Sunday, December 21, 2008

Grandma's 98!!!


I made this while packing, so there's no cuts and it's pretty rough, but this is straight from the heart. Love you, Miss Eddie!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Good Day

Either this is exactly as awesome as I think it is, or my brain is tiny.

Buhjawb:an icon on a touch screen.

See you in four days, Oklahoma!

P.S. 1 day later I realized that I won't get to touch a piano until I get home, anyway. I am teaching all morning and the band practices in the afternoon. Teardrops.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another Day, Another Yen

Note: All these pictures are random tidbits of life in Kameoka, specifically my walk from the bus to Ikushin Chugakko, a taiko performance, a boat ride down the Hozugawa, sightseeing at Nara and Fushimi Inari and some leaves (then to where we ended up after exiting Fushimi Inari the wrong way). I know I can create a photo album on my blog, but I haven’t the patience to figure it out with slow-as-molasses-in-winter internet. So maybe I’ll add that to the list of Christmas projects.

8:05 a.m. Since crawling off the futon at 6:10 this morning I have done the following:
• Washed a large pot and a tupperware
• Showered
• Warmed my unmentionables by the kerosene heater for a toasty post-shower transfer
• Cooked pasta
• Put on some clothes
• Cooked shrimp
• Ate breakfast
• Put the pasta and shrimp with the Alfredo sauce I made last night
• Found more Christmas stickers for greedy teenagers
• Collected my stuff for the day
• Caught a bus at 7:04
• Finished Water for Elephants, which had an amazing surprise ending and rendered my stomach in(to?) knots for two days.
• Realized that I left my fork at home
• Brushed my teeth

My schedule for the day was changed, so I’ll be teaching the first and fourth periods rather than third and fourth. That leaves a nice long gap for me to twiddle my thumbs and work up the courage to ask if there’s a piano I could use. Then I will hang around after lunch until 2:30, walk down to the bus stop, catch the bus at 2:40, and get a headache on the way to the BOE.

The Board of Education will be more fun than a barrel of monkeys. I get to figure out how to Skype my grandma on her birthday (readers, don’t tell her). I get to try to find pictures of quintessential American Christmas with the system blocking all Google Images and other image searches, any site that sells any good or service (I almost typed “nantoka” instead of any. Oh, Japan!), and anything that resembles a blog including news. I will be awkward whilst handing out mini candy canes to my coworkers and the superindendent (I know I have to give him one, too, but it’s scary). I will awkwardly inquire about my schedule for the following year while my supervisor awkwardly mumbles in a voice quieter than a sixth grade girl’s, just to tell me that they won’t have it until I come back. It’s going to be an awkwardly awesome time.

I’m in a pre-departure mode of constant anxiety. All I have to do is think about everything that needs to be done before I leave and I start to panic a little. I have mapped out every chore on my iCal, from when I’ll pay my rent (Friday, payday, because I’m smart) to when I’m going to cook what for meals (Saturday will be my last box of Mac and Cheese, Sunday morning will be yakisoba to finish of the perishable foods). I make list after list in my free time, trying to both do my job and leave the country for three weeks. Trash to take care of, food to cook and eat, dishes and laundry to do, packing to organize (internal debate: Do I only bring one week’s worth and plan on raiding Express while home, or anticipate complete lack of transportation and unwillingness on part of my relatives to brave the traffic?), vacation schedule to organize (I won’t sleep for the first week or so, what with company and my body clock being all wacky), travel arrangements to finalize, and Christmas pictures to find and activities to plan because yeah, I still work.

On top of that I have omiyage (souvenirs) to buy for everyone and their dogs, including the 60 people from the BOE, my aikido class (20 head), my shodo class (15), my taiko group (20), the people at church (40), and a box of something for each of the 10 schools (just one big box, warn the folks who hate sweets to stay away). On the way back I will be transporting a whole suitcase full of Dove chocolates. Full. Suitcase. Whole thing. I will line a carry-on with plastic wrap, empty 20 bags of individually-wrapped chocolates into it, then seal it up. That’s how they do things over here. Go away and get some tiny food for everyone you know. You know, I think I just solved my clothes debate: two empty suitcases and a weeks worth of underwear stuffed in my coat pockets on the way to the states. Two suitcases full of chocolate (and a couple boxes of Mac and Cheese for me) and coat pockets full of underwear on the way back. Can’t wait for customs.

I’m so darned excited about the holidays. I start singing “Comin’ Home for a Tulsa Christmas” to myself, only to realize that those are the only words I know, and I’m not to sure of the melody either. The lady who walks her dog past my bathroom window every morning probably knows all the words to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by now, seeing as how it’s number 1 in the Scrubby-Time Ballad Line-Up. I have beautiful images in my head of how I’ll get off the plane in Tulsa and have my family waiting for me. A barbershop quartet will start singing the number 1 Scrubby-Time Ballad while I race to the opening arms of my parents and brother (and whoever else shows up, hopefully a crowd) and collide in a happy tangle of hugs without breaking anyone’s glasses. No one will steal my bags and my computer will not break when I drop said bags to do aforementioned racing, and then a concert band will strike up “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” while we have a massive group hug and jump up and down. There will be lots of face kisses, big hugs, and then I will be swept out the door to be fed and my back massaged on the swift ride home. Then no one will whine when I fall into bed, completely exhausted from my 30 hour day. At least, that’s how I hear it goes when someone hasn’t seen their home folk for five months or more. When I was only four months away I got off the plane with a huge smile on my face to find no one there. Won’t lie. It was very sad. So let’s make it different this time, folks. Running and embracing. That’s the goal.

11:24 a.m.
So anywho, I have a Christmas lesson to plan for a handicapped class tomorrow. I also have a class to teach in 20 minutes and an Eigo shaberunai music teacher to ask about using the piano during 5th period. It’ll go something like this:

Me: Ah, uh, sensei, sumimasen.
Music no sensei: Hai.
Me: Anno, ettone, ah (scratch head and look apologetic), chotto muzukashi…5th hour, anno (show 5 fingers), anno, ah…music class (pronounced mu-jhi-ku cu-ra-ssu)?
Music no sensei: Eh…
Me: Piano? (Point to nose and make tapping motions with fingers) Daijobu desu ka?
Music no sensei: Ah! Japanese Japanese Japanese Japanese, anno, Japanese Japanese Japanese Japanese Japanese Japanese Japanese-sen. Gomenasai. Ehhh, sorry.
Me: Iie, daijobu desu.

Much bowing, waving hand in front of face, and saying that’s it’s all okay, the room is busy. Then I will return to my desk and sit there for the next hour, wallowing in sorrow.

I finally got enough courage to go look for the music teacher, only to find that he was most likely out with the baseball team. I asked if I could use the piano and was strongly encouraged. Of course, of course, let’s find the key for you, Ryan-san. Oh, wait, this teacher is leaving and will take you to hot, stuffy City Hall. Do you want to stay and play piano, or go to the City Hall?

Be proud of my weary, defeated heart, good townsfolk. Despite the wild wolf cry of “PIANOOOOOO!!!” that welled at the back my throat and threatened to overwhelm all sense of duty and responsibility. But duty is before all! So back to the BOE I go with itchy fingers and the Minuet in F looping in my brain.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

While at school the other day…

Friday, December 11, 2008

Oh, culture shock. I think I might have Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately acronymned SAD). I forgot my lunch today, so I ended up rationing the hot chocolate that I made for a very light breakfast in order to have something in my belly during lunch. Next up, tea as my afternoon snack, a little liquid something to fill the gaping maw of hunger that gnaws at my belly.

I’m irritated with English teachers who let 8th graders write English words they already know in Japanese (they’re colors, for sweet Peter’s love! Katakana to nihongo ii des? For colors?). It’s as though they have no idea that being able to understand English has a lot to do with being able to read it and write it.

I’m frustrated that someone complained to my boss about my washing machine being a little leaky. This someone had to call the landlord, who called the city hall, who called Margaret (her boss first) to translate, who called Ikushin Chugakko to tell them that they’d be calling to talk to me in a little bit. Then Margaret called. And such is the way of lodging a complaint in this great nation. I wanna punch whoever started that phone chain in the ear. Maybe SAD is making me angry.

I haven’t touched a piano in two weeks. Cranky.

Light at the end of the tunnel: it’s Friday. Tomorrow I’m going up to the countryside to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Woohoo for visiting someone who has to drive 45 minutes to a train station! I only have to walk for five minutes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Had A Bad Day Part 2

It worked! And now I shall rouse myself from this futon and prepare for the day. Bus in 15 minutes, but no worries, I showered last night. Efficiency, people!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Had A Bad Day Part 1

The video upload is slow, my computer is almost out of battery because I have to go to someone else's apartment to get internet, and it's 11:33 and I need to go to bed. Bad mood. Japan. Blech.

Part two will be up tomorrow, maybe. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Happy Liam Day!

It's a boy, everyone! Catherine and Drew have a baby boy! Huzzah! Time for Jeremiah to teach the youngster all he knows. Congratulations, Tangrens and Tranbergs! Yaaaaaaaaaay!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Pilgrim

Dearest Blog Readers,

I didn’t post until now because, like I say in the post, my internet gave out. I can’t post from work, and emailing is bothersome (none of the pictures go in the right spots), so here it is. Belated but beloved. Like all of you. What?

Just pretend you’re reading this on Saturday, November 21. That’ll get the time difference about right.


The Saga Begins
Tonight we the Kameoka ALTs (minus Kim due to other plans) and some locals are having Thanksgiving dinner. There will be turkey. There will be gravy. There will be stuffing. There will be mashed potatoes, deviled eggs and green bean casserole. And there just might be edible pumpkin pie.

I say might, because I volunteered to take over the pie-baking when I remembered how much I hate cooking anything that isn’t sweet or Chicken Pesto Pizza. No one else was going to take on the challenge, and no store sold pumpkin pie. I made a commitment. No grocery store here sells canned pumpkin, so for 140 yen each I bought 3 Japanese pumpkins. I told everyone how excited I was. Then I did some research on how to prepare fresh pumpkin for baking. Lastly, before that hellish week (possible including today) when my internet gave out, I pulled up six or seven recipes.

On Monday I woke up with a sore throat and sinus pressure. Between school and taiko I shopped for glass pie pans, sugar, and then went home to make nabe with Margaret. Nabe takes too long to explain, so I won’t. Think non-cheese soup fondue. Taiko lasts from 7:40 to anywhere from 10 to 10:30, so there was no way that I was getting any more done that night.

On Tuesday I went to Kyoto. I was in need of some serious outside-country goods (gaikokumono? It’s a word now, Japan!), and had a deep craving for Mac and Cheese. I went to Media, the largest foreign food supplier in the city (of the two that exist). There, of course, I found canned pumpkin. To bad that I already had pumpkins, but I bought two cans anyway. I even bought cranberry sauce, which I don’t like. But it’s Thanksgiving dinner we’re talking about, so I at least needed to see it sitting in gelatinous lumps, untouched yet festive on the table. Foreign foods cost five million dollars, so I left Media with a bag full of food and a lighter wallet. And I complained when Kraft Mac and Cheese was up to 85 cents in the states. I paid 347 yen for it here! You do the math! Buh-yikes! Listening to “Lester’s Possum Park” solved all my problems. I danced like there was a possum in my pants, indeed.

That’s a lie. The train rides to and from Kyoto rendered me and my fellow travelers into sardines. There was no room for opossum-pants-dancing. I stood over my [reusable, globally conscious] sack of groceries and clutched my purse to my chest. Let me tell you something about standing amidst people who a) just finished a day’s worth of looking worried and drinking tea like it’s water, or b) just finished a post-work happy hour and are boarding the train with flushed faces and tired eyes. It doesn’t smell good. Ocha breath and sake breath smell equally gross. There’s no escape on the trains between 4 and 10 o’clock. Blech and double blech.

On Wednesday I felt like I was going to die any moment, my face hurt so badly. Darn you, illness! I did not go to shodo. Sad face. Almost every pie recipe I found, whether involving fresh or canned pumpkin, calls for some sort of canned milk. And I thought, Dang! If only I were in Thailand. And then I looked for substitutes, and found that they don’t exist. Thanks to a little WiFi time chez Margaret, I found one recipe that didn’t need condensed milk. I saved the page and returned to my apartment. Having borrowed Kim’s blender, I got cracking on the pumpkins:



Blender no worky—mash with fingers (blender was off, never fear, Mom)

I discovered that I had purchased crumb crust for cheescake, and realized that I had no allspice. After her return from shodo, I went to Seiyu with Margaret to find ye olde allspice, and Seiyu had none. I looked for pie crusts and Seiyu had none. I forgot to get ground cloves.

Thursday was great. I felt a million times better, and I got off work a little early and rushed home (which involved waiting 45 minutes for the train, which in turn negating the thrill of a shortened work day) to bake me some pies. I collected my supplies, remembered that I had no crust for my pie, and tried to use the internet to find a
recipe. No dice, partners. No no internet.

Never fear, I ran to Saty (which has a larger baking section than Seiyu) and bought all four tiny pie “dishes” (read: crusts). No
allspice and again I forgot to get ground cloves. I did have whole cloves. Necessity is the mother of invention:

Perhaps it’s not invention, because otherwise how would we have ground cloves in the first place, but I was glad that my mother wasn’t there to watch. Ground cloves are a go.

After mixing everything together and filling one crust, I had to skeedadle to aikido, where I was thrown eight ways to Sunday (is that the expression?). I felt so hard core, kneeling on the freezing tatami mats in the uninsulated dojo, waiting for the large space heater to take effect, and watching my breath fog the air. I did wear thermal underwear the whole time. Don’t judge me. Decision: knee pads. Realization: No matter how many times I practice my mae-ukemi (standing forward roll) alone, if someone is holding onto my arm I’m going to freak out and fall all over the place. Last night was not a night of grace. Oh, the bruises. The good part is that more people are feeling comfortable talking with me. Yes, I am an English teacher. No, I don’t speak Japanese. Yes, I like aikido. Huzzah!

I noticed that Margaret had sent me a message, but didn’t have time to check it on my ride home. Instead I ran up to her apartment on my return from the Night of A Thousand Bruises. Guess what the little gem had for me.

ALLSPICE, baby! The recipe is complete! To the pie baking! Huzzah! Hoorah!

Then this.

The glistening crystal tears pooling at the sorry sight of black ruin, choking all other forms of expression save for an agonized wail into the unfeeling night. Oh, horrors and gloom! Sweet and spicy potential were murdered before their time, smothered by the charcoal of burnt sugar and squash. The agony which did rack my bones!

Just kidding, kind of. Once I peeled back the not-so-delicious burnt top, the inside was pretty edible. However, this is not the kind of pie which should be presented to other people as a source of dessert. It was all wacky-looking. Guess what I would have later for lunch, all by myself. That’s right. Pie. (This was on the following Monday afternoon, while huddled on my futon).

Now on Friday I have baked one pie successfully, another one is a little caramelized on top, and I have one to go. The local for the dinner was changed to an apartment (rather than a random empty room that Nanami's family owns) that belongs to the other seasoned foreigner in the taiko group.

It seemed that more and more people are coming to this event, and I didn't think that three small pies would cut it for twelve people. I was, however out of crust. Margaret had gone to Saty earlier and informed me that they had not yet restocked their pie crusts. What's a girl to do?

That's right. She makes her own dang crust from scratch. And because she doesn't have proper measuring spoons (Dang you, metric system!) she has to approximate and mix until everything seems right. Then she mashes it into the pan, because she doesn't have a rolling pin, and bakes it for ten minutes.

After that the pie mix goes in.

Then it goes in the oven while I make eggnog, citrus tea, and whipped cream at the same time. For serious. If I could have macroevolved that night, I would have grown another arm. Also, I might
 need to invest in another spatula, because cleaning
 the bowl with my face didn't turn out as well as I had anticipated.

After the pie filling had baked, I was made cognizant of an important oversight. The crust should have been completely pre-baked. Oh, it was a tense 40 minutes while I completed the drinks and peered anxiously at the oven. Would the pie burn? Would the crust bake? Would all my efforts render the sweet, spicy, pumpkin smoothness and flaky crust?

Why yes, yes it is. Mind you, youngsters, that I did all this within a three hour period. A three hour tour, a three hour tour…I danced around to MC Hammer in celebration of my personal victory. And then did not deal with the aftermath.

Thanksgiving went swimmingly. Jason carved the turkey that Nanami provided. Phil cut some apples next to my pies. We hyuked it up. We sang Happy Birthday to Margaret (whose birthday was the following Monday), stuffed ourselves until we could stuff no more, and told our Japanese friends how Thanksgiving really goes down. Alltogether, the pilgrimage into Pumpkin Pie Land was a success, and I was able to grant citizenship to a few folks who had never before made the trip.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I'm back.

I make no promises as far as measuring up to the moves from Rev. Hammer's inspirational beats. Also, it was clear what the winning song was, so I figured the other songs could take a cue from the McCain campaign and bow out gracefully. Here's your song-elect, early. This is the first time that I've ever attempted the fine art of "locking," and watching clips of Don Campbell and whatever show it was that had the Soul Train only helped a little. I did do some research, so look out for the Sam Point, the Iron Horse, and the Scooby Walk, and a whole bunch of moves that I just made up. I even threw a hurkey in there for old time's sake.

I do have a favorite move. It's called, "Spasm and Run." Tell me if you figure out what it is.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Call Me Betty Crocker-u

You've heard/read the story about the man to whom I promised cookies in exchange for an aikido gi. Well, the day before I baked the cookies, one of the teachers at my schools left me a present. Don't worry, it was the good kind. She and I had talked about our love for all things sugary, and she had bought a few kinds of Japanese sweets for me to try. I was touched, and hungry, so I decided that I owed her some cookies, too.

Baking cookies in something that is supposed to double as a microwave is a little like roasting a turkey on a hot plate, in my opinion. Based on national surveys, both are very difficult. Also difficult is being unable to read the instructions on the microwave/range apparatus. The cookies melted, then they burnt, then they did both.

The first batch was fit only to serve other ALTs who did not care that the "cookies" had the consistency of wet sand and the overwhelming flavor of butter.

The second set fared a little better, at least fit for me to eat for dinner. Then I was out of chocolate.

Eager to make all the Japanese people in my life love me, I stopped by a grocery store on the way home from work one night to restock on chocolate. I chose chocolate bars, which are way less expensive than the tiny bags of chocolate chips. I did feel like I would be judged for only buying six chocolate bars, so I headed to the baking aisle to seem more authentic. There I stumbled upon the cutest little tart cups. Naturally, I thought of the peanut butter cup cookie recipe I had found last semester, and the praise that I would receive when the Nihonjin tasted them.

After three total failures, I succeeded in baking an adequate amount of not-burnt cookies. I packaged up two Ziploc bags of them and devoured the rest. It took me a week to get it right. I earned them. I delivered the cookies with some trepidation, but was met with rave reviews. My guess is that they've never had real cookies before. Someday, young Skywalkers.

Enthused and with renewed confidence, I turned to those cookie cups. Delicious Land, here I come! Peanut butter and chocolate, unite!

Twas not to be, good friends. The recipe no longer can be found on the interweb. Or maybe it can be, but I'm too lazy to go past the first search page when my very specific search terms don't yield immediate results. I did, however, find a recipe for Cream Cheese Cookie Cups, or something to that effect. With lowered spirits but an invigorated craving, I decided to make chocolate and Nutella cups.

I did. And gave most of them away, because they were too sweet even for me. Turns out that one need not add sugar to melted chocolate. Maybe it wasn't as unsweetened as I had thought.

I had chocolate left over, so I bought more cups and cream cheese. Guess what I had in mind. I'll give you a hint: CREAM CHEESE.

It's getting colder here, which in my book means it's time for the legendary Sharon Ryan Citrus Tea. Those of you who visit the Ryan household anytime when the weather is below 60 degrees Farenheit know the tangy goodness of S.R.C.T. I had fully planned on making it a part of my winter here. Then I discovered a horrible, horrible thing about this country.

They don't sell fruit juice concentrate.

I did my research desperately trying to find an alternative. Not the internet, not my mother, and not my brain didst supply a solution for the lack of concentration. PUN! Now in a thoroughly sour mood, I ate a lot of junk food and some Nutella straight from the jar. And no, I didn't even use a spoon. That's how low I had sunk.

Yesterday when at Betsuin Chugakko, I had an adequate amount of free time on my hands. I chose to, aside from research Halloween activities and chatting with Hannah over Gmail, fill the yawning no-citrus-tea abyss. I researched winter beverage recipes, and since I couldn't think of a good reason why I'd want a punch bowl full of grog or mulled wine sitting around with only me to drink it, I settled on eggnog.

Last night I wasn't feeling very well, so I turned to McDonald's for comfort. The Macdo is in the grocery section of a department store, so it was very easy for me to suddenly decide that it was time to pick up the supplies I'd need for aforementioned recipes. Why not use the leftover chocolate with the cream cheese cups? It gave me a great excuse to buy more sprinkles.

So, within the night, I made excellent Cream Cheese Chocolate Cups (C4, if you will) and some kickin' eggnog. Then, because I had the time and motivation, I spent an hour making the tiniest jack-o-lantern in the history thereof. It will be magnificent for the next month when I have to talk about Halloween.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm Just That Cool

First off, shout out to Barron C. P, who is on OU's Homecoming Court. For the love of Sweet Peter, boy, leave some for the rest of the male population.

Secondly, shout out to Hannah Rose, who sent me The Thirteenth Tale, thereby making my life awesome. Guess what I'll be doing this weekend.

As soon as it happened I thought, Can’t wait to post this on the interweb.

I was biking to school this morning, speeding and bopping happily to some Robin Thicke. All was going well until I passed a group of junior high students walking in the same direction. I got on the street, pedaled by with my head high and my back straight, and suddenly my sunglasses fell out of the basket.

I stopped, hopped off, and turned around to retrieve the fallen items. The boys at the front of the pubescent herd stared at me. Not sure if they were some of my students, I issued a cheery, “Good morning!” and picked up my shades. Eager to get to school early, I turned my bike around with vigor and force, right into young man headed in the opposite direction.

“Oh! Sumimasen!” I cried, knowing it probably wasn’t as apologetic as I meant for it to be. Then I got on my bike, struggled to gain momentum, stay upright, and get my feet on the pedals…After about three feet I let out a high-pitched “Eeek!” as I bumped into a planter full of dying flowers.

I stopped, readjusted while the junior highers stared (and likely laughed. I couldn’t tell, Robin was singing too loudly), and hopped back on my bike. This time all went as smoothly as a hot knife through butter. I pedaled a little faster, wondering how much of Kameoka’s population would think that foreigners don’t know how to ride bicycles. I decided that it was a fair assessment given my cycling skills.

I smiled the whole way to school, and only almost ran into one other person. It was a good day.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My Free Time

Sometimes I don't have to be on a bus at 7:30 or 7:04 in the morning. Ergo, when I rise at 6, occasionally I have a little free time on my hands. This is what happens.

Mind you, this was only my second set-to-music video, so if I am not perfectly synced with the truths that fall from Rev. MC Hammer's lips, I apologize. Maybe next time, if I find another good song to dance to while I wait for my toast. Also, I do enjoy a good butterfly and a hand clap, if you know what I mean. According to the prophesy.

I'm Getting Married In the Mornin'

Monday, October 6, 2008

I’m at Ansho Shogakko today, working with the 6th graders to teach them all about Halloween. If I thought Halloween was something worth celebrating I might be more excited. Don’t get me wrong, folks, I enjoy playing dress-up just as much as the next hobo. However, I vehemently dislike anything whose purpose is to startle me, scare me, creep or gross me out, or give me the heebie-jeebies. I do not take candy from those trays with the hand that grabs at you when your fingers near it. I do not like horror films. Heck, people, I hated R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps when I was a kid, and nothing has changed. That series scarred me for life, that and Stepmonster with the Tropopkin.

So here I am, making copies of Halloween word-finds and flashcards, wondering if I’m even qualified to speak with any form of authority on the subject at hand. I also keep trying to stick my pen in my hair, but since my hair is no longer, I end up just looking like a monkey scratching its head with a stick. I also rub my head a lot. I should stop before that becomes a habit. It’ll look like I have to manually warm up my brain before it works

I interrupt this post for a moment in Engrish:

I'm surfing you all time? I only hope the "you" in this sentence a body of water. Also, I'm pretty sure that "all time" does not exist, unless it's in the Antartic during the summer.

So, for a little weekly update. Last Monday and Tuesday I was at Minamitsutsujigaoka (Mee-nah-mee-tsoo-tsoo-gee-gah-o-kah) Elementary School, one of the largest in the district. I was supposed to help the students prepare for a trip to Kyoto, during which they would run around and ask foreigners questions. It was the first time that I was actually frustrated with teachers. I wanted to have more of an authentic setting, and stray from the list of questions (as anyone they approached would), but was naysayed. The teachers felt it was too difficult for the students to do anything more than interrogate passersby with a barrage of questions like, “What was the first Japanese word you learned?” I was tempted to call up whatever Bureau passes information to incoming travelers. WARNING: Japanese schoolchildren will approach you. They will ask you many questions and possibly record your answers for further study. Do Not Ask Them Questions! They Will Be Unable To Respond (or to comprehend your answer)!

Wednesday was an office day, and I did nothing. No worries there. On Thursday I went to Shotoku Shogakko in the morning and had a blast. I was working with both the sixth and the second graders on Thursday, and I hammed it up for the good of cross-culturalization. On Friday, now. Friday. Oh, Friday. I was with the whole 3rd grade (two classes of 25) during 2nd hour, and I introduced myself before reviewing animal names and playing a game. I wasn’t surprised by their questions—Do you like Japanese food? Do you like Japan? Do you live in Kameoka?—but when we got to the standard boyfriend inquiry, I got a shock.

I do wear a ring on the fourth finger of my left hand. Even in the U.S. I answered a lot of questions about the nature of my choice to wear a ring there. However, the concept of a purity ring is a little difficult to translate (and entirely inappropriate) for elementary and middle schoolers. I usually just say it was a gift from my parents. Ultimately the mere presence of a shiny object encircling that ring finger is almost guaranteed to generate questions. Thus I was well prepared for when the students pointed to my hand and asked if I had a boyfriend.

“No,” I said.

There was an uproar.

The entire group of third graders started yelling at the male teacher, pointing to me, to him, and nearly jumping out of their seats. I looked at the sensei in surprise. He laughed and translated, “They think, nice couple.”

I gave a cheesy thumbs-up and laughed, as did the teacher. I thought that was the end.

Two hours later I joined one of the classes for lunch, which happened to be the class with the teacher who should be my boyfriend. We got about halfway through lunch without talking about my relationship status. I suppose the students were unsatisfied with my simple, “No,” from earlier, because they asked the sensei to translate the following.

“Do you have a husband?”

I shook my head, my mouth full of disgusting jako.

“Do you have a…” he thought for a moment, “a special, person?”

Do I have a special person who is neither a boyfriend nor a husband? What, like a lover? “No!” I answered quickly.

What followed was nothing less than an attempted matchmaking. Twenty-five nine and ten-year olds pointing to the teacher, to me, and dropping “Laian-sensei” and the word for boyfriend in dangerous syntactic proximity. The teacher just chuckled and waved his hands

The girl sitting next to me tried to get to the bottom of things, asking me rapid-fire questions in Japanese. When I laughed confusedly she simply asked, "Sensei suki des ka?" Do you like the teacher?

The room got a little quieter.

Afraid of answering in the affirmative, I said, "He's very nice. He's a good teacher." The class looked to the teacher and he translated. Again, the students started yelling something about sensei and Laian-sensei, then indicated to translate. He declined, but I got the jist of it. We should date.

The teacher then left the room to dispose of his milk carton, thereby throwing me to the wolves. Almost immediately I was surrounded by eager nine-year-olds, asking me about sensei, sensei, sensei, and pointing to his desk, and clasping their hands to their chests. Thankfully, the teacher returned posthaste. They asked him to tell me what they had said. He gave a hearty negative, sat down, and changed the subject to dodgeball. I was safe.

So that's the story. I’ll be Mrs. Third Grade Teacher before the year is over. Wish me luck; I hear the loneliness strikes in force during the dark winter months.

The Day of Destiny



Monday, September 29, 2008

Bunch o' Monkeys

I’m currently at Minamitsutsujigaoka Elementary, waiting for class to start. The English teacher here is pretty amazing. Her lesson puts the standard small talk into the context of international communication. I’m here to encourage the students to use their English skills to find out more about the people they meet from other countries, and to make them aware that Japan is not as homogenous as they might think. Huzzah!

Now I'm waiting for them to come get me for lunch. Class was alright, though I had one punk in every class. The first class is always awkward. It’s an experiment, to see how the lesson will work with the class, the teacher, and my alertness at that time of the morning. It never goes “well,” it always just is. Today I was under the impression that the English teacher was going to be with me when I taught, in the same sense as the junior high situation. Turns out that when she said, “I teach the second grade,” she meant all the time. No wonder the lesson plan was so detailed; I walked in and thought, crap. The lesson plan is a little complicated for me to head on my own, and the teachers, well, I’m working with them for the first time. I’ve only spoken with one of them. The remaining two will be a surprise. I hope they speak English.

Technically I should go to the classroom early and talk to the teacher, explaining how I want to be introduced. I’m a bad, bad ALT.

The kids here look really familiar, like I should already know some of them. I’m trying to remember where I’ve seen them before. I think one of them was at the cultural festival, with the guy Slavian guy and the movie about FGM. She was helping her mother with a display on Korean dress and traditional dance.

Monday, September 29, 2008
To play catchup, aikido on Thursday was great, I did very little on Friday but watch the movie “The Fall” and get all emotional and the eat cheese and then Gchat with Nina (shout out, hollaback), and then Saturday hit.

Ah, Saturday. It started off with a phone conversation with m’good friend Hannah, then some brunch by the moat with Margaret and a visiting ALT named Matt. Then, after losing my internet connection in one spot and carrying my laptop around until I got a signal, I talked with my parents. Scrumtrelescent. Then I joined Margaret to head to Arashiyama, where the monkeys are. Two Ugi ALTs met us at the station, and the four of us traipsed through the scenic area to the Monkey Park. And here you have the following:

A Monkey Montage

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Takoyaki and Taco Pahty

Oishi so! If you want an explanation of my calligraphy landscape in the background, ask and ye shall receive.

From right to left: Margaret, Kim-Chi, Nanami, Yumi (another calligrapher and a teacher
at one of Kim's schools), Mayu.
The Kansai-ben discussed, if I haven't already said it, is a regional dialect in our area whose American counterpart would be Creole or Amish Dutch.

I'm kind of going backwards, which means I'm working on typing out everything that I had to say before this post. This is just a teaser, to keep you lookin'.

Dewa matta.


End of September 22: First order of the day was, of course, to irritate Inoe-san with my travel plans. Tuesday’s a holiday, so I took a half day. I met Margaret (who has the whole day off) and we grabbed bentos to eat by the moat. While at the grocery a random woman came up to me and started telling me that it was bad for me to be there with Margaret, because that wouldn’t help up to practice our Japanese. She was smiling, and phrasing it like a joke (according to Margaret. The woman was not speaking English), but it was nevertheless uncomfortable. After our delicious lunch, we decided to hike up to the lookout point for Japanese studying (shut up, old woman in grocery store. I’m doing my best). It seemed to stick a little better this time, which is of course a sign that I must always study out of doors.

At taiko that night we were finessing the rhythm on which we had worked since beginning. The leaders split up the group at the end, making jokes about Team America versus Team Junior. Translation: the foreigners versus the students (ages 10 to 17, in this case) plus the one guy who came late. Next day’s a holiday, so decide to do something when we get back.

That night was more Arrested Development at Liz’s place! Finish disc 1. On the way back we see a live mukade. See reaction below.

I heard that part of the reason why mukade encounters result in painful swelling is because the poison is also delivered through their nasty little legs. If a mukade is on a surface, and a creature attempts to remove the mukade from said surface, the mukade will grip the surface with it’s face pincers and legs, thereby distributing the poison to the surface. The poison legs sound a little farfetched, but I don’t want to experiment to see if it’s true.

September 23: Wake up at 1. Sweet, sweet slumber. I cleaned and did laundry, swept half the porch (harder than it sounds. My brooms are crap). Hit up the 100 Yen store (yes, it’s exactly like what you think), clean till the cows come home in prep for the party.

September 24: Well, tonight’s the night. Tacos and takoyaki, featuring myself, Margaret and Kim, and Nanami, Mayu and another girl from shodo named Yumi (there’s also a woman in shodo named Mayumi, but she’s not coming, so that’s neither here nor there). I need to cook meat, vacuum and chop fruit before they arrive. I’ll put up some pictures of the event later, provided I take them. Hey, Mom, wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I wanna be like Steven Seagal

Monday, September 22, 2008

It’s yet another exciting day sitting on my backside at the BOE. The other two ALTs are working in their schools today, so only I sit on this side of the desks. I have the lesson plans from the schools I’ll be visiting from now until October, I calculated all my travel expenses for church and schools until January, and helped my supervisor figure out how to pronounce the name Kenkel. I could just hear the Oklahoma accent slip in as the urge struck me to pronounce it loudly, “Kay-uhn-kel,” then slap my thigh and don a bolo tie and spurs. That I did none of those things is indeed a testament to my self-control.

As you might have guessed due to the infrequency of my updates, my schedule here is packed. I usually wake up at 6 (I may leave the apartment at anytime from 6:50 to 8), work until 4:15, get back to the apartment between 4:30 and 5:15, then have some sort of evening commitment. So, for those of you who wish for Skype appointments, please let me know an exact time, because on the weekends I power down and recharge. That means I sleep a lot.

On that note, a quick correction to the glossary. I listed shodo as the name for my calligraphy class. It should have been shuji. Shuji is basic penmanship (brushmanship?) and shodo is the fancy stuff. No hoity-toity fancy writing for me. I gotta learn the basics.

I’ll try to stick to the highlights, but it’s hard to gloss over anytime when I’m outside my apartment. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that unless I live here for years upon years (don’t worry, Mom and Grandma. This is completely hypothetical), every interaction with the outside world is an encounter. Every time a junior high kid nearly crashes his bike because he’s staring at me, I think I gotta tell someone about this. No conversations are mundane because I’m expending so much energy in the communication process. It’s surprisingly difficult to speak using the vocabulary that one thinks the listener will comprehend, then further simplify if the words are still too complicated.

To give an example, I’ll use the conversation I just had with my supervisor about travel dates as an example.

Me: Sumimasen (excuse me). I have the dates for when I will travel.

Inoe-san: Hai. Chotto (hold on a sec. Literally a little).
Retrieves calendar.

Me: Hai. I will leave here—point to the 21st of December

Inoe-san: Twenty one.

Me: Hai, hai. And I will return, come back, on January 12. Make a face that I hope indicates I want to request the 13th off.

Inoe-san, after sucking air through his teeth: Ah, please, come back, here.

Me, seeing that he’s pointing to the 7th: Ah. Well—Rub chin, suck air through teeth—this is difficult. There are no planes. No seat for me.

Inoe-san: Etto, school, on seven, opening ceremony, please come back here. Points to 5th.

Me: Gomenasai, I asked. I asked the travel company, can I come back here—pointing to the 5th—and they said, “No planes.” All the seats are taken. I can only come back here.

Inoe-san’s face changes. Clearly irritated.

Me: I will check again. It’s a white lie. THERE ARE NO FLIGHTS AVAILABLE.

Inoe-san: Please check. Yes.

Me: I do not think they have a place, but maybe if someone cancels, changes his mind. Then I might get a seat. But, it is very busy. I do not think there is a place for me.

Inoe-san: Yes. You check. Yoroshiku.

All three of the Oklahoma JETs are leaving and returning at the same time, so poor Inoe-san had to have this same conversation twice more. Then he went upstairs to ask Margaret to tell us that our return dates, collectively, are a problem. Not really her job, but she relayed the message. So I’ll fall from my boss’s esteem from now until Christmas, then slowly work my way back up through hard work and never, ever taking vacation again.

To rewind and update since my last post, again I give you the bulleted Week in a Nutshell:

September 11: A moment of silence for our nation. I didn’t realize how old I was until some of my school kids had no idea why 9/11 is an important day in the U.S. Even my oldest students would only have been 8 years old at the time. That Thursday was also my first Aikido class! Dara came along to help me understand what was going on, but for the most part (since it is primarily physical) I was able to understand the jist of the activities. Everyone spoke enough English to at least say, “Okay, yes,” when I did something right. Ah, it felt good. Steven Seagal and I are now practitioners of the same martial art. Can’t wait till I, too, start wearing nothing but Chinese pageboy-inspired leisure suits and leather jackets. He, by the way, is umpteen times more legitimate here than in the states.

September 12: A fairly mundane office day. All three ALTs were grounded, and I think we spent most of our time comparing our school experiences. Well, that and fretting over upcoming speeches. Do we butcher Japanese, or apologize repeatedly for speaking in English? I wrote a short speech in both, but the Japanese was really just a repeat of what I had said at the very first introduction. Negative points for creativity.

That night was the enkai, during which the short speeches were required. An enkai is an office party, most often to welcome someone into the fold, and that night it was Kim and I who were the honored guests. At 6:30 sharp we walked into the Bonne restaurant (some sort of Chinese place). Kim and I were handed microphones and asked to speak. Kim spoke in Japanese, talking about how she loved it here, and that everyone was so kind, blah blah blah. I spoke in English, speaking very, very slowly about how I loved it here, and how everyone was so kind and welcoming, blah blah blah. Food was eating, and after a little imbibing on the part of my coworkers, English was spoken. At one point I was called to another table to speak with someone who had spent some time abroad in Canada. That table soon became the English-speaking table (and not all members were intoxicated, mind you. Just some) with people coming and going to try out their foreign language skills. We talked about why eggplant is a funny name for a vegetable, how mukade and centipede have the same meaning, Kansai-ben, and peppers. Now that I think about it, the larger portion of the conversations I had that night revolved around local produce.

September 13: As usual, I was exhausted, and feeling the aftershocks of aikido class on my untried, doughy muscles. However, I dragged myself out of the house to bike for 35 minutes to Nantan High School with Liz. She was going to see her students play a tie-breaking baseball game, and I was going because I would have stayed in the apartment all day otherwise. Baseball and softball games were going on at the same time, which was interesting. It was hard to cheer, though, because the baseball uniforms of the two teams only differed in sock color (both were striped and mostly white to boot) and the tiny emblem on the sleeve and breast of the shirt. I would cheer quietly for Nantan baseball, look over to softball to see what was going on, return my attention to baseball and only after a few minutes realize that there had been a change on the field, and I had been rooting for the wrong team. Once baseball was over, Liz and I and our brand new farmer’s tans stayed to watch the softball team finish their game. We were the only fans, so I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me when girls in Nantan uniforms hail me on the street/in the grocery store with a friendly, “Ah! Eigo no sensei!” Ah! English teacher! There’s no mistaking me for anyone else in this town. It’s not as thought that other short biracial foreign woman was hanging out at the highschool softball game.

That night I met up with Kim and Matt and J.S, two other ALTs from elsewhere (Ugi, mayhap?). I had been industrious, cleaning my apartment, and decided that I had enough of productivity. It was already late, which meant that I wouldn’t have to stay out very long. Spread Bar, here I come! The bartender had spent a month in North Dakota when he was a teenager, and recounted how every day for lunch they had either hot dogs or pizza. So much for dispelling stereotypes about unhealthy, fat Americans. We also discussed the difference between Korean and American barbecue, about which I had no authority to speak. I and my Coca Cola hung out for about thirty minutes, then went home. Then I remembered, as I tossed and turned on my futon, why it’s a bad idea to drink Coke right before going to bed. Argh, 4:00 a.m!

September 14: Nothing of note but church. The pastor for the evening service was and will be in the U.S. for a few weeks, ergo the church’s senior pastor preached with a translator. Yipes.

September 15: Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday. Grandma, I raised a bottle of melon soda in your honor. Taiko at night.

September 16: Late pickup by Tsutsuji Elementary. Good times with the grade schoolers and a game that doesn’t make any sense. Dad is Barack Obama and I have an afro. Kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) with Nanami and Mayu (both calligraphy members), then found Dr. Pepper. Sushi is delicious, but it takes some convincing for Mayu to try Dr. Pepper. Success.

September 17: Timely pickup by Tsutsuji Elementary. Little that was remarkable. Margaret, turns out, was making a presentation to the International Club after my classes were finished, so I went along with her. The kids asked a lot of questions, oftentimes things like, “What do you think of the Statue of Liberty?” or “How large are the wheels or American cars?” Deep, man. Deep. One of the boys told his teacher that he hadn’t known hair like mine existed. Breaking down barriers, that’s what I do all day. Shuji/shodo at night.

September 18: Takeda punks, falling asleep on me. This junior high had some of the most welcoming staff and the most irritating students. They yelled questions at me, or would yell, “Nani des ka?” (what’d she say?) at the teacher when I would respond to them. I had distributed picture cards to the students, and they understood (thanks to the teacher, mostly, and not me) that they were to hold up the card when they heard the key word. The cards, if undesired, could be passed to a more willing participant. In two different classes I had a student take a card, put his or her head down on the desk, and fall asleep. I was ready to hurl chalk at their heads, but instead gently shook them (when they should have been holding up a dang card) and cheerily announced, “Ohayo gozaimasu! Good morning!” while the others looked on uncomfortably. It worked in one class, but only because the student was too eager to show off his English skills to the new ALT. The other student was immobile until it was time for them to introduce themselves to me. Then she came up to the front, yawned, told me her name and club, then went and stared out the window. Angsty teenage years. Ah, how I do not miss thee.

Aikido that night was an awesome stress reliever. The head teacher was there that night, and was definitely a tough love kind of guy. He got on to me for not knowing Japanese, which no one has done yet, but then later he congratulated me for learning so quickly. I also met a girl named Nana Ando, who was given the task of teaching me everything I needed to know. This smart cookie is a high school student from the nearby town of Sonobe, so her English is pretty fresh.

September 19: Biked to Takeda with Liz. The teachers were astounded that I would ride so far, though it was only thirty minutes or so. It reminded me of the Midwest, actually. The day was long, and I was sick of talking about myself for an entire class period. It rained on the way home, through my rain jacket, and I was soaked down to my skivvies. I was wet, had a headache, and was a little cranky. I needed comfort food. Hello, Mickey D’s. I feel like a stereotype every time I visit, but the Nihonjin are there, too. That night we had an Arrested Development initiation! Of the six ALTs in town, three of us had already been exposed to the magic that is AD. The other three needed schooling, obviously. We watched the first three episodes, and I reveled in the jokes that I could now repeat without looking like a complete idiot. Incredible. I’m having and incredible year.

September 20: Lazy crash kind of morning, then biked around Kameoka with Liz, Phil and Margaret. Committed to leading song service at church. What?

September 21: Way late to church. Thanks, typhoon. I was supposed to have arrived at church 40 minutes ahead to go over song choices, but my train was 30 minutes late. Another girl from Kameoka was there (had been dealing with health issues) who took the job of heading up, so I just harmonized and concentrated on not fidgeting. It was indeed awkward; I didn’t know where to look, and was concentrating too hard to close my eyes, raise my free hand, and sway like a good spiritually-involved worship leader. Good sermon. Kameoka girl drives me back, turns out she is certified to teach Japanese to foreigners, and will do so once her energy returns. New bestest friend.

The pictures here and in the following post are a sort of montage from the last few weeks. I am still reluctant to whip out my camera and gawk unless I am a) alone, or b) surrounded by other Japanese tourists who are doing the same. Ergo, the mishmash of photos.

Moment in Engrish provided by fellow foreigner:

Enjoy Cocaine

To the gentleman’s credit, the bottom right of the short said, “Die early.” I postulate that the wearer’s intention was to put the appeal of drugs on trial, and thereby open the eyes of the general public to the “fine print” reality of drug usage. Right?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

See You In September

It has been a while since my last post, so this one is really, really long. I warn you, you might want to read this in phases. And there aren’t a whole lot of pictures, for you visual folk.

And now, allow me to quickly recap Tuesday, August 26—Tuesday, September 2. Warning, all sticklers for proper grammar! Complete sentences will not be used!

• August 26: Work on pricing tickets for Christmas vacation. Debate selling my soul to pay for a round trip.
• August 27: Another Nodame Cantabile night. Brilliant.
• August 28: Nothing of note, at least nothing that I can remember…
• August 29: Seminar in Kyoto. Not entirely boring, but it approached. New municipal JETs (those who teach elementary and jr. high or who are CIRs) only. I made my lunch and it was gross. Nighttime=tabimorimachinkofac√©. Or whatever it was called. An all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink buffet. Glorious. Also, I sang Pirates of Penzance on the streets with two other JETs. A couple of Nihonjin applauded and one sang along (technically he just warbled and mimicked us).
• August 30: Chill and recuperate.
• August 31: Meet up with another foreigner in Kyoto. We attempt to see a kung-fu class. Class canceled. Attempt to see a class at the large budo (martial arts center). Not allowed. Try again for Kyoto Assembly Church. Fall asleep on train, end up at a racetrack way past where I should have been. Failure. Go to bed really early and sleep off the disappointment.
• September 1: Panic because I don’t have lesson plans or schedules from any of the school’s I’ll be visiting within the next two weeks. Sell my soul to Galaxy Travel. Taiko is, again, amazing.
• September 2: Receive one fax for the next day’s visit. Panic because I don’t have a fax from the school for the end of the week. That evening is dinner with Nanami, who takes me and Margaret to a ramen shop and then to the Baskin Robbins in a nearby department store. Nanami was in a year-long exchange program at Broken Arrow high school and then spent two years as the University of Tulsa. It’s nice to be around a Japanese person who appreciates the beauties of Hideaway Pizza, and who can confirm to Missourian Margaret that yes, Hideaway is the best pizza in the world.

Now we can slow down. The last week, being fresh in my fatigued mind (you figure it out) necessitates a little more detail. Buckle up, kids. We’re heading for Detail Land.

I never thought I'd say it, but it's good to be back in the classroom. I taught at my first school last Wednesday, Shotoku Shogakko. I had three classes, first, fourth, and sixth graders, and reinforced my hypothesis that being a ham leads to cross-cultural understanding and internationalization. With the first graders I led them in reciting the alphabet (using ASL until I got to L and had to concentrate on how to make the dang sound in the first place) and Simon Says. Fourth and sixth grade played Twister to reinforce right/left and hand/foot, or rather, “Righto and(u) refuhto, hando and(u) footo.” I also ate with a sixth grade homeroom; the students ignored me for the most part while I ate curry rice and onion soup. Yes, it was a little awkward. Also awkward was when I had to introduce myself to the entire school and say “how I feel about the students.” Blah blah blah, I hope that we will have fun learning English together, I sound like a boor. Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. See you next month, kids.

That night I resumed calligraphy. This time around the kanji was
yama, or mountain. More flowers! I do love that class. They’re very encouraging, and it helps my Japanese.

On Thursday I met my supervisor, Inoe-san at the Umahori station, got lost with him (a.k.a. started walking toward the wrong school) and then arrived late to Shotoku Chugakko. That day I had one 2nd year class and one first year class (and a lot of time to sit at my desk). Class went well; the students really liked to shout, “Hello! Nice to meet you!” at me, no matter the distance between their mouths and my ears. The 1st year students made me self-introduction cards with pictures of themselves and gems like, “My favorites animal, a dog, yellow?” and “My dreams. Smile. Happy!”

Then lunch came. Had I known, I would have brought it. I had read that I could order it or head to a nearby convenience store. Turns out that no, I can do neither of those, and ergo someone must cough up a bowl of ramen for me. How embarrassing.

It did not end. I do not like to fill up my bowl-o-noodles to the top with water because I prefer less juice. The teacher watching me kept saying, “More, little more,” and pressed the button on the water dispenser for me until the water level had reached the line inside. Great.

I sat down, wrote a brief summary of the morning class in my journal, then turned back to the bowl of yet-uncooked noodles. I poured the packet of seasoning in, separated my chopsticks, and prepared to stir the seasoning into the noodles. The teacher came rushing over, waving his hands. I put the chopsticks down.

“Not yet, not yet! Must wait sreeeeee minutes.”

I told him that I understood, and that we had instant ramen in the states, too. I even explained the joke about the college students Ramen Diet.

He nodded and held up three fingers. “Wait sreeeee minutes. Not ready.”

“Hai, wakarimashita,” I said.
Yes, I understand. I won’t stir my dang noodles. “Three minutes.”

“Sreeeee minutes.” He then put the paper lid back on the bowl, then set a larger box on top of it. “You must wait.”

I had a sudden flashback of a moment at the day school, pulling a child’s hand away from a bowl of soup and saying firmly, “No, ma’am. You must use your spoon.” When the hand went back in, I pulled the bowl away. “Where is your spoon? I want you to use your spoon, please.” I pushed the bowl back to the toddler, who grudgingly stuck her spoon in the soup.

I nod vigorously at the teacher and say, “Hai. Thank you. Wakarimashita.”

I turned back to my journal and organized a lesson plan. I wasn’t starving, so I continued to ignore the ramen even after the three minute mark had passed. Unsurprisingly, the teacher visited my desk.

“You can eat now,” he said encouragingly, taking the box and the lid off the bowl. “It has been sree minutes. It’s ready, okay?”

“Okay,” I said. “Thank you.” Another Day Schools flashback.

I picked up my chopsticks and I ate.

On Friday I misread the train schedule and missed my train to Shotoku. In my defense, train schedules are not written in English. Feeling foolish, I called Paulette to see if she had the list of numbers for the schools. She read it off and I wrote it down, trying to calm my rising anxiety about a phone conversation in Japanese.

I entered the number in my keitai and waited. A man picked up, and somewhere in the sentence I heard, “Shotoku.” Alright.

“Sumimasen, gomenasai,” I said, edging away from the other people within earshot. “Eigo okay desu-ka?”
English okay?

“Etto,” the man said slowly.

“ALT desu,” I said.
I’m the ALT. “I missed my train.”


He didn’t understand, so I repeated it. “I missed my train. I will be late. Gomenasai!”

The man paused, then said something in Japanese that again involved the name of the school. Did he say
shogakko? “One moment, please.”

It suddenly dawned on me that I had called the elementary school, and he was trying to tell me that I wasn’t even supposed to be there today. “Iie, iie,” I said quickly. “Wakarimashita! Wakarimashita!”
No, no, I understand! I understand! No one responded, which meant that the man with whom I had speaking had gone to find someone who spoke better English. I hung up.

I dug through the papers in my backpacks, managed to find the number to Shotoku Chugakko, and called them. I explained, the English teacher laughed at me, and I apologized over and over again. I’m pretty sure that all the teachers had a good laugh at my expense (appropriately so), especially after I admitted that I called so late because I had mistakenly dialed the elementary school first.

I got more introductory notes from the two classes of 2nd years and the class of first years. Some of my favorites:

“I like dog and My boyfriend!
What do you like? Tell me.”

“I am basketball team.”

“My favorites
a hot dog

“I do not like English
but I like Social Studies.”

I also brought my own lunch. For the record, I did replace the bowl of noodles that I ate. The teacher who had supplied it was very impressed.

Earlier in the week it had been suggested by some JETs that we go into Osaka (about an hour and a half by train from Kameoka) on the 6th to go dancing. I had thought it would be a little bit of a day trip—meet up, find someplace to eat, go dance my legs off and catch the last train home. By Friday it had turned into an all-night pub crawl. Cross my name off that list, please and thank you.

Saturday I was in hermit-mode until Margaret called down and asked if I wanted to go out to eat. I dragged myself off my futon and met her and Phil for dinner. Mmm, tempura.

Afterwards they wanted to head to GooBea's Rock Bar around the corner from my apartment. Sure, I'll sit there and talk with the owner about our mutual love…for music from the 60's. He even put on a compilation CD and I provided some mild entertainment by singing along to every single song that played. So thanks, Mom and Dad, for discouraging me from listening to pop music while growing up. It's turned out that the Oldies station prepared me to bond with Nihonjin.

Also, I learned that the letter T in American Sign Language is the same as giving someone the finger in Japan. Good to know…Made me really glad that I stopped using ASL when I did at did at the shogakko. And lastly I learned that the Italian version of “Cheers!” is both the English onomatopoeia for the sound two glasses make when tapped against each other and a nihongo euphemism for male genitalia. Take note, Italianos. Learn to toast in another language.

By the time we left I learned that the younger bartender, Haruo-san, was in a not-half-bad band, and that they had a show in Osaka on Tuesday night. He took down our names (and Kim-chi’s, who had been there the previous weekend) to reserve tickets for us. On the three-minute walk back to the apartment my party had confirmed that yes, it was a bad idea to go into Osaka on a weeknight but, yes, we were going nonetheless. Come on, folks. The kid reserved tickets for us to buy. And he works at the neighborhood watering hole. And he has a perm.

How could we say no?

Sunday morning was lazy. I tore up a cardboard box that had once contained a set of shelves. I wrote in my journal. I did some laundry. I paid off the sleep debt racked up during the week. I texted Dara Han, a former JET who’s still in the area after 8 years, who had volunteered to help me find an aikido class. See you at 7 on Thursday, fellow self-defense enthusiasts. At about 3:00 p.m. I roused myself for reals and showered, getting my backside out the door to find church and no excuses.

I found God! Glory be, I found Kyoto Assembly Church. Third time really is the charm. The music is so-so (and there’s a lot of it), but it was so nice to be in a group of believers that I just sung my little heart out and didn’t care. Then I drank tea and talked with the pastors and other church-goers. The Nodame Cantible-watching party was to start at eight, so I made ready to leave, passing out my contact information to the people I had met.

And then. Oh, and then.

There are some people in the world who never learn to use the orifices on the sides of their heads. Perhaps their jaws are so used to movement that it is actually more difficult to stop talking than it is to find something else to talk about.

Lest I sound uncharitable (or since I do, rather), I will lay out my thought process. Let us keep in mind that I have an appointment, and church ended at 6:15.

Wow, this guy is really open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Wow, it must be nice to have God speak to you so clearly through Engrish signs and shirts. I get vague feelings.

Wow, this guy has a lot of stories.

Wow, this is a really long story.

Is this part about the difference between Canadian, Texan, and Japanese cockroaches necessary or a tangent? Maybe it connects to the part about God telling him through a t-shirt that he had an ant problem.

It’s definitely a tangent

Wow, I need to leave. It’s already 7:30 and it’s 30 minutes back to Kameoka.

Wow, I can’t even get in a word to say that I need to leave.

Wow, this guy just won’t quit.

Dude, shut up!

I felt guilty for my thoughts while he yacked, but that didn't stop them.

Monday/Yesterday I finished up my time at Shotoku Chugakko. I woke up late, threw on a dress (don’t worry, there was personal grooming and hygiene involved), grabbed my backpack, and rushed out the door. The half hour before eight o’clock is rush hour, with businessmen and women rushing to work and students heading to their schools. The road to the train station is especially busy, since several. About halfway to the train station I noticed a crisp breeze blowing in an area where I shouldn’t have felt it. I stopped walking.

My stomach dropped, my heard started pounding, and adrenaline coursed through my blood vessels. I reached back and brushed at the back of my dress, feeling bunched fabric and the edge of my underwear.


Logically speaking, in order to moon half of Kameoka, 43,000 people would have had to walk past. I know I did not expose my left lower half to that many people, but it sure felt that way. I pulled my dress out as quickly as possible, took a breath, and continued to walk as though with blinders on my head. I think I might have actually blushed. I know someone got to work or school and told everyone they knew about the dark-skinned foreigner whose striped panties were showing. There might even be cell-phone pictures floating around. Perhaps I’m being paranoid. Perhaps.

To top it off I missed my train again, then in a panic decided that even if it was a 40 minute bike ride, if I left immediately I’d still only be ten minutes late as opposed to 30. Plus it would be a way better excuse than, “Sorry, guys. I got out of my house on time, but it turns out that I walk too slowly. Darn skirt always hiking up and slowing me down.” I walked back to the apartment (pulling at the back of my dress with every other step), I got on my bike, panicking, and within ten minutes had arrived at the school. I was early. Turns out that it takes longer for me to walk from Umahori station to the school than it does for me to pedal there from my apartment.

I only had one class that day because one of the teachers was giving a test. I had been scheduled for two classes with her, so I pretty much sat at my desk all day and pretended to be writing something important while I journaled. I also studied some Japanese, none of which I retained. Other ALTs claim that they roam the halls of their schools and find things to do if bored. Maybe next time. The teachers here are always busy—if they’re not teaching they’re preparing for another lesson or leading a club. I never see them just sit and relax; even during lunch they’re going through the mountains of paperwork that they have to deal with.

That night I beat some drums at taiko with the gang. Taiko is the best club ever. The best. They pick us up, it’s free, they use as much English as possible (beat-o, uh-ryzum-uh, Japanese du-rum-u etc.), they feed us snacks afterward, and they made us our own taiko sticks. They made us drum sticks. Made them. The Japanese people did. For us. To keep. Plus, they let me play the really big upright drum; the experience is nothing short of creating one’s own earthquake.
I love taiko!

Today I discovered why Betsuin Chugakko had been my predecessor’s favorite school. Well, at least, I did after two bus rides and panicking when we kept going further and further into the wilderness. After riding both buses to their last stops the English teacher picked me up and drove me to the junior high school. Betsuin is the smallest school in all of Kameoka, with only 70 students. Perfect.

Even the most bashful of the Betsuin (I can’t write or say that without thinking of Bedouin) were at least minimally involved. I was able to pass my props and pictures around the classroom rather than simply hold them up. They asked the teacher questions about my lesson, not hesitating when they needed something explained. They laughed when I imitated a lemur’s run (it’s in my presentation. Leave me alone) and told me that my grandmother is cute. More points for Grandma. Tell her, someone. I also have in the presentation that she’s 97 years old and still energetic, so I’m fulfilling her wishes even from across the waters. A point for me.

I was also able to spend one period with the school’s only student in the special education classroom. She, the English teacher and I had some quality time together, letting her guide the lesson rather than me just talking about me. We talked about how to escape a tornado, why I’ve never been to a Disney theme park, and where wild horses live in the U.S. Cross-culturalization at its finest, if I do say so myself.

When all my classes were finished my supervisor picked me up. We went back to the BOE, where I typed most of this. To make the concert my fellow fools and I would have to hop on a train by 5:37. At 4:20 I prepared to depart the BOE, Inoe-san stopped me to inquire if I knew how to reach my school the next day. I replied that yes, I had instructions from two former ALTs on how to reach the school. Inoe-san and the other men in the department decided that they needed to make sure. They looked for maps, bus routes, bus times, called the school…At 4:50 I picked up my backpack and nodded many a time, telling them thank you so much for finding the name of the bus stop. Yep, in 30 minutes all we found was the name of the stop where I needed to alight, which I already had.

I rushed home, made and posted a birthday video for Barron, changed into casual clothes, looked up the train schedule, reviewed my instructions for the next day, repacked my bag, and left again. Margaret and I walked to Kameoka Eki to meet Kim and Phil for our grand adventure. Traveling to an unfamiliar Let me tell you, it was a tense, tense transition from Kameoka to the basement club in Osaka. Tense. Is repentance pointless if the sin is repeated? I was pretty quiet on the trip up. For a similar experience, review my “Nantes Trip” entry in the Angers Effect. It was like traveling with piranhas, and that’s as expository as I’m going to get.
We finally found the place and paid for our sweet, sweet reserved tickets. The first band up was Leonald (from Texas), who had an honest-to-goodness groupie following. The herd was only ten strong, but considering the number of people present, it was pretty incredible. Also, two members of this following turned around to see four foreigners (and three non-Asian faces) and jumped. Literally. They jumped and squealed and giggled like they had just seen hilarious ghosts.

Whatever, little girls. At least I can do more than headbang when I dance. I don't need to dye my hair blue to get stared at.

Leonald (from Texas) was all punk, all the way, right down to the roots of their bleached blond hair. Ah, it was priceless. I was put in mind of those children on kiddie leashes I’ve seen in grocery stores, pulling as hard as they can on the leashes attached to their backs. Watching Leonald (from Texas) was like watching those children break free, running up and down the aisles, flailing their arms and eating the coffee beans that fell out of the dispensers. Sure, I threw up the rock sign and clapped, but I laughed the whole time. Kim and I would occasionally turn to each other and say, “Are you serious?”

Next up was MMP, which we learned later stands for Make Money Project. Nice. This band took more of an alternative route, totally emo and endearingly into their rocky, soulful sound. The closest thing I can think of to their sound is Switchfoot with a little of the Backstreet Boys thrown in for good measure. If their songs came on the radio, there’s an 80 percent chance that I’d leave the dial alone.

Now I sit on the train, heading home from the concert with the piranhas. Sure, it was an unquestionably bad idea to go all the way to O-town when I have to be on a bus by 7:04 tomorrow morning. However, Haruo-san (the guy who works at the Rock Bar, remember?) and his band were great. For amateurs they were genuinely impressive. My props to Lewdic Juice and their funky, funky style. I thumb my nose at sparkly J-pop. I will take button-up shirts and alternative funk any day. I happen to be a sucker for a good slap bass.

The nice thing about being the only gaijin in the building was that every band member came up to us and thanked us for coming. Leonald members talked to us about how they had never been to Texas, but introduced themselves as Kevin, Paul, etc. Liars. The members of MMP said no,
we were great for coming to the show and gave me a high-five. Haruo-san actually hugged me (or opened his arms, then I stepped in and squeezed his middle. Yes, it was awkward) when I ran up to him told him how much I loved his band. And the Japanese don’t do hugs.

By the way, I’ll edit this later and put some pictures and video in. Right now they’re stuck on my phone, and I’m stuck on a train, and as soon as I get home I’ll hit the post button on this s(t)ucker and pass out. Rock and roll, kids.

Engrish moment of the day, courtesy of a taiko member’s hoodie. When I noticed it, I almost followed the instructions:

Gladly Smile

Yell Lustily

Wet Oneself Laughing

This post's glossary, in no particular order:

• shogakko—elementary school; grades 1-6
• chugakko—junior high school; grades 7-9

  • ichinensei—first graders (can be for any school)
  • ninensei—second graders
  • sanensei—third graders
  • yonensei—fourth graders (shogakko only)
  • gonensei—fifth graders (shogakko only)
  • rokunensei—sixth graders (shogakko only)
• Nippon—Japan
• Nihonjin—Japanese people
• Nihongo—Japanese language
• yama—mountain
• keitai–cell phone
• gaikokujin—foreigners (gaijin for short)
• eki—train station
• jitensha—bicycle
• genki—energetic, vigorous, active, etc.
• hajimemashite—“first time.” Used as “Nice to meet you.”
• (dozo) yoroshiku onegaishimasu—“Please be kind to me.” A closing version of “nice to meet you.” Used in other situations, but I don’t yet know why.
• Onegaishimasu—please
• J-pop—Japan pop.

The Who's Who:
Municipal ALTs: Paulette, Kim-chi, Yours Truly
CIR: Margaret
Prefectural ALT (at high schools): Liz, Phil
Former Muni ALT who stayed for eight years: Dara
Japanese girl/lady who introduced me to calligraphy and studied in Tulsa: Nanami
My supervisor at the BOE: Inoe-san (pronounced Ee-no-eh)
Guy who works at the bar and has an interesting perm and a band: Haruo-san (pronounced Hah-rue-oh)