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.