Thursday, April 27, 2006


i only know one of the above kanji. but the neat keyboard system at school allows for kanji to be substituted for the hiragana that is typed out. the trick is of course to make sure that the right kanji popped up for the syllables. so for instance, the above kanji stands for "omo" and "shiro". the whole thing says, "omoshiroidesu" and means "it's interesting/funny/amusing"
i knew the "shiro" kanji, it means white; its other readings are (i believe) "haku" and "byaku". consider this your kanji lesson of the day.

the school is nearly empty right now. the teachers had to go to some sort of a meeting at one of the elementary schools in the village. most went. it's just me, the art teacher, the PE teacher and the accountant that are left. some kids are of course milling about--there are always kids milling about the school. there are usually two buses to take them home if they decide to stay for clubs or any other reason. one right after school and one at 6 or 7pm.
the teachers that left are going to have a meeting with all the elementary teachers and then play volleyball and eat. i said that i won't understand a thing in the meeting and can't play volleyball because i have to leave at 5pm to go to Nago for karate practice. so i'm at the school for another 20 minutes or so and thought i'd fill ya in on some details from life in Ogimi.

had a wonderful weekend. Friday night saw the african drums band again, except the drummer wasn't actually there. felt bad for having invited a bunch of Block1 JETs to the concert and having it be not as good as the night before. we still had a good time--it was nice to see people i haven't seen in a while and chill on the beach by the bonfire while listening to hippie music. :)
Saturday took it easy and then drove to Kelly's and hung out with her, Shawn and Matt both days. We even got to go on base. It's quite an exciting venture. Kelly said it was like Christmas and felt bad for wanting to buy a bunch of yummy, American snacks. But the guys were cool with it and so we shopped a bit. And then hit the Subway for a late lunch, grabbed it to go and drove off base to sit on the seawall in Sunabe (Chatan) and watched the surfers idling in the water with no promise of a wave. It was very relaxing and nice. A good weekend overall.
And really didn't want to go to school the next day. Mostly because i knew i had to prepare for the week's lessons and especially for the English Club's first meeting.
On Tuesday the sign up for the club was announced by the JTE in the general morning assembly and by the end of the school day i had 4 names on the sheet. All girls, all 3rd graders. The first meeting was on Wednesday and by that point i had 6 girls who signed up and 3 that showed up not knwoing that there was a sign up sheet.
so 9 total. All girls, all 3rd graders. Great!
I was hoping for 10 students at the beginning. Thought more than that would be too many. I was hoping for a couple of boys to show but didn't actually think they would. Didn't really want 1st graders to show up because it would be very difficult to communicate with them. Their English extends as far as "I like ~" and "It's sunny." Whereas the 3rd grade girls can at least understand what I am communicating some of the time.

The club went great! I overplanned. We ended up talking about things outside of my plans for 20-30 minutes. At first it was freeflowing because we were waiting for some girls to show up. Wednesdays is a day to make-up the Monday morning STEP tests all students have to take, so i figure at the beginning of each English Club we will just chat and look at magazines and such if more than 1 girl is absent for the makeups. Yesterday 3 girls were gone 'til 5pm or so (i started club at 4:30).
Then we went over the things they would like to do during English Club. Listening and singing foreign songs is at the top of the list, so is watching movies, cooking, and shopping. Don't know how we're going to go shopping and make it an English Club activity. There are flea markets on bases that are open to public and an ALT in Motobu did take her small English Club to one of them for conversation practice. So it's possible, but there are 9 girls and one small car. Something to consider.
We then went over the phrases I and they will say all the time while in English Club. It took me a while to explain what i meant by "i am going to say some things over and over again". The effort it took was almost sisyphean but i finally got that "aaaaah! i get it" look and the rock rolled down the other side.
the same effort happened again when i tried to illicit the kind of questions one would ask when filling out a questionnaire about another person. i asked them to interview their neighbor and to fill in the form i gave them, and then introduce that person--all in English. But first we had to review the kind of questions they would have to ask in order to get responses for: Age, Birthday, Favorite Subject, and so on.

So we didn't actually get to the introductions part and went 20 minutes past 6pm, my planned cut-off time. Next week we don't have a meeting because of a national holiday, so we shall meet in two.
I left the girls to arrange the tables, chairs and board. The kids are expected to do any set up and take down work. They automatically start doing it. I still haven't gotten used to that. But when i left they all seemed bubbly and in good spirits, and I felt pretty good about what had just transpired. I am sure I will be somewhat nervous every time we have the club, but i think it will be ok most of the time.
and it's fun picking up Japanese this way a bit. Not sure how usefull it will be for me, but it's possible that i'll learn a few expressions from them.
and yesterday i impressed them by writing kanji on the board for foreign. 外国. Fun, eh?

time to go home.


Friday, April 21, 2006


every day that goes by, i consider myself lucky. lucky to be here, lucky to have come, lucky to be surrounded by such a generous JET community, lucky to be in the school of well-behaved and funny kids, lucky to live in a village surrounded by forrested hills and near the ocean. lucky.

that was a rant that is not leading up to anything. just came into my head.

but i do have to mention the days when i don't like anyone or anything. i want to walk for hours with my music pounding through the headphones--an attempt to block out everything that is surrounding me. there are days when the weather is chilly and the sky is a bit on the grey side, and the waves come up looking dirty and angry; on those days, i want to curl up on the couch at my mother's house with the dog and flip through the nonsensical programming without stopping. they call it culture shock. perhaps.

yesterday, i was afraid of being literally shocked, though.
we had our mandatory physical testing at the school this week. the students went through it on tuesday, and the teachers had theirs done on thursday.
first i had to fill out a long questionnare that attempted to piece out my stress profile.
"do you eat more?" YES
"do you eat less?" YES
"do you have pains in your stomach and back?" (how is that in the same question?) YES
"do you feel apathetic towards things?" YES
"do you get regular amount of sleep?" YES
"do you exercise?" YES
"do you feel good about yourself?" YES
and so on and so forth...took nearly an hour to go through it with the JTE.

actually on the questionnare i made myself out to be the healthiest person mentally.
i don't suffer from anything that would cause stress, well, unless of course you don't count the "living in a foreign country without knowing the language" factor. then, no..absolutely no stress whatsoever.
that was easy.

so i turned in the questionnaire. was measured and weighed (yes, i gained weight, and apprently i also gained 10cm in height). then the urine sample for acidity?
don't know.
then my blood was taken to check for nutritional levels of things.
i guess.
and then i was asked to lie down on a bed while a nurse clipped on things that looked like carbattery chargers to my legs and put some sort of white, ceramic, cuplooking things on my chest. i am fairly certain this was the first time i was hooked to a machine. i thought that at any second now i was going to be accidently electricuted and no one would be able to explain to me later what they were actually attempting to diagnose. i still don't know. the read out looked promising, lots of up and downs but fairly uniform.

in the adjacent room i was asked to listen to faint sounds and they also checked how good my contacts are. i was saddened to discover that my right contact is not up to par--at some point in my near prosperous future, i will have to get laser surgery.

the test was finished, and i was slightly upset. i wanted my x-ray to be taken and i wanted to see it. oh well.

also last night went to see an African drums band. Mostly Okinawan musicians but the main guy is black with dreads and is a fantastic drummer. He has lived in Japan for nearly 15 years now, most of them playing in Jamaican band in Tokyo. Now he's on Okinawa and has an African restaurant in Naha (going to check it out this weekend).
The band was great. Really chill and nice to sway to. The show was at the jungle cafe called Yamagame in Higashi-son where Ben lives. He now knows the owners pretty well and was invited to check out the band. Two dozen people or so were there enjoying the somewhat chilly outdoors and jamming music. I enjoyed it so much, I'm going to see them again tonight but this time on a beach in Nago.

On the upbeat school news. Had fun chatting with some 1st graders when i stumbled upon them on my after lunch walk. They were picking weeds under the supervision of the vice principal and i joined them. Hillarious bunch. We've discussed our likes and dislikes. They're impressed with me, i know it. Had a good lesson with them as well after lunch. They were learning how to use the dictionary. It's an amazingly intricate skill, one that i don't think about much, but for most of them it took the whole class period to figure out. Some are still not quite on the ball, so hopefully we'll practice it several more times. It's amazing being able to help a kid who speaks zero to none of your language. Granted i know how to say "does it come before or after n ". Which is also an accomplishment in its own right.
actually had a good day speaking Japanese. I don't speak a lot, and i would certainly agree with anyone that would say that lack of communication is hampering my progress. I know. I'm just shy.
But today i told the office lady about last night's concert and about my plans for tonight, and she told me about her weekend plans. And then i chatted with a few 3rd grade girls about the English bulletin board i have just put up in the hallway.

It's the sun. It's put me in a good mood. That and the fact that it's Friday.


PS. due to momentary lack in creativity, the subject line says, "today is a bit cold."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest

Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest

and i've yet to speak a word to another person or step a foot outside my apartment.
i like it.
rearranged my whole place. well, the scary room is the same. will change the kitchen around as well. maybe later tonight.
it's already after 6pm.

i found this contest site and think it worth sharing.

Friday, April 14, 2006

road crossing

this blog is going to be about cheerful things, i promise. but before i do that.

right before i started writing this blog, i glanced at a BBC article headline, US offers Babylon apology I had no idea what to expect, but what i certainly did not expect was an article detailing how the US army has destroyed a site that is home to one of world's seven wonders. Now i know you can argue this any way you can--there had to have been a strategical advantage to digging trenches and putting down gravel on an archaeological site, perhaps no other sand could be imported so it was necessary that sandbags be filled with artifacts from the site, perhaps a helipad built 100 meters away from the site would not have been as effecient, and collapsing roofs by flying helicopters in and out is deffinately one way of preventing looting--the reason the troops were apparently stationed there in 2003.
Some could say that this is just a place of dirt and gravel. So what if it is significant as a source of knowledge about the world's earliest complex civilization. So what if it has been deemed precious and was protected. It's just something that was built more than 2000 years ago ...there are tons of these in Iraq. Nearly 10,000 documented archaeological sites, in fact. They can't all be protected and secured. This is war--people are dying. The troops are gone now apparently. Have been removed when experts complained of irreversable damage.

and yet, i'm angry and near tears. explain that to me.
is it because i was an archaeologist in the past life? is it because i am one of those crazies who goes googly eye at a site of a thousand year old obsidian point? is it because i have been near human remains and think anything associated with them is sacred? is it because i believe that any knowledge of past culture can only be of benefit to us now? is it because i don't for a second believe that any precaution was taken by the US command to alleviate the damage done to the site? all of that. and more. i'm furious right now.
not a good time to write.

yet, i wanted to tell you about a funny thing that happened on the way to school.
a bunch of ducks crossed the road from the beach. they went from the beach side to the road station side. slowly and deliberatly they waddled their way across, paying now attention to cars that stopped for them. there were 6 or 7 of them. male and female.
apparently they belong to one of my students' parents. i have never seen them before.
but it's not unusual for animals to cross the road, yet why the animal crossing sign has a crab on it, beats me. i have never seen a crab cross and what if the little bugger decides to cross at nighttime? is there any chance at all of his survival?
last night i barely escaped hitting a dog that decided to wonder onto the road and stand there, waiting for something, indecisive about its next move. the dogs here are deffinatly suicidal. see this sort of thing all the time.

ok. am a bit more cheery now that i wrote about that.

i am about to have a serious meeting with the JTE. well, i hope it will be serious. we have decided to talk about how to switch things up in the classrooms. to change a bit the way we teach and how things are organized. i'm really glad that he wants to make this move. i hope we use some of the ideas i've been coming up with while bored stiff during lessons.

oh, and i remembered the second amusing incident of the day. i don't know about anyone else on the island, but for lunch today i ate colored, boiled quail eggs. whether it was because of Good Friday/Easter association has been undetermined by my probbing into the matter. i got shrugs and confused stares. someone in the Ogimi kitchen is having fun with this. One was bright pink and the other sun yellow.

I miss Russian Orthodox Easter. We got to eat tons of delicious, baked, sweet bread and play with colored boiled eggs.

Happy Passover, btw, to all those who keep holidays.

the weather's been as indecisive as the dog on the road. but it's consistent in being humid and rainy and windy. it's just the temperature that changes.


Friday, April 07, 2006

all new things

the TV was just turned off. what a shame. i rather enjoyed the Spam commercial that was just on. The thinly cut and frying pieces of conglomerated meat looked so good on the big screen that for a moment i wondered what it was about Spam i didn't like. mystery....
Spam, of course, is a substitute meat of choice on this island. it is in almost every traditional dish which beggs the question of how traditional can the dish be. Ordering a vegeterian champuru (mixed stirfy Okinawa style) does not mean that all meat products will be absent. It just means there might be Spam.

but onto more pleasant and important things.

И вроде бы не Сентябрь месяц и точно не первое число. И не работаю я в младших классах, а преподаю ученикам средних классов. Но сегодня, 7-го Апреля было ощущение того всем выходцам из Советских республик известного праздника. Сегодня 29-ять новых учеников вступили "в первый раз в первый класс."
Не было бантов и цветов. Не било звонка и нескольких первых классов. В этом году в нашу школу вступил один первый класс: 1-1. Были родители и слегка запуганных первоклашек ввели в спортивный зал девочка с флагом и их новый классный руководитель. Было очень красиво и торжественно. Первоклассников представили перед всеми. Они кажутся такими маленькими по сравнению со всеми рядом. Хотя если честно, трудно поверить что сегодняшние третилкассники били только во втором классе две недели назад. Всё таки странный здесь учебный год.

Ну всё. Хватит. Напечатать это всё заняло мне почти пол часа. В первый раз, как говорится...

i can safely say that today was my favorite school ceremony. it is the openning day ceremony of the new school year. The kids that two weeks ago left as 2nd (8th) graders are now a school year older. We ceremoniously welcomed new teachers early in the morning. Then the vice principal proclaimed the school year open, and we sang the school song and a couple of students gave speeches. Yes, i sang along. There was a booklet made for the parents of the new students and in it is a copy of the school song. I couldn't sing it before because even though the lyrics are up on a wall in the gym, they are mostly in kanji. The booklet's lyrics of the song have furigana written with the kanji, which made it easier for me. So i sang and felt a bit more a part of what was going on. Granted, a very small bit.
There were two good moments of the morning ceremonies. During the speeches of the openning ceremony the spongy kanji letters that were taped up to the overhead board drawn to the very top of the stage background fell down. First one fell down and sent a ripple of giggles through the girls section. Most teachers smiled. Then a few minutes later another one came down--this time it was much funnier as only one spongy letter remained at the top causing students to tense up with expectation and actually pay attention to what was going on on the stage at the time. a couple of teachers went to the stage, paused the proceedings, lowered the banner, taped up the kanji, and things finished off smoothly after that.
The second nice moment came when students were introduced to their new homeroom teachers. Apparently they change those every year; i assumed the same teacher stays with the class from 1st grade on, but that wouldn't make sense i suppose since teachers themselves move schools so often. So all the teachers lined up in front of the students and the new vice principal read out the names of the new homeroom teachers. Students cheered, yelled, claped, and i did see a couple of dissapointed faces. A couple of new 3-2 girls came up to me. They said that i should be the substitute homeroom teacher (every homeroom teacher has one, a helper of sorts). I kidded and said next year because this year my Japanese isn't good enough. They were dissapointed--they won't be here next year. It was funny though to see them so lively...they were just happy that the JTE was no longer their homeroom teacher. It was so obvious. sad, really.
but he has new responsibility this year--he is now the teacher in charge of the Students' Council. He seems to have been so busy this whole break that we didn't exchange one word about the classes we are to teach. Great.

but i've digressed.

the next ceremony was for the new 1st graders. Their parents and important village people filled the chairs that stood empty during the morning ceremonies. Kids rearranged themselves during the break. I was talking with two girls, one of them sang several Hilary Duff songs to me in almost perfect English. She's not the best English student, her friend was better in understanding what i was staying, but her pronounciation and enthusiasm are great. Am considering pursuading her to try out for the Story contest that is coming up soon. So after the break, the new first graders were led in by their homeroom teacher. They looked excited, nervous and scared all at the same time. But they know almost everyone. It's a small community and am sure that all the kids within the smaller villages know each other. So there were some winks, and waves, and smiles to the students as they passed them. It was really sweet, uninhibitted, and unpretencious. Touching, almost. Like the first day of school on the 1st of September as i remember it from USSR (that's what the russian portion of the blog is about, btw).

The Japanese society depends on ceremony. Everything has an outlined way of doing things. And if it doesn't then there is a phrase that says, "oh well, it can't be helped because there isn't a form that we know how to follow in this situation."
At first it seems ridiculous, mostly because i lack the linguistic understanding of all the ceremonial behaviors. It has grace but is absent of meaning. So it's easier to ridicule than to understand. But i am trying to understand.
And yesterday i participated in my first truly personal ceremony that contained both meaning and emotion. I received my blue belt in karate. We sat in front of the sensei. A black belt kid had the bag with new different colored belts. We were called one by one, the sensei presented us with a certificate and a new belt, i received them with both hands and bowed. I didn't cry or anything but it was somewhat overwhelming. Maybe because it was ceremonious or maybe because i did something i never thought i would and was acknowledged for it. Either way, it was nice.

And we've succesfully come to 4pm on a Friday afternoon. Time to go home.