Thursday, January 24, 2008

Snow!

One of the benefits of going to school up in the mountains is all the snow!! It snowed earlier this week, but had melted by lunchtime. Today, however, it just keeps on coming! I snuck a picture with my cell phone, but it really doesn't do it justice.


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

A week in review

This past week has been hectic!!

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

The first day of school

Well, it happened again today.
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

Happy New Year -- Part 2 -- read the previous post first!

So apparently my previous blog post was too long!! Weird! So here's the continuation...

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!

Happy New Year! Mega Blog!

How time flies! Happy 2008!

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:

video
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...
THAILAND!
We decided to take a trip to Thailand for our vacation. We flew in to Bangkok that night, and when we got there we met up with a couple of my friends who were already in Bangkok on their vacation.
The next day we took a boat tour up the river and visited the temple of Wat Po, or the Resting Buddha.
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:
And Mike:
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: