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.