Monday, October 8, 2012

How I Made History ... a Little Bit.

 Some of my best and craziest experiences here have been because I just said "Yes, ok, I'll do it," despite my fear and reservations. Experiences like the world's weirdest group date, the time I was a rockstar,  hula dancing for Japan, and even the beauty pageant failure. This story is definitely up there with the best of them. 

Last month I was at a local festival, enjoying some eisa dancing, when an older gentleman started to talk to my Japanese friend about me. It turns out he's a sanshin (Okinawa instrument) master and he said, "I want to teach her." So I said, "yes, ok, I'll do it." 

Asato Eisa
 One week later, I was sitting in a little trailer with ten other ojis (grandpa's) and that man handed me a strange instrument and some completely confusing music.

 As I looked down at the lines of kanji that were supposed to represent music notes, and strained to understand what the teacher was saying, my first thought was, "Get out. Run. This is TOO HARD." But then I had a bit of an epiphany. At first, I thought I would have to memorize all of the characters before I could even begging learning to play, which could take weeks for my kanji-challenged brain, but as I looked at a helpful chart my teacher gave me, I realized that if I created a simple code, I could read it immediately and be able to play the songs pretty much right away.

I might go into detail about my little code later, but for now I will just say that it is the best thing that could have happened. By the end of that first class, I was able to slowly pluck away at my first song, and within two weeks I had the song completely memorized. I was then able to learn the words to the song, practice singing and playing at the same time, and, after just one month, perform. 
 Of course, it was more than just the code that helped me, I wouldn't have done any of it if it weren't for this man, my sensei. He spotted some random foreign girl at a festival, invited her to his class, was patient and understanding for four hours every week when she couldn't understand most of what he was saying, and then believed in her enough to put her up on stage in front of his entire community.

Photo by Toshi Nema
 Yesterday was my performance. At this time of year, many communities hold a juugoya matsuri, kind of a harvest festival, with parades, skits, giant tugs-of-war, and music.
Photo by Toshi Nema
 I didn't feel incredibly confident on stage, and there were certainly some mishaps and miscommunications, but despite all that, I managed to play and sing through an entire song.

Photo by Toshi Nema
 You can't see it so much in these photos, but I was panicking through the whole thing. I thought I was just going to be singing along with the other men in my class, but when it came to the song, called Aha Bushi if you are wondering, my sensei and I were the only ones singing, and I was the only one with a microphone. AAAAAAAAAh!!

Photo by Toshi Nema

When I finished playing, I smiled, but secretly wanted to cry. I thought I had done horribly, and was so upset with myself. 

Eventually, though, my friends and classmates convinced me that I had done ok, and the video Neave took showed that most of my mistakes were pretty unnoticeable. 

In the end I was able to relax, smile, and celebrate with everyone--especially my sensei. He was cheerful as ever despite my imperfect performance and said that he was proud of me, and that we had made history by having the first foreigner perform in that little town. A tiny mark in the big picture, to be sure, but an experience I will never forget. Thank you so much, Tobaru Sensei. To make you proud I promise to practice harder than I ever have before.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Instagram & Ishigaki

I have an android again, which means I have some serious app addictions again. The same time-drainers from last year apply, but this time you can add an extra billion hours spent on Instagram.

Ojima Fisherman's Boat

It's no surprise, really. I've been obsessed with all of my friends' Instagram photos from the beginning, and have been secretly bidding my time until I could jump on that bandwagon.

Yabusachi Chocolate Cake
Paris Pedicure

If my little battery could take it, I'd upload a new photo every two minutes. It's such a fun way to vamp up cell phone pics (especially when I don't currently have a real camera) and to rediscover all the magical things around me.
Silly Shisa
Ojima Stray
 A reminder that is perfectly timed to help combat my current transition blues. It's good to remember why you stayed when so many people you care about decide that it's time to leave.

That Hair
Those Eyes

That Face
 This last weekend I got to practice my Instagram photography on the beautiful island of Ishigaki. The main reason I went was a two day English camp, and that was a great, but the highlight was the extra day we spent just bumming around the island, snorkeling, and sightseeing. I wish I could do the same thing every weekend!

Freshly caught lunch!
Kabira Bay
 That's all I have for you today! If you have Instagram on your smartphone, you can follow me at rebekhalebekka. If not, I will probably be posting more highlights soon.

Tonight's sunset from my balcony.
Good night!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Office Prank

Among the many amazing, wonderful people who are abandoning me this year is Max, my favorite coworker. I can't even begin to deal with all the emotions that come with saying goodbye to him or my other friends, so I am just going to get to the subject of this blog: pranking Max. 

I've been wanting to pull a decent prank on Max for awhile. He's the kind of easy-going, fun guy who just begs to be pranked, and I am just the punk coworker to do it. 

Even though his contract has expired so he no longer needs to come in to work, I knew Max was going to be there for a little while this afternoon, and brought supplies with me to begin work in the morning. 

I planned to just gift-wrap the things on and in his desk with blue paper, but once I ran out of things to wrap, I realized that the desk looked a bit bare, and thought I might as well wrap it, too. 

At that point, another coworker finished her classes and came over to help me. She had the idea of putting tape, sticky side up, on his chair and dubbed it the "Max, don't leave" chair. 

We added a few silly posters just for fun and sat down to wait. 

Finally, around 2 p.m., Max arrived. He was definitely surprised but maybe a little too harried to fully enjoy it.  ;)

He was a good sport, and it was a fun way to pass some boring office hours, but next time I prank someone I want it to really cause a reaction. ;) Maybe my new coworker will be a victim to my cruelty someday. Mwahahaha. (I hope he's not reading this.)
Any prank ideas you guys wanna share?

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Yukata Beauty Pageant and My Life's Passion

My friend, Rino, who works for the City of Nanjo planned a huge beach party for this past weekend and asked if I’d be interested in entering the yukata contest. I imagined just showing up in yukata and hanging around and getting judged, so I said sure. But it ended up being much more intense than that.
So ignorant of what's to come. So blissfully, wonderfully ignorant.
 I was told to arrive an hour early and report to a little room where all the contestants were hanging out. These girls were SO gorgeous. Some of them were professional models, and most of them had their hair professionally styled. Feeling immediately out of place with my self-made hair and general gaijin-awkwardness, I took my seat and waited around for an hour for the contest to start. Thank goodness my friend Kazuno was with me to keep me sane or I would have bolted out of that room at the earliest opportunity. ;)
Waiting in the contestants' room with Kazuno. Starting to feel the pressure.

Finally the contest started and we were marched across this huge stage in front of … oh… a thousand people?! Yabai.
Can you spot the foreigner? Here's a hint: she's a GIANT.

After that, all 35 contestants we were taken on stage one-by-one and interviewed by some local celebrity guys. When my kakoii-boy escort met me before our interview, I asked him to practice the questions exactly as they would go down, because my Japanese isn't that great in the first place, and on stage in front of a thousand people, I knew I was doomed. So he went through each question that he'd ask:
1. What's your name?
2. What are you doing in Okinawa?
3. What's your favorite thing about Japanese matsuri?
4. How do you say that in English?
5. What's your favorite thing about your yukata?

We rehearsed the questions and answers a few times and I felt pretty confident when I stepped into the spotlight. My answers went like this:

1. Lebekka desu! *corny smile*
2. Koyo Koko no Eigo no kyoshi desu! (English teacher)
3. Yakitori!
4. Chicken stick!
5. I like the color!

I felt so proud of my pretend Japanese and my ability to smile and pose a little, but when I walked off the stage and met Kazuno, she looked concerned: "He changed the questions!"

Apparently my tricky escort decided to switch things up on me at the last minute.So instead of asking what I did in Okinawa, he asked where I was from in America, and instead of asking how to say yakitori in English, he asked what my passion was.

I was so nervous and stage-struck that I was completely unable to process these changes and proudly proclaimed to all of Nanjo that I am not only from "English Teacher, America" but that my passion in life is "chicken stick!"

At least my obi didn't come untied or anything.:P
 Needless to say, I didn't win, and I won't be entering next year, but it was definitely a fun and ... unique experience, and I'm glad I was dumb brave enough to try. ;)

Friday, July 6, 2012

I'm still here!

Just... not HERE, here.

Sorry about that.

It's been a busy couple of few months. I feel like I've gone on a trip every other weekend (which is not much of an exaggeration since I actually went on one every other, other weekend for awhile there), and the start of the school year is always pretty energy consuming. But now that it's summer, and I have a functional computer with a real screen, I can blog much more easily! Thanks for sticking around. :)

Let's start off with a travel recap!

I. Tokyo
In April, I took a short vacation to Tokyo with J! We really just wanted to go to Disneyland and Disney Sea, but spent a day in Tokyo proper while we were at it. I had so much fun just spending time with J. It was the most time we've spent together, and neither of us wanted to die or commit murder at the end! Good sign! Here's some pictures:
Ready for Day 1: Tokyo Disney Sea!

The weather was less than ideal, but we still had a great time..

Really, we did. I swear.

One of my favorite things about Tokyo Disney Sea is the gondala rides. This ain't your average Disney park.

Day 2: Tokyo Disneyland!

The weather was much better, so we actually got to see some characters.

Javier is a natural model. :)

We stayed aaaaaaall day and saw the parade at the end. So fun!

Day 3: Tokyo! Here is Javier posing at the temple in Asaskusa

It was his first time in Tokyo, so I dragged him around to all the major sights. Thank goodness for the Yamanote line!
II. Ishigaki and Iriomote Islands  
 Two weeks later, I packed my bags again for a Golden Week (kind of a Spring Break situation) trip to Ishigaki Island! Ishigaki is a far southern island of Okinawa Prefecture. It's about an hour away by plane so this is the first opportunity I've had to visit. It was an amazing five-day adventure with my two best gal pals and our fellow JET and local guide, Sean. Take a look:

Neave shows off her modeling AND kanji skills!

Our first morning was spent on the beach, interacting with the local wildlife. ;)

We also took a quick swim in a small waterfall. So refreshing!

After lunch, we went to a cultural park, but all we really wanted to do was play with the  monkeys.

They usually have food to attract the monkeys, but they ran out, so the monkeys didn't stick around very long.

This is the last picture I snapped before my camera started acting really, really funky.

I managed to get it to take this picture at Kabira Bay before it seized up again. Pretty spot, huh?

The next day we went out to the remote and largely uninhabited island, Iriomote.

We took a jungle river cruise up to a hiking trail...

And hiked further along the river for about 45 minutes

Neave looked right at home.

Our destination was a series of waterfalls. We stopped at the falls further up and took a long, peaceful swim.

That night we camped above Hoshizuna(star sand) Beach and I woke up early to see the sunrise. Then my camera died for the rest of the trip. :P You will just have to take my word for it: it was awesome.

 III. Miyako Island
The last trip was just a weekend hop over to another island, Miyako. It's also almost an hour away, but only costs about $60 RT so this was my second time visiting. I also went there with my two best gal pals, and we met up with our local friend MB and some other main-island JETs for a big music convention. Here are some snapshots:

First night: Izakaya with a HUGE group of JETs and friends.

The next day: We arrived at the music festival early to claim our spot in the grass.

Sarra looking so cute and cheesy :)

During some of the less interesting performances, I gave Neave a poster-inspired manicure. Including the thumbs, it says "Live as One"

As you can see, it's been quite a whirlwind. I can hardly believe how much I was able to do in just two months. Of course, I am utterly broke now and have been trying to recover ever since, but at least I have a lot of photos to look at while I am home alone eating top ramen every weekend. ;)

Thanks for reading! I promise the next post won't be so far in the future!