Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Repeat after me: Explore, Explore, Explore.

So a lot has happened this week. I’m making another post about some fun things I’ve done recently. My training group had Saturday, Sunday and Monday off, which was pretty wonderful. Saturday was a day of recuperation from the exhaustion of jumping around like a five year old all week. I admit I had way too much fun pretending to be a little Japanese kid when participating in other people’s demo lessons. Perhaps I got a little too into it. Let’s just say my performances were unnecessarily complete with child-like voices and Japan-ized pronunciations of vocabulary words.

Saturday night, I went out with the majority of our 15-person training group. We found some seedy bars playing American pop music in Roppongi Hills. I have never seen so many foreigners in Japan at one time before. I went home early to meet up with my boyfriend so we could hang out at the guest house and watch some movies or something. However, I had stupidly put my room key in my coat pocket, and proceeded to lose it somewhere in Roppongi. I didn’t realize it until we got to my guest house. We spent a good hour or so wandering Koganei-shi (my area, or city, whatever you’d like to call it) looking for a place for me to stay because the guest house office had been closed since 6pm. Apparently no one ever needs a place to stay out here in Koganei. At this point, the trains back to downtown Tokyo had all stopped running, that included any trains back to his home, as well. So we hailed a cab and we went to a nearby town/city called Kokobunji (sure I spelled that wrong.) After wandering and being turned away by three hotels in a row, the fourth time was the charm. The next morning I had to go buy a new key from the guest house’s office. Let’s just say that the night was a bit adventurous, shall we? I don’t like to use the word stressful if I can help it.

Sunday was much better. Wandered Shinjuku (where Tokyo’s “Times square” is located) with the boyfriend, learning about Japanese department stores that carry every product you could ever want or imagine. Amazing. Nobody does department stores better than the Japanese. He also showed me a good bookstore that carries a lot of books in English. Then we went over to an area called Ebisu that had a lot of foreign cuisines: Mexican, Italian, Indian, Chinese. We chose Mexican at this place called Zest Cantina. The interior was basically a saloon. It had balconies that would have been perfect for some cowboy to begin a duel with some of the tougher looking diners below. Lovely ambiance, great food. Extremely un-Japanese. Although, the Japanese version of Mexican food basically means American food. I’m pretty sure Chicken pot pie doesn’t count as Mexican food…not even Tex Mex.

On Monday, I went to a place called Kamakura with four other people from my training group. It was about an hour South from the center of Tokyo, towards the coast. It’s famous for it’s large number of ancient religious temples and a HUMONGOUS Buddha statue. We ended up taking a detour through a long hiking trail. We weren’t exactly prepared for this adventure, but it was pretty beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise and just being out in nature again. We probably should have had some lunch before undertaking such a trek, but we weren't that smart. After a few hours of getting lost in the woods and trying to work our way southwards towards the great big Buddha, we hopped on a train to a place called Enoshima. There’s a bridge from the mainland to an island where there are many restaurants and you can watch the sun set over the sea. You can also see Mt. Fuji across the water in the distance. It was absolutely stunning. The day ended with a very satisfying Japanese meal at an Izakaya- basically a Japanese sit down bar with really good food. One delightful discovery: REAL Japanese gyoza (dumplings) are a million times better than anything you can get from your freezer, or even a restaurant in the U.S.

Anyway, today was the first day of training for teaching classes at the adult/higher levels. So far, so good. I had to go observe a current teacher while he taught two classes this evening. I sat at the table with him and his four students and basically watched. He let the students try to ask me some questions in English, but they were pretty shy. The age range was about 20’s to 50’s I’d say. Observing the two classes, one after another, was extremely helpful though. Seeing as we don’t actually get to work with any real Japanese students until AFTER training is over, I am very glad we at least get to observe some real classes taught by real teachers to real Japanese students.

After observing the classes, I met up with Yu who invited me to a secret opening at a gallery for a show of collaborative works by Yoshitomo Nara and another Japanese artist named Sugito (I think?). Probably most of you Wash U art kids already know this, but Yoshitomo Nara is an internationally famous Japanese artist. He is represented by the gallery that Yu works for. One of the former employees at Yu’s gallery opened up her own gallery about a year or two ago and tonight she had this show for Nara and Sugito. It was very exciting to be in on this secretive opening. I even got to talk to Nara himself and have my picture taken with him. He knew a bit of English, but Yu says he’s much better at German. Well, who cares, I got to meet Yoshitomo Nara. Take that! Oh, and the art was pretty good too…

One week down, one to go

I have now completed one week of the two-week training session for ECC. Our training group of 15 is apparently abnormally large and so we were split into two smaller groups. My group began with Kids English World (KEW) training. KEW classes are for children from ages 1.5 to 12. For the past week the people in my group have gotten to know each other fairly well, considering it’s only been a week, because we've been forced to make complete asses of ourselves in front of each other.

In kids classes it is important to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, or else the kids won’t have any fun. And, I suppose it goes without saying, neither will the teacher. We learned how to teach simple vocabulary words, grammar and sentence structures among other things. We learned a plethora of ridiculously annoying, nonsensical, sometimes catchy, but more often extremely awful and non-musical songs, complete with a whole routine of gestures. (I don’t dare call them dances). There was the “make a pizza” song, the hello song, goodbye song, let’s have fun at ECC song, Old McDonald, Itsy Bitsy spider song, etc. I had to do a demo lesson where I taught the other trainees how to sing “Old McDonald...” If I hated that song before, I really do now. It’s an awfully difficult song to teach to people without actually speaking much English. We’ve had to rely on gestures and flashcards, because in the real classes if we try to explain anything in language more difficult than cave-man talk, they won’t know what the HELL we’re talking about. Of course, these songs are for classes with kids ages 1.5 to about 6.

Truthfully, I actually loved Kid’s training. It turned out to be a lot of fun because… oh yeah, I forgot, I think singing and dancing and being a goofball is ridiculously fun and always have. I suddenly have a hunch I may not be so bad with children after all. (Now I’m wondering why I was so adamant about turning down babysitting jobs as a kid.) Granted, I haven’t actually taught any real classes yet, but my last demo lesson on Friday kind of, well…kicked ass, I think. The other trainees had very positive reactions, such as “your demo was the best one.” (That means something, right?) Even the Kid’s class trainer said it pretty much rocked. I was rather shocked by the whole thing. I was pretty nervous about it, but as soon as I began it was totally fine. I suppose I did a lot of preparation the night before due to this nervousness. The lesson I prepared for the demo was for ages 4-6. A lesson for that age group involves making absolutely everything seem new and amazing and exciting. For example, when teaching vocabulary words you must sound like this: “Oh my god!! I can’t believe it, what is this?! Ohh wowwowwow this is so cool!!!??!!! What is it? YES! It IS an apple! Amazing! Well done! Good job little Yuki! High five! Woooweee. Can everyone repeat that? Apple? Good. Apple. Good. I can’t hear you! Ohhh gooood job, aand high fives for everyone else too! Wahoo wahoo” and so on.

And the weird thing about the really young kids’ classes is that their parents attend and participate in the class too. So you have to make an effort to include the parents: “Mrs. Matsuki, since your two-year-old is still a slobbery teething creature that doesn’t even know what the hell is happening and doesn’t know what letter this is, can you tell me what letter this is? YES! Wow, great. It is an “A”! You got it! Good job, high five Mrs. Matsuki!” It’s ridiculous. And it’s really hard to keep up this level of over-excitement when you are doing a demo lesson with other trainees pretending to be the students and parents. They are tired from training, feel awkward about having to sing dumb songs in front of everyone else, and are not excited about your lesson at all. I also had to teach them the retarded Goodbye Song. Imagine as you will.
I also had to teach them words like apple, cake, egg, ant, the letters A through F of the alphabet, and of course, the whole alphabet song. The kids bring in these foam alphabet letters and you have to think of silly things to do with them while you teach them the alphabet. "Okay what letter is this? A! that’s right. Let’s say A over and over again and then put the foam letter A on our heads and then shake it off like a dog and then take letter B and throw it at the door! Quick! Yeah yeah yeah!" Kids apparently go gaga over that stuff. Who knew? They also like it when you teach them how to say vocabulary words in funny voices and do silly gestures that act out the meanings of the words. I actually really enjoy doing all of these things. This is good because after my demo lesson on Friday a couple of us trainees were assigned a bunch of kids classes to take over immediately after training ends. I guess some people need to leave Japan early and break contract, so people like me, who come in near the end of the school year, can take over their classes for the last month or so. As a result, I have at least three kids classes starting soon, not sure how many in total. The three age ranges I’ll be teaching are 4-6, 6-8, and 9-12. I think the 9-12 will be the most challenging because that’s the age when kids are no longer interested in learning and are suddenly very interested in impressing their friends. This includes making fun of their teacher and not doing their work or participating. I think this also may be the age range where the occasional kancho may be bestowed upon poor unsuspecting foreign teachers. If you haven’t heard, kanchoing is when Japanese kids find it hilarious to stick their fingers up their English teacher’s butts through their pants. My kid’s trainer actually warned us never to turn our backs to our students. Oh dear.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Well, here it goes...

[I apologize in advance for how long this post is].

Well, I am adjusting to this new life extremely quickly. I suppose visiting Japan this past summer allowed me to get the culture shock thing over with. I also think studying in Italy for a semester gave me previous experience with setting up a new life in a new country. I was expecting to be super lonely, terrified, homesick… those things. But honestly, things have been going very smoothly.

I also feel like I’m learning Japanese phrases pretty quickly. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly good at learning languages, but in the past couple days I’ve learned a lot. Already I can get around fairly well--or, at least, I am very good at buying things. Anyway, I feel good about it because only a few days ago I remember being at a restaurant when the waitress was chattering away at me. I had no idea what to say, I didn’t understand her, and I didn’t know how to say anything in Japanese that was appropriate for the situation. I also either felt it was rude/inappropriate to try using English… or, I momentarily forgot how to speak my native tongue. Either way, I was a deer in headlights. I suspect she thought I was mute. Regardless, the Japanese must think Westerners are pretty darn weird.

On another note, exploring is my new favorite pastime. I’ve begun walking for long stretches of time, sometimes up to 4 hours. I just pick a direction and start walking. If I see a street that looks interesting in anyway, such as attractively bustling and colorful, or intriguingly quiet, I walk down it. I can’t stop walking. I don’t want to miss anything. There might be something really great just a few blocks further. It’s amazing how one area or stretch of a road can be really noisy and busy and then you walk a couple minutes and suddenly the streets are empty and it’s almost disturbingly peaceful and quiet. Anyway, I love getting lost and trying to get home a different route than I came. I did that often when I lived in Florence. By the end of the semester I knew Florence like the back of my hand. I had a complete mental picture of the city in my head. Of course, Florence is nothing compared to Tokyo in size, but I was still rather proud of the feat. I’m also relieved to find that I actually have quite a superb sense of direction. For about, oh, twenty years I thought I had a terrible one. Turns out I just had a short attention span.

The guest house is pretty cool. The place is really cold, though. I have to work the heater in my room by feeding it with coins. It’s roughly $1 for 3 hours of heat. Weird. Another strange thing is if you have a guest in the building—even for 5 minutes, you have to phone the office and tell them in advance. If a guest arrives after 8pm, they are automatically considered an overnight guest. If you have overnight guests more than twice a week, the third time you are charged for their stay. There are a lot of rules. Another crappy one is that I’m not allowed to use Skype because it slows down the free Internet that barely works half the time anyway. All in all, people are pretty nice here at Big World. There are about 60 rooms. I’d say about half the tenants are foreigners and the rest are Japanese. Everyone is in their 20s & 30s and there are a bunch of us who work for ECC. There are three of us new teachers living here, so the other two will be in my training session.

On Friday night, I went to an art opening with my boyfriend. A friend of his was having a show of her work. It was really nice to be mingling in a casual setting with young Japanese artist-types. The food was also fabulous and there was an abundance of wine. The art was pretty interesting, too. The most impressive piece, called "Man Globe," consisted of a HUGE knitted globe that had motion sensors on it. On each continent, there was an eye that would open and close every time someone walked by. So basically, a huge knitted globe of fuzzy yarn that winked at you. The best part, though, was meeting a friend of my boyfriend who had learned English studying in Australia. She spoke with an Australian accent and was really bubbly and talkative. We talked for most of the opening. I learned that she has an acute fondness for beer. She has also been on the curator career track, but is slightly cynical about the art world, which allowed us to bond over being young and confused and annoyed by the art world. She also told me a lot about her confusing love life.

Let’s see... I have a kitchen in my guest house, but I haven’t really tried buying groceries, let alone trying to cook. I share a kitchen with 59 other people, and apparently I am a little apprehensive about cooking in front of other people. Perhaps it has to do with my embarrassing tendency to overcook things and fill the sink with an unnecessarily obscene amount of dishes (Hey, I’m still learning). I really need to avoid falling into the habit of picking up ready-made food at the many Konbini’s nearby, though. A konbini is a Convenience Store, such as Seven Eleven—which they have many of here. Of course, Japanese people can’t say "convenience," so they changed it to Konbini. Of course. Another thing I eat a lot here which is awesome: pumpkin. It’s amazing when fried in tempura batter. Also, my favorite seafood is officially eel (unagi), especially when it’s raw. Who knew? Sadly, eel is not in season right now. I didn’t realize that meat or fish could be in season, like a vegetable(!), but this is what Yu says, and apparently eel tastes much better in the summer. Well, fine, but I still think it’s tasty. I like to think of eel as the duck of seafood. Duck is such a rich, fatty, juicy meat, (here I go with my weird meat obsessions again, it’s just so damn tasty) and Eel possesses these same delicious qualities, in a fishier way. Another interesting development—at least to me—was that as Yu and I were sitting at one of those sushi places where the sushi goes around on a conveyor belt in front of you, I realized that for the first time I was licking my chops at the sight of raw fish. Now, when I was in Japan back in August I remember having to really talk myself into eating raw fish. I knew it might taste good, but it looked so unappetizing. When we went to the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo this summer and my boyfriend told me that even just looking at a live fish swimming around a tank was very appetizing to him, I thought he was crazy. They made his mouth water while mine, on the other hand, wanted to vomit. I also can’t stand the smell of fish, dead or alive. However, this discovery suggests that I am slowly becoming a bonafide seafood lover.

On a more serious note, training starts tomorrow and lasts for two weeks. I’m looking forward to meeting more English teachers and making more friends that I can hang out with during days off. And I’m, you know, also hoping to learn a bit about teaching... I know I always say I am interested in teaching at the high school level someday, but I'm actually really looking forward to the kid’s classes. I can’t wait to jump around and play games and be goofy with kids. That just sounds terrific. I’m also looking forward to being able to post hilarious Engrish phrases that my students come up with on here. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Big World!!

This is where I'm staying for the first month in Tokyo.


I love the website. So japanese. Hilarious and wonderful. After the month is up I can either move to an apartment set up by ECC, the company I'm working for, or I can stay at Big World, the "artistic" guest house. Maybe it's artistic because all the furniture is mismatched and the walls are painted garishly bright colors. lovely. I hear there's 24 hour internet access though.

Monday, February 4, 2008

welcome to my blog. i leave for japan in exactly a week. extremely excited + nervous. what else would you expect?