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Archive for October, 2011

Real Men Wear Undershirts

Friday! Yay~! This week, although seeming to go fast, also somehow managed to be a killer. I didn’t have many classes this week: Monday was prep for the culture festival which took all of Tuesday, and my class load for the rest of the week was cut in half for whatever reason. Usually I teach the 3rd year classes in halves ie> class 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, but this week they were combined.

The culture festival was great fun though. It opened with our wonderful band playing a number of upbeat songs including the opening theme from the anime Evangelion, which was fun. The 2nd year classes each performed the same song (not the same as the band) in chorus, followed by a song of their choosing. Not sure what the mandatory song was, but there was good variety in the other. The 3rdyear classes all put on plays, which were mostly quite difficult for me to follow. One of the classes basically managed to turn their play into a talent show, and a bunch of the girls, and guys in drag, pulled off the dance to the Girls’ Generation (Shoujo Jidai) song ‘Gee’ spectacularly. I wish you could have seen it. 😀 I also appeared in a rather silly video that the student council played near the beginning. It was somewhat embarassing.

Taken from the doorway of the teacher's room at school

I just learned that the Men’s rhythmic gymnastics team from my school is currently at a competition in Tokyo. They’re really good, and have won national competitions in the past. They’re also easy to find on YouTube! Check the link for their 1st place performance at the 2010 All Japan competition.

Last Saturday a couple of the other Ibara ALTs and I stumbled upon a Kagura festival (I can’t adequately explain Kagura, check the Wiki link if you’re interested) up at the top of the big shrine featured in the banner of this blog. It was a lot of fun, and we got to watch the dances up close. I also consumed a bit too much sacred sake and spent most of Sunday recovering. Totally worth it though. There’s a similarly themed festival in a different part of town in the morning this Sunday, so I’ll probably check that out too.

Tomorrow I’m taking the bus into Kasaoka city to cheer on the student I’ve been tutoring for his English recitation contest. I’ll take the opportunity to do some much needed clothes shopping. I also haven’t been into Kasaoka yet, so it should be a fun day. In the evening I’m meeting a bunch of other JETs for a party in Fukuyama.

I’m starting to plan my Christmas vacation. I get the 23-25th off, as well as the 29-3rd. I can also easily take those intervening 3 days as paid vacation, so I have a good stretch of holiday. I’m thinking south. Okinawa south. Not the main island though, everyone goes to Okinawa Island and I’m too cool for that. At the moment I have my eye on the even more southern island of Iriomote. It looks lovely, and has some good looking hiking trails for which the temperature will likely be accommodating in December. Once I book the time off (sometime next week) I’ll see about making a reservation at one of the reasonable B&B’s on the island. Phone conversations are hard though. :/ Some of the other ALTs are heading back to North America for Christmas, and although tempting, I think it would be too hard on me; I think if I spent a week with my family it would be pretty painful getting back on the plane. Plus which, staying in Japan is considerably cheaper even if it is Okinawa.

Today in class I had to describe a Moose to my teachers and students. One of the activities I prepared included the sentence “Moose are large animals found in Canada.” and no one had heard of Moose before. Both my teachers were still skeptical of how large I claimed they were until I showed them the Japanese Wikipedia article back in the teachers’ room. I think they’re afraid of Canada now. One of my JTEs doesn’t reach my shoulders, and a large Moose would probably stand twice as tall as her. 😀

The Halloween party in Okayama city next weekend is a bit of a bother. The last train leaves Okayama for Ibara at slightly before 11:00PM, so we’re probably finding a hostel or something to stay at overnight. Can’t really not show up though, since I agreed to coordinate costumes with a fellow ALT. The weekend following that we are participating in Ibara’s international festival, which means running a booth selling Canadian ethnic food (poutine and apple cider). Shouldn’t be much trouble for me, since I’m only in charge of the cider. Even so, it means I have something taking up precious weekend time for quite a few weeks ahead yet. Boo.

Hmm, won’t do to end on a negative note like that. Let’s see… Oh! Yesterday something incredibly cute happened. Word has apparently gotten around that I’m a bit of a nerd after one of my students asked me if I knew who Hatsune Miko was and I foolishly answered in the affirmative. Anyways, a couple of my 3rd year girls handed me a printed letter after class, which was awesome. It had obviously been fed through a translation program, and was barely comprehensible, but that only added to how great it was. They described a favourite song from a series of visual novels, and gave me the link to it on YouTube, along with their favourite Miku song.

There we go, much better. Maybe I should find something productive to do at work now…

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A fairly typical day

Today I am going to make note of everything I do at work, and report it here in order to show what a typical work day looks like for me. Warning: tediously mundane tasks may be reported.

8:10 – Arrive in the teachers room on time, despite having to walk due to flat bike tire.

8:15 – Try to listen to morning meeting, but don’t manage to understand much. As usual. One of my 3rd year JTEs tells me that 2 of my 4 classes are cancelled today. My first class now isn’t until third period (10:55) so I have some time to kill. Spend some time browsing news on the internet.

8:45 – Decide to make this blog post, spend a couple minutes writing this far.

8:48 – Reevaluate what I’ve prepared for tonight’s English conversation class.

9:50 – Spent the last hour preparing another print out for the conversation class. Tonight’s theme: buses and trains. Have a map of my hometown’s bus route, and some Japanese train schedules. Practicing things like “Take the 7 o’clock train and transfer at Kanabe” and things like that.

9:53 – Found out from the same 3rd year JTE which classes I’ll be teaching tomorrow and Friday: not many. Just 1 tomorrow and 2 Friday. Maybe the special needs teacher will steal me for a class, but it looks like it’s going to be a pretty slow week.

10:00 – Chat with one of the 1st year JTEs for a few minutes about my lesson for the 3rd year classes today.

10:07 – Not a lot productive to do until class now. Back to browsing the net.

10:50 – Go to 3rd year class. They’re currently preparing for their mid-term exams, so the activities are review. First I read sentences to the class such as “This is the thing we use on rainy days,” then in groups they would have 30 seconds to come up with an answer.  Afterwards the students unscrambled sentences in the form of word cards that I spent all Monday preparing (cutting them out is a lot of work). The class went very well.

11:45 – Changed to another 3rd year class. Same activities, but this group of students didn’t seem to have quite the aptitude of the previous class. That or they were all starving, and waiting for lunch. This is my last class of the day.

12:45 – Return to the teacher’s room for lunch. The fruit cup contains frozen peaches over frozen yogurt, pretty yummy. (Pictured)

1:15 – Spend some time reorganizing the word cards that the students returned. They’re in mostly good shape, but I have one extra “we” card whose origin I can’t figure out.

1:40 – A 2nd year JTE gives me one class worth or vocabulary tests to mark with the promise of more to come tomorrow. This has happened twice before, both times taking up quite a few hours of time. Probably beats doing nothing though.

1:50 – Make copies of the various print outs I will be needing for the English conversation class.

2:02 – Mark those vocabulary tests.

2:22 – 3rd year JTE stops by my desk to ask whether the correct sentence would be “We wear it on festivals” or “We wear it at festivals”. I take a couple minutes to explain the difference. Continue marking tests.

2:55 – Almost fall asleep marking tests. Get a glass of water and step outside for a minute. Back to tests.

3:31 – Finish marking tests just in time for the end of classes.

3:35 – Cleaning time. The happy music tells us that it’s time to sweep! I help to sweep the floor in the teacher’s room, as usual.

3:45 – Cleaning time ends. The student I’m helping prepare for a speech contest this weekend could now show up at any time. Don’t have much to do; browsing the net.

4:00 – Student shows up and we practice his recitation in the broadcast club’s room. He’s doing very well, and I’m looking forward to the competition on Saturday.

(4:15 is the official end of my work day)

4:27 – Finish practicing with the student and pack up to go home. I’ll try to relax a little before my English conversation class at 7:00.

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Japan just keeps going

And just like that, autumn is here. We experienced roughly a week of 20-25 Celsius temperatures, then moved quickly into 15-20 bracket. Today is 17 degrees and raining. I was warned plenty that cold feels colder in Japan than in North America, and I’m getting a feel for what that will be like come winter. A cool day here doesn’t just mean that you will be chilly from your car to your workplace; you’ll feel the temperature all day. None of the schools have central heating, and they will only start turning their heaters on once it drops below 10 degrees. So if it’s 11 degrees, overcast, and raining, you suffer through it. The students are all now in their winter uniforms, and I’ve moved on to more seasonally appropriate clothing as well. I’m staying quite comfortable for the moment.

Things are busy. A little busier than I’d like, but a couple of the contributors will be gone in a month or two. Tuesdays and Thursdays I do Taiko for two hours, and Wednesdays I have English conversation class. It leaves me with rather little spare time during the middle of the week. Until October 22nd I will also be staying an extra half hour after my regular work hours to help a student prepare for his English recitation contest. I’m mostly helping him get the word stresses and sentence rhythms sounding natural, but those damn ‘L’s and ‘V’s are a pain. At any rate, I’ll be relieved when November’s over and I can hand the English conversation class off to someone else.

School is becoming fully routine now, and I’ve prepared and delivered several activities without incident. While still slightly more troublesome, even the English conversation lessons are taking less time for me to prepare, and I worry about them less. At this rate, I might make an adequate teacher after all!

Taiko is awesome. It leaves my arms hurting all week, but its a small price to pay for the overwhelming amazingness that is Taiko. We practice in a small room, and even with all the drums muffled by blankets, the sound is powerful; it’s like standing next to the sub-woofer at a rock concert, for 2 hours. You can probably hear us from a couple blocks away. We practice right in front of the station, and I don’t think there are residential areas too close to us… so that’s good. They’re performing again in Kurashiki on the weekend of the 15th, so I’ll probably go cheer them on again. Plus it’ll give me a good reason to go to Kurashiki finally.

Speaking of trips: Itsukushima (Myajima) was awwwwwesome~! Most fun I’ve had since coming to Japan. Jeff came with me and we spent the entire day on the island. There’s a rope-way going up to the top, but I had read ahead of time that there was a lesser used hiking trail that lead to the same spot. So, we tried that. It was definitely the hardest hike I’ve done: about 2 hours of constant stairs, sometimes rather steep in areas where every second step had vanished. The trail wasn’t completely abandoned, and although we didn’t see any sign of people climbing up with us, we met 4 or 5 people headed down. Once we lounged on the top for a while, we opted to take the rope-way back. The town was full of ridiculously tame, tiny deer, that were content to let the crowds of tourists (including us!) stop and pet them.

The world heritage site of a shrine was as great as it has been made out to be. We made it back down from the mountain too late to enter the treasure hall, but the view out over the bay from the shrine corridors was beautiful. We also managed to be there for both high and low-tide, so we were able to see the famous grand-torii both exposed on the tidal flat, and standing in water. Sunset at high-tide was amazing, and I am now one of the millions who probably own a picture of that sight. The only disappointment was the utter lack of the monkeys I had been promised. Even other JETs that have been to Miyajima seemed surprised that we hadn’t seen any. I plan on going back in the spring to camp on the island.

Last weekend the second year JETs in Ibara took us into Fukuyama to visit a favourite pub, and it was a fairly good time. The fact that we had to catch the last train back at 10:30something was a bit of a bother, but we still enjoyed ourselves. That said, I don’t think it was so wonderful to warrant the trip. There are still plenty of nearby places I haven’t been to yet, and I don’t suffer from the urge to get to a larger city at every opportunity.

With this rapidly cooling weather, I will need to pick up some warmer clothes soon. I have what I thought were warm cloths, but I’m going to need at least another layer before too much longer.

As I was writing that, the 3 special needs students came through the teachers room selling sweet potatoes. It was fun times. Somehow without spending any money I ended up with six of the small things. After consulting the other teachers, it seems I can get away with just slicing and cooking them in a frying pan. Guess I have some potatoes to eat.

(Pictures actually to follow this time)

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