Saturday, May 30, 2009

A few interesting lessons

What do calligraphy and boxing have in common?

Well, they're both activities I've done recently but haven't written anything about yet! So here it goes...

I actually started taking Japanese calligraphy (called "shodo") lessons just before I left for the Philippines. I've had three shodo lessons so far, in which I've practiced making kanji (Japanese/Chinese characters) with ink and a brush.

The first lesson was just for practicing stokes. At my second lesson (pictured), I started practicing kanji. My teacher made four orange circles over my work to indicate I did it correctly.

My "shodo sensei" (Japanese calligraphy teacher) is such a nice, patient guy!

I have my shodo lessons every Tuesday for one hour. It's harder than it looks to do all the strokes correctly and in the right order. It's a slow and methodical procedure, but so far I'm enjoying the new activity.

It's probably hard to imagine me boxing, but I did try it. Just for kicks. :)

One of Jemma's friends--named Tomoki--is a prize-winning boxer/fighter, as well as instructor, and invited us to come to his private gym to have a go at boxing!

Tomoki (right) practicing with another student, who was with Jemma and me.

Tomoki-san showing us how to properly kick. Looks painful, huh?

Jemma getting ready to give it all she's got. :)

The three of us after our lesson. I put on the ginormous, I'm-not-messing-around-gloves just for the picture. :)

While it was fun to kick and punch and learn a bit of self-defense, I'm not committing to boxing lessons on a weekly basis. Dancing is definitely more my thing; I still have dance practice every week, and our first performance is tomorrow! Stay tuned to for that...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Living the high life

After attending Osanai's undokai last Saturday, I climbed a mountain.

Toshima Mountain, to be exact.

Just like the mountain climb I went on last October, it was with a group from City Hall. Also like last time, the experience was challenging, yet rewarding. Unlike last time, I was prepared! (I dressed in layers and brought my own hat and gloves just in case it was cold at the top.)

The climbing crew at the top. The two gals in the first row, far right, are my age and work in the Department of Education with me. The woman in between and behind them is my boss' boss. (Yamadate's boss)

Close-up shot of the sign at the summit.

The climb up the mountain was like doing a stairmaster machine for about an hour and a half continuously -- up, up, up, with hardly any flat parts. Whew. We stopped every five or ten minutes to catch out breath.

Here is the view from the top...

My buddy Yasuhiro was part of the group again, and we took another "high-five, we made it picture." Or as he called it, "high touch."

Flashback to our last mountain-climbing adventure...

Just mintues before the above picture was taken, Yasuhiro had practically carried me to the top! My hero. But this time, I had the help of a hiking stick instead. :)

The hike down the mountain -- just like last time -- was a lovely nature walk. Down is so much easier and enjoyable than up always is!

On the way up a mountain, I think to myself, "Why am I doing this???"
At the top, I think, "This is why. It's gorgeous up here!"
And on the way down I think, "This is nice." :)

After Saturday's climb, our group had a cookout. A Japanese cookout, that is. So that does not mean hamburgers and hotdogs on a grill served with baked beans and coleslaw. If only...

Instead, we had all the meat from a cow that you could possibly eat -- cow tongue, heart, intestines, liver, rib meat, etc. I tried a little piece of each, but most of it was too chewy for me. The meat was sliced into thin strips, grilled with seasonings and served with soy sauce. Onigiri (rice balls), miso soup and macaroni salad accompanied the meat.

While I had a good time on Saturday, I'm still debating whether or not I'll climb Mt. Iwate in a few months from now. (The really tall mountain I opted not to climb with about 30 other ALTs last fall.) We'll see...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Let the games--and dancing--begin!

It seems that an undokai (sports day) in Japan is a well-attended event.

My bicycle was in good company at Osanai Elementary on Saturday morning.

There were lots of parents (many with video cameras) watching their children exercise -- through both dancing and athletic competitions -- at Osanai E.S.

As I arrived, the second grade students were doing the dance they showed me last week. (The one that I had video of on my last blog post.)

Then I watched as the older students did different stretches and movements to "Numa Numa." Here's the video of it...(which I took alongside dozens of proud mamas and papas.)

At the end, all of the students said "Arigato gozaimashita," which means "thank you very much." (the very polite way) before bowing. Here are a few pictures I took when I wasn't taking video:

The festivities went on hold at 11:30 for lunch time.

Everyone stayed around and ate a picnic lunch; it seemed to be mostly sushi, rice balls (called onigini) and such. That's a Japanese picnic for ya!

Last Saturday, I went to Okawame Junior High's undokai for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I missed the dancing, but I saw a few competitions and plenty of cheering...

Both the white team and red team had great-looking posters! No surprise there.

This wrestling competition reminded me of the swimming pool game "Chicken." Instead of falling completely off, the boys on top just fell back.

The white team's cheerleaders ended up cheering their team on to victory.

The happy (and peaceful, hehe) score keepers.

While the red team won the poster competition, the white team had the highest total in the sports competition, as well as the cheering competition, making them the day's winners.

They received a trophy for their victory. This is Shin; he's one of my best students.

Well done, white team! What a fun day. :)

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Practice makes perfect

Running, jumping rope, painting, chanting and dancing are just some of the activities my students do to prepare for their undokai. (運土塊)

"Undokai" translates to "Sports Day" in English, and is a Saturday of competition. It can be compared to a Track and Field Day event at elementary schools in America.

The school is divided into two teams -- red and white. The teams compete in a three-legged race, tug-o-war, relay races, and many more fun events. In addition, there's a cheering competition between the two teams and a competition for the best poster.

I went to Okawame Junior High's undokai last Saturday, and I'll go to Misaki's tomorrow. Yesterday, I spent the morning watching my students at Misaki practice for the undokai. Unlike Track and Field Day, the students get a school day to practice all of the events. (Lucky them!)

One of the teams practicing jumping rope as a group. It looked challenging.

As I've mentioned before, my students blow me away by their artistic talent! The posters that they've been working on for the art competition are amazing...

I helped her paint those leaves! That's my little contribution to Misaki's white team. :)

The finished product. Nice work! "Good luck!" (Gambatte!")

They're also working on posters at Yamane Jr. High, which also has its undokai tomorrow.

The liberal arts teacher (pictured above) is always so energetic!

I haven't seen the finished poster, but I bet it turned out looking as good as the picture!

Cheering is a big part of the undokai. The students start practicing their cheers a few weeks prior to Sports Day. Here is a video I took at Misaki right before Golden Week...

On Monday, when I went to Osanai Elementary, the ninensei (second grade) class wanted to show me the dance they are practicing for their undokai. (which is also on Saturday; I have so many undokais that I could go to tomorrow!)
I thought their dance was cute and asked them to do it again for the video camera. At first they thought I was just taking a picture, haha. Here it goes...

I have no idea what they are yelling in Japanese or what the lyrics mean. Well done though!

"Gambatte" to all of the teams as they have fun competing this weekend!! Stay tuned for some pictures and video from Sports Day. :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We're still in Asia?

To me, the Philippines didn't feel Asian. There was no bowing, no chopsticks and no shrines.

Instead, I felt like I was in Latin America the entire week!

That was due primarily to the palm trees & landscape, the poverty I saw, the tropical fruit I ate, the music I danced to, and the Catholicism I noticed.

As soon as we landed in Puerto Princesa, it was apparent that we weren't in Tokyo anymore...

After we picked up our bags from the one baggage claim and were greeted by someone from Habitat, we rode this tricycle to our hotel...

Besides being surprised by the Central American feel in the Philippines, I was also completely blown away by how well we ate at the work site each day for lunch! I'd been expecting a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich and chips (probably because that's what we ate in Nicaragua), but instead we ate like queens and kings.

What a nice buffet! It always began and ended with a dish of rice, with different kinds of meat and vegetables in between.

Abidemi eating a mango the "correct way." We enjoyed mangoes every day, and I'm really missing them now!

We ate at a different restaurant for dinner each night, after cleaning up from our work day. Here I am with a delicious mango & caramel treat from Jolibee (a chicken restaurant)...

Who would have thought that mangoes and caramel sauce would make such a good combo? (Also, notice how the sign is in English! English was everywhere -- something I really appreciated!)

Something else I found interesting about the culture in the Philippines was the use of jeepneys. Jeepneys were originally made from US military jeeps left over from WWII, and are now a common means of transportation. Here's what a jeepney looks like...

Many of the jeepneys I saw were decorated...and usually very crowded!

I have two videos that display popular forms of Filipino entertainment. The first is of our friend, Roger, dancing the Chiquita Dance. :) People of all ages were dancing all the time, and of course I had to join in!

What fun! The second video is of a common (and legal!) sport in the Philippines: cock fighting.

This concludes my blog series about the Philippines. It was such an amazing experience, and I'm still missing the kids, the fun people, the tropical culture, the mangoes...and the list goes on....

The trip was definitely worth every penny. I mean yen. I mean peso. :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A tropical to do list

After working extremely hard building houses, our team had the last two days in the Philippines to enjoy our tropical surroundings.

And believe me, we did!

Here was our to do list for the end of the trip:

  • Explore a cave (check)
  • See some monkeys up close (check)
  • Go on a beautiful boat ride (check, check -- two days in a row)
  • Drink from a coconut (check)
  • Eat lots of fresh, tropical fruit (check, check)
  • Jump gigantic waves (check)
  • Lay out on the beach (check)
  • Chase after whale sharks and swim with them -- eeps! (check)

DAY #1: Cave, boat ride, beach

Heading into the cave by raft.

Monkey sighting!

We took a lovely boat ride to an absolutely gorgeous beach...

I couldn't get over how blue the water was!

And here is the absolutely gorgeous beach...

This is where we spent the afternoon. Paradise. :)

So coconut milk isn't all that delicious, but it was fun to drink. :)

I looooove fresh, juicy pineapple!!

What a great day!

DAY #2: Out to the deep sea to swim with whale sharks!!

Here are the nine of us who opted to do this...

We sailed for a couple of hours until we got to an area with whale sharks. Then we'd wait on the edge of the boat until one of the professionals with us told us to jump...

When we saw this...

We jumped at it!!!

Yes, it goes against your nature to jump at a shark fin when you see one. Yes, it was pretty darn scary the first couple of times. YES, it was totally fun, exhilerating, and even addicting!! Whale sharks are big and scary-looking creatures, but obviously harmless. :)

I definitely got caught up in the excitement of the whale sharks. And reapplying sunscreen should definitely have been more of a priority. At the end of the day, I was a crispy critter in much pain. (Burn and learn, right?)
It was totally worth it, though!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cute kiddos & fun Filipino friends

The kids our team played with at the Habitat village in Puerto Princesa, Philippines weren't camera shy. That's for sure.

They would come up to us and say, "Camera, camera!" Then after you'd take their picture, it was, "One more, one more!"

As a result, I have lots of pictures of sweet, irresistible children.

Here are a few of my favorites...

So precious.

I believe the boy on the left took this picture himself. :) Not bad! And he took this next one, too...

Monkey faces! And continuing with the "little monkey" theme...

The children were so playful! I was reminded of the kids in Nicaragua, who also loooved pictures and really enjoyed goofing around.

Kaspar is sleeping. The boy beside him is obviously not. But he'd like you to think otherwise. Haha.

There were lots of kids around since they were on vacation from school. Just about every child I played with--even the itty bitty ones--could at least say, "Hi! What's your name?" in English. Impressive!

I was also impressed by this boy and his Reggie Miller jersey! Yay Pacers!

These guys were so funny, and wanted me to take this video of them dancing:

To me, the interaction with local people is one of the greatest aspects of service trips. Not only did I have a blast hanging out with the little kids, I also made several "big kid" Filipino friends. :)

From left to right: Michelle, Jean, me and Ling at the farewell party on the last day of building.

Chillin' out with Pat and Roger.

I'm convinced that volunteer trips are the best way to travel. Our team worked hard, but we also played hard. (The next post will be about our two "free days" of sight-seeing.)

And in the mean time, we hung out with several fantastic people of the Philippines!
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