Monday, November 19, 2007

In my 3rd year here everything i do has the sense of being the last time i see and do it. All the school events and JET events are the third and last ones. This last week was the MYC. A gathering for the JETs on Okinawa to learn from each other new games and techniques for the classroom; to share with each other their frustrations and successes. I presented a seminar about English Clubs and helped Yasemine with her seminar about getting more engaged within the Okinawan community. They both went really well as did the MYC itself. We missed our friends, however, and being there was somewhat bitter sweet.

Saturday and Sunday after the MYC i stayed in the north and enjoyed music and dance performances. On saturday night at the Ogimi community center, the village held its 13th annual
"Evening of Island Entertainment". All the performers were from Ogimi, some of them included my and Cliff's students, people who work at the Board of Education and the village office. On Sunday, Ogimi JHS participated in the annual northern JHS arts cultural performances. The morning was filled with Okinawan dances and songs, as well as a very cool marching band. In the afternoon, the JHS choirs performed. This is the 3rd time I've attended it, and the students still sing the same songs for the choir portion. But the morning performances were wonderful. A couple of the kids from my karate dojo performed katas and it was great to see them up on the stage.
So i'll stop blabbering and show you some of the photos from the weekend's entertainment. :)
A performance of traditional Okinawan songs. Men play sanshin and sing.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Living here, things become so familiar that I don’t notice the differences between the Okinawan society and my own background as often as I did before. Every once in a while they do strike me, but I tend to forget to write them down or don’t think about them much, shuffling them off into a pile of unexplainable and inconsequential. Friday, however, I participated in a cultural experience that at its root shares similarities with both American and Russian cultures I know, but has very revealing differences.

On Friday, I was invited to celebrate the 100-day birthday of my supervisor’s son. First, and most obviously, of course is that fact that I’ve never been to a party celebrating 100 days since birth of a baby. Baby showers, I’ve heard of (somehow haven’t made it to one yet) and of course celebrated yearly birthday parties of people I know, but the tradition of celebrating 100 days is very new to me. I haven’t researched it and so don’t know whether it has ties to any Chinese traditions that might have come to Okinawa from there, or whether it is a Japanese tradition brought here a couple of hundred years ago or is uniquely Okinawan.
Prior to the party, birthday celebrations in Okinawa came up in a couple of conversations. Most recently, a teacher shared a story of a JHS student who confused the date of his birth with another number. I asked why that would happen and was told that in Okinawa some families don’t celebrate birthdays as we do in the West, every year. While the child is young, his birthday might be an event, but as children get older it ceases to be so important (it might have happened due to poverty Okinawans have been subjected to after WWII and nowadays younger parents tend to follow the “Western” way of celebrating birthday).
Yet there are other birthdays that are considered worth celebrating here. For example, turning 13 in Okinawa for boys and girls is an important coming of age that is celebrated with family. Likewise, when young adults in a community turn 20 in the same year, their birthdays are celebrated in a colorful fashion on a specific date in January. 88th birthday and 98th birthdays are also marked as important, as I believe is the 60th, but I’ll have to double check. So 100-day birthday seems to fall into that same category of specific birthday events.

When the baby turns 100 days, the family “introduces” him or her to the world at large. Relatives, friends, co-workers, etc, are invited to the family home to celebrate the arrival of a new member into their society. Since my supervisor’s baby’s birthday is the only one of this kind I have been to, I will not presume that all other 100-day birthday parties are held in the same fashion, though at its core, I’m sure they all are.
A flier announcing the party has been at the school for a couple of weeks, and my supervisor has mentioned it to me a couple of times himself. What first tipped me off that this party was going to be a bit different from birthday parties I’m used to was the lack of time mention on the flier. I asked what time I am supposed to arrive and was told that anytime after work hours up until 9pm would be all right. I asked whether I should bring money or buy a present, and was told that if it were someone I didn’t know too well, money would be preferred, but in this case present would be fine. I like shopping for presents, and so decided to go that route. Cliff and I went together around 6:30pm. The party was held at my supervisor’s parents’ house in Ogimi. Outside their house in an empty lot, tables were set up under tents. We went into the house with our presents. Inside, the mother and father were fussing over the baby, presenting him to others who came in. I noticed a basket set up in the middle of the room with lots of envelopes inside. I handed my present to my supervisor and noticed that ours were the only present bags in the room that didn’t look alike. These other, identical presents, were intended for the guests. Everyone, after congratulating the parents and grandparents, were given two bags of presents. There must have been a couple of hundred of these identical packages stacked along the living room wall. In the altar room of the house very important people, like the superintendent ate and chatted. All others sat outside.

After we received our “return” presents, we went outside and sat down. A lady followed us with trays of food. Each tray contained a giant bento box with homemade and store bought delicacies, a bowl of pig intestine soup, brown sugar coated Okinawan mochi, a mikan, and even a plastic bag to take what you don’t finish of the bento home with you. Outside, under a separate tent, a man was stirring and pouring goat soup. This was my first time trying it, and it wasn’t so bad, though some pieces in the mix of unidentifiable parts seemed way to suspicious for me to try. As we sat and ate and chatted with our neighbors, I noticed that people that were there when we first arrived were leaving or had already left and more people were coming into the house and then taking their seats at the outside tables. It was a constant coming and going of people. They all walked into the house, ate outside, chatted, went back inside to say “goodbye” and left. I realized that it was an expected behavior and felt that I shouldn’t sit too long, lest there isn’t room for newcomers. Cliff stayed to enjoy more conversations with the men at our table, and I went home after saying “goodbye” to the family. My visit lasted an hour at the most.
And so where do I begin with the differences? I guess most are quite obvious from the telling. The visits of people were erratic and the time they showed up depended entirely on their own schedule and not on any agreed upon time. Of course, showing up too late would have been a faux pas, though the office lady told me today that she went there just a little before my supervisor, his wife, and baby left the parents’ house for their own home around 10pm. The party was still going on, she said, with people drinking and partying until midnight or so. Of course the receiving back of presents is an unusual thing that I have to date only encountered in the Japanese society. Receiving of a present after giving my own was not new to me at this party, though the fact that it was a sizable cake as well as towels was impressive. But the gifts that are “returned” are usually worth about half the value of the expected present, so I felt bad that I didn’t spend as much money as was in each individual envelope lying in the basket. Oh well.

During the party what I was struck by as the difference in celebrating this birthday and the ones of all my Russian-speaking friends and relatives. There were no toasts! Granted I haven’t been to that many celebrations here, but so far only at the one wedding were there any toasts given by the guests, and those were only from the father of the bride and her best friend. At the parties I’m used to, people would all sit together, drink and eat and every once in a while during the festivities a toast would be made to the person whose birth/marriage/anniversary/new house/new job/home coming, etc (ok so Russians like to celebrate for many reasons) was being celebrated. And that aspect was entirely lacking. Congratulations were given individually and people came and went to allow for more people to take their turn with the baby and at the table. This way has the benefit of allowing for a greater amount of people to visit the family and to celebrate with them. In order to accommodate the number of people that must have came to the family that night, they would have had to rent a giant hall. The amount of food might have been greater, though the bentos were quite substantial… and now I’m rambling.

I was going to add a couple of other things that have occurred, but they’re of less consequence. I really wanted to write about this birthday party, so I hope I didn’t bore anyone with the details. It turned out be much longer than anticipated.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Here are a few images from last week's Halloween.

I revived my pirate costume from two years ago, but updated it with a sword to the stomach, eye make up and a for the 1st grader's class, a mask. The pumpkin next to me is one of 5 carved by the English Elective students.
The witch eats lunch, and apparently enjoys it. :) The office lady, the accountant, the librarian all turned into witches the morning of Halloween. It was quite fun.
The first grade students posing in the masks they made during their Halloween lesson. They came to trick-or-treat, but got asked to pose. :)

This weekend i was one of the judges for the All Okinawa High School English Debate Contest. It was my first time and I signed up just to see what an English debate in a non-native language is like and also I really wanted to be impressed by students' English abilities. And was I ever! Those kids are amazing. I chatted with a few of them, and they all could hold a pretty relaxed English conversation. The ones I talked to all studied in an English speaking country for a year and are now continuing their studied at academic schools, some of which are immersion. Some of the debates were tough to judge because I was constantly being impressed with their ability to think on their feet in English during Question/Answer sessions and wasn't sure where I was supposed to take off points, if any. My fellow ALT's team from an immersion high school took first place, and we even took one of the team members out to dinner and ice cream after. He is a wonderful kid with a great sense of humor whose goal in life is to be rich. ha ha :)

I think that'll be it for this post. Am off to bed, as I feel that I am getting sick and I really shouldn't be considering how much vitamin C i've been eating.


Friday, November 02, 2007

couple of things quickly.
i've updated the Fotki album for October and I've even put up some commentary for the Tokyo trip and the rest. In case you were wondering when i was gonna get to that.
Also, please check out Craig's blog. If only 'cause a whole post has been written just for me, and that's just very special. :) Also informative and fun to read.

the Halloween week has gone great! Did pumpkin carving on Tuesday with the English Elective girls. Wednesday had all day classes and played games with 2nd and 3rd graders and made masks with 1st graders. All activities were enjoyed and I had enough candy, that being the most important part of the holiday. Thursday during English Elective class, had a Halloween party with the girls. We pinned warts on a witch, watched Charlie Brown's Halloween and ate lots of snacks and candy. Fun was had.

But it is said, that with Halloween comes the end of the most gorgeous month on Okinawa and it is wind and gray skies from now on. Though, as I'm writing now, the sun peeked out and it's a bit nice outside again. :)

Am judging the high school debate contest this weekend, so hopefully will have some impressions to report from it. Am really curious and not quite sure what to expect. Hope I'm a good judge. I've never done debate myself.