Monday, February 26, 2007

a good monday

my mp3 player is on full shuffle. something i don't think i've attempted before. i've shuffled folders before but recently been on a kick of listening to albums or folders straight through. so two days ago i put it on random play and it's been great. it just went from Reservoir Dogs soundtrack to a song by Vissotsky i haven't heard in ages to Radiohead's Lucky. random is right and i'm liking it.
but that's not why today is good. it helps having the music though as i write about the reasons.

i don't share details often; i give out snippets and stories and sometimes observations, but to have a full day deserve a blog is a rarity mostly because i'm too lazy to write everything down.
so today started out with me snoozing for nearly an hour. i meant to get up at 6am--am starting to do this whole "running in Okinawa" thing that has suckered in a bunch of JETs i know. of course, i don't foresee myself running marathons, but it would be nice to run the 10km in my village. but at 6am it was too cold and too dark and i was not convinced that it was a good time for me to get up. so i postponed the waking 'til 7:15 and told myself i'd run after school.
on the way to school was thinking of how lame a couple of my classes might be a) because one of them will be a repeat of a hair pulling experience from Friday, albeit this class is way genkier and so the repeat at least promised to be livelier and b) because you all know my feelings about my co-worker and some days i'm more pessimistic about the prospects of working with him than others.
but the clouds were gorgeous, the sun was climbing and making the blue of the sea sparkle and so i was disinclined to be truly down as i pulled into the school's parking lot.

i walk into the teacher's office, smile and "ohayo gozaimasu" whoever happens to be in my line of sight and go to my desk on which a faxed note from my JTE greets me and my day is immediately not what i expected.
the note says to expect a two hour delay and to teach at least one, mayhap all three classes on my own because he might be late for 2nd and 4th period and during 5th period he'd like to finish up the "checking of files" and so he'll be present but i'll do "activities" and entertain 1st graders.

am a bit upset at first because it's not what i expected my day to be, and then i give myself a good mental thrashing because my day just went from me being potentially frustrated in the classroom to me being able to lead the classroom and thus control my level of frustration. and so i get into the planning; i refuse with 3 weeks of school left and us being behind in the textbook in 1st and 2nd grade (3rd graders are already finished but in the most hurried fashion towards the end) to play games during classes. So i plan out how to move the classes forward and yet not having to "teach grammar." For 2nd graders it involves some silly acting out on my part and some writing of dialogues on theirs and for 1st graders it involves an introduction to "can you" grammar through a bingo game i found months earlier on a KitaKyushu JETs' website.

my coworker comes back before my 2nd class of the day and wants to join me just to hang out and make sure there's no behavior problems. i somehow manage to convince him that he need not bother because i feel that the lesson i have planned for this class relies greatly on the fact that i'm on my own with no Japanese backing and them having to do a lot of guessing. During the 1st graders' lesson he does join in to hand back some papers and files and then i'm on my own with him at the back of the room. The kids are unclear about the bingo instructions and instead of prolonging their torture of having to figure out what the highly animated Elina is trying to say, i turn to him and he prodes the kids with hints in Japanese to figuring out the game, and i appreciated that instead of a full out translation. progress!

so three classes with prep between them and i'm done around 2:35 and i haven't had time to study japanese yet, but had three good classes and hang around a bit after the 1st graders' class and chatted about Donald and Daisy Duck.
and with this "i can do things" mood i get into writing down new kanji to study for the week and it's a bit after 4pm when i go home ... and oh my! go for a run. well. it's a half walk/half run deal but i'm happy about it.
after the run, a salad with tofu for dinner, then some reading time and up the stairs to Gabrielle's at 6:30 for our Monday night yoga session. Tonight i had a really good session--broke a sweat and everything and with Gabrielle's assistance attempted a headstand, though am nowhere close to doing it on my own.

at 9pm back to my apartment and reading for about an hour before i decided to write it all down because i'm feeling good about today and about where i'm at right now and that's not always the case but i don't ever feel like describing the days when i'm down and it's gray and all my plans have been rained out by weather or mood. but i think it's good to remember the good days in detail, 'cause they're possible and possible to replicate. so here's hoping i have another good one tomorrow and wish one for you as well.

PS. am reading a great book right now thanx to Shelley. It's called "Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist" by William R. Maples, Ph.D. and Michael Browning. It's been a while since i've read anything related to my original field and even though it's a bit gory at times, it's nice recognizing some of the terminology and feeling a connection when a Marshalltown trowel is mentioned. And according to this book the belief that human hair and nails keep growing a while after death is a myth. Good to know.

Grooving to James Brown's "Get Up Offa That Thing" as i'm finalizing this post. How appropriate.

Friday, February 16, 2007

listening to the soundtrack from the film, Marie Antoinette that i picked up in Taipei. I saw the movie before the trip and enjoyed it. It was certainly ambitious and didn't always deliver but it was great visual fun and i thought Kirsten Dunst's performance was wonderful. I also enjoyed the music, so when i saw the soundtrack at a music store , i bought it budget be damned. Also picked up Pink Martini's Hang on Little Tomato album which is a french import and seems to be disliked by the windows player on my computer. Only plays it for a short time. figures.

so yeah. went to Taiwan for 6 days and had a wonderful time. Went by myself and don't really regret that decision. It would have been a different kind of fun with a friend or two--Taipei is a great town with lots of options for entertainment, but i had a good time on my own, more subdued but relaxing and reflective.
I put up all the pics on the fotki site with short explanations for most of them, so check that out if you want a visual story of the trip. Of course not everything i saw and did is on the photos. I had a great time meeting people at the hostel and during my trip to Taroko National Park, and those things can't be transcribed through photos. Not my photos anyways. :)

I spent the first 3 days in Taipei, and then very early Sunday morning took a train to Hualien, a city on the east coast of Taiwan, south of Taipei. My goal was to go to the Taroko National Park from there, which was another hour by bus. I didn't have a clear plan for my trip to Taroko, but it all worked out splendidly. I took a bus about half way into Taroko NP and stayed over night in Tiansiang, a small village in the forested hills of the gorge. I walked south from Tiansiang on both days to explore the sights. On the first day it was cloudy and a bit chilly towards the evening and i didn't make it as far as i wanted to, but i did meet a fellow walker and we made it back to Tiansiang and had dinner together and enjoyed a great show of native taiwanese dancing.
The next day brought sunshine and with the pack on my back i walked south following the same road as the day before hoping to catch a bus when i got too tired and after i had walked the trail called The Tunnel of Nine turns. After the trail and about 11km later, i missed the bus and was seriously considering hitching when a car pulled over and the driver motioned for me to get in if i was going their way. I stuffed myself and bag into the back seat with two grown children of a husband and wife in front and their two cute dogs (pic on Fotki). The university age kids spoke broken but decent English and the father chimed in a bit as well. We had a great ride all the way back to the Hualian train station, which was my destination and since they were staying the night in Hualian they offered to drop me there. But not only that, the kids walked with me to a local specialty shop and helped me pick out sweets to bring back as omiyage(gifts) to my school, BOE, English class, etc. It was one of the kindest gestures i've experienced in a long time.
So that's just one little story from a great trip, which also included lots of stinky tofu, night markets, late night hostel chats, wrong metro stops, and more stinky tofu. So perhaps if you're curious, you can ask me about it in person sometime, but now i'd like to tell you a bit about my job since i don't seem to have done that in a while.

I came back late night on the 13th and i had promised my English club students a Valentine's Day fondue during our club meeting the next day, so on the way home had to stop by a store and pick up all the delicious ingredients. First, we made Valentine's cards and the girls went all out with decorations. Then i melted 4 chocolate bars and we dug in with strawberries, marshmallows, bananas, apples, dried pineapples and apricots, cookies and sprinkles to top it all off. Delectable! I've never had a chocolate fondue, or any fondue for that matter, and it was quite fun.

Classes are their usual mixed bag of fun. But since the 3rd graders have their high school tests coming up in a month, we have to finish up the textbook in a hurry and so we're skipping over a few things, but there's no new grammar, so apparently it's all right. We are doing something we haven't done before--we're attempting to have students write down their opinions based on a debate lesson in their textbooks. The debate is "school lunch" vs "boxed lunch". So we had both classes vote and in one class only one student and myself voted for "school lunches" and in the other class about 2/3 of the students voted for it. So i had students divide into groups and write down three reasons for their opinion and hopefully during the next lesson we can have them take up positions on opposite sides of the room and read out their reasons. But I do have to share two that made me chuckle. One was, "Boxed lunches are better because they are made with mother's love." and i didn't edit it. there's one very high level student in that group. and the second one was, "Boxed lunches are better because school lunch is cooker DEATH." i think they meant to be negative towards the lunch ladies. ha ha. thought it was funny.

in other news, the boys basketball team won first place in a tournament between northern schools at the end of January and the PTA threw a party tonight for the teachers, team members, and themselves. It was nice and made me want to check out more sports events, it's just unfortunate that they usually start early in the morning on Saturdays.

Tomorrow I'm meeting my English club students for an afternoon of karaoke fun as a going away party for them. They'll leave the school in mid March and i'm going to miss them a great deal. I made real connections with these girls and other students in the 3rd grade classes. Sometimes i don't feel like going to school because i know what the teaching experience is like, but when i'm in the classroom with them or greet them in the hallways, or have random conversations about "corn candy" and "landmines," i feel that i'm a part of their lives and a part of the school and they care that i'm there, and that feels great and i have a better day.

and on that sentimental note, i bid you adieu.


PS here's an excerpt from my journaling in Taiwan:
Oh yeah. Before i forget. had a revelation of sorts about being in an Asian country. It's like constantly being yanked from a state of comprehension to a [state of] complete lack of bearing in a present situation. There are so mnay signs in English, western companies, recognizable brands. The eye moves along the varied surface of the new surroundings and is instantly attracted to anything that holds familiartiy, from a sign for a dentist office to McD's to an upscale store front and then once those have given the brain a moment of clarity next come all those things that make the connection between seeing and understanding arduous to establish in best circumstances. Usually the connection is established via numerous clouded links and assumption or not at all, as is the case with most signs in the [chinese and japanese] hieroglyphs. I constantly go from understanding a feeling of loss. It's tiring. Funny though, that anything Japanese related [and sounding] brings me comfort here in Taiwan. Perhaps because i've already settled with those misunderstandings.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ein's my favorite, but i suppose i'm more like Jet-san

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You are Jet Black! You have done the best you could and it still seems as if that's not gonna be good enough. Deep down your friends make it all worthwhile.
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Friday, February 02, 2007

on wednesday i went to play volleyaball with the young women of Ogimi. i invited myself through a friend because i've been wanting to get more involved with the locals but haven't been getting around to it. the women's club plays on wednesdays from 8 to 10pm at the Ogimi elementary school's gym. Some members are high school students and others are 20something women that live and work in Ogimi village. This week they were practicing with the men's team because at the end of February they have a tournament and so apparently are getting more serious with their practices. I haven't played volleyball in a very very long time, but apparently still remembered how to hit the ball and was able to serve over the net every time. Two high school girls and me were put on the men's side, and at first i was fairly nervous, but as we started playing i realized that no one was extraordinarily good and everyone made mistakes. We played 8 on 8 and there was lots of confusion sometimes, but it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. Everyone was in good spirits and joking with each other and the game wasn't taken that seriously and we all had a good time. So even though my forearms now are bruised and hurting, i'll be joining in on the volleyball practice again in the future.

Just found out that the 3rd grade student who won 2nd place at the all Okinawa Story contest last year will be presenting his story on Sunday at Shioya elementary. No one told me and he hasn't approached me for practice. Hmmm. I guess i'll have to get a hold of him today and practice. We have school on Sunday and then in the afternoon we'll be going to observe classes at Shioya elementary. Gabrielle will be teaching a 5th grade class so i plan on observing that.

This week and last have been rather odd for me. My co-worker has been brought down with a serious flu. He has taken two sick days and a couple of afternoons last week and hasn't been to school at all this week and actually might not come back until thursday of next week. I have been teaching on my own and that has been lots of fun, but when it was found out that he'll be gone all this week and through next, it was decided that from today (friday) through next week other teachers will take over the scheduled English classes. Teaching on my own has been going really well with almost all classes, especially the 3rd graders. But i have hit a wall in a way. I can't move in the textbook because i can't explain grammar properly and playing games every day for two weeks is tiring and stops benefiting the students after a while. So I taught through thursday this week and had to resign to the fact that other teachers will have to take over. But now feel rather guilty as they have more classes to teach and i have nothing to do. It's odd. But now have time to sit down and write up a lengthy blog, and that's a positive, right?

So, we have classes from sunday through thursday this week, and friday is a day off as a substitute for working on sunday. Sunday classes will be short because of the afternoon visit to the elementary school and Monday classes will be short because the lunch ladies are taking a day off since all 4 of the elementary schools will have a day off, which means no lunch for junior high school students and so they can't be kept at school past 1pm. Anytime i think i've gotten used to the flexibility of scheduling and the bendy logic behind it, something like this will come up just to reassure me that the japanese education system has lots of tricks up its sleeve and they'll do most anything to avoid actual serious academic pursuit. ok. that was slightly exaggerating but not by much. This week thursday i will be missing out on one of the funnest concerts that take place during a JHS school year, in my opinion--the 3rd graders goodbye concert. It was supposed to be on wednesday and so when i planned by trip to Taiwan i knew i couldn't miss out on it and didn't take the wed. off, instead took the thursday and the following tuesday (february 12th, monday is a national holiday)...but at some point during the crazy school year, the event scheduled was rearranged and the concert moved to thursday and i will be missing it! am not happy a bit about it.

and so it is that time of the year. the hectic time for 3rd grade homeroom teachers when they have to make sure that all their charges' paperwork and high school applications are in order and ready to be sent off to high schools of choice. JHS students who want to go to high school have to take an entrance test in math, science, japanese, social studies, and english. the tests are tough and those who want to make it into their high schools of choice have been studying since before winter vacation. some students can bypass the testing process by attempting the early addmissions option. Some high schools that are generally tougher to get into, allow a few students to be recommended for attendance. So homeroom teachers and administration send glowing records of recommendation and student's records. The high schools look them over and decide whether to grant the student an interview. All the students from Ogimi who applied for the early admissions got to the interview stage. I coached two of them for the English portion of Koyo HS's interview. I am happy to say that they both got in. Actually out of 7 students who went throught the interview process only one was denied automatic admission. She now has to take a test like the rest of her regular admission classmates. When it was announced that 6 other students made it, the yelling and cheering was near ear splitting. It was quite exciting for all. And i felt that i had a part in it. These students i have known for a year and a half. Some of them i have worked with more than other, like Yuu who was in the story contest and is now slated to attend Koyo high school in hopes of becoming a journalist some day. It's exciting being a part of shaping a young life.

oh yeah. the weather. almost forgot to mention how cold it's been.
the temperature may only be at 10C but the wind and lack of central heating are doubling the effect of the cold. Yesterday i was unprepared for the cold and shivered all day. Today i have three layers on, including a thermal undershirt, and so am doing better. Two pairs of socks are also helping. The sun is shining but it's deceptive. Nothing warm about it today. I wish i brought a pair of fingerless gloves for easy typing. I tried typing with gloves on yesterday but it's a slow and mistakes riddled process. I hope you appreciate that this blog has been typed up with nearly frozen fingers.
ha ha

and so i come to the end of the blog, and i still haven't shared with you the saddest news from the last two weeks.
Some of my dearest friends on the island are not recontracting for another year. For a few it was unexpected and others have known for a long time that it would be the case. But we have nearly half a year left on the island together and we shall make the best of it yet! Plus, i don't believe that when they leave it'll be the last time i see them. Knowing people all over the world is only a plus, right? :)