Hard as it is to believe, it's been almost two months since I packed up all my crap and moved across the world. I went for a bike ride on Saturday, and everything already felt like autumn. The soybean plants and rice fields are turning brown, the trees are slowly starting to change color, and the air has a crispness to it that only comes when summer is truly on the way out--appropriate, since my bike ride happened on the last day of the season. There's a really nice bike trail that goes along the coast which I took. It takes a detour along the river that marks the line between Kurobe and Uozu, the next town over, and all along the river were beautiful white cranes sunning themselves. It was a great way to start off the weekend!
It's interesting being a legitimate career-woman. Sometimes when I'm sitting at my desk in the teacher's room, I feel like an imposter--like someone who duped everyone into believing that she has her metaphorical ducks in a nice, mature row. How did I fool anyone into thinking I'm grown-up and qualified to shape the nation's young people?
Once I get into the classroom, though, it's obvious that my job isn't really about being a qualified teacher. It's about making sure that the students have a fun enough time in English Conversation Class that they look forward to coming back next week. It's about making sure they have a solid, real connection to learning English. If I do nothing else, hopefully I can manage that.
My first couple weeks of teaching have been exhausting but a ton of fun. The elementary schools (particularly the younger grades) are very excited to see me, especially since I only come once a week, and when it comes to learning English they're still at an age where they're happy and willing to learn. I go to my junior high school three days a week and each of my two elementary schools once a week, so I get to see a lot of students. Hopefully in a few months or so, I can have a little more control over lesson plans and that sort of thing, but for now I'm content to let the teachers I'm Team Teaching with hold the reins.
Some of the more interesting questions I've had from students:
Do you hate exercise? (What are you trying to say, little girl?)
Have you ever seen a bear?
What's your favorite gemstone? (This was from a boy, by the way)
How many children do you have?
What's your favorite pattern? (I answered polka dots, as it's a subject that I have never given much thought)
The elementary school kids are content to have me run around on the playground with them, which is always a good way to expend some energy. As for the junior high kids, they're a little bit more reserved and conscious of making mistakes, but they're fun in a different way. They're more mature, more capable of learning English and using it to communicate in ways that elementary school kids can't.
I met the seventh graders for the first time yesterday, and one of them was so excited to see me. After class, she was in the staff room for some reason that I still don't understand (there's a board, and students write down what's on the board, but that's as far as I get.) During class, she mentioned that her hobby was reading books, so I asked what her favorite book was. She said it was a book called Kirin (or giraffe, in English) and she seemed so pleased when I wrote it down and told her I'd see if the library had it.
I did, incidentally, but the Japanese is WAY too hard for me, and, alas, no English translation exists.
Yesterday I drove to Toyama City with my friend Amanda to check out a few things, one of which was an allegedly vegan cafe recommended to me by one of the other JETs. After a brief, fierce struggle with Apple Maps, we found it. The parking lot and the restaurant were both tiny, but it couldn't have been more perfect. The decor inside looked very much like what you might find in a hipster coffee house back in the US, with mismatched chairs, wooden tables, and reading material piled into crates along the wall. It was extremely cozy. On top of that, they have two cats that wander freely around the cafe, one of which was black and had a stub-tail just like Buddy's! He was adorable.
The menu consisted of four different lunch options (lentil soup, two different types of portage soup that I couldn't read but were nevertheless delicious, and soy-meat, eggplant curry) a ton of drinks, a bean salad, and some delicious fruit cake for dessert--all for about 13 bucks. Totally worth it. The best part was that I ordered tea to drink and it came in an actual pot! Back in Denver, I go to the local English tea room (The House of Commons) with Cailey once a week, and it's been something that I've really missed here in Japan. Finding it again, especially somewhere so relaxing and pleasant, was fantastic. The waitress (also most likely the co-owner) was very sweet as well.
I usually try not to complain about it (because it's my choice to be a vegetarian) but there's a low level of unavoidable stress that comes with eating out for me. No matter where I go, there's always that niggling worry that there's something hidden in my food that I don't know about--chicken stock, bits of beef, fish oil. The stress is so low-level and so omnipresent that I only really notice it when it's gone. Going to a place where I can eat anything on the menu is such a fantastic, liberating feeling. Pairing it with delicious food, a cozy atmosphere, and bob-tailed cats? Paradise. The only problem? It's in Toyama City, an hour drive from Kurobe.
Today we have yet another national holiday (making this my third three-day-weekend in a row!) so I'm thinking another bike ride might be in order.
-To a woman at my school, I described my Nalgene as "A brand of watermelon" instead of waterbottle. (watermelon=suika, waterbottle=suito)
-To the cashier at our local home-goods store, I said: "I don't need a bath." rather than "I don't need a bag." (bath=furo, bag=fukuro)
-I said "I'm home!" instead of "Welcome home!"
-To the question of whether I wanted my chai iced or hot, I answered: "Yes."
It's true what they say about making mistakes, though! When it comes to embarrassing yourself in front of your friends and your adopted-countrymen, you never make the same one twice.