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.. well...me.
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.