Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Great Volleyball Tournament

Today's volleyball tournament, combined with the fact that I no longer have internet at home, is why I've been a little absent from the blog this week. Volleyball practices started in January and have been picking up steam ever since, culminating in four practices this past week.

So needless to say, I was extremely disappointed to find out that after we barely lost our 9am game we were done for the day. That was a lot of practice for just 20 minutes of volleyball. I spent the next two hours being bored by the Zamami men's and women's 'A' teams, who both have won the championships something like ten years in a row. Their teams are stacked with all the best talent and it's less than fun watching them crush the 'B' teams. But it gave me good reason to pull hard (quietly) for Aka's teams. I wouldn't dare cheer out loud for them - even though I teach on all three islands I live on Zamami so I'd be a traitor to voice support elsewhere. But maybe they got my vibes because both the Aka men's and women's teams knocked off Zamami's teams in what was apparently a huge upset.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. It was easily the most competitive sporting event of the year and it brought out pretty much everybody (and by that, I mean about 200+ people). Even some of the tourism staff was able to get the day off work to participate.

And, of course, with large crowds come good chances to observe awesome attire. Like these pants:

And these shirts...

This next shirt got me in a little trouble a few weeks back. I have a bantering relationship with this married woman and so at practice one night I repeated her shirt back to her. But she didn't know what the shirt said. And neither did the half-dozen people around who heard me tell her I loved her. One guy told me to "back off" in an "it's an inside joke for everybody but you and her" way. Ha. ha.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Engrish Shirt #7

The small print says "The power which is touched off and which isn't creatively strange is shy."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Two Turtles A Mating

Turtles are everywhere. Every time I go fishing, even in awful weather, I expect to see turtles. They pop their heads up for air a hundred meters away or just five feet away. They swim under and around me. I usually average about five turtles for every couple hour trip. The novelty is gone.

A couple weeks ago when my family was here my dad got to witness the courting procedure preceding mating. It was a lot of flippers and whitewater, but still really cool for him.

This morning, for my first time, I saw two turtles mating. The water was calm and a head came up for air 20m away, then another head came up a few inches behind the first. They weren't huge turtles (and there are some giants around), but big enough to be making babies.

Tonight I went fishing at the same spot and the same turtles (I assume) were still at it, only closer. I didn't have my camera because I've been fishing alpine style this weekend: only lures and water.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

As It Should Be

My new apartment is on the second floor of the teachers' housing by the water (there is also teachers' housing across from the school, which is at the back end of the village). There's an old building and a new building. Aside from being in the new building - I definitely don't have that kind of priority - I think I got the perfect apartment. The second floor provides a much better view and greater access to the wind. Also, I'm on the end, so my side windows provide a view (the other end of the building butts up against the new housing a mere three feet away).

I've slept at the new apartment twice and am pleased with the results: no cats, no dogs, and only one mosquito. I can hear crickets and waves and, so far, a consistent breeze. I haven't figured out the hot water yet, but the cold is warm enough that I might just be able to wait until October to worry about.

As my friend Jessica says, since I'm on a small island, now that I'm living by the water it's "as it should be" . Here's my new view:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This was my April entry into the Okinawa JET photo contest. The theme was 'color'. The entries were never posted so I guess there weren't enough. Anyway, I won't worry anymore about affecting the voting.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Magee Gara! (まぎがら!)

(Apologies for the length of this post - it's a big deal.)

Two of the first five words I learned in Japan were まぎ (magee) and がら (gara). Both of those are Okinawan dialect; the first means 'big' and the second means 'Giant Trevally'. After leaving Palau empty-handed of a GT bigger than 30 pounds (but having lost a couple in the 50 lb. range), catching a big one became a top goal in my life.

But I've been a little let-down with the GT fishing here. It was supposed to pick up in early April and be good through July. Last year when I arrived in August I caught a 10 lb. GT from shore on my first first fishing trip. I have probably gone fishing 75 times since with little result. Lately my attitude has devolved into "well, it's nice to go kayaking..."

I woke up at 4:30 this morning to go but was deterred by the wind outside, but I went with wunderground's report and it was a good choice. I had to ride my bike to the northern part of the island where my kayak was stashed from yesterday's fishing. I was on the water a little after sunrise and just fishing along until 6:30am.

I fish with what are called surface poppers. They're big lures with cupped faces designed to splash water during retrieval. For some reason poppers drive GTs mad and they'll hit the lures with amazing force. This morning there was a massive commotion around my lure and before I could tell what was happening (the GT had missed the lure twice already in about two seconds) I had a fish on and I was referring back to all my well-laid plans for how to stay upright in my kayak should I hook a fish. I centered the pole over the bow for stability and held on for dear life.

The next step in fighting a GT is to try to keep him off the bottom. They nearly always go straight for 'structure' to try and break the line. So I tightened down my drag and put as much force against him as I could muster, which turned out to be far more than I expected the kayak could handle. The fish reached a point where I could pull him up a few feet then he would immediately go back down. I assumed this meant he was at the bottom. So now I really put it to him. Which doesn't mean much because it was like trying to pull a piece of plywood up. But eventually he gave in, and I was able to haul him up relatively quickly.

Bad things happen when trying to land a large fish. Especially on a kayak and especially when the fish isn't really worn down yet (I'd only been fighting him for 6-8 minutes). So I had to loosen my drag a bit in case there was a sudden run (to avoid 'pinging' my line, resulting in a break). But I also knew if I could get my hands on the leader (2 100lb. twisted strands), I'd be in good shape. I did get ahold of it, and as I started to pull him into the kayak he revolted. I gave him leeway on the leader, but he didn't take it so I hauled him back up and into the kayak. I was immediately blown away by his size. I didn't know what to do, so I held my hands in his gills for a few minutes before taking the rope from the bow and tying it through him. I still didn't know what to do (expecting mad thrashing at any moment), so I just pushed down on his head and put my legs over his body.

Fifteen minutes later I felt safe and started to relax, so I began kayaking home. The east wind had come up so when I turned the SW corner of Zamami it was a miserable last 30 minutes of kayaking into whitecaps. But I arrived in the village (at 8am) just in time to see another fisherman at the port. He freaked out and began calling. Within five minutes there were 15 people and another ten in the next five minutes. There were pictures abound, as well as measurements (22kg, or 48.5 pounds, and 85cm, though I'm pretty sure that's short by a lot since I'm 183cm). Also lots of people making claims to sashimi. Nice of them to put their bids in early.

I worked on the fish all morning and it was a lot of work! I had to cut pieces up for various people while still making sure to save some for myself. I had to cut all the skin off and deliver the head to one guy and the skeleton to another. I worked nonstop and didn't get around to going back for my bike until 12pm.

Though my life goal is to catch a GT over 50 pounds, I think I will be pleased if this ends up being the last big one I get. He was big. And he brought me lots of fame. And validation as a serious fisherman. And food for weeks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Baking With Kindergartners

I was recruited this week by the kindergarten sensei to teach her students how to bake cookies. Word got out and some of the ladies requested that I concurrently show them how to make my bread.

Considering everything that could've gone wrong with a temperamental experiment such as cookies (like managing the butter in 80 degree heat while waiting for every kindergartner to stir the batter after each addition), the resulting cookies turned out nicely. We got the cookies in baking and had just enough extra batter that I was able to plop a blob on every kid's hand. I tried to insert some cultural exchange and let the kids lick the spoons, but the teacher would have none of that.

We also let the kids knead the bread dough, though that was more of a punching bag session. At lunch time the kitchen lady cut everything up and split it evenly amongst everybody. Good times!

Thursday, May 15, 2008


[The sun's that way.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I Am Not Amused

So I've been bragging a bit about my run-in with celebrity. I showed the picture around, mentioned how beautiful she is and even used her name in one of my lessons today. I also noted what a good smell she has, but that's where things got dicey. Everybody seems to have an unusually strong reaction when I mention that I liked her smell: the guys think it's hilarious, but most of the women don't. In fact, over half of them uttered the word 'hentai' immediately.

The words that stand out under the English translation for 'hentai' are perversion, kinky, pervert. I think this is a bit strong. In fact, so much so that today when a junior high student accused me, I formally posted my objection and tried to see if in fact へんたい(hentai) is being accurately translated. I described 'pervert' as 'like a grown man liking little boys and girls' and my JTE confirmed that hentai has 'about the same' Japanese meaning.

This bothers me, somewhere between a little and a lot. How can I possibly be accused of perversion for saying that I like how a girl smells? And, more importantly, how is a woman's scent put in the same category as child molestation?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Kurara Chibana

At the Geruma lunch table today one of the male teachers asked if I'd heard of Kurara Chibana. I hadn't. Then he told me she was the first runner-up at the 2006 Miss Universe competition. Cool, I guess. Then he pointed outside and said "she's right over there."

It turns out her grandfather is from Geruma. She was raised in Naha and brought fame to Geruma (via a television crew and, well, her) by visiting last summer (a week before I arrived). Today she came only with her boyfriend, but word got out quickly. I pressured some male teachers until somebody relented. Geruma is really small, but we actually ran a couple hundred meters to catch up as she toured the small rice paddy.

I did feel a little bad intruding on her visit with her grandmother, especially because her life is undoubtedly filled with people asking for pictures. I tried to mix up the small talk a bit, but I mostly failed because I was so overwhelmed by her presence (and smell). She is truly a superior specimen.

I did step up and drop a line (in Japanese) I just learned Saturday, asking if she has a boyfriend. It was kind of a dumb question since her boyfriend was standing next to her and she understands English. But really, there's nobody better to practice on.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My New Manager

This is Ai-chan*:

I met Ai on the Aka -> Zamami boat a couple weeks ago and we've been writing (in Japanese) since. She came to stay over Friday night and see some of Zamami. Turns out there is a typhoon in the area, so there wasn't much seeing to be done. Turns out she also has a boyfriend (turns out almost everybody does) in some distant land, so there wasn't much courting to be done. But her English was pretty strong so we ended up baking pizza and cinnamon bread and talking a lot about the things people talk about. Like the opposite gender. I have designated her my new manager in charge of helping get me a Japanese girlfriend. She's also going to score me a pro deal on a new (or used, hopefully) diving mask.

*-chan is a word added to a female's name with whom you are considered friends. Often the full name is even shortened, like Noriko would become Nori-chan, Tomoko -> Tomo-chan. -kun is the male equivalent of this word, but it isn't used in the same endearing sense that I hear -chan used.

Engrish Shirt #6

This is a school shirt. I wonder how they fared at sports?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Visitation from the Family

This visitation from my family marked the first time I have seen my sister in two years. She teaches in Akita-ken in northern Japan so it was only a matter of time before we met up. I hadn't seen my parents since last August when I left the U.S.

Last week we all went to classes on Geruma, Aka, and Zamami. This picture shows the third of three school lunches my family risked eating. My mom's luck ran out on the third day when sardines showed up on her plate. My dad wasn't a fan of the milk, and my sister refuses to eat vegetables so I will undoubtedly have some explaining to do about the pickiness.

The Zamami junior high students did presentations about Okinawan culture. It was really great and I even learned a few things. After the eisa performance my mom and dad were invited up to learn:

[Ama Beach]

We spent Saturday kayaking around a distant island. We got caught in a strong current on the way back and my mom and sister ended up paddling a significant extra distance. In one of a few physical misjudgments on my part, the kayak trip should have ended after we crossed that current. Unfortunately we were on the southern tip of Aka and still had another 1.5-2 hours to get back to Zamami. The lowlight of that last trip for me was getting flipped by a wave while explaining to my mom and sister how not to get flipped. Minutes later I realized my mask and snorkel were gone. Just when I finally got everything I needed for diving...

[Early in the bike trip that was a little too long.]

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Parents!

My parents and sister arrived Sunday for a 10-day visit. We stayed in Naha on Monday and went fishing out of the Okinawa mainland on Tuesday. The weather was terrible with huge waves that kept my dad throwing up and my sister sleeping inside. Of the seven of us (of which three didn't fish), we caught 59 yellowfin tuna and bonita.

Wednesday we caught the ferry to Aka where we took the fish fillets to the fishing co-op for vacuum packing and freezing. They will store the fish for the next few months while I gradually take packages away every time I am teaching on Aka or Geruma.

We went to Geruma school Wednesday afternoon and had a class with all seven elementary students and sixth period with the three junior high students. Today on Aka we had two elementary classes, a junior high class, and a speech contest. In a month a representative from each of the three schools will go to Naha for a speech contest. Today the Aka English teacher wisely made use of the four native English speakers and had us serve as judges.