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.


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.


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 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.