Friday, February 27, 2009

All around the world within the classroom

"Hi, my name is Dana. I want to go to Egypt. I want to see the pyramids. Thank you."

This is what I've been telling the elementary students at Mugyo each Thursday when I assist their class.

I love how they all wear name tags for my benefit! I also love Haruka's cheesy smile in the picture. :)

According to the lesson plan that the teacher made, I also tell them that I want to:

  1. Go to Italy to eat pizza, pasta and see the Leaning Tower of Piza.
  2. Go to America to eat a cheeseburger, play baseball and see the Statue of Liberty.
  3. Go to Japan to eat sushi and watch sumo wresting.
  4. Go to Canada to see a polar bear and go skiing.
  5. Go to India to eat curry and see the Taj Mahal.
  6. Go to China to eat gyoza and see a panda bear.
  7. Go to Tanzania to see Mt. Kilimanjaro and a lion.
  8. Go to Australia to eat lobster and see a koala.
This sounds like a pretty good to-do list to me! I could totally eat my way around the world, and see some famous sites plus a few animals while I'm at it. :)

Actually, I'm already on my way since I can check the first three off the list! Plus, I've been to Canada. (Although I didn't go skiing there or see a polar bear. Next time...) But my real-life list of places I want to go to/food I want to eat/things I want to see is MUCH longer than this!!

It's so fascinating to experience other cultures. I also think it's fun to learn about different countries in a classroom setting. (not as fun as actually traveling though!) So I've had a good time teaching about places in the world for the last few Thursdays in a row.

Each time, we've played a game where the students have to match pictures with the corresponding country...

Notice how baseball, cheeseburgers and the Statue of Liberty represent America. Hmm.

I teach the students how to pronounce all of these things in English. "No, it's not Leaning Tower of Pizza. Let's practice again: Piza." Gets 'em every time.

I'm a fan of this lesson because the students are not only learning new English words, but they're also learning more about different countries. I really hope that they're inspired (as I am) to learn even more about the world and do some traveling for themselves.

I also hope that one day I'll be able to say, "Hi, my name is Dana. I've been to Egypt, and I saw the pyramids. Thank you."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Taking it one word at a time

We established last time that English is a tricky language to learn. Now let's talk about Japanese...

It's downright hard! Or as I say in Japanese, "Muzukashi desu!!" (難しです) 

Learning any new language obviously requires a lot of time, patience and memorization. When you're studying a language that has completely different grammar and doesn't even use the same alphabet as what you're used to, it's even more difficult.

Before I came to Japan, I knew about ten words of Japanese. I could say, "I'm hungry," and ask for ice cream. I figured that's all I really needed. ;)

I've come a long way since then. (Now I can specify what ice cream flavor I want, haha.) But seriously...

It didn't take long for me to want to learn more of the language. Tomoki taught me how to read and write hiragana and katakana--two of the three alphabets--within my first month in Kuji. Ever since, I've been learning new words, mainly just by hearing Japanese on a daily basis.

I'm also making an effort to learn. In addition to studying from a book, I carry a journal with me every day for the purpose of jotting down new Japanese words and phrases. Just today I learned the following words:

shrine = じんじゃ (神社) pronounced "jinja"
message = でんごん(伝言) "dengon"
mind = こころ (心) "kokoro"
forever = えいえんに (永遠に) "eienni"

These are English words that I taught my students from their textbook. While they're learning the words in English, I have them teach me the words in Japanese. I learn a lot that way.

A few days ago, I learned how to say, "I can't believe it!!" Every time I say that, I get some laughs. :)

After eating lunch with my students at Misaki Jr. High, we have time to hang out. Occasionally, I'll use that time by having them quiz me on Japanese words. (pictured above) It was during a "Japanese session" that one of my students took my camera and shot a couple of pictures of my frustration with Japanese...

*sigh* Aaaargh! Sometimes I just want to rip my hair out! (haha)

By the way, this last photo also depicts what I looked like last night when I discovered my cell phone at the bottom of my washing mashine! Yipes! Words of wisdom: If you are going to wash your coat, first make sure that the pockets are empty.

That's all for now. Have a nice day. 小夜なら!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's UP/What's going ON?

English can be tricky.

I've known that for a while. But now that I'm teaching English to non-native speakers, I'm looking at the language from their perspective.

My grandma recently sent me an e-mail forward that proves how confusing and difficult English can be. I want to share it with you now...

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is "UP."

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election, and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?
We call UP our friends. We brigthen UP a room, polish UP the silver, we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.

At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP. We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions. If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP. When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP.

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now my time is UP.

Keep scrolling down....(time isn't really up yet, haha.)

Well hello there, sweetie! What's UP? :)

I don't know who wrote that forward, but I think it's brilliant! It also made me think about the word "on," and how many different ways it can be used. So just for fun (because I like creative writing), I wrote the following on "on"...

Ok, class. Now we'll focus on the word "on." You can count on me to start you off on learning about this word. Let's get on with the lecture...

To egg on is to encourage--it has nothing to do with eggs. But an egg can be on your plate.
touch on a subject is to mention it, not actually touch it.
To harp on has nothing to do with a musical instrument. It means to talk repeatedly about something, much like prattle on.
You can chew on an idea, but that doesn't mean you're eating it. You're just thinking.
You can have on a coat. But if you have your computer on, that doesn't mean you're wearing it. Oh, and if your computer is on, you can log on (which has nothing to do with logs.)

I can tell that some of you are frowning on this word already, but please don't give up on it! If you walk out on this class, you'll be missing out on an important lesson. So let's keep on going...

Another way to say keep on--or continue--is press on. But to press on a button doesn't mean to "continue on" a button. Theoretically, I suppose you could press on pressing on a button. To soldier on means the same thing as press on. (Although you don't have to be a soldier to soldier on, you can definitely say that a soldier soldiers on.)

If you take on (as in assume) too many responsiblities, you could get stressed out and take it out on (as in abuse) the people around you.

When you get in a car, make sure your seatbelt is fastened on. You never know when you'll need to jam on the brakes to stop. Or you might need to suddenly step on it and go faster.

Ok, I know this is dragging on (which is the same as droning on.) I'll stop yacking on (which is the same as yammering on.) I don't want to bring on a headache for any of you. For your assignment, please read up on the word "on." And then sleep on it. Class dismissed--right on time!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hand-written notes make me smile

Every Thursday when I go to Mugyo Jr. High, I get mail!

After class, Ms. Ishikawa (the English teacher I work with--she's wonderful) announces, "Mail time!" I collect the small notebooks and take them to the teachers' room, where I immediately read the fun messages.

I whip out my official teacher pen with the red ink and make some corrections and comments. Then, I write a little letter in response. :)

Not only is it fun for me since I'm getting to know the students better, but it's a great English exercise for them. Definitely a win-win situation!

"Ms. Dana" at work, with red pen in hand. By the way, that is President Obama's Inaugural Address spread out in front of me. It's a photocopy from a Japanese newspaper that had the speech in both English and Japanese. I took this picture a few weeks ago, when our focus for English class was the inauguration.

Here's what a letter looks like after corrections:

Since it's a little hard to read, here's what it says... (Again, this is a few weeks old.)

Hello Ms. Dana (*cute star*)
Thank you very much for your Christmas present. I'm glad because you gave me a lot of candy. It was very delicious. (*cute heart*) I heard you talk about winter vacation. It sounds fun. (*cute music note*) I'm sad because I had the flu during winter vacation. I could not go out anywhere. I want to play with my friend during spring vacation! See you. ~Atsumi

Atsumi is so cute! She likes to draw little pictures in the notebook, and it really makes me smile. I usually get a chuckle out of the notes Shoma writes me, too. He has such a goofy personality!
Here's what I got in today's "mail." (This is before I edited it.)...

Hi, Ms. Dana.

I like many comics. Do you like comics? I like comics is baseball comics and action comics. I'm happy when I'm reading comics. I need a comics. I will read comics. bye. ~Shoma

Nice. On the positive side, there weren't any spelling errors. But still, the red pen was needed.

Other than at Mugyo Jr. High, I don't do much grading. The English teacher grades tests and quizzes since some sections are in Japanese. I walk around the classroom when the students are working on English worksheets and correct/help them.

Sometimes I plan lessons or activities, but the English teacher determines the schedule and topic for the class.
As an ALT (that's "assistant language teacher," as a reminder), I'm there basically to help with pronunciation and also teach about American culture. Just about every day I say: "Please repeat (this sentence or word) after me..."

It's about time I describe what I do on a daily basis, huh? :)

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Round, round get around, I get around...."

Sports lovers, I have found the perfect place for you!

And even if there's not an athletic bone in your body, I'm sure you'd still enjoy Round One. It's a six-story (we're talking huge!) sports and recreation center that has about every indoor game you'd possibly want to play.

Basketball courts, volleyball, tennis, badminton, table tennis, (woohoo! my game, haha) putt-putt, billards, arcade games, batting cages, rifle-shooting...just to name a few. It's all there.

Plus, there are fun things to do for us non-athletes. Hellllloooo, massage chairs!!!!!

I didn't get a chance to sing karaoke, but it was included, too. However, I did take advantage of the skating rink that was in the middle of the fourth floor. Here's a group shot of us roller-blading...

Hooray for new friends! From left to right: me, Takenori (a Japanese friend from Kuji) Sara(h?) from New York, Bobby from England, Mayla, and Huiling from Singapore.

On the third floor is a bowling alley, where I had fun despite my tendency to get gutter balls. :( Of course I had to take advantage of the big bowling pin costume, haha!

"Aaaah, he's going to get me!!"

Ok, so at this point, I'm thinking that Round One should pay me for the publicity I'm giving them! And I'm wondering if there's anything like this in America!? (Do you know?)

Also, I'm thinking that if you come visit me in Japan, (Amanda, Lauren, Jennifer) we should journey the two and a half hours to Morioka to enjoy the gigantic recreation center!

I'll challenge you to a game of table tennis. And we can take full advantage of all the different sports...

If you can get me out of the massage chair, that is. :)

Friday, February 13, 2009

"All you need is love" (and chocolate!)

Although I haven't heard or seen anything about Cupid or conversation heart candies, it's apparent that Valentine's Day is celebrated in Japan.

Walk into the Universe grocery store, and this is what you'll see:

You can't miss the miles (err, I mean kilometers) of giant red ribbon hanging from the ceiling. This marks the area where Valentine's chocolates are being sold. Just like in America, chocolate is a popular present to give on Valentine's Day. But there's a big difference in Japan...

Chocolates--and any other gifts--are given by girls only!

March 14th is White Day, when guys give presents to ladies who gave them gifts the month before. By doing it this way, Japanese women (who are usually shy) have the chance to express their feelings first. Nice idea. :)

In addition to giving "true love chocolates" called "honmei-choko," 本命チョコ, women also give "giri-choko" 義理チョコ -- "obligation chocolates" -- to men such as bosses, colleagues or friends.

There's such a large variety of chocolates for women to buy...

I feel like it's only in Japan that you'd see a Pokemon chocolate heart! Nothing quite says love (or friendship) like a bunch of cartoon monsters. Then there's the other end of the scale...

Some of the classiest boxes of chocolate I've ever seen are exhibited in a special display box. Maybe some guys really dig a pale pink box of heart-shaped and flower-shaped chocolates, I don't know.

There's another display of everything you could possiblly want or need to decorate a Valentine's Day cake...

My plan for Valentine's Day tomorrow is to go to Morioka and hang out with other ALT's. There's some kind of V-Day party/club event at night that includes dancing, yay! I have some chocolate that I'll pass out to friends, just like I distributed chocolates to guys at the office today.

Whatever your Valentine's Day plans are, I hope you have a LOVEly day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The next best thing to lying on a beach

Believe it or not, I was buried in sand today.

It was National Foundation Day in Japan. I don't know exactly what that means, other than a day off work!
So Mayla, Liz, Jemma and I decided to do some relaxing.

We drove a couple of hours south to experience something different -- a sand onsen.

"Onsen" is a Japanese word for a hot springs public bath. They are very plentiful and popular throughout the country. If you'd like to read more about them, check out this article.

I have been to an onsen twice in the last six months, but had never even heard of a sand onsen until two days ago!

I'm hesitant to show you this picture because I think I look like a beached whale in it, (eeps!) but it's the only one I have of the experience. Besides, it took the entire time to get this photo because the camera lens kept fogging up from the humidity! Anway, here we are...

Of the 15 minutes covered in hot sand, the first 10 were nice. During the final five minutes I was thinking, "I'm burning up, and I'm stuck this way! Get me out of here!" Sweat was literally dripping down my face, and that hardly ever happens.

I had already burst out of the "sand blanket" by the time this picture was taken. Originally, our arms were covered in sand, too -- everything except our heads. We'd all had enough by the end.

But I'm glad I went to the sand onsen. Even though it was HOT, it was a cool experience. :)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Isn't it exciting!?!

My self-confidence was soaring today.

At Kosode Elementary School, I won two intense games in a row of ping pong!!! (which, by the way, is more commonly known as table tennnis here.)

Nevermind that my opponents were about half my age. I don't care. I WON! Twice! In Japan, no less! I beat competitive 6th grade boys, so that has to count for something.

Let me just bask in this (very rare) victory one more second...
Woot WOOT!

Ok, moving on. :)

Although this is old news, it's still very exciting. Liz and I saw the Emperor on his birthday, Dec. 23rd! I bring this up again only because now I have pictures of it to share with you. Liz recently posted the following photos on facebook:

We were towards the front of the very long line to see Emperor Akihito and his wife.

There they are! We were really close, and I promise you that I even made eye contact with the Emperor. :)

A look at just a small portion of the crowd -- fellow flag wavers shouting "bonzai!!" 盆材 (Long live the Emperor!) What a neat memory.

In other news...

You may have noticed that I've made a few changes to the layout of this blog. The biggest change is that there is now an extension of "Konnichiwa Means Hello." It's basically a separate blog I'm starting that will be more serious in subject and tone. You can access it by clicking on the link under "Going Deeper," on the side panel.

I have a blast writing about my day-to-day activities -- fun things like food, ping pong victories, more food, preschool visits, even more food, et cetera, et cetera.

But I also want to write occasionally about things that are under the "surface level." I'll write in the more serious blog, titled "Keep Shining," whenever the spirit moves me, and will link it to this one. The first post is up now. I'm really excited about this new writing project and the possibilities!

There's a lot to be excited about. :)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Monkeying around at preschools!

When asked a couple of weeks ago if I'd like to sing songs and play with little kids, I immediately said, "Heck YES!!"

Playtime? Preschoolers? Perfect!

So this morning, five ALT's plus one of our Japanese friends went to two preschools (that I'd never been to before) to teach English songs.

This is us at the first preschool:

So precious...
Hokey Pokey! "Put your left foot in...."

I think Mayla's having the most fun; maybe because she's the only one who understands what's going on! haha

Here we are at the second preschool:

The woman on my right was doing a monkey gesture, so why not do one, too!? Besides, I had already been a monkey for one of the songs! Here's a video (of the second half of the song) to prove it...

Ah, fun times. We also taught the kids "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," "I'm a Little Teapot" and "Ten Little Indians" (but we changed it to "Ten Little Monkeys." That way we could leave on the fun monkey heads, ha.)

I hope we go back to the preschools sometime soon, even though it was kind of...bananas! :)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A cup of green tea for me (or two or three or four...)

Since I've written a lot recently about what I've been eating, I think it's time to share about what I've been drinking...

Green tea. Lots of green tea.

Sometimes I'm served green tea in beautiful cups. :)

I've never been a tea drinker. When I tried peach tea several years ago and didn't care for it, I thought there was no hope for me ever liking any kind of tea. (After all, I'm almost to the point of obsession when it comes to peaches.)

But then I came to Japan. The teachers serve me my choice of either green tea or coffee. Since it's considered inpolite to refuse and since I despise coffee, I started to hesitantly accept the green tea.

Although I'll probably never regard green tea with the same admiration I have for hot chocolate, I've learned to appreciate it. After all, it's always nice to have a warm beverage on a cold, winter day. And it's definitely nice to be served and treated like a special guest!

At Osanai Elementary on Monday, I was served four cups of green tea! They kept pouring, so I just kept drinking. :)

乾杯! (Kanpai!)


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A couple of delicious lessons

I really enjoy learning about Japanese culture from people in Kuji; I also like sharing American culture with them.

When that exchange involves food, all the better. :)

Last week at Okawame Jr. High School, I learned how to make udon noodles from scratch by participating in a 7th grade home economics class.

Let me share my new culinary knowledge with you:

First, you make dough from flour, a little salt and some water. You form the dough then roll it out and fold it over. Next, you have to cut the dough into thin strips to make noodles.

After boiling the noodles for a few minutes, you put them into soy soup and top with strips of seaweed.

Tah dah! Time to eat...

The guys weren't too keen on being in this picture. (Maybe because they were wearing aprons?) :) Notice the boy drinking his soup. This is totally normal in Japan. Whenever I tell my students that eating soup this way is considered rude in America, they usually go, "Hehh??!?"

"いただきます" ("Itadakimas" = what is said before eating. It means "Thank you for the meal.")

This week I was the one giving lessons in the kitchen.

Two teachers with Junichi, who proudly displays his cookie dough.

I figured that chocolate chip cookies are not only very American, but relatively simple to make. (Not to mention they're one of my favorite foods ever!) So that's what we made. Other than when the toaster oven started to smoke (eeps!), it was a definite success.

By the way, I do realize that this is the third blog post in a row with pictures of food in it. You'll have that when the author is passionate about eating. :)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Some serious snow shoveling!

Last weekend I was rejoicing over the lovely weather and the lack of snow in Kuji.

Well, our time has come.

I'm guessing that the landscape here looks about the same as it does in Indiana right now (minus the snow-covered mountains of course.)

It would have been a great weekend to finally try snowboarding, but that will still have to wait. Instead, I've spent the last two days doing indoor activities -- volunteering at a preschool; chatting on-line; cooking eggrolls and wontons with Mayla, Sean and Liz; watching movies; and singing karaoke. It's been grand.

But I did spend almost two hours outside today shoveling snow at church.

A team of about seven of us worked on "Operation Clear the Long Driveway and Big Parking Lot."

Here's the team at work, doing all the shoveling by hand (um, shovel) :)...

I promise that I was a valuable worker and didn't just take pictures of everyone else working!

Mayla shows off her muscles -- and just how deep the snow is. Takenori observes from the background.

This was the home stretch. The pastor thought it looked like Italy. I thought--and still think-- that it looks more like Great Britain than Italy. (Maybe because it's an island) This is the last part we did because Sean had drawn a smiling turnip (why? I really don't know) into the snow and made us shovel around it. So this picture is what's left of the smiling turnip inside...err..Italy. :)
Anyway, moving on...

We finally finished -- mission accomplished!

So what do you do after a successful mission in the snow?

You eat some hot food! Sean, Takenori and I went to a popular restaurant for ramen. I got their specialty, ramen with pork.

What a nice (and yummy) reward for hard work. :)