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:


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.


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.


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.