Wednesday, December 28, 2005

the many faces of india

there's a small picture of a deity on top of the harddrive. it's gilded and has many hands and many's sitting on top of a dove...i've just been told that she's Gaity and is a goddess of the Brahmin.

do the untouchbles have a goddess? i don't know yet.

we're in Panskura right now. a small town near Kolkata. it's a rural looking place. the streets are not paved, every place one looks, there is trash...
but the people are beautiful. fantastic. kind. and their spirits override the way we might perceive their lives as westerners.
it's hard being here. it's overwhelming.

one day Ben and i took a walk. a man came up to us. he told us to follow him through the fields. we did. we were hesitant. we didn't want to end up in his house and have to refuse his hospitality/food..which we would have to so that we wouldn't get sick.. but the man took us to another large field where men and young guys were playing criquet. once the match was done, a man came up to us and told us that we would be given wreaths of marygolds and they would represent respect and honor given to us as guests of these people. Marygolds were draped over our heads and i held back tears.
these people who have nothing....have so much. so much more than i've ever had.

a week to go. i won't ever be able to tell you all about it in words.
but i'll try.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

dehli air

the night of the 21st
i have a t-shirt that shelley gave to me
it says, "Wisconsin: Smell the dairy air"
ha ha
funny, right?

in Dehli..
well..can't smell too much right now 'cause am a bit sick
but also 'cause it's very smoggy
as we landed, the captain said that there are clear skies over Dehli, but that we won't see them because of the heavy smog.
Chinese Airlines are awesome. Highly recommend them for international flights. Great food and service.
Staying one night in Dehli, then off to West Bengal on a 16 hour train ride.
Will walk around tomorrow and try and see a few things before we leave at 3pm.

As we were driving, the taxi driver put in a tape. Before the music was playing, the whole thing seemed like a crazy movie set i had just wondered on....but with the music and the smog and the traffic horns and the lack of road demarcation and the cow in front of the hit me
i'm in India

mid-day on the 22nd

ate on the roof of the hotel last night. good food. so problems.
met a couple of women from Uzbekistan..the owner goes there on business..the owner offered us the whiskey from his table.

this morning walked around for a bit.
if it wasn't for the white haze of the smog, i'm sure we'd see the sun.
words fail for description.
lots of people...and much energy...
i like it.
a lot


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

S Nastupaushim Novim Godom!

greetings, cheers, and salutations.
The line above is one of my favorite phrases in the russian language. Not because it is particularly deep or unique. The literal translation is a bit difficult, "Happy Upcoming New Years!" is what it means.
However, it carries with it feelings and thoughts of a winter season filled with anticipation for a cheerful holiday, full of fun, laughter, presents, and most importantly time with family and friends. I love New Years. The last couple of years i spent it with my sisters and Shelley...dancing. I will miss that this year, along with many other things.
I will try and find a place to dance at this New Years Eve in Kolkata, if that's where we end up on the 31st. Hopefully, my new friends and I will spend it together, and it somewhat doesn't matter where (well.. almost doesn't... :) )

I leave tomorrow. My friends already there have e-mailed updates and some are already sick and all are bewildered by the experience. So i can't wait to see what they've been seeing...although hopefully i'll skip out on the getting sick part of it.

We fly from Naha to Taipei and then to New Dehli. The next day we take an overnight train to Kolkata. That part i'm really looking forward to... Love trains!! or at least, i loved them when i was kid and we took days long journeys from Kazakhstan to Russia and Ukraine..

please hold me to this. When my JET experience is over, i will take a trip on the Tran-Siberian..from Beijing to Moscow...really looking forward to that..

but that's for another day...
tomorrow... it's the land of the Ganges and Gandhi...


Thursday, December 15, 2005

with a tootsie pop

after lunch
students are "cleaning"
i think they are...most of the time all i hear are screaming girls running through the halls and see boys clustered in packs outside.
so yeah. cleaning
i like tootsie pops.
i'm glad i can buy american candy sometimes.
it's bad mostly 'cause i eat it, but i got the pops to offer to anyone who donates to my "India Box" of school supplies.
i am going to India on the 21st of December. the trip was organized by the awesome Lauren, Cory (mainland JETs) and our very own Elvira. It is set up through G.O.M.A.D. (Go out and make a difference) NGO...and is Lauren's baby, as far as i understand it.
The idea caught the attention of several first year JETs, so there are 9 Okinawan JETs going as well a friend of Yasemine's, Reyhan, who is a teacher at a base elementary school.
The bulk of the group will be going to Dehli on the 16th and we will all meet up at the orphanage in West Bengal. The plan is to volunteer our natural ability to speak English and teach it. The orphanage organized a week-long language camp for their kids and for kids from the community. There are 20 volunteers in total (mainlanders as well as Okinawans) and possibly over 200 kids of elementary school age.
After the camp we are on our own until we fly back all together this time to Oki-land on the 4th of January, getting into Naha on the 5th.
I plan on spending the time after the camp exploring West Bengal. I will probably stay in Kolkatta (formerly Calcutta) for a couple of nights.

i am going to India

in honor of our trip, a really nice friend of JETs on Okinawa, Shore, organized a dinner party at his parents' house last night.
Shore's parents are originally from Bombay but have been living on Okinawan for over 30 years.
His mother cooked traditional food and made us wonderful coconut dessert. It was great. The dinner guests were very diverse: JETs, military, Okinawans. It truly felt like i was a part of an "internationalization" effort. Although that's what I'm supposed to be providing to the students, I am in fact being internationalized myself more frequently.

here's a pic from a little while ago.
it's a funny one

i thought i'd share it..
kelly got a kid's meal one night at a restaurant..and to play along, Chris suggested that i pretend to feed her.
the pic cracks me up every time.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

check this out

Update: Block one is awesome! and i'm not just saying that 'cause it's my Block. We kicked a** in the third round of the Block Games, 3000 points ahead of the next team.
End of Update

so you're probably wondering what it is that JETs do during their hardworking days on the island? Yes, we party seemingly all the time on the weekends, but what about those week days when we are working hard at school and come home exhausted and ready to pass out? How do we keep ourselves entertained and retain our sanity in the sea of never ending confusion created by living here?

Seriously, though. There's a new Okinawa JET game in town and you, as an outside observer, can actually step inside our life on Okinawa and feel like you're a part of the adventure. Or just look at some silly pictures.

The Keitai Photo Blitz ( keitai means cell phone) started on Monday December 5th. All rules are explained on the page and pics are posted daily for the entrees. I've taken a couple already and you'll see my name hopefully a few times as Block 1 will cruise to be the winner of this challenge as well. (we came in second in the 1st event of the Block Games and easily won the second one). So deffinately check out all the Block 1 pics, and perhaps other blocks' pics might be worth a peek at. Phil's toilet dress would have been hillarious had his keitai taken a bigger pic of it, but it's still pretty good.

new photos are up on the fotki page with full explanations.
And now counting 16 days to India.


Friday, December 02, 2005

getting stood up

last night i got stood up on a date. i went to bed in tears, my tortured being completely crushed and not wanting to see the next sunrise. oh the misery!

so how about a weekly recap? i think it's about time i do it.. and it's almost not a coincidence that today is friday and i'm done teaching for the week.

Monday--find out that my JTE's wife gave birth to a baby girl, Riko. Everything went fine, this happened Sunday, and she's in the hospital with the baby. I team-teach one class, the other one is 2nd graders and they're getting ready for a prefectural test on Thursday, so it's just review of grammar and taking tests from last year all week for them and i'm not needed.

Tuesday--on my own! JTE had to go and hang out with his toddler because he was driving his wife nuts in the hospital. I have three classes scheduled, two of them are 2nd graders, so no real hassle, i just give them pre-tests and they quietly work on them the whole class period. Oh yeah! That's right! quietly! the 3rd class is first grade class and they're my favorite. I love their energy and pure enthusiasm. Ok, so not all of them are angels who want nothing more than to know English better today than yesterday, but most of them are, so that's enough for a really good class. I planned out a lesson for new grammar and it went reasonably well. Surprizingly enough I actually have enough Japanese now that i can eliminate most confusion when it comes to directions. Gestures, broken Japanese, and help from the advanced students and we had a good time.
Tuesday night Ben, David and I go for our first karate lesson in Nago. The sensei is great. Most students are kids ranging in age from 4 to 15 and there are three to four moms. I love it! I am in so much pain!

Wednesday--JTE is back. Classes go well. In the evening i go to the hospital to visit JTE's wife. That's right, she's still in the hospital. She's actually not due to check out until Friday and that's quite normal--she is in perfect health. The hospital is small, must be specifically for new moms. It looks like a hotel, feels nice and warm, the rooms have tatami flooring and there are Christmas decorations everywhere! The baby is tiny and adorable.

Thursday--more classes, more karate. i can barely walk, and one of the ladies at the dojo told us that she's been coming for 4 months and for the first three, her legs were in pain. Great! the only state that is good for me is the one of rest. Getting up, sitting down, standing, moving.. it all hurts. Raising arms hurts as well, but not as much.
oh, yeah. and i got stood up! I went home straight from karate (well.. excepting a stop at MaxValue for some boxed sashimi and squid salad) to meet Kelly on Skype for our well planned date. It was so well planned, in fact, that we had a pre-meeting meeting two days prior. Does she show? no! she doesn't! she breaks my heart instead.
and comes up with some lame excuse about falling asleep for 5 hours. Whatever!
Kelly and I need to start planning our lessons for India--we'll be team teaching.

Friday--on my own!! Two classes. Both classes i planned on my own. One was 2nd graders and they had just taken their tests, so games was the name of the game. First i gave back their prefectural test and they got to check it against the master sheet. They do this on their own; sometimes it's nice how completely institutionalized these kids are. Then we play a game. It's based on "hot potato"..Two objects, one is for question, the other is for answer. While the music is playing the objects are passed around, when the music stops, the kid with the "question" item gets to reach into a little bag of questions i prepared. He asks, she answers, music starts again. Worked like a charm! Of course there was cheating, and item tossing/throwing and a few kids had to be basically told what to say, but they liked it and it got them to speak ENglish at the same time.
The next period are 3rd graders. I came up with an activity for a grammar point. There are 6 cards around the room with clues written on them. Cards are big, colorful with lots of clipart. The clues are written using the grammar point, "that" pronoun. Kids team up in max groups of 3 and walk around from card to card, writing down their guesses on sheets of paper made for that purpose. Most kids were involved in it, some boys were letting their friends do most of the work, but no real problems (there never are). The game goes swimmingly, kids learn a few new things: Russia is the largest country in the world, Elina is from Russia, tiger is the biggest cat, soccer requires 11 players per team, etc. With 10 minutes left of the class, we play "hot potato" and it goes well once again. It goes so well in fact, that the very last question picked and asked is "when are you going to Kyushu?" and as the bell sounds, the student answers, "Tomorrow!"
Yeah. I know. I want to go too.
Instead I'm going to Itoman...i guess that'll do.


Monday, November 28, 2005

a sashimi emergency

every weekend is different and unique in its own right.
even a weekend during which i decide to do absolutely nothing and stay up north and nurse my cold turns into a weekend worth sharing.
saturday i got up late and cleaned the house. Kelly called with an invite to join the crew for some exploring because the weather has given us a gift of sunshine. I declined, citing my cold and the fact that i hadn't been in my apartment for two weekends in a row and it really needed to get cleaned up.
I took a walk in Kijoka in the afternoon and expected to drive to Okuma for dinner and watch a movie on my laptop at night.
Nope. That didn't happen.
I got a call from Ben, who is my northern neighbor and lives on the other side of the island in a slightly more remote village than mine called Higashi-son.
He called to tell me that he had a sashimi emergency (and trust me, this sounds ten times better when said with a british accent such as Ben's).
Apparently, Ben had also taken a run/walk through his village in the afternoon and happened upon a woman who works at his Board of Education. She happened to be spending her afternoon cutting up small fish that her husband had caught earlier in the day. Ben joined in the sashimi cutting fun and spent a half hour learning how to properly clear the fish meat of bones and fins. The nice woman gave Ben a bag filled with the fish. And Ben now had a "sashimi emergency!" on his hands.
--btw, If you don't know or are not certain about the definition for sashimi, check out this wonderful site for answers.

Ben had also called David out of his Motobu hideaway, and the three of us cut up some tiny fish for sashimi and had a nice dinner with veggies, accompanied by Tom Waits, and complimented by Kirin and Orion beers and awamori later on. We watched two movies that evening: Dude Where Is My Car? and He Died with a Falafel in his Hand. The later one is an australian film that i would highly recommend. The first movie wasn't as bad as i thought it would be but not better than the second movie by the same director, Harold and Kumar go to White Castle .
I drove home that evening in order to get up early and call my sisters, which i did and it very nice to hear about what's been going on in their lives.

Sunday afternoon I decided to drive south to Chatan to perhaps catch the new Harry Potter movie, but on the way decided better of it and turned again towards Higashi-son.

I spent a wonderful couple of hours journaling and reading at Hiro's Coffee Farm.

A wonderful aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans fills the air around this house/farm/coffee shop and it was very relaxing sitting on a small veranda in the sunshine.
When i was leaving Hiro's, I gave Ben a call and found out that David and him were not too far away at an herb garden place.
I found them chilling in the living room/sales area of Meadow Greens , sipping iced green tea and chatting.

I joined them after taking a stroll through the fields and green house of this newly discovered business. David bought a rosemary plant and i got a few things for New Year's presents.
We then decided to look for a coffee shop that i heard about, north of Hiro's farm and deep in the jungle of Higashi-son.
We turned off the main road and followed the signs down a windy road that kept getting narrower and finally turned into an unpaved track wide enough for one car. At then end of it stood a house, surrounded by a green, lush jungle and a coffee shop was on the first floor of it. One of Ben's elementary students lives there but he hid from Ben the whole time, probably intimidated by the two other gaijin Ben brought with him.
The place was by far the best place I have been to in Okinawa so far. And that's saying a lot. It's a perfect getaway, chilling spot, and made all three of us wish that we could own a piece of jungle in the north of Okinawa so that we could open up one of these ourselves.

This is Ben checking out a somewhat pricey menu.

This is David and I enjoying our time.

And i wanted a picture of myself with a jungle backdrop.

More caffeine intake and we were once again on our way. This time south to Nago to join Ben C. and Aine for a dinner at an "all you can grill/eat for 90 minutes" place.

Aine is suspiciously eyeing Ben's serving of ice cream.

Ben is saddened by the prospects of the last piece of chicken on the grill.

At the end of Sunday I was fully loaded on caffeine, protein, and sugar. The drive home was a riot.

And tomorrow i am by myself in the classroom for the first time.


Friday, November 25, 2005

back to teaching

it's a great feeling i get when i walk out of a successful lesson.
and today i had two.
finally! i was back in the classroom after over a week long absense. Last week i was gone for the MYC and this week i wasn't needed on tues. and thur. and wednesday was a holiday. oh, and monday we had off because we "worked" on Sunday (we watched junior high school kids from the north perform).

wow. i just sneezed really loudly
and no one said "bless you" or "gesundheit". and that's still really weird to me.
not because they don't use English..i mean duh! but because nothing is said at all when someone sneezes. I come from two cultures that take that very seriously. My grandfather used to have a joke that whenever he sneezed and no one said anything, he would say, "Bud zdorov, Aron Isaikovich." Translated, "Be healthy, Aron Isaikovich"....Aaron was his get it? he used the saying himself to shame whoever was nearby, his granddaughters, to remember what they're supposed to say.
"bud' zdorov" is the russian equavalent to "gesundheit" a saying i use most often, partially due to the fact that i've lived in Milwaukee for so long.

ok.. off track
today, in the classroom i actually used something that they taught me in all those long and boring education classes at the university. I used multiple disciplines in the classroom. That is to say, creating as many connections to the material for kids as possible, so as to get everyone involved on one level or another.
my plan wasn't so intricate, but it never has to be. Sometimes all it takes is bringing in a map of a place you're reading abuot in a goofy story, or like what i did today, bringing paintings and photos to give examples of what is discussed.
Today, the 3rd graders were reviewing the pronoun, "that" and the construction, "This is a painting thatMonet painted."
To tell you the truth, it's a bit strained...i would personally forgoe the "that" in regular conversation, but nevemind that.
So i told them about Van Gogh's ear, and how to pronounce Monet, and Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and its prominance in movies, and i even brought in a new concept car from Nissan.
Turns out Elina is not just a talking English robot. Turns out, she actually knows other things. wow!

Anyways. It's quite a high coming out of a successful lesson.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

sensei to the rescue

kyou wa kayoubi desu.
today's tuesday.

and today i complited my first test for the CLAIR Japanese correspondance course. I cheated once when i changed one of the counting suffix answers. I didn't bother learning all of them, but the one i knew "-hon"--counter for long, thin things--i changed, 'cause i didn't notice that there was a number associated with the blank to be filled in.
So because it was 8 pencils.. the suffix change from -hon to -pon..
ok.. so this probably made sense to three people...but oh well..
i feel like i've accomplished something by taking the test, 'cause even though i am not yet speaking, i at least know things already and can start forming sentences in my head, and that's gotta count as a start.

another accomlishment of the day and the reason for today's title
-today we had a short day; after lunch and cleaning time the entire school went outside to pick the remaining shikwasas and to rake around the trees. At the beginning of the day i was feeling a bit useless. I have been gone exactly a week, and today i find out that two of my classes were cut because of the shikwasa picking activity and i don't have to attend the third class of the day, 'cause they'll just be getting the mid-term back and i am not needed.
a bit of a downer to tell you the truth.

but the redemption came when i went outside to help 3rd graders with the picking. As any teenagers will and these are no different from 13-4 year olds around the world, the kids kept getting off track; this mostly involved throwing the tiny, green fruit around in attempts to catch each other off guard.
I laugh it off and go on picking the bitter, lemon-like fruit. Half-hour into the picking process, a shriek explodes through the staunted, bush-like trees. I run to the source, a 3rd grade girl whose loud screams are attracting attention from her girlfriends and laughs from her male peers. She runs over towards me.. "sensei! sensei!!" and points toward the tree from under which she just ran off. I expect to see a teenage boy with a sheepish look on his face.
I put on my, "i'm a teacher, i'm concerned..what's wrong?" look and go towards the source of the problem.
The girl, however, did not encounter a thrown shikwasa but a spider, or it fell on her while she was rummaging through the prickly branches of the tree. The spider was now on the ground, large, yellowish and obviously disturbed by the prospect of having to climb back up to his web. I look around, see 3rd graders nodding to affirm that this 2 inch monster is indeed the source of the problem. I grab a leaf, allow the spider to climb aboard and take him towards the track field. After the problem has been rediposited, i check back on Aya, who is now talking frantically to one of her friends, indicating that she is back to normal and probably doing well. I ask if she's allright...if she needs water...she says she's "arigato!" and i move on to more shikwasa picking.
i am a hero! yeah!
i was indeed somewhat useful today.
also, at the moment, while everyone else is still picking shikwasa (alternate spelling, shiquasa) i am in the teachers' office because Noriko-san, our demure accountant, grabbed me on the way to the bathroom and asked if it would be allright for me to stay in the office, because she has to run off and everyone else is outside.
i am fulfilling an important role. i matter!
and tonight is the teachers' party in Nago and tomorrow being a national holiday it should be a good evening.

so i didn't mention how the Mid-year conference went. and it really would take almost too long to go into details.
To put it shortly, we had three days of workshops and speeches, which were decent and fun. We had four nights to carouse around Naha with lots of JETs. As i thought, most JETs stuck to the people they knew, so it was mostly the 1st years that hung out together, but there was some JET intermixing for ultimate frisbee on friday..talent show on wednesday..and of course, an evening at Paul & Mike's on friday....a visit to Naha without a stopover at that establishment is inconceivable to me right now.

interestingly enough, i met a german physicist who is visiting Okinawa for a few days and he read about Paul & Mike's in the Lonely Planet guide for Japan. cool, eh?
the other cool thing about him was that he is from Baden-Wuerttemburg and grew up near Stuttgart and went to school in Tuebingen. I thought it was neat that i met him because i spent 2 months in Baden-Wuerttemberg, lived near Stuttgart (and he actually heard of Mengen) and visited and loved Tuebingen. So we chatted about the famous, crazed poet from there.

the other coincidence of the night was finding out that a 2nd year JET who is originally from Hawaii attended Beloit college (in WI) and took a required writing course taught, at the time, by a first year Beloit professor who is also a very dear friend of mine.

the world is small
and today i am a hero in it

Beastie boys asking me "whatcha want?" in my ear...and at the moment...there's nothing i want.. i could say that i'm quite happy right now.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

a short one

yes...i'm around.
yes...i promise to write a longer post soon
tired now..and feeling a bit of a cold, so going to crash for a long night of sleep.
wanted to share a funny photo from this week.
On tuesday, i drove south to Naha to get a vaccination for Japanese encephalites (i have no idea how to spell that and do not feel like looking it up). The vaccine is a preventative measure for my December trip to India. More about that in a future post.
At the clinic an information screen was set up to show all sorts of interesting and uhmm....informative facts about possible threats lurking out there in Southeast of them, as you might know, is malaria..
So here is a bit of Engrish fun we noticed on that screen.....hope you catch it as well...

and to all of my friends in Israel who are reading this thanks to my mom who is also there at the moment: Ogromnii Privet!! Skuchau!!


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

like irony, only not

1st graders (7th graders) and i are on the same level in acquaring our perspective languages. Last week i learned how to ask and tell time. The next day, I was helping my 1st graders do the same thing and I could understand what they were saying in Japanese. I'd ask them to first say the answer in Japanese, and if it was correct, to translate it step by step into English. This week I'm tackling personal pronouns of all shapes and forms and we'll be on the same level at the end of the week.

The school is empty right now. Students are gone. 2nd graders went to their respective "on the job" internships. They're gone all week. 1st graders are gone today and tomorrow picking shikwasas and going to the factory where they're processesed. At least i think that's what they're doing. 3rd graders are at a home for the handicapped/old aged volunteering their time. A few weeks back they went to Naha for a day seminar on how to help the handicapped. On the computer next to me, a screensaver slideshow is actually showing the pictures of them from that day. They had to cover their eyes, hang things off of their limbs, walk with a cane (ala Harrison Bergeron) and help their friends who were put in wheelchairs or blindfolded.
Btw..if you haven't read that short story by Vonnegut, you really should.

I'm getting really good at putting together listening tests for students. Next week I won't be here during the day they will be taking their mid-terms, so I'll have to record the listening portion. I've just finished 1st and 2nd graders' tests...and I'm really good! wow.. he he

Listening to russian rock on my mp3 player. It's weird being in school with almost all teachers gone and no students. Empty halls, cloudy sky, sleepy art teacher, bored Elina....just not a good combination of elements.

Oh...the vice principal just dozzed off in his reclining computer chair.
He looks like a bear who's gone off into a lime green shirt.

The office lady and accountant just walked off together. Smiling. At the vice principal.

On Monday, when i was in Nago for a day to run some errands, I decided to look for a park our fearless blockhead, Ben, took us to in September for our first block game/initiation. He gave me directions and I only got lost once! It's a great park that's built around the site of the Nago castle ruins. The castle hasn't been functional since the 1700's; it's been only used as a prayer site. The park is in a mountain side with winding roads leading to different spots with benches; awesome kids' play areas; a huge soccer field; wonderful, secluded spots for reading; shrines hidden away in the shadows of trees; a bridge that leads from one section of the park to the other over a chasm filled with treetops.. and really nice views of Nago. I'll put up the few pics i took soon.
I drove around, checking out all the places, studied for a while at a table near the kids' playground, and then found the huge soccer field. Old men were playing "put put" (ok.. it looks like croquet..but is not) and then some kindergarteners showed up.....I was reading and all of a sudden two little boys came up to me and said in English "hello!" Then, one of them pointed to the other and said, "My name is Seito." and to himself, "My name is Daisaku" I was shocked!
So i asked how old they were... They understood the question but couldn't reply in English, so they did in Japanese, "rokku-sai"...good think i just learned that the suffix for counting ages is "sai".. :) so they were 6. A girl came up and also introduced herself. They giggled around me for a while and then went off to do their own thing on the jungle jims...

i love the coincidences...


Sunday, November 06, 2005


so happy Sunday to me
i'm at school right now, 'cause we have school today...'cause that's a normal thing to happen in a Japanese education system. There's some sort of a get together with parents at an elementary school and junior high school teachers will join the discussion in the afternoon, so we have a regularly scheduled day with morning classes cut slightly shorter to fit in an early lunch. We get Monday off, for being here today.
So my week has been like this:
Monday--taught two classes--Halloween--started writing "the novel" at a Kijoka cafe
Tuesday--taught three classes--one Halloween, two regular--drove to Nago to have dinner with Tracy and Jason at kaiten sushi (rotating sushi) restaurant; Ben and Ben joined us.
Wednesday--taught three classes--two Halloween, one regular--drove to Nago, met for dinner with Mike, Ben, Aine, Josh, Charlotte, and Mike's friend Hideko (who is hoping to go to UW Madison for MA in TESOL); drove to Kin to drop off a book for Tracy, drove to Kitanakagusuku to spend the night at Kelly's.
Thursday--Culture Day (holiday). Kelly and i got up around 11am, made it to Shuri castle area by 1pm, walked around for a good 4 hours; drove to Nishihara Jusco to meet for dinner with Julie, Chris, and Yasemin; drove Kelly home and drove home myself.
Friday--taught three classes--drove to Nago to meet up for a drive down in Gina's car to Chatan for the book club meeting. Got home around 11pm, watched "West Wing"
Saturday--got up at noon, cleaned, laundered, went to Okuma resort to swim and read on the beach; drove to Nago to drop off DVDs and met for dinner with Aine, Mike, Ben, Theresa and gf, Anna. Went to Sababa bar for a half hour; got home aruond 11:30
Sunday--at school, no classes to teach, working on putting together a poster about Milwaukee, wasting time by writing this blog and taking a new test for Kelly's entertainment.


Your Hat Personality Is A


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

my fire drill is better than your fire drill

monday i was a pirate and a fairly convincing one at that. with hand made sword, hat, and patch, a white shirt with rufles sticking out from under the sleeves of a black jacket, black pants, tall white thin socks, platform black loafers, and even a neckerchief to seal the deal. The kids ate it up. It was a lot of fun. I played Halloween games with two classes and it was the first time i gave out candy as prizes. Tuesday and Wednesday i played the same games with the three other classes along with regularly scheduled programming for the other ones. Things went really well. Tomorrow is a national holiday, yeah! for Japan and its random mid-week holidays. This one is called Culture Day, so presumingly i will be doing something to expand my cultural knowledge of Okinawa.

so about the fire drill.

Monday morning, after the meeting, my JTE comes up to me and says that we will have "starto fire," and i somehow deduce correctly that we will have a drill. He says that it will be at 2:45pm and the science teacher will "starto fire"....i say, "wha?!" that's right folks, at 2:47pm i heared the science teacher yelling something at the entrance on the first floor, everyone was where they were supposed to be, 5 teachers with their homeroom classes and everyone else variously occupied throughout the school. I wasn't given an escape plan (who cares about the ALT, right?) so i followed the accountant lady, Noriko-san, out of the teachers' office. I walked into smoke! Real smoke and then i understood what they meant by "starto fire." Noriko-san and i walked out onto the athletic field where i expected to see all the students gathered. It took students another 2-3 minutes to come out of the "burning" building, led by their teachers. They lined up in rows as usual and three people proceeded to tell them things. One of them is the village fire marshall who came along with an assistant in a small fire pick-up truck. He spoke as a man knowing that he has a captive audience in teenagers...and they were bored out of their minds...and they could understand the man! imagine me..standing there in my pirate outfit, drawing skull and bones on the field with my loafers. he he
So in order to spice things up, the assistant brought out a metal pan and 4 big spray canisters. Several kids practiced spraying water into the pan from a 5 m distance. Then he brought out lighter fluid, dumped some in the pan and lit it!
See that happenning in an MPS school anytime soon?!
The science teacher put it out with a fire extinguisher and it was lit again for a 3rd grade girl to put out. (don't forget that 3rd grade J.H.S. is equivalent to 9th grade) not a tiny kid, but still..quite impressive.
The kids were talked at a bit more, I found out that this is done once a year, and we all piled back into the building. On the way in, my JTE confessed that he and two other taechers made a mistake taking kids out of the building. They walked their classes right into the corridor where the wind was blowing smoke in their direction, so the kids would have burned or died of smoke inhalation. But that was the route indicated on the plan and they just didn't think about another option that would have led the kids outside via another way.
When that was over, i only had 30 more minutes of my day, so if i remember correctly, i spent them on the net. :)


Friday, October 28, 2005

kasu for me

at first i thought they said "kashu" and that would have meant an incredibly improbable language borrowing, but then it turned out that they were not refering to one of my lunch dishes with a russian word, meaning porridge...

ok.. so lunches this week have been...uhmm.. interesting. not bad or anything, just really different. well..allright.. they're always different, but i thought that after eating them for 2 months, there has got to come a point where i recognize a lunch dish every day of the week. nope. not so much. this week's special ingredient was seaweed. It was in pretty much everything and of all kinds. I have no problem with seaweed. I like seaweed. Yesterday there was something that looked like a falafel only slightly bigger, it sort of smelled like it too, which made me want fallafel; instead i got something that was filled with porridge like substance, mixed with seaweed and the outside crust, which resembled fallafel, smelled more like fish.

today, it was called "kasu" and looked weird...i mean, i don't know how to describe it.. i looked up the word in the dictionary and got back, "dregs" "impose" "loan" and "scum." great! but then it was explained to me, mostly with hand gestures, that "kasu" is made from putting tofu in a sack, squeezing all the water out and using the remaining substance. The "kasu" at lunch was mixed with peas, carrots, some meat-like looking cubes, and you guessed it.. seaweed! it wasn't all that bad, really..just kind of on the dry spot. I thought perhaps baking it with a sauce, or just dumping a bunch of barbeque sauce on top would have really done the trick.
The other side dish today was salty fish, not quite dry, not quite raw...little sardines, if you will. I had a couple then gave up. Some days it's easy to cut down on the food intake around here, although the dessert this week has been great--fruit all week. I've eaten more apple this week than i've eaten in the last 3 months on this island. And in case i haven't mentioned the reason for my lack of apple consumption, it's that an individual apple here costs anywhere from 1 to 2 dollars. They look great, though! Oh, and i'm not a huge apple fan, so it's no big.

It's kin-youbi...Friday!
Yesterday made a Halloween poster that every teacher commented on in the passing--they think i'm awfully creative...and i think i'm just glueing things together for kids to stare at in-between classes. It turned out well, though, i think. I'll have a pic of it on the fotki site sometime soon.

Oh, and here's an interesting little bit of fun i did.
Took another test, just to see if i can find something fun for Kelly ('cause, truly, anything i do during the day is for Kelly's enjoyment)...and i took "what language you should learn" test...and ...yep.. it's Japanese...i'm so glad i'm here and not in France!

You Should Learn Japanese

You're cutting edge, and you are ready to delve into wacky Japanese culture.
From Engrish to eating contests, you're born to be a crazy gaijin. Saiko!


Wednesday, October 26, 2005


home from school. had a really good day of doing pretty much nothing. The JTE is gone for three days and i don't have to teach any classes--they rearranged the entire schedule for the week. In the morning, I studied Japanese and worked on India papers, but in the afternoon I got invited to join the 1-2 class on an excursion to make shisas. If i haven't mentioned shisas, i'm sorry, they are very traditional Okinawan lions that sit in front of people's houses or any other place that people could enter, such as bridges, restaurants, malls, etc...They are almost always in pairs and one of the lions brings in the good energy and the other one blows out the bad. They're usually made out of ceramics, and so today we went to a woman's house who has her own pottery workshop in the village. The drive was into the hills and fun, as usual and her house was fantastic. She has a beautiful two story place surrounded by an overgrown yard with dogs and one chicken and little paths that lead to garden patches...just really nice stuff...she even showed me her workshop and her kiln and invited me over whenever.
The students and i got to make shisas by using something akin to clay but not quite, have no idea what the mixture is called but when it dries, it kind of looks halway between clay and cement. We got to use shells, sea glass, broken bits of ceramics and roof tile to put together our shisa. I only had my cellphone camera with me, so i'm sorry i won't have any pics to put up until the dried shisas are delivered to the school sometime in the future.
It was a lot of fun, though--a nice break from the routine and the kids loved it.

so now, i'm home and i was putzing around on the net and took a short test that was supposed to tell me how old i act...and it spit back at me that i act exactly my age.
i'm sure if anyone else takes it, it won't do the same thing--that is, guess your exact age.. but it's fairly interesting that it did that for me.
I don't feel my age here, but i know i act it sometimes, and then i don't. And what does it mean, anyways to act 27? :))

You Are 27 Years Old

Under 12: You are a kid at heart. You still have an optimistic life view - and you look at the world with awe.

13-19: You are a teenager at heart. You question authority and are still trying to find your place in this world.

20-29: You are a twentysomething at heart. You feel excited about what's to come... love, work, and new experiences.

30-39: You are a thirtysomething at heart. You've had a taste of success and true love, but you want more!

40+: You are a mature adult. You've been through most of the ups and downs of life already. Now you get to sit back and relax.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

serious fun

another wonderful Okinawa weekend behind me and lots of new memories, thoughts, discoveries, misunderstandings, opinions, ideas, and Engrish fun to add to the book of my experiences, but for now, here's just a bit of fun.

This weekend i noticed that Craig and Kelly have very similar, beautiful eyes. Kelly claims hers are better, Craig believes his take the cake. So here are two shots for your consideration. We'll label the ones on the right, A, and the ones on the left, B. You may vote for your favorite by leaving a comment on the blog or by e-mailing me directly. Thanx for participating, we hope to resolve this argument with your help. :)

___Earlier, this post experienced what in some circles is known as a "faux pas" or in others, more correct circles is known as "Elina is not very bright and should double check things instead of pressing buttons as quickly as possible" now that that has been fixed, although it did taint the earlier polling results, i hope it doesn't stop some of you from voting, nonetheless.

oh, and some pics are up from this weekend, and if you need the password for locked ones, please e-mail me.


Friday, October 21, 2005


that's the katakana for "title"

wanted to do a quick update, so as people don't think i'm melancholy all the time.

my jambalaya was very well received. they liked it and i even got to explain that it's a cajun dish, which means a mixture of culture and they get that here, 'cause Okinawa is a mix of cultures.. and they even use that word for a dish that's very traditionally Okinawan, called "champuru"...that literally means, "a mix" and there are four standard kinds: goya champuru, tofu champuru, fu champuru, and vegetable champuru (if i'm lying on this one, guys, please correct me).
The female teachers even asked me to explain the process of making the dish, so i had to admit that i use the spices from a packet and don't know what's in them.. but they really didn't care...and Hisako-san asked me to bring it again the next day...and good thing she did, 'cause i had plenty left over and was not planning on eating today being Friday, my jambalaya has been fully devoured at lunch and my fridge is empty once again.

i had three classes today. With the 3rd graders we chatted about different gestures and some of them really got into it and were mimicking the gestures i was making. And i wanted to share with them a gesture from a different culture (it's all about internationalization, right?) so i commented on how "wait" is shown similarly in Japan and the States.. but in Israel it's a completely different gesture..and they loved that.. although there are chances that it means something in Japan and i just don't know what it is.. but i did show it to my JTE before doing it in class, and he didn't react in any alarming way, so i think i'm ok on that one..
("wait" or "rega" in Israel is shown by putting together the tips of the thumb, the index and middle fingers, turning the hand palm up and slightly raising it.)

the second graders were introduced to the "enjoy + -ing" grammar...example: I enjoy typing up these blogs.
Although how grammar can be introduced and explained in 2 minutes is beyond me.. but i'm not the teacher, right?
so we had a worksheet to have them practice the concept. they had walk around and ask their friends and me whether we enjoyed doing different things..and they had to create their own original question. and of course, i got simple stuff, such as "do you enjoy playing baseball/basketball/tennis/soccer" but everyonce in a while, a student would come up with "do you enjoy cycling"..."do you enjoying studying (and studying Japanese)"
i never thought i'd be so excited over hearing "do you enjoy reading books?"

the first graders as always were a treat. i did a mini self-introduction by putting together some photos and pictures of things i like and don't like, such as mexican food, strawberries, traveling (i had photos of me in DC, New York, and Israel), my hobbies...and then i wrote it up on a poster board as they could look at the writing as i was saying it..and it acted as an example when we then asked them to start creating their own self-introduction..
they worked in groups and put their desks together and actaully wrote down ideas and asked me questions..which is also making me realize how many words i've learned so far.. i can actually say a few things to clarify directions for them.. it's pretty cool...and they get a total kick out of me saying "sumimasen" ("excuse me") if i disturb their work space by walking was such pleasure observing a class full of students absorbed in an activity and making progress and seemingly enjoying it...
no matter what my day is like before or after.. moments like these are totally worth it
so their homework for the weekend is to put together a poster like mine, with pictures, cutouts, drawings of things about them...
i'm looking forward to the results...
it's fun doing things like that with the first graders because they had positive experiences with English in elemantary schools, thanx to Gabrielle's enthusiasm of the last three years...and they're not jaded to it like 3rd graders are ..and i can try different things and instill expectations in them that are above the ones asked of them now..and work with that for the next two'll be great to see them as 3rd graders...

so things are good.. they're really good...
and i discovered that i can rent episodes of "the west wing" and that just totally made my night last night..
i know..
i'm a geek..
but Josh Lyman is such a sexy character, especially when he gets angry at something...

oh, and speaking of politics.. yesterday i said to one of the teachers who was asking me about my religion, "politics and religion are difficult...everything else is easy".. i kind of made that up on the spot..but i think i really believe that now--you try explaining to someone who barely speaks English in dictionary-Japanese the difference between being Jewish religiously or culturally..


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

tao for you

been feeling a bit moody the last few days.
It's nothing serious, just your regular, disgruntled stuff. Here it just seems all emotions are hightened, because all the usual ways of dealing with them are gone--i can't just go and walk Molly in the park, or call Shelley, or lay on the couch at mom's, or drink coffee at grandma's with Anna and Sofya. Those comforts, which somehow allay the feelings of depressions or nostalgia, or whatever other moodiness is happenning are not within reach, and so it is up to me to create new ones. Will it be taking a drive after school down an unknown road? Will it be watching an episode of "lost" and eating jambalaya? Or will it be driving to Nago to hang out with crazy Block 1 crew--who are, btw, the winners of the recent block game challenge--yeah yeah!!

i did cook a jambalaya.. and yes, it was done with the help of a Zatarain's box..but i added stuff, and it's better than the box, and tasted wonderfull and i will take a bit of it to school tomorrow to share with the teachers. It is customary to bring in boxed cookies and treats, especially if one goes on trips, but every once in a while a teacher will bring in a dish, or will have for lunch a bit of something students made in home economics (and it's actually good). So i thought i'd show off my knowledge of things cajun and have them try something a bit spicy, 'cause most lunch dishes are fairly dull as far as spices are concerned.

Today i got stuck in a ditch on the road, while i was driving around, looking for nothing in particular. The ditches here are about 15cm wide and 30cm deep and run along the roads on both sides...some sort of drainage system, i'm sure. well, i was Y-turning and miscalculated and the left front wheel went inside the ditch. And i was stuck in the middle of a country road with no knowledge of where i was (well.. i was somewhere between Ogimi and Higashi, north of Nago and south of Kunigami..but that wouldn't help anyone)...i can't speak Japanese, even if i were to call someone, and Ben, who lives in Higashi and can speak Japanese, would have no way of finding me. Oh, and my car was basically at the top of a hill, so anyone driving up would have hit me because they wouldn't have had enough time to stop. Brilliant! I know.
sorry, mom.
Well, i figured out that i can turn the wheel and put the car in drive and let the wheel drive onto to the other side of the ditch and then quickly back up. It worked, i'm safe, it's all good.. but i was a bit worried there for a sec. ;)

Today at lunch we had curry and talked music. The music teacher commented on my playing the piano, i think she said i was good, so that's cool, and practicing the piano has been a really good moment in my school days.

The monster post was just for fun.

Here's what i really wanted to share because it goes along with my mood.
This is from a postcard i bought before i came here.
I'm not sure if i'm getting everything i'm supposed to from this passage, but with all things, the meanings we get out of them change depending on who we are when we read them. So right now it rings differently to me then when it did when i first got it; i wonder what it will mean to me in a year or two.

Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred.

You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

So sometimes things are ahead
and sometimes they are behind;
sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
sometimes one is up and sometimes down.

Therefore the sage avoids
extremes, excesses and complacency.

Text by Lao Tsu, from Tao Te Ching, Chapter 29


Blogthings - What's Your Monster Name?

Blogthings - What's Your Monster Name?: "

Your Monster Profile

Creepy Gaze

You Feast On: Pickles

You Lurk Around In: The Alamo

You Especially Like to Torment: Groupies


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

the tug weekend

This was yet another long weekend with the Monday off and we took full advantage. But first, on Friday night, I was taken out to a real sushi restaurant by my supervisor and the superindendent, aka my best buddy at the Board of Education. What a wonderful meal! Mr. Taira (the superindendant) reserved three spots at the sushi counter and we had a fantastic meal. I tried natto, which is some sort of a bean curd goo. It's really not pleasant--it has a very strong, pungent smell, and it oozes and stretches when it's picked. My students have been asking me since day 1 if i liked natto and now i can finally answer that i've tried it and no! i don't like it at all. But everything else during the meal was fantastic. We had some escargot from Kyushu, some tiny grilled fish that were eaten whole and best when with cold sake. So good times.

Saturday i drove to Kin and picked up Tracy, then we picked up a TV and a stand for Kerri from a marine kid, and then Kerri proceeded to drop the tv stand on her toe and we should have called for a refund, except the stand came free with the TV. On the upside, Kerri can now watch DVDs and we enjoyed that fact later in the weekend.
Saturday night was the fundraiser for the hurricaine Katrina at Paul and Mike's with lots of fun JETs and locals and DJing provided by Amul.
Sunday was the Naha matsuri, which involves the biggest rope in the world being pulled by hundreds (maybe thousands) of people on either side.
It was a very spirited and beautiful event and even the slight rain didn't dampen our spirits. We pulled and tug and crashed into our rope neighbors and our side (the west side) came out victorious.
I should probably let Kelly handle the historical aspects of the event, but I will mention that the tug of war has been around in the Okinawan tradition since the 1600s and is a part of the harvest festival. The rope, in its present, 40ton shape has existed since the 1997 when it was entered into the Guiness Book of Records. Every year the rope is remade because it is a symbol of good luck to take away a part of the rope, and people go all out.
We all walked away with a little bit of the Okinawan spirit in our hands and headed for the second portion of the festivities, The Orion Beer Paradise!
Chris, Kerri, Tracy, and I headed back to Kerri's to chill with a couple of bottles of Chianti and a movie. Kelly, Matt, and Yasemin (in a spectacular entrance) joined us later in the night, and we stayed up listening to Chris' guitar playing and chatting into the early morning hours.

The next day was spent drinking coffee at a Chatan Starbucks and lazing around on the beach. The weekend was capped off with a wonderful italian meal and Tracy and I headed north giddy from coffee and sweets and a feeling of yet another weekend well spent.


UWM: School of Education: New Teacher Blogs

ok..there's lots of things going on and today i hope to put up photos from the big Naha festival aka "the biggest tug of war in the world" so check the Fotki page in a few hours, but this is a link that was sent to me through UWM. Kevin and I are featured in the EdLine magazine and the links to our blogs have been put up at the UWM site. I guess I'll have to start talking about actual teaching in these posts soon. :) Too bad this week is the fall vacation and all I'm going to do is take care of business for the India trip and do some exploring down South.


Monday, October 03, 2005

what Okinawa is made of

i'm sure this topic can and will be covered in several blogs
if not in every one in one way or another

my days are filled with slight melancholy for things i knew and extreme giddiness for the things i've yet to discover. Finding a balance seems to be the growing experience everyone talks about.
I can play the piano on the second floor of the Junior high school. I'm learning new japanese songs and looking at the wall covered with pictures of composers i learned about as a kid but whose names i now can't read.
Even though katakana is used to write foreign words in japanese, knowing it(which hoooray! i do now) does not guarantee comprehension. Something written as "kohee" in katakana..means coffee. but that's almost too simple. names of composers are near impossible to figure out. but i'm working on it. still looking for tschakoivsky; that should be the most amuzing one.

watched my students compete in the Track & Field event. It was a very hot day but an enjoyable one. Every school was represented by a cheering crowd of supporters who relentlessly screamed, danced, whistled, and moved to show their athletes they were there for them.

My students did allright. A 3rd grader took a third place in high jump and a few girls took 4th and 5th places in 100m, 400m, and 400m relay. I walked around the field a lot and spend time chatting with other ALTs.

later that evening i drove south to Yasmine's apartment in Nakagusuku and had a wonderful time hanging out with Chris, Kelly, Martin, Priya and Yasmine. Yasmine is from Turkey and so she had the ingredients for me to make turkish coffee and even pretend i knew anything about fortune telling. (although, i did surprise myself and was able to see a few things and talk about them) and really missed my grandmother at that moment.
but that's the balance.

we played a game i brought from the states called catchphrase and it was a hit. The game uses a lot of American expressions and it was fun watching Yasmine try and explain them literally. stayed up way too late and had a late start but made it out to see yet another gorgeous castle in Nakagusuku, called appropriately, Nakagusuku-jo.
The road from the castle lead to the ruins of a hotel that was abandoned years ago because of hauntings and rumors and no wonder, there are tombs within the hotel grounds and it's next to a massive castle with shrines on every corner.
Okinawa is a deeply spiritual place; there is energy at work here the likes of which i've only felt in Israel; so i'm not surprised that the hotel had to be left behind, even though it looks like it was very near completion.

these are some thoughts i wrote down earlier when i was looking at the pics of the hotel.

[walking through the abandoned building, an eerie feeling crept through me. whether it was because i knew the hotel was left to squaters because it was haunted or because it was such a contrast between the castle ruins i had just strolled through. we expect to see something that is 700 years old on the brink of collapse..seeing a modern building in the same type collapsed state is onerous and near disturbing, although also very fascinating and exciting. Fascinating because things like this do not exist in the realities of most people. There are buildings like these out there some people call home, and the society doesn't think of them as people worth considering. Even though the building has been abandoned by those who would pay to stay in it and enjoy all the amenities it should have offered; it is still very much in use by teenagers, drunks, punks, partiers, and americans. However, the one things that disturbed me more than the haunted feeling was a swastika with an SS sign painted in one of the rooms. Yes, the hotel was covered in vulgar graffiti, but to have that in addition to everything else was sickening.]

So we went from the ruins of the old that are being rebuilt to the abandoned construction of the modern that has been left to ruin.

and that's the stuff of Okinawa.
that and the great people i meet here.
they make the balance happen painlessly and harmonously.

and for some reason i'm considering running. gabrielle has insisted that she'll get me to run soon enough, and i didn't believe her. although this is still just the thinking process, the fact that i'm thinking about it should put a few people who know me on alert.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

so, Dave, what's up with that gas flap?

it's been a long weekend. a really long weekend. and it was a really good one in all sorts of ways. but i'm not going to tell you about anything that happened to me. I am going to share with you David's story.
There's a couple of things you need to know before i proceed. First, David is a wonderful 22 year old guy who is a new JET and came in with my group to Okinawa and now lives in Motobu, about a half hour drive from me. Second, in Okinawa, and i'm going to assume, in the rest of Japan as well, gas stations are full service. All you need to know is on which side the gas tank is on and where the trigger is to open the gas flap. Oh, and it would help to know that when they're asking you something, they're probably asking you for garbage that they could help you get rid of.
So last night, Chris, Ben and I met David for dinner in Nago. On the way to my favorite izakaya, David called saying something about car trouble and that he was at a gas station and that he doesn't think he'll be too late but just to give us a heads up that he will be. I was a bit worried and told him to call us should he need anything.
We head to the izakaya, and by the time we get the table (the place was packed), David shows up and we proceed to order food, 'cause i don't know about David, but the three of us were starved.
So, of course, i ask David what was wrong with his car, and he's reluctant to tell us but finally he gives up the coyness and tells us that he broke off the flap door to his gas tank, so now we're really curious and he shares with us a truly "david crennen" type of story.
David was driving from Motobu into Nago, he decided to stop for gas at a gas station near the izakaya. He asks for a 1000 Yen worth of gas and flips open the gas flap. He watches as the gas attendant puts in the hose and then waits for him to finish, pay his bill and leave. As David explained, he waited for a good period of time considering that he always gets 2000 Yen worth of gas, and this was taking longer than usual. So the man comes around and David hands him the money (David.. maybe he was asking you for garbage..i just thought of that); happily to be on his way, David drives off. What David doesn't realize at this moment, is that the man was not finished filling him up and the hose has not been pulled out of his gas tank so David's car (also known as the "Exciting version") is dragging a long piece of gas hose that has been yanked off the top of the gas pump and there's gas spouting out of it and gas attendants running behind him.
David stops immediately, gets out of the car, by this point (to everyone's relief) the gas has stopped pouring out, and David is a bit more releaved, so without knowing what else to do at that exact moment, he shrugs his shoulders and says, "gomenasai," which means sorry.. :)
I'm assuming Chris will attempt to retell this story through his words, but i don't think there's a good way to sharing it without you knowing David and how he tells stories.
The point being, the gas flap was the monumental cap off to the whole thing.
After we've been laughing for a while, and David has told us that his supervisor was on the phone with the attendants, and through laughter told David to get to school in the morning where everything would be sorted out, i decided to ask what did actually happen to the gas flap with which David has so intriguingly started his tale.
"Well, you know, how in some action movies, when a car blows up, there's usually a hubcap that spins out of the blast and turns on itself with slowed momentum?" "Yeah."
"Well, when i looked back at the gas pump, i saw my gas flap doing that very thing, i don't know how it was able to spin on the ground like that, but it was doing it and i just stood there and watched for a few seconds before it stopped."

So there ya go.

And here's a picture to prove it.
After that we heard a couple of other stories, one of them involved David flattening three out of four tires in one go, but it's best when he tells it.

Oh, and my weekend, once again was beautiful.

My students didn't take a place in the story contest, which is complete rubbish, but it was a learning experience for them and me, too bad that i get to try again next year with new students, but because they're third graders, this was their last chance..although they could try again in high school i suppose.
MCing was fun, and i'm told i did a wonderful job.
I have a few pics up from the speech contest, and i'll have more pics up for the weekend, as soon i figure out a way to get them from Chris.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

this will not be brief

so i've been slacking on updating this place. my apologies to those of you anxiously waiting for any and all news on my life here. Please stop biting your finger nails and listen here.
So i've been busy and i figure that's how it's going to be for a while, until i decide to stop spending money and start doing things that are closer to home and don't cost much.
If you've checked the fotki page, then you might have noticed several new additions, including a special folder for events that necessitate separate albums because there are too many photos involved.
So i'll start in the beginning, then, shall i?
Last week thursday, i got a call from my supervisor who urged to leave my apartment, where i was about to cook some chow, and walk across the street to the community center. His english is not that good, but i did make out "turtles" and "ocean." When i get there, i see a party of several children and adults who are checking plastic bins filled with tiny sea turtles. Apparently, they were rescued from the beach as they hatched by a local enthusiast prior to the typhoon of two weeks ago. He let them grow up a bit and decided to organize a "releasing of the turtles" party. He wasn't the only one who had collected them off the beach near my apartment. Several other people had buckets of turtles that they brought with them when we all gathered on the beach.
Here's what a week old sea turtle looks like.

So that was a very unique experience and i'm very thankful to my supervisor for remembering to invite me. It was fun seeing a bunch of villagers gathered around these tiny creatures and the kids were just having a blast, picking them up and running down to the ocean to set them down and watch them scramble their way towards the water.

Friday was an all day rehearsal for the sports fest at my school. I have created a separate album for the sports fest, including pics from the rehearsal and then the execution on Sunday.
The kids worked incredibly hard; i haven't been a part of such a communal experience in a really long time, if ever, really. All the kids' parents were there to watch and quite a few participated in relay races. The PTA was involved in organizing some fun races, and even the high school students came in to volunteer with the background stuff, such as serving the important men and women tea and buiscuits and cleaning up after the event.
I think my favorite part was the Ogimi female dance. I didn't know it was about to happen, but all of a sudden, i was being called to dance with 40 or so women. These were mothers, sisters, aunts of the students and they gathered in a large circle and there were 10 or so who knew the dance very well and the rest of us just watched them as the music played and tried to follow along. It was a very enjoyable experience; the people here are so giving in all kinds of ways that it just makes me wonder how they are this way and how come so many others around the world aren't.
The sports fest was a great time, and i even got to participate by running in a relay and dancing in a folk dance with the 3rd graders group. I am told that i ran very fast, but i keep joking that those 200 meters were all i could run.
The students were exhausted by the end of the day; and some 3rd graders were teary eyed at the closing ceremony because they worked really hard organizing the whole event and this was their last sports festival.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention that students basically ran the whole thing. There were several leaders chosen during the summer to organize the events; teachers were of course in charge of the overall planning, but the lead students were the ones teaching others the events, such as Eisa dancing, Bo fighting, folk dancing, female dance, etc. And during the races, students kept track of the scores, fired the starting guns, and told everyone where to be and where to go at specific times.
So that was very impressive to me, and certainly added a very special charm to the events. Class 2-1 won the entire competition and have a small trophy now in their classroom that will stay there until next year's sports fest.
Here's one of my favorite photos from the fest.

OK. After the sports fest, i drove south, picked up Kelly and Chiye and we headed for Naha by way of stopping at Kerri's in Urosoe, dropping off my car and taking the metro to the Kokusaidori (main drag in Naha). The islanders, Andy, Brett, and Craig, organized this crazy get together and provided a wonderful drink called, habusho sake, which involves putting a live venomous snake into a bottle of sake, sealing it up, watching the snake die and release its poison into the drink. This makes the sake have that very special power of turning a gang of happy JETs into a roudy bunch of gaijin who won't stop at anything to have a bloody good time. There was some dancing, some dancing on the bar, some dancing on the tables, some more drinking, chatting, laughing, picture taking, and just general, crazy time.

Here's a sneak peek at a locked album, if you're a JET reading this, e-mail me for the password.

The rest of the weekend went like this. Saturday, Kelly, Chiye and I checked out the main castle of the Ryukyu kindgom, the Shurijo. For a more detailed description of the history and to look at pics from that day, check out Kelly's site from the links on the right. We got a yearly pass, so i'll be back, when the weather is not so hot and i'm not so hung over.
Sunday, Ben from Higashi-son (he's from Manchester originally) and I went to a castle in the north, called Nakijin-jo (jo stands for "castle") and i have some pics up from that day. Whereas Shuri castle has been mostly reconstructed, the Nakijin castle is basically ruins that have been partially excavated. The outer wall is still intact and very impressive. THe inner grounds have several shrines and a nice paths to walk. It was nice seeing archaeogical digs "in process," they were covered up by tarps and looked like they haven't been touched in a week or two.
Sunday night was the fest at the Okuma resort 15 minute drive north from me. It's a military resort, but once a year they open it up to the whole island and have games, shows, and an Okinawan band. A bunch of ALTs were there and so were almost all of my students, who kept asking if any of the guy ALTs were my boyfriends.

Ok. I'll stop right here, and just say that i had a monday off, and taught on tuesday and wednesday, which went well. Thursday (today) we have off as well, and tomorrow is the speech contest, which i'm MCing..and i'll be sure to tell what happens. So keep your fingers crossed for my two students who have been practicing for this thing for over a month.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

sunset boulevard

These were both taken tonight, two minutes apart. I'm perplexed by the dramatic difference the zoom made. And this view is only a 3 minute walk from my apartment building.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

This is a link to the map of the Ocean Expo Park and the Churaumi Aquarium.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium map

Kelly, David and I were there this Sunday after a night of partying at Tracy's apartment in Kintown. The Aquarium is in Motobu, which is the pertrusion on the west coast of the Okinawa main island (if you've ever seen a map of Okinawa main island, that would make sense). David lives and works in Motobu, and I live about a 40 min drive north from him. This was Kelly's first venture to the north of the island, as she is one of them southern city folk. We started off at the South Gate, if you're looking at the Aquarium map, and wandered all the way to the Central Gate to see the dolphin show at the Dolphin Studio. The walk was wonderful. The place is filled with botanical wonders of Okinawa. We walked at a leisurely pace, stopped often and took pics. What this map doesn't show is the abundance of bathrooms at the Expo Park. I swear that there is a bathroom house every 500 meters or so, and they're all nice and clean, as most public bathrooms on Okinawa are.
It doesn't cost a yenni to explore the Expo park, this includes the manatee house, the dolphin show, the dolphin lagoon, the native okinawan village. The small museums cost 600 to 800 yen and the main Aquarium is 1800 yen or a yearly pass for 3600. We didn't pay any money on sunday (well, except for purchasing ice cream snacks) and spent three wonderful hours at the Expo Park. The dolphin show was great, as were the manatees and the sea turtles. You've got to check out my fotki page to see the funniest sign we encountered that day; it supposedly explained about the turtle birthing rituals, but that's just a guess.
I'm deffinately going back to check out the actual aquarium; it is the 2nd largest in the world and might be worth a yearly pass.

It's difficult to go back to school after a relaxing weekend spent amongst JETs; the weekends here are deffinately always filled with some goings on, so much so sometimes, that one has to pick and choose as to what to do.
However, school is also fun. Today, for instance, I got to jump rope with 2nd graders, and got to try a game out in a 2nd grade classroom as well. So it's all good, and I'm happy to be here every day that I am.
And for lunch today, we had egg drop soup and a vegetable stir fry. As always, i gave away my school milk to an eager student. And played junken over who would clean up the lunch trays. I'm happy to say that I won.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

a "typical" school day

and none have been this week, 'cause the students are getting ready for the "Undokai," which, if i'm undersstanding this correctly, is a sports show. All over the northern area the schools will be showing off their sports ability. This, however, only includes track and field as the sport, but students will also be performing an Eisa drum dance, some sort of a karate show, and a folk dance. The preparations started in earnest on Monday and will continue until next week Friday, when there will be a major rehearsal all day and the Undokai is on that Sunday (the 18th). Preparation means that there are no classes after lunch. Starting at 2pm, students and teachers take off for the gym or the outside or both and start getting ready. On Monday, we watched a group of students show the rest of the school the Eisa dance they prepared and which the rest of the students will learn. On TUesday, students were outside practicing the karate show with long sticks; yesterday, they were outside again working on the Eisa and today we started on the folk dancing and Eisa again. Today, was the first day I joined in the activities. To me, the practice times mean that i have to stay in school until 6pm every day, because the two students i'm prepping for the English speech contest can't practice that until they're done with the Undokai stuff, so i see them after 4:30.
Today was special for two reasons. I got to try a game activity in the 1st grade classroom and i joined in with the Undokai prep outside.
My JTE told me in the morning that he wanted to take the 1st graders to the computer lab to play on the site. "Genki" btw is a very very popular word and it basically means "excited" or "pumped up" or "in a good mood" get it.. if elementary school kids run their heads off all day for no reason, that just means they're very "genki"....and being "genki" is important.
So this website is put together by some former JETs and it's very resourceful and they've basically turned it into a business, supplying English teachers in japan with loads of activities, CD-Roms, games, worksheets, etc. Of course, most of it has to be ordered, but the website does offer some neat games for the kids to try. Most are geared towards the younger students, so perfect for the 1st graders who are still having trouble with the alphabet.
But that fell through, and i'm almost glad it did, 'cause he didn't have anything prepared for it; i actually went on the website and made a quick worksheet for an activity i thought we'd have them do, in case we did get in.
He apparently, didn't clear us using the comp. lab with the vice principal, so we were back to square one and he had nothing planned for the classroom either.
So i jumped at the opportunity to push for a game. I changed up the "scattegories" game we were introduced to at the Naha conference and it worked beautifully. The kids were very "genki" about it and i gave out prizes to the winners and my JTE said, "they liked it, ne?"...and i was pleased, 'cause that means that maybe next time i suggest a game for a class, it might go through.. yeah!! one little victory on behalf of the little people.

The folk dancing was hillarious. I was asked to join 'cause the 3rd grader boys didn't have enough partners in their own grade. So four of us, my JTE, the head teacher (she's the math teacher), the student teacher and I, stepped in as the partners. Now, don't go thinking that the folk dancing was Japanese.. nothing of the sort. It was some sort of simplified version of a very generic European dance. I don' tknow where they got it, or what is the origin of the music, but it reminded me of all the folk dancing i've done when i was a part of a dance group back home. THe boys were shy having to dance with their teachers, but most of them knew the steps and it went swimmingly. Of course, i was sweating buckets, 'cause i wasn't prepared to spend two hours in the sun and did not have a hat, or appropriate footwear (sorry, mom). But it was fun and hopefully they'll ask me to dance during the Undokai, 'cause at least i'll be somehow involved and won't just spend hours watching from the sidelines.
After the "folk" dancing we had a short break and it was onto the Eisa practice. I joined that as well and am happy to say that i'm doing well with all of the three parts of the dance. Unfortunately, it's difficult to explain what that means.
Basically, a typical Eisa drum dance will have several repeating dances. The music changes and so do the steps. Each musical number will go on for 3-5 minutes and then it will shift and we do another dance repeatedly for 3-5 minutes and so on. The adult groups do 5 or 6 different dances, which can be very streneous, so the kids are only doing 3, but they're complex enough, so it'll take me a few practices to get it right.
after that, there was speech contest prep and that's going well; very proud of the two girls, i think they'll do well ... (i'm mentally spitting behind my left shoulder right now) :)

and as a lesson for the day:
do not leave a box of Mentos in an "empty" box, if you're not planning on finding it for over a month, because the ants will.
yep. that's the lesson.


Monday, September 05, 2005

back to NOLA

of all the cities that I've visited in the United States, New Orleans, was the most charming, the most peculiar, the most spirited, the most unusual, spiritual, weird, historical, stunning, yummy, and depressing. Honestly. I loved every moment i spent in that city both times i was there; and now i realize how lucky i was to have been there for Mardi Gras--i saw NOLA at its finest and and its worst, simulteneously...and at its worst, it still kept the humor and ease it's famous for.

I'm not surprised by what happened in the aftermath of the hurricaine there; I am not surprised at the level of ineffeciency and misconduct shown by the local and federal authorities towards a large population of people. I am not even surprised that it was in a BBC report that I first actually read the words, "The majority of those in most desperate need of relief were impoverished black people who may not have had the means to leave the affected area ahead of Hurricane Katrina."
But i am surprised by the amount of violence that has erupted in that city and at how merciless people can be in a time of absolute and dire need. How can we possibly expect a population that is capable of such acts of violence to stand up for itself and give support to any other part of the world. We can't help ourselves, how can we help others? I am stunned, as I'm sure most of you are by the reports of shooting at rescue workers and contractors; who are these people that strike against a fellow humans whose only purpose is to help, whose life is as precious as the lives of those who perished in the disaster.
sorry. I'll stop. just extremely upset and i thought that things like that wouldn't phase me now. they do. they should touch and unnerve and disturb everyone. they are disturbing.
a few days ago i posted a link to a blog being kept by a group of very dedicated people keeping track of things in NOLA and posting about what they see on an hourly basis. please, check it out.
and i just wanted to include what the writer wrote about politics, in case you don't read that specific post. He makes a very good point and I believe it should be shared.

From Interdictor : So yeah, I'm not going to support or condemn anyone specific for what's going on here.

And another thing to think about when we start pointing fingers is this. The government is never equipped to handle a crisis like this. There's too much bureaucracy -- initiative-stifling bureaucracy which prevents swift, effective action. I would like to hear from government employees on this. The nature of that bureaucracy is such that you have very specific guidelines to follow for even the most minute tasks. You need approval for just about everything, and the person you need approval from usually needs approval to give you the approval.

It's not as easy as say rounding up 4 of your co-workers and saying, "We've got someone at such and such an address, let's go grab her and get her out of there." Now add a destroyed or disabled command and control center to that bureaucracy and you've got a total and complete mess.

You (as a civilian) don't need "Approved" stamped on 3 different forms before you can run into your neighbor's house and pull them out. I hope this makes sense.

Anyway, I'm sure there's been human error in this catastrophe. How could there not be? But what I'm saying is that I've come to expect poor decision making and a total lack of initiative from government. They can't even balance a budget, at the federal, state, or local levels. I could balance my checkbook and spend within my means when I was a teenager. But I'm not gonna point fingers and get into the blame game. If you want me to blame something besides the storm herself, I blame the nature of government in the first place. It's too big, it's too slow, it's too inefficient, it's too bloated, and it's too intiative-stifling to be effective in normal circumstances, much less in a disaster. It's a systemic issue, more than an issue of individual people in government.

Ok, that being said, I see more civilians on the street now -- although many of them appear to be journalist types.

Hope everyone is well out there.
Miss you all.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

my buddy typhoon

in the midst of a typhoon Nabi, i'm learning that staying in my apartment for a while can be a good time to do things i've put off for weeks now..such as decorating my living room and going through my "scary room" of stuff from packages and tokyo orientation giveaways.

"Nabi" means butterfly in Korean. i don't know why a typhoon would get such a pretty name but it did. It was a level 5 two days ago and now as it's hitting Okinawa it's reduced to 3. The winds are strong and the power went out briefly three times so far. I don't know if we're getting the worst of it now, or the worst is yet to come. If the wind doesn't drop below 25 knots per hour by morning, school might be canceled and i'll have one more day of doing stuff at home; although at this point i'm running out of things to do. i suppose i can always read and write these blogs. :)

school lunch:
it happens like this. After 4th hour, which could be at 12:25pm if it's a "B" schedule day or almost at 1pm if it's an A schedule, all homerooms get lunch. students each lunch in their homerooms; there are students assigned to getting lunches from the cart and bringing them into the classroom and then those same students set up trays and serve their peers lunch. Lunch for teachers works the same way; we get the same food as students and someone needs to set it up for everyone. It usually involves a couple of office ladies and a couple of female teachers doing it. On friday, I helped out, because only one woman was setting it up. There are usually three dishes at lunch and dessert. Everythign has to be served out of large pots and square dishes. So on friday we got rice and thin grilled beef, as well as a vegetable soup, a salad, a fruit medley, and a quarter of an orange. I helped pour soup for everyone and put the beef pieces on top of rice bowls. THen when i was setting out the trays in front of chairs, a teacher pulled me aside and told me that i set up the trays wrong.. she wasn't mean about, she was being helpful. She explained that rice is always put on the left of the tray and in front. soup, if there is one, is always on the right and in front; placement of everything else doesn't really matter, but chopsticks have to be in the front and easily accessed by the right hand. The reasoning is that Japanese eat with a bowl of rice in their left hand and then pick at everything else on the tray. This is not only for school lunches. As she was explaining this, i thought of all the meals i've had on Okinawa so far and realized that everytime i got a "set" meal, rice has always been on the left and soup has always been on the right. It is customary to be served everything at once in Japan. There are usually several dishes to be picked at and sampled. At my favorite izakaya (a small restaurant) a set consists of the main dish, a miso soup, a rice and five other little dishes ranging from salad, to broccoli, to seaweed to melon pieces. those five dishes vary from time to time; so onetime we got a potato salad and another time, there was an okra salad.

Once lunch is eaten, everyone picks up after themselves and clears their trays of dishes. Students do the same. In their classrooms they have their toothbrushes and five minutes is allowed on the schedule for everyone in the school to brush their teeth. Then students proceed to cleaning of various areas of the school for about 25 minutes, then they have 20 minutes or so to finish up and to do whatever else and at 1:50pm the 5th period starts. It's a very communal system and reinforces the idea that school is like a second home and teachers are like surrogate parents. It also forces students to take ownership of their environment and to take care of the "house" they learn in. Or at least that's the idea.

Over the last two days i've also been learning about bit torrent system of downloading things; so that's also been fascinating and taking up some time during this bad weather period. Although it was clear enough yesterday night for me to drive to Nago and go to an Eisa festival there, which was wonderful. I absolutely love Eisa drumming. i can't explain this draw to it that i've developed by it's beautiful, and unique only to Okinawa and so forceful in its spirit and enthusiasm.
If you're ever in Washington DC area in April, find out when the Cherry Blossom festival takes place and where; an Okinawan Eisa dancing group is sent every year. It must be a fantastic show to see; 'cause it's gotta be the best group from the islands and that would be tough to decide; the groups i saw last night were fantastic.

i'm debating whether i should go to sleep at a timely fashion, since tomorrow i might have to go to school, or to stay up for a while, since i might not. :)) difficult decisions.