Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year In Pictures

My ten favorite pictures from this past year:

[Whale shark]

[Palau's Seventy Islands]

[Humpback whale at close range]

[Palau's Natural Arch]

[Hibiscus flower, Geruma Island]

[Young Palauans at a first-born ceremony]

[Palau's Rock Islands]

[Palauan first-born ceremony]

[Hermit crab at sunrise, Zamami Island]

[Kindergarten students, Zamami Island]

Monday, December 28, 2009

Poultry Surprise

So I was making dinner for Mariko a few days ago and thought it would be a good time to introduce her to pheasant. I had thawed out some of the meat I'd brought from America, so I breaded it in flour/seasonings and fried it up. The thing with pheasant meat, though, is that it was killed with a shotgun. Which leads to a term that, as far as I'm concerned, my cousin Jason coined back when I was a kid: poultry surprise.

I got the first surprise. I was carefully chewing, aware I might win, when I bit down on something hard. I fished the lead pellet out of my mouth and put it on the table. Mariko was surprised, but not disgusted. A promising sign. I carefully sorted through the remaining pieces and succeeded in giving her what I thought would be pellet-free. But I ate the remainder and ended up spitting out nine pellets.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Lesson

My Christmas lessons this year consisted of making Christmas trees, snowflakes, and/or cards depending on the grade level. Here are some pictures from my 1/2 elementary class (my biggest!) at Zamami this year:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas In Japan

For the third year in a row I had to work on Christmas. It's only a novelty here pushed by retailers, and presumably missionaries. Most of my students did wake up to a small present (ranging from a CD to $50) from Santa this morning, but then they had to get ready for school.

The annual Zamami Christmas party fell apart in the planning stages this year so it was supplanted by a smaller party at a local restaurant. I was instructed to wear a costume, but told it couldn't be big like last year. I did have a stellar [big] costume planned for this year, but opted for a smaller version of last year's idea instead:

Considering I was wrapped at the last minute (by my friend, Mariko) I think it turned out pretty well.

This is the Japanese sailing national team, avoiding the alcohol but doing a good job of covering the 2500 yen entrance fee by eating. They practice on Zamami every winter because we have strong winds. That tall guy in the middle was here last year and competed in the Olympics this year. I am incredibly envious of them. I would give up everything I have right now if I thought I could be supported full-time to making my body really, really fast at something.

[Mariko and me]

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December 22nd

Happy Winter Solstice!

My friend Gordon claims that this is the best day of the year. And since the amount of daylight will be increasing each day for the next six months, an optimistic person should be excited about what today brings.

During my junior high class introductions, we always cover the day, date, weather, temperature, season, and time. But the students figure all of that out quickly so it's nice to add other elements. One such bit I have added is teaching them about the solstices and equinoxes and how they mark the changing of the seasons (even though one of my English teachers claims that in Japan winter begins on December 1st (she's wrong)). So I really enjoy the glow in the eyes of the kid whom I ask 'what season is it?' and then he/she realizes that today is the 21st/22nd.

I ran from 5:15-6:30am today and it was all in the dark. As per solstice tradition, I'll try to catch the sunset tonight and undoubtedly get some star watching in as I return to make dinner. Here in Okinawa the sun rises at 7:12am and sets at 5:42pm. The weather page says tomorrow will be 2 seconds longer. Hurray!

Friday, December 18, 2009

More Thoughts On America

(I wasn't satisfied with the initial post on my America trip, so I've been writing and rewriting a follow-up for weeks. I hope I've finally settled on something here that is more coherent.)

My trip home wasn't a disappointment. I spent a lot of quality time with my aging uncles and my dad. I had a nice lunch with my mom and was able to see a few other important people. The hunting wasn't great, but that's the nature of hunting. I didn't mean to imply that the reasons for the trip - hunting and seeing family - fell short in any way.

Instead it was the larger picture - the United States and how I fit into it. I didn't fit. There was a disconnect between the Me who grew up in America - and envisioned my whole life there - and the Now Me.

I've adjusted well to living abroad, to the point that it's not a novelty anymore. I have been overseas long enough (four years) to make an argument that this lifestyle best defines my adulthood. Previously, traveling to America was still 'returning home'; this year I felt like a visitor.

The "America" part of my trip was lackluster. I know the language, the cities all look the same to me, and the culture feels 'excessive'. I am looking for my life to be a challenge every day and that challenge here is taking the form of language acquisition and learning a new culture. Daily life in Japan has a constant element of 'do I know what's going on?', which makes it exciting and unpredictable.

Have you ever visited a foreign country or another state and left with a mediocre impression of it? Afterwards you think 'well that was nice (or maybe not), but I've seen enough.' That is how I felt after this trip. America still offers me family and friends, whom I want to see, and hunting, which I want to do, but I don't feel impelled to visit for travel or cultural reasons. I feel like my dad when he goes to a Seattle Mariners' game: he wants to see the game, but he hates dealing with the traffic.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Justin and Aiko

I met Justin on a boat trip to the Kume Marathon two years ago. We talked much of the trip and found we had a lot in common, except the geography of our placements. He lives in northern Okinawa, so I think I only saw him one other time (when his girlfriend gave us a ride to the boat for another marathon). But I was really psyched to get an invite from him because the wedding would be traditional Okinawan (his bride is Okinawan) and many of my JET friends would be attending.

I arrived at the wedding 45 minutes early which was just in time for the rehearsal, so I photographed it:

[maid of honor and Aiko]

[I think this is a tradition at Okinawan weddings - it's piece of Okinawan fabric wrapped around their wrists to signify a bond]

[one of my few pictures from the actual ceremony - the professional photographer asked me to 'calm down' with my photography during the ceremony, which was cool with me]

The reception was the big deal. It lasted 3-4 hours and was full of entertainment provided by both sides. Lots of skits, a band, some Okinawan music, and the couple being presented in various outfits.


For more pictures see my Facebook album here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Yukie Nakama's People

Today there was a message waiting on my desk at Geruma that said the Aka vice-principal wanted to talk to me. I hate it when somebody "wants to talk to me." But I figured it must be about the Canada homestay presentation I was planning to attend after school.

It wasn't. He got a call this morning from Yukie Nakama's agency. They found my video and wanted it taken down. I told him I'd have it down as soon as I got home. I also apologized to him but he brushed it off as no big deal.

So I got home and immediately checked all my blog and youtube stats to see if I'd really caused any problems. But it appears that nobody linked to my blog by searching for Yukie's name. My blog hits did spike yesterday slightly, but that might have just been because it was my first post in five days. The youtube stats, though, were a little more telling. In just two days the video had 283 views. That's quite a few, I think. The video also showed up on just the third (of 30) page of results.

I'm really curious as to how they found it. I wonder if somebody tipped them off or if they are actually doing searches on her name to catch stuff like this?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yukie Nakama Comes to Aka

Yukie Nakama is an A-list movie/television star in Japan. And she came to our school this week.

This visit was intended to be a follow-up on a show she filmed here two years ago about coral.
She has a lot of personality, so half the show is about her and the other half is about the topic she is covering.

She showed up at lunch time, cameras and thirteen staff in tow. She apparently remembered the three students she worked with before, so she sat with them for lunch. One - a cherub boy - she remembered fondly and they were supposed to have a reunion for the cameras. But he pulled a rather forgettable move in not making eye contact with her nor lifting his head from his plate - opting to eat rather than take part in national television with a beautiful woman. I taught him the word "regret" in English class the next day.

[this video has been removed at the request of Yukie Nakama's management company]

I had been warned ahead of time that her manager tries to control her image and he might forbid me from using my camera. But I was in an optimal position inside the lunchroom to get some video before he could sneak around the cameras and shut me down.

Afterwards he wouldn't let me take any photographs until a very choreographed group shot with the kids. In fact, I thought I was in the clear and got this next shot while she was walking to the group. But the manager jumped in front of my camera after I clicked the shutter (he didn't ask me to delete anything nor did he make usage requests for what he did allow, so I don't have any problems putting this up on my tiny little blog).

[these photos have been removed at the request of Yukie Nakama's management company, so you're just going to have to continue to settle for the Photoshopped Yukie]

Prior to this group shot, of which I was the only photographer, her staff prepped her for me. Her makeup was touched up, her clothes fixed, and her hair brushed while I looked around thinking "uh.. you don't have to do that for me."

My brush with fame consisted of us saying "すみません (excuse me)" to each other when I had to duck into her prep room - the 2nd grade classroom - to grab a lens I had stashed there. Otherwise she didn't give me the time of day. I did, however, get a piece of her. She only took a couple bites of her lunch before taking off. The teachers then had to give away her food, of which I got the main dish. I bet I ate some of her spit.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Stellar Teacher.. I am.. Sometimes

Occasionally I find myself amidst a lesson I'm teaching and suddenly realize it's going really well! Recently this happened with the Geruma 5/6 grade on the topic of family. I had the students make 8-member fold-out families, which they colored and labeled. Then they stood in front of the class and asked/answered each other about the names of the members. ("Who is this?" "This is my grandmother, ......")

After that exercise we went into a game. I drew matching family trees on the ends of the chalkboard for the 5th graders and, in the middle, a more complicated family tree (aunts, uncles, cousins) for the 6th grader. I then randomly assigned numbers to the family members of each tree, then called out the numbers. The students had to find the number, figure out what it was in English, then find the corresponding magnetized card from their stack and stick it in the right place.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Investment Opportunity

[read the text above the company name]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Garden Reclamation

Winter is growing season here so we start our planting now. I waited until returning from the U.S. to get things underway, so I got a good start on it this week. My planters sit all summer, mostly going dry and dead. I don't like the idea of just throwing seeds and water into them without giving them food, so I tried something a little different this year.

I went into the forest and gathered up about 5 of these bags worth of rotting leaf litter.

Then I layered it about two inches thick on the bottom of the planters (the leaves working as mulch and also a barrier to keep the dirt from escaping with the water), then layered dirt, more leaves, and another layer of dirt. It's my garden lasagne.

[I was quite surprised to find this big centipede with her ball of babies in the dry dirt of one of my planters]

Today I planted lettuce (4x), tomatoes (2x), basil/cilantro, green peppers, and carrots. I still have 2.5 planters empty and today I got enough dirt to fill two more. My garden better rock this year!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The To-Do List, post-America trip

The former To-Do List:

*work in Japan long enough to pay off my student loans

*return to America, hike the Continental Divide Trail

*look into working with a wilderness therapy program and/or seasonal work

*save money

*buy property somewhere (NE Oregon tops the list)

*build a sustainable (ish) structure to store my life, make a cool garden

The new To-Do List:

*keep working in Japan

*save money

*plot how I can keep my life going outside America

My recent trip to America made me less sure that residing there is a long-term goal of mine. When I was in Peace Corps it was always a temporary position - returning to the U.S. afterwards was part of the plan. Maybe I felt more connected to home because I was getting paid by the U.S. government, or because it was my first time abroad? I'm not sure, but I don't ever remember seriously entertaining staying in Palau longer or moving directly on to another country.

I do remember my flight home from Palau, though, because I said "I've got to get abroad again."

It took me longer (three years) than I anticipated, but I made it back out and lucked into a good life. When I signed up for JET, I thought I might do it for a year or two - long enough to pay off my student loans. But I didn't expect to get a good placement. I don't have any big career or higher education goals (aren't you proud, mom?), so my time here is indefinite. Actually, I don't have many future plans at all, so nothing is pressing me to move my life in a different direction.

With that said, I do think about what could be next. My default plan was to move back to the U.S. and do any number of seasonal jobs I am qualified for while saving my money for a piece of land somewhere. But my last trip to the U.S. turned me off to that idea for at least the immediate future. I have no political aspirations, either, so I can say this: The U.S. didn't do anything for me. Of the few things left that I thought I missed, I was mostly wrong. (I was right about a dog, though. I really wish I could have a good hunting dog along for the ride.)

My desire to eat American food was less than in years past, though I was still looking forward to a few dishes. But I was mostly let down with the food quality and the massive portion sizes (don't get me wrong, I dislike leaving a restaurant hungry, but for some reason I feel more content after a smaller meal in Japan than I did with huge plates of food in the U.S.). (Oh, and mom, your mud pie was great!) I was also looking forward to watching a baseball and football game on TV. I got to see both and was disappointed. The advertising is overwhelming and the color commentators are just filling the space with empty words.

Those were the little things. The big things (politics, sprawl, environmental disregard) hit me pretty hard, too.

It's good for me to get over my American desires because I don't think it's healthy to be living a vicarious American life from another country. I feel really free for having so little in common with America anymore. Sure, I would still take some cheese, chocolate chips, and cheap butter off base, but I also have a box of Captain Crunch (a gift) that's been sitting on my shelf for months. In Peace Corps I would've enjoyed that cereal slowly. Now I only have a desire to get rid of it.

Monday, November 23, 2009


If videos went viral within the three islands I teach on, my footage of Abby the dog would be getting me interviews on morning talk shows. The kids here LOVE Abby. When I asked the kids in early October what they wanted to see video of from the U.S, all three islands responded resoundingly with "Abby!" I couldn't believe they even remembered her name (from last year's videos).

This demand actually played a role in securing Abby's spot on the trip, which was in question until I appealed. Fortunately, she delivered. Over half the videos I'm showing during my 45-minute "American slideshow" classes are of Abby - and it wouldn't be enough if she filled the entire period. We have dogs here, but they don't fetch nor do they have this kind of personality.

Here's a couple of the favorites:

Friday, November 20, 2009

American Food Prices

I was hoping to bring back an American newspaper with grocery store ads, but the recycling truck beat me to it. So I swiped a Seattle Times from a first-class seatback on the airplane and made due.

The kids were pretty fascinated with their first American newspaper. The most glaring difference is that the pages turn left, not right. The dimensions are also noticeably skinnier and there is much more white space. Also, it's in English.

I did find this Fred Meyer food ad within the pages:

The prices are unusually low, but I still converted them for comparison and blew the kids away. I'm sure they won't remember the numbers, only that food in America is far cheaper than Japan, which was the point I was after.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Returning Home

One of the big dilemmas upon returning to Japan is deciding what to bring along from America. Last year I was selfish and brought mostly hard-to-get food and clothing items for myself. But I've adjusted my habits enough that this year my only food items were two bulk bags of yeast, two bulk bottles of cinnamon, a large bottle of vanilla extract, a big bag of gummy bears, and some energy bars. I had a couple pieces of clothing and a couple pairs of shoes, but most of the remaining room was allotted for other people.

Patagonia is popular in Japan, but it's quite expensive here (usually about 40% more than U.S. prices). I'm a good online shopper so I advertised my services to the local kayak shop and pretty quickly had a long list of things to buy.

I returned with 23 pieces of clothing, all of it at least 75% off of Japanese prices:

I also have to buy omiyage, or gifts, for the people I know well. So something for each of the three teachers' rooms, the Board of Education, the eisa group, and many individuals. I also filled half of one of my bags with elk and pheasant meat to give away to close friends.

I'm going to address a question from the comments here: how do I get meat back across international lines? The short answer is just not to say anything when going through customs. But the longer answer is that I checked with a customs agent a few months back and he said deer meat is okay to bring it. The problem, if I were checked, would be proving that this meat is from a wild ungulate. The packaging from the butcher says "elk", but that's hardly a guarantee for the likes of people responsible for intercepting bovine illnesses. So I would have to have my meat USDA certified as deer to be guaranteed entry. But this is not possible since the meat wasn't raised on a farm. So the alternative to USDA certification is just to check the box the says "I am not bringing in any illegal meat products." I can't prove it (and as such, you can take it away), but I promise you they're not illegal under Japanese law.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Montana Pheasant Hunting

The Colorado elk hunt ended early because I couldn't find any elk, so we moved on to Montana for some pheasant hunting. I had great luck on the first day, filling my limit of three birds within my first four shots. Then I went on to miss the next twenty birds on the ensuing two days.

This storm started coming in out of the west on the second morning. The winds were really strong, so we had to hunt into the wind so the birds would struggle to get up and fly away.

[fortunately all of the precipitation went around us]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Colorado Hunting Pictures

[where there's elk and barbwire fences, there's evidence]

[elk are known to eat the bark off standing aspens during deep winter snows or fallen aspens anytime]

[I found this blood trail with man prints following it out]

[An hour later I found the blood trail again, minus the man prints. I followed it for two more hours, but it was over 24 hours old and going in the wrong direction so I gave up]

[an old mining sluice box I found many miles from the nearest road]

[chips at 9200']