Sunday, December 21, 2008

The beautiful night view of Hakodate

When I told my Japanese friends that I'd be going with a group from the office on a sight-seeing tour of Hakodate this weekend, I always got the same response.

"Oh, Hakodate! It has a nice night view!"

Sure enough, they were right. Here is a picture that Liz took of the infamous view. (My camera takes horrible pictures in the dark, and I've given up trying.) This was what we looked at before, after and during dinner...

A few of the guys posed for a picture after an amazing all-you-could-eat (and believe me, I did!) very fresh seafood dinner...

They said that by turning sideways they'd look slimmer, haha. Here is a group picture, taken at the Kitajima Saburo Museum -- he's a famous Japanese singer from Hakodate, pictured on the walls.

That's Nakano-san who's pointing his fingers over my head, ha.

What a fun group! We had a good time visiting Hokodate, which is on the island Hokkaido, a few hours north of Kuji.

Besides gawking at the night view and visiting the museum, we also went to a convent (very interesting, since they're not at all common in Japan), a tower, and a fireworks show called "Christmas Fantasy."

Now I'm preparing for a bigger trip -- my journey to Indianapolis (by way of Tokyo, Seattle and Chicago). It will probably be a while before I post another blog entry since I'll be on-the-go so much for the next couple of weeks.

No matter where in the world you are, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Voices singing, let's be jolly..."

According to Buddy the Elf (perhaps the most quoteable and loveable movie character ever!),
"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear."

It doesn't take much prompting for me to take those wise words to heart. :)

(By the way, another good way to spread Christmas cheer is by changing the font in your blog to red and green, haha.)

I've been doing a lot of singing lately -- even more than the usual amount.

In the past week, I have sung at a preschool, at the karaoke place (twice!) and a solo at church. (Click to see the video that Kenji took of "The First Noel.")

Here's a picture from Christmas caroling at the preschool on Saturday...

The carolers from left to right -- Liz, Mayla, Saya (my hug buddy from church), the one and only Tomoki (who introduced himself as Devon Sease!), and Sean.

I hope that our singing spreads holiday cheer! Through singing, I also aim to praise and glorify Jesus Christ, the reason for Christmas.

I enjoy singing and music, in general. They make me smile, and...

"Smiling's my favorite!!!" (That was another "Elf" reference for you.) :)

* * * *

"I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples." -- Psalm 57:9

Monday, December 15, 2008

There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy...

Quick! What's the next line of the song? You have 10 seconds, starting NOW. (No peeking!)

The Santa duo -- with a little elf (named Ayaka) who snuck in the picture :)

If you said "as we pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie," you are RIGHT! If you sang it, bonus points for you. :) Oh, and if you said "chocolate" instead of "coffee," you get partial credit since I've heard that in one version. (Personally, I think it should be chocolate since it gives me a happier feeling than coffee does. Ok, you can get full credit after all; I'm in the Christmas spirit!)


I've been playing Christmas games lately (could you tell!?) and have been to three parties in the last four days! It's been marvelous.

The picture above and the one right below are from the party I had for my dance group yesterday. We ate lots of food and had lots of fun, regardless of the fact that none of them speak English well. We played this game of pass-the-candy-cane-around-like-crazy until the candy cane broke into a bunch of pieces, turning the game into a candy cane fight. Good times!

My table has a blanket under it because it's a special kind of heated table called a kotatsu. The food we're eating includes fried chicken, soba noodles, some kind of rice/seafood dish and grilled chicken skewers, called yakitori. (Dessert was the next course -- cream puffs, cookies and two kinds of cake!)

Sweets were a big part of my Christmas party at Mugyo on Thursday, too. We had Christmas cookie baking/decorating/eating time, followed by a couple of games and a present exchange:

Atsumi and Aki painting cookies, thanks to the (American) Cookie Kit from the Barnetts. :)

Shoma's finished cookies! The one on the top right is a mouth. Don't ask me why. I don't know.

No school Christmas party is complete without a game of Tackle the Student! Err...I mean Musical Chairs. :)

The ALT Christmas party was on Saturday night. There were a lot of people there and we watched a few of the Christmas classics, like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman" and..."Muppets Christmas Carol," haha.

Oh, and guess what -- there was pumpkin pie!! And lots of chocolate! Of course there were happy feelings, too. :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Getting ready for America!

It won't be long until I travel to the great U.S. of A., and I'm pretty excited about it. :)

The same is true of nine junior high school students and two high school students from Kuji and two teachers (including my boss, Yamadate).

At the beginning of January, the group will do some sightseeing in San Francisco before going to Franklin, to visit Kuji's sister city. During the four days in Franklin, each student will stay with a host family and sit in on classes at either Custer Baker Middle School or Franklin Community High School.

What a great way for them to experience American culture! At the same time, they can teach their host families and others about Japanese culture. So it's a win-win situation.

I'm looking forward to having two of the students stay with my family! Here is a picture of all the girls (minus one), who will be coming to America...

The two girls I'm touching are the ones who will be hanging out with my family -- Shiori (beside me) and Marina (my student from Okawame, who is below me.) Sorry about the less-that-stellar picture quality.

Here's a picture of the guys (again, one is missing) and the two chaperones...

For the last month, the group has been meeting each week for English conversation classes, in preparation for the trip. Mayla, Liz and I have helped them with their English self-introductions and basic conversation. I think the students are a little nervous about the homestay aspect of the trip.

After their stay in Franklin (and Camby, for the two girls who will be at my house), I will travel with the group to Washington, D.C. and help lead them. Then together, we'll fly to Tokyo and travel to Kuji.

Although the students aren't coming to America until January, I'll arrive on December 23rd so I can be home for Christmas. As is tradition, my family is driving to Florida the day after Christmas to spend the week with my grandparents. :)

There will be a lot of moving around during my brief stay in America, but it should all be fun!

While I'm making announcements and telling you about my plans, here is another bit of news: I've decided to live in Kuji for a second year! So until August 2010, the grand Japanese adventure continues...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another, younger Tomoki

Of course no one could ever take Tomoki's place. He is truly one of the most unique individuals I've ever met!

(By the way, Tomoki -- the 7th grade boy I tutor, just in case you need reminded -- likes to say "of course" instead of "yes." Dana: Did you have a good weekend, Tomoki? Tomoki: Of course!!)

But the cutie with me in this picture reminds me of Tomoki.

I met him at Kuji Elementary School on Monday. His English was by far the best of his class, and it was apparent that he really wants to learn it.
I just wish I could remember his name!

I asked him if he studies English at home, and he told me that his father is an English teacher. I tried asking what school his dad teaches at, but he said, "No school." I was confused, but it was time for me to leave his classroom, so I left.

At the very beginning of recess time, the boy found me in the teacher's room so we could work out our communication issue. He was SO cute and was not about to give up! Ten minutes and a game of "charades" later, I finally figured out that his dad is a carpenter who knows English and teaches his son a little bit at home. YES! I understand! :)

My little friend followed me around during the rest of recess, as I (attempted to) talk and play with other fun kids. As usual, I had a great time in the company of elementary school students.

I also still have a lot of fun with Tomoki, who countinues to make me laugh. He memorized the entire "Grease" dance that the ALTs performed a few weeks ago, and he likes to practice it whenever he comes over, haha. He also likes to practice his "British English." I could write an entire blog full of Tomoki stories since he does and says so many funny things, but that's all for now.

In the words of Tomoki, "Cheerio, homie!"

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Five reasons why shopping can be enjoyable

I'm not a big spender.

I'd rather save my money or donate it to a worthy cause. So I'm not one to love shopping. However, I've spent the last two weekends shopping -- last weekend at a market in Hachinohe and this weekend at a mall in Morioka.

Both times I did more browsing than actual purchasing. I like it better that way. Here are the top five reasons why "window shopping" is fun:

#5: You can see ridiculous/surprising things.
To me, spending 5,000 yen ($50) on a crab seems slightly ridiculous. Granted, these crabs are gigantic! But still, I can think of at least 50 people and things off the top of my head that I'd rather spend $50 on, instead of buying some big, dead crab. Wait a minute...

These guys are alive!! The man selling them picks up a crab that I presume to be dead, and I nearly jump back a foot when it starts moving its giant claws! Looks like it's ready to pinch something...or someone. Eeps!

4. You can try on ridiculous things.
I have a lot of fun trying on stuff that I would never buy and never wear. For instance, this hat...

Is this what it feels like to have dreadlocks? I feel a couple of pounds heavier with this thing on my head!

3. Free food! Enough said.
Hypothetically of course (ahem), I could go to a store like Sam's Club back home and make a meal off the samples. I love samples! I've learned that if I go to the Universe grocery store at just the right time, I'll find a variety of homemade baked goods to taste test. It's fabulous. But as much as I usually enjoy samples, I'm (literally) not diggin' these...

First, I have no idea what this is. I can't read the Japanese, and the brown mushy stuff doesn't look like anything familiar. (That's edible, anyway!) Second, there are chopsticks in the bowls! So are these "community samples" or what? What if I use the chopsticks (that have been in who knows how many mouths) to eat the brown mushy stuff and accidentally drop a little bit on my pants!? Ew, I can see that happening, too. I hardly ever say this when it comes to free food...but I'll pass.

2. It provides opportunities to "people-watch."
I enjoy standing or sitting still and watching the people around me. Maybe that sounds creeper-ish, but maybe you do it, too, and you just don't admit it. :) People-watching was especially fun in the stores in Tokyo because of the crazy fashion I saw. But even in Morioka, I saw folks wearing some unusual things. I didn't take any pictures because I don't want to turn into the paparazzi. But trust me, the fashion is unique.

1. You can see some eye-candy!
And I don't just mean amazingly attractive guys! This right here is eye-candy...
A long row of cake slices = beautiful! I thought the cake lady with her little hat and apron was precious, so I took a picture of her, too...

So there you have it, folks.

I guess you could say I'd rather eat dough than spend dough! :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

A century old and still singing

There is a lady at church who I see almost every Sunday. She always greets me with "Ohayou gozaimasu!" (Good morning!) And when she sits behind me, I can hear her singing the hymns.

These things may sound pretty average, but this lady is not. She is 100 years old!

We had a birthday party for her after church a few days ago, with a giant circular vanilla and chocolate cake. After eating, she gave a speech (that I didn't understand a word of), and then she sang a song for everyone.

I was quite impressed.

My one-century-old friend and me. I hope I look as good as she does if/when I'm 100!

In general, the elderly folks I encounter in Kuji are pretty remarkable. It's not uncommon to see someone you'd expect to be in a wheelchair riding a bicycle along the side of the street instead!

As I'm driving around the mountains, I often see severely hunched over -- or as Yamadate says, "permanently bowing" :) -- women hiking up the steep roads. They usually are carrying a heavy-looking sack of produce or something else and don't even seem to be phased by it. It's just life as usual, I suppose.

It doesn't suprise me that Japan has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world. In fact, the world's oldest man is Tomoji Tanabe of Tokyo. He is 113 years old. (FYI: Until November 26th when she passed away, Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Ind., a Franklin College graduate (!) was the oldest person in the world, at 115 years old.)

According to this article, the longetivity of Japanese people is due to the minerals and the large amount of seafood that they eat, and the elderly having a sense of purpose in life. Makes sense to me.

It's hard to imagine living to be 100 years old! I think it would certainly be amazing to see all of the different changes that occur within a century. Perhaps I'll live that long and find out!

After all, I'm eating tons of seafood, taking vitamins every day, and I have a sense of purpose. :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"It's Christmas time in the city..."

I'm not the only one in Kuji ready for Christmas. Apparently, a lot of people are!

Just as I've been astounded by the amount of English signs I've seen in Kuji, I've also been pleasantly surprised by the quantity of Christmas decorations that have popped up in recent days.

They make me happy. :)

Across the street from my decor-filled apartment is a bookstore that also has many decorations inside, in addition to a cute window display of Christmas teddy bears. These two pictures are both from the bookstore...

He sure is a jolly old St. Nick!

Just like in America, the stores here are playing Christmas music and selling holiday merchandise. There are even "Merry Christmas" signs inside...
I love how there's a big Japanese sign right behind the Merry Christmas one.

I really like the Christmas banners and strands of lights on the light posts. The city sidewalks are truly dressed in holiday style, like in the lyrics to the song "Silver Bells."

This tree is down the street from my apartment and is absolutely gorgeous...

I have been surprised by these displays of Christmas spirit! After all, Japan is only a one-percent Christian country. I had thought that if people in Kuji celebrated Christmas at all, it probably wouldn't be a big deal.

Yesterday at Kokuji Elementary School, I was asked to talk about Christmas customs in America. I asked the students what their families will do on Christmas, and they said they'll eat cake and get presents. I also asked if they knew why we celebrate Christmas. In every class, at least one of the students knew about the birthday of Jesus Christ. Again, I was pleasantly surprised!

I'm glad that I can walk the sidewalks in Kuji and see holiday decorations, and I'm happy that
"in the air there's a feeling of Christmas." :)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The countdown has begun!

Welcome to the holiday season, folks. :)

With Christmas less than a month away, I'm fired up and feeling festive! I'm extra excited since I'm going home, and then to Florida, to be with my family!!

Since I celebrated Thanksgiving with the other ALT's a couple of weeks ago, it's already felt like the holiday season to me. The day of the first snowfall in Kuji, I went to the dollar, I mean 100 yen store...and bought some fun holiday/winter decor and adorned my apartment.

Since then, I've had even more Christmas decorations sent to me. (Thank you so much!) Although I don't really have halls to deck -- and no boughs of holly, either -- my living room is decked out! There's a whole lot of Christmas cheer in here, and I might have to keep all the decorations up until at least March since I'm lovin' the jolly vibes. :)

Check it out:

Here's another view...

I'm pretty proud of those paper snowflakes I made. (Decorations even cheaper than the ones at the 100 yen store! Yes!) And there's snowflake garland (I guess that's what you'd call it) around my living room door, which has snowmen on it....

This is looking into the living room from my bedroom...

And even the TV has some holiday spirit...

I'm looking forward to having a Christmas party in my festive apartment for my dance team, two weeks from this very moment. It will probably be crowded since this isn't exactly a big place, but that's ok, we'll just be real close friends, haha. Since I did some serious cleaning and decorating this weekend, I could have it tomorrow! I'm ready.

And I'm also ready to celebrate Christmas back home again in Indiana.
It's only 25 days away. Almost 24. :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

What does a turkey in space say?

Hello, America! Looking so beautiful from space. *Internet photo*

I've had outer space on my mind. That's not to say that my mind has been in outer space!

It started a few weeks ago when my friend Kiley mentioned a wonderful sermon about the universe. (And I'm not talking about the grocery store this time!) Click here for the first part. If you could find about 45 minutes to watch this, I highly recommend it.

A couple of days ago, my friend Sara sent me this link that shows pictures from space. Like the sermon, the photographs put me in awe of God. He is truly awesome, and so is His creation!

I give God thanks and praise for many things. On this Thanksgiving Day, I thank Him for designing this amazing universe that we are just a teeny tiny part of. I give thanks for the fact that the Creator of the Universe is involved in my life! It blows me away thinking about it.

I've always been fascinated by outer space. When I was in second grade, I claimed that I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. (Too bad I get so motion sick! I guess my dreams need to be more down to Earth!)

Yesterday, I found the above picture in an Internet article about Thanksgiving in space. The caption read: "The Thanksgiving feast shuttle astronauts will eat in space Clockwise from upper left: green beans and mushrooms, candied yams, cranapple dessert, cornbread stuffing and smoked turkey."

Feast is not the word that comes to mind when I look at this picture. But at least the meal consists of traditional Thanksgiving foods! Here is a picture of what I had today for "Thanksgiving dinner"...

This is the first Thanksgiving that I've eaten rice, fish and miso soup! But I celebrated the holiday in other ways. I taught the students at Mugyo Jr. High about Thanksgiving traditions, and we decorated sugar cookies with fall sprinkles. (Thanks again, Mom!) It hasn't been a typical Thanksgiving and I miss being with my family, but it's been a good day.

Sooooo....what does a turkey in space say, you've been wondering....

"Hubble, hubble, hubble!"

"Grease is the word"...and the dance!

Sunday, Nov. 23, 11:30 a.m. -- All four of the ALT "dancers" (I use that term loosely. We are far from professional!) are gearing up for the performance at Amber Hall. We've spent the last 10 days practicing our moves to songs from the musical "Grease." Besides our dance, the charity event will include a variety of acts from people of all ages in the community. The show begins in exactly one hour. Eeps! So we're about to do a final dress rehearsal. **Click here to see it! **

12:16 p.m. -- We're now at Amber Hall, in a dressing room that we're sharing with an elderly lady in a kimono. Individually, we're running through our dance moves. We're making sure our outfits and make-up are just right. We're excited, but also anxious. I'm thinking, "Let's get this party started!"

12:56 p.m. -- We'll go on stage any second. I'm so pumped! The act before us was SO adorable! There must have been at least 20 little kids dancing to upbeat Japanese music. Now it's our turn. A disco ball is coming down from the ceiling. That's awesome! I didn't know they were doing that!

Lights. Camera. Action! ** Click here to join the audience, and let the show begin.**

1:01 p.m. -- Whew, that was the fastest four and a half minutes ever! What a blast! It reminded me of my days on the movement team at church. There were four of us then, too.

Overall, I think the dress rehearsal went better than the actual performance, but at least we made our mistakes with smiles on our faces. :) While on stage, I had one of those, "this is surreal" moments. Here I am in Japan, prancing around a stage in leggings in front of 1,000 people. What a life I lead!

The dancers have Kenji to thank for letting us turn the upstairs of his office building into a dance studio. I think he enjoys this picture. :) And thanks to Kenji for the videos, too!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A (nother) blog post regarding food

What can I say? Food ("tabemono" in Japanese) is one of my passions! And I'm currently passionate about persimmons. :)

When I was reading the Indy Star on-line, I came across
this article about persimmons. Although this is the peak month for persimmons in Indiana, I've been eating this yummy fruit for the last three months in Japan.

I was first introduced to the "kaki" (the Japanese name for persimmon) when one of the teachers at Yamane Jr. High School gave me one, back in August. I thought it was a tomato.

Before you think I'm crazy, check out this picture of a kaki:

Does it not look like a tomato!? I have several of these in my fridge right now that I could take pictures of. This picture is from the internet, though.

Since I'm not a huge fan of tomatoes, I decided to give my tomato to Tomoki. Tomoki laughed at me (what's new?) and said, "That's not a tomato! It's a...ummm...errr...I don't know in English. But it's a kaki in Japanese." So he looked it up in his fancy little electronic translator, and we learned that this tomato-wanna-be is actually a persimmon.

I've been enjoying the juicy, sweet fruit -- which thankfully tastes nothing like a tomato -- ever since. :)

I always just slice it up and eat. But maybe I'll try making the apple and persimmon salad recipe that's at the end of the Indy Star article.

If you're a persimmon-eater like me, I hope you can enjoy some delicious persimmon pudding (or even some apple and persimmon salad) this Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..."

I've already begun listening to Christmas music.

It just feels like the right thing to do.

There's a nice white dusting over everything since it has sprinkled snow for two days in a row! (I had winter tires put on my car on Tuesday, just in time.)
The first snowfall of the season is really great because it makes the trees look beautiful, but doesn't stick to the road. :)

Yesterday, I noticed a pine tree near my apartment that has blue lights strung on it. And there's a shop down the street with a Christmas display in the window! With snow on the ground and holiday decorations going up around me, it truly is "beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!"

So after I cranked up the heat in my car this morning, I decided it was time to crank up the Christmas music. I put in the tape "Christmas Party Mix," ready for my Christmas party on wheels.

And my, was it entertaining! Do you remember the song "Macarena"? The dance was all the rage when I was in fifth grade, so it's been a while.


Wouldn't you know that every single song on the Christmas tape was set to the beat of "Macarena" -- including the song "Silent Night," which is just wrong. And then "Macarena" would play after each funky Christmas song. It was almost too much. Even for me! But it made me laugh, and it also made me eager to listen to the true tunes

I usually wait until after Thanksgiving to start listening to Christmas music. But since I celebrated Thanksgiving with the other ALT's last Saturday, it feels like the holiday season has officially begun. I'm totally okay with starting "the most wonderful time of the year" a week early.

In fact, I may even decorate my apartment for Christmas tonight. "Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la la la...

...Hey Macarena!!"

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Oh Susana, don't you cry for me..."

I got a letter from my African child today. :)

Through Compassion International, I sponsor a girl named Susana who lives in Tanzania. She is 12 years old, has a June birthday like me and always has a Bible verse to share.

Susana and I have been exchanging letters for over two years. She usually includes a picture that she's drawn, and usually it's a sketch of flowers and houses. Recently, she's progressed to drawing pictures of people.

In this most recent drawing, she has written, "I love Jesus." Precious. Along with the letter and drawing, this time I received an updated photograph of Susana. She's so beautiful, and she looks happy.

This is acutally the photo of Susana I got last time. I wasn't able to scan the photo I got today. But at least now you know what she looks like. :)

It's a delight to correspond with Susana. And it's a pleasure to sponsor her -- to help supply some of her basic needs.

I encourage you to sponsor a child. I know that times are tough for the U.S. economy right now. But this is actually a global reality. There are so many children in the world who are in desperate need, living in poverty. Sponsoring not only provides for a child's physical needs, but his/her emotional and spiritual needs as well.

Although I've never met Susana, I plan to one day. In fact, I have a very strong desire -- and I believe, a calling -- to live in Africa for a while and personally help/serve/play with/share joy with children like Susana. I can't stop thinking about it.

In recent years, I've become a world traveler. But I hope and pray that this is just the beginning!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thanksgiving a little early

Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, pie...

Are you ready for Thanksgiving yet? ;)

I could easily celebrate this holiday at least once a week! On Saturday evening, about 15 ALT's got together to eat all of the aforementioned food, plus a few non-traditional Thanksgiving dishes like pigs-in-a-blanket, eggrolls and no-bake cookies. It was all A-MAZING, and I feasted as if I hadn't eaten in days!

As is usual for Thanksgiving, I became stuffed with stuffing. The stuffing was my contribution to the meal, and I had fun making it. However, I missed having the annual night-before-the-feast "stuffing party" with my family, in which we all slice and chop, and then eat the buttery bread in bowls as if it were popcorn. :)

Even though Thanksgiving isn't for another couple of weeks, the ALT's decided to celebrate early because this weekend worked out the best for everyone. Definitely better early than never!

Before dinner, we all shared something that we're thankful for. While I am thankful for SO MANY blessings in my life, I said that I am thankful for the smooth transition I've had to living in Japan.

After dinner, we played some games, including charades.
Have you ever tried to act out the word "pomegranate!?" It's pretty much impossible, let me tell you!

It's now Sunday night, and I've been thinking about what a great weekend I've had -- eating, volunteering at a preschool and playing with the cute kids, cooking, eating, dancing, chatting on Skype with family and friends, eating some more, worshipping the Lord, cleaning. You know, all of my favorite things. (minus the cleaning, haha.)

I give thanks for all of the good times! (And good food! :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

These are a few of my favorite things...

I absolutely adore musicals. (My life is kind of like one since I sing and dance a lot, haha.)

My favorite musical is The Sound of Music. I now have a cassette of the soundtrack (thanks, Mom) that I enjoy listening to in my car as I "climb every mountain," and I have the movie on DVD to watch (thanks, Grandma).

A few days ago I found out that my friend Lauren is going to Beef & Boards to see The Sound of Music live! And "I have confidence" that she's going to think it's "something good." :)

Because I've had The Sound of Music on my mind, I think it's only appropriate that I share a few of "My Favorite Things" in Kuji. In case you are unfamiliar with the song (heaven forbid!) or need a reminder of the tune, click here. And now, without further ado, I present a verse of my version of the song:

Children on a stage and brown boots on my feet.
Dancing and tofu and crepes that are so sweet.
Making new friends and the joy that it brings.
These are a few of my favorite things!

Let me do a little explaining...

Children on a stage -- Today I went to Amber Hall and watched elementary school students perform some songs they've learned. Some of the girls wore pigtails and some of the boys wore red bow ties. :) As usual, they were SO adorable! I could write a whole post on cute kids. (Oh wait. I already have.)

Brown boots on my feet -- I think it's so funny that of all places, I finally found a pair of cute, affordable cowgirl boots in Kuji, Japan. Yeehaw! They were 50 percent off and I couldn't pass up the bargain. (So Dad, I'm ready for a dude ranch adventure when you are!)

Dancing -- I'm currently addicted to watching clips of the show Dancing with the Stars on YouTube. Seriously. I'm also continuing to enjoy my Japanese dance practices every Tuesday night. PLUS, a few ot the other ALT's and I will be dancing to songs from Grease for a charity event next weekend, so we've been making up routines and practicing the hand jive. So yeah, there's a lot of dancing going on these days, and I love it!

Internet photo of "Dancing with the Stars." Helio Castroneves is still my favorite to watch!

Tofu -- Well, it hasn't quite reached the status of being a favorite food, but I've been having a lot of fun experimenting with it. I appreciate the tofu tips and recipes that you've shared with me. I enjoyed eggs with tofu (thanks, Grandma) last night for dinner, and tonight's dinner is vegetable stew with tofu. (thanks, Wendy)

Crepes that are so sweet --
There is a crepe shop down the street (YES!) from my apartment where the sweetest lady makes the sweetest crepes! So far, I've had a banana/chocolate/custard crepe and a banana/caramel/cream crepe. (pictured below) These are just two of probably 25 combinations that she offers, and my goal is to try them all before I leave Kuji. (I have to balance out all that tofu I'm eating, HA).

Making new friends and the joy that it brings --
Always a favorite thing! As I suspected it would be, this is one of my favorite aspects of living in Kuji. I enjoy trying new things (crepe flavors!) with new friends (like Ayaka, who loves crepes, too).

Of course I have many other favorite things, but this is all for now. Thanks for reading, and "so long, farewell."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Question/Answer time with Dana-san

When I give my self-introduction at different elementary schools, it's almost always followed by a Q & A session.

I get all kinds of questions. Once in a while a brave student will attempt to ask a question in English, but most are asked in Japanese and translated by the English teacher.

Below are a few of my favorites. These are not the normal questions such as: "Do you like dogs?" or "Do you like Japanese food?" or "What sport do you like?" The ones below are more off-the-wall. My actual answers are in bold, and my thoughts about the question are in italics. Enjoy....

* * *

Q: Who of your family is more interesting?

A: First, let me correct the question. I am an English teacher, after all. You mean, "Who in your family is the most interesting?" Second, what kind of question is that!? How do I answer this? Oooh, I know. I'll answer Mr. Rogers' style...

All of my family members are different and special in their own way. :)

* * *

Q: Do you have a boyfriend?

A: Ah, the boyfriend question. Usually I get this from curious junior high school students, and here's what I tell them...

I have three. (Pause for effect and smile at the confused faces.) My dad and two grandpas. :)

* * *

Q: Do you know
(some long Japanese name said really fast)?

A: Say what!? (Look at teacher for help.) Teacher responds: "Famous Japanese rock star." Oh, that explains it. No, I do not know of any famous Japanese rock stars. Sorry. Oh, wait, I know of Yoko Ono, and she was married to John Lennon, a famous rock star. Does that count? :)

* * *

Q: Do you know the Statue of Liberty?

A: Whoa. This kid is in first grade, and he just asked me this in English!! Impressive. The real question, buddy, is how do YOU know the Statue of Liberty?!? Yes, I do. I saw the Statue of Liberty when I went to New York a long time ago.

* * *

Q: Do you have friends in Jamaica?

A: Now that's random! No (mon), I do not have any friends in Jamaica. That'd be cool, though! We'd be jammin'. :)

Teacher to class: Please ask Dana-san normal questions. (haha)

* * *

And now, dear reader, I have a random question for you...

Do you like tofu? And there's a follow-up question. If yes, how do you like it prepared?

Tofu is so cheap and healthy, but not very tasty by itself. I'm looking for some good tofu recipes. If you have a good one (I'm guessing the majority of you don't, and that's okay), please share it with me. Thanks!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Learning to expect the unexpected

According to today's plan, I was to get on a bus at noon with other City Hall employees to go play a game called park golf at Ono campus.

Well, sometimes I don't know the actual plan. It's best to just go with the flow. :)

When Liz and I got on the bus, we looked around at the unfamiliar people dressed in business attire. Something isn't quite right here. After a few minutes, we tried asking them if they were going to play park golf, and in response, we got several shaking heads and a "No. P.T.A." As in a P.T.A. meeting?!? Time to get off the bus! Good thing we asked, since they apparently weren't going to say anything!

We finally found a couple of fellow golf buddies, and discovered we'd be riding in a car with them to the course -- which turned out not to be at Ono campus. Surprise, surprise!

An hour later, we arrived at the golf course, and I learned that I'd be on a team with three people I'd never seen before. Surprise! But my teammates were so much fun, and I enjoyed playing the game that was a lot like "normal" golf, just with a bigger ball. (I wasn't exactly sure what to expect since I'd never played.)

Too bad I suffered from frozen philanges!! I seriously couldn't feel my fingers for about an hour. Surprise! (I even had gloves on.) And too bad I was over par every single time! I've determined that park golf isn't a strength of mine.

I've also determined that it is a spring/summer activity and not a game for late fall -- especially when late fall feels like the middle of a bitter cold winter!

The string is attached to the tee, not the ball. Just wanted to let you know.

After park golf, we all went to dinner. I thought we were going to a restaurant, but instead it was a small, rented building with a kitchen that was supplied with raw meat (including squid, yay!) and a grill. Surprise!

This is "Coach." (He tried giving me golf pointers, but my aim is really bad.) He's proud of the smiley face he made out of squid meat, haha. What a character!

My team! Her shirt says, "Alcoholic. Seldom or Never. Culture Fusion. Brooklyn." (huh???)

After a delicious dinner, we talked and laughed together around the table. There was a conversation that went like this:

Japanese friend: "(something that sounded like "Ricky Martin" to me.)"
Me: "Ricky Martin!?"
Liz: "Rocky Mountains!?"
"Coach": "ROCKY?!!!" *starts punching the air and humming "Eye of the Tiger"* haha

"Coach" impressed me with some of the random English words he knew -- words like "premium" and "grotesque." Surprise!

Overall, it was a good experience. I'm glad I went even though I froze. And by the way, I lost park golf BIG time. No surprise there!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How are your philanges?

Being a junior high school teacher has its frustrating moments.

I have a few students who act like learning English is a big waste of time. On a scale of 1 to 10, their interest level is a one. I'm doing my best to change this! It annoys me immensely when they continually talk while I'm trying to teach, and I try to get them to pay attention.

Then there's Tomoki.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Tomoki hangs on my every English word. On the 1 to 10 scale, his interest in English is at least a 15! Tomoki comes to my apartment twice a week for hour-long private lessons. If it were up to him, he'd probably come over every day of the week for the entire evening!

Tomoki knows that LOL stands for "laugh out loud" and IDK is "I don't know." He says "What's up?" and "Peace out, homie." And he also knows the word "philanges." All of this is my fault.

Philanges are the bones that form fingers and toes. I've always thought the word is kinda funny, and I taught it to Tomoki because he wanted to know a funny-sounding English word. That was a mistake. He uses it in everyday conversation now. HA!

Besides having a hunger for English knowledge (it's more like starvation, really), he has an exciteable, goofy personality. :) He took the following pictures with the self-timer on his fancy little camera. (He loves technology!)

Thinking deep English thoughts while staring at my laptop. (Totally posed. Tomoki's idea.)

Ohmygoodness, I can't believe it! (Again, posed. Again, I just followed his lead.)

Tomoki came to church with me on Sunday, and I introduced him to my friends there. Later, he sent me this e-mail:

Hi Dana,
How are your philangees? My philangees are fine. Thank you for inviting it to the church. I think I am going to go to church again. Please teach me when you go to church. I had a nice day. Today was very very good. Please teach me when you meet other ALTs. Because I want many foreigner's friends. My foreigner's friend are Dana&Liz&Mayla. Kenji has many foreigner's friend. I want to become a companion. Allright?

Tomoki with two of his "foreigner's friends." :)

Needless to say, the boy cracks me up. The other day he had written on his hand, "F's change notebook." He meant "exchange." (haha) And the day after Halloween, he rang my doorbell and said, "trick-or-treat" before presenting me with a box that contained three slices of cake! This isn't quite how the concept of trick-or-treating works, Tomoki, but I like your version better!

Tomoki is now into on-line social networking and has a profile on facebook. So I guess you can say that Tomoki and I are "officially" friends. Or as he says..."homies." :)