Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sometimes I'm a Teacher

One wouldn’t know it from my bog, but I still teach here in Japan. I typically only write about the friends, food, and travel, but last Friday one of my classes went so well I simply must share it.

Four days ago I taught my international education class a lesson on music. These five kids are the best of the best when it comes to English students. They do their homework, are constantly trying to start up conversations with me in the hallways, and they work to retain the English I teach in my classes with them (so many kids see me once a week for class and just forget everything we do). So, on Friday class started with genre and playing samples of different styles of music from all over: folk, jazz, blues (they got really into Muddy Waters), heavy metal, prog-rock, hip-hop, country, and punk to name a few. After a clear sampling and sharing of the various other musical stylings beyond the ever present, and horribly ear rotting, J-Pop, we began a new activity I had thought up. Back in the summer camp seasons teaching art I used to do a painting and dry pastel activity where I played a song and the students had to fill their page with color and lines based on how the song made them feel. They had till the end of the song to fill up as much of the page as they could. I wanted an activity that would encourage communication and quick thinking without focusing on grammar or sentence structure. So I made a list of six questions for them to answer while listening to various songs.

1. What would this music taste like?

2. How does this music make you feel?

3. Where would you like to listen to this music?

4. What picture does this music make you think of?

5. What color is this music?

6. What instrument in this song would you like to be?

We listened to three songs, and the students and Japanese Teacher of English got so into it. We listened to: Beirut , Weezer , and Old Crow Medicine Show. Each song produced well though out images and fascinating responses from my students. As we listened to more music it was great to see the mood of the students shift from tired Friday morning blues to alert and focused on English expression. After a lot of talking about their various color and taste (these were their favorite questions to answer) till the bell rang my JTE thanked me for a lesson like she’d never had.
Perhaps it’s a bit of patting myself on the back to post about a teacher complimenting me, but having a lesson go exactly as you desired it to is quite rare.

The first band linked above, Beirut, is probably my most listened to band of the past year, and I am so freakishly excited to have scored tickets for this January in Osaka! The gangs all going, and we're going to have probably the best time ever! So I leave you with my favorite song of theirs. Enjoy!

More to come.

Monday, October 24, 2011


25 Person Potluck Party in the Bear Den (two months ago)
The lingering gray of the summer's typhoon season decided to work its way out of mother nature's system on Friday. The morning started with that kind of mist that wasn't quite enough to make you put up your umbrella, but would undoubtedly swell as the day wore on into a constant and dreary drip. It's been a busier than busy, but I have reached a little lull allowing me to reflect on all the stories that I have accumulated and their relative importance.

What truly makes the cut for being worth reporting?

The truth is that much of my life isn't so different than any one else's life. Many, many weekends are spent having meals, drinks, or coffees with friends. Sharing on this blog has become a bit of a strange thing for me. I think I fell behind on posting partially because I was really busy, but more so because I have truly settled in after well over a year of being in Susaki. I think when I returned from home, after noticing so many differences and feeling really quite alien in my own country, I wanted to bask in the amazing familiarity of Japan. I take such comfort in the fact that I can contact friends to either side of my town and within an hour I can be certain I will be having a fantastic conversation that could (and always does) evolve into a grand night of fun. It is really easy to become so immersed in that immediate gratification that I tend to forget that I have ties just as strong (all be they flung far and wide) all over America.
Best beach find of my life. 

It's a bit like juggling two lives, but for some (those back in America) our life together is in a kind of suspended animation. We maintain all the vital signs and begin the auto defrost cycles on our cryogenic stasis pods to keep from developing freezer burn, but everything is slowed due to distance and the lack of shared experience. So, I guess it's my job to share more vigorously to prevent stasis lock.

In my past months I have:
  • Oriented a group of 36 new JETs from all over the world to life in Kochi. That was a huge production and took a lot of planning with my fellow PA's. It went better than I could have hoped. 
  • I floated down the Shimanto River numerous times with those friends I hold most dear whilst sipping on beers. 
  • I hiked about 20 miles in seven hours for my first solo Henro excursion, which was beautiful, peaceful, and so dramatically different and vastly more gratifying than I expected solo hiking to be. 
  • I sustained my first sorts related injury, due to the above mentioned solo hike, in the form of horribly shin splints on my right leg. (I am better now.)
  • I returned to Tokyo, just two weeks ago on Wednesday, for another PA training session. 

Mike's surprise, Italian Mafia themed, dinner party. 
Amid all of this there were many dinner parties, cooking adventures (if you have never gone to this inter-web interest YOU MUST! She never leads me wrong in the recipe department), and other new and fantastic times with Colin, Marie, Mia, Jamie H, Jamie E, and the whole cast of favorite characters you may or may not know by name from the past year of posts.

Granted this isn't much, but it should at least paint a blurry picture of the past months for me. I will be making a bigger and better effort at keeping up with this whole writing thing. I like the idea of having a blog to look back on whenever I decided to return States side, and, after all, you've gotta keep those stasis pods at the right levels . . .

otherwise your friendships might go cold.
(too cheesy? That joke was made with my father in mind.)

As always

Colin and Miss Mia (two of my very favorite people). 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Bear in the Big City. April 6, 2011.

(DEAR SWEET LORD THIS IS LONG, LONG OVER DUE! I must, MUST DO BETTER) So first a not on the passing of time:
" It is already well into May. . . wait, WHAT! My time here is flying by at warp eleven. My weekends are typically supercharged with friends, food, sights, hiking swimming (well not yet but oh so soon!), cooking, and planning for the week that will inevitably follow the joyous ruckus that was miraculously crammed into two days. In summation, over a month has passed in what felt like the blink of an eye. I have many, many stories worthy of telling, but this post isalready written from oh so long ago and will be an adequate sacrifice to the mildly ignored interweb gods that be. I will try to catch up in the next two weeks with my chronicling of my time here. One of my new goals is to write more, so perhaps that will be the fire that gets me off my ass, and back to typing and thinking on writing. (One can only hope ne?"

The ceilings are low, and in an all too typical way I have to duck my head as I walk about (else risk a lump). Every table, booth, or bench is full to the brim with young Japanese people eating, drinking, and laughing. Two huge grill stations send out plumes of sweet smelling wood smoke, as the grill masters use dramatically long tongs to snatch various glistening fresh cuts of sea life from baskets lined with ice just in front of the fire pits. Glasses clink and you hear the words oishi and umai (both forms of delicious, or wonderful) coming from mouths full of flakey white fish. I work my way to the back corner table, behind the kegs, with its tiny un-backed chairs. We, the only two foreigners in here, were lucky to have Corey’s friend Ryo with us to get us the reservation. He orders a sampling of sea creatures and when asked what he ordered he doesn’t really reply – he just smiles knowingly. The small plates of food begin to roll in: grilled whole squid in ginger and shoyu (perfectly cooked). Corey, “That is so damn good! We gotta get another of those.” And we do. Everything: the squid, scallops, flat fish, three different types of small river fish, octopus, even the pregnant fish filled with their own babies then grilled in onions and garlic – it’s all just delicious. When asked what something is, Ryo responds in the way I now would expect most younger Osakan’s to reply. “Fuck the what is it man! Just eat it! It’s delicious.” Over the course of the meal we did squeeze in one plate of grill asparagus, and to round out the missing starches of the night we each had a few beers to wash down our banter and sea born feast. It was the best meal I’ve had in Japan; the presence of excellent company (which it seems I am never lacking these days) added to the night, but oh the food. I could not find the place again if I had to. I can tell you it is in Umeda (the centerish of Osaka, business skyscrapers and neon lights). It was a part of my weekend of being directed through a maze. Guided by friends and strangers I’d like to count as friends now through a noisy clustered mass of cars and streets, city like subways, and the biggest public transportation station I have ever had the pleasure of getting lost in. I am still recovering from my weekend in earnest, but man was it worth it.
So on to the rest of the story I suppose, or rather the filling in of the gaps. I went on a little mini spring vacation to the second biggest city in Japan, Osaka. Now, traditionally Osaka was the merchant city, and it’s always had this little rivalry with Tokyo. Osakan people think people who speak Tokyo influenced Japanese sound stiff and overly mannered, while to a Tokyo native Osakans come off as gruff and crude. Osaka is also the self-proclaimed food capital of Japan. I took a high way bus up on Friday, and spent my first two hours wandering Umeda Station (which in my defense is connected two subways, the JR Railways, JR commuter lines, the Airport Shuttles, and the Bus Station not to mention the snaking network of shops that course through that busy mini city) attempting to find the bathroom. I will also excuse my utter lack of direction with the fact that I awoke Thursday with a slight fever, a cough that set lightning a crackling through my lungs, and virtually no voice. I found my way to the Osaka Aquarium (BUT ANDREW YOU”VE BEEN THERE BEFORE! I love aquariums, and being that I had my fancy lovely new camera it seemed the perfect way to waist time in a relaxed space). After two hours and 153 pictures of jelly fish I headed to Shinsaibashi (famous restaurant district to meet up with my roommate from Tokyo Orientation, Carter (you may also remember him from such exciting posts as Naked Man).
Carter and I met up, and immediately went for grub. He is in Osaka almost every weekend, and being a fellow foody knows some damn fine eateries. Classically trained Mexican was on the menu for tonight. The place had charm and enough character to go around for years. Friendly staff, really really good food (the highlights for me were the slow cooked pork tongue tacos), and the margarita on the rocks made it quite the lovely dining experience. The lime and tequila helped my throat feel that false kind of better that you hope will last all night because you know when it goes away it’ll probably hurt worse. Then we met up with Carter’s friends and hand a long night of meeting new people. We slept in a capsule hotel (If you don’t know what this is, it is a rented bed and that is it. You rent a bed that is enclosed in a pod that you crawl into to sleep. Just enough space to sit up. No extra. Very cheap accommodations for frequent city commuters.)

The next day we went to an onsen (Japanese bath house) to wash away the smell of cigarettes and tortillas from the night before. Carter went off to meet a friend, and I met up with Corey (insert story about best food in Japan yet here). After I returned to a bar from the night before where there had been a fairly healthy crowd of English speakers. Carter and I wound up spending time with these Japanese chefs who spoke English very well, and seemed to think our food fascinations were endearing to say the least. They were fun beyond reckoning and kept us out till 8 in the A.M. talking and listening to live Brazilian music. After a night of no sleep, Carter departed for Wakayama and I was graciously entertained and fed well by my new Japanese friends who stayed with me until my bus left for Kochi at 1:30 that afternoon. The bus ride home was. . . well. . . filled with soar throats, uncontrollable coughing, and lots of napping. Traveling while sick, it seems makes, you sicker. Spent the rest of the week getting the green gunk outtalk my lungs, and terrorizing my office. My JTE’s all went a scattering at the mere sound of my raspy cough, and to this day they have not been seen near me (joking). I'm all well and fine now. More, more, more updates long over due to come. But now . . . . bed! but first Jelly fish and a turtle! for more go to my flickr page:


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One to Catch you up.

Well over two months ago I returned home on the anniversary of my first year in Japan. Fourteen hours on a plane, 5 full length feature films, two episodes of airplane TV, 1.5 warmed over cardboard tasting meals, and the seemingly mandatory unpleasantly rude and crowded two hour stagger through US immigration put me finally in the familiar embrace of my two very best friends.

(Now, you’ll notice, if you are an especially aware reader, that I went home way back in the beginning of August. Since we’re now to the late middle of October, I obviously have been a miserably undedicated narrator these past months. I hope to write another post with great haste to bring back the great and grand times of my past months, but let’s get back on track with the story at hand.)
My parents are simply put the best, and somehow my excitement to see them and the rest of my family destroyed the ever talked about trials of jetlag. I adjusted quickly to the time, and spent two weeks in Parkersburg (hence forth referred to as “The Burg”). I ate like a king for days on end. All the trappings of flavors long desired and seldom seen in Japan: salamis, cured meats, blue cheeses, cheap watermelon (this was fantastic), Mexican foods, Grandma’s angle food cake, and GOOD BEER (oh how I have missed good beers).

While the food was fantastic, the company was the real treat of being home. The time spent with my grandparents was especially wonderful. I finally got a chance to photograph my grandfather’s old cars and barns (I have been waiting for the right camera for this job for years it seems, and my Nikon really came through).

It was so great to spend those two weeks soaking in my family, but for all the greatness of my visit there was the undeniable strangeness of returning “home” to America. This can perhaps be best outlined by a shopping excursion to Sam’s Club. I never realized how different the shopping layouts and personal mannerisms of the crowds that surround you can affect you. Everything and everyone in Sam’s seemed huge and ridiculous to me. From the giagantor sized cuts of beef, pork, and chicken to the cheapness of the produce. From the towering ceilings to the super sized waist lines I saw, EVERYTHING WAS HUGE! It took my breath away, and blew my mind. My world was rocked. There were 100 times these realizations as I drove, walked, and looked upon my home town through the eyes of the me that has been living in Japan. This is something we’re told at every orientation meeting, and that I experienced personally when I returned from living in Nagasaki for a semester. Reverse culture shock is such a challenge for some, and for me I think it was made stronger by how much I adore my life here in Japan. NOT THAT I DIDN`T, OR DON`T, love my life back home, but my life here in Japan is so vastly different in so many ways that were I to return to living in The Burg it would seem like a great loss of many things I find comforting now. I won’t list those things, and know that many of them are the fantastic friends I’ve turned into my family away from family here, but it is safe to say that whenever I return to the States in a permanent way I predict it will take time to readjust to all the Americanisms.
I must be clear that I am not saying Japan is better than America, or that one place has it right – rather, I am saying that I clearly love my memories of home, and the bonds of friendship I have with my family are the foundation of all that I am, but flying back to Kochi felt a whole lot like coming home. This is the longest I have lived in one place since High school (without substantial breaks like there are in college). Nothing more, perhaps, then thoughts on a cloudy fall day. Home was indisputably wonderful, but I really can’t wait to share my new home with my parents and see their reactions to the world that has become so familiar to me over this past year.
More to come