and behold the evaluator commended her for actually using the language with the students in an interactive way. So, I think we will start doing that more. But I really have to commend her. I went up to the other two teachers to ask about their feedback. The first said, " Ok, good." and turned back to her desk. The second said it went well and talked about how much he liked the video she did and everything was great. The third one wasn't embarrassed to talk about the negative stuff as well as the positive. That can be really hard to do, admitting something like that to a peer (or even more so to an inferior, as ALTs are usually seen by Japanese teachers). She said how he thought her handwriting was too sloppy and she sometimes speaks too fast. I think she does fine. It's not my style but she does about the same as the other teachers. My two complaints are that she uses too much Japanese and doesn't escape the confines of the text. But then again, that's like the other teachers. Although they do tend to use English a bit more.

Singing: Today, this morning, I sang with three teachers and a Kyoto-Sensei (vice-principal) at a local cultural festival. We sang Edelweiss and 3 Japanese songs. I only can sing 2 of the Japanese songs as I only started learning them this week. I have no idea what they mean, but I've managed to learn them well enough to read the hiragana as I sing along. I have a picture that I will post of us singing.

Picturepost

It's been fun, but not as much fun as it would be if I wasn't sick.

(sorry gotta run, we are to sing again this afternoon, and we are leaving now. to be continued)

Well the rest of the singing went well enough. We were well fed also. And we went back to the school and that was that.

The race: Afterwards, I went home and started packing. The plan was for a bunch of people to go to Jeremy's in Nio and hang out for the evening and get up in the morning for Nio's First Annual Mikan Good Health Marathon (every run in Japan is called a marathon マラソン). Well that bunch of people dwindled to 3; Jeremy, a friend of his from out of town, and me. So, we met up with a bunch of people in Kanonji for darts, beer, and food. We had a pretty good time. The 3 of us at Jeremy's ended up staying up until about 2, which was silly since we had to be up at 8 15 for race check-in. Luckily, the race was literally next door to his apartment. We all opted for the 8k race. Our omiyage for the race was a big bag of mikan. Nio apparently has really good mikan. Mikan are mandarin oranges. But for some reason, I think of really big oranges when I hear mandarin oranges. These are very small but OISHII!! (delicious) No one collapsed. Everyone finished the race. So it was a success. Jeremy finished first and then me and then Sandra and then Leann. Afterwards we hung out at Jeremy's eating hummus and pasta and watching movies and chatting. Before leaving Nio we all went to the local coffee shop, Café de flots, which was amazingly cool, surprisingly so since it is in this out of the way small town with no train stop.

November 26, 2007

Wedding Weekend

Friday after the festival for the Matts and Dan and the onsen for the girls, we went to Takamatsu for dinner to celebrate Sam's birthday. We tried to go to Surfer's for Mexican, but it was closed. Friday was Japan's Thanksgiving holiday. However, theirs is more of a "Thanks for working so hard, please have a day off" day. But people still work on Saturday and possibly Sunday as the concept of a work-free weekend is not a Japanese one. I didn't really understand that until recently. I was confused from the beginning because if I mentioned traveling somewhere or doing something on a weekend, the English teachers would say, "Oh yes, you had yasumi." And I know enough Japanese to know that 'yasumi' means vacation or holiday. And I would politely say, "No, it was just the weekend." It took a while to realize that the teachers actually will come to school and have practice for clubs and do work for lessons etc. on Saturday and Sunday. Maybe not every weekend but the majority I would wager. Anyway, afterward, we went on to Sambommatsu to Angelina's to hang out a bit, after which Sam and I headed back to hers.

Saturday morning, Sam and I went shopping in her town which had very few stores to get something dressy for me to wear to the wedding dinner. I did eventually find something but had to pay more than I intended, but it's ok. They are things I will wear again. Anyway, the wedding was between Dustin, a former JET that I met in Tokyo when the JETs from my prefecture went out together and Xiaofang, a woman who lived in the town he was teaching in. They met at their Japanese class. He's a cool guy who hails from Georgia coincidentally and graduated from UGA. We were there at the same time actually but never crossed paths. And Xiaofang comes from China and is funny and beautiful and very intelligent. They married officially a few months ago but are having celebrations in China, Japan, and the US because of their origins and the place they met. They are living in Tokyo now and will be there for a while.

The celebration was very nice. They had profiles instead of programs so that we could read about them and things like their first impressions of each other. It was a good idea. They had three people give speeches and we kanpai'ed. One of the speeches was done by the woman who coordinated the event; she was the teacher of the Japanese course they met in. The whole thing was bilingually emcee'd as well. Xiaofang did a Japanese dance as well that was quite beautiful. I took some pictures, but I was too far away to get any good ones. I'll post some if they turn out.

Afterward, we went to a local izakaya where we had an after party. The newlyweds joined us and it was quite nice. Afterward a bunch of us headed back to Angelina's where we all crashed. I left before most people were up since I wasn't feeling too well after several late nights and a couple of those including drinking. I got home and did 3 loads of laundry and watched too much TV. I was just exhausted. I really had been going hard since Wednesday night (out to a bar with friends for no real reason, just to hang out). I watched the volleyball game. For some reason, I've been really getting in to the World Volleyball Cub (I think it is) and rooting for Japan. They beat Egypt last night, but overall, they have some work to do to make it to the top 3. And the end.

Bunraku

After Thanksgiving a bunch of us (Matt, Sam, Angelina, Nick, Megan, and me) stayed at Matt's. We were to watch 300 but it was too late to start it really. We missed an earlier train and had to wait for one getting us home after midnight I think.

Friday, I got up and got breakfast and around noon Nick went home and Matt and I left the girls to go to a festival in Mino. The girls went to the local onsen (Japanese hot bath). The festival had the requisite food stands and kids' game stands. But this one also had people selling lots of plants. I could't resist and bought an azalea and some pine trees that I might try to do some bonzai with. They are really small, so don't get the wrong picture.

And at 1:00 o'clock there was bunraku at the local international civic center. (Can local and international describe the same thing?) Bunraku is a special type of Japanese puppetry. The puppets are quite large with movable hands and eyes. The puppeteers are dressed in black and cover their faces in black as well. They don't attempt to hide themselves during the play. It's as if they are to be considered shadows in the background. The puppeteers don't do any talking for the puppets. Off to the side and usually elevated a bit, you will see generally two people. One will read the narration and the dialogue using a special singing type voice. The woman would use different notes and variations to distinguish the different characters and her narration. Next to the narrator is the shamisen player. Shamisen is a Japanese stringed instrument that is plucked with a special device. They have a very unique sound. The music supports the spoken language and the movements on stage. It's all very cool. Though, I obviously couldn't understand the show, I think I caught that the language was an older form or something of Japanese and the first couple of acts were very emotionally wrought while the last ones were funny and triumphant. I enjoyed it and would like to see something like it again, perhaps when I've learned more Japanese. Apparently, what we saw was a specialized form of bunraku called Sanuki gen, I think, as my prefecture was formerly known as Sanuki.

(Picturepost and videopost to come)

November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner

Chris Brashears is a nearby JET in Tadotsu (he hosted the BBQ a while back) who hosts the yearly Thanksgiving dinner. About 10 of us showed up this year and everyone brought something to share, a recipe from home that makes you feel all warm inside. That was the request at least. And he provided the specially ordered turkey. I didn't realize that night, but apparently it was supposed to show up Wednesday, but didn't arrive until noon on Thursday, still frozen. So he had to thaw it and cook it in about 6 hours. But it turned out great. And the food everyone brought was good too. Since I couldn't get all the ingredients I needed for my mom's green bean casserole (mainly because I'm a bad planner, I really could probably have found everything at foreign foodstores in Osaka) I made my dad's hariata. (Don't know if that's how it's spelled.) Anyway, it's a whisky drink made by boiled a cinnamon stick until the water is almost gone and then adding sugar and simmering that until it's a syrup and then mixing in the whisky until everything is dissolved together. Pour it back in the bottle and keep the cinnamon stick in it and there you go. I've never made it before, but it turned out quite well, and everyone who tried it enjoyed it for the most part I think.

Good times.

November 21, 2007

Another Update

Sorry guys. I know it's been another week since I last updated. And I've been horrible about keeping in touch via email and real mail. I'm trying. I think I've been going a bit to hard on the weekends and letting myself off to easily on weeknights saying it was a long day... even if it really wasn't. Also, I've been keeping fairly busy on weeknights with going to dinner and hanging out with friends and I saw my first movie in Japan and it was a Japanese one. It was called Crow's Zero. It was about a high school gang turf war. It was pretty wicked at parts, had a couple of goofy scenes, but was very much like a manga (Japanese comic book) just in movie form.

I managed another weekend trip to Osaka. This time I planned on less partying out and more touristy stuff, but the actual ratio this time was only slightly lower. Out til 4 on Friday night and out til maybe 2ish or a bit later on Saturday night. This time I didn't take a whole day off. I went up Friday after school and came back Monday morning taking a half day off and working my afternoon classes (well one before lunch and one after). The trip didn't start off too well. I, of course, had procrastinated, but not too bad this time. I had my packing started and mostly thought out. I knew I would have about an hour after my last class until my train. I was able to finish my packing quickly and thought I would grab a shower since I had just biked from my elementary school. I think that did it, made me late I mean. I had wanted 15 minutes so I could calmly ride to the station, get money, and get my tickets squared away. But I still had 10 minutes to catch the train. No problem. Except I step outside with my suitcase and bookbag and see that it has suddenly started raining. It went from cloudy and dry to somewhat sunny and rainy. So I went back in and grabbed my umbrella went downstairs road my bike to the station still getting soaked along with my suitcase. When I saw my bank, I realized that I hadn't gotten my money out yet (my bank doesn't have ATMs in Osaka and my card wasn't accepted the last time I went and I ran out of money). So I went for my wallet and it wasn't in my pocket. It's still raining, I'm thinking my wallet is at home, I'm already soaked, I now have 6 minutes to get the train.

(post continued a few days later)
I'm trying to decide if I should leave my suitcase when I bike home to get my wallet. Then I realize that I had packed it in my backpack. So I grab it out and get money out of the ATM. I race over to the station in time to see the train pulling away. So I was wet along with all my belongings AND I still missed the train. Then I go to the counter to get my ticket squared away. As I'm walking away somehow my button gets caught and pops off. I was about to just go home, but I waited it out and got on the train. Oh and between when I started this post and finished it, I discovered that there is actually a cheaper and marginally quicker way to get to Osaka. There's a bus for about ten bucks cheaper. It requires no stops or transfers. You don't have to worry about your belongings because they are stowed beneath you. Oh well, for next time.

Anyway, so Osaka was pretty great! I got in and met with Sophie, a friend of Alana's that I met last time, and her friend Tamir. We grabbed some dinner and then met Alana back at her place. We started the night there and then cabbed it over to a former NOVA teacher's apartment for a goodbye party. (NOVA if you haven't heard of it, was the biggest (keyword: was) private English teaching company in Japan which recently collapsed and went bankrupt amid financial scandal and questionable business practices a month or so ago. The Japanese workers hadn't been paid since July and the foreign employees hadn't been paid since September before the company officially and publically acknowledged anything was wrong and promptly filed for bankruptcy. Anyway, so there was and is a big crisis for all these former foreign employees trying to find work or leave the country, paying for past due bills and rent, because some of them were a bit clueless because nothing official was said until the very last minute, but there had been rumblings and the more savvy had made preparations. End sidenote.) It was a pretty cool party, just hanging out and talking and dancing etc. Then our group of people left and went for ramen. And afterward we headed for a bar and hung out for a bit and eventually went home around 4. That was supposed to be my early night. Oh well. I was up at 8 for some reason. Alana had to babysit for a friend and I was deciding on whether to join her or go off by myself and do touristy stuff. I eventually just decided to stay with her and we had fun with her friends' daughter at the part. She was cute. Afterward, Alana suggested Nara instead of Kyoto. So we went there. Unfortunately the main temple was closed so I didn't get to see the huge buddha that resides there, and the lights weren't on at the gate to illuminate two other big guardian statues. But we did get to see some great views from the top of the hill and the changing colors of the leaves. AND!!! There are deer that wander around there. All over. They are kind of in a park, but there aren't really any fences, so they just wander around all over. AND!!!! The monks train them to bow. So you can buy little cakes and walk up to them and bow and they will bow and then you give them the food. IT'S SO FUN!!! Then we went souvenir shopping and ate Vietnamese before heading back to Osaka where the group got together once again and went out this time to celebrate Alana's friend James's birthday. It was pretty fun. We just went to some local bars and I eventually left early because I was pretty tired. But early was maybe 2 am I think.

On Sunday, I was up around 9 maybe and was getting ready and then Alana was up. I was considering leaving early and then she would join me, but it seemed silly to go since she was already up and getting ready. So, I waited and we left and grabbed lunch (which was soooo good, we had galettes, I haven't had those since France) and headed to the station where Sophie joined us. We were on the train by about 1 I think and in Kyoto by 2. We started in Arashiyama which isn't in the city center. It's more to the west in the mountains. TONS of people there to walk around and see the leaves changing. We walked through this realllllly cool bamboo forest and took some nice pictures and bought some souvenirs and ate candied fruit. We mainly do candied apples in the states, but here they have candied strawberries, mikan (oranges), pineapple, plums, etc. It's nice. Then, we headed to the center of Kyoto, specifically the Shijo area to meet up with Sandra and Aki, friends of mine from Kanonji in my prefecture. They were traveling and we thought it would be neat to meet up. And we walked along the main strip over to Gion and area of Kyoto known for it's small shops and restaurants. A bit touristy, but we were in the souvenir mood. I think I have a lot of my Christmas shopping done. Which is odd for me, since I'm usually last minute. The test comes with whether or not I will get everything shipped in time. We ate Indian together and then around 9 Alana, Sophie and I went back to Osaka. I packed up my bags as Alana uploaded all the pictures of the weekend and we got to bed around midnight maybe. I had thought I was going to have to get a 5 am train. But luckily I found one that left just before 7 that would get me in at 11 in time to go to work at 11 30. I had just taken the morning off. So all in all, it was a very nice weekend.

I was pretty tired though during this week. I dozed off Monday and Tuesday night around 9. Wednesday night I bought a small oven hoping to get ingredients and such together to make something for Thanksgiving, but that didn't work really.

November 14, 2007

That's better.

I had to get the immediate frustration out. And I tried working on it, because an hour is a fair amount of time, but it just wasn't happening. So, I talked with the teacher and she agreed to wait until next week. Chances are they will still be working on the lesson or will only just have finished it. So today I will try to do a simple religious explanation of the holiday and next week I will do more of the mostly secular traditions surrounding Christmas.

Arggghhhh!!!

So. Frustration level is up now. Since I don't have that much actual work, I try to keep myself busy by studying Japanese. This morning I've been studying kanji. So, an hour before a lesson (and believe me, I'm thankful it was that much, considering it's been as little as 3 minutes before, but not for something this involved) I was asked to, you know, whip up a Christmas lesson like my Halloween one. WHAT?! That took me at least 4 hours to get all together. I had spent several hours searching for clip art, making little cards, creating a Halloween quiz in Japanese, etc for my elementary lesson. And when I did the lesson in the Junior High I wanted a quiz in English and a little puzzle and that itself took about an hour to complete. And on top of that trying to simplify how to explain a holiday into words and grammar structures that the students know is reallllly difficult. And so I'm supposed to just put together a similar lesson in less than an hour. I've only now just brainstormed some simplified topics related to Christmas. And realized I was superfrustrated because she really wants a worksheet to go along with the lesson. And I know there's a crap ton of clip art but it's hard to get it all sized right and put on a single worksheet... argh... I guess maybe I'll check out mes-english.com... apparently it has good stuff. But when I don't usually like using ready-made lessons and things because it's not exactly what I want. Guess it will have to do because I'm not going to stress myself out for this.

PLUS! It's freaking November 14th!!!! And why are we doing the lesson now???? Because that's the next lesson in the book. And heaven forbid we skip it and come back. (Then again, I know that would be very difficult since this book actual works in a cumulative fashion, which is good. But the timing is a bit off.) I had Thanksgiving on my mind. Was thinking of putting something together for that. Oh well. And no luck having a predecessor who had their act together to have some leftover lessons and materials to work with. There is a box o' Christmas crap in my apartment most likely from before my predecessor's time. But it's there and I'm at school.

Oh and did I mention, I didn't go to a single class at the junior high yesterday?!?!? I was sitting at my desk twiddling my thumbs alllllllll day!!! (well studying Japanese, but you know what I mean, doing no work!!!!)

SOOOO frustrated.

November 8, 2007

Forgot to post this.... mmmm.... FISH!

So, remember that fried fish that was curled up and facing me as I ate it??? Yeah, thought you might. Well, that was on a Friday. And lucky me, I got more fish with the head still attached on Monday!! I forgot to post the picture though. So, here you are! Enjoy!

Yes, these were what I ate. They are called シシャモン (shishamon) which sounds like sea salmon to me, but I forgot to ask if that's really what it is. Usually, they are pregnant, but I think the ones I had weren't pregnant, because I didn't get the gritty texture that people told me you usually get. And the eggs didn't burst out like they did to my friend when he had it. Anyway, believe it or not, I liked this more than the fried up fish from the Friday before. I could actually see myself ordering this at a restaurant possibly. Oh and as usual, if those two weren't enough fish for you, the side dish of mixed vegetables on the plate also contains the little minnows. You can never have enough fish in Japan!

November 6, 2007

Quick Update

Sorry, it has been a while since I posted. Let's see. Halloween Party on the 27th. It was fun. Drank too much. Resolved to treat my body better and start getting back into shape. I've been running semi-regularly since then. Just went this morning actually. The past week was pretty good. A bit off because I didn't really have a good sleep after the party and I didn't sleep at all that Sunday night. But it was still ok. I got to do my Halloween lesson all week which was fun. It was different for each level because the teachers didn't all have the same picture of what I was doing. One gave me 5 minutes (which invariably turned into 10-15), one gave me about 20-25 minutes (she gave me more and more time as the week carried on), and one gave me the whole period (I think she was happy about not having to plan the lesson). I had a lesson first thing Monday morning and of course I wasn't prepared. When I saw she only gave me 5 minutes to talk about Halloween, I thought, "Great! I'll just talk a bit and she'll translate and we'll move on." Yeah, I wish it would be that simple. I talked too fast; she couldn't translate easily because I hadn't chosen common words and simple sentences constructions and she was on the spot; and it was boring besides. So, I spent the 2nd period which I had off fixing the lesson and adding to it especially since I was going to have 20 or so minutes in the next one. The next one was 1000 times better. I chose my words better to make it easy for the students to try to figure out the meaning just from my words and easy for the teacher to translate ensuring that all the students understood. I had laminated picture cards (already prepared from an elementary lesson) and a fill-in-the-blank and crossword worksheet. I had Halloween stickers. By the end of the week, the lesson was just about perfected. I even remembered in the last lesson of the week to bring the witch's hat and the ghost's sheet and dressed up the students. During the 2nd lesson, I realized it would be good to liven things up a bit, so I added a mid-speech scare. I chose someone who wasn't quite paying attention and casually walked to their desk as I talked and "Boo!!" made them crap their pants. Even though I taught the same thing in all the classes, I managed to scare the kid every time. I even got 2 kids in the same class a couple times. But by the end of the week, I was sick of Halloween, but I had already agreed to help Tye with a Halloween culture thing in one of his teacher's towns on Saturday the 3rd. That took from noon until 7 and it wasn't all that great. But the drive there was neat. It has given me some new places I might bike and/or run to.

Sunday, we had school. Yes, since Japan has no national religion officially (unofficially, it might be Shinto, I think, but even then, I don't think they have a sabbath day as in Christianity) you can have school and/or school events any day of the week. We had Sports day practice on Saturday and sports day on Sunday. And Sunday, we had classes in the morning and it was sort of open house. So during 2nd period, families started showing up and walk around the school and the classes had put projects and assignments on display. The parents also got to walk into the classrooms as lessons were being taught to observe their child in class. Then, in the afternoon, we had the chorus contest. Every homeroom has to sing the school song (I think that's what it was) and then they got to choose their own song to sing. They've been practicing everyday for about a week and a half. Some classes were canceled to allow for practice. People stayed after school to practice. And there is no choice. Everyone participates. And so we all go to the gym (yeah have I mentioned the lack of an auditorium. I guess that's not so different from the US. I remember my elementary schools had stages in the gym or cafeteria. Well, the stage is in the gym. But the difference is that no chairs are brought in. Everyone sits on the floor. There are a few bleachers at the back, but not enough even for just the parents. But remember gym shoes are different from outdoor and indoor shoes. So officially there shouldn't really be any dirt on the floor.

Anyway, all the homerooms got up and sang their two songs and some teachers and student leaders were judges and voted on who did the best. At the end the trophies were awarded to the 2 best 3rd year homerooms.

Yesterday was a regular day at school. Though, I did manage to take over part of the lesson. The teacher had come to me earlier to say what we were doing and she mentioned that she disliked these pages in the book because they were boring. So, before the lesson I came up with something that might make it more relevant to them. It worked out, but then again I have an edge sort of. I think in general since I'm not their real teacher and I'm a foreigner, things I do might seem that much more interesting. Anyway, they were practicing how to say whether you agree or disagree with someone. The book had some lame situation about cell phones and whether or not middle schoolers should have one. I mean I guess it would be interesting if it wasn't in the text book. But then again, I think the controversy over cell phones has past if there ever was one. But it's still in most textbooks as something to hopefully grab students' attention. It never does. Anyway, I didn't think what I came up with was good, but I figured I'd give it a try. I just wrote 4 sentences and the students had to write whether they agree or not and give an additional thought or explanation. The example was "Math is difficult." With possibly answers: "I agree. I have to study a lot." or "I think so, too. I don't understand it." "I disagree. I think it's interesting." or "I see what you mean, but I think it's useful." The sentences I gave them were: "Students should study for 5 hours after school every day." "English is the best subject." "Fall is the most beautiful season." "School lunch is always delicious." The teacher said she thought they really tried to answer these seriously when usually they don't take their work seriously. So, it felt good. And I asked her to collect the notebooks so I could look at the sentences and give them feedback.

I had been asked by my supervising teacher to help her grade notebooks. But it turns out she just was feeling too busy and tired and wanted me to do the useless/meaningless stamping of the book. You just go to the last page write the date and stamp or sign it. No checking really. No comments really. No actual assignment that I could tell either. Students just spent hours copying vocabulary, sentences or entire dialogs from the textbook. No evidence of understanding. No evidence of cognition. Simply copying shapes from one page to another page. Anyway, because of that, and because of the way she asked me to do it, I wasn't really happy about it. But collecting notebooks that actually have some work that can be corrected or commented on, that I'll do. I guess it helps, too, if I'm the one who assigned it. But I can't tell if it's that I'm the one who came up with it or if it's that I know what I'm actually looking at and grading.

Anyway, that brings us to today. This morning I went for a run, but before I did, I managed to get a shot of the little elementary students on their way to school. They all wear their uniforms, and when they are on their way to or from school, they have their yellow hats. AND if it is raining, like today, they have their yellow umbrellas.

(Sorry, picture to come soon.)

Now I'm heading out to do some shopping. I'm playing soccer on Saturday and need some cleats. I also want to get a winter coat before it gets too cold. I'm sure I'll find some other things I absolutely need along the way. Well, I'm off.

October 24, 2007

Badminton Club

Today was good. Maybe I'm getting the hang of the sort-of teaching that they are asking me to do. I enjoyed the classes for the most part. Got my Japanese studying in. About 3 hours or so. (Found out that I've gone now from 2 classes tomorrow to 4 classes. Because I missed class 1-1 earlier this week because she was passing out tests and I couldn't teach 2-1 today because of chorus practice.) But it should still be ok, they are still spaced out pretty well tomorrow. And I don't have elementary because it was canceled.

Anyway, after school I came home and unloaded my stuff, checked email, picked up my bedding to hang it outside, knitted a few rows, and changed to gym clothes. I asked Monday if I could go to badminton club. So, that's where I went this afternoon. It was pretty fun. Boy am I tired!! All the running and reaching and hitting. And after my first-in-a-long-time run yesterday, I think I will be super-sore tomorrow. But it was worth it. Tonight, I'm going to Tye's eikaiwa (Remember that one? Yes, community adult English class. Think more conversation class.)

I'm actually ready early for it. I thought I was gonna get picked up at 6 so I was in the shower by 5:58 and ready by 6:05. (Take a sip ST and AH!) But I won't be picked up until 6:40.

Cleaning and Thai/Japanese Food

Monday, I had some major cleaning to do. I had left all the mess from making my costume for the weekend. And Sunday night, I didn't have time to clean because I got in so late. I had to wear a sweater because I hadn't washed any of my dress shirts. It's still a bit warm for sweaters. So anyway, I got 2 loads of laundry done and all my mess cleaned up. I stained the table red though from the food coloring. And I left a quart of milk on the table that went bad. Along with a thing of butter. That was annoying. So yeah, it was a super exciting day for me Monday.

Yesterday (Tuesday), school was fine. Got a fair amount of Japanese studying done. Went to elementary and had a pretty good lesson. This one teacher keeps having me read a book in the last 5 minutes. I don't understand. Like, yeah if I just read "Brown bear, brown bear" straight through I could finish in 5 minutes. But that's not how you read a book. At least not a storytime book. You have stop and ask questions. Do voices. Get crowd participation. Review. Act it out. I could probably spend 30 minutes reading "Brown bear, brown bear" and still have extension activities I could do for afterward. Seriously.

Anyway, after I got home, I finally went running again for the first time in a month or two. I think I've gone running maybe 6 times total since I've been here, and 4 of the those times were right when I arrived when I was waking up at 5 in the morning and had nothing else to do. I happened to pass the track club for my junior high and so I stopped and chatted with them for a while. I was taught how to throw discus and did a long jump. It was fun.

Then, a bunch of us west siders went out to Jeremy's where we had yakisoba (fried noodles with veggies) and thai curry. It was good food and good company. We got home later than I thought it was gonna be so I'm pretty tired today. I was late, of course. Today, though, was the first day the bell had finished ringing by the time I got in the door. Usually, I manage to get there right before it rings or as it's ringing. Oh well. I'll try harder next time.

October 22, 2007

Craft Day

After the Halloween party, I went straight to Takamatsu. Yes, that's right. As a zombie, I took the train (45 minutes) all the way to the capital city. Then I proceeded to walk the 15 or so minutes to the restaurant where I was meeting friends, in a very well lit shotengai (covered pedestrian-ish shopping thoroughfare) still in my zombie garb. I had one lady walk completely to the other side to avoid me. And I caught several Japanese-standard I'm-staring-but-I'm-nots. It was pretty fun.

We had some food at the Sea Dragon which has good foreign food. Their tacos are delicious!! (Note that's taco, not tako, cause tako is octopus! I wonder if a tako taco would be good?) Then we meandered to the station to catch a train out to the east side.

We went to Angelina's to watch an episode of "The Office" and the Nick and I went with Sam back to hers to crash for the night.

In the morning, we all met up and went to a flea market that Angela had heard about from her eikaiwa (adult community English class). It was cool. You had to pay 100 yen to get in and then you go around to all the booths and it was basically like an American flea market. I found some cool cups and sake glasses. I also bought a neat looking plant. Sam found a Mariah Carey Christmas CD. It was good times.

Afterward, we headed to Alison's where we met to do some crafting. First, we got some bento (ready-made lunches in plastic containers from the grocery store) and then we went to the beach. We ate and then walked around collecting sea glass -- you know, those bits of glass that have been worn smooth by the sand and water -- and other beachy-type items worth collecting. Next, we went back to her apartment for some good ole crafting. She was a textile major and so has lots of crafty/artsy experience and know-how. She had a whole sewing machine set-up. We started off by most of us learning to knit. Then, I went through the stuff I collected at the beach to see if I got any ideas for making something. Which I do, but I have see if it will work. But before we could really do much more, it was time to go. So, I'm working on a scarf now. It's kind of cool being able to make something like that. I feel productive. We might try to meet regularly to do more because it was a lot of fun. It was sitting around and having fun. And not drinking.

Nick and I took the train back to Takamatsu. I knitted; he played video games. But then at one point I stopped and we played Tetris against each other on our DS Lites. That's a cool feature: being able to connect wirelessly to another DS and play. I think you can do up to four. Maybe more, I don't know. We played 4 player Tetris on the train the night before. It was pretty cool. Or dorky. Depending on your perspective.

October 20, 2007

Kids' Halloween Party

The party went well. I, of course, was running late. Who would have thought? Well, I was instructed to be something really creepy, so I went with zombie. I found a site that had instructions for making good entrails to hang out of my stomach. And then I found a website for making fake blood. That was the mistake. I don't know why I didn't just think to use regular paint or markers. (I ended up using the former.) So, it took several trips to various grocery stores, lots of dictionary usage, and a few hours of mixing to figure out that you can't make fake blood with an American recipe and Japanese ingredients. That's when I happened to see my markers and thought, "DUH!!" Well, here's how I looked in the end:



I ended up only about 15 minutes late for the set up time. But it was OK. Everything was already done even before I was supposed to be there. So we were just milling around for a while. Then, all the kiddies came. I tried to stay in character most of the time. I would lay down for a while and then grab a kid as they walked by. It was fun. Except there were two or three kids who cried just when they saw me. That wasn't so fun for the mom's, I don't think. I helped during the activities, but then my main job was the trick or treating. I sat in this miniature house and the kids came and knocked and I gave them candy.

Good times were had by all.

Halloween Costume and Fall Festival Out Back

So, I'm trying to decide what I want to be for the kid's Halloween party this afternoon. Surprise, surprise, I've procrastinated once again. The woman who is putting this together told me to be something creepy. So I think I will go with zombie. It's a classic and can be gory. Maybe some intestines falling out of my stomach cavity.

Anyway, so as I'm deciding what to be, I hear the telltale sound of taiko drums and a bell. (It's not a bell; it looks like a gong but it's high pitched; however, I don't know what it's called.) Well, they were right next to my conbini. I thought I might throw on some clothes and go out and watch, but it would have taken too long and I would have only seen a little bit of what I had already seen before. If only I could see them from my window....

As luck would have it, the next stop on their tour around the town was right behind my apartment. So, here are some pictures of the taiko drummers, the dragon, and the bell ringer with the spectators in the background.

(By the way, did you know you can see the full sized image by clicking on it?)The dragons have two dancers underneath. One that moves the head around and another that controls the body and tail. They can make some pretty interesting movements that look fairly creepy. It's interesting to watch the different groups way of dancing. Note the guy in the background with the mini-beer at 9:30 in the morning. Yes, the Japanese love their drinking. In general and especially at festivals.
These are the taiko drums and the little drummers. Usually it's a boy and a girl that drum with two men that get the beat going and maintain the rhythm. Those two old people live in the house behind my apartment.


video
This is a short video of the end of the dance.

October 19, 2007

Today's Lunch!

Just had to post this. I promised some lunch pictures and here is today's.By the way, I ate it head first. Seriously.

October 18, 2007

i'm so beat.

and i have probably around 1300 pictures already and only 400 or so are somewhat organized. yeah i guess ive been picture crazy. its a good thing though... i think. at least my time here will be well documented. and i thought 2000 pictures over my year spent in france was a lot.

and plus im really tired today... just absolutely drained. i didn't clean or cook or do pictures or even study japanese. and that's been what i do almost every free minute i have. i guess today was different because i was actually working. planned for 2 straight hours. did two lessons. went to lunch. had to scarf half a bowl of white rice in about 2 minutes cause i talked too much and all of sudden lunch was over. then i gathered all my elementary stuff and rode the 20 minutes to the school... on a bike, remember? did a mediocre lesson there because i was already feeling a bit sick and tired... but it still went ok. and all that effort i put into it. actually i think it went very well, im just seeing in clouded by my current mood. there were things that i could have done better and if i get to do the lesson again, ill be able to fix them.

anyway, so yeah, it will be a few days for the pictures. ive got a pretty packed weekend planned. maybe poker night tomorrow, costume hunting sat. am, kids halloween party sat. afternoon, dinner/karaoke in takamatsu sat. pm, craft day on the east side sun., come home sun. pm.

but i have taken the first step and the pictures are now all on my computer. here are a few from today to add some interest.

First Pictures

Sunrise by my apartment this morning.


Footprints that mark where students will be entering a street or sidewalk. Near Asa, today.
Woman sowing seeds. Taken today on my way back from Asa.


October 17, 2007

Halloween Lesson and Pictures

Hey, I get to plan my own lesson for tomorrow. Except all that pent-up lesson-planning potential has now exploded. I literally spent about 5 straight hours working on it and it's still not done. Given, I had interruptions, I was working in Japanese (that I don't know) a bit, and the internet computer in the office won't let you download files to a USB drive -- I was printing (original image), scanning, downloading (the scan to my USB drive), uploading (from USB to my computer), editing, downloading (back to the USB), re-uploading(to the office computer), re-editing (since paper sizes are different in Japan), and then re-printing (the final image). Since, even the editing of the clip art images was taking a while, I didn't want to sit on the office computer seemingly playing around in the paint application.

Anyway, I think it will be fun. I was gonna go straight for the storytelling that I did for French, but I thought, since it seems they are letting me plan what I want, I would prepare them for a future story. So, they are learning some good verbs that will help make a story along with a lesson on Halloween and the necessary noun vocabulary - witch, ghost, jack-o'-lantern, etc.

Oh, and I promise, now that I have internet pumping directly into my very own computer, I will soon be uploading pictures to make this blog a lot more interesting to read and look at. I also have a Google Picasa account and will give out the link as soon as I start getting pictures in albums there. I'll put most of the pictures that I take (you know some of them are too scandalous for public) and only post here the photos most relevant or necessary to what I'm blogging about. As well I'll include ones that I think are just cool. I haven't been doing a good job of uploading photos from my camera and organizing them so far. I have one full memory stick and one half full one. Hopefully, this internet connection will be my motivation. I had meant to get that done today at work, except I forgot all the necessary cords at home, not to mention I was busy working on my lesson junk.

October 16, 2007

Good Lesson at Chugakko

Today was fun at the junior high. Even though they are testing tomorrow and Thursday, I got to come to the class. It sounded like I would just be sitting there for half of it. But she had me prepare some questions using the target sentences so I could ask a few after they reviewed and before they studied. Well, they didn't get to study really; we had just a good time with the questions.

I got to do the questioning sort of like my regular style with French. It's harder, though, now that I'm in a foreign culture. I almost missed the prime opportunity to win over the class's attention. One kid said that he did play an instrument, and when I asked him which one, he answered castanets. I almost didn't realize that the class was laughing at his answer and was about to move away when I decided to stick with him and ask some more questions. And before we knew, we were all interested in his castanet playing and I was then able to move around the room with most of the kids paying attention even when I moved away from the subject of castanets. I would make sure to revisit the student occasionally to reintroduce the humor. It was good fun. Didn't have the same luck in the next class, but you can't really recreate something like that just as you can't force something like that to happen. At least not in Japanese culture. In America, I was able to do a 'wink, wink', and the student would know to answer with something silly. Oh well, still learning to maneuver in this foreign culture. My old tricks just don't work quite the same.

Well, I'm off to elementary. I hope it goes well.

October 15, 2007

INTANETTO!! インタネット!!

Sorry it's been 10 days since the last post. I have one actually mid-draft, but I was pulled away from the computer at school and I've long since stopped taking my computer back and forth between home and school. But guess what? Could you figure out the title of the post? Yes, it's true. I now have internet. My very own home connection. It only took two and a half months of waiting, an entire afternoon of connection and agony and misunderstanding and impatience and near misses and, when all seemed lost, when hope was all but extinguished, victory! Sweet, sweet victory.

Yes, I raced home after lunch because I was late. I was supposed to be home and ready from 1 to 5 in the afternoon. I got home at 1:05, worried that perhaps, as is the cultural norm, the internet guy would have arrived punctually and left. But there were no notes on my door or in my box. So, I didn't miss him. He showed up thankfully (at first at least) within about 15 minutes. He had a little doodad that apparently showed him that my phone jack was now internet capable. That took about 15 minutes. Then, in Japanese that I didn't really understand, he told me that the connection was good and asked if I had a modem. I did not, and he said when I get it, I can connect it right away with no problems. Great! Except I don't remember hearing anything about a modem. I actually had some vague memory that my supervisor asked me if I already had one when he was signing me up online. I thought that I had said I did since my computer has some sort of internal modem and wireless capability and all that. So, I went to the local electronics store and got some cords that said ADSL and bought them and came home to find that they didn't fit. So I went back. Found cords that would fit. Came back. Didn't work. Pondered my situation for a while. Then I decided to grab my dictionary and my set up information packet along with a pen and paper for drawing if it came to it and head to the electronics store where there is a Yahoo BB! (internet service provider) desk. I was literally out my door when I saw a van pulling in and a guy get out. He looked at the mailboxes and seemed a bit confused. Then, I went downstairs and he said, "ごひゃくさん?” And I said, "はい!" and he opened the doors to his van and voila! My very own Yahoo BB! set up modem pack!!!

So I raced upstairs, only vaguely aware of the fact that I might have missed him had I left only a couple minutes earlier which would have necessitated another prolonged wait period for a second delivery time for which I most likely would have had to take more time off of work, to finish my set up process. I took the time to translate the poster that has the pictures of all the wires and outlets and how things go. I just wanted to be sure. So, I got the order of what to plug in when figured out. I did that. Then I had the CD ROM and I put that in... "Not supported on English OS." What!!?!? So, I freaked out a bit. I texted a friend. And as my phone was buzzing this a message from him that said to do so, I was clicking on my firefox icon just to see if internet was flowing, and it was!!! So here I am. Blogging from home for the very first time. Well, from my Japanese home.

Can I get a what what?

October 10, 2007

Camping Weekend

Well, the week ended on an unquestionable high note. Great school days on Thursday and Friday. Good eats and times on Thursday night. Friday night, I was tired after the table tennis and probably still just a hold over from the weekend before. I think I went home and vegged out. I don't quite remember.


Saturday, I got up and did some tidying up. I was determined to keep things chill. I eventually got ready and ate breakfast and left around 10 or so. I wanted to go on a bike ride and take pictures and enjoy the beautiful day. It really was beautiful. I figured I would have Tye's place as a destination. He had mentioned some sort of festival around his town. I made it there by about 1pm, after many detours and pictures. I actually came upon 2 different shrines that were also in some sort of celebratory state. At one, one of the teachers from my school spotted me and chased me down. I got a picture and we chatted briefly.


At the shrine in Tye's town, we watched some kids do sumo wrestling. It wasn't a huge festival, but they did have 4 gigantic portable shrines or something that they were carrying around with drums beating. Then, we headed back to Takase.

October 5, 2007

Great end to a rough week

Yesterday was just amazing. I mean I already wrote about it, but it was just fun. Junior High was so so, but elementary just made it all OK. I was singing on the way home on my bike for no reason. I was unaware of it until suddenly I realized "Why am I singing?" and I started to laugh at myself. I went to basketball club afterward and that was good. I think that's something I've been missing is being active. Things have just been happening so fast -- at least that's my excuse -- that I haven't been able to get a good running/working out routine. Anyway, I left on time for when I wanted to make the train, but I hopped in the shower to cool off and get the sweat off before getting the train and I forgot I was in a hurry. When I got out, I had about 4 minutes to throw on clothes and ride my bike to the station and get on the train. 4 minutes is really pushing it if you are actually stepping out the door. Needless to say I didn't make it. I was on the stairs that take you over the first set of rails to the platform when I saw the train leave with my friend Matt on it. That's the second time I've missed the train for dinner.

I was able to get the next train though and got a taxi in the city and got to the restaurant not too long after them, maybe 20 minutes or so. The had already ordered and so I just joined in. It was a cook-your-own-meat kind of place. (yakiniku) Then we went to Baskin Robbins and then Toys R Us. Crazy, huh? I got some good ice cream, a puzzle, the Mario Kart DS Lite game, and some corn tostitos. Then, I went home and had a decent night of sleep for once.

Today was great simply because I only had one class at the junior high. I got my kanji list caught up. Remember, kanji are the ideographic symbols used in Japanese (and Chinese for that matter) . I have about 45 that I am officially working on and can write given the word in English. For most of them, I can come up with at least one reading, maybe half I can come up with all or multiple readings, and then there are a handful that have maybe 10 different readings each, which I'm at a loss for until I can get my literacy and vocabulary up. But anyway, I worked on that most of the morning. Then, right before lunch, I was able to have a pretty decent Japanese exchange -- I wouldn't call it a conversation -- that made me very happy. I was able to use some of what I've picked up from around me and some of what I've been studying, and I was able to understand and speak with some success. Then I went to Hiji Elementary. I had a great time there. It seems they will also be preparing my lessons for me. (I wonder if they would stop if I said I would like to. Probably not.) Anyway, I did my self-introduction even though they didn't have it on the lesson. But I think I do it pretty well and it's my thing and I get to do it with gusto since it's my one little bit. Then, I did what they had prepared, and it went pretty well I think.

Then, I came back to the school and I went to the boys table tennis club. I am sweating, not as much as with basketball, but I still worked my butt off. It was a lot of fun. I'm not good and I haven't played for an extended amount of time since that month-or-so-long unit in junior high gym class. I was pretty crappy to start with, but eventually, I was able to do OK. I played a game with one kid. He beat me in all three sets. But I was able to get it to 11-8 in the last one. I will be back to play again. Maybe with the ladies next time.

I hope the weekend will be great as well. It's another three day, but it seems plans that people have started are not exactly working out. Maybe we'll get it together before Sunday. Saturday is going to be movie night at Matt's. He got a huge screen and projector on eBay and he has it all set up now. It's about 4 foot by 8 foot. Crazy big.

October 4, 2007

2 months +

It's freaking OCTOBER!!!!!! I've been here for more than 2 months already!! Can you believe it? I mean we are already starting to plan our Christmas/New Year's Vacation. And Halloween is right around the corner. It's fall already. I had meant to buy a fan, but since they are seasonal and it's fall, they no longer sell them. Japan is crazy on the seasons. Everything has a season, it seems.

Well I just had an awesome lesson at Asa Elementary. It seems that will be the best ones. At least so far; I haven't been to Hiji Elementary. Anyway, they are pretty much letting me do what I want at Asa. Which is so odd for here, that I don't really know what I'm doing. I stutter a bit and it takes second to find my stride.

I have to go now. Gonna play with the basketball club. Then I'm off to Marugame for the weekly ALT dinner that we do. Ciao... or さようなら

October 1, 2007

frustration

So, normally elementary school visits are pretty fun. But today was sooo frustrating. I think it's because things work differently at each school. And I still haven't visited one, so I have yet another one to get accustomed to. I also can't read the social cues that should indicate to me that it's time for me to leave. I wish they would just say, "We have another class in here next, so let's go downstairs" or more directly "It's time for you to leave now." It would save us all those awkward 3 to 5 minutes of them waiting for me to leave.

It happened the other day at my base elementary as well. I should have clued into it better because the principal was saying hints, but that was the problem; they were just hints. "I have a staff meeting now." I thought she meant she had a meeting with some of her staff but not everyone. If she had said 'we', I think I would have gotten the picture. But the "I" threw me off. And it's also frustrating that I can't get across my own ideas for lessons at some of the schools. I think I have to learn where and when I can do my own thing.

Today, for instance, I got the fax this morning for the lesson this afternoon. That's pretty short notice. (Although at the Junior High, I'm lucky if I get a sit down more than 10 minutes in advance.) But she said we would learn numbers and then play bingo. I thought cool, I can handle that. I have a little thing I do with numbers that makes them pretty easy to learn by having the students use little squares with the numbers on them, 0-9. First, each student gets their own set, and we practice using the numbers 0-9. Basically, I'll say a number and show it to them. And maybe I'll show them 2 or 3 this way. Then, I'll go back and call a number and hold up a card so they can't see; they have to find the number I've called and hold it up and see if it matches mine when I turn mine around. It's instant success for them which builds confidence and lets them master the numbers gradually but fairly quickly. And so I'll do that for 0-9. Then, for double digits, the first time around, I have them pair up with another student and we add 10-19 in the same fashion, and eventually 20-29. (For some reason, she had me go up to 30, which doesn't really make sense, since they already have 1-9, learning 30 automatically means they know 31-39.) Anyway, I cut up all the numbers for this activity, I made 60 of each actually just in case, and there ended up being 54 in the group, since both 4th grade classes were combined. However, before class started, I showed the squares of paper to the English teacher, and she did that dismissive, characteristically Japanese quick intake of air that is most definitely a no yet allows them to save face since they aren't actually vocalizing the word. So, I had to scratch the number thing. I did my self-intro like I wanted though, with asking questions and reviewing and practicing words. But she got me back with bingo. Normally, you start over after someone gets Bingo. But she said to just continue. I knew this would be a mess, since we were only playing with 16 squares and everyone was using the same 16 numbers. And true enough, after the first bingo, I called one number and there were 5 more bingos. I called another and there were 7 or 8. So, the game actually only reviewed 8 numbers because that's all that I was able to call out before the bell rang. I made sure to explain the possibility of starting a new game which would allow for more review of the numbers (while preserving my quickly dwindling stock of English language stickers). Oh and another annoying thing was this one teacher who translated everything. An occasional translation is great when it's well timed, ensures understanding, and helps the flow of the lesson. But when it is constant, it undermines the objectives of the lesson, namely learning numbers. How counterproductive to practice the numbers in English and then play Bingo in Japanese! Needless to say, I'm frustrated. That's the second time I've come back feeling frustrated from that school. So, it may be something that recurs.

And today, before leaving, the "English teacher" (I put this in quotes because she is a regular elementary teacher who just happens to know some English and coordinates my lessons there) asks me if I know any interesting games. Of course I do, but, as I explained to her, it would help if I knew the topic of the lesson earlier than the day of, as that would allow me time to match the topic with an appropriate game, get a Japanese copy of the directions faxed to her, and prepare any necessary materials. Not unreasonable in my opinion. We'll see what happens for the next lesson there on the 12th.

that's a first

Today, was the first time I made it to school and didn't immediately start sweating necessitating a 20 minute cool down period where I alternate fanning my face and neck and rolling up my pants to fan my legs and feet. This morning it was only 24 degrees (remember it's celsius) inside my apartment with the AC off. I seriously considered a light jacket or cardigan.

In other news, Osaka was fantastic and I will have to write about it when I have a bit more time.

I'm off to the Katsuma Elementary School now for yet another self-introduction plus a lesson on numbers followed by bingo. Let's hope it goes well.

September 25, 2007

Updating

Sorry guys. I know it's been a while. I have been pretty busy at school during the week and on the weekends. Two Saturdays ago, I went to Matt's high school's festival which was pretty fun. It was like a school carnival / open house night mixed together. All the clubs and groups had projects or booths to display. There was artwork all over. There were various carnival like games. The band and dance groups performed. It was fun. Then on Sunday was the Ninomiya Elementary Sports Day and I attended that. But since I was told to arrive "sometime before noon", I was sitting at home at 10:30 when I received a call saying that they were waiting on me. Apparently "before noon" meant 8:30. But I got there in time to do this crazy obstacle course with the teachers and other parents and community members. We had to run halfway around the track and at one part stop and chug this bottled drink that was carbonated and had a little glass marble in it that would stop up the drink if you didn't tilt it right. Then, we had to find a candy from a tray filled with flour without using our hands. Meaning we had to blow the powder to find it and then get it out with our teeth. Then, we had to toss a bean bag into a basket lifted into the air about 15 feet on the end of a bamboo pole. Then I tagged off the next person to run the other half of the track. They had to go about 10 meters on stilts and then spin around 5 times with their head on a baseball bat. Then they had to grab a pastry in a plastic wrapper suspended from a pole with string and a clothespin. It was crazy. There were all kinds of other races and games for the kids, parents, community members, and faculty. They had an old people's race as well. I took some pictures and have a video of some of the stuff which I will post when I can.

As well, I've had my first visits to elementaries. Awhile ago I had a welcome party and mini-lesson at my base elementary. Last week I got to work with 1st and 2nd graders and that was some craziness times 40. But I had soo much fun. This week I went back to my base elementary and I actually got to plan my lesson. We were reviewing body parts and I decided to introduce "How many .... do you have?" "I have # ......" And maybe some more actions than they already knew for Simon Says "Kiss your hand", etc. to liven it up a bit. Then, I thought maybe they could do "He has, she has" as compared with "I have". But the teacher thought it would be too difficult, so that's fine. I disagree, but they Japanese seem to have a pretty set idea of what kids are able to understand and when to introduce. I just happen to disagree. But I go along so I don't cause problems. Anyway, of course all that above stuff sounds kind of boring, so to make it more interesting, I created fake body parts for the kids to attach to themselves. Mainly, round balloons for heads and feet, long balloons for arms and legs, blown up plastic gloves for hands, and small felt balls with black dots for eyes. And then they got to go around and ask each other how many such and suches they each had. It was pretty fun. We ended with a crazy body drawing game. It was fun. But still a little awkward. I'm not used to the team teaching thing, and I guess I can't tell when I'm supposed to be taking control and when the other teacher is in charge.

I haven't planned too many other lessons since they all do that for me. It's kind of weird. I feel really underused. I usually just play along and do what they tell me to do. I try to take some freedom where I can and do my own thing and put a my own touch on what they've asked me to do. And I'm trying to put my spare time and energy into studying Japanese which is going OK. It's pretty hard though with the constant reminder of how little I really know. But I am definitely making strides from where I was when I arrived. I thought I would be fine before getting here and then reality hit. And the "basics" I had learned only got me through an introduction. And even then, I was lost at times, as introductions vary. And for some reason, all that filler language is not seen as necessary in beginning chapters of textbooks. But I see it as extremely important since it is used so commonly. You think they are saying complete sentences, when in reality, they are thinking of something to say and just using filler. "Ja, eto ne, ano, eto na, asoka." And none of it means anything really, "Ah, well, um, so, anyways, hmm."

Oh, I think I've mentioned lunch before. The food has been pretty normal, or at least what normal now is for me. It's nothing really to be eating what basically amounts to minnows cooked in various ways, always whole, except at the end when there are just little black eyes and maybe a tail fin or two, maybe a head. Yesterday, we had clam chowder which was pretty good, but the side of minnows was only cooked in some sort of oil with sesame seeds, so it was basically straight fish. I prefer it cooked with nuts and some sort of breading. It masks the fishy flavor a bit better.

What else? Oh we had our own Sports Day at the Junior High. I was applauded for helping to put up the tents. It seems anything I do makes me seem like the hardest worker ever. I think my predecessor had perhaps an aversion to work. The festival was pretty fun even if a little boring at certain parts with a ton of marching. But I entertained myself with all the little elementary kids running around. And afterward was the all important teacher party. We went to this place were low tables were set up in rows with cushions. We sat and had our food on the table in boxes with small drinking glasses and little sake cups and then big beers were passed out. And they announced that speeches would be made, so we poured our drinks. But you can't drink until everyone is done with speeches and the traditional "Kanpai" is shouted. It was interesting to eat the food. Lots of sashimi and unknown substances. I managed to eat most of it, even though I didn't quite find it that appealing. Although, the cooked octopus was good, I like it better than the kind that is soaked in vinegar. The eating and talking lasted for a couple of hours, with some of the teachers getting pretty drunk I think. One guy came over to show me Japanese style. I thought he meant a way of pouring that I already knew about. See at these enkais, it's important to not pour your own drink. You always are on the look out for others' empty glasses and you offer to pour. You hold the bottle with two hands and they lift their glass with two hands. Often, if your glass is empty they reciprocate by then pouring for you. But he meant a different Japanese style, with sake. You do basically the same thing, but you both drink from the same cup, taking turns pouring and drinking. It was funny though because he kept saying Japanese style and re-pouring as if I didn't get it, so I had to keep drinking, but I was kind of done with sake, but I think it's rude to refuse like that. Eventually, he stopped though.

After, the party, some of us went to karaoke. That was pretty fun. I think it helped some of the teachers see me in a different light. Actually, the whole sports day weekend and teacher party and English Speech contest that I've been working on as well have all helped teachers see me as separate from the previous JET and from other JETs from their past experience. Anyway, it just so happened, that Chris from two towns over was at the same place for his Sports Day karaoke fun. So when my teachers finished and went home, I stayed and joined Chris's school. And then when, theirs ended, Chris and I decided to make a night of it and went to Kanon-ji. We tried all night to get people out and to get something happening, but it didn't really work, and we actually ended up at a karaoke bar by ourselves since it's cheaper than getting a taxi home (trains stop at about midnight) and it's cheaper than getting a hotel and less troublesome than trying to wake someone up to crash at their place at 2 30 in the morning. So eventually we made it to the station for the first train home.

And now, I'm back at school. I have the real speech contest today. I'm going with the 4 students to a nearby town to watch them. I hope they do well. They have been working very hard on it. I'm only really worried about one of the students, but I think he will do ok. And then, tonight I have to pack, because tomorrow morning (Friday), I will be going to visit Alana in Osaka!!!!!

We have been trying to work it out all month and it finally is going to work out. I will leave early since I have the day off and will stop in Himeji to see a castle that is supposedly one of the nicest original ones in Japan. And it will soon be closed for something like a 10 year renovation. Then I will head over to Osaka where Alana will be getting off work around 4 and we will make a weekend of it. Anyway, that's everything for the past few weeks in a nutshell.

It's been really busy with Sports Day practice, actually having lessons every day, speech contest practice after school, and then difficult with no internet at home really. But I will try to keep up with posting.

Also, to those who have sent emails, I've been reading them, but again I haven't had much time to respond. I've started trying to send short messages to at least say hi, but I'm still behind. I've got my fingers crossed that internet will be connected by mid-October.

September 14, 2007

Haircut

Well, until yesterday it had been about two months since my last haircut. So needless today, it was getting a bit shaggy around the ears and there was a forest growing on the back of my neck. Last week, I used a phrase book to work out mostly what I would want to say in the barbershop, but said I would wait to go until I practiced saying the sentences. Then, Tuesday (after not practicing) I drove around Takase looking for a barbershop. I knew I had seen the telltale barber's pole somewhere. I eventually found one. I circled around and looked inside. Then, I thought, maybe I'd just rather get clippers and cut it myself. And I saw the guy smoking inside and thought it would smell really bad and talked myself in heading to Ks Denki to look for electric clippers. I found some, but then talked myself out of that because they were so expensive. Yesterday, I finally decided I don't care if I don't really know how to say what I want, and I don't really care if it's all smoky, it will be a good experience to try to get a haircut.

Well, last night was my first Japanese haircut and also my first completely non-electric haircut (that I remember). Well, I went in and it smelled bad from the smoke, but it was ok. Then I said that I don't speak Japanese and read off the sentence "I would like a haircut, please." And they ushered me to the chair. Then, came the asking of what I wanted done. I pulled out my sheet to read and she ended up just reading everything that I pointed to before I could read it. So, eventually they figured it out. And I just trusted that I had chosen the correct phrases and put them together correctly. The woman sprayed my hair with a lemony smelling liquid and got a hot towel and rubbed my head. Then the guy came over and cut my hair. He tapered in up like I usually get it done but using only scissors and combs. It was pretty amazing how he could get it so close and so even with just scissors. But I thought to myself, "well, my main concern is the vast forest that is creeping down my neck that makes me look the most slovenly." I needn't have worried. When the man was all done, he and the woman asked if I wanted a shave and I said that I didn't. And the woman began removing the towels from around my neck. Then she pointed to my neck and asked something making a motion of evening off the back and so I shook my head yes. Still no electric clippers. She grabbed another hot towel and the straight razor. Yes, folks, she shaved my neck and around my ears. That was a first. It didn't hurt at all. It actually was quite nice, the hot shaving cream and the razor must have been quite sharp.

So, I felt quite triumphant when I left. So much so that I didn't read my watch well and thought I had plenty of time to stop at a store before going home and catching a train to have dinner with people in another city. Alas, I missed the train. But it felt good to finally have a haircut. And it all worked out as everyone was waiting on another person who didn't show up, so when I arrived they were still all waiting.

OH and the food was pretty good. I forget what it was called exactly (Onigomiyakisomethingorrather). Which apparently means 'as you like it'. It's Japanese "pizza." You order a bowl of ingredients that have a raw egg and cheese in it that help combine the ingredients. You mix them together and dump them on a griddle in the table and cook it with sauces and spices. And then you eat it. Pretty straight forward. But it was delicious. I will probably be back.

September 10, 2007

Barbecue Weekend

On Friday, after I got home, I figured I would clean up my apartment since it somehow was once again a disaster area. All my dishes were dirty, I hadn’t done laundry in a week or two and had already reworn at least two shirts, somehow all my possessions were out and on tables, chairs, and the floor in all my rooms. So of course, I got home and settled for a second and then made dinner and started reading Harry Potter. And then I read Harry Potter some more. And then some more. And eventually I went to bed, not cleaning anything.

So the next day, I got up and started reading some more as I ate breakfast. Eventually around 11, I decided I wasn’t going to read anymore until I had cleaned my apartment. So in the next 3 hours or so, I got everything cleaned, I did all my dishes, organized my trash (yes, it has to be organized), and did two loads of laundry. And I did all this knowing I had about 75 pages left to read. It was pretty hard not going back to the book, but it was a good motivator. Then, I got ready and went to Tadotsu, a city not too far from me, where Chris, one of the JETs, was having a barbecue in a park by his apartment. It was pretty fun, but I drank a bit too much. We came back to Takase with a crowd, Nick, Megan, Sam, Matt, Matt’s friend Chris who was visiting from Ehime, Angelina, Tye, and me. I wasn’t in a state to ride my bike, but I tried and failed, and have the slightly skinned knee to prove it. I also wasn’t able to make it the few minutes back to my place apparently and we all slept at Matt’s. I had an unfortunate incident that I’m not going to discuss, but otherwise it was a pretty fun night. The next day for some reason we were up early. Like 8ish. I wasn’t feeling too bad considering. After breakfast, we went on a trip to the antiques store. It’s a nice place to visit occasionally, especially when out of towners are visiting.
Everyone loaded up on old stuff to use or decorate their apartments with. I got a guitar for about 4000 yen ($40) and Matt got another one as well. He said he would teach me. Then we went back and got some food from this hokka hokka tei and ate at Matt’s. That’s when I started feeling the effects of my previous night’s libations. I eventually had to go home, taking my guitar, bookbag, and waste bin containing my reminder to avoid excess.

I tried napping, but that didn’t work. I tried drinking water, orange juice, and CC Lemon, but everything tasted bad. I tried eating eventually, but nothing was appealing. So I just accepted that I was going to feel miserable for a few hours. I also put off finishing HP7 so that I could actually enjoy it. So I tidied up what things I hadn’t already picked up. I got the internet working, so I sent a few messages to people. I accessed a guitar lesson site and began practicing scales and a few notes. Then, I forced myself to eat dinner and drink as much water as I could. I took some vitamins to help and an Aleve. After awhile I started feeling somewhat normal. And then I laid down in bed and finished Harry Potter. It was a good book. I think it ended well. I then tried going to sleep around 9 30 to help aide my recovery. I couldn’t fall asleep so I started reading The Mayan Prophecies, a book that was left in the apartment by some previous JET. It was interesting and eventually I fell asleep.

Now, it’s Monday, and I’m at school. Today and tomorrow, I’m giving my last self-introductions at the middle school. These are to the 9th graders (3rd years). I’m also starting my first actual team teaching lessons. It was awkward at the start because the teacher was yelling at some students for something, I don’t know what. And that took a good five minutes to yell at him and get an apology from him. Other than that, the lesson went fairly well.

I am starving though.

September 7, 2007

Mmmmm.... Natto!

So yesterday, I had the pleasure of trying natto. I’ve been told about this by everyone from Day 1 it seems. It was a long awaited trial of my Japanese transition. The Japanese like to ask about food. All the time. What you like, what you don’t like, what you’ve tried, what you are going to try, can you use chopsticks. They sometimes ask about American foods, but usually they focus on the foreigner trying Japanese foods.

Natto is one that they mentioned often, wondering if I had tried it. Then they go on to describe it in less than complimentary ways, followed by, them telling me how much they like it. They start off simply enough. “It’s beans.” Ok, so I’ve had beans. No big deal. “They are fermented beans.” Hmmm. Interesting. Doesn’t ferment basically mean rot? But then again wine is fermented and that’s not so bad. “They look like beans but when you start to eat them with chopsticks they become like strings that stick together and you have to eat it like this.” [Regular chopsticks hand motion, then twist, twist, twist, twist, twist…. like they are wrapping something around the chopsticks.] Well then. That’s interesting. Not sounding so pleasant anymore. So you have to wrap the stringy part up to eat it? “And they smell bad.” Well, why would someone eat that? “It’s better/easier to eat if you mix in a raw egg.” Wait, what? Since when has anything been easier, let alone better, when you add a raw egg? Then, they say, “I like natto very much.” Are you kidding me? Is this a national joke played on foreigners? And then the other JETs get in on the explanation. “Yeah, it’s kinda like the consistency of snot.” Sounds appealing. “Just mix in mustard and they taste fine.” Great, I hate mustard.”

So, I had all this in my head before even seeing natto for the first time. I translated the lunch menu with the help of a couple of dictionaries the first day I ate with the students. But yesterday, I didn’t do it. I looked at the drawing they had on the lunch menu and everything seemed pretty harmless. But then I arrived in the classroom and I heard “natto,” and I thought, “Well here it is.” It came in a little paper cup with a plastic wrap lid that I peeled off. Inside was another plastic sheet with mustard and some other sauce packets. So I pulled those off with the 2nd plastic sheet and saw the beans. They seemed like fairly normal beans. Think baked beans minus all the sauce. Or maybe with half the sauce but it’s somewhat dried or hardened around the beans so you can see the beans but they look connected. I put the sauce on and the mustard. I didn’t really smell the natto yet. Then I began mixing like I saw the kids do. And that’s when the strings appear. And it really is like snot. It’s like beans in a snot sauce. Seriously. Shiny strings that just grow and grow as you stir the beans with the sauces. I waited to see how the kids ate the natto. Then I gave it a try. I gathered a few beans with my chopsticks and then brought them to my mouth. The flavor wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t altogether bad. More interesting. And then I pulled the chopsticks from my mouth. This is where I found out why you do all the spinning with the chopsticks. It’s not so much to gather the strings but to try and break them. They are like spider web strings, only worse. Spider web strings eventually break and then you can wipe them away. It’s a little troublesome, but after a few seconds you can usually manage to get the spider web off. Not so with natto. The strings are extra sticky and never really break. They just lengthen and become skinnier.

I can’t say I quite have the hang of it. Nor that I have a desire to seek out natto on my own. But I think it’s something I could try again. Maybe even with the raw egg. I did get a better whiff of it as I ate it, and it really was unappealing, but you can manage to eat it without smelling it too much. Actually, I would say I enjoyed the natto more than this weird fried vegetable mixture that they served. It was like carrots and potatoes and maybe some other root vegetables in thin slices that made a loose patty of sorts that was breaded and fried so that the outside bits were somewhat disconnected and you could see the vegetable bits and they were hard and the inside was mushier and not so hard. It was just kind of bland so all you could focus on was the texture which wasn’t very pleasing.

The next thing to try: pregnant fish.

That’s whole pregnant fish, head to tail. I’ve seen the calendar and I noticed a few days with little fish drawn on it. I’m going to try to avoid looking at it again so that it’s a surprise and so I won’t be able to dread it or anything in the days leading up. I promised myself I would try everything at least once. We will see if I can stick to that.

September 5, 2007

Testing day

And now, I’m back at school, just blogging away. I’m on page 11 now. The students are testing all day so I don’t have anything to do really. I think I will start studying Japanese once I get this posted.

Sorry about the time lapse since the last post. I’m really trying. I just got pretty busy last week.