Friday, September 17, 2010

My Right Arm`s Babysitter

Last night was better than expected but still not phenomenal. One of the other teachers is the head baseball coach and I was playing catch with him before the game. That, of course, caused the other team to start laughing when they saw that there was a girl playing with their opponents and that she knew how to throw a ball. And they really started laughing when they saw me start to practice pitching. I was the only woman on the team and the rest were male staff. The female teachers continued their tradition of cheering on the sidelines.

I hit and walked several batters and struck out a few. I didn`t make it all the way through the game because my arm was getting tired. It was nothing to write home about in terms of my performance but I think the teachers were impressed that I had the background of playing, what is considered in Japan, a male sport. I got to bat one time and got thrown out at first. The other female teachers did bat at the end. It is more for the fun of it though rather than being competitive. Most of the female teachers just tried to bunt because they were too scared of the ball.

My arm feels like Jello. It`s not very strong right now because the poor thing went through so much last night. I am sure my muscles would be screaming "Erin! We thought you were finished with us!" if they were capable of independent thought. I rode my bicycle home from the game last night and I had a very difficult time lifting it up the steps to my front door. My left arm has become my right arm`s babysitter. Shampooing my hair, brushing my teeth, and reaching up to the school cubby to get my inside shoes out.

The whole shoe thing in Japan still is awkward for me. Japanese people make a seamless transition from outside shoes to indoor shoes when they walk into a building. I, however, still awkwardly fumble with my indoor shoes. Slip-on flats are the best option. I rarely wear lace-up shoes to school because they are too time-consuming. A lot of teachers wear sandals at school, which I think is a brilliant idea. My clothing vanity, however, forbids me from making a great outfit look horrid with a pair of open-toed sandals and bright red socks.

This weekend will be full of small activities. One of the previous JETs on the island is coming back to visit with her husband. I also need to clean my apartment because hell hath no fury like an apartment not given the proper attention. And I will probably try and practice with the brass band. Playing the trumpet isn`t one of my favorite things to do but if I have been invited, I am not going to turn the request down. The part I look forward to the most is sleeping in. I have discovered something crazy. If you go to bed at 9 pm, you are not tired the next day. Amazing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Knowing My Limits

So I was randomly told on Tuesday that the teachers have a softball game and that I should come. I went to the game, thinking they were going to make me play. Thankfully, the sports gods smiled on me, and I found out that women don`t play softball usually. I played catch with the music teacher and even though I threw the ball softly, she screamed and turned her face away every time the ball came her way. "Not the face! Not the face!" She didn`t say that but I imagine that was what she was thinking. So the female teachers, the school nurse and I stood behind the bench and did the wave - which is hilarious, by the way. But no one else`s team had a cheer squad do the wave for them. All of the male teachers and office staff played in the field and we ended up winning against the middle school and elementary school teachers. I don`t know the score but it felt like a bloodbath because there is no fence and there were several homeruns.

After the game, we had an enkai, which is a teacher drinking and eating party. So we were at the party, sitting there getting our food and drink on, and they asked me if I know how to play softball. Me and my stupid mouth. I said yes and that our team won state in high school. And that I was the pitcher. That resulted in an immediate announcement that I will be pitching in the game on Thursday (tonight). They were like "why didn`t you tell us!?!" The gym teacher thought it was hilarious that I had sat by the female teachers the whole time. I had no reason to tell them. But I am super nervous now because I haven`t pitched in eight years. I have my limits. If I do pitch, my arm is going to feel like it is falling off tomorrow and I won`t be able to write on the chalkboard. So, I`m hoping to possibly beam a couple of batters and then be asked to go pick weeds in the outfield. I don`t mind batting, but I`m already stared at a lot in public and I could do without any extra amount of that. So yeah, I will definitely be writing about how that went after I crash and burn.

I have been practicing my Japanese. The tennis girls have been teaching me some words and phrases every day. They have me repeat words and then laugh really hard, so I think they might be having me repeat bad words or they think my pronunciation is horrible. Whatevs. I was talking to a student in Mozambique the other week on the phone and when I meant to say "sim," I said "hai." So that must mean that I`m changing languages. :) So far, I can understand about a third of what a 3-year old says. Impressive, right?

I taught the first, second and third-graders on Tuesday. And they are the most adorable creatures in the world. I ate lunch and had recess with the first graders. Two little girls came to the English room, holding hands, to get me for lunch. So cute! They all watched me eat and turned to say things to their teacher about my food and what I was eating. I kind of felt like a gorilla in the zoo, behind a wall of glass. One of the first graders is the son of one of my adult english class students. She told me that he told her he could tell that I am a foreigner because of the food I ate - but mentioned nothing about me being white or not speaking Japanese. Haha! Oh, children. The first graders were very innocent and fun. I was standing at the window in the high school, hole-punching a sheet of paper and the first-graders were walking home from school and they saw me and yelled "ERIN-SENSEI!!" and waved. They are at their cutest when it is raining and they wear rain ponchos that look like ducks.

The third graders, on the other hand, were a bunch of hellions. I have never seen the Hello Song go so horribly wrong. It was basically 18 children running around the room, yelling at each other and the boys tackling each other. And there is some random first or second grader who must have a phobia of public bathrooms because I have now seen him run outside by the window of the English room to pee outside two times. And when he is finished, he giggles loudly and runs back inside. Makes me feel like I`m in Mozambique again. And makes me think what he`s going to do once he gets to high school. I have seen a goat too! I`m not exactly sure what purpose it serves because it is tied up by a bunch of boats. At first, I thought it was a dog and almost crashed my bike when I recognized it as an entirely different and familiar species.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Extracurricular Druthers

What do I do in my spare time? A lot of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) say that they have too much time on their hands. It seems like the opposite with me, like my dance card always gets full because I try to say yes to every invite and request. I have started teaching at the elementary school, junior high and high school all in the same week. And it involves a bit of running around. In a couple of weeks, I will go to Oshima elementary, a school on another smaller island, for lessons in the morning. There are 5 students at the school, all boys. Two in sixth grade, two in fifth grade and one in second grade. I will take a ferry over in the morning and then return to Ojika after lunch. So my school days are filled with lesson planning for every class. I also have started extracurricular activities!

I am playing tennis after school with the girls tennis team. There are about 12 girls and it’s a lot of fun. I am proud of myself because yesterday, I managed to memorize all of the girls’ names. They asked me if I like Michael Jackson and when I said that he is okay but not my favorite, there was an audible cry of disappointment. But then I asked them if they knew how to moonwalk and there was a lot of hilarious walking backward movement. Their tennis practices are just drilling by hitting back and forth. When I was in high school, we had a lot of games and certain drills to practice. Plus, we had music. It’s so quiet during their practices! And before the girls hit the ball, they need to call out “onegai-shimasu!” and afterward, “arigato gozaimashita!” – which is like greeting and thanking the other player for hitting with them. And after practice, they all line up on the court to practice bowing to the other team. It’s the most polite tennis I have ever seen. But the girls can really wail on the ball and they are impressive players. The ball is a soft tennis ball, not the hard tennis balls we play with in the states. You might compare it to a stress ball. Squishy and not as bouncy, it’s a lot different to hit so it is going to take me some time to adjust. It doesn’t bounce very high, no matter how hard you hit it – so you have to take that into account when you are returning a volley.

In Japan, you can only join one club because all the clubs tend to meet at the same time of day. Rachel from Glee would be super disappointed. At my school, there is tennis, baseball, badminton and brass band. The seniors taking the college entrance exams had to quit before summer break to focus on their studies. Boo! I told the brass band club that I would play a song with them at the end of October but I haven’t gone to a practice yet. I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but I prefer to listen to music rather than play it. So I will practice with them for this one band event, but my druthers include sports and moving around. The song involves some super high notes that I don’t think I have ever hit in my trumpet-playing career. When I was in high school, if I couldn’t hit a note, I would just pretend to play and let everyone else cover for me (the truth comes out!). The band teacher has agreed to let me play an octave lower though because I confessed my high note habit.

Thursday nights I have eikaiwa, or adult English conversation club. There are four to six dedicated adults and we play English games, practice a grammar point and practice speaking in English. I am learning quite a bit about Japan from them and one of the members is going to help me with my Japanese, which is in sore need of improvement. I really need to hunker down and set aside time every day to study. I was talking to a predecessor on Ojika and she said that a lot of people tend to think they can just “pick up” Japanese but it’s not true at all. I totally agree. So besides teaching, tennis, random band practice, eikaiwa and a social life, I need to set aside time to study. I haven’t been to the island library yet but apparently they like for the ALT to read to the kids in English. That’s on my to-do list as well. I love being busy and productive though! Life is such a far cry from what it was two months ago!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I am a fish person.

So I have been a bad person and not updated for a bit. It’s a combination of being busy and not having a solid internet connection. At my apartment, I am still picking up on a weak wireless signal. If I stand on my right leg, with one arm in the air, in the corner, I can get a “low” signal, rather than a “very low” signal. I will be getting internet (supposedly) September 27th. Let’s hope that works out. Seeing as the instructions for installing the modem and internet are all in Japanese, I foresee some problems and possibly some cursing.

Let’s see, let’s see, let’s see. Since I last wrote, I have accomplished quite a bit. I have taught everything except elementary school. That’s tomorrow. I teach 1st through 6th grade. I am pretty excited about working with the young kids. I get recess again at the age of 26! I hope it’s not too hot or I will have to tell those kids to push themselves on the swings while I sit in the shade, fanning myself.

I also got a cell phone, a new bicycle and a tennis racquet! The cell phone confuses me still. It’s pretty nice. Japanese cell phones have all the bells and whistles. And if there is one thing I don’t understand, it’s technological bells and whistles. And the Japanese language. And the last episode of Lost. I am learning some words and phrases here and there but it’s a whole other ballgame in comparison to Portuguese. Still, people love it when you use Japanese and I would like to be able to communicate with my co-workers who don’t speak any English. I feel so proud when I say goodbye properly, leaving the teacher’s room every afternoon.

I have a fish! His name is Chikamaru-fish. Like the previously mentioned boy dressed up as a deer. He may not be snuggly like a dog but he sure gets excited when I feed him in the morning. I can’t read Japanese and I just assume that I am feeding him enough. Hopefully not over or under. But he has stayed alive for almost a month now, so that must mean something. I really wish I could get a dog but I don’t know how long I will be here AND I live in an apartment.

I got Chikamaru-fish at the Obon festival on Ojika. It was an impressive little festival. It’s a Buddhist celebration of ancestors and many people return to their home city or town to pray to their ancestors. The festival was put on by the shops in Ojika and there was a performance by a taiko (drumming) group and a Beatles cover band. There was even a stage production for the children that involved Chikamaru-kun and his girlfriend, Hana-chan (actual costumes!) being kidnapped by some evil guy and the power rangers coming to their rescue. I got so excited when I saw Chikamaru-kun, that I spilled my strawberry shaved ice all over my lap. I am happy to report that I wore black pants.

I think there may be mold in my apartment building. I am fine during the day, and then once I get to my apartment, my nose starts running and my eyes sometimes get itchy. So I will eventually talk to the school about the problem and see what they say. My apartment is fine otherwise. I would hate to move because my neighbors are all the female teachers and it’s great to have them there. They have been very helpful. And where else would I attribute odd noises while watching horror movies in my living room.

We had sports day on Sunday, where the junior high and senior high students split into three teams and compete in some normal and some abnormal races. They have some games that Americans would consider dangerous and cruel. They had a dizzy bat (where you spin around with your head at the top of a bat) and then the student had to finish a race. Hilarious. And a competition with the boys was holding onto a pole and climbing and shoving their way to the top of the opposing team’s pole to grab a flag. It was very entertaining, to say the least. All the students participated too. American children would have said no and asked to speak to their lawyer. At the end, all of the teams and certain groups danced too. That was my favorite part and I have videos of it that I will try and post on here after the arrival of my internet. After the sports day festivities finished, the students and teachers did the takedown in the pouring rain. The kids are so helpful and work hard. I was and am impressed.

That night, the teachers from the junior high and high school had an “enkai,” which is a teacher drinking party. There is some great food at the party. I have developed a liking for sashimi, or raw fish, with soy sauce and wasabi. If I could have that for every meal, I would. There is also tempura, which is seafood battered and fried. And there was also what can only be described as fried cheese sticks. And in the stick, they include a minty leaf that improves the cheese stick, in my humble Wisconsin-born opinion. I have ideas for when I return to visit Wisconsin and my sister and I run to Culver’s to ask for their second largest cheese curds. But enough about cheese sticks. Enkais are great. There is a lot of good food, good company (despite not being able to understand about 75% of what is going on) and a pinch of alcohol mixed in. I drank sake for the first time and my first instinct was to mix juice with it to make it taste better, which I don`t think is normal.

The Japanese teachers work really hard during the week. They are mostly in their late 20’s to mid-30’s. They get to school around 8 am and are often there until 8 pm. I have a hard time staying past five if I am sitting at my desk. I also don’t have motorized transportation, so I am not fond of the idea of peddling home in the dark. It’s not that I’m scared of people but of vehicles that might not see me. Ojika has a zero crime rate. I walk past the police station every day and they always look bored. I went and registered my information with them and I think that was the most thrilling event they had seen that week.

My bicycle has been great. I have taken it all over the island and heaved it up hills when I am panting at an embarrassing volume. It has a basket and I take my camera with me and take pictures. My new favorite thing is to visit this public park by the public gymnasium and feed the giant fish pieces of bread. I don’t know if it’s good for them, but they seem to like it and it doesn’t seem like I’m the first person to ever do it. They see you standing there and swarm to catch the bread first. It has happened. I have become a fish person. I would pet the dogs that live on my road if I thought I would get my hand back. So yeah, if those fish end up belly up in the pond, I didn’t do it.

I have taught with the high school teachers to a couple of classes. One is a shy junior class of 9 students. Today, I showed them a point card that looks like a board game. I stamp a space each time they raise their hand and participate. Once they reach the “prize” space, I give them something. I am not sure what yet. It worked well with the shy class. Hands were shooting up like popcorn. My other class I co-teach with is a senior class of 19 boys and 1 girl. I feel bad for her. She is very quiet and timid. Hopefully, me being female and everything, I can get her to speak up. But the senior boys are loud as loud can be. Every time I walk past them in the hallway, I hear “HELLLLO!!!!!” and sometimes, a salute. They are an energetic group to teach and should have no problem filling up their point cards with stamps. I am a big fan of the junior high kids too. They are very lively and interested in what I have to say. The non-jaded, if you will.

It’s amazing the difference that having the internet makes. When I was a teacher in Mozambique, I had to think of games and activities on my own, with my own ideas and my roommate’s ideas. Here, I have a lot more resources and I have the internet to help me get ideas from what has worked for other teachers in games dealing with grammar and vocab. If I am at a loss for an activity, I just jump on google and within minutes, I have an idea of the shape of the lesson’s game. I mostly play games and activities with the kids. The Japanese teachers tend to focus on the rules and the grammar and I am the “game player” and I have no problem with that. It’s like getting to play Santa Clause every day.

And no, I have not seen the pothole yet. That`s my goal for the month of September.