Thursday, November 25, 2004

Weekend of Halloween

The Weekend of October 30th (Saturday) and 31st (Sunday) was a good time. I’ve already posted photos below, so check them out.

Saturday started with a school event that took place in my town at first. I was in charge of asking other JETs to come to Taisha and participate in an “International Day” where we would interact with 4th, 5th and 6th graders from 3 of the local elementary schools.

I managed to get 6 other ALTs to join me for fun with the kids. Heather (Canadian), Olivia (American by way of Singapore), Amy (Canadian), Rob (American) and his girlfriend Kayoko (who supplied the digital pics), Chris (American) and me all joined some Chinese language teachers on a bus trip to Akagi-cho to pick apples and spend some time with the students.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but the man in charge was really organized and good with the kids, having prepared games to play on the bus and activities to keep us busy.

It turned out to be a slightly overcast day, but no rain fell, so that was good. The apple orchard ended up being about two-hours away by bus, but the kids were surprisingly content and we played some games along the way. Many of the students in my group asked me to draw something in their event program. I really need to learn to draw a few things other than my old standby (Batman) that I can draw quickly. Until you have to interact with younger children on a daily basis you don’t realize how useful it would be to know a few magic tricks or how to juggle or how to draw.

The apples were big and tasty, and very sweet. We ate our fill and then it was off to pick blueberries, which weren’t quite as tasty. Then we had lunch, all sitting around a baseball diamond. The lunch consisted of “chocolate” milk and various sweet breads. That’s it. Nothing “savory” at all. I guess they figured we’d already be half-full from all the apples. I say chocolate milk hesitantly because I have yet to have true chocolate milk here - it’s always flavored with some degree of coffee flavoring. They want to hook the kids early I guess. They also love to fill their bread with bean paste or other fillings. I’m sure I could tell what I was about to eat if I could read the kanji on the packaging, but sometimes I take a blind bite only to be met by a strange and unexpected taste sensation.

We played some games like a very fast Japanese version of patty cake and then a spirited game of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” I displayed my virtuosity at elbow-quarter-catching. This is where you stack coins on your raised and bent elbow and then in one swift motion, you lower and extend your arm and catch all the coins in your hand. Oohs and Aahhhs from the kids. :)

We got back in the bus and headed back to Taisha. Impromptu autograph sessions broke out, and the kids even asked for mine, even though most of them see me all the time at their respective elementary schools. I brought picture flash cards and we had a little trivia bee in the back of the bus, while the Chinese ALTs sang traditional songs. When asked to sing an American song, all I could think of was B-I-N-G-O, so we sang that and had fun clapping along.

When we arrived back in Taisha, we were asked to say a few words to the kids and some of the parents that had arrived to pick them up. I spoke mostly in English, but added a deferential “Arigatoo Gozaimasu” and bowed. Somebody else also said “arigatoo” at the end of their speech, but instead of the usual and correct pronunciation of “are-ri-gaw-toe” they pronounced it “ah-rehg-gih-tow”. Unbelievable. If there’s one word you should know how to say after being here for a while, it’s "arigatoo gozaimasu." Heck, hadn’t they ever heard the Styx song “Mr. Roboto”?

Anyway, another nice bonus was that the event organizers paid us for our travel expenses and our time. I wasn’t expecting anything, but the extra cash was a nice surprise.

That night, my friend, Rusty, who lives in Izumo was having a Halloween party. He wasn’t expecting that many people to show up, since many JETs had attended the bigger party in Matsue the night before, but by the time I got to his apartment, located in the appropriately named complex “The Friendship House,” at 10pm, there were about 20 people enjoying themselves, most of them in costume. I had wanted to wear my Merlin costume, but I absent-mindedly left it at school on Friday. So I went in civilian clothes and was roundly chastised for not improvising some sort of costume, especially by Rusty, who was wearing a makeshift toga made from one of his bed sheets. Fun was had by all, and the party went on to the wee hours of the morning. Downstairs, they had a HUGE carved pumpkin in the window. Not sure where they got it, since orange pumpkins are rare in Japan, let alone one of this gargantuan size. Should have snapped a photo of it.

Sunday, the 31st, was a lazy day. I got up about 10 am and called Rusty, who was surprisingly awake. We had planned on meeting over at my aparto to attend a soba noodle tasting that was just up the road from my place. He made it over just after 11 am, and we headed over to check out the eats. Rusty had already purchased coupon books for 900 yen that were good for 1000 yen worth of food. It was really crowded and busy, but we managed to make our way thru the crowds and walked around the various food stalls, checking out what was on offer. We first tried some gyoza (like a chinese pot sticker) that were made with soba wheat. Delicious! Then we wanted to have some hot noodles, so we traded in 600 yen worth of our coupons and got some tasty soba noodles in hot broth. We topped it off with some really good carmel ice cream and sat back and did some people watching, or I should say that people watched us. Various amounts of staring happen whenever we venture out in my town, since I’m the only westerner living in Taisha. We met our friend, Dustin, at the tasting and he invited us over to his place later to watch a Japanese movie called “Casshern.” Dustin is an American who’s on his fifth year as a JET. He teaches exclusively at elementary schools and his Japanese is very good. He’s just secured a job up in Hokkaido so he can stay in Japan after his contract with JET expires next July. (Five years is the maximum you can be in the programme) Rusty, Lisa (an American ALT living at the Friendship House), Mark (an Irish CIR also living at the Friendship House), Fintan (an Irish ALT from Matsue) and Dustin and myself all squeezed into his small apartment and watched this flick. It was incredibly weird and surreal, but beautifully made and put together. It was raining when we all set out for home later that night, so I got pretty wet going home on my scooter. One of the few drawbacks to my otherwise excellent mode of transport.

So that was that weekend - pretty good in sum, I must say.

Next longer posting will be about my trip out to the glorious OKI Islands that took place the first weekend in November. Also, I need to give you the results of the various speech contests I attended this month.

More soon.


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