Archive for November, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know this blog is a sorry substitute for me actually being there to wish you a Happy Turkey Day, but I’m afraid until Skype comes up with person-to-person teleportation, this is the best I’ve got. My friends and I are desperately searching for a turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner in Japan. We may have to settle for quail. In the meantime, though, here are a couple videos that, like Thanksgiving, make you feel all warm and gooey on the inside.

Courtesy of John, Yes, Yes I could
Courtesy of Courtney, Christian the Lion

Low and Behold

The morning after writing the “Day in the Life” post, what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a bundle of snow to greet a systems engineer.




At least my Christmasy blog theme makes sense now. Still haven’t spotted Santa or his reindeer.


Day in the Life of the White Giant

Due to Christine and Janny’s wittiness and my uncreativity, I have decided to hop on the bandwagon with my own Day in the Life…

6 am: Half-awake to the daily Shichinohe morning melody blaring from speakers strategically located within hearing range of every sleeping Shichinohen. Three tunes are played throughout the day: 6 am (wake-up), 12 pm (lunch time), and 6 pm (dinner time. This also happens to be my favorite of the three; it has a sweet two-part harmony section). Big Brother-esqe if you ask me. Promptly fall back asleep.

7 am: Alarm goes off. Spend 5 minutes willing myself to desert my warm blanket cocoon and face my refrigerator of an apartment. Why does it resemble a fridge, you ask? 1) Shich is on the cusp of winter; snow should be arriving any day now, 2) Japan does not believe in central heating, and 3) it wasn’t until very recently that I discovered my A/C unit can reverse itself and act as a heater. WIth the knowledge of a working heating device, though, I still wake up to a frigid apartment because I have yet to convince myself to run the A/C through the night. Sometimes, I think I am too frugal for my own good.

7:40 am: After downing breakfast (the only meal I’ve stubbornly kept American: cereal and banana or toast and yogurt), I throw on a jacket and gloves and head off for school on the Road Warrior.

7:42 am: Realize I forgot my indoor shoes…again.

7:50 am: Arrive at school amid various cries of “Oooooh, Brandon-sensei! Dekai!” (Huge!)

8 am: The school bell rings. Teachers rise in unison, bow to each other with “Ohayo gozaimasu” (Good morning). Everyone sits down and I enjoy my warm cup of green tea as the teachers meeting commences (none of which I understand).

8:30 am: Walk into my first class. 5th graders. Receive the usual giggles as I exaggeratedly duck beneath the doorway so as not to bump my head. Today’s lesson: Fast Food. Go over vocabulary (hamburger, drink, fries, etc) and phrases (“Can I take your order?”, “What would you like to drink?”, “For here or to go?”). When they have the pronunciation down, I don my cashier’s cap and students practice placing their orders. They give me imaginary yen and I give them their imaginary meal. Then they usually pour their imaginary drinks on one of their classmates’ heads.

9:30 am: 3rd graders next. ABC’s. The teacher pops in the CD. All the students sing in unison as I point to each letter. My finger goes rapidly over LMNOP in accordance with the song I’m singing in my head. The students, however, all pause on N. They look confused; the teacher peers dubiously at me. I kick myself for forgetting the Japanese unrhyming version of the song.

(Quick detour into the Day in the Life of my Vice Principal)

11 am : What’s for lunch today? There is 55,897 yen in the PTA account. The red ten goes on the black jack…I am never going to get this done. Looks like I’ll be putting in another 13 hour day. Darn! Ah, why don’t I try out the new hip slang word one of the English teachers taught me. Brandon’ll be so impressed!

(Back to me)
11 am: At my desk studying the days of the week in Japanese. Suddenly, silence is interrupted by the vice principal’s voice ringing loudly and clearly. “Hey Brandon-sensei! You’re hot!” The Japanese-English teachers burst out laughing. My vice principal looks proud of himself. “Umm, right back at ya!”

11:10 am: 1st grade. We play one of my favorite games – Fruit Basket. Each student has taped to their shirts a picture of a piece of fruit (or whichever vocabulary topic I’m teaching that day). They put all of their chairs in a circle. I stand in the middle and say, “I like…” and shout out the name of a fruit. Kids wearing that fruit get up and quickly run to another chair.  The last student standing is the new person in the middle. Kind of like a cross between Musical Chairs and Monkey in the Middle. Except when the person in the middle shouts “Fruit Basket!”, everyone runs into the circle, colliding heads, forming a 7 year old mosh pit, and resulting in several trampled students. It is quite fun.

12 pm: Lunchtime with the 5th graders. As usual, they are amazed at my ability to use chopsticks. And how much rice is in my bowl.

1 pm: Bike ride to one of my favorite places in Japan: Shichinohe Kindergarten.

1:10 pm: Spend the next hour performing the JET Workout Plan a.k.a. lifting up squealing kindergardeners over and over again. These kids are seriously the cutest things on Earth. I know some of you are thinking, “No way can they be cuter than puppies!” But trust me, they are.

2:30 pm: Kindergarten lets out. Barely pull myself away from the gleeful youngsters. Head to the yakuba (town office). Spend the remaining hours of my work day sipping tea, eating cookies, and use a mixture of English, Japanese, and hand gestures with my supervisor to converse about the weather, school life, and how I need to get winter tires for my car.

4 pm: Head home. Struggle up the massive hill that separates the yakuba from my apartment. Hear a cheerful “Konnichiwa!” as grandmothers pass me on their electric scooters.

4:30 pm: Halo with Taka. Get whooped, as usual.

5:30 pm: Reheat some rice and curry I made the night before. Sadly, the pumpkin centerpiece from the dining room has been sacrificed for an experimental new curry flavor. It is…interesting.

6:30 pm: Pick up Courtney and head to taiko practice. Spend the next two hours banging on massive drums until our arms give out. Oh yeah, and the average age of the taiko class is around 12. Nothing like banging some beats with elementary schoolers.

9 pm: Check e-mail, Facebook stalk, maybe watch an episode of 30 Rock. Truthfully, I am pretty much doing this all day anyway.

10 pm: Turn on the water heater.

10:05 pm: Check the water. This is usually when I must make the most formidable decision of my day: Whether or not I’m willing to take a shower in luke-warm water. Chances are about 50-50. (For those of you suffering from automysophobia, just kidding. It’s more like 60-40)

10:30 pm: A few pages of light reading, then lights (and A/C) out.

It’s about that time again…

Happy (Belated) Halloween!

This past weekend my supervisor asked me to teach a Halloween lesson to a few children at our neighboring town’s community center. So I showed up Saturday morning not exactly sure what to expect. There were about 10 kids and a couple of adults there to help out, including my taiko drumming sensei. We started with a little Halloween crossword, with words such as “Haunted” and “Jack-o-Lantern.” Then, it was time to do what the kids were really there for: trick-or-treating. First, though, we all practiced our lines:

Child: “Trick-or-Treat!”
Adult: “Here you are.”
*Child takes one piece of candy
Child: “Thank you. Happy Halloween!”
Adult: “Happy Halloween!”

I was considering telling them if they really wanted to imitate trick-or-treating in the States, the kids would mob the adult, take as much candy as possible, knocking down the bowl if necessary, and complain if they had anything smaller than King Size. But I figured that might dampen the Halloween spirit, so I refrained.

Before any trick-or-treating commenced, everyone donned costumes. One adult was a witch, another a pumpkin, my taiko teacher was the devil, and I was Dracula. However, as I began searching for the fake vampire teeth, the kids had a different idea in mind…

Evidently, in Japan, Dracula wears a cape, boa, and Mad-Hatter-esqe top hat with bow.

I think I look more like a confused pimp.

Oh yes, and throughout the trick-or-treating, the Harry Potter soundtrack played down the hall. Definitely set the mood. And, of course, no Halloween lesson is complete without a rousing round of…

…the Hokey Cokey!

When I got home, I made myself a sandwich, ate it outside on my lovely deck, and was cleaning up when suddenly, the door bell rang. At the door stood a boy who greeted me with:

Boy: Konichi….er, herro!
Me: Hello!
Boy: Genki desu ka? (Are you well?)
Me: Hai, genki desu. (Yep.) (At this point, I was pretty proud of myself for understanding something in Japanese)
Then he said something I didn’t understand and made an exaggerated coughing motion.
Me: Umm, I don’t understand. Oh, er, choto matte. Jisho! (Wait a minute. Dictionary!)
I ran inside to grab my 1995 tatter-paged Random House Japanese-English dictionary. By the time I returned, though, the boy was already pointing at the translation in his electronic jisho on his cell phone. I guess I’m old-fashioned. The translation was indeed “a cough, coughing.” I pointed at myself with a quizzical look. He nodded. I explained to him that I was fine. He gave me a relieved smile and left.

This may be the most random house visit I have ever received. Maybe he caught me coughing outside while attempting to master the Japanese inhaling technique with my sandwich? Well, about an hour later, I spotted him again, standing in the parking lot staring whimsically in the general direction of my apartment. Clearly, this kid was climbing the awkward stalker ladder rather quickly, so I resorted to my best method for breaking the ice – Frisbee. Fortunately, this glorious plastic disc has its own international language, so as soon as I brought it out, he was eager to play. And man, could he throw! Despite being the first time he’s ever touched a Frisbee, he was tossing it the length of the parking lot in no time. To Emmet 1st Right, you guys picked it up quickly, but your skills are no match for this kid’s learning curve. Some claim the samurai defined Japanese culture. Well, let’s just say when this kid is through, “Flick” and “Hammer” (or “Hu-ri-ku” and “Ha-ma”) will have official definitions in the Japanese dictionary. And what’s more, through this wonderful sport I discovered that the boy’s name is Reiya, he is a 4th grader at one of my elementary schools, and his favorite Pokemon is Pikachu. He also offered me a piece of gum and sips from his Coke.

I think I’ve discovered the secret to international friendship. Now, I just need to figure out how to convince world leaders to trade bullets for Frisbees…