Sunday, September 27, 2009

He came, he saw, he con...went back to Egypt

So, in the week since I last posted Mark Doss came to visit. This was very exciting because he's my first visitor and also because he's my boyfriend whom I love very much. (Awwww).
Oh, and I turned 23! Good age, I like it.

So among the highlights of his visit:
1. Watching drunk horses parade around a city
2. Getting addicted to a new Japanese arcade game (Dance Dance, anyone?)
3. Bathing naked with a bunch of strangers
4. And much much more!

Let me explain in greater detail.
On Monday (the 21st) Mark and I joined a bunch of the other ALTs on a day trip to a (realtively) nearby city called Kumamoto. We had heard of a very unique festival held in Kumamoto every September, in which horses were fed sake and made to parade drunkenly around town. Yes, I know, not the most humane of parades, but...."when in Rome."
In any case, we arrived without much of a plan to Kumamoto. This turned out to be okay, because the liquored up horses march right through the city center and there is absolutely no way you can miss the incredible amount of people marching in the parade, accompanied by incessant taiko drumming and cheering.
It was quite the party.

We were a bit worried because we had also heard some rumors that that horses were killed and eaten (or simply killed and not eaten) after the parade, but it seems that the rumors, thankfully, were unfounded. Dem horses be safe and sound...if perhaps a little hungover.

We also explored a castle, an old samurai residence. a botanical garden, and a shrine while at Kumamoto!

Apart from sightseeing and enjoying awesome Japanese food, we spent lots of our time at the arcade. Sigh. We couldn't stay away! One game in particular captured our interest. I don't know what the actual name of the game is, but it's Taiko drum version of Dance Dance Revolution. It's just as flashy as Dance Dance and 10 times more addictive.

Speaking of addictive, guess who went to the onsen (public bath house) yet again? Yep, I can't get enough of communal bathing.
Not really, I just took Mark to the onsen because I thought it would be a good cultural experience for him. It was a bit hard to convince him at first, but I think Mark really enjoyed his trip to the bath house. I suppose you'll just have to ask him yourself. There will be no pictures of the naked-bathing-with-strangers. It just wouldn't be proper. And also I didn't want my camera to get wet...

And now, for a little glimpse into what may be the best part of life in Japan. The delicious and amazing sweets they've invented over here:

In no particular order, my favorite candies/sweet stuff are:

1. This taffy type candy

2. This delicious ice cream dessert

3. This soft mushy ball of goodness. It's strawberry and marshmallow and light dusting of what is probably a little bit of cocaine (or something)

Sorry the pictures are so dark. Come visit me and you'll get to see them (and eat them!) in much better lighting.

Tomorrow I return to school! The past week everyone was on holiday- Silver Week, we call it here. But now it's time to get back to school. Sigh sigh.

As always, much love. I hope, wherever you are, you have good candy too.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Feats of Strength and Skill

Hi everyone!

Part 1. Sports Day
Do you know what time of year it is in Japan? It's SPORTS DAY time! Now, I know many American schools have sports days/field days and that it's lots of fun for everyone...
But sports day in Japanese schools is a big, big deal.

For the past week, both my schools have been holding sports day rehearsals. Classes have been reduced or canceled altogether to ensure enough practice time. And sports day isn't 'til the 27th of September.

I have enjoyed watching the rehearsals greatly. But I am also a little disturbed. Japanese sports days make me think of military academies, or as another ALT put it: 1940s Germany.

Students, in their matching sports uniform, march around the field carrying various flags and symbols and present it to the principal. There are many marches and honor guards and things like that. It's impressive to see so many 13-year-olds marching and bowing in unison.

Following these processions are feats-of-strength type drills for the boys and folk dancing by the girls. The boys are actually pretty impressive in the things they can do. I think it has to do with the school lunches. After only 3 weeks of eating squid patties, entire dehydrated fish, and 100% whole milk everyday for lunch, I'm already noticed that my human-pyramid climbing abilities have increased greatly.

In between there are races and jump rope competitions.

All in all, a cool experience...but as yet ANOTHER ALT put it: living in Japan is like living in the 1950s (but with better technology).

Part 2. Japanese Ladies No Likey the Sun
I have so far LOVED Japan. Even the slightly creepy military/nationalist Sports Day shenanigans and eating whole dehydrated fish for lunch. But one thing I do NOT like is that Japanese ladies are absolutely determined to avoid sunlight and its tanning effects.

I live in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's main islands. It's pretty sunny here. It didn't take me long to realize that women here HATE getting tanned! Walking around any part of the city day to day- shopping districts, parks, the bus station, THE BEACH, etc.- you will without fail spot many of the women wearing big hats and long dark gloves to avoid getting sun while they walk about.

Even during sports day rehearsal- when we're outside, running around, and it is intensely hot- ALL the women teachers are wearing huge windbreakers, gloves, hats, towels around their necks, and long jogging pants. They have to be dying of heat, but it's all worth it to avoid getting tan. Sigh. This is a picture of one of the teachers at my school. I had to be sneaky so she wouldn't know I was trying to get her in the photo. She's the dark figure on the left- she's just wearing so much clothes you don't really see her right away.

I've pretty much scandalized all the women teachers at my school by wearing short sleeves and no hat. It pains them to see me getting visibly more tan each day. Sigh...

Oh, well. I guess no country's perfect.

Part 3. Bigfoot
My friend Dan has lent me an amazing book called, "Bigfoot- I Not Dead." It's apparently the sequel to Bigfoot's first book, "Me Write Book." It's by a dude called Graham Roumieu. Go buy it or check it out at the library or just sit in Barnes and Nobles for like 30 minutes and read the whole thing.

Life changing.

Here's a little preview to get you interested.

Part 4. Inappropriate
Just want to include another delightful translation error. At least, I HOPE it's a translation error.

Love from JapANNE!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hello, I am from America. Do you know America?

Sigh. It's only been one week of teaching at the middle schools and I'm already really tired of doing my self-introduction. I've begun lying to the kids... you know, to make my life/America seem a little more interesting. For example, in Florida, people like riding flamingos for fun or when they can't afford a bike. My flamingo is very mean and sometimes bites me when I ride him. (That's what she said?)

Last week was lots of opening ceremony type things. On Tuesday I went to my first school, Takeoka Middle, and dressed up in a fancy suit and gave a really short speech (about 1 minute or less) in Japanese to the school assembly, and that was about it. Had a sort of confusing day in which I figured out things like the bells schedule and how lunch works here in Japan (students eat in their classrooms, serving each other), and got to know my new coworkers. I also sat around and tried to keep myself entertained the second half of that day. Wednesday was my first day of classes and also the official welcome party (or enkai- drinking party) for the new ALTs. The mayor came and got sloshed with us. It was his duty.

;P I only taught Wed, Thurs, and Friday last week, but it was tiring, though really interesting. So far I've been teaching about 4 or 5 classes a day. This might just be because I'm new and need to introduce myself to all the students- but I wouldn't mind down-grading to an average of 3 or 4 classes a day. The students are cute and shy in class, and cute and not so shy outside of class. They're really curious about foreigners, but since I'm a girl, the boys tend to steer clear of me. The girls are the opposite. They like high fiving and touching my hair and I'm often surrounded during the "rest period" (recess, to us). I have two middle schools, and they're about the same in terms of how the students act. When I'm not teaching I'm usually grading papers. I've come across some really awesome/unfortunate/hilarious mistakes in my students' writing. I'm usually not brave enough to photograph the mistakes though, so here is only a medium-funny mistake by one of my students:

I visited an elementary school yesterday. I absolutely loooove elementary. The kids are crazy excited about EVERYTHING and are not yet shy or scared of failing at school, so in class the students' personalities really shine through. So fun. At the end of the day all the cute little kids wanted autographs (this felt a little bizarre) and I had to really exercise a lot of self-restraint in order to keep from trying to steal one of them. They asked such funny questions. They were really sweet and earnest when it came to matters of the heart. My first kiss and stuff like that were topics of interest. They seemed to be concentrating really hard and mulling over what I had to say. Meanwhile, I was deciding which one of them I wanted to kidnap the most. Sigh.

Last weekend was also lots of fun. On Friday, the teachers from my second middle school, Meiwa, took me out for a welcome dinner to this really cool, sort of out-of-the-way sashimi place. It was a "ladies-only" event. Really cute.
Then on Saturday my buddy Ben and I ended up taking a ferry to Sakurajima, the island with the big volcano on it, and walked to a dinosaur park and then an onsen (hot spring bath thing). The park was really kitschy but that's not a bad thing. We went on the swings and a big slide and a zip-line. The hot springs experience was really cool. You have to soap and rinse-off before getting into the big baths, and everything is done in the nude (I should say here that the baths are separated by gender) and it's really relaxing once you're over your initial shyness. I hadn't brought anything with me, since it was all impromptu, but they had all the soaps and shampoos a girl could want. Only a towel did I miss in the end.
And on Sunday there was a very nice boat race in a place called Hayato. The event was sponsored by the Kirishima City International Exchange Society. All these foreigners and locals mix and are put on different boats to race and meet up on an uninhabited island for some bar-b-q and swimming. It was really nice and relaxing. I was put on a boat with a cute Japanese family and got to know the two little girls of the family pretty well. (Sort of. Language barrier and all).

And this week has been more classes, more introductions. Like I said before, yesterday was different because I visited elementary. I like teaching, but I can't wait for my introductions to be done ;P. If you feel like sending me a care-package all the way over here in Japan, please include lots of stickers! All the kids-- youngest to oldest-- love them.

Dat's about it on my end. I hope each and every one of you reading this is doing really well and feeling great. Much love from JapAnnne.