Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Plugging along

Moment of the Day: I took my first hot shower since I moved into my apartment.

Notable because a) it involved two different repairmen, a landlady, and a fellow teacher trying to figure out why my water wasn't hot in the first place and b) it means it's cooled off enough to warrant actual hot water in the shower. Good news all around!

I am technically on Autumn Break right now, but of course, being that I'm in Japan and things don't always make sense, I have to go to school tomorrow and Friday. I'm hoping that I just have to stamp in, sit there for an hour or two and then disappear when everyone else does. If, heaven forbid, I have to stay all day, I will literally take a nap at my desk to make a point. I was hoping to make another trip to the beach or down to Naha for some shopping. Absolutely a pointless waste of my time. I'd much rather have classes than sit at my desk all day doing nothing.

Speaking of classes, I've had some success this week with trying to teach English, which apparently is what I'm getting paid to do. I watched some classes this week ("open classes"/observations with the principal and vice-principals and every other teacher free) and most of the teachers did not speak English the entire time. And not one of the students was forced to say a sentence in English. How is this going to work? So, in my classes, I tell the teachers that I want to practice the dialogue. They expect me just to want to play a game with them. (And only about 5 students would participate) Instead, I get crazy (channeling Ken's energy at school) and in their face and make them do the different practices in the textbook. Each and everyone one of them. I wake up students. I go around the room twice. They hear me saying it at least 50 times. Then I start asking questions in English that are random and offer stickers to anyone "brave" enough to take my questions. They will do anything for a sticker. In conclusion, students who previously were not speaking one single sentence of English in class are now speaking at least 12. Mind you, they're cheesy lines from the book, but it's a start. Of course, some classes don't give me this freedom and other classes have excellent teachers and we are able to do more fun activities.

Quote of the Day (in broken English with some aid from another student): "Why haven't you been to Mr. Donut lately?"

I like to go to Mr. Donut on Saturday or Sunday morning in order to enjoy a donut and a cafe au lait. I didn't realize when I first started going that the girl who was always there is one of my students. I had her in class for the first time and after my self-introduction, I asked if there were any questions. Hence, the above quote. I missed a couple of weekends being out of town. I will definitely have to make an appearance on Saturday. Also, all of the check-out girls at the 24 hour supermarket down the road from me are some of my friendly students. They get excited when I show up with a box of granola and some pumpkin tempura in my hand. Cute.

Also, Ken's increasing vocabulary has inspired me to also try to learn more words at a more rapid pace. Once in awhile I throw in a Japanese word that no one expects. I love to throw them for a loop. I was getting my lunch (bringing your own lunch! *horrors!*) out of the refrigerator and the vice-principal was sitting in the room. He doesn't speak any English and as I grabbed my bag, I said simply, "Hirugohan (lunch)." I think we had a moment.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The ocean calleth...

My weekend started out a bit shaky with absolutely no plans, but I salvaged it and spent two glorious days outside wandering alongside the ocean. In fact, I consumed 4 of my meals on the beach. Not bad. I soaked in some sun and people-watched, which is by far my favorite hobby. Here are some pictures of what I basically stared at for about five hours a day. The temperatures have cooled down somewhat. It's still hot, but not as muggy. The sweat factor has subsided a bit and when you're in the shade, it is absolutely perfect outside.

I have a rough week at school ahead. Two and a half days of school and then an autumn break on Thursday and Friday. Do these kids ever go to school? Note: I'm not complaining.

And the best news of the weekend: iTunes has added Grey's Anatomy to their TV download list... It may seem small to you, but it is a huge victory to me! I take what I can get!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

They're no Joey and Chandler...

Last night (Saturday) I stayed up fairly late chatting with Ken and all was quiet in the neighborhood, except some random yelling once and awhile. Just some drunk kids, I thought. I was incredibly tired and fell asleep almost immediately. And then....

"HEY! HEY! HEYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!" I hear the screaming of drunk men and it wakes me from my peaceful futon slumber. It sounded sort of Japanese so I figured that the kids were just still out and about. And then it continued and then I realized that --- no, not Japanese--- definitely American voices. And the music starts. Loud music. My walls are vibrating a little and I can hear every single word that these partiers are saying. I got up to look and see where this music is coming from. It's down the block on the third floor. I can see people dancing and when I look at my watch, it's 3:30 in the morning. Now, Ken's party was a bit loud for his neighborhood, but I guarantee that everyone within at least a three block radius was hearing this party and their music. I was ticked. I'm sure my Japanese neighbors were ticked, but what could they do? They can't call the cops because then the cops would have to speak English and deal with drunk military men. I was tempted to yell out the window since evidentally I was the only one who had any control of the situation, but I resisted. Instead I put on some New Age music on my iPod and attempted to sleep through it. During my fitful sleep, I came up with a perfect solution...

In the morning, I would rouse the neighbors... all of them.... around 7 am and we would grab all of our cleaning implements. Swiffers, mops, rags. As a group, we would march to the scene of the party and bang on the door loudly. Before waiting for a reply, we'd march in and yell, "OHAYO GOZAIMASU!" There would be a lot of bowing and every single hungover soul would be addressed. In their bewilderment of the "Ohayos" I would pop in a CD of my own. Some traditional Okinawan music. With a ton of Eisa drumming for their heads to soak up after a night of drinking. Throwing bottles into bags would add to the noise level as well. As some of the Japanese folk sweep around halfdead Americans on the floor, someone else could start breakfast. I think natto is just what the doctor ordered. (an incredibly foul food of fermented soybeans that I have successfully avoided thus far) In their guilty state, the partiers would have to eat the meal provided. And then we'd leave to give them a chance to soak in what just happened. That would show 'em.

Instead... I slept until 8:30 and woke up to my neighbors below making tremendous noise with metal somethings. It woke me up and maybe it was their tactic as well to get the Americans ticked off in the morning as well. If so, hats off to them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Day After

Ken would make a lovely weathercaster... Sorry about all the wind noise! Blame ShanShan!


Who wouldn't cheer for a team called the Carp?!

Misumi Hospitality

The danger has passed and I'm back in Okinawa. I would say I'm back home, but I have a feeling Chatan will never really be "home." My flight went off without a hitch this time and the extra two days were a fantastic bonus. It made the ticket price worth it and of course gave me a longer vacation!

Ken and I spent three days (Thurs, Fri, and Tues) teaching his middle school students. There is no comparison to my high school. It was a fantastically lovely school/time. His students --- for the most part --- are attentive and eager the building is spotless and gorgeous and very Zen. Everyone is very excitable and I even loved their school lunches. Ken and I actually did some team teaching for the kids for about 10 classes. Our favorite script -and one that will haunt us forever -

Ken: What's your favorite subject, Judy?
Me: Math. It's very interesting.
Ken: I like Japanese.
Me: Me too. It's not easy, but I study hard.

We did three lessons on those four lines. And you have to overpronounce everything and act a bit so kids don't fall asleep. We did our best and I think we had a good time brainstorming for future classes. It was really rough going back to my building today, that's for sure.

The other highlights? Obviously, Ken had a big bash for his 30th and had quite a few friends over. Enough friends to get the neighbor flicking her lights as a warning that we were being too loud. Hopefully it fulfilled his expectations and did a great job of ushering in another decade.

On Saturday, we went with two of his friends to an onsen. My first onsen experience. If you don't know what one is -- essentially it's a hot tub with natural hot spring water. The area we were in is famous for its softening effect on the skin. Grab your suit and go, right? Well, not exactly. The baths are segregated by gender ... because you have to get totally jaybird naked. So, here I am in this dressing (undressing) room wondering what in the world I'm supposed to do first. There are two little old Japanese ladies toweling off and they start asking me questions in Japanese (thankfully I'm still dressed). I managed to convey that I was there to see my boyfriend and I was teaching in Okinawa. One of them started playing with my scarf/belt and both were just watching me. It was a bit intense and undressing was unnerving. So they leave and I walk into the sauna/hot tub room. It's all old naked Japanese women, but I know there are a ton of taboos to be broken at these things. I'm sure I broke about 20 unwritten rules. Actually, once it cleared out a bit, it was quite lovely and relaxing --- although really really HOT. In the winter, it would be perfect! And they had delicious coffee milk out of glass containers outside.

We also ended up visiting the famous Shimane aquarium, which, for being in a rural area, was really impressive! They had quite the selection of fish and strange creatures of the sea. We went to the aquarium on Sunday and the wind was starting to blow quite hard and rain was definitely on its way. I was supposed to fly out Monday morning at 8 am from Hiroshima which is about a 2 hour drive, plus about $70 in tolls. I kid you not. So, after hearing things being thrown around all night outside from the howling wind, I checked the internet at 4:30 am and saw that my flight had indeed been cancelled. Not postponed. Not delayed. So, there's only one flight to Okinawa a day and when I got ahold of a real person at 6:30 am, they booked me for the Wednesday flight. Thank you, ShanShan!!!

On Monday, Ken and I headed to the coast to see the waves that we had heard so much about. I've never seen such huge waves. As Ken's friend said when we approached them, "It's a bit choppy." It was impressive and beautiful. We relaxed on Monday and then on Tuesday I surprised everyone at school when I showed up with Ken again. Thankfully, no one had a heart attack. The Japanese like to have ample warning about everything in order to fill out paperwork and hem-n-haw over it. We took off immediately from school and drove to Hiroshima to make it to the Carp vs. Tigers baseball game that just happened to be taking place the night that I needed to stay over in the city. We found my hotel and watched the surreal baseball game. The drums and cheering never stop. People are constantly sitting down and standing up in beat with trumpets (yes, trumpet players) that kept spitting out some fight songs. At one point, there were hundreds of balloons released during the seventh inning stretch. The Giants did it during their inning and then the Carp got their turn. We also got to at least walk by the A-Bomb Dome that was left standing during the atomic bomb explosion. It was lit up and was a haunting reminder of the city's history. Mind you, you could still hear the pandemonium from inside the baseball stadium as you tried to reflect. I spent the night in Hiroshima and Ken went home. I managed to take numerous forms of public transportation today to make it home alive and in one piece.

Hey, Ken, thanks for having me.

Some pictures:

Ken got gifts! Spoiled as always.

Jellyfish at the Shimane Aquarium

Some wave shots from the coast of Japan

Carp vs. Tigers game...

Videos of waves and game to be posted soon on either this website or Ken's....

Monday, September 18, 2006

Shanshan strikes!

I'm alive and should be back in the Okinawan heat.... Typhoon Shanshan had other plans and got my flight cancelled this morning. Since there is only one flight to Okinawa a day and the flight is completely booked tomorrow, I'm staying with Ken until Wednesday! An extra two days vacation... Madness.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Okay, so Izzy at preschool is a bit random, but she's so cute!

I have been messing around with various photo sites and am truly going to post all of my photos from the last trip this time, plus Japan pictures. Promise. Here's the start of it all:

  • Fotki Page

  • Off to Hiroshima in 24!

    Izzy at Puppy Preschool!

    Izzy goes to the top of the class at Puppy Preschool

    Monday, September 11, 2006

    Two days and counting...

    On Saturday, I went with a group of ALTs to the Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum in the southern part of the island. It was an interesting glimpse into Okinawan history and culture. Okinawa is very different from mainland Japan and the people were essentially forced to become "Japanese" in the late 19th and early 20th century. Their names were changed and they were forced to give up many traditional ways of life. And then World War II came around and Okinawa became strategic for both sides. It is the site of the only land battle in Japan and the casualties were tremendous. What strikes you at the museum is how these peaceful islanders got dragged into a war for mainland Japan. There were 200,000 casualties once the fighting was done and over half of those were civilians. No village was untouched and the footage is heart-breaking. Families would hide in the giant tombs like those that I walk by each day. Children were killed for crying and potentially giving away hiding areas. There were abuses by Japanese soldiers and many civilians were kicked out of their hiding places in the middle of a battle in order to house the Japanese. There are monuments in caves on the island where mass suicides took place.

    You expect to get a different view of history when you visit museums in different countries. Everyone has their own take. But at this museum, the focus really is rather neutral, focusing on peace and the future, not past mistakes. It is an excellent place to reflect by the sea. The markers point to the ocean and have all of the names of Americans, Japanese soldiers, and Okinawan civilians.

    After our history lesson of the day, we headed to a fantastic Thai restaurant that took a bit of time to find, but was worth it in the end. After some naan and conversation, it was time for a short trip to the beach and then back to Naha. I headed back on the bus in order to be around the next morning for Theresa to pick me up for a good old-fashioned American breakfast buffet. Yum! (Thanks, Theresa!)

    I have a short week at school because on Wednesday (!) I get to fly to Hiroshima to celebrate Ken's birthday. We're throwing a party with his friends and I can't wait to enjoy a feast and to meet all of these people I've heard about. And get away from Okinawa for a bit... the humidity... the traffic...

    Saturday, September 09, 2006


    Happy Birthday Brooke!!! Eat some cake for me!

    Thursday, September 07, 2006

    Man's best friend

    A non-Japanese story from this morning...

    I woke up nice and early to go on my daily walk and everything was going fine. Listening to my iPod (which is actually illegal here... you can't listen to headphones and be on the sidewalks) and enjoying the morning. I get to the top of the rather sizeable hill that I huff and puff my way up every day and see this little dog kind of chasing a car that is pulling away. The dog weighs about five pounds and is sort of a cute version of a rat. I walk by the dog and it starts to follow me. It starts skipping alongside my ankles and almost looks like it's smiling and really enjoying the company. I ignore it and hope that it will get distracted and stop following me. I doubt that it understands commands, especially in English. So we're walking along... one block...two blocks... 1/2 mile. Once and awhile the dog will stop for a moment but then I can hear it's paws running on the sidewalk to catch up. I'm getting a bit nervous at this point because I don't want it to follow me home and make me feel guilty. So, finally, a jogger passes me going in the same direction. The dog was really really excited to have two new friends. It ran in between the two of us, trying to catch up with the jogger, but also making sure I was following. After a final glance back and a wag of the tail, I saw my out.... I waited for my "friend" to go around a slight bend and then sprinted off onto a sidestreet. I hid behind a building for a second, peeking back to see if the dog caught on, and then made my way on this new path (which took me through a bunch of graves on the side of the road --- a strange Okinawan custom). I realized that I was going to be back on the main road that I usually walk shortly. As I approached the road, I looked to my right and saw the jogger heading towards me. Alone. Escape. (I'm trying not to think about what he did to get rid of the dog. Probably a swift kick. Very depressing because it was such a happy little dog.) A bit nervous about my walk tomorrow though.

    That about sums up the excitement of my day. I taught two classes today and am thoroughly tired of doing "self-introduction" lessons. Tomorrow is my first real lesson based on the textbook. I think my idea is a good one, so I'll have to wait to see how it's implemented. Oh, yes, and the "Dallas" people have competition. We have singing cars, people in pink with white gloves, and a multitude of other strangely dressed, enthusiastic sorts roaming around with loudspeakers that start blaring at 7 am and continue until 9 pm. Election time in Japan. I'd vote for any of them.

    One week until I'm in Shimane...

    Tuesday, September 05, 2006


    Today as I'm getting ready to leave school, Takako-sensei says, "Rachel...They made an announcement. Did you hear? They say that there is a man walking outside with an ax in his hand." It was followed by the typical head shake and wide eyes.

    I put off leaving school for a few minutes.

    I finally decided that home was calling me. As I'm walking outside, I hear yelling over a loudspeaker. At first I think it's to protect the community from the crazed-ax-man, but as the car passes me, I see two individuals waving and wearing - I kid you not - bright blue cowboy outfits complete with gloves and hats. (Very "Dallas") And the loudspeaker is not only yelling information, but also playing the YMCA in Japanese.

    I don't know what to say right now.

    Monday, September 04, 2006


    Ken found this online. It`s Chris Farley and Mike Meyers on SNL doing a Japanese game show. Hilarious! You will be able to identify with it.

    Get this video and more at

    Sunday, September 03, 2006


    You Are Banana Pocky

    Your attitude: fun and lighthearted
    Unique and unforgettable
    You are cutie everyone falls for

    Pocky is a snack that is everywhere... I`ve been known to eat some, but have never seen the banana variety. Hmmm....

    Surreal moment of the weekend: Doing the Macarena at a salsa club with a ton of Shakira-hip-swinging Japanese folks.
    You Are Banana Pocky

    Your attitude: fun and lighthearted
    Unique and unforgettable
    You are cutie everyone falls for

    Pocky is a snack that is everywhere... I`ve been known to eat some, but have never seen the banana variety. Hmmm....

    Surreal moment of the weekend: Doing the Macarena at a salsa club with a ton of Shakira-hip-swinging Japanese folks.

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    "I'm your new Japanese mom!"

    Last night was my first "Welcome!" party from the English teachers and four of the Japanese teachers as well. We ate a ton of food and talked for five hours. Speeches were given and the funniest part was when this hilarious Japanese teacher gave a speech to welcome me (in Japanese) and said that she wants to be my new Japanese mom. I never have a clue what she's saying but she always leans forward expecting an answer so I look in a panic for someone to translate. It is my goal to learn enough Japanese to be able to converse with her. My teachers are absolutely fantastic and have made living in Okinawa so much easier. Kei, the only male in the picture, is unbelievably funny and gave a speech beginning with, "Rachel, you are my sunshine." Haha.

    Classes on Friday were quite the experience. I had one Oral Communication class with the unmotivated students who like to sleep. I seriously had 4 students doing the work and participating. I asked the teacher if this was okay and he said that it is expected and not to feel bad at all. Next week I'm bringing candy. I will find a way to get these students at least a little excited about being in class. Then I had two English II classes with second-years. They were huge classes and they got into the activity and showed great creativity in speaking English. I had a great time and worked up an even bigger sweat while running around to talk to all of the groups and help them form questions.

    I also have the students who studied in the United States coming by my desk all of the time and they are so excited to try to get on base and go to Taco Bell. I asked them to bring in pictures from their time and one girl said I wouldn't recognize her from the beginning of the year because she gained so much weight. I guess they all did. I asked them, "Was it too much Dairy Queen?" And they said, "YES! And pizza and McDonalds." American diet habits at work on these poor girls.

    Tonight I'm headed to Naha, the capital of Okinawa, for a block party and some socialization. Hope everyone has a great weekend!