Friday, October 31, 2008

Chotto homesick


They grow up so fast. Looking at pictures of my nephew at his first birthday party makes me laugh and it makes me want to cry. I want to be at home so I can go to family things like this, but when I'm home I want to be far away. I love Cincinnati and I'm close to my family. I talk to my parents for several hours each week, but at the same time I really like living in Tahara. I'm drawn to the challenge of living abroad. I love the language and the kanji. And let's face it, the celebrity factor is nice. But still...I'm always at odds with myself.

My trip to Thailand this Christmas was almost cancelled and my back up plan was to go home for the holidays. When the Thai trip was back on, I almost cried. The idea of going home for Christmas sounded so much better than even beaches, massages, Thai food and elephant rides just so I could watch my nephew roll around in the wrapping paper and try to grab the ornaments off the tree.

When I get like this I have to remind myself of the perks of this job. I am paying off my loans. I have time to read and study the things I like to study rather than listening to customers complain about how we shorted them on toilet paper or the logo on their shirts is off. I get an insane amount of time to travel. I have real friends here. I can walk or ride my bike just about anywhere, including the beach.

And there is Facebook, email, my webcam, and my digital phone for when I get homesick. Other than the fact that a one year old can't really use any of those, it's an almost ideal situation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Speech Contest

Tuesday was the Tahara Junior High School Speech Contest. And I was very excited. Not because the idea of speeches about table tennis given in badly pronounced English sounded like a good time but because I have been coaching the students at Tahara and Tobu JHS for the last month and the end was finally near. Also, I was a judge and that part sounded cool.

There were two parts. The first was a recitation of A Mother's Lullaby - a very sad story about the bombing of Hiroshima. It's moving the first fifty or so times you hear it. The next two hundred or so and you just want to hit something, maybe another American for bombing Hiroshima in the first place. I could probably recite it myself by now. "A big old tree stands by a road near the city of Hiroshima. Through the years it has seen many things. One summer night the tree heard a noise."

The student I helped coach from Tahara came in first place and my other girl did pretty well too, although she didn't place. Although to be honest I was really worried for the winner, Reina. She was having trouble just getting through it with the book in front of her two weeks ago when I was at Tahara so when we showed up on Tuesday, I was blown away by the progress she had made on her own. She won on her own, not because of anything I did.

In the second part the students had to write their own speeches, which made for a nice change. But I still had the two students from my schools speeches memorized before the contest. Their speeches were the best. I'm not saying that out of pride but because they had Nathan - who has an English degree and is a proud winner of the G-town English Award - to help them polish their speeches. And it helped because one of our students came in first and the other in third, although it was a very close contest. The top four were all separated by only one to four points.

As judges we had to pick four as winners. The students aren't told what place they come in, just that they've won. We chose one recititation and three speeches while eating cakes and drinking tea - just one of the perks of being a judge. Actually it was the only perk. The contest ended with the president of the Committee for English Research (don't ask, I don't know what they do other than sponsor speech contests) handing out the certificates to our four winners.

Now the students will go to Toyohashi for the next level of competition. Students from all over East Mikawa will be there. I'm excited for them but dismayed to find out I have to continue helping out, which means more A Mother's Lullaby just when I thought I was going to get a reprieve. "One day a Big Bomb fell on the city of Hiroshima..."

Sunday, October 26, 2008


There was another festival in Tahara today. This morning in front of the library they had a parade that I didn't see because I stayed in bed all morning but I could hear it as it went by my apartment. When I did finally drag myself out of bed and over there, we found lots of food stalls, games, and a stage where they had a Power Rangers show and later some taiko drummers. Naturally, I preferred the drummers.

Unfortunately, it was spitting rain so I went inside only to be ambushed by members of the local International Association who threw a hoppi on me and put me behind their table where I helped them sell "Kentucky goods" for awhile. They had some Georgetown College stuff (my alma mater) along with some postcards and randomly a few boxes of raisins. It wasn't so bad though because one of the ladies from choir spotted me and gave me 1,000 yen worth of coupons for free food! I shared them with Vanessa (one of the other ALTs who lives next to me) and then we had some coffee before coming home (slyly avoiding the TIA members in case they tried to put us to work again.)

When I went to the gym tonight, I saw that the festival had moved from the library to the main drag through town. The main attraction was dancing. They played one song over the speakers and groups of dancers, maybe ten or fifteen, down the whole length of the street did different choreographed dances.

When I left the gym about an hour later they were all doing the same dance in what was the largest line/fan dance I have ever seen. I watched over three or four hundred people doing the same dance for three or four songs. All of the dancers from before in their costumes were dancing and then regular people were joining in as well. I'm going to ask around to find out how everyone knew the moves. Maybe I can learn them and join in next year!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Today I jumped out of a third story window.

It was in one of those fire safety chutes, but still, it was scary. Even with the genki fire chief telling me to let go of the rope and say 'banzai!' as though it were supposed to be fun. I can't imagine what it would be like if there was really a fire. The actual descent wasn't as fast as I imagined it to be, but the nerves leading up to letting go of the rope kinda ruined the whole experience. But I couldn't or wouldn't rather back down from Nathan's peer pressure. He knows how to get me do things...and that is by taunting.

Also, the kids did a fire drill today and I swear out of 500+ teenaged children not one word was said while they exited the building or while they waited for everyone else to come out. Sometimes they scare me. They're like cute Japanese robots. It's just not natural that kids should be so well behaved. Really, it's not.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How old am I?

Conversation today with my favorite class:

Student A: Miss Jennifer, how old are you?

Me: How old do you think I am?

Student A: 40?

Me: Whaaat?!?

Student B: 30?

Student C: 18.

Me: That's a good answer!

Student C: No, no, 80.

Me: I don't like you. I'm 26 years old.

Masamune: 36?

Me: I don't like you either.

So the lesson here is don't ever ask children how old they think you are because you aren't ever going to like the answer.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I've had the nicest day. We only had a half day at school today because the teachers had some sort of inservice to do at another school nearby. I taught two classes, one of which included 20 minutes of playing cards with the students, did fifteen minutes of speech contest practice and then we were out of there by 12:30.

Since the weather was gorgeous and we were free, Nathan (the other ALT I work with) and I decided to make the most of it. We had lunch at my favorite cafe, where I ordered the bacon hamburger. We were both surprised when it came. First it was on a wheat bun. Wheat! You don't know how expensive and hard it is to get wheat bread around here. And the burger was huge. It looked like it could easily be served in any American restaurant. And it tasted great. I'll definitely be ordering it again soon.

With our tummies full, we jumped on our bikes and headed to Long Beach. It's about a 40 minute bike ride down the peninsula. Once there we beach combed for awhile and then climbed this big rock where we sat and talked and had a pebble throwing contest. I brought back several nice rocks that I found, although I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them. Maybe start a rock garden?

I'm a little sunburnt and tired from riding, but it never ceases to amaze me how close to the ocean I live. Coming from the landlocked state of Ohio, it's truly awesome.



Check out the Shinto statue on the top of this big rock.

And not from today but last weekend when I biked up to the Eco Park to find a geocache. My town is so environmentally friendly! Check out all our windmills!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm skipping choir. Every week I mean to post a rant about choir but then I get home and I'm too tired to do anything but go to bed. But this week I decided I was too tired to go so here I am.

We have two directors. One is actually a director. The other is an old choir biddy who thinks she can lead a choir. She can't. We are singing easy Christmas carols and the Hallelujah Chorus with her and we sound terrible. We are singing some very nice Japanese pieces with the other guy - Tanaka sensei - and though we still sound like a bunch of old people singing (I'm the youngest by at least 20-30 years) we sound like a bunch of old people who know what they are doing.

Unrelated to the choir in Tahara but in regards to a group in Toyohashi, I went to see Mozart's Requiem this past weekend. I have sung this piece before. I listen to it quite often. My friend Sue who goes to choir with me here in Tahara and Tanaka-sensei were trying to swing it so I could join in and sing it with them. They told me it was too late back in May. Now they just performed in October. So three months apparently was not enough time for me to relearn a piece of music I have performed before according to them.

At the time I thought, no big deal they must be really good to have such high standards. Uh no, actually they had elementary school kids singing it. And ladies who looked like they might fall off the stage and into their graves. They didn't even have an orchestra to play with them, just a lone piano, so in the end it would have been a great big disappointment anyway, but what's more disappointing is that they think so little of me. I don't know if it's because I'm a foreigner or because they just didn't know me, but still it irks. I could have easily sung with them this past weekend, and sung it well.

Other things that drive me crazy:

We take almost thirty minutes to warm up and at the end, I'm not very warmed up. But my legs are nice and stretched out so that's helpful.

Choir biddy director likes to warm us up on the syllable Eeee. Quite possibly the ugliest vowel and hardest to sing in the upper register.

They like to sing on solfege (do, re, mi, fa, so etc.) except that they sing them all as if we are in the key of C even when we are clearly NOT in the key of C. This drives me CRAZY! The distance between do and re should always be the same except that this way it isn't. So how is that helpful?

We have practice on Friday nights! Who does that? Although for a group of old people in the inaka I suppose they don't have anything else better to do. (And really who am I kidding neither do I but my cultural sensibilities are still maligned either way.)

And to end on a positive note because I really do enjoy choir:

I really like the music we are singing with Tanaka-sensei.

I may not have any idea what I'm singing but I can read hirigana now like nobody's business.

I get to hang out with my good friend Sue.

Tanaka-sensei seems to like me and I think he gets frustrated that I can't speak more Japanese. He likes to make me sing all the way to the top of my register, way past the rest of the other sopranos. It can be embarrassing but it's nice to go that high every once in awhile. (I can hit a high C if my voice isn't too tired.)

I was photographed and profiled in the monthly magazine here in Tahara (all the ALTs were) and I mentioned that I sang with the Tahara Chorus. I won major points with that. They loved that I gave them some extra PR.

I can't seem to live without choir and yet I can't really live with it either. I really miss Cincinnati Choral Society though. :-(