Monday, April 27, 2009

Off to a faraway land

Well China isn't so far from Japan, but that's where I'm headed! My trusty pal Lauren (the ultimate travel buddy!) and I are grabbing a plane tomorrow afternoon to Hong Kong. We will be traveling from Hong Kong to Shanghai to Beijing and back to Tokyo for two weeks. And while I know that I have been doing a lame job of updating lately, I definitely won't be updating for another two weeks. HOWEVER, when I do return from China I will have more stories than I can type. So be on the lookout for lots of new exciting stories and pictures after May 10th!!!

Also, I am not taking my laptop, nor do I anticipate being able to check email, but I will respond to all comments and emails as soon as I get back to Japan.

AHHHH I only have three months left!!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Magic tricks and bedtime stories

Tonight's English lesson with Heartful was really fantastic! This is a prime example of the things that mean the most to me here in Japan that I will miss terribly. Heartful is actually in a bit of a transition now because one of our teachers moved away. James (the guy from Kenya), decided to move to a more exciting place than Koga and take a new ALT job. It was a bit of a sudden decision, so Heartful is still trying to find a replacement teacher. This is good news for me though because until they find a replacement, I get to take over James' classes and see them more often!

Tonight was especially fun because Boom Chan told us about a class that she teaches on Tuesdays at a university in Tokyo. Boom Chan is a bit of an expert at entertaining children. She writes children's books, and knows magic tricks and does puppetry, etc. So the class she teaches is an early education class for people who want to own and teach at day cares and kindergartens. Today she taught her class a magic lesson they can use for wow-ing large groups of kids. So we coaxed her to show us some of her tricks tonight for fun.

The tricks she showed us tonight were mostly things with rope and knots. She even taught us all how to do a couple of them! The first was to make a mosquito, Cat's Cradle style, and then clap our hands and all the knots would fall out. Next we made a Bunny Foo Foo with our hand and went through a hide and seek sequence until all the knots we made fell out. It was so much fun to watch everyone in the group try to learn the trick and then practice until it was perfected! Boom Chan has written a book about magic tricks and a few different children's stories.

Hiromi has two grandchildren and she bought one of Boom Chan's books for them. She pulled it out to show me and it turned into story time. Each person would translate one page of the book into English for me and then pass the book on to the next person. When it got around to me, I would read the Japanese out loud and then translate it myself. The story was about a little ninja whose father asked him to deliver a letter to his grandpa. The little ninja was afraid to go alone, so he used his ninjitsu magic to help him multiply into three little ninjas. So the ninja starts on his journey. Along the road there is a big snake, so the little ninja multiplies to 6 ninjas and then 100 ninjas. All the ninjas run very quickly around the snake to make him very dizzy. And then the snake falls down. The little ninja finally makes it to his grandfather's house to deliver the letter!

Boom Chan reminds me so much of a really great teacher of mine from middle school. She has a ton of energy, great sense of humor, and works so well with kids. In fact, I think I will go write Lauren a letter right now! So many wonderful Lauren's in my life!!!! :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Busy week, no more time to be sick

I am slowly starting to kick this sickness, which is good because I have a pretty busy week coming up. I have both English clubs this week on Monday and Tuesday, dinner plans on Wednesday, and my own Japanese class on Friday. This weekend I am going shopping with Chika (mostly just to hang out and enjoy looking at summer clothes) and then next week is only a two day week before I am off to CHINA for two weeks! But my To Do list needs to be complete before next Wednesday, so I gotta get in gear.

With all the excitement and bustling that has been happening, the days have been moving right along in their warp-speed kind of way and only when I actually look at a calendar, do I realize how little time I have left. Recently I have been talking to my Mom about eventually leaving Japan and what a huge transition that is going to be for me. Now legit, I am doing so much better with the idea/occurrence of change. That doesn't mean that my life here is unimportant. I have learned that being able to deal with change and being sad to see a chapter in your life close are two different things. I will be very sad to see this year of my life come to an end, but I am ready to move back home. Some advice I got from Mom (modified to be universal), "Write down all the reasons why you made the decision to transition, now. Then when you are in the thick of sadness and emotional time of moving onto the next thing, you can look at your list and be reassured you made the right decision for you, even if it is hard."

I will be starting to reflect a lot more as the weeks slip by. I cannot be more thankful for this year and the people who encouraged me and threw me on that airplane to get here in the first place.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I would like to begin this post by letting you know that I also finished Love As A Foreign Language Vol. 3, but I have decided to stop reporting on the series. Suffice it to say, I really love the series and it really hits home with me. Thanks, DC for bringing it into my life.

Now, as for Wicked - I finally read the whole thing!!! If people think Baum's OZ book was political, wait until you read Maguire's take on the fateful country! He is an incredibly intricate writer with a strong voice and intense characters. I will say that for those of you who have seen the musical, they are hardly similar. In my opinion, the musical is very pointed and cohesive, the book is more realistic - as realistic as a magical land with witches and dragons can be. He speaks in a very real tone of political turmoil and misguided leaders turned dictators.

The story is of the life of Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire delves into the reason as to why she is green-skinned, but also her aversion to water, and her aptitude toward "evil." I found it quite interesting actually that Maguire explores the definition of the word evil and the role it plays in society - this bit of the novel can be extrapolated and set against modern society and the behavior of those considered "good" versus those considered "evil." One opinion of the debate I found extremely thought-provoking was the statement, "Evil is an act, not an appetite." It goes on to discuss how evil can only be seen, and that our private thoughts or appetites, no matter how dark, cannot be considered evil because no one knows to judge them. It is only when an appetite is acted upon that evil exists because of the real consequences of physical action. What do you think?

"What is the difference between science and sorcery?"
My thought is that what is considered sorcery (or magic) tends to become science. Instances of nature that at one time were inexplicable, were considered of the Gods or magic. Eventually all of those mystic events were to be explained by science. Without detailed examination of sorcery, science would cease to exist.

"It is not for a girl, or a student, or a citizen to assess what is wrong. This is the job of leaders, and why we exist."
This statement is rather nerve racking and I fear speaks of the tyranny of big government. In my opinion, it should always be for the common person to contemplate and have an opinion on how he is governed. When the population grows to significant numbers, it is unrealistic for each person to have a clear vote on every national issue. However, I think sometimes governments are elected to office and then have quite a lot of free reign until the next public vote - which is never soon enough to stop the mess from being made.

I think this book is really phenomenal and is worth reading. It took me a while to get through because of the intricate language and so many created words. I surely recommend it though.

Tired and Sick

I would have titled this post the other way around, but that phrase has such a negative and unsatisfied connotation. Anyway, I have been sick for about a week now. Nothing that keeps me from working, it just makes work that much more tiring. I just started teaching again for the first time in a month, and I am happy to report that my schools have been keeping me busy. I really love being in the classroom with the new kids, but this head cold has GOT TO GO!!!

Each day is different and sometimes I think I am feeling better, but then after a full day of classes, I'm back to where I started. Needless to say, I have been dead tired and just can't seem to get enough sleep. So this week I have been doing a lot of reading and lesson planning in the evenings, so nothing terribly exciting to report. I was hoping to be feeling better this weekend, so that I could go see Lauren in Tokyo (my favorite girl and my favorite spot) but I just don't think that will happen. However, if better judgment does not prevail and I end up spending Saturday in the big city, I will be sure to report my escapades when I return home! ;)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn

It has been two weeks since all of the new teachers came to Sanwa - all 12 of them! and one week since classes have begun and the new students have been in school. I started teaching again this week.

Of course as a recovering Metathesiophobe (fear of changes), I was a little apprehensive about the flurry of activity around me as the new school year approached. Sanwa underwent some pretty big changes including 12 new teachers (3 of which are English), a new Vice Principle, of course new freshman students, and a new layout to the teacher's room. But I am happy to report that not only have I endured the changes, but I am enjoying my new view of the teachers room and I am excited to meet my new students. The new English teachers are really great too and it helped that I knew two of the three of them before they got here! One teacher is from my old school, Sakai Nishi, and the other is from the school where I was a substitute ALT, Yachiyo High School. They are such nice women and oddly, I am helping them learn the culture of Sanwa a bit since I have been here longer. Imagine that, me with some experience! haha

The story with our new Vice Principle is a little strange to me, and I am sure I am missing some of the details in translation, but... The Vice Principal that was here until March had no clue he was leaving until about three days before the new school year was to begin! I kind of think about it like a sports team; our Principal knew he would be trading the VP, but he didn't tell the VP until the last minute so that nothing could be done about it. It came as a shock to everyone, and as with so many other situations I have encountered here, no one seems to understand what is going on or have details about a situation. I will never cease to be surprised by the amount of blind faith the Japanese have in the group and the higher-ups to make decisions. They aren't really concerned with details or the reason why - a way of going through life that is completely foreign to me.

Last week was rather uneventful for me at work, but on Thursday I had my rock concert debut! Every year there is a welcome assembly for all the new students. They listen to speeches and most importantly, every club at school does a small presentation for them to try and entice them to join. I thought it was cool to watch all of the different clubs (mostly sports) give little demonstrations. At the end of this segment, the "rock band" club sang two songs for the school. I have been practicing with Kohei and Kensaku for about 5 weeks now and watching these guys play is just fun. Kohei was one of my students that went to Australia way back in November and he always makes it a point to come and speak to me when I am working at Sanwa.

Sadly I have not been spending as much time outdoors since school started because of being a little busier (thank goodness) and of having a yucky head cold. I have been reading like a fiend of course and still riding my bike when I do go out. Hopefully this head gunk will pass quickly. I have more travel plans in the works and I will be sure to keep everyone updated. :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Love as a Foreign Language - Vol. 2 by J. Torres and Eric Kim

I just finished the second installment of this comic series and I am really enjoying it. The character is struggling with his desire to be back home and his new found energy and motivation to stay in Korea and keep teaching English. The job is frustrating, but he wonders if that is reason enough to leave his new life and go back to the old one. I really like the mirror effect this series has for me. In the dialogue I can see my own situation somewhat and it helps to have that reflected back. There was an unexpected twist at the end of this book, and now I am on the edge of my seat for the third!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring is upon us

In Japan, spring brings many new beginnings. The beginning of a new season, new school year, new wardrobe, new energy and excitement after a long, cold winter. The Japanese school year begins in April and ends in March, and Sanwa has been buzzing to get ready for the new year and new students. The weather has been beautiful and so enticing that I have spent a lot of time outside while at school. I am lucky that I have such freedom that I can take a walk outside during school hours. I have been getting a lot of bike riding in lately as well. Just on Friday, I was able to check out of school a couple hours early and head over to the Koga Peach Blossom Festival again.

I am so happy to have been introduced to this park because the atmosphere is beautiful and it will be a nice place to spend time this summer. Luckily I got to the festival early enough in the day to visit some of the vendors and get a chocolate banana. While I was shopping through some different kinds of tea leaves for sale, one vendor offered me a sample of green tea and we struck up a nice conversation. I am always so happy to speak to people in the community in Japanese. It gives me some great practice and I like that they try to talk to me. This woman did a fantastic job by using easy vocabulary and speaking to me slowly. She asked me where I was from and why I was living in Japan. When I told her that I was an English teacher, she gave me a big smile and said, "Good luck! Work hard!" I thanked her and moved on. It was great to find a nice place to sit down and read my book for a bit too. The peach blossoms were still out and gorgeous and a nice atmosphere to begin the weekend.

And to end the weekend, Chika, Jason and I went to another park of which I cannot remember the name to see some cherry blossoms. This is a park covered in sakura trees. They have a nice open field where you can sit and observe the blossoms and enjoy the company of those around you. In the spring it is a popular Japanese past time to sit, drink sake, and watch sakura trees in bloom. And as always, I was able to get some great festival food and enjoy the chocolate bananas! Festival season is just beginning and I hope to report back from many more as the spring turns into summer.

The circus is in town!

I love when my friends have birthdays because it means that I get to join in their fun as well!! This weekend was my friend Jason's birthday and his girlfriend, Chika, and I bought tickets for the three of us to go to a Cirque du Soleil show! I have known a bit about Cirque, but I had never seen a show. Before we went, I did a bit of research and learned that Cirque du Soleil has been around for over 20 years! It began in Canada and now can be seen in many locations all around the world. Unlike Broadway or traditional theatre, Cirque shows are in two separate categories - shows that travel and shows that do not. The shows that do not travel are only in one location, so the show here in Japan cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.

The whole idea behind Cirque du Soleil is to be a new-age circus for a modern audience. The spectacle of the show is completely amazing. The acrobatic feats and amazing strength of the performers is nothing short of awesome. There were two singers that narrated each act. They were very talented and had voices so clear and controlled. We could not quite make out the language in which they were singing, but it sounded like a romance language; Spanish perhaps.

At the beginning of the show there were traditional clowns drawing in the crowd and connecting the story. The story of this particular show (titled ZED) was of a man who was drawn into a story book and then became part of the story. The performers were from all over the world. My favorite part was the strength demonstration. There were two people who were lifted up from the floor. The man was standing up with his head bent down and there was a woman on his back, upside down. her head was bent and she was balanced on his shoulders. They moved completely in slow motion and the physical strength was mind boggling. I felt like a kid watching with eyes wide and mouth agape. I am on a mission to see as many different Cirque shows that I can!