Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Kathy's Revenge

If you want to hear Joanne's side of the "rappelling with Brazilian men" story, you can check out her website Adventures of the Green Pea. As you will also see some not-so-flattering pictures of me there, I include the following picture of Joanne as REVENGE!
heh heh heh...

Monday, May 30, 2005

Hi everyone! We know how much you like our exciting stories of weekend adventures, even if our lives are actually pretty normal and mundane. So here is a short description of our latest adventure.

I really wanted to take pictures this weekend. Kathy knew that, and agreed to go with me. Problem was, I wanted to be somewhere really nice for the sunrise. The best place I know is the Nikko area. Problem was, that's a two hour drive. I figured we could just leave early - the traffic wouldn't be to bad that way. Problem was, the sun rises at 4:20am.

I got up at 3 AM and by 3:40 Kathy had rolled into the back of the car and we were off. We drove from Ota, through Nikko, west towards Numata and finally back by going over Akagi mountain. What a crazy and wonderful time we had. Amazing views, a beautiful hike around a small lake above Nikko, and lots of driving. In fact we only got home at 4pm. I was so tired that I went to bed...and didn't get up until Sunday morning at 6:30. But I haven't felt that rested for ages!

The view from the lookout on top of Akagi mountain.
One of the many red bridges we saw in our travels.

We went in order for me to take pictures, but since I used slide film it is going to be a few more days until I can get it developed. Then I'll post some of them to the photosite and to my new flickr account.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

As Promised...

More pics from the past weekend. We had a good one, just based around home. Saturday morning I biked 30 minutes to Oizumi, the next town over to watch my junior high's soccer team play. As an added bonus, the girls' softball team was playing right behind them, so I could watch both games.

I decided on Saturday I could definitely see myself as a soccer mom someday. Just substitute the blue tarp for a Coleman's chair, and the carafes of iced coffee for an extra-large-tea-with-one-sugar from Tim Horton's (see...I haven't forgotten my roots!)

It is crazy though, the way teachers are worked in this country. They all have to help with 'club activities.' These activities involve practices about 5 out of 7 days of the week (yes, they meet on weekends to practice) and then tournaments on many weekends... sometimes on both Saturday AND Sunday. And sports teams generally have two teachers to help. One official coach and then an assistant, who is there to help if anyone gets injured. Although perhaps the table tennis team doesn't require this second person...but you never know... those games can get pretty rowdy! (sorry)

Here's the boys scoring a goal. They won 5-1!
And this is the group after the game, getting a talking to from the much-feared and loathed Nishimaki sensei. Ozawa sensei (a wonderful, amazing English teacher I work with and sit beside) is on the far left.
Here's a bunch of the girls cheering for their team. Hiruma sensei (their coach) is standing. And Takagi sensei (one of the English teachers I work with) is sitting.
In the afternoon, we went to see Imayasu sensei perform in a free mandolin/guitar concert, held in a ... doctor's clinic ... That is Imayasu sensei, who has become a good friend. Her and her husband spent a couple years living in the States.
Yes, that is the audience. We are all seated on our respective floor cushions, happy with our free bottles of cool green tea. This picture was during a "sing along" number. Apparently a tune that was popular about 40 years ago, when these folks were well, younger. As an aside, doesn't Jeff look huge???
I could see you really enjoyed the "plus and minus" girls, so here's another winning shot for y'all! This is Scott, or in this case, Superman (another English teacher...duh, really?) and me, plus girl. Jeff told us to pose. Apparently, we did.
Before leaving the fair in Tatebayashi, Brie, Rob, and I took the opportunity to pose with the friendly police officers. I saluted the wrong way on purpose, to avoid smacking the officer in the cheek. Apparently, Rob didn't feel this courtesy was necessary... ;-)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Weekend Around Home

It was a good weekend. Below are two pictures from today. In the morning, we went to a little fair in Tatebayashi, a city nearby. The purpose of the fair was to promote the small businesses of the area, so our English school had a booth set up. We were trying to attract kids with the lure of candy and free balloons. It was pretty fun.

More pictures of the other things we did this weekend will be coming soon. Those pictures were taken with the "real" camera... don't worry, I'm sure Jeff will take care of the rest of that film soon. ;-)
Taken with Jeff's cell phone. This is Ayako and I dressed as "plus" and "minus", two of Pikachu's friends (batteries?) This was supposed to attract the kids, but many of the younger ones ran away in fear...
I love how they make cute little cartoon-like pictures for their "poop and scoop" signs. This poor little dog is actually embarrassed!! Look at his flushed cheeks as he checks out the unfortunate and yet aesthetically pleasing pile he has just deposited!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

For Mom

Happy Birthday!!!!!
Yes, maybe the cards and the gifts come late...
But you are never forgotten.
You are always thought of. You are always loved.
I love you and I miss you.
I hope you have a wonderful day.

Love you,
Your baby elephant
I don't normally do this, but maybe I will tell you how I am actually feeling. I had a horrible day. I was "homesick" - although not quite. (More like not wanting to be in Japan, but not necessarily missing home - maybe I should call it culture shock). All day, I didn't want to be here (Japan). I felt like I was in highschool again and just got dumped. I wasn't hungry, I wasn't in the mood for anything, and classes were a real burden. To top it off, my Thursday school isn't the best school as far as kids' attitudes go. All day I just wanted to go back to the apartment and sleep.

I noticed on my way home after school that the sky was clearing up in a peculiar way. I thought that maybe I should bring the camera to my Japanese lesson tonight and make a quick stop to take a few pictures of the sunset (I just bought slide film and a "how to" book for landscape pictures). But I decided that there would be another day and another sunset. I was wrong. My crappy day ended with the most glorious sunset I have seen in recent memory. And I didn't bring my camera. It would have been perfect. At least I had my cell phone...

Make what you will of it, sometimes the worst days have their silver lining - don't forget your camera. (Jeff)
At one point even the mountains turned different shades of orange.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

It seems we get more comments on this blog from a certain "stranger" than from family and friends.... (yes this is a guilt trip! ;->) So here are two pictures for our faithful comment-er. Scaffolding you ask? Just check out his site - The Thing of The Moment - the link is on the bottom of the left hand column of this page. (You may have to scroll down a bit but it's worth it).
For the benefit of jkirlin. He seems to have a thing for scaffolding. This is in Shinjuku, near the busiest train station in Japan (and maybe the world?)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Three days that were "Golden"

So every year in May Japan has "golden week." This year, the days off kinda landed funny. We had a Friday off, then had to work Monday, and then had three more days off.


During the three days off, our friend Joanne came to visit us in lowly little Ota, not quite as high class as her home of Tokyo, but much more peaceful. Following are pictures of our time together.
Day One - Kathy dismounting from the terrifying bobsled ride at kodomo no kuni. Joanne barely summoned the courage to go down herself.
Day Two - Kathy REdiscovered Joanne's weakness for Latin men when they were strolling through a quiet park in Ashikaga. These men were bravely displaying their machismo by rappelling down a small hill with ropes that were attached to a railing...(??? I'm past the stage of asking questions...) This is my favourite pic. Joanne was talking to me when she suddenly let out a surprised squeal. One of the aforementioned macho men had just grabbed her "clip" in the process of readying her for her courageous descent. An embarrassed giggle was shared by all.
...and Joanne posing after her successful rappel with four of the five studly Brazilian men. Unfortunately, her favourite was still at the top of the hill...
Yes, that is me, Kathy, lying down in the hatchback of our spacious car. Me, Jeff, Kevin, and Joanne were driving back from the park in Ashikaga. I am seen here concentrating very intensely on a cellphone game. Truth be told, I was just trying to focus on something other than Joanne's drooling tales of the Brazilian men. (haha...sorry Jo, had to do it!)
Day Three - we went once again to Nikko. I'm thinking we should become certified tour guides for the area...we've been there so many times. We could even carry around the cool flags that all the tour guides have in this country... hee hee. This time we took Joanne, and Emily (another ALT), and her boyfriend Dan. It was their first time. We got on the road before 6am, which, if any of you know Kathy's morning habits, was not fun. However, once Joanne and I found this little outdoor coffee shop in Nikko (while Jeffrey was photog-ing), we knew it was going to be a fine day.
Me and Joanne on a bridge in Nikko.
After seeing some of the waterfalls, we trekked to the top of one of them. There were some really beautiful paths along the lake.
And we had lunch in "The Little Yakitori Bar." The same place we took Dagmar and Dave and Dustin to before. With us is Emily and her boyfriend Dan who was down to visit her (for the THIRD time in a YEAR!!!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Felling of Mrs. Wolf

I thought I'd let you have a laugh at my expense...
I was at Minami Sho this afternoon, the elementary school I visit once a week. After school, I have "English Club" with about 20 grade 3 students. I've been teaching them to tell time in English. Today we played "What time is it Mr. (in this case, Mrs.) Wolf?" To my dismay, I had forgotten about my plans for English club when choosing my shoes this morning. As a result, I was wearing an unfortunate pair of black heels. No matter how hard I tried, each time I cried, "It's dinner time!" I just could not catch a single one of those pesky grade threes. On my third time through it, I was determined. I bolted across the dry dirt and gravel (the Japanese alternative to the lush green grass of Canadian schoolyards). Suddenly, I had the unmistaken sensation of losing my footing. For about two seconds my mind was filled with ... "oh no...oh no...oh no..." And then the most spectacular thing happened. Just like Ichiro Suzuki, when catapulting towards home plate, I dove, hands outstretched, body skidding across the gravel and dirt, the crowd watching in awe, amazement, horror...

Surprisingly enough, the patch of dirt was not badly injured. And I too got up with just a few scratches. However, my clothing spoke of the terror it had just witnessed. I have never been so fully ensconced in dirt before. (Yes, I just used the word ensconced. I may teach "my favorite animal is dog," and "I like apple," but I will NOT let my personal command of English be maligned, damn it!)

The cutest part of course, was the great concern and care with which the grade threes dusted me off. One boy in particular, was so focused in his task of brushing off my pants, that he failed to notice all the interesting parts of me he was brushing. You gotta love their innocence at this age!

So...What became of Mrs. Wolf, you ask...

She requested a volunteer replacement wolf and subsequently tended to her bruised ego.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Bear with me here. I came across a couple pictures I had forgotten about sitting on my cell phone. I had to share. By the way, since when has cider and condensed milk been a good pairing - you know, like peanut butter and chocolate?
(Adults only). The sign says it all. Feel Wood. Maybe something is lost in translation. Lip my stocking! Lip my stocking!
Caution! This elevator has crabs!
Introducing the latest model from Daihatsu - the GINO! I'll save you all the racial stereotyping - you can imagine my amazement... The Italian community of Japan tried to speak out their distaste, but there are only 14 of them in the whole country and no one heard.
In case you aren't convinced. There is no camera editing here. This is the Gino.
An old picture I had on my cell phone that I forgot about. For our friends back in Canada, I finally found something you could to relate to for comparison. Now do you believe we have a small car!
The all new and improved Midget II. Now with two seats instead of just one! We didn't make it bigger, we just made the seats smaller so you think there's more room!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Our Weekend in Minakami - Christian Retreat

Well, Jeff wrote his thoughts (below), so I thought I'd write some of mine, too. I was an incredible introvert on this trip. After our evening worship sessions, I would go and read and think in our room while Jeff stayed up with everyone playing games and goofing around. I realized a lot of the same things as Jeff. While I really enjoyed worshipping God with a group of people again, and sharing thoughts and stories, I was really turned off by the "church-type" structure and the "Christian-ese" lingo. I also found I was a lot more sensitive to views that are commonly held by Christians and the church, but are not actually biblically founded. None of these views are necessarily bad, they are just ideas that tend to add to feelings of guilt rather than remembrances of God's grace. (I know some of this is meaningless to a lot of you, but bear with me, we are servicing a wide audience! ;-) )

At the same time, it was a great chance for Jeff and I to get closer and to share a lot of our thoughts. It was also great to meet new people, and to enjoy the area of Minakami, an area famous for its hot springs, (yes, we got naked again), skiing, and rafting. We saw some really beautiful nature. And our hosts made real baking!! I ate a ton of brownies and cookies... wow, so good.

Finally, I was really encouraged in my faith. This year has been a tremendous year of thinking and growing. I've really enjoyed being away from the culture of Canada, as well as church culture. It's given me the freedom to do a lot of sifting. And while many layers have been peeled back, my faith in God has become stronger than ever. And for that, I'm really thankful.
"I'm too sexy for this stick, too sexy for this picture, too sexy...."
Finally a picture of me!
Well, it's Sunday night and I'm delaying deciding what to do tomorrow in class. The weekend was good for Kathy and I. The best part was a chance for us to be a little nervous about meeting a bunch of strangers together, and to "need" each other in a social setting. That part was pretty fun! For me, the weekend reminded me of how much I can dislike the structure of the church, and yet how I need the people in it and am really just seeking God in the midst of all of it. It's a little hard to explain - as Karen (the one in the tire on the bottom right) had to listen to me muddle through. I suppose this year is as much about a struggle for me to find a true faith in/trust in/understanding of God and who he is as it is anything else. It was a good weekend for that for me (Jeff).