Monday, August 31, 2009

30 day challenge

As of tomorrow the school holidays are over..... they have been long, but bearable with the odd bit of fun thrown in as well. I decided to take a break from blogging for a few weeks, but now plan to make up for it in September with a 30 day challenge. For me the end of the summer holidays always meant a new start to the year. A new class, a new teacher, another year older in the school system. For some reason Japan doesn't follow that system and the summer holidays are in the middle of the school year (hence the tons of homework they are supposed to complete so they don't forget everything). When I questioned someone once as to why they have graduation/entrance ceremonies in the spring I was told that it was because the cherry blossoms are at their best.... I guess that is as good a reason as any!
Anyway, back to my 30 day challenge. As I said the end of the summer holidays means a new year for me in New Zealand and therefore I've decided to keep that attitude and make some goals for this "new year". To be honest the last 8 months have just slipped away and I don't feel like I have achieved anything at all. So my 30 day challenges for September are going to be....
  1. To write a blog entry every day (I'll try to catch up on some of the zillion things that have been happening)
  2. To do at least 30 minutes of exercise every day (Not including gardening...)
  3. To do at least 30 minutes of housework every day (Not including the regular dishes, washing etc. etc.)
  4. To have at least 30 minutes of "me" time every day
Of course I am pretty realistic and I know that "every day" is an impossibility, but I hope I can do the above on at least "most of the days" of September. Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Spice of life

At least I can't say that I don't have any variety in my life. Yesterday I dropped my sister and son off at the pool by the beach and went to introduce the concept of "outdoor education" and team building to a group of principals from schools in Iran. It was supposed to be a 20 minute introduction, but in order to get started we had to wait for about 1 hour while they all got themselves organised. First one of them found a bike and decided to go for a ride along the road. Next half of them began their prayer session and then just as we finally got them all inside again the other half started their prayer session. They had very limited English, but had a translator with them who spoke Japanese. So I did the program in Japanese and it was fun to see a translator who is very similar to me - some of the long sentences I said he finished translating within 2 seconds. My short sentences seemed to take about a minute to relay to the group. I'm sure he was doing "selective translating" and adding his own stories - probably telling them things about a rabbit in a small white truck or something similarly unrelated, but as I do that all the time too I shouldn't complain! They seemed to enjoy the program and were all keen to come back to Japan with their students. I'm not sure how keen I am to teach their students, but we'll cross that bridge when and if we come to it!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


I spent the day carrying things from the apartment my sister wisely chose not to move into (imagine a few years of single males living in an already pretty run down apartment...) to her new apartment - which in comparison is a castle. It was hot.. but I think we got most of the usable things moved and if we could just get the stupid car insurance sorted out then they would probably be able to move in tomorrow. Of course Japan isn't making that easy so I think they may be fully moved in and fully mobile by sometime next week. I am not complaining though - the kids are loving having the extra English and extra people to play with them and I am happy that there are a few more people in the world who will believe me when I say that nothing in Japan is simple!
On a change of topic and backing up a few days.... we managed a great feat on Monday. The "looking at your shoes" girls left at 11am and the next group arrived at 1pm..... of course we still had Megan and Nathan here too so the beds were shuffled again and the fridge was rearranged to look like it was stocked up ready for their arrival. These guests were repeat visitors from Tokyo - a mother and her two children. The mother was really keen to speak English, but unfortunately her 2 year old boy was not at all impressed with this and would claim that he wanted to go home as soon as we tried to speak any English. In the end she just gave up and we all had a really nice time baking, using water pistols and generally just playing. It is always nice to have "repeat" visitors as they remember things they liked doing the time before and want to do again and we have a better idea of what they are interested in. Here's hoping they keep coming back....

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Looking at shoes

On Friday I had to do a speech/workshop entitled "Communicating with children". Throughout my "talk" I made some references to the way that a lot of Japanese people answer questions by looking at their shoes. I don't mean looking down at their shoes and mumbling an answer, I just mean looking down at their shoes..... and not answering. It is one of the things that frustrates me a lot about "communicating with children" here. I had the audience in stitches, tears rolling down their cheeks as I described some of the conversations I have had with children here. Unfortunately I wasn't joking and the group of girls we have staying tonight are living proof that such shoe watchers are alive and well in rural Japan. After an afternoon of talking (very one-sided), making cookies, jam and hamburgers they finally started to say more than one word answers and they took less than one minute to actually get that one word out - occasionally they didn't even consult each other before getting that one word out! They managed to introduce a couple of card games and there was a hint of a smile every now and again. I have lived here long enough to know that they are actually really enjoying their time here - they just don't quite know how to show it yet. There still hasn't been one question asked from them, but I guess we need to take things very slowly... I think Megan and Nathan are now even more worried than ever about what their classes are going to be like - what it will be like to have a class of 40 unresponsive children. (Un)fortunately for them my experience shows that most Japanese children are actually the complete opposite and you spend far more time getting them to shut up rather than speak up! I guess as time goes by they will discover this for themselves..... and then they may be praying for a class full of girls like the ones staying here tonight!

Friday, August 07, 2009

I think we are slowly getting things for my sister and her boyfriend organised. The problem is that Japan never makes things easy. There are so many "official" things that need to be organised, but there is a definite order in which they have to be done. First you need to be registered as an "alien" - but to do this you need an address. To get an address you need to have an apartment, but to have an apartment you need to have an "alien registration". To get an apartment you also need to have a bank account, but to get a bank account you need to have an address and an alien registration. And so the circle goes around and around. I think today we managed to solve some of the problems and found a really nice "seaside villa" for them that they can probably move into next week.
One of the other "essentials" of getting anything official in Japan is a "seal" which is essentially your signature. We went and got my sister one the other day and I ended up getting a new one for myself too - my old one has lasted 13 years so I really shouldn't complain! It was interesting watching the machine carving the stamp - basically they just inputted the data that they wanted carved and the machine worked away scraping away at the plastic for about 5 minutes until the final image was completed.
Next step - becoming a full alien......

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Revisiting old memories

Today I got to relive what happened to me 13 years ago when I first arrived in Oita prefecture. I went to the airport with a member of the board of education to pick up my sister - who is the new ALT in my town. I watched as all the new "foreigners" peered through the glass at the baggage claim looking for their supervisor who was there with a big sign to welcome them (most misspelt...) and watched as they sighed in relief that their supervisor didn't have a third head, or weren't carrying a samurai sword covered in fish eggs as a welcome gift. I then watched as they anxiously said goodbye to their fellow travellers and embarked on their new life into the unknown. I watched as my sister was taken to her new office..... and introduced to all those who were there today (not many fortunately!). I noticed that she hasn't perfected the art of bowing yet, but that no one seems to care. I noticed that the staff have not increased their English ability, but that she doesn't seem to care (for now anyway!).
It was fun to watch, rather than be fully involved for a change - it is nice to know a little more than others for a change. I think I am going to enjoy watching her make the same mistakes I made over and over again.... that's sisterly love for you!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

3rd Grade Recreation

Every year each class at my children's school has a "parents and children's recreation day". This year we decided to make pretty much a full day of it and started out early by getting all the things ready for the great "try to catch the slippery noodles as they go down the bamboo slide" lunch event. I managed to put my big foreign foot in it right from the start by suggesting rather loudly that perhaps the children should decide if they would like to help with setting up the bamboo slide or cutting the vegetables rather than saying (like the teacher did) - "okay the girls can go up to the cooking room to cut the vegetables and the boys can go outside and do the manly thing of tying together the bamboo slides." Of course no one else could see the point that I was making, but I felt better for having said it anyway! Despite the wobbly start to the day it turned out to be a lot of fun - after the preparation everyone played the dreaded dodgeball then they all jumped in the pool before trying to catch the slippery noodles. My daughter caught on very fast to the fact that if she sat at the bottom of the slide she could just eat from the sieve at the bottom where all the uncaught noodles end up till she was about to burst without having to even try and catch them. We livened things up a bit by also putting mini-tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon (cut up of course!), peach, pear, pineapple and finally "super balls" down the slide too.
After noodles it was on to smashing watermelons - literally. Each child was given a turn with a big whacking stick - they were blindfolded and spun around 3 times then had to try and whack the watermelon open. Of course by the time it was finally split open no one was actually interested in eating it, but they had fun all the same. Some shaved ice to finish things off before heading home.
All in all it was a great day, but reminded me of some of the different attitudes of the mothers in the class. I am the vice PTA representative for this class so had to do some of the organising with the main PTA representative (there are only 11 kids in the class so it is not exactly difficult!). I always think these events are about the kids and therefore getting them involved and having as much fun as possible is the most important thing. Unfortunately the other mother was so worried about the "flavour" of the sauce, the noodles being a little too overcooked, the sauce not being cold enough etc. In the end she finally relaxed and realised that the kids (and the parents for that matter) didn't care at all about the flavour of the stuff - they were just content on throwing as much stuff down the bamboo slide and making as big a mess as possible - and having a great time in the process. Perhaps I am managing to convert a few people in my town........