Monday, January 30, 2006

I'm feeling like a used whoopee cushion...

You know how a whooppee cushion is tons of fun when it's inflated and full of air? It has the capacity to make people laugh, but once it is used, you gotta blow it up again to have fun? (I just realized that this nearly describes a blow up doll). Anyways, I'm feeling like that whooppee cushion - I'm feeling depressed. Not "I NEED A PROZAC!!!" depressed, but the kind where I'm feeling just flat. I'm failing at living in the moment and am constantly thinking ahead - ahead to spring/summer, a trip home, trip to Okinawa - anywhere but the here and now! I know that it's just temporary, but I'm really just looking forward to when this will pass. On top of everything, I'm getting sick. I'm hoping to bypass a real nasty cold by fighting it, so wish me luk!

So I've noticed that a few things are irking me, but not in a particularly negative or bad way. Let me explain: At my elementary school, one of the things I've implemented in my classes is beginning each lesson by individually asking each of my kids how they are. Grades 1 -3 are well versed in all the human emotions and provide feelings that are far removed from "I'm fine, thank you." I get "I'm great!", "I'm happy", "I'm tired...", but I also get a lot of "I'm thirsty!", "I'm hungry!", and "I'm very, very cold!" (I also get the occasional "I'm angry!", but that's another story). People, you don't know what it does to me when I see these sweet, infantile, sparkly eyed, nose running faces and hear them say that they are cold and/or hungry. See, in Japan, children don't have snacks during the day - it's only lunch. So, that means from 8 - 12:30, they don't eat or drink a thing. And we all know how kids are - they are wild and full of energy! They really don't stop for a break, even during recess! There is always some physical training. Right now it's group skipping practice. It's work, work, work!!! I remember back in the day, we'd have snacks and milk during recess. Remember the Varton (?) big assed cookies? My fave were the oatmeal ones. And who could forget cheese and crackers? Damn. But my kids don't eat shit. It makes me really sad. I know it's a cultural thing, but I can't go more than 3 hours without a snack. Poor lil babies.

Oh gosh, then there is the freaking cold inside the classrooms. Sure, the kerosene heaters are on sometimes, but it's still too freaking cold. I tell my co-workers that if this was Canada, everyone would be jailed for child abuse. They laugh because they think I'm funny. I don't because it's true. Jesus help me. 2 more months...

Another thing irking my ass is the way English is taught here, and in particular, at my JHS. My JTE is a nice lady and she has a good rapport with kids, and more importantly, with me. But her shortcomings as a JTE were evident last week when the 6th graders and their parents came to check out our English class. No joke, she spoke in Japanese the entire time, giving the wrong impression that our English class is really given in Japanese. I said like 2 words for the entire class. This usually isn't the case and I do get to do quite a lot in the class, but I don't know if she was nervous or what, but it bugged the shit out of me. It also brought me to a very important conclusion - I can't be an ALT or a ESL teacher after JET is done. I feel very strongly about education and I love being a "teacher", but I have trouble seeing the trees through the forest. I know what the goal is, but I can't really say that the results are that obvious to me. I can't see myself teaching prepositions, tenses, verbs, etc, for the rest of my days. But I'm extremely envious of the subject/homeroom teachers. I think about the possibility of having a class of my own teaching a subject I love (most likely English lit or possibly sociology) and it excites me. But the bottom line is being a ALT or ESL teacher, especially in Japan, wouldn't suit me. But I'm loving the world of teaching.

There are other irksome things, but I forget them right now. But there are still things that warm my heart. For example, when the 6th graders came over, they were introduced to the okarina, which is a wind instrument that looks like a seashell (I'll post a pic soon).

All the JHS students have to play this instrument and they practice about twice a day, everyday, and they play concerts and generally take their show on the road. Anyway, the whole school gathered in the ice cold gym and formed 9 groups - one for each of the 6th graders (!!!) and basically peer taught them the okarina. It was really sweet and the patience, seriousness and helpfulness of the students demonstrated that inaka(country) kids are the best.

Well, had a good weekend, aside from all that. David came over and we went to Shiloh's costume/pot luck party and had a blast. It was awesome being in her cozy apartment and chatting and laughing it up in the warmth of friends - new and old. I'll let the pictures do the talking cuz I'm off to bed!

Hostess Shi and me, little yukata girl.

Some of the party people.

Stalin and his mistress.

Nighty night. (5 in the bed, and the little one said "Stop that fucking snoring!")

Monday, January 23, 2006

It’s been a rollercoaster lately…

One day, I’ll be skipping and hopping merrily to and from school, then the next day I’m furiously contemplating where I will live next, then the next day I’m sniffling into the phone, moaning about the winter blues. I’m sure these rapid mood changes can be attributed to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder – it’s very real thank you very much, Google it), my consistently frozen state inside my apartment, and a little PMS thrown in for good measure. But I’m working through it. I’ve decide to re-integrate exercise into my life full time (right now it’s 3 times a week in the morning before school – I will be slowly moving up to 5 days a week), which seems to be helping, and I’m eating better so I’m feeling physically more genki. I’m also taking in the physical beauty surrounding me every day and being grateful for the great situation I have. It truly is just one day at a time. So simple, but also so difficult…

So, I’ve been a little busy and a little out of it, so I’ve failed to update you on the personal going ons in my life. On January 15, I had my first earthquake here in Neo. I think it was about a 2 or 3 on the scale and while it lasted only a few seconds, it was enough to rattle me slightly. It was funny because David had just left me and I was watching Lord of War (thanks Dal – it was excellent), when my sliding door starting rattling. I thought “who the hell is slamming the door so hard that my doors are moving??”, then I realized that the whole building was moving, and consequently, so was I. And when the full realization hit me, the earthquake ended. My cheeks were flushed with fear, and I was having heart palpitations and the silence was echoing in my ears. I called David because he was driving home at the time it happened, but he didn’t answer the phone (he was alright – he didn’t even feel it). Anyway, at school the next day, everyone was nonplussed, but it took me about a day to get over the shock that this was just a baby tremor and we’re due for a big one sometime this century. Tanoshimi (can’t wait).

I’m also ecstatic to report that I will be a godmother! Shauna san bestowed this honour upon me recently (somewhat unbeknownst to me – damn you email! I mean, I love you!), and when I go home for a brief visit, we’ll make it official. That’s new too: I’ve booked my ticket to visit home so that means I’ll get to meet the new babies, eat multicultural food, go shopping and actually buy clothes that fit my bootylicious body, and hug and talk to my peeps. Honto no tanoshimi (really can’t wait). I’ve actually started making a list of all the things I will do. I’ve also decided that I will be getting a car when I come back.

In other news, I had two days off work this week due to a mid-year conference on Monday and an interactive foreign teacher day at a nearby ES. It was fun that I got to meet other ALTs and hang out with new kids, but it really solidified how lucky I feel about working in such small schools. I was sent to the first grade class today, and each grade has two classes. The class that I was in had about 30 kids! At Neo ES, the most I’ll have is 17 with the average being 12. And I know all my kids’ names, at both schools. God, sure I’m a bit isolated, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. And with the arrival of my car in the near future, I’ll be much more mobile. Japanese classes during the week! A movie too! Being able to go out without having to sleep at anyone’s place! To be free again! Oh, what a feeling, I’ll be dancing on the ceiling (ref?).

Oh, but I’ve digressed. In addition to meeting ALTs from all over the world today (Canada, America, Australia, UK, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh), I met the person who replaced Aussie Dave (my predecessor), and guess what! He’s Black! And he’s a dread! And we started talking about hair (NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK), and apparently he knows a girl who braids hair in Nagoya. Though I’ve decided to chop off my hair and go natural (perhaps I’ll start a blog about that journey), I’d like to get my hair braided now before I go home. I called this one African chick in Nagoya and she had the fucking balls to try to charge me $280 with hair, $190 if I bring my own, and $100 for simple cornrows. Ok, to put it in perspective, I usually pay $60 back home (AT MOST), and I paid $110 to a chick in Hyogo. This was ludicrous and I told her I’ve never paid that much to get my hair done, and I ain’t about to start now. I told my mom about the sheer lunacy and my mom said I should tell her to go back to Africa! (Before you jump on me and try to get all PC, let me just remind you that I’m African-Canadian and my mom just got back from her trip there. If you still don’t understand, you should have just been there). Anyway, hair issues – meh.

And that’s all I’m going to share for today. Enjoy these pics from our ES yuki ga matsuri (snow fest) the other day. The kids were overjoyed by the new snowfall that lead to the start of the fest while I was praying that it would all disappear before David comes for the weekend. It’s Thursday now, so I’ll hopefully get my wish.
This is my team. They were so dedicated and hard working. So much so that I could hardly keep up. When I injured myself by bashing my knee with the handle of my shovel, they came to my rescue and made snowballs to put on it. I love my kids.

This is a pic of one of my first graders. He broke his leg over the winter holidays, but is still as genki and bright as ever. The vice principal carried him out at the end so he could partake in the festivities. Here is clapping after some speeches. Such a sweetheart.

Keep emailing me and encouraging me because a little goes a long way. I spoke to my mom today for the first time in about 6 weeks (she was in Ghana), and she sent me plenty of good vibes. And tomorrow is Friday then Shiloh is having a costume pot luck on Saturday. Should be awesome. Will report on it later.

One last thing – I’m sending a shot out to David and Shiloh. These two have been there for me so much over the last few months (and I hope I’ve returned the favour), and I feel so lucky to have them in my life. They are so encouraging, so giving, so funny and so warm and cozy, while possessing the frankness and seriousness I need to give balance to my life. Last weekend, a whole gang of us when bowling and out for dinner, and while it was nice to catch up with everyone after our holiday, it was especially nice to be with these guys. There’s so much I want to say about Shiloh and David, but I save the real important stuff for our conversations. I heart them so much. Thank god they are both staying another year. I Looking forward to many more days and nights of laughter, tomfoolery and stimulating talks. And can’t wait to climb Fuji with you (that’s another post).


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

China has become the 800 lb gorilla on my back:

January 3-7, 2006

Ok, this is the point in the vacation where things really went downhill for me. Shanghai was really beautiful, but I had about enough of China and the bone chilling weather. The train ride to Shanghai was pretty much the final nail in the coffin:

“Here we are, back on the train again, and I rather be anywhere, including that dingy ass hotel room in Peking, then be on this fucking train again. Firstly, it’s dirty. Like the sheets have been re-used dirty. The toilets are appallingly awful – moist floors, stagnant water, horrific bowls (if I see another brick in the bowl, I’ll scream). The service staff is rude when they are not indifferent. I’ve never experienced such horrible service/racism before. Deplorable and does nothing of my impression of China…”

But to be fair, Shanghai did have a lot going for it: The Shanghai Zoo (saw my first monkeys, including a chimpanzee and gorilla, and my first panda), famous skyline (simply breathtaking at night), cheap bootleg DVDs, and modernity.

In the end, I was just tired of the otherworldliness and my nerves were raw from too much culture shock:

“…I don’t think I’ve ever had such strong feelings towards an entire country. The people were perhaps the worst thing about thing about the whole trip – the spitting, the rubbish, the lack of courtesy to their fellow human, the rampant unfriendliness, the outright rudeness, the aggressiveness, the lack of warmth. Granted, we were in the most populated parts of the country, but coming from an industrialized W. country (Canada) via an industrialized E. country (Japan), I was just shocked at how mean (for lack of a better word) this place was.”

It’s all over now and I left China with a sense of gratitude for where I was born and raised, and for where I am now living. I’m sure plenty of people would disagree of my assessment of the cities I visited, and frankly, I don’t care. I saw what I saw and did what I did, and this was my experience. I did it and now I know, and knowing is half the battle (ref?).

Here are some pics - Enjoy!

Monday, January 16, 2006

December 30, 2005

Today’s Menu:

Explore Macau (no specific agenda)

Travel to Hong Kong from Macau by ferry

Highlights: Discovering the diamond in the rough in Macau, setting eyes on the Hong Kong landscape for the first time at night

Lowlights: Losing my beautiful, pink fake croc, Ralph Lauren cosmetic case with my contacts, Tweezerman tweezers, a cool toothbrush, and loads of beautiful and sentimental jewelry. It hurt. Fawk.

Excerpt from journal: “We are on the ferry returning to Hong Kong from Macau. Though our stay in Macau was brief, it was lovely, due in large part to our fine hotel, the Pousada de Mong Ha, which is run by tourism students. It was absolutely beautiful with its highly varnished floors, crisply made beds with duvets, a lazyboy with an ottoman, a beautiful floor to ceiling mirror, a glass shower and an office area. I was quite happy considering the deplorable accommodations in Beijing (grimace).”

We didn’t have time to fully explore our surroundings as we arrived fairly late, and the temptation of cable was too much for us to deny. We did venture out and found a vegetarian restaurant for dinner, but we returned to our hotel to be slovenly. It was around this point that I found out that my cosmetic case was missing. I was devastated, so much so that I actually cried. A lot of memories were tied up in that sexy RL cosmetic case. It broke my heart…

Today started out well in the fact that we had a nice breakfast – eggs, baked beans, bacon, sausages, whole wheat buns, cereal, skim milk – the works. Satisfying…We decided to do a little walking to the center of the city and I was pleasantly surprised by what we found.

After walking for a little while through grimy, smoggy, motorbike infested streets, the town opened up into the commercial district. Bling bling left, right and center. Serious gold, diamonds and platinum, but still out of reach even with the good exchange rate. But the center was beautiful – Portuguese styled buildings, paved roads and sidewalks, a town square – my desire to go to Europe ripened in this city. Macau demonstrated its charms and vivacity. We even went to church and got some spirituality. We visited St. Joseph’s, which is Teresa’s church back in New Zealand, and she got to do what she had to do. Myself, I got to slow down and reconnect with God (it’s been a while). Though we have frequent conversations, it was nice to back in the House again, especially at this time of year.

After church, we headed back to the square to do a little bit more investigating. We were not disappointed. From the bleakness of the streets came the glory of affordable commercialism. At our second store, we hit pay dirt and proceeded to go crazy. We each bought two pairs of shoes; I bought a lovely brown, rounded toe specimen with three multicoloured circles on the side. Delicious. The other pair had a beautiful burgundy and green flower on the toe, and the shoe itself was a deep burgundy/dark chocolate brown colour. Deeeelightful!…”

December 30, 2005 – January 2, 2006


Exploring Hong Kong

Cheap shopping

Chilling in our executive suite

Enjoying the early summer-like weather

Highlights: The phat hotel room (ooh baby, yeah, that’s the freakin spot), the cleanliness and friendliness of the city, bilingualism, the subway system, Li Yuen E. & W. shopping streets, the fine weather.

Lowlights: Lack of interesting sights, expensive, Victoria’s Peak, having to stay an extra night in our posh hotel due to a change in the train schedule.

Aside from the positives of the city, there wasn’t much to see or do in Hong Kong. I really wanted to go to a particular monastery to see a huge, golden Buddha, but we ran out of time somehow. I didn’t even really take any pictures. But it was nice to be in warm weather. Must do warm/hot next winter vacation.
December 27, 2005

Today’s Menu:

Biking around Old Beijing

Beijing Drum Tower

Dumplings Lunch

Lama Temple

Temple of Heaven Park

Gorging on Peking Duck

Highlights: Going native and biking around town, watching the banging of the drum, partaking in the echo experiment at the Temple of Heaven Park, having one last taste of Peking Duck

Lowlights: Being all templed out, saying goodbye to Wang Yi

This was our last day and Beijing and I was both happy and hesitant to leave. Beijing has beautiful architecture and a grand history, but it’s dirty, depressingly old in some areas and teeming with swelling, aggressive masses. Would I return to Beijing again? I’d have to say no. Though I was there for only 5 days, it was enough for me. I got to see the famous sites, interact with the local people, sample the local dishes, engage in colourful bargaining and bought memorabilia. Selon moi, Peking is not a beautiful city and I couldn’t handle being in such a large city for an extended period of time, never mind living there. Beijing, and China in general, is still a developing place, but its overpopulation does not make it attractive for me. For visiting for a short period of time, it gets a thumbs up. For visiting for an extended period, or living there, it gets a boo. If you go, make sure you hit the Forbidden City and Palace Museum, go to the Summer Palace, sample Peking Duck, and climb the Great Wall. Everything else is just gravy.

December 28-29, 2005

We were on the train for a day and it was alright, though it had some trying episodes. Firstly, le train n’etait trop propre. To the naked eye, the sheets looked cleaned enough (though I had the presence of mind to bring along a long piece of fabric to cover the bed, just in case), but we learned that cleaning the bed wear is optional. This was demonstrated when the train stewardess (?) proceeded to clean our room, while we were still in it, by shaking out the previously used blankets and returning them back on the beds. Shudder squared. I’ve taken sleepers in Canada, Ghana and now China, and there really is no place like home.

Another huge minus was the train service staff. Apparently, customer service is not big in China (this was demonstrated not just on the train, but the train experience was the worst). We were ignored, and when we demanded attention, we were treated like stupid cattle but a chain smoking, careless group of riffraff. Makes you wonder what the interview process was like. Actually, makes you wonder if there even was an interview process. Here’s an excerpt from my journal:

“…The onboard service is nothing short of rude and disgraceful. I’ve had wonderful service by people who truly loved their professions and then indifferent service from people who were there for the money. But it’s just awful here. They shit on us for ordering something extra, or they simply tell us there is no more (how can there be no more freakin water???), or they say the waitress is sleeping. I actually fucking hate it here and wish to god we stocked up on proper food before boarding…”

Ah well, it’s over now. Water under the bridge and such. And hell, it was a lot better than the open hard sleepers. I’m sweating just thinking about them.

The positive thing about the train ride was that it gave me time to stretch out and relax after nearly two non-stop weeks. I finished Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, which was excellent and I highly recommend it. I got to put pen to paper and list my goals for the next 4 years, and let me tell you, it’s pretty exciting stuff. It’s still too early to share, but trust me on this one. I also listed the places I hope to visit during my tenure here. It was just really good to move my ideas from abstract to more or less concrete.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Here goes...

So, because I was unable to update my blog while on "vacation", I'm going to summarize my trip to China over the next few entries. I hope you enjoy this succinct presentation and the photos. Let me know what you think.


December 24, 2005

Today’s menu:

Tian An Men Square

The Palace Museum
The Forbidden City

Vegetarian Restaurant

Jingshan Park
Beijing Museum of Natural History

Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant

Today’s highlights: Eating world famous Peking Duck at a restaurant frequented by such illustrious historical figures such as Castro, Bush Sr.; exploring the sprawling Forbidden City with our very helpful guide, Hu Chunlin.

Lowlights: Getting up assed early to stand in the freezing cold to watch the flag ceremony in the Square, along with hundreds of other suckers; encountering the man with no eyes in the City.

December 25, 2005

Today’s menu:

Great Wall of China: Badaling Area

Ming Tombs

Highlights: Climbing the Wall without suffering a heart attack and getting my certificate of completion when I reached the top; calling home on Christmas Day to say “yeah, I’m going to climb the Great Wall now, what are you up to?” and hearing my sister say “aww man, I’m going to Sharon’s”.

Lowlights: Teresa feeling like shite the whole day (though she was a starr and climbed most of the wall), missing the craziness of xmas day in the Narh household.

December 26, 2005

Today’s menu:

Summer Palace
Yuan Ming Yuan Park
Beijing Railway Station to buy train tickets
Pizza Hut

Highlights: Visiting the Summer Palace was amazing (see excerpt from travel journal below); finding the pizza hut and taking it back to the hotel where we feasted on it on Mel’s towel.

Lowlights: Going to the railway station (see excerpt from journal below); having our last day with our fab guide, Hu Chunlin.

Today was a bittersweet day. We had our last day with Hu Chunlin and visited one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. We started the day by visiting the Summer Palace, and even in its winter squalor, it was still magnificent. The bridges, the barren trees, the temples and pagodas – all of it was stunning. I am beginning to clearly see the marked differences between Japan and China, well, from what I’ve seen anyway. Chinese architecture and cultural artifacts are much more colourful and loud, while Japan is more monochromatic and subdued, like the food. While Japanese culture is stunningly beautiful in its subtlety and quiet calmness (to me), China is more stimulating for the visual, audile and olfactory senses.

Strollling on the grounds of the Summer Palace, which was not completely devoid of pushy merchants, was the most peaceful thing I’ve encountered since landing here. Especially promenading with Hu Chunlin. He was so shy and accommodating and sweet. It almost burns my eyes to think of him for reasons I will explain shortly.

After walking around for 3 hours (the area was immense), we stopped for lunch, which as usual became a long winded, somewhat frustrating affair. But when our food finally came, it was exquisite. I had fried pork and Chinese vegetables which were seasoned to perfection. I ate almost everything (without rice).

After begrudgingly removing ourselves from the toasty restaurant, we drove to Yuan Ming Yuan Park which was all but totally bombed out during the Second Opium War by French-English Allied Forces. It was quite sad actually, but the walk after the large meal was refreshing.

With the end of a large cultural day, we had to think about dinner again. We suddenly got a hankering for pizza and wine, and with the help our trusty guide, we got both and more. We went to a sexy “supermarket”, which actually turned out to be more of a department store and stocked up on sweets and food for the train ride. Oh, before that, we went to the Beijing Railway Station to pick up our train tickets for our trip from Beijing to Hong Kong. This station was a fucking zoo with the crush of humanity surrounding us. If we didn’t have Hu Chunlin, all would have been lost. Just complete madness.

Anyway, we found our pizza, our wine and something to look forward to. We also knew it would be the last time seeing HCL so we decided to put together some $$ to thank him for all of his hard work. BAD IDEA. He was so embarrassed and immediately returned the money after much protest. We didn’t want to insult him at all, just thank him, but he refused to take it. I actually started crying because of his sweet heart. I ached at his humility. I feel hopeful for mine. God, is it possible to fall in love with a person’s spirit after such a short period of time? His moral fabric and his soft demeanor, at least from the very limited part I’ve seen, makes me want to be more in my own life. People touch you in the most unexpected ways. It makes me want to love more and worry less – put everything in God’s hands and just let go. So much beauty in a short period of time. Blessed am I.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Back in the 'fu...

It's good to be home. After 2 weeks away in China (Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai), I'm happy to be in my cold assed apartment in my sweet assed village. I was glad to be around my younger kids today who asked me why my hair was so different (I took out my braids and I look like an upper class crack whore), were mesmerized by my new jewelry from China and Thailand, and were just their usual happy, gorgeous selves.

There is so much to tell and show about China, and I will do my best to adequately explain my journeys (read: lifting from the pages of my travel journal), but you're going to have to be a tad patient. I feel exhausted and I'll be turning in in about an hour (8:30 p.m.) Stay tuned here for more updates. In the meantime, peep these pix I took when I got back into Japan: