Monday, December 18, 2006

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Spama Claus is comin' to town...

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 10, 2006

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

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

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Saving the Princess with the Duke

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

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

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

Monday, December 04, 2006

"Rachel! You are a decorating genius."

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

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

Sunday, December 03, 2006

You Are a Losing Lottery Ticket!

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

Oh, Tanenbaum

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

Friday, December 01, 2006

Prada prices for the cinema

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

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

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