Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I am currently packing up all my things and preparing to return home! I've been crazy busy, so no blogs.
I wanted to share this little tidbit -- Last weekend I went on a 3 day camping/bike trip with my friends. The place where we rented the bikes took our picture and put it on their website :)
Scroll to the bottom to see us with our mamacharis (bikes for moms and grandmas!)
See you soon!
Japanese phrase of the day:
Tadaima! I'm home!
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Here's a mini-update (minus pictures -- I may add them later).
I went to Tokyo for a quick weekend trip the first weekend of March. We stayed in a youth hostel and wondered around Tokyo for about 2 days before I headed back to Amagasaki and the rest of the group went to a conference for returning JETs (I wasn't allowed to go because I've only been here for 1 year). While in Tokyo I also got to catch up with a sorority sister who works for GAP in Tokyo, which was pretty cool since I haven't seen her in years!
Later, my family came to visit for a week. We traveled all over and I got to show them where I "hang out". They also got to meet a bunch of my crazy friends and we all did puri kura together (sticker pictures). They're pretty hillarious. We went to Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima... It was a pretty packed week! We also ate a lot of good food and I introduced them to the wonderful okonomiyaki!
As my family left to go back to the US, 3 friends and I went to South Korea! We stayed in Seoul and basically had a "girls' vacation" -- we shopped and spa-ed and a couple girls pierced their ears! We did try to do at least one cultural thing everyday. We went to one of the palaces, a Japanese atrocities museum (in an old prison - you can go in the cells and they have moving manaquins mimicing how Japanese soldiers tortured the Korean "patriotic ancestors"), ate spicy spicy spicy Korean food, and the most interesting: we went to the DMZ. The DMZ is the De-Militarized Zone between South and North Korea - a sort of no man's land. On the tour we actually got to go into the DMZ and ride (on a bus) around the buildings where North and South Korean governments have their discussions. Usually on the tour you are allowed to go into the meeting building, but it was "under going maintenence", which in military code means: the day before our tour there were protests on the North Korean side of the DMZ and it was deemed unsafe. That's my theory anyway -- there really were protests that day! Anyway, on the tour we also got to go into one of the tunnels that the North Korean army has dug underneath the DMZ, trying to invade South Korea. They have found 4 tunnels -- the most recent one was found within the last 20 years!! That was pretty cool. So, I got to see into North Korea, which was so so so interesting.
School started April 8th with a new batch of first year students. It's so nice in the beginning because they are so well behaved. (Now they are not so well behaved.)
I also went to my first baseball game in Japan. The local team is the Hanshin Tigers and they are known for having the craziest and most loyal fans. (Side note: I thought Ichiro was from the Tigers, but actually he was on the Kobe team, the Blue Wave. Sorry to whoever I may have told that to.) The fans are pretty crazy! They get all dressed up and have these special plastic banging sticks that they make a lot of noise with! Each player on the team has a special chant or song... It's pretty wild.
At school we had the first round of midterm exams. Always a hoot.
My friends and I had many many BBQs to take advantage of the spring weather before the rainy season (which has just started - early June).
Last weekend I was invited to go to Kyoto with one of my teachers. We went to Kiyomizudera temple, Ginkakujin temple (its supposed to be silver, but was never finished...so it's just normal, but famous for almost being covered in silver leaf), and an old samurai's hermitage -- this was my favorite. This samurai was the assistant to the shogun in Hiroshima about 900 years ago or so. When he retired, at the ripe old age of 33, he decided he wanted to study Chinese poetry. So he moved to Kyoto, built this beautiful house with a gorgeous garden where he could study. He became a master of Chinese poetry and had many students. He lived to be about 90 years old!! Now his house is open to the public and many famous people have visited there (there were pictures of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, a couple Japanese princes, etc.).
Oy! I think that's mostly everything. There's only 3 weeks of school until finals week and then I'm done with school! I'll be home before you know it! Actually, my flight is on August 5th!! Only 2 months away!!
I have to go - a student is patiently waiting for me to finish :)
Monday, April 28, 2008
I just discovered my school's website! It's all in Japanese, but you can see the view :)
Last Friday was the teachers' Welcome Party. Every school year, several teachers are transferred to different schools. Eight of our teachers were sent to different schools, so eight new teachers were transferred here. I don't understand who gets transferred or why, because the teachers have no say. The board of education just decides who goes where. It's very strange. But it's also an opportunity to have a party :) Our party was at the Takarazuka Hotel. The food was pretty good and there were many many many speeches (from new teachers, old teachers, the MC, principal, vice-principal, etc, etc). Teacher parties are hard for me because I think the teachers feel intimidated by me. So, I did my best to speak Japanese to get people to talk to me! After the party, I met up with some friends who live in Takarazuka and we stayed up talking and watching a movie (She's The Man, which is beautifully awful).
The first years are going to camp this week -- to learn school related stuff, like the school song -- which means no first year classes for me starting Wednesday! Woo! And tomorrow (Tuesday) and next Monday and Tuesday are national holidays! Yay!! I don't have any plans...yet.
I'm at school, so I should get back to work.
Japanese phrase of the day:
Ashita wa yasumi desu. Tomorrow is a holdiay.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
In February, I went to the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido, with a group of JETs to see the Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival). The festival is in Sapporo, which you may know from the beer of the same name.
The Snow Festival was pretty awesome. They spend weeks sculpting snow and ice into these huge sculptures and stages. Here's one in progress:
I spent the majority of my time wondering the main park/festival, looking at the cool sculptures and enjoying yummy festival food like yakisoba and crab legs.
This one is of a famous castle in Hokkaido...I don't know it's story, but it was really impressive. The detail was incredible!
At night, they lit up the sculptures with different colored lights.
Here's a video of some J-Pop group performing in front of the sculpture of Sapporo Station. This guys are what most of my boy students try to look like... :)
Most of the other JETs went skiing or snowboarding. I opted to go snowmobiling instead. Watch out! It's dangerous!!
Thursday, February 28, 2008
I was coming back from the vending machine (vending machines are EVERYWHERE and it is WONDERFUL) with a nice tall bottle of tea to soothe my aching throat when,
Student 1: Give me?
Me: No! No! Kaze desu! (= I'm sick!)
Student 1: Me too!
Student 2: Cold?
Me: Yes, I have a cold.
Student 2: Healthy!
This is a pretty typical "English conversation" that one might have with my students. I have another student that likes to ask me questions after class, but it's not so much a question as words said like a question...
"High School Musical?" (Points to himself, then me.)
--> I interpreted this as, "I have seen High School Musical, have you?" Last week the question was "Favorite movie?" (points to me). A couple weeks ago it was "America election? I like Obama." (Side note: apparently, all of Japan supports Obama but not for any real reason other than they like him.) I appreciate that he tries, but I don't know if he understands my answers!
Or you might run across one of the handful of students who are practically fluent. Then the conversation starts something like this:
"This school is very boring. It is too easy. I should have gone to a different school."
"Please only call on me today. Do not call on him (pointing to the only other student in class who volunteers answers). I want all the points. Please don't call on him."
Fun times at Kabutoyama High.
Japanese phrase of the day (part 2):
Odaijini! Take care of yourself! (Which is what that student might have meant by "Healthy!")
Here they are, the inoshishi a.k.a. wild boars. Sasayama city is known for it's wild boars (apparently) and so the fine people decided to dedicate a day to the inoshishi as only Japanese people can do.
The main street was closed down and this interesting cage was sent up. At one end was a hole for the boar cage to butt up against (also the Start) and the other end had a Finish sign that the boars would rip as they ran through. There was a race every hour on the hour all morning.
There they are -- whizzing past! Actually, I thought the races were pretty sad. They used the same 3 boars for each race and they were pretty beat up by the last race. If you didn't already know, boars are kinda aggressive. Shocking, right? So the boars would race down to one end of the cage and then, with nothing else to do, would start running around attacking each other. Then the boar handlers would step in and push the boars, using a wooden board, back into the Start cage. By the last race, they were bleeding and one had a broken leg!! It was really sad and felt bad for them. The winning boar's name is "Shishi-Fire" and although they said they wouldn't eat the winner, seeing how bad of shape they were in, I doubt it.
Also at this festival was festival food. Not just any festival food, but festival food made from, you guessed it, boar meat! I enjoyed a shishi-burger and shishi-sausage. The flavor was a bit different. Gamey?
Japanese phrase of the day:
Inoshishi no niku wa oishii desu! Wild boar meat is tasty!
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
In the mean time, today when I got on the bus to go to school, the bus driver said, "Nishinomiya Kabutoyama Koko? Kyo wa yasumi desu..." (Nishinomiya Kabutoyama High School? Today is a holiday) and some more Japanese I didn't understand. I said, "Yasumi? Wakarimasen!" (A holiday? I don't understand!). It's Wednesday, and there isn't a holiday today! Luckily there was another teacher on the bus and he explained to me that because of the snow, school was cancelled for the students....BUT not for teachers. So, I had to go to school anyway. Poo. Here I am, at school, with nothing to do. And most teachers didn't actually come to school today, so I think I'll sneak out early... :)
Thursday, January 24, 2008
You can't see the snow as it flurries around. All over the school little snowmen are popping up. One of my students called me over to show me the one she made (it had pinecones for ears -- maybe I'll try sneaking another picture).
(I guess he lost an ear since the last time I saw him... He's about 8 inches tall.) :)
Unfortunately, snow also means that the students do NOT pay attention. My first class this morning was full of buttheads and the second was full of sleepers (worn out from snow fights maybe?). Ugh.
Alright, I'm going to go enjoy the snow some more :)
Japanese phrase of the day:
雪 が すき です。 Yuki ga suki desu. I like snow!
Saturday, January 19, 2008
On Sunday, Casey and I went to Koyasan, a small mountain village in Wakayama-ken. Koyasan is a religious retreat founded in 816 by a Buddhist grand master. To get there you have to take a cable car up the mountain! When we got there it was -1C and snowing! There is a famous cemetery there surrounding the Okunoin Temple. The temple is deep in the woods with more than half a million tombs. It was absolutely beautiful and so serene. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures because taking pictures in a cemetery is very dame (bad). We saw some interesting tombs there. A lot of major corporations have tombs for their to employees come to pray if they don't have a family tomb. Another interesting one had a gigantic rocket ship. Casey and I could not figure out why there was a rocket ship on this tomb! The kanji was too complicated and we couldn't ask any Japanese people to translate for us because they were avoiding us (we were the only non-Japanese people there and I think they could tell we wanted to ask someone about it!). Another funny one was for an extermination company. Because they're Buddhist, they had a tomb representing all the termites they had killed. How very Japanese! Apparently, after a family member dies, you are supposed to bring a lock of hair or some of their ashes to this temple so that when Buddha comes again, he will know how to find them in the afterlife and give them enlightenment. Very very interesting. We also visited the Daimon, or Big Gate, which is a very big gate. It marks the entrance to Koyasan from the valley on the west side.
(A side note to AXiDs, the Buddhist grand master that founded Koyasan entered "eternal meditation" in 835. He is believed just to be meditating until Buddha comes again. This eerily reminded me of "chapter eternal." Are they just waiting for the second coming of Cora?? Yipes!)
Monday was a national holiday, "Coming of Age Day", where young men and women who are 20 years old (and legal to drink or smoke, btw) dress in their finest kimonos and visit their local shrine/temple to celebrate becoming an "adult." Some friends and I met in downtown Kobe so we could watch all the pretty young women walking around the city -- because after visiting a shrine, what else is there to do but shop?
Tuesday was just another day at school. One of my teachers (the annoying one that asks me all kinds of strange questions) kept hounding me about creating a lesson plan for the conference we were going to attend later in the week. Almost every 30 minutes he would ask, "Have you finished the report (meaning a lesson plan) yet?" I gave it to him after lunch and he quickly pulled out his electronic dictionary and asked me questions about the words and abbreviations I used, like "comp. questions" for "comprehension questions." Good grief.
Wednesday, my alarm failed me and I woke up at 7:30, an hour and a half late! Yikes! At that point, there was no way I would make my bus that goes up the mountain (at 7:55AM) and the next bus wasn't until 9:30. So, I called the school to tell them I was going to miss my first period class (oops). When I did get to school, the teachers all told me it was no problem and that Kabuto-sensei was able to hold class without me. Kabuto-sensei is fantastic -- if it had been any other teacher, they would have canceled class and would have had to make it up later.
Thursday and Friday were spent at a conference for ALTs and JTEs. All the ALTs and one JTE from each school in the prefecture attended. Usually this means 1 ALT and 1 JTE from each school. Because I'm lucky and teach at 2 scholos, I had 2 JTEs with me -- 1 from each school. My JTEs that were chosen to attend: the annoying one that asks me strange questions, and the one that never speaks to me. Fantastic choice!
I was hoping that the conference would be helpful and give me ideas on how to make my classes more engaging or make my students more motivated. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Everyone was supposed to create a lesson plan to share in small groups. Of the lesson plans in my group, none were very helpful for my situation (being at low level schools). Oh, and I forgot to mention, both of my JTEs tried to take credit for my lesson plan!! How rude!!
On Friday were were "taught" how to use debates in our classes to teach English. This is a good idea, but it won't work in my classes. The kids won't speak unless they have exactly what they're supposed to say written down. And they would NEVER stand up in front of the class and express an opinion that hadn't been OKed by at least 3 of their friends. All in all, the conference was a waste of time. And I still have to make up the classes that I missed on Thursday and Friday.
Thursday night was a lot of fun, though. Because EVERYONE was in Kobe for this conference, I got to see a lot of friends that live farther north in the prefecture. A very large dinner was organized at the Sky Buffet restaurant. It's on the 24th floor of the tallest building on Kobe harbor and has a fantastic view. Plus, it's all you can eat buffet and an open bar! Weeee!! After dinner, Joy and I went to Casey's apartment and had an impromptu girl's night/sleepover. We got in our jammies, gossiped, and watched LOST until the early morning. So much fun!
Also last week, or maybe it was the week before, I had to officially tell my school if I was going to re-contract or not. After I told my supervisor that I wasn't planning on coming back, I think he was either sad or mad or both because he didn't speak to me for an entire day (which is very strange). When he did talk to me, the first thing he said was, "When you go back to Seattle, what will you do? Where will you work?" which is the polite Japanese way of saying, "I'm upset that you're leaving." I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but I had no intentions of staying more than a year and I already know that this is not going to be my career. But it still made me feel so bad! :(
Well, that's all for this week! The next week should be a little more normal -- and I'm going to an inoshishi (wild boar) race next weekend! Stay tuned 'til next week!!
Japanese phrase of the day:
Shashin o torimasu ii desu ka? Is it OK to take a picture?
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
I'm sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when I look up and...all the teachers are gone. The teachers' room is empty!
It's a little frustrating when things are not communicated to me either because they forget or because they don't think they can speak enough English to explain it to me. Last time it was because they were having an earthquake drill and when I wandered out of the teachers' room, they were herding the students out onto the sports field. This time I think it's a cleaning day -- I'm not sure because when I asked one of the English teachers what I should be doing he said, "Sit down and enjoy yourself. There are no classes today. Today is just a ceremony."
So, I am taking his advice!
Today is the first day of school after a very long holiday. I have to admit that it was VERY hard to get myself up at 6AM this morning and get back into the routine. Luckily for me, this term is the shortest of the year, with finals week during the first week of March. I counted up the lessons and I will see my first year students only 5 times because of random holidays and the short term. The second years schedule is a little wonky because of the holidays - I will see 2 classes 8 times, 1 class 7 times, and 1 class 6 times. Hmm... I will see my third year students (my favorites!) only 4 times before they graduate! I will miss them - their excitement and desire to participate make the job worthwhile.
On the first day of school, (apparently, because I am watching from my desk) students spend a good amount of time cleaning the school/classrooms (because they got so dirty while everyone was away?) and most likely they will have an assembly soon that is entirely too long and too cold (it's in the gym which has no heating). Oh Japan, how you confuse me!
Most of my JET friends are coming home today from their vacations. It was much too quiet this weekend without them. I ended up watching way too much TV (thanks to the DVDs I received for Christmas!) and not studying my Japanese.
This post is a bit random. I blame the sleepy haze surrounding my head!
I have to go. There's some sort of emergency about a conference I have to go to next week. I have to create a lesson plan for an English 1 class, but I teach Oral Communication 1. I made the mistake of asking if I could make a lesson plan for a class that I actually teach. Oh no! What will the Board of Education say! Ugh :-/
Japanese phrase of the day:
わたし の ベードー が すきです。 Watashi no bedo ga suki desu. I like my bed.
Friday, January 4, 2008
The best of the goatee pics:
After the goatee had been sufficiently shaved off, we went for an elephant ride!! I had been looking forward to this for a loooooooong time. Of course, we got the grumpy grandma elephant who didn't want to be giving a ride in the first place!
The handler had to keep encouraging her to keep going and not go off the path. The elephant in return went very slowly and rather bumpily. The other two elephants were very friendly and were always asking for bananas!
So much fun!! I'm glad we did it. These elephants used to be "working elephants", but because using elephants is becoming less common, now they give rides to tourists!
That night we explored Walking Street in downtown Pattya. It's like Vegas, Thai-style. Food vendors, beer bars and go-go bars everywhere, and lots of neon.
The next day we took a boat ride out to a nearby island called Koh Lahn. The beach was gorgeous - much prettier and cleaner than Pattaya beach.
That night (New Year's Eve) our hotel had a NYE party (that we had to attend/pay for). The party was totally lame, so we hung out in our room watching TV until about 11:30pm. We ran down to the party just as they were going to give away prizes from a drawing. Mike told me, "If they call my number, I'm jumping in the pool." As luck would have it, just at that moment, Mike's number was called. I didn't have the camera ready, so I don't have the actual jump on film, but it was glorious. The rest of the hotel guests gasped and cheered as Mike ran and canon-balled into the pool. It was like no one else had thought of it! Well, here's a soggy Mike with his prize: a cheap blingin' watch!
After the pool-jumping spectacle, we counted down the New Year and watched the fireworks from all the surrounding hotels.
The pool and stage:
Our last day in Thailand, we spend shopping and wandering about. We met an artist who makes sculptures out of old car parts and metal things. His sculptures were fantastic. He told us that he had a huge one up by the movie theatre and we should check it out. Lo and behold: Predator.
Mike loved it! We stared and studied this thing for a long time (in my opinion). I think Mike was inspired...
Anyway, we also spent some time relaxing on the beach before heading to the airport.
Bye Thailand! And so ends our wild adventures! Mike left last night and is greatly missed :(
I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!
Japanese phrase of the day:
あけましておめでとう Akemashite omedetou! Happy New Year!
For this Christmas and New Year, Mike came to visit -- and we had quite an adventure!
I picked Mike up at the airport on Friday (12/21) night -- and by picked up, I mean we took the bus to my neighborhood together -- and immediately took him out to dinner to meet some of my crazy friends. We went to a yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant where you grill the meat right in the table!
We had a fun time despite Mike being slightly jet-lagged. :) The next morning we celebrated Christmas early. Mike brought me a suitcase filled with presents from my family! Yay! Here's a picture of one corner of my massive apartment - the main focus being the Christmas tree I found at the hyaku-en store (i.e. the dollar store).
And because I know you're all dying to see what the rest of my apartment looks like, here's my kitchen/bathroom. At the far end (behind me) is the kitchen sink and my single gas burner. The bathroom sink is in the bottom right corner -- why it is set up this way is beyond me. Next to my left arm (with the peace sign) is the door to the the shower/toilet area.
Which looks like this! On the left is the tub/shower/water heater and the pink polka-dotted shower curtain separates the shower from the toilet (which is to the right). Lovely cement floor, no?
For dinner that night we went to an Okinawa restaurant -- serves food from Okinawa, the tropical Japanese island!
I made a mistake while ordering our food. My Japanese proficiency is minimal at best and so we ordered by pointing to the pictures in the menu. I ordered what I thought was "pork leg" according to the waitress. However, the word for "leg" and "foot" is the same in Japanese. What I had actually ordered was pig's knuckles!! Gross!! Here they are...
Mike and I both tried one just to say we had. They weren't very good - really fatty. According to Mike's former exchange-student-host-sister who is from Okinawa, Japanese people think pig's knuckles are very good for your skin. Right.
A bit of funny Japanese culture: On Christmas everyone eats Kentucky Fried Chicken. Why? Because that's what Americans do, of course! In fact, some people even make reservations at their local KFC!! And to celebrate, every KFC dresses up their Colonel Sanders in a Santa costume! Hooray!
Anyway, the next day, we went to Kyoto to check out some temples and shrines. I don't know their names, but it was cool to wander around the huge park and see the different temples and shrines. For those who don't know, temples are Buddhist and shrines are Shinto. Typically, shrines have a large orange entrance, like this:
Temples aren't quite so flashy. After wandering around a bit, we met up with my friend Olivia and her husband Osamu for tea and snacks. We were on the 8th or 9th floor of a department store and had a great view of the city.
After tea, we went to Osaka to see the German Christmas Festival!
Of course! A German Christmas Festival in Japan makes perfect sense! They had sausages, hot cocoa, mulled wine, and.... a Japanese Santa!!
Japanese people crack me up :) Here's a little video of the experience:
Sorry it's sideways -- it wasn't sideways before I uploaded it to Blogger.com... oh well.
The next day we laid low, talked with family, and went to Kobe for dinner and karaoke. We ate dinner at an izakaya (no pig's knuckles). Here we are with the plastic food out front:
It's really very convenient because you can decide whether it's what you want to eat without looking at the menu!
The next day was Christmas! Merry Christmas! Here we are just before leaving to...
It's huge! And very very gold!
All around the Wat Po are lots of little temples and huge spires made out of tiles. They were so pretty! (Mike's in the bottom left corner for size comparison.)
Bangkok is very tiring. We both were completely culture-shocked. Everywhere you go there are people trying to sell you something or haggle some money out of you. You have to be pretty vigilant and not get scammed. So, for our second day, we decided to take it easy and took the Skytrain (like a monorail) to the classier part of town and found several giant malls.
We wandered around, went back to a couple shops we liked the day before and had a traditional thai massage.
It's a lot of bending and stretching, but felt sooooo nice after a hectic day in the city.
For dinner we dressed up and had Thai vegetarian pizza!
The next day we traveled south-east to the beach city of Pattaya.
This is definitely more our vibe than Bangkok. There are still people trying to sell you junk, but they aren't nearly as aggressive and there's always the beach...
The next day we spent on the beach...And we went para-sailing! Here's me:
So much fun! Like most things in Thailand, at first it seemed a bit sketchy and jerry-rigged, but the guys knew what they were doing and had the system of hooking people in and out of the harness in seconds down pat!
While in Pattaya, Mike decided it was time to shave off the goatee...but not without having some fun with it first! Here are my favorites: