Friday, January 30, 2009

And then I forgot to mention...

If you haven't checked out my pics on flickr lately, I posted some Thailand albums (3 I think before I got too tired to go on!)

Enjoy and I will tell you when I post the rest.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Tonight I have been thinking about how much Japan feels like home to me lately. How I have been so busy these past few weeks, that there were times that I forgot I was in a "foreign" country and that it was just regular old life: meeting friends for dinner, grocery shopping with my neighborhood buddy, staying up late talking to friends on the phone and going at it hard at work. It feels good. And other not so familiar things are feeling more common now as falling asleep on the train along with the Japanese people sitting around me and wearing 2-3 layers of clothing at one time...all the time. Of course that doesn't mean I miss home, but it does feel like I'm not quite so far away. Along with that "normalcy" of life here comes the lack of sleep...much like my life in the US. So, I should get to bed. But since I have been doing such random posts lately and catching people up on Thailand, let me give you a few updates:

It felt great wearing my new clothes to school this week. It was crazy to not wear the same things I had been wearing for so long! Those poor 4 sweaters my parents sent from home are ready to hit the trash can :)

I started a pen pal program at my school. Maybe I wouldn't call it a program, but some of my English students are writing letters to an ESL class at Willmar High School. Many of the students are refugees from Africa, so my girls met me with a resounding eeeeeeeeeeeeee (pronounced like the letter a and held for a long time) in true Japanese fashion when they read the name Mohamed on their paper :) Too funny.

My students are doing final projects this semester instead of a listening test, so they made commercial skits, advertising an "original" product. I had to correct their scripts this week and if I have to read one more paper about a watch that can stop time or candy that can make you fly, I might have to fly away myself...or stop the time on my watch!

I was really blessed for my birthday this year, despite being away from friends and family. So many people gave me small gifts, people that I never would have expected gifts from. Some of the highlights included a Lilo and Stitch bag of which the top is a stuffed cartoon character Stitch and washclothes rolled up to look like a swiss cake role with a cherry on top. Gotta love Japan...they sure have some crazy stuff. But it was still really cool. Oh yeah. And I got flowers, tulips, that are now just opening and make me smile when I wake up in the morning and when I look up from my kotatsu! And my adult conversation class threw me a mini party (which means they all brought food) and we had sandwiches from a Mickey Mouse sandwich maker haha. Too Japanese.

hmmm that is all I can think of at the moment, and I'm just procrastinating the sleep thing :P Upcoming events include a Mexican dinner party in my apartment with Japanese friends, strawberry picking on Sunday with ALT friends, Snow Festival in Sapporo next weekend, and then end of teaching for the semester (Japanese school year ends in March)! Happy (almost) February everyone - I can't wait for March to come when I can stop using my kerosene heater and electric blanket! It will be glorious!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Birthday Weekend

I had an awesome birthday weekend in Japan! Jenny and Kari came up to stay with me, and Friday night I met up with a big group of teacher friends and Japanese friends. It was a little overwhelming because it was a bigger group, but it was a lot of fun. We had traditional izakaya food including sashimi (raw fish), nabe (soup cooked on the table in front of you), koroke (breaded patties of potato/meat/etc.), gyoza (japanese potstickers/dumplings), etc, etc, etc. After that, we headed to an Australian bar in Fuji and then we headed off to karaoke for a few hours. It was a good night out on the town, something I haven't done in awhile.

Saturday we slept in hardcore since we stayed up til almost 5 in the morning the night before. We lounged around for the afternoon and then headed over to Mishima, a nearby city for our hidden Mexican restaurant. It has killer food, but such small we just order a lot of food haha.
Yesterday we headed to the Gotenba Premium Outlet Mall, the biggest outlet mall in Japan, quite popular among people who come from even Tokyo. It was kinda cool driving on the expressway again, it's been awhile since I have driven out of the city! Shopping was awesome - the prices were good and there were clothes that were actually my size! It's hard shopping in Japan, so it was like heaven! I spent a bit much, but got a lot of much needed things as many of my clothes are getting worn out. And when I was in Thailand and getting pictures taken of me, I realized that I have been wearing the same clothes in like every picture from all my trips abroad. I decided that called for a new wardrobe!

The next three weeks will be busy with work, It Takes 2 Committee, travel plans, and catching up with Japanese friends I haven't seen since before Thailand. Wish me luck!
And pictures for my mama - please excuse that they are all only of me!
Friday Night =
Raw Fish
And Birthday Crepes!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

English Education in Japan

I read an interesting letter/opinion column today in The Japan Times that you should all read. It explains my job, and the reasons why I am left without much work to do for many weeks during the school year. My school is a high academic school with students who will test for entrance into some of the more important universities in Japan. Check it out:

Also, less important, so if you only read one article, read the one above. But this is another Question and Answer article in The Japan Times that answers questions about the university entrance exams that students here must take. The general test for Japan was this past weekend, so the senior students at my high school spent their day looking at the answers to the test and finding out their scores...then crying or celebrating.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pai - A Two Day Trek Through the Jungle

Even further north of Chiang Mai near the Myanmar border is a small town called Pai. It's kinda a tourist hippie getaway, but it was a nice relief after being hounded in the streets of Bangkok. We took a two day trek through the "jungle" and stayed overnight in a hilltribe village where cows and pigs and chickens run around wild and the shower is basically a big tub of cold water and you use a bucket to pour water over youself. Let's just say one night was enough...and one of the hill tribe men is running around with the new black flip flops that I bought the week before...luckily they were only 69 baht, less than two dollars :) It meant I spent a long time walking through water in tennis shoes on the second day! Here's a small recap in pics of the trek! We ate lunch out of a bag and made tea in a fire in a big hollow piece of bamboo! The trek ended with a bamboo raft ride into a cave to check out some stalagmites and stalagtites. If only Jess and Anna can remind me which is which ;) And yes it was a 2 day trek. And yes, I may have worn the same clothes two days in a row!

Volunteering at Baan Unrak

The first week of my trip I was volunteering at Baan Unrak school and children's home. This is the group that went. We are teachers from all over Japan, originally from all over the United States as well as a few from the UK. Here we are posing in front of the school sign.

The main thing that we did there was teach. I helped teach the 5th and 6th grade classes. This a picture with the 5th graders after our last class.

We also had plenty of play time with the kids both at the school and the home. The kids are starving for attention, and 18 volunteers at once gave them a chance to get it! Me with a few of the kids:

For the Christmas program, the kids performed a lot of dances and yoga shows, along with breakdancing and hip hop. We put on a Christmas skit since they don't celebrate Christmas to teach them about our holiday. I played Rudolph in the skit.

On Christmas morning, all the children got gifts - toys and clothing and school supplies. Some of it was new, but most of it was used donations for the children. But they were happy to get gifts and actually didn't want to play our "sports day" games because they were too busy playing with their toys.

We also helped out with environment day. A few of the volunteers from our group did a skit to promote doing your part to help the earth and then we all helped pick up trash.

Look forward to more pictures on flickr...I'm a bit tired and there are sooo many pictures from volunteering. The kids favorite toy of all is any volunteer's camera. They will snap shots ALL day long if you let them until your battery goes dead! Sorry, this was a really dry post without much excitement...I shall post more pics in the next few days, hopefully this satisfies a few picture cravings for you and let's you know I really was in Thailand at Christmas and wasn't just making it up haha!

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is in the north of Thailand, and it's the second largest city in Thailand. Many people love it for the fact that it is Bangkok, minus all the bad stuff. Jenny and I found it it to be quite welcoming, even though we only spent a day there. We maxed ourselves out because it was our last day and we wanted to see everything with the little time we had left! Here's a picture recap of our day!

We started our day with a trip to Doi Suthep Temple, on the top of a mountain outside the city. The myth is that the elephants brought people to the top of the mountain, where they built a shrine and the elephants died from the long journey up the mountain. There were a lot of elephant statues too...sorry not to include them...not so exciting honestly.

Next came the elephant riding. First we had to pose though with the elephant. This guy must have been too old to carry he got bananas all day long and posed for pictures.

Jenny and I riding Mae Mai, age 23, and another elephant with tusks coming back up to get more people. The elephants brought us up to a Karen village, where the women wear rings to elongate their necks as a sign of beauty. They are from Burma.

Next on our list was the snake farm, thanks to Jenny's prompting. That snake I'm kissing is poisonous! A cobra!

After the snake farm, we headed to tiger kingdom for our last wild animal of the day! We got to go in and play with and pet the 4-7 month old tigers. We also hired a professional photographer to take pictures of us with the tigers. I don't have those yet because they are on a CD and Jenny is bringing them to me this weekend. But here are a few close ups I got to take while we were playing in the cage.

I hope you all enjoyed the photo journey of our last day! After that, we went shopping, Jenny got a last minute massage and I got a manicure! A nice cap off to a great trip!

A second year

So being sick in Thailand and missing the holidays with my family really made me question staying in Japan a second year. It was rough going there for a few weeks, and I wasn't sure how I would respond to the paper being put in front of me to sign for another year, or to sign to go home. Maybe it was just the finality of it all that made me nervous.

After getting back to Japan from Thailand, however, I really did feel like I was back home. Things fell back into place at work, my apartment felt like home, I could understand (some of) what was going on around me, and I was able to talk to friends and family with some regularity again. I made a pros and cons list, and Japan won out by a huge margin!

So I am extremely happy tonight with my decision to recontract. I know I will miss my family and friends more than I ever have before, and I know they will miss me too. But in the end, I'm super excited at the experiences that lay ahead in the next year and half and I know that I can count on my friends and family for support.

Really, you guys are awesome. There are others here who have much less support than I do - I really appreciate your love, care packages, phone calls, emails, pictures and thoughts. Really. Thank you! See you in August!


Friday, January 16, 2009

Return to Blogging

And after a three week’s absence, I have returned to blogging. I promised a few pictures on my blog until I could post my Thailand photos on Flickr, but I am having a slow time getting back into life here. I haven’t been super busy and honestly probably could have….but I am quite tired and am behind at work because I missed the first week back at school. I taught a lesson this week on New Year’s around the world, and found out a few interesting facts. Did you know:

  • In Venezuela they wear yellow underwear for good luck on New Year’s Eve.
  • In Lithuania, single women put 12 slips of paper with a man’s name on each and one blank slip of paper under their pillow when they go to sleep at night. In the morning the draw one of the slips of paper and that is who they will marry! (I might try this one next year haha) and
  • In Denmark, they jump off a chair at midnight!

Just a few crazy New Year’s facts I came across and am using my lesson.

Next week the students are starting their final project already. I only teach each class 4 times this semester, so I taught a new year’s lesson, this coming week they will start their projects, the following week I will maybe teach a lesson, and the last week the students will present for the final exam grade. It will go crazy fast I know, but I had plenty of time before Christmas when I should have been planning for now…instead I still don’t have an assignment sheet typed up for Monday. Such is how I have always worked I suppose!

Last night our Spanaplish Noche (Spanish/Japanese/English) group met. There were five of us last night and we ate at the Mexican restaurant in Shiz City. It was okay, but not so authentic. All of us were extremely tired and the Spanish speaking was not going so well :) We decided to meet every two weeks though instead of once a month, so next time we decided we need to be super productive…we’re watching a movie (in Spanish) before then and discussing the movie together (in Spanish).

Alright. I suppose I should get to work, since as previously stated, I have a lot to do. I just am not so motivated and am not feeling so hot this week. Happy New Year! Everyone still keeping their New Year’s Resolutions?