Wednesday, August 27, 2008

1 Month Passed Already!!

So today marks 1 month in Japan. Time has flown by sooo quickly. This time being here is very different than when I studied abroad, because when I was in Chile and Spain, after 1 month I was half done! Here, I don’t even feel like I’m all the way settled. It just seems like a big waiting game. Waiting to get internet, waiting for classes to start, waiting to figure out how to do this and how to do that. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, just different. It also seems like I haven’t done a whole lot since I arrived, although I’ve started to do some local sightseeing. maybe after I climb Mt. Fuji this weekend, it will feel more like I’ve accomplished something since I arrived.

So this past weekend I threw together a mini-excursion for the area JETs to go to Shiraito Waterfalls in Fujinomiya. It’s about a half an hour bus ride from the train/bus station, but still considered a part of Fujinomiya. The waterfalls were beautiful, and we were lucky enough to have it not rain TOO hard while we were there. Then we came back to Sengan Shrine in downtown Fujinomiya, which was fun, even though I’d been there twice already because other people hadn’t had the opportunity to see it. Then we went shopping at the JUSCO, basically like a big mall in my city – it’s nothing to brag about, but has most everything all in one place which is quite convenient. Sunday I was supposed to go to the beach and fireworks in Atami, but it got rained out, so I spent the day shopping again :)

The New Fujinomiya ALTs - Kavita, me and Dion

Yesterday at school Kavita’s supervisor decided to take us out sightseeing, so we actually got the chance to go to the waterfalls again (haha…while we were supposed to be working) and check out Asagiri Heights, basically a big farming area in my city…which really seems to me to be outside the city, but apparently it’s not :) And got to visit a little farm-type park where you could feed the animals, learn how to milk a cow, etc. It was interesting, really not all that exciting, but better than sitting at my desk in school. And it reminded me of home with the sights and smells haha.

After school today I have to head to the post office to send home some money…pray for me! I hope I get everything figured out!! I have the forms to fill out which have English on them, but it’s still a little scary if they ask questions that I can’t answer!!! Ohhhh my!!

Alright- I’m going to go study some Japanese…I’ve been slacking the last few days! I also need to come up with some plans for my first 3 day weekend! Getting out to see some more of Japan! Can’t wait.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Happy Friday Everyone!

Just a short note for today – today was amazing. I am one of the first people to live every day in the time zone I’m in, so I thought I’d let you know how amazing it really is (yes, I do know that I’m extremely corny…)

Number 1 – yesterday I got a new air pump (from the dollar store believe it or not) that was a godsend…my tires were pumped in 5 minutes. The day before with all that pumping was a waste of time. SO today I got to ride my bike to school! And by ride, I mean coast down the hill with my brakes on for most of the way!! I got to sleep a little later, got to wear my hair down because I wasn’t going to be sweating like a pig, and it was also a lot nicer outside today, so it was almost perfect! :)

Number 2 – I got to talk to my teacher about my first lesson. Most teachers get to do an entire lesson on themselves (like games and stuff to introduce themselves), but I work at one of the highest level schools in my area. So I’m doing a short self-intro lesson and then jumping into the first lesson on making phone calls in English. My teacher was really impressed with how planned out and organized I was…not hard to do since it’s the only thing I’ve really had to do since I arrived! But, it made me feel good that I was doing something right, and hope that it leads to a little more responsibility at the school…I might go crazy without any work to do!

Number 3 – many teachers have been noticing that I study Japanese at school, and I’m being met with very positive responses :) Again, just hoping that it makes the other teachers take me seriously.

Number 4 – It’s Friday!!! Tomorrow I’m going to Shiraito Waterfalls in the morning. Sunday I’m going to Atami for the beach and fireworks and bringing a friend back to stay at my house! I didn’t do anything at night this week, so I’m ready for some socialization (I don’t think watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S DVDs is all that sociable ;) )

Have a great weekend everyone! Thanks to those who sent me emails on my phone, it’s amazing and I can always use more (hint, hint). Love ya, Ash

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jumping Japanese Hurdles on the Left and the Right

Today was my first pay day as a teacher who makes a lot of money (and well, as a teacher, you know that really isn’t ALL that much ha-ha). This week has actually flown by and has been filled with a lot of little fiascos that take way more work than they really should. Please excuse the mini-vent session and laugh at my small stupidities along the way :).

I finally got a cell phone, although I’m still trying to figure out how to use the internet on it because I never even did that in the United States. It was a pretty big fiasco trying to get a cell phone through my teachers, because they don’t know a lot about cell phones themselves, plus they were trying to explain things to me in English. I was REALLY glad when it was done! But even though I got the cheapest phone, it is actually pretty high tech. It has a Japanese and English dictionary for when I get in a bind, I can watch TV on it apparently once I figure that out, and a lot of other small features that I never imagined a phone to have!

After the phone fiasco comes the bike fiasco. I had a bike that I traded a friend for, but it had two locks on it. We only had the key to one. So, it’s been a big long issue of thinking of ways to get this lock off. Finally, a teacher at my school offered to help me bring it to the bike shop for them to cut it off. Turns out, we really only had to bring it to the school and the maintenance man cut it off with a big pruner-type tool haha. And I thought I was home free after two weeks. Sooooo I go to ride the bike home yesterday, and I had overlooked one small problem…the tires were flat (duh…it sat there for two years, what was I thinking?!) so I had to walk to the bike the distance back to my house (about a 55 minute walk uphill). I sweated through two shirts! Then I rummaged through my storage shed to find a pump. First one…broken. Second one….SOOO small!! I pumped forever and ever, and the wheels look almost full, but still aren’t full enough to hold a person. Not to mention I really don’t ride bikes that often and don’t really know how full they should be. SOOOO I have a pretty (rusty) bike sitting in my apartment parking lot, and still can’t ride it. I’m so annoyed by all of this! I’m going to try to buy a better pump today, and see if that helps…it’s possible the bike might need new tires, but I really can’t tell yet. I wish I had just bought a bike instead of messing with all of this stuff!

Lastly, I’m trying to get internet. They told us that you had to have your Alien Registration Card to get it, but it turns out, you don’t. I could have applied weeks ago. Not only did I wait longer than I really had to for applying, but now my application is on hold because I don’t know who the owner of my phone line is. I talked to my school and think it’s an ALT from like 10 years ago, but the application guy hasn’t gotten back to me to tell me if it’s right. Oh the joys of living in Japan :)

On the brighter side, Sunday I will be going to Atami for a fireworks show. Fireworks are insane here, nothing compared to what we do for the 4th of July in the United States. It should be a good time. I’m going in the afternoon to spend some time at the beach and hanging out with other ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) before the fireworks at night.

If anyone wants to send me shorter emails on my phone, it’s totally free to me and like getting a text message from America! I love it!

I’ve been doing as much studying as I can at school, but that’s quite limited to my not falling asleep! I have now totally memorized the hiragana syllabry (I totally don’t know how to spell that) which is basically like the Japanese alphabet that they use for Japanese words. Today I started studying Katakana, the “alphabet” they use for foreign words like English (i.e. “coca-cola”). That should be helpful for eating at restaurants and such, which at this point I don’t dare do without someone who speaks Japanese! Next on the list will be Kanji, which basically I will never finish with. Even Japanese don’t know all of the kanji because there are just too many of them…but kinda like how Americans have different sized vocabularies :)

Mt. Fuji from My Bedroom Window

Mt. Fuji was looking pretty stunning today. Because it is rainy season here, it’s basically cloudy every day. Even when it isn’t cloudy and looks like clear blue skies, it seems that Mt. Fuji is still covered in clouds!! Therefore, I’ve only been able to see it about five times despite the fact that I basically live on it. This morning was great!

Alright, that is a really long message, but I had to make up for all those days before when I didn’t type anything.

Email me! Love ya and miss you all, Ashley

Monday, August 18, 2008

Let me remind you who I am again after all this time...

Sorry I haven't posted since I got here, I finally applied to get internet in my apartment today. It should be a week now (hopefully less, but that's pretty much a dream). Things seem to get better by the day, although I can’t really escape the rollercoaster of ups and downs. Some days I’m as happy as I think I could possibly be, and other days I wonder why in the heck I’m doing this. My time has been filled with making a bulletin board about myself, Minnesota, and the USA. I’ve also been trying to figure out little things like riding the bus, which seems so small, but is hard to figure out times and where a bus is going when it’s all in Japanese! Small successes like this and things like getting my phone bill paid and taking out the trash correctly can make a day be so good! On the other hand, things like dropping your bag on the way to school and losing your apartment key can make a day terrible. Luckily the school offered to change my locks for free as a “moving in” bonus because they get some sort of money when a new ALT moves in. And I definitely won’t be losing my keys again because now I’m paranoid!

This past Wednesday through Friday was prefectural orientation in Kakegawa, where all the area ALTs met to get our health checks, learn about the area, learn about what our job in the classroom is, and socialize with the people who will be close to us in the next year. A lot of information wasn’t necessarily that helpful considering I’ve written and taught entire units for English and Spanish, but I’m glad that I got to get my health check around people who actually spoke English. Last year all the ALTs had to go to their area hospitals for that, and it would have been a little unnerving doing things like that when I don’t speak Japanese! I picked up a few tidbits of helpful information about the levels of my students and my role as an assistant teacher, as well as bonded with some other ALTs. It’s comforting to have some people that I would consider on their way to becoming my friends.

I’ve also started looking at places I might want to travel. There’s a lot of opportunity for volunteering abroad here, and I’m looking into mixing some travel with volunteering possibly in India or Cambodia. I think that it would be a unique experience rather than just passing through a country. I’ve also looked into doing some group travel with STA travel Intrepid trips. They put together small groups of people that travel together with a group leader. I thought it might be something interesting to try and would definitely cut down on the planning I’d have to do. In the shorter term, I’m going to be climbing Mt. Fuji on August 30th. It’s a night climb, so I’ll be climbing in the dark, watching the sun rise from the highest point in Japan and then going back down in the morning. I’ve heard mixed views of what climbing it is like ranging from more like walking or hiking, to hard core climbing near the top. I’m going to be mentally prepared for some hard work, especially considering I’m not in that great of shape to begin with climbing the hill to my house gave me a small base though at least!!

I’m also going to start running again. It’s going to be very different training to do longer distance, but will obviously be good for my recent lazy tendencies. Jenny, a girl I met at Kakegawa orientation are going to search for a race to train for. I’d like to start running in the mornings before school, but I’m not sure that I can be quite that motivated…we’ll see! In the summer heat, it might be my only option, plus it’s light out at about 5 am here, it’s absolutely crazy! The summer heat should be on its way out hopefully, I really can’t wait since I don’t have AC and have so far to walk to school.

Although I’ve been here less than a month, the idea of staying at least two years is starting to become more realistic. It seems really hard to pack in all the things that I want to accomplish into one year, plus I know it will help me pay off a lot more of my student loans…although I’m not sure what type of budget I’ll be on until after I get paid and get some of my beginning things figured out like cell phone and internet. Pay day is Thursday, and it’s going to be like one big loan disbursement day for me, with the satisfaction that I won’t have to pay the money back!! With that excitement however, comes the fear of trying to go to the post office to send money home to take care of my bills at home…I’m sorta hoping that my teacher volunteers to bring me the first time, although I completely don’t expect it. She’ll be helping me already this week with picking up my Alien Registration Card and getting my cell phone, and hopefully with getting the lock of my bike and registering it so that I can start riding it to school and around town. That will help me assess whether or not I want to keep thinking about getting a car.

I hope that gives you a small rundown of my life at the moment. I know it skipped a lot of beginning and arriving stuff, but I feel bad when I spend all day on the computer at school when I think I'm supposed to be working :) Miss you all! Let me know what's new in the US!