Natalie Goes to Japan

40 year old very married blonde woman having a midlife crisis who heads to Japan alone to follow her dreams. Be careful what you wish for ... you just may get it.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Full of Life

Ah, the tropics. It's full of life. Black butterflies floating everywhere. Lizards scampering, crabs poking in and out of their holes, mosquitoes drinking my blood, birds begging at the tables, fish darting around my legs. It's wonderful. And the highlight are the resident semi wild monkeys. They will just wander in to the beach area and hang out by the soccer nets, have their pictures taken accept a few bananas and then leave. I never had my camera with me at those times, of course.

I started out the day eating at the morning buffet with all the Japanese tourists. We come from a time zone two hours ahead so we were the first ones there. After breakfast I headed down to the beach. There are only limited times when you can swim due to the tides, so I took advantage of the first opportunity. Of course I forgot my suntan lotion and had to spend $10 at the hotel to buy a bottle. Turns out it's suntan oil. Yuck. It worked okay, but I still got pink. Swam and lazed on a beach chair and read my book. Came back up the cliff to my room, took a nice bath and headed back to the beach for my scheduled Thai massage. Lying amonst the palm trees, on a blanket on the grass getting worked over by a bussinesslike Thai woman is just about heaven. You could hear the surf and the children playing and the sounds of the birds and monkeys was awesome while a gentle breeze keeps the heat from being oppressive. Afterwards I ate lunch at the beach hut. Terrible pizza, awesome blue tropical drink. Went back to the room and read and took a nap. Then in the early evening caught the shuttle to Patong Beach. That's the beach you saw in all those incredible videos of the Tsunami. The only signs that anything has happened down there is that all the trees on the beach are young and have framework to hold them up. Otherwise it is back to being the sleezy, tourist trap it is famous for being. A nice British couple invited me to hang out with them for awhile. We walked around for a long time, being harrassed by every tuk-tuk driver, sidewalk salesman and go-go dance bar carney. We ate dinner at some scuzzy outdoor restaurant where the food was delicious. Unfortunately I was so hot I drank more soda than ate food. After dinner I set the sweet couple free of their duty of watching after me and headed for the shops. Haggling is standard here. And I'm not a good haggler. But I did it fair enough. Basically I set my standard at 250 Baht (thats about $7.50). I got a lamp, a skirt, a shirt, thongs, and a sarong all at 250 Baht each. By that time it was 11:30 and time to catch the shuttle back to the hotel. I really could have used a drink before taking that journey again. It's very hair raising. There is this mountain in the middle of the island and the road that goes up it is scarier than any roller coaster I have ever ridden. There are places where the grade has to be 25 percent, and a zig zaggy four lane road with 6 lanes of traffic vying for the best spots. It's absolutely crazy. But I survived and got back to my pretty little room. Oh, I forgot to tell you about the hotel. The public areas have no walls. Yep, no walls. It's the most luxourious bamboo hut complex you've ever seen. Really!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Thailand Airlines

As I spent sixteen hours traveling, all I can really do is post a review of Thailand Airlines. The airline attendants are very attractive and wear the coolest outfits and gave fabulous service! The planes were acceptably clean and the food was okay. The second plane wasn't as clean and left half an hour late. But my biggest problem with both planes was the entertainment options. They sucked. They picked interesting enough movies to show, but as they didn't have the inbedded tv's in the seat in front of you, you didn't really get any options. The screens were horrible, the sound was horrible and the pictures were all fuzzy. And as I was on their airplanes for 8 hours it would have been nice to have decent entertainment. But enough bitching. They do give you a lovely posey of orchids that I attached to my backback. Bangkok airport is a pit. But it was warm! (Hamamatsu was just above freezing when I left). And the Phuket Airport arranged to have the most beautiful pink sunset over the ocean for us as we landed. I found my shuttle quickly. And the hotel is amazing. But that's for another post.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's Heeeeeerrrrrreeee!

Finally. The Cherry Blossoms have arrived in Hamamatsu. Just in time for me to leave the country for most of it. The Japanese are obsessed with cherry blossoms. This is their Christmas. Everybody is giddy with joy. And in 24 hours I will be on my way to Thailand. Just my luck.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Few Tokens

I recieved a few tokens of affection over the last week, with the end of classes. You can never predict who will be the present bearers, either. I mainly recieved food and cards. And quite a few handmade pictures from the little ones. The flowers above (and aren't these just the cutest little flowers ever?) are from Reno and her mom. Reno is funny. She's a quiet little girl, but she gets so excited when we get to "ABC Time". She can't stay still. She jumps up and down and gallops up to the board. I always have to send her right back to Mom, but she stays standing and watches every move I make. But she's in the Saturday class and they are bigger and more uncontrollable and I didn't get to spend much time with her. The hanky that I'm using as a backdrop for the flowers is from Tomoka. Perfectly lovable child. But she is in the same class and I have no bond with her whatsoever. Unfortunately in that class you have to be exceptionally bright (like Reno) to be noticed over all the unruly ones. So I think it's really sweet that I got a gift from her mom. And really I should be getting some gifts from the moms of kids whose kids don't behave. But, like I said, there's no predicting.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Critical Mass

My classes run between 10 to 15 students in each class. And my teaching methods and lesson plans are based on that. So when only 4 students show up, it really throws me off. Like today. All the schools have let out for about 2 weeks for vacation between the academic years. And as you can guess, attendance has been down a little this week. But today was just crazy. Playing Bingo with 4 students just isn't nearly as much fun and playing with 12. There truly is critical mass, and we didn't reach it. I think we did pretty well, considering the energy level started out dangerously low. But it still would have been better if we had more students.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Taken by Surprise

This week has definately been bittersweet. These are the final classes with a huge number of my students, but we have had a pretty good time on this final day. But saying "Sayonara" to so many cute, smart kids was hard. And Friday classes are my favorites. So having final class with my first 3 classes was a bit melancholy. But I was completely taken by surprise, when at the end of my Smart-As-Whips 4 and 5 year old class I was completely devasted to sing the lousy "Goodbye Song". I was crying. I was trying very hard not to let the kids see, but I failed. And I cried. I'm still a little shocked by how hard I'm taking it. I have to give you the rundown of these gems of students. Syuntaro is an absolute clown. Mai is very proper. Hana is leader of the pack, with a very generous personality and doesn't like to see anyone left out. Maika is a girly-girl who is really advanced in her art skills and creativity. Hiroya will be back (yipee) and if full of beans. Kodai was the first student I ever had serious problems with. My test case, so to speak. I remember he was acting like a maniac and pushed my last button and I grabbed him up and walked into the hall with him. I remember giving him a lecture, which of course he couldn't understand. But he understood that if he didn't behave I was taking him to "Mama". He has been an angel ever since. Akari is energetic and willing to try anything. Kaiyuu has his days and can completely freak out, or get down to business. And Kimika will be back next year. She's currently the class baby. Cries easily, but laughs just as easily. But I expect her to move into a leadership position soon. This class breaks into song and makes up their own games and constantly amazes me with their sweetness. Gee, can you tell I'll miss them?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Best and Worst

This is Shintaro and Risa. I love them both. They stay after class and help me clean up and carry all my stuff downstairs for me. And that's saying something. I have to carry everything from classroom to classroom. So sometimes my bag ways a ton. Shintaro is very possibly the best student in the class, but it's hard to say cuz he's so quiet. And he's absurdley sensitive. I've made him cry more times than I can remember. And half the time I don't even know why. But when he comes to class early, we have something fairly close to conversations. Then there is Risa. She doesn't even know most of her abc's. During ABC Bingo today she was comepletely lost. But she keeps plugging away at it and enjoys herself anyway. And if you wanted to make a girly elfish cartoon character that didn't speak but made lots of cute noises to communicate you would want to use Risa. I swear we have the conversations made up of little burbles and chirps and twitters from her and I respond in comeplete English sentences. But somehow we get things done and information communicated. I hope they are back next term. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Dimbulb Graduation

Okay, most of them don't actually graduate. A great deal of them are signed up for next year's class. But I gave them all certificates anyway. I know I call them dimbulbs, but that has become a term of endearment. They are very sweet. Let me give you a rundown. Mineyoshi is definately the class clown and he enjoys making Ryouna squeal. Yuuma helps keep the others in line as a good example. Tomoya is new this term and is not a dimbulb and a snappy dresser. Wateru claims to be only 3 years old and stands about 6 inches taller than everyone else (excluding me of course). Souki only just turned 4 a month ago, but knows all his abc's and corresponding words. I can always count on Souki to be the first, he figures things out pretty fast. Taiga has also just turned 4 and is quiet, but happy to be there. Ayane is the twin of Yuma we have already discussed and is a good girl. Yuuma is new, and overly sensitive. He'll cry at the first frustration. Ryouna is in love with me. And then there is Shintaro. He has the squeakiest, raspiest voice that ever came out of a 4 year old. He sounds like Mickey Mouse with laryngitis. And is completely unable to color with any crayon but red. I really enjoyed spending time with them, and getting to know them. They were unbelievably delighted with the balloons. I just hope they learned a little something in the class, but mainly I hope they had a good time.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Crushed Ego

Dateline Today - Rinako invited me to go along with her and some friends to go ice skating. I haven't been ice skating since college. I thought it would take me awhile to get used to it again, but boy was I in for a big shock. They didn't have the right size skates so I chose to go with the slightly smaller size. I put them on and they seemed okay. But I was so surprised by how week my ankles were. I could barely walk in the skates. And getting my balance on the ice was nearly impossible. I know I'm getting older and all, but I was quite crushed by how horrible I was. So I stumbled, and slid and looked alot like a baby giraffe trying to stand for the first time. It was horrible. After half an hour the zamboni came out, and everyone had to clear the ice. I went back to the skate desk to see if they had any of the right size yet. They did. But I wasn't expecting my skating to miraculously change. But it did. I got back out on the ice and was swooshing by people and it was wonderful. I'm still much better on roller skates, but at least I got my confidence and my ego back. But my ankles could only take about 2 hours total. And I bet tomorrow I am unable to walk. But who cares, my ego was salvaged.

Talking Trash

Today the only reason I left my house was to take out the trash. Dealing with trash is a big deal in Japan. They pick up burnables here twice a week. They pick up pastic packaging once a week. And they pick up recyclables (glass, metal, and pet bottles) and non-burnables alternatingly every two week. I don't allow myself to eat breakfast until I have dealt with the garbage. It's too important to forget. There is a collection site on just about every block. Ours is one of the nicer looking collection sites (if that's possible).

Creative Genius

Dateline Sunday - Yukia and Shosei took me to Acti Mori for some pottery fun. Mori is a city not too far away, and Acti Mori is half park/half cultural center. You can make paper, dye material, make soba, ride bikes, picknic, etc. We chose to make pots. They showed us a little video, reinterated some important rules (not that I could understand them), set us down at a table, brought us a slab of clay and let us at it. We all took it very seriously, but we had a lot of fun too. An hour or so later we all three had completed some sort of vessel. Shosei created a tall cup, Yukia had made a large shallow bowl, and I had created a vase. Next week I figure I'll end up with some more flowers and thought that might come in handy. One problem. They won't be ready for two months. Now I knew that they wouldn't be ready at the end of the day or anything, but two months. Guess I'll just have to buy a couple of vases at the hyaku yen.

Bigtime Relief

Dateline Saturday - So, I had been really upset with Mr. M. for adding two more English First classes. Especially because he never asked my opinion. I was also getting pretty ticked cuz I didn't know what the schedule would be like for next term, and it starts in only two weeks. Well, he finally called me. The two extra classes didn't get enough students so they are cancelled. Yeah! Also, the hideous Thursday afternoon in the uncontrollable room English First class is also cancelled. And the Pulstec conversation classes are going from 2 hours to one hour. So instead of having 20 classes like last year I have 18 classes. Now, I realize that's not good for business. But Mr. Bumblehead never asked me what I wanted. And I'm not opposed to teaching more classes. Just not EF classes and definately not in the uncontrollable room. The mothers are complaining that I don't have any kindergarden classes. They are also upset because my only two 4 & 5 year old classes start at 4 or later. I would have been glad to add classes like that. But he never asked me.

Play-Doh is a Godsend

Dateline Friday - This week's lesson plan was to use the wonder that is Play-Doh again. This time I bought cookie cutters in the shapes of numbers. And as this was the day we completed 10 it was a great way to review the numbers. But it's absolutely amazing how Play-Doh will keep their attention longer than anything else I have tried.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

No Cafe?

I got Mr. M. to take me to the doctor today. My tonsils are swollen and I had a slight fever. And I freaked. I just couldn't go through that all again. So the doctor told me that the antibiotics I'm taking can't be taken with c-a-f-e. Huh? I can't take them while sitting at a cafe? No problem, I wasn't planning on going to any cafes anyway. No don't take c-a-f-e with these pills. Coffee? No prob. I don't drink coffee. No, she writes it down. Ca and Fe. Oh, calcium and Iron. So no vitamins. No vitamins okay. Just one hour after you have taken the pills. So don't take the antibiotics and vitamins at the same time? Ding ding ding, we have a winner.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Amish Hair

Can't say that I really want Amish Hair, but I guess there must be a market for it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Free and Freaky Freeze

Remember when I was talking about Spring. Huh. It snowed today. It didn't stick or anything, but it is so cold. And since I no longer have Sony class on Tuesdays, I had the evening free. Too bad I've gone back into hibernation.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Other Side of the Mountain

Oh, it was a really sunny day today and I wanted to go exploring sooo bad. However, the wind was gale force and the temperature was cold. The two together made exploring out of the question. But I had to get out of the apartment. So I returned to Hamakita Forest Park. And this time I tried new trails on the other side of the mountain. I wandered around for several hours. I really enjoyed the feeling of sun on my face. And down in the ravines I was cut off from the wild winds. There were other times I was blinded by my own hair whipping around, but that was rare. Good excersize and good mind clearing. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lead Clapper

I went to Rinako's daughter's ballet performace today. It was a pretty big affair. The school is pretty large and has all levels of talent. They actually performed on the main stage at the Act Tower stage. This theatre seats over 1000. It wasn't packed, but it was pretty full. I'm pretty sure the male dancers were professionals or semi-pros hired for this gig. And the dance instructors all performed. They had really great costumes and it was a respectable performance. Unfortunately they did a lot of stuff from the Nutcracker which I abhor. And the girl who played Clara was more wooden than the nutcracker she danced with. But they also did pieces from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. My favorite parts though were with the littlest kids. Yeah, they are cute, but they were also enjoying themselves. Everybody else on that stage looked like they were performing with a gun to their head. And the audience was very unschooled. They never knew when to clap, and it was getting pretty awkward. So I took it upon myself to be the Head Clapper and start the clapping at the appropriate places. Unfortunately the director had practiced all the performers to take three bows, and this audience didn't have the energy for that length of applause. And well, it wasn't THAT good. Rinako asked me what I thought. I said it was interesting. She saw right through that dodge.

Goodbye Sony

Tuesday was my the last Sony class. I had them do one last writing assignment and then we had a party. They all brought food and drinks. And it looks like they bought everything the canteen had to offer. Of course there was way too much food. But it was sweet. They also gave me a bouquet of flowers. How nice is that? We then just had conversation for the last hour of class. The class originally had 15 people signed up. By the time I got the class only about 10 people were showing up. And by the end of the year it was down to a core of 5 people with the occasional drop in. I think I learned as much as they did. And I'll miss them, they were a good group of folks. Goodbye Sony.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

I'm not taking Salsa next term. It's just really incovenient. It's on Saturday night for one thing. It's the last day of my work week and I tend to be pretty tired. It starts an hour after my last class, which means I don't really have enough time to go home and relax and yet too much time to kill before class. I also got bored with it. I still enjoy the first part which consists of stretching and dance warmups. Then she teaches some new steps. Then comes the part that I find a drag. We add the new steps to the old routine. Some of it I just never "got". And I just get bored and tired. So I tend to leave early. I paid for the class, I can do what I want right? And I have skipped a few classes. Tonight I didn't have the last private lesson, which allowed me to come home for dinner and a little down-time. But I still left early. My legs were really tired. But I have another little problem. I woke up the other morning with a bad neck and back. It's been very slowly getting better. But right before class I noticed one shoulder is about 2 inches higher than the other. I showed it to Magda and she really freaked. She pays alot of attention to my posture...always making me stand straight and putting my shoulders back, even when we are not in class. But when I started getting twinges I decided I had stayed long enough. Excuses, excuses!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Bunny Tails

This weeks project was this dopey little worksheet I came up with. I took a clipart bunny I found on the web and put him on the sheet nine times (this week's number was nine). I put the workseet on the board and counted the bunnies. Then I pointed out the ears and pointed to my ears. I did the same thing for eye, nose, mouth and foot. Then I pointed to the bunny's tail and go to point to my tail. I turn in circles looking over my shoulder trying to find my tail. The children all scream "No", cuz I ain't got a tail, see (I possibly have a demon tail, but I keep it well hidden). Then I glue some cotton on the place where the bunny's tail is. I repeat it for all the little bunnies, too. Then I hand out supplies and sit back and let the mother's do the work. Not only do I get to go "off stage" for a few minutes, I really enjoy watching the kids concentrate on this project we find extremely simple and a little dull. They are so proud afterwards. They all bring the finished product to me (unbidden) and show me their achievements. The picture above is of Yumarou. When his mom asked him who he wanted to invite to his birthday party, the first person he said was "Natalie Sensei". I'm not sure I want to spend one of my precious Sundays at a kid's birthday party - I spend all week with these guys - but I'm not sure I have the strength to look into his eyes and say "No". Yikes.

Skyland Ruination

Thursdays are always kinda hard on me, but I had Skyland Classes to look forward to at night. I now find Skyland a drag. It's an hour and half class. I used to work it like this: half an hour asking each of them what they did on their weekend. The next half hour we spent working out of the book. And the last half hour I usually had them play a game. But now every other week (like yesterday) I'm just teaching for an hour and a half out of the book. And the other week I work 2 and 1/4 hours doing conversation. Mr. M. had us change books. Which means we are starting all over again. "Hi, my name is Natalie, I'm from America" sorta garbage. And we did each and every stupid little exercise. That's what they get for talking to Mr. M. and not me. And then this book comes with a cassette instead of a CD. And that means if you want to play a segment over again you have to guess as you rewind. And then I had trouble figuring out their cassette player. I gave up and started reading the scripts myself, but that is sort of stupid. The idea of the cassette is to listen to many different accents and voices. And what makes me really ticked is that I had no say in it. I'm just told about these changes. Grrrrrmpppphhh.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

One, Two, Free, Whore

This term I have been teaching all my little darlings to count in English as we have finished up the alphabet. But as simple as that might sound and seeing as I focus on only one number each class, you would think it is going swimmingly. But it is amazing that already by two or three most of the children have already picked up the Japanese traits of confusing F and H, having trouble with "Th", changing V to B, adding a vowel to the word, etc. We are only to eight, but this is how they count

H or Eighto

as you can see they only get the first two right, and from there it is a comedy of errors. Then there is Yuzuki, a new little 2 year old girl to my class who has an amazing ear and ability to parrot. She can repeat an entire sentence back to me, exactly as I have said it. She has no clue what I have said, but she smiles and smiles and gets it right. I'm actually enjoying the new numbers, I find it quite amusing. I'm a little dissappointed that it is so hard to mess up nine and ten, but we will see what the little tykes come up with.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ume Blossoms, Big Whoop

Ume (plum) blossom season hit Hamamatsu this week. I had read accounts of how many people thought ume season was even better than cherry blossom. But can't say that it does much for me. There don't seem to be very many ume trees in the areas I run around in. The flowers are nice, but nothing compared to flower show that Georgia puts on. Hopefully the cherry blossom season will be better. It's still nice to see the first signs of spring, though.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Along Came Yuto

Well, it was a very mixed day. I forgot to take nametags in the morning. Not fatal, it just makes me look stupid. But the morning classes went pretty good. But then came the afternoon class. It's a big class with 15 students. It used to have the evil 3 in it, but two left. Only to be replace with a little boy I can't stand, and two very young kids. They aren't even two years old. The little ones make life a little more difficult, but they aren't bad. But then there's Yuto. This boy won't sit down, he won't do anything he's supposed to. Today he was actually doing better, but I was still getting short with him when he was bad. Then I blew bubbles. And all the kids run around and pop them. I do it until I am close to asphyxiation. So class is nearly over and I tell them we are finished and put the bubble blowing contraption in my bag. Yuto grabs it. I tell him NO and put it back. I go to sit down and he runs back to the bag, grabs the bubble maker and turns it upside down. Pouring all the bubble liquid into my bag. Soaking all my papers and materials for the next class. Luckily it didn't ruin anything in my purse (ie my passport, visa, etc). I did not take it well. I dumped everything out of my bag in a huff and started cleaning. I am sure the look on my face told his mother everything. She was embarrased and helped me clean up everything. I'm not really brooding over it. I was really angry at the time, but I would have forgotten it by now if I hadn't needed something to blog about. Yuto is only 3 years old and he does have socialization issues, but coming to class is instrumental in helping...and so is my getting angry with him. All part of the process.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Cultural Significance of Star Trek

During my private lesson tonight, Yukia and Shosei asked for some recommendations for movies and tv shows to watch. Not just good ones, or ones that I really liked, but ones that had significant cultural impacts on America and it's language. First we had to throw out movies that they had already seen, so that really meant older movies. After browsing the AFI top 100 list I chose:

Gone With The Wind
The Wizard of Oz
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I think that quotes from the first two movies are just so pervasive that they were safe choices, and the blog reading world won't disagree with too strenuously. Butch and Sundance, well I'm not convinced of. I quite like the movie, but I guess it was more that it combines a lot of different elements - the American Western, yet a slice of the 70's, interesting anti-heros, etc. I dismissed Casablanca as a two quote movie, Citizen Kane because it's boring and Godfather because...I don't know why?

As for TV shows that was hard too. Except for the first one. Star Trek. Shosei has seen a couple and knows who Spock is. But Yukia hasn't a clue. And well, like it or not Star Trek really influenced America. Not just with quotes and names, but with a vision of the future. I know, I'm getting all deep about Captain Kirk and Tribbles and suchwhat, but I think it's true. The other two shows I suggested were Friends and M*A*S*H. As much as I'm a Friends addict, I'm not sure about that one, either. But, it does give a general snapshot of current language...I think. Got any suggestions out there?


My LG2 was half empty yesterday. One kid would come in, and say hi and then tell me that so-and-so would be absent Friends-za. Well, that's nice, I hope they are enjoying Friends-za. But after awhile one smart kid said - "Friends-za sick". Oh, they have a cold? No, In-Friends-Za! Has the light bulb gone on yet. They have influenza. Half the kids were sick with the flu. You know they other half are carriers. And I am doomed.