Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kirita Takoyaki Party!

I LOVE Kirita!

I went into Kirita instead of the office today (even though it's winter break for the students, teachers still have to work) and boy was I glad I did!

First of all, TC-sensei and I got to talk about what we were going to do to finish up the textbook with the ichinensei's in third term. It was great because she was more than happy to share the lesson planning duties, so I really felt like an equal teaching partner.

Secondly, most of the teachers went out for lunch at a hotel near my house. T-san called ahead and ordered bento's, so when we got there we just had to sit down and they brought the food out to us. There were six of us there (all female--I-sensei and Kyoto-sensei had to stay and "man the fort" I guess) and it was a nice, relaxed meal.

Finally, we had a takoyaki party in the afternoon!! Kyoto-sensei had caught an octopus, so he brought some of it in and we made takoyaki. Since we were close to my house, after lunch we drove to my house and then to TC-sensei's house to get the takoyaki makers. (Yes, one of my predecessors bought a takoyaki maker!) T-san and H-sensei bought the other ingrediants, and so around 3pm we made takoyaki! It was awesome!

Some of the 3rd year students saw us coming back with the takoyaki makers, so of course they wanted some. They were really cute! As we were making it, they were walking by the office and pressing their faces against the door windows, crying out my name in a pleading tone. Then when we finished making the takoyaki, they made excuses to come into the office. At first, I-sensei teased them by eating it in front of them and loudly saying "umai" (delicious), but of course he was nice afterwards and gave them some. He shooed them out once they finished, but as they were leaving, one of them looked at me and called my name with pleading eyes and voice. I wasn't swayed, though--I wanted to eat more myself. =P There were also some 1st year students still at school, so we gave them some too.

Photos: Kyoto-sensei cutting up the tako (octopus).

Making the takoyaki (my takoyaki maker is the small red one).

The finished takoyaki and I-sensei having the first taste.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Very Merry Christmas!

Christmas isn't over yet, but it's already been an awesome one.
On Saturday night I called Helaine (woke her up, actually!) to wish her a happy baptism. We talked for a bit, which was nice since I’ve probably missed her most out of all of my WAY “kids.” She mentioned that everyone was going to her place after the baptism, so the next morning (Christmas Eve) I called again and talked to all of the newly baptized, plus Pearl and Jeremy.
Then the family called about an hour later and I got to talk to Nathan, mom and dad. ^_^

AB and RB came over around 1pm and dropped off gifts for everyone. Unfortunately RB was still sick, but it was good to see them, even for a bit.

Then T, Kand R came over to decorate sugar and gingerbread cookies for the children and staff at an orphanage in Shichinohe.

Side note: K and R are absolutely amazing. They baked enough cookies, fudge and toffee for everyone at the orphanage, plus they made all the icing needed to decorate the cookies! Considering that there are ~68 children (ranging in age from 4 years old to high school aged) and ~27 staff members, it's a truly amazing feat! They made well over 200 cookies with only a dinky toaster oven!! It boggles the mind. I mean, it took me 4 hours to make ~60 cookies, and those were just chocolate chip (drop cookies)! But to make over 200 cut out cookies... @_@

They are definitely two of the most caring, generous people I know, and I respect and admire them greatly.

When we were finishing up with the cookies, we also watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and part of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" (the original animated version)--courtesy of Courtney. ^_^

We started the cookies around 2pm and were ready to leave for a quick trip to Daiso at about 6:30pm.

Just as we were about to leave, W&C came over. So T, K and R went to Daiso, and W&C and I hung out at my place for a bit before we all met up at the Towada Catholic Church to attend a Christmas eve mass.

It was pretty cool because the entire service was printed out (in Japanese) in a booklet. All the songs were in hiragana (so I could actually sing along!) and most of the congregational responses were in hiragana as well. There was communion too. At first I wasn't sure if I should take communion, since I'm not Catholic, but then I figured that Christian is Christian, and so long as I know why I'm taking communion, it's fine.

After the mass, there was a reception with plenty of food--sushi, turkey, sandwiches, tangerines and Christmas cake!--and lots of people to talk to. Some people spoke English, some Japanese, and some Spanish. It was a neat experience.

Side note: As much as I've enjoyed the two services I've attended at Greater Love Baptist Church (the Misawa church C&W also attend), the experience did make me wonder if maybe I should give the local, Towada Baptist Church a try. I might not understand a lot, but at least I'll get to know Christians in my community. It's a tough call, though, since I appreciate being able to understand the message, and I like going to a church where I have friends...

Following that everyone came back to my place. We watched "A Christmas Story"--an old but hilarious Christmas movie--and J came over as well.

After everyone left, I cleaned up and took out the trash. (You're supposed to put out the trash first thing in the morning, but I knew there was no way I'd wake up before 8am to take it out, so I cheated a bit.) When I came back, I remembered that I hadn't checked the mail, and lo and behold, there was a card from Joeie!! ^_^ (I've said it numerous times, but I'll say it again: the Japanese postal service is amazing!! Christmas eve is a holiday in Japan because it's the Emperor's birthday, but they still deliver mail!!)

So I opened the card and most of my other gifts, then took a shower and went to bed.

I slept in until nearly 1pm. It was an especially nice sleep because I slept on the bed; for the past couple of months I’ve been too lazy to put out my bedding, so I’ve been sleeping on the couch in my sleeping bag.

Just after I finished putting away my bedding, Syv and Jen called! =D Jen had written on my Facebook wall that they were going to call, but I didn’t know when they were planning on doing so, so I was worried that I would be out and miss them! But that didn’t happen and we got to talk, so it was all good. ^_^ 

Side note: Of course it’s not as good as being home together with everyone, but since I’m away for the holidays, a call is the next best thing (and this applies to all of the calls I’ve made/had in the past two days).

Then I went online and had Facebook gifts/messages from Grace, Peter, Shirley and Allie, and an email from Vince. ^_^ 

Basically I’ve just felt really loved this Christmas. I’ve had cards from my parents, Syv, Cecilia, Brenda, Joeie, and the assistant English teacher from Kirita. I’ve also gotten gifts from my parents, Syv, Joeie, AB; RB, and staff at Kirita—plus one’s on its way from Jen.
And I’ve still got McDonald’s hockey cards (from my parents) to open right now, and a Christmas dinner at K & R’s place tonight. ^_^ If I had to be away from home for Christmas, I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better Christmas than the one I’ve had so far.

I think that being in Japan has really taught me to value relationships because I have to work that much harder to maintain them long distance. It’s forced me to be more intentional in showing my care for people. If I want to wish someone a happy birthday, I have to set a time to call when I think they’ll be home (and, more often than not, I also have to look up their phone number first since I didn’t think to copy them from my cell before I left). I also appreciate things like letters/packages, emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls a lot more than I did when I was in Canada

Anyway, to conclude:
Merry Christmas!! I love and miss everyone at home in Canada, but I’m also extremely thankful for all of my friends here in Japan. ^_^
Photos: My living room (the room I live out in the winter) all cleaned up for Christmas Eve.

Cards from (left to right): mom & dad, F-sensei, Syv, Joeie, Cecilia, Brenda, T-san & H-sensei.

Sheep from AB & RB (it has a blanket inside); pillow from T-san & H-sensei; Vancouver 2010 Olympic mascot from Syv; blue blanket from Kirita year-end party.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sore but happy


I found out on Wednesday or Thursday that Kirita (my base school) was having a sports "mini-festival" on Friday. At first I was really disappointed that I was going to miss it, but when I asked Kocho-sensei (the principal) about the schedule for the "festival", he told me it would be in the afternoon from about 1:30pm-3:30pm. This was a great stroke of luck for me since I was scheduled to be finished at the school I was visiting after lunch (around 1pm). So I asked Kocho-sensei if it would be okay for me to come after my school visit, and he was like: "Let's play together!"


Unfortunately today started off on something of a bad note. It snowed a little bit so I gave myself a little extra time to get to my school: it usually takes ~17 min. to get to Koto JHS, so I called for a taxi just after 8am, giving myself 35 min to get to school by 8:35am. When I called, I swear that they said the taxi would take about 10 min (usually it takes ~5 min) to arrive. Well, it ended up taking 30 min.

Just as I finished calling the school (around 8:27am) to tell them that I would be late, the taxi finally arrived. Somehow we managed to make it to the school in about 12 min, but I was still five minutes late. The vice-principal and the teacher I was going to work with for first period were both really understanding, but I still felt terrible for being late.

Anyway, the classes I had today went pretty well--nothing spectacular, but there weren't any problems or anything either. So I was in a pretty good mood until lunch. I was eating with an ichinensei class that I hadn't actually met before, and when I arrived in the classroom, a group of girls was crying. I'm still not sure what was going on--the teacher tried to explain a bit to me, but he wasn't exactly sure what had happened either--but I think there was some sort of conflict between the girls and some sannensei where the sannensei said some mean things. I felt terrible that I was there eating lunch at the table where some of the girls were still sniffling, but I couldn't do anything to help.

After all that, I was kind of tired when I got home, but I changed and packed my stuff as fast as I could and drove to Kirita. I missed the start of the dodgeball competition, but I got to watch a couple of games, and it was pretty entertaining.

Then came the volleyball. The sannensei were split into two teams, the ninensei made one team, and the ichinensei were split into three teams. Since there are only 17 ichinensei, one team was short a person and some of the teachers took turns filling in--myself included! It wasn't regular volleyball, either; the rule was that exactly three people had to touch the ball before returning it.

Even though it was embarrassing because I was so terrible, it was fun playing with the students. And they're all really good kids. When their teammates missed, or even when their opponents missed, they would call out "Don't mind, don't mind!" and other words of encouragement. Since I was hitting the ball improperly most of the time, my arms and wrists also ended up sore and bruised. But still, it was probably one of the best times I've had at Kirita so far.

After volleyball, they gave out certificates to the winning dodgeball and volleyball teams, then everyone had Christmas cake and drinks. ^_^

The fun didn't stop there either. Afterwards I went shopping with T-san and H-sensei, and we also had our (Kirita) bon enkai (end of the year party). But I'll write more about those things later!

More student quotables

It's amazing what students will come up with when you give them the chance.

A no-prep game that I have students play as a warm-up at the beginning of class or as a time-filler at the end of class is line races. The students compete in their rows to write as many words or sentences as they can on the blackboard in a set amount of time.

So on Wednesday I had the sannensei (third years) compete using two verb sentences, e.g. "I want to play..." "I like to eat..." These are all the sentences one student contributed for his team:

"He likes to kill people."
"I want to leave NERV."
"I know how to use people."
"I don't know how to kill you."

Definitely creative (in the sense that it's nothing they'd learn from the textbook) but also a little scary. Still, I wasn't as shocked as I might've been since these sentences came from the student who once said that his favourite movie was the Evangelion movie because he likes grotesque movies. (At the time, I was impressed that he knew and even pronounced the word "grotesque" properly.)

But yeah, that was Wednesday.

Thursday I had jishu gakushu (extra English) with the sannensei and I had them do a "Twelve Days of Christmas" activity where they each were given a number (there are twelve sannensei students, so it worked out perfectly) and they had to fill in something that they wanted. This is what they came up with:

1 lord killing his people (can you guess which student that was?)
2 big countries
3 years vacation
4 erasers
5 ikemen* boys and cute girl friends
6 ice creams
7 good stores
800,000,000 yen house
9 soccer teams
10 big TVs and games
11 delicious foods
12 happiness all over the world


Okay, so maybe this is a "had to be there" kind of thing, but listening to them read through the "song" was really funny.

Then today, the sannensei at the school I was visiting (i.e. NOT at Kirita) had to do an activity where they were given question starters--who, what, when, where, how many, etc.--which they had to use to find out things about me. So after they wrote the questions (in groups), they had to--one by one--come up and ask me the question, listen to my answer, write it down, and report my answer to the rest of the group. During this time, one student (male) came up to me and said: "I will make you happy." My immediate reply was: "Is that a question?" At which point both of us and the students who had heard the comment started laughing. Then just before he left, I said "Thank you" and this elicited a fresh round of laughter from the nearby students.

As I was leaving the class, the same student came up to me and asked: "How many (remember, that was one of the question starters) lingerie do you have?" If a student in Canada had asked me that, I would have been insulted/annoyed, but I just thought it was amazing that the student knew the word lingerie (although he pronounced it like "longer-ray") and had the guts to ask me the question. Of course my answer was "It's a SECRET," but yeah, it was definitely amusing.

Then in the next class (also sannensei) one group asked me: "Do you spend Christmas with a boyfriend?" It wasn't as funny because I overheard them talking about how to ask the question, so I actually helped them phrase it properly, but it was still amusing for me that they thought up such a question in the first place.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Creative English

The best part about teaching a language (whether it's for native speakers or as a second language) is the many opportunities that arise for students to demonstrate their creativity. Here're two of my favourite English conversations thus far:

26 Oct, 2007 (Tues)

Assignment: Making a skit.

The italicized lines are the written prompts I provided for the students; everything else is their own creation! It may not be exact because I wrote down the script from memory after the class, but it's pretty much what they actually said! I loved it because it was clever and unique.

Student A: Hey, is that Johnny Depp?
Student B: Who?
Student A: He is a Hollywood actor.
Student B: Really? I don't see him. Where is he?
Student A: He lives in love hotel.
Student B: Do you want to talk to him? What should we say?
Student A: I want to marriage with you. I love you forever.
Student B: Good idea.
Students A&B: Let's go to love hotel!

3 Dec, 2007 (Mon)

Assignment: ALT's self-introduction, asking questions.

At junior high schools, the first time I meet a class I usually do a short self-intro, after which I give the students a chance to ask me questions. Most of the time, students ask basic things like "What ~ do you like?" and/or "How old are you?"

This student's question was unique in terms of content as well as in grammatical structure. I was also impressed that he listened to my answer and responded appropriately. (Sometimes I ask students the same question they asked me--"What food do you like?"--and once or twice I've received answers such as "Yes?")

Student: What do you think of my girlfriend?
Me: Who is your girlfriend?
Student: That girl over there. (Points to a girl three rows behind him. She ducks down and shakes her head furiously, denying the statement.)
Me: I think she's very cute.
Student: Thank you. I think you are too.

These are the moments that really make me love teaching. ^_^

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Comfort Food

There's nothing like sitting under the kotatsu with a big bowl of (minced pork) congee on a cold winter's day when you're sick.

*contented sigh*

Boiled rice never tasted so good!

The only thing missing was the dried shredded pork (ba hu--spelling?!). There was tons of dried shredded squid and other assorted seafood in the supermarket, but try as I might, I could not find any shredded pork.

Oh well. I greatly enjoyed it even without the ba hu. (But if someone wanted to mail me a pack of ba hu for Christmas, he/she would have my eternal gratitude!)

I'm not that sick (just a cough/cold), but I'm sick enough that I feel very lethargic and don't want to do anything, so thank goodness congee is super easy to make.

Apparently there's a Japanese congee-like dish called okayu that is also commonly served to people who are ill. The main differences are that it's a lot thicker than congee (5:1 water to rice ration, compared to 12:1) and takes less time (30 min compared to 1 hr+) to cook. My rice cooker has an okayu setting, so if I'm feeling really lazy next time I might try using the rice cooker to make okayu instead of boiling congee on the stove.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Always look on the bright side of life"

Apologies for the lack of updates. I've had a jam-packed teaching schedule, various visitors (C from Sai, as well as family), household winter preparations, and first snowfall(s) in Towada to deal with.

Anyway, just a quick note to say that I'm getting sick (again?). I've got the dry cough, sore throat, and congested sinus thing going, so I'm feeling...less than great.

But I'm trying to practice thankfulness.

I mean, it sucked that there was such a large snowfall so early in the winter season (I've been told it was a record-setting snowfall for November in Towada), but I was lucky that I had people over who had no problem waking up early and helping to shovel the snow.

The Hachinohe mid-year seminar (for all JETs in Aomori prefecture) was a bit of a pain since we had to arrange our own transportation and accomodations, but it was great because it gave me the opportunity to fellowship with other Christian JETs. A bunch of us got together for a(n American) Thanksgiving dinner at the home of two (Christian) Hachinohe JETs, W&C. It was truly a blessing for me to be able to listen to everyone sharing about what God was doing in their lives in Japan. And it also made me realize how little I've grown and how apathetic I've been about my relationship with God since coming to Japan. It was a good kick in the butt, so to speak. Moreover, I got the name of W&C's church in Misawa, so I think I'm going to try going to that one instead of Calvary Baptist Church (CBC).

I know I've only been there twice, but I really feel that people at that church will only make an effort to welcome you if you're American (and from the base) or Japanese (and part of the "unevangelized"). I mean, I filled out the visitor card asking for more information, and even indicating that I might be interested in serving, but it's been two weeks and I haven't heard a thing from CBC. Maybe I'm just being impatient, but now that I know there's a church where I'll have at least two friends, I'm not willing to spend more time on CBC.

[22 Jan 2010 Edit: I realize now that I was being very judgmental of CBC because I felt uncomfortable at there and I mistakenly placed the blame for that feeling of discomfort on the church atmosphere instead of my own highly introverted nature. I really didn't give the church a fair chance at all.]

But anyway, this is supposed to be a post about thankfulness, so I digress.

I'm thankful that the weather cleared up for my family's (mom, my aunt, and auntie Selina) last weekend in Japan. We had a great time in Hakodate, and getting them to Misawa station early on Monday morning was no problem since the snow had melted and the weather was good.

Going back to my current state of health, I realized yesterday that the good thing about having a cold is that it makes natto (fermented soy beans) a heck of a lot easier to eat. I was actually able to finish all of my natto during school lunch yesterday simply because the cold dulled my sense of taste enough for me to stomach it! (Usually I can only manage to eat 1/3-1/2 of the serving of natto.)

And speaking of school lunches, today was the first time a particular group of the 3rd year girls talked to me during school lunch of their own volition: they asked me if I had a boyfriend! =P It was pretty funny, actually, because before they asked me, I was listening to them talk about the 3 qualities they look for in guys (face, height, etc.). I couldn't help smiling at their conversation, so I think a couple of them realized I could understand what they were saying, and that's what prompted them to ask me that question. It's too bad, though, that I had to answer, "No, I don't have a boyfriend." I'm really happy being single and not particularly interested in being part of a "couple", but at that particular moment, I did kind of wish I had a boyfriend just so I would have a little more to talk about with them. Instead I just asked them back "Do you have boyfriends?" To which, of course, they all replied "NO!" except for one who jokingly pointed to one of the other girls and said "----'s my boyfriend." ^_~

Another thing that happened at school today was that I found out that tomorrow is my JTE's last day before she goes on maternity leave. At first I was a little irritated that no one bothered to tell me earlier when her last day would be (I sort of figured it out when she told the 1st years that she'd had fun with the class and later asked someone when her last day would be), but, on the bright side, at least I found out today so I could make plans to go in to the school tomorrow to say goodbye properly.

Of course, I'm also sad that we won't be working together anymore. I won't say that it was an ideal working relationship, but I think we got along quite well and that our team-teaching would've improved and gotten more in sync if we'd continued to work together. But I'm thankful that I'll have a little more time than I thought I'd have to get to know the teacher I'll be working with for the rest of the year before I have to make my re-contracting decision.

When T-san (the school clerk/secretary) told me the name of N-sensei's replacement (and the school she'd be coming from), at first I thought that I'd never met her. After I got home, though (a good half-hour later!) I realized that I have indeed met her at Higashi JHS, but I hadn't taught with her, so it took me a while to make the connection. So although I wish my new JTE could've been a teacher I'm more familiar with (and know that I can work with), at least I know that it's not one of the teachers that I find more...challenging to work with. And who knows, maybe I'll end up getting along with her even better than I did with N-sensei--one can always hope!

I'm also thankful to have received my first Christmas card!! (Thanks Ceci!) It actually arrived two days ago, but since I'd been busy cleaning up after my family's visit and doing chores and errands I put off during their stay, I forgot to open it until today. =P Not only was it great to get mail that wasn't a bill, it was a good reminder that I should probably be sending out my cards by next week at the latest.

So yes, there're a lot of things to be thankful for. ^_^

(What are YOU thankful for?)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Photos Up-to-Date!

Wheee! More photos uploaded to Facebook, bringing me up-to-date!! ^_^ Hopefully I'll be able to get around to writing something again soon!

Random Food (yes, more pictures added!)
Tokyo & The Return
Liz & Alan's Excellent Adventure
Short Visit Home
Back to Japan
School Stuff
Kirita Halloween Party
Allie's Birthday

Sunday, October 28, 2007

More Photos!

Still no more back-dated entries, but lots more photos!

Random Food (added 4 more pictures)
Woody's & Movie Night at Allie's
Takko Beef & Garlic Festival
Car Shopping
Aomori Culture Day
Busy Day
Misawa Hockey Tournament
Canadian Thanksgiving in Japan
Kirita Culture Festival

Calvary Baptist Church Misawa, Japan

I went to church in Japan for the first time today. It was definitely a bit of a weird experience, and it made me realize a few things:

1) becoming part of an established faith community takes work and perseverance
2) one friendly face/one person acknowledging that you're new and welcoming you makes a HUGE difference
3) a written order of service can be very comforting/help ease the feeling of disorientation
4) ultimately, worship isn't about me, but GOD

So that's the summary. Feel free to stop reading here. The rest of this post is going to be my recollection of and musings on the experience.

Thank goodness I spent a good hour online yesterday afternoon/evening looking up Misawa maps and plotting my route to the church! The Calvary Baptist Church (CBCM) website had what has got to be one of the most useless set of directions and map that I have encountered:

From the main gate, go straight.
At the third stoplight, make a LEFT turn.
At the next stoplight, make a RIGHT turn.
The church will be on your LEFT.

And that was it!! They didn't give any landmarks, plus they didn't even orient the map properly (i.e. north-east-south-west)!

Luckily I found a map online that showed stoplights, landmarks, and major and small roads, because I overshot the main gate and had to go back. Considering how directionally-challenged I am, I was quite proud of the fact that my little detour only took about five minutes to correct. (Okay, I actually also missed the left turn at the stoplight because I forgot to count the main gate stoplight, but I didn't have to turn back to find the church, so I'm not counting that mistake!)

And even though I had to take a different route going home (the road I took going up was a one-way street up to the main gate), I didn't get lost at all on the way back! (God was definitely at work there! =P)

Anyway, I made it to the church with a couple of minutes to spare before the service was scheduled to start and in the foyer there was a sign that said "Visitors please sign in here." So I walked up to the table--still kind of looking at the sign, but the lady there didn't say anything, just gave me a quizzical smile, so I didn't say anything and just turned to go into the sanctuary.

Apparently I should've said something because they give a bag of cookies to first-time visitors, but I've always been the type to avoid asking for help/things, so that's kind of where #2 (in my list of realizations) comes into play.

When the guy leading the service explained about the bag of cookies (and I noticed that the couple in front of me had a key chain that said "visitor 20") I felt pretty dumb for not signing in, but at the same time, I was kind of thinking that if the lady had even said "hello" I would've felt more comfortable about identifying myself as a visitor. So that was my negative experience of #2.

As a positive experience, of #2, however, during the "let's stand up and greet each other" time, a woman came up and introduced herself to me. She asked me if it was my first time at the church, and briefly mentioned that the church's pastor had fallen ill and had to return to the US, so they were currently without a pastor, but she hoped that I would join in some of the many activities the church had to offer. Up to that point, I had been wondering if I really wanted to make the drive out to Misawa for church in English every week.

Even though I was among people who could speak English, I felt out of place. (It didn't help that almost everyone there seemed to be part of a family from the American base.) I wondered if it would be better for me to go to a Japanese speaking church in Towada. I might not understand the songs or the messages (or anything, really), but at least there would be with people from my local community. And who knows, maybe I could make some friends and/or improve my Japanese!

I'm actually still thinking about it (I've found the address for a baptist church in Towada), but thanks in large part to that friendly woman, I'm feeling more like I should give CBCM a few more tries before going to the Towada church.

Actually, I think I'm coming to a fifth realization here. The hardest thing about the service today was the wave of homesickness that struck me as I sat in the pew, waiting for service to begin. As I looked around, I wasn't thinking "I'm glad to be back at a church after all these months," but "I wish I was back at MCBC." And I can't help but wonder if that feeling isn't part of the reason I put off looking for a church until I had my car and could drive to an English-speaking church in Misawa. I mean, I sort of knew there was a baptist church in Towada, so if I had wanted to, I could've looked it up online and ridden my bike there. Maybe I knew, subconsciously, that going to church in Japan would be the thing to make me feel the most homesick, so I wanted to avoid that?

But back to my experience today. As I mentioned, I felt really homesick as I was sitting (by myself) in the pew, waiting for the service to start--so much so that I could actually feel tears welling up. Whirling around in my mind were all these thoughts of how uncomfortable I felt. As the service started, however, I caught myself and had to remind myself that being at church wasn't supposed to be all about me, it was about worshipping GOD (realization #4).

That thought helped a lot. When I caught myself focusing on minor differences between CBCM and MCBC, I reminded myself "it's about God" and that helped me to stop nit-picking. That said, some of the differences made me appreciate the small things MCBC does, for example:

1) printing the order of service on the bulletin (realization #3): even though we don't always follow it as it's printed, I think it does help ease a newcomer's feeling of disorientation; I especially missed having the scripture passage for the message printed because I didn't catch the full scripture reference, so I had to flip through all of 2 Corinthians to find the passage while it was being read--and to make it harder, the person doing the reading wasn't reading directly from the NIV Bible or the translation they had in the pews, but was kind of doing his own thing.

2) passing the offering bag through all rows: I actually planned on giving offering, but the ushers (or whatever you want to call the people collecting the offering) didn't pass the plate down my pew (I was at the side and they were going down the middle) because I didn't know to make a gesture to indicate that I wanted to give something (like flashing an envelope or nodding my head, or something); I guess they don't want people to feel obligated, but at the same time, it made it awkward for me as a person who did want to give an offering

3) ask for newcomers to identify themselves and to fill out a card: according to guy chairing the service, there were supposed to be cards for newcomers to fill out in the pews, but I didn't see any, so since I missed signing in, there wasn't any way for me to identify myself as a visitor to the church; it wouldn't be a big deal if I wasn't planning on coming back, but since I want to try to become a part of the community, I would've like'd to have been able to make myself known without having to go up and start talking to someone randomly (and how would I know who was a regular member and who wasn't, anyway?)

I know I'm complaining/criticizing a lot, but it wasn't all discomfort and awkwardness. Apart from the song for the call to worship and the song of response, I knew all the songs. And I don't think I've belted out songs like that in a long time (last Sunday at MCBC I was too tired to really put everything into my singing). Not knowing anyone made me feel a little freer to focus on singing to God (I wasn't thinking about what to do after service, who I needed to talk to, etc.).

Plus I actually took notes on the message (I haven't done that in a LONG time)! Objectively the message was more self-helpish and less Bible-based than I would've liked, but the speaker did have some interesting illustrations and good points. He was talking about problems and troubles. The distinction he made between the two is that problems have a solution, but troubles require rescue.

An example he gave was some firefighters in California. They needed to find a way to stop a large fire from jumping a road and spreading. That was a problem that they were trained to deal with. But while they were working on that, a big wind came and suddenly they were surrounded by flames. That was trouble that required a helicopter to come and spread some fire retardant and to rescue them.

He talked about how our responses to problems and troubles need to be different. For problems, we should pray for strength and wisdom to solve them, but for troubles, we should pray for weakness so that we can allow God to be our strength and to save us.

Another point he made was that the root problem is sin. As a problem, it has a solution, but it is also a trouble because the solution requires/required rescue through Jesus's salvation.

As you can probably tell from my ability to recollect the message, I found it pretty interesting, and it reminded me that I do need to take time to listen to and reflect on God's word.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Heckload of Pictures!

As you've probably noticed, I'm still WAY behind in my updates. Things are still pretty busy for me, so I haven't had much time to sit and write.

In the meantime, though, I've uploaded a bunch of photos into various albums on Facebook. Don't worry, though, you don't have to join Facebook to see them! Here're the links (in mostly chronological order):

Homemade Bento & Okonomiyaki
Oiraya Lunch & Sakagami's Drinking House
Shimoda Mall
Supageti (aka "Spaghetti") Restaurant
Lake Towada
Lawson's Dinner
Oirase Brewery
Random Food & First Shichinohe Visit
Lawson's Dinner 2
Cafe If
Towada Aki Matsuri
Monday Eikaiwa Enkai
Ron's Birthday
Jason's Welcome Party
Gyoza Restaurant
Gift & Kirita Enkai
Random Food

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"You Don't Know What You Got..."

As the saying/song ("Big Yellow Taxi") goes: "You don't know what you got 'till it's gone." (Grammatically incorrect, I know.)

Today at Kirita there was a mini-concert performed by members of a local (junior?) orchestra and the songs made me feel a little...nostalgic/homesick. Towards the end of the program they played "Take Me Home Country Road" (from the Studio Ghibli anime "Mimi wo Sumaseba" aka "Whisper of the Heart") and a medley from "The Sound of Music."

The cellist explained the background of the songs (in Japanese, of course), and encouraged everyone to sing along if they could--particularly for the "Do Re Mi" song from "The Sound of Music." Listening to the familiar music, I had the urge to play the piano.

But of course I remembered that I don't have a piano of my own here.

Funny, isn't it how one of the first things from Canada that I feel the lack of is something that I didn't even really use when I was there? If I can download & print or otherwise rustle up some sheet music, I may ask the music teacher at Kirita if there's a time when I can practice without disturbing people.

The "Country Road" song specifically also made feel a little nostalgic. When I heard the opening bars of the song, I remembered watching the movie with Ceci and laughing over how they killed the song in the movie with overuse!

I miss hanging out with the girls and/or small group people. All the JET friends I've made here are great, and we get together quite frequently, but it's not quite the same.

And I know I've been pretty complacent about my relationship with God since coming here (if not for the sense that I "should be" attending church, I probably wouldn't feel bothered at all by the fact that I'm not going to make a concerted effort to find a church until I get a car), but I think that this is really where I can see "the difference."

Don't get me wrong, my friends here are amazing people who are always more than willing to lend a hand or to go the extra mile for a friend--and I don't know how I would've gotten along in Japan without them--but without God in the relationship, there isn't that same feeling of investment in each other's lives.

I miss sharing not just about the events and details of life but about the true thoughts and feelings that arise from them. I miss that feeling of knowing others and being known by them. I miss being able to pray with others about anything and everything.

In a nutshell, I miss Christian community.

And I guess that just highlights the strength and weakness of my faith.

I've never doubted God's presence in my life. In all the times of trouble or apathy I've experienced, I've always known that God is here for me. I don't think I've ever really doubted his love or wondered if he's deserted me.

But because of that certainty, I am also complacent. I don't worry about my lack of action to accompany my faith. And when I neglect God, I don't feel the same sense of loss/disconnection that I feel in relation to people.

One of my goals before coming to Japan was to earnestly seek GOD. I wanted to build a relationship with him that wasn't contingent on other people or service in a church/ministry.

And here I am, a month and a half into my life in Japan (and an hour into writing this post) and I'm only just realizing that I've completely lost sight of that goal.

As certain as I am (and have been) of God, I can see now that I still have no idea what it means to be a Christian. And I'm pretty sure I've come to this realization before.

I just wonder how many more times I'm going to have to come to it before I start figuring things out.

Post-Script: Reviewing what I've written, I ask myself:

Should I post this here, or should I post it on my devo blog?

Will people who aren't from MCBC/the Mississauga church circle be turned off from this blog after reading this post? Will they ask me questions I won't feel comfortable answering? Will it negatively alter their perceptions of me somehow? I've used a lot of Christian jargon; I don't want to seem like some right-wing Bible-thumper.

Who is this blog for? How much of myself do I want to share with its intended audience? Do I compartmentalize myself too much--a Japan blog, a devo blog, a hockey blog, an anime/manga/random blog, a Xanga blog...?

What does it say about my "faith" that I am a bit uncomfortable with sharing these thoughts with anyone and everyone who feels like reading this blog post?

Will people who aren't close Christian friends bother reading all of this anyway? And even if they do, will they comment on it, or say anything to me about it?

And finally:

I've spent over an hour writing this thing! Isn't it about time that I took a shower and got ready for bed? I've got classes to teach tomorrow, and I've been going to bed pretty late for the past few days!

How to Spend Very Little on Groceries in Japan

I know I'm still about a month behind in my posts, but I figured if I don't start posting current stuff (i.e. as it happens), I'm just going to keep falling further and further behind!

Anyway, here's my random list of "tips" on how to live with a grocery budget of ¥1000-2000 ($10-$20)/week--all from personal experience!

In no particular order...

  • like eggplant, tofu, small green peppers, and bananas--some of the cheapest food available!
  • have a high tolerance for repetition: I have eaten the same dish (eggplant, green peppers and sometimes tofu with packaged sauce--all cheap ingredients!) 2-4 nights/week for the past 5 weeks, and I'm not sick of it yet!
  • appreciate simple foods: grilled cheese or tuna sandwiches, baked potatoes, onigiri, etc.
  • appreciate bland foods: keeping a large variety of spices, condiments, etc. on hand can get costly; the only condiments I've purchased so far have been soy sauce, mayonnaise, "Tare" sauce (available only in Towada/Aomori), and salt, and I hardly even use them!
  • introduce yourself to/make friends with your neighbours: one neighbour gave me potatoes and tomatoes!
  • show interest in different Japanese foods: a teacher at my base school talked about eating "soumen" and I asked her what it was, then today (2 weeks after she explained it to me), she gave me a package of soumen, a bottle of the sauce for it, and a handwritten explanation of how to cook/eat it!
  • teach at an elementary/junior high school: you will usually be provided with a school lunch at little to no cost! Not only are these lunches quite large, but they're also reasonably balanced/healthy! I always try to finish my lunch at school so I can get away with a small dinner at home
  • bring a large bag of your favourite cereal with you from home: I haven't had to worry about breakfast once yet since coming to Japan!
  • eat your cereal with a banana: again, bananas are cheap, and the space they take up in your bowl will help you to conserve your cereal, so it will last longer!
  • drink tap water: it's perfectly safe; if you don't like the taste, invest in a Brita filter (I inherited one from my predecessor) or boil your water before drinking
  • invest in ¥100 ($1) onigiri molds: onigiri are cheap and filling, and the molds make making them fun and easy!
  • store your bread in the freezer: for some reason bread expires very quickly in Japan (2-3 days after the purchase date is typical)
  • limit your grocery shopping trips to once or twice a week: if you don't see all the different foods available (particularly ready-made foods) you won't be tempted to try them!
  • start a blog: instead of snacking, I go on the internet when I'm bored; if I don't have anything else to do online, I can always update my blog!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Shimoda Mall

Saturday R and K offered to take us three Towada newbies shopping, either at the Towada Jusco or at Shimoda Mall. They all met up at my place, and CH and T (whom we thought were going to watch fireworks somewhere else) also came.

At the bookstore, I bought an issue of Hana to Yume (a manga magazine) because it had Hana Kimi on the front. On a more practical note, I also bought a new pillow, pillow case, and what I thought was a futon cover (it was actually a duvet cover, but I think I needed that more than a fitted sheet for the futon, so it worked out well).

Towards the end of our shopping time, CH and I decided to have ice cream (before dinner!) at the Baskin Robbins. For summer, they had a special snowman (yuki daruma) cone—a small scoop on top of a king scoop—so of course, being the sucker for advertising that I am, I had to try it! The flavours I chose were musk melon and “sweet mariage”. They were both pretty good, but I liked the musk melon flavour better since “sweet mariage” was a bit too sweet.

We had dinner at “Steak & Hamburg” in the mall, and because we were split into two tables separated by a wall/divider, we spent most of the meal throwing messages written on pieces of paper/napkin/straw wrappers back and forth. Juvenile, yes, but also fun.

At the drink bar, they had apple and melon slushies! It was quite tasty, and I enjoyed the neon green colour! =P I ordered "baked curry doria" which is basically curry on rice baked with cheese with a lightly poached egg thrown on top. (Really, I just ordered it because I saw the egg!)

After dinner we watched movies. CH, R and I watched Rush Hour 3, and everyone else (plus CD, who came just for the movie) watched Oceans Thirteen. Oh, the interesting thing about buying movie tickets at this theatre (I’m guessing it’s like this across Japan?) is that there is assigned seating so if you’re in a group you have to buy your tickets all together (and it’s also probably better if you buy your tickets ahead of time).

I’d seen previews for Rush Hour 3 in Canada, and I thought it looked like a terrible movie, but it ended up being not too bad. There were definitely more funny scenes in the movie than I expected from the previews. The unfortunate thing was that one of the characters spoke Japanese, so I wasn’t actually able to understand all of it (since of course they wouldn’t bother to translate the Japanese into English in Japan).

We finished a LOT earlier than Oceans Thirteen, though, so we ended up amusing ourselves by taking funny pictures with the life size cut outs for the upcoming Hero (Japanese law drama, not the Jet Li action film) movie. Well, I took pictures—CH and R posed (both knowingly and unknowingly) for them.

When everyone else came out, they also posed for photos.

Friday, August 24, 2007

S-san's Drinking House

Friday was a rare day at the office because people in our department were actually in! So we all had lunch at Oirase-ya (the soba place across the street).

I hung out at AH’s place after work and then everyone—AB and J—met up with us so we could go together to S-san’s “drinking house.”

It was a lot of fun; there was an abundance of food and alcohol (having learned my lesson from the lemon sour, though, I only drank ½ a glass of beer). We had kimchi nabe (stew), grilled eggplant, fish, sausages, steaks and onions, and scallop sashimi. S-san introduced us to a Towada sauce that’s really good with meat and vegetables. I tried it on a grilled onion and it actually succeeded in making the onion taste decent! I mean, I HATE onions, but I managed to eat the small slice I was given, thanks to the sauce.

Towards the end of the night, S-san’s daughter, KA came home, so we got to talk with her for a bit. She works at the Aomori bank and she’s around the same age as AH, J and I, so it was fun to talk with her. Hopefully we’ll be able to hang out sometime.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Homemade Okonomiyaki!

Wednesday was another half-Kirita, half-office day, but this time I went to Kirita first. Only two (out of the four) students were asked to come in for practice, so I was finished before lunch. Back at the office, AH and I went off on our own for lunch at the soba place across the street, Oirase-ya.

After work, I really wanted to go to taiko practice again, but we (AH, J and I) had to “teach” at an English conversation class (eikaiwa). That was fun too—we met S-san (a former All-Japan soccer player!) and other nice people—but just hearing the taiko practice going on outside made my hands itch to grab some sticks and to drum.

Thursday AH and I went together to Sanbongi JHS to help the students with their speeches for the contest. T-sensei was supposed to pick us up from the school (to take us to get our gaijin cards and to open our bank accounts) afterwards, so I decided to walk.

Luckily I left a LOT of extra time, because I actually managed to get lost!! For some reason, I thought the school was further south than it actually was, so I overshot it and had to ask for directions to get there. As I started going back north, I decided to ask someone for directions, just to be safe. Well, that turned out to be a bad idea since the first person I asked was an elderly lady who didn’t really know where it was. When I talked to her, I thought she was giving me rough directions, but it turned out she was actually just suggesting that I look for someone else to ask!

Of course, I didn’t figure this out until I’d walked a fair distance back south (the way I’d come—the wrong way) and finally saw another person, whom the old lady then told me I should ask. Thankfully the lady (a storekeeper) knew where the school was and was able to give me directions that I could actually understand.

So I ended up going back up north, but a little more west. Thankfully I made it just on time.

We were supposed to finish around lunch time, but we ended about an hour and a half early—just about 10am. Not knowing what else to do, we called our office (well, I asked AH to call since I hate phoning!) and made arrangements for T-sensei to pick us up from AH’s house.

T-sensei took us out for lunch at a restaurant in a downtown hotel. We all had the unagi special—yummy! Then AH and I finally got gaijin cards and opened our bank accounts! It was quite the process, since you can’t make any changes/corrections on a form, AH and I ended up having to re-write our forms a couple of times.

AB and RB had invited us to their place for dinner that night, so AH and I made plans to meet up at J’s place, but I was late because I missed the turn off of Route 4 and ended up going WAY far south. (Yes, I made the same mistake twice in the same day!) On the plus side, though, I found the Uniqlo!

Anyway, we (re: I) eventually made it to A&RB’s, where we enjoyed homemade okonomiyaki! The way RB made it was different from the restaurant in Aomori in that she didn’t mix the egg in with the batter, but just cracked it on top and let it fry that way. It was really delicious—even better than the restaurant’s!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day of Firsts

Tuesday was a day of firsts. It was my first (half) day in a school. All of us (AB, AH and I) went into the office in the morning, but I went to my base school, Kirita Junior High School in the afternoon to help some students practice for the Towada English speech contest. It was also my first of many taxi rides to Kirita.

At first I had no idea what I was doing, but after listening to the comments the JTE (Japanese Teacher of English), N-sensei made, I started to figure out what I was supposed to be listening for in the speeches. The students were great, too. They really paid attention to what I was saying (even when they weren’t 100% what I was saying) and tried to make the changes I suggested.

That night was also my first taiko practice! It was a lot of fun, and I mostly had the rhythm down by the end of the practice, but I definitely wasn’t hitting the drums with as much force as I was supposed to.

Oh, and I rushed home after taiko practice and made it back just in time to watch the "Hanazakari no Kimitachi e" drama on TV! (Another first!) I didn’t realize it before I started watching, but the male lead character (Sano Izumi) is played by Oguri Shun, the same guy who played Hanazawa Rui in Hana Yori Dango! Unfortunately I didn’t really like his portrayal of Sano. In the manga, Sano is a cool but slightly aloof character. In the drama, however, he seems more like an anti-social jerk. And I’m not sure how much of that characterization comes from the drama’s scripting, and how much comes from Oguri’s reading of the script, because I definitely got a “Rui-like” feeling from “Sano.” =/

Monday, August 20, 2007

Small Kindnesses

Monday was back to work at the office. I rode my bike to city hall and took the bus to work. It was a very slow day at the office, and it was pretty warm/humid in the office. Even the rain didn’t help much to cool things down!

Ally and I really had no idea when were supposed to leave so it was a good thing that Mi-san was there to look after us (neither AB nor T-sensei were in that day) and to take the bus back with us. On the way to the bus stop we walked through the Oirase Brewery area. There were a number of food places plus a market. Mi-san also bought us ice cream sundaes (strawberry).

Since it was raining, Mi-san showed me a stop closer to my house where I could get off (and I left the bike at City Hall). When I was nearly at my house, one of my neighbours stopped me and asked me if I had cooked dinner yet/if I liked potatoes—or something along those lines! I really had no clue what she actually said (again I was so flustered to be speaking to someone in Japanese one-on-one that I wasn’t able to process what was being said), but the gist of it was that she was going to drop by with some potatoes for me later on.

I had been planning to head back out to the ¥100 store and to pick up my bike, but I waited for my neighbour. She came to my door about 15-20 min. later with a bag of potatoes and tomatoes! It was really very nice of her!

Then as I was leaving (for the store and my bike), a guy from Towada Gas pulled up randomly. Again, I had a hard time figuring out exactly what he was saying, but I figured out that he wanted to come in to replace something and not to collect money or anything. So I went back in and he checked out the outlet where my fridge was plugged in. I already had a new plug (or whatever) for the fridge, though, so it turned out he didn’t need to do anything.

Finally I was able to go out to the ¥100 store and to retrieve my bike!

Later that night, my mom called (from work). I also talked to my coworkers from the bank since apparently my mom was calling from Distribution—my old department. It was nice to hear how things were going at Scotia.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Watching Sumo and Biking

My second weekend in Towada was very relaxed. Saturday all of us Towada ALTs went to see the Junior High Sumo competition. AB managed to lower my bike seat, so we all biked there.

On the way home, AB showed me how to get to Tsutaya, a large dvd, cd, manga/book store.
It was a bit more of an eventful trip than it should’ve been, however, as I managed to fall off my bike twice. (Up to that point I hadn’t ridden a bike since 3rd or 4th grade, so…) The first fall was pretty impressive, as I managed to fall over the little curb thing onto the road, with my left foot trapped awkwardly between the pedal and the bike. Luckily there wasn’t any oncoming traffic at the time. It didn’t really hurt, but it was pretty darn embarrassing, and I ended up with some spectacular bruises—bad enough that I didn’t wear shorts until the bruises were gone. The second fall wasn’t too bad, I just got a bit freaked out as I was going through a narrow section of the sidewalk and I lost my balance a bit.
Anyway, the trip to Tsutaya was worth the bruises because I was able to buy the last few volumes of Fruits Basket (in Japanese, of course). (Below is an out of focus picture of my bruise. It actually got more "spectacular" looking later on. And I also discovered a couple of days later that I'd also bruised my right foot, just under my ankle!)

The rest of the day/night I spent cleaning and reading manga.

Oh, and I also made onigiri with moulds I had purchased at the ¥100 store (Japanese dollar store, basically). Whoever made the onigiri mould is a genius!! It cut down my onigiri making time by probably 50-75%! Plus the moulds were really cute! Along with the standard triangle-shaped moulds, I got a set that was heart-shaped, star-shaped and bear-shaped! Kawaii

Sunday I got on my bike and went shopping. Riding my bike again (after having fallen twice the day before) was actually something of an accomplishment for me. It sounds silly, but I spent quite a bit of time debating with myself over whether or not I should ride my bike to the stores or if I should just walk. I actually started walking before I changed my mind, turned around and picked up the bike.

To me, the decision to take the bike, even though I wasn’t confident about my ability to ride it and I was worried I’d fall again, was significant. I’ve always avoided doing things which would require skills I wasn’t confident in, or would push me out of my comfort zone. But a big part of my decision to come to Japan was the desire to change my failure-avoiding tendencies, so riding the bike was my first step towards change.
And it was a practical step, too. It probably would’ve taken me 20-25min. to walk to the electronics store, but on the bike, it was only 10-15min.

After shopping (at the electronics store and a different bookstore), I went grocery shopping. I bought a package of sauce mix for an eggplant/peppers/carrot/minced pork dish that I used for dinner on Sunday…and Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday!!
That night I also made the dumb move of downloading mIRC so I could download manga scanlations. I stayed up pretty late
downloading and reading a heckload of manga!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Aomori Orientation: Day 3

For the last day of orientation, it was cool outside, but inside the Board of Education, it was disgustingly warm and humid. It was a major struggle to stay awake through all the sessions!
Lunch was across the street at a Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon. I had nasi goreng. Yummy!

Finally it was time to return. T-sensei picked AH and I up and drove us back. I was tired, so I was dozing off and on throughout the car ride home.
When I got back I was planning on sleeping early, but the mailman (again, I LOVE the Japanese postal service!) delivered my modem, so I stayed up setting up my internet, checking email and Facebook, and otherwise getting back in touch with people.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Aomori Orientation: Day 2 - Chronicles of Okonomiyaki

We had no idea what to order! All okonomiyaki looks pretty much the same when it's cooked, so we couldn't just point at a picture and order. ^^;;

It was pretty embarrassing, actually, because I asked the waitress what one of the pictures was, and she said "okonomiyaki imagi" i.e. of okonomiyaki. But I didn't process "imagi" as "image" (darn katakana-ized English!) so I thought she was saying a type of okonomiyaki. So I was like, oh, okay, I'll order this. And the waitress was like, which one (in Japanese, of course)? ^^;;

So then I finally figured it out, and we managed to order. C got bacon and cheese, and I got plain old pork.

Then when the food came, we didn't know how the heck we were supposed to cook it! The waitress saw our confusion, though (well, she likely figured it out when we had such a hard time ordering!) and asked me (still in Japanese) if we knew how to cook okonomiyaki, and I admitted with some embarrassment that I didn't know how (shiranai). So she told us that someone would cook it for us! (Thank goodness!)

How to cook okonomiyaki:

1. Pour the oil (in the can on the grill) onto the grill and use a spatula to spread it evenly across the cooking surface.

2. Mix up everything in the bowl well. (This step may differ depending on what type of okonomiyaki place you're at. Some places/people layer their okonomiyaki: batter, toppings, batter, egg, etc.)

3. Pour the okonomiyaki batter onto the grill, making a nice, circular shape (like a pancake).

4. Let cook for 5-10 minutes before flipping. (This is the trickiest step, apparently, because a lot of people try to flip too early and it makes things messy. I don't know how to tell when you're supposed to flip it, but I've heard that when the top starts bubbling, it should be ready for flipping.)

5. Cook for 5-10 more minutes. Again, patience is important here to make sure that it's actually fully cooked. Once it's done, top with sauce, bonito flakes, seaweed flakes, and/or mayonnaise, to taste.

Step 6. Enjoy!!