Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kate's Day

You know, probably the hardest thing about living in Japan is that you don't have access to your own culture whenever you want it. You have to depend on others to give you that connection to your own home.

Although there are ups and downs, and living abroad is an adventure well worth the sacrifice, there is one time of year when I want that connection more, and people are less willing to give it.

You might be saying, 'Well, who would do such a terrible thing? I would never shut you out. I would support you.' But take a moment and think of your schedule for November and December, and try and work in time to meet with someone online who has a 15 hour time difference. Not so easy is it?

I was more prepared for it this year, but it still sneaks up on you. I came out of the high of the English Speech Competition, winning 5th at state, and then got sick, and then the Christmas season was dumped on me.

But my Christmas season doesn't include the eternal Christmas music at the mall. Or the 800 sq ft houses with 3000 lights. Or the long lines and shopping craziness at the grocery store. When Christmas dumps on me, I just don't see anyone online to talk to.

Although emails still make it my way, it's not the same. Can you see my face right now? Do you know how I stressed the words 'not' and 'same'? Could you tell that my voice isn't angry, just a little sad? Of course you couldn't. Emails and writing can easily be misinterpreted. How many of you have misread an email, in content or tone, and upon confronting the person realized there was simply a miscommunication?

So with something so easily misconstrued, and wanting a stronger connection to home, can you see how limiting emails can be?

My parents have been really good about keeping in touch, and keeping me sane (as much as they can at any rate). Dad and I chat before he goes to work at least a couple times a week. Mom stays up late on Friday nights so that we can catch up. Sometimes she's really tired though so Dad and I watch Mom sleep.

Joe, you've also been good about making time to talk to me. You've got a lot going on, but you fit me in. Thank you.

Like I said before, it's not that people aren't communicating with me. It's a double edged problem: I want more at the busiest time for everyone. At a time we spend with family.

Last year I didn't know many of my fellow ALTs. I was pretty isolated. This year I had speech competition practice followed by a month of illness. It's just hard to email everyone and be so happy or excited about coming home when I kinda feel marginalized.

I guess it just comes down to what you're up to and what you're about in your life. It is a distance, but a lot of the issues are in your head. When I lived in the US, I never made it down to visit my friend Audrey in NC. It was only a couple hundred dollars, but I just couldn't make it happen. When she got married this October, I didn't think twice: just when and where. Audrey was really happy and surprised I came. I guess I don't see it as such an amazing thing. It wasn't that hard. It just always seemed hard before. I'm probably closer to Audrey now than I have since she moved.

I sat down tonight to tell you about my fabulous day. It was magnificent. And yet this is what came out of my fingers. Please don't misinterpret: I'm not angry, or accusing. I'm mostly thoughtful, and a bit nostalgic.

It just seems to me that I know a little bit how Grandma Gladys felt for all those years. She told me once, 'I'm ready for a trip. It's been so long since I've been anywhere.' For her, I was her connection to the outside world. I didn't understand it then. I think I do a little now.

But you know, it's not that people have done this to me and I'm so angry/sad/forgotten. It's just a fact of life here. It's something to deal with. And although sometimes I'm sad about it, sometimes it's not a problem. I guess I wanted to give everyone a little piece of what I face here. It's not always great news. And a lot of it I can't explain. There are lots of challenges. Hehehe. So when I come home for Christmas, please keep this in mind when you want to put my life here on a pedestal. It's just as tough as your life (though not any tougher). It's different but the same.

Half the challenges I face here are from culture, half are from life. And I'm not sure where they fit in, but some of the challenges are from living in a small town. When I lived in Osaka I didn't lack for the big Christmas hoo-ha. Only big difference from America was that they didn't know Christmas was about Jesus (or who Jesus is).

I'm gonna stop now and go to bed. My great day today. I awoke to snow. I showed my kids Christmas movies. My principle watched one of my classes and he liked the movie too. I got to the electronic store and found all the Final Fantasy 13 games were sold out, only to discover that they still had the collector PS3 system + game sets. Came home to cc cookie dough I made yesterday. Going to bed early.

Good night.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Miracle #2

I wasn't really sure I'd be able to top my last post so soon.

Near the end of October, I wrote about my students winning at the Tamana County English Recitation and Short Speech Contest. My students all placed. My 1st years (7th graders) won first place for their recitation from the text book dialogues - Chapter 4. My 2nd years took second, and my 3rd years took second. My 2nd year student, Motoki won first place for his short speech.

Every student I trained won. My principle cried. Everyone was shocked.

On the statue for the 1st years there are ribbons from each year's winner. Nankan had one other ribbon on the statue.
From 23 years ago.
Before any foreigner had lived and taught in Nankan on the JET Program.

One of my 1st year students had come down with the H1N1 influenza the night before the competition. Her mother drove her to the contest and then after to the doctor.
After the competition, I didn't see her or several of my other students for about a week.

So we had a week of celebration. Practices were finished, everyone was happy. Fabulous.

Then it set in for me. The 1st years had won first place. The 1st years had won FIRST place. They were going to preform at the State Recitation Contest in three weeks! My practice wasn't over at all!

The next week we went back to basics. I started all over. I had two kids out for a couple days due to illness and sports practice, so I worked with the two boys on pronunciation. I treated it like we hadn't won the county competition. I pretended that we were starting anew. And when you start new, you start with memorization and pronunciation.

There were some words I didn't work on for the county level because sometimes the kids pronunciation isn't bad, but it could be better. However, once you try to teach them, they forget how to say it the way they originally did. And if you don't have the time to address it, you end up with them trying to sound out the word, or remember how to move their tongue rather than just doing it. They focus too much and they can't get it.

But now I didn't have four groups to train. I had one. [Unfortunately they don't have a short speech competition at the state level. I think Motoki would have taken whomever he was up against. And then I could have continued to watch Shi-chan yell at and hit him whenever they practiced.] I was able to focus on one team. We spent more time practicing than we had before, but since I only had one group I got to go home earlier! It was a bit harder for them at first :)

However, after practicing the same material for two months, it starts to get old. So I had the students do a funny version at least once a day. I told them to all talk in high pitched voices. I told them to say it as fast as they could (or as slow as they could). I had them say each other's lines. I told them to do something strange - whatever they wanted. Two of the students always played a jan-ken game in the middle of the skit for this one.

We also changed up some of the gestures and actions the students did. We added some comical elements. And it payed off. The day of the state competition, we were ready. We drove into Kumamoto city.

There were 17 schools at the competition. I found out later that many of the counties had many more schools than Taman did (30 or more). And the competition to get to state in those areas was really intense. We watched the 2nd year students preform and I could tell there was a big difference in ability level.

Once the 1st years started, I was really nervous. I had to focus on each group and take notes just to keep from noticing how close my students were to presenting. Then they were up; and I wasn't ready. I wanted them to stop so I could have a moment to adjust and be mentally prepared. The students did a good job. After, I found that I was just as nervous. I didn't know how they did yet.

We had to sit through lunch, the 3rd years, a couple of speeches, and finally I found out. They started announcing from the first year students. I wasn't really listening; I was still in time delay from translating all the rules they had announced. All of a sudden, I hear 'Nankan-machi'. I turned to Ms Kawakami and said 'What?!' She answered, 'Nankan won 5th place!'. From there on I didn't hear much more except to write circle the winners on the schedule (I had taken notes about each group so that I'd know what the judges were looking for when I train next year).

We got to send a student into the winners circle on stage to receive the plaque and certificates for our students. Then they gave us the judges comments and scores, we took a couple pictures and went home.

In 2009, Nankan's 1st year students did something no one had ever done before in this town. They won at the State English Recitation Contest. I'm so proud of them. I'm glad I recorded one of their practices.

There's a wall in one of the hallways at Nankan Jr High School that has old pictures of students and sports teams hanging above plaques. They take the pictures so that everyone will know just who it was who won that award years later. I heard the teachers talking the other day about putting a picture of the 1st years up there with the plaque they won at state.

I'd heard from another ALT in Tamana County that the inner city schools always win at the state level. I wondered why. Once I saw the 3rd years preform, I knew. Half of the 'groups' for the 3rd year students were just one student. One student, to memorize 5 pages of material? It became apparent that those students' parents paid for an English tutor. The more students, the more time you have to work on teaching the same pronunciation.

We were the only school from Tamana County to place.

But this competition is about more than just winning. If anything, my students probably had too much fun during practice. And they still did the impossible. They proved that you can do it, even though it's never been done before.
You just need an ALT with no life ;)

Friday, October 30, 2009

English Speech Contest Miracle

Hello all!

I know what you're thinking. Geeze, it's been months since Kate wrote on her blog. It must be something really important if she's finally getting back to it. And you're right. It is something really big.

My school went to the Taman-gun English Speech Contest in Nagomi like it does every year. We had a recitation group for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd years in addition to a 2nd year student giving a short (2 min) speech, just like last year. The difference came at the end of the competition, when we won.

Last year, I was so upset. I thought that at least my student doing the short speech deserved to win. He definitely deserved to place. But none of my groups won. And the competition was tough. I discovered that the same schools usually won each year. It was devastating. I couldn't understand what happened. I talked to one of the judges, who was a HS ALT and got some pointers. I needed to know what they looked for. I thought pronunciation, enunciation, speed, and phrasing were the only things. I had no idea gestures would make this speech contest more like a simplified skit contest.

Next year, I vowed to do everything I could for these kids.

And so, come the start of September, with the speech contest around the corner, I started the training. I definitely had some problems. I didn't know how the teachers had chosen the students last year, so I did it by invitation. I got the first and second year groups made in record time. However, when I asked the third year students I hit a brick wall. I asked eight students and they all said no. I finally found one student who wanted to try, but couldn't find any teammates for her. But now I had one student who I'd offered it to and wanted to try, so I needed to find her a group.

We had no permanent place to practice. We started in the library after school. But one day we were overrun by noisy students and had to move across the hall. I hated the room. There were large tables in a big square that took up the entire room. I refused to use it as the basis of our operation. So for a while I only brought the kids into the room when it was their turn to practice, and left the others in the library.

The location issue became worse when the students had to stand up. The room across the hall was large, but the voices rebounded off the walls. The students weren't loud enough. So we went to the veranda that leads out to the garden at the center of our school. We practiced there for only a few days, until I found the art club painting there. I asked the teacher if her students could be quiet while mine preformed so that we could share the space. She said they couldn't. I guess because they had to make sure they all used the same color of blue? Why I had never seen them there last year I had no idea. But by this point I was pissed.

We tried in front of the lunch room, inside the lunch room, and a small courtyard to the side of the lunch room. We went wherever we could that was a large space where the students' voices would not be louder than they really were.

Finally I resorted to waking up early and coming to school so that we could use the gym before class. I had to get the kids out of sunrise which includes a combo of greetings and cleaning. And no matter how much time we managed to get in the gym I wanted more.

The last straw was one of my second year classes closing a week and a half before the contest. I just lost it at this point. I was stressed, I was working twelve hour days, and I had had it. The students would not be able to come to school until six days before the contest. And I was flying out to go to my friend's wedding the day before they came back.

As for the training itself, I had no real plan. Thanks to talking with the judge last year, I knew what I wanted to accomplish. So we just started by becoming familiar with the dialogues, and went from there. After two months of training everyday after school I had a system. And it was time to test it.

When I came back, I had several sick kids on my teams. I had one first year student whose mother would bring her to the competition and then straight to the doctor's office. I had several with colds. And I had one third year student that had been diagnosed with H1N1 and could not attend.

I made the best of it and practiced what we could. I reminded students of gestures, and tricks for pronunciation. By this point I was so screwed up from jet lag I couldn't really stress myself out. So I focused on staying awake by writing comments about the different groups on the presentation list as if I was a judge. If we didn't win I'd have a record of what the judges wanted.

I knew something was happening when at lunch time an ALT from another school came up to congratulate me. The ALT told me my students were doing really well.

I was shocked. I hadn't even allowed myself to think about winning. I still had the 3rd year students to preform and was focused on that. I knew my students had done well, but who knows? Maybe the judges were looking for something else. I also remembered last year: not placing at all.

My third year students were last to preform in the entire contest. We had trained in a group of three, but one student was out with the H1N1 influenza. The other two had learned her part. They had never been in the contest before and I was nervous. With only a few days of practice could they remember all the lines? They had chosen a lesson that many other schools had. The other schools all had at least four students; one school had six.

With our two students, we preformed the same lesson. And did it well. No forgotten lines. No missed gestures.

The judges came back and announced the results. For the second year students, Nankan won 2nd place. I have to admit, I was a bit bummed about this.

For first year students, Nankan won 1st place. This actually shocked me. I thought the relative level of the 2nd years was better than that of the 1st years. Although surprised, I was really happy that both the first and second years had placed.

For the second year short speech, Nankan won first place. By this point I was ecstatic. This was the student who I felt had been misjudged last year. And I felt like I failed him. Because his pronunciation was so good, but somehow I coached him incorrectly.

Well, that was it. I was more than happy. And I thought things were over for Nankan. I mean, the third year students had never done this competition before and they were up against groups with twice as many students, some of who had done the competition twice before. So when the judges announced Nankan had won second place I couldn't believe it.

Every student I had trained, every group I created, had placed in the competition.

When we told our Principle that every student had placed and handed him the two trophies for first place, he cried; just a little.

Last year, no one blinked when we came home empty handed. I get the feeling that happens more often than not at this school.

On the trophy for the first year students there was a ribbon that listed what school won first place for each year. My principle found a ribbon on there from 1986 that said 'Nankan'. It was the only one. And it had been won before ALTs ever came to this town.

That's the miracle I created with my kids in this town. We were so determined that the first year student still came, fever and all, and that group won first place. My third year students won second place with two students doing the work of three (or six). And my second year student in the short speech had all the ALTs laughing as he told them about how he loved his class, 2の3.

And so I'll end the way he ended his speech,

I don't have time to tell you about everyone. But they are all
important to me. Those who always volunteer. Those who are
noisy. Those who are quiet. And those who always sleep. Let's
help each other! My friends, 2の3.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

There's No Litter Boxes in Heaven

From the moment I met you, when I first walked down the stairs, and you gave an uncertain meow, I was enraptured. My family may not have known, but you were my cat. That first night, you went in and slept on my bed. Of course, you got there before I did. And, afraid you would leave if I moved you, I slept up against the wall on one-forth of my little twin bed.

But it didn't matter. Because from then on, you came to sleep with me often. And it felt like I had won the most important prize.

And I'm sitting here in the dark writing to you because I couldn't stop writing this in my head. So I figured it deserved to be shared.

You were the best cat ever. And not because you were the nicest, or the cutest. You were loud, and annoying, and I'll never forget the way you bit my toes. I loved teasing you, and you loved fighting back. Sometimes in the last few years you attacked me because you wanted to play.

From the time I built a cage on wheels made out of knex around you, to the times I chased you all the way under the stairs so I could pick you up, you were my cat.

Even when you got older and didn't play as much, I didn't mind; it meant you couldn't run away as fast anymore. And then I started calling you Muskrat Mindy when you had arthritis and would scuttle around the kitchen with a strange gate.

When I was younger, and we would go on family vacations, we would take you over to Grandma's so she could watch you and you wouldn't be all alone. She'd always say that you avoided her for a couple days, but sure enough, you'd come crawling out from your hidey hole looking for attention. And by the time we came to get you again, both you and Grandma were sad to see the time end.

A couple times Mom asked Grandma if she'd like to keep you permanently. We could all see that Grandma could use some company. But Grandma always poo-pooed the idea and said she didn't want the extra work.

Well, now you're going to get to stay with Grandma for a while. And please don't take it badly when I say I hope it's a while before any of us join you. You two will just have to keep each other company from now on.

But don't worry. I think Grandma won't mind having you for company, cause there's no litter boxes in heaven.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Rude Awakening

You know, just because there haven't been new posts in a few weeks, doesn't mean my adventures here are over.  Not by a long shot.  

The day after I wrote about my bathroom spider visiter, I went in there again and a spider jumped out from the corner.  It must have been the sibling of the one I'd killed yesterday; they looked exactly alike.  This one I showed no mercy, and didn't even try to get it out the window.  Let's say that two days, two spiders, two heart attacks, one tiny room: I'd had enough.

A week or so after that I spotted a larger spider on my ceiling in the landing room, above my book shelves.  By this time I knew right where the spray was, and I was pissed.

Last week I had an encounter with big ugly.  I'm praying they don't get bigger (but I'm not holding my breath).  I went into the kitchen at 9 pm last week on Tuesday and a piece of the black on the microwave door moved.  I was less than thrilled.  I had so much adrenaline I was shaking as I sprayed that cockroach.  There was so much spray used that it congealed on top of the counter.

On Friday night I went out to go to the convenience store.  It was dark out, around 8 or 9 pm.  I put on my shoes, open the door and start to walk outside and there is a huge spider, about the size of a grapefruit sitting on the stoop of the house, startled buy the light turning on (movement activated).  I pulled my foot back inside and let that door shut so fast.  It took me three minutes of heavy breathing before I finally went outside.

Then later Friday night, okay, it was really Saturday morning, I caught a sibling of Thursday's cockroach crawling across my floor.  There was a little less panicing while I sprayed this one, and more remorse about having to wash my floor when this was over.

That brings me to this morning.  5 am.  I felt something on my arm and rolled over.

Only to be bitten by a 7 inch centipede.

I'm starting a song:

Three spiders surprising.
Two roaches flying.
And one centipede biting me in my sleep! 

With all this action, is it any surprise I felt remorse for injuring the centipede?  It freaks me out a lot, but honestly, I'll take one centipede if it means it'll eat all the roaches.  I hope I didn't kill it.  That could mean baby centipedes really soon.  I hit it with my water bottle and got it's rear.  It hid behind a picture I haven't hung up yet, and when I went to get the spray, it disappeared.

So to surmise:

My kitchen is infested with cockroaches.
My landing is claimed by spiders.
My tatami room is centipede territory.

Now I'm thinking I'll sleep in my bedroom.
So what lives there?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Adventures in Bug Land

I just went to the bathroom here at middle school.  Like I do everyday.  And I went to the far stall with the western toilet.  It took me a minute after I sat down to realize things were a little different today.  There were things moving on the window.  

They were some form of bee.  Probably a kind of wasp.  Their bodies were longer and leaner than I was used to seeing.  Their wings not as spread out.  And they were walking on the window, that was closed.  

I then looked up to check on the small object I had noticed last year when I first arrived.  About the size of a softball.  I always thought it was a beehive of some kind.  But it was small, and it looked hard and old.  I figured it was from several years ago and the people here never cleared it out.  This not being abnormal since the students and teachers are responsible for the care-taking of the school.  The people here also just don't seem to be as anal about cleaning here.

There were several half inch holes in the softball-sized-now-confirmed-nest.  And there wasn't just one.  There were three.  I wanted to die.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to run.  The last of the three won out.  Unfortunately, at the time I was stuck.  It took my tired brain a few minutes to realize what was happening.  

So I had to wait.  And watch the newly born wasps crawl all over the window looking for an exit.  And of course, this window was in the stall with me, less than a foot away.

I just about had a fit, being trapped like that.  They were almost two inches long.  I busted out of that stall hoping they wouldn't  figure out how to fly before I did.  I washed my hands and ran into the teachers office.  I was speaking pretty loudly.  Mostly in English.  Luckily one of the English teachers was there.  

They killed the bees.  And when they tried to take the nest down they had to get a hammer because it was so hard.  

Even though I was scared, do you think it's strange that I feel good that the nest wasn't a dead thing?  I still didn't like it, but it was kind of cool to see something break out and try to live.  It was fulfilling it's intended purpose.  

Of course, any bug that's inside has to die.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Ok.  Unlike the other secrets of Nankan, that I, you know, enjoyed discovering, this one could have just stayed hidden.  I am referring to my (very) recent encounter with an unwelcome house guest - a spider.  Walk into the toilet room and there it is on the wall near the window, hanging out.  Bigger than the size of a half dollar if you include the legs (which I do for any spiders other than danny long-legs).  

I surprised myself, I didn't scream.  I think I said Oh My God and started breathing like I just ran for 20 minutes.  

Since I don't mind spiders if they're outside and keep their distance (I mean, they do eat other bugs you know?) I decided to try and 'save' it.  I opened the window and tried to 'help' it outside. But it didn't like that idea and it started coming towards me with alarming speed (in a room about 4 feet squared) and I swatted it.  I swatted it good.  It curled up in a little ball and didn't try to move again as I picked it up on the swatter and threw it out the window.  But you know, spiders are really good at playing dead, so it might be alright.  I didn't see it's brains or anything and all the limbs were attached.

I'll tell you one thing: I don't know if I'll ever have to pee again.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Damn Kids!

Tonight I want to share with you some of the answers one of my first year students gave on one of his worksheets last year.  

1. Where did you go?
I went to Pluto.

2. When did you go there?
I went there yesterday.

3. Who did you go there with?
I went there with Doraemon. [If you are unfamiliar with Doraemon, wikipedia]

4. What did you do there?
We played thumb wrestling.

5. What else did you do there?
We ate Pluto.

Apparently that explains why it isn't a planet anymore.

1. Where did you go?
I went to the past and the future.

2. When did you go there?
I went there this morning.

3. Who did you go there with?
I went there with my clothes.

4. What did you do there?
We met many people. 

5. What else did you do there?
We ate various kinds of food.

The second set of answers was just because he finished so early.  Keep in mind that a student like this is pretty rare around here.  Not only for his enthusiasm and ability, but also his imagination.  Ah nostalgic.  It reminds the answers I used to give my Japanese teacher at Kansai Gaidai.  In fact, did I give these answers to my teacher at Kansai Gaidai?  

Thursday, May 7, 2009

US hardwire

Hello all!  I've been silent on here for long enough.  Is it possible to have 'overload' from life?  I think that sums up how I've been the last few months.  I'm sure you all have this great image of how my life must be so fun and exciting.  And it is.  But it's also tiring.  Some of it is my fault and some of it is just because my brain is hardwired for life in the US and it spends a lot of time freaking out.  At least the part that's my fault is fun: for instance, yesterday I watched the Lord of the Rings movie in entirety.  It finished at about 1 am.  

Recently I've been watching a lot of US movies and TV.  I haven't wanted to go out as much, and I've taken on a lot of projects around my apartment.  These aren't things that necessarily cost a lot of money, but may take a lot of time.  It seems like whenever I go out I get bored and exhausted.  Not always.  It mostly depends on if I'm hanging out with acquaintances or they're friends.  Friends in smaller groups, not too bad.  But larger groups just make me long for home.  
I like the projects I do around the house because they are straightforward, take a lot of work and have a great sense of accomplishment at the end.  For about five minutes.  Then I want the next project.  When I'm just sitting around I feel badly because I could be doing something.

The emergence of these projects may have arisen from the fact that Civilization won't play on my computer.  I've downloaded the patch, I've read all the online instructions, and it still can't.  Usually when I'm in this kind of a mood I play Civilization pretty much non-stop.  I love my mac, but why can't they make the game work for it?  I think it's cuz they wanted to game to be prettier so they changed the mac version or something to depend more on the graphics card, and mine is obviously not up to par.

So I've resorted to doing things that I myself wonder, 'Why am I doing this?  Why do I worry about it? I'm only here for three years?'  But I just have this need to keep doing them.  Great.  I'm sure some people would say it's culture shock, or homesickness.  But I used to go through these periods before in the US.  Hmmm.

Well, without further ado, here are some pictures from Okinawa.  I went there over spring break.  If you're wondering why they're are only five, I was passing my camera to someone to take a picture for me and we dropped it.  Still haven't gotten it fixed.

The first beach we found.  We got lost.

Okinawa's Aquarium: Ocean Expo Park

Ferry to a nearby island.  A big wave just soaked me.

The island we went to.  The beachy part is to the left.  There's coral right there and we went snorkeling.  

The four of us at Pineapple Park.  Eugene (behind), Diana (left), Me (middle), and Patty (right).  
I was the only one of the group who looked like the stereotypical American so we got a lot of weird looks.  By coincidence Diana and I wound up riding the same bus to the airport.  So we were walking around (that girl has an obsession with food samples) and we bought something at the convenience store.  The lady asked her if she wanted a bag.  She looked at me to see what she said, and I told her.  The clerk looked like she was having a brain aneurysm.  She probably thought she was in a Outerlimits episode or something.  Diana's family are Japanese Americans, but they moved to the US five or so generations ago.  She can't speak Japanese really well. 

Well, lots of fun.  Hope you all had a good Golden Week.  Mine was pretty good.  I went to an all you can eat buffet, watched movies, hung out at home, cleaned the screen frames, replaced the screens, washed the windows and the surrounding tracks for 9 windows and 2 doors, started hemming the curtains in the tatami room, put together a new bookshelf, moved other bookshelf into my office and re-organized my office.  I did a couple other things too.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Please Remember to Try

I just had the most amazing conversation with my principle. I wrote about my experience over the last four years for the teacher messages to the graduating students. Ms. Kawakami then translated it into Japanese for me.

My principle leaned over to me today and told me his favorite part:

Then I realized, by never trying I could never fail. But I could never succeed either. If I tried, at least I had the chance of succeeding. And sometimes the experience of trying is more valuable than success.

He really liked what I wrote. But more than that - he got it. I was moved when I saw in his eyes that I had inspired him. He asked me to share this with the first and second year students. I'm so glad that I took the chance and shared myself.

When I was trying to write a message to students I felt like I barely knew, I couldn't think of anything. I read what James had wrote to the students last year; he talked about how they had known each other for four years and wasn't it amazing? But I couldn't say anything like that.

I couldn't think of anything profound, or something that 'sounded right'. So I shared myself, and it turns out that sharing yourself is profound, even if you can't find the perfect words. And it sounds right even if the voice in your head says it's wrong.

And with that, I want to share with you what I wrote for the thrid year students of Nankan Junior High.

Please Remember to Try by Katharine Kreuser

Please remember, that your life is anything and evertyhing you choose to make it. It's no one's responsibility but yours. No one has the power but you.

And although you may feel alone, that is just a feeling.
And although you may think it's hopeless, that is just a thought.
And if you tell yourself you can't do something, you will never try.
And trying is the most important thing. The worst that can happen is you fail.
And if you fail, you will be in the same position you are in if you don't try at all.

For four years after college I told myself I would never live in Japan again. So I didn't try. I told myself that if I applied, there would be someone better at speaking Japanese, or teaching who would get the job. And I thought if I tried and failed, that would be worse than not trying at all.

Then I realized, by never trying, I could never fail. But I could never succeed either. If I tried, at least I had the chance of succeeding. And sometimes the experience of trying is more valuable than success.

Now when I say, `I can't do that`, I think for a moment. Am I saying this out of fear? And if I am, do I want to try anyway and see what happens? Just for fun? You never know what kind of adventure lies just around the road you pass by.

`It's a dangerous business, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.`
- Bilbo Baggins Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hello All

Tonight I want to share something a little sad with you.  Tonight I was driving home and saw a dead cat lying in the street that had been hit by a car.  And it made me think of Auron.

So I'd like to share a poem I wrote to him last year right around this time.

I don’t care why
you have to be gone

I remember you everywhere
the places you sat
the games we played

I shut out the world

I thought there were reasons
but they’re all forgotten

your beautiful light
made them disappear
forever gone

I talk to the night sky
promise to find me
any way you can

any way you can

I love you so much
now there’s just space
where sorrow and pain
have taken their place

I only know
what I’ve done before
I live how I can

I shut out the world

where have you gone
I reach out to find

you can never be there
I turn and cry

I look at the night sky
so magical and sad

I don’t want to look anymore
without you
here by my side

If you have a kitty at home, give him/her a hug for me.


Friday, January 16, 2009

My Magnificent Mile

How many days in life do we keep with us?  When the world slows and every thing is natural and yet has the excitement of discovery?  

I don't know.  But I do know that I have had one of these days.  And it was magnificent.  I took a picture and video diary of my experience.  All of these pictures were taken in Nankan.  

Other people may pass Nankan by.  Or, more likely, never even know they have passed Nankan by.  But the discoveries I made are all the more special because I know few have ever made them.  

Out front of Nankan High School.  Call the fire department!

A small temple.

Chestnuts are in season in the fall.  The outside is furry looking and the 'nut' is soft.

Inside Nankan, the signs only tell you how to get to surrounding cities.  They don't tell you how to find anything in Nankan.  Take the next right for 'downtown' Nankan.

Orange moss!  I knew I belonged here!

Nankan High School

The small Buddhist temple.

An empty chestnut shell.

In December, I asked a teacher what she did over the weekend.  She said she spent all day Sunday in her garden planting.  I laughed.  "What could you plant in winter?"  "Winter flowers." was her answer.  I laughed again, "Plants die in winter!"

I love this picture.  I was quite scared to cross this path.  But I couldn't walk away from it.  So I took the risk of losing my balance and getting all wet and walked across.  Funny that a little thing like that would make such a difference.  But once I'd done it I felt fantastic.

This is an old tree in on the grounds of Nankan 第小学校 (first elementary school).  There are many poles supporting it because it's so old.

A larger Buddhist temple.  

A map of Nankan and places of interest.  When I saw this, I first thought, 'Wow there's only eight.'  Then I thought 'Wow!  There're eight!  Wait, where is that one, I haven't seen that yet.'

And back home.  I think this is the best picture of my home to date.  If only because the sun is shinning and the sky is a beautiful blue.