Friday, April 27, 2007

Cue Mr. Mercury

Chatan hosted the "Welcome Volleyball Game" today... It was exactly the same set-up as the one in January, but with new T-shirts, new ichi-nensei, and a new champion. My 3-2 class made me proud, showing excellent teamwork, spirit, and volleyball court prowess. The girls successfully killed almost all of their opponents easily thanks to solid fundamentals and the boys worked tricky feints at the net. It came down to a close battle with another san-nensei class, but enthusiasm and positive attitudes won out. As a result, we were crowned #1 and my ears are still ringing from all the cheering! Pink Panther proved to be most lucky for these supergenki kids!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Making lemons into lemon shake-ups

As this school year begins for new teachers and new students, remarkable changes have already occurred. It is difficult to express the environment that now exists at the high school. Here is my top 10 list of "New Year, New Chatan"....

10) Japanese is minimal in my classroom. And that is great! The new teachers are willing to speak slow English so students understand instead of constant translating. It is amazing how much more students will pay attention when I am speaking and when I am flapping my arms and jumping back and forth from desk to desk to demonstrate a game.

9) The first years are apparently the spawn of Satan. The teachers have had emergency intervention meetings about their behavior already and I have seen numerous students sitting with their teachers and parents getting yelled at. The punks don't particularly bother me, but I have brought out "Ms. Dorsey" a few times, including intercepting flying objects and newly-formed paper swords. Apparently, the old finger wave "give it to me" is international. Hey, if the teachers don't control their classrooms in the first few days, they're setting themselves up for a long year, especially with these urchins. I'm just helping. I hope they see it that way. But, with that said, apparently being rambunctious and unacademic means you are much more willing to interact with your ALT and speak some actual English, even if it is inappropriate.

8) There is no snorting. NONE! NO SNORTING! Do you have any idea how much better my days are now? I sit in relative peace with Takako and Seiko and rarely any other teachers. In fact, I am almost completely alone now. It is quiet and I can enjoy my morning cup of coffee without sniffing, snorting, and sucking noises. Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. The only thing that breaks my zen moments is the ringing phone behind my head that I can't answer and instead a teacher from a different department comes flying out of nowhere and sprints to answer it with a breathless, "Eigo desu." All I can say is a meek "Gomen."

7) Teachers are trying to really challenge the students with real lessons. No one has told me to play Jeopardy to fill the time yet. I have already had some very successful classes thanks to the sensei enthusiasm and really working to make English very understandable. I was worried about one new English teacher who seemed very frazzled speaking to me and he basically just said that he wanted to work on introductions with a bunch of kids that already know me. I could barely understand his English and thought the whole thing was going to be a gigantic flop. Instead, this dude turns out to be the craziest, most high-energy teacher that exists at Chatan and we had a blast with all the "bad" girls who I happen to enjoy.

6) I have a real class that I am semi-responsible for. I am the substitute 3-2 homeroom teacher (easily the best class in the school... same class that did the turtle kicking skit) and a new class was actually formed just for them to learn more oral communication stuff. I teach it with Seiko twice a week and I also see them in their reading and eiken (practical English) classes. And I am getting a homeroom shirt, so now I feel like I am an actual teacher on some days with actual consistency. Plus when the girls have to clean the staff office, they have to report to me and say, "Finish." I love the power of being able to say, "Okay. Good job. You can go now." Great class.

5) No snorting.

4) The new teachers are fairly fascinating folks. Last weekend at our Eigo party, I discussed the electoral system, the death penalty, life in Kansas and New Orleans, etc. It's nice to have people who want to discuss things other than how the weather is and all that normal monotonous Japanese conversation stuff. One teacher wears dresses in distractingly bright colors made of some crepe material every single day and by the end of this year, I will find out why.

3) Speaking of weather, spring/early summer is here and I'm sure full-on summer is not far behind. The nice breeze and sunshine gives a nicer feel to the day. Although the pouring rain days have also increased. Plus, knowing that I only have three more months has also helped with getting out of bed in the morning.

2) I have found a partner in crime. Seiko is more than willing to give me the "it's okay if you leave a little early for lunch..." when I'm wasting away at 12:30. And last night we had a teacher's welcome party that was basically some food, 30 newbie speeches, and a short "Do-Re-Mi" performance by the new male teachers. After about 15 speeches and the quite hilarious skit, I got the "let's-bust-out" head nod and we were out nice and early. It's ballsy and I admire it. Completely non-Japanese.

1) I am content. So far I have been the epitome of pleasantness to everyone. I am still reading excessively large books and doing crosswords on my downtime, but I feel less like growling and more like smiling these days. I honestly think it is related to the snorting. When I am being cooked alive in the metal barracks in a few more weeks, then it might be a different story... The bubble is guaranteed to burst at some point.

And that's my last two weeks in a nutshell. Do I have 10 things in that list? Don't want to look foolish. (Ahem.)

In other excitement, last night I woke up suddenly at 4 am and figured that I just had to pee or something and then as I was sitting up, my building started shaking and the windows started rattling. It only lasted about 10 seconds, but I was seriously freaked... my first earthquake! The dogs of the neighborhood started barking as a result and by 8 am, I was thinking that I just dreamed it all. I looked online and apparently yesterday that were really strong earthquakes off of Okinawa (over 6 on the Richter scales) and tsunami watches for Miyako Island (going there in a couple weeks). I didn't feel those big ones, but the report said there would be more aftershocks. At least it verified that I'm not crazy and having earthquake dreams.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A great question.

Last Friday in class some of my more boisterous boys were trying to ask me various questions, mostly to be obnoxious. I caught the word "gang" and then the final translated question thanks to Dice-K... "Do you have a gun?" It's a common perception abroad. All Americans must have guns, right? I wonder where they've gotten that idea...

Madness. Absolute madness.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I just want to run!

"So we are friends now? I want to invite you."

Once again, a locker room encounter at the gym. This time with a lady named Mito who, I must admit, speaks excellent English like Izumi. We chatted about my teaching at Chatan and where I'm from and then she ended with this quote. Invite me? Where? And how do I keep getting involved with gym folks? Today I also saw this really certifiably crazy lady who exercises with her sunglasses on and in a sweaty dress shirt and she has taken a fancy to me. I really can't wait for workout anonymity.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Ho hum

I have seriously been sitting here at school the last couple of days racking my brain for something interesting to say. As I haven't done anything exciting like go through labor, I am struggling.

School started up again this week and the first-years made their appearance on Monday at yet another ceremony. I thought they'd just show up, the principal would say some words, and that would be that. Imagine my surprise when I showed up to the gym to see it decked out with banners and flowers, parents with cameras, a balloon arch, and one hour's worth of boredom. Plus, I realized that any hopes of a great incoming class were probably not going to come true since all the students walked in like their dogs just died and they were being forced by gunpoint to show up for high school in the first place. I think some of them were asleep during the ceremony. It's going to be a great four months.

My desk is now out in the Barracks and I was without internet last week, but finally have access again, although it is slower than molasses. The teachers in the English department are spread throughout buildings and floors and I have found tracking them down to be next to impossible. One teacher was telling me today that she is waking up with sore legs each day because of all the stair climbing involved now. We have five new English teachers, although I hardly see them at all and have only really chatted with Seiko. And I must say, it is so peaceful out at my desk thanks to a serious lack of snorting! YES! It's quite funny to see the newbies with their high expectations (because they are coming from good schools) and I hope their fall won't hurt too much once they try to actually get kids to do the activities they have planned. We have a welcome party tomorrow night so maybe there will be some departmental bonding over plenty of food and beer.

I met with the Gym Girl on Sunday which actually consisted of me standing around the reception desk where she works. She seems completely normal and the conversation flowed smoothly. But then a cleaning lady came up and said, "You come. Speak English. Teach me." Another Scary Gym Lady lurker. Exactly what I must avoid for my sanity.

My job search is not going well. Imagine having 75 applications in front of you for one position and although this Japan lady looks qualified, you'd have to deal with the hassle of scheduling a phone interview and then if she seems normal enough, hire her blindly. I have realized that it isn't going to happen, so I will most likely be scrambling in August. I am trying not to panic. Ken sent me an IQ test to take and it suggested that I become a chess player. Will that pay the bills?

And that is life in Okinawa. Today as I was debating whether to climb out of bed on this beautifully sunny day, I thought, "Oh, Diane Sawyer is in Saudi Arabia today! I better catch that segment!" and then hopped out of bed. Or technically sort of flopped/rolled out of my futon. I am living on the edge of excitement these days.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Stork has been busy!

Another big congratulations to some new parents --- Regan and Kent! They had a baby boy, Alexander Christian, on April 5th! Here's another happy picture---

I think Regan and Kimi should start emailing words of support to each other. Baby boys two days apart. Ganbatte!
Laura got some better shots of us enjoying the pleasures of Japan --- beautiful temples in Kyoto and a final meal together in Hiroshima (this lead to the rousing rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody").

Friday, April 06, 2007

Prince Ali, fabulous he, Ali Abaaabwwwa

These two weeks separating the school years have been the best of my actual time in Japan. Obviously, last week was my memorable trip to the mainland, which will probably take the cake for the best week of the year. And the last five days at school were just what the doctor ordered to recover from said week. In fact, after going to the gym around noon each day, I was back into my pajamas, watching my newly-downloaded America's Next Top Model, sipping mugs of tea, and watching Oprah. It has been absolute heaven.

Today at the gym a young lady who works at the desk during the day said, "Rachel-san, can you check this for me?" (in perfect English and even said my name more properly than the real teachers) I looked over here sheet of paper that had new pool rules and although there was one tiny mistake, it was absolutely okay to be posted. (Why can't these people always find English-speaking proofreaders?! How hard is it?!) Anyways, I began my workout and as I was getting ready to leave, this girl comes up and says, "Rachel-san, I am looking for a friend to speak English with..." Now, you might be thinking, DING DING DING! Remember Crazy Gym Lady?! However, there are some important differences with this situation. Number 1) This girl complimented me by saying that I look very young...not at all like a 27-year-old. And she's only 28 herself. 2) When asked how she learned such amazing English she said that she studied English in Hawaii for a year. 3) She told me I looked young. 4) There was absolutely no gesturing involved in our conversation. None. Crazy Gym Lady spoke three words of English and our meetings were spent flipping through dictionaries in a pointless attempt to have a conversation, which ultimately always ended with, "My English go higher. You teach to make price lower in Europe." 5) When we tried to sort of set up a meeting time to become "friends" she mentioned that she works Sunday mornings and we can just chat then. 6) She teaches English to some students on the side (I've seen her make flashcards) and I will actually have one of her students next week. 7) I look young. So, on Sunday, I am going to attempt to become friends with Izumi. And I really am this time.

The atmosphere at school has completely changed as we switched to the barracks and got 29 new faces added to the building. I will describe this in more detail later, but the most promising bit is that there is a teacher, Seiko, who has returned from a year of computer training and she seems like a great teacher/desk friend.

Here are some random things that have happened lately:

1) I walked into the grocery store yesterday and was confronted by a huge bin of pig limbs on my right and really bloody meat on my left. Gross. But I just walked on through, grabbed my onigiri, and was on my way.

2) There was another foreigner at the gym today (she was reading the Glamour from 2005 like I did when I first joined). I can feel the panic of the Okinawans. "Not another one!"

3) Today as I was walking a car dealership was blaring "A Whole New World." I guess the cars are like a "magic carpet ride...." You have it in your head now, right?!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Stork finally showed up!

Congratulations, Kimi and Jeremy! Baby boy Jared William was born April 3rd!

(Hope you don't mind the post-delivery picture, Kimi! You're going to be a great mommy!)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sumimasen, wasabi onegaishimasu!

Sometimes when you're feeling down, you just want to drive around with your friends, blaring some music on the iPod, gossiping, and laughing about the "moments that were." This is an especially novel idea when you have spent eight months in a foreign land (minus Christmas) in relative self-induced solitary confinement. It's difficult to sum up the last week spent on the mainland, but devouring sushi by the boatload, taking full advantage of a pub's Ladies Night, and cruising through the true Japanese countryside was absolutely fantastic. Domo arigato, Josh and Laura, for making the journey across the ocean.

I met up with Ken in Hiroshima on the 23rd and we spent a couple of days gearing up for our meeting with the terrible twosome. Ken and I enjoyed some balsamic vinegar/olive oil, his warm and cozy table, and a fantastic onsen before making the car trip to Kyoto where Josh and Laura were waiting. Quote of the weekend, "I can't believe they are in this country RIGHT now!"

On Monday the big reunion finally happened and then the whirlwind tour of Kyoto commenced with temples and shrines being plotted out on maps (perhaps a bit dangerously while enroute), tirades against Japanese drivers, and plenty of vending machine visits. We hit the major temples of Kyoto, soaking up some atmosphere among torii shrines and damp corridors. The cherry blossoms, which were nowhere to be found earlier in the visit, began to crop up and became a focal part of our plans. After handing over a kidney and liver for parking in Kyoto, we headed back to Shimane-ken to show Josh and Laura where Ken has been hiding all year. Unfortunately, the mainland expressway system tried to get the best of us and destroy our jovial moods, but we refused to yield. Ten hours and a glockenspiel event and sushi conveyor belt later, we arrived at Ken's apartment which would serve as our base for a couple of days.

We headed to Tsuwano, an old town with serious character. It was absolutely beautiful, especially the cherry trees and spring blossoms. A trip was also made to the local shrine by Ken's house and a 300-year-old cherry tree just outside of town, which most definitely was not in bloom a few days before. Like Ken says in his blog, Josh and Laura were tremendously lucky people to have the trees start blossoming when they were in the country. I appreciated soaking up some of their luck as well. And I guess I need all I can get, as shown by this fortune received at the famous Ginkakuji Temple of Kyoto.

After a couple of relaxing days in Shimane, we were once again on the road towards Hiroshima where we stopped first at Miyajima with its famous torii shrine in the water. After a hike in the woods, some time-killing games, we watched the sun set on the island and then headed towards our final destination, the famous Comfort Inn of Hiroshima. Our last day as tourists was spent at the Peace Park Memorial museum where I finally got to see the Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes monument that I based a couple of classes on. We faced a bit of a boring afternoon due to the fact that besides the park and Miyajima there aren't too many attractions in the city. This was easily solved for the girls of the group as we headed off to browse and shop among the hundreds of stores in the city center. After a fantastic dinner of BBQ and bacon burgers and plenty of drinks to go around, we finished our reunion with a bang at a karaoke establishment where we ended our time together with a rousing version of "Fight For Your Right" a la Beastie Boys.

Before I knew it, I was boarding a plane and landing on the suddenly very dingy looking Okinawa island. But I was still smiling from our moments in the photo booths, the continuous fighting between Ken and Josh when they got hungry, and plenty of other moments that don't translate to a blog.

Following Ken's lead, here are some of my favorite photos from last week:

Tsuwano in Shimane-ken, a hidden gem of a town. I loved it there.

Cherry Blossoms (sakura) ... absolutely beautiful. I never believed the hype until I saw it firsthand.

Some orange torii shots ---

Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto which we put off on a dreary Tuesday and it paid off as the sun came out early Wednesday morning.

Sushi making

Some wishes expressed at one of the many shrines that we visited.

Miyajima during the day and as the sun finally set. Our patience paid off... It was fantastic.

The monument for Sadako, a young girl who died from leukemia because of the atomic bomb and became a symbol for peace.

Even today, thousands of paper cranes are sent by schoolchildren around the world to continue her vision. (Our origami attempts later in the afternoon were perhaps a bit less professional looking.)

The scenery might not be as exotic for our next reunion (like The Landing), but nonetheless I can't wait to laugh about our adventures in Japan over a drink or two back in Illinois.