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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sep. 23rd-24th

September 23rd
What the heck happened last night?  Pictures on the camera only tell a small tale.  Erin has gone to buy our breakfast of eggs, onion, tomato, fruit, bread, and juice.  It hits the spot, but unlucky Mike Piazza has to return to his own home in Japan.  Erin and Kyle wave goodbye as I walk along the tarmac to the plane.  Temptation to stay has crossed my mind too many times.  It hurts to board the plane.  Just get it over with, get me back to Kagoshima so I don’t have to look at this perfect island.  My inner thoughts, though, are already planning my next trip.  Erin and I met a dive instructor one day and he only needs a half-day notice to begin certification.  Yes.
I get back, find the shuttle to my car, and only had to pay $35 for 5 days of parking.  Got lost driving home on the highway, but got some great directions from toll workers.  Saw an A-Z on the way home and stopped to finally go up and down the aisles.  Besides some lunch, I bought a cheap ukulele, accordion, and harmonica.  I have wanted a ukulele and accordion so bad, I couldn’t believe they had them out here.  They are practically kids’ toys though, but it’s a start. 
Drove straight to Shibushi, as I agreed to help care for Mary Margaret’s cat while she’s in Cambodia, and had too much fun making it chase a string.  I think I love this cat…and my allergies usually don’t get along with cats.
Jazz

September 24th
My first day at Osaki Elementary and the kids are SUPER INSANE CRAZY!!!  I teach 3 classes and the kids can’t stop being impressed by pictures of California and Wyoming.  I played dodgeball with them after lunch, and then rock, scissors, paper at the end of the day.  One teacher gave us ‘free-time’ that encourages all the students to form a line and take turns getting on my shoulders.  What the hell?  But, the kids are so cute and awesome, I loved it.  I had two girls holding my hands at all times, numerous kids pushing me from behind, and then a flock of others swarmed around our group.  Adorable faces everywhere, ‘Nick-sensei’ being yelled every 5 feet, and of course teachers are already trying to hook me up with the librarian.  I love Japan.
After work, I went to pay some bills and feed the cat.  I spent 2 hours just scratching him (Jazz) and I think this is the first time a cat has licked my face out of love and not because there was food on my face.  I LAH this cat.
Practiced the accordion and harmonica tonight.  I learned ‘Belle’ (Jack Johnson) on accordion, but it’s too small and doesn’t have enough keys to play it correctly.  Still, you can tell what it is and I’m having a great time learning.
Chicken, green peppers, and carrots wrapped in lettuce leaves for dinner.  Now, if I can only motivate myself to run more than once a week.

Sep. 21st-22nd

September 21st  
Today, Erin has to work, so she drops me off at Hotel Basayayamamura, where I spend the entire day snorkeling, fishing, and napping in my own little bunk.  
My bunk
View from bunk


I caught a needle fish on my first cast, some trigger fish on another couple casts, and then some fish I couldn’t identify.  Snorkeling through these reefs is not helping my itch to buy an underwater camera.  Erin comes to pick me up after work and brings dinner.  We swam, ate, and watched the sun go down.  This place is paradise. 

September 22nd
Erin has to work again, but Kyle is flying in today and I get to pick him up.  I take him to lunch at the place Erin took me, and then to the beach where we snorkel and find some of the best reefs I’ve ever seen.  After sunbathing for a while, we decide to take another dip in the water before going to the house.  Entering the water, Kyle asks if that’s a snake in the water, and it turns out to be some black and white sea snake.  I think this is when we realize it’s time to leave. 
Our big surprise of the day, is an enkai being thrown for Erin, by her coworkers.  We eat, drink, and get crazy.  
Bromance...and creepers in the back

Erin drops a chopstick and everyone begins yelling, ‘Erin!  What are you doing!!?’  They start calling me Mike Piazza…wow, I absolutely never expected that one!  It’s nonstop the rest of the night.  I find other ‘Bromances’ with these guys and they all want me to stay.  I want to stay.  Why can’t I be on an island?  Please, please, please…sign this petition to allow me to stay on this gorgeous island!



We, of course, find ourselves at a karaoke bar with nomihodai (all you can drink) and go crazy with tambourines.  Crazy pictures walking down the street, Erin climbs a papaya tree, and somehow we find our beds.
Epic Gaijin Poses

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sep. 19th-20th

September 19th
In the morning we picked up Katie (happy birthday!) and another friend to head to a flea market that occurs once a month. 
Flea market

Erin went on a nice little shopping spree and ended up with a 2 foot Hello Kitty doll…’Erin!  What are you doing!?’ (inside joke that I’ll explain later).  We had lunch at Joyfull (remember, 2 L’s), and Erin was recognized by a mother and her 5 or 800 kids.  They were crawling all over her and kept coming to our table to stare.  We finally left and dropped of Katie and her friend.  Erin and I went snorkeling at another beach where we found HUGE sea cucumbers.  We napped for a bit but were awoken by little drops of rain that soon (15 seconds) turned into a downpour.  We went to grab some food, a manga, and then headed to the beach by her house, at night.  Some older boys were hanging out in the same place, again, so we kept to ourselves on the stairs that lead to the sand.  Erin had a 27 minute call with Tomo, a guy we had met the night before, who didn’t speak English.  It took them 27 minutes to figure out that he was going to call her tomorrow.  Not much later, we both passed out.  Luckily, she woke up and we sleepily walked back to her place. 

September 20th
Today we talked to Erin’s supervisor while her A/C was being installed.  We instantly ‘Bromanced’ over fishing stories and decided to go to lunch. We picked up Tomo, who had a 6 pack of beer in hand (make that 5 pack since he had just finished one), and we got to a place that served Keihan (a dish I had researched before coming).  Purely scrumtrulescent!  It starts with a bowl of rice, then you add shredded chicken, shredded egg, onion, pickled something, seaweed, and then pour delicious chicken broth over it all.  
Keihan

Also, they give you enough of everything for two or three helpings.  Please, let there be a way for me to move to Amami. 
After lunch, Erin, Tomo, and I had a beer at Erin’s place and listened to music.  Tomo was smashed after 1 beer.  Honestly, he was staggering in the street.  After he had 2 more, we really couldn’t communicate with him and had to ask Erin’s friend Erina to speak to him in Japanese.  Erin drove him to where we though his aunt’s house was, but he kept saying ‘no.’  He finally gets out of the car as we explain this is the place his aunt lives.  He realizes that he left his bag and sweater at Erin’s place, so we drive back to get it and find Tomo sitting on the curb, on the opposite side of the street from where we left him.  As I walk him across the street, again, his aunt pulls up in a car and takes custody.  We were in the right place, just one house away, but he couldn’t figure it out. 
Aaaanywho…we drive to Hotel Basayayamamura and meet up with Erina and her husband, Brad.  Erin surprised us and bought us steak dinners.  The steak was so juicy and tender, I couldn’t believe we were in Japan.  Thank you Erin!!! 
Later this night, we all join another group of dancing elders, near Erina’s parent’s home.  More drinking in the streets with strangers, but it was great. 

I had one crazy dude that kept making me dance as close to the ground as I could.  We ended at Erina’s parent’s house and had more drinks and food.  We were told a story by one of the women there, who had survived the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.  Out of her entire class of kids, she was the only one to survive.  Now, she’s in a wheelchair and still has glass embedded in her body.  After many years, she had a large piece removed, which she showed us.  I had a tough time handling all this information and seeing this woman, while also thinking of the Japanese attacks on America.  So many mixed emotions, but I have seen from both sides, how each have forgiven one-another. 
The subject slowly fades away and I can’t believe how small the world gets.  Someone mentions uni (sea urchin) and I casually mention that a friend I know from high school, has parents that ship uni to Japan.  They ask what the person’s name is and it turns out to be my friend’s dad.  Pasadena, meet Amami, your new neighbor.  I really don’t know what else I can expect to find in this country.  So crazy! 
Erina and her family, as well as some locals, have also correctly guessed that I’m part Japanese.  They say I look like an islander, and it’s one of the best compliments I have received.  I’m starting to feel roots I’ve never felt before.  Slowly, I’m finding my Grandma Hatsuko.

Ground Golf and Amami

September 17th
Okay day at work.  Crazy kids as usual.  After work, I had a planned event with my BOE peoples to play ground golf.  
Tomomi and Shinmiya

It’s pretty much miniature golfing on a flat, open course.  But, the balls are the size of tennis balls and the putters are made of wood.  I was on a team with most of the people in my office and we actually won the tournament. 
The guys from my BOE

I shot 2nd best (thanks to all those weekends of miniature golf with my grandparents) and the prize money paid for our dinner and drinks afterward.  We went to some ‘restaurant,’ that was really someone’s house, and ate tonkatsu, chicken sashimi, and some other various edibles.  

Chicken sashimi, fried chicken, and some fish-flake food with onions
One of my coworkers began GLOWING red after one drink and another was seemingly drunk after two beers.  He then asked me to stay at his house, because his wife would be mad that he came home drunk (again), but I had to decline.  ‘Next time, okay?’ he says…sure, why not?  The superintendent of Osaki-town drives me home and I get packing for an early departure to the airport.  I think I got to bed around 1am.

September 18th
I’m finally on vacation!  I woke up at 5:45am because I thought that I had to be 2 hours early for my flight to Amami.  It turns out, I only had to be there 20 minutes early, so I napped a bit on the plane.  Got to Amami and saw Erin’s awesome smile from the tarmac.  Her house is only 10 minutes from the airport, so she took me to her place to unload my crap.  We walked across the street from her place and had some delicious food and a couple beers.  Leaving the eatery, we run into a couple of her high school students who immediately assume we’re together.  Then, we decide to head to the beach for a swim. 
This is Erin's backyard

She still doesn’t realize how lucky she is.  This place is gorgeous!  Crystal clear waters, green mountains, clean beaches, and not a soul in sight.  That is, until we see the same boys we just talked to, riding up on their bikes.  They sat there for an hour and a half, just waiting to see Erin in a bikini, but she’s smart and kept herself covered.  Poor boys, island life must be tough J 
We meet up with another ALT, Katie, and her friend from the island.  They take us to ‘watch’ some people dancing at houses.  It’s a traditional dance that’s done at a number of houses throughout the night, to raise funds for their city council (maybe?). 

It turns out to be many grandparents and a few 40-somethings that dance in a huge circle around people’s yards.  The places are predetermined, so the homeowners have food and drinks ready for everyone when they get there.  There were so many things that were happening, it’s hard to remember it all.  I remember them telling me to always look at the woman across from you (as you’re separated into groups of men and women, from oldest to youngest). 
Erin and Katie 'free-dancing'

All the while, people are coming up to you, while you’re dancing, and pouring you beers and glasses of shochou.  Then once all the different dances are done, a guy yells in the middle of the circle and everyone claps.  Finally, more drinks and countless trays of food are brought out. 
I thought after we finished dancing at the 3rd house, we’d be done.  Not a chance!  They invite us foreigners inside (extremely rare) and we all stand up to introduce ourselves.  Who do you think they picked to stand and speak in front of these elders first?  If you said Tom Cruise, you’re right.  The man of the house even whipped out his shamisen (guitar-like instrument) and played a ton of songs. 

They were wonderful entertainers, except when we had to leave and they made me chug a freshly poured glass of shochou.  My goodness, these people are nuts!  I love them! 
We headed back to Katie’s friend’s place, to drink more of course, and I walked out into the sugarcane fields to check out the stars.  This island is beautiful.  I’ve heard that some say it’s comparable to Okinawa, so I can’t wait to visit there as well.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 14th-16th

September 14th
My 1st class was planned around teaching animal names.  The students kept saying, ‘What’s this, what’s that?’  Then they began asking me about some movie that was on the previous night.  I mentioned the show ‘Gaki no tsukai’ and they couldn’t believe that it came from my mouth.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aZvX2Xrw8c&feature=fvst    If you have never seen the show, please click the link.
Immediately, they started naming the comedian’s names and asking if I knew them.  Only a couple names were familiar, but it amused the students enough to make them blankly stare at me for 30 minutes.  Walking down the hallway after class, I have students yelling ‘Ahh Nikurasu!’ and giving me high fives.
The next class was beyond words.  I had two different students introduce themselves as ‘Sex’ and say they like ‘weiners.’  All the while, my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) is yelling behind me, ‘Sausage!”  This NEEDS to be in a comedy showcase of some sort.  Of course, another round of questions that entail my love life.  The girls in the class ‘Ohh’ and ‘Ahh’ when they find out I’m single.  The boys yell ‘Ohhhh!!!’ when they hear ‘Cowboy, wakeboard, surfing, fishing, etc.’   “Have you met actresses in Hollywood?”  ‘Yes I have’….”Ohhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!”
I have one girl in my class come up to say she likes my smile, then tries to hug me while her friend pulls her away.  She’s actually trying to run toward me with her arms outstretched, while her friend is bear hugging the heck out of her.
At lunch, I head to the gym and play volleyball with some of the girls.  They won’t stop giggling.  I’m guessing they think I’m slow, because they yell my name before hitting the ball to me.  It turns out to be a ton of fun, as other teachers soon join and we’re spiking the ball at every moving object.
2nd school, classes were bleh.  Nothing to report.

September 15th
I start at Osaki JHS today and immediately have a student that moonwalks across the classroom.  What the hell?  The next school is nuts.  ABSOLUTELY NO ENGLISH from the teacher.  They loved postcards from Eaton’s Ranch but especially the luggage tag that Kalika’s friend, Lindsay, made of Sake.  All period, the students would get out of their chair to come and look at the picture.  Not sure if they thought she was a bear or a dog.  We played Janken (rock, scissors, paper) at the end of class, where the losers had to hold on to the shoulders of the person that beat them.  At the end of the game, we had two huge lines of students/teachers that were battling in Janken. 
I am served tea and snacks at nearly every school I visit.  No one will let me wash my own dishes.  I feel horrible and am getting frustrated.

September 16th
Today was AWESOME!  I taught one class and was done for the day.  My other JTE was at the doctor, so she cancelled all her classes.  At 4, I had a meeting with an elementary school I have yet to visit.  We discussed the lesson plans and for some reason I got the idea that they don’t understand English.  I guess it’s just a hunch. 
Got to talk to Grandma, Gee-Money, Dorian, mom and Kalika on the phone today.  That was epic!  I had so much fun and it brought me back to the states for a bit.  Miss and love you guys so much!

Sports festival and more drinking....

September 12th
It’s my first day of sports festivals and Hamaya-san is picking me up at 8:15am.  Unknowingly, I am chauffeured to three different schools to make an appearance for the students.  At each school, I want to stay and watch but am quickly hurried away to make the trip to the next school.  
Red vs. white

We eat a great sashimi, fried food mix, and onigiri lunch at Osaki Junior High.  After lunch, they have me run in a relay with some other teachers.  My job is to push an inner-tube around a ¼ of a dirt track.  The other teachers have to balance a ball on a giant spatula and then dunk their head in water to search for candy in a container of flour.  The crowd of parents and students are laughing hysterically, but applaud when our team wins.
Folk Dancing

Through the rest of the festival, we get some heavy rain in 3 minute bursts, and the students do a crazy relay.  They begin climbing over the backs of their team, then everyone has to do 10 jumps at the same time in a huge jump rope.  Finally, climbing over teammates’ backs again until they reach a female group that has to do the same thing they just finished.  
Kocho-sensei and the rain

It was a great festival, showcasing the students’ individual and group abilities.  I was so proud to even be in their presence. I almost forgot that there was a cute little girl who wouldn’t stop sneaking up to me and then running away when I caught her.  I asked her mom if I could take her picture, and the mom thanked me.  It really is backwards here.
So freaking adorable!

My principal reminded me that he was having a party at ‘his’ place a couple hours later, so I promised to be there.  He pointed to an orange roof, saying that’s the place to meet for dinner and drinking.  It turns out the place is a huge vegetable packing place and we are renting/using the outside area for our party.  Vegetable crates are turned into chairs, BBQs are scattered everywhere, plates of meat and veggies are brought out, and here comes the booze.  C’mon people, it’s a Sunday night!  The party consists of students’ parents, teachers, and of course the principal.  We eat tons of great food and veggies, then completely empty the bar of beer, chu-hi, and shochu. 
BBQ at the vegetable packing building

What a great night, that was worth it even though it was a Sunday night and I have to wake up early tomorrow.  But what’s this!!??  My principal is telling me to follow him with a few other guys down the street?  Oh, they’re probably just walking me home, it’s in that direction.  Ohh, left turn I’ve never seen before, where the heck are we going. 
I enter my principal’s house to find that his wife has been cooking a FEAST!  

Why exactly did we just have a BBQ and drinking party at an old vegetable packing building?  There are dishes upon dishes of delicious food, and the coolers are filled with beer and shochu. 

My night…has yet to start. 
Here he comes, the man himself…Mr. Dangerous Man!  He has been good all night, staying fairly calm at the outdoor BBQ.  Shochu, beer, and more shochu later, he’s yelling at the top of his lungs and going nuts!  Beer on the tatami!?  He doesn’t care.  
Awesome guy who lent me his surfboard and Dangerous Man!

The entire place is filled with the patrons of the other BBQ and people are getting sloshed.  My principal’s wife, who I didn’t get to meet, let alone see for more than 7 minutes, was too busy re-filling plates with freshly made food, re-stocking the beer cooler, and bringing dessert to everyone.  The night finally started slowing down and there were still loads of food on the table.  I excused myself with some others and stumbled home.  Great, I should be able to get a full 3 hours of sleep tonight.

September 13th
I was able to wake up this morning, thank goodness.  Made it to my school and introduced myself to two new classes.  After lunch, the kids invited me to play dodgeball on the field.  I had one girl hiding behind me the entire time and laughing hysterically.  I would catch the ball and try to hand it to her, but she would just laugh and jump while giggling.  One boy, on the other team, kept trying to peg me with the ball.  Let’s just say I wound up a few times and knocked him to the ground…literally.  The kids out here are much more resilient than those in the US.  No complaining over scratched knees, just laughs all around.  I had another boy hanging all over me the next period.  The kid wouldn’t stop hugging me throughout the class.  I now know what it feels like to have a remora on my back (google it if you don’t know).  After classes, I drove to the beach to spearfish and found some fish I have never seen.  They look like blowfish, burying themselves under the sand with only their green/blue eyes protruding.  I poked 3 or 4 of them in the sand to make them move and they were probably 5-7 inches long.  One followed me and tried to eat my foot on multiple occasions.  If no one can figure this out, it’ll probably be my ‘reasonable excuse’ for buying an underwater camera J  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sound of Music - 'Dangerous Man'

September 10th
I got to school and realized I didn’t have to teach until 11:45.  The kids are already practicing for the sports festival on Sunday and looking like they mean business.  As I’m waiting for the class to begin, I hear a teacher next door start to play his guitar.  What song is it?  ‘Country Road’ by Mr. John Denver.  This class full of little 5 and 6 year olds, screaming the lyrics in Japanese, until they sing ‘country road’ in English.   After these kids stop, I hear another classroom full of kids singing something like, ‘HA HA HA, ZERO ZERO ZERO.’  They are chanting back and forth with one another and it’s hypnotic.  I cannot take my eyes and ears away from these two classrooms full of singing kids.  Now, I hear the other class start up again, and they’re singing ‘Do Re Mi’ from The Sound of Music!  When I go over to watch them, all the kids are standing on their desks stomping their feet and jumping from desk to desk.  What the heck is going on here?!  Why don’t I have a videocamera taped to my head at all times?  The kids finish the song and get back to work on the chalkboard as if nothing has happened.  I am definitely in a foreign land.
Two of the younger boys find me in the office, but they’re not allowed inside unless they ask some sort of tongue-twister speech to one of the Japanese teachers.  They keep yelling in the door, ‘See you, bye bye, good job, I’m sorry!’  One of the boys walks into the room and Kyoto-sensei (vice-principal) barks at him.  He runs outside the room, says ‘Sumimasen’ (excuse me/I’m sorry) a few times and then goes through the elaborate process of gaining permission to the room.  Kyoto-sensei doesn’t look to be in a good mood and denies them.  First time I have ever seen a student denied access into the room, it was priceless. 
I found out at about 4pm that Osaki JHS is having a drinking party for me at 7pm.  I’m so glad they tell me these things so early.  One of the math teachers drives me from the school to the restaurant where we dine on sashimi, salad, and tons of meats on a stick.

Mugs of beer are brought in after every 5 minutes or so (all you can drink).  It’s going to be a long night. 

After dinner, 5 insane, male teachers throw me in their car and drive toward Kanoya.  We end up in a place that reminds me of late night Tijuana, with girls in skimpy outfits trying to get you to come into their workplace.  They’re hollering everything in Japanese and the street is littered with boozed up men.  It turns out the girls work for karaoke bars, where you pay an arm and a leg for them to sit next to you while you sing.

They pour you drinks all night long and even take pictures with you as the night goes on.  One of the guys we are with has been insanely drunk all night.  I keep calling him ‘Dangerous Man,’ and he has a laugh attack every time I say it.
This is one dangerous man.

 All night, everyone’s yelling ‘Dangerous Man!!’  Blah blah…fuzzy memories…
Insanely amazing night...

We make it out of the karaoke bar and get some late night food.  I honestly don’t even remember this, but little bits and pieces of the night keep coming to mind.  One thing I recall very well, is that 3 of the 5 guys we’re with, fall asleep at the restaurant.  We call a daiko, they drive me home, everyone is now passed out in the car, and I don’t know if the other guys made it home.

September 11th
I wake up at 9am to my alarm clock and quickly fall back to sleep.  At 10, I hear my doorbell and realize it’s Hamanoue here to pick me up.  This is the cool guy that took me to Cape Sata with his wife.  Yesterday, we texted one another and agreed to go on a motorcycle ride.  I think my alcohol hasn’t turned to blood yet.  I run around the house, not knowing what I’m doing.  Somehow I get dressed, eat a cliff bar, and brush my teeth.  I follow Hamanoue as he rides one of his motorcycles, and find he has his other bike all ready for me to ride back at his place.

We gear up with shin-guards (???) and jackets.  He has full leather boots, shin-guards, motocross chest/shoulder/elbow protectors, and some knuckle-dragging gloves.  Hamanoue rides his 250cc Honda and lets me take his 200cc Suzuki  (it actually brought back memories of riding to Wyoming on my Suzuki).  He asks, ‘Gravel?  Okay?’ and I give him thumbs up.
Hamanoue!!!

We go down the street and turn immediately into some crazy, vine-filled, muddy, gravel-y, spider crawling, 4 foot grass-filled road that I don’t think has been driven on in 30 years.  Halfway though, I run straight through a spider web and look down to see a spider crawling toward my face.  This is one of those palm-sized black and yellow spiders that looks like it’s on a mission to kill and kill fast.  I stop, grab the spider web right above the spider, and fling it away.  Please, please, no more spiders.  30 feet later, I run into another web and the spider either squished against the headlight, or it’s slowly making its way toward me on the bike. 
Getting some more intense rocks up in here

Hamanoue takes me through the jungle and up some crazy steep and twisty mountain roads.  It’s beautiful.  I wish The Dirty Biker was here to see this and ride this.  We find the end of the road and keep going.  The ‘road’ is now gravel, sand, mud, slate, and some water.  We stop our bikes and park our butts on a couple fallen logs.  Hamanoue has brought chicken wings, onigiri, apples, bananas, and jugs of water.  I can do nothing but sit and stare at the surrounding trees, the ocean, and our bikes on the dirt.  Hamanoue starts asking me the difference between river/liver and rice/lice.  Somehow he had more difficulty with river/liver than he did with the lice one. 
I’m in Japan.
Little waterfall along the way.  Hamanoue hiding behind the bushes.

We only backtrack on about 40 feet of road this whole time, as he takes me completely around the mountain.  Traffic ahead, guys in orange jumpsuits, and a huge truck that is hauling a GINORMOUS windmill blade through this ½ lane, windy, mountain road.
This is only 1/8th of the windmill blade

Upon getting to the bottom of the mountain, we run through a checkpoint where the man tells us we weren’t supposed to be up there.  Hamanoue explains our route and the guy just lets us through, but warns not to come back. 
Back to Hamanoue’s place, tons of liquids, shrimp-crackers, and some major league Japanese baseball on TV.  He falls asleep so I leave a note and head home.
Thinking I was going to fall asleep at home, I decide, instead, to buy a ‘Hawaiian-sling’ and do some spearfishing.  Their spears out here are made from bamboo and I don’t know if this thing is going to work.  On the way, I spot a couple awesome looking motorcycles with packs strung over the back.  I pull up to take some pictures but find that the owners are there.  It's a couple guys, probably early 20s, from Osaka.  They have ridden for the last 10 days and are on their final stretch home.  We talked a bit about older bikes and the one kids has great English.  I'm kicking myself for not getting their info.
Jealousy has officially introduced itself


 I head out to my normal surf spot and do some diving.  Clear, blue, tons of cool fish, but nothing big enough to go for.  Still, this was perfect.  Did I just do all of that in one day?

Tom Cruise

September 8th
I had some awesome classes today.  In the morning, I was introduced to the entire school and a student who had won an English contest a year ago, gave a short speech in Japanese and English for me.  These kids are so professional, it scares me.  My first class, while giving my introduction, we found out a student and I share the same birthday, and he’s exactly half my age.  We’re buddies already.  More Evangelion fans, more handshakes and screaming, my eardrums are blown…blah blah blah.  My second and last class at this school only had 3 students.  While talking about my work on the ranch, one of the students became particularly interested and finally explained that his family owns a farm with cows.  He helps out in the morning, before school, and after he gets back from sports practice.  This kid is amazing, won’t stop working all day.  My JTE at this school knows a lot of English and can translate nearly everything I say.  It came in handy when pronouncing my last name and sister’s name.  We also told them what the names translate to from Greek.  There is now a class of 15 students that has my sister’s name written in their journals.  That, is unique.
I am now called ‘The Sportsman’ by one of the assistant teachers because of all the water activities I taught in Mission Bay.  It’s slowly spreading to the other teachers, and I can only pray that the Johnny Depp and Sportsman nicknames merge someday.  At lunch, we had eel over a bed of rice, miso soup, and cucumber salad with those little fish again.  The students took so long to prepare all the dishes, that they only had 8 minutes to finish everything.  I haven’t eaten that fast EVER.  My stomach was hurting, but I still managed to eat a half bag of orange slices my grandma and grandpa sent me.  Really, I’m going to gain 10 pounds this month. 
I headed to Mochidome Elementary after lunch and had to wait 2 hours until my one and only class at this school.  Sleep…was…all…..I………wanted.  When driving into the school, kids were practicing riding their unicycles.  Two of them fell while trying to stare and me and cycle at the same time.  I helped sweep the school floors with the kids when it was cleaning time, and made friends with a tiny little 1st grade girl.  The broom stick was nearly double her height.  But we laughed and had a fun time sweeping down the hallways.  My one and only class was so cool.  The teacher barely spoke English, so I had the chance to do tons of animal imitations and overly expressive gestures.  The kids loved it, but couldn’t get enough of the pictures from back home.  They love the bear, motorcycles, and cowboy stuff.  I got home with the intention of updating this blog with pictures, but I relaxed and watched Ocean’s Thirteen during dinner.  I’m going to post this, but add pictures later.  Sorry!  I’m beat and have a pretty full day tomorrow.  Thanks again to everyone who sent me birthday wishes and made my day so great yesterday.  I couldn’t have asked for more!

September 9th
Today we had a morning meeting at work, which I didn’t understand at all.  My first class was with 2 special education students and they LOVED the pictures of the bear in our backyard.  They also went crazy when they found out I liked to fish.  I hung out in the office for a couple hours until my next class and it turns out we were just going to play games all period.  I had lunch with the same class and a fight broke out between two boys.  The male teacher just sat there while the two were wailing on each other.  Once they finally stopped, the teacher got up and sat between the two without saying a word.  I still don’t understand what their mentality is in this situation. 
I left after lunch for my next school.  Finally got called Tom Cruise.  I’ve been waiting for that one.  I have yet to meet anyone at this school that can speak a complete English sentence.  The teacher was hilarious, trying to translate, but the kids loved the pictures and I finally found a student that loves to surf.  She asked 3 different questions about where I surf, so I’m guessing I might be seeing her at my spot.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Exploding ice cream attack!


September 7th
It’s my birthday yo!  I woke up and forgot I was supposed to be at my school 30 mins early for a whole school introduction.  It’s okay, I made it 10 mins before it was my turn.  The students were super genki (high spiritied) today and smiled/giggled throughout my introduction.  I only had 2 classes and after introducing myself in each class, the teacher sent me back to my office desk.  What are they paying me for? 
The entire school is excited for this weekend, which is their sports festival.  All day the kids were practicing running, jump-rope, and walking across a ‘bridge’ of their classmates’ backs.  They kept asking me to do stuff, so I showed them how to do handstand pushups and a breakdancing six-step.  I now have a following of little Japanese boys and girls that want to do handstands and breakdance. 
I made friends with another group of kids, after explaining that I liked the Japanese anime (animation) called Neon Genesis Evangelion.  They literally FREAKED out and started shaking my hand while naming characters from the show.  When I said I liked the character Shinji, they started yelling to their friends “Shinji!!! Shinji!!! EVANGELION!!!!!” 
This is Shinji.  EVA in background.

Hahaha, oh my goodness, this is just getting better and better.  One of the boys had wonderful English and introduced himself as Akira.  He came up to me at least 20 times throughout the day to say hello and shake my hand. 
I got to watch the kids practice folk dancing, to music that I remember from the 2nd grade.  My kocho made me wear a hat, since everyone else had a hat, but mine was yellow with some Japanese on it that I didn’t understand.  It probably said something like, ‘Look, I’m a foreigner wearing a yellow hat.’  Anyway, I was the only one wearing a colored hat.
"Look, I'm a foreigner wearing a yellow hat!"

My kocho then invited me to lunch in his office, on the day of the sports festival, and then to his home afterward to eat food his wife is preparing.  He was also very clear on explaining that there would be a lot of drinking.  Mind you, this event is taking place on a Sunday and we have school the next morning.  What the heck is going on here!?
Throughout the day, I had kids stopping me to say ‘Happy Birthday!’ and then run off in giggles before I could even thank them.  The volleyball girls have accepted me as a good friend already, having met them on numerous occasions at my BOE and when first seeing the schools.  They asked if I would sit with them at lunch, but my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) had already set me up with another classroom full of kids. 
After school, I went to the BOE and found I had 3 packages delivered to my desk.  Went to the AU store because my phone wouldn’t send or receive e-mails anymore, and got it all fixed.  Finally got to Skype with Kalika and John while opening presents and kept them up for way too long.  While I was taking them on a home tour, my good friend Tomomi came over with her kids.  They made me paper flowers, drew pictures in a birthday card, and bought me two slices of some delicious cake.  That family, my family, is too good to me.  I got some great new shoes, shirts, tons of candy, and shortbread cookies from my sister, John, and my grandparents.  It’s not even Christmas, and I have a full tin of shortbread cookies.  If you haven’t ever had one, beware, they will be everything you look forward to at Christmas (minus family and friends of course).  Thanks grandma!
Kyle and Mary Margaret picked me up, we picked up Becca, and partied at Kyle’s for the night.  Cassie and Topher even joined, bringing me cookies and some more Pino!  I’m going to OD on sugar.  They even made me two posters for my birthday, which I’m going to have to take pictures of to show.  These friends of mine…they’re truly great.  What a great birthday!
Engrish at its best
So many inside stories, I wouldn't have time to write about them



September 8th
I had some awesome classes today.  In the morning, I was introduced to the entire school and a student who had won an English contest a year ago, gave a short speech in Japanese and English to me.  These kids are so professional, it scares me.  My first class, while giving my introduction, we found out a student and I share the same birthday, and he’s exactly half my age.  We’re buddies already.  More Evangelion fans, more handshakes and screaming, my eardrums are blown…blah blah blah.  My second and last class at this school only had 3 students.  While talking about my work on the ranch, one of the students became particularly interested and finally explained that his family owns a farm with cows.  He helps out in the morning, before school, and after he gets back from sports practice.  This kid is amazing, won’t stop working all day.  My JTE at this school knows a lot of English and can translate nearly everything I say.  It came in handy when pronouncing my last name and sister’s name.  We also told them what the names translate to from Greek.  There is now a class of 15 students that has my sister’s name written in their journals.  That, is unique.
I am now called ‘The Sportsman’ by one of the assistant teachers because of all the water activities I taught in Mission Bay.  It’s slowly spreading to the other teachers, and I can only pray that the Johnny Depp and Sportsman nicknames merge someday.  At lunch, we had eel over a bed of rice, miso soup, and cucumber salad with those little fish again.  The students took so long to prepare all the dishes, that they only had 8 minutes to finish everything.  I haven’t eaten that fast EVER.  My stomach was hurting, but I still managed to eat a half bag of orange slices my grandma and grandpa sent me.  Really, I’m going to gain 10 pounds this month. 
I headed to Mochidome Elementary after lunch and had to wait 2 hours until my one and only class at this school.  Sleep…was…all…..I………wanted.  When driving into the school, kids were practicing riding their unicycles.  Two of them fell while trying to stare and me and cycle at the same time.  I helped sweep the school floors with the kids when it was cleaning time, and made friends with a tiny little 1st grade girl.  The broom stick was nearly double her height.  But we laughed and had a fun time sweeping down the hallways.  My one and only class was so cool.  The teacher barely spoke English, so I had the chance to do tons of animal imitations and overly expressive gestures.  The kids loved it, but couldn’t get enough of the pictures from back home.  They love the bear, motorcycles, and cowboy stuff.  I got home with the intention of updating this blog with pictures, but I relaxed and watched Ocean’s Thirteen during dinner.  I’m going to post this, but add pictures later.  Sorry!  I’m beat and have a pretty full day tomorrow.  Thanks again to everyone who sent me birthday wishes and made my day so great yesterday.  I couldn’t have asked for more!

September 4th-6th

September 4th
Today, I did as little as I felt.  I woke up around 10am and took my time making breakfast.  Drove out to look for a good fishing spot, and caught some crabs for bait.  Fished for a bit, but the waves were huge and it was tough casting out.  I went home and literally became a vegetable.  Watched movies, ate some food, and then fell asleep early.  Today was a great day.
September 5th
Today, I met up with Kyle, Mary Margaret, Cassie, Becca, and Neko to join a sailing regatta.  We got to the clam of Kagoshima City (the bay area) and were assigned to different boats.  I was Michael Peachy for the day (since I actually hadn’t signed up, but Ayumi let me take the place of someone who was a no-show).  I was on the same yacht as Chelsea, and we had a great time.
Chelsea and an island

Our crew, I think, was the only without PFDs on, the only ones to run aground, and we also started our drinking 4 minutes into the race.  Epic.  After telling them that I had taught some hobie cat sailing, they let me raise the mast and then captain the yacht around a few islands.





I was sailing a yacht... in Japan...around islands.





We later stopped on one of the islands and had a BBQ.  We went swimming and I saw my favorite fish ever!!! The jawfish!!!  I even got to see one protecting a shrimp while it was digging it’s hole.  I was stoked and didn’t want to leave.  But, now I’m even more excited to go snorkeling/diving around Japan.
BBQ on the island with our crew


After finishing the race, the crew gave me a bottle of wine and their business cards so we can go sea kayaking in the future.  These people are awesome.  Have I told you that I love Japan? 
After the race, we went to an A-Z, which is a Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Ralphs, and car dealership in the same place.  They literally had beer, bread, veggies, power tools, school supplies, and a car showroom.  I’ve never seen anything quite like this before and I have a feeling I’ll be taking some weekend trips just to look around. 
When we got back to Shibushi, we went to a cool little place that serves okonomiyaki.  We have been there a couple times and the guys that work there are awesome.  Tonight, though, our server took our picture and put us in his digital picture frame.  We are the first customers they have put in their picture frame.  I think that means they like us, especially when we get 5 different items in one okonomiyaki.  We were being especially funny that night, creating some new Japanese-based terms.  We ARE gaijin perimeter.
Kyle, Becca, Mary Margaret, Me, and Cassie.  Nationalities unite!


September 6th
My first day at my ‘base school,’ Osaki Junior High.  The school has about 370 students, the most of any other schools in Osaki, but they still seem so small.  It amazes me that there are so few students but the schools are built for many more.  It all boils down to the population decreasing in this town, with fewer babies born here and more people moving to urban areas.  Honestly, it’s hard to find anyone my age (outside of other JETs) in this place. 
The day was slow.  In the morning, my brain was drifting in and out of sleep because they literally wouldn’t give me anything to do.  Seriously, I’m asking them if I can clean or help with anything, but they just tell me to ‘relax.’  I will literally fall asleep if I have to sit at a desk for an hour.  Luckily, our tea lady (who makes tea for all the teachers throughout the day) came in with a huge smile and tried out her English on me.  Be both spoke broken languages to one another and drank tea.  My kocho came in and asked to have an interview with me.  Just basic questions of ‘What are your hobbies, what was your university degree for, what do you think of Osaki, do you have a girlfriend, are you married?…’ you know, the usual.  He then took my picture, hopefully not for some single gaijin classified ad, and sent me back to my desk.  I have lunch with some of the students who don’t want to speak ANY English, so of course I start chatting away and making it really uncomfortable.  As it usually goes, something sparks their interest, and they being to ask more and more questions.  Today’s topic, if I recall, spawned after asking about fishing.  The boys lit up and started machine-gunning me with Japanese, while showing me with their hands, the size of the fish they catch.  We all cleaned our plates and brushed our teeth before the next class began.  It almost feels like college dorms again. 
After lunch, I headed to my BOE because they said I had a big meeting with some important people.  I arrived to have a meeting with our town’s Rotary Club.  They are hosting a party/event/sleep-over for me in some cottage.  Not exactly sure what’s going on, but the translator said ‘food, beer, shochu,’ and gave me a thumbs up.  Sure, why the heck not? 
After work, I headed to a Lawson conbini (convenient store almost like 7-11s, which they actually have out here) and paid for my plane ticket to Amami!  Erin said I could stay with her for a couple days, so I plan on doing some snorkeling, island hopping, and of course habu-alcohol drinking.  Her island has the famous habu snake, which is crazy-poisonous, but they put them in bottles of alcohol and sell it.  Her Board of Education also hosts habu/mongoose fights.  They de-fang the snakes and the mongoose pretty much dominates the event.
I did not take this picture...

I’m just excited to travel a bit.  Kyle is planning on visiting Erin during Silver Week too, but I don’t know if our dates are going to overlap at all.
I went to taiko practice tonight, expecting the ‘surprise’ party from the crazy girl I met last week, but she was a no show.  It was actually a good thing, because they let me play a very complicated song with them.  I just realized that I can read drum music!
 Thanks to those years of trumpet playing.  We had a great time reading the sheet music and playing sections of the song, but only made it through one page of 4 in two hours.  If we get this down, it’s going to sound awesome!
Hand-written music sheet for Taiko

I got home and Mary Margaret was awesome, coming over to my house super late to wish me a happy birthday and give me one of the best presents ever…4 boxes of Pino ice cream.  I can literally eat all these in one sitting, but somehow am able to reserve a little self-constraint.  

Friday, September 3, 2010

September 2nd-3rd

September 2nd
Where to start?  My first day of teaching took place at Hishida JHS that has a student population of 82.  My morning starts with introductions to the rest of the staff, meeting my Kocho and Kyoto.  My Kyoto actually introduced himself as “Kyoto” instead of telling me his name.  Priceless.  The rest of the staff introduced themselves with simple English and then I gave a brief introduction.  After all was done, a teacher came in late and walked right into me saying, ‘Nice to meet you!  Nice guy!!!’  The entire staff and I howled with laughter, because she literally said this in .08 seconds.  I only taught two classes today, but they were great.  The kids were very well-behaved, asking many questions, trying to figure out my romance situation.  One of the students began asking some personal questions, so I told him we would talk later.  He then attempted to put his arm around me and ask if I liked boys.  Oh man, this is going to be a fun year!
The rest of the day, I had students coming up to me, shaking my hand and saying ‘Johnny Depp,’ ‘Leonardo DiCaprio.’  I’m THAT huge in Japan. 
Ohhhh....now I see it.

I had started practicing some hiragana at the end of lunch, when students started to clean the room.  When I saw them enter, I asked to help out.  The same student that asked if I liked boys comes over to me, looks at my writing and tells me, ‘Ganbatte kudasai.’   Student: 1 Gaijin: 0 
The night ended over at Kyle’s house with Mary Margaret, Cassie, Becca, Kat, Topher, Neko, and a deceased Bojangles in a bag of Skittles (don’t ask…or at least ask later). 
This is Neko...'my' new dog :)  Thanks Cassie!

We had an awesome chili dinner with SHREDDED CHEESE, hotdogs on a stick, and toast.  I love these people, they keep me sane (insane too). 

September 3rd
Today was insane.  I taught at Nakaoki Elementary in four classes. 

The first class was all giggles, shy faces, and very brief introductions.  We went over ‘Things I like,’ that included swimming, apples, ice cream, and bananas.  The teacher spoke moderate English, so all went well.  The second class was with a male teacher who didn’t teach a thing.  We simply had the students gather around and look at pictures of my family, friends, and places I have visited back home.  ‘Sugoi!’ was all I heard most of the period.  My third class was just great and asked tons of questions.  They asked about my Japanese grandmother, bears in California, if I like natto, and what sports I like.  My last class was very shy, and asked few questions.  We sang ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,’ and I drilled them on animals.  Hippopotamus was the winner, making each kid laugh.  After that, I had 2 hours to kill, so I went and played with the kids during their PE period.  I walked on stilts with them and taught them how to say ‘Butterfly.’  All the other teachers were impressed and asked if we had stilts back in the states.  I told them no, but we all have mandatory pole vaulting classes in high school.  Again, smiles and nodding heads.  Just kidding.  One of the little girls came up to me and handed me a 4 leaf clover.  Not only that, but she is the tiniest girl in her class with the biggest chubby cheeks.  Ah, my heart won’t stop melting out here. 
I had lunch with my third class today.  We walked down to the ‘cafeteria’ and each student helped carry food, trays, silverware, etc. back to the classroom.  They were dressed in their chef attire, with matching mouth guards.  Getting back to class, the kids were like a kitchen line, filling soup bowls, setting trays, making sure everyone had something to eat. 

Then we all wait until everyone is ready, put our hands together in prayer form, and say ‘Itedakimasu.’  Now, it’s okay to eat. 

We spoke broken Ja-pan-english and I loved every second of it.  The kids even took my empty plates and washed them for me.  It was so nice, I was compelled to leave a tip.  But guess what, it’s Japan, and they don’t tip.  So I just continued to shower them with smiles. Another thing that took me by surprise was that each class had a student carry my computer bag and poster to the next classroom for me.  I literally had a student servant carrying my things to each new class.  I felt horrible.  These kids are in elementary school.  They served my food, cleaned my plates, and then carried my crap around the school.  I….just….don’t know what to say anymore. 
I love Japan.