Thursday, August 31, 2006

Quote of the Day, "Body odor. Is that right, Rachel? Masaru, you have body odor."

A new classic Rachel moment... fresh from Chatan.

I walked into my bedroom and saw some sort of blob under my mirror. I gave a quick glance and saw a centipede type bug with little tiny legs. I walked calmly to grab a shoe to smash it and some paper towels to clean up the aftermath. I got it under the shoe and pressed down to suck all of the life out of the little critter. I looked at the wreckage and saw --- I kid you not --- a feather. Oh, my.

For those of you worrying about my bathroom light, it's all solved. I risked life and limb and hung off of my washer and managed to reach the light... I was a bit worried about cracking my head open on the urinal. And as far as naming my little shrine guy, it was a tough choice, but I have made my decision. So, little urinal man is now Splinky P.P. Koko-san.

Speaking of bathroom matters, check out this photo that I see numerous times on my way to school. I love it. I laugh every time but then I wonder why no one follows the rules. There is dog poo everywhere. You cannot walk at night.

Today was my first real official day of school. The end of my anonymity walking around the neighborhood. I had to give a speech that was supposed to be five minutes long today at the opening assembly. I asked Takako-sensei how much Japanese I had to speak and she said maybe 4 lines was enough. So we worked on a couple of things, but then Ken was a great sensei himself and taught me some more Japanese lines last night. I boosted my Japanese to eight lines, including a tongue-twister word I could never pronounce. I tested it this morning on two teachers and they said they understood me fine. And then the assembly...

Imagine a Japanese school. Uniforms. Extreme respect for authority. Proper behavior. Great grades.

Now throw that out the window and picture one kid with one pantleg rolled up, towels on their heads, boys with earrings and an utter disregard for being quiet during an assembly. Even when the principal is speaking. Teachers tried to get them to quiet down by counting to 20. They counted to 20 five times. I kid you not. They have no concept of glaring or yelling. Or punishment in general. So, I realized that the students could care less about me, except the few students who have already talked to me. I gave my speech (8 lines in Japanese and the rest translated) and only heard a few snickers. Probably because everyone else was discussing their summer break.

After the assembly, I had my first class with Masaru. I was warned about this class. When I got there, there were thankfully only 20 students. The thing that is striking to me is that these students just lounge around. I was giving my self-introduction information and a couple of kids got up and switched desks across the room. I'm not allowed to use discipline. The English teacher is "supposed to be genki all the time!" So I started my activity. Despite heavy nodding, I realized that Masaru really did not get the concept of the game. But as a teacher, I can adapt. It ended up that it worked out nicely with both of us rotating around the room. I wish I could say that these students are eager to soak in English like a sponge, but in reality, it's a class they have to take two times a week in order to graduate and most could care less about speaking another language. Apathy is international!

Tomorrow I teach three classes and then the teachers are throwing me a welcome party, which should be interesting. I guess they really let their hair down at these things, although I can't really picture it as of yet. But it could be absolutely hilarious and I can't wait. Here's to teaching in Japan---


Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I have a couple of very serious problems that need to be solved. Calling all Stephen Hawking wannabes.

#1 - In my bathroom I have a bright fluorescent light. At least it's bright when it goes on. But every day it takes longer and longer for it to go on and always includes excessive flickering. Tonight it won't even really go on. (Thank goodness for the kitchen light, although it's still dark enough to make me scared thanks to the spider incident). So, here's the problem. Get out a notebook. I can tell the lightbulb is a round one but don't know if it has one ring or two. The middle one could be burnt out. Now you'd think that I could just take off the cover, buy a lightbulb, and change the thing. However, if you have seen pictures of my apartment, you will notice the absence of anything over 3 inches off of the ground. I'm tall, but I'm not that tall. So, how do I change a lightbulb without being able to reach it? Can't move the toilet. Can't climb on the sink. My bed is a foam mat and my only chair has no legs. It's quite the problem and I need some inspiration. The catch is... it can't cost money or involve me speaking in Japanese to anyone. Go to it!

#2 - Even more serious, my little shrine guy needs a name. He's in the urinal and wants to be called something memorable and downright fitting. And it must be appropriate. Here's a pic of the little guy.

A couple of announcements as well --- 1) A certain friend needs to tell me whether I can tell everyone some exciting news. 2) Everyone who has a skype number needs to email it to me. 3) Everyone who has a phone number needs to email it to me. 4) Everyone needs to go back to the college days and get an AIM name. Once you register, email me your name. Even better, get a camera for your computer so we can chat live. Ken and I are amazed every time we talk via video. Absolutely amazing.

I haven't done too much exploring as of late. It has been hotter the last couple of days than it has been since we arrived. I even turned on my air conditioning, which makes it even harder to venture outside. Another ALT took me on a mini-road trip last week and we ended up at a castle and then saw some rocks we wanted to drive to. We ended up on a fairly abandoned beach with the tide coming in. It was a fantastic discovery and, of course, I didn't bring my camera.

School begins on Thursday and apparently I have to give a speech in Japanese to the 900 students and faculty. No one else appears to be worried about this development and haven't gotten around to actually teaching me Japanese. Thankfully, Ken is now a master of the language and he's going to write something out for me and coach me through it. I have discussed my first day of class with the teachers, presenting my games and ideas. The frustrating bit is that it is very difficult to gauge their reactions. Are they pleased? Intimidated? Disappointed? So, I'm just going to trust my own teaching instincts and go for it.

Here's a random picture of my apartment building. There are only 5 apartments, even though it's a fairly massive building. The first and second floors make up the landlady's house. And they're adding on an entryway that looks fairly elaborate. It is a pretty new building and the roof is distictive, which is helpful when you're a bit turned around.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


I have internet! I have internet! And it didn't take the full five weeks. I can now make real apostraphes instead of backwards ones. I can post pictures and talk to people via skype once I buy a mic. I can post, post, post away and actually do my job at work. (Or maybe not...) I just chatted with Brooke. I'm connected to the world again! I want to thank the nice English-speaking ladies at Fad-Tech, the NTT guy who was so concerned that I understood how my line worked, and most of all--- whoever invented internet in the first place (Al Gore?).

Here is one of my two rooms---

Looking into my apartment from the entry way---

And for some reason, I can't get this to post vertically, so tilt your head and see the scene of the spider fight as well as the blue urinal. Fantastic!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Not a bad view...

Some views from my apartment... You can see the ocean in the background and if you look hard you can see the Mihama Village ferris wheel.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Eight legs too many

A story ---

Last week after our night at the Beer Dome in Naha, I stayed with an Australian named Sandy at her apartment. She had asked me the night before whether I was scared of spiders. I was hesitant to answer, but said, "No, unless they`re hairy."

I come to find out that she had a very scary spider in her bathroom and had shut it in between the window pane and the wall. We slept comfortably not worrying about the spider, but in the morning Sandy approached me about killing the beast. She was too afraid to open the window and informed me that the spider had only 4 legs. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical. I assumed it was probably just a big daddy longlegs type insect. So, with shoe in hand, I open the bathroom window and Sandy, who is standing outside, says it`s still there and still alive. I go out to see what I had to face and was shocked to see a HUGE brown, slightly HAIRY spider. With four legs. So, we gather our wits and decide to try to poke it out from it`s hiding spot. The broom just keeps the thing moving and we keep trying to shut it between the window and wall and smash it. Unfortunately, there is JUST enough room for the spider to live. I was a bit freaked out about the whole thing and decided that I just needed to get it done. I poked at the spider and it started running ... straight into the neighbor`s open bathroom window! I slammed Sandy`s window closed and ran into her house. Thankfully there are men in that apartment and we decided that after a few days they probably would find it and kill it. Sandy`s window would remain closed until then.

That brings us to today. I love my apartment. I love how sparse it is and how little stuff I really do have. There isn`t much to clean and it feels open and airy. I took a walk this morning and got ready to take a shower. Out of the corner of my eye I see something moving quickly on my blue tile. To my horror it is --- dum dum DUUUUM --- the same spider with eight legs. I quickly grabbed the bathroom sandals and started stalking my prey. The spider moved quickly but never really figured out how to hide behind things. He was exposed numerous times and finally I smashed him to bits. One leg remained on the floor after I cleaned up the carnage and flushed it down the toilet. It was one of those horrifying bugs that you know is still alive even after beating it to death. It might still crawl out of the toilet. This time with seven legs. So now I`m paranoid. I keep looking at all of the cracks in the walls. I am afraid to move clothes because one might dart out. So much for my Zenlike apartment.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Crazy Gaijin! (Foreigner)

On Monday, I finally got my fridge, gas range, and microwave (which doubles as an oven...fantastic). I had my usual "posse" to help me and they did all of the carrying. So, to show my thanks, which is required a lot in Japan, I bought some chocolate for Takako and made CDs with some of my favorite songs for the guys. Only one of the teachers, Kei, was here on Monday and Tuesday so I didn`t have a chance to present Sashitaka with his gift. He finally showed up to work today and when I gave him the CD, he started laughing with Kei. Apparently, Kei told him that I gave him a CD and must like him better. He was very disappointed to find out that I also had one for Sashitaka.

I was grabbed by an eager student today who yelled, "HI! YOU ARE FROM ILLINOIS!" I was a bit shocked at the outburst, but in between her excited gasps of breath, I figured out that she was recently a foreign exchange student near Springfield for a year. She was thrilled to have a link to her host country. Plus, I can understand her and she displays American mannerisms that can really only be picked up by living in a country. Very cute. There is another student that began speaking to me in fluent English and even said, "Oh, MAN!" about something. I found out he grew up in the United States, which is bizarre to think about.

The office is hopping today with tons of girl basketball players roaming about, loads of omiyage to eat (snacks that people bring in for the celebrate something or as a souvenir of a trip), popsicles being distributed, and general house cleaning. It`s the most lively it has been and makes me feel better about the school year because, to be honest, I have been bored to tears the last few days.

Yesterday I realized why everyone looks at me like I`m crazy when I go on my long walks. I got out of school at noon and decided to hike it to this shopping center that has an English book store. At noon. In the tropics. With the sun. I started out okay, but for the first time, started to feel like I was causing myself serious harm in the sun. I was absolutely drenched with sweat, my feet were swelling, and I almost lost the will to live as I walked along the expressway. It wouldn`t have been so bad if there was something great waiting for me. But, unlike Mihama Village and all of the cool cafes and shops, there was nothing at the Plaza House. The English `"book store" was a closet with $18 magazines. I was angry with myself for making such a dangerous walk and to have no reward in the end. So I did what any girl would do... I hailed a taxi and made him drive me to my favorite cafe where I sipped an iced coffee and did some crossword puzzles and just watched people. I recovered sufficiently and ended up having a pleasant evening in the company of another ALT, Jamie, who took me to a really relaxed and lovely cafe where we could hang out and discuss the ins-and-outs of living in Okinawa.

And that`s about it from Oki. I found out that my gas is going to be hooked up Friday morning and my internet will be hooked up Friday afternoon, so I have to stick around my apartment. It`s going to be a tough day at work. Speaking of, I wonder where our lunch is going to be from today...

Monday, August 21, 2006

You know you`re old when...

We had our conference in Naha on Thursday and Friday. Of course, there was the obligatory "big night out" with old and new JETs. It was nice to chat with everyone, but by the time the real partying began, I was ready to sleep. So I did. Everyone else showed up hungover to the meetings the next day and I was perky as ever. Yep. I`m too old for this stuff.

Then there was supposed to be the big weekend trip to Tokashiki Island on Saturday and Sunday. The forecast called for rain and I just wasn`t mentally prepared for skinny dipping and excessive drinking, plus rain and sleeping on the sand. So I found myself instead at the HUGE Eisa Drumming Festival which is coupled with the Orion Beer Festival. Everyone on the island was there and it ended with fireworks. I think that since I plan on staying only one year on the island, it`s better for me to soak up some culture with the locals (and ever-present military folk). I`m trying to rationalize not hanging out with fellow JETs... I was accompanied by another ALT, Bridgit, to the festival and we did do karaoke. We`re already comparing which places we like best and which systems make us sound better!

I don`t know if I mentioned that the school is under construction right now. I can see giant cranes all day and it is amazing how quickly it is all coming together. Supposedly, phase one is going to be done by the end of October/early November. That won`t help us during the heat of August and September, but is definitely something to look forward to.

I can`t believe that people are actually setting up blogs for me! Thanks, Aunt Carol! I seriously spend the first 30 minutes of my day checking out all of my bookmarked sites...


You Are 20% Evil

You are good. So good, that you make evil people squirm.
Just remember, you may need to turn to the dark side to get what you want!
You Are 20% Evil

You are good. So good, that you make evil people squirm.
Just remember, you may need to turn to the dark side to get what you want!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Long weekend!

My Thursday and Friday are going to be spent in Naha sitting through boring lectures and in uncomfortable clothes. Saturday and Sunday will find me on some island in Okinawa with a bunch of strangers sleeping on the beach. And today, I have been at school 10 minutes and was told I can leave. I think I`ll head to the shore. Rough days ahead.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Surfing and searching

My days are spent surfing the internet. I encourage everyone to start a blog for my sake! I have found myself reading complete strangers` ramblings. It`s pathetic and I`ve only been here a week. I don`t care how boring you think you are... Start a blog and tell me what you had for dinner! It`s much more interesting than staring at a wall with writing that I can`t read. Also, if you stumble across websites that have potential for amusing someone for hours, pass those along to me! I would say that once school actually starts that I`ll have things to do and will be busy, but from what I hear, that isn`t going to happen. The biggest risk with this job is madness associated with boredom. The White Sox are winning 4-0. Good stuff.

Yesterday I took yet another long walk and ended up at the 100 yen store. I know that dollar stores in the United States are generally made fun of, but you wouldn`t believe the stuff you can buy at the 100 Yen Plaza. Apparently, these stores make superlow contracts with China and Taiwan and can sell the same things as other stores dirt cheap and still make a huge profit. I bought markers, crayons, colored pencils, paper, a little Chinese figurine to stick into my forming urinal shrine, and loads of things that are actually useful! I bought all my dishes and glasses there, plus cleaning supplies and some frames.

I`m waiting for my alien registration card. I`m trying to be patient, but without it, I can`t get a movie rental card. (I know...what priorities) I also need it to complete the various processes associated with living in another country, such as setting up bank accounts, finalizing cell phone plans, paying for bills, etc. It`s a crucial piece of paper and I cannot wait to have it in my possession!

Ken is currently actually learning the language of the country in which we`re living. He got enrolled in a two week intensive language course in the capital of his prefecture. I wish I was learning some serious sentences so I have more to offer than my few phrases. Of course, my need for learning Japanese is pretty much non-existant in Okinawa. I haven`t had any problems so far, which isn`t helping my motivation level. White Sox 8-0.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Rock it out

I`m back at school this morning and wondering if any other teacher is going to show up today... It`s summer break and apparently they just don`t make appearances. It makes for a long day...

Besides snorkeling this last weekend, I somehow got dragged into a karaoke bar with another American, Bridgit. I have an intense fear of singing in public and couldn`t believe what I was doing. It ended up that we had our own room to perform in and we had an absolute blast picking every kind of song and laughing at our super renditions. We especially rocked it out on a `Lady Marmalade` duet and a Black-eyed Peas performance. Needless to say, I got over my fear, although I`m still not sure about singing in front of 10 other people.

One thing about Japan that is a bit difficult to accept, but at the same time, admirable, is that they have a zero tolerance alcohol limit. So if you have one sip of one drink, you are not driving that night. Obviously, there are taxis everywhere and they have one amazing service called Daiko. When you get a daiko taxi, you get two drivers. One of them will drive your car back to your place so you don`t have to go back and pick it up in the morning. And it doesn`t cost much more than a regular taxi. It is fantastically convenient!


Ken's blog has the money shot from my snorkeling adventure...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Up, up and away

It`s now Friday afternoon. I`m posting a lot...

I have tickets to see Ken for his birthday! I bit the bullet and after searching high and low found a semi-affordable flight. I am getting there on Wednesday evening before his birthday and leaving on Monday morning. I figure I might as well get a nice long weekend if I`m spending the money. (We get 20 paid days of leave a year... not bad) And I think that I`ll go to school with him so he doesn`t have to use his paid days yet. Then when he comes here we`ll do the same. It will all even out in the end. We have to leave days for our long Christmas break and Golden Week in May too.

I went to lunch with some teachers again today. They have taken me to numerous restaurants thus far (and have a tendency to order beer on Fridays!). Wednesday was pizza, Thursday was Mexican, etc. etc. Today, I taught everyone the words "Lazy Susan" at the Chinese restaurant. They thought that was hilarious. And an ongoing joke now is that everyone has to join the "Clean Plate Club." Meanwhile, I try to pick up a word or two. I did get complemented on using chop sticks, although I hear everyone does.

Have a happy weekend! I`m off to the beach!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The annoyances begin...

I woke up today at 6 am to take a walk. It was a good time, except for the fact that the humiditiy makes shoes fit weird and I ended up with blood gushing down my ankles thanks to sudden blisters from shoes I`ve been wearing for years.

Japan has no discount flights. You know how you can fly to Las Vegas for $79? Not here. By being placed in Okinawa, it is almost impossible to go and see Ken thanks to prices and time schedules. I am not happy right now.

The school has an appalling amount of supplies. No poster board. No real crayons or markers. No construction paper. As a teacher who relies on such things, I am getting frustrated.

I think I`m just having a bad day. The good news is that it`s Friday and I`m getting plans lined up for the afternoon and evening. And in a few short minutes, I can continue a newly formed tradition... "watching" the White Sox live on my computer. Love the time difference. I still don`t have a flight to see Ken, though.

A few pictures... It`s a start....

View from my roof... I can`t wait for sunsets...

Beach near Yomitan...

Teachers at school - Sashitaka, The Backstreet Boys (Kei and Masaru), Takako (supervisor)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Small victories in Chatan...

Confession: I have been afraid to use the school bathroom because I heard that all school toilets are of the squat variety. Images of China still haunt me on a daily basis. But today, using all the bravery I could muster, I entered the toilet. And gave a point to the sky when I saw a lovely Western-style toilet awaiting me.

Not that I have been roughing it in the least. In fact, yesterday I went to lunch at a pizza and salad bar place and today it was enchiladas all around. Another teacher plays Coldplay for me in the car, although today it was Ben Folds. Life in Chatan has been great thus far. We missed out on being struck by a typhoon last night (although I was actually a bit disappointed with that) and I know now generally where I am in the city and surrounding areas. I have walked to Mihama Village two times and am considering doing the same tonight after school. It`s good exercise, plus there are plenty of people to watch and things to do in the area. The worst part is that I still don`t have a car and can`t really afford one until I get paid. The great news is that I have met other JETs who DO have cars and are willing to drive me around! The second group of JETs got stuck in Tokyo because of a different typhoon and our party we were supposed to have was cancelled last night. Unfortunate. I`m curious to meet everyone.

I recently discovered that you can stand on my rooftop and see the most amazing sunsets in the world. I will definitely have to host a rooftop party soon. Maybe once I get a fridge, gas range, and other essentials... I did buy a futon, which in Japan is really just some foam for the floor, and it is unbelievably comfortable. I also finally have a chair to sit on and some lamps. My house is starting to look like a home.

School is interesting. The students are technically on summer break, although the sports teams are all running around. They like to come up and say "hello" which is pretty much all they can say. I have a couple of boys that always say "Rachel-sensei..." and then something in Japanese. Kei translated it... they think I`m cute. I have been trying to keep busy. I made charts with interesting facts from Illinois and Chicago and things about myself. I`m trying to track down pictures of sports stars, movie and television stars, etc. I definitely should have brought some magazine cut-outs. They are unreal to buy here. I hope to have a list of classes that I will be teaching in September soon. I think I`ll probably have about 10 a week and for the first month, I will just be doing self-introductions in class. I`ve decided that since the odds of these students being perfect English speakers when they only see me once a month is slim-to-none, I will infuse the school with American culture. I asked the teachers for a bit of wallspace to decorate. Guaranteed that it will get a bit out of control. I`m having flashbacks to my own classroom days.

I should have internet at my home in the next two to five weeks. For such a technologically advanced society, they are definitely lacking in the immediate delivery of goods area. I can check gmail on my phone, but emailing back is a pain with the cellphone keypad. I do have new friends who have internet and I promise to email back when I have access to their computers.

I have learned a total of four words in Japanese. Here, there, hot, delicious. That sounds a bit pervy. :) But, honestly, those are the only four words I know. I am slowly recognizing hiragana and maybe will work on katagana next week.

Hope you all are doing well... Thanks for the emails!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Can I figure this out?

I made it to school this morning fairly early. I want to make a good impression afterall. Plus, it`s incredibly boring at my apartment... Okinawa is currently in the middle of the Obon celebrations. I sat here at least 1/2 hour until a few teachers showed up. Thankfully, Taiko-sensei informed me that no one will be here tomorrow at school and I do not have to come. I hope it isn`t counted as a vacation day. I am most definitely not wasting those yet. I would rather sit here alone.

Last night I got to experience my first Eisa performance. I saw a bit in the street and then heard it for hours from my apartment. The drummers are welcoming the spirits of their dead ancestors back for Obon. Families leave food and drink for their relatives and clean the house to prepare for their arrival. I guess on the last night, they have big parties so that the relatives do not think that those they left behind are sad. Hearing the drums and chanting last night as I went to bed was amazing.

My computer at school is all Japanese. I really do not have a clue what I`m doing. Plus, if I hit the wrong button I could delete everything or have the keyboard switch to characters. Everything is a bit stressful. Nothing can be easy. I try to use my phrase book to decipher commands on the computer. It`s been a long day and it`s only noon.

It`s time to end this choppy entry. I am not suffering in the heat nearly as much as Ken is, which is strange. This weekend I`ll have my first opportunity to snorkel in Okinawa. As long as the typhoon doesn`t hit... And that`s it. Working with this keyboard has affected my writing already.

Thank goodness for Theresa's internet!

Life in Chatan…

My teachers dropped me off last night after a day of shopping and getting everything set for my apartment. “Call us if you need frappuccino…” They looked worried. They were dropping me off into a foreign land without a car and no plans. They were right to be so nervous. As I entered my apartment, the reality of my situation hit me. I have no car. There’s not much to do in my area. No internet. No TV. Two whole days. I began to spiral into a bit of a depression, although my mood was boosted tremendously by the internet access on my phone and talking to Ken finally! I went for dinner alone last night to the same sushi restaurant I went to with the crew. It’s the only place I really know within walking distance of my home. I ate alone at the sushi bar and came home for a early bedtime.

I woke up on Saturday at 7 am and realized that I couldn’t spend the day in my apartment. And yet, I had no real way to reach any JETs. I got up and went for a walk to find a phone to call my parents. A much needed call home. And then explored a bit in the heat. I found the road that leads down to Mihama Village (the hotspot and ferris wheel of Chatan). I came back, took a shower, and prepared for a walk that could last all day for all I knew. I began walking and it was fine, although hot, for the first half hour. At least it was downhill. Finally around 45 minutes in I reached my destination and immediately soaked in the air conditioning of Jusco, a large department store. After recovering a bit (I’m sure Takako will have a FIT that I walked in the heat for that long), I began exploring. It is the greatest area! I sat on the beach for a bit, I ate a muffin and drank a latte while staring at the ocean, shopped (browsed, no buying) in all of the amazing shops, and soaked in the great atmosphere. And, I also realized that I could email my predecessor and other JETs from my phone. So, I emailed Theresa to say thank you for all of her work and to get her my number. She told me she and another girl, Dona, could meet me at Jusco. I got adopted for the evening and it was nice to be able to talk about JET and Chatan High School and everything that is going on. I was properly distracted. I watched some TV, used the internet briefly, picked up another JET, took her to Yomitan (her apartment), ate sushi at a conveyor belt place, and briefly heard a Eisa performance for Obon. Good times.

I’m not sure what I’m doing tomorrow. I’d like to see some of the Obon celebrations (starts officially tomorrow) and I have to wait around in the afternoon for my washer. I still have no kitchen appliances and no bed or any furniture at all. I saw quite a few things I’d like to buy today and might ask Takako to take me so I can get some bulky things.

Since I don’t know when I can really post online, I type my entries on my computer and save them to my flashdrive. There’s a bit of a delay from actual occurrences and posting time. For the next few weeks, you can email me at on my phone. The name will change and I’ll let you know what it goes to. Ken and I appreciate your emails and news from home. And pictures to show us what we’re missing. Hope to talk to you all soon!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Spotty internet... sorry

During our Okinawa orientation yesterday, we were told to be able to convert our height into centimeters because we would be asked how tall we are. One hour later we were being picked up by our supervisors. I not only had my supervisor, but also two other teachers with her. Kei, the youngest of the teachers at the school says, “Rachel-san, how tall are you?” We had only walked one minute out of the building. For the record, thanks to my computer, I know that I am about 168 cm.

Okinawa. Tourist destination for the Japanese. We received a map of attractions on the various islands. I honestly don’t know where to start! There’s the world’s second largest aquarium that has the world’s largest freestanding tank and looks fantastic. There are beaches littering the shore, about 9 World Heritage Sites, shopping, a Pineapple Park, Okinawa World, and the numerous pristine islands where you can find white sand, tropical fish, and be completely alone. (Okinawans hate the beach. They think we are crazy. “Beach? So dangerous. Sharks. Jellyfish.” It is something to look at.) The sun is blazing hot and it has been sunny everyday thus far. We apparently have three seasons – hot, rainy, and typhoon. All windows are prepared for typhoons and every building is made of concrete so there isn’t too much of a need for evacuation. Nothing can really get hurt and usually school is still on during a typhoon.

I have finally arrived at my final destination. I was so exhausted from carrying my overweight luggage everywhere. As much as I brought, it is hardly enough to fill an apartment. My teachers brough me blankets to cover the windows, sheets, pillows, some dishes, an airmattress, towels to help me get settled a bit. I will post pictures of my new place soon, but the two best parts are 1) A urinal in the bright blue tiled bathroom, 2) From my balcony, I can see the entire coast and the ocean, plus Chatan’s famous ferris wheel that is lit at night. You can hear the ocean. Amazing! All of the buildings are built onto the hills that line the coast. I can walk to school from here and it’s all up and downhill. Did I mention how hot it is here? It is perfectly normal to carry a sweat towel to mop yourself down. Everyone has one. It’s on my list of things to buy today.

I was brought to my school yesterday and was greeted by very smiley excited teachers sitting at their desks even though it’s summer break and classes are not in session. The students themselves were tripping over themselves to see the new teacher. “Ms. Rachel! Sashida show me your picture!” It was all sports clubs at school and I talked baseball with the team. They wanted to throw curveballs with me. “Tadahito Iguchi? You know? Chicago White Sox?” “Ahhhh… yes! Whi Sox. Yes.” The basketball girls were acting like lunatics. Apparently the students are not very hard-working in class, but are very “genki” (happy).

The teachers of the English Department could possibly be the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. Two male teachers, Sashida and Kei, met me yesterday at the airport and came again yesterday. My female supervisor, Takako, is very sweet and very funny. I also met two more female teachers, Miyako and Taiko. Sashida, Kei, and Takako took me all over town yesterday… Shopping at the 100 yen store to get some things for my apartment, getting some groceries, and eating at a famous sushi bar. And today, I have a feeling all three will want to go to the city hall, bank, etc. with me. Their English is amazing and I actually understand them better than some native speakers!

I also hope to set up my keitai (cell phone) today. I am almost desperate to talk to Ken. We haven’t really had any way to get in contact for the last two days. Once I have a phone, we can talk endlessly through a special plan and through emailing which is beyond popular here. You can do everything with your phone --- email, text message, send and take photos, shop on the internet, google things. They are fantastic, plus if you get the old model from three months ago, apparently you can buy one for only about $10. I am also anxious to get the internet at my apartment. And everyone needs to buy a camera for their computer so we can chat! Oh, and if you have an Instant Messenger name, email it to me.

Today’s Friday and this weekend is an important one in Japan. It is the Obon celebration, which is held every year to remember those who have passed before. Apparently there will be fireworks in the evening on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday and Eisa drums will be played all night long for the dead who come back to visit for the three days. Most teachers apparently take Monday and Tuesday off, but I will still go to school. I hope to get in contact somehow with some other JETs and explore the island. When I sit still, I have to be honest… I get very homesick and especially miss Ken. It’s like my right arm is missing. But enough depressing stuff – maybe I’ll find a beach and visit Mihama Village (American Village of Chatan), complete with a Chi Chis, Tony Romas, a few Starbucks, and great shopping and movies. I hear “Pirates of the Caribbean” is there. The other teachers love Johnny Depp and started listing movies. Willy Wonka! Scissorhands! They also love some American shows – “24,” “ER,” “X-Files,” “Friends.” And music! The male teachers were very curious about music and what every region of the United States listens to. Try explaining Honky Tonk to some Japanese friends! But they like Coldplay and know Franz Ferdinand, which is great!

That about wraps up my days in Oki so far. I still wake up at 6 am thanks to jet (JET?) lag. My “block” has a snorkeling day planned for next weekend, I believe. All the JETs of Oki will be taking a ferry out to Tokashiki Island two weeks from now to spend a day on the beach together and share stories so far.

Wow, this is long. Miss you all and everyone should think about vacationing here in the next year!

UPDATE: love Chatan. borrowing internet and can't write or email all of you back right now. everyone should come. keep emailing. it makes my day to read them on my phone. i will email everyone back when i have my own internet. promise. ken and i finally talked. :o)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The forecast calls for sunshine and a mix of tears....

Hello all from Okinawa--

It has been an eventful few days. Ken and I had a long day of traveling on Saturday and even got to experience our very first emergency fuel stop in Sapporo. Apparently we didn't have enough gas to make it the extra hour to Tokyo. Super! We had two days of orientation in Tokyo and stayed at a very posh hotel in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo (they filmed the lounge scenes of "Lost in Translation" in our hotel). It was very much what you imagine Tokyo to be like. Bright lights and loudspeakers everywhere. Tons of cell phone and camera stores, cartoons on everything, crazy TV ads, the works. (The best part? Toilets that make "stream" sounds so that you can use the rest room without embarrassment. Hilarious!) The days were spent waiting in line for elevators and avoiding meetings at all costs. Plus we got to dread our inevitable good-byes. We tried to avoid reality one last time last night and met up with Ken's friend from college, Taichi, who introduced us to some great new cuisine in Japan. Unfortunately, though, today was the day for the watershed of tears. Poor Ken had to deal with a sobbing fool in front of everyone. I had an assitant come up and say, "It's my job. I have to ask if there's anything I can do for you." I said, "Not unless you can move him to Okinawa with me." And then we both took our separate flights to our respective corners of Japan.

Our flight was amazing. I love Japanese technology. We watched our takeoff and about a half hour of our landing through a camera mounted on the outside of the plane. It was surreal to see the crystal blue water and islands and realize that we'd be touching down in my new home for the next year. We got off the plane and after grabbing our luggage, we were greeted by a very enthusiastic group of JETs and I met my predecessor, Theresa, for the first time. She brought along two teachers from my school who gave me a bouquet of candy. And everyone received a can of Orion beer to continue a JET tradition. We were herded once again onto a bus and driven into the capital, Naha. It's a concrete city to protect it from typhoons, but has a beautiful ocean view and some cool streets. This is where a lot of people hang out on the weekends, I guess. We are staying here tonight and then our supervisors are picking us up tomorrow to go to our apartments and schools. Aaaah! I'm nervous about that! I guess I do officially have an apartment and Theresa is loaning me a air mattress until I decide what kind of bed I want. She's also going to show me around and help me out with the particulars of living in a foreign country.

And that's all I know for now. The group of JETs in Okinawa is interesting - quite a mix of personalities and nationalities. We're missing over half -- they'll be here next week. I hope to get a cell phone and the internet at my apartment soon. Right now I'm somehow tapping into wireless from someone near this hostel. Hope it holds out for a bit longer. Keep the emails coming! I'll try to answer them as soon as I get the chance.