Monday, April 24, 2006

Catching up

Despite the agonizing wait to find out if I'm staying in Japan for another year or not, April -so far- has been a pretty good month. I found a good balance between being busy at work and being busy at play - without feeling overworked, or feeling guilty from too much play.

I have had full weekend days to myself -something I didn't have last year. I've been able to read about 4 novels this month and have found my Japanese to be improving (somewhat).

Last weekend Kirsten and I took part in a swim meet together, I posted the experience on my other blog so feel free to check it out.

Yup, that's me in the closest lane!

The night before the swim meet Kirsten and I decided to partake in some 'hanami'. 'hana' means 'flower', and 'mi' means 'to look'. So, put it together and you get looking at flowers -in this case it refers specifically to the cherry blossoms that bloomed this month. Unfortunately it's be a very wet and cold month so the cherry blossoms were late, and when they did finally arrive it was too cold to go and look at them for any length of time. You see, this is an annual tradition in Japan. Companies will take their entire staff down to the parks or river sides to sit under the blossoming cherry trees while consuming obscene amounts of sake (pronounced sackay) or beer, or any other alcoholic beverage -basically eating, drinking and making merry. This year the parties were short lived in this area. On this particular night Kirsten and I took a stroll along Funagawa (a small river near Nyuzen). We tried sitting for a while, but it was a little too cold so we just walked along the banks, enjoying the fires that had been set up and lit by the local community. We sipped on amezake (warm milky rice filled drink) and ate sakura (cherry blossom) mochi (rice pounded into a soft, chewy substance, colored pink and filled with sweet bean paste -sounds yummy doesn't it!?).

Last Monday some of my 3rd year students took me bowling again. We had a great time -I brought Jelly Belly jelly beans and they had a blast trying to force each other to eat the gross ones. I came in dead last without a single strike the whole night, but the boys were very sympathetic -haha!!

Earlier in the month Kirsten invited me to her jr. high school for lunch! It was the first orientation day for her first year students (grade 7) and we joined one class as they took a tour of the school. I also help Kirsten set up her international room -she was given a brand new room in the brand new wing of her school -she's still collecting furniture and other 'worldly goods' to fill it, so if you have anything you'd like to donate -posters, photos, books, games, traditional clothing...anything international -travel books and brochures...., just send it all to me and I'll pass it along to Kirsten, I know she'd appreciate it.

Of course, we also ate lunch -the whole point of the visit! You see, at the elementary schools and jr. high schools, students AND teachers eat the school lunch. At Kirsten's school it's made in the school kitchen and distributed to each of the classrooms. Each student gets a tray and the food is dished up for them by their classmates and teachers. We had fish, soup, rice and milk on this particular day, but Kirsten says they get a wide range of food, from bread to fried chicken and some schools even get WHALE (and yes, it's controversial). Teachers without a homeroom class eat in the staffroom, but Kirsten often gets invited to join classrooms and so two students came and fetched us from the staffroom to eat in their homeroom. I sat with some of her students, who were very chatty and they tried to use all the English they could think of during our lunch time together.

I finished my visit by observing the bike safety check out on the school grounds. All the students are required to purchase the EXACT SAME bicycle and the EXACT SAME helmet, both of which are then checked by their teachers for proper height, ID stickers, etc. The students were given a helmet lesson as well as an outline of basic bicyle riding safety procedures. Kirsten and I took a walk through the bikes and asked a teacher how much a single bike cost - both of our jaws dropped when he told us they were worth about $600 each!!!! We told the teacher they were worth more than the cars each of us drove!! He thought that was pretty funny. $600 for a add the cost of school uniforms -winter and summer - and gym wear (2 sets) -Kirsten do you remember how much he said they were??? It was something insane -like $200/set...yeah. How do some of these parents afford to send their children to school????

Anyway, a big thank you to Kirsten and her school for allowing me to come in and experience jr. high school for a day. I hope we can do it again sometime. Perhaps K, you can come and help me with my high school kids for a day -they'd love that!!

Tomorrow I've got my interview for next year's position and Thursday (sorry Mom, I totally thought is was last week...) I'm cooking dinner for 30-40 people at Colare in Kurobe for the international cooking party they hold every month. I'm cooking my mom's scalloped potatoes, sweet and sour meatballs and banana cream pie! I know it won't taste the same but hopefully it's not a total disaster!

Friday I'm going to Kanazawa with the 3rd year students for their annual start of the year school trip. I had a choice of 1st, 2nd or 3rd years this year -I choose to go with the third year's since I know them the best and have only a few more months left with them. I don't get to teach them this semester, so any activities outside of class I try to take advantage of.

And finally, this coming weekend is the start of Golden Week in Japan. Named so because there are a string of national holidays in a row. I'm hoping to visit friends this weekend and maybe do a bit of camping during the week -if the weather is good!

That's all for now, so if you've made it through this post, well then, we're both caught up!!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Amy's BEE RIde Dinner

I'm getting ahead of myself with this blog post, but I thought I'd write something before I have to acknowledge that another weekend has flown by and tomorrow is a work day again.

This weekend, my friend Amy held a charity dinner at the Peace St. Diner in Toyama city. She is leaving JET this year but has decided to extend her stay here a little longer by doing a bike ride from Hokkaido to Okinawa. The organization is called
BEE Japan (click here) (Bicycle for Everyone's Earth), and you can read about what they're doing on their home page. There are 8 members riding this year and each of them is responsible for raising money for the environmental issues they are trying to resolve.

Amy's charity dinner was held at a small vegan restaurant in Toyama-city, she invited JETs and non-JETs alike to come. The meal was 2000yen, or about $20, 500 of which went directly to Amy. Along with the buffet style meal she organized a Silent Auction -people brought all kinds of random items, from maps, to artwork, to knitted vegetables, to socks. At one point a giant Darth Vader Pez dispenser arrived out of no where and Amy asked me to put on my coaching voice and announce that it too would be up for bids -however, people started bidding on it while it was still in my hand...before we knew it the people were calling out prices and we ended up selling it on the spot for $25!! The silent auction in itself was quite successful, a lot of the items were popular and you had to keep track of the bidding, but of course there were a few that were left without bids. So at the end of the night Amy asked if I would auction the rest of the items off live -just so that we could get rid of what was left. Little did we know that we'd end up selling these items for probably more than what the silent aution had brought in. A box of tissues for $5!! Scarves that nobody had bid on were sold for $30! %7 for a chocolate bar! It was fun to watch people get into the spirit of it -knowing that all the money was going to charity. I ended up pretty hoarse, but it was a lot of fun and well worth it.

After the aution Amy opened the floor to anyone who wanted to share poetry, music or literature with the group. There were just under 35 people in attendence and 5 people got up to read, perform, sing and entertain us. People were totally captivated and the room was full of energy during the whole thing -there's something to be said for people performing, especially when the pieces are personal creations.

Diverse, eclectic and random would best describe what I thought of the evening. Amy managed to raise over $600 on Saturday. She's got one more big event in May that will hopefully put her over the $1000 mark, but if you're interested in donating to her cause, please let me know and I will arrange a way to get the money to her.