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.