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