Crazy week

17 09 2009

It has been an interesting week.

On Sunday I was invited to go to one of the elementary school festivals. This is my biggest school. By big, I mean 80. I know some of you will get a good laugh at that when at the school you’re in/teach at a single grade level has more than eighty students. I’ll admit that, yes, I am enjoying these tiny classes.

When I arrived they had already turned the lights low in the gym, which meant I had no idea where to find my supervisor’s family. I there was still enough light that I could see a little. They had laid tatami mats all over the gym floor and everyone had put blankets on top of them. It looked like a giant picnic in the gym. I must admit, it was nice to be able to move around more than you can in bleachers (in the US), but that floor was hard and this event was 9am-2pm. It was a long time of sitting on the floor. For this performance, each grade level had a chance to present what they had prepared. It was quite exciting to see. Those little kids are so cute! I joined my supervisor’s family for this, so she used her “Denshi Jisho” (Electronic Dictionary) to tell me a little of what was going on, but mostly I just enjoyed the cute little kids. Her kids are 5th grade and 7th grade. They are really sweet but we don’t know enough of the other’s language yet for us to communicate much. They also sang and played instruments through out the performance. The music had a great variety, many Japanese songs to “Happy Day” (sister act), one of the bands played Tequila, there were many other English songs, but I’ve forgotten them already.

I want to say that Monday may have been one of my best days in Japan so far.

The morning was gorgeous, the sky was blue but there was a dense fog surrounding the town. My town tall mountains on all sides, but I couldn’t see them the fog was so thick. I could see the things in town (houses, people, etc.), but none of these mountains. It was absolutely beautiful. If I had been able to leave a little earlier I would have stopped for some incredible photos, but I didn’t want to be late.

When I arrived at school, I was taking off my outside shoes to put them in my locker when R (one of my students). Came up and handed me a little bag telling me she had baked cookies last night. It was so incredibly sweet! She is one of my students who really stands out as an incredible English speaker.

The day continued with a couple of classes, and some good conversation with my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) and the teacher who sits behind me, Shiojiri Sensei. Shiojiri sensei has given many recipes and has become my “cooking sensei.” Because of her, I was able to make Udon noodles that were delicious.

At the end of the day, the students have clubs. They have one club called “qualification aquisition.” I’m not really sure what the purpose is. Many students just hang out, some do their homework and there’s even one who has written love letters to several of the girls (makes me laugh!). M (another student with incredible English skills) had talked about music several days in a row, she had told me some names of groups, which I found on youtube and then she asked if I would make her a CD. So I spent the evening before picking out my favorite songs from my favorite bands (C – relient K did end up on that CD). She was quite excited.

Then I started talking with her and a few of the boys who were in the class. One student said “I am bard.” I thought he meant bored, but when he spelled it, I realized he meant bald (he had just shaved his head). He asked “Do you like bald?” I said sure. It was quite funny. Then I tried to ask some questions, which failed. These boys would speak amongst themselves about it and never get an answer back to me. Quite funny! Then they figured out a question for me and asked, “How many shoes do you have?” As I’m answering this question, I’m thinking what kind of question is that? I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked that. I laughed and then started counting my shoes. I answered 8 pairs – how did I manage to get 8 pairs of shoes?!? When I got home that evening I saw one pair and realized that I have 9. Really? 9?!? You do have to realize it’s not as bad as it sounds, 3 are flip flops, 1 is another pair of sandals, 2 are dress shoes, a pair of tennis shoes, my inside shoes and the rainboots I bought after getting my feet soaked twice on one rainy day. The sad thing is, I would like another pair of tennis shoes, so I can join the kids for pe class. Apparently I have a shoe problem :)

On Tuesday, I was at the middle school again. I have now had the weirdest lunches and the best lunches there. That day it was a chowder-like soup, fresh bread (it was still warm), an egg thing and some grapefruit jelly. The soup was perfect, as I had been freezing all day and the bread was incredible. It resembled something I would eat at home. As usual, I had a hard time finishing everything in the time allotted, but this time rather than waiting for the teacher to direct me, I knew that when clean-up time came I needed to head back to the teacher’s room. I made it before they had set all the stuff out for the delivery people to pick back up!! It was quite exciting (let’s hope I can do it again today).

After being cold all day and not getting enough sleep the night before, all I wanted to do that day was go home and sleep, but I had choir practice that evening. My cooking sensei is also the music teacher and invited me to join the choir, for adults in the community. So I decided to do it. I’ve never been a part of a choir and I know I don’t have an ear for music. But it has been good. It makes me laugh because as I think about what I, as a teacher, would do with a student in my situation (not knowing much of the language), of course I would use songs. Ha ha ha. God provides. I often laugh a lot at how this works out. How would I help a student increase their vocabulary? Reading . . . which meant I found the library and the kids section. Funny how all that stuff I learned in college has come around to apply here.

Anyways, upon not feeling well and just wanting to sleep, I decided to get over it and go anyways. It was so much fun. We have a laugh as I forget how reading music works (I have a little bit of a clue, but it’s been quite a while since playing flute in Middle School in Band class). I ended up sitting between the girl from the bank (who is always helping me when I lose my place) and one of the older ladies. I’m finally feeling like I have a bit of a clue as to when/where to go back and the lady next to me turns the page, I didn’t think we were supposed to, but she does, so I do. When neither of us are sure where we’re now supposed to be, shiojiri sensei stops the piano and trys to find out what we’re laughing about. We had the whole choir laughing at the craziness. It was a much better way to end the day than I had anticipated.

Yesterday, I met the first graders at my “big” school. They have a huge class for the schools here. There are 22 of them! (I guess there’s more at the Jr. High, but I don’t claim them as my own as much, because I am less in charge of what we’re doing). Anyways, again after not having enough sleep, I arrive with a headache. I realize before going in that I have ibuprofen in my backpack (thank you dad!!) and take some. So 22 screaming first graders was not the best thing at first. But they were so cute and we started playing some games and using fruit words. It was such a fun time.

After he lesson, I was able to have lunch with them. As the students were setting up lunch, I had a hand full that were either supposed to be working and weren’t, or didn’t have jobs. I’m not entirely sure which. Every one of them wanted my attention, so the were all very loud in Japanese. I’ve had first graders in the US do this sort of thing, but I’m able to push them back a little before talking to them. I kind of got backed into a corner. After a few crazy minutes of this they decide to give me an addition test. One plus (some other word that sounds similar) one. And I would say it in Englsh and Japanese. They did this over and over again until lunch was finally ready. As we sat down to lunch one student introduced himself, “My name is Dragon.” The two little girls near him were not going for this. They knew his name and told me several times, no his name is . . . (something incomprehensible in Japanese-first-grader speak). So I started calling him Dragon. (Hopefully I remember when I’m in the class again several months from now).

In the afternoon, I had a choir performance (my first!). It was at an elderly home. It was sad when we came in how unable these people were to care for themselves, but I was excited to possibly be able to bring a smile to their faces. They asked us to give a self-introduction at the beginning. So I said my name is Rebecca and I’m “ju-yon sai desu.” Shiojiri sensei says “ju-yon sai?” and I realize my mistake. I’ve just said that I’m 14!! The choir (I think I may be their source of entertainment) had a good laugh and then I introduced mself correctly “ni-ju-yon sai” (2-10-4= 24 years old). We sang and I was able to keep up for the most part, there were several songs where my voice was probably barely audiable because I was having trouble.

This afternoon will be my second choir performance. We will be singing at the festival this afternoon – my first Japanese festival!! They’re known for their festivals and I’m finally going to get to attend one.

I’m off to my first-year jr. high class (quite possibly my favorite class at the high/jr highs) and then to experience another Japanese lunch (Let’s hope it’s another delicious one!).

. . .

I didn’t get to send this before lunch. Another interesting lunch. Udon noodles in soup, sweet potatoes and something resembling fruit cocktail. Udon was good until upon closer examination (I have to learn not to do that!) I found there were little fish scrambled into the egg for the soup. The hard thing about that was once I knew they were there, I could feel the texture of them in my mouth. Sweet potatoes were delicious. And the fruit cocktail stuff had the normal pears and orange things that are in American fruit cocktail, along with zeri (Jelli – similar to Jello) and white jiggly things that when I asked, I was told they were milk. Not sure how that one works. Maybe it had geletin in it. Japanese people seem to love geletin.


Lunch with the Jr. High Students

9 09 2009

Today is my second day at the junior high school (the first was last week) and we just finished lunch which I find a kind of funny event. (I also eat lunch with the elementary students, but it rarely provides as much “this is so strange”-entertainment).

The lunch routine goes something like this: a few minutes before lunch time, the teachers set trays all over the desks near the counter with the food. Mine is one of those, so I’m always afraid of soup spilling on my computer (but it hasn’t happened yet).

Anyways, I get assigned to putting milk on each tray (at least every time so far). The other teachers dish up and pass out the various entrees. Usually rice, soup of some sort and a couple of other things (like meat and potatoes and veggies). I also have to grab my chopsticks, because they are not provided with lunch.

Then I get to eat with the students. Last time, it was the third-year students (9th grade in American School years) and this time it was the first year students (7th graders). It is funny to hear my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) at the High School refer to her juniors in high school as “second grade students.” I always have to think about it for a second.

Eating with the students means waiting for the class to finish dishing up, and then saying “itadakimasu.” (Said at the beginning of a meal when I’m eating with people – I’ve never said it when I’m eating alone :) ). After we say that, eating begins.

Last time, lunch included a little pack of dried fish and I think squid. I slowly ate these trying not to look at them so I could pretend it was pretzles and peanuts (had this sort of texture). This time the veggies were mixed with fish the size of bean sprouts (what I thought it was at first), heads, tails, everything. I had a hard time eating it because I had to eat it with chopsicks, which meant I had to look at it – the worst part. I’ve never been given anything like this at the elementary schools. Maybe it’s just a matter of time or maybe it’s something the elementary school students don’t like as much, so they don’t serve it. I’m really not sure which.

We usually eat with chopsticks and I eat at a regular (maybe slow) pace. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to shovel food in the way these students do with chopsticks. They eat so fast! Last time I was the last person done (yeah, Mandie, I’m apparently still the slowest eater EVER). This time the only people slower than me were the boys who seem to think they’re three people and eat portions that size. Here, at the junior high, the servings are HUGE (at the elementary school they’re perfect). Last time I was unable to even finish the whole meal given to me (both because of time and I was full). This time I did finish, but barely.

After lunch, I try to add my dishes to the ones with the students. The other teacher always has to tell me that no, my dishes go with all the teachers’ dishes in the teacher room. So we walk back there, and every time those dishes are put away and ready for the food delivery people to pick them up. So we have to go move all the boxes that the food comes in to get to the one that contains the dishes. It’s kind of a funny process, because it’s basically the same routine every time.

That’s the process of Junior High school lunch which has had me laughing or disgusted both times (although usually on the inside, because I don’t know how to explain the comedy in the whole thing)