Friday, July 22, 2011

A Woman's Worth

I can't express just how much Japanese women hate getting any form of a tan because of their fear of aging. A colleague explained to me that during high school and university, it's more accepted for a girl's skin to be exposed to the sun. However, once you are 22 or older, it`s time to go Edward Cullen and avoid sunlight. Whenever we have to be outside for school activities, it's kind of funny to see the female teachers. Every inch of their body is covered with clothing in the high temperatures and humidity. If they are wearing a t-shirt, the rest of their arms are covered with long fingerless sleeves. And even then, they wear gloves. They wear pants, rather than shorts and long-brimmed bucket hats.

When you ask a guy if he cares about his skin becoming tan, he says no. And he doesn`t. You will be hard pressed to find a guy frantically rubbing on SPF 50 and searching for his wide brimmed bucket hat on an overcast day. As in most countries, it is okay for the men to age normally but women are expected to try to not age because there is this idea that as soon as she ages, her value somehow diminishes. In my opinion, you can`t fight it. I don`t mean we should all run around, slathering Crisco on our skin and sitting in the sun, surrounded by shiny tin foil, but I do think that there should be more acceptance of aging for women. I can't help but wonder if the women ever miss the feel of the sun on their skin and the vitamin D.

I, however, got burned at the softball tournament on Tuesday at the high school. I got to play with the male teachers against the boys and they seemed to have no problem with it. I think I surprised a lot of my students when I played first base and was able to smack a few hits up the middle. I didn`t play with the girls because although they are amazing at tennis and badminton, they play softball like sissies. Softball is a man`s sport in Japan, so women usually sit on the sidelines and cheer. At the end of every trimester, there is a sports competition of some sort. In the summer, it`s softball. In the winter, it`s basketball. And in the spring, it`s volleyball and soccer. I was a fast-pitch softball pitcher in high school and the teachers know this. So of course they wanted me to pitch at the tournament. They seemed disappointed when I said no because the catcher wasn't wearing any protection and the students don't wear helmets when they bat. The last thing I wanted to do was give a student a concussion from a stray pitch or render the catcher incapable of producing children.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Summer of Unidentified Flying Objects

Life has been good lately. It has finally stopped raining. Apparently it was just a June thing. But now every day is sunny! The bad part is that my bicycle is still broken. There is a puncture in my tire and I`m going with a friend to the bicycle and motorbike shop today after school to ask them if they are able to repair it. I have been told that they are only capable of fixing cheap bicycles and since mine is a mountain bike, it may be more difficult. I hope that it`s just the tire that`s the problem because that seems like a very reparable problem. Another ALT (assistant language teacher) came to visit Ojika and his tire exploded on the road and when he went to the shop, they couldn`t fix it because they said his bicycle was too nice. So my fingers are crossed. Plus, I woke up at 5:00 this morning to wheel it to school and then go for a run on the high school field/dirt track. I just found it too embarassing to wheel a bike with such an obviously flat tire to school, like normal. I didn`t want to deal with any captain obvious comments of "you have a flat tire."

Exercise has been far more enjoyable with the beautiful weather. With a bicycle, I would be able to get out to the beaches easier. Also, since it isn`t raining anymore, I don@t have to worry about my umbrellas turning inside out in the gusts of wind. Now, I am still using the gym, going on walks/jogs, and doing random things. There is this beautiful park called Bandake that has a dam with a walkway around it. I stole the idea from someone else to walk or jog around the dam and it`s perfect. It`s beautiful and secluded, so I don`t feel self-conscious with all my sweating and gasping.

School is going well. The kids have their summer vacation starting next week and going until the end of August. In Japan, they get about five weeks of summer vacation, in comparison with the U.S.`s three months. I told my fifth grade students in the elementary school that Americans get three months of no school and they all gasped with envy. I really wanted to say "don`t worry, you`re ahead of us in most school subjects." I had read about how some schools in the states are cutting summer school, school hours, and the days of the week down to four to save money on the budget. It seems like they have all their priorities wrong if that is what they are cutting to meet budget restrictions.

The weather is once again unbearably warm. I bought a personal desk fan and I have upped the number of required sweat rags to two while at school. The teacher's room has AC but that's the only room in the high school where they turn it on. The students have to stay in their rooms and roast. I always have to bring a church fan to the classroom so I don' perspire too bad. Along with the heat and the humidity, comes mold. I have been wiping down my tatami but I went to school one day and by the time I returned home, there was mold on my tatami! And no amount of scrubbing with vinegar and water seems to remove it. Very futile and frustrating. And that isn't the only other living organism that has reared it`s ugly head. Hello mosquitos, cockroaches and other large unidentified flying objects. As soon as I see a bug in my apartment, I`m like Xena Warrior Princess with my sandal. Now I just need to learn the battle cry and creep my neighbor out.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Beats Playing the Recorder

So this school in Staten Island, New York has an amazing music teacher who has his chorus sing pop songs. When I was in elementary school, music class or chorus was NEVER this interesting. I remember being generally annoyed with choir in sixth grade and just walking up to the director and telling him I quit. But this guy has energy that shoots through the roof and you can tell he really cares about his students. If you look up this school, they do so many great songs! I am probably late in seeing this because I've been abroad. But wow, so good!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Beyonce and Mozambican Dance!

Here is a youtube video that Beyonce did about her creation of her latest album, 4. At about 2 minutes in, she goes tobagganing down the Great Wall of China, which Kara and I did in April! Definitely one of the best parts of Beijing.

But another great part of this video is the preparation of the dancing in the video for her single Run the World (Girls). She uses dancers from Mozambique because she saw a video of them dancing on youtube. At around 7 minutes in, she talks about incorporating their style and eventually brings the Mozambicans over to teach her dancers the moves and they are also in her Run the World video (below), starting at about 50 seconds! They are the two guys who dance with her. Viva Moçambique!

Strange Encounters of Three Kinds

I have had some interesting encounters with people lately. I was playing with the kids in the elementary school on Tuesday and I always have to play outside with them at recess. Since it is becoming ridiculously hot with the summer, I don't enjoy it as much. I think it confuses the kids when "Erin-Sensei" is always gravitating toward the shade of those pine trees rather than trying to save the "tag prisoners" at the jungle gym. The fourth graders are definitely the most scattered group to have recess with (and that is the grade with kancho girl). They rarely have any organized game planned and it usually involves just a lot of running around. So when their "game" had fallen apart for the last 10 minutes of recess, I was pushing some second graders on the swings and talking to a girl trying to walk on stilts. This little girl is super adorable and very intelligent. She saw that I was sweating and looked up at me and said "Are you okay?!" I was stunned. I don't even think that some high schools kids would be able to form that sentence. I heard that the little girl's mother makes her wake up at 5 in the morning every day to study. She is only seven years old so it makes me really sad to think how she is losing some of her childhood so quickly. Let her sleep longer or watch cartoons! Save the strict studying for high school.

I went to Sasebo on Saturday to go to a lady doctor appointment. I was really nervous because I don't know what it's like in Japan. I had been reading on the internet about different experiences and they ranged from the super invasive to "you feeling good? okay, great" types. Luckily, Sasebo is home to an American naval base so there is a doctor there who delivers about 5 American babies a month from the base. He speaks perfect English and his clinic is amazingly foreigner friendly. The staff spoke English and the inside was super swanky. There is a cafeteria and water aerobics for pregnant ladies. My sister and I were joking that people should just go do water aerobics there even if they aren't pregnant. ("Cannonball!") It turns out that this was the non-invasive type doctor visit. All I got was an ultrasound and the doctor said "your uterus looks very nice." It took every fiber of my being to not say "thank you." A friend of mine said I should have said "thank you, do you like the paint and new furniture?" And then that joke evolved into an idea for "Extreme Makeover: Uterus Edition." Sometimes, I just take it too far.

While waiting for the ferry to return to Ojika, I often sit and read or journal. I am just the journaling type. I like to document things and it's like a therapy for me. There is a guard who works at the ferry terminal and he enjoys approaching me and speaking to me in English. I don't mind speaking to people in English (because generally, that is what I do) but this guy drives me bonkers. I am obviously doing something and yet he forces his conversation on me. I never interrupt people if they look like they are vested in some other activity because I know how annoying it is. What does he do for the second time since I have been in Japan? He leaned over to try to read what I was writing! I was flabbergasted. He has little common sense obviously. At that point, I got up quickly and pretended that I needed to go somewhere with all my bags. I went outside and sat behind a pillar but he still found me. So maybe I am going to have to scope out bathroom stalls the next time I want to get some peace and quiet before sitting on a rocking ferry for two and a half hours.