Monday, December 18, 2006

My true love gave to me... a box of tunaspam caaaans

Boxes of Spam. It had to be brought up at the English Department Christmas Party last night. And now I *sort of* understand. Apparently, these boxes of Spam, tuna, juice boxes, etc. are purchased and given to people who "help" your family. All of this is done as the end of the year approaches. I asked them... "But SPAM?!" and I told them I thought it was overpriced too! They agreed that getting a box of processed meat (as opposed to processed cheese, which is difficult to explain, I found out last night) is a bit lame and one teacher said when she was growing up, they were always excited to get the juice boxes and sweets. The lesson of this? The best way to show appreciation with the least amount of effort is to grab a gift package of vegetable oil and help your neighbor out with their groceries for the week. It's not such a bad idea, but the contents are still perplexing. How about some Godiva chocolate?

The department also had their "First Annual Christmas Gift Exchange." I honestly didn't know what to buy for this diverse crew since I didn't know who would end up with the gift, but eventually decided on some coordinated trendy folders, notebooks, and Sharpies. Practical. To exchange gifts, we opted to sing a Christmas song and pass the presents in a clockwise direction. We decided on "Jingle Bells" to start and started the shuffling. When the song ended, there were a few people with their own gifts, so we decided to try again with a new song. I picked "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and sang in English while another teacher sang in Japanese. (They don't call him Rudolph here...Students are always confused about that...) Anyway, that song is ridiculously long! I never realized it until I was only at "...They never let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games..." and people were flagging in enthusiasm. The song finally ended and I resisted yelling, "Like George Washington!" and there was confusion again. The third and final song in the medley was a cut-time version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and finally everything worked out. And I stepped away from the table with a giant blue yoga ball! Which is actually something I really wanted!

Although what I really need right now is an electric blanket. It has finally cooled off enough for me to call it chilly. It's bad enough walking in the wind and cold drizzle, but when you get in your house, you can't warm up because there is no heat and no insulation. Essentially the temperature outside is the temperature inside, which can be uncomfortable when you're trying to relax in your pajamas and realize that your toes are beginning to lose sensation. I asked the teachers how long this lasts and they said until about the end of February, which means that I am going shopping when I get back and buying an electric blanket or space heater. You can only drink so many hot beverages every evening.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Spama Claus is comin' to town...

I have finished my Christmas shopping completely! And here's a bit of a preview for what everyone is getting... As the Japanese say, "It's delicious."

Yes, that's right. Boxes of Spam and hash. These are the official meat products of Okinawa (not in the rest of Japan, luckily for them). Just what you all put on your wishlist for Santa, right? There are also boxes of tuna, some fruit and vegetable juice boxes, vegetable oil, and other random kitchen items. Each box is wrapped and every grocery store is full of stacks of these gifts. I have yet to see someone carrying a box or putting one in their cart. It's a mystery that I'll have to clear up in the next week.

In other Okinawan news, we had our teacher party on Friday and performed our synchronized swimming routine. It went over exceedingly well (especially the sign bit that I added) and we won first place among the different departments. Our prize? Not Spam thankfully. Instead, we received a .... microwave! It's sort of like "The Price Is Right" every day here. I don't have a picture of us with our nose bandages, "gogos" and t-shirts with muscles painted on them, but maybe I can track one down this week. Instead, here's a picture of the science department "getting down."

The last week was one of the most trying so far thanks to some workplace drama. We have an English party tomorrow night and I hope that it will kick off a better week. I also have an appointment to make Christmas cards with English Club on Tuesday. Everyone is festive and ready to ring in the new year. I am anticipating my journey back to the States and my packed suitcase is sitting here, taunting me with promises of a happy holiday at home. Unfortunately, I have come down with my first sickness of the year and am mentally fighting off this sore throat so I can be ready to give guilt-free hugs and kisses.

Monday, December 11, 2006

"No! Not the buttons. Not my gumdrop buttons!"

Last night, Joyce, a fellow ALT down the road, hosted a small cookie baking party. Baking in Japan can be challenging thanks to an absence of ingredients, but thanks to her friend, Yuki, she managed to invade a military base and leave with armloads of Christmas chocolate chips, sprinkles, REAL cheese (nothing to do with cookies, of course), and frosting. Yvonne from Naha/England joined in on the squeezing of icing tubes, precision sprinkling, and the occasional swear word. We began at 5 pm and by 10, we had enjoyed making chocolate/coconut pinwheels (which actually had to be chunked up for the first batch, but looking at Joyce's blog, it appears she mastered the cooking later that night...), traditional Christmas cookies with old-time favorite shapes, gingerbread men and women, and cappuccino crinkles (which has unrivaled dough to steal from the bowl. Yum!). We also were treated to Yuki's replica of her favorite restaurant meal, creamy chicken pasta (fettuccine alfredo) which was spot-on and a nice balance to all of the sugar being consumed by licking fingers and spatulas.

It was a lovely night complete with German Christmas music and discussions of what figgy pudding really is. We were all put to shame by Yuki's knack for American decorating (she should consider a business in cookies) and we all had one cookie that was unspeakably ugly. (Of course, certain recipients of said cookies were named and griped about!) Here are some pictures to sum up the experience---

Joyce under the influence of too much gingerbread dough! I had heard that Joyce can be a bit demanding in the kitchen (especially about 300-year-old wooden spoons), but she proved to be a great hostess. Yvonne and I tried not to step over any lines, though, just in case...

Joyce and Yvonne working in the cookie sweatshop. Now we know what elves feel like. "Just keep working, girls, and try to smile...only four thousand more to go..."

Finished projects! Everything turned out beautifully and not one cookie was injured on the ride home and to school. They have taken their rightful place at the Christmas shrine in the teacher's office and have not been noticed just yet, but soon teachers will experience the joys of trying to chew those cinnamon redhot things.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I'm glad they don't do "the mistletoe thing" here...

Monday morning. Chatan High School. The 'snorter' the next desk over keeps going and going without any sign of wavering. My hearing is starting to suffer thanks to the iPod's full-blast powers. I have experimented with various artists to see which blends the snorting/sniffing/phlegm-sucking-to-the-back-of-the-brain sound out the best. As of right now, The Decemberists mask him with the most success. All I know is that if this allergy attack/plague/sinus thing doesn't kill him, I might.

Speaking of the consumption, I took a taxi ride home the other night and I'd wager my driver is dead right now. He was making a strange wheezing noise from his nostrils and then started a coughing fit that was decidedly raspy. Also, I'm pretty sure I saw some blood in his handkerchief. Okay, now I'm exaggerating, but when I got my change back knowing what germs were now partying on my 100 yen coin, I flashed back to the journey around the world and the quote that never got old... "I have cholera now." This particular driver didn't speak a word to me and glared at me through his rearview mirror the entire ride. (This is most unusual as cabdrivers are generally quite sweet. One lady almost killed herself to get me when I was succumbing to the weight of all of the Christmas goodies that I had purchased). Anyways, I had Mr. I-Should-Have-Called-In-Sick drop me off at Yoshi Hachi, which is a famous sushi restaurant down from my apartment. It's the easiest landmark to guide drivers and is always frequented by American military personnel. I could see a group of men eyeing my taxi (although I briefly thought it was me, and then I remembered that I had been walking in the wind all day) and were ready to jump in once I got out. I gave them a shake of the head and wished them luck. We all know they've had their smallpox immunizations, but I hope they've also had their TB boosters.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Saving the Princess with the Duke

I have never heard a peep from my next door neighbors. I never hear them talking, cooking, opening the door. Some days I wonder if anyone even lives there. The other night at 2 am, I got up to use the restroom and heard some music coming through the walls in the bathroom. It wasn't loud and it took a minute in my sleepy stupor to put together the melody. And then it hit me! Super Mario Brothers! Old-school style. And I could tell that they were in the underground parts because of the duh duh duh duh duh duh. (You know the song) I went back to bed with a smile. Hmmm...I wonder if they have Zelda...

And my other excitement is that I am now a part of the "Synchronized Swimming/Dancing English Department" which will have its debut and only performance at the end-of-2006 party in a couple of weeks. The team has been working diligently to amaze the rest of the faculty with spot-on precision and pyramid-building skills. I've only made one practice, but I must say, there will probably be roses thrown on stage at the end of the performance. Or maybe not. Actually, the dance is amusing in a Japanese way... In other words, in America, it might get a smile or two, but in Japan, people will be rolling in the aisles laughing. Some things just don't translate. One move involves showing "muscles" and the way they do it resembles Pee Wee Herman's "Tequila!" dance. I explained this and it took 5 minutes for the group to regain composure. Anyway, from what I gather, we will be wearing swim caps and nose plugs. The teachers asked me if I have "gogos" and I said, "Gogos? What?!" three times before I understood that they were trying to convey the word "goggle." Oh, right. Guess a trip to the 100 yen store is in order. There is also a move that they do that is called "The Duke" after a famous aerobics instructor or the like. While performing this walk, I asked if anyone else was in pain. It is a completely awkward move and just like the classes at the gym, not natural for Westerners at all. They thought it was quite funny that I was throwing my back out (and my shoulder blade is killing me today, although it might not be related). Hmmmm..might have to sabotage the performance by stepping out of line during the synchronized bit. Revenge is sweet... I also inserted a bit of my cheerleading background into the routine. They originally wanted to make a pyramid 4-3-2 style, but were debating whether this might be a bit too advanced, even for our professional troupe. I suggested we make three little pyramids where the middle person just jumps up and puts their feet on the bases' thighs. The idea fit in perfectly with the music and they are even going to hold up signs to get the crowd going! This party was supposed to be next Friday but they moved it to a Monday evening... Either no one is going to have any fun at the party or I am going to be bringing my camera on Tuesday morning to capture everyone looking their best.

Finally. A gripe. I was told before arriving in Okinawa that it gets cold. I was doubtful, but sent myself a couple of sweaters just in case. It is rapidly becoming the middle of December and right now I am wearing capris and a light shirt. It is supposedly 79 degrees today (11 in Chicago!) and although a light jacket is needed early in the morning and in the evening, I was sweating in class today. At least I can put on one of the sweaters for the plane ride home. I am still waiting for the cooler weather. Maybe in January? Of course, in January/February, our cherry blossoms start blooming which is about three months earlier than the rest of Japan.

Monday, December 04, 2006

"Rachel! You are a decorating genius."

I spent two hours this morning bringing a little holiday spirit to Chatan High School. And the effort has received rave reviews. I made 10 elves with each sensei's name on it. Apparently, it's the height of sophistication. And on the other side, an introduction to the Twelve Days of Christmas. Sugoi! I also brought in candy and other odds and ends to decorate. Another teacher had a simliar idea and I resisted taking away her bunny cloth that she put under my Christmas gear. It's the thought that counts, right? I don't have to be Martha Stewart. I've also put a picture of my desk... You can see all the "kawaii!!!!" dog pictures that my mom so lovingly sends me. :)

I had my first "Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Christmas Edition" game today. I played with the same class that I posted pictures of from Halloween. They were amazing! Totally into it and as "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" played (one minute with a superfast beat) they rushed up with their answer sheets before the final notes. They also crawled to the front of the room to listen to the song lyrics that I had picked for questions. I was actually sad that a class was over. Tomorrow I am trying it with a lower level class, so I have a feeling some adjustments will have to be made, but as long as I can wear my reindeer antlers, I'm set.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

You Are a Losing Lottery Ticket!

Full of hope and promise.
But in the end, a cheap letdown.

Oh, Tanenbaum

It's impossible to take a good picture of a fiberoptic Christmas tree, but I can assure you that it's sparkly lights have already filled me with Christmas joy. I think the agenda for tonight is to watch some lovely TV and drink some hot cocoa. It's actually chilly enough to consume hot drinks. I even wore jeans and a sweatshirt today and have to bundle up for bed. Some nights you can feel the wind coming in between the cracks in the walls. Anyway, my mental well-being went up 20 points thanks to this little tree.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Prada prices for the cinema

I have only been to an actual movie theater once since arriving in Okinawa. In the States we frequently complain about ticket prices, but can always opt for a little matinee to save a few bucks. Here, though, the prices are downright outrageous. It costs 1600 yen on a normal day to see a movie. That's about $15 USD. Unreal. They do have a Ladies Day on Wednesdays where prices are a "low" 1200 yen. The one time I was willing to pay the Ladies fare was to see Johnny Depp in "Pirates." There are just some people worth paying the big bucks to see on the big screen. Anyways, yesterday a fellow ALT found out that tickets were only 800 yen! What a bargain! So a group of girls decided to go see "The Devil Wears Prada." We arrived about 45 minutes early and the lines were immense. Normally no one goes to the theater past 8 pm, but this time the lines were excessively long. We decided to buy tickets right then and got the last seats. Literally. Front row in the middle. Now, wouldn't it make sense --- since so many people turned out for 800 yen night --- to drop prices for everyday movies? They would definitely rake in more money. In Thailand, we saw every new release they had as they were opening in the United States. And for about $3 with popcorn. Here, you have to wait six months, although James Bond is here and I wish I would have seen that one, but it was already sold out... and there's no concept of matinees... Two good points about last night. 1) They don't rip you off in the popcorn section, so I got to enjoy some caramel corn and pop for a very affordable $3!.. and 2) The movie put me in a serious mood for shopping. Watch out for Rachel and her debit card in three weeks! Unfortunately, my neck still isn't moving properly. I've only sat in the front row one other time (don't worry, Ken, I won't mention which one) and last night I had nightmares about Meryl Streep's pores.

This was my first time wandering Mihama on a weekend night for quite sometime. I saw numerous students in groups wandering around, eating in the food court, following me on the escalator. It is shocking to them that I'm outside of school and it is hilarious to watch them process the fact. Generally, I say, "HELLO!" and they say, "Huh. *sucking in breath* Sensei!" and then they start grabbing all of their friends and pointing and saying hello. At least here they don't tail me and follow me home like they did in the States. Even if I don't see the students, I hear that they saw me the next time I have in class. Of course, they're too afraid to actually tell me this, but the teachers translate. Speaking of translating, this week, a fellow teacher and I took a major step in team teaching and taught an entire class in English, forcing the students to pay attention to both of us in order to understand what was going on. It worked amazingly well, but she's one of the few teachers who is very confident in her English and she truly wants her students to learn the language. Some of the other teachers don't speak English the entire class period. I don't even know if they do when I'm not in the classroom.

I wish I had more exciting things to write about except movie prices, but this week was rather dull. I did actual teaching and lesson planning and spent my evenings at home. This weekend is being spent cleaning and doing random shopping, plus some affordable movie renting!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas"

Can't you tell?

Although I didn't get to experience the joys of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie this last weekend with my family, I had a fantastic weekend in Okinawa. On Friday afternoon, I boarded a bus to head up to the northern city of Nago to meet up with some friends. The bus ride was actually quite amazing as it wound its way up the coast as the sun was setting. It passed beautiful resorts and beaches, some complete with lit Christmas trees. There was a chapel on one beach in which a couple had apparently just been married. Upon arrival in Nago, I enjoyed a filling meal at a local izakaya (restaurant) and then we headed off to a small bar on the beach where we listened to some live music before heading outside for some conversation and stars.

Saturday was going to be a day to check more tourist items off my expanding list. Thankfully, the minute we stepped outside, we knew it was going to be a perfect day for some outdoor activities. Amy and I met up with Christina, her friend from the mainland, and Juhi and headed to the famous Motobu aquarium. Everything about the complex was impressive and with the cloudless sky, absolutely beautiful. We frolicked in the musical fountain, sat on the beach and watched naked children splash about, and enjoyed a dolphin show with the ocean as the backdrop. It also got hot! We began seeking shade and cold drinks... It's the end of November!

After enjoying the aquarium, we headed to the top of a hill for some famous Motobu pizza. At this restaurant perched on the hillside with a view of the ocean, you have two choices of pizza - small or medium. And you can add a salad too. The pizza was yummy and the atmosphere was perfect for a day of sightseeing. We decided that even though sleepiness was setting in, we should go and visit the Butterfly Garden which we had passed. Although it wasn't a gigantic park, there was a butterfly building in which you could take amazing photos and enjoy having butterflies nestled on your head thanks to a nectar-infused hat. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful day. Amy and I spent the evening making root beer floats and watching "Grey's Anatomy" which pretty much made it a 10/10 day.

On Sunday, we decided to head to another sightseeing spot before I headed back to Chatan. After perusing the options, we decided to go to the Nago Paradise Park where we were greeted by monkeys (my favorites). There wasn't a ton to see and do at this particular place, but we did get to walk outside in some more amazing weather and make pressed flower keychains. Nothing like some arts and crafts!

I'm hoping this weather holds for a couple more weeks, but I guess I shouldn't get my hopes up too high. It does make up for missing the holidays, but only a little. Hope everyone has had their pants adjusted for the holiday season! I have done some of my Christmas shopping but don't have to worry about shoving people out of my way. Trees are up and there are lights on many of the buildings, which is comforting, if not a little strange to see the Okinawan version of Christmas decorating. I am currently debating whether to buy a Santa that sings and plays a saxophone because it reminds me of the one we have at home...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Can I have "Annoying Teachers" for $200, Alex?

Answer: This is a complete waste of time.
Question: What is trying to play a game with an unmotivated teacher and students?

This job can be absolutely maddening. Happy Thanksgiving again to everyone and I am thankful for so much, but I need to vent a little during this holiday season...

Today I was scheduled to teach two classes and both teachers wanted my famous Jeopardy game. Apparently, putting some questions together in about five minutes and yelling "YES! NO!" a lot makes me a teaching genius. If you are doubting my teaching abilities, I will have you know that I do make different levels of the game for different classes. My first class was with my absolute least favorite teacher and yet each time I enter this particular class, I somehow forget how terrible it's actually going to be. It always hits me about two minutes in when the girls won't shut up and have their backs turned to me. And the best part of this teacher is that he has no control and doesn't even attempt to get students involved. We played Jeopardy though. I had two boys who were really into it and they racked up $13000 because, despite the girls answering two questions at the end, they were the ONLY students participating. I was fairly excited, though, that they got some of the more difficult questions correct without excessive prodding and hint-giving. Real potential. Too bad they have this particular teacher.

After third hour, my mood was sour and I was feeling really low. I contemplated using some vacation time and just calling it a day. Having a bad class like that also makes you dread your next class which today was immediately after with a teacher I only like slightly better. This time I had some third years and the game was hilarious. Every student was involved...even the ones not answering were discussing questions in their groups. It was competitive and moved quickly. And I rebounded quickly as a result.

I just have to remember that it's Friday! I should have a lovely weekend in the north as long as the weather behaves (80 degrees and sunny today) and I get to down some famous Motobu pizza. Plus, I just started reading Anna Karenina and can't put it down. I figure I have another hour of solid reading time ahead before taking off of the weekend. Maybe a gingerbread latte for the road. Tis the season! And for these things, I am truly thankful.

And congrats, Kelli and Kannan! I kept forgetting!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Did anyone mail me some stuffing?!

Last Saturday morning was a cozy one to spend inside since there was torrential rain and wind. In fact, thanks to the CNN scrolling news, I found out that a tornado hit Camp Schwab in the north of the island. All the little local news blurbs this week have referenced it as a "microburst"... like a tornado, but not. Same same, but different. Today at school the sky began to look rather ominous again and everyone was a bit on edge, waiting for the outburst. It hit around one and for the first time, I witnessed thunder and lighting in Okinawa. Usually it just rains, but today the weather pulled out all of the stops. I was wondering when I should start fashioning an ark. I even asked, "typhoon?!" and was assured it wasn't. During my class last hour, I had to scream over the rain pounding on our makeshift metal buildings. No one seemed too concerned about another "microburst," so I tried not to think about how I was perched on a hill in a flimsy building.

Maybe the energy that comes with the rain should be channeled every day. My classes were great today. I played Jeopardy with one of the "more difficult" classes and they were amazingly into it. Students were pushing each other to answer first and wouldn't give up on any questions, no matter how difficult. I spent almost the entire class laughing. They had some great guesses for an American city known for the Sears Tower and being the "Windy City." It took numerous other clues, but only when I mentioned Michael Jordan did I get a "CHICAGO!" yelled.

During lunch today, I was chatting with a couple of teachers about Thanksgiving and Christmas foods and traditions. Somehow, one of the teachers brought up ice cream that is put on a slab and ingredients are worked into it. I was so excited and yelled, "Coldstone Creamery! Where did you have it?!" Sadly, she said she only saw it on TV, but it looked amazing. Then she mentioned that maybe I should open a store in Okinawa. I'm pretty sure it would be a success, considering a third Starbucks is being opened in Chatan within a two block radius. Anyone want a new business venture?! And it also got me thinking... Laura M., we have two dates already: Coldstone and Moon Monkey. And yesterday I tried to explain to this same Coldstone teacher the differences between "trashy," "white trash," and "ghetto." She brought up Britney Spears and K-Fed (Wow. K-Fed) and I tried to explain the downward slide into white trashiness. Sometimes you just have to bring up visual aids to demonstrate. She asked, "So Paris Hilton?" And I said, "Just trashy." "Oh! Because she is fancy." Close enough.

Tomorrow there isn't any school thanks to a Labor Day of sorts, which is conveniently on Thanksgiving Day. I haven't located any Thanksgiving meals, but I'll find a yummy substitute somewhere. I was cornered by a crazy American who lives by the school and told he knew people having meals... I quickly made up plans. I think tomorrow I'll continue an American tradition - just a day early. Christmas shopping! Hopefully my arms will be full of goodies to bring home and maybe a few things for myself.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving. This is the second straight year I haven't been in the States to celebrate. I miss it. A lot. So, watch the Macy's Day Parade, eat way too much, take three naps, eat some leftovers, watch some football, and plan your Friday shopping... and Happy Thanksgiving!

A picture to close... I keep forgetting to publish this photo. Notice anything strange?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Afternoons and coffeespoons

The majority of this last week was not spent in school... Which isn't really that big of a change. What was different was that I spent my days meeting, greeting, and brainstorming with other Okinawa ALTs at our mid-year conference. Mind you, there is no way that it is mid-year in any sense of the word. I wish I could say that every session was fascinating, but I can assure you that I have some new games to play at school and am ready to broaden my "entertainer" bag-o-tricks. The main reason for such conferences, I truly believe, is to allow for some socialization. On the first day, Wednesday, after the lectures in the afternoon, there was a photo scavenger hunt. I decided to jump ship and join the friendly folks in the north for the competition. We got supercompetitive and very creative with some of the clues. We found almost every item in record time and showed up at the designated time...only to find that we were the only team that really got its act together to compete. Winners by default, but a victory is a victory.

As you can see from the photos, I had two great new additions to the apartment during the evenings. Thanks to sore throats and the general pandemonium of getting around, evenings were spent watching girl movies, eating ice cream, and chatting even when we said we were tired and needed to go to bed. Anyway, usually people don't have a reason to stay in Chatan, so thanks, Juhi and Amy, for keeping me company! See you next weekend!

As Thanksgiving approaches this week, I have been asking around to see if there are any Thanksgiving meals around on the island somewhere. I'm having dreams of stuffing and hot rolls and pumpkin pie. I even miss having football on the TV a bit. The best news is that although I won't be able to enjoy some turkey with the family in November, I will be devouring Grandma's Eagle Brand pudding in December. That's right! On December 22nd, I'll be touching down at O'Hare International Airport. Cue the cheesy "I'll be Home for Christmas" music... Supposedly, my classy parents are picking me up in a stretch limo. VIP Christmas visitor. I can't wait to enjoy a freezing cold holiday in cozy pajamas and hot chocolate. (It was 81 degrees here this afternoon) I will be lounging around central Illinois until January 8th which is plenty of time for some social activities... Some chats over coffee and plenty of stories to be told and tales to hear. I'm counting the days.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Letting off some conference steam!

It was a rough few days of conferencing. Thankfully my new roommates, Amy and Juhi, were up for some good old-fashioned PhotoBooth on my computer. We feel better now.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chocolate Milk

Tonight I get to meet with Crazy Gym Lady. I avoided her like the plague for a couple of weeks because the last time we met, she invited a friend who then invited me to her house to teach her 26-year-old son English. "Oh, you born in 1-9-8-0. He born in 1-9-8-0." That's a bit too much for me. The other day, though, I went into the sauna at the gym and there she was sitting there. I couldn't just walk out. So, anyways, we set up this little playdate at Mr. Donut for the evening and apparently she has some omiyage (gift) for me from her trip to Kyoto. Nothing like making me feel bad... But she's still crazy.

Also, funny story from the other night. I was walking back to my apartment in the dark, approaching the stairs that I have to take to get near my complex... and leaning against the rail were two young people who had evidently been giving their lips a workout. I just kind of peered at them in the dark and gave them a "Konbanwa (good evening)" and got one in return. I didn't know if they were my students or not (no uniforms...can never tell) until the boy turns and says, "Sensei (teacher), secret..." with a finger up to his lips. A couple of lessons here: 1) Naughty children are everywhere. 2)Naughty in Okinawa is not quite as naughty as some of the things I witnessed with American students. 3)Students refuse to speak simple English sentences like "How are you?" and yet can throw out a "secret" when needed. Omoshiroi (interesting). :)

Finally in this random entry... I don't know what kind of littering goes on in this park, but that's some fine to pay.

Hop on!

Some people have expressed amazement at my usage of the Okinawan bus system. So, in case you decide to visit (hint, hint), here's a brief tutorial on how to work the system.

First things first, you must find a stop. Look for curved little yellow signs with bus routes posted on them. You'll need to know what number you want to catch and make sure you can read military time! It's also helpful to note that there are different route times for Saturdays and Sundays. When you see your bus approach, you must signal that you want it to stop. Buses are pretty infrequent so make sure you get on it when you see it! Next to my apartment, I have a bus that leaves at 10:27 and 1:02 on weekends. They are the two most convenient times and I have committed them to memory. Very helpful. Also, I don't really notice being stared at in Okinawa except when I'm waiting for a bus. I guess it's a pretty rare sight to see a Westerner standing either alone or with a bunch of locals waiting for a bus. Most military types are zipping around in cars with special license plates.

As you get on the bus, you must grab a little slip of paper with a number on it. (#2 on helpful diagram)...

And then just sit and enjoy the ride. I try to listen to the stops to become more familiar with the Japanese names. As your stop approaches, start digging in your change to get the fare. You are going to pay the amount that is under your number on the board in front. It goes up gradually (see #3). Easy. Except you have to have exact change. What if you don't? Then take your 500 yen coin or 1000 yen bill and stick it in the machine in front while the bus is completely stopped at a light (#5). Try not to fall on your face as you walk back and the bus suddenly lurches forward. When they announce your stop or you can see it, hit the little button on the wall next to your seat. And finally pay your money in the little slot as you leave (#6). And there you have it. A successful ride!

Here's a picture of my bus map. It's all in Japanese, but thankfully my predecessor translated some of the stops and I have used my own knowledge to fill in some gaps as well.

There are definite pros and cons to taking the bus versus having a car. Although it does make life a bit more inconvenient, I haven't had to pay for gas, insurance, road taxes, etc. And many new ALTs who bought their predecessors' cars have already had them break down and need serious work. Usually getting somewhere isn't a huge problem, it's getting a convenient bus back that takes a bit of strategy. Just don't panic. That's what I've learned. Okinawa is a small island. You can't get too far away from home.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Crunch, crunch, crunch!

This afternoon, the entire high school made the trek to a cultural center to see a traditional Ryukyu play, of which I had heard nightmarish things about. People admitted to falling asleep, the teachers said they can't even really understand what is being said, and students rolled their eyes at the mere mention of the play. To begin the afternoon, the students had to walk about an hour to get to the auditorium. They don't have school buses and while some kids took taxis, the majority of them walked. I have done some extremely long walks since arriving, but I had never made it that far. American students would never have walked without threatening lawsuits or just disappearing on the way. The play began with some traditional dancing and then the actual drama began. I thought the students would sit quietly and watch, but they continued to talk throughout the performance. Or at least until the last fifteen minutes. Either they suddenly found the play to be wonderful or they fell asleep. I had another teacher translating for me, but she couldn't understand most of it. The performers take the Okinawan dialect and draw each syllable out with some high-pitch monotone singing. Another teacher said she understood 5% of the dialect. The actual performance was only 45 minutes long and I'll admit it wasn't as torturous as I had anticipated.

What would have helped liven things up a bit would be a performance of John Leguizamo as Captain Vegetable, an amazingly hilarious skit that I watched on Sesame Street yesterday morning. I still have the vegetable song in my head! "It is I! Captain Vegetable!" It's pretty sad how much amusement that gave me. Although I'm happy that I must have had good taste in TV as a child since I was always glued to PBS. I searched high and low to find a picture or a video of the sketch, but can only offer the old-school version. Let's learn!

Speaking of learning, today I had a serious "A-ha!" moment thanks to my Japanese studies I have been doing on my own. I was looking at the announcement board for the English department and saw kanji that I thought I had learned yesterday. It was, in fact, "lunch" just as I had thought. It may seem little, but I'll take any victory I can get. Maybe Captain Yasai (vegetable) should teach me songs to make learning fun!

And here's a picture of me at the Pineapple Park in case your image of me is getting blurry.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Does this make me "snotty?"

You know, an iPod can only do so much. It can't perform miracles or change cultural mores.

I knew I was in trouble when I saw the teacher that sits next to me sniffling and carrying a towel. He's almost sent me off the deep end before and today I almost hit my breaking point. In Japan, when you have a cold, it is considered very rude to blow your nose in public. So, instead, they make disgusting sucking sounds so that you can hear the sinus matter being tossed about inside the nasal cavities. It is foul. And loud. My iPod on full volume could not block out the sound completely. And then there's the towel which was sometimes being used to dab at any material that escaped the sucking or just balanced over the nose to cover the mouth and chin. I swear if I am sick tomorrow... Oh, and a sidenote: There is an actual commercial on my free American network that discusses how to prevent colds from spreading and the importance of washing your hands. And then it recommends --- and I am not kidding here --- using your sleeve if you can't find a Kleenex. Enough.

But on a more positive note, we had a ladies luncheon today to welcome me and two other teachers. It was held at this luxurious resort/spa on top of a hill and surrounded by the "Beverly Hills" houses. All of the vegetables were organic and this was one buffet that I actually enjoyed. I had to give a minor speech and was presented with some lovely flowers. Had a little creme brulee to finish the meal and called it a day.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Chalk it up as a success!

I woke up this morning bright and early (8am) with big plans for my day. I was going to attempt for the first time to catch Bus #75 that stops right outside my apartment because I finally had a destination in mind that it happens to go to. Today was the second day of the Okinawan International Festival. Apparently, there are over 40 nationalities represented in Okinawa City (Koza) which is right next door to Chatan. Today there was supposed to be a tug of war and a parade. The amazing bit is that I found out all of this information on my own online and I don't think anyone else outside of the Okinawa City bubble even knew it was happening.

So, I walked out my door and waited for the bus at 10:27. By 10:50, I had successful disembarked at the exact bus stop I needed and began my wandering. What I didn't anticipate was that they would still be setting up and that no one would really be around. No worries, though, because I can always find somewhere to shop. I wandered around (browsing Christmas decorations!) and had a long lunch at Mos Burger. By this time, it was about 2:00 in the afternoon and although there were more people wandering the famous Gate 2 street, nothing was happening. Perfect time to find a peaceful cafe and do some journaling. I managed to find a "Simple" place...both in decor and name... and spent over an hour relaxing and watching people walk by. American families, Japanese families, American military band members, anyone and everyone. All of a sudden the parade began going by me in the coffee shop so I headed out and found a seat to watch the performances at the very beginning of the route. It was short little parade, but a lot of fun to watch because everyone was so excitable.

I then caught a bus to get to a different shopping center to pick up some Japanese language books (midterms this week...three classes to teach, must study) and walked home. Every time I navigate myself around using buses, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I know that having a car would be far more convenient and give me a larger radius for exploration, but I enjoy the walking and figuring things out. Guess I'm crazy.

Here are some of the pictures I snapped at the parade:

These girls were with a Latin American group. Many Okinawans immigrated to South America especially and there is a strong Latin culture here.

Young and old alike took part in the parade. The older women were quick with a smile to a "gaijin" with a camera!

I don't know what was up with this group. They had a fun and slightly weird performance and must have been high schoolers. Every time I put up my camera they would stop and everyone would jump into the photo.

Cute little girls dressed up and performing for the crowd. The kids in this parade were positively adorable.

Here's the tug of war rope from above. Definitely not as big as the one used at the Naha Matsuri. I wasn't sticking around to get smothered by a crowd again.

Eisa Drumming in Koza

I have been here over three months now and I witnessed Eisa drumming my very first weekend here. Since then, I have seen it done numerous times and each time, there is something about the music that stirs the Okinawan spirit in me. Amazing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Happy Culture Day!

Happy what?! Exactly. All I know is that it got me out of a day of school, so I want to send out some warm culture wishes. To celebrate, another ALT in the very northern part of Okinawa had a BBQ last night. I caught a ride with a really nice Hawaiian girl, Jenna, for the semi-long drive up the coast of the island. It was completely dark, but I could tell that it was beautiful and vastly different from my part of Okinawa. We got a bit lost thanks to too much talking and not enough speed limit sign counting. Yes, speed limit sign counting. No signs in this part of the island. We got there a bit later than everyone else, but had a great night hanging out with other teachers. At one point we ended up on the roof of the building talking and sitting right across the road from the ocean. The waves were amazing in the night. There's one of those surreal moments that keeps things interesting. And another great sight was nine people sleeping in Jenny's apartment. There wasn't an extra inch of tatami, yet everyone was comfortable and slept well until the school across the road started blasting "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" at eight in the morning. Apparently they didn't get the memo that there was no school today.

Somehow everyone got moving quickly this morning and we went to Cape Hedo, the most northern part of the entire island. It was fantastically windy and chilly.

We stood around and did the obligatory "oohs and aaahhhs" before driving to this strange bird on a hill.

Then we all climbed into the little miniature cars and drove back along the beautiful coast to Nago, a major city on the island. Our next stop was the Pineapple Park. It was only 500 yen which is about $4.50 and after going on the cute little pineapple cars that have no drivers, you get to drink pineapple wine, eat as many cookies and cake samples as you want, and devour pineapple chunks. We gorged. It was delicious!

Everyone was feeling a bit sugared out by the end of the tour and a few of us managed to find a hole-in-the-wall cafe for some real food (which the one man working cooked and served in a gourmet way) and more chatting. It was a nice day and I can finally check a few tourist items off of my list.

Tonight I was walking up to my apartment when I hear someone yelling, "Rachel! Rachel!" I thought it was Jenna and that I forgot something. But then I realized it was my student who was a foreign exchange student near Springfield, Illinois, last year. She's my neighbor and we had a nice conversation with her leaning out of her window and me on my stairs. We decided we should set up some cans and string and chat back and forth or have a flashlight pattern to communicate with. And then I put on a sweatshirt (YES! A sweatshirt!) and walked to rent some movies. I started wandering the store and I hear "Rachel! Rachel!" and there were three of my students wandering the movie aisles with me. They wanted to know my "three best movies" and we wandered around. I was glad they were there to show me which movies were dubbed in Japanese and which have Japanese subtitles. They were cute, although picking out some really lame movies. Poor things.

So, tonight I'm going to relax with my new VCR/TV and think about what I want to do tomorrow. I love long weekends.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Living on the Edge! ... of boredom

I am at a loss for what to write about lately. I have settled into a routine and there hasn`t been anything superexciting to write home about! So, the only thing I can think to write about is this routine that I have settled into!

My alarm goes off at 6:30 and each day it is darker and darker outside (no daylight savings time) and surprisingly, I usually pounce out of bed to get ready for the day. Sometimes I start a load of laundry and I always turn on my shower to give it a good ten minutes to warm up. In the meantime, I turn on my new TV to watch “Good Morning, America” and start up my computer, which thanks to some sort of glitch can sometimes take a couple of tries. I check to see if I have any emails, resist reading them until breakfast, and hop in the shower. After a nice long shower, I finish getting ready and begin breakfast, which has become a sort of art for me. It takes six minutes to make toast in my oven/microwave/toaster contraption and the bread needs to be flipped at the three minute mark. In the meantime, I am packing my bag, making chocolate milk or tea, ironing my clothes for the day, and timing everything just right. Once my toast is ready, I can sit and watch TV and read all of the emails that you lovely people send me.

At 8:00 when Sesame Street begins on TV, I start my ten minute walk to school. On the way down the stairs, I look out at the ocean each day and think, “Wow. I`m in Japan” and then continue on my way. There are beautiful flowers that line the path on the way and I see the same construction people each morning. Once I get to school, I stamp in with my inkan (seal thing that is used for documents instead of signatures) and sort out my desk, saying “Ohayo gozaimasu” to everyone and anyone who walks near me. (Translation: Good morning) At 8:30, the morning teacher`s meeting begins with the piped in music that is used instead of bells. There aren`t enough chairs for me to actually sit where the meeting is, so mercifully I am spared from having to actually listen and can sit on my computer reading the news and checking everyone`s blogs. After the meeting, I sometimes go to my assigned homeroom class and take attendance. I can finally whip through the names with the best of them. In Japan, teachers move to the class, not vice versa. So my homeroom will stay in that same classroom all day and teachers come to them. All teachers have desks together in a communal teacher`s room. There are ten minute passing periods, yet it always seems that the teachers are still standing around when the second chime goes off, thus arriving late for almost every class.

Anyways, after homeroom, I sit at my desk waiting for my two classes that I will probably have that day. Sometimes I do some lesson planning, although I usually get too far ahead of myself. Recently, I did the Japanese language course sent to us through the JET Programme in about one day. It`s supposed to take four weeks. I have also been studying for the GRE and, of course, doing sudoku puzzles to fill the time. I also schedule in bathroom breaks to get a little bit of a stretch in. The vice-principals sitting across from me and watching my every move probably think I have a kidney issue. Mornings are long, especially because lunch doesn`t begin until about 1:15, so I am constantly trying to resist all of the candy and cookies that are always around my desk. Everyone eats lunch in the teacher`s room at big long tables. There aren`t assigned seats and we don`t have to eat a school-provided lunch. We order ours from a sort of fastfood/takeout place and I`m already getting a bit tired of the selection. If I decide to bring my own lunch, I am assaulted with numerous questions about my kiwi, sandwich, yogurt, etc. “Do you like yogurt? Do you eat it every day? Is that enough for you? Oh, healthy.” Sometimes it`s easier just to eat what they`re consuming.

The afternoon usually goes by much quicker since there are only two class periods before the end of the day. The rice at lunch always makes me sleepy, although I have yet to actually fall asleep at my desk. At 3:45 students arrive to “clean” the area, but I`ve never really seen any hardcore cleaning done. Usually they stand around me to talk and beg for candy. Most teachers will stay at school until at least 7 in the evening to show that they are dedicated and hardworking. Not me! At exactly 4:15 I am out the door and walking to the gym. I spend the next hour and a half sweating and moving my legs after a long day at a desk. I used to go later in the evening, but I think I mentioned that there is a crazy lady at the gym who is blatantly using me for English lessons. Well, it`s gotten a bit extreme with her wanting to meet every week and also wanting me to “teach English” to all of her friends too. So, I have successfully avoided her for the last two weeks. It does feel a bit Mission:Impossible some days!

My legs barely make it home after my 7 ks on the treadmill, especially because I have to walk uphill and then climb some stairs. Sometimes, I have to run to the supermarket which is absolutely packed at 6:00 in the evening because Japanese folk tend to shop for their meal on the day of because refrigerators are shockingly small. And this grocery store is tiny and cramped. I usually take out at least three children who are running wild through the aisles and without fail get stuck behind numerous old folks jamming the path. And every time I check out, I have a student there looking to see what I`m buying. “Yogurt, bread, milk. Sugoi.” Once I get home, I get my shower warmed up and start my computer/TV/dinner stuff and prepare for a relaxing evening. There`s usually some crime drama on the TV in the evening and plenty of time to journal, email, and read. And blog. I have no excuse for my lame entries!

And then at about 10:00 another day in Japan is done and I crawl (literally…it`s just a piece of foam on the floor) into my “bed” and listen to dogs barking for about 10 minutes before falling asleep with all of the windows and sliding door wide open. And then – “second verse, same as the first!”

So, yes. No matter where you live, life always becomes routine and monotonous. It cannot be escaped. But there are enough surreal moments here in Okinawa to keep me on my toes.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Free Glitter Graphics, Cartoon Dolls, Animated Icons, Friendster Graphics, Piczo Graphics, MySpace Graphics, MySpace Codes, MySpace layouts, Doll Codes from

Hope everyone has a very HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Enjoy some candy corn for me!

And drag your feet in the crunchy leaves for good measure.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bobbing for apples

Most days as I sit here at my desk, I wonder what in the world I am getting paid to do. Today, for instance, I do not have a single class to teach. Actually, I only have eight classes this whole week and four of them were Wednesday. And to say that I "teach" on other days is a gross exaggeration. I generally show up and speak some words in English that they will never be tested on or expected to ever know again. The students do not have homework and are not held accountable in any way except a midterm and final. And I somehow doubt that these tests really examine their speaking or comprehension skills. But enough of that! Not being a real teacher does have its advantagesĂ‚… like when you get to teach holidays.

These pictures summarize my month of October. I bought some simple costume pieces at the 100 yen store and loaded up on candy. Students were challenged to memorize the ever-popular rhyme, "Trick or treat! Smell my feet! blah blah.. Show you my underwear!" I've mentioned they will do anything for candy and what better way to incorporate candy into a lesson than with some trick-or-treating. With my lower level classes, I taught them 20 popular costume names on cards with photos. And then with my fun classes, we played a quick game of charades. One class was particularly enthusiastic, even though they generally refuse to do any other activity, they were all about running around a room pretending to be witches. Anyways, it was really hilarious because one of the largest Japanese kids in the whole nation belongs to this class and he was MOVING down the aisle to hit/pound/SLAM the desk first and yell "GHOST-O!" Also, yesterday during one my lame/quiet classes, I woke them up by riding a mop around and cackling like a witch. I also sunk my teeth into the neck of the poor kid in the front row. If they won't act, I will!

It doesn't feel like Halloween though. The weather forecast for the last week and the next one includes temperatures in the low 80s and sunshine. It's fantastic, but I would trade it all for some falling leaves and sweaters. I missed autumn last year too, but at least last year I found a place with some delicious (oishii) pumpkin soup. I better start hunting. Although this year, I do get to go to a party and celebrate in a proper costume.

My Thanksgiving lessons that I have already planned aren't as promising for fun and excitement, but Christmas is going to be out of this world.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Maybe I'll just be a pumpkin

Your Halloween Costume Should Be

A Flying Monkey

Halloween party in four days. This costume freaks me out. I wouldn't be able to look in the mirror all night. Emei Shan... Nepal shrines... Wizard of Oz... Scaaaaaary.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Where's George?

It's been a rough week.

And to make matters worse, I was at the sports center on Thursday night feeling ready to conquer a small hill on the treadmill when all of a sudden I was struck with one of my famous allergic reactions. Here I am--- no ID, no phrase book, and sicker than a dog--- surrounded by about 20 fellow gym-goers trying to make sure I don't die on their watch. I had blankets thrown on me, my blood pressure was taken, suddenly everyone spoke English and doctors came out of the woodwork, and before I knew it, I was on my way to the hospital in an ambulance. And with me, this lovely man from the gym, clutching my gym bag and looking absolutely petrified.

We got to the hospital and I'm already feeling a bit better by this point and had communicated what I shots I needed to receive to the EMTs. The doctor appeared quickly, unlike in the US, and I swear that I had this kid in class during my 6th hour class. He was unbelievably young, but spoke excellent English and made sure I got my prescribed medicines. And then two of my teachers that had been called showed up, looking worried, and ready to be put to use running errands. I was put in a sort of "recovery" room off of the actual emergency room and as my extrastrength antihistamine took effect and I began to feel drowsy, I watched two doctors totally flirting. I began forming dialogues in my head for the Okinawan version of "Grey's Anatomy." McDreamy... Mah-coo-Duh-ree-ah-me.

It's a long story, but I actually had to spend the night at the hospital. Thanks to national health insurance, it wasn't going to cost me too much to be observed for the night. So, for the first time in my life, I slept in a hospital bed in that same "recovery" room area with tons of other patients. Thankfully, my iPod had plenty of power to shut out some of the sounds of people in agony and crying babies. They woke me up every hour to check my blood pressure and such, but actually I got a decent night's sleep. I was back at school on Friday, much to the horror of my fellow teachers. I thought I was completely recovered, but then last night my body decided to have one last go with the allergens or else I had the straight-up stomach flu and spent another miserable night in my apartment. Thankfully, today I was able to recover with some Campbells Alphabet Soup (English alphabet too!), Sprite, and Saltines. Just what George would have ordered.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Steve-o meets Japan

This is a video that kids made for the talent show. This is only a clip. You should have seen the other stunts, including... using wax strips all over the body, falling on railings between the legs, being pulled by cars on bikes and crashing, polevaulting into bushes, and the crazy bug thing in this clip ended up on the kids nose. The mastermind? 1/2 American.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dancing with the stars...

A recap of Stage Festival ... 2006!

Day One: There was singing, dancing, acting, video productions, and general backstage pandemonium. I was impressed at times, shocked at moments, and my bum always hurt from sitting on the gym floor for hours at a time. But it was lovely.

Our act of "Urashima Taro" was quite the success. I would honestly have to say that it was the most elaborate. Students painted a beautiful backdrop to portray the ocean. All of them were dressed up in costumes. Some girls had cardboard fish around them, others were dressed as seaweed. We had a turtle with his underwear showing and some Power Ranger types with animal hats on. My part was short but memorable. I ran out with another teacher, Kei, and we kicked and punched Seiichiro the Turtle. I think I yelled "Son of a Testudine!" at the beginning, although it's all a bit of a blur. And then I started yelling "Peace and love! Peace and love!" because that's what they put on my T-shirt that I had to wear. Another kid, the hero of the story, tried to interrupt us and we took out our aggression on him. I thought the best part of our play was this one boy who dressed up as the underwater princess in a pink kimono-type outfit, makeup, and a wig. There was some real chemistry between our two stars on the stage. I thought it was going to be lame, I'll admit, when I saw the rehearsals... but those kids did an amazing job and had everyone laughing throughout.

Cross dressing, like our sea princess, was used in every single act. Boys dressing like girls apparently is universally the height of humor. I must say, some of them looked pretty good in their girl uniforms. At one point, a boy with a wig and a speedo on walked out during the fashion show and started pulling confetti out of his briefs. And threw it on people. Very disturbing.

I would have to say that the male sector is much more fun to watch... as seen on the videos. They really get into it and are highly entertaining. Some 2nd year boys made a video production which, although I couldn't really understand what they were saying, I found to be absolutely hilarious and creative. They even had outtakes. I don't think I've had them in class, but when they get to be 3rd years in March, I will. Can't wait!

Day Two:

Not quite as entertaining in the morning. I found it hard to pick a favorite group. I was a bit tired of the "dancing" and cross dressing by this point. In the afternoon, they announced the winners.... And my favorite boy group in the suits won. My homeroom got second though! Yessss!!! And the vice-principal makes kicking motions at me now thanks to my performance.

The afternoon also brought the talent show. We had some amazing mimes/dancers... I was seriously impressed. There were bands that gave me a headache and I had to ask another teacher if they were good or not since I don't know any of the music. There was a fashion show that spotlighted more skankiness although there was once again, an amazing display of creativity. The fashion show was actually controversial this year. Because of previous years clothing choices, there was originally a dress code, but the students appealed to the teachers and the dress code was made less strict. Maybe they should bring back the code... I'm not sure I should be seeing such sights at school.

After cleaning up, I was surprised to find out we were having a "moon viewing party" on the roof of the school. It had been cancelled earlier in the month. Since there isn't a full moon any more, the math teachers rigged up a spotlight to give ambiance. It wasn't bad to look at Mihama all lit up with the ferris wheel going around. We ate some yummy finger foods and grilled meat and then I started to hear my name during one of the speeches. "Rachel...speech." I thought they were kidding. They weren't. Thankfully, this time, I had a translator and each time she translated, I could think of more witty things to say. I had them rolling. Overall, the stage festival was memorable, if a bit long. And I'm glad to have Monday off.

Postscript: I found out that in the video of my favorite group with the suits, the guy in white is the homeroom teacher! Hilarious!

Some members of one class did a dance routine while the rest of the class did some graffiti. At the end they turned it around and showed the results. Not bad for 10 minutes...