Monday, December 22, 2008

Thailand!!

Sawatdeeka from Thailand! I made it safely on Saturday afternoon, spent the evening shopping and exploring a little in Bangkok and then headed on a long van ride to Sangklaburi in western Thailand. Yesterday we spent most of the day in the van and then settled in to our house boat that we are staying in. It's just a big floating house on a beautiful lake surrounded by trees, mountains, and jungle-esque sights. It's amazing. It's sorta like camping though because we are just sleeping on really small mats on the floor and it's essentially just outside on the lake. It reminds me of my many years spent at summer camp on Lake Shetek. The people on the trip are very awesome, I'm excited to get to know them more as the week goes on.

Today we spent our first day volunteering, and honestly I am wiped tonight. I am exhausted from basically being a human jungle gym. We had environmental day today and everyone joined in to pick up the trash around the town. There was ALOT of trash everywhere; people aren't very educated here about things like that. The children are amazing, very animated and really seem to just want some love - they come up and hold your hand, cuddle up next to your body. They got a kick out of all my piercings, and I think they thought my nose ring was a sticker and kept trying to pick it off. Overall it was a good day. I was a little nervous early on in the day cuz I don't work much with younger kids, but it all ended up well in the end.

This afternoon we got a tour of the children's home (separate from the school). The woman who runs the home explained a lot of things to us, and it's pretty crazy how fortunate we are just listening to some of her stories. The home doesn't have near enough money to meet the needs of the community, and more and more people are spilling over the border from Burma which is right where I am, basically on the border. Some parents just drop their kids off at the home because they don't want them, some are too sick to care for them because of HIV and some just don't have parents.

I am using the internet cafe, so I really can't type much more tonight and I just want to get some sleep, but I thought this would be the best way to let everyone know I was here, safe, and how things were going! I hope all is well at home, wish I could be there for the holidays with you. Love you lots and can't wait til I talk to you again!

Ashley

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thailand

I'm headed to Thailand in about 30 minutes!! Can't wait! Even though I have been a bit stressed these last few weeks with trying to get everything planned, I am now very excited to just get there and enjoy! I'll be there til January 10th -- until then the best way to get a hold of me will probably be email. If you leave me a message on Skype, I am not sure if I will be able to check it or not, sorry! I will have my cell phone for emergencies, but it will be expensive.

Merry Christmas everyone! Enjoy your time with family and friends! And Happy New Year!

Love y'all!

Ashley

Monday, December 15, 2008

Proud Auntie


I am the proud Auntie Ashley of Avery Elise Janssen, born on December 12. She weighs 7 lbs 2 oz and is 20 inches long, although I am sure not for long!!! I have only gotten to see her in pictures, but can't wait to go home and hold her!! When I go home in August she'll be about 8 months old and ready to play with her auntie! Congratulations to the proud parents and garndparents :) I know she will be loved a lot until I get there to give her my love too!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Spirit

Dion and I decided to get into the Christmas spirit! We're both leaving Fujinomiya this coming weekend, so we made some Christmas cookies to celebrate! Actually Dion was a bit more of a scrooge, but he got into the spirit after I made him! HaHa.




















I am going to give the cookies out to a few of the teachers, my international exchange partner, and bring them to my Eikaiwa class Christmas party on Tuesday. The week is going to fly by I know, since I am leaving on Friday!! Merry Christmas everyone!

Just some Saturday night nabe...

Saturday night I spent with two girls from my conversation class, Risa and Nami and Nami's husband. Again, we had nabe, but this time with a kimchee soup, which is actually Korean and a little spicy. It was some good eats! I had a good time with the group and am inviting them over in January for some Mexican!





Nami and her husband

Kimchee nabe with cabbage, leeks, pork, chicken, tofu, and shrimp balls.




Risa and Me

Friday Fun

Friday was quite a lazy day for me. I was on a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster last week, so this is how I cured myself at school on Friday:

















Reading the new Nicholas Sparks' book that Jess sent me while drinking my Mango Blend from the vending machine at school (which as become sort of a habit lately) and writing in my awesome new journal that Jess sent me and drinking coffee. It was glorious. Friday night I went to a Christmas party with some of the ladies from my adult conversation class. It was nice to meet some new people and we had some good conversation with the help of our electronic translators.



The picture is Japanese nabe - this one has a lot of mushrooms - but basically it's whatever vegetables you choose and whatever flavor soup you want to boil it in. Then you toss in some meat - this one had some pork and some shrimp and let it simmer on the table in front of you 'til it's finished!


Overall, it was a great Friday! I hope there are many more to come!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good Day

Today was a good day. Nothing huge happened, it was just good all around. I got a lot of stuff done at school today for the committee I am on for the Team Teaching Magazine in Shizuoka and started working on some articles I want to send in for our Shizuoka ALT newspaper. I worked on researching hostels to stay in for Thailand and talked to my teachers about some stuff I have been putting off. Overall, just a good, productive day, almost free of boredom :) Then when I got home I caught the delivery man just in time to get A PACKAGE! My Texas roomie and friend Jessica sent me a care package with books, pictures, a journal, a UTEP t-shirt, some cool pens and markers, etc. It really made my night. And I got a Christmas E-card from my Aunt Ann back in Minnesota that made me feel warm and fuzzy and all those good holiday feelings. I made some really good pasta for dinner and watched a lot of Army Wives, the latest tv series I have been watching (it's from Lifetime and pretty darn sappy, but I love it!) and capped my night off with a talk with my ALT friends Jenny and Luther. I hope tomorrow is just as good!

December?! 4 months in Japan passed!

Hey Everyone! I haven't updated for a bit now, but things are going really well.

School has slowed down, but I have found time to study Japanese, watch some American TV, and continue working on my Thailand travel plans this past week. I also am helping correct/put comments on some senior's translations in preparation for their college entrance exams. It seems exhausting to me how much they study. I found out today that the girl I practiced interviewing for a month didn't get into the university she wanted. She was trying for early admittance and studied so hard...and didn't make it. I swore someone who was that dedicated to studying would get in anywhere. I feel really bad for her - she seemed pulled together when she told me, but I am sure there were tears shed over the weekend (considering my girl students were crying over losing a game of handball on Sports Day!). I hope it doesn't dampen her spirits toward English! Today, I also stepped in for another English teacher and had a whole room of students for myself....I didn't actually have to teach, just hand back tests and supervise, but it was awesome having the room of students to myself :D Something that doesn't happen very often since I am an assistant teacher. It was proof to me of how dedicated my students are - here's how it went.

I walked into a room of talking students since it was in between classes, but I smiled, waved and said, "hello" and I got 40 students in unison saying "hello" back to me - unplanned, but just so ingrained into their heads to respond all together! I explained that I was going to hand back the tests and again, all in unison was "okay!" I talked some more and when I paused "okay" and when I asked if they understood "yes!" Seriously. All in unison. So I handed back their tests and told them they could study whatever they wanted for 15 minutes (it was a short period, really meant only for handing back their final exams for semester 2). If you did this in America, you would have 40 students standing up, walking around, talking, pulling out their cell phones and iPods, and frankly, just NOT doing what they are supposed to (yes, this is from experience!). Especially when their real teacher wasn't there to see them. But nope...it was hard core silence for the next 15 minutes until I walked out the door. And this is them AFTER final exams are over and they just have "supplementary lessons." Oh my. It was culture shock, I didn't know what to do!

Outside of school, things are looking good too. Teaching this conversation class is really opening doors for me and I am so thankful for it! Tonight after class we did our weekly ritual of going to Doutor Coffee (a chain coffee shop, not quite as popular as Starbucks haha). The first week I went we only stayed til 10, but lately it's been almost 11. It's good conversation and extra practice for the people in the class, and just nice for me to get to know Japanese people since I spend a lot more time with other American teachers than I do Japanese people sometimes. Also, I'm going to a Christmas party with a few of the people from the class on Friday which will help me meet even more Japanese people and on Saturday me and two of the girls from the class are getting together for dinner. We're meeting at one of their houses and having, nabe, a Japanese hot pot mix of vegetables and meat, usually cooked on the table right in front of you. I really like the two girls from the class and have been wanting to get together with them, so I'm extra excited for this. I am hoping to make them friends even after the class is over! Next class session I am going to try to take a few classes even though they are in Japanese. I think it will be good for my Japanese and for meeting people, and just be fun! I'm thinking of pottery and Japanese flower arrangement :D

This week I also start with Spanish Club. Thursday I'm meeting a group of people to practice speaking Spanish! I haven't spoken Spanish really since I arrived, so 4 months later I am going to be a little rusty!!! But I am glad for the opportunity to meet with other people and there will be some native Spanish speakers there as well, which will be really awesome. We're only meeting once a month and I think I will miss next month in January, so I need to make the best of this time!

So almost this whole entry has been me telling you about my future, not my past...oops! Sorry! Not a lot has happened the last few weeks. I continue to meet with my international exchange partner about once every two weeks and this past week I met his girlfriend. We all went out to dinner and it was nice. He had to act as translator a little bit, but I got to use a bit of Japanese and it was just really fun to talk with her! Other than that, the highlight of my weekend was going to onsen. I got to go to the baths at night, which was pretty cool - created a nice, relaxing atmosphere and it was good to catch up with the girls again. Me, Kelly and Andrea have become onsen buddies, heading there about once a month to unwind. It's nice girl time and really nice relaxation sitting in hot baths and saunas and massage chairs all day! We concluded our time with spicy ramen and gyoza. MMMMMM gyoza, the best discovery I have made in Japanese food thus far!

Alright, it's getting late, I really should get to bed! Hope everyone is geared up for the holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Protestors Leaving Bangkok Airport!

So I have been a bit worried the last few days that my Thailand trip was going to have to be cancelled because of the protest at the Bangkok airports. A lot of progress was made today, and the Prime Minister was forced out of office and the protestors have said they will leave the airport on Wednesday. I'm soooo happy and glad that it won't ruin my Christmas plans. I'm sad I won't be at home with my family, but I would have been even more sad if I had to change my plans to volunteer and travel in December and January! So, it looks like the plan is still on! I will be volunteering at Baan Unrak (House of Joy) Children's Home from December 21-December 28 and then traveling until the 10th of January.

You can read about Baan Unrak here: www.baanunrak.org/

You can see pictures of my most recent trip to Nikko (North of Tokyo) here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jans0176/sets/72157610493813636/

In other news, I am still loving my adult conversation class. I have been going out for coffee with them each week after class as well, and one of them invited me to a Christmas Party with some friends next week.

I have been trying to study Japanese a lot this week...I feel like I am not moving very quickly. But I have started to try using it more in every day life. It's easy to just not ask questions and not say anything...as it's what I have been doing for a few months now. So I am working on using Japanese whenever I can...using it is the only way I'll get better, right?! I tell my students that, so I am trying to do the same thing. We'll see how it works out.

I am also starting/joining a Spanish conversation club. Me and another teacher here thought it would be a good thing to get together once a month to practice speaking Spanish, so we don't lose our speaking abilities while we are here. I'm looking forward to it, although a little nervous that I've gone rusty. But, we're all in the same boat, so it will be nice to have somewhere to practice. This starts next week! Que Bueno!

My car is officially registered with a "Fuji-san" number. I guess recently the prefecture starting giving out license plates for the Fuji area. Previously, everyone in this area had license plates from Numazu, the nearest bigger city. So apparently it is a big deal to have a Fuji-san number and more than a few people have commented on it....never knew a license plate could be so exciting :) Still working on getting a picture of me in my car, Nicole. I usually drive it at night when I am with other people and it would be difficult to take a picture of myself in the car :D It's a sight to see however when you cram 4 people into the car! The trunk is bigger than the backseat...doesn't make a lot of sense! Having a car has really helped me to settle in. I don't have to worry about spending hours biking and walking each day and am able to get groceries at the larger grocery store, and buy things for my apartment (like big trash cans! I only had little tiny bathroom sized ones before!) and not have to worry about rain!

Mount Fuji has be beautiful lately. The snow on top is here to stay, and it's interesting to see each day whether there is more or less snow. Also, I can see it almost every day now, as opposed to the once every two weeks during the summer time cloudiness.

The cold weather is setting in. I am running heaters most of the time when I am at home now. But I am also a bit of a baby I think. I freeze at school though, I need to invest in some long underwear but Uniqlo was out of XL's when I was there the other day. Molly suggested hitting up the men's section, so I'll have to go look there soon! I bought a long sleeved undershirt there the other day though (XL of course) and the sleeves only go halfway between my wrist and elbow. Maybe the men's undershirts will fit better...but I have a feeling the sleeves will still be short!

All of the students I tutored for their English Proficiency Test passed! I'm proud of them! Now, I'm just waiting to hear about my last student. I worked with her for almost a month, so I really hope that she passed her interview questions for getting into college. There's so much pressure here and she worked with me every day all for 2 interview questions "What is your city like?" and "How close do you live to Mt. Fuji?" (but she didn't know the questions before going). That's a lot of work for two questions. I'm crossing my fingers for her!

I hope all is well in Minnesota. Keep enjoying the central heat for me!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nikko Getaway

So I am sorta posting a lot of blogs at once to catch up on November! Jenny and took a long weekend last weekend up to Nikko, north of Tokyo. It's a small city by American standards, considered inaka or countryside by Japanese standards. It was a peaceful getaway and highly recommended for a relaxing time spent in the outdoors. We stayed at a cool little hostel called Nikko Park Lodge. It's a small walk from the station, but Jenny and I are always walking everywhere on our trips, so it wasn't a big deal. The lodge is off across the river, surrounded by trees and walking trails. The dining room had big picture windows, so each morning we could look out and feel like we were in our sort of "secluded getaway" while we ate our AmAzInG costco muffins and french toast. Since it's quite a ways north of here, it was much colder than it's been here! Jenny and I were cold most of the day when we were out sightseeing, but the fall colors made it worth it. Nikko is surrounded by forest, mountains, rivers and lakes, making it an awesome place for spending time outdoors.


Nikko is full of woodcarving shops and world heritage sights, so it was definitely different from most other places we have seen so far in Japan. Of course, we hit up the "world heritage" shrines which are starting to be a little less than exciting for me, as I have seen a gazillion shrines and temples since arriving in Japan it seems. Nikko though has the famous "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" monkeys at one of their shrines, so that spiced it up a bit! We also took a day trip up to Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji and spent a lot of time looking around in the woodcarving shops. There is a lot of hiking that you can do around the area, and we really didn't take full advantage of that, because it was just a bit too cold we thought. The lakes and trees with fall colors reall made me feel like the place was familiar, almost like northern Minnesota, but with mountains :D The familiarity of it also made the trip that much better at a time when I had been missing home a lot!



We also had some good eats, mixing it up with Japanese, Korean and Indian food! We had THE best gyoza at one place that has walls covered in business cards, pictures and notes from all the people that have eaten there over the years. It was a small, friendly atmosphere with awesome food. The Indian place had THE best cheese naan, something I doubt we will find better anywhere in Japan!! So between the breakfasts at the lodge, the naan and the gyoza, we definitely ate well, another requisite to a relaxing northern weekend. I hope everyone else enjoyed the fall colors while they lasted. I am sure they ended long ago in Minnesota! My kerosene heater is quickly becoming a necessity as it gets colder and colder each day!


Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving Day! I celebrated on Saturday with my friends that live in the Fuji area. We couldn't find a turkey, so we had to have chicken breasts, but it was paired with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, homemade rolls, and pumpkin pie. It was a combined effort by the six of us, and it turned out amazing despite our small ovens (easy bake ovens as Joe would say). We cooked and ate dinner, played Wii, played some Scene It! Squabble, and just plain had a great time together. It was the best Thanksgiving I could have imagined short of actually being at home with my family. Here are some pictures of my Thanksgiving day! Above at the left is our Thanksgiving spread, picture compliments of my friend Kelly. Looks delicious doesn't it? Below at left is Me, Jenny, Kelly and Andrea toasting to a great Japanese Thanksgiving! I spend a lot of time with these ladies, all teachers in the same program as me. Below on the right is my dinner plate :) MMMM....it was just like Thanksgiving, I totally overate and wanted to take a nap afterward!




























And last, but not least...

Our Fuji Family:
Joe and Andrea, Kory and Kelly, Me and Jenny
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's a PicNik

Hey Guys! Just some photos I was playing around with when I should have been sleeping :) Hope you enjoy. I had my adult class tonight and they invited me out for coffee afterward. It was really sweet of them. I also had some good conversation with my international exchange friend, Taka, last night. Tests are going well this week, today was a good day of class. Tomorrow is the last day of class til mid-January!! But don't worry, I will find things to fill my time!!! I am going on a weekend mini-trip this weekend and have no plans! I need to get moving on that one!! And Thailand is coming much too fast!!! And I will be starting to help seniors with their English essay writing for the college entrance exams as well.







Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Pictures


I added some new pics - from our school sports festival with beautiful Mt. Fuji in the background and pretty fall colors. Also included are a few pics of my English Club students at our Halloween "party" and some pics of me and my friends at our Mid-Year Seminar. We had meetings all day, and relaxed all night, it was fun and nice to see people I don't get to see very often. Enjoy the pics. Hope you're all getting geared up for Thanksgiving; I will be working :(


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Miss you guys!

Things are good...I've been missing home the last few days, but I feel like it makes it harder to talk to people at home when I miss them, I know it's weird, but it's true. So hey guys :) Hope you're all having a great weekend and I'll catch up with you this week, probably while I am avoiding correcting the 240 tests I will have to correct. I love you and I miss you - Ash

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cars, Evaluations, and Blankets

It's been a really long two days with long hours at work. I'm experiencing how some of the other JETs live, having to stay late at work every day. At least I get to go home early on other days to make up for it. Lucky girl I am! Having the car is heavenly, especially with staying late at work since it gets dark so early here! I would have had to bike home in the dark the last two nights if I didn't get my car. It's unbelievably small though. And has a tinted back window which makes it REALLY weird to look in the rear view mirror since it's already on my left instead of my right. My teacher told me today that she's glad I have a car now...I was looking really cold when I got to school lately apparently. Haha. I think that's her way of saying I looked like crap? Red face and windblown hair apparently isn't professional enough for her ;)

I finished writing my test today and my teachers are actually going to give me feedback, it's a milestone in our team teaching relationship. I hope it's fairly close to what they wanted though, but I did hear them discussing it before I left work.

Oh yeah - speaking of feedback I had my "preliminary" evaluation yesterday by my head vice principal, who's never seen me teach. Apparently my teachers told him good things about me though cuz I got really good marks. I think they'll take me for a second year if I sign up for it :) I'm sitting at 90% on the second year, although I have started to question it a little bit lately. Only a little bit though in pondering what would be the best decision.

Miss you all! I hope you are enjoying your central heat, cuz I'm jealous! I brought a blanket to school today!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The New Look

And I return to my blog. I hope you like the new look!

It’s been a long week since I last wrote.

I had to work on Saturday. It was a long day – I overslept and then was in a hurry to get to school on my bike in the rain and had a bike accident. It definitely ruined my day, but I am okay now, just a few band-aids mending me :) If you would have asked about this situation on Saturday, you would have heard the long version, but since it’s already Wednesday, I’m over it. It hurt, I was embarrassed and I had a long day of teaching ahead of me after that.

I have finished with teaching for the semester, so I thought I was going to be having carefree days at work. Haha. That didn’t work out so well. It’s really okay; I like to keep busy anyway! But I am working on writing my listening test today and tomorrow during school hours and then after school I am staying late to tutor some seniors for their entrance exams. I am also assisting with correcting the translation section of a test for seniors, which means tomorrow I will be starting to correct a stack of 280 exams!!! Ugh. That will be topped off with the correction of my own students tests next week – 240 more! And I agreed to help a few other senior students (possibly up to 20) work on their writing skills for the English writing test for college entrance exams, so I will be giving them an essay question each week and then have to read all of those and give the students feedback. I haven’t had much paper correcting to do since I arrived, so it’s gonna be a shocker and a big flashback to student teaching!!! At least I will be kept busy, and at least I will have time at school to do it. During student teaching I was doing most of the correcting at home, which is really not fun!

I finally got my car as well! I drove it back last night from my Mid-Year Seminar. I got to experience the highway during rush hour, the Tomei expressway, and getting gas. Sounds not all that exciting, but it was an interesting adventure and I was glad to have my Fujinomiya sidekick Dion to help me. I feel pretty confident now with driving here, I just have to tell myself every time I turn to stay on the left side of the road. Other than that I am pretty good. Still turn on the windshield wipers every now and then instead of the blinker and I REALLY need to work on my back-in parking. Why people insist on parking that way here I don’t know!!

I’ll post an update after Friday – it’s Sports Day at school, which means no classes and a day of sports tournaments for students! I will try to update with some pictures too! Keep an eye out!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sleepy Girl

I am SOO tired today. I think it's cuz I spent all weekend relaxing...til Monday night when I was like, "wow, I forgot I was going to fold paper dice for my class tomorrow." Something I could have easily done while watching TV or sitting around this weekend. Instead I started at like 11:30 and didn't go to bed til like 2. Smart idea. Despite the little sleep, yesterday I was fine because I was busy all day at school and had my night class. So instead, I am feeling it today! I am in my last week of teaching lessons, 4 more to go this week and then I am finished except for the listening test in two weeks. Oh Joy! Before I was kinda dreading the "nothing to do" syndrome, but I have a lot of planning to do. I will probably make a small weekend trip at the end of November because it's the last three day weekend of this year and in the spring there is like one. Thailand planning is in full gear. Yesterday I signed up to get my vacation time approved and I've started looking at flights, hopefully to be bought by Sunday! And hopefully with the extra time I can bust ahead in Japanese! Some teachers have started trying to ask me small things in Japanese. Kinda cool since I am noticing the improvement in my understanding. Now I am just lacking vocabulary to give very good answers. Gesturing is always fun though ;)

Although it's Wednesday here, it's sorta like Tuesday because we had Monday off and I have to work on Saturday. Ugh. I should consider myself lucky though, because a lot of ALT's have to go to school on Saturdays much more often than me. This will be my first time, even though my students and the other teachers are very often at school on Saturdays and holidays. From what I understand, it's sort of a Junior High Expo day, so the Jr. High kids can come and see what it's like to be a high schooler/decide if my high school is the one that they want to come to (kinda like a college visit, but at high school). They also have to take entrance examinations if they want to come here, so it's the first step in making a decision where to go. I don't really know if there will be Jr. High students in my class then or what, but I shall find out soon I am sure. Like Saturday morning right before class haha.

Really, I don't have much else to write. As I was trying to think of something to write, I realized that all I want to write is "I am getting my car on Monday" ... but you already know that if you talk to me on the phone or read my blog. So instead, I guess I will just say "Sayonara" and hope you are all at home watching the election results instead of reading my blog. I am checking on CNN as we speak and should go correct a few papers before class this afternoon. Might need to sneak off and take a nap - I love how acceptable it is to take small snoozers at work here in Japan!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The "me" weekend

This weekend was a long weekend, and oh how fast it flew! I decided that I need to take a weekend for myself because I have been traveling so much lately and even if I am around home I have been a busybody. The "me" weekend was a success, and I am (almost) geared up for work again this week. Really, the "me" weekend just got me geared up to do more traveling soon :)

Friday night I went to a farewell party, which was interesting, but just reminded me how much Japanese I don't know despite the fact that I have been studying quite a bit lately. I have graduated romaji into studying in basically all Kanji and hiragana/katakana (except grammar explanations that are in English). My teachers did comment at the party however that they think I study a lot. And that I have gotten better since I arrived (which isn't too hard to do since I understood literally nothing when I arrived!). It was encouraging and will hopefully inspire me to study in December when I don't have much work to do.

Saturday I slept in for the first time in WEEKS! Apparently I am a part of the adult world haha. I slept until 10 when my brother woke me up, so it was a nice wake-up call from home! I got to talk to him for a bit before heading to the onsen. We relaxed in a variety of baths, laid in the sauna for awhile, sat in the massage chairs for a long while :), watched tv/took a nap in the tv/sleep room despite the loud snoring man next to us, and soaked a little more in one of the baths. Then it was a night of watching "Sex in the City" and some homemade fettuccine alfredo and white wine. It was an amazingly relaxing night to close out a really relaxing day.

I was renewed Sunday morning after sleeping in (yes, again, but who knows when it will happen again!). After all that relaxing and sleeping, I did some hardcore cleaning and organizing and laundry. I washed sheets and basically everything I own here, put blankets outside to air out (some are a little musty from the summer humidty), washed dishes, organized the pile of papers that has gotten bigger every day since I got here, and baked brownie drop cookies. Such a domestic day!

Jenny was here today, and we started discussing our trip to Thailand! I am very excited; we are planning on trying to buy our plane tickets by next weekend. We also did a little bit of 100 yen store (= dollar store) shopping. The 100 yen stores here are huge, and Jenny doesn't have one off in no man's land where she lives, so she always stocks up. Literally walks out of the store with the biggest bag they have full. I had a big bag too, I think the store clerks must laugh at the gaijin blondies with bags too heavy to carry and no cars. I also bought a few more things to prepare for winter, like some heavier tights for under my skirts and a fleece jacket and a winter hat. Uniqlo is my new best friend - a store much like Old Navy with mostly plain clothes, but they come in bigger sizes (aka the XL barely fit me) than most other Japanese stores.

I also fired up my kotatsu table tonight. I was moving some stuff around in my apartment and since I moved my kotatsu into the bedroom, I decided I had to test it out since I have never used one. It's glorious. Even though it's only about 50 degrees at night, it feels much colder to me. Maybe it's cuz I spent last winter in Texas, but I think I never have been made for the cold! If you don't know what a kotatsu table is (which I am doubting anyone at home does), check it out on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kotatsu Ah yes. Next step. Figure out how to use that kerosene heater. I should be okay without using that for awhile though hopefully.

Days til car: 7

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Over Three Months?!

I passed my three month mark here this week – I can’t believe how quickly time is passing by. It seems I haven’t been here that long, although I have done more than enough to cram into those three months. I keep saying it and don’t actually do it, but I really need to slow down! There is just so much I want to do and it seems so little time to do it :)

Last week I did a home stay in Kakegawa, a city in my prefecture. There was a festival going on and the international office organizes home stays for ALTs every year. I was put with an amazing family! We had a big welcome party with WAY too much food. Then we walked around the festival, which had a bunch of different artsy things displayed along a long stretch of road. There was pottery and paintings and much much more (including "learning" how to play the Japanese harp...notice me laughing at how terrible I was considering I couldn't read the Kanji to play it!). Then I went and hung out with my host mom for awhile, the first test of my bad Japanese and her bad English. It worked out, thanks to the few pictures I brought of my family and close friends. We then went out for some traditional Japanese Izakaya, where the food and drinks just kept coming! It was me and 3 other ALTs and the four host families. It was a good time, although I had way to much to eat! The whole weekend was seriously food, food, food!!! I hung out some more with my host fam after that, and in the morning we went to the onsen and out for lunch. The onsen is quickly becoming one of my favorite things about Japan, especially cuz I live in the land of hot springs! It’s like having 30 hot tubs in one place, some with bubbles, some without, some with waterfalls, some with places to lay down, some with tea and extra goodies for your skin. So relaxing! Overall, the homestay was great. It was good for me to start trying to communicate in Japanese a little, cuz I really don't get the opportunity at school - they just always have one of the English teacher's help me or translate things to me. I really enjoyed seeing how a family lives here, considering I live alone and in subsidized housing! My family has three cats, plays a lot of tennis, goes to the country club (it seems quite frequently haha), and have three children. Good weekend.






The biggest news of my life right now is that I am getting a car. Like actually getting it after all the talking and deliberating and waiting! Less than two weeks now. I test drove it during my homestay (the car dealer is in the same city) and things went okay (well I stayed on the left side of the road anyway haha) except for the stupid blinker is on the right and the windshield wipers on the left. So naturally, I turned the wipers on every time I went to turn on the blinker. Old habits die hard, and I’m sure I will be a terrible driver when I get back to the US and everything changes back again! I am waiting to pick up the car til I go down to Kakegawa again (since it’s a bit of a hike, I gotta take advantage of my school paying for my business trip in two weeks and drive it home then). My friend Dion graciously agreed to ride back with me, manning the maps and probably gripping on for dear life since it will be my first time on the open road! It’s mostly the same highway all the way back though, so I think we should be good to go :) The car dealer was a little worried about me haha driving so far the first time, we'll all cross our fingers. So on that note, here's a picture of my car, and a dedication to the hill I ride up everyday :) It was remarkably beautiful today, so I had to stop and take a pic. It's not a great pic, but the sun was hitting perfectly as the sun set and Fuji-San was a brilliant red color. 8 more times biking up that stuipd hill :) But hey, who's counting?


Thursday, October 23, 2008

TGIF

My school week is basically over, and I'm glad. My classes fizzled out as the week went on and the last one left me seriously frustrated! But I will trudge on...only two more weeks of lessons, the final test and then a big break in December from teaching. That sounds like seriously no work at all! 12 lessons is all I have til the end of December. Wow...way to use that teaching degree Ashley! Although there's not a lot happening on the teaching front, I did get a request today to help a senior student every day for a half hour - do you have any idea how amazing that sounds to me?! A half hour every day is a lot of work for me, and it's still not very much haha. But she has to pass an interview type test to get into college, and since she's going to be an English teacher, a few of the questions will be in English. So she has enlisted my help every day for a month before the test - even though there will probably only be 1 or 2 questions in English!! I am really looking forward to it; I love working with students one-on-one.

Tomorrow I am traveling to Shizuoka City for my first committee meeting for It Takes Two. It Takes Two is a prefectural publication that has lesson plans and ideas for the Shizuoka ALT's that comes out each year. I was chosen for the committee to put this years together, so I guess I'm sorta unofficially publishing something! Pretty small scale, but still pretty cool considering it will be passed down from ALT to ALT and so many people will use it. They will never look at my name on the back cover I am sure, but they will use the book :) I have copies dating back to the nineties that I still use pretty frequently at work. Really, the committee gets me outta school for 3 days with a paid business trip to the city (aka civilization!), it looks good on the resume, and let's face it, I could use more work to do on a daily basis, especially come December when I'm done with lessons and still have to go to school everyday!

I don't want to tell you about the whole weekend before it happens, and frankly I should be packing for the weekend right now haha. But, I'm going out for a friend's birthday, test-driving a car (!!!!!!!!!!!) and doing a homestay with a Japanese family...back to the daily grind on Monday!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Good Day

Today was a good day. I got to teach this week for the first time in 2 weeks and I rocked my lessons. I may just have found a rhythm that satisfies my co-teachers and satisfies what I'm going for too. Just the right amount of fun and learning. So excited. Hopefully tomorrow will go well cuz I teach with two other teachers tomorrow, and lessons tend to go differently with different co-teachers. We shall see.

In addition to classes going well - I had two invites from teachers - one to go play soccer with the teachers (which I unfortunately had to decline! :( I already had plans tonight) and one to go out drinking with a few of the teachers. Hopefully that will happen, just because it's really helpful to socialize with the teachers outside of school here. They spend so much time working, that it's rare they take time out for themselves and they live completely different lives in public than in private. Either way, the invites make me feel good about the relationships I'm building at school. I'm thinking of inviting a few teachers over for dinner some night. They don't really have Mexican food here, so I might try to cook them something Mexican, just for fun. Don't worry though, it won't be too spicy, the Japanese couldn't handle it ;)

I also got together with my "culture exchange" partner tonight. It's so nice to get out and socialize on a weekday, especially with Japanese people. Afterall, I am living in Japan and feel like I don't get enough interaction with Japanese people outside of work. His girlfriend wants to meet me, so I am hoping that him and some of his friends including her can go out sometime on a weekend or something. It would be really fun.

To add to the good day, tonight I found out that I was selected to go on the volunteer trip to Thailand!! So as long as I can get the vacation time from work (which really shouldn't be a problem), I'm going! I'm super pumped and know it's going to be an amazing experience!

And last but not least, I got to talk to my parents and Nicole tonight. It seemed like forever since I got to talk to my Nic, our schedules have been clashing a lot lately! Happy Birthday to my parents - hope you guys find time to celebrate this week! Love you all lots!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hiroshima Adventure

Sorry for the delay in posting, it’s been a pretty filled up week – really filled up and seeping out the cracks busy! This past weekend was a long weekend, so I travelled to the Hiroshima area.


Saturday I spent the day in Hiroshima. We lingered around the A-bomb dome, went to Peace Memorial Park, and spent a few hours in the museum. I’m really not a museum person, but this one was incredibly interesting. I also don’t know a lot about history, so a lot of things I was reading about were all new information. It was an incredibly intense experience – really sad to see and think that the effects of the bomb that we dropped are still affecting victims today. I really can’t say a whole lot else about the day in Hiroshima, you’ll have to look at the pictures and check out my explanations there – it will give you a much better idea of what it’s like there. Pictures highly recommended! That night we ventured out to Saijo, a nearby city for Sake Matsuri, a huge annual sake festival. It had been going on since 11 in the morning, so when we got there, the train station was surrounded by staggering old drunk Japanese men! The festival was a good time, and I had the opportunity to meet some new people and see Paul, one of my coworkers from UMM info desk!


Sunday we had a slow start in heading off to Miyajima to see the floating torii and shrine. The island is covered in deer that come right up to tourists – kinda crazy! The torii and shrine weren’t actually floating when we were there unfortunately, because the water only reaches that far during high tide early in the morning and in the evening. SO, I guess we’ll just have to go back some time when we have more time. :) We took a cable car up Mt. Misen to get a great view of the water and nearby small islands. We all agreed it was a place we’d like to return when we have more time. Maybe hike up and down the mountain next time. Oh yeah…at the top of the mountain there were monkeys just running around freely. So many animals!



That night we headed out to Kasaoka to stay with Molly, another one of my former UMM info desk coworkers. What a Minnesota reunion it was this weekend! We went to her town’s festival, where the men carry huge portable shrines on their shoulders. They weigh over a ton, some up to a ton and a half! The men (no women allowed!) carry them around for hours around the streets of the city, singing and taking breaks for beer. At the end, they carry them up a steep stairway to the shrine. I can’t imagine how sore their bodies must be the next day! Molly’s fiancĂ© Bobby joined in on carrying one of the floats and the group he was carrying with gave us their robe/shirts so we could be a part of the festivities. It was great! We were a little exhausted at this point from packing so much in the days before, but it was really fun to see.


Monday was a holiday in Japan, Health and Sports Day, obviously worthy of missing a day of school for students and teachers alike. We headed off to Okayama with Molly to Korakuen, one of the top three gardens in Japan. It was amazingly relaxing and we saw a bride strolling in the park on her wedding day. Gorgeous! Our stroll in the park was followed by lunch at an organic restaurant with real wheat bread, salmon, cream cheese and tomato. Amazing closure to a great adventure!

This week at school I don’t have classes because it’s midterms. The students left school at noon yesterday, and I’m not sure, they might do the same today. Since I don’t give midterm tests, they don’t keep me all that updated on what’s going on…but I guess tomorrow in the afternoon the whole school gets to go to the theater, so I get to see a play or something in the afternoon. We’ll hope there’s a lot to look at since I won’t understand a word of what they are saying haha. Should be interesting. Tuesday night I had my second adult conversation class which went really well. I feel like I kinda know where I am going with it now and understand what levels the students are at so that I can actually help them learn more English and practice with what they know! The people in the class are super fun, and I’m hoping to make some of them friends!

This weekend is going to be a weekend of RELAXATION. I need a break from the rat race; I feel like I haven’t stopped going for over 2 weeks now, except when I was sick, which obviously wasn’t really all that relaxing either. Thankfully I am doing much better this week! Like I said, looking at the pics and descriptions on my flickr will probably be much better than reading about this trip! Check ‘em out – http://flickr.com/jans0176/sets

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sick Day

I took a sick day from school today in hopes that sleeping would help my body heal itself...it helped...but I'm defintely not completely better. I am going to school tomorrow, which doesn't mean that I will be working haha, but I will be at school drinking green tea and probably blowing my nose 20 times. 20 times is an improvement though for the record.

My first Eikaiwa class (adult conversation) went well. I was glad I had Dion there to help me. He's really outgoing and it was nice to have another native speaker in the class. Even if he makes fun of my name games :D Things went well and hopefully next week more people will come! There are supposed to be 12 in the class, but there were only 7 there last night. I gotta put my thinking cap on for new conversation ideas cuz there are some people who took the class with Audrey last session - so I gotta come up with new ideas and not reuse too many of hers so those people get the benefit of having both of us as teachers.

I'll keep downing OJ and sleeping a lot, so I probably won't be calling any of you anytime soon since that requires staying up too late. So keep me posted through email...hope things are going well!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

sniffle sniffle

So as you can see from my post yesterday I am sick. It seems like it came on all of a sudden :( Sunday night I had a sore throat, then I didn’t sleep well at all and woke up with an extremely stuffy nose. I drank 1 1/2 liters of 100% orange juice yesterday and slept from 5 pm to 10 pm then woke up and had some ramen (closest thing I had to soup haha) and more oj and went back to sleep til this morning. I woke up pretty early this morning since I had slept from 5-10 before going to sleep at 11:30, but I actually feel quite awake today. I do not feel any less sick however. Ugh. Maybe I’ll get a sick day outta the deal, but not today because I teach my first Eikaiwa class tonight! I’m looking forward to meeting new people, and hopefully I can put on a Genki face despite the fact that I am sick.

Since asking me to do the class, the community center has since asked another teacher that speaks Japanese to join the first class to make sure things run smoothly. I was taken back at first because they never told me, and if he hadn’t told me I would have shown up to an extra teacher being there. Despite the fact that they sorta went behind my back, it will probably be a good thing to have him there tonight, especially cuz when I had my first meeting with them I got about 3 sentences of information translated to me. But of course it makes me more nervous and makes me feel like I am being “checked up on” and this is only being compounded by the fact that I feel icky and really just want to be in bed until I feel better!



















I did have a good weekend this past weekend. Jenny came to visit me in Friday and we were able to go out in Fuji with a few other English teachers in the area. We got some dinner and socialized for awhile and then Jenny and I headed to the peninsula for Saturday. I got to watch a high school team that were national champions in taiko. I was quite tired from the night before so the beat of the drums was putting me to sleep for awhile, but it was really cool when I was awake enough to appreciate it! Then Saturday night we ate at a Mexican restaurant, which of course, was divine! I think Mexican food is becoming my new comfort food – makes everything in life feel more normal. Sunday we went on a hike along the Nanadaru Waterfalls – a path with seven waterfalls out in the middle of the Izu peninsula near where I live.

This coming weekend is Hiroshima, hopefully I am feeling better by then! I hope things at home are going well and that this post wasn’t too dry toast. Love you all!

Monday, October 6, 2008

SICK!

I woke up this morning officially sick. Then I had to walk to school in downpouring rain.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Kamakura Field Trip

Yesterday I joined the senior students on a field trip to Kamakura. It took about 2 ½ hours to get there and another 2 ½ hours to come home, and we only spent 3 hours there…1 of the hours spent in a restaurant where I paid $20 for a quite small crock of beef stew and two dinner rolls. Crazy! It was a really cool city though, and I would love to go back. The city is called “Little Kyoto” because it has the same cultural feel as Kyoto. It also has Japan’s second largest Buddha. It is made of bronze and weighs 121 tons!! Although it is second in size, it is generally recognized as artistically superior to the larger one in Nara (near Kyoto). Here’s a picture of me with the Big Buddha and one of me with a few teachers and senior students at one of the temples we visited.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Curveball

Life threw me a curveball this week – a curveball pitched from left field to me at home plate. And I was lost. It was the first time since I arrived here that I really wondered if I should be here or not, if I was missing out on too much at home, if I was making the right decision for me and my life and the life of my family and friends. Tonight, I realized that life is probably gonna throw me more and more curveballs as I grow older, and there’s really no way to escape that whether I’m in Japan, the United States, or Yemin. But I have been unbelievably blessed with those I have beside me, those who support me through thick and thin, and those I would not trade for the world. Thanks God.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Drip Drop Diary

As I stated last night I needed to update more frequently, I'm starting immediately :) Today was a Monday - a rainy Monday at that. Luckily it wasn't raining too hard on my way to school, so I didn't have to change clothes when I got there (although I was prepared with them in my backpack!), but coming home was a different story! I was soaked through by the time I reached the top of my hill and tomorrow evening is supposed to bring quote "heavy rains"...so it looks like I will be getting wet again. As soon as I finished arriving at the top of my hill dripping in sweat, I began arriving at the top of my hill just plain dripping! Oh the joys of being a bike owner. Speaking of, I emailed the car dealer today, and he's looking for a car. He said it might be a week or two...we'll hope it's just one week, not two!

I only had one class today - today the students had to take their phy ed test, so classes were switched around, tomorrow the first year students (sophomores) will be gone and Wednesday all the students will be on a field trip. I am joining the seniors on their trip to Kamakura, which has the second largest Buddha in Japan. Hopefully we can see a few things despite the forcast for heavy rain. Either way, with the long bus ride I think we will only spend a few hours actually there anyway.

Tonight I got to meet up with one of my predecessor's friends. He lived in Canada for a little while and traveled and studied in the United States, so he speaks pretty good English. He doesn't have a lot of opportunity to speak it anymore, so we are going to meet once a week just so he can practice his English. As I learn more Japanese, I hope that I will be able to use him as a resource as well to practice my Japanese. It was refreshing to meet someone my own age who is actually Japanese. I love my ALT friends, but I also came to Japan to meet local people and hopefully make Japanese friends, and this is my first hopeful. It's hard to meet people when you don't speak the language, and I'm a little bit of a hermit during the week since I'm so far away from the main part of the city. Again...can't wait for the car!

So that was basically my day - tomorrow I don't have a whole lot to do, hopefully I won't be falling asleep on my desk! It's so hard when it's raining outside the window right by my desk...makes me want to curl up in bed and drift into dreamland. Speaking of, I better do that right now - it's 12:30.

Good Night!

p.s. If you have any questions about Japan or my life here, feel free to leave questions as a comment here, or send me an email and I will answer in my blog!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A weekful of adventures!

This week has been by far my busiest week yet, hence the lack of posts. I really should start posting more frequent shorter posts - sorry for the novels once a week! On Monday night I headed to Fuji with Dion to meet up with Kelly and Kory, two ALTs in the next city. We had a great time over a mini-feast Japanese style. I felt like I had eaten sashimi (raw fish, no rice) non-stop for the weekend cuz I had eaten it at my welcome enkai too. I'm coming around to the whole raw fish thing, Nicole, you would be proud. We also had some other Japanese delights - crab cakes, soy beans, soba and udon, gyoza, and of course in true Japanese fashion, a large beer to wash it all down with. The men at the next table had a mini-keg, we didn't take it quite that far!


Tuesday was Autumnal Equinox Day, so I planned an excursion for the Fuji area ALTs to go hiking. I plan these "excursions" quite blindly, considering I speak nor read Japanese, but I do have a desire to check out things in the area and it's always more fun with others! We ventured to Lake Tanukiko, an artificial lake in Fujinomiya, but still about an hours bus ride. The lake is surrounded my mountains covered in trees with a bunch of hiking trails. We had quite a mixed group and none of us was really up for hardcore hiking, so we just stuck to the pleasant walking trail around the lake. There were fisherman around the perimeter, waiting for a catch that was actually big enough to take home and eat! The lake is famous for having the reflection of Mt. Fuji in it, making a diamond - it was too cloudy for us, but we did get one sneak peak at Fuji-san. On the way back a few of us took a stop off at Shiraito Waterfalls again - my friend Kari had come up from her home on the peninsula and so we wanted to help make it worth her while! It was a beautiful day and the lighting was nice at that time of day. We finished off with some famous Yakisoba in a local restaurant when we arrived back near the station. It was a long day after staying out late the night before in Fuji, but a lot of good conversation and pretty sights.

Wednesday was a hectic day at school, one I'd rather not write about cuz I'd probably just be complaining, and I don't want to do that. So - it was busy and long, but Thursday I got to leave school at 11 AM! It was an amazing day. I needed to go to Shizuoka City (the capital of my prefecture) to get my re-entry permit from the Immigration Office. It took me about an hour and a half to get there, but getting the actual permit only took 5 minutes...so I explored the big city for a little bit! I wandered through stores and did some window shopping, ate at Subway in honor of my years of service there (haha...it was close to the same actually, pretty amazing), and even at Cold Stone Ice Cream - I had no idea there was Cold Stone in any other country, let alone Japan. It wasn't quite the same, but still cool to see familiar places. I also visit the import store and bought some stuff to make Mexican food - Tortillas, enchilada sauce and refried beans. Soooo awesome!

This weekend was also eventful, as I had overnight guests on Friday night (some ALTs from my area) in preparation for White Water Rafting on Saturday! White water rafting was a lot of fun - the rapids in this area really aren't that challenging or scary, but our tour guide was very fun. When we were in the calmer parts of the water we had water wars, flipped the raft and swam around, had battles to see who could stand on the outside edge of the raft the longest while it was spinning around, and jumped off the side of the cliffs into the river. I met a whole bunch of new ALTs that work in my area - I've already met all of the first year ALTs, but this was a great chance to meet a few people who have been here for 2 or 3 years. There were some really fun people and I am so glad that I took this opportunity to try something new! I also met a girl who bought a car from an English-speaking car dealer, so I got his information and am going to be calling tomorrow to get started on finding a used car in my budget! It was an all around awesome day that I wrapped up by making enchiladas. It was the first time I used my small oven, so it was a good adventure that turned out amazing!


Tomorrow it's back to the working world, but it's a mild week for me this week, as it's a week of field trips for the students. I only have to teach two classes and English club and on Wednesday I get to go on the field trip with the seniors to Kamakura, a city not too far from here. I hope we get to see some cool stuff, although I think much of our day will be spent on the bus. I will get to hang out a bit with one of the English teachers that I don't teach with, but really enjoy talking to. I hope it will be a productive day for relationships and fun with some cool sightseeing.