Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!!

Back from Thailand. Devastatingly exhausted as I went from the plane to home, unpacked, washed clothes, looked at piles of clean clothes on the floor for a long time, decided to go out instead for New Year's. Which it is here, and has been for eleven hours already. Still devastatingly exhausted. Will post pictures from Thailand later after I sort through them, but until then, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Off to Thailand

Tomorrow I'll be leaving for ten days in Thailand, so I won't be around like last year to have some Merry Christmas conversations on the phone, nor to check my email much while I'm gone. And I'm sorry American friends and family, but I didn't get my holiday cards sent out yet, but don't lose heart! I will send them when I get back, just in time to ring in the new year instead of celebrating it drawing near. So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. I'll talk to you all (and see you too) next year.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bright Sunday

It's a bright, chilly, windy Sunday afternoon in Ami. Yesterday I played Santa Claus for a group of Japanese kids who take private English lessons at the company that hired me and placed me in the Edosaki school system. I don't teach many private classes, usually only to cover for friends who are sick, but I helped out for the Christmas party by being Santa. The kids were really cute. Beth took pictures. When I get them from her, I'll post some, although the suit really was cheap, which annoyed me. I think if you're going to have someone dress up as Santa, you should really have a nice suit for them to wear, not some felt thing bought at a hyaku yen store (dollar store). But the kids didn't care. They seemed to love it once the initial Santa fear wore off when I appeared. When they finally started to come up to me and sit on my lap to take pictures, I'd ask them in Japanese what they wanted for Christmas and they'd tell me (usually a game of some sort or a toy, although one boy said he wanted money) and then I'd tell them I'd bring it. The suit was so awful I thought they'd never believe I was Santa, but actually the little ones must have believed, because when I told a couple of little boys I'd bring them what they wanted, they'd ask, "Itsu?" When? I said on the 25th of December, and they'd say, "okay", nod, climb off my lap and go a few feet away to where their other friends huddled and say, "He said the 25th he'll bring it, and they'd all smile and say, "All right!" Well, in Japanese.

Then my company had it's Christmas karaoke party, and after that I went with Andrea and Erin, two other local foreign teachers, to Shimodatte, where we picked Jody up from her friends' place and took her to karaoke for her birthday, since I missed her surprise birthday party the previous night due to having to work for my company by meeting a new business they'd contracted to teach English for and needed as many employees as possible to go meet the client and their employees. I felt bad, and Katie, who was supposed to go too, suddenly got really sick and couldn't go either, so Jody was without a show of her friends in Ami, who do love her but were crushed with illness and unexpected employer obligations at the last minute. Hopefully she had a good time at karaoke. I love that girl.

Anyway, today I'm going to take a walk and feel the wind on my face and look at everything on this bright sunny day, chilled as it is, and think about going home. I have various fears of returning to America, mostly of not being able to find satisfying work in a town I enjoy living in, near at least a small group of like-minded friends, but I'm not sure I can really do anything about those worries until I actually get back home. But I wanted to state, for the record, that I'll be back in April most likely, towards the middle, and if you come across anything someone like me might like to do, in a place I might like to live, let me know. Maybe at some point I'll post a resume online even. My skills sort of range all over the place, from academic teaching to ESL teaching, some editing and reviewing work for publishers, to office organizing. Which means, hmm, I'm not sure. I feel like there's no particular kind of work for me back home. And while I have rarely made the choice to live on the well-trod path in life, I do wish sometimes that finding satisfying work in America wasn't such a mystery to me.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bloggasm Interviews

Simon Owens has got this really cool new blog about blogs called Bloggasm going, and right now he's posting interviews with various writers, one of whom is me. Check it out, then click on the Bloggasm image at the top to go to the home page, where you'll find all the interviews for your perusal. Very fun.

Dead Letters (Again)

A good friend sent me a scanned copy of my story in the February 2006 Realms of Fantasy and I am now no longer in the dark over the cover, which Mary so graciously described (well) in the comments of my previous post. I'm *really* happy with the artwork once again, and once again it's by Chris Cocozza, who did the illustration for "The Language of Moths" last year. And I love how they did the dedication as a postmark. That was a real surprise, and it feels appropriate, since I wrote the story for my friend, Jenna Felice, soon after her death, and now the story is in print I feel I can be at ease about that more.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Dead Letters

Apparently in the new February 2006 issue of Realms of Fantasy, my story "Dead Letters" has appeared. Go find it and tell me if the illustration is any good. I still haven't seen it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Last Day at Takada Elementary School

Today was what is most likely my last day at Takada Elementary School. I won't be going back to teach there before I leave Japan in April. It was hard to say goodbye to the teachers and students I've worked with for the past year and a half. I rarely had the chance to go to Takada, but it was one of my favorite elementary schools. The staff was so nice to me. And trusted me to teach the students how I saw fit. Sometimes elementary schools want the foreign teacher to do only fun and games in English with the kids. But I think they don't learn much English that way. Their theory is that it gets them excited about English so when they go to Junior High they already like it as a subject. But I work at the junior high school too, and it's easy to see that it doesn't work this way. As soon as English becomes a real subject with grades, those days they spent playing games in English are forgotten. And they haven't learned anything but vocabulary words and very very simple grammars. So I've worked hard over the past year and a half to get the trust of the elementary schools so they will let me teach the kids what I know they *need*; otherwise, I feel going and playing games with them, while fun, would have been a waste of time when they could have been learning English grammar when it is easiest for them, when they are small children. The older you get, the harder it is to learn another language. But before age 7, language is still really fluid for children, and they accept a foreign language much easier than they will by the time they become junior high school students. And besides, I think you can still have fun and play games while learning, so they just had to trust me and let the kids work with full sentence grammars. They had previous ALTs teaching only vocabulary and maybe "Do you like...? Do you play...?" kinds of questions. A good start, but you can get more done than "Do you" questions during the class sessions.

Anyway, here's Mr. Itoga, who isn't a teacher, but an administrator at Takada. When I first got here, he made it a point to talk to me in English as much as possible, and to make everyone else at Takada try to talk in English with me. Now, though, he tells me to go ahead and speak Japanese, since I know more Japanese than he knows English now.

These are some first graders learning the names of animals.

The first grade teacher, who made it a point to make English time every morning by showing English instructional videos to help supplement my lessons, since I'm not able to visit Takada very often.

Me and a group shot with the first graders.

The Sixth Grade, doing a more serious interview project using the English I've been teaching them. They have enough grammars now that they could do a basic interview. I think it's a good last lesson because it shows them how much they've actually learned over the year. In this case, enough to have a small conversation. The boy in the middle is Taiki. He's so serious. You can see it on his face here. He volunteered to do an example interview with me in front of everyone, and did it perfectly. He's always impressed me. I regret that I won't be here to teach him at the junior high school next year.

The Sixth Grade played me some traditional Japanese music after class. They have the same teacher who, last year, had his class play me "Country Roads" on their recorders.

Two Third Graders in the library stop to pose for a picture. The third grade at Takada is secretly my favorite class. They are *always* so bright and funny and cheerful.

Here are some Third Graders and their sensei playing karuta, a card game where I call out some vocabulary I've taught, and they slap their hands on the card that matches the word. A good vocabulary game.

Me and the Third Graders. If I ever come back to Japan to teach again, I want to teach only at Elementary Schools. Not only do I think I can get more English into the kids at that age, I can wear sportswear there! I like shirts and ties better than I did before I came here, but I would still rather wear casual clothes.

The Fifth Grade doing their interviews. Then lunch time!

Cleaning time! (Something I think American kids should have to do more of in their schools.)

This little girl is hurtling towards me at top speed. It is only after I barely got the picture snapped that she threw herself at me and wrapped her arms around my waist.

The fourth grade, another favorite class. They're singing "We Wish You A Merry Christmas". And they sang it better than the Sixth Grade. A good group of kids.

The boy on the right is Ren. He is the absolute cutest little kid I've ever met. I didn't catch his smile, but it is the brightest one I've ever seen. I may have to steal him and pack him in my luggage when I leave.

Several silly boys who always make me laugh. They do funny dances and imitate Japanese comedians for me. Very entertaining.

The Fourth Grade was my last class today. Having my first day at a school I won't visit again before I leave really made leaving more real for me. It was not really a good feeling. I love teaching these kids. And also I have a fear, in what is most likely an overly melodramatic way, as I tend to get during sad goodbye situations, that while these kids and living here have change my life and made memories for me that I will never forget, will these children, will this place, will Japan remember me?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

You All Speak Japanese

Last night Beth and Kevin had one of their famous BLT parties, where you come wearing pajamas, a black tie sort of thing, a toga or lingerie for the adventurous spirits out there. I wore pajamas. I wear a shirt and tie five days a week and didn't want to wear them again for a party. Togas are loose and flimsy. It is now winter. No good, I was thinking. And I don't wear lingerie for anyone. So pajamas it was. They were fleecy or plush feeling, dark blue, with snow flakes on the legs. And very necessary for me now that it is so damned cold here and I am reminded again of how much I miss central heating. The Japan/America scorecard is unreadable at this point, because there are so many things that Japan does better than America, and so many things that I prefer the American way too, so in the end they are equal for me, doing some things better than the other, but equally livable. I suppose I can think of no central heating as a good thing because it makes me have to have pajamas, so there's an excuse to shop and buy clothes! Always a good thing (as has been noted on Justine's blog recently).

So here are the pajamas...

Don't pay attention to Yoko, sitting next to me. She never follows the rules for Beth's theme parties.

There were also a couple of toga wearers, Crystal and Tressa, Canadian teachers from Shimodatte, near where Jody teaches:

Jody in her baby doll night dress:

Beth and Kevin

None of the Japanese guests followed the wardrobe rules, except Nobuo, who is a young guy I used to teach with at Edosaki last year. Now he teaches at Miho with Beth. And what he wore is not suitable for internet distribution without an age verification check, I think, so we'll just leave that one alone. (And they say Americans are crazy. Hello, I don't know if *that's* always true!)

It was a fun night, followed up with karaoke for some of us. I've never karaoked in pajamas before. It added a little something, I think. ;-)

Other than this, not much to report. Except lately for the past week or two I have been dreaming a lot about friends from back home. From childhood and high school and college to grad school, old friends and friends who had been more recently made before I left the states. But the thing is, you all speak Japanese in these dreams. It's very odd. I get a little jealous that you didn't even have to work hard at it to learn Japanese while I've been slaving over here to be able to communicate on a basic conversational level. It's not fair!

Well that's the feeling I have in the dreams. Then when I wake up, I realize I was putting all the words in your mouths anyway, and then I feel quite accomplished.

Off to bed. Another week of school. Then a half a week after this, and I get to go to Thailand. I am so going to enjoy the beach when I get there.

Friday, December 09, 2005

New Camera

Just trying out my new camera that I bought tonight. So these aren't important pics, just practice ones. So happy because last weekend I tried to buy this camera at the store, but the clerk said they had run out. Then I went back tonight and asked a different clerk and he went in the back and brought it out for me. I said, I thought you had run out of these, and he said no, we have a lot of these. I said last weekend you were out, and he cocked his head and looked puzzled. It doesn't matter, I said. I was just happy to be able to buy it. Now I need to get good with it before going to Thailand. Anyway, couple of pics of my new place and me trying out the self-portrait setting.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Arrgh! Frustration!

I don't usually write about bad things that happen here. Why dwell, and why dwell so publicly, right? Actually I don't have many negative things to write about my life here, but there will always be things that happen that piss you off, anger you, spark your sense of injustice, make you blink in shock, no matter where you live in the world. But there is this myth believed throughout the world, and by Japanese people themselves, that Japan is the most polite culture. I admit that there are so many aspects of life here that are polite, but not everything is what I consider polite. And politeness, when it comes down to it, is a relative idea. As I tell some of my Japanese friends who sometimes indulge in thinking Japan is more polite than America, or that their language is more polite than English, this just isn't true. Something is only polite if the culture agrees upon its quality of politeness. So there are many ways in English to be polite, and in English it's polite, even if we don't use the same forms of politeness that Japanese or any other language has. I can tell some pretty bad stories about impoliteness I've experienced or heard of here, but I'm really only going to talk about the incident that totally had me ready to chastise a teacher I work with yesterday.

Right now the eight graders are running for a sort of student council they have, and the ones who want to be the officers have to come into every classroom during lunch throughout last week and this week, and give a little speech. They come in with a friend (rarely will anyone be made to do something like this alone here, which is kind of nice) and their little friend gives the first speech to their classmates, talking about their good qualities and why they support their friend for this election. Then the student who's running for the council gives a speech about what they plan to do and want to accomplish for their school. This is all stuff I've gathered from listening to the speeches the past week during lunch. It's not difficult Japanese they're using, they're eighth graders after all, and you know, it's not as if adult politicians speak in an elevated manner either. Heck, Bush was so loved initially, I believe, because he spoke in a very common, down to earth manner that was accessible to your average person and made them think, hey this guy is just like me (even though he isn't and never was like an average person, and doesn't have their best interests at heart, poor fools).

So anyway, yesterday I was eating with the ninth graders when two of my favorite students, Sho (who I mentioned during one post always comes up with fun ways to use English) and Ryu (who I ran in the track club with, and who taught me kanji during breaks between sprints). Ryu was Sho's supporting friend, and he gave his little speech, while the ninth graders chuckled and talked among themselves at a reasonably tolerable level, though I still found it rude. Then Sho began to speak, and this group of ninth graders just kept talking more and more, and laughing outright about things, and when Sho began talking about what he'd like to do for his school, even this group of ninth graders *teacher* started cracking jokes, and stood up at one point, after Sho talked about how he'd like the students to become more serious about their studies, and said, "That means no more horny behavior!" and is thrusting his hips back and forth as he says it, which makes the whole class burst out laughing. Sho and Ryu stand through this, entirely mainting their composure. Sho tries to start his speech again, but it takes him several tries because more jokes are flowing now, and then he finally has a chance and takes it and just wraps things up, and I can tell he just did it quickly and cut out a bunch of stuff, and then before leaving he and Ryu actually thank the stupid ass slob of a gym teacher for letting them speak, and he sort of just waves them off and says, "yeah yeah, no problem, whatever."

I wanted to go off on this guy so badly. No wonder his class is full of some of the rudest kids in the whole school, who do terrible in their other classes. I've watched this man reprimand students, screaming in their faces until they flinch, because of things they've done that were offensive to him personally, and then he does nothing to correct his students from being rude while these two boys are trying to do something worthwhile and good, not only does nothing to correct his students but elevates the classroom's rudeness to a higher level than it had been. And he's supposed to be a role model? Give me a break. In a society of selflessness, I've seen some incredible examples of selfishness, and this is one that made me so mad, mostly because Sho and Ryu are two kids who did not deserve that kind of treatment at all, that I can't help but rant.

It's a good thing I joined the gym after all. That night, I needed to work out a lot to get some of my stress out.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

In Which I Join A Gym

Because it is too damned cold to run outside any longer, I have joined a gym. I feel bad, because I won't be running with the track team anymore, but I just don't want to freeze while I work out any longer. It makes exercise a not fun thing, and if it's not fun, I won't do it. So I've joined a gym, where my friends Kevin, Beth and Pete have been working out for a while now.

I went last night and signed up for the trial membership, listening to the nice counter girl explain everything to me. Kevin said there is a woman who works there who just got back from living in California for three years and speaks great English, but she wasn't there when I went, but it wasn't difficult to understand anything, and if I didn't understand, she was able to tell me the word I didn't know by using other words that aren't so "gym" or "scientific exercise" oriented. I mean, you don't think about these things really until you start learning another language and then go live in a culture where it's spoken. But it became clear immediately, we learn the most averagely learned vocabulary and grammar the earliest, and then once you get a basic grasp of things, you add these specialized vocabularies and grammars for better articulation as you go along, encountering them on the spot for the first time, usually. Today is my orientation. I worked out last night for two hours, and the man who is going to give me my gym orientation today was there and told me just a few basic rules for the evening, and said he'd give me a more detailed explanation today. It will last an hour, after which I will work out again. I have a feeling I'll be spending a lot of my free time in the gym for the winter, when it's too cold to do much of anything else.

It's really a great place too. Along with the weight rooms, there are a variety of classes you can take in yoga, aerobics, hip hop dancing, etc. And a pool, and tennis courts as well as a sauna, hot tub, cold tub, all three of which I kept going back and forth to after working out last night. Winter will be much more endurable spent in a steam room and hot tub, I think.

After working out, Mona and Nobuo came over to my apartment. I used to work last year with Nobuo at Edosaki, but this year he moved to Miho, where Beth teaches. Mona teaches at Miho's elementary schools, but she went to the junior high for a couple of weeks to help Beth and now Nobuo and her hang out a lot together. Katie came by a bit later and we ended up going to karaoke, and then Nobuo's friend from highschool, Yuya, came to karaoke too. Those guys can really sing "I Just Called To Say I Loved You". The karaoke rooms at Party Party, the karaoke club we go to more often these days (as opposed to last year's place of choice "The Do re mi fa Club", are so cozy. The floors are hard wood and the booths comfortable to sit in, and the lighting makes you feel like there's a fireplace crackling, and it's always nice to duck into a booth after enduring the bitter cold.

But I've decided, along with the karaoke room in my heaven, I want a door that connects to the gym. At least to the shower area where the hot tubs and steam room are. Then everything will be complete.