Monday, November 16, 2009

My Latest Birthday Present

As you might already know, at the end of each class for the kids age 5 - 12, I make the students say a phrase. If they say it correctly, they can leave. If they mess up, they go to the back of the line. Usually it's something like "Thank you Meg, see you next week. Goodbye!" - nothing too difficult.

On my birthday, I changed things up and had the kids say "Thank you Meg. Happy birthday!" which ended up being unbelievably adorable. The kids were all 5 or 6, and after I told them in Japanese that it was my birthday, they really tried to say "Happy Birthday" like they meant it. I figured it was a good phrase to practice, and they'd smile about it being my birthday and then leave, but after the class one little boy waited for me and said about 80 words to me in Japanese. Of course I didn't understand anything he said, so I brought him over to Mayu, the manager, and asked him to repeat himself so she could translate.

After he spoke, she laughed and told me, "He said he's going to bring you something for your birthday next week." How cute! Naturally I didn't expect a five year old boy to really get me a birthday present, but the sentiment alone was so nice! I hugged the boy and he looked very pleased with himself and skipped out the door. I was touched, but I thought that was that.

A week passed and the class rolled around again. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then after class, Mayu was talking to the same little boy and called me over. "Meg, he has something for you!"

The boy pulled out a gift wrapped in yellow, blue and red truck-themed wrapping paper (he is five, after all) and handed it to me. I couldn't believe he actually got me a present! I opened it and saw it was a box of bear shaped chocolate cookie snacks. Cute!

Mayu had a short conversation with the boy's mother before they left. Afterwards, Mayu told me the mother said that this was the first present her son had ever gotten for a girl! How funny! I'm sure the boy told his mother that it was my birthday, and then remembered to ask her to get me a present! How thoughtful of both of them! I'm guessing he helped pick it out, too.

So now I either have a new favorite student, or a five year old who thinks I'm his girlfriend. Either way, what an incredibly cute birthday present!

Friday, November 13, 2009

10 Things I Thought I'd Never Do That I Do in Japan

1. Drink instant coffee. The coffee here is pretty mediocre all around, so instant coffee is about as good as everything else, and delightfully convenient. (I can imagine my former Starbucks coworkers shaking their heads in shame and disgust as they read this. My dad will likely disown me).

2. Ride a bicycle. It's hard, and we all know how I feel about exercise. Someone should have warned me that there are a lot of hills in Japan. Actually, I take that back; Japan is a fairly flat country. There are just a few hills, and they are all located between my apartment, the grocery store, and my place of employment.

3. Order "Two of anything" at a restaurant. Katie and I went to a restaurant with no pictures, English, or simple Japanese on the menus. We asked, but they didn't have chicken. So we looked up "anything" in my Japanese dictionary and ordered two. Not sure what we ate, but it involved a delicious meat that had a rather funky texture.

4. Pay roughly $15 a month for my cell phone! I don't understand why my phone here is so cheap. Did I mention it comes with a fancy schmancy Phone Ninja?

5. Forget basic French. Apparently there is only room in my brain for one foreign language at a time. Each time I learn a new Japanese phrase it replaces the old French one, though I still remember the French for which I haven't learned the Japanese equivalent. More problematic: if I'm trying to say something in Japanese, my brain switches to Generic Foreign Language Mode. This has forced me to create my own language: Franglanese. Last week in my Japanese class I said: "Watashi no heya o nettoyer." The beginning is Japanese for "my room" and the end is French for "to clean." Just great.

6. Put my fingers in a three year old's mouth. See my last blog entry for details.

7. Eat bags of chocolate breadsticks. This is becoming a real problem. In Japan, they sell bags of 8 ruler-sized chocolate chip-filled breadsticks that I think are intended to be snacks but which I consider to be breakfast, and sometimes lunch and dessert. I figure they're no less healthy than a doughnut, and a doughnut is an acceptible breakfast food, right?

8. Sing solo in front of strangers. I'm not just talking about karaoke (though I've sung there a few times); I also go once a week to a kindergarten (which is like an American preschool, made up of 10 different classes of 3-6 year old kids) where I perform for 15 minutes in front of 4 random classes, holding up flashcards and singing everything from "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" to "If You're Happy and You Know It." "The Wheels on the Bus" was a big mistake, because while the students can sing along to most songs, "The Wheels on the Bus" is far too hard for them, and I was left singing completely alone (they just chimed in for the "swish swish swish" of the wipers).

8a. Sing solo for an audience of one 3 year old. I have a new student who gets a private lesson, and not only is he adorable (he just turned 3) but he's smart and well-behaved and loves repeating whatever new vocabulary I teach him. His only (rather large) flaw is that he doesn't like the songs on the CD I have for my preschool classes. I taught him the words and accompanying hand gestures for the "Hello Song," and he did them perfectly. Then I started the CD, and he literally backed away from me and sat quiety on the other side of the room, just staring at me. However, when I sang the "Hello Song" myself he had no problem with it. This led to me singing "The ABCs," "The Eensy Weensy Spider" and "The Goodbye Song" as well. The 3 year old didn't mind, but I tell you it wasn't pretty.

9. Wear tennis shoes with work clothes. How very "Working Girl" of me. At my school, you always take off your shoes and put on work slippers upon arrival, so I quickly realized that it doesn't matter what shoes I show up in, as no one will ever see them. However, if you spot me on my bicycle on my way to work, you'll catch a flash of pink Reeboks as I cycle by.

10. Go several months without seeing a musical. I must be going through some sort of withdrawal, because in New York I think I saw a musical at least every month, if not every three weeks (wouldn't you say, Lorianne?) and here, well, I don't see any theater at all. I think the only reason I've managed to survive this long is, in one word, "Glee."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Today I Put My Fingers in Hikaru's Mouth

I haven't written in over a month (sad things) so I'll try to make up for it with a quick Favorites story. Today I had Hikaru's class (he's My Favorite; I'm sure no one will mind if I mention his name, and it's such a great name!). In addition to Chihiro, the girl always in the class with Hikaru, I also had a make-up student from another class: a quiet 3 year old boy. My Hikaru and Chihiro are very smart for 3 and 4 year olds, and so they intimidated the make-up student.

Normally at the beginning of class I hold up toy fruits and vegetables and ask either "What's this?" or "Do you like this?". If I ask "What's this?" then My Favorites respond with the number, color and food (they're so smart!); for example, "One yellow banana!" or "Two red strawberries!" If I ask "Do you like this?" the answer is always "Yes I do!" There is an accompanying hand gesture, where the students raise their arms over their head to make a circle. If they said "No I don't" (which they never do), they're supposed to make an "x" in front of their chests with their arms.

Hikaru and Chihiro know what's coming, so the moment I hold up a toy, they start shouting possible answers before I can ask the questions. If I hold up a banana, immediately the room errupts with "One yellow banana! Yes I do! One yellow banana! One yellow banana! Yes I do! Yes I do! One yellow banana! Yes I do!" And each time they say "Yes I do!" they raise their arms over their heads to make circles. It's ridiculous. So while Chihiro and Hikaru were screaming answers like this, the poor make-up student just stared at me blankly. I wanted to give him a chance to answer, so I hush the other two and ask him, "What's this?" There was a long pause, and then he finally, cautiously answered, "banana?" Poor kid.

At the end of class there's usually a coloring activity. Today we were coloring animals, and I'd name the color and animal and the kids would have to pick out the right color, and then color in the right animal. They each come with their own pack of crayons or colored pencils (poor Chihiro only has 4 broken colored pencils, and she politely asks Hikaru to borrow his crayons each week). Most kids, like Hikaru and the make-up kid, have a special crayon set that comes with an eraser, 10 colors, and a pencil sharpener.

We start the coloring activity. I say, "We're going to color the tiger orange". Chihiro colors the tiger orange and says in Japanese, "What's next?" The make-up student picks up a black crayon and stares at me blankly. Hikaru, out of nowhere, starts sharpening his crayons.

"Good job, Chihiro, now color the bear brown," I say.

Then to the make-up student, "No, that's black. Find orange. 'Orenji' in Japanese."

"Hikaru, stop it. Don't sharpen your crayons now."

Chihiro colors the bear brown. The make-up student picks up the purple crayon. Hikaru ignores me and keeps sharpening.

"Okay Chihiro, very good, now color the fox red." Chihiro colors the fox red.

"Here's the orange crayon. Color the tiger, here." The make-up student takes the crayon and scribbles in the middle of the page, then stares at me.

"Stop it, Hikaru!" I take his sharpener away. "Color the tiger orange." Hikaru picks out the orange crayon.

At this point I look back over at Chihiro, who is patiently waiting for the next animal. "Color the rabbit pink, Chihiro." Then I look to the make-up student, who is scribbling with two different crayons, one in each hand. "No, like this, color the tiger orange," I say, and show him what to do. I finally look at Hikaru, who is putting orange crayon shavings into his mouth.


Guess who got to stick her fingers into Hikaru's mouth to stop him from eating orange crayon shavings. Holy cow. He can say "Four red balloons" clearly in English, but he doesn't know not to eat crayon. He's still My Favorite, but gross.

And of course, as I wiped the orange crayon shavings from his chin and picked them off of his tongue, Hikaru ignored me and confidently colored the tiger orange.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It was adorable.

This week my schedule changed a bit and I don't have one of my cutest classes anymore. It was the "Baby Rhythmic" class, but I always called them my Rhythmic Babies. The Rhythmic Babies were all 1 to 3 years old and came with their mothers for a 40 minute class. I was pretty much the entertainment. If they were bad their mothers took care of them, and I didn't have to plan for the class because the woman who plays the piano told me what to do. It was great (except for my singing). I would start a song or an activity and then walk around giving each child special attention. When I came near a Rhythmic Baby, the mother would turn their kid's head in my direction, being like "Look, here comes Meg!" as if I were a celebrity. And I'd always say "touch!" and the kids would high-five me. It was adorable.

The mothers must have had an unspoken competition to see who could dress their kid in the weirdest outfit for the class. While a few Rhythmic Babies wore reasonable playclothes, others arrived in everything from Hawaiian shirts and visors to pressed party dresses. One little girl strolled in one day in black boots, zebra-striped leggings, a black and silver star-adorned t-shirt, and a bright pink scarf. However the best outfit I witnessed was worn by a one year old boy. First, when I say outfit, I mean that he wore a bathing suit. It was a one-piece girls' style suit, and it was designed to make him look like a watermelon. The bottom was rind-green-colored with watermelon rind patterns, and the rest of the suit was red with black seed spots. This would have been ridiculous enough, but no, the kid was also wearing a hat. It looked like a ladies' swim cap, also made to look like a rind, and it completed the entire watermelon ensemble. It was adorable.

There were some super cute moments in this class, like when a mother told me that her daughter had walked for the first time ever that same morning, and then she put the girl down and let her walk over to me. The girl was too young to speak during the class, but she'd clap along and know what was going on. I would lay out colorful alphabet magnets and ask the children one by one to come find a letter. After they grabbed one, I would lift them up so they could put it on the board. At first, I intended to have the parents lift their own kids (I didn't want to accidentally drop a Rhythmic Baby in front of the class) but even if the kids were shy, the parents would shove them towards me. Then, after putting a letter on the board, the kids would high-five me (of course) and run back to their parents. The last class I taught, I lifted the particular girl who had just learned to walk and then put her back down after she had put her letter on the board. Instead of running back to her mother, she just stood there hugging me. I high-fived her again as all of the parents said "cute" in Japanese, and the girl just stood there smiling at me until her mother carried her back to her spot. It was adorable.

When we played London Bridge, a mother would help me make the bridge, while the other parents and children walked underneath our arms. The little one and two year olds would duck like their parents, even though they were not in danger of bumping their heads. We'd have "sway and sing" time where the parents would each, well, sway and sing while holding their kids' hands or carrying their kids in their arms. One mother had two sons, so the older one would sway and sing with me. Being a rambunctious boy, he'd violently swing his arms (and mine) back and forth while the other mothers laughed. The funniest sway and swing though was when a mother with twin one-year-old girls came. The girls were very tiny and barely spoke, but the more outgoing twin was brave enough to sway and swing with me. She'd never come to the class before, so I assumed she'd just stand there holding my hands in shock. When the music started, however, she immediately leaned to the left and lifted her right leg up above her head like a little monkey. Slowly she put it back down and moved on to her left leg. Imagine a tiny girl holding my hands and lifting her legs like a monkey. All of the parents were looking at us and laughing hysterically. It was adorable.

So no more Rhythmic Babies. Luckily my Favorite class is still in tact. Yesterday, the little girl was absent so My Favorite boy had a private lesson. Before he arrived, I was in the waiting area talking to my last five-year-old student and meeting his little sister. I asked this boy how old his sister was, and he said "zero," though his mother later clarified that she was eleven months old. She clearly just learned to walk, because she stood in the center of the room looking stiff and unbalanced, just staring at everyone. Then, out of nowhere, she'd lift her arms up and make a noise like a dinosaur. I'm not exaggerating. "Fgroahhh!" Everyone was saying "cute!" and laughing. I tell you this because I was kneeling on the floor playing with the cute dinosaur girl when My Favorite student arrived. He ran in the door, pointed right at the dinosaur girl, and asked loudly in Japanese "What's that?" Makiko and I couldn't stop laughing. It was adorable.

Each week I have a drawing on the board for my Favorite class. When they come in, they either point out what's missing ("where's the sun?") or ask me to draw something new. Then I teach them the word in English. For example, a few weeks ago My Favorite asked for a "hikoki" and luckily I knew it was an airplane and drew it. Last week he was wearing a shirt with a fire truck on it, and so I drew a firetruck on the board for him. The girl had trees on her shirt, so we drew those too. Well this week I had the airplane and firetruck from before (along with a tree, the sun, a flower and a spider) and My Favorite immediately requested I draw three cars and a bus. After, he started shouting "fūsen! fūsen!" and I thought "What's that?" I gave him the marker and he drew about twenty circles with lines coming out of them, all in a row, crying "fūsen! fūsen!" as he drew. After class, I asked Makiko what "fūsen" means, and she told me "fūsen" is "balloon". My Favorite drew a row of balloons on the board! It was adorable.

The rest of the class was great. He has a bit of an issue with personal space and was sitting inches from my face while I flashed cards or held up toys, but that's adorable too. He also got a haircut, so he looks a little less wild than he did before. I'm sure it will grow out. He still runs around wanting things his way, and he hates songs. When I played the Hello Song for him yesterday, he immediately started running in a circle around the classroom while he sang. I chased him (I have no dignity while teaching three year olds) and he laughed hysterically until the song finished. Then he surprised me by being wonderful during the rest of the lesson. He said things that other five and six year olds struggle with ("two red apples" "one yellow banana" etc) and he put the alphabet magnets in order on the board himself. It was adorable.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Is Important

Every Friday I have a private lesson with a fourteen year old girl whose English is incredibly great. The text book we follow brings up social and cultural issues that always lead to interesting discussions. Today we talked about What Is Important.

This quickly lead to me drawing a cline (that's right, I'm using my CELTA vocabulary) on the board, with one end labeled 'Not Important', and the other, 'Most Important'. I then named various events, actions, or things and asked my student to place them in order from least to most important, according to how she felt about them. I'd like to share with you what she came up with.

* Spiders
* Magazines and Comic Books
* Having a Boyfriend
* Looking Fashionable
* Learning English
* Being a Kind Person
* Brushing Your Teeth
* Doing Well in School
* Being Popular
* TV
* Pleasing Your Family
* Making Money
* Being Happy

So what if you aren't a kind person, you're failing school, or you don't brush your teeth; at least you're popular and can watch TV.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wakayama & Nara

I went to Wakayama (a beach town, and home of Adventure World) and Nara (a historic city best known for Toudai-Ji) for a weekend with Katie, her student Senae, and Senae's husband, Masataka. Undoubtedly you've seen my many photos of this trip on Facebook, so let me just highlight ten of the best-of moments.

1. Upon arriving at Adventure World, the four of us immediately got into a line. We thought it was where you waited to see a baby lion cub, but we were soon informed that it was the Hold a Monkey Line. Monkey holding ensued.

2. There was a gateway labeling one part of the park "The Feeling Area," though I'd classify the entire thing as a giant petting zoo. Animals I touched included a monkey (see above), a wallaby, a deer, a wallaby/deer/rabbit hybrid, an American bison, a giraffe, some elephants, many goats, and almost a rhinoceros.

3. Animals that I could have touched, but did not touch, included many dogs, a monkey riding a dog, a raccoon-colored monkey thing, numerous birds, and lions. Though we waited in the Feed the Lions Line for fifteen minutes, the lions were not hungry and we did not get to see what feeding them entailed. I imagine it entailed handing them steaks and petting them.

4. About my almost touching a rhinoceros. We were following the same path as the rest of the tourists through the safari part of Adventure World, but after touching elephants, an American bison, some goats, and a giraffe, we were unsure whether to continue straight past the rhinoceros' cage, or turn left and venture closer to the rhino. As there was nothing obstructing the left path, my friends and several other visitors took it. We were able to walk behind the rhinoceros, as he sat in his little Rhino House, and look at him through a window. We were still separated from him by small bars. Continuing around, we then found ourselves right outside the cage. Thick bars that stood three feet apart kept the rhinoceros from coming out. They did not stop us from going in.

Senae pushed Katie into the cage, and we all followed. Later, we discussed that had the rhinoceros been standing, we might not have marched unabashedly into his cage, but as it was he was lying down and looking unwell, so we weren't as afraid as we naturally should have been. The other visitors were most daring, as they walked right over to him and touched him (and yes, they had young children with them).

I entered the cage and took pictures, intending to touch the rhinoceros afterwards. Before I had the chance, an Adventure World employee holding a radio walked briskly towards us, saying, "Abunai! Abunai!" That means "dangerous." He explained in Japanese that we were not supposed to have wandered into the rhinoceros' cage, and it would be best if we exited immediately. I like to think that he was standing nearby when, over his radio, a voice cried: "Hey, man! There are tourists in the rhinoceros' cage again!" Crrssshh (radio noise), then his response: "Again? That's the fourth time this week!"

5. Soon after we accidentally walked into the rhinoceros' cage, it was Panda Feeding Time. This came after Panda Wake Up Time, which I think was even cuter than Panda Feeding Time. They actually called it Panda Wake Up Time, in English. Once awake, the pandas would assume the Fat Seated Hamster Position (thanks, Jesse!) and drink from milk bottles while being monitored by Panda Supervisors who wore Panda Hats. I think I've found my calling.

6. The last thing we did in Adventure World was to ride the Kandansha (Ferris Wheel). Masataka held our things while Senae, Katie and I rode. Senae suggested we wait longer to get the "Crystal Cabin," a car that was entirely clear, including the bench and the floor. We did, and the "Crystal Cabin" was excellent.

7. That night we checked into our resort hotel that overlooked Adventure World. It was beautiful. Our room was so large that it had a dining room, separate from the living area and bedroom area. It also had a balcony overlooking the pool, hills, Kandansha and ocean. It would have been altogether perfect, except that when we tried to buy beer from the vending machines near the elevators, they would not take our money. We tried several floors. What's with that, Japan?

8. The next day we drove to Nara to see Toudai-Ji, the largest wooden temple that houses the Virocana Buddha. The temple was very interactive. You washed your hands, wafted smoke by the door, and lit candles; and all before entering. Inside, after looking at the immense Virocana Buddha, we had our fortunes read. This involved shaking a box of wooden sticks until one came out, reading the number on the stick, and then having a man hand you your corresponding fortune. Fortunes came in Japanese, Chinese, and English, which was convenient. Though they had small, vague details about travel and health and so on, the best part was the title. Katie and I both got 'Good Luck.' Huzzah. Then Senae got 'Good Luck Later.' I guess she'll have to wait. After we'd read our fortunes, Masataka strolled up to us, looking very pleased with himself. He held up his fortune: 'Best Luck.' Well then!

In addition to pulling a stick and getting your Fortune Slip, you could also get good luck by squeezing and squirming through what I'd estimate was a 1.5' x 2' hole, maybe 4' deep, through a giant wooden support pole holding up the ceiling. We watched high school students go through before deciding I had to try. I attempted several unsuccessful approaches but ultimately I just had to reach my arms in as far as I could so Katie could pull me through. I flopped out on the other side like a fish; albeit a lucky fish. As you left the temple, you tied your Fortune Slip to a pole as a scary looking wooden statue dressed in red looked on. Good Luck, here I come.

9. The deer. There were SO MANY DEER. When we first arrived at Toudai-Ji, we were surprised to see a deer approach us in the parking lot. Having grown up around scores of deer in Maryland, it was exciting to be able to pet one for the first time. Katie and I stayed around the Parking Lot Deer, petting it, as Senae and Masataka called to us: "there are more deer over here." And boy, were there. When we abandoned the Original Deer to enter the park outside of Toudai-Ji, we were immediately met with swarms of deer. Senae and Masataka had bought us deer food (yes, vendors there sold deer food) so the deer instantly knew to attack. Quickly, cuteness became scariness (kawaii turned to kowaii) and I found myself actually running away from a deer. Please see Facebook for proof of this embarrassing moment. I did indeed flee from a deer.

Once we'd run out of food, the deer became passive and gentle. I found myself casually running my hand along this deer or that deer's back as I strolled by, since there were so many deer to be found at Toudai-Ji. Later, during the car ride home, I learned to say "The rhinoceros wasn't scary, but the deer were the scariest" in Japanese. I think it went something like: Sai wa kowaikunakatta desu demo shika wa ichiban kowaikatta desu.

10. Saiin Garan at Hohryuu-Ji. This was the second temple we saw on our second day, about thirty minutes by car from Toudai-Ji. It was stunning. Very peaceful and spread out, it consisted of many small temples or buildings in a practically tourist-free zone. I loved it. Though the pictures don't capture how lovely the area was, I especially liked the five-story pagoda, Gohjuu-no-Toh, and the central gate, Chuumon. There's not much to describe but I took some of my favorite photographs here; namely, the beautiful manhole cover, the cat defecating in front of the temple, the 'angel staircase' sun rays, and the parking lot structure. Please enjoy.

I know I said there were ten highlights, but we have to make this an uneven Eleven.

11. Senae and Masataka. They were wonderful. They planned the trip, drove us everywhere, and treated us to lunch and dinner each day. Unbelievably nice, and on top of that, they were also hysterical. There's a photo of Masataka, outside of Toudai-Ji, holding two lit candles over his head like devil horns as Senae laughs and moves to stop him. That sums up their relationship perfectly, and they were just as entertaining throughout the rest of the trip. A good example was when Katie, Senae and I were jokingly discussing how we should come back at night to rob Saiin Garan, estimating the value of its ancient artifacts. Masataka, without saying a word, mimed the best Cat Burglar Stealing a Gigantic Ancient Statue that I have ever seen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Random Events from the Last Few Weeks

The Good.

A few weeks ago I went to see one of my Hisai students' friend's art show. Her name is Kikue Miyatake and the exhibit was a restrospective of her artwork for the past fifty years from age four to fifty four. At age eleven she had artwork in a Japanese national gallery, she later had shows around the world, lived in New York, and painted on the Berlin Wall. She's been invited back to Berlin to recreate her painting in what she said was the world's largest permanent outdoor gallery.

That's right, I said 'she said.' Even though this wasn't an opening, an event, or a one-day engagement, when I went to the gallery around noon on a random Thursday, the artist was there. I had looked through the gallery before I started to guess that the woman hanging around the door greeting guests was the artist. Her paintings are very interesting. Most are enormous and abstract and very unique (I thought). Her earlier ones looked Pollock-esque, and she went through a flowers-in-France phase, but everything was lovely. There was a giant photograph of her painting on the Berlin Wall. This is a picture of the painting, but the exhibit's photograph captured it better (it looks oddly flat here):

The problem with viewing abstract artwork in Japan is my inability to read the titles. It's always fun to know what the artist calls the splotches of paint you're looking at, and so I tried to copy the names of the ones I liked best to ask one of the GES managers about later. As it turned out, I had the artist explain her work to me firsthand. She walked me through the gallery and told me many of the titles, explained her process, and talked about New York (she'd lived in the East Village for a few years). I was in a great mood the rest of the day. What a great suggestion from my Hisai student! I also learned that "buumeran," a katakana title I could read but not understand, means "boomerang". "Himawari" is "sunflower". A little at a time...

The Bad.

Two men just came to my door. I considered not answering because one can only assume they were more Jehovah's Witnesses. And also because I was wearing pajamas (who wouldn't be, at 3pm on a Wednesday?). Nonetheless, I answered and was handed an opened envelope that, among many Japanese things I can't read, says in English: Tax Payment Notice. One of the men pulled out the papers and showed them to me. I said "Japanese little," because if they hadn't already guessed I can't understand them, my inability to make a sentence out of those two words would certainly clue them in. They said "tax" and in Japanese asked repeatedly "Margaret Delcher wa doko desu ka?" "Koko," I replied. "Here!" One of the numerous papers seems to say that I owe $16 each month for living here. Fine, except why was this mail hand delivered when they had my address, and why on earth had they opened it before I had even answered my door? Japan, you confuse me.

The Ugly.

My Favorite student knocked my classroom wall down. The classroom is half of a larger room, split in two by a moveable dividing wall made of fairly heavy wood panels. I can move them myself, but not without effort. I've been teaching in there over a month, and even with students occassionaly hitting or running head first into the dividing wall, I've never seen it budge. My Favorite knocked it so far out of place he could go through it to the other room. For the last ten minutes of my three year olds' class, my eight year old students in the other room, waiting for their lesson, were sticking their heads through the wall and laughing. Great.

To be fair, My Favorite is getting a little better. I've learned that he'll behave easily enough, as long as he controls everything. He goes around the room selecting which cards to use next, or pointing at something he'd like to do, and we do it. Am I letting this three year old control me? You bet. If it keeps him in the classroom (what's left of it) with his pants on, then that's good enough for me.

Yesterday as I was teaching the class that comes right before My Favorites, I heard a piercing scream sound from the waiting area. "Great," I thought. "My Favorite boy is out there throwing a fit." I finished up my lesson and went out to see what all the commotion was. First I saw the boy, standing on the window sill with one foot in a plant. Well that's normal. But next to him was the little girl, the other half of My Favorite class, bright red and screaming! What's this? The little and usually angelic girl was throwing a tantrum! She seemed to be angry at her mother and was shouting, but then when she saw me she almost melted into the floor out of embarrassment (while continuing to scream, of course). The mother looked at me like, "I've done all I can here," so I picked up the girl. Not under my arm like I'd done with the boy in the past, but nicely, and I carried her into the classroom. Then I held her screaming in my lap as the boy ran the lesson, until she was distracted enough to forget why she was angry and crying. From there things ran smoothly, until the boy knocked down the wall.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Camping at Lake Tanuki

Last weekend I went camping with the teachers, managers and 22 students at Lake Tanuki by Mount Fuji. The kids, age 6 to 12ish, were really well behaved and the campsite was beautiful, but overall I'd have to say the trip was pretty odd, especially compared to camping trips I've been on.

It was supposed to be an English Camp where the kids would earn stamps for speaking English, and all of the information would be in English at least first, then Japanese. Kind of an All English, All the Time type of trip. With such young children, it's understandable that many things had to be repeated in Japanese, but after a few hours, things weren't said in English in the first place. So the only people who didn't understand what was going on at the English Camp were the English teachers. It should've been called Camping with the English Teachers instead.

We left Matsusaka before 9am on Sunday and took a bus for five hours to Lake Tanuki, stopping every hour or so for bathroom breaks. On the bus we quizzed the kids using flashcards and playing games, but that didn't last. Some kids napped which was good, and the rest were happy just talking (in Japanese) or looking out the windows. We had activity teams, each with an English teacher and a Japanese manager (four groups: A, B, C and D - I was B) that we'd stay in during the day, and so when we had a picnic lunch at a rest stop we sat in our groups and had to pick group names. My favorite suggestion in my group was that we call ourselves Team B. It was so bad it was good. After we shot her idea down, the girl then suggested, "Team A?" Another girl named my group the Stars (we were going to be the Superstars, but the boys didn't like it).

We didn't get to camp until around 3pm. Then we had to split the kids into cabin groups, get blankets, and take the luggage to the cabins. Somehow this took hours. The funny thing was, the kids were split into three cabin groups, one for boys and two for girls, and none of the cabins had adults! And though the cabins were in the same area, they weren't that close together! I thought it was odd that the children would be alone all night. The cabins were nice though, with screens so a breeze could go through and they were pretty big... all you needed was a cot or a sleeping bad and they'd've been perfect. Instead, we had two dirty orange blankets apiece. No pillows. It was a delight.

By the time things were squared away we had to start making dinner. The managers organized that because they spoke Japanese, and they put the kids to work. The girls washed the rice and the boys helped with the fire. I watched. I also slipped away to take several (hundred) pictures of Fuji San because the view from the lake was gorgeous. Apparently it's rare to have such a clear view of the mountain because it's usually hidden behind clouds but we could see it all day Sunday. Totemo utsukushii!

Once the rice was cooking the teachers finally started barbecuing the meat. The kids were starving by then and lined up holding plates, begging for food like they were in Oliver! By the time dinner was finished, it was dark and time for showers and then bed, so we were there all afternoon but didn't really play any English games or do anything besides make dinner. The kids ran around and liked being there though, so I don't think they minded.

I was sharing a cabin with Katie, the other American teacher. We are both terrified of bugs and were not so thrilled about the orange blanket situation, so when we finally went to our cabin to sleep, of course I saw the most enormous spider imagineable.

Back up. Though I said I liked the camp, and the cabins were nice enough, the bathrooms were a different story. The bathroom itself was about as bad as a normal camp bathroom, but the showers, which were in a separate building, were horrifying. One of the only two girls' showers was flooded with gross murky water, and so all the teachers used the second. You had to pay 200 yen ($2) for a five minute shower, which was fine because you couldn't possibly stand to be in there any longer. It was like a wildlife show. There were spiders and moths and it was dirty and smelly... you get the picture. Anyways, I shower, and I'm changing in the little area in front of the shower when I notice what's in there with me. Not only is there a moth over my head and a spider just inches away on the wall, but there is the most ridiculous bug on the floor in front of me. It's like a square grasshopper, and it has huge feet. It could wear shoes. If it hadn't hopped out from under my stall, I was prepared to run out into the night naked and screaming.

Which brings me back to the spider in the cabin. I see it there, hanging out on a broom in the entrance area of the cabin. I tell Katie about it. "Where is it?" she asks. "You don't want to see it. We can just pretend it isn't there," I say. "No, tell me!" "It's on that broom."

Katie looks at it, stands up, and goes "Okay... okay.... let's make a plan!"

"I can't go near it," I say.

"Okay, you go hold open the door, and then I'll throw the broom outside."

To do this, I'd have to walk past the spider. "I can't walk past the spider!" I cry.

"Would you rather be the one to pick up the broom?"

I go open the door. You exit the cabin through the entrance area and make a right out of the door onto the porch, then you make a left to go down the steps (follow me?). So if you open the door and throw the spider broom out straight, you'd land it on the porch. You have to throw it out and left to get it in the grass and away from the cabin. I'm standing as far away as I can on the porch, but in front of the door to hold it open. "Ready!" I shout.

"I can't!" Katie screams back. Meanwhile, I have the door wide open and the light is on in the cabin, so every Japanese bug imagineable is flying inside. "You have to!" I shout.

Suddenly, like in slow motion, I hear Katie pick up the broom, run towards the door, and throw the broom. It lands squarely at my feet on the porch.

Well I scream like a psychopath, jump over it as if it were a hurdle, and run back inside. Now there is a giant moth right next to my bed. At this point, I give up, Nature wins, and so I move my orange blankets over and let the moth have most of the floor. I'm done.

The rest of the night was uneventful, though I slept curled in a ball completely under my orange blanket for fear of crawling things touching me. It was also hard to sleep on the floor when I'm used to a bed. On top of this, we heard the kids talking or laughing all night long. Our cabin was the furthest from them, so I can't imagine how loud they really were. The next morning we asked the boys how many hours they slept. "Zero hours," said one boy, smiling. "Eleven minutes," said another.

We'd gotten up at 5:30 am to watch the sunrise. It's supposed to do this diamond reflection thing directly over Mount Fuji only two weeks every summer, but of course when we get to the lake it is cloudy. You can't even tell Mount Fuji is there. We, and a crowd of other disappointed photographers, wait anyways to see if the clouds will clear, and we're able to see half of the diamond effect which was cool. The kids were very good about hanging out in a field staring at clouds. Then we did exercises and ate breakfast.

This whole time the kids have been pretty much able to do whatever they want. If they weren't good kids, there was nothing to stop them from wandering away. So after breakfast, I was taking one kid to the bathroom when I pass a boy (the boy who said he slept zero hours), walking back from the main building where there are vending machines. He has this look in his eyes like, "you caught me," and he's drinking something.

Then I see: he'd bought an iced coffee! This eight year old boy is drinking iced coffee! He smiles and since I can't yell at him in Japanese, I bring him to one of the managers to yell at him for me. Funny thing was, I think he ended up being able to keep the iced coffee, or maybe he'd pretty much finished it by the time we caught him. Either way we didn't really yell at him; it was pretty funny that he went and did that in the first place.

After breakfast we cleaned up, packed, and got back on the bus to go to a nearby farm. It was a great place for families: it had playgrounds and you could pet all kinds of animals. We could only stay an hour which was a shame, but we split up into our groups again and took our kids to as much as we could. Parts of it were cool, but parts were sad. There was a rabbit room where the kids could go in and feed the rabbits or pick them up, and each bunny had a crazy wide-eyed look that said "just kill me now." The kids would shove carrots in their faces, and the bunnies would sit there, letting the kids poke them in the mouths repeatedly. It was sad.

While the bunnies had it bad because the kids could pick them up, the horses had it worse because they were tied down. People took their pictures in front of the horses and fed them, but the horses couldn't go anywhere. Maybe since it's a farm, they only have to do that a few hours a day and then they can roam around the rest of the time, but I doubt it.

The only happy animals were the medium-sized ones, like the ponies and the sheep. You could go right into a pen of sheep. The kids would walk towards the sheep, thinking, this animal looks nice! Then the sheep would see the kids and think, hey, they might have food! Cut to many sheep chasing many screaming children.

From the sheep's pen you could enter a guinea pig room. It had a giant table in the middle that held about ten guinea pigs, and the kids could feed them or pick them up. I was in there with four of my students and another family.

So all of my students are holding guinea pigs. Then someone in the sheep's pen opens the door, and suddenly there is a sheep in the guinea pig room! The kids scream and the sheep chases them around the table. They're running, all still holding guinea pigs, and the guinea pigs, who until then looked miserable, now look miserable and absolutely terrified. This parade of guinea pigs held by children chased by a sheep continues for several laps around the table. I try to herd the sheep out the door by walking behind it, but there is no one to block it from going around the table again and again. Finally, a man grabs its food bowl and lures it out that way. Only in Japan would a sheep get stuck in the guinea pig room at a petting zoo.

One other attraction at the farm that we didn't have time to do was goat walking. I thought this was hysterical. For 300 yen ($3) you could borrow a goat. It would have two leashes attached to its collar, and usually a kid would hold one leash while a parent had the other, and they'd march around the farm walking their goat. After 20 minutes you'd return it. If I'd known about it sooner, my group would totally have had a goat with us as we walked around the petting zoo. Sad things.

After the farm we went to the gift shop where the kids bought presents for their families. It was adorable. Both boys in my group bought jars of milk for their mothers (cute!) and the girls bought stuffed animals for their siblings or mothers. Then one of the boys tried to buy a hotdog. He got so far as to be handed it on a plate, when Mayu (my group's manager) caught him and took it away. Poor kid. All the kids were starving when we left the farm, and we still had to visit the waterfalls before lunch!

The Shiraito waterfalls were beautiful but uneventful. We marched the increasingly exhausted and hungry kids down to see them and then had to practically carry them back up the hill again. Afterwards, we went to lunch at a restaurant that was expecting us (the kids sat in their own separate room which I thought was odd) and then within moments of boarding the bus to go home, everyone was asleep. I've never seen so many kids passed out on a bus. My favorite was the boy who'd drunk the iced coffee. He was sitting up with his head slumped back, sleeping with his mouth wide open and snoring loudly. I have a picture of him on Facebook. He was so soundly asleep that when we stopped for a bathroom break and everyone made noise, he didn't stir.

All in all it was definitely a good trip and we were lucky the kids were so great. I would go back to the lake and the campgrounds in a heartbeat, but next time I'd bring a sleeping bag and a large can of Raid. Oh, and something has to be done about the bathrooms.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Community Center Class in Hisai

Yesterday I went to Hisai, a town between Tsu and Matsusaka, to teach a once-a-month class for a group of middle-aged people/senior citizens at the community center.

Pause: I turned my iTunes Shuffle on, and a piercing scream was the first thing I heard. It was a track from Bernarda Alba, but the volume was too loud and it just scared me half to death.

Speaking of scary (こわい), I rode my bicycle (Nice Friend) home after dark yesterday. As I was locking NF to a pole under my steps, a cat jumped out of a trash area directly towards me, like a flying monster, except it was a cat. I shrieked, then apologized to the adorable cat that was then cowering in fear, waiting for me to go away. My neighbors must think I'm crazy.

Back to the elderly. Most of my classes are 50 minutes, but the Hisai class is 90 minutes. At first I thought, "OH GOD what do I do for 90 minutes with senior citizens?" Now it's one of my favorite classes. I have a text book and a CD that are pretty basic, with questions like "What is your favorite baseball team?" and "Are you retired?" We barely used it at all. The class shouldn't be an English class so much as The History of Meg Delcher.

They had met me during my observation week and learned my name, that I had lived in New York, and that I studied art, but that was about it. Then yesterday a student showed up with a map of New York for each person, and asked me to point out where I went to school and where I lived. Then all twelve took turns asking me questions about my life or about American culture (ha). I'd correct each question, write it on the board, they'd all write it down, we'd repeat and practice it, I'd write my answer, they'd repeat that, and so on. There was also a lengthy discussion about each topic, or a long period of confusion while I tried to figure out what was being asked. They were all over the board, asking things like:

Where did you play in your childhood?

Were you in New York for September 11th?

Why is your nickname "Meg" if your name is "Margaret"?

In the song "Hey There, Delilah," what does "Hey There" mean?

How many people can fit in Carnegie Hall?

Here is a brochure; will you go see my friend's artwork at the Mie Museum in Tsu? She painted on the Berlin wall. I told the gallery to expect you.

I loved trying to answer these questions. I walked away with a Japanese map of New York, a museum brochure, and a note-to-self to google Carnegie Hall, origins of English names, and the Mie art museum. I'm going to try to go see the show next week; after all, they are expecting me.

I should also mention that to get to this class, I take a train to Hisai where someone should be waiting to pick me up and drive me to the community center. Yesterday, the first thing my driver did when I got into her car was to hand me a photo album of her granddaughter. I thought, okay, she's a proud grandmother... and then I realized: her granddaughter is the adorable girl in my Tsu class of 3-year-old "favorites"! I asked if she knew the little wild boy, and I did an impression of him by flailing around. She laughed and said she knew him. I told her how great I think that class is, and how smart her granddaughter is. Small world! Thank god she didn't show me a Matsusaka student - I have more there, and I'm still having trouble learning who's who. But her I certainly know her granddaughter!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Favorite Student

First, it should be noted that my shortcut was wholly unsuccessful. It still takes me about 20 minutes to bike to the train station. This is 16 minutes farther than I prefer to bike. But that is neither here nor there.

My favorite class (the three year old wild boy and adorable girl) were berserk again today, as expected.

To contrast, I had my class of three other three and four year olds for the first time today (all were absent my first Tuesday) and they were great. One girl talks the whole time in Japanese, but totally on topic from what I can understand. The boy is super eager to be there and answer the questions, and the last girl is shy and quiet. It didn't look promising when they came in, because the boy had a nosebleed and his mom was sticking kleenex up his nose. But she said he was fine (I was like, "are you sureeee?") and he had kleenex stuck up his nose the for the whole class. It looked uncomfortable, but he didn't seem to mind. The girls laughed at him at first, but they got over it quickly and the lesson went smoothly. My favorite thing to do with those kids was this series of verbal command flashcards. "Swim!" and they all lay on the floor and pretend to swim. By far the best is "Dance!" - three year olds are crazy good dancers.

After that very successful class (pat on the back, me) I had to do the same lesson plan with my "favorites". They both showed up 10 minutes early, of course. The girl got there first and waited quietly with her mother. Then I see the boy and his grandfather walking towards the door. The grandfather opens the door and steps in. The boy runs the other direction, back across the parking lot. Great. His grandfather drags him back in, and he climbs up by the window in the waiting room and hides. The girl goes into the classroom, puts her bag away, and gets ready to start. Makiko, the manager, and the grandfather work together to shove the boy into the classroom. It should be noted that the boy's pantlegs are wet. He didn't pee himself (thank god) but he'd gotten himself wet somehow. Once pushed into the classroom, he runs side to side around the room as Makiko blocks the door, and the girl and I sing the Hello song.

Then, despite his oddly damp clothing, he's suddenly participating in the lesson! I hand the kids fake fruit and veggies and ask "Do you like carrots? Do you like strawberries?" "Yes I do!" they both say! They pretend to eat them and give them back, laughing. We go through the alphabet cards, and I ask "Do you like bears?" "Do you like pigs?" "Do you like rabbits?" etc. and they are totally into it ("YES I DO!" they scream). I had discovered last week that the boy is afaid of the W-witch card and will run out of the room when he sees it, so I switched it for a different card. Around U he runs to the door. I skip V, call his name, and show him the new card. "W-Watch - see?" and he looks confused, then happy, and then comes back over! I give him the card. Then I shuffle the rest, hold them up, and whoever can say "U-Umbrella" etc. the fastest gets the card. Well they start off sitting about three feet away from me, but are so eager to get more cards that they move closer and closer until the girl is literally sitting on my foot, and the boy is trying to grab the cards out of my hands. That's more like it! I let the boy win, and he looks proud as we both clap for him afterwards. He is a little out of control the whole time, moving way more than necessary no matter what we're doing. He'll answer the questions, but be bending over touching his head to the floor and jumping side to side as he talks. Hey, at least he's paying attention! They sing (er, shout) the alphabet song and dance (more three year old dancing: priceless) and run around the room laughing and pointing to colors as I name them ("Find something blue!"). Unbelievably great.

Fast forward ten minutes. The girl is alone with me in the classroom, and the boy is in the waiting room not wearing pants.

I could tell I was losing the boy's attention. I had done all of the exciting action things ("Stand! Sit! Stand! Sit! Jump! Swim! Turn around!") and we'd sung a lot of songs (they both did I'm a Little Teapot and pretended to pour tea out of their spouts for me to drink: cute). But then I was supposed to do a lesson about body parts from a book. I held up the flashcards, the boy looked right at them, and I could tell he was thinking "eh." He was gone.

The girl and I finish the body parts lesson from the book, and the boy still hasn't come back into the classroom. I go into the waiting room to find the boy pantsless and the girl's mother putting his pants on top of the air conditioner (will that dry them?). I guess his damp pants had annoyed him so he took them off. He's hiding in his pull-ups under the manager's desk. I look at the boy, I look at Makiko, and I walk back into the classroom. I'm no help there. The girl and I start a coloring project and eventually Makiko plops the still-pantsless boy down in my classroom again. He sees we're coloring and he immediately gets out his crayons! We were drawing pictures of Humpty Dumpty to practice identifying body parts (Draw the arms! etc.) and who knew, but the boy is pretty great at drawing! I can barely get him to stop coloring long enough to sing the Goodbye song.

Here's the craziest part. The class ends, the girl leaves, and the boy, who mere minutes ago had made another run for it, is still in the classroom. He's CLEANING UP! And not his things, but mine! I stand there, dumbfounded, watching him. He stacks the flashcards. He takes the CD out of the CD player and puts it in it's case. He closes my attendance binder and puts it with the lesson books. Seriously? He's not looking for attention either, because I try to be like "Wow, that's so wonderful!" and he doesn't care. He just finishes what he's doing, says a quick goodbye, and goes into the hallway to meet his grandfather, who is standing there holding the boy's pants.

To sum up: escapes into parking lot, runs into walls, shouts alphabet, points to blue, dances, sheds pants, hides under desk, draws Humpty Dumpty, stays late, cleans up. And I thought the kid with kleenex shoved up his nose was exciting.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to Work

Sad things. I was so great at not working this last week that it's a shame to go back today. Also, today is the day I have my "favorite" 3 year olds, and I'm expecting that class to be at least as wonderful, if not wonderfuller than last time. I'm considering buying the little boy a helmet if he continues running headfirst into walls.

In about 40 minutes I have to go to the train station to go to Tsu. Two days ago I decided to find a shortcut to the train station, because I'd either taken the bus or biked down the main roads before, and both were time consuming. Since I'd have to look at a map to guess roughly where I was (no street names), I couldn't bike. I thought, 'That's fine, I'll go on a walk'. That walk lasted three hours. Granted, I spent some time taking pictures ("Ooh, a rice field!"), some time stopping because I found a shrine and a cemetery (more pictures), and some time buying dinner at a Family Mart, but I also got decidedly lost. I asked a variety of people for directions (and by asked, I mean I said "Matsusaka Eki?" which is the train station, and made my best 'I'm lost, help me' face). People who came to my rescue included an old man on a bike who was super happy to give me lengthy directions that were ultimately "keep going straight" and a teenage boy who was so scared this stranger was speaking to him that he shook. Reminded me of my scared-shaky World Studies students. His directions came in the form of subtle gesturing and not looking directly at me. Once I got there, I timed the walk back and it was roughly 40 minutes. Ew. By main roads it takes me about 20 to bike to the station, so we'll see how much time the 40-minute-walk route takes. I'm guessing 20 minutes, ha. I am a poor bike rider.

Other than taking Epic Walks and cleaning my apartment (I scrubbed things!), I also went to Nagoya with Katie and loved it. It's about an hour away by Expensive Train, and about 100 minutes away by Affordable Train. I took Affordable Train. When we got there we went straight to the castle (Nagoya Jou, I think) and walked around there. The outside is beautiful but they're doing construction on the grounds on one side, so it was less than picturesque. Inside I expected to find a period-decorated castle layout but was totally mistaken. It looked more like an 80s museum (carpeted floors, dark rooms, and things in giant display boxes) and was unbelievably interactive. When I stepped off the elevator (yes, elevator) the first thing I saw was a line of about 20 people waiting to take their picture with a golden dragon-fish statue. Clearly I had to get in this line, too. There was also an exhibit showing how hard it had been to move the rocks that were used to build the castle. You could pull on a rope and a meter would tell you how much weight you moved. I managed a phenominal 10 kg. Pathetic. There was also a box to sit in that had a TV screen in it, but I'm not sure what that was about. Overall it was nice, just not at all what I expected! Lots of golden dragon-fish statues.

After our necessary tourist trip the the castle, we went to the main entertainment/shopping area called Sakae. We found an English bookstore where we could pay twice what it would cost in America for books (thanks, Japan) but I bought a Japan guide (I've been needing one), A Wild Sheep Chase by Murakami (a coworker recommended reading this before I left, and I'm just getting around to it now...) and One Hundred Years of Solitude (thanks for the suggestion, Emily!). Then, after a delicious dinner and one giant beer each, we went to the Sunshine Mall and rode a Ferris Wheel! It was called the Sky Boat, and it's entrance was through a DVD store, which made it very difficult to get to. I thought that was funny, considering we were looking for the giant Ferris wheel on the side of the building, and we couldn't seem to find it. The Sky Boat was great - it moved so slowly that you only went around once, but the views were beautiful. Post Sky Boat we went to another mall, Oasis 21, to see a giant sculpture/structure called Spaceship Aqua. Hysterical. I'm not sure what this was, or why this was, but Spaceship Aqua had a shallow pool of water over a glass floor about two stories off the ground in a plaza that I think was called Field of Green. From it you could see the Sky Boat and the TV tower, which bore an uncanny resemblence to Le Tour Eiffel. Also, it had a park around it called Central Park. I guess Spaceship Aqua makes up for the TV Tower's lack of originality. Underneath Spaceship Aqua was the Galaxy Platform, which contained shops, a food court, and glowing dinosaur bushes. Yes, glowing dinosaur bushes.

Next time we go to Nagoya I want to see a shrine on the edge of the city that is supposed to be beautiful. Other than that, it's a nice place to just hang out in and shop. We didn't really see the neighborhood by the main train station yet either. So a return trip is definitely in order.

Well I should really begin my perilous and probably lengthy bikeride to Matsusaka Eki. Wish me luck.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I've Been Here Over a Month Now!

I can't believe I've lived in Japan for over a month now! And I've only taught for 8 days. I'm on break now, but I didn't have time to plan anything much because it came so quickly, so I've just gone to the beach with Makiko, the manager of the Tsu school; seen Harry Potter 6 with Katie and Hisae, the manager of the Ise school; and hopefully I'm going to Nagoya to see a castle, a shrine, a Ferris wheel, and find an English bookstore tomorrow. And I went on a walk. I actually will keep this brief because I want to take pictures of the sunset (and post them with the hoards of other photos I have on Facebook). It's beautiful out now, but still too hot.

Forget brief. I left to take the pictures already. The sky was pretty clear, not really any clouds, so sad things there. I do love clouds. While I was walking I ran into a little old woman who talked to me for fifteen minutes. Normally this would have been fine but I only understood about eight words she said the whole time. After I told her my name, she crouched over and wrote her name in the dirt using a stick. Not sure why saying it wasn't enough, but I am now 100% sure her name is Miura. She was very friendly, and I think we both said something like "see you again here" when we left (we were up on a hill looking at the sunset). Now I have a friend to watch sunsets with.

It's time for 5 Things I've Learned in Japan:

1. There can never be too many vending machines.
2. Kawaii means "cute". Kowaii means "scary". Don't tell people their kids are "kowaii".
3. Sometimes you see a frog on the floor of a bar.
4. The coffee isn't great, but the tea is delicious (totemo oishi desu).
5. People here assume that I'm from Australia.

And 5 Things I Still Don't Know About Japan:

1. How to get to the post office.
2. How to sort my trash correctly (It's combustible or not-combustible here. Go figure).
3. How to get proper storage for my closet (right now it's like a big empty box - the Hello Kitty curtain rod failed).
4. How to meet Japanese people older than 14, younger than 44.
5. How to find a website for cheap flights to Korea. 80,000 yen, really?

My iTunes Shuffle is currently playing the nun choir's "Morning Hymn" from The Sound of Music. "Rex admirabilis..." I still can't set up my TV here (it's complicated) and I'm not convinced that it would work, even if I could plug it in. So iTunes and Youtube are entertaining me when I'm at home. Oooh the shuffle just cut to Jerry Orbach!

I'm pretty much settled in here (apart from the closet debacle) so look for more conistent updates from me! Huzzah.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

First Day of the First Week of Teaching

This is my first week of teaching (our weeks here Tuesday through Saturday). I taught for the first time on August 1st - a Saturday - and overall everything went smoothly. The first class was three 5-6 yr olds who were good. Despite my forgetting what to do and moving too slowly, they were well behaved. Last week when I observed the class, one of the kids had a drooling issue (drool just kept pouring out of his mouth like an uncontrollable fountain; the more he liked the lesson, the more he drooled) but he kept it in check on Saturday for me. The week before he had drooled on the flashcards.

Then I had a class of eleven year old boys. There was a smart one; a boy who might cry (as I discovered last week); another smart boy; and a slower boy. I loved this class. These boys are funny and overall smart and just nice. When The Crier cried during my observation, the others tried to help him or politely ignored him so he didn't feel worse. Cool kids. For my first lesson, the crier was absent and the other three were great. My favorite moment was when I had them asking me question to practice English. They were sticking to the standards "What's your name?" "Where do you live?" "Do you like green peppers?" and so on because they weren't used to the game (each question you ask correctly, you get a point - easy). The boys soon ran out of questions and there was silence. Then the slowest one smiled, looked at me, and asked "Do you have an elephant?" - everyone laughed and I gave him two points. Making a joke in English? Love it.

After the boys was another class of 5-6 year olds. All girls and a boy and they behaved for me although the boy can be bad. Then I taught a class of four 4-5 year olds (a boy tried to pull down another boy's pants!). They are way behind the other students their age. There are twins who hit each other, a boy who is smart but can misbehave, and a 4 year old girl who is quiet. Sigh. To contrast them, I have a private lesson with a 5 year old girl after; my last class of the day. She is wonderful. While the previous class struggled with the alphabet and numbers 1-10, she can look at a card and say "There are two blue rectangles" or "The cat is going up the stairs". She's so great I'd forget she's only five, until I mixed the cards together in a silly way, or made a shocked noise because a flashcard was upside down, causing her to laugh hysterically. Cute kid, and nice way to end a Tuesday.

BUT moving on to today. All of my classes were back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back (that's right, 5 of 'em). Things started with a bang. I had a group of 3 year olds and two cancelled. The third was a no-show. SWEET - I must say I was fabulous, teaching a class of zero :-) Class number two was a private lesson for a smart 5 year old boy. Think the 5 year old girl from my last Saturday class, but not quite as brilliant. Still smart, and fun to play games with.

Then disaster struck.

The third class (my absolute favorite during observation) was two 3 year olds, a quiet girl and a crazy little boy. When I observed them last week, they were wonderful. The boy can misbehave a bit but was totally into the songs. The old teacher played the alphabet song and the two were up and dancing in their own little worlds out of excitement, even before the singing started. Today, not so much. The boy would have none of it.

I walk into the classroom and the girl is being shy. She's not used to me but thankfully she warms up quickly. The boy is bouncing off the walls. I play the standard Hello Song and while the adorable girl does the motions and sings along, the boy literally runs back and forth across the room doing laps and slamming himself into the walls. If I weren't teaching, it would have been hysterical. Then the boy runs out of the classroom. I had made it to the Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes song and I left the girl so I could go get the boy, who was with the manager in the waiting area. Thankfully no one else (like a parent) was there to see this. Well I grab the boy under my arm like a sack of potatoes and carry him back into the classroom. I walk back in and there is the girl, staring at the wall, doing Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes by herself. Singing along, happy as can be, staring at nothing and singing. She's doing the motions too. HYSETERICAL (and sad). Clearly she doesn't need me. I restart the song, keep hold of the boy, and muddle through. The boy didn't stop running or talking (in Japanese) or squirming or pulling or kicking the whole class. And the girl did every bit of the lesson perfectly, by herself. Imagine me chasing a little boy around while a little girl goes through a routine alone. She did the I'm a Little Teapot song by herself while I held the boy in my lap. It was a circus. She even knew opposites and sat there saying "Stong, weak, strong, weak" and making muscle-arms while I ignored her and held the boy upside down. Someone should film this.

The rest of the day was fine. Another class of four boys, 3rd and 4th grade, and only three showed up. Then a private lesson with a 7 year old boy had a make-up student, and the two were great together. One of the activities is to read off a list of commands ("Fly!" "Jump" "Point to the window!" "Touch your toes!") and the students act them out. The advanced students also add "I'm jumping!" or "I'm touching my toes" as they mime. I let these two take turns being teacher and command me and the other student, which they got a kick out of. A good way to end the day.

I should point out that earlier, I had done other commands with the two three year olds (the quiet girl and the energetic boy).

"Ride a bike!" I said. The girl pretended to ride a bike. The boy ran in circles at full speed around the room.

"Swim!" I said. The girl pretended to swim. The boy ran head first into the wall.

"Point to the door!" I said. The girl pointed to the door. The boy opened it and ran out.

I'll have to figure out how to deal with my "favorites" next week. Maybe I'll let the girl lead herself in her own lesson while I take the boy to a track and time him running around it.

Tomorrow I have an easy series of lessons with kindergarteners and then one middle school class and one adult class. The middle schoolers are so afraid to be in class that they shake, but more on that later. Hope you enjoy reading about my struggling teaching career. More on everything else non-teaching later.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Training to Teach

Apparently it isn't enough to create a blog... you're supposed to continually update it, writing more about what you're up to and not just ignoring it and thinking "eh, I'll do that later".... hmm. Who knew.

Well I've been in Japan over 2 weeks now! I've pretty much been sick the whole time. I didn't really mention it but while I was in Tokyo I had a sore throat and now I have some unfun allergy/cold situation where sometimes my eyeballs itch like craziness. As much as that has sucked (and it has sucked so much) I still went out whenever my coworkers/friends were doing something and I still made it to every day of training so far, and then the moment I get back to my apartment I lay around like a vegetable, but a gross vegetable with itchy eyes. While this made training a bit harder, it hasn't really been a problem except that I've yet to unpack or set up my apartment because I feel too blah when I'm home to take care of anything. I did tackle my laundry, which became an event because after I ran my washing machine (that's right New Yorkers, I have a washing machine) and it filled with water, it refused to drain and sat there beeping at me and flashing lights. So I had to call my boss who called a repair guy who did something and then had to call my boss again to tell me what it was (it had been installed wrong with an extra part... weird). But now it works fine. I need to find fabric softner because right now I only have a box of detergent that makes clothes stiff. My boss wrote on it in English for me, so I would know what it is. She wrote "Soup for your clothes".

I know the real reason you're reading this is your unquenchable interest in my laundry situation. Well other than laundry I've done nothing in my apartment except cook some noodles and hard boil eggs. Hopefully now that I'm feeling better, I'll clean and organize everything and have pictures of my tiny but cute Japanese apartment for you very soon.

Meanwhile, outside of my apartment I've been doing a lot (see Facebook for pictures of everything from the goodbye dinners to my neighbor's garden figurine to the stuffed mushroom man that came with my cell phone). I went to a few going away dinners for two of the teachers who are leaving (Filo, who is going home to New Zealand after stopping in Australia, and Liza, who is going back to the Phillipines). During the last two weeks I followed Liza, Filo and Peni, seeing some of each of their classes. It was helpful to see so many classes, but exhausting because I had to go to many different locations (more on that in a second) and have longer days to fit all of the observation in. G.E.S. has a main location in Matsusaka, and then 3 other schools. Filo taught primarily in Ise, which is 30 minutes away by train, and Liza and Peni teach half the week in Tsu (20 minutes away, plus an uphill walk). There's also the North School in Matsusaka (Kojima San's house; I'm not joking) and then a couple scattered classes - two at schools that are like 5 kindergardens rolled into one, and one at a community center in Hisai, between Matsusaka and Tsu. During these weeks I've had to ride my bike, take buses, take trains, walk, get rides from random community center students, hail taxis and leave early, stay late, miss lunch, go to meetings, etc. etc. to see everything. It's been crazy. I know this will end when I have Liza's schedule and am not trying to see two other teachers' classes but WHEW I'm tired. It's been cool seeing Ise and Tsu and Hisai but everything looks alike for the most part because I've just been seeing the schools instead of famous landmarks or interesting sights. Ise has more tourist attractions (Ise Shrine, for one) and then also has cute bars and restaurants but otherwise is a lot like Matsusaka. Tsu seems more businessy but it's the capital of Mie Prefecture so that explains it. Hisai looked like Ise as far as I could tell. I'm sure in a month or two I'll have seen enough of these cities to tell you all about them, but now unless you want to hear about their train stations, bus stops, or highways I can't help you.

Like I said before, I'll have Liza's schedule which means 3 days a week I'll commute to Tsu, which I won't really mind. It's not far (like taking the subway from The Eldorado to IAG) and it's small and on some days it will just be me, the students and Makiko, the new manager there. Otherwise Peni or Kojima San will be with me. The other days I'll be in Matsusaka, where I can bike to work (on my "Nice Friend"). It's close and Katie (who I met in NYC) will be there, but there are more students and teachers and things generally seem busier so I think I'll be happy to only be there half the week. Although it will be nice to be so close to home at the end of the day.

More about the teaching part once I'm actually teaching :-) Meanwhile, I'm happy to be here and I'm liking the challenge so far (I can read a few things on menus, and was able to get iced coffee and a ham and toast sandwich for lunch off a no-English menu this afternoon!). I can't really speak because I'm horrible at putting sentences together so it's more like caveman talk (How much? Yamadakamiguchi. What number? Thank you.) (And yes, Yamadakamiguchi is a real station in Ise) and I read too slowly for it to be useful. At least I can recognize the kanji for Matsusaka now, and Yamadakamiguchi. Actually, based on that, I'm fairly sure I could write Kristi Yamaguchi's last name in kanji... Huzzah. So if that becomes necessary, I'm on it. Otherwise, I need to stop laying around in my apartment whining about my itchy eyeballs and start studying Japanese!

Ja, mata!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Made It to Matsusaka

And on the 7th day, God said "Meg shall travel to Japan in all the comfort of Business Class." Then God and Meg rested; only when Meg rested, it was after a four course meal, complete with champagne, and on a fully reclined and spacious first class airplane seat.

"Did you try the pampiette of salmon with fig viniagrette?" you ask. And yes, yes I did indeed.

For reasons unbenownst to me, ANA blessed me with an upgrade to Business Class for my almost fifteen hour flight to Tokyo, Japan. Upon reaching Tokyo I would have to lug my two suitcases, backpack and computer on and off of three different trains and down crowded Tokyo streets for several hours in an effort to reach my hotel (check out what I was navigating:, but at least I was well rested for such a struggle. Along the way people were eager to help me with my luggage and one woman was so nice as to indicate that I was not strong enough to carry everything. I nodded in agreement and said "Taihen desu ne" for the first time in Japan!

My hotel was fine - nothing fancy but clean and close to the train. The area, by the Gotanda stop on the Yamanote line, was a few stops from famous Shibuya, where literally hundreds of people cross an intersection each time the light changes. I went there on my third night in Tokyo; it was really cool to stand there (out of the way, of course) and watch so many people appear, as if out of nowhere, in the middle of the street. At the end of the light they would seemingly disappear again, except for a few stragglers causing familiar city honks and shouts. Then my friends and I joined the mob to find a restaurant in the neighborhood.

By the third night I had met with Katie and Peni, teachers from Global English School, who had joined me for the training seminar at Hamadayama in Tokyo. Katie I had met earlier during the CELTA course I took in New York. She has been in Japan since April. Peni, originally from Figi, has lived in Japan about 20 years, and sounds fluent in Japanese to me, although he denies it. I was so happy to have them there, and they helped during training and were fun to go out with in Tokyo. We picked a tapas-style Japanese restaurant (though Outback Steakhouse was an option... maybe next time) and had to take our shoes off before being seated! Peni and Katie said they'd never seen that in a restaurant before, as much as the Japanese like to take off their shoes indoors. I have already bought two pairs of slippers for the two schools I will be teaching at, and I guess I should get a third for my apartment though I prefer to be barefoot. Slippers? Eh. Anyways, the barefoot dinner was good overall, and after we walked around some more before going back to the hotel to pack for Matsusaka City the next day.

I had completed one day of observation and two days of a seminar in Tokyo before leaving. It was very helpful to watch teachers who have been teaching the PLS method (the method used as G.E.S. as well) for several years now. It's primarily for teaching children, and consists mostly of games and flashcards that are easy to learn and easy to teach. The teachers go through many subjects very quickly, and most of the lesson is reviewing what the students already know until they are very familiar with a subject. Each subject is made into a game, even if it is just earning points while going through flash cards. The classes are always small, with only two to eight students, and the kids seem to be pretty well behaved. Maybe it's just because their teachers have been good.

The seminar was a bit long and jam-packed with information (a bit too much for someone new to the whole thing) but it went by quickly and then before I knew it I was in Matsusaka. On the way their, Peni carried around my suitcase and computer, and without him I don't know how I would've managed everything. It was also nice to follow around friends who knew where to go and what to do.

When I got into Matsusaka City it was dark, so I couldn't make out much about where I was. It's a small town, not really a city at all, with bars and restaurants and movie theaters, but not much else. Part of it looks a bit like Joppa Road in Towson. My neighborhood, however, off the main road, is cute in my opinion; lots of small houses mixed with a few apartment buildings, all with little gardens and shingled rooves. You can see mountains in the distance. It's like a maze and there are no street names in Japan (ridiculous, right?) so it took me a few tries to find my way to the main road. I by no means know my way around yet, but I can get to work and to the "Max Value" store that is like a giant grocery store and dollar store all in one, across the street from G.E.S. Kojima San, the owner of G.E.S., picked us up at the station when we got in from Tokyo, and drove me to my apartment. I liked it immediately. It's small but not too small, and anything bigger would be wasted space. The bedroom has fake wood floors and a sliding door, and Kojima San furnished it with with a bed, curtains, a table, hangers for the closet, and a shelf. The rest of the apartment is a small kitchen, doorway (with shelves and a mat for shoes) and bathroom. The kitchen was also filled with everything I could need, from pots and pans to food since I had gotten in at night and wouldn't have a chance to get groceries for at least a day. There is also a microwave (Huzzah!) and a washing machine, and most importantly there is a wonderful air conditioner in the bedroom that is operated by remote control and can get the room from sweltering to freezing in a matter of minutes. Which is necessary because it has been sweltering here so far. Katie says it's the hottest it's been since she got here, so at least it shouldn't get much worse. Riding a bike in this heat is tiring though, and I'm still shaky at it in the first place. The bike Kojima San gave me says "Nice Friend" on it in English, so there's that.

Today I had the day off to unwind from everything, because the first full day I was in Matsusaka I had to observe Peni's classes and then got home late. For the most part, teachers don't start work until after noon, and finish by nine at the latest. Usually more like a 2 - 8pm schedule, which suits me fine. Unfortunately the sun comes up at 4am here, so I haven't slept through the night yet, but I'm sleeping later each day.

Tomorrow I go to Tsu, the next town over from Matsusaka, where I'll be teaching 2 days each week. I heard it's just like Matsusaka, so Joppa Road Part 2. But there should be more shopping apparently (which is good because I need a hair dryer, and Max Value didn't have one). I'll probably rest and finish unpacking next weekend (the weekend for me being Sunday and Monday) and then by the following weekend I'll be ready to travel more around the area. There's a famous shrine in Ise, another nearby town, and The Wedded Rocks at the beach a short ride away. And Spain Village is close by too (You will be jealous: I don't want to miss riding the Amigo Balloon!

Now to watch The Tour de France live online. More to come!