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.