Saturday, December 30, 2006

a new post with a new Blogger. fancy.
this is an e-mail i just wrote to a friend and thought it summarized well my current mood and state of affairs. hope he doesn't mind that i copy it here. i promise to write in more detail about my New Year's experiences.

sitting here in my apartment with the AC blowing hot air, it feels nice and cozy, but also a bit lonely. it's the night of the 30th, New Years right around the corner and i'm on vacation, but am restless. for what, i know not.
had dinner by myself and maybe that's what got the lonely mood started. i actually don't mind eating alone. had a good book with me and it was fine, but towards the end of the meal, looking around at all the families and couples, it kind of nagged at me that i was alone.

tomorrow one of my bosses and his family will pick me up and take me for a drive, and lunch, and maybe bowling. should be nice and fun, but am dreading the night because i have a feeling that they'll just drop me off in the early evening and there i'll be, by myself on the night of New Year's Eve, all alone at midnight. that'll be a first. maybe it'll be a good experience..something to write home about. it's just like any other night, after all...sun goes down, clock strikes twelve...happens all the time. but it's not. it's new year's. a holiday that i always spend surrounded by those i love. last year i was in India and it was with mostly strangers, but a few close friends, and that was good, not the best, but good.

alone? i really dread it. got myself a bottle of wine, but can't get too drunk, because the fun starts the next morning. for the Japanese the morning of the 1st is when the New Year celebrations really start. I'm being picked up again and taken to my boss' house for a breakfast that will turn into lunch and then perhaps dinner. should be really good, actually. am looking forward to it. i haven't been to many Okinawans' homes, especially on an important holiday like that. on the 2nd, my supervisor will pick me and we'll drive down to the southern part of Okinawa with his wife and dog to visit an important shrine where Okinawans go during New Year's holiday to pray for the coming year. am really happy that the bosses i have are as nice and thoughtful as they are. they knew i'd be staying over the break and planned all these outings for me. they want to share their culture and show me their lives. am really grateful to them.
and i'll still have through the 8th to enjoy the vacation. nice.

so... the point is.. :)
Happy New Year!!!

miss you..

love you


Friday, December 15, 2006


it's officially the "samui" season in Okinawa. さむい means "cold" and as some of my adult students have told me recently, there are only two seasons in Okinawa, winter and summer. I've translated that into, "samui" and "atsui" seasons. So now it is officially ok to walk around and say "samui, desu, ne" to everyone in the school.

yesterday i was so frustrated and angry with a certain co-worker that i thought my fists were going to involuntarily punch something while in class. i even seriously considered switching to elementary school position next year (if i stay that is), and if you don't know, that means serious business...i'm not a fan of little kids in large numbers. well, that's not true. but it's quite a change and to consider it means that i was pushed to a very dark place. what did my wonderful co-worker do, you ask?
well. just be his usual self, really, just 10x worse for some reason on that particular day in that particular class. anyways. i spoke up. said my piece about what i found frustrating, yet again, but as politely as possible. we'll see how long that sticks.

had a Block Gift Exchange party on Wednesday at a pasta place in Nago. Most of the block were able to attend and it was great. We played "white elephant" for gift exchange, and funnily enough i ended up with my own present because Ben M. decided to steal a wonderful stirfrying pan from me and grabbed a gift from pile in exchange. was mine. no worries, though. i wanted the cute pig looking chip clip i bought, and i shared the gummy bears at the table.

1st graders are singing a song with me in class. My first attempt at singing with students. Going well so far. We started with a song in their textbook, Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye". It's easy enough and uses words they know, so they're getting into it. Hopefully most of them will sing in two or three more lessons. We're only doing it during the beginning of class. Good times. Ms. Kitty told me that she does it at her school months ago and i've wanted to try it since then. I suggested and he actually agreed to try. So am gonna try and push for it to be a regular thing. 1st graders are genki enough to get into it if we do it every lesson.

English Club girls showed off their pics from 3rd grade school trip to Kyushu. They went to 3 cities in 4 days, including an amusement park, a national museum, and a trip to the Aso volcano. Japanese style bus touring. Fantastic.
We also wrote Christmas Cards to their new penpals in Wisconsin. There was one card that i had to veto, however, because on front, in classic Engrish style it said, "Hey Ho!! Merry Christmas. Wishing you good time with family, lover, and friends."
Didn't think it would convey the correct spirit to the 8th grade catholic school students. ha ha

Speaking of Christmas. It's all over Okinawa. There are decorated trees everywhere. Houses are lighted up, stores are filled with new, Christmassy merchandise, and ALTs are having Christmas parties and holiday lessons.
I'm not, but no one's asked, and also, there doesn't seem to be a good time for it in any of my classes. Might do a new bulletin about it and New Year's for next week.

Thanx to Shelley, am wearing Hanukkah socks today, on the 1st day of the holiday. She sent them to me last year for New Year's present. They're great; blue with golden stars of David, minoras and dreidels. Used them today to explain to Akino what Hanukkah was during lunch. So, Happy Hanukkah!
and if you never knew but always wondered what this holiday is, here's a a wiki link
Also, it is quite a testament to how overbearing the Christmas/Hanukkah season is when a non-practicing Jew is wishing you a Happy Hanukkah.

Here's a question for ALTs that might be reading this. Do you brush your teeth at school when all the teachers do? My teachers brush their teeth in the office, next to their desks, by the kitchen sink, while walking around teacher's office, while talking to each other, while reading a newspaper. I haven't brushed my teeth at school yet and don't see myself doing it. I do, sometimes, feel a bit of pressure to conform and bring a school toothbrush and paste and join the "clean teeth army". When that feeling comes over me, i pour myself a cup of coffee and grab a cookie or candy from the kitchen. But seriously. Do you brush?
I just sort of feel odd seeing people brush their teeth in front of me. It's been a year and a half and i still feel odd about it. but maybe that's just me.

in the news:
we have a new UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon from South Korea. Goodluck to him, but here's another question. How much power does UN have when it deals with issues unfavorable to the White House? right.

A 2-day Holocaust conference just finished in Iran. The conference was called by the Iranian president to shed light on the historical facts of Holocaust. Experts from different countries flew in to discuss the thick web of lies Jews have been spinning for 60 years about the extermination of 6 million of their people. I wonder if they discussed whether gassing of Catholics, Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally and physically disabled, and political prisoners also took place. Or are Jews also responsible falsifying those deaths?

and to link the two stories, here's a link from


Friday, December 08, 2006

i'm going to try something different for this post, only because my mind has been a bit scatterbrain this week and nothing seems to be going on.
so i'll make up questions and answer them. maybe that'll focus me.

How are you feeling right now? Hmm. Can we start with an easier one please?

Ok. What have you got planned tonight? Right on. I can do this one. Tonight is the bookclub meeting for "Perfume." A fascinating novel by a German author, Patrick Suskind. It's a story of a murderer with an extraordinarily heightened sense of smell and no moral sense to speak of. It takes place during the 19th century in France. It's beautiful and gory and haunting and stunning. So i'm looking forward to a good discussion because i quite enjoyed it, but can imagine that some people might not have as much.

What sparked your interest this week? BBC stories about young people and their beliefs, values, ideas, ambitions, apprehensions. It's been a great series for reading and listening on the radio, but wish i had more time to devote to it. BBC sponsored a school-to-school link up in several countries. They also conducted surveys of young people in several countries, asking them the same questions. It was interesting to find out that around 70% of those under 18 believe that people should be able to migrate freely around the world. Just shows how differently they are growing up from me and anyone older than me. Their world, from birth to now has always been globalized. Connections between countries across the world is nothing to them, just as it is not new that one can speak to a person via internet for free in different parts of the globe. So, of course, why should there be borders if we're already functioning on so many levels without them? Them growing up and taking charge should be quite interesting.
btw. here's a link to the photo vote connected to the stories on BBC this week. Under 13 photo contest

How's the weather? Well. It's lovely, actually, thanx for asking. Sunny with a slight wind. The wind is not warm, of course, but the sun helps. It rained on and off this week, though, with yesterday bringing the heaviest downpour. Am worried about mold again.

What have you been involved in this week? Well...because 3rd graders went on a school trip to Kyushu this week and 2nd graders had a standardized test to take on Thursday, i only taught 1st graders this week, so it's been a bit slow. On Wednesday, though, the 1st graders went hiking up a "mountain" and i went with them. It was a beautiful, sunny day. A bit windy, but gorgeous, otherwise. 29 lively 7th graders, their two homeroom teachers, myself, and the principal were guided on a trail through Ogimi "mountains" by 6 or 7 expert naturalists from the village. It was great! And i keep putting mountain in qouatation marks, 'cause they kept calling it "yama" but they are just really tall hills. beautiful tall hills. the hike was great. it's good to know a trail that i can now show others. it took us 4 hours but that included stopping every once in a while for explanations from guides, brief water rests, and lunch. And of course, kids walk slowly, especially when there is a plethora of bugs, and weird plants around. So i'm sure adults can walk it in under 2 hours. See new photos in the December album.

What are you looking forward to this weekend? Started reading the 7th and final book in the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Am looking forward to more of it. But it'll be sad when i finish and there won't be another volume to look forward to.

Who's your favorite sister? Hmm... that's a tough one. You mean, i gotta pick from my own, or someone else's?
Your own, of course. Ahh. k. well. How about the one who posts a comment on my blog first?
Ok. That'll work. Any more questions?

Nah. I think it's time you went home. It's Friday! Go get the oil changed, and make a reservation for the Block Gift Exchange Party next week, and drive to Chatan and enjoy company of good, literate folk. Oh. Ok. If you insist. ;)

Monday, November 27, 2006

november has zoomed past. honestly, i have no idea what happened to the month. it was busy, and it's not quite over with. On the 3rd of the December i am taking the 4th level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Quite a few JETs are taking it, but most of them are levels above me. 3rd and 2nd levels are quite popular. I'm nowhere near that stage. But then again, unlike most of the folks taking 2nd level JLPT, i haven't studied Japanese for 2 to 3 years prior to coming here.
Other brave JETs will be running the Naha City Marathon on the same day. We shall have an "otsukaresamadeshita" dinner/party after to be sure.

I'll make this post a photo blog. Will be easier to fill in the holes, and also organize my thoughts about this fast fleeting month.

am sure you're curious as to what the wander crab looked like. Here he is after his initial capture by 3rd year boys.

a couple of weekends ago, Ben, JingJing and I went to the Ada falls. My first time back in a year. They're gorgeous in the fall but i didn't even think of swimming. Ben, on the other hand only had the swim in mind. Here is JingJing taking a photo of him dancing on the stones after coming out of the freezing water.

During the MidYearConference for all Okinawan ALTs, we had several fun activities planned. One of them was a block photo scavanger hunt. Only three blocks participated and true to last year's spirit, Block 1 won. Here is one of the photos where we had to capture a Kokusaidori sign. Liz and Thai Bui are 1st years in our block.

MYC also saw the spectacular return of the Color Rangers. This is my favorite photo from the night they showed up in their infamous tracksuits, in white t-shirts with colorcoordinated markers for signing.

After the MYC i rushed home for a sunday afternoon of concert watching and seeing artwork made my Junior High school students of Yonbaru. Here are some of Ogimi boys checking out bobbinghead dolls.

A very international thanksgiving gang at Okuma buffet. Should have taken the pic when we had just got there and filled our plates with all the yummy food. But was too busy eating.

Harleys!! on Gate2 Street in Okinawa City. Was wondering about the area and stumbled on a Harley fest of sorts. Lots of riders on the island, Japanese and American. Impressive bike display. For a second felt like i was on Brady street, the only things missing were the bars lining the streets with their tables on the sidewalk and their customers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


as all stories that involve children and animals that are not meant to be touched by children end in sadness, ours is no different.
the story of a crab who went too far is not an inspiring one. it is sad and also truly revealing of the human nature's cruel, though unintentionally so, side.
but it's really not all so bad. the crab came into our lives a healthy specimen of an otherworldness; a creature thriving for experience. we learned from him and hopefully before his spirit passed on to crab heaven he also pondered about the various new things he came across.
the last i left the story of the crab, he had stealthily escaped his confinement and was constructing a masterplan that would lead to his eventual escape from the starkly white confines of the teachers' office. his plan worked, but he got distracted. he noticed the joy of basketball gaming and went towards the noise. he wanted to get in on the game. so it was because of his curiousity that he was found Saturday afternoon in the school's gym, instead of making his way towards the ocean (although how the poor thing would have crossed the road unharmed remains a mystery and a flaw in his original plan). By the time he was found in the gym, however, he had already used up most of his energy, poor creature and was deemed unhealthy enough to be released into the wild. not genky enough to be free or to be eaten, he was back again in the original glass cage. He was given a banana to keep him occupied as well as several roots and twigs. But when a spirit is thwarted so is the will to carry on. It is with sadness that i report the demise of the crab, today (time unknown but sometime after 3rd period and before lunch ended) Tuesday October 14th.

i was going to write in more detail about the educational curiousities i have encountered in the last week, but i am sad enough at the moment. if i start talking about JTE's demonstration class from last week, or the English teachers meeting, or the student teacher's last day, i might just start crying.

but for all those with an educational experience, i will say this. Japan does not have grade specific, subject specific standards. I learned this information from a University professor on Friday. He came to observe his student's (my student teacher's) last class, and we had a meeting after it. He is attempting to work the standards into the Japanese system but it is a slow going process. Bureaucracy ain't pretty here.
Once again, dear readers. There are no standards. There are no behavior specific goals. There is nothing that can guide a teacher except a textbook, and how textbooks are written without standards is a complete mystery to me.
There are general objectives, however. So for example, students after completing several years of English education are expected to be able to make a speech.
Want more specific instructions? Goodluck!

sadder than the crab story?
to me it is.


Friday, November 10, 2006

i'm in danger. not in any imminent kind. but i am. actually, it'll be more accurate to say that my feet are. in danger of being snapped at by a giant crab while i sit here typing away at the school's computer. am not kidding either. A giant crab is on the loose in the teacher's office. although right now it's probably snoozing away in a dark corner under some boxes, waiting for his chance to sneak away undiscovered under the cover of darkness. poor thing doesn't yet know that the office doors will be locked over the weekend and he might have to spend three days running around amongst chairs, tables, boxes and books to no avail.
how did this come about, you might ask. or if you've taught in a japanese school system, you might not ask--you'll probably just laugh.
well. what happened was. a 3rd grade student found a giant crab. and by giant, i mean its claws are about 10cm long. so this beast sat in a cardboard box while everyone looked amused and asked whether it will or should be eaten. then it was transfered to a fish tank with nothing to keep it company. it was left in the teacher's office overnight with heavy books and a box covering up the tank. it was given a mikan (a citrus fruit) to keep it from starving. the room was locked and during the night the crab pulled itself up, pushed aside the books and the box and crawled out of his confinement. this was discovered in the morning and ever since then, every once in a while a teacher or two will "search" the room with a concerned look on their face. i did my bit. i pushed some boxes and looked under some shelves. right now two 3rd grade girls have taken upon themselves to find the poor bastard. so far, no luck. the search continues and my feet are still in danger.

lots of things happened. i'll try to give them to you in short snippets.

went to a wedding last Sunday. It was a wonderful event. Lovely and happy. I have pictures from it on the fotki page in the November album. What i found interesting was that the ceremony took place at a catholic style church adjacent to a giant hotel. Only close friends and family were present at the ceremony and others were invited to celebrate at a reception after. Round tables were set up in a large banquet hall. It was very western style, even a giant cake was present. I did notice later that the cake was entirely fake and there was a premade slit in it where the couple held the knife pretending to cut the cake. But in a very Japanese fashion, the first person to give a toast was the bride's boss. The family actually didn't give any toasts. His was the only toast before dinner and other events. Congrutulations were shown through dances and skits. I along with all the teachers from Ogimi Chuu performed a dance skit during which the couple was called out onto the stage and made to kiss. The groom's sisters also danced and so did the girls basketball team made up entirely of 3rd graders. The whole reception was a lot of fun and the food was delicious. At the end, people piled out and personally congratulated the parents and the newlyweds. We gave our money envelopes in the beginning and all were given a nice present in return. I found it amusing that it was cookies and cakes made in traditional Pennsylvania Dutch family style.
When driving back, I asked about the ceremony taking place in a church, whether the couple was Christian. I was told that most likely they are not. It's just a current style for young women to be married in a church after the couple is officially married at a city hall. They think the churches are beautiful and they like the way the ceremony looks. So then i asked how the marriages were performed on Okinawa before. Turns out the ceremony was done at home in front of the groom's family's shrine. A person of rank who knew both the groom and bride would officiate. The bride was also given a dowry and moved into the groom's house. But before the ceremony at the groom's house, a ceremony of giving the daughter away was performed at the bride's family. I was told that some people may still chose to do it that way. Mainland is different because of Shinto, of course. I saw a wedding ceremony performed at a Shinto shrine when i was in Fukuoka. The bride was dressed in a very traditional wedding kimono. The bride at the wedding i went to wore the same dress the entire time, whereas i heard that if the bride wore a traditional dress for the ceremony she would change at least once for the reception. Some of my friends have been to weddings like that in Okinawa.
whew. that took longer than expected, and i've yet a few things to share. but it's time to go home, so perhaps i'll pick up here sometime during the weekend.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

there's nothing like a bit of schedule manipulation to get one going in the morning. schedule changes are certainly nothing to marvel at after 15 months at a Japanese JHS. i am deffinately used to the idea of classes being "cut" and schedules shifted for multiple reasons and purposes. This week, however, has been a wonderful exercise in keeping teachers on their toes. Tuesday, Halloween day, 5th and 6th period were meant to be cut for shiquasa picking. By this point, dear reader of blog, you should have an idea what shiquasa is and its importance as a prominent citrus in my stories. but if you don't, here's what wiki has to say about it. Spellings are different. hmm. maybe i should expand on that stub?
anyways. we have lots of shikwasa bearing trees all around the school and twice a year students pick them. They are quite ripe now, the skin is actually starting to turn yellow. But the weather turned sour at the start of the week; it's been rainy since monday and so the picking had be canceled and 5th and 6th period reinstated on Tuesday. That meant that student teacher and i had 3 Halloween lessons that day and one regular lesson. Wednesday, the weather didn't improve and all classes stayed on schedule. Then i accidently overheard that 1st period would be canceled on Thursday. That meant a 2nd grade class had to go. When a class is cut, all others move "down" so i knew we'd have 3-2 2nd period and 2-2 3rd. So in the morning, i confirm that schedule with JTE and look at what will have to be taught--am also assuming that student teacher has planned at least an outline of a lesson plan. 10 minutes later, head teacher changes the schedule and cancels 2nd period as well. That's right folks. Now 3-2 is 1st period of the day and we have 25 minutes before it starts and student teacher is with her homeroom class, and i have no idea if she actually prepared anything.
so i look at the lesson, get an idea for an activity to do for practicing new grammar and make up the worksheet. student teacher comes to the office, 15 min before class starts, realizes she has two classes in a row starting NOW and is visibly frazzled. poor thing. fortunately, she did plan for it a bit; made up a worksheet with grammar explanation. so i went through the lesson plan with her and we went to class. and it went well.
next class. uhm. not so much. but ya know. we had to prep for it in 10 minutes and she did well enough.
so there you go. the beauties of a japanese scheduling system. anything goes!

it's now sunny but windy and actually....colder. ouch. anything but that! oh the grayness of Okinawa winters; how sad i'll be to see the sun go.
anyways. the students are out there picking shikwasa or making it look like they are. Nearly 30 students are however training for an eikiden race on Saturday. I think it's 20km. Don't know if i'll be going, as there might be an ultimate frisbee game in the works for Saturday afternoon in Okinawa City.

oh. and tomorrow is Culture Day, which means day off, which means i get to sleep in and call Shelley and those are two very wonderful things to have to look forward to.

also, i must say that the new Tropicana Dark Cherry Juice is a lovely addition to the convenient store's selection of juices. I've only tried it once and was a bit uncertain of it. It's deffinately a cherry flavor but there's something odd about it. Will have to try again to make sure my preference.

I am told there is a 5 storey 100Yen store in Tokyo. It's owned by the Daiso company, which i believe owns most of the really nice 100Yen stores. I am very curious indeed.

Oh, and am very excited for a chance to experience my first Japanese wedding this Sunday. Most of my friends on Okinawa have been to at least one and i was starting to feel left out but that will change on Sunday. yipee.

ok. enough randomness.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

failed to go to karate today. i'm not always so good at showing up twice a week there. some days, my brain just doesn't want to consider the option of driving 35 minutes to sweat for 2 hours, drive back, and crash. although i always love it when i leave class. but today, i decided to take it easy and accomplish a few other things. like writing this blog for instance.
i went for a walk after school and climbed a hundred or so steps to a shrine in Kijoka, sat there for a while and read. Current book is the sixth in Dark Tower series by Stephen King called, Song of Susannah. It's taken me quite a while to read this series but it's been good.
At home, i cleaned up and started cooking. The plan was to make a soup from scratch, a never before attempted task, and to see what happens to a butternut squash when it is a) cooked in a soup and b) baked. At the time of writing, the soup is still too hot to enjoy, but quick tastes have proven that i am not a terrible cook and there might be hope for me in the soup department, although i should have added more water. The baking went well as well, and as you know, i don't own an oven, so the little fish frying thing had to do. with a bit of sugar on it, it turned out quite well, although after some salad and chips with salsa, i am too full to eat either the squash or the soup. but it'll be a good lunch tomorrow and the soup will last a while.
and i have Matt to thank for all this squash goodness. Matt brought it yesterday when he paid my English Club a visit.
We planned to carve some pumpkins. I already had one, it was a surprise present from one of my student's parents, so Matt offered to bring a few more. At school, the reaction to my little pumpkin was great. The students and teachers have never seen an orange pumpkin of its size (and i'm telling you, it was small as Halloween pumpkins go) and students kept touching and asking if it was real. So i thought my English club girls would get a real kick out of more pumpkins and actually getting to carve them. Matt surprised us all by coming to school with three good size pumpkins, carving implements, a huge bag of candy, Halloween cookies and even some iced tea. It was great. He got everyone's attention walking through school bearing his gifts. and the girls just loved him. The carving went great. First, Matt showed the process on my little one, and then girls split up into small groups and carved their own. Theirs turned out great, but i didn't have my camera. So i hope to get some pics from either Matt or off the school camera that Akino-san used to take pics.
I set the jack-o-lanterns at the entrance and hope they last for a couple of days. Matt threatened to come back with more pumpkins for the actual Halloween.
I'm planning a lesson for each grade revolving around Halloween. A new student teacher has been at the school since Monday and will start teaching on the 30th, so i hope we can work together and make some lessons for the kiddies that involve them getting lots of candy. That's all they want really. My favorite 3rd grade boy has been by my desk every day for the last week asking for candy. They've put in their requests for gummies, chocolates, and lollypops.

and now, to share some pics from my trip to Fukuoka this past weekend. Brett wanted to go ride some coasters and invited people along; i was the only one who decided to join him, and am glad i did. It was a great time. A trip full of genuine kindness from strangers, lots of art, and nature, lots of laughs, and street music, and rabbits everywhere. plus of course good food and drink. naturally.
i'll let the pics do the rest of the work.

We stayed in an area of Ohorikoen, a beautiful park around an artificial lake. The Fukuoka modern art museum is in the park, and i took this pic on the walk around the lake after our visit to the museum.

first rabbit sighting. a sculpture outside Fukuoka Modern Art museum, Ohorikoen.

Mitsui Greenland. An older but fun amusement park an hour train ride from Fukuoka.

yep. that's a bear pushing acrobats on a tight rope. A small troupe of the Big Russian Circus performed at the Mitsui Greenland amusement park and i absolutely had to see them.

and this is Brett and i with Daria. the acrobats were taking polaroids for a fee for the audience. i walked up and spoke with them, asked them how much it was 'cause i didn't understand the japanese announcement, and they kindly offered to take the photo for free with my own camera.

at a great and hospitable establishment called Blow in Tenjin area of Fukuoka. I'm trying something called ginnan or Ginko biloba. They are roasted, the shells cracked and the inside reveals a greenish, soft, salty, and bitter nut. The owner who offered them to us to try claimed that they would give us "power". Brett didn't need more energy suppliments that evening.

i lucked out in seeing a traditional wedding ceremony at a Shinto shrine in the Hakata area of Fukuoka.

a street leading up to a temple in Dazaifu, a small city half hour train ride from Fukuoka. It used to be the governmental hub of Kyushu ages ago.

The amazing Kyushu National Museum. It's a year old and stunning architectually and has wonderful collections of Japan's prehistory and history with an emphasis on its connection to Chinese and Korean cultures. Ask me about it; we were lucky enough to have a guide lead us around and tell us all the details. It's number two on my list of top museums I have visited.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

the mp3 player selection went from Crimea to Decemberists. nice. perhaps a perfect accompaniment to a new blog entry.
today i had my 2nd English conversation class for adults. as i was driving from their beautiful house in the hills of Ogimi, i was thinking of what this blog entry would be about and decided that i will share with your the things i've learned this past week. a week off school doesn't mean a week off learning. :)
i really enjoyed the lesson tonight. i only teach for an hour and today we did an activity i made up for learning how to ask for a product at a fruit market and to say the price. the students were buying and selling fruit (in form of lamenated cards) and seemed to enjoy the activity. after, the conversation steered towards the fake US dollars we were using for the game. a set with paper money and coins can be purchased at any 100Yen store. Mine even has a set with a cash register, and another one with a safe. most of my students are over 40 and one of them told me that until 1972 American dollars were used on Okinawa. that shouldn't have surprised me, of course, but it was weird realizing that the Okinawas in front of me, people i am getting to know well, lived when their islands were under US mandate. I asked about the switch from right to left side drive. It took place on July 30, 1977 at 6:30am. At that moment everyone had to switch sides. K-san tells me that a lot of people were scared of driving for a while. Her husband, T-san, told me that he has driven in all possible combinations:right side wheel on left and right side of the road, and left side wheel on both sides as well. weird, huh?
he said that one of the hardest thing still is looking over the correct shoulder when backing up.

this week school was on fall vacation and i was only at school on thursday and friday. monday was a national holiday and i drove to Gushikawa Jusco to shop at one of my favorite stores, Nitori. They have everything one needs for a home and it's not too expensive. I also bought a couch that evening, which was unexpected, and learned that purchases over 1 man (10,000Yen) are delivered for free. Yey!
Tuesday, went to finally receive my drivers license. The video they promised turned out to be a brief lecture delivered by two important looking gentlemen. One of them walked up to the stage with such non-chalance, that i thought for a moment that he was someone who showed late and was walking through to get a seat, until of course he walked all the way to the podium and started talking. am glad i brought a book and sat in the back. i don't like my photo on the license.

that day i had a leisurely drive back up north by way of cape Zanpa in Yomitan village. the pics are already up from that afternoon. i learned that the natural beauty of Okinawa will always be a source of pleasure to me. I feel happiest on this island when am simply enjoying its uniqueness, simplicity, and the tranquility of its waters.

This week has been very inward for me. I went from very low lows to pleasant but not extreme highs. My lowest point was triggered by a movie i highly recommend called "A man who cried" with Christina Ricci and Johnny Depp. a movie i didn't know existed until i saw it at the rental store. But even my lowest times this week were not for nothing. They brought understanding with them and i feel better for having been made immobile by grief; i am stronger for it, i know myself better. i learned that it's necessary to allow such moments into one's life because they're the ones that trigger the thought process necessary to glimpse into the workings of the soul, the psyche, the inner self.

i have also been reading a bit this week. am almost finished with Kundera's Unbereable Lightness of Being, which i have been leisurely reading while enjoying isolated beaches on Kouri island. Kundera's definitions which underline the boundaries and structure of his book are wonderful. "Flirting," he writes, "is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee," and "vertigo is something other than the fear of is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves." in short, it's been very thoughtprovoking to me, and am glad it was chosen as the next bookclub book because i'll deffinately need to discuss with someone when finished.

I have also somehow stumbled on a series of articles about Israel's place in world politics and Israel's relationship with Palestinians. It's been a very eye openning experience for me. I don't immediately agree with everything i've been reading, but it's been good for me to see Israel not as a victim state, but a strong country who has been overstepping its boundaries and borders and allowed to do so because of unquestionable but befuddling support of the United States. Am reading an article called "The Israel Lobby" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt Now, i am not taking everything they write about at face value, but it has certainly put me on a path of unveiling things about Israel's history that i have considered impossible, or at least, against my belief of what Israel's stance in the world is. Unveiling "Israel kitsch" as Kundera might say.

and finally, a bit about Japan. Started reading, A Traveller's History of Japan by Richard Tames. Not very far in it but thought i'd share with you interesting statistics that backed up ideas about Japan i started developing myself.
Surveys reveal that 90 percent [of Japanese] consider themselves middle-class, 87 percent say they like to look like everyone else and 84 percent confess themselves unable to turn down requests from other people.

And here's a little present for our very own Okinawan bunny, Kelly, whose birthday it is tomorrow.
I hope you're seeing this on your birthday, dear. Lots of love and hope you can always get the cheese you want when you want it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

to liven things up, 'cause it's friday and i've got a chill weekend coming up and a fall vacation next week.

from the Simpsons calendar:

In "Poppa's Got A Brand New Badge" (DABF17, why isn't Ralph Wiggum in school?
A. His teacher said she was tired of trying

B. Everyone told him it was summer vacation

C. April Fool's Day holiday

D. He forgot how to open the front door

and from the ever stimulating blogthings
You Passed 8th Grade Science

Congratulations, you got 6/8 correct!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

it's not always easy standing in the classroom knowing that i'm in the middle of a crap lesson. a lesson so beyond saving that it's painful to roll my eyes. he's cut the reading section once again. G thinks he does it because he can't teach reading. Since he has never attempted to teach it while i've been here, i am inclined to believe her. His reasoning, most last times, "no time." we have no time! of course we don't. students are barely given a chance to have two weeks worth of classes without any interruptions. We have covered 3 lessons in 4 months. How does that make sense?
Today, it was a section entitled "Chat Corner." Had eight or nine ways to describe an experience, such as "great," "exciting," "boring," etc.. He had a plan, i didn't have time to even consider different options. we get into the classroom and all of a sudden we're having a conversation that wasn't in the plan. i follow along. instead of having them look at what we're talking about in the textbook, he hands out a worksheet with all the eight or nine words written with their japanese translations, followed by a dialogue, basically made up for students to use in interviewing a friend and me. so then i say a word, they repeat in voices that do not sound "fun," or even "not bad" and he tells them the japanese translations.
i know for a fact, they can read Japanese; it's the English they have trouble with.
at least they enjoy interviewing me and i attempt to walk around as much as i can during the activity and ask students the questions to get them involved.

on tuesday, played jeopordy with both 3rd grade classes and one 2nd grade class. the 2nd grade class was the last period of the day. it's unfortunate that they are my least favorite class out of 5. the kids in that class do not get involved at all; nothing is ever good enough for them to pay attention to. yesterday, two girls in a group were laughing at something i said, i don't even know what it was, but it really got to me. and then half the class would talk as i was asking other groups questions and nothing the teacher said to make them be quiet worked. i almost gave up.
it's probably my fault. the questions were too hard, only three groups got to play 'cause the "smart" students were in them and dominated.
same thing happened in one of the 3rd grade classes were only two groups actually got to play because for half the game a group with Ryo, a top English student, dominated, and then they faltered and it went to another strong student, one of the girls in my English club, and stayed there for the remainder of the period. i felt bad for the students in the other groups, but couldn't change rules half way through the game.
next time we play, i'll modify it so that it doesn't happen again and everyone gets to play.
thing is. it's not that Ryo or the other students who answered correctly are brilliant. it's just that they actually study. the rest of them, especially in 2nd grade right now, just don't bother. they don't have homework that makes them repeat the things they've covered in class. they don't have reading or writing assignments. it's all just a bit frustrating sometimes.
and i'm not angry with the students. 'cause the students are good people most of the time. i handed lottery tickets (a prize system i started a while back) to the top two groups in each grade that played Jeopordy, and the group with Ryo wrote his name on all 4 cards. that made me smile.

it's not all bad, really. had a good english club. played a couple of games and then watched "billy elliot." didn't want to do too much with them today, 'cause half the kids from the club were practicing for Saturday's athletic meet. the movie went over well, although i wish i had time to explain the story line with the miners and the strike, but prolly too much for my japanese and their english. they liked the movie, and i'm glad. although i forgot how much swearing is in it; i really hope that the subtitles didn't reflect too much of it. oops.

oh. and on monday we were at the All Okinawa Speech Contest. my student didn't place and i only had a faint hope of it anyways. not 'cause she's bad, she's quite good, but her pronounciation just wouldn't improve beyond a certain level and i knew that the competition would be tough. and it was. and i don't envy the judges, although i did not at all agree with one of their picks for a place. i asked for comments, and was told that the theme of my student's speech was too serious for a JHS student. they had decided last year, apparently, that speeeches shouldn't be so heavy handed because it doesn't reflect the JHS students' actual opinions. They're telling me that a 15 year old girl can't talk about war because it's too much? Didn't want to argue right there with the judge, it's a tough job, but i didn't write the speech. she did. i didn't tell her to think about war, and stories that are lost with each survivor that passes--she wrote it. made me angry. monday afternoon was not happy.
good thing i met Kelly for dinner in Chatan, and we had yummy pasta and i felt better. Then had tea at Starbucks with Louise and was feeling much better when set of for drive home after 9pm.

Chiye and i are doing a seminar during the Mid-Year Conference. It'll be exclusively for the JTEs and we'll have it both days of the conference. Am looking forward to it. It'll be good to talk to the JTEs and get their opinions and to find out how they feel about working with ALTs and to clarify some things from our perspectives.
Like the fact that most people i know don't think that teaching to the lowest denominator in a classroom is a good idea. but that's what they do here. which is why we have classes like i did today.

my supervisor showed me the papers for re-contracting. he'll give them to me on Friday. I have until the 3rd of February to make a decision about staying for a 3rd year.

To stay?

i know it's on a few 2nd years' minds..
how to make the decision that feels right? it needs to feel right, right? or does it need to add up to everything that seems right?

also, please pick up a copy of "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss from your library or bookstore. You'll be doing yourself a great favor by reading it. I can actually say i have a favorite book now.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

been a while but for some reason can't bring myself to actually sit down and write.
prolly 'cause i know that i have a few things to mention and that takes time.

first. The Answer to the Simpsons quiz from last week's post is A, congratz to Kevin who is the only winner and will get a super duper prize that is so cool it cannot be mentioned for fear of unsurmountable rage of jealous that it'll put everyone else into. i am trying to keep this blogger a happy, safe space for all to visit.

last week saturday, two students from my school participated in the Kunigami area English speech contest. One of them took 2nd place. Actually, it should probably be referred to as third place, but they don't call it that. For some reason they award a first place and two second places. a bit odd. maybe 'cause it's nicer to say that she got second and not third. anyways. we're going to the all Okinawa speech contest on Monday. Should be interesting. I think the speech contest is more tense than the story contest because it's a national thing. The winners from Okinawa will go to a competition in Tokyo. I hope that my student does well but I am not stressing her out. The point of all these contests is to enjoy them, I think. In the long run, I don't know how much good it does them, except to teach them public speaking (in a foreign language) and public speaking should be enjoyed rather than feared.

the other success of recent days has been my passing of the dreaded Japanese practical driving test! I took a two hour course in a neighbor village and think it greatly improved my chances of passing. Am very happy, even though i don't actually have my license yet because i have to go back to Naha and watch a video, after which i will be officially legal once more. Don't know when i'll get a chance to get down there, though. The video is shown only once a day at 1pm, and i'd rather not skip out on any more classes, so it'll have to wait 'til Fall break, which thankfully starts soon.

Won't be going anywhere for the break. Have to put my car in the shop to renew my shaken. Shaken is like the yearly emissions test back home. It's a check of car's safety for which i have to pay an exorbent amount of money, especially if any work has to be done on my car to bring it up to speed on standards. I really hope that it won't be more than a grand, although because my car has a bigger engine, the shaken on it costs more. Sigh.

I have been staying in the north the last couple of weekends and have been really enjoying it. Last weekend went to a festival put together by the 20somethings living in the northern villages and towns. Last year was their first festival and this year was the 2nd attempt. It was wonderful. Very chill, on the grass, a few food stands, five eisa groups, a couple of garage bands, a breakdancing group. Am really glad i went. I told a couple of people in my village's Eisa group that i want to practice with them for next year. They start practice in June.

On sunday our village held a track and field event. I went and watched most of it. Didn't participate because i wasn't asked to and couldn't have joined on the day. Everything was very meticulously planned out. Who, where, when, wearing what color head band. The athletes were mostly adults, although there was a relay for elementary school through junior high school kids. And also some of my students ran the 100m dash. The competition was between the tiny villages that make up Ogimi-son. I heard some names for the first time. Most of them are just a few blocks big, but historically are a separate place.
The Okinawans are very community oriented. Perhaps this can be said about Japanese as well. It seems that people are very involved in the things that happen in the village. Sport events, cultural events, festivals, school activities--all of it is always a joined effort by many people. Things and people are connected here in ways that i have never observed in America. It's really comforting.

This weekend I'm going to check out Hentona High School's fest. Should be fun. High schools have sports fests, undoukais, every other year. On the off years, they have culture fests, which i am told are a lot of fun. I have not seen one yet, so want to check one out and it just so happens that there is a high school within walking distance from my house.
This weekend is also the Okuma fest which is open to the island and i'll be checking that out Saturday and possibly Sunday nights.
Sunday, i've been asked to participate in a relay at the Ogimi elementary school's undoukai. I'll go early and take some pics. am thinking elementary school undoukai should be quite fun. Each of the four elementary schools will be having it on that day, so maybe i'll start at my own, Kijoka, elem. and move onto to Ogimi then Shioya, then Tsuha. we'll see. am gonna be biking to it all so all depends on my energy.

see. told you. too much writing.


Monday, September 18, 2006

monday night. the Respect for the Aged holiday is coming to a close. Today Ogimi JHS had its 27th undoukai or as translated into English, sports day.
Due to the typhoon, the event had to pushed back one day to allow for set up on Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday afternoon. Saturday the typhoon swept past Okinawa inflicting minimal damage but making itself known with strong winds and rain. The rattling of window panes is extremely loud here but i only really noticed it when i couldn't hear my movie and had to turn up the volume. I think i've grown quite used to the banging of the panes; i'd probably be startled if my house was in complete silence.

The painting of the bathroom went quite well despite my complete lack of qualifications to take on the task. I started painting without putting down the newspapers if that gives you any idea of my inadequacy. I'm just not a painter of surfaces. or canvaces for that matter. all of that ability skipped me entirely and doubled itself through my sisters. i'm ok with that.

i'm happy to say, though, that my bathroom is now somewhat happy looking which gave me the idea to move on to the toilet next. i figure if i buy a can of paint that's gonna cost me an arm and a leg, it'll make me use it.

i've recently noticed that when i type, my fingers reproduce the words from my brain phonetically rather than how they're meant to be spelled. i have also spelled out words correctly but they were the wrong words needed at the time. some sort of connections in my brain are being strained with the increase in Japanese study of recent weeks. I worry.

Although, at least my Japanese is improving. So much so that i surprised myself today by giving a brief speech to the PTA and teachers gathered to congratulate themselves on a job well done. I'll admit that it wasn't the longest or most elaborate speech, but it was in complete sentences and grammatically correct and surprised people who expected to have Mr. Chinen translate for me.
Otsukaresama to me!

Below are a few photos from the last two days. The first three are me playing around with the editor on the undoukai photos. And the last two are of me, one in the teacher's office in my new Ogimi Chuugakko sports shirt designed by me and ordered by all the teachers for the undoukai. And the second shows off my cool shades with the ocean behind me a day after the typhoon.

Also, photos have been added from the Undoukai and to the "keitai" folder.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

it's raining. must be typhoon named ShanShan on its way. It's coming to spoil weekend's plans for quite a few people. I plan on painting my bathroom.
The students are on their way to the gym to practice for the undokai. Again. Hopefully the typhoon will give us a clear day on Sunday so that it can take place.

The student teacher is letting me lead. As much i like that initiating role, i don't think she's getting much out of the experience if she keeps turning to me to start up activities and to remember what is next on the lesson plan. She has done that several times already in classes and it's either due to nervousness or forgetfulness or lack of confidence. I don't know. I think she could be a good teacher but she needs to start trusting in her own abilities. I wonder, though, if i'm being a bit to ready to take charge. Today, i tried to let her initiate and it didn'T work. She waited for me. She turned, expecting me to go to the next stage in the lesson plan. It's sad that the one of very few times i get to lead in the classroom, i am not looking forward to it. Oh well.

And here's a couple of things to spruce up the blog a bit.

First, a quiz from my Simpsons calendar. This one really made me chuckle so take a stab at the correct choice and i'll post the answer next week.

In "Sweets and sour Marge" (DABF03), what does Homer lick off the floor of the Kwik-E-Mart during his sugar withdrawals?
A. A mixture of blood and VapoRub
B. A Squishee spill
C. Donut powder
D. Broken glass

and here's the latest quiz from
You Are 48% Cynical

Yes, you are cynical, but more than anything, you're a realist.
You see what's screwed up in the world, but you also take time to remember what's right.

oooh. it just thundered really loudly and the music teacher said, こわい

Monday, September 11, 2006

had a great weekend with the Block. On Saturday we had a special and secret activity planned to be followed by a bbq. Due to weather, however, the plans had to be changed up. The bbq was still held at the Nago 21st Century Park when the skies cleared up after 2pm. There's a shop in Nago, probably one of a few, where one can rent a bbq and purchase all the meats imaginable for it, including weeners, several varieties of yakitori, yakisoba noodles, veggies, sauces, etc. one stop shopping for a succesfull bbq outing. which is what we had. Not all from the block could make it but those who did proclaim they had a great time. After the bbq we went on to bowling and that was followed by karaoke late into the night.
Sunday some slept in, some got up early to bike their way to Arume, a village on the east coast of the island where the vice blockhead, Ben, resides. He reserved us an afternoon of sea kayaking at one of the Ecotouring locations. We kayaked to a secluded beach, had a swim, and kayaked back. It was great. Thanx, all. :)

school is busy and so am i. staying late to practice for speech contest but enjoying it.
the student teacher is really getting into classes. we taught her first one today and it went well, i thought. she really gets into the grammar explanations, unlike someone i know. it's just too bad that the classes have been cut to a third this week because of the afternoon practices for the undokai.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

on the way to Naha yesterday i was passed by an ambulance. The lights were on and the sirens were blaring. I would like to say that it wheezed past me in a disjointed cacophony. It's good imagery. But this is Okinawa and no ambulance has ever "wheezed" past me. They have gone slightly faster than the average speed, and they have slowed down at traffic lights. Yesterday, the ambulance was just a couple of cars ahead of me and going slower than the cars around it. It was obvious because the cars around it where trying to slow down so that they wouldn't be overtaking the ambulance and possibly embarassing the driver. i'm sure lives are saved in a timely fashion. Rushing is not in the vocabulary.

the schools is in a frenzy. the pre-undokai frenzy in which i am trying desperately not to get caught. on tuesday, when the school was practicing eisa in the gym, i went home to take a nap; on wednedsay, when girls were outside dancing and boys inside practicing with bo, i was profusely sweating in my car on the way back from Naha. Today, i won't be so lucky. Today, i will join in the "folk dancing." At least it'll be the same as last year, and i won't have to do too much thinking.

after undokai preporations, i will practice for the speech contest with two students. They're both 3rd graders and good students. One has good pronounciation but is quiet and lacks confidence. The other speaks fast, loud, but is missing "m" "b" and "v" in most words. I enjoy the practices but they are tiring. I try to remind myself, whenever i get slightly frustrated with them, that they are memorizing a 350 word speech in English majority of which they don't understand.

I have ordered two books that might help me cook Japanese. One is full of pictures and has simple recipes for bento lunches. And the other is a dictionary of Japanese food; no pictures, just descriptions and explanations of all foods and ingredients that might be considered japanese. btw, i learned that if a food can't be eaten with chopsticks or drunk from a bowl, it is not considered Japanese. I think my new goal for being here will be to create good looking bento boxes. Should be fun. Am glad i canceled school lunch because now i have to make my own and sandwiches can get boring after a while.

A young female student teacher will be working with me in English classes starting next week. She speaks English! She's been here since Monday, but hasn't had much to do with classes yet since we had final tests and then they had to be given back. Today, she observed the three classes we taught. I'm really glad they went well because sometimes they don't, and it would not have been a good observation. But we had really good classes today--i can tell 'cause my larigintis started bothering me. I should go see a doctor. My voice goes hoarse after two class periods.

Interesting thing about tiny cafes in the middle of the jungles. By the time one finds them, one won't care that they only serve one dish. It's usually a really tasty dish, though.

On the agenda--absentee voting 2006. A few things are at stake. In Wisconsin, for example, a referendum is being voted on that would push for an amendment to the constitution banning gay marriage. Irritating.
So, if you're like me, an American living abroad, Get the info and the forms and Vote!

Been watching the 2nd season of "Lost." Finally got my hands on all 24 episodes. well actually they arrived in my mailbox in a pink envelope, thanx to Perry. I had seen up until episode 13, and am now on 18. Slowed down after watching several in 2 days to prolong the process. Intense.

Also, I highly recommend renting "The Edukators," a german film. Watch it with a few friends and then discuss it. The movie spun David, Ben and i into an hour long conversation.
Also, "Kontrol" is a cool hungarian film that takes place entirely underground in Budapest's metro system. Slightly allegorical but not heavyhanded.
Ben brought over 30 films from Indonesia--we have been slowly watching them. Some don't work on my laptop. Unfortunate.

Am reading "The History of Love" by Nicole Krause. I haven't finished it yet but want to re-read it already. That very rarely happens to me. The words in this book are making me stumble through my beliefs. They're also bringing up emotions that i don't always want to feel on a school night. Remarkable.

I feel unusual. I think we should go outside.
if you know where this quote is from, then you know exactly how i feel.


Friday, September 01, 2006

One thing i missed was all the delicious food my grandmothers can make. I got to eat all the things i like when i came back.

Shelley showing off a promising schedule of Wisconsin State Fair activities. Somehow we spent 8 hours there that day. Probably helped that we both haven't been there in years. It was quite amusing, really. And to me, a cultural shock of sorts: so many people of so many sizes and colors and attitudes. And of course the animals were nice to look at as well.

No comment.

In the Junior Cattle Area, kids resting.

my height in horses.

mom walking along side the woodfire kiln Anna and Brad built with the help of Sofya.

Anna and Sofya having delicious fun with the shishkebob.

Mom and I at a park on Lake Michigan.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

am listening to Regina Spektor right now.
Got a CD of music from Sofya when i was home, and a couple of her albums are on it. I heard of her for the first time a couple of years ago; downloaded her song randomly when was looking for Strokes' songs. She toured with them, i believe. She's got a very pliable voice, she can go from low and hoarse to high and clear. Quite nice. Writes and plays her own songs.

anyways. this isn't about a new musician i have discovered, although, that's important. i've been feeling disconnected from the new and old music unknown to me. When i came home, i was asking people if they would recommend i listen to someone they've been into so as to expand the selection on my MP3 player. It worked, somewhat. Now i just have to start searching and downloading. A slow process with the available connection speeds.

But at least the electricity doesn't go out on me anymore. First time it happened, Ben and i were celebrating David's bday party at my house. We had lots of lights on and they all went out. a few times during the evening. A couple of weeks later i went home to the States and didn't think of it again, until Kelly mentioned that while her parents and her were visiting my place in my absence, the lights went out. Her father felt bad because he thought he did something to my AC, but it wasn't their fault at all. When i got home, late last Monday night, i turned on a few lights and the AC and they all went out on me. I checked on the neighbors' windows but i was the only unlucky on. Started flipping switches in the box and they came back on. This happened three or four times that night, until i finally gave up and fell asleep with open windows, frustrated but too tired to do anything more. The next day i complained to my supervisor, fortunately i told him about the lights going out before my trip home so that he knew this was a repeat of an issue and not just me being a whiny "gaijin." An electrician was called, he putzed around (this is an actual expression meaning "to putter about"), and the lights and AC worked. Earlier that day i was trying to do laundry and vacuum after a 3 week absence and things kept going out on me. You can imagine my frustration. So i was very happy when it got "fixed." Yes, in quotes, because it didn't. Not really. I was carefully using the electricity that night and the next, but was gone Thursday through Sunday, so didn't know that i had lost and regained electricity at least once during my absence--my answering machine resets itself when the power is lost. Oh, and my fridge stank of slightly melted then refrozen meat. Great. Ben came over Monday night, i had lost power twice in a row already before he came at 6pm. The electrician lives across the street, so i went over to get him, but he wasn't there and i called Mr. Taira, the man of the hour, the boss of all bosses, the awesome, english speaking superintendent of the Ogimi schools. am sure i have mentioned him before. He was over with the electrician within a half hour. Ben and i were eating couscous out of a pot with two candles glowing by our side. Ben was telling me about his very recent trip to Indonesia and i was telling him about the new JETs and the weekend trip to Tokashiki island. The electrician came in and smelled slightly of alcohol and was very confounded by the loss of power when all the switches in the box were "on." He went to work. Close to 8pm, i had power. Yeah! Mr. Taira, knowing that we hadn't yet had dinner and were hungry (couscous doesn't count), took us to a nearby, previously undiscovered by me Chinese restaurant. Delicious gyoza is worth going back for.

So that settled, i can tell you all about everything else. but briefly, you must be tired of reading already.

Last week was hot, humid and busy. Flew in Monday night, met a few new block JETs Tuesday, failed a driving test Wednesday, drank with old and new JETs at the Beer Dome on Thursday, was late for a Junior H.S. Q/A i co-lead with Jaimee (the aussie) on Friday, joined a bookclub meeting that same night and had a couple of drinks at Paul and Mike's before retiring to a comfy bed in a cheap hotel in Naha. Saturday morning took a ferry out to Tokashiki with almost all the new JETs and a handful of "old" ones. The Tokashiki trip is an annual tradition that takes place the weekend after the "New JET conference" which is mandatory for all new ALTs and so a perfect opportunity to gather them all with a few of the experienced crew and send them to a gorgeous tropical island for a day and night of chilling, snorkeling, camping, drinking, swimming, etc. Good times. It was very different for me from last year, but that's understandable. The 1st year JETs were having a crazy good time, and I sort of stayed on the sidelines and had a relaxing couple of days. Not the best behavior for a blockhead, should have mingled more, but that's just me. I am very shy when surrounded by new people. Being here in Japan, on JET, has pushed me to come out of my shell and pretend i have a persona that allows me to be more relaxed and open to strangers, but sometimes that persona retreats and i remain behind. And i'm not as good at letting go of hesitations and self-consciousness. But i did chat with a few new people and they seem like a good bunch that are at the moment a solid clique of Group A and B, much like we were when we arrived. I will host a Block Event in the next few weeks to give time to the new kids to bond with the old ones in the northern area, although most of them have all met each other, so it'll be more of an excuse to do something fun on a Saturday afternoon.

Nothing much is happening at the school. Summer vacation is nearing the end; classes start on Monday. I went into school Monday and Tuesday and did nothing much. Today, Wednesday, i was learning about the different processes involved in creating Bashofu fabric that my village of Kijoka is known for. It's a two day workshop organized by my supervisor, Tatchi. He was there, and Akino, the substitute accountant at my school who speaks English as well three teachers from Shioya elem. school. In the morning we learned how to cut the fibers off the banana-like stalks of bashofu plant. Then we watched how they were boiled and sat inline with all other workers at the factory and learned how to take the impurities off the fibers with bamboo after they've been boiled for the first time. That particular task proved very difficult for me. I sat across from a young guy who was expert and after he was done with each strand of his fibers they were nearly white, smooth and wide. Mine were coming out all thinly twisted together and dirty yellowishbrown. And my back started to hurt after an hour of sitting cross legged. After lunch, which i ate at my apartment (a 2 minute walk from the factory), we cleaned the fibers some more and then Mrs. Taira (the superintendent's wife and a bashofu weaving veteran of 30 years) put me behind the weaving loom. I was weaving at a loom!! and it was working out. That's just almost unreal to me. Except i know that i had done it, and it was hard, and enjoyable and i was sweating buckets and really getting into making sure my borders were nice and neat and the weave tight and even. We were making coasters that we'll get to keep, and i realized that of course the fiber we were using wasn't the nice, final product type of Bashofu, but the crazy, almost falling apart fibers i was creating when i was learning how to clean them. So there ya go, everything can be used. I think the coaster came out good. Tomorrow we'll be learning how the fibers are joined together with weaver's knots to create one long string that is then fed through the loom with a spooler. That'll probably be tough. I'm thinking of asking if i can come in sometime and just practice weaving. Prolly not, they don't have time for eccentric "gaijin" but maybe not, maybe they'll let me enjoy myself a wee bit more behind a loom.

The weather has been changeable. It rains for no reason. There aren't any typhoons but the rain comes in strong, brief gusts and leaves a clear, scorching sun behind to dry up my laundry after it's been made wet yet again.

In the process of putting up pics from trip home right now. I might do a photo blog with a few of them in a couple of days.

I just finished a children's book of Terry Pratchett's, The WeeFree Men. Not his best work, but i suppose good as a kid's story. Has some of his regular characters from the Discworld series, like Granny Weatherfax. She says something interesting at the end of the book when talking about witchcraft:
The thing about that it's not like school at all. First, you get the test, and then afterwards you spend years findin' out how it happened. It's a bit like life in that respect.

So this here experience is a test, and maybe that's why i sometimes have a really hard time being introspective about it--i haven't passed it yet.


Friday, August 04, 2006

an inconvenient truth

please check it out.
and if you're in Japan and you have no way of seeing the movie at the moment--download it.

i have been overdosing on movies but this one is the only that matters.

and check out the site.

it's hard sometimes to think that somehow a person can do something to change a way the world works. and one person can't. not really. but if a few people decided that they could and then they told their friends about how important it was and how it could be done then perhaps we'll have started something.

and Clerks2 is damn funny.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

a bit at a loss here. too many things to mention.
let's start with the more pressing and annoying--the getting of Japanese Drivers License.
ok. so after a year of driving with the International Drivers License, Japanese government requests that foreigners change their license to the Japanese one. Easy, right? not so much. For most nationals this would require a trip (or two) to Okinawa's capitol, Naha, standing in a couple of lines, filling out paperwork, paying nearly 70$, standing in a couple of more lines, waiting for a couple of hours, and then coming back on another day to receive a brand new japanese license!
for Americans, as well as Brazilians, South Africans, and a handful of other nationals the process is a wee bit more dragged out. We actually have to take the written and practical tests to receive the coveted piece of plastic. No big, you'd think. Make an appointment, show up, fill out paperwork, take the tests. Easy.
Ah, but what's the rush, my friend? Why not go once to fill out the paperwork. Second time (and only on a wednesday) to take a 10 question T/F test, come back again (again only on a Wednesday) and take the driving test. Pass?! Great! Come back again, mon ami, watch a video and get your license. Four trips to the capital..if you're lucky. More than likely, you will fail the driving test and will have to come back again and again to retake it. It is actually recommended that foreigners pay 50$ to go to a driving school for an afternoon to better their chances of passing the test. But why is it so hard? you might ask. I've been driving in Okinawa for a year and I've been driving in my home country far longer than that, what's the difficulty in passing a test, one that doesn't even require parallel parking?
A few. First, please be sure to check under the car for animals and children, then readjust the mirrors several times, don't forget to look over your shoulder a few times as you drive on a encloased course with no other cars, also when you speed up to the required 40km/hr and then have to turn right, please drop your speed within seconds to below 20km/hr in order to take the turn. When deciding to change lanes, first check your blind spot then turn on blinker then proceed to move (i've been trying to practice that while driving and always fail. am i wrong or must one first turn on blinker then check blindspot?)...and so on and so forth.
So i've been down to Naha twice already; took the paper test which was a complete joke and more aggrivating that it was so easy because i had to spend 4 hours in the car to get there and back. I can't take the driving test until i get back from the States, so wish me luck then. Hopefully i'll pass but more than likely not. Nearly 100$ spent already and counting.

In other news. Summer vacation has arrived! Today was last day of classes and students cleared out their desks and classroom nooks. That used to be my favorite part of finishing a school semester or year--going through all the paper and tossing 90% of them out. Ok, lying. I have tons of papers, but some came in handy. For instance, i kept my notebook from 9th grade U.S. history and used the outlines from it when i taught the same class last year at Bayview HS.

Last week we watched fireworks in Motobu at Ocean Expo Park. This was the 30th year of the fireworks and instead of the usual 5,000, 10,000 fireworks were shot from two locations off the coast. The first part of the show was done in sync to music and the second, more spectacular part was only accompanied by the "ooohs" and "aaaahs" of the enchanted crowd. They were truly the best fireworks i have ever seen.

I've signed the new contract for the upcoming JET year! Something ritualistic about that.

I am missing out on several festivals when i go home next week to visit family and friends. The most dissapointing will be the Ogimi festival; it's nowhere near the biggest or coolest but it's our own and it would have been cooler this year 'cause i actually know many more people and over a hundred kids by name.

Happy Birthday yesterday to David Crennen. I hosted a small dinner party and made mashpotatoes, a japanese style salad, and we each cooked our own Aussie steaks. 'twas delicious and then the three of us watched, "Run Lola Run." Good times. The cake was great too, as it should be, as i am the best cakegetter.

Saw "Superman Returns" the other day on base. Not bad, actually. i don't know much about the whole Superman saga. Just that he's super but as any hero has a weak spot...for a certain lady. nah, kryptonite.
Am really looking forward to the Pirates film which will be at Schwab on Monday.

I went to DFS yesterday. It's a store in Naha where one can only shop with an airplane ticket as it is all duty free. Well, not all, there's a small shop with local gifts and that's where i went. But i had to walk through the rest of the complex to get there. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Burberry, BLVGARI all fancy shmancy cosmetic lines, Rolex, Cartier, Tiffany & co. and so on and so forth. Clean, fancy, sophisticated and way too rich for my blood, of course. It was a world of magazine covers and impecable dress. It was too much and yet I was drawn to the lights, the flare, the colors. Why do we need items to reaffirm status, or better yet, why would someone who intellectually can reason through a need for a status item can still be drawn by it. How much are we affected by advertising and glitter, and why even awareness of the gimmick can't protect us from it?
I tried on a pair of Oakleys, and i actually really wanted to buy them. A practical purchase on a island with blaring sun. But my international ticket was no good; i had to have one that first made a stop on mainland Japan. Foiled again.
the DFS in Okinawa also has a Food Colloseum which is a cool spot.

So many things to do before leaving. I have to pack and clean my aparto. People might be staying there while visiting the north. on Saturday I am going to Ie island with some teachers and parents and then in the evening there is the Block 1 goodbye party in Nago. Sunday i am driving south again to work at the examination of future high school English teachers. Monday i have to transfer the gold fish from my apartment to the school so that Noriko-san can take care of them while i'm away....and a few other little things, like changing money and paying bills.

Perhaps i'll write a blog while visiting home. wouldn't exactly be fitting with the title of the blog but hey.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

This week's grammar in 2nd grade:
"what do you want to be?" "what do you want to do?" the key words are "want" and "do". please don't forget the little tiny "to" as it makes all the difference.
been thinking about that question this past week. what is it that i want to do? what is it that i wanted to accomplish while here? it's nearing a year; people are coming and going. they're starting something new and i am staying here another year. so what happens when i'm done? what do i want to be when i grow up? funny question, i know. at my age i should know right? it should be clear and yet it was only clear when i was young. i wanted to be an archaeologist since i was 12. oh yes, i also wanted to be a movie director. those are the only two i remember clearly wanting. i went for the first one because i lack any three dimensional creativity.
so i did that. i was one. it was great. chose another path, walking a new road. what do i want to be when i grow up?
usually this type of thinking would depress me just slightly. sometimes greatly. but right now, i'm ok. here. right now. i am ok. i feel that i am doing what i want. i am achieving what i came to achieve. and i'm also finding all sorts of gems i never forethought.
mostly--they're my students.

yesterday in the 1st grade class we were playing a game i haven't tried until now called "whispers". i whisper a sentence to a student in the back of a row and it gets passed along to the front through whispers and the student at the front writes it on the board. worked well with the 3rd graders but created a bit of confusion in the 1st grade class. After the first round i was asking the kids to switch--front students to the back and rest move up. One kid, Kaito, a hillarious little menace who flat out told me a month ago that he doesn't like English (but at least he likes me), was trying to get his friend to move to the back as i had instructed. I think he just wanted to be in the front. So i came up to sort out the confusion and Kaito looks at me and says in English while pointing at his friend, "Technical foul. What's the penalty?"
I had to laugh and out loud, and then i pointed at the friend and in a serious voice told him that the penalty is to go to the back. Kaito agreed. And that's a gem.
In 3rd grade class today, i said "Stand up" and one of the girls sang it Eminem style, "please stand up, please stand up" and so i joined in with the hand gestures. made her laugh. after class it was, "Elina sensei...Eminem? like?" he he. yeah. i guess i did at one point. and then she sang a bit of, "My name is...My name is..." and "chikachika" is in my head still.

My English Club girls were asking me on Friday whether they could have penpals from America. They are specifically wanting to correspond with teenage boys. :)

Yuu took 2nd place at the All Okinawa story contest on Monday. I was surprised but not really. The competition was tough, some of the students spoke near fluently, the one who took first place spent 10 years (of her 15) in the states. But Yuu was at his best. He had never told it as well as he told it that day, and even though i know the story by heart, i was laughing along with everyone. I was so proud of him. He's an awesome kid.

They see me in the hall and shout "hellos"; they wave goodbyes when i pull out the parking lot. They stop by my desk between classes and try to talk. A kid in the 3rd grade who is a very low student in all classes but has a warm personality stops by to "chat" every other day. And we do chat. I, with my broken Japanese, and he with his collection of random English utterances. He says, "Elina, Serina" and i say, "Tsubasa, Mikasa" (yeah i know it means "my house" in Spanish, i've seen Pulp Fiction, but it was the first thing that came to my mind when he first shouted my new nickname and he doesn't understand it, so no harm done, right?) :)
The JTE and i had a long conversation about some of the students on the ride back from the story contest. I brought up my concern with a 3rd grader in 3-1 who has grown more reluctant to participate, acts arrogantly, and draws other low achieving students to him. When he is in class and dissinclined to participate, i have 5 boys who don't participate and sometimes blatantly ignore my attempts. The JTE usually does nothing, i have to make it point to ask them to stop talking, i stop talking myself or call on them to answer a question. So during the ride, I mentioned the student to the JTE and he told me that the student lives with his mother who works all day and he is by himself until 9 or 10pm on weekdays. We talked about other students and some of family problems they might be having. How students behave at school is usually influenced by their home situation. It's true for Milwaukee, it's true for Ogimi. When i first met Tsubasa, Gabrielle warned me that he was one of her worst students. She said that his father commited suicide a year before and Tsubasa has grown more reluctant to participate and behave. Right now he is one of my favorite students and either he decided for himself or it was decided for him, but he does not associate with the other rudely rebellious 3rd grade boys, and i'm glad.
I am here for the students and some days i'm tired of being in the school but they always cheer me up.

I wrote most of the above on Wednesday. It's Saturday now and the rest will be a photo blog. Enjoy.

Yuu with his awards at the All Okinawa Story Contest on July 3rd.

July 7th was the Tanabata holiday in Okinawa. It is a Japanese holiday of wish making. Girls of different grades hung up their wishes on the tree. I wrote up a piece of paper as well.

Boys read the wish messages written by girls the day before Tanabata.

At the JET goodbye party in Onna, Julie and Anna.

and here's a link i got from Erik. It entertained Brett and I greatly Friday night.

Friday, June 30, 2006

i think i've turned into a coffee addict. i think i have at least half a cup a day. i wonder what would happen if i didn't. i must test it out. it seems, though, that it would be very unJapanese of me to forego the caffeine. the pot in the teachers' kitchen gets brewed three or four times a day. We have an expresso maker. We also have single use coffee packets of French Vanilla and Hazelnut. How can one resist? Yes. of course, i can drink water. I do drink water. Lately because of the heat, i've been going through two Nalgene fulls a day at the minimum, more on karate days.
Today i came to school after waking up from a refreshing 8 hour sleep, but felt ready to collapse and doze off through the third period of the day. Don't know why.

The story contest was last Saturday. 30 students participated and some of them were really good. A little girl, who looked smaller than her 3rd grade in Junior High, told a scary story. I was sitting next to Ben and when at first she started off slow and deliberate, i hadn't yet realized that it was meant to be a scary story, and told Ben that i was frightened of the girl. Then she went into a menacing voice and i was laughing. she was awesome. the most amusing of them all, but she didn't win. but my student took second place. he was good, though. and Kelly says he was funny. I picked the story because it made me laugh, so i thought it wouldn't hurt if the judges and audience did as well. And he's good at telling it. So on Monday, the JTE, Yuu, and I get to drive down to Naha to participate in the prefectural story contest. Wish us luck!

A giant spider is walking through the file cabinets next to the computer desk. I pointed him out to the head teacher and she just smiled and pushed him away. I guess he's harmless, wish i knew that when one just like it showed up at my apartment last week and Kel and i freaked out. I ran around with a vacuum cleaner and we screamed a bit and then Kelly attempted to take a photo, but it didn't work out.

let's see. in the news. Ben bought a unicycle. There's a cool bar just a 5 minute drive from my house with a pooltable and dart boards. Dina and Boris had a beautiful baby girl, Congratz!! i learned how to dye with indigo Okinawan style. Students in my English Club now have hotmail accounts. We have started a new conversation activity in all three grades and it seems to be working. Profiles are up of incoming JETs and more are on the way. and that's just really exciting 'cause we're all awaiting their arrival. and if you're an incoming JET and reading this--don't worry too much...we're all lovely people.
Block 1 was finally and rightfully declared the winner of the Block Games that ended months ago. The earned money will pay for the Block "goodbye" gathering that is in the works. It's deffinately a weird situation to be here. We're all here temporarily. We all know it. And yet, going through these experiences brings people very close, very quickly and parting with them is incredibly sad. These people are a part of what i know to be "Okinawa" and not having them here in a month, even if i don't see some of them very often, is going to be rather strange.
but like i said, looking forward to the new ones. :)

this blog feels incomplete and very disjointed, but i'll still publish it for lack of a better option.

i'll try and think through something more complete to write this weekend in between soccer games and lounging on the beach.