Thursday, April 22, 2010


My new morning routine at Toyota Yogo of greeting the students and chatting with as many as I can individually has absolutely been a success! Not only am I much happier, but it's a joy to see the smiling faces of my students. Of course, like all Japanese kids, when asked how they're doing, they are drilled with the “I'm fine thank you and you.” all pushed out as though it were only one word. Occasionally, especially in the class before school lunch, I'll get “I'm hungry,” or “I'm tired” but “I'm fine thank you and you,” is definitely the standard. So it was a joy today at school lunch when Tommy (that's not his real name, but he asked me to call him that) came over and asked, “What's up?” (clearly the last ALT had taught him and at least one of the other boys that phrase. We all do our part to break the conversational chains of “I'm fine thank you and you” in our own ways.)

Tommy delivered the “what's up” so perfectly (and it was such a surprise), that I immediately responded in the natural way, “Nothing much, just chillin' chillin.” to which he stared somewhat blankly at me. So now I know what I'm going to be teaching my Toyota Yogo High Schoolers next week. It's so great to have such a variety of ages of students at Toyota Yogo. I have kids from ages 6 to 17; it provides a huge amount of great variety! Today at school lunch, I was sitting next to Shinobu, a middle school girl (one of a pair of twins) who after a little bit began to (very quietly) start chattering away at me (in Japanese) about music. I didn't understand most of it. That's in part because she was a little shy and thus quiet. But we still had a good time.

I had to leave early today for the monthly meeting of our company's Toyota City ALTs. This meant I could only stay for about five minutes of the High School class, which was a shame because that's my favorite class. We were talking about hobbies, so first I had to read the dialogue from the textbook between Aki and Tom, who were talking about their various hobbies. This was a huge step up from “Whose Wedding? from last class, which featured a woman tricking her longtime boyfriend into marrying her by planning their wedding behind his back (telling him that it was his friend's and getting his friend involved as well) so he didn't know he was getting married until he got there. Anyone else taking bets for how long it's going to be before these two are on Dr. Phil?

So the hobbies dialogue was a major improvement. I made sure to deliver the male and female voices with suitable over the top drama (and clarity), and had them repeat the lines of dialogue with gusto (in appropriate voices). My sensei was cracking up, and the kids seemed engaged (I did make sure to correct their pronunciation also if it was doesn't meal lax, lol). Then I had to run for the train. Here I lucked out again, because as I was leaving the parking lot, one of the HRTs was driving Shion (one of my two first graders from last week's class) and her grandmother home. She offered me a ride to the train station (it was raining all day) and I gleefully took it. This also gave me a chance to chat with Shion (she's so adorable) all the way back to the train station.

After only a very minor period of lostness finding the right room in the right City Hall building (there are two of them connected by a bridge), I made it our monthly meeting. I'm incredibly glad we have this monthly gathering. It gives us additional training, ideas, and a chance to talk with each other about what's going on at our schools. It was reassuring to know I wasn't the only one having problems with scheduling and lesson plans (though from the rather shocked expressions of others around the table, I was definitely on the higher end of initial startup problems). It also gave me some perspective into why things at these schools are starting out so rough. First, all of the schools are preparing for the upcoming Sports Festival (a huge deal at Japanese schools) and also the HRTs are doing home visits to parents. In short, they're overwhelmed. As a result, little things like ME are getting wholly lost in the shuffle. This doesn't make my life any easier, but it does give me perspective, which is good.

That said, it seems I'm supposed to have over a week to prepare lessons, as well as be given very specific guidelines through these faxes about what we're doing in class. I'd really be happy to see this happen soon. Even one day of notice would be most excellent.

I am feeling much better though about my company and the big picture about how things work (and why at points I'm getting the short end of the stick). The people at my company clearly are working very hard and trying their best as are the people at my schools, both of whom work crazy hours. I thought I was a hard worker, but the Japanese work ethic puts me to shame. You can recognize this by the huge number of people you see passed out on the trains and buses at the end of the day; clearly worked to exhaustion. (I'm not advocating this...just an observation). But in the Japanese school system, there are just some systemic things that seem designed to make life as difficult as possible. It sucks, but there you are. I'm just glad to know that most of these issues are (a) not the usual and (b) going to be resolved.

This Saturday, we have followup training in Nagoya. While I'd like a full weekend sometime, I'm happy to be going to Nagoya for the training. It gives me a chance to touch base with the people that I met in Orientation, hopefully get some new job related skills, and of course party all night and spend another early morning passed out in a Manga Cafe! There will be drinking and Karaoke and maybe some clubbing! Mie has also said she wants to join in for the insanity! (Mie is the total bomb! I'm so glad I met her!) I'm going to check in with a couple of the other younger teachers that I've met over the past few weeks and see if other are going to be in the area and down for a night of partying as well. I'd probably have been to cheap to go to Nagoya for the second weekend in a row, but since our transit is reimbursed, I figure, let's make it count!

Dinner at Vash's: Vegetable Stir Fry (onion, bean sprouts, sweet red pepper, and carrots) over noodles with Shrimp and Pork in delicious wok sauce I picked up at the grocery store. Side of avocado and sliced tomato. Drink: Mix of mango, orange and lychee juice with whole lychee inside. Dessert: Strawberries rolled in chocolate (homemade sauce) with side of buttered chocolate bread with strawberry jam.

Cooking at home is negating all of the good exercise I'm doing in the maintaining my waistline department, but ohhh, it's so tasty! And today at the foreign goods store, I found a loaf of wheat bread! I'm soooo happy about this! Now I just need to buy cinnamon, nutmeg and syrup so I can make a good french toast (already have the vanilla extract and milk). And maybe some vanilla yogurt or sour cream for dipping... (I also have everything I need to make hummus except the blender. Shveta gave me a hand blender which should be arriving from the USA sometime soon, I hope)

There was only one down point to my day: I had a major scare this evening when I thought I had lost my camera. Thankfully, it was hiding in with some of my teaching materials. I'm so glad! Phew!

Another great day in Toyota! Tomorrow, back to the beginning at another new to me school: Ibo Elementary.