Archive for ‘events’

May 19, 2013

My Life Lately: Spring Edition!

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View from the bus on the way to work…

Another edition of things that have happened lately but haven’t had time to write about yet! This might be quite long.

– I was talking to my supervisor about my successor (the person who will replace me in July) and saying to him, “I hope they aren’t vegetarian…” I say this because I always feel like a burden when they order a special vegetarian meal for me whenever we have work parties. I don’t mean to be a bother. But my supervisor totally surprised me by saying, “It’d be find if they were vegetarian. We know what to do now. We’re used to it.” I was really taken aback, but really happy too.

Here is the veggie spread I got at a recent work party:

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– I was at one of my junior high schools and my one (and only) glass that I had to teach got pushed back to the last period of the day, 6th period. The reason? Well, one of the 8th grade boys had confessed his love to a girl classmate. The girl turned him down, because the other boys/girls in the class had pressured her to say no. Well, naturally the boy got pissed and there was a huge rift in the entire 8th grade. My class was pushed back to make time for a meeting with all the students to resolve this issue. And there is where I roll my eyes and say, “… Teenagers.”

– The other Sunday I went to a local café/coffee shop with Tori and Kimberly. I ordered their grilled vegetable sandwich with french fries, no substitutions. It was vegan as-is. I was shocked. And it was absolutely delicious. I had a great time.

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– My supervisor is really on the ball with things. He’s already reserved my flights home and arranged to be my tax representative (so that I can receive my pension refund after I return home. This is a large chunk of change.) By the way, I am leaving Aomori in the morning on Monday, July 1st. Then I will stay in Tokyo for a few days and leave for the U.S. on July 4th. Going home on July 4th had a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

AMERICAAAAAAA!
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– I went to watch Tori and Kyle at a snowboarding event last month on Mt. Hakkoda. Although I only lasted out there until lunch, it was fun to watch them (and other people) do awesome tricks. Plus, Tori was wearing her awesome Link (from Legend of Zelda) costume.

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Driving there~

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March 28, 2013

Thank You Always

March 8th was a special day for me because I was invited to my favorite junior high school’s graduation ceremony. I went last year, but at that time I had only known the graduating class for a little over 7 months. This year was a little more special because I have been with these kids for two years (since they were 2nd-year students). There were only 9 students in the graduating class (5 girls and 4 boys). One of them I was especially close with because I coached her for the English Speech contest in 2011 and 2012. But really, I have grown quite close to all of them. It was awesome to see them graduate. I almost cried.

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I arrived at the school at 12pm (my supervisor let me spend the morning at home, thank goodness). I ate lunch with the 1st and 2nd-year students and then waited for the 3rd-years to arrive. The ceremony began at 2pm. There were a lot of speeches, as usual, and I could understand a lot more of their speeches this year. I especially loved the 2nd-year kid’s speech and the graduating class representative’s speech. By the end of her speech, many were in tears. And then they had to sing their farewell song. Half the girls couldn’t sing because they were crying.

My favorite part is always at the end where all the teachers stand in a line at the front of the gym and the students all come up and say their thank-you’s with a bow. It was a loud, heartfelt, teary “Thank you.” Then they turned, wiping their tears, and marched out of the gym to end the ceremony.

 

「ありがとうございます」

 

The words “Thank you” are especially meaningful in Japan, I feel. For graduating 3rd-year students, that “Thank you” encapsulates the students’ feelings of gratitude toward their teachers for helping them through three years of junior high school. For helping them learn, have fun, and prepare for the dreaded high school entrance exams. Teachers hold a position of respect and honor in Japan, so graduation is a time to recognize the students’ accomplishments and also the teachers who helped them through it all.

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March 3, 2013

March is here

I’m done teaching for the school year. The next school year begins in April. I won’t see my junior high school 3rd-years anymore, but I will see the others again.

Next week I will be heading to my favorite junior high school to watch my students graduate. The entire graduating class is only 8 students. I’ll put on a suit and participate in pictures like a real teacher. I went last year and it really was a lot of fun. There were a lot of tears, but the kids are also really good at singing so there was good music as well. The whole school is only 29 students, but they always do a good job at putting on a ceremony.

The weather these past few weeks has been absolutely horrible. People right and left have been telling me how this is the worst winter they have seen in their entire life. Actually, my supervisor told me that we have received TWICE the amount of snowfall than usual. Last week I had two school visits where it was nearly impossible to get to school. One time I needed to ride the train into the next town, but the trains were stopped and the buses were late. I waited an hour outside in a blizzard for a bus that never came. I ended up taking the train-substitute-bus (sponsored by the railway company) and missed my first class. And then the second time I waited an hour outside… It wasn’t snowing, but the snow clearing crews just couldn’t keep up with the snowfall. The roads were too narrow for the buses. Finally my supervisor came to rescue me in his car.

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This definitely did not happen last winter… This winter is a doozy. Gee, how did I get to be so lucky? I am proud of myself, however, for getting through February without any major depressive episodes. Last year I would get home from work and glue myself to my couch most of the time, but this year I have been able to get myself to the gym regularly. Four or five times a week, actually. Plus, I have been doing yoga with my mom twice a week and that helps a great deal as well. Like the title says: March is here! Wednesday and Thursday were sunny and it did not snow. I hope we can have more weather like that.

Okay, so just to show you that I am not kidding with the whole winter and snow thing… Go to this page on BBC and watch this video about Aomori:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21625702

And a few random thoughts:

1. I’ve been wondering lately… Why do Japanese people talk to themselves so much? Or is it that Americans talk to themselves just as much and I’ve never noticed? Japanese people seem to have an entire repertoire of sounds and things that they mumble to themselves. Sometimes my co-workers mumble to themselves during work. Most of the time, it is in the gym that I hear the most self-talk. They walk into the locker room and make these “Shhhhhh”, “Oooshhhh” sounds… or mumble to themselves. It’s quite curious.

2. If you ever want to shock or surprise a Japanese person, pull out a raw carrot (peeled or unpeeled) and start eating it like Bugs Bunny. Carrot sticks, the ubiquitous American snack, also work too. Many Japanese people I’ve met (my students and co-workers) can’t fathom the idea of just eating a raw carrot. I get reactions and exclamations of, “I’ve never eaten a raw carrot before!” and “…Is it good?” My students will stare at me with googly eyes when they see me eating my carrot sticks with my lunch. It’s really amusing.

Biting into a whole, raw, unpeeled apple will also produce the same effect. When I first arrived, my co-workers were quite surprised by my apple-eating. Tori told me that her co-workers call her “wild” for eating apples like that. Here in Japan, they peel all of their fruit. I got a free calendar from the school lunch company last year featuring important Aomori food products. One of the months was the apple and there was a little blurb written about how apples are good for you. The blurb talked about how you should just rinse off apples well and eat the entire thing, peels too! What a novel idea!

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February 6, 2013

January Gone

– Where did January go? I’m actually not too sad to see it go, because I am still waiting on graduate school admission results. Those will come at the end of February or beginning of March, so I hope February is a short month. I mean, February is already short because of the number of days, but I hope it feels short as well.

– It was hard to get back in the "swing of things" after coming back from Italy. I do seem to have a hard time with transitions. It was cold, there was snow everywhere, my house was messy, and I had a weird lingering jet lag that caused me to not get sleepy until after midnight and then struggle to wake up in the morning. I usually *always* wake up before my alarm.

– I was back to normal after a couple weeks and started back up with yoga with my mom on Wednesday and Friday mornings at 6am. It’s been really good for me emotionally and physically. She has been teaching me via Skype and it has been wonderful. I finally feel like I am making some progress and getting pretty good at a few things. I hope I can make this a regular thing for me. I just have to remember to go to bed early the night before.

– I went skiing in Owani with my co-workers again this year for our annual “ski school” that my office puts on for district teachers.

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It is for teachers to learn how to ski, the techniques of skiing, and how to teach skiing to kids (I think). It wasn’t as fun as last year because I was miserably cold and skied alone for a bunch of the time.

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The “Holizon”

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December 17, 2012

Working, working, working…

It’s been far too long between updates… I keep meaning to write, but things just kept piling up. Two months, though? I am ashamed!

This post is mostly about my job lately and daily things that have happened.

Me in Pictures:

Here is a picture that my student drew of me. Don’t ask me why I am blonde…

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A Weird Conversation

The principal of one of my schools asked me why Americans were so against eating whale meat. That was an interesting conversation. I told him it was because they are endangered and we want to protect the whales we have right now on our planet so that they do not go extinct. He told me that Japanese people don’t eat a lot of whale, just a bit. I countered with: if everyone ate a little bit, wouldn’t that amount to a lot in the end?

Angels and Demons

It really surprises me how some 3rd graders can be sweet little cherubs who hang on my every word and look up at me in awe… and then some 4th graders can be screaming monkeys who don’t give a rat’s you-know-what about what I say. It’s crazy. Needless to say, I prefer the younger ones.

Commuting

The snow came early this December and I had to put up my bike in my storage shed. My only methods of transportation were buses, trains, and my own two feet. Last Thursday I walked 4.6 miles to work and back in the ice and snow. By the time I got home, it was very dark and I honestly cannot say I have ever been as happy to see my couch. But this week the snow has melted a bit and it has been raining… I have been able to use my bike a few times. Carefully, mind you! It only takes me 10 minutes by bike to get to work from my house.

Coloring

I have recently learned that coloring is a godsend. A simple coloring and listening exercise can get even the worse-behaved boys to be quiet and concentrate. The teacher came up to me after class and basically said, “Thank goodness you brought that coloring activity… It would have been bad if we didn’t have that.”

This came to mind… Here, have a meme:

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Mistakes, Attitude, and Discipline

A few weeks ago I was at an elementary school, teaching those little 5th graders. I was telling them how the Japanese language even has some loan words from Spanish (or words that sound like Spanish). I thought I wrote “Spanish Language” on the board in Japanese, but instead I had written “Spine Language.” The kids cracked up and started laughing and kind of mocking my Japanese mistake. Last year I probably wouldn’t have said anything, but I have a bit more of a backbone this year. I spoke up and said, “Hey. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m still learning Japanese and I’m not perfect, so it’s okay to make a mistake. You’re learning English too, aren’t you? It’s better to try and make a mistake than to not try at all.”

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October 17, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #6

Aaaaaaaaaaaand it’s time for another catch-up post. I haven’t posted a “daily life”/random observations blog in a while, so here we go! Warning: This is long.

※ I was wondering…Why is everything I do so interesting? To everyone? For example, every time I come to this one school, the office lady asks me, “Did you bike here again today?” She asks me this and she is amazed when I answer “Yes”. The weather is nice and it only takes 30 minutes. Why is that so interesting? Also, people are amazed when I mention that I like exercise. And that I like to go to the gym after work. You’d think I qualified for the Olympics from the reactions I get. This stuff is normal, but since I am a foreigner in Japan… I guess everything I do is just interesting?

※ At one of my schools, there is a transfer student from another country. His father has already been here for a while, working, so he just recently came to join him. The rest of their family is still in their home country. I think it is interesting, because this kid speaks little Japanese and little English. Man, that must be hard. Plus, his name when put into Japanese katakana means “Ant.” I talked to the teachers about him recently and they said that the kid is being teased a bit and has few friends. The situation kind of makes me sad.

※ For the month of October, Kyle and Tori’s tradition is to watch one Halloween movie per night. So far I have joined them for Nightmare Before Christmas, Slither, Idle Hands, The Witches, and The Ring. The Ring (American version) is one of the scariest movies I have seen. I had horrible nightmares the night after I watched it the first time. I even slept-walked in Sam’s house and woke up on the floor in her bedroom’s entryway with a huge bruise on my foot. Still have no idea what happened there. Since then I’ve gotten a little desensitized by it and was okay to go to bed by myself. After we watched it last week, I went home and got in bed. I reached up to turn my overhead light off, but then froze. My lamp that hangs above my bed is a circle-shaped light, resembling a ring. The line from the movie played in my head: “Before you die, you see the ring.” So I bravely turned off the light, knowing what I would see. The room was completely dark aside from the ring of light, which faded into the dark seconds later. Pretty scary.

※ I’ve been cooking a little more lately. I’ve made a new curry recipe and this one is rocking my taste buds right now: click here for the recipe! And also, I rediscovered some of my Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free baking flour that Tori and Kyle gave me for Christmas last year. I still had some left! So I decided that I was going to try and make carrot cake. I even bought nutmeg and everything. I used this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie and while the results were not as visually “pretty” as a normal carrot cake… The taste was incredible. I hadn’t tasted carrot cake in probably over a year, so it was pure heaven for this carrot cake lover. Plus, it takes 5 minutes and you can make it in the microwave. I don’t have an oven here in Japan, but… This carrot cake can be made anywhere in the world with a microwave! I need to order more gluten-free flour. :)

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Another thing I made was… CHILI. Oh my gosh. I have not had chili in… two years? I can’t remember the last time I ate real chili. I am so looking forward to eating this with a nice ripe avocado on top. I used this recipe from Oh She Glows.

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March 15, 2012

Junior High School Graduation

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The schedule for 3/8/2012: Graduation Ceremony

I know what you in America are thinking. Graduation? But it’s only March! The Japanese school year actually starts in April.

Almost all schools run a three-term school year (trimester system), and most universities and colleges have a semester system. Most schools with a trimester system have a first term from early April to late July. Commonly, the break lasts for about 6 weeks. The break originated to avoid the heat in summer, so schools in the northern regions may have a shorter summer break than the rest of schools in Japan.
A second term lasts from early September to late December with a winter break at the end of the year. The term is followed by a third term from early January to late March and a brief spring break lasting 2 weeks. The graduation ceremony occurs in March, and the enrollment ceremony in early April.

I was able to go to my first ever Japanese junior high school graduation ceremony last week. I received the invitation from the vice principal, who is also the 3rd-year student English teacher. I teach with him a lot. Is it strange that the vice principal is also a teacher? That doesn’t happen in America, I don’t think. Administrative staff tend to stay in the administration division and the teaching staff tend to stay in the teaching division.

This vice principal speaks English so well and with such native intonation. It is so impressive for someone who lives in northern Japan and probably does not speak English every day. But he has a love for the language and an incredible interest in learning. He always asks me questions about words and sentences and what sounds more “natural” to me as a native speaker. I always learn something when I talk to him.

But anyways, he invited me and I was so honored. If I had a base school (instead of my office), I would automatically get to go to that school’s graduation. But since I am not based in a school 24/7 (or should I say 7/7?), I was hoping for an invite. Of course I jumped at the chance to go and asked for permission from my bosses. They agreed that I should go.

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January 10, 2012

Coming-of-Age (Turning 20 in Japan)

Looking back four years ago…

January 14th, 2008. It was Japan’s annual Coming-of-Age Day for everyone who had turned 20 that year. Turning 20 means you are a legal adult and are allowed to smoke, drink, and vote. The day is always on the second Monday in January and it is, surprisingly, a national holiday. No work or school! And that year, that group of young people included me!

I was actually in Japan on my 20th birthday. It was one of the most memorable birthdays of my life. My dad happened to be in Tokyo at the EXACT same time, on a business trip. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world. We met in front of Takadanobaba station the morning of the 18th and moved me into my new digs, the Waseda International Student Dormitory. He helped me unpack and it felt a little bit like freshman year all over again, except that had been my mom who had helped me move. After getting my moving in taken care of, we went to the Meiji shrine to walk around. The Meiji shrine is my dad’s favorite place in Tokyo. Whenever I go there, I can imagine that he is with me.

 

DSC06541Waiting for the train at Roppongi station

We went shopping and also explored Waseda campus before I had to go to a dorm-welcoming-shindig. To this day my dad still remembers me, teary-eyed, asking him to wait for me while I met my new dorm-mates for an hour or so. I didn’t want him to leave me just yet. He was so amazing and patient with me, saying that he would take a walk while I met people. Later, I met him again and we went to an Indian restaurant on Waseda Road near my dorm and had our last dinner. After dinner I stood on the sidewalk and watched him go down Waseda Road (to the station) until I could not see him anymore. He turned around three times to wave to me and was gone. I walked back to my dorm to catch the tail-end of the welcoming shindig and thus my year in Tokyo began.

What a way to turn 20.

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November 25, 2011

Random Observations As Of Late

This is just a random collection of my thoughts about recent happenings. Each of them is not really enough to make a full post out of, but I thought I might put them all together in one post.

 

– Yesterday I saw a gaggle of kids playing in the principal’s office during recess. This made me tilt my head and go… “What?” I can count on one hand how many times I have met the principal of my k-12 schools. And those times were for either having good grades or making the honor roll or some other goody-two-shoes reason. ^^;

– So this week I bought a box of tampons here in Japan. I kept hearing from my friends how interesting the experience was, so I was kind of curious about it myself. I went to the register, the gal rang it up, and began to package it in a brown paper sack. Like they do in America when you buy liquor. I knew this was coming, so I told her that no, I didn’t need my tampons gift-wrapped and disguised for me. She kind of looked at me and asked, “It’s not embarrassing?/You’re not embarrassed?” I assured her that yes, I wouldn’t be embarrassed if anyone caught me red-handed carrying a box of tampons. It is store policy here in Japan for the register clerk to wrap your feminine products in a nondescript paper bag or put it inside another dark-colored bag before they go in with your other purchases. This is so amusing. I felt like a bandit with my undisguised purchase. Haha.
Also, a side note: I haven’t bought tampons in many many years, but is it highway robbery to pay over $11 (USD) for a box of 32??

– Trains here in the north are like saunas. They turn on the heaters and the windows fog up entirely! I had to catch the train yesterday morning to get to my visit school. My journey includes a 25 minute walk after the train ride, so I was bundled up pretty well. I got inside the train and immediately started sweating bullets. It was so hot. I even chose a car with open seats and not that many people. I immediately had to strip off my jackets and fan myself. I don’t know how the guys next to me with their full-on jackets, scarves, and hats could handle it. I imagined them silently sweating too.

– I joined the expensive gym. So far the rules have not killed me yet and there are no 30 minute time limits on the cardio machines like at the other place. It just says to “use manners”, I think. But the thing that kills me is that I pay ¥6300 a month for a membership with these restrictions: 1. The club is only open from 10am-11pm on weekdays and 10am-10pm on Saturdays. So that completely ruins any sort of morning exercise plan. 2. I can only use the club for three hours in one day. 3. I cannot use the club on Sundays or national holidays (that is another, more expensive membership.) 4. The club is closed every Wednesday anyways for a staff holiday. I pay that much, but I can only use the club for 5 days a week, three hours at a time. Less if there is a national holiday that week. Man, the price I pay for my sanity. I joined in the hope that it will keep me sane during the winter. The one super plus to this situation is that it is less than 10 minutes walking from my apartment.

-  Speaking of winter, it has been snowing here quite a bit. After seeing the snow here and comparing it to my experience in Minnesota… I think the snow here is just prettier. The scenery is also tons better than “Minne-no-place” scenery. Beautiful Japan for the win! Here, have a photo of my view this morning:

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This is just the beginning.

– I actually might make a separate post about this, but Kimberly and I went to the Kuroishi Apple Festival last weekend. We got to see some awesome shamisen playing, lots of apples, and eat some yummy mochi. Also in the Adventures of Kimberly and Stacy, we went to a little community thing at my work and got to pound some mochi rice into mochi. And we bought huge bags of delicious apples for ¥1000 each. Here is a picture of Kimberly showing that mochi who is boss:

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– Last week was the Skill Development Conference for all JETs in Aomori. I did learn a lot at the workshops I went to, especially the Goal Setting workshop. Why did I not learn or pay attention to goal setting earlier in my life? I’ve always been bad at setting goals because of lack of confidence and fear of failure. It really inspired me to work on setting some concrete goals.

– Lastly, but not least… Lisa (a good friend from Lewis & Clark, my college days) came to visit me! The last time we had seen each other was actually in Japan back in 2009 when I was in Tokyo for my host sister’s wedding. It was awesome to see her and hang out with her again. We both agreed that it was really comforting to get to talk to someone “from the past” who you have history with. We talked of old things, new things, and it looked like she had a great time in Aomori. I was working during the day time, but we had a couple of really nice dinners, watched Pocahontas (she had never seen it!), bummed around Aomori City, tried lots of different kinds of apples, and took some purikura.

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Voila!

November 15, 2011

Elementary School Recital

That title up there is kind of an abbreviated translation. I was trying to translate 学習発表会 (がくしゅうはっぴょうかい) and I think it is more of a “Presentation of Learning Event/Assembly.” <– I went to one of those on Sunday, 11/6!

 

The teachers this elementary school had invited my friend Tori when she was there teaching last semester. They called it a “recital” and told her it would start around 9am. Tori, Kyle and I got up early in the morning and drove out to the school. This school is in one of my favorite little towns surrounded by mountains.

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They make things like this on the side of the cliff above the down to protect from landslides. It is quite a sight to see.

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