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.