Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Garden, January

I looked at pictures of my garden from last year and I'd say this year is a good month behind. No idea why. Anyway, it took a big step this month. Now my lettuce is producing at just the rate to sustain my daily needs. I have something like 20 tomato plants which seem to be spacing their blossoms so that I'll get a nice, long supply of tomatoes once they start getting red.

[16 planters this year, some of which have defied 3-4 seedings and are still barren]

[I artificially pollinated all my tomato blossoms with a cotton swab]

[There's 2-3 tomato plants mixed in with that lettuce - my brilliant idea to make use of all that wasted vertical space above those low-hanging lettuce leaves]

[front-to-back: fancy lettuce, cilantro, basil, and cabbage, next green peppers, then lots of tomatoes and broccoli]

Friday, January 29, 2010

Our Little World

Today at lunch on Aka the principal asked me about Zamami's cows. I was surprised at how surprised the rest of the teachers were to learn that Zamami has cows. I had to explain how many there are (~25), that they are black, meat cows (not dairy), and that the calves are usually sold off to the mainland.

This anecdote got me thinking about how isolated these little communities are even though they are really close to each other. A waterway with no bridge may as well be 1000 kilometers.

I am one of the few people who regularly visit all three communities, so I know the layout of the villages and I recognize/know many of the residents. (In fact I could be the most connected person living here with all the kids I know!?) But the people of Zamami might as well be foreigners to those on Aka and Geruma (which are connected by a bridge). And just like the Aka residents don't know about our cows, Aka and Geruma's deer could go extinct and Zamami people still might say "they had deer?" That's a slight exaggeration, but Geruma is fiercely proud of their deer while I have heard first-hand accounts of Zamami residents eating them.

It's fun to sometimes find an Aka/Geruma residents on a field trip to Zamami because they are giddy at how large our store is. This is the same store that, when seen by some of my Okinawan mainland friends, gets the reaction: "I don't know how you can live here."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Relevant Vocab.

The first 10-15 minutes of all my junior high classes are mine. From there the Japanese English teacher plans the regular class to incorporate me. Back in the day I used to do the day, date, weather, and time (now I have added temperature and season) before asking each student "How are you?" But that quickly became boring so I would follow the "How are you?" with a "Why?" to make them think. But they learned stock answers. So then I moved on to "How was your weekend?", "What did you eat for dinner/breakfast?", etc. But that was starting to challenge me too much to come up with interesting questions.

So I began making flashcards in response to feelings of "that's a word my students should know" that I would occasionally get. Now at the beginning of each junior high class I run through 10-15 of these cards that have words I've pulled from their books or, more likely, from my mind. Some are relevant words to life here, some are just good phrases to know. But it's fun because the kids recognize that these words are hand-picked for them.

[a sample of the 100+ cards I've made. It also gives me good practice writing the kanji/Japanese on the back (the back of "You can do it!" says "Yes we can!")]

Do you have any word suggestions?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Living With Money

For the first time in my adult life, I am earning money that I get to keep. I finished off my student loans last October, paid for my U.S. trip in November, and have since started building my first-ever cash reserve. It feels strange, no longer having a designated recipient of my money (student loans). I have no car, mortgage, or credit card payments, only savings and investment accounts.

With this 'freedom' comes a new experience: real disposable income. If I wanted to I could buy the fancy camera I'd really like to have, or travel to South America, or stay in a nice hotel during the Tokyo Marathon. I could do all of those things and still save. Being debt-free with no immediate financial goals opens doors I've never peered beyond before.

Of course that's not my lifestyle and I have no intention of adopting it. I have made a few different choices since November that cost me money, namely acquiring a cell phone (arguably a cost-saving move) and a girlfriend (not a cost-saving move), but otherwise my month-to-month expenses remain quite low. I think one interesting point is that I don't see this job and its benefits as a permanent lifestyle, so I am saving with anticipation that I will again find myself in the world of poverty (the U.S. government's extremely generous definition of this is earning less than $11,000/year - something that, before Japan, I had only not achieved once). When I was having a blast hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I remember figuring I could do that for about $10/day. That is the same price as a dinner here. These are the sorts of things I pay attention to. If I thought I had a promising work future it wouldn't be a big deal to elevate my standard of living. But I don't want to work, so it is irresponsible [to my future] to spend like I'm making what I'm making.

I wonder, though, if I will [un]consciously change? I know in looking back at who I was when I arrived here (really cheap!), I've already stepped quite a few rungs up the ladder (though I think this is actually more in my mind than my spending habits, see: wealth effect). And now that I no longer have the financial goal of paying off my student loans, it's an unprecedented prediction to say I won't relax my savings. I hope I don't because I think I have invested many years developing sustainable spending habits, but who knows if I'll change my mind?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Today I had to proctor a test called the Eiken. It's sort of like the SAT, except it measures a student's English proficiency.

At the beginning the [junior high] students have to fill out their personal information on the bubble sheets. But the two students taking the test didn't know their info! Neither knew their address nor Zamami's postal code and one didn't know his phone number!

I can't speak for kids elsewhere in Japan, but I bet this is something particular to our location. The kids all live close enough to each other that they rarely use phones - and they don't receive any mail. So this information is just not relevant enough to remember.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Solar Eclipse

I got a phone call Friday night from a friend who said a solar eclipse was happening right then and I had about 15 more minutes of it. I sprinted out the door with my camera and rode to my favorite sunset-photographing point. I got there just in time and threw on my polarizing filter, not knowing if it would work. I forgot to check the pictures until today, but I'm pleased with the results.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Whale Watching

I went on a last-minute whale watching trip today. It started out terribly boring with one whale making 25-minute dives, but we stumbled upon a pair making 10-15-minute dives. Got a few decent pictures:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Even Pre-School Gets a TV

For about five months I've been trying to get my school district to order $150 worth of English children's books for my elementary classes. The Board of Education told me they had no money, so I should ask each school to cover 1/3 of the cost. I started today at Geruma by asking the English teacher for a $50 commitment. She passed the request along to the school secretary, who said they probably don't have the money.

Just ten minutes later we had a meeting in the teachers' room where the vice-principal announced that next month all 11 teachers (I'm number 12) are getting new computers and all five classrooms are getting 52" flat screen televisions (recall this is Geruma where the class sizes range from 2-5 students). I smiled at all the excitement in the room, but could only think 'no fair!'

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cinnamon-Apple Twist Bread

I made Cinnamon-Apple Twist Bread tonight. As with nearly all bread recipes, it was easy to make but took some time. Breakfasts this week should be quite nice.

Friday, January 8, 2010

My First Cell Phone

Last weekend I got my first cell phone, ever. (cell phone = keitai in Japanese) I haven't been delaying it on moral grounds, but rather I think cell phones are generally expensive and I don't talk much on the phone. I feel like most people spend over $500/year on their cell phone, which is a lot of money to me for something that would only occasionally be useful.

So why did I get it? Because it finally made financial sense. Because of a girl. It's really (really) expensive to call her cell phone from a landline (or from Skype to a cell phone). But with this service provider (AU), I can get the cheapest plan (~$20/month) and pay for a 'friend plan' (+$4), which allows me unlimited calls to three fellow AU users. When it's all said and done, I should pay about $26/month and get ~30 minutes plus the use of email. This is far cheaper than my recent phone bills. The problem with cell phones, of course, is that one must sign a contract. So before we walked through the doors of the AU store, I checked with the girl: "you're not going to break up with me soon, are you?" She smirked and said "I don't know?"

I was pretty happy to score a used phone off a woman from a military base. It was $70 - about 30% of its new price - and, more importantly, cheaper than the brand new most simple phone offerings available. So I spent less money and got a semi-high-endish phone (not that I even know the difference, except it's thinner!). See that little lion thingie (Okinawan shisa) attached to the phone? It's called a 'strap' and actually included a pink strap, which I removed. They are really popular in Japan. I was keen on not acquiring one, but then Mariko gave this to me as a present, which prompted the question: "should I use it because she gave it to me?"

So I don't really know how to use this phone. I can make calls and write and send emails, but I'm super slow at it. But I don't know how to exchange info through the infrared, or access the internet, or use the dictionary, or the camera or video, or.. many things I don't even know exist. (One cool feature is the ability to watch live tv for free - unfortunately I don't pick up any stations where I live.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Running Log: August-December, 2009

So I'm running the Tokyo Marathon this year. The race is Sunday, February 28th, so I'm just over eight weeks out. I've been training specifically with this race in mind since the end of August. I used the tail end of a 'spring training' plan I found, then moved into the 18-week Advanced 1 program from Hal Higdon's site. Last weekend I ran my first 30km piece (19 miles). I will follow that with three 32km (20 miles) runs over the next five weeks before beginning my taper down to a peak at the marathon.

This is the worst time of the training year. The weather is cold, the runs are long and fast, and the marathon is still far enough away that I can't feel it yet. Of course I envision it every day, but the connection just won't happen for another four weeks or so.

I'm serious about doing well at Tokyo this year. Last year I set a goal of breaking 3:10, but that was interrupted by a knee problem. That's why I (a) started training in August and (b) only scheduled one major race this year. My goal is again 3:10. More on the attainability of this goal the week before the marathon.

Here's a summary of my numbers so far this training season:

August: 25km
September: 163km
October: 178km
November: 132km (10 days of not running in America)
December: 276km

Total: 774km (480 miles)

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Few Days Too Late..

I took my bow and some new arrows (thanks mom and dad!) to my favorite target shooting beach a couple days ago. After shooting 40-50 arrows at my new archery range that I built in the forest, I took a wander down the beach. When I got to the end, I found this dead goat:

It's a bit gory, so I chose the distant picture to post. The goat had died a few days ago by falling off that cliff from above. I am 98% sure of this outcome because I've been watching the mother and two young (now one) living up there for the last month. In this next picture, the dead goat is in the lower left, but if you look in the upper right you can actually see the nanny up there feeding (look for the white speck):

Here's a close-up of that picture. You can see her other baby (down and to her right) is also tempting fate:

I've seen the goats living close to the edge of these cliffs for the last year and it's inevitable for me to run the 'falling off' scenario through my head, no matter how sure-footed they are. This incident must have been a rush for that little goat, if only 1-2 seconds long. It fell on a pile of rocks so I imagine it was over quickly. I walked away uttering some swear words - not because of the unfortunate death, but because I didn't discover it quickly enough to salvage the meat.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's

Mariko and I had a late night on New Year's, but before it was over she made sure to take me to a shrine. Judging by the number of people there at 4am, I think it's a traditional activity.

[Mariko selecting her New Year's charm]

[We each paid 100 yen to buy a fortune for 2010. Mariko hung hers up on this 'wall' of fortunes. I kept mine because it contained such gems as [for study] "Work hard, and you'll pass the exam" and [for love] "Everything goes well. Nothing to worry about" and [for game and match?], "Don't get so excited. Be moderate."]