Friday, September 30, 2011

Ken Burns' Prohibition

I really wish I was in the U.S. on Sunday, just to watch this documentary on PBS. I have been watching interviews with Ken Burns on Rachel Maddow and the Daily Show about his new documentary called "Prohibition," that talks about...prohibition in America and it looks fascinating.

My Japanese Jillian Michaels

It is finally getting colder here! I only sweat a little on the way to school but then I have to bundle up in a sweater when I am sitting at my desk at school. To some, this may seem like mundane news, but to those of us who have to deal with the extreme Japanese summer heat and humidity, it is a godsend. A fair part of my day is spent fielding "it`s hot, isn`t it?" or "it`s cold, isn`t it?" type comments.

I have been working with a student on her pronunciation of a text and then we recorded her reading the text when we felt like she was prepared. It is extremely difficult for the students here to understand the difference between "R" and "L." To them, those letters sound exactly the same. You could say "rock" and "lock" and they think you are saying "lock" every time. It`s because in Japanese, and also in many other languages, like Portuguese, there isn`t that hard "R" sound. Whenever I try to get the kids to make the R sound, I think they feel intimidated by how stupid they feel and kind of give up. It`s especially unfortunate when they think they are saying "I like to eat rice" and it sounds like "I like to eat lice." But this is definitely one of the things they struggle the most with.

The student I worked with never complained about having to give up part of her lunches to sit with me or about having to read the same text probably 200 times. What a trooper. And for only being 16 years old, I am very impressed with her level of English. Although I find that most of the students have a fair understanding of the English language, there are some real impressive ones mixed in every couple of years. She actually wants to study English in the future so I told her that I can sit and practice with her if she wants and she said yes and nodded. I hope she actually comes because I think that the best way for students to learn English won`t be with their books and studying grammar, but holding conversation with a native speaker.

I can`t believe October starts tomorrow! My second year in Ojika is already flying past. I still love this island. There is just something so peaceful about this place. I am still leading two adult English classes on Thursday nights. I am tired at the end of the day but I always enjoy working with the adults. They bring a whole different perspective to the table. We talk about the strangest things sometimes and it really spices up my teaching. We had an interesting conversation about plastic surgery last night. I asked an older lady if she would ever get plastic surgery and she automatically put her hands to her face and stretched her skin up and back and gave me the "ok" sign. I probably laugh more with these fun people than I do all week.

I was walking home from school on Monday when I saw the same woman getting on her moped to drive away on the main street. When she saw me, she got off her moped and went up to me and said "Erin, slim!" And pushed her cheeks in with her hands. I burst out laughing. I don't think she is even trying to be funny but she is. She cheers on my weight loss and has said the same thing several times to me now. I like to think of her as my own, personal, Japanese Jillian Michaels.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Out to the Ball Game

So we won our softball game last night and it was quite the upset. The high school teachers played the middle school and elementary school teachers team (who brought in outside players). In the elementary and junior high, there are a lot of female teachers and not many of them are willing to play softball it seems. Or from what I can tell because few of them have played in last year's season and this season. The entire league is in good fun though. We all had to line up while some guy gave a speech and the trophies were set on the tables. The trophies are pure photo op material. No one actually gets to keep them. A picture is taken for the Ojika newspaper and then it is put back in its box and stowed on the office shelf at the public gym until the next round of games.

I played first. After one pitcher tried to pitch and failed, I tried and failed. I just can`t pitch slow pitch from men`s distance. It just isn`t going to work. So finally, on our third try, it turned out that the biology teacher was the best pitcher. The other team was beating us pretty bad but in the last inning, the bases were loaded and my fellow English teacher hit a homerun to win the game. It was quite an exciting ending to a night of unimpressive dropping of balls, walking batters and general awkwardness. Our teams aren`t super competitive from the schools but it`s when you start playing teams with t-shirts they had made, that`s when you get into the people who take it a little too seriously.

Right before we had to play, everyone was practicing throwing and warming up. The biology teacher told me to play catch and so I started to play catch with the gym teacher. I don`t think he was expecting me to have an arm so he wasn`t really prepared to catch my first ball. No, I don't throw like a girl, buddy. Softball is very much a man`s sport in Japan so they are a little surprised to have a woman on the island who knows how to play and did so for about 12 years. The men are fun to watch though. I watched the game before ours and it seemed like after every time the defense got three outs and came in to bat, half of the players reached for their cigarettes and lit one up. Must be really stressful out there.

In other news, I am going to be returning to nossa terra gloriosa in December. That`s right. Mozambique. I have been talking to a student through email and I am raring to go. I am extremely excited to see my students and how they have grown up. When I have talked to a couple of them on the phone, it`s startling to hear how deep their voices are. When I started teaching them, they were in 8th grade and when I get there, they will be finishing 11th and moving onto their final year of high school. I will see them before they all scatter to the wind in different directions and convince them to stop calling my parents in the middle of the night. Maybe give a mini-lesson on time zones.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Good Grief

Wow, I really went AWOL. My apologies. Now that summer break is over, the students have been running around with the school sports festival. The sports festival isn`t actually about sports, just running and doing crazy games. The students in the high school and junior high are divided into three teams and they then battle it out for top honors. Each team has to plan a timed and choreographed dance, and they compete against each other in different categories throughout the day. Some of the students seem to take it very seriously, creating cheers and forcing team spirit with the reluctant junior high kids. When I was asked this week if we have sports day in America, they were surprised when I said no. I told them that if students don`t want to do something in America, they usually don`t have to. This was shocking. Here, there is definitely a "you say jump and I say how high" kind of mentality in schools. No questions asked.

Classes are going well. I find forcing conversation with the students to be the most enjoyable part of my job. They obviously never have to have conversations in English in their typical English classes so it obviously makes them extremely uncomfortable when I fix my sights on them. Their first reaction is "if I don`t look at her, she isn`t there." When they can no longer deny my existence, they look frantically around at their fellow students for a life raft. Then they look at the Japanese teacher, who puts her hands up and says "don`t look at me!" Finally, you start to see the cogs turning as they reconcile themselves to the fact that they will have to give a coherent response to "how was your summer vacation?" I feel like they really go through the stages of grief before they can answer my questions.

I have been exercising still in Ojika and the little older ladies at the grocery store ask me about it and pretend to jog in place. Nothing escapes people`s attention here, particularly at lunch. I have been eating raw vegetables at lunch for a long time now. I make my lunches because it`s cheaper than buying the bento lunches at school every day. Japanese people don't really eat raw vegetables and so when they hear a giant "CRUNCH!" and see me gnawing on a carrot, they always look shocked. "Erin-sensei, you can EAT that?!" I have found that cucumbers, carrots and green peppers are extremely crunchy and attract a lot of unwanted attention in the quiet teacher`s room. The last time I brought an entire apple to the elementary school to eat in front of the kids at lunch, they all looked at me like I was trying to milk a dog. The bento lunches in Japan are mostly composed of rice and then pieces of meat carefully separated into separate cupcake tins. There aren`t really any vegetables, except maybe a random tomato. Dessert is usually a slice of an apple or a strawberry. Every time I have eaten a bento lunch at school, I feel comatose for the rest of the afternoon. And as for making my own bento, it seems like a lot of effort for some meat and rice. Some bentos are put together nicely and look very beautiful (because there is a focus on not only preparation but presentation in Japan with food) but it`s just not feasible with time. I am not waking up at 5 am to make my lunch for an hour.

Softball league with the teachers starts tomorrow evening and goes for a month. What joy is mine. Everyone is intent on me pitching but can't seem to understand what kind of damage I could do if I hit someone while pitching and they aren't wearing any protective gear.