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: http://japanjapan.info/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/tokyotrain.jpg), 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: http://www.parque-net.com/foreign/pdf/ssv_guidebook_english.pdf). I don't want to miss riding the Amigo Balloon!

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