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.