Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Visitors + Influenza Outbreak = An Interesting Day at Elementary School

I guess the best way to spread a disease is in the halls and classrooms of an elementary school! Influenza has been wreaking havoc on the 6th graders at the largest ES in the town. I had the 6th grade class was sent home. I was playing tag with some 1st graders and they expressed their jealousy of the 6th graders leaving school early. I gently explained the “motions” that occur when you have the flu, but they weren’t buying it. graders on Tuesday and in one class, 10 students were absent. Yikes! Today, at recess one entire 6 grade class got to leave school early because of the flu.

I taught the 5th graders today and to my surprise, they were quite lackluster. They didn’t have much energy and they really seemed to despise English class before it started…I’m going with the thought that they all felt sick. Today was a special day in the sense that about 15 people from the lunch center (the people who make lunch everyday) and the Superintendent of Education and the Mayor of Mitake came to my ES to have lunch with the kids. However, due to the outbreak, the special guests had to eat in a conference room.

I will admit to one downside of being a 6 school ALT: the waiting game. Being at a different school nearly every day means that in order to plan for the next class, I’ve got to be ahead of the game and plan it on the day I’m at the school. This is where the waiting game occurs. I rarely ever teach a 6th period (only at the “tough” ES…), which means I have from about 3 to 4:05 to kill until my official work time is over. However, the teachers never fully migrate into the teachers’ room until 4:15 or at the latest 4:45. Let’s just say, I do a lot of sitting and waiting (it reminds me of the Jack Johnson song). Once the teachers are in the teachers’ room, no one will approach the ALT. I’m almost like a hazard to their health or a real evil thing (ok, I might be exaggerating). However, planning is supposed to be a Japanese teacher and ALT process. Since the HRTs are very busy, it’s my job to create the lesson plans and they just follow along. The “waiting game” to talk to the HRTs is quite agonizing, and this is one of the main parts of my job that annoys me the most. I try to be the happy and encouraging ALT, but when teachers aren’t happy to work with the ALT, it makes the atmosphere quite depressing. Oh, I must add, the teachers know they have to meet with the ALT; this is a typical routine they’ve been following since April. I also remind them after class, but it never seems to sink in. Oh well, I guess I felt like sharing some frustrations of being an ALT. On the upside, 1st and 2nd graders get cuter everyday. Too bad I don’t teach them more than 3 or 4 times a year…

HUGE Snowflakes!

Interesting things so far this week:

- One 1st or 2nd grader noticed that my eyes were blue and made the comment that they weren’t Japanese. He then called my eyes scary. Huh.

- At the gym I go to, I haven’t noticed an increase in new patrons, maybe New Year resolutions are bigger in America.

- Being a Type-A person doesn’t work well in the education system. For example: I showed up at an ES and the classes they had planned for me were not what I was previously told. Just a quick trip back home and I was good to go.

- We are in the final trimester of the school year (it ends in March) and I can really tell that the teachers and students are beat. I was doing some team teaching planning for ES and the teachers politely told me not to expect much from the students when I get there (I have them tomorrow). From my inference (remember, the Japanese never say exactly what they mean, they want you to come to the conclusion on your own), they said, “this plan is way too difficult and I don’t think this will work or the students will want to do it.” Yikes!

Drying My Clothes: Always the Adventure :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Weekend Adventure: Gifu City and Nagoya!

This past Friday was the second Mid-Term conference that my prefecture (think US State) had this year. Basically all 52 ALTS in Gifu Prefecture came to the capital of our prefecture and meet at the convention center to go over new developments and learn new tricks and ideas for teaching English. To be honest, there really isn’t anything too special about this conference; it is really a lot of catching up with your friends who live far away from you.

My adventure started with a train ride for 75 minutes to the capital, Gifu City. Then I miraculously found the bus stop I needed to board the bus taking my 25 minutes to the convention center. About two hours after I left my apartment, I arrived at the convention center!

We heard some speeches about captivating audiences and children, but nothing that I didn’t have an idea about in the first place. My favorite part was the book swap! You can exchange books you’ve read with others or you can pay 100 yen ($1.25) for a book. Think well used books and rarely used books! Jackpot!

After the conference, about 32 of us went to this event called an Enkai. It is basically a dinner party/event with your friends. You pay a base fee and for 2-3 hours, you get as much food and drinks as you want. I paid 3500 yen ($42), which is a pretty good deal in a big city. The night was very eventful and it was nice to unwind with other ALTs. We made our way to karaoke after dinner and eventually, 8 or 9 of us found our way to someone’s apartment and all crammed in and called it a night. The nice part about coming a long way for a conference is that it is never difficult to find a place to stay after your last train leaves.

Saturday morning came quickly, and soon we were out on the street with no plans. I decided that since I was so close to Nagoya, I might as well spend the day shopping and spending time with actually civilization. Let me tell you how awesome it turned out. I’ve been dying to see a movie on the big screen, so I made it a point to find a movie theatre. Guess what, I did! But first, I had one of the greatest turkey sandwiches at Subway. Then, I went to a bookstore and loaded up on some free viewing of foreign magazines (the Economist was $25, People $15, Harvard Business Review $40!! Crazy I know!). I also used the bookstore to get some ideas of books I want to buy from Amazon Japan. I never used Amazon in America, but I love it here! It’s so much cheaper than at home, I can pay in cash at the convenience store, and it’s delivered free to the convenience store! Ok, but back to the main point. After the bookstore, we were feeling a little smelly and dirty from not having a shower the night before, so we asked the wonderful people at the Nagoya Station INfomration Center for a onsen or hot spring bath they recommended. We followed the directions and about 2 hours later, I was clean and incredibly relaxed! If you’ve never had an onsen or hot spring bath, google it and go to one ASAP. It will change your world! After the bath, I found a movie theatre by the main Nagoya stations. I went and saw “The Social Network”, I heard great things about it after it seemed to have won every single Golden Globe this year. I was accompanied by another ALT from about 2 hours North of me, and we were lucky enough that every 22nd is “couples day”, so we paid 1000 yen ($13) a person instead of 1800 yen ($22). I even went all out and got caramel popcorn (amazing!).

Subway: Japanese Style

Caramel Corn!

After the movie, the other ALT and I, met up with other foreigners and ate dinner at Outback! YUM! I forgot how amazing foreign food can be! I had grilled chicken, with veggies and fries and oh my gosh, it was amazing! After dinner, I caught the last train to my town and walked home from the local train station with all of my goodies from my day in Nagoya.

Sunday was no big event. Since I was gone last weekend, I had an accumulation of clothes and general cleaning to be done. It was a task! I don’t remember the last time I spent so much time cleaning and such.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Snowboarding Weekend Getaway

Hakuba-Iwate Resort

My first week back from Winter Vacation was a blur. Just as I thought it was starting, it was already over. I taught at 2 JH schools, and this week, I’m rotating through my last JH before my ES rotation starts again. Last week was very uneventful because thanks to the time change, I was usually asleep before 10pm. On Friday, I saw my first snowfall of the year (about 1.5 inches). However, today is a far cry from the light dusting we received on Friday. This weekend was steady snowfall all around the colder parts of Japan. My town received a little over 4 inches of snow, but with the low temperatures, it has lasted throughout the weekend and it continued snowing today. After living in Moscow for the past four year, I’ve grown accustomed to driving in the snow and ice. However, I wasn’t so sure this morning if my car could handle getting out of my JHS parking lot, so I trudged my way about 1.5 miles to school in my Ugg boots (not the best idea). The inside of the school was roughly 34-42 degrees depending on a hallway or classroom. I love the fact that the doors are still open to the outside even when it is snowing. I even asked a teacher and she didn't even notice the doors were open and starting laughing.

Okay, back to the weekend! There were 5 of us going to Nagano Prefecture (which is right next door to my Prefecture). You might remember Nagano from the 1998 Olympics or the famous ALT soccer team that won a tournament there in October…Since my apartment was the closest to Nagano, three people arrived at my apartment at 1am Saturday morning to sleep for about 3 hours, and then depart for Nagano at 4am. It was quite the early morning, but thanks to the 4-hour car ride, I was able to nap for another 3 hours. We made our way through the snowy towns, and finally ended up at the Hakuba-Iwate ski resort. For 3300 yen ($40), I got a ski pass and a lunch voucher (similar to golf). I thought it was a pretty awesome deal! We snowboarded all day and left the resort at closing time. We stayed at this lovely hostel, (more like a hotel), and I met quite a few individuals from other countries (New Zealand, Wales, England, and some other countries)…some people were staying there for 3 months! Could you imagine that!

Sunday morning, we went to the Hakuba-Goryu / Hakuba-47 resorts (they are adjoined, but technically separate). This resort was much larger and I would say there had to have been 30% foreigners there! They even had a Subway in the lodge. That was my little piece of heaven for the weekend for sure! After two days of steady snowfall (it snowed 20 inches Saturday night alone!), my body was exhausted! I forgot how much snowboarding through powder can wear down you body. We went back to the lodge and took a shower and got the car all packed up at headed out at 6pm. After a stop for dinner (sushi), we were on the way back to Mitake. I can honestly say I don’t remember much, due to the fact I passed out due to snowboarding fatigue. We got back to my apartment at about 11:45pm and everyone else headed back to their places (about 90 minutes further away). My apartment was a welcoming 44 degrees and I couldn’t turn the heat on fast enough.

We Found This "Character" Having A Smoke Outside

Things I learned: they don’t have lift tickets in Japan, instead you have a metal scanner that you scan at each lift and then return at the end of the day. The snow must be different because I’ve never had my goggle fog up as bad as they did, and it wasn’t just me. Ski lifts open when they want to, not necessarily at 8:30 or 9am when they are scheduled to. Lunch is usually included with your lift ticket. A lot of people snowboard; I might say that it’s 50-50 skiing to snowboarding.

This weekend was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to go skiing or snowboarding again. I’m definitely thankful I brought most of my snowboarding gear, as now I can say that I’ve been snowboarding in Japan. (this was on my bucket list).

As for Monday, it came way too early. Another morning of steady snowfall, lead to my decision to walk to school. The snow would be okay if it didn’t have ice beneath it. The best part about walking to school was the fact that I got to walk home with 3 JHS girls. I had a blast talking to them about random topics in Japanese and English, I even learned who their "boyfriends" were. Definitely the highlight of my Monday!

My Walk (Adventure) To School

Well, as I sit here on Monday, I’ve got a lot of decisions to make before my recontracting deadline of February 4th. So far, I’ve loved my time in Japan, and I know I will always love living here, but I wonder if the awe of teaching English will fade sooner than expected.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Hawaiian Winter Vacation: Family, Friends, and American Food

Well, I’ve only been back in Japan for about two days now and I’m aching to go back to the warm, Hawaiian weather. Nevertheless, my return to Japan means another blog entry to inform you all of the happenings in Japan

I left Japan on December 23rd to meet my family and friends in Maui. My last day of school was at a difficult ES and since we are way ahead at that school, I decided to take it easy and have a Christmas lesson with the 5th and 6th graders. I showed them pictures of my Christmas tree, lights on the house, presents under the Christmas tree, and of course, all of the winter activities, including sledding. Then, they were able to ask any question related to Christmas they could think of. I got some interesting questions, but sadly I don’t remember them anymore (I should’ve typed this right after the fact).

On the 23rd, I started my journey to Maui. I walked about 1/2 a mile with my suitcase and golf clubs to the closest train station and bought an $18 ticket to the Nagoya International Airport. 2 trains and 3 airplanes were all that stood in my way of seeing my family, and it was quite the travel adventure. Let me walk you through my day: walk ½ mile, take one train for 7 minutes, transfer, take another train for 120 minutes, hop on a plane to the Tokyo-Narita airport, take another plane to Honolulu, and finally, a short trip to the Kahului, Maui airport. What an adventure! I finally realized what a small world it is, when on the airplane to Honolulu, I sat next to a former JET participant, who is currently pursuing her MBA at a university in Kyoto. Personally, my favorite part of my wild travel day, was the fact that I left my local train station at 10:03am, Thursday morning. When I arrived in Maui, it was only 10:05am, Thursday morning! When I finally calculated it, my Thursday was about 40 hours long.

I spent my vacation with my friends and family, which was a nice break from everything Japanese. We did a variety of Hawaiian things. I was lucky enough to see a former teammate who lives in Maui. We got to play golf a few times (and for those of you who know Kelly aka. “the professional”, I want you all to know that I actually beat her my final day).

I got to see Kelly and her parents!

After 18 days, it was time to head back to Japan. In the end it was just my parents and I, a far cry from the 18 people who were with us during the vacation.

Now that I’ve been back in Japan for about two days, I’ve noticed a few changes. First, I’m back to layering clothes. The temperature took a change for the worst; the highs are about 40 and lows around freezing. My car also does not like this weather, every morning it’s been a struggle to get the car started, and I feel like one morning I’m going to walk out and it won’t start (fingers crossed that won’t be the case). Second, I forgot how large school lunches are! I’ve been fortunate that the past 3 days have had some type of pork, meaning I didn’t have to eat the full lunch, but I’m still full! Third, there is this one JHS that I’m currently at, and I can’t believe how funny this girls are. Today, I spent recess in an 8th grade classroom with some girls. They asked me a variety of questions, do you have a boyfriend, what music, actor etc do you like. However, the highlight were these two girls that took red, green, blue, and yellow chalk, and used it as makeup to make this girl look like….Lady Gaga. And finally, I was showing pictures of Winter Vacation to the JHS kids, and every time I showed a picture of my family outside wearing sunglasses, they got the biggest laugh out of all of us. Not that many people wear sunglasses here, so I guess it was a little interesting looking.

The picture that made everyone laugh!

Sorry I don’t have anything too exciting to report. I am going snowboarding this weekend over in Nagano. I’m pretty stoked to get back up to the mountain, Japanese style!

Hopefully I’ll have a wonderful story and pictures to post after this weekend.