Monday, November 17, 2008

just for fun

Family Time

With each passing day, week, and month, life in Japan is getting more and more comfortable. I’m getting used to the unsystematic five school days followed by an adventurous two or three day weekend.  I look forward to specific recycling pickup days, and take advantage of clear days by doing laundry and then something spur-of the-moment outside.  Last week was freezing, and the forecast is predicting this week to be cold and rainy, BUT Saturday was PERFECT.  SO, Katrina and I went for a drive to take in one of the last kouyou (fall-colored-leaf) days.

Then I went back to the city to spend some quality time with my favorite person in the world.  We went to the sento to take a bath together, ate one of my favorite foods: katsudon (fried pork cutlet with eggs and onions over rice), looked at pictures from the past, and went to bed on heated blankets.  I was tired from the previous night, and she always goes to bed early so everything worked out perfectly in terms of waking up early to go the market for free vegetable soup and some kind of contest.  We went with yasai obasan (vegetable older lady, don’t know what her real name is so I just call her that since she grows lots of vegetables around the neighborhood) who conveniently had two tickets for the drawing.  Obaachan and I lined up on the parking ramp, waiting for our turn to pick up a ticket.  Some people were winning tangerines, flowers, vegetables and huge live salmon!!  Obaachan and I were crossing our fingers, hoping that we wouldn’t pick the orange card that had ‘fish’ written in kanji.  If this were to happen, a man in green would grab a 2-footer by the tail out of a baby pool, and then the man in red would hit it on the head with a wooden stick until it stopped moving.  They would then put it in a plastic bag, and we would be forced to leave with it.  This crazy old woman won a fish and was forced to take it against her will.  The reason I call her crazy is because I saw her walking around afterward, trying to make people trade it for some vegetables.  I saw her later drop the huge fish in the middle of bargaining and it slimed right out of the bag and all over the ground … yuck!!  Luckily obaachan won rice and I won three asian pears.  After all that obaachan forced me to eat 3 huge pieces of bread, an egg, cheese, yogurt, and coffee.

line up, pick a pice of paper - my grandma kept telling me how tall i am, haha

green man grabs the fish

red man knocks it out

i won 3 asian pears!!

A couple hours later, obaachan’s sister and her husband, so I guess my great aunt and uncle picked us up.  They first took us around the library to see some vibrant red and yellow trees despite the dull grey day.  Then they forced delicious conveyor belt sushi into my overly stuffed belly … OMG, one thing came by with a sign ‘くじら’ as in whale, so naturally I HAD to have it!!  My opinion was that it was tough and tasteless – granted it was only a thin sliver, and it was at a cheap kaitenzushi place.  And then the great aunt, grandma and I went to a super sento where we all took baths inside, outside, in green tea, and in a jet bath thing together.  Nice relaxing, and slowly getting used to bathing with other people.   

great aunt, great uncle, & grandma on a walk through the library

hey look, it's canada!! - k, not really but it still made me chuckle 

obaachan insisted on hauling around a heavy bag so we could sit down and kampai with cans of coffee

this would be kujira

you wouldn't believe how much i was yelled for color code stacking all our plates, apparently it was dangerous...??? oh well, i laughed and did it anyway

peeled and hung kaki (persimmon) from their kaki tree - oh man i left obasan and ojisan's place with 2 bag of kaki!!  i'm way short on cash so it'll make for a nice diet over the next two months

the above 6 pics are all from ojisan's garden - pretty pretty huh?!!

and then some delicious tea before they gave me the bags of kaki, towels, and stockings, and forced me out before it got too dark to drive home.  i kept insisting it was fine since my car is fully equip with headlights ... still i had to go!!

5th grade on the south side (Friday, November 14, 2008)

As far as the middle school goes, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I teach at a regular school in a different country with kids from all walks of life.  Aside from a couple special days, I’m not given very much responsibility and act as a simple human tape recorder (forcing my Chicago accent upon the kids) and assistant to the main teacher.  I try to tune out or laugh at the misbehavior, and cherish the students who show interest in conversation with me.

In the elementary schools though, I’m given complete responsibility over the lesson plans and teaching of the class.  This gives me the opportunity to get creative, and teach kids the way I think they should be learning English through actual understanding and games.  Most of the 6 though 12 year olds are wonderful.  They get into the lessons, and even more into the games.  After class they’ll help me clean up, ask me questions, and demand my autograph.  Except for one grade at one school. 

I’m still confused as to how the entire fourth and sixth grade classes can be so good at this school, but all three of the fifth grade classes completely unmanageable?!?!  I’ve seen from the middle school that when a certain class is notoriously noisy, there will be two teachers in the room: one teaching, and one trying to control the unruly ones.  The same technique is used with these 5th grade elementary school classes.  The last time I taught there, this meant that two teachers were available to try to keep order while I taught.  It didn’t work, and I ended up taking it upon myself (even though I’ve been told time and time again that it isn’t my responsibility to try to discipline the students) to separate the bad ones and move them to different parts of the room.  It kind of worked.  When I saw that I had to teach these 5th graders again, I re-evaluated the way I handled the classes last time.  I kind of felt bad stopping class and taking time away from the good students, who actually wanted to learn, so told myself that I would just let the loud ones talk and hope for the other teachers to shush them. 

So on Friday, we were learning how to give directions.  (I had done the same lesson with 5th graders at a different school and it went great.  It called for a fair amount of listening and concentration, but they were all able to get and enjoy it.)  I started out teaching ‘turn left’ and ‘go straight’ and so on but just couldn't take the overpowering noise in the background.  Out of a class of 40, when a third of the class is talking, I can’t hear myself, and I know that the students who are trying to pay attention can’t hear me either.  I ended up being really nice and reasonable through half of the first class.  When I couldn’t take it anymore, I yelled at the talkers, and succeeded in keeping them quiet.  The second class has a REAL bad apple though.  He was so bad that he came to my class halfway though because he was in trouble for something else from the class before.  When he walked in, I gave him a worksheet and he took it and said, “I don't want it” and threw it to the floor.  Whatever.  I kept on teaching, and didn’t quite notice him move to the back to where his other bad friends were.  Then, all of a sudden, I looked up just in time to see a paper airplane hit me!!  Oh man, I was furious!!  I grabbed the plane and marched right over to him and yelled “Why did you throw this at me?!?” Staring at the ground, he replied “I didn’t throw it at you, I threw it at the black board.”  “Why did you throw it at the black board??!?!”  Still looking at the ground, “I don’t know.”  “Look at me!!”  nothing.  “Look at me!!”  still nothing so I tapped/hit him on the head with that paper airplane and he finally looked up, shocked.  I was so angry I knew I had to calm down or something really bad was about to happen.  So, satisfied with the fact that he finally looked at me, I went back to the front, smiled, and continued where I had left off.  Not even two minutes later, that boy stood up with another paper airplane, and walked up to me while I was in the middle of talking to the class.  He said “in return” as he hit me with that paper airplane and went back to his seat on the ground.  Oh, I could have broke him.  I was fuming, which caused me to yell in English “Are you serious!?!  You just hit a teacher.  That was so rude!!”  The supporting teacher finally took him out of class.  I could tell that the good kids felt bad for me and put extra effort into volunteering for the rest of the class, which is what gets me so frustrated.  The few horrible students give the entire 5th grade class at this school a bad name.  Other teachers from other schools know how bad that class is, and it’s completely the fault of a select few.  It prohibits the good kids from getting a good lesson and learning.  The

Thank goodness it was Friday!!  I escaped this town on the first train to the city and had two Margaritas with Colleen, Martin, and Chigusa.  This was followed by some loud karaoke and then a weekend with my awesome family, which doesn’t deserve to be included in this same post.  

Sunset (Thursday, November 13, 2008)

I could hardly keep my eyes on the road during the drive back from Kamikaifu, so I finally pulled over – twice to see calmly watch the sunset.  Some middle-aged men in business suits apparently had the same idea.  One asked me if I was Filipino??  After the sunset to the west, I had to pull over for a third time to stare at the wicked full moon.  

Sanjo Musical Rehearsal / Kamo Karaoke (Sunday, November 9, 2008)

I should have taken pictures of the rehearsal but I didn’t.  We worked on acting, and props. Then a few of us spent the night with Lauren in Kamo for some pizza, wine, and karaoke!!

oh, and this is just a random picture of a halloween 2nd grade board at Senami

Friday, November 7, 2008

Weirdest. Lunch. Ever (Thursday, November 6, 2008)

Sometimes I wonder what goes on inside of kids’ heads – actually peoples’ heads in general.  In elementary school lunches, I always eat with a different class.  Depending on how the teacher decides to set up the classroom, I’ll eat in a cluster of 4 or 7, in a circle, or in front with everyone facing me.  In some instances, the kids talk and ask so many questions, I barely have the time to eat my lunch, and in other cases, the kids are too shy to even speak to one another.  For today’s lunch, I was placed in a cluster of whispers.  They seriously spent the first 18 minutes whispering and talking to each other about me, directly in front of me.  I don’t know what they were thinking because – they knew I could understand them, and they saw me looking at them while they were whispering and talking about me.  They were discussing something about what questions to ask me, and who should ask it, and no that’s a bad question, just ask it anyways, no you ask it, no you ask it, are you really going to ask that question?!?!  Meanwhile, I’m laughing in my head and thinking this is the weirdest lunch ever. 

After lunch: With the weather getting colder and colder, and the schools finally getting their source of heat from old-school modern stoves (I witnessed one being installed in the teachers’ room today – a 3 man job connecting pipes, venting the soot in a chimney-like fashion out the nearest window), there are fewer and fewer children playing outside.  On a normal elementary school day (and if I’m not already reserved by a group of students), I’ll meander over to the gym or playroom, and invite myself into a game of tag, handball, basketball, or dodge ball.   Today though, a group of third grade boys were on their way out, borrowing mitts and bats and balls, to play baseball!!  I immediately asked if I could play with them, and eventually organized a pickup game by telling the kids to go to first, second, short, third, and catch.  They kept on switching and getting mad at the pitchers, so me and my crazy arm became the all-time pitcher.  It was fantastic; these kids wouldn’t swing at strikes but would wail away the balls over their head.  They kept on talking smack to each other, trying to get me to choose a side.  There was the ‘I’m so strong kid,’ the daydreamer, the kid who actually played, the kid who ran with the bat, the kid who refused to wear a mitt, the easy out (I gave him 6), the kid who was determined to get a homerun every at bat ~ dang I miss softball!!

As if my play day couldn’t get better, Thursday nights are taiko (drum) nights.  I’ve been showing up before the grownup practice session to watch the elementary school kids learn new beats.  Sitting in the corner and bruising up my legs during this time has come in handy as I’ve quietly come to learn the main patterns.  Tonight, they let me join in on the ‘nagare’ or the thing where they go from drum to drum and do the ‘don-tsu-ku-don!!!’  The only thing is that my left arm is so stupidly slow; it throws everything off, especially when the beat speeds up.  Needs a lot of work but I’m addicted!!

Wine, Cheese & Wasabi (Wednesday, November 5, 2008)

A while back, we made friends with an old man who plays guitar, owns a sake store, does calligraphy, and is interested in learning English.  He called me over the weekend and asked me to go over to his store on Wednesday night for a little English lesson for him and a friend of his who was interested in learning conversational English.  I went with a notebook and some ideas for a class, and was greeted by 5 old men in suites and a table full of wine, cheese, bread, and the standard Japanese hors d'oeuvre platters.  ok.  I guess I had mentioned that I liked wine to him the last time we talked (which was probably a month ago, and come to think of it, he probably asked me if I liked wine and I was probably like ‘yeah, it’s cool’) so he invited his group of guys over for essentially a wine and cheese party.  I think the idea was that we’ll start lessons next week and this was kind of like a welcome party.  Either way, it was a blast.  Each guest brought with a certain characteristic: the family friend, the musician, the quiet observant one, the talkative one who no one could understand, the hopeful young one, and the mediator.  At one point guitars were brought out and the guitarist and the mediator played and sung (well, kind of) ‘Sweet Home Chicago.’  Then the guitarist exclaimed “I’m hungry, I want a piece of cheese and wasabi!”  “AHAHA, what?!?!” I said, “what does that taste like … actually … I bet that tastes OK.”  “Yes, try a piece, here’s some wasabi!!” and then EVERYONE was eating cheese and wasabi, and it was really truly honestly quite good!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Culture Day

Culture Day = no school, and catching up on this thing (^.^)V

There were two Halloween Parties in Niigata City on Saturday night.  The first at Northern Lights (a Canadian bar) offered a 2-hour tabe-nomi-houdai (eat-drink-as much as you can), followed by a dance party at Immigrants Café.  Since Halloween isn’t really a dress-up kind of holiday here, we looked and felt like freaks walking through the city until we realized that people really do sometimes dress like freaks in this country so really, we fit in.  Both parties were loads of fun as both gaijins (foreigners) and nihonjins (Japanese) were in full costume and looking to party.