Wednesday, July 27, 2011

that just happened

I'm going to make this quick because Orientation A just ended, and I have a bus reservation for 2o'clock, and I want to "have a kip" before I get out of this 5-star hotel. Also my "a" key is not working... I didn't bring my USB keyboard so I am just gaman-ing it up here in Tokyo.

Ori A was a whirlwind, and really deserves an actual post. But something else just happened that pulled me back a bit from duty shifts (seriously, one from 12 to 2am, then one from 8 to 10am?) and kind of made my day, so I'm going to do that one first.

When I spoke bout my pilgrimge plns, I pointed out the bracelets I am frequently wearing. Since they are wooden, I don't consider them fancy jewelry of the sort that is frowned upon in school. When kids asked me what they were, I just said "o-mamori" which means protective charm, and most kids have one of those on their school bag or something else, so that’s a familiar concept for them. The pale colored bracelet always had a very simple knot, but the darker wood one had a special Buddhist knot, that looked like this:

Well. After showing no signs of wear for as long as I had it, the knot loosened and then came undone in early June. It seemed sort of symbolic, for my knot to come undone at that time. I tied the ends up to keep them out of the way, and I thought I might either get it re-tied (liiiike at a temple along the pilgrimage, maybe?), find out how to re-tie it myself, or retire it and get a newer version somewhere.
If you zoom in a bit, you can even see where it has come out of the knot I tied it into. It does that sometimes.
From 2011_06_12

Until such time, I would just wear it as-is, all come-undone. Sometimes we just have to function, even broken, right?

Today after we cleaned up the info desk and closed down the rest of Orientation, I wandered bleary-eyed downstairs to score a free lunch on the leftover breakfast tickets. I went with another Ori assistant, whose general candor makes me laugh, usually. At the bottom of the elevator, he turned to a man standing nearby and began to ask him some indecipherable question.
The man turned out to be a monk, and he told us a little about his teacher, and what they did, and spoke to their philosophy for a moment. I felt genuinely glad to hear about it, because really, we all need to be reminded that the world is bigger, that stuff if more important than our free breakfast, our check-out time, and our shift schedules.
As we bowed and thanked him, and moved to leave, he gave us each a bracelet from his rm. I’m wearing it now, it still smells like incense, like peace or something, like the calm aura he had.
We took photos and scampered off to second breakfast, where I took a photo of the bracelet.
So, that’s all. That just happened.
From 2011_07_27
From 2011_07_27

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summertime and the Living is Easy

It is finally, finally summer vacation. For how busy I was just a week ago, this feels like total bliss (my to-do list still exists, and yet right now, with the curtains fluttering in the new building, no one but me, Miss Piggy-sensei, and the principal, tea lady, and vice principal here today, I cannot give a damn). I do a little blog reading, I consider the view from my desk, listen to the engines of the destruction crew outside, periodically take a break to sweep up the dead bugs that collected on the floor before and during the move.

In my attempt to really make something of my summer, I realize I won't have many days like this. MP-sensei says she's going to cheer on our baseball kids at the regional taikai around lunchtime. I ask to tag along. We periodically chat about other teachers, about English (she's studying for a big test), about other things, I brought my lunch today (!) but forgot the bread (sigh).

But as for my summer, it breaks down kind of like:

  • Now: OMGtheEndTimesAreUponUs (spend as much time as possible drinking beers with leavers, cleaning, packing, and generally preparing to abandon house for weeks at a time, offer incense to the gods of someone-water-my-plants-please?)
  • July 23 - 27:  Tokyo Orientation (presentation, graveyard shifts in the hospitality center, Australian embassy event, et al)
  • July 27 - August 9/10: Amerika Time (going back on-map with respect to some, and off-map with respect to most of my current responsibilities)
  • August 12 - 28: Hosting Time (about as soon as I get back to Japan, Manderines will arrive to assist me in getting over jetlag. We will do this by attending SummerSonic.. during Obon. So while Shiso does the classic bon-odori, I picture myself in a vast sea of sweaty humanity, somewhere north of beer and west of sports drinks. AKA Osaka. Hopefully my policy of heading IN to places people are heading en mass OUT of.. and then vice-versa.. will be well received.)
  • Other hosting adventures may include trips to Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, goodness knows where else (Tottori? Kobe? Shimane?? Wakayama [don't kid yourself, Lem]?! and various tour-givings at school and more different school, Shiso places etc. OH and the new JETs will be here! So there will be much karaoke-ing (right?) and taking of new JETs to good Shiso places, or Himeji.
  • Then my last guest leaves... um.. August 28th or so. School opening ceremony is September 1st. Of course, by then I'll know if I got my TEFL grant, and also we won't have class for a good two or three weeks while we prepare for and execute the Sports Day festival. 
C'est la vie.. shit never stops!

Ah but why should it?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Some More Acdemics

I've spent the last hour or so trying to figure out what a TEFL certification actually means, who has the right to give them, and whether or not it's just a racket designed to take from me the most precious thing I have (not my okane, silly, my time!).

And maybe it's just the way today feels, but after looking at all those websites and definitions and acronyms and prices and topic lists, all I want to do is take a nap. I'm not sure how this bodes. This didn't come about randomly; few things ever do.

The JET program has rearranged the budget a little, it appears. We aren't going to get any more calendars or handheld planners from them. But. They are offering partial sponsorship to 100 lucky applicants who want to get TEFL certified online. Well heck. I'll apply, at least. Another certification can't hurt my future prospects, anyway, can it?

Unless it is as mind-numbing as it in some ways promises to be, of course. I have this fear when it comes to going back to school to get certification to teach in the US once this is over - what before JET would have bored me to tears might at this time bore me to violence - I might throw things. The problem is, there will be a lot of good and valuable information which I really do need buried in there along with lots of stuff I already know because I had to pick it up on the fly as I rocketed through grammar games by the seat of my pants.

But I mean, if we come back to it, I really do want to be better. I guess it's more a question of time, since JET would pay for most of it.

But if anyone out there has any unbiased information on just what the hell TEFL is, and how it fits in with my recurrent vision of being a multi-focused teacher (I think, rather, of Mr. Webb, who taught physics, and ESL, and sat in on political studies, and lent me linguistics articles)... I mean, before I left, the Kaplan people in Kansas suggested that upon my return, I could be the EFL teacher.

Which begs the question: do I really need this piece of paper? Maybe not. Will it hurt to have it? Only the hours I spend in front of my computer (100 of them, unless I get a by for reading fast).. will it help? Maybe. I can't help but think about how these things happen, the things we pick up along the way, and how they change our futures. I only took Latin because it was the alternative, you know? It changed me, and it didn't. I was always going to be like this, maybe.

Well. First things first. Apply for grant. Then find the time. (I hear you saying, hey, what about August, what're you doing at work then anyway? But that is for another entry.)

Oh the time. Only one and a half more work days til I leave for Tokyo Orientation.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Weeks

I just got back from Jusco with the temporary solution to this week's latest problem: a USB keyboard. I thought I could get along without the A key until such time as someone else magically fixed my computer (or, in the land of wishful thinking, it returned miraculously to normal)... but the on-screen keyboard, which saved my ass in the login to Windows (as my password may or may not have the letter A IN IT SOMEWHERE), very quickly became a nuisance method of dealing with the issue. The problem, by the way, isn't random. I spilled water on my computer and am damn lucky I only lost the letter A. I spilled water because I was using it on the floor of my room, having dragged the internet box to the limit of its cord (booby trapping the doorway in the process) so it could share the AC and therefore, apparently, function properly. Oi.

It's been a long, action-packed couple of weeks as we wind up to wrap up this JET year with a bang, and a whisp of smoke. I went far too long without sleeping in, but finally this morning was able to sleep til 10. At last!

What's been going on, the crowd asks. Oh, so so many things.

I had my little hell week, where everything was due at once at the end, which does happen from time to time if you have exactly nine of your ten fingers in nine different pies. Friday was the due date for our Tokyo Orientation Presentation, which was a technological and time-managing pain in the collective ass. This year, they combined the seminars for Japanese Language Study and Japanese Etiquette, reducing them from 50 minutes each to about 21 (if you make room for intro, etc). Excellent. Excellent. Then have four people across the country all trying to file share using different computers and different restrictions at work which allow or do not allow certain up or downloads... it's all pretty much a mess.

Simultaneous to this, I was getting ready for the Shorinji Kempo test I said I'd back out of but never got around to escaping. I was woefully underprepared, and I was cancelling other commitments left and right in order to just, goodness, make a good show of it. I did pass, of course, but not smoothly and beautifully and without wanting to cry. That was on Saturday. Which was also a work day. Not really a work day, but we were required to either show up or use nenkyuu (unacceptable), so I showed up, and attended as many of the sports teams' games as I could (judo, girls' table tennis, softball, girls' volleyball) before rushing home to suit up and roll out to testing.

Sunday, I went to Kyoto to see Dre again, and we passed a very pleasant day exploring a temple his professor had suggested, Tofuku-ji. We then surprised-called Nami and had dinner with her and her husband at their house. I crashed with Dre, and on Monday morning, which was a day off because of working Saturday, pushed onward to Universal Studios Japan.
From 2011_07_10

Which was also enormous fun; that Hollywood Dream rollercoaster just fills me with joy. It's like flying, with all the smooth sheer terror that entails. Rode it three times. We also enthusiastically participated in super-wet-time on Jurassic Park ride, which was awesome and we rode twice. USJ is excellent, but it pays to go on a schoolday.

A very sunny weekend, as well.
From 2011_07_11

But as you can see, this was a full weekend, and I hit the ground running Tuesday by doing 5 classes at elementary, followed by a 2-class Wednesday with moving in the afternoon. Thursday was more elementary, and Friday was just all day moving.

Moving, you say? Yes, we're moving. To the new school building. The kids march like ants, all toting something as we make our way up the ramps from one building to the next. Since the new building is about two car lengths from the old, we didn't have to port that stuff too far.

There's the ramp leading in!
From 2011_07_08

A view of the new staff room; you can see the old one through the window.
From 2011_06_22

I'm pretty excited about the fact that the new staff bathroom has real toilets and is not going to be a dark, dank cavern with two squatty-potties in it.
From 2011_06_22

This shows how close the other building is... they needed the extra space for building, so they sealed off the bathrooms on each floor, which jutted out of the old building by each stairwell, and just knocked them out of the way. 
From 2011_06_22

New atrium area facing the Somegochi River. Space, air, and light.. all things the old building did not have this much of.
From 2011_06_22

This photo is from the day they let us run around and look at the new building before it was totally done. Here are the kids back on the other side, hard at work.
From 2011_06_22

So, yeah.. we're moving. My file cabinet is being taken away for space reasons (the new staffroom is, for some reason, smaller than the old one), so I've had to collapse my storage. I think people believe that since I am not always there, I couldn't need much space. Except.. the reason.. I am not always there.. is because... I do... Elementary. Which as you may be aware, requires a crapload more in the way of supplies, toys, brightly colored things, etc. No one understands us, *headdesk* et al.

This weekend was a three-day-er, thank heavens, so we spent Saturday in Osaka for the Harry Potter EndTimes; expectations were high after our 7-week lead-in of awesomeness, watching one movie a week until this weekend, but expectations were met by the movie. I'm still rolling it around in my mind as I clean up my damn house, because the first thing to fall apart when I don't have time to do anything is the state of my house. It's maddening, that, but I'm not sure how to prioritize cleanliness when I have to be out the door in thirty seconds. Also I just received/bought a bunch of stuff from some leaving JETs, so I have to integrate that into my house, sift out things I don't have room or need for, find out what to do with them. It's trickle-down stuff, so I'll probably have stuff to give away come August, hopefully stuff the newcomers will want.

Oh and of course, in the background to all this, rainy season gives way to HOT season, typhoons still roll in to drench us with much-needed rain.. the backyard is a jungle, at least for now, until the horrific heat turns that thriving weed-patch into a gravel pit, and I am getting ready to lose some very good friends and adventure-partners to the wilds of their futures back in North America. It's very important during this time to be able to make time to spend with those who won't be around Shiso much longer, especially considering I am leaving on the 23rd myself for Tokyo.

I'm also getting ready for Tokyo Orientation, a trip to Amerika, and the hosting of August guests. And trying to keep up with my extracurriculars on the side. Oh, and writing letters.

And I actually have three classes tomorrow. Which is preposterous, because it really should, by all rights, be summer vacation by now.

My apartment is finally coming together, I am, more or less, (and I'm rather shocked by this, myself) on top of my shit. I've even.. kind of.. started to pack! I will do more of that this evening, no doubt, and maybe clean some more. I made the unfortunate discovery of mold in my house this year, something you never wanna find, but which is sometimes difficult to prevent when you don't have AC.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some academic stuff:

I recently opted to do a cultural activity ("the Ainu") instead of a grammar game for the second year class. Mostly because we went to the Ainu village in Hokkaido while we were there for the Sapporo Snow Festival back in February. That is in Shiraoi, and left me with mixed feelings.

The cultural game is a simple exercise in surprising students by playing a true-false (maru-batsu) game. I read a statement (oh goodness, I read it in English, with much gesturing and repetition and re-explanation with different words). In their groups, students decide if they think it's true or false, and respond on cue, collecting points if they are right.

Before settling on this game (aka, receiving it from Caito), I spent some time reading about Ainu on the internet. I ran a search on the Englipedia page which I thought would turn up culture games, since the whole reason I got to do this was the "Ainu chapter" of the kids' textbook.

For some reason, there are no cultural games listed on the webpage, but I did turn up this article, and then this one in the process.

The first pertains to communication study in Japan particularly, and how it compares to the US. I enjoyed it just because it touches on why these two societies view and undertake communication differently.

But it was the second article that really got my high on learning. I've been curious about ancient Japanese stuff, and frustrated with information only ever being focused on stuff like "Edo Period Japan" or "Nara Period" or what have you.. I mean, all that's like around 700, and I don't even mean BC. I wanted to know, dude, what was Japan doing when Rome was taking over Europe? What was Japan doing while Greeks were sackin' Troy? Obviously I haven't dug very deeply into the topic (it being but one of about six million interests, all of which currently come second to the two million immediate concerns in my life over the course of the next month or so), but I loved how this article pretty succicntly took me through some ideas of what Japan was doing, and why.

My favorite thing is the way that Jomon society lasted for about 10,000 years because why the hell not. All these other places, ridden with the burden of that motherly thing called necessity, advanced and advanced, while Japan remained a collection of hunter-gatherer societies because the trade off wasn't good enough. Why would I bust my ass to grow rice when it's not even that good, and I don't even have to be a nomad to hunt and gather (and to some extent, cultivate nearby nutritious plants) to my heart's content. I like also that the hunter-gatherer Japanese had one of the best ancient diets around; Japanese food was healthy, even then.

I mean, I get that the article is supposed to be about genetic descent and origins, which is also interesting, but this whole way of life thing is just great, to me. Reading about the ancient landscape and climate makes me think, oh man, that's why Japan is so beautiful. It's pretty much the Garden of Eden. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Roman poet, starry-eyed for the Golden Age of Saturn. I (like Ovid?) am aware that we got it pretty good, right now, and am in no way advocating the idea that their way of life was something I'd prefer to this one... I just think it's great that they had it so good for so long, that compared with almost everywhere else, there was no need to change.


There's a kofun just south of town, called the Shiono Rokkaku Kofun (Shiono hexagonal ancient mound thingy). The sign says it is one of the earliest discovered kofun in Japan. My camera broke just before I wandered up there, so here are some photos from the prefecture. It's exactly as I remember it.

Go forth and learn some ancient stuff.

PS: The Ainu game was such a success, I was asked to produce a Maori game today for the 3rd year class. It went over surprisingly well.