Wednesday, December 27, 2006

k-os in my life again...

But only the good kind (I'll expand in a minute). It's now a couple of days after Christmas and I'm back at the (mostly) empty office, at my JHS. I took Christmas and Boxing Day off and tried to make it as Western as possible. For those who don't know, the Japanese don't celebrate Christmas. Oh, it's here, in fact it's omnipresent and you can't walk down the street without passing a jinja (shrine) on the left and a huge blow up Santa on the right. Christmas in Japan is the pagan holiday all Christ-fearing people fear as it has all the fluff and none of the substance. Christmas here is sponsored by Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coca-Cola with the Japanese erronously believing that Westerner's eat fried chicken while spending time with their lover after a hard day at the office or at school. Let's not even talk about the lack of knowledge about Chanukah. Sigh, there's only so much one can teach.

Anyway, like most of my readers, I "enjoyed" a green Christmas. It's unsettling to be in a foreign country for Christmas for the second year in a row (last year was China), but to have no snow when there is usually snow...a bit "the end is nigh", dontcha think? But, in my eyes, this holiday was a special one for a whole bunch of reasons.

Dave and I shared this Christmas together and it puts a big, stupid grin on my face just thinking about it. I spent the first part of the weekend at his and we came to my village on Christmas eve. We picked up a few last minute essentials including foodstuffs and Christmasy movies (Die Hard, Gremlins and Scrooged - uh huh) and settled in for Christmas eve complete with a Christmas tree and pretty Christmas lights (couldn't get a good pic - sorry) and tacos. I just want to say that Die Hard is the SHIT. I haven't watched this flick in ages but damn, they really don't make movies like that any more.

Next scene - Christmas Day. Dave woke me up at 6:31 a.m. to give me a time update and wish me Merry Christmas. My sleep deprived ass was less than merry. Fast forward a few hours later and we were massacring wrapping paper and hee hee-ing like little kids. Among my gifts were a very pretty pair of pink drop earrings (my guy's got taste!) and the new k-os album, Atlantis: Hymns for Disco. As I held the CD in my hands, I welled up. It was exactly what I needed/wanted without hoping for it. I've been craving familiarity/home (see previous post) and it really touched me. I held it to my chest and said "thank you" about a thousand times. Among Dave's gifts were a pair of navy Converse All-Stars (his trademark) and Empire movie magazine. I was happy, he was happy, we played with our gifts and I spent two hours on the home with loved ones at home. 'Twas good.

On to Christmas dinner: I had ordered a turkey through the internet: (I told you - it's all about the chicken here; can't find a turkey in the shops), and Dave and I made the stuffing, the mashed potatos and the gravy from pan drippings. It smelled like home and the turkey turned out pretty well. We had sparkling rose wine, interesting conversation and love and affection. 'Twas good.

So, here I am, sitting in a near empty school, with the voice of k-os in my ears, and a glow of happiness in my heart and thankfulness for all the things that can't be bought in a store.

Merry Christmas to those I didn't talk to and Happy Holidays to everyone else.

Tomorrow I'll be at the elementary school doing nothing once again, then I'll be off for 6 days, back for 2 then off for 3 more. Tanoshimii (so looking forward to it). I'll be back soon.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I miss...

Lives shows
Old skool
New York in the summer
Shopping in outside shops
People watching
Erykah Badu
"Black movies"
Shades of Blackness
Cinammon buns
Trying on/buying clothes
Music videos
Dave Chappelle
Lauryn Hill
Baseboard heaters
Sneaking into movies
My sisters
TV series that I can actually watch on TV
Sanaa Lathan movies
Watching taped episodes of Oprah with moms
Sexy restaurants with market cuisine
French food
Cheryl x 2

I tried it/I couldn't fight it/Now I want to get back to me/...Back to the (wo)man I used to be... k-os

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Shape of Things...

I'm 5'6" (and a half) and my measurements are 33-27-39. I'm a skinny-minny on top and bootylicious on the bottom. Though I am a touch ill-proportioned, I'm often desribed as curvy, and that's A-OK with me. I'm very happy with my body and while I can't say I've always felt this way, years of workingon beliving in myself, developing my self-esteem and eating well and exercising has led me to this point. Oh, and the positive reactions of others have, in part, led to my comfort in my skin.

I have always attracted a fair amount of attention for my body. Sometimes it's really nice, sometimes I feel like punching a fool in the month. Sometimes it's a full on compliment, and other times it's non-verbal. While I have learned to accept comments with grace or ignore them outright, I've been completely flustered by my experiences with people's reactions/comments here in Japan.

I've been told then Japanese people communicate with new people by using compliments, be it an overly-effusive reaction to how well one uses chopsticks to how well you can speak Japanese. While I have received such remarks, it never fails to amaze me the inappropriateness of the comments I get about my body. I've had 2 kocho senseis (principals) tell me how beautiful my body is at work parties in front of everyone. I've had perfect strangers visit the school and tell me what a beautiful, curvy shape I've got and how lucky I am. I've had temple monks trace my silhouette with their hands in the air and give my boyfriend the thumbs up sign. I've been fully naked in the onsen (hot spring bath) and have women give me a smile and a nod and say kirei na (beautiful). Little 6 year olds at school routinely molest my ass in the hallway, in class and during soji (cleaning time). Believe me, compliments are great and as Chris Rock says, women need 3 things; food, water and compliments (and the occasional pair of shoes). BUT, I can't help but feel uncomfortable by so much attention.

I know, I know. I'm here to help internationalize the good folks of Japan. I'm here to teach and show them there are other cultures out there. I've been pretty open about how different I am, from my speech to my style of dreses to what I eat on Christmas. I've patiently explained time and time again how I style my hair, have let people touch my hair to feel the difference (something I HATE doing, but feel like I must for the sake of international relations) and also explained why my skin is so different to the kiddies at the elementary school. But there's something about body politics that makes me feel that the topic of my shape should be off limits, at least until you've gotten to know me a bit.

Ahhh, I don't know. Such a sticky subject. I usually forget about an offence until it happens again. I suppose in this cross-cultural experience I've put myself, such a thing is just the nature of the beast. I realize one of the perks of being of a certain age is that people find you attractive and sometimes feel compelled to tell you. I suppose I should get a thick piece of bread and sop up the compliments while they'll still coming my way. Who knows? Maybe I'll ache for the time when strange Japanese men would slowly run their eyes all over my hips, my butt, my thighs and my waist and say in a deep, gutteral voice "kirei na" while giving my boyfriend a thumbs up sign...

Since I'm talking about my physical self, I thought I'd update you on my hair situation. It's growing a lot, and while I prefer to wear my hair in twists most of the time, I occasionally take them down, shake it out and hit the town. Here's a photo taken on Friday.
Me thinks me likey. I really should have cut my hair ages ago.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Typical Day (Part One)...

Now, I haven't really gone into the day-to-day details of what I do here, so after 15 months of doing it, I figured it was time to let y'all know. This first installment of a "day in the life" will focus on the elementary school.

I teach at Neo Elementary School, home to 84 students, twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I teach 3 classes each day; grades 1, 3 and 5 on Tuesdays and grades 2, 4 and 6 on Thursdays. I get to school at around 8:20 every day, usually around 30-45 minutes after everyone else gets there. I'm contracted to work from 8:30 - 4:30 and I'll be damned if I get there any earlier to make a show of solidarity with the other teachers. I'm usually brushing my teeth at my window while cars pull out to head to work.

Anyway, after I get to school, I usually set up my materials for the day's lessons. I usually don't have a class first period, so I'm pretty relaxed by the time I head to class. I usually plan my lessons about a week in advance and make all the necessary materials during my free periods. Last week, I cut up 84 red and green pieces of construction paper for my Christmas lessons.

At 9:30, I head to my first class. On Tuesdays it's grade 3; grade 4 on Thursdays. Grade 3 (15 students) is pretty boisterous and loud, but they have gotten a lot better since their new teacher learned how to handle them. Grade 4 (10 students) is pretty rambunctious and it never ceases to amaze me just how loud they can get. However, they have excellent communication skills, so for the most part, I let them get away with it. On those days when I'm just tired or impatient, I threated to cancel the game if they don't shut it.

For each class, I'm very consistent with the structure. First, there is a greeting (how are you? I'm ~.), then there is the song (which is a warm up/energizer for getting their minds into English mode). We then move straight into the lesson. I introduce the topic (e.g. vegetables, activities, months) and then use flashcards so that the students can have visuals to go along with the words. For the first class of a new subject, I (sometimes with the help of the homeroom teacher - HRT), make sure the students know what the word is in Japanese. We do quite a bit of chanting and I throw in gestures for the more difficult words (which the kids always remember even if I sometimes forget), and we just repeat. After I'm satisfied that they have remembered the majority of the words (usually by the second class), I quiz them as a group and/or individually. Sometimes I have students be the "teacher" and they "teach" the words to the other students. They love it. When there is about 15 minutes left of class, I throw in a game. I always have a game or a fun activity to wrap up the class. This is by far the most popular time in class and their reward for learning. Over the past year and a half, I've accumulated so many games. Sometimes I give prizes when I'm in the mood. It's really enjoyable for me to play with them and their teachers (if and when they participate) and I actually like explaining the games to them. I usually do this almost entirely in English with TONS of gestures. For the younger grades, I might explain it all in Japanese. If I'm getting a lot of heads cocked to the side, I'll just do a practice run and it becomes crystal clear.

After 2nd period, there is a 20 minute recess where the students either play, run, skip or have meetings. All the physical activities are held either inside the gym or outside. Just yesterday, the kids had to jump rope outside. I think it was about 5 degrees, yet everyone was outside. But I suppose outside was warmer than inside the gym because the sun was out. You all know by now that Japan does not do indoor heating.

Third period begins at 10:40 and I have grade 1 on Tuesdays and grade 2 on Thursdays. Grade 1 is always ready for war. They are rowdy, loud, can't sit still and don't follow orders well. In essence, they're kids on meth. I owe this in large part to their HRT who can't/won't control them. I have to move especially slow with them because a good lot of the kids are...a bit slow. My 2nd graders, on the other hand, are bright, lovely, energetic, excited to learn, sweet and drop dead gorgeous. I look forward to this period because I know I'm going to have a great time. They want to learn everything and a few of them go to juku (cram or prep school) to get a leg up on their peers in a variety of subjects. I love, love, love this class. They were sweethearts last year and they're still delectable this year.

I have fourth period free and I usually send emails or read my book and wait for lunch. Lunch is 35 minutes long and it's broken up for announcements. After lunch the kids get about 20 minutes to brush their teeth and play games. Next is fifth period when I have grade 5 on Tuesdays and grade 6 on Thursdays. Grade 5 was a horror last year (thanks to the teacher) but this year they're great (thanks to the teacher). Grade 6 is where I really get to challenge them because they've been through 6 years of English language classes and can understand and speak quite a bit. I instituted phonics this year and it's a success. No one asked me to and I didn't ask for anyone's permission. That is pretty much how it works for me at the elementary school. I wasn't taught anything or was given any instructions. I learned through trial and error, by using my imagination and thinking of how I'd like to be taught a second language. I think I've been pretty successful especially since when I walk into class, kids run up and hug me and ask me what we'll be doing. I love when we play a game and they scream "one more!" or "one more time!". It's music to my ears when I hear "tanoshii katta ne" - "It was fun, wasn't it?"

At the end of the day, I walk the kids to the bus stop and it's truly the best part of the day, and not just because I'm nearly finished work, but we get to play! Sometimes I walk them there by myself or with a teacher or two.

I feel pretty lucky that I have a good, small school, but I had to work out the bullshit in order to get to this place. See, there's this buzzword in schools and all over the JET Programme. It's "team-teaching", and at a lot of schools, especially the elementary schools, this doesn't happen. ALTs are not, for the most part, licensed teachers. In fact, ALTs are not to be left alone in the classroom, and are supposed to share teaching and lesson planning duties. This, unfortunately, doesn't happen the majority of the time. I plan about 95% of the classes for my elementary school and choose the topics and the way it will be taught. I do the research, get the materials ready, make handouts, laminate the flash/game cards and plan all the games. I have lesson plans that I use from other schools, use the Internet A LOT and rack my brain. In the classroom, I am sometimes left with the kids (which I actually like better) and when the HRT is actually there, s/he follows my lead if they participate at all. With two teachers in particular, I don't even bother with them. The other day, when I was feeling pretty charitable, I asked one teacher if he wanted to play a game with us and he flat out said no and sat at his desk picking his ass. It's a horrible example for the kids because in this country, teachers have more power than the parents. It pisses me off because I have each grade for 45 minutes a week, and I can't get a few teachers to participate in a (really, really, really fun) game. Well, nuts to them. After I developed a healthy sense of apathy for the team-teaching format, everything became gravy and I'm having a blast.

You may have noticed that I've put a whole bunch pics of my kids in this post and I would ask you not to copy them. I want to share them with you but I'm aware there are a lot of pervs out there. Please take care - I love these kids.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Tao of Koyou...

In Japan, koyou, or autumn colours viewing, is a huge thing. Millions of people take time to visit temples, shrines, parks and other places where trees are to behold the beauty of nature. The most famous and beloved leaves are the momoji, maple leaves. They are also my favourite. Fall is quite spectacular in Japan and it makes me a little sad to think that this will be my last one here. But then again, with winter being right around the corner, those feelings are normally short-lived.

On Saturday, Dave and I drove to the nearby town of Tanigumi and walked around in a beautiful temple complex, probably one of my favourites in Japan. Naturally, there were tons of people around, but I still managed to get some good shots with my new and fab camera, the Canon IXY 800IS. It's the newer model of the camera I wanted to buy (as mentioned in my previous post), but it's a beaut. I've been taking pictures like a fiend and I'm loving my new best friend. But I digress.

Before heading to Tanigumi, we stopped at a tree that looked like it was on fire. It was that red. It's the last tree in this series, and it's also the one I'm posing under by myself. I've been wanting to shoot it for a while and I was lucky enough that I got some pics before all the trees got naked for the winter.

We've been really lucky this autumn. The temperatures have been mild save for the last week or so, but the sights have been spectacular. I recommend that anyone come to Japan between October and November. This will definitely be a season that I won't forget anytime soon.

This is my village.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Deer and the City...

Dave and I escaped to Nara this past weekend and it was a blast. We frolicked with the deer that roam free in this old capital city, did the whole place on foot and found a beautiful restaurant and enjoyed a traditional Japanese meal. Since we decided on this trip a while ago, there was a smidge of anticipation in the air as this wasn't a run of the mill getaway. And luckily, everything worked out even though we were in the car together for a total of eight hours (round trip). All I can say is that I'm a really lucky woman and have so much to be thankful for...I can tell you without doubt that my handsome Scotsman deserves a lot of the credit...

And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Anyway, as I mentioned, Dave and I went to Nara by car. It was our first time driving to a prefecture some distance away, and while it's entirely do-able, it's retardedly expensive to use the expressways here. I've been on toll roads in the States, but driving, like everything in Japan, is tough on the pocket books. One way to Nara from Gifu cost about 4500 yen, about $45, and while this isn't a lot of money, especially divided by two, it's the principle of the thing. It's our car, with our gas (well, this time both were Dave's), and we're using them to travel to another prefecture to spend money on a hotels food and souvenirs, and we gotta pay to use the roads to get there??? But there is an expression that I bust out a lot here in Japan and it's "shougenai", it cannot be helped. It's not such a bitter pill to swallow, just a bit confusing and irritating at most. It's especially annoying when you get on an expressway by mistake, but you live and learn. Moving on...While Dave was the driver, I was given no choice but to be the navigator. Now, navigating and the like is not my strong suit (I get confused in malls), but we made it to Nara (driving through Gifu, Aichi, Shiga and Kyoto) with few screw ups. As my partner in crime said, my navigational skills were adequate (hell, I'll take that as a compliment).

Driving during this time of year is breathtaking. Actually, doing anything that makes use of your eyes is beautiful right now. The trees and hills are pretty much on fire and I've been dying because I'm without a workable camera right now (all this will change soon), but I just step back, behold the sights and just say wow...

After checking into our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), we explored the sights, which sadly I do not have any pictures of. Dave was the cameraman and I haven't yet had the chance to steal all the pics from him. While I've been to Nara before (4 years ago on my first trip to Japan with the beautiful and talented Cheryl - whu whu!!), the city is still impressive to me. There was a beautiful pond near our hotel and the nearby 5 story pagoda was reflected in the water. We explored a bit of the Todai-ji complex and the Ni-gatsu shrine that was absolutely beautiful. It was overlooking the whole city which was gently being blanketed by soft drops of rain. Old school, unadulterated romance. We met some deer and to the delight of my traveling companion, he fed them senbai crackers and they couldn't get enough. He was headbutted, chomped on and surrounded but was beside himself with delight. Since I had been swarmed last time, I kept out of the fracas and got some good pics of him. There were temples and shrines galore, but since we had arrived a bit late, we decided to save the realy touristy stuff until the next day. Instead, we walked to the downtown area and Naramachi and just took it all in. We found a kickass souvenir shop and I was so good. Just bought the minimum of crap, including something for my surrogate mom. Pat on the back for me. We walked up and down streets with our huge golf umbrella shielding us and stumbled across the perfect Japanese restaurant. It looked good from the outside and the inside did not disappoint. There was a beautiful garden enclosed in the restaurant and we couldn't get over the atmosphere. The food was really good too - all tempura, unagi (eel), sashimi, rice, soup, pickled veggies and chawan mushi (this eggy-meaty concoction). I had warm sake and basked in the glow.

The next day, we went back to Todai-ji and I was again amazed by the autumn foliage. Reds, oranges, greens...Fall is absolutely my most favourite season and this year's Fall seems even better than last year. Everyone who owned a camera was out there taking pics of the trees making nearly impossible to get a pic without people. But we got lucky.

We went to the Daibutsu(Buddha)-den and stood in the shadow of Buddha. It's a large one and there is a pole with a hole in it that is said to be the same size as one of this Buddha's nostrils. Apparently, those who are able to make there way through the aperture is promised enlightment. Now, 4 years ago, I stood by and watched scores of schoolchildren wiggle their way through thinking "I could do that! I could fit!" But as a shy foreigner, I couldn't bear to imagine getting stuck and having the fire department called to extricate me. Well, that was then, this is now:

Due to the fact Dave couldn't get any good shots of me, I opted to be enlightened twice (one for me, one for him) and went through the hole again. The shot of me emerging is a tad blurry, but watchagonnado? As I pulled my thank-god-it-fits-frame out, the numerous Japanese folks who were milling around burst into applause. I was so embarrassed but I was thrilled that I faced my fear and came out a winner. My heart was beating like a drum and I loved it.

All and all it was a fantastic trip and encourage anyone living or visiting here to take some time out and explore Nara.

Due to my much bitched about camera woes, I'm biting the bullet, dropping some yen and getting myself a new camera this weekend. I was so angry over the fact that my 16 month old camera stopped focusing that I sent an email, a nasty one, to the now defunct camera, Konica Minolta. I got the standard "we can't give a crap even if we tried really, really hard" email, so I'll use this forum to eloquently make my point: FUCK YOU, KONICA MINOLTA!

This is what I hope to own in a couple of days:

You can read the reviews here: I've read the professional reviews ( had an excellent summary - it pretty made up my mind) and talked to owners and buyers of this sexy little number, and I'm so hot for it, I'm about to explode. Ooooooooh, yeah.

Hmmm, what else is new...I went to a Thanksgiving Party last night thrown by the fabulous Chisako-san, the doll class teacher. About 30 folks came bearing food (my contribution was banana bread) and I ate till I wanted to sleep. No pics, but good memories.

I'm addicted to this blog: The writer is a chick who has put all of her dating life out there and she gets props for having some king kong balls. I had only one class today and spent HOURS reading all of the archival postings. She's on my favourites list. It's not something I would do, well, without a proper pseudonym and some liquid courage, but she gets respect.

Someone who most definitely doesn't get respect is Kanye West and Michael "Kramer" Richards. Kanye was recently quoted as referring to women of mixed race as "mutts" and "Kramer" went on a racist tirade during a comedy act. WTF, bitches, seriously, WTF??? Kanye rubs me the wrong way a lot because his ego has gotten bigger than his brain and now it's all about the bling and flossin'. Kanye, you get the nuts. And "Kramer", tsk, tsk, "Kramer". How the mighty have makes you wonder what's really going on inside someone's head. At first, I was pissed. Seriously, he was saying some shit about Black people getting lynched and that if wasn't for White people, we'd be this and that, and his repeated use of the N-word. Was he on crack??? Oooh, I'm starting to burn again. Relax, relate, release...But yeah, "Kramer" gets bummed without Vaseline.

Anyway, it's the weekend and I'm out like bell bottoms in a few...I'm going to try to post on a weekly basis (minimum) from now on. Life in Japan is rolling by and I want to document as much as a can. Stay classy, people.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ahh, that's the spot...

I spent this week alone for the most part because I just needed to time to get my shit together. I had too many contradictory thoughts vying for my attention. I was confused and suffocating. So I decided to call a time out. I organized myself, read like mad, decided on a couple of action plans at school and in life and tried to still myself. I went grocery shopping and took my time through the aisles. I watched some Lost episodes and got caught deeper into the web on intrigue. I baked chocolate muffins for the first time and cooked some new recipes. I thoroughly cleaned my apartment and addressed the mildew problem in my shower. I realized (yet again) that I was hemorrhaging money and put pen to paper and created a budget for myself. I'm still going to have fun during my remaining months here but that will mean I'll have to make some hard decisions. I called home. I spoke to some good friends. I wished my godson a happy first birthday. I went out and tried a new restaurant with my sweetie and we lucked out. Mouth-watering Thai was the comfort food I had been craving.
I went to the doll class and created something beautiful yet again. All mundane tasks, no? For me, they were sanity savers.

**These pics are of my previous doll, the Okinawan. I will post pics of my latest doll, the Geisha, soon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


When I first came to Japan, I was completely enamoured by the beautiful sights, the warm nature of its inhabitants and the general mystique of the Far East. As I made my way through each day, I encountered novel experiences and everything was an adventure (and sometimes a drama!). But it was good and it was honest because it was new. Now, 15 months later, everything is routine. I know, for the most part, how to communicate well and make myself understood. I’ve made peace with not speaking perfect Japanese and feel comfortable throwing out some nouns, a subject and object here and there, and always, always, ending with a verb. And while others I know seem to have it all, in terms of accessibility to others and the city, and a general joie-de-vivre, I feel that I’m spinning my wheels, particularly at work, and oh, work it has become. Life is really, really good at the elementary school. That’s where I get my joy during my “professional” hours. I love my junior high school students as well, but the vibe there is…stifling and stressful. My JTE stresses me the fuck out. That fact, coupled with a few other personal issues got me pretty down.

So I decided to step back and take time to heal by myself, for myself. Though I am an extrovert, sometimes being with others saps my strength and prevents me from concentrating on me. Now, curiously enough since I leave in relative solitude, I need to be alone. So this week, I’ve done Kaki-centred activities and thinking and I’m working on living my previously-adopted, oft-discarded, but newly-adopted again mantra “one day at a time”. So far, so good. I’m taking a time-out to do some figurative and literal spring (or is it fall?) cleaning and get rid of some clutter. I’ll also have a doll class this Sunday, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll post some pics of my second doll soon, then a few of my next one.

Anyway, the title of this post is ‘Remembrance’ because I recently remembered what I love about Japan. See, Dave and I went to Kobe and Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture, which were absolutely beautiful, and is where I think the turnaround began. We had a holiday last Friday and Dave and I set out to Himeji first where we encountered possibly the most famous castle (and one of the few that survived through wars) in Japan, Himeji-jo. The throes of Fall had not yet fully descended on this place, but some leaves had turned and burned brightly against the rest of the green landscape. With about 6 floors and tons of sightseers, it took about 2 hours to visit the castle and its grounds.

After we left the castle, we took our time walking through covered shopping arcades (these hideous “pleasure towns” can be found in every Japanese city) and headed back to the station to continue our journey to Kobe.

Upon arrival, we went to our hostel, a really sweet and comfortable place that had the appeal of someone’s home. It only had 5 rooms, 2 with 4 bunk beds, a double room and a triple. There was also an open kitchen with all the amenities, a TV, DVD player and DVDs, a computer with free internet, and guidebooks and novels. I was instantly enamoured. After cleaning ourselves up, we headed to town and Kobe is definitely a place that should be visited. I hope to go there again before I leave. The shopping, the sights, THE FOOD…excuse me while I wipe my drool.

Kobe is quite small and can be done in about a day, or spread out to two if you want to savour it a bit more. We had to get our bearings on the first night, so we walked and walked, looking for an Indian restaurant to satiate our hunger. I turned into a right demon, a very hungry demon, and right before my head was going to spin around on my neck, we found a very lovely Indian place. We took in the bright lights of the city (so beautiful, how I miss them) and headed back to our hostel.

The next day, we started out relatively early and returned to downtown where we found a very charming place that served sandwiches and cakes. I’m not totally in love with sandwiches, but they are, in my opinion, a luxury in Japan. I had a BLT, with real bacon, not ham, and Dave had a sliced chicken sandwich with spicy mayo. Happiness in our mouths. We made our way Nankinmachi (Chinatown) where we took in the smells and hustle and bustle and vowed to eat there later that night.

In 1995, Kobe was the site of a devastating earthquake that killed more than 6000 people and leveled the city. We went to the place where the devastation has been preserved, the Port of Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park. I can’t really describe it, but I felt the power. It was astounding.

We left the park and headed to the Shin-Kobe cable car to ascend to a mountain ridge to behold the city. We walked around Nunobiki Habu-Koen, which is a herb garden.

After doing the majority of the city on foot, we decided to have a Chinese feast. We gorged on Peking Duck (the real deal!!!), sweet and sour pork, fried rice and spring rolls. The price wasn’t as exorbitant as I was led to believe and it was more than worth it. My salivatory (is that a word??) glands have been activated at the sheer thought.

Though we spent just over 24 hours in Kobe, it was enough to help me recover what I had feared to be lost. Unfortunately, not everyday can be a vacation, and as my better half reminded me, this is going to last forever. But once in a while, it is necessary to be remember the beauty of what once was…

Friday, October 27, 2006

Can you believe this ish???

In other news, I killed another huge spider today. This time, it was in my shower. It was a scene right out of Psycho. I can't believe I'm thinking this, but I'm looking forward to the snowfall, i.e. the bug genocide that will soon occur. But under no circumstances am I looking foward to the cold, damp temperatures INSIDE my apartment...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Importance of Being Important...

ALT. Assitant language teacher. Assistant language teacher. That's what I am here in Japan. Some days, usually at the elementary school, I am actually running the show. From conception to design to execution of English communication lessons, I am the boss. Though I am supposed to engage in team teaching with the homeroom teacher at the elementary school, I only do this in 1 out of 6 grades. And that's fine. I like being in charge and having the responsibility. It gives me something to do when normally there would be nothing. I research games, make worksheets and handouts, select the singing music and consult textbooks for inspiration and direction. Most of the time, my lessons are the bomb rather than a bomb. I'll be blunt - English is not the most important, or even an important subject in the curriculum, so after the first few initial months of learning the ropes, I was figuratively, and sometimes literally, on my own. Sometimes, I'm all alone in the classroom (a big no-no), managing the little ones, and I like it better that way. During these times, I'm not an ALT, I'm the language teacher.

This is at the elementary school.

At the junior high school, it's entirely different. My JTE runs the show. He plans everything and leads the classroom, and that's fine, because that's his job. He's a trained English teacher and I'm his assistant, and that's also fine. But what's not fine is how I'm often relegated to the sidelines while he goes over grammar points, vocabulary and verb tenses only in Japanese. I've wasted hours over the past year and a bit just standing there, watching the interaction and trying hard not to daydream lest he chooses to utilize my knowledge and have me join the conversation.

What is difficult for me, and what continues to be a recurring theme in this job is how unimportant I am. I'll admit, I feel somewhat important to the kids and I'm proud with how far I've come with them, and not necessarily in terms of their English skills. And at the end of the day, I know it's what matters the most. But it's that feeling of being useless, of being expendable, that eats away at me.

I think it wouldn't so bad if I wasn't so damn lonely in the day time. The Japanese office culture is SO different than back home. People are perpetually busy and have very little time to do things other than what they're doing (however, I've also seen that the teachers I work with are amazingly inefficient with their time). I do speak to the non-English speakers, but our conversations are so brief due to the language barrier, but it's cool that we at least try. From time to time, I have really good, non-work related conversations with the science teacher and my JTE, and my JTE has apologized for not talking to me more (which was pretty sweet). When we got a new Japanese teacher who is fluent in English, I was so happy and my JTE was like "It's good that you've now got someone to talk to", but she's just as busy as the rest of them. I'm dying to get to know her better, but she's got a job to do so I'm on my own.

I'm not sure if I can adequately explain all of this without sounding like spoiled brat, but it really, really hurts. But I'm thankful for the internet, this blog, my books, the telephone and the weekends. I'm also thankful for those times when I feel useful, like I'm a real part of the team. Last week, all the other teachers were busy so my surrogate dad asked me to take a group of 10 first-graders (7 year olds) to the bus stop and wait for their buses to arrive. That was the first time it had happened and I had several little heart attacks during the 20 minutes we were waiting by the road, but it all went off without a hitch. They got on their buses, each yelling "Sayonara, Kaki-sensei" and I yelled back, waving and calling out each of their names. For me, this was a big something, out of a day filled with a whole lot of nothing.

I'll be handing in my recontracting papers next week when I have a free moment to to discuss it with my JTE. The NO box will be firmly checked. I was going to wait until the new year, but there's no point. I'm not going to change my mind. I was going to hang on to them , just in case, but no matter what happens, I'll have to leave. While I believe that work is something you do in order to live, I need to feel like I'm worth something, like I'm earning my pay. Like I'm important.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

So frustrated...

I've been feeling a little restricted for a little while which has led me to feeling frustrated with living in Japan in general, and Gifu in particular. Don't get me wrong: living in the country has given me a sense of relaxation and peace that have been elusive for the past few years, but sometimes, it's just not enough. And particularly on the weekends. Back home, there'd be a multitude of places to go and things to see every day of the week, and while I spent quite a bit of the past year exploring and traveling, a newly enforced budget and a desire to stay a little closer to home has made for more weekends in either tiny Neo, or Dave's larger town, Ena. This is nice, but sometimes you just want to just go somewhere that doesn't take an hour to get to. Or sometimes you just want to see something that isn't just fully about Japanese culture. You know - maybe a play or an art exhibit or something from another part of the world. Luckily, on Saturday, the crew and I went to Nagoya (over an hour away) to have dinner at a Brazilian restaurant, Nova Urbana.

In Montreal, I started a little dinner club with my closest girlfriends and we christened ourselves Dining Divas. We met once every month and laughed, got ourselves up-to-date with each others lives, exchanged cute little $5 gifts, and dined on delicious meals and drank copious amounts of wine. I really miss those times, and with such crazy schedules with my friends here, I decided to make a Japanese edition (without the $5 gifts).

So on Saturday, Fab Food Fiends (FFF) had our first dinner and I think it was a success. While the meat distribution was pretty disappointing (like 3 or 4 small pieces of incredibly delicious meats), there was live music (by a bonafide Brazilian band) and live dancing (including some Capoeira - Dave and Ethan, remember that god awful movie Monkey brought over one year when we went up north? Yeah, it was kinda like that, but with a Japanese chick in a low cut shirt and ass pants, and no blood), spending time with close friends was pretty sweet. And for a very brief time, I felt like I wasn't in Japan.

I'm in the mood to vent, so I'm going to fire off a few things that have been frustrating me. Here goes:
  • The high cost of everything, particularly fruits and vegetables. I've been here for over a year and I still get major sticker shock at the shops. I've got my mom's voice in my head saying "Oh hell no am I paying that much for mangos!" It also makes window shopping not fun at all. I bought 8 apples today because I thought I should treat myself. Unfortunately, it cost me nearly $7. One day, a co-worker told me Japanese fruits cost so much because they taste better than those found in Western countries. I looked at her sideways. You know what was going on in my head: Does KN gotta choke a bitch?
  • Japanese TV. An exercise in banality, stupidity and horrid WTF-ness. I've seen too many shows featuring Pan-kun, a chimpanzee forced to wear clothing and participate in an array of humiliating tasks. Where is PETA?
  • Horrendous clothing. Slouch socks. Ass shorts. Jeans with part of the thigh cut out and a garter belt in its place. Bride of Frankenstein hair. Obviously too tight/too big/too uncomfortable shoes. And people have the nerve to stare at me. I can't change my skin colour. But you can definitely change your stupid outfit.
  • Ridiculous driving techniques. Arbitrary use of hazards and stopping on one lane highways.
  • People who don't slow down when speaking to you when it's obvious you aren't getting what they are saying, even when you ask them to slow down.
  • Katakana English. I-ee hay-tu ee-tu. If you had to read that 4 times to get it, welcome to my world.
  • Losing my English, to the point where I make mistakes teaching English to my students.
  • Not having a decent selection of English books close by. I've kissed my Amazon privileges goodbye for the sake of leaving Japan with no debt.
  • A lack of delcious, non-Japanese food. I'm an amateur foodie. Food matters to me. I like fusion and all, but not when the the common denominator of the cuisine is Japanese. I can think of 3.5 restaurant dining experiences here where I've nearly wet myself from having food-gasms. That ain't enough.
  • People, not everything is sugoi (awesome), kawaii (cute), or omoshiroii (interesting or fun). Get some new adjectives..

Bien, maintenant je suis fatiguee. Ah oui, je manque le francais. C'est une peu d'une surprise pour moi, specialement que je suis anglophone. Mais franchement, je pense que je besoin un peu de variete, un peu de excitement. A ce moment, tout est tres...boring. Je suis desolee pour le mauvais francais et le manque des accents...

Monday, October 16, 2006

It was a good day...

I had a really good Saturday this past weekend. Dave and I woke up early to start our respective days - I was heading to my first washi ningyo (Japanese paper doll) making class in Seki and Lord Blackwood was off to play paintball in Mie-ken with a bunch of socialites from the Gifu/Seino areas. I was pretty stoked at the prospect of doing some bonafide Japanese arts and crafts and set out in my car to make the 1 hour drive. The class lived up to my expectations and then some. A gang of rag tag gaikokujin (foreigners) descended upon the home of the very amiable Chisako-san, a radiant Japanese woman who has been teaching doll classes, mostly to foreigners in English, for about 5 years. One look around her war room, and it's obvious that she is a master in the way of the doll. There were five students in total and she helped us create dolls as beautiful and unique as each of us. The doll I made was called the Temari, which translates to a ball wound tightly with colourful threads, which is what my doll is holding. It took us about 3 hours to make our masterpieces (made entirely out of paper) and we stopped about three-quarters through to break for lunch. We headed to a nearby Italian restaurant that had real bread to dip in real olive oil and I was in heaven. The pasta was pretty Japanesey, as was the dessert, but the bread, oh the bread, how it made up for it.

The class itself was definitely pleasurable for me. I'm not a very crafty girl, though I knit as a hobby and can be creative when inspired, so this was a real treat for me. Already, I feel that washi ningyo making will be a definite highlight of my time in Japan and I intend of making Chisako-san's class a priority for me.

Saturday was also a good day because I saw a battalion of monkeys in a field. It was awe-some. At first, as I was passing by, I thought they were statues because they seemed to be frozen, but I quickly realized they were in fact quite alive, so I reversed on the 1 lane road, stopped my car and put my hazards on and stared in wonder and amusement. I also cursed myself for not having my camera with me. BLAST! I took a few crappy pics on my cell phone camera, but they were less than inspiring. I learned a very good lesson that day - always have my camera on me.

Later on in the day, I hooked up with the crew and inspected their gruesome bruises from paintball. D-dawg had a particularly nasty one on his stomach, but unfortunately, I didn't think to pick up my camera to capture the heinous wound. I also didn't think to document a particularly hair-raising experience on Friday night. After I returned home from a welcome/goodbye enkai (party), I was getting to take a shower when I noticed something black and very fast zip by. Since I had just taken off my glasses, I was as blind as a field mouse so ran to my bedroom to get my specs. Armed with vision, I cast my eyes in the direction of where the thing ran to. To my shock and horror. I recognized the intruder to be a spider. A large, large spider. I screamed and hacked, yelling for David to come and save me from the beast. After much screaming, jumping up and down on the bed, near tears and a couple of false hits, my hero slayed the arachnid and deftly cleaned up the carcass and its entrails from my tatami mat*. It took me some time to recover from this incident, but I'm on the mend as I valiantly slept in my bed last night.

Since I've realized that I've been slacking on taking photos, I will be more consistant with photographing everything from the mundane to the exciting. I intend on leaving Japan with quite a few scrapbooks and for that I've got to keep snapping.

I'm out.

* While I'm usually a very truthful writer, the intimate facts of this story had to be changed to protect the innocents. I will say, however, I was not the only one screaming on that fateful night.