Sunday, August 31, 2008

Variety is the spice of life...

...and because of spices, I have variety!

Callie, the ALT who lived in this apartment before me, left several different herbs and spices in the kitchen. So I can put oregano or rosemary or basil on grilled chicken or fish or whatever. I have garlic to put on my noodles or bread or meat. Oh, the possiblities! I could spice up some foods with chili pepper if I so desire (but I don't really desire).

There are also several unidentified Japanese spices sitting on my countertop, so I can experiment. But I will use them sparingly until they are identified. Too bad I don't like black pepper because I have a whole lot of that!

I eat the majority of meals in my apartment. I've discovered that the frozen pizzas here are quite delicious; I had a fantastic shrimp and corn pizza the other day. I like to fix things that are also pretty easy -- like grilled meat, steamed vegetables, spaghetti and sandwiches. Below is a picture of tonight's dinner -- my rice, corn and eggs concoction. It doesn't contain any herbs or spices, but there's a lot of soy sauce in there!

Ok, I admit that the chopsticks are just for show. :) When I'm in my apartment, you'd better believe I use silverware!

I will occasionally eat dinner out, such as last night when I went to a sushi bar with Liz, Sean and Oliver -- a new ALT in Kuji. (So I'm not the newest ALT anymore!) Sitting at the sushi bar, watching the different types of sushi go around on a conveyor belt, was a neat experience. I've been wanting to go to one since I arrived in Japan. I didn't take a picture of it because #1 I didn't have my camera. (That's the main reason.) And #2 I don't want to seem like a tourist. After all, I'm a resident now. :)

Besides eating in and eating out (at a restaurant), I will sometimes have lunch at school. At Misaki Junior High School on Friday, I had the choice of going home for a late lunch or eating the school lunch with the students. The teacher suggested that I would probably want to bring my own lunch from now on, like Callie used to do. Hmmm...suspicious, indeed. But for the first time, I could try the school lunch. So I tried it.

The main dish was tofu/ground beef? maybe?/who knows what else was is that? soup. That's mysterious, I thought. One of the side dishes was a cucumber and seaweed mixture. That's unique. And very green. And also not good. The soup and seaweed was served with a bowl of white rice. That's standard. It also came with what I thought were onion rings, but turned out to be fried rings of squid. That's tricky! There was also a thimble-sized portion of what they called "jelly," which they said was my dessert. That's funny! My idea of dessert is a hot fudge sundae. Oh well, at least the half-bite of jelly was tasty!

So I think I'll be bringing white chocolate peanut butter sandwiches for lunch when I go to Misaki. :)
I now have four jars of it that have been mailed to me, haha!

A view from where I was sitting of what it's like to eat lunch with the students.

You'll notice that they eat lunch in the classroom, unlike in America where there is a school cafeteria. The teacher brings in big pots and conatiners of food to the room, the students line up, and a few of the students serve the line. They don't have a choice about what they eat. Even the teachers eat the same lunch as the students.

Yesterday after the church service, I stayed for a church luncheon. I ate tuna and potato salad (yes, together!) sandwiches, pumpkin soup and soybeans. Of course they also served tea, which I always turn down. Maybe I'll learn to like tea by living in Japan? I thought the lunch was delicious! I really like the soybeans here, and I often eat them as a snack.

And today for lunch, I ate at Osani Elementary School with a fifth grade class. The menu was some sort of tofu soup (different from the one on Friday), bread, pears, an unidentifiable fried thing and mashed pumpkin with peas, carrots and onion in it. It may not sound appetizing, but I thought the pumpkin stuff was amazing! The teacher said there was lots left and I could help myself to some more, so I did.

They look like little surgeons (love the outfit!), but they're actually just getting ready to serve lunch. So sanitary!

The little surgeons in action! You've probably already noticed that throwing up the "peace sign" is quite normal.
A close-up of the meal -- those are pears in the sack. And I just noticed the kid with his hand dangling in the container of bread. Hey, that's not sanitary!

I think I ate too much of the pumpkin stuff since my stomach kind of hurt afterwards, which wasn't good because I played volleyball this afternoon! (Yeah, you read that correctly, haha.) All of the middle school classes in Kuji were cancelled for the afternoon so the teachers from the different schools could have a volleyball tournament! I went just to watch, but instead I ended up joining the Board of Education team. I tried explaining that, "Trust me, you really don't want me on your team. I'll just cheer," but my teammates didn't understand English and seemed to really want me to join them. So I gave in and played (wearing dress pants, oh well), and it was a lot of fun!

Hooray for the Board of Education volleyball team! Peace out. :)

One of the teachers at Okamawe Junior High School who I met the other day, came up to me after the first game and said, "Your playing is charming." I couldn't stifle a laugh! Maybe she thinks the word charming means "ridiculously embarrassing?" Because there is absolutely nothing charming about the way I play volleyball! In fact, whenever I joined the Board of Education team, we lost. And when I sat out and watched, we won. Coincidence? I think not!

I'll end this long blog post now by wishing everyone in America a happy Labor Day today. Celebrate for me by eating a variety of picnic foods, ok? :)

***This post is dedicated to my dad, who has a fondness for food as I do and is always interested in what I'm eating!***

Friday, August 29, 2008

Congratulations to the contest participants!

Speaking English comes naturally to you and me. But that's not the case for the 30 students who participated in "The 8th Kuji City Inter Junior High School English Recitation and Speech Contest." (Whew, talk about something that's not easy to say!)

That's why I'm so proud of all the students. English isn't easy for most of them, yet they each memorized a one-page story or speech in English. I can't imagine memorizing a whole page of Japanese and then reciting it -- focusing on my expression, intonation and pronouncing everything correctly -- plus doing gestures. There's no way!

Last week, I went to an English-speaking contest in a nearby town, as one of five judges. I had a good time judging the contest and was impressed by those students as well. It was harder to judge than I thought it'd be. Although judging was fun, I was happy to not have that pressure and to just watch the Kuji contest.

I was especially interested in watching three girls from Okamawe Junior High School compete because I helped them practice their speeches. For the last two weeks, I have spent an hour and a half almost every afternoon/early evening working with them. (So I couldn't be a judge at the Kuji contest because I would have been biased.)

I found that the hardest letters for the girls to pronounce in English, as well as many of the other speakers at the contest, are "th," "r," and "w." For example, the word "everything" usually sounds more like "everysing." Often during the contest, words that started with the letter "v" sounded more like they began with the letter "b."

Each of the girls I worked with had her own "trouble words" that I had to pronounce over and over again. One of the girls had problem pronouncing the word "problem," and the way she said the word "wrong" was wrong. Oh, the irony!

During the speech contest on Thursday, my girls made me proud! Here's a picture of me with them, following the contest:

The girl beside me was one of the students who went to Franklin last January with Yamadate! She recognized me from the dinner at Franklin College, where I spoke about coming to Kuji. So now she's seen me speak in public, and I've seen her speak. And the girl on the left won first place in her division, making me very happy!

I enjoyed listening to all the different stories and speeches. My favorite part was the end, when the winners were announced. Except the announcer lady called them "weiners" instead! I about lost it when she ended the contest by saying, "Congratulations to all of these weiners!" :)

She proves my point that English is not always easy to pronounce for non-native speakers!

This is Amber Hall, the funky building with an auditorium where the contest was held. I've been wanting to go inside since I arrived in Kuji, and I finally had my chance. :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cutie pies and butterflies

My job in Kuji has two parts -- teaching in schools and sitting in the office.

Every morning, I go to a classroom to help teach English, but it's a different school each day of the week. Monday is the only day I go to an elemetary school; I spend the remainder of the week at different junior high schools.

Teaching is my favorite part of the job because I like being with kids! And I'm pretty sure that Monday will become my favorite day of the week (pretty unusual, huh?), because the little kids are SO cute!! This past Monday, I went to the same elementary school as Liz because the one that I was supposed to go to changed their schedule around, so they didn't need me.

I had such a good time observing "Liz-san" as she taught several lessons. And I loved interacting with the kids, just as I did with the kids in Nicaragua. In the first two classes, we sang "Heads, Shoulders, Kees and Toes," read the book "Brown Bear" and talked about colors, and finished by playing/singing "London Bridges." In the third and fourth classes, we sang "Bingo," then taught the children the English word for a variety of fruits, and finished by playing "fruit Bingo."

Here are two pictures of cutie pies that I met at the elementary school:

Click here to see more pictures from Monday morning.

Every single afternoon after my lunch break, I report to the third floor of City Hall. I go my desk in the Board of Education office, and I stay there until 4:30. There's really not a whole lot to do in the office, so I have to find ways to keep myself busy. I'm able to use the internet, so I can check and write e-mails and blogs. I've also been using the afternoons to start memorizing Japanese hiragana characters. By the way, Tomoki came over this evening and was so proud of me because I've memorized half of his chart!

Last week, Liz got bored in the office, so she drew butterflies on colored paper. I helped cut them out, and then she hung the butterflies on the strings that dangle from the lights and blinds, so it looks like this:

So yeah, that's what we do in the office! We're the self-appointed decoration committee, haha.

Even though my boss, Yamadate, is the only person in the office fluent in English, it's fun to interact with everyone else, too. I enjoy passing out candy to everyone -- especially watching their hilarious reactions to sour skittles! And Yamadate keeps things lively, that's for sure. He's hilarious. In his own words, he's "noisy crazy," while some people are "quiet crazy." I get along very well with Yamadate. :)

There was a welcome party for Liz and me last week, and we took a group picture. That's the Kuji City Mayor between Liz and me, and all the other guys in suits work for him. Yamadate is on the far left of the front row, in the short sleeves. Everyone else works in the Board of Education Office.

The welcome party included karaoke after dinner, which was a blast! Watching my co-workers sing English songs was pretty entertaining. The vice mayor is now my "Beatles buddy" because we sang a few Beatles' songs together. I sang "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel. I knew all the words. :)

Friday, August 22, 2008

My washing machine makes me laugh!

**Note to reader: I don't know why it says this blog is being posted on Friday, Aug. 22 at 11:11 p.m. because that's all wrong. It is definitely Monday evening, Aug. 25 as I write.**

Obviously, this is my washing machine. It looks fairly normal. But looks can be deceiving!

I admit that I'm easily amused.

But if you were here in my apartment right now--listening to the crazy sounds coming from my washing machine and watching me check on it every few seconds to make sure it isn't exploding water and clothes all over the place--you'd probably be cracking up, too!

It started out normal. Then all of a sudden, without warning, it sounded like someone was drilling something into my wall. The sound of pouring water soon accompanied the drilling noise. At this point, I ran to the laundry room, feeling sure that I would find a giant puddle to mop; fortunately, water had not spilled all over my floor. Not so much as a drop, in fact. After the drilling and the waterfall stopped, it sounded like a bunch of balloons popping one-by-one inside the machine. Next came the "helicopter-preparing-for-takeoff phase," followed by the helicopter soaring for a while, with its propellers moving at a rapid pace. Now it's sounding like there is a working blender inside tumbling around, instead of my chothes.

This was going to be a blog post about my weekend, not my washing machine. But it's hard to concentrate on writing about anything else with these kind of background noises. I just can't get over this crazy appliance!

Anyway...moving on now...

I went to a parade yesterday. It was pouring rain the entire time, but it was still fun. Fun until I was completely soaked and freezing, anway. I don't think I've written much about the weather, but for the last few days it's felt more like April than August! I've already been wearing my jacket since the air is cool. It's also been rainy/dreary, and I've been told that this is just the beginning of the rainy season. Great. (*sarcastic voice*)

The parade took place in Noda, where Jemma lives. So Mayla and I went to see Jemma participate in the parade with some of her co-workers. We were standing on the side of the road underneath our umbrellas, when a group in the parade motioned for me to join them! So I jumped right in and marched along for a while. :) There's going to be a festival in Kuji next month, and I'm going to be in that parade too, along with my City Hall co-workers. Hopefully it doesn't rain on our parade! haha.

On Saturday, I went for a 45-minute "wog" (walk/jog) in the morning and then came back to my apartment, where I made and devoured a batch of banana granola pancakes! In the afternoon, I sang karaoke with Mayla and Sean -- an ALT in Kuji who was home in Atlanta for his sister's wedding until just a few days ago. This was not my first time to go to a karaoke bar while in Japan. I went last week with some co-workers, but that's for another blog post! So stay tuned...

And by the way, my clothes are done now. They survived!!

I'll teach you, you teach me

Tomoki is excited about learning English. There's no doubt about it.

The boy has come by my apartment and/or e-mailed me almost every day since I've been here, eager to practice. In one e-mail to me, he attached a picture of his room. I immediately noticed the American flag on his wall, which he called his star-spangled banner. He knows the words to the national anthem better than most Americans probably do! I know because he was more than happy to sing it for me.

He asked me if I speak Japanese, and I told him no, but casually added, "Maybe you can teach me." Well, he's taken that to heart! He came over last week with a chart of 50 hiragana Japanese characters and told me to study them.

While that's very nice of him to make me a chart, this is how I feel when I look at it...

Slightly overwhelmed!

The following e-mail from him made me chuckle:

Hi Dana, I'll come to your apartment. For me, meeting you is the enjoyment. The hiragana might be difficult. But I teach plainly to you. I bought camera. Because I want to take your smile and my smile. Hope you are well. Tomoki.

The picture he wanted of our smiles together :)

Because of the way he words things, it may come across like he's somewhat creepy, but he's really a cute kid who loves to learn. He just doesn't have perfect English....yet. ;)

Our first lesson last week went well. We were going over the difference between the pronunciations of "ear" and "year"; he pronounced both words as "ear." I also had him differentiate between "pool" and "pull," as well as "tool" and "tell." When I asked him if he knew what a tool was, he said, "Oh, Avril Lavigne! Tool me!" He was thinking of the song "Complicated," -- the part where she sings "Tell me..." I thought it was funny.

When his lesson was over, he asked me if I have laundry detergent. I have no idea why. Only he didn't know how to say detergent, so he acted it out, and I had to solve the mystery of what he was trying to say. Then he said to let him know if I have an accident. What?!? "E-mail me." Ummm...okay?

We've set lessons to be twice a week -- every Monday and Wednesday after school. I gave Tomoki a list of English words to review before his next lesson on Monday. And meanwhile, I have a chart of hiragana characters to memorize! Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Driving and singing--but not teaching--with Billy Joel

I made a discovery earlier this week.

I was playing with my car radio on Monday, trying to find a song with English lyrics. It didn't happen.

But what I did find were some cassette tapes on the floor of my car. So I picked up the handful of tapes and browsed through them: Beethoven...Mozart...more classical music...this is likely to put me to sleep if I try driving while listening to it...and then, Billy Joel Greatest Hits.

Hmmm. I popped the tape into my car's cassette player and started driving. I quickly discovered that I'm a Billy Joel fan! Many of the songs I already knew, I just didn't know who sang them. And I'd definitely heard of Billy Joel before Monday, I just didn't know what he sang. So now I've put the pieces together. :)

Billy Joel and I have driven to three schools this week. (Actually, to clarify -- I'm the one who drives; Billy just serenades me.) On Tuesday morning, we went to Okawame Junior High School. All of the students were taking a test, so there was no teaching for me to do. But I got a tour of the school and met the teachers, which was productive. I spent the afternoon in the office.

On Wednesday, it was a different school, but the same story. It took me 30 minutes to drive to Yamane Jr. High School. I was excited to finally get to teach English, but was told when I got there that the students (all 9 of them in the entire school!!) were testing. No classes. But again, I met the teachers and got acquainted with the school. Yamane had a welcome ceremony for me, where the principal gave me a speech about how I'm to join the "Yamane family." And the students did a cheer of my name ("Daay-na, "Daay-na"), complete with hand motions! It was very thoughful and made me feel welcomed.

Oh, and I have to add that all of the teachers laughed at me as I was leaving the school because I got into the passenger's side of my car (which is the driver's side in America.) When will I get used to that? I also frequently turn on my windshield wipers instead of the turn signal, since that's also on the opposide side of what I'm used to. HA!

Today, I drove up to Mugyo Junior High School, located on a mountain. Believe it or not, it's smaller than Yamane since there are only four students! It's actually going to close soon. But anyway, I finally got to help teach the students English! They are preparing to give speeches for an English-speaking contest next week, and I helped them practice. I was there all morning, and then drove 20 minutes back down the mountain (singing with Billy, of course).

Although I am quite happy right with Billy's company as I drive ALL OVER Kuji, listening to "Piano Man" and "Only the Good Die Young" over an over, I can see this getting old in the near future. (He keeps singing me the same songs! haha).

So this leads me to an announcement/request....
If you have any old cassette tapes that you don't listen to anymore and don't know what to do with, you could consider mailing them to me. :) I would greatly appreciate it! I know that sending things internationally isn't exactly cheap, but in case you feel compelled to send me tapes, here's my address:

Poetori Potto18 No.103
2-5 Jyuhachinichimachi
Kuji City, Iwate Ken, JP 028-0065

I'm not very picky when it comes to music. After all, anything is better than incomprehensible Japanese songs on the radio! And I'd love to have a "variety of company" during my drives. :)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A lovely weekend outdoors

This was the view from the cabin where Liz, Mayla, Jemma and I stayed Friday night through Sunday morning.

The scenery was fantastic and the weather was wonderful. The month of August in northern Japan feels more like June in Indiana -- it's warm, but not hot. The campsite we went to was about two hours northwest of Kuji, located on Lake Towada.

Our cabin (and Jemma's car). Sorry about the overexposure!

When we got to our cabin on Friday night, it was so dark that we couldn't tell how close we were to the lake. So on Saturday morning, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that not only did we have a spectacular view of the water and mountains from our cabin, but it was also a beautiful day to enjoy it. (The weather forecast has predicted rain. It did sprinkle a little bit in the afternoon.)

I walked down to the lake with Jemma and just admired God's beautiful creation. Liz joined us, then Mayla, and it was a group consensus to go for a morning swim. The water was warmer than I thought it would be, and the swim was so invigorating! We had a breakfast picnic by the lake with the foods we bought the night before.

The swim was followed by a hike along the lake, which is when Liz took these pictures:

And the pleasant hike along the flat area by the lake led into climbing in the woods! I'm smiling in the picture below, but at this point I didn't really feel like smiling. I'm not used to so much uphill/downhill walking, and my legs felt it afterward.

Looking back at what we just climbed.

After the hike, Jemma, Liz and I went for a refreshing swim in the lake. (which I had been daydreaming about nearly the whole time hiking uphill!) We spent the late afternoon and evening in a nearby, touristy town. The four of us went inside the shops, ate dinner at a nice restaurant and then went to a natural hot springs bath! Lovely. When we got back the cabin, we went outside and played with sparklers like kids. So much fun!

Isn't Liz such an artistic photographer? I think this picture is so cool!

Sunday morning was spent taking a walk along a gorge, where there were several little waterfalls. Again, the scenery was beautiful, and I was inwardly praising God for His magnificent work. On the drive back to Kuji, we stopped at a mall and ate at an Italian buffet for lunch -- a nice ending to a great weekend trip.

I thought this man was doing a great job of capturing what we were seeing in nature.

One of the small waterfalls we saw while hiking along the gorge.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Peanut butter for slippers: The story of my flight

It's been a week already since I made the 16-hour flight to Tokyo, and I never wrote about it. Because I feel like it's a story worth sharing, I'm going to share it....

I thought nothing of packing my jar of peanut butter into my carry-on. This wasn't just any kind of peanut butter, mind you, but my new favorite--white chocolate peanut butter. Delicious stuff. Although the peanut butter made it just fine through security in the Indy airport, I wasn't so lucky in Chicago. The somewhat sympathetic security lady threw it away, even though I told her that I might cry (I was just kidding) if she did. Since when did peanut butter become dangerous? That's what I want to know. And besides, it was sealed! Sigh.

Anyway, I had packed a peanut butter jelly sandwich to eat at some point during my jouney. So since I was getting hungry and since I was already missing my brand-new, unopened jar of peanut butter, I decided to mourn the loss over a PB&J sandwich. Oh, the irony.

Once on the airplane, I found my seat next to two non-English-speaking people. The man on my left was Japanese, and the woman on my right had to be Vietnamese because just about the only word I understood from her was "Vietnam," and the Japanese flight attendant didn't understand her either.

Despite our lack of conversation, the Vietnamese lady was very nice. She had a big smile the whole time, and she kept offering me some little fruits that must have been from Vietnam. (I want to know how she got those on the plane!) I had no idea what they were, so I tried asking her. She said what sounded like, "lo mein," which I'm pretty sure is a noodle, not a fruit, so okay whatever. :)

Meanwhile, the Japanese guy didn't even look at me. That changed when he accidentally spilled his wine on my sock!! I had just taken my shoes off, in an attempt to get comfortable--which is an almost impossible task on a 16-hour flight! He felt SO bad for spilling wine on me, and I tried telling him that it was really okay. I was just happy it was my sock and not my laptop or laptop bag, which was at my feet.

He had me take off my sock, and then he held it (!!) while he waited for the flight attendant to come over. Apparently he asked her if she could wash my sock for me because she came back with a plastic bag to put my sock in, as well as a pair of slippers for my feet! So that's how I got a pair of new, Japanese Airline slippers. But I had to give up a jar of peanut butter. (I'm really not bitter about it or mean to sound like I'm complaining, I promise. It's just kind of funny to me now.) I think of it as a peanut butter/slippers exchange.

The Japanese guy kept apologizing to me and was always more than happy to let me out of my seat. The Vietnamese lady continued to give me her "lo mein" fruits. I passed the time by watching the movies Iron Man and Kung Fu Panda and taking little naps. Overall, a long--but not a bad--flight!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sushi and Octopus

Sounds delicious, huh? That's what I ate for lunch today!! Needless to say, I'm adventurous when it comes to trying new foods.

This morning Mayla, Liz and I went to the neighboring town, Noda, to pick up Jemma, another ALT.(again, that stands for assistant language teacher. I'll be using that abbreviation a lot) The four of us went to a little shop to buy food for lunch. I wasn't sure what I wanted to eat, but decided on the sushi since it was relatively cheap, and I haven't had sushi in Japan yet. At the counter of hot foods, Mayla was looking at what appeared to be balls of fried dough. She told me they had octopus meat inside them, that they're supposedly pretty tasty and that she's always wanted to try them. Good enough for me. So for 190 yen (which is roughly $1.90) for six, I bought them for all of us to sample.

We took the food back to Jemma's place, and ate while watching the Olympics. I picked up the "ball of octopus" (called takoyaki in Japanese) dipped it in the sauce that came with it and put it in my mouth. Mmmm...pretty good!

The sushi and octopus were not the only "firsts" of the day. Today is the first time it's rained since I've been here. And it was also my first day to drive in Japan--on the opposite side of the road! It was only sprinkling rain when I drove though, don't worry.

I drove to the schools where I'll be teaching on Tuesday and Wednesday, to make sure that I know the routes. Honestly, I was nervous for my first time driving in Kuji. But it's really not that bad driving on the "wrong side," although it does feel...well, wrong. I just think to myself, "Left, left, left" when I turn, as a reminder to stay on the left side, and then I'm fine. For the most part, the driving rules are the same as in America. An exception is that pedestrians don't have the right of way. I found that out when I walked around Kuji the other day.

I felt so proud this evening when I drove myself to go shopping! It's so funny because that's no big deal for me at home. But here, it's a major accomplishment! It's major because I found the store without any problems (and there are several twists and turns), and I drove in a way that's not natural for me, without having any difficulties. I wanted to go the 100 yen store because I hadn't been there yet and heard it was cool. Picture a dollar store that's about 10 times the normal size, full of things that look like they should cost more that one dollar. :) My kind of place! I stayed in there for a while and then went next door to the big Universe, not because I really needed to, but just because I enjoy walking the aisles and looking at the different foods.

Yesterday, I did something that was another "first" for me -- I went to a sumo wrestling match! It took place in the really nice gym I wrote briefly about a few days ago. There were a lot more sumo wrestlers than I thought there would be, and the majority of them weren't as huge as I'd expected. Don't get me wrong though...they were big guys. They would slam up against each other, creating a thud noice that made the audience gasp. At one point, they brought out little boys in "sumo training" to wrestle with the big guys. It was cute to watch--like dads playing with their sons--and actually reminded me of the times my dad would wrestle with us on the floor when we were young. Watching the sumo match was one of those things I'm glad I did so I can say I did it. I have a lot more pictures of it than the two below. In fact, there are too many to post here, so I think I'll make some kind of album on a Web site for photos and link it to this blog. (Wow, I sound so technologically savvy. Really I'm not.) I'll be sure to tell you when that's ready.

Just as I had predicted, my experiences in just two days have been interesting, in all senses of the word -- the sumo wrestling, eating octopus, driving on the opposite side of the road...the list will keep growing as time goes on, I'm sure!

Liz and me with the sumo wrestler who looks oh-so-happy to be in this picture with us, haha.

This little girl was so cute! I had to take a picture of her taking a picture of the sumo wrestlers. I admit I watched her about as much as I watched the wrestling!

This is not octopus or sushi. It's actually a picture of yesterday's lunch--chicken curry and rice--that I got at a restaurant with Liz and Mayla.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My first day of "work"

Kuji City Hall -- the Board of Education Office is on the third floor.

Yamadate at my desk. This picture was actually taken on Saturday, when we went to the office to get my apartment keys. Liz--the other FC grad here--sits directly across from me.

I arrived at the office in City Hall yesterday morning, not exactly sure what to expect.

I knew that I was going to meet the mayor of Kuji and have some sort of interview, and I knew there was going to be a gift exchange.

As it turned out, I was the star of a Welcome Ceremony. What an appropriate name since I felt extremely welcomed. In fact, I felt like a celebrity!

It started when Yamadate took me away from the Board of Education office at 10:45. We got in his car. This is strange, I thought to myself. Why do we need to leave the building? Afterall, the mayor works in City Hall, too. He drove me around the building and stopped at the front entrance. I was still confused.

Then, the mayor's lovely secretary came to the car to meet me and said that she'd be translating my speech. Speech? It's best to just go with the flow. "Ok, great!" Maybe she means my talk with the mayor? Her English is by far the best I've heard from a Japanese person since I've been here.

I think I was driven to the front so I could make a grand entrance. Because as soon as I stepped into the lobby, I was greeted with tremendous applause. I looked around at all the people surrounding me, noticing the broad smiles plastered on their faces. I think every worker in the building came down to greet me. I was not expecting that many people! Is this what it's like in Hollywood? The mayor stepped out from the crowd, as did about six or so cameramen. Paparazzi? (Apparently my arrival in Kuji is big news that attracted all the local media.) Good grief, the only thing missing is the red carpet!

The mayor presented me with the most gorgeous bouquet of flowers I think I've ever received in my life. Then I was given the microphone. "Introduce yourself," I was told. The crowd hushed.

Through the translator, I said something like, "Thank you very much for the flowers. They are beautiful. My name is Dana Sease. I am from the state of Indiana in America. I went to school at Franklin College in Franklin, the sister city of Kuji. I am excited to be in Kuji to teach. I really like it here so far."

Enthusiastic clapping ensued from my "adoring fans." I couldn't help but smile real big. This is crazy. I was escorted up the stairs to the mayor's office. Important people were bowing to me. Gosh, I'm not only famous, I'm like a queen now! I bowed to them, too, as Yamadate told me to do.
I took a seat and was given a small box wrapped in beautiful paper. Oh wow. It was a beautiful brooch -- a flower made of amber. (Kuji is well-known for its amber.) Then I was given a longer box that contained a fan. I opened the fan and struck a pose for the cameras. Everyone in the room laughed, and I was called an American comedian.

My beautiful gifts: flowers, an amber brooch and a fan.

As I expected, the mayor asked me questions. Yamadate had prepared me for the type of questions to expect. I told him about my major in college, about how I don't play sports but I'll watch them, and about my family. The mayor got a big kick our of the fact that everyone in my family has a name that begins with the letter "D." That's funny. Yamadate laughed hysterically about the very same thing!

When I was dismissed, I went back to the Board of Education office (walking instead of riding this time) to get my gifts to hand out. I went to five different offices to present gifts individually. I gave the mayor a Franklin College picture frame, as well as the superintendent. The superintendent said, "From such a beautiful human!" Haha. Sometimes the attempts at speaking English make me inwardly chuckle. In Japanese, he said that we should get a picture taken together to put in the frame. I gave the other city officials very nice Franklin College keychains.

During the afternoon, Liz drove me around the area so I could find the schools where I'll be teaching next week. Kuji is very spread out, so it took almost the whole afternoon to find all the schools. I wish I had brought my camera for the drive! It was such a gorgeous day and we saw some amazing views. (I'll take pictures next week, on my way to the schools. I promise.) We had the windows down and music up while admiring the ocean and mountains. Life seemed perfect.

After "work" (I have to put the quotations around the word because I really didn't do any work at all) I went on a walk by the river and then went back to my apartment and cooked for the first time -- rosemary chicken (Callie left me rosemary, so I thought I'd better use it) steamed vegetables and bread with olive oil. I was proud of myself for fixing a satisfying dinner. I ended the wonderful day by watching a movie with Mayla and Liz in Liz's apartment.

So yesterday was definitely one of the best Mondays I've ever had. Ever. I don't expect every day to be that great, but it sure would be nice!!

A better shot of the flower bouquet, which is beside two cards I've already received! :)

I took these on my walk:

I observed a baseball game at one of the junior high schools where I'll be teaching. This is the closest school to my apartment.

Indy!?'s like a little piece of home.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

So far, so good!

I alreadly love this place! Beautiful scenery, nice people...and yummy ice cream!

The title is appropriate since I'm so far away from home, but I've been doing fine since my arrival in Japan.

I landed in Tokyo on Friday afternoon at 3, which was 3 a.m. Indiana time -- also the time my body was on. The jet lag hasn't been too bad though; I think I've been running on adrenaline since I've just been too excited to sleep much!

Last night was my first night in the apartment, and I kept waking up thinking, "Wow, I'm really here. This is home now." And the night before that, I stayed in a tiny hotel room in Tokyo and woke up more than once thinking, "Wow, I'm in Japan. Unreal." I'll probably take a nap pretty soon, even though I still feel like I'll miss something if I sleep. But I wanted to write a blog post first, since I promised that I'd update at the first opportunity.

I have the internet in my apartment set up now, so I'm sitting on my loveseat, typing away. I just ate a ham and cheese sandwhich (normally I'd have turkey, but there isn't turkey in Kuji!) for lunch, since it's Sunday afternoon. (I know that it says I wrote this post on Saturday, Aug. 9 for some reason. Well, it lies.) I went to a church service at the local Baptist church this morning with Mayla, one of the other English teachers in Kuji. The service was entirely in Japanese, so of course I was lost the whole time, but I enjoyed observing. I learned that every third Sunday the service is in English, so I'll definitely have to go next week!

Mayla showed me around Kuji yesterday afternoon, and I was happy to see that my apartment is in a good location, just off the main street. We went into some of the shops -- including the cake shop, (the desserts look amazing, hooray!) which is just down the street from my apartment-- and also went into the very nice gym. Mayla asked me if I would use the gym much, and I told her that I'm allergic to running and athletically-challenged! It will be nice in the winter though, to walk somewhere warm and in such a nice facility. I just realized that I wrote about loving dessert and hating to run in the same paragraph! Hmmm...maybe I do need to frequent the gym!

While walking around Kuji I took these pictures...

The main street of Kuji. My apartmnent is a little bit off this street, to the left.

Getting ready to cross a bridge over Kuji River. Isn't it pretty?

Inside the home store. Look at all the Japanese products! There's some random English in there, too.

Mayla has a car, and she was nice enough to drive me to a restaurant named Gusto, where we had dinner. I ordered pizza with corn on it, which was delicious, and I also got the "drink bar" so I could try all of the different soda flavors to figure out which ones I like. (Dad, I thought of you when I tried all of the juices, too!)

After dinner, we went grocery shopping at the "big Universe," haha. There are two Universe grocery stores in Kuji -- a big one and a small one. Although everything is labeled in Japanese, the pictures make it fairly easy to identify the food. Some of my purchases include: bananas, an assortment of frozen vegetables, chicken nuggets, hashbrowns, yogurt, lunchmeat, buns and salmon. While I'm on the subject of food, I have great news: There's ice cream here, and it's delicious!!!! Yamadate (my boss, who picked me up from the airport and brought be to Kuji) bought me some grape ice cream, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Some of the foods I bought at the "big Universe."

I've never really had to cook for myself before, so this should be....interesting! Callie, the ALT (assistant language teacher) who lived in this apartment before me, left me a Japanese cookbook, so that's pretty exciting, along with lots of other books. She also sold me all of the furniture and left several miscellaneous things for me. So it was like Christmas yesterday -- opening up all the drawers and closets, finding "gifts." :)

I feel like I'm writing a novel, but there's just so much to say! I haven't even written about the flight yet -- I'll do that later. There's definitely a lot to get used to, and SO much to learn! I want to start learning Japanese immediately because I wish could communicate with everyone. Just as I was told, the people here are very friendly and welcoming. The boy I'm going to start tutoring in English soon, named Tomoki, was nice enough to bring me milk and cereal with a note that said:

"To Dana, Did you eat breakfast? I think you don't have foods. I bought your breakfast. Please eat. Maybe you're tired. But if you don't eat breakfast, you're very very tired. I hope you're well. " ~Tokomi *with smiley faces*

I'm impressed by his English! And I'm proud of him for writing "you're" instead of "your." haha.
I was told that he often stops by the apartment to visit, which is fine by me.

So that's the brief (believe it or not!) update of how life in Kuji is so far. I could go on, but I'm getting tired and don't want to be too long. Thank you so much for your prayers and thoughts, and rest assured that all is well! Sayonara for now.

A look at my new apartment...

Welcome to my humble home! It's very lovely, especially by Japanese standards.

The view right outside my door. The main street is at the end of the line of pink lanterns. :)

Once you enter the front door, the toilet is to the right, the laundry room and shower are ahead.

Washer and sink in the laundry room. Clothes are hung up to dry.

My living room -- with the loveseat where I'm sitting right now.

The kitchen where I will *attempt* to prepare Japanese cuisine.

The picture of my bedroom won't load and I don't know why, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I have a bed! I was prepared to sleep on a mat.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Fair"well, Indiana

It's my last day in the U.S. (for a while, anyway.)

I just woke up with that sudden realization, which was followed by another shocking thought -- I'm really moving to Japan...tomorrow!!

I can't think of a better way to spend my final day (goodness, it sounds like I'm dying!) than at the Indiana State Fair with family and friends. Afterall, I love the fair. I love the sights, the smells, the tastes and the fun atmosphere.

It's fun for me to show off the fair to friends who have never been there before (gasp!), which I'm going to do today. Of course, it's also fun to hang out with friends who have been there several times, like Adrienne, who I will miss seeing this year.

I'm proud of our state fair. I've been to every single day of the fair for the last four years because I've worked there doing different jobs, including a publicity internship last year. I feel like I'm still doing publicity work for the fair with this blog post, haha. What can I say? It just comes naturally!

But anyway, I'm excited that I didn't have to completely miss the fair this year. And I'm still excited about going to Japan, but of course there are lots of other emotions about the big move, especially since it's so close! It just seems surreal that I'm moving to Japan tomorrow because it's come so quickly. I guess time flies when you're having fun!

It's been a fun summer, and I believe I'm as ready as I'm going to get for the next (hopefully fun!) phase of my life. Thank you so much for your prayers, and I'll update you as soon as I'm able to in Kuji. God bless.