Sunday, August 30, 2009

Three Simple Stories

I posted a note on facebook from my cell phone earlier, then unexpectedly got internet access at a friend's, so I decided to share my stories here, too. :) Please forgive the poor format. It is hard to control these things from a cell phone.

story 1: zombie car

Today at 3:38am | Edit Note | Delete
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i am feeling terribly restless but have done so much and slept so little this weekend that i have little motivation to remedy my boredom.
so, i blog.
i hope my photos serve as a decent substitute update when i dont have the time or ability to write. :) if you have been following my albums then you know that okinawa is full of beauty and adventures. so much so that this moment of lethargy seems much more severe in contrast. :P
since typing on this phone is such a hassle, i will limit the telling to the three most eventful happenings in the last few weeks.
the first is the saga of the zombie car.last weekend i was driving to pick up a friend with two other friends in my jet mobile when i improperly yielded on a right turn.i didn't see the other car until my bumper was introducing itself to her side panel.
the worst part for me was the shock. sure my car now resembles the undead, but that is nothing compared to the feeling in my gut when my brain replays that instant of metal, glass, and fear.

story 2: paradise within paradise
Today at 3:54am | Edit Note | Delete
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continued from previous. stupid character limit.
at the time of the crash my friends and i were headed to catch the ferry to tokashiki island for a JET get away. since no one was injured and i couldnt do anything but mope at home,we decided to continue on and catch a later ferry. i am SO glad we did. it was exactly what i needed to recover.

i cant express how much fun i had. i swam, snorkled, explored, bonded, slept on the sand under the stars, and woke up to the sunrise. glorious.

it was awful returning from paradise to the reality of insurance claims anda zip tied bumper but my real world happens to be set in paradise and the beach is never more than a short drive away... even the zombie car can handle that!

story 3: 22!
Today at 4:10am | Edit Note | Delete
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living on a small island definitely has its perks: one being my proximity to beautiful beaches at all times. i kept this advantage in mind when planning my birthday and, with the help of incredible new friends,managed to get a beach bbq together.
it was perfect. i have status-updated it to death but i just want to tell you how happy i am to be able to celebrate with such great people when my other great people are so far away. thanks everyone. :)

well no matter how hard i try to distract myself, school will still start in the morning and i should go through my powerpoint once more. SO NERVOUS!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Adventures in teaching, learning, and adventuring! ;)

I love Okinawa
I've just completed my first official task as a high school teacher: editing. geh. Usually, editing should come after a couple of lessons, assignments, whatnot, but it is summer vacation and so I haven't actually taught a class yet. I just did the editing as a favor for one of the teachers I will be teaching with. It was fun. :) I feel totally unprepared to stand in front of a class of fifteen year olds and impart any kind of knowledge about grammar or syntax or what-have-you, but editing... editing I can do.
This is the view from the cafe where I did a lot of that editing over lunch break.

These worksheets were pretty basic. They asked a couple of questions about what students want to be/to do when they grow up and then gave room for a short paragraph regarding the same topic. I've included some of my favorite answers below:

"I hope to Takushi's wife. Because I like he. Takushi is a professional basketball player. So, I hope to Takushi's wife! When i dream comes true, I hope to have a peaceful family. <3" -future trophy wife

"I would like to be superman.... But, I won't to be superman. Because i haven't pour and haven't courage."
-future Clark Kent 

"I hope to be independently woman. So I want to spent live a full life. I hope compatible both work and my personal life."
-future feminist of Japan

"I would like to promote an agricultural revolution. The reason is that I like apple."
-future apple activist

And my favorite:

"I would like to be a farmhouse."
-future... barn?

Now please don't mistake my intent. I have a lot of respect for these students. There is no way I could communicate on their level in Japanese, and I am certain my mistakes would be much more ghastly and humorous than these, but these answers make me smile nonetheless. It is endearing and encouraging because now I know that I might actually be able to teach these students something. :P

Speaking of learning Japanese... I will start my private lessons soon. I contacted a tutor last week about meeting once a week for an hour lesson, and she suggested a Japanese textbook which I picked up yesterday. It is called “げんき” or “Genki” which means happy or joyful (roughly).
I found a bookstore... there goes my paycheck! lol
I can’t wait to start the lessons! An hour a week definitely won’t be enough, but I am hoping it will keep me on task and motivated, especially since I am paying her pretty well. :P She seems sweet, too, and I hear she is very patient. She’s gonna need that patience with me! My brain is acquiring Japanese at a such a pace that I might be able to order a teriyaki burger at the McDonalds drive through after a year or two. ^_^ (Japanese emoticon)]

Despite the language barrier, I am getting around pretty well. :) I love owning a car because it opens up so many possibilities, and I am not limited by lack of a ride or a really awful bus schedule. Sometimes I just drive around to get a feel for the area and see what I can find.

A few days ago (Friday, I think), I got off work and started to drive home, with no plans and little prospects for the evening outside of watching movies on my laptop or cleaning, yet again. So instead of turning right into my neighborhood, I turned left into the sugar cane fields and just kept driving. I was hoping to find another beach closer to my home, but found instead a huge resort golf course with stunning views of the coast. If I were a golfer this would be a very exciting discovery for me, but since I would rather hit myself with a golf club than walk around the green hitting a ball for hours, I kept driving.
(Nita, if you and Harmon were to visit, I would appreciate the golf club a lot more. ;))

My next discovery were these giant windmills.

I’ve spotted them several times from various locations, but always at a distance. Something about them fascinates me so I drove right up under them and took some photos. Silly tourist.

Just a little ways beyond the windmills there is another interesting building which I have spotted from the beaches in Yaese. It looks a bit like a lighthouse but has sort of a forked top.

Intrigued, I meandered over in that direction and found a massive parking lot in front of a widespread and lovely garden with lots of monuments and a long impressive museum. I had no idea what any of this was, but I parked and walked up to a sign, hoping to blur my eyes until the Japanese made sense. No luck. However, a little past the first sign I found a bilingual sign which told me I had discovered the Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum. Excellent. I walked slowly, soaking in the silent beauty of the stones and gardens, thankful I picked a time when most people were too busy eating soba to flood the grounds.

At the very far edge of the park, the perfectly manicured grasses gave way to staggering views of sharp cliffs and rocky beaches.

I only explored about a quarter of the grounds before my stomach alerted me that soba was not such a bad idea at this time of day, so I reluctantly trudged back to the car. On my way I noticed the sun starting to sink to the west and remembered my goal of seeing it set over the ocean. You see, all of Yaese town’s beaches face the wrong direction, so although the sunset lends the clouds and the waters a lovely color, we are deprived the splendor of watching the sun dip into those turquoise waters. Deciding that my stomach would just have to wait, I turned my little car south and hit the gas.

After probably an hour of fruitless beach-searching (the details of which I will spare you), I finally turned into one of a million sugar cane fields and navigated the narrow roads to the coast. There, I parked next to a fisherman’s hut and sprinted toward the sand. The sun had already dipped behind far-off islands, but the brilliant shades of color lingered in the cloud-spotted sky and touched gently on the sand. Unfortunately, my toes could not do the same because they were barricaded from those sands by a concrete wall and ten feet of tall grass (which were mostly likely inhabited by the dreaded Habu snake—a creature I was unwilling to meet with in the approaching gloom). So I settled myself onto the wall, pulled out my small pocket camera (the SLR forgotten at home and my cell phone laying uncharged in the car), and did what I could to capture a little sliver of that beauty.
On Sunday, my coworker and I bought an all day monorail pass for our next adventure exploring the capital city of Naha for the afternoon. We started by searching fruitless for an A & W--where is comfort food when you need it??--and then settling for the local Mos Burger (hamburgers with a Japanese twist).

Shrimp burger on rice bun. yum!

Then we walked along a popular street for tourists called Kokusai Dori where we discovered the book shop with a WHOLE English aisle, delicious food, and various street performers.

Finally, we took the metro to the last stop to visit Shuri Castle. Shuri Castle, a remnant of the Ryukyu kingdom's dynasty, was destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa, but was reconstructed in 1992 based on photographs of the original.
Entrance gate leading to Shuri Castle

The grounds surrounding the castle are quite lovely and extensive, so Max and I decided to save the entrance fee for a later date (and a later paycheck), and just explore the free area. We weren't at all disappointed, especially when we found this lovely overlook with a splending view of Naha and the ocean beyond.
poor photo from my cell phone. I want to return at sunset with my SLR.

All of these adventures emptied my gas tank pretty quickly so I think I will have to space them out a bit more in the future. Or at least cut back on coffee or something to balance the expense. ;)

So that is my little update for you! Sorry these are spaced out quite a bit. I would love to post more but can't from the internet on my cell phone or at work. I should have internet at home within the month (I am at a friend's house now). I also apologize for the poor quality of the photos... until I get the sensor cleaned on my real camera, I am mostly just toting around the point and shoot or my cell phone. However, I am going to take the Nikon out with me on an island camping trip this weekend and just take the time to edit out all the sensor spots.

Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sanity Savers

Yesterday I awoke with productivity in mind. The process of moving from my predecessor's apartment to a fresh, sparkly one has slowly picked up speed over the last couple days, and as of yesterday morning, the apartment is quite livable. :) My colleague (love that word--so grown up!), Max, helped me move heavy furniture in exchange for use of my washing machine, and we managed to haul up the fridge, microwave, futon (#1), dinning chairs, and even the bed! I carefully dusted and de-molded each piece and thoroughly scanned for spiders before allowing entrance into my new place. I am the bouncer to all unwanted pests.
It is so exciting to watch everything take shape!

{I am making a little home here}

Back to yesterday, I woke up too early after staying out too late but decided to make the most of it and start my day productively. So, I hopped in my car and drove--which side of the road am I on? Is this the right side? Can I trust my instinct yet? Nope!--to the convenience store, Coco, just a few blocks away. My goal was simple: laundry detergent, bread, bananas. But Coco had none of these things. Psh. Convenient. So instead I drove to the other convenience store, Family Mart, which is across from the high school. Laundry detergent: check. Bread, bananas? Time to find the grocery store.

This is where my day got a little tricky. Rachel, my pred, drove me to the store only a few short days ago, but I hadn't been paying close attention. I knew which street it was on... but was it before Mibaru or after? And where do I turn?

After driving slowly and cautiously (Where did these people learn to drive? California?) for a little while, I found, not the grocery store, but a little cafe Rachel also showed me.

{I took a picture of the sign last time so that I would be able to find the cafe again. It worked!}
I was pretty proud of myself for remembering where that was, so I celebrated with an iced coffee and fifteen minutes of relaxation, photographing the beach and watching families search for seashells.

{I love the difference in scenery from last visit when the tide was in. The rocky beach is so charming. :)}

Feeling content but slightly discouraged about my lack of navigational skills, I started the windy drive back. While passing a car haphazardly pulled to the side of the road (as cars are so prone to be here), I glanced to the left and saw it: a shining beacon of bananas and bread, The Grocery Store. In my eagerness, I made a rash decision to purchase not only the necessaries mentioned above, but a costly little jar of Skippy Peanut Butter. That luxury set me back about $5, but now I have all the ingredients for my new favorite breakfast: peanut butter and banana on toast.

So in a world of incessant confusion, overwhelming self-doubt, and endless unrest, this is what keeps me sane: lace curtains letting in soft morning light, a sparkling apartment full of new (to me) furniture, and peanut butter-banana sandwiches with a cup of tea.

Friday, August 7, 2009

All About __(Japan)__

(If you are reading this from an email, you may have to click through to the blogger site to see all of the photos!)

It's been awhile since I've written! At least, it feels like forever because SO much has happened in the meantime.

I will start by telling you all about my job.
Koyo High School is one of the "K Schools"--one of the top four high schools in Okinawa. Um... wow. Talk about an honor! Apparently my recommendations were pretty strong. :) Thanks, Suzan! Debbie! This means a variety of things:
-We have AC. Yes.
-The English Department is really strong and my co-workers are fluent in speaking English (which is surprisingly rare even in English teachers.) Even the kocho-sensei (principal) speaks English! He studied in America and is a super nice guy. I expected some terrifying, uptight, traditional old Japanese man. I like surprises.

{this is not the principal.}

-I will not just be an "assistant" teacher. At the Eng, Dept party last night (which I will tell you more about later), many of the teachers gave speeches--both encouraging and terrifying. The teachers emphasized the high standard they have for their ALTs and the important role we will play in the classroom. Our supervisor stated that the Japanese English Teachers were really the "ALTs" while we were the main teachers--to which the rest of the teachers nodded their agreement. SCARY!
-The students are usually pretty motivated. Not perfect, but pretty great. :) I really like the ones I've met. They have been really eager to talk to me and practice their English, and their curiosity makes me smile.

All about the other perks of Koyo Senior High School:
-The staff not only speaks great English, but are super friendly! Well, not all the staff speaks English, but the ones who don't smile at me kindly when I give them my patented blank stare. I guess here is a good time to talk about the party! Last night the English staff threw all the ALTS a "farewelcome" party--farewell for Rachel and David, welcome for Max and me. We had a rambunctious, wild dinner at an Izakaya restaurant and then spent a few hours at a Karaokee joint. I love the people I work with and am so excited to get to know them better! There are only three women in the English department, and I intend to get to know them. :)

{These are not women}

-Views of the ocean. Can't beat that! :)
-A fancy computer lab where I can control all of the student computers from mine. power trip!
-other things I can't think of right now!

All about Yaese Town
Courtesy of Wikipedia: Yaese was formed on January 1, 2006 by a merger between the town of Kochinda and the village of Gushikami [1]. As of February 2008, Yaese has a population of 26,758
- Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, here is what you really need to know. I live in the "Gushikami (read: village) portion of Yaese. I think Yaese itself is quite spread out because you can drive for awhile and still be within the town, but it is pretty rural. I am quite literally surrounded by sugar cane (sato kibi) fields and there is a distinct smell of fertilizer in the air. There is also a pig farm near the school which is apparently more obvious when the wind shifts. joy. :P
- I don't feel cut off though. I have my old little car and can easily get to the city, the beach, or whatever. There are also two convenience stores within easy reach and countless vending machines, so I never go without canned coffee. Yep, canned coffee. What I have I stooped to??

{this is not canned coffee}

- My little neighborhood has a community house where community members get together for various reasons--such as practicing Eisa, traditional Okinawan dance. My landlord invited me. :D

{This IS Eisa}
-Speaking of my landlord, he is pretty incredible. He is not only giving me the whole month to move out, but he is arranging everything for me: the gas and the uninstalling and reinstalling of the air conditioner and the washing machine. Most landlords here usually have an agent who goes between and they never even talk to their tenants. My landlord is a sweet local man who built this apartment complex for his kids to live in and now just runs it as a sort of hobby. He doesn't need the money, so he isn't out to screw me over. He seemed very excited that I want to try Eisa. :)

{This is my landlord}

All about Okinawa
Okinawa is the exception to every rule... in the best way possible. :)
-All the stuff I learned about the formality of Japan doesn't really apply here. The people are warm and laid back, even my bosses. :) Plus, they wear the equivalent of fancy Hawaiian shirts to work and consider it business attire. Awesome. I want to buy some kariyushi wear!
-I have discovered three beaches within easy distance and they are all glorious in different ways. Love them.

{Miiburu Beach!}

-There are awesome cafes all over the place. Many of them have stunning views of said beaches.

-They love ketchup and mayonaise like the rest of Japan, but add spam to their list of adopted and abused Western cuisine. Why???

All about my life
Getting all set up in a foreign country is both tedious and expensive, but everytime I cross a task off my list I experience extreme satisfaction.
-Bank Account. Now I can get my paycheck and withdraw money at any Family Mart. They are almost as common as the sugar cane here. :)

-Cell phone. My ketai!! It is cute and red and BIG. They don't make them small here.... this thing is as big as my head. :) I already have two "ketai sutrapus" (or charms)--an Ichiro and a boxing Hello Kitty from Round 1, an arcade on speed. The camera on my cell is pretty awesome. I can even change the focus settings and ISO.

{Cell Phone Charm. Picture taken on cell phone!}

-Inkan x2. Instead of signatures, people mostly use inkans here. They are little stamps with your name on them that you carry around in cases. The school gifted us with our Japanese inkans (mine spells su-mi-su) but in order to register it officially it has to have the same name as my passport so it has to be in English. So I went in and bought another inkan ($60!) that just says "Smith". boo. But I like having two. :D

{"Smith" and "Su-Mi-Su")

All about what's left:
-Get my alien registration or "gaijin" (foreigner) card. This is the key to life here in Japan, and I am tired of waiting for it. Usually you can't get a bank account or cell phone without one, but I have a persuasive supervisor.
-Set up the internet in my new place. I think I need my gaijin card for this, but I am going to give it a shot on Monday. The internet here at Rachel's will be gone any minute now... sad.
-Move everything upstairs. I had some amazing friends help me move a TON of stuff into my new apartment, but there is a lot left: bed, other futon, kitchen table, desk, dresser, bookshelf, fridge, microwave... yeah. A lot. But I have time. :)

I am having a blast!