Sunday, December 07, 2008

Of Yanbaru Kuina and Goodbye

Hai Sai!

This will be the final blog entry for this "Elina in Japan" blog. It was three years in the making, and I hope some of it was interesting to read. The blogging experience has been a great one for keeping the memories of my time in Okinawa fresh in my mind, for being a collection of moments that I might forget but now will have a tangible place to recall, and also a wonderful exercise in public writing.
The last entry will be a lengthy one because it is an article I wrote for the July issue of the YAK (Okinawa JET publication). I feel that it's a good way to close the blog and to share again a little about Okinawa with anyone who might happen to pop into this place through a search. And if you've happened upon my blog because you were searching specifically about the Okinawan Kuina, please please please, leave me a note. :)
I left Okinawa at the end of July and from there traveled through parts of Asia, Russia, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Greece and finally the UK. I'm considering putting up some of the thoughts from the trip in a separate blog as a start to a new space where I'll be sharing some thoughts about my life back in the United States. So stay tuned for that. The link to it will appear here once it's up and running.

And so without further commentary, here's the article, hope you enjoy it!

Of Yanbaru Kuina and Goodbye

Until recently one thing has repeatedly eluded me on this island—meeting the one and only Yanbaru Kuina. Ever since coming to Okinawa three years ago, I have heard about this unique creature that lives in the jungles near my home. But for three years I haven’t been able to get a glimpse of the tiny, black bird, and so I started doubting its existence. Maybe it was just a hoax created by the tourist hungry Yanbaru authorities. A way to justify building a giant Kuina-shaped outlook at the northernmost cape of the island, or a reason to order and sell cute Kuina Hello Kitty merchandise, or a lure for unsuspecting tourists into the jungle cafes of northern Okinawa. Any of these and numerous other clever schemes could be perpetrated in the name of a defenseless, flightless bird. And yet the evidence showed otherwise. For one, I have seen plenty of photos of the bird to convince me that it is not a fictional creature of the north. And secondly, a friend told me he saw one on the road between Ogimi and Higashi a few weeks back and my hopes for catching a glimpse of the bird after years of fruitless driving around the windy, northern roads have been rejuvenated. But before I speak of my success—and as you might have guessed I did get to see this beautiful creature with my very own eyes—a little bit about the hero of this piece.

Yanbaru Kuina’s full name is Gallirallus okinawae and it’s known in English as Okinawa rail. It’s in the Rallidae family of birds and its only habitat is the Yanbaru area of Okinawa’s main island. In the Yanbaru it is primarily confined to the area around Mt. Yonaha. And even though large portions of Kunigami-son were officially designated as a national park in 1996, Kuina’s numbers have been on a decline and in 2006 it was put on the Red List as an endangered species. It is mostly flightless and feeds off the ground floor. It also builds nests on the ground and lays 2 to 3 eggs in the spring. Kuina’s numbers have been decreasing for several reasons, including loss of habitat to logging and dam construction, road and golf course building, as well as attacks by mongoose which are foreign to Okinawa and were brought to the island in 1910. Speeding drivers are also responsible for a small number of birds being killed every year but because there are so few birds already—less than a thousand by recent estimates—even a few birds a year killed by drivers is a significant loss to the overall population. So if you come north in search of this tiny black bird with a red beak and red matching legs, please remember to drive slowly on the 70 north of Higashi and on any of the roads in Kunigami that link the west side with the east.

Which brings me to the logical conclusion of this tale.
One sunny Okinawan day in late May, I went to a beach on the east coast of Kunigami-son. To get there I drove on the 70 north from Higashi for twenty minutes or so and as you guessed, a Kuina bird ran across the road in front of my car, forcing me to slam on my breaks and my mouth to hang open in disbelief. I sat there for a few seconds savoring the moment of pure happiness at finally having seen my query! But that was not the end of my perfect day. Two more Kuinas graced me with their presence on the same day, on the same road. The second one I saw as I was walking from the beach to my car. It simply walked out in front of me to the middle of the road, stood there for a moment looking around and walked back into the jungle. The third bird startled me on the drive back from the beach as it nearly flew across the road but slowed down enough for me to catch a glimpse of it walking into the forest as I slowly drove past. Three Kuina sightings in one day! Three beautiful birds for the three amazing years I have been lucky to spend on this gorgeous island.

Okinawa has opened up itself to me in more ways than I could have possibly imagined when I first stepped off the plane in Naha. I don't think I’ll ever be able to fully describe what living here has meant to me, but I will say that you absolutely must explore this prefecture and let its islands open up a little bit of their soul to you. Just like those Kuina did for me on that brilliant May day.

And if I may, in conclusion, also thank all the fantastic people who have become my friends during the last three years on Okinawa. Without them, this island, as beautiful as it is, would not have become the best place for me to be. It has been an absolute pleasure sharing my Okinawa time with the people I am lucky to call friends and I hope our paths cross many times again and we can find some Orion beer and reminisce about our time in paradise.

Monday, June 30, 2008

i just had an outstanding week on Okinawa and because it's one of my last few and i don't want to forget it, and most definitely want to share it it's getting written up.
As i'm sure it'll take you a week to read it, enjoy!

So this will be an attempt at a brief recap of my week starting on Monday June 23 and ending with Sunday June 29.

Well. I guess it's best to start with the fact that on Saturday 21st, my 3rd grade student took first place at the Kunigami (northern area) English Story contest which most definitely colored the rest of the days in a very positive light. It's certainly a very nice high note to leave the professional JET experience on, amongst others.

So, Monday was an Okinawan Memorial Day which
commemorates the victims of the Battle of Okinawa and is a day off in the prefecture for work and school. It was a lovely, sunny day but as I spent the weekend doing various things and not taking care of my home, I decided to do a little bit of that. But a few JETs from the south called me up and said they were coming to my neighbrohood, so I of course offered a quick tour of Kijoka with a stop at the waterfalls near my house. We had a lovely stroll, Meaghan caught some bugs, a lizard jumped on me trying to escape her net, and I got some sun--a perfect afternoon all together. I took it easy the rest of the day and went to karate in the evening.

Tuesday was school day, first one since story contest, which i didn't realize and was quite pleasantly surprised by shouts of congratulations after the compulsory "morning" greetings from all the teachers. The giddiness over having a student place first carried the principal so far as to say a few nice words in English during the morning meeting which i really appreciated. :) First time i actually fully understood what was being said at a morning meeting. Nice.
The rest of the day went easy enough. I think I had one class that day and spent the rest of the time on trip details and leaving prep.
Eisa practice in the evening followed by some reading.

I took a day off well in advance because Chiye, Yasemin and I had planned a day out to the Hiji waterfalls north of me. No day is without drama of course and Yasemin had plenty for all of us that day with her diving suit disappearing off her 2nd story balcony that morning. But she regained composure and decided to drive up to hang out with me and Chiye anyways. The morning started out clear and sunny but by the time Chiye and i finished lunch the sky was clouding over in a very threatening way. After some turkish coffee and a dark chocolate snack at my place to regain energy, the three of us set off for the waterfalls. It was a good half hour hike through a very windy but well built trail with lots of stairs and even a suspension bridge. The jungle was hot and muggy and I was regretting the decision not to swim at the waterfalls, but not to fear! the weather had decided we all should have a nice shower that day. With a few minutes to go to the waterfalls it had started to drizzle and by the time we reached it, it was pouring. So we just stood there in the rain, gazing up at the water gushing down from the rocks while buckets of rain water fell on our heads. It was an incredibly beautiful and refreshing experience.

The rain had subsided by the time we made it back to the car and had stopped all together when i got back home. :)
After a warm shower, I was off to karate to be drenched all over again, this time in sweat. Lovely.

Thursday, I took another day off work so that i could take care of some leaving stuff in Nago and Okinawa city. Also i knew that because all the students were off on their "job" experiences that day, there were no classes to be had. Everything got sorted that needed to be and i drove home in early afternoon and took a very long nap. In the evening it was off to eisa practice. That night i practiced at Kijoka's community center with some of my students actually and a few people who live in Kijoka that don't regularly do eisa. Reason is that next week there will be a small traditional festival in my little part of Ogimi and they've asked some regular eisa members who are from Kijoka to organize a performance for the festival. It was a nice practice even though the mosquitoes were aplenty, and i think i lost more blood than sweat that evening. When i got home, I decided to do some laundry but must have been overly tired because i made a big blunder. I washed a pair of pants from India (that i could have sworn i've washed several times previously so the following shouldn't have happened) with my karate gi. Guess what? Yep! Yellow stains all over my gi. >.< And my last belt test in two days! Can you say, "freak out session"? I doused the gi with stain remover and threw it in the wash again. Didn't work well at all, so i spent the rest of the night getting very bad sleep and worrying about it.

Friday was back to school but a small surprise awaited me there. Instead of two scheduled classes, I had none, and so could take it easy after a sleepless night. I told the office lady and librarian my sob story of yellow gi and bleach was quickly produced. I was told to just go home and take care of it while no one was about, and so I did. The yellow faded a bit but i could still see it and didn't feel much better about the prospect of showing up in front of sensei in my destroyed gi.
But the afternoon brought some surprising relief in form of farm animals.
A few of the students were doing their "internship" at a cow and goat farm in Ogimi and one of them didn't show up. They were meant to be making some butter that afternoon and the woman who runs the place asked if anyone wanted to join the students. I volunteered.
Making of butter wasn't at all what I imagined--no churning was involved. Well maybe a little. We were given small jars with milk and cream in them and were told to shake them as hard as we could for about a minute after which we had apparently made butter! Cool, eh? We got to try it with a bit of salt and fresh baked buns. It was fantastic, though eating hot buns on a muggy day wasn't necessarily the most pleasant experience. There was more talk of butter and cows and then we played an interesting karuta game which involved matching parts of Okinawan songs with hiragana cards on the floor. I even got a few right, so that was nice. After this I fed a three day old baby goat some milk from a bottle and petted a mini pig's belly. Couldn't have asked for more on a Friday afternoon.
So in a much more cheerful mood, I went home to discover that my gi wasn't as bad as I thought and i spent the next couple of hours reading my hefty book (only 400 more pages to go!) That evening I went to a teachers party but didn't stay long because of the karate test the following morning.

Which brings me to Saturday. Incredibly nervous going into the karate test, I was made even more so when i was told that i'd be doing it all by myself in front of others. The previous tests I've done with one or two other people by my side going through the same motions which is very comforting, but because I was a level or two ahead of others, my punches and kicks had to be different for the next level and I had one extra kata to perform. So I was the last one and at one point I thought I was going to hyperventilate and sensei kept telling me to breathe. :) But I think it went mostly well--at least I feel good about my effort.
After a well deserved lunch of delicious hamburgers for everyone, Vaughn and i took off for the south where we joined Yasemin and friends at a free concert organized by THE Okinawan band, Begin. A free outdoor concert at a gorgeous venue near a beach, with a giant stage, lights and a big screen TV. With festival tents set up with all sorts of goodies and staff members all around, unobtrusively making sure that things run smoothly. AND! the music was fantastic! 6 highly professional and fairly famous bands paved the way for the kings of the night, Begin! These guys are synonymous with Okinawa. Even before I knew anything there was to know about living here, I knew the tune to "Shimanchu nu Takara" and it's been an anthem of sorts for myself and am sure many others during our life here on Okinawa. So to finally see them live for me was major and I enjoyed every second of it. :)
But the night of music did not finish there! Oh no! We were off to Naha for some karaoke fun and of course the first few songs were by Begin. Good times!

Sunday started about hot and sweaty in Yasemin's apartment but quickly improved with a stroll through the Haebaru mall and a lunch with miss Kitty. I even ran into three of my students which surprised us all. After buying a present and a couple of things for myself (gasp!) I was off to Ogimi by late afternoon with a watermelon in tow. That evening, my Sunday night conversation class was throwing me a goodbye party and the watermelon was my contribution. The party was wonderful. The meat was grilled over an open fire pit, there was a paella made with squid ink, homemade granola cookies, presents, speeches and watermelon. And even though I didn't quite see them coming when they did, I shed my first goodbye tears in front of others. But I left the party in very high spirits and with new heartwarming memories as gifts in tow.

That was last week.
Today was the start of the first week of the last month.
And here's a quick preview for this one:
English story practice, eisa, karate, sweating, lots of showers, plenty of coffee, lots more typing for new ALT, light stressing over trip details, heavy stressing over packing for the trip, start of apartment clean out, the English story contest, Peaceful Rock Festival, David!, Kijoka festival, my first and last festival eisa performance of the year.


Friday, June 20, 2008

today during lunch we were chatting about me leaving and the new JET and somehow the conversation turned to the first JET in Ogimi, O'Neill. The young teacher sitting next to me graduated from Ogimi Junior High School and O'Neill was actually her ALT. She remembered him fondly but said he was difficult to understand because he had a very heavy dialect in his American. Apparently he was from rural Nevada but I honestly don't know why that would be difficult but that fact was very memorable to her. The librarian and the office lady also remembered him well and they exchanged a few quick stories about him with each other. I thought how nice it was that there is such a community in this school and in this village. Of course it might be annoying to some how much people know of each other's business here, but I never felt that it was a malignant thing. People seem to actually care and don't seem to use the information they know to speak badly of others. Not to me in any case. :)

Anyways, I just thought about the ALTs before me and the ALTs after me and how we've all impacted this community in one way or another and what a unique experience it must be for the students. I don't know if I've ever sat down to reflect on the "internationalization" aspect of my job as an ALT and how much I've done to make sure that my being here hasn't just been about teaching English but also about sharing the cultures that I come from. All right. Note to self--reflect before leaving. :D

Speaking of leaving. It's been absolutely crazy and it's only about to get even more busy and so forgive me if this might be the last entry before the very last entry. I hope to take the time and fill you in on what is happening as I go through the process of wrapping up my life here, but the actual process might be too time demanding to allow for blogging. Hopefully not.

Tomorrow is my very last English story contest. We've worked hard this year and the two students I've been practicing with have been an absolutely pleasure, and I'm really looking forward to their performances tomorrow. Though it is going to be quite a long day in the process with 31 students signed up for the contest. >.<

Next week is my final karate belt test. Speaking of which. Two things. My story contest student also does karate but at a different dojo in Nago. He told me today that his father won't be able to watch him tomorrow because he'll be going directly to Naha because Sunday night he has a belt test--he'll be going for 3-dan. Cool, eh?
And secondly, wanted to mention that I watched the inter-junior high school karate competition last weekend to see how my story contest student did as he was the only one representing my school. I also went to see the junior high school kids that study at my dojo. The Ogimi student did great--he advanced into the final round and was the only green belt surrounded by brown and black belts. In the boys competition however it was quite obvious that the students from my dojo would be unchallenged. The three places went to them. The girls from my dojo took 1st and 3rd place. It was so wonderful to sit with the mothers and the elementary school kids and to cheer them on.
Here are a couple of photos I really like from that day.

This is a 3rd grader from Yabu JHS who trains at my dojo. He took 2nd place.

These girls were practicing for the 3 person kata competition which followed the individual competition. The girl in front is a 3rd grader from Nago JHS and also trains at my dojo and has taken first place in Kunigami for the last three years.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

the last few days were quite interesting and a few of the happenings are worth mentioning i think..

On the amusement side there was my phone call to the Mongolian Airlines office in Korea. For those who might not know, I'm planning a Trans-Siberian train trip and starting it in Ulaanbaatar, so David and I decided to fly from Seoul to UB and there are two airlines that make it possible: Korean Air and Mongolian Airlines. I called Mongolian Air's office in Japan and was told to contact the Seoul office directly. My phone call went like this:
".....blah blah blah foreign language something something"
"Is this Mongolian Airlines?"
"I would like to reserve a ticket from Seoul to UB"
"(silence) Waiting please"
"Excuse me?" (i didn't hear her clearly)
"Waiting please!"
"Ah ok. Thank you"
(on the other side I am not actually put on hold and i hear keyboard keys typing away and two women conversing about something in Mongolian, at this point I realize that she didn't ask me the dates and am not sure what the hell she is looking up)
(less than a minute of listening to keyboard keys)
"Excuse me?"
"Yes. Waiting please!"
(i wait. and listen to keyboard keys and realize that perhaps this is a way for them to get rid of a pesky english speaking customer so that they don't add extra stress to their data entering day)
"Excuse me?"
(nothing but there's still background noise of people doing something, so i decide to let them have this victory over the customer and hang up)

Next phone call was to Korean Air in Seoul. Both the airline's websites btw are not able to process reservations at the moment. Actually on the Mongolian Air's site nothing happens when you click the search button after entering the dates and locations; the Korean Air will give the flight details but will show an error page when trying to find a price or reserve and that's the reason for resorting to phone calls. So Seoul's office in Korea can't help me and they tell me to call the Japanese one. Japan's Korean Air office is super helpful, likes my american credit card and is ready to do business. I will most definitely miss this country!

On Sunday I learned how to make gyoza and spring rolls at the house of one of my Sunday adult conversation students. She lives in Higashi and has a lovely but small house with a pretty backyard and a great view of the ocean. She has been talking about teaching me and K-san's daughter how to make gyoza for months now and finally we arranged it. It was a wonderful experience and even though I'm really not that good at making gyoza, I really enjoyed spending time doing it. I brought a russian salad to the potluck dinner and had a great time eating, talking, sharing, learning, and generally being very pampered by my students.

One of the topics that evening was the amount of time Ogimi students spend playing sports. K-san's daughter is my 3rd grade student and she plays tennis. The tennis team meets at 7am for morning practice before school and they practice for 2 to 3 hours after school. Other clubs don't meet in the morning but practice for 3-4 hours after school. There's a big inter-JHS tournament coming up next week and so the students are practicing more these days and basketball teams are at school sometimes until 8pm. This is not ok with quite a few parents who find their kids exhausted at the end of the day without any energy left over for studying when they get home. Some parents have brought this up to teachers, but teachers just shrug and do as they like. It's a big deal to have your school place high in the tournaments--it's a big pride and I'm sure teachers are highly commended on their work if the team is in the top 4 and so they place more value on the sports and insist that kids like to practice and so it's not a problem. But what kind of a decision can a junior high school student make when placed with a choice of study or playing sports with friends?
It's ridiculous to push the kids this far and it's really no wonder that no one learns anything at school and the only kids that are academically successful are those who place more value on the studies and are intrinsically motivated to do so.
The kids practice so hard that they hurt themselves as well. In the last week three students sprained their ankles. That's just crazy to me.

Another thing that I'll never understand is the student teaching experience for future teachers in Japan. Two English student teachers are coming to the school next week. They'll be here for 3 weeks and so they'll each teach maybe two to four classes during that time because some classes will be cut because the sport tourney is coming up and schedule is amended to give practice more time. So two student teachers will be sharing student teaching time during one of the busiest times for JHS (another busy time is around Sports Day in September and guess what? that's also when student teachers are placed into schools). Of course, this timing is not up to the school but has to do with university scheduling and I don't know enough about Japanese universities to guess as to why this time is chosen over any other time in the school year and also why 3 weeks in the classroom is considered sufficient to prepare someone to teach on their own in a few months time.


that's all i got on that.

Time to wrap up a varied and long post.
Oh yeah. It's officially Atsui, desu ne? ("Hot, isn't it?") season, but the AC is not yet on and so am slowly melting at my desk. (not really, but will definitely soon)


Friday, May 23, 2008

it's been a long week.
and yes, the Hokkaido blog is not up and no, it probably won't be.
Will say that
a) Hokkaido is amazing and if you're even slightly considering a trip there, let me push you to book the tickets, 'cause the nature is grand, the sea food is the best i have ever had and the people are kind and speak with a great, sharp, rude-sounding-but-not dialect.

b) Japanese fashion is hilarious and it's been proven to us yet again while wandering aimlessly through the upscale supermarkets of Sapporo. On a floor filled with unaffordable boutiques, Ralph Loren, Gucci, Chanel, etc we came across a bag shop and on one of its shelves several canvas bags were displayed. The bags had bright, shiny english lettering all over them and one said plainly in big, sparkly print, "I heart (as in the symbol) crap" Sofya picked up the bag and we looked at it for a little while making sure that we didn't miss the sentiment it so obviously was putting worth. We both assumed that there's a designer out there still laughing his/her pants off that their design is being sold for hundreds of dollars while at the same time poking fun at the consumers themselves. I had a feeling the Japanese love for English lettering just for the sake of it will eventually get them into some kind of trouble and irony is not very prevalent in Japanese culture (or so i've learned) they're in much greater danger of being toyed with by clever designers. :)
And the next day, we spotted a young kid waiting for the subway with his gf in Sapporo. He had on very trendy looking jeans that sagged just enough to expose his Calvin Kleins. Out of his back pocket, a Louis Vuitton pocketbook stuck out just ever so nonchalantly; he was wearing a very cool looking black jacket and had on brand new Adidas shoes. The black cap on his head was seemingly too big for his head and swung off just enough to designate the owner a hip-hop fan. It proclaimed in big, silver letters, "Fashion is Dead" and well.. i don't have to tell you that even though the irony was entirely lost on the kid, Sofya and I enjoyed it for our entire ride in the same car with this fashion king.

I have been practicing for the English story contest for a month now with two very bright Ogimi kids. We have another month to go and they're doing pretty well and am happy with the progress. Yesterday, made a hilarious mistake and we both got a kick out of it, but it made me giggle so much every time we came across the sentence that we couldn't practice that paragraph and had to concentrate our energies elsewhere. The sentence read, "..and the entire family was scared." He was reciting the story from memory and without stopping or hesitating said, "...and the entire family was pregnant." I lost it; he got the mistake right away. We laughed. I'm still laughing.

I have new glasses. They're tres kawaii. Well, i think so anyways
Picked them up this week at a shop in Nago. Vaughn and I went together to support each other in decision making process--I don't think I would have picked out a pair on my own, but somehow it's easier making a decision like that with someone else's opinion readily available. So on Saturday we picked out our pairs and had free eye exams right then and there and yesterday went to the shop to get our glasses. The world now has a sharpness to it I hadn't noticed in years! ha ha
I wore them to school today and surprised all the kids and though most of them gave me positive feedback on the change, one student was entirely against my new accessory. He even came up later to once again lodge his complaint with the newly learned "no good fit" vocabulary. I'm assuming he's just not happy about change in general and it's really not because they're a bad fit. At least I hope not. It could be that everyone else is politely lying to my face and he's the only brave soul who decided to speak up and tell it to me like it is.

This week was very long but nonetheless pretty good. It started off on Monday with interviews for the home stay program in Minnesota that Ogimi kids will participate in for the first time and finished off with a successful English Elective letter writing class. Today is Friday, humid, and all the teachers are in a meeting--most of them visibly ready to get it over with and go play basketball with the boys' basketball team. We played with the girls a couple of days ago to encourage them in their practice for the big JHS tournament next month. Today, it's boys basketball who'll get to laugh at the teachers as they easily beat them; and next week it'll be the baseball and soft tennis teams' turns to be encouraged by a fun game against the staff.

I'm off through Monday, so hope it doesn't rain too much this weekend, although it's about time the rainy season started; i've been ready for weeks.

and here's me on a friday afternoon with hair entirely too long and new glasses.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

last Sunday I took my usual walk around Kijoka. It's one of my favorite things to do and inevitably something happens that makes me smile--whether it's meeting my current or former students, being followed by a cute little dog, seeing new flowers bloom or watching seniors play "put put." This Sunday, I wasn't even going on a long walk--just to the local store for some onions, but on the way i spotted a dark mess of crushed fruits on the ground. I recognized them as mulberries (тутовник) and looked up in hopes of getting some off the tree. But the branches are up way too high and so i just stood there, wanting the sweet fruit and not having any means of getting at it. Past goes a little white truck and an old man sticks his head out and tells me what the fruit is called in Okinawan language and that they're delicious.
Yes, i know they're delicious, I tell him, smile, and continue on my walk. He drives slowly around the corner, stops, runs over a piece of wood that was just cut down inside his yard, and beckons me to join him on the porch of his house. He's got the cutest little garden and two of his friends were cutting down trees near the entrance so it was hard to hear him over the din but we chatted for a bit. His daughter brought green tea and spicy chips and he asked me questions and I think i mostly understood everything he said. I don't know how old he is, but he did tell me that he has 6 grown children, only three live in Okinawa. His wife passed away 10 years ago and he mostly lives by himself but his daughter stops by sometimes. He told me he drinks in the morning and likes to play the sanshin with his friends. He asked if i was by myself and when i told him, yes, he said that we should hang out, 'cause it's much better to be with company than alone and i agreed. I promised to stop by, and I actually think I will, bid him farewell, and walked to the store smiling. The onions were old and so I walked away buying nothing, but am really glad i went for that walk and met this cool grandpa.

I have been wearing a wrist wrap thingie since Saturday, 'cause apparently i sleep funny and no one's laughing, least of all my sprained wrist. Whenever my wrist has hurt like this in the past, i always attributed it to karate, but it was always the left wrist for some reason. After two weeks of no karate and a week of traveling on mainland, my wrist flared up again after the first night back home; and because i'm all for seeing less of doctors and doing more of nothing, i decided to stick in the middle and buy the wrist thingie at the drug store to at least remind me not to bend my wrist for a while to make sure it heals. Interesting side note--at school only one teacher (my JTE) and one student have so far asked me what's wrong with my wrist.
Kind of strange. I guess people don't like to pry. Don't know.
Although i did tell all my 1st graders that i got into a fight with Sofya, punched her and sprained my wrist.

I started reading the new book for book club called "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon. It's the first book that I nominated to be picked this year in book club and I'm glad it's this one. I'm loving the read and would recommend it.
Here's the premise. It's a murder investigation taking place in Alaska, but here's the catch, the novel is set in alternate history and in this history, the Jews were resettled in Alaska after WWII instead of Israel. If that just put a smile on your face, then I suggest you pick up the book and read it.

yes yes
I know. this post should have been about my and Sofya's trip to mainland, primarily Hokkaido. that post is coming. end of the week, perhaps? If you're on Facebook, i've put up a few photos. Otherwise, stayed tuned.


Friday, April 18, 2008

this week on tuesday a dog followed some students to the school. Where the dog came from, no one knew. He had a collar on and seemed a very friendly little puppy. He was entirely white except for a few pink spots on his curious little nose, and was immediately dubbed yagi (goat). He was tied up to a water hose that morning to prevent him from walking into the school and that's how i met him when i walked towards the main entrance. He spent the morning tied up with the water hose, which must not have been all that comfortable and wined whenever no one was around him. At lunch we chatted about little goat and how he was probably abandoned by someone from the south. Apparently it's a common thing for people in the south to bring their unwanted dogs and cats to the jungles of the north and leave them here to fend for themselves. During Golden Week when people have time off in the beginning of May this happens quite often. This explains the large number of strays that mingle all around the northern area and make convenience stores their homes.
I asked what was going to happen to the little goat and was told that school will call the village office to take care of it. I asked why people just dumped the animals--isn't there a proper facility to leave them at? A shelter? Turns out there's one in Nago near us but sometimes when it's full people get turned away when they bring their pets in. I then asked if it was usual for people to get their pets from a shelter, and most teachers sort of shrugged unknowingly but the librarian told me that she actually adopted a dog from a shelter years ago. I wonder if there's much awareness about animals in shelters here. The little goat was taken away, but not by the village office. He spent the night at the school and the next morning followed the school's bus driver into the hills. I guess we proved not to care as much for the poor bastard as the people that dumped him. I brought him milk during the day when he was tied up to a different spot--didn't seem to have been fed all day. I wish I could have taken him, but his second morning at school it was decided that he would definitely not remain at the school by the office lady. The vice principal seemed open to the possibility but she rejected the idea right out. I don't blame her. In the end, the responsibility of taking care of it would fall to her, and a dog is not like fish or a little bird that we already have at the school.
So i hope the little goat has been picked up by someone who thought a white, friendly puppy would add happiness to their lives.

In other news, I walked into a glass door at the Nago library because it was cleaned too well and i thought there was no door. Also it is entirely my fault for not paying attention and not looking where i was going. Classic. The best part was, though, when i walked away dazed from the impact and then came back to the same glass door to properly walk through it, i noticed a half face imprint on the glass.
It's like the movies but real and every time i visualize what it must have looked like--me, distracted by something on the left, walking straight into a clean glass door with the right side of my face, i laugh. A lot. Surprised it didn't leave too noticeable of a bruise.
Don't you wish you saw it?
ha ha


Thursday, April 10, 2008

the best medicine for waking one up and raising one's spirits are a room full of fresh faced, eager, and slightly scared 7th graders who like English! or at least they like it enough to jump into lessons with positive attitude and energy.
today i met all 38 of them in two separate classes. 19 kids in a room is a wonderful thing; I am really gonna get to like the small number in the classroom. Originally all 38 of them were supposed to be in one class. According to Japan's rules, if the number of new students entering is 41 or under they are all to be put in one classroom and the teaching staff is to be hired/dismissed accordingly. Because of this rule we have one less staff this year, but because our teachers are not afraid of a little extra work and because our classrooms were not made for more than 35 kids at the most and because having all 38 kids in one class when we have two empty classrooms available is sheer insanity, they decided to split them up. Whoo hoo!
Today, I introduced myself, my 4th and last time of self-introduction using the same laminated photo cards i made when i first arrived. The best part was, however, when they introduced themselves because most of them were able to do it without skipping a beat and because thanx to Cliff! i found out that some of them like "fishing" and "listening to music" and "cooking" and "running" along with the usual fare of watermelons, strawberries, basketball, and baseball.
Way to go, Cliff! Thanx to him also the kids surprised me by asking me on their first day in school, "What's up, Elina teacher?" and when i ask them the same question in return some of them know to say, "Nothing much!"
That just made me laugh out loud. Awesome!
So a good start with the 1st graders. Seeing them also made me feel like i know the community a little bit through them--or at least the children's community because about half of them have older siblings who are either still at the school or whom i've taught in the previous three school years. And that's a wonderful thing--recognizing kids based on the siblings I've already met and seeing how they're different and what traits they share. One of them in particular looks so much so like his brother did when he was a 1st grader 3 years ago, i almost called him by his brother's name.

the rest of the blog i'll do in pictures.

Three 3rd graders were asked to screw in grade plaques at the top of each classroom entrance. This is the point at which they gave up because they chose the wrong screws and couldn't undo what they'd done. I tried helping but it was finally obvious that they needed another adult but all the teachers were in a meeting. This was during Monday's afternoon when all other students went home after the morning's ceremonies.

2nd and 3rd grade students hold a flower arch way for incoming 1st graders to walk through on the way to the front of the gym. This was the last ceremony on Monday. The first ceremony was to welcome and introduce four new staff members and tell students who their homeroom teachers will be in the new year. The second ceremony was the official openning of the new school term. And after an hour and a half break, parents and village officials joined for the final ceremony of the day--the welcoming of new students.

Last Sunday I went for a drive on the eastern side of the island looking for random roads and things. Here's a picture i took near Arume village (Higashi-son).

The previous picture i took while driving along to find a wild boar place in the hills of Arume and here it is! At the gate it said that entrance was 200Yen for adults, so i drove just a little ways in to see what it was all about and noticed the boars behind a fence to the right of the car. I got out and snapped some pictures and reversed out of the driveway. Feel a little bad for not going all the way in and paying to see these loudly snorting and easily scared animals. Maybe I'll come back.

This is Bunsei Shimabukuro, an accomplished potter in Ogimi whom we visited while Anna and Brad were on Okinawa. He lives in the jungle hills with his wife where they built a home and he has built two kilns and is working on a third. He was incredibly kind to us in showing us around his place and I think really impressed Anna and Brad. I particularly liked his wife's cooking. :)

Anna and Brad were introduced to Okinawa's instruments while at K-san's house during their visit. Brad really took to sanshin, the three stringed instrument. That night we had a wonderful time at K-san's house who is one of my adult conversation students and she and her family have become great friends to me.

I sent a photo of this giant kiln in Yomitan village to Anna two years ago, and seeing it up close, I think, has been a goal of theirs in coming to Okinawa. Here they are very happy in having accomplished it. The Yomitan visit was a learning experience in many respects for me because through Anna and Brad I discovered quite a bit about Okinawan pottery traditions and I was looking at the same pottery I saw so many times through the new knowledge which made it so much more enjoyable and interesting.

Here is Anna behind a wall of a man made waterfall at the Fukushuen Park in the middle of urban Naha. It's a Chinese style garden park that was built 10 years ago to commemorate a 20 year anniversary of a sister-city relationship established between Naha and Fukushu, China. The garden is free to visit and is a wonderful, mid-city spot to relax amid nature and beautifully arranged Chinese-style buildings, bridges, and pavilions.

This is the first picture I snapped of Anna and Brad on Okinawa. We were walking along Kokusai street and an awamori shop caught their eyes, so we walked in. First they were amazed to discover snakes in the giant glass sake jars, but next their attention was drawn by beautifully fired ceramic awamori vessels. They were struck by everything from form to color to size and style, and I knew they were gonna love Okinawa because this was our first stop and pottery is all over this island. :)

So that's the end of the photo journey of the last two weeks. I'll try not to take such long breaks between blogs--but i believe it's a promise i've been making for last two years and 8 months and am still not able to keep.
Less than 4 months to go.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

first day of spring vacation.
overslept. sat alarm for 8am, shut down snooze and fell back asleep. woke with a start at ten to nine. the dream was vivid and not at all pleasant. in the dream i was back home and for some reason again working at Hama. it was my first night back and there was only a high school girl there setting up. i was asking where things were, because there were all sorts of new cupboards and closets and i couldn't find an apron, and the whole time i was thinking of what i would answer to other staff, who were all young teenagers and unknown to me, when they asked me about..
i was thinking i can say that i used to work here and that i'm only back here because i need time to figure out what to do after my years in japan. at around then i woke up. and it was not a pleasant awakening and i what i immediately realized was that the place were i was starting my night's work was not actually Hama but the backroom of Audubon bookstore's coffee shop (this won't make sense to most readers.. sorry). it was strange. i knew i was at Hama but the place was just an updated version of the front and back of the cafe. i don't know what any of it means, but i was not pleased that in the dream i felt like i needed to explain myself. and i also thought that there's no way i was gonna go back and work at Hama as an intermediate job between this and whatever's next. and all i wanted to do was go back to sleep but had to come to school.

got to school at 9:30am. half the teachers are here. the kids are outside practicing their club sports. several newly minted second graders are inside swinging brooms about and generally pretending to be doing cleaning of some sort. i eat breakfast in the kitchen room and solve a sudoku puzzle to wake myself up. wakefulness does not come. i grab the book i'm meant to be translating, the DS, notebook and pen and walk up to 2nd floor and head for the library for a change of scenery. on the way i stop at the 2nd floor window and watch the tennis girls (and boy) practice down below. they notice me and shout "hellos" while dodging and smacking balls. I watch for a few minutes while behind me in the music room three 2nd grade girls are "practicing" their horn instruments. two trumpets and a trombone, all spewing out unconnected, seemingly out of tune notes. the sound of bouncing balls, the bellows of trombones, the shouts of "onegaishimasu" from below every time a ball is to be served... all mix together and i stand transfixed. spring vacation. must do something.

in the library i open up the shutters and windows to let in the sunny air. with purpose i choose one of the center tables and start on the translation. i'm working on an Okinawan folk tale for the english story contest. this year i'm having the two story kids choose the stories they'd like to tell. one picked a story the english translation of which i already have. the second student has given me a good reason to do some japanese studying by choosing one which hasn't been translated yet. so here i am, with a DS, scribbling down sentences that later i'll have to rewrite into a nice sounding story. the folk tale itself is actually interesteing and i understand the general gist of it, but translating it sentence by sentence is a challenging process, especially on a morning when i'm not awake. i'm nearly finished, with only a couple of pages to go.

had a couscous salad for lunch that i made myself. super easy to make and delish. all you need is some plain couscous, tomatoes and cucumbers cut up into small squares, raisins or craisins or both and pupkin seeds, all mixed up with a bit of olive oil, pepper and salt, and ta da! a lovely, light salad, perfect for a sunny spring day.

after lunch, i chatted with a couple young lady teachers about this and that, started on the Tuesday crossword (NY Times, in case you asked), and then decided to write this blog. about the first day of spring vacation when only half the teachers are here, kids have gone off home, and i'm debating taking off an hour early for a quick nap.

tomorrow a whole new fun adventure will begin with the arrival of Anna and Brad on the island. Can't wait! We're gonna go to some places i haven't been to yet and some places they'll enjoy that deal with pottery. I've put off the Tsuboya Pottery Museum just for Anna's visit and will now have two experts to explain things to me and give me a new understanding of pottery in Okinawa. Am really looking forward to hearing about their week long stay on mainland as well.
A few things i already have planned and they include a PTA party for leaving teachers, a lunch with English club students, a pot luck dinner with adult conversation class, a night out to izakaya and karaoke, visits to cafe/galleries in the north, just to get us started, with general Okinawa exploration sprinkled in between. should be good times. so stay tuned for photos and a follow up blog.


Friday, March 07, 2008

This past weekend I ventured off the island of Okinawa and went to Nagasaki-city. Ask anyone and the name Nagasaki immediately invokes the thoughts of atomic bomb, destruction, and WWII. I went to Nagasaki exactly for those reasons--to connect the abstract images in my head of what those words represent with the reality of the now thriving city and the relics of its damaged past. I got to do that and more. I learned that Nagasaki acted as a very important port city that for over 300 years was the only "window" to Japan open to foreign traders. The influences left by the Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, English and others can be seen and eaten throughout the city. The most popular present to bring back from Nagasaki is castella, a Portuguese sponge cake that is quite delicious, actually. For more interesting facts about European contact with the city of Nagasaki, which also includes the history of the Christian influence on the Japanese as well, check out this wiki article.
My first day in the city was devoted almost entirely to learning about the destruction caused by the atomic bomb when it was dropped on the city at 11:02am on August 9th, 1945. To have heard so much about the atomic bombs and the destruction they have caused, and to finally stand at the epicenter was a really moving experience for me. I took my time walking around the grounds surrounding the epicenter, reading all the markers, looking at all the statues. All the photos are on the fotki site and some contain further information about what i saw and what the statues represent.
Next I went to the Atomic bomb museum, which I found to be really informative and nicely organized. By the end of my visit though, I was emotionally exhausted, I think, because I skimmed through the last exhibition which showed the history of atomic bomb development, the testing done by countries around the world, and the movement that is in many instances lead by the Japanese to completely rid the world of this type of weaponry. I did stop to listen to the video interviews of ex-Soviet citizens who worked at the atomic test site near the city of Semipalatinsk. The Soviet Government the vast steppes of Kazakhstan to conduct its tests and thousands of people have suffered either from direct or indirect exposure to the radioactive materials released during the testing from 1949 to 1989. Similar video interviews from England, France, USA, and China also testified to the lengths to which governments go to assert their superiority to their friends and enemies. It's all incredibly disgusting and depressing, and I spent a bit of time walking around the neighborhood to clear my head before visiting the quiet space of the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims.
The rest of the time in Nagasaki, I did a lot of walking and saw buildings built during before the Meiji Era, and Catholic churches, and Dutch slopes, and many many Chinese temples. I also spent a couple of nights walking around the Shianbashi area, which is the "entertainment" center of Nagasaki but both nights I found that I couldn't wait to leave the area as soon as I got there. I have been to many of these districts in several Japanese and Okinawan cities and I still don't understand the appeal. It felt slimy to me but there were tourists and couples everywhere seemingly enjoying walking around and looking at "snack bar" ladies and their touts standing in front of dark establishments with innocent sounding English names. I know it's not meant to be prostitution and I know that Japan has a long history of city quarters where geishas entertained, not far from Shiambashi, in fact is Nagasaki's historic "red light" district, but it still felt strange being there. Yet Nagasaki, outside of that area, and a big shopping mall near Deijima warf, doesn't seem to offer much in a way of evening entertainment. I did go to see a movie one night, which ended up being "Jumper" 'cause it was the only one playing after 9pm. It wasn't a terrible movie, mostly entertaining, but thoughtless and with a very thin plot.
But I've digressed. What I did want to mention about Nagasaki was that I encountered a lot of kindness from strangers in the way of help when i was lost, or though i was lost. The hosts at my hostel were also incredibly nice and helpful and if you plan on traveling to Nagasaki, I'd recommend Akari hostel. It's cheap and very centrally located.

So to recap--I am glad i went to Nagasaki and saw first hand the destruction caused by the atomic bomb and also learned a little bit about its pre-war history and met some really nice people and ate some really really good ramen!

This weekend is graduation. The 3rd and last one for me at Ogimi JHS. I met the kids graduating this Sunday when they were half way through their 1st grade, and I have gotten to know them pretty well. I've watched them grow as individuals but I also feel like I don't know them at all because there has always been the language barrier to prevent full understanding. But I think we have done well and I hope they have learned something from me, because they have taught me quite a bit.

Friday, February 15, 2008

This week one of my fish was eaten by a crow.
Nice start for a blog don't you think?
And then you might think, "how could such a terrible, yet slightly amusing event occur to begin with?"
Well. I'll tell ya. But first a quick fill-in for those who didn't know that i even had fish. I got five of them from a JET a year and a half ago. The JET was leaving for an outer island and couldn't take them along, so i volunteered to take care of them. I had never owned fish before and thought they would be nice to have in my apartment--a pet of sorts since i can't own a dog.
They didn't stay at my apartment too long, however. That summer I went home for a 3 week visit and moved the fish to the school to be fed during my absence. When i came back, i decided that it would be best to keep the fish at school and so they have been swimming in the tank behind my desk ever since. A few weeks back, one of the 2nd grade girls expressed interest in one of my fish, and since I'm not emotionally attached to them and because i am generally a nice enough individual, i gave one of them to her. To thank me, she brought me home made Okinawan cookies and they were delish.
At about them same time some 1st grade boys noticed that one of the fish was pregnant. They seemed to be very enthusiastic about the prospect of tiny little fish emerging in the future, but i had to shatter those fantasies by telling them that she's been pregnant numerous times and that every single time the eggs get eaten by the other fish (just as well for me, really; don't know what i'd do with all that fish). Anyways. The boys thought it would be nice to separate the pregnant fish and we inserted a net into the tank two weeks ago for that purpose.
All this commotion aroused vice Principal's curiosity about my fish. He remarked several times about how big two of them have gotten over a year and how they're probably crammed in that tank. I agreed but didn't see an alternative and didn't think about it very much. Yet, he apparently spent a bit of the free time he has as a vice principal (which in all honestly is not that much) contemplating this problem and finally came up with a solution! "We'll move them to the pond!"he said. I was skeptical at first. Isn't the pond occupied at the moment but gigantic koi and wouldn't my tiny little goldfish get mauled by them? No! He already investigated the situation and found that a part of the pond can be easily separated with a large brick so that other fish can't swim in and this separation created a nice little 1meter long piece of fish paradise at the end of the pond stream. He asked if i wanted to move the two big fish, and i said, how about moving all four remaining fish and he said, won't you miss them terribly, and i said, uhmm. not really, plus i can visit them often. And so...on Tuesday the four goldfish were moved under the watchful eyes of 1st grade boys into their new home. We watched as they seemingly happily acclimated to their new surroundings, sprinkled some food stuffs and went away. A couple of the boys, however, expressed their pessimistic views that the fish won't survive over night, but i shrugged that off as utter nonsense--those fish were resilient! They survived me and tap water! They're no ordinary goldfish!
The next morning, after dropping my bag at the desk, I went to check out how my "pets" were faring in their new home. I counted three, looked around for the fourth, but not finding him thought nothing of it. There are plenty of water plants and dark corners in that pound under which the small goldfish could hide.
A few hours into the day, it was casually observed to me that one of the fish was snatched up by a crow at some point last night. What!? i thought. How could that be? And wouldn't the vice principal, who has been sitting at his desk and who has said "good morning" to me a couple of hours back, have told me about this because as the story went, he heard of this tragedy from some of the students already. Well. Nothing for it. I go outside to ask the vice principal who just happened to be standing by the pond. He proudly pointed to a sign he made and put up on the walkway near the pond which asked the students to take care of the fish because i have taken care of them since they were small and they're very important to me. I thanked him for this kind gesture and then asked him if he had seen four fish today. And he somewhat shyly recounted the truth of the hungry crow and unprotected goldfish.
Apparently the shiny scales of the curious little fish who ventured from the cover of the plants attracted the giant, black bird from its resting spot on a nearby tree. The crow descended, saw an opportunity and very literally snatched it. There went my fish.
Sad. But sort of funny. sort of.
the best bit, is that the boys are now in the process of constructing a scarecrow to stand in front of the pond. So far it's just an umbrella but i'm sure it'll turn into something appropriately scary.
And I learned the words for crow and scarecrow. So the fish did not die in vain.

Hmm. I was gonna mention a couple of other things, but i fear this post is long enough already.
In short, the spring is on its way and the clouds are back to their light and fluffy pre-winter shapes, and i am once again enamoured with them.

Yesterday we played volleyball at school. Well, actually the teachers stood around or sat around or like me, walked around and took photos while students played. It's an annual tradition--a fun school event to send off the 3rd graders who will be graduating in a little less than a month. This year we have 4 classes and they were all paired into a complex tournament table that i didn't even bother to figure out but even with nearly 2 hours of quick play, they didn't get a chance to finish and find out the class that beat them all. At the end teachers were supposed to have played the winning team, but alas, it didn't happen and I changed for nothing. But it was great fun to watch--especially how valiantly the 2nd grade boys fought against 3rd grade boys on the court. They have the energy and the talent but overall, the 3rd graders were just too strong. I took way too many pictures and hope to put the best ones up on fotki by the end of the weekend.
The volleyball game was played during 5th and 6th periods, which on Thursday is usually the elective class hours, but because it was Valentine's Day I decided to have class anyways and to do a chocolate fondue party after school. The girls, there 11 of them this semester, brought their own snacks, i provided some fruits, buscuits, and chocolate of course. Before we ate our fill of sugary snacks, I gave each girl a Valentines card and told them how the holiday is celebrated in America. After that they each made a Valentine of their own and for an hour or so after that, we were experimenting with various ways to eat chocolate, marshmallows, bananas, cookies, strawberries and other goodies. It was delicious fun and way too much sugar for anyone to handle, so a great success from anyone's point of view.

On Wednesday this week our school received a gift of nearly 500 English books and magazines. An Okinawan NPO and a group of military wives organized the donation. This is their fourth donation to an Okinawan JHS and we were very happy to receive it. Representitive of the NPO and three military wives arrived at 10am and three students, along with the librarian, a gushing vice principal and myself led them around the school and chatted to them about this and that. They were all very pleasant and seemed genuinly interested in the school and students and how their books would be utilized. I was told about the donation late last week and was looking forward to the books we would get. Overall the experience was a bit bitter sweet. While the idea is wonderful and the enthusiasm seemingly genuine, the result left me wondering about their opinions of the Japanese and the kind of effort they put into the enterprise. I thought the books would be new, but they weren't, which in itself is not a big dissapointment. But when I started looking through the books, I kept thinking that the women who brought them probably hadn't. They organized a book drive and collected books from military families. There were books for babies and books for adults. Most of the books' reading level was sadly beyond any of the students in the school. For example, there were Star Wars books as well Young Adult books. But I couldn't entirely fault them for that--they don't know what the japanese junior high school kids are capable of--ok. But why would they include a H.S. Geometry book? And why would they put in several books that were in such sad state, with writing all over them, with pages tathered from wear, unless they a) didn't go through the pile of books or b) didn't care to take the time to think through their donation. It seemed more important to be able to say "We brought you 500 books! Aren't you just so grateful to us?" Then to take the time and pick out books that would be more age appropriate and presentable but would perhaps boil down to 200 in number.
So in the end, I was a bit dissapointment with their effort, but the kids seemed to be pleased, so hopefully the books will spark their interest in more serious English study.

Speaking of kids and high level of English interest. This past weekend I helped out Chiye at her school's English camp. The camp was a day and a half event organized for by a homeroom teacher for her 1st grade class. Chiye asked if i'd join in the fun and give a presentation as well as help out with activities on Satuday and Sunday. Saturday was rainy and cold and we gathered in the big gym of Kyuyou HS (an English immersion public HS in central Okinawa). My presentation was first on the menu and I delivered a power point about myself, my life in USSR and my move to the United States. Students seemed to enjoy it and I think more than a handful understoood every word, and some of you know what pleasure that would be after teaching for two years to a room full of kids who take a double take on "how are you?"

So the camp was a great time. The kids were fantastic and we played fun games to introduce them to other countries and to test their cultural, geographic and of course, English knowledge.
In the evening, Mick, Chiye and I took a break from the kids and hung out at an arcade in Chatan. The morning activity was a clever combination of English study and strengthening of group dynamics. The kids were given an envelope with strips of paper with phrases like, "best smile" "most level headed" "down to earth" "best athlete" "most artistic," etc. written on them. They had 10 minutes to translate ones they didn't understand and to decide which classmate would get each slip. 8x11 sheets with each of the student's names written on top were laid out all around the room and for 30 minutes or so, students and two homeroom teachers walked around and attached the slips to the sheets of students who they thought they deserved them.
It was a fun activity and everyone enjoyed it. I hated leaving the kids when the time came to finish the camp. We helped out with the cleaning and then took off for an all american Sunday brunch at Awase around noon. After that Chiye and I went on a shopping adventure to two recycle stores and a big electronics store and at the end of 2 hours came out happy with brand new red Nintendo DS Lites, a game each (mine's a dictionary) and cases. I also lucked out with a used soundtrack CD to a French film, "Swing" that I'd never seen. The cover looked promising and i recognized the name of one of the songs as a Yiddish song I've heard covered by Barry sisters, so I bought it. The CD turned out to be a wonderful collection of whimsical arrangements of gypsy and yiddish songs. Now, I just have to track down the film.

Those who are aware of my "bike in a box" saga will be happy to know that both the bike and box are now out of the scary room! The box was destroyed with flare and purpose on the sands of the Kijoka beach and burned on a bonfire built specifically for that purpose. The bike is now in a shop being put together by a professional and hopefully will soon after be sold without returning back to my apartment.

The weather has been a bit psychotic of late. It's sunny now, but not even a nhour ago it was cloudy and freezing. It's still cold but the sun outside makes it seem like it could be otherwise. It now rains every night instead of day and night, so that's an improvement. I'm aware that Wisconsin has had a record snowfall, or near that amount and so am not really complaining but record snowfall with central heating in every building is not the same as a rainy and windy winter with no heating anywhere except the AC in my apartment which is only strong enough for two rooms.

In other news, I passed 3rd level of the JLPT (that's why I am now the owner of a DS Lite) and my karate sensei thought i showed enough promise to move up to the next level, which is 5-dan and I now have a bright yellow belt to wear with my gi. I still don't think i truly deserve it but i did work hard for it, so am happy to have it.

Tonight's book club will be at the new location in Yomitan, which is closer for the northern members. The cafe is called "Rainbow Bridge Cafe" and I checked it out last weekend on the way back up north from Chiye's. It's lovely and spacious with a nice menu and a friendly staff (or at least the one guy who worked there that I chatted with seemed nice enough). The place also has a garden which might be nice when the weather warms up and we can have meetings outside. Tonight's book is "God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy.

Tomorrow is the Gumball Rally. It's the third one for me, but only the 2nd I'll actually be participating in. Last year, during mom's visit, I organized it and had a blast, but this year am really looking forward to playing again. Should have some fun pictures to share after the weekend.

that seems to wrap things up, and it's nearly 4pm so time to head home.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

six months. i have six months left here, and i'm starting to feel bad for asking all those people who left before me about their plans when they were in the same position as i am now. it must be one of the most difficult questions to answer, especially once you've answered it two to three times. but i understand how it's the first question one thinks to ask, 'cause the leaving marks an end to one moment in life and and a beginning of a new, yet unknown one. it's like everyone asking a fresh college graduate his future plans. remember how annoying getting those were?
i have answers, though. i shrug and i say, "i'll teach, i guess"

but anyways. this post is not about that.
last weekend i took the next belt test in karate. I'm going from orange to yellow belt, which actually means going from 7-dan to 5-dan. i think i've improved. don't know if i've improved to justify the yellow belt but i feel more in control of my body now than i did two years ago when i started. everything was difficult then; now the most difficult part is trying to understand what sensei is saying at all times and staying in "shikodachi" (sp?) for prolonged periods of time.

it's raining. it's been raining. it's gonna continue raining. but just as i'm typing this a few struggling rays of sun have graced us with their presence. it'll be brief, though. i want this weather to pass but that also means time passing and i don't want the time to pass too quickly, so I'm gonna pretend to be enjoying this so that it doesn't fly and so that i notice everything.

time is zooming past, though. in a month's time 3rd graders will be graduating and a month after that a new school year will start and in between, my sister Anna will visit here with Brad. I look forward to that very much, but i'm not looking forward to saying goodbye to the 3rd graders. I met them as 1st graders when I came here, and I've gotten used to seeing their faces every day and now that they're grown up and are becoming interesting individuals, it's even harder to let go. Funny, how we're able to form relationships in spite of language barriers. Granted, of course, that if my Japanese was at a higher level when I arrived, my relationship with these kids would be much different, but I like that they have to work to explain themselves to me and I to them. It's never stressful with students; only with adults.

I've watched the entire first season of "Bones" in two weeks time. I must say I enjoyed it, although the writing in a couple of episodes seemed overly forced and unnatural, overall I like the show. I do think that the character of Dr. Brennen seems overly sheltered sometimes. In one episode she doesn't seem to know who Grinch is which really makes me wonder about her childhood. She didn't lose her parents until she was a teenager and so it's easy to believe that once she started her studies and retracted fully into the world of academia she has lost touch with the popular culture, but did she not watch cartoons and movies as a child?

Two weeks ago I noticed a petition looking sheet in the teachers' lounge and asked about it. I was told that it was a sheet provided by the Japanese government that is considering putting fluoride into schools' tap water system in all of Japan. The petition is for students to have their say whether they approve of the idea or not. At first, I thought, how silly. Of course they should want fluoride to be in their water. We've been told that there's no fluoride in the water, no fluoride in the toothpaste and that leads to Japanese notoriously bad teeth. But before making hasty judgements and because the school nurse is against the fluoride in the water, I decided to google it. And guess what? Turns out fluoride is not all that good for yah. Turns out it can be damaging to children when ingested in certain amounts. The FDA is actually starting to rethink the levels of fluoride it has previously approved to be in US' tap water system. And some researchers suggested that one doesn't need to have fluoride in their water as long as they use toothpaste with fluoride or any other treatments, like sprays and such, that contain it.
I don't have the links right now; I googled this last week and so I know what I'm saying is very general, so if you're curious, the information is definitely out there and the Japanese, it turns out, are not kooky for going against the national injection of fluoride into their tap water.

I have a suspicion that there was something else I wanted to write about, but it's time for lunch and I always help set up, so 'til next time!


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Thailand post is all in my head. Ask me about it sometime. Putting it down on paper, am sure will help me digest it better, but it is apparently not that time yet.

Instead. Let's get back to Okinawa.

Last Friday, for a brief instant, in the middle of Okinawa I experienced an alternate reality experience. I would recommend it, but it's certainly not for the faint of heart. This experience took place in Chatan, a place in itself a bit surreal, where Okinawan and American cultures merge and create a unique spot, a place where for the last few years the Okinawa JET book club has met to discuss books and life.
I arrived with a friend at 6:45pm, a full 15min early, which in itself is a bit trippy, considering that I have never even arrived exactly on time. So after parking at a pretty good spot near a burger joint on the beach, we leisurely made our way to the cafe, chatting about this and that along the way, not paying attention to our surroundings because once you know where you're going and you have gone there nearly every month for the last 2 years, you don't expect to look for it, it'll just arrive at your feet and you'll walk up the stairs, across the rickety wooden bridge and into the open space of one of the coolest cafes on the island. As we walked, an uncomfortable nagging feeling started creeping under my skin. Something was amiss. We stopped at an area of long wooden tables. Where's the stairs? The bridge? The cafe? None of those things were in front of us. Instead the long tables stretched out towards the park behind them and a tiny little bar blared its music at us from the far right corner. Ahead of us along the street, the bright pink sign of a "relaxing house" seemed a bit too close and we turned back. The cafe should have been behind us, before the stretch of wooden tables. But where was it? We walked back. And there it was. Set in between the two apartment buildings, the walkway and all underlying, shack-like structures gone, the stairs now an open space with no sign of them ever existing, and the cafe! Its front ripped open, it stood exposed, its innards open for all to see, if there was anything left to see that is. All that remained were crisscrossing wooden boards and one panel that separated what used to be a cozy, warm room filled with low coaches and uncomfortable bar stools, and an open area that offered beautiful sunset views over the sea. Friend and I stood in disbelief. Welcome to an alternate reality! Hope you enjoy your stay!

Yep. Sad, but true. Celluiloid Cafe is no longer. That night we went to the burger place by the seaside. Its burgers are tasty and it has plenty of room for us, but it's lacking the atmosphere conducive to book discussions and so we are now out hunting for a new location. Hopefully, one will be deemed suitable by all so that we don't have to move for the rest of the year. I suppose, before we settle in, we should ask whether they plan on selling their property anytime soon. I don't think I could handle another heartbreak of losing a favorite coffee shop in the near future.