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.