Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Human rights" class and the Osaka Aquarium!

Good morning! Wow, what a weekend! I went to Osaka Kaiyukan aquarium and harbor village; it was incredible! But before I get into that, I forgot to mention last week that I gave an interview for one of the Japanese classes at my school (sort of like our English classes in the English-speaking world; focused on literature and various misalaneous topics in the humanities considered important for making us “well rounded individuals.”) The topic of that class, taught by Arita sensei, was human right for foreigners living in Japan.

It was kind of a funny/weird class. In the beginning before my interview, the students got in pairs and described the foreigners that they knew. The first thing they all did was make huge rings around their eyes and laughed saying “Ooki mei!” That`s interesting. In the past, Caucasians always made fun of Asians for their “squint eyes,” but apparently they make fun of us for our “huge eyes.” A few of them tried to “discretely” observe me and make observations, but since I can understand most Japanese adjectives, I knew what they were saying. Big feet, curly hair, (is it really curly?) a little tall, muscular for a girl, maybe a little chubby.

“I think that`s just her sweater.”
“Yeah, foreigners always wear big clothes.”
“I don`t know…her cheeks are kind of chubby.”
“Yeah, I guess you`re right. Foreigners are always kind of fat.”
“What about Chinese?”
“Most of them are too, I think.”

Excuse me? At least they were nicer to me than some of the other assistant language teachers in town. I heard several names I knew, along with “fire hair” and “very loud voice,” “crazy” and other such descriptions. One term really shocked me. Panda. They used it several times, and from the context and who they were talking about, I understood it as their slang for someone who was half black, half white. Really? Wasn`t the purpose of this class to promote the rights of foreigners? Then we got into the interview part, my answers already written out for me ahead of time, as if I hadn`t been here long enough to know how to speak simple English mixed with Japanese. Here`s the transcript:

Arita: Please give an interview. How long have you lived in Japan?

Me: About six month.

Arita: Do you have trouble in Japanese life?

Me: Yes. Japanese is so difficult.

Arita: Do you ever wonder about something in Japan?

Me: Yes. Many Japanese people talked in whispers “gaijinn.” (Please speak with exaggerated gestures!)

Arita: How do you say the word jinkenn” in English?

Me: human rights.

Arita: Did you lean about “human rights” is America?

Me: Yes. I studied it in history and English class.

Arita: Please tell us about the people in the U.S. having many background.

Me: (tell us about background for instance, Chinese American or African American. Please use easy English, and short time…(about two minute)

Arita: Thank you, Laura-sensei! Give her a big hand.

One small explanation: “gaijinn” is the slang term for “gaikokujin.” “Gaijinn” literally means “outside person” or “alien.” “Gaikokujin” means “outside country person,” so it`s a little softer and more polite. It was something I had mentioned to her earlier that year, so she added it to the interview. Sometimes when I sit on the train, the Japanese will stare, and if I sneeze, eat, or talk quietly on the phone, they`ll whisper it really loudly, as if I don`t know what it means. I don`t really find it too offensive, (I can be an obnoxious American sometimes), but Arita sensei thought it was really bad.

Anyway, I just wanted to share that rather amusing experience. Did I mention the “black face” that one of the teachers put on at an assembly last week? Of course, every culture has an idea of what is racist and what is not, and I don`t think the Japanese mean any harm, and if anything our world is too “politically correct.” But I definitely have a sense that the old notion of white people being the only ones with a “racial and cultural superiority complex” is not really the way human nature works. Every culture, deep down, thinks they`re the best and the smartest and the most likely to continue the longest. In the case of Japan, they are right about this on many levels, such as mandatory and fairly simple recycling, low crime rate, convenient and fast mass transportation, rich cultural history mixed with state-of-the-art technology and living standards, and health care/welfare system which works a lot better than America`s and uses less resources. But other areas perhaps, like the suicide rate, workaholic mentality, lack of faith/understanding of religion, rice paper walls/inefficient use of energy, and ridged adherence to rules without any flexibility, could use some improvement.

Anyway, nothing particularly special happened throughout the week, except my Thursday night English class. Seven people came, including one of my students who told me she got into Osaka Language University! It always makes me smile to learn when my students are successful. We had Part one of a Valentine`s lesson where I taught them how to say who they love and why. For the Christian part, I showed my Malawi Missions documentary I made in college, and talked about how happy and joyful the Malawians are, despite the fact that they have nothing. Why? Because those orphans know they are children of God. They know His love, and they love Him. One of the students actually started tearing up during class and said she wanted to have love like that. That`s a great first step!

My regular English lessons were also about Valentine`s Day! We played a warm up “pass the pen” game. I played the song “I just called to say I love you” which was printed in their textbooks and when the music stopped, the person with the pen had to say “I love (blank.) The key was to get them to understand when to use an S and when not to use an S. For example, “I love sports” but “I love basketball.” It`s a little tricky. Then they practiced a “shopping for your valentine” dialogue. And at the end, I taught them the phrase, “Be my valentine” and the tongue twister “Vincent Valentine`s valentine volunteered her Vermeer veil.” Vincent Valentine was a popular character from several movie/video games when I was a kid, and Vermeer, of course, was a famous Dutch painter/designer. But none of the kids knew either of those. And here I thought I was throwing in cultural references they would understand/like! I must be getting old.

Anyway, the highlight of the week was my trip to the Osaka Kaiyukan aquarium with my friend Kayoko! Kaiyukan means “Playing in the sea pavilion.” The aquarium is in the center of a really festive seaside marketplace, and the tanks are made to get you right up close to the animals, so you feel like you`re playing with them. The animals are also trained to interact with visitors.

I stayed up too late on Friday night, so I was pretty tired Saturday morning, but I was keen on catching the 9:08 train to Osaka, so I was up at 7:30am and arrived around 11:00am. (Looking back, I really should have given myself another hour to sleep— why do I have to be so gung ho when I make plans?) But it was really nice just to walk around outside in the beautiful weather before Kayoko arrived. She was coming from Kyoto, the opposite direction, and got a little lost, so I explored the harbor and square. Here`s the front of the aquarium:

And here`s the harbor:

Then I went to the information desk to find out when all the feedings were. I don`t think the Osaka aquarium has any shows, because the lady didn`t mention them and I didn`t see any posters beside the tanks with a time displayed, like there was for the feedings. I was just in time for the river otter feeding! Here it is:

By the way, some folks have had trouble with the videos; they say “unavailable.” I tried to fix the problem, but if you`re still having difficulty viewing the videos, please leave a comment and I`ll see what I can do. And if you have any suggestions about how to fix it, let me know!

I ate my small sack lunch out in the event square, and there was this really cute dog running around with a red ball in her mouth! Here she is:

About that time Kayoko called again. She had thought I was in the aquarium, so she bought a ticket and went ahead inside. But I had been dumb and already bought her a ticket, thinking we would meet at the entrance and it would save time from having to wait in line! Fortunately, Kayoko was able to explain the situation to the staff, and they gave me my money back. That was a relief! I also rented an audio guided tour in English so I would know what we were looking at.

So about noon we went in together. Here`s us in front of the whale shark statue:

Next we saw the sea otters. Boy, do they like to bathe! The audio guide saw they have over one thousand hair follicles per square inch, so they have really dense fur! They have to work really hard to keep it all clean and groomed so the cold water doesn’t get at their skin. Here`s one of them fastidiously at work:

And of course, no aquarium is complete without dolphins! They sort of made a show out of feeding them, making them do tricks for their food, but unfortunately because the glass was so dirty in the feeding area, none of those pictures turned out well. But here`s a white-sided dolphin up close, just looking at us:

One of my favorite exhibits was the Australian coral reef. We just sat and watched the beautiful fish for awhile. The waves were produced artificially by fans:

And here`s the star attraction of the Osaka aquarium, what they always advertise on posters in the train stations, a whale shark:

These gentle creatures don`t have the powerful jaws and sharp teeth of great white sharks, but are “filter feeders” like whales, eating mostly microscopic sea creatures called plankton. They are the largest species of fish on earth and quite beautiful and majestic. They are also fairly intelligent and like to play with divers, giving them rides or doing small tricks. Unfortunately, we missed the whale shark feeding. Oh, well, next time!

Here`s another playful guy: the giant manta ray. He has a thing for the diver`s bubbles!

Manta Ray:

Doesn`t it look like some weird machine, or an alien? Especially its tubular eyes. I told Kayoko maybe he likes “fizzy drinks,” how the bubbles tickle his nose! Manta rays have the largest brain/body ratio of any fish on earth, and are very curious around humans. They are very rarely aggressive, and like whale sharks, mostly eat microscopic creatures. These are the “gentle giants” of the sea.

You might be wondering what that fish attached to his back is doing. It`s not a parasite; it`s actually protecting him from parasites! It`s called a “cleaner fish.” They attach themselves to larger fish for transportation, safety (who really wants to pick on a monster like that— except for large sharks and orcas) and to feed on the parasites. This is symbiosis at its best!

Here’s a tank where all the fish swam in one direction due to an artificial current. It’s not particularly interesting, but the little girl is so cute!

This is a giant sea turtle, the kind that can live over two hundred years. Doesn’t it look like it’s flying through the air, rather than swimming?

Here`s a Japanese sunfish. I call it a torpedo fish. I bet you can guess why:

Now that looks like an alien!

This is a Japanese “tako” or octopus. I`ve always liked octopus, though I don`t know why. Maybe because they`re so smart and curious. It certainly isn`t their looks!

The last room was filled with hundreds of jelly fish, though because of the dim light and flash against the glass, none of those turned out so well. You`ll just have to see them for yourself! On March 15th, there`s going to be a new exhibit of “finless dolphins.” I`ll definitely have to go back to see them, probably with my mom when harbor village is having their “World Performance Festival” in August!

After we finished at the aquarium, there was a street performer setting up in the event square. While we were waiting, Kayoko and I bought mochi, or rice cakes, smothered in some kind of molasses. I love mochi! Especially when it`s warm and gooey. The performer was a Canadian from…guess where? Vancouver! We asked him why he wasn`t there now for the Olympics. “Too crowded,” he said. So he tries to draw a ton of people to see his show with his obnoxious gaijin jokes. Something tells me he really doesn`t mind crowds that much.

His tricks were OK, but his sense of showmanship was…off. He was kind of stupid, actually. His Japanese was pretty good, but he used it to tell really crass jokes, (which I understood because I teach high school, after all), and it took him ridiculously long to set up his tricks, often because he would stop to do stupid stunts or tell dumb jokes just to kill time or something. I won`t bother to put up a video of him.

After that we went back into the aquarium to see some things we missed. We got to watch a keeper clean the river otter cage. They were so funny! They kept trying to chew on her rubber boots or stick their noses in her cleaning pan. As soon as she faced them they`d scuttle away, but turn her back for half a second and they were up to mischief! When she swam, they would grab onto her legs to catch a ride. And that`s when my camera ran out of batteries. Drat!

At 5:00 we went to see a 3D ocean movie at the Suntory museum. Is it dishonest of me to continue to use my college ID to get into places at a discount? They never ask, “are you a college student?” and I lie about it; I just show them the ID and they give me the discount. Hmm…I did have to pay a fee to get the ID in the first place...what do you think?

Anyway, it was a great movie, though Kayoko kept falling asleep! I asked her if she wanted me to continue to wake her up, and she said yes, because she wanted to see it; it was only her second 3D movie and she really likes them. I guess we all have something that puts us to sleep, whether we want to fall asleep or not. With my mom it`s computer screens, with Kayoko it`s 3D movies, with me it`s…oh, no, sermons! I sometimes fall asleep during really long sermons, even if they`re interesting and I want to hear what the pastor is saying. So I try to take notes; that helps. I have a secret: I actually prefer evangelistic prayers with lots of “praise God” and “yes, oh, Jesus!” thrown in because in the Presbyterian Church where I grew up…sometimes I actually fell asleep during the prayers! Not that they were ever boring, and indeed were sometimes quite poetic, but I`m the kind of person who has to be actively engaged in something or I…fall asleep. Trains have a way of doing that to me too.

About that time it was 6:00, so we went to the harbor to watch the sunset. I bought a chocolate ice cream cone (kind of rare in Japan) and Kayoko and I chatted about our faith. She hasn`t had a chance to go to church since moving to Kyoto and was craving some Christian interaction, so I invited her to join our Monday night skype Bible study and told her about the upcoming Christian retreat in March (which I can`t go to since I`ll be in India). We also made plans to visit some other places in Japan, like Okinawa and Hokkaido. Kayoko is a really great travel partner and friend. The best word I can think of to describe her is…yasashi, the Japanese word for “nice,” but they often translate it as “gentle” and it literally means “easy,” as in easy-going. Isn`t it interesting that the Japanese use that word to mean the ideal friend? One who is very calm and happy, goes with the flow, doesn`t get uptight or upset. (A very good balance to my obsessive compulsive go, go, go plan everything in extreme detail personality.)

But in America, to say someone is “easy” is a bad thing, meaning “easy target.” Language reveals a lot of interesting differences in cultural values/expectations. Harmony and peace are the most important thing to the Japanese, and they would never even think of taking advantage of others (most of them, anyway; every culture has its deviants). It surprised me the other day to realize that most of my close friends are Asian; I normally gravitate toward them rather than other foreigners, and someday, I might just wind up with an Asian husband. (Can you believe it; I used to find Asian guys unattractive but now they look downright cute and I see Caucasians and they just…stick out funny. They`re so tall and…big. Ug, I sound like my students!) I just get along with Asians really well, better than “Westerners!” Oh, I hope I don`t have “reverse culture shock” when I get home!

As we were coming up from the harbor, there was another performer, a Japanese guy, and he was much better than the Canadian. They were sort of a pair, working the music and sound for each other, though their acts were separate, and I got the impression the Japanese guy was the sensei of the Canadian, the teacher he kept referring to. Many of the acts the Canadian did were smaller, simpler versions of the Japanese guy, and afterward he asked him for advice. Maybe Japan has a system similar to in the United States where a big, popular band or performance group will pick up a smaller, lesser known group and sort of help them along in their career.

Chinese, Japanese, Irish, and Africans have a special flare to their performances. Maybe it`s energy, or connection to the audience, or maybe they just love what they`re doing. There was nothing particularly unique about the Japanese guy`s tricks: juggling, dancing, balancing, I had seen them all before. But he was really clever in the execution, in the timing, in his use of the audience and such. So it was really fun to watch, and both Kayoko and I put some money in his hat afterward. Sorry my camera ran out of batteries; Kayoko got some pictures and hopefully I`ll be able to copy them from her soon!

Then we saw the light up, the main reason we went, since it was the last week for it. Not so great, just a small, glorified display of Christmas lights. But that`s what got me to come, so I`m glad it was there!

Then we walked around the indoor market place. Most of the shops were already closed, and that`s too bad, because there was an indoor zoo and alpaca farm and ninja house! That just means I have to go back! But we got to see the art gallery, and share a world-famous Osaka okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is an egg pancake stuffed with meat (ours was seafood and pork) and vegetables, and smothered in a sweet/spicy barbeque sauce. Sooooo delicious! Here's a picture:

I had it before at the Nagoya aquarium and thought it was disgusting, but that`s because they also smothered it in mayonnaise and spicy mustard. I was sure to ask for that stuff on the side this time. So I take back what I said about the Japanese not knowing how to cook! You just have to know what`s good and what`s not. Kaiten sushi is so overrated.

I had only expected to stay until 6:00 or so, but we had such a good time we didn`t catch our train until 9:00! I said goodbye to Kayoko on the subway, and got back to Nabari around 11:00pm. So fourteen hours, and we still didn`t see everything! I can see why there`s a hotel right next to the aquarium; you could easily spend two days there and at harbor village! Plus there`s a ferry that goes directly to Universal Studios, and a lot more that I didn`t mention, but I want to keep it a secret for when my mom comes!

Sunday I called my mom, and the clock on my computer was a little slow, so I missed my train! Kae had to take care of her dad, so Kazumi san was going to pick me up. I called Pastor Toshi to let him know I would be a little late. Thankfully it was all right, and he translated for me since Kae was gone. Then I spent the rest of the day organizing my photos and videos from the aquarium, writing my novel, An Honest Assassin, and reading. So it was an absolutely spectacular weekend!

Prayer requests for this week: The frost bite on my hands is still giving me some trouble, though thankfully the weather is beginning to warm up! But I`ve been having some neck and back pain and when I woke up this morning and stretched, my neck “popped” out of place! I can`t hold my neck straight and its starting to give me really bad head and shoulder aches too. I have a suspicion that it was originally injured in my bike accident last week (when I fell and twisted my neck to avoid hitting my head and scrapped up my hands instead) and that the stretching just made it worse. Fortunately one of the teachers was able to recommend a chiropractor to me, and I have an appointment for Wednesday at 5:00. So please pray that he`s able to fix me up as quickly and cheaply as possible! I also need to get some anti-malaria medicine before I go to India, but from what I read, no Japanese doctors will prescribe it, as some say it has “mind altering effects” even though I took it in Africa and was just fine. I was considering not even bothering with it, but then I talked to the other Laura in our skype Bible study who went to India before and actually got malaria, and she said “Take the medicine. Take it!” Since I`m extra susceptible to mosquito bites, I think I`ll take it. I just need to find out how to get it! And of course, please pray for the trip to India! Besides paying for our own transportation to and from India, food, lodging, and volunteer fee, we have to raise $15,000 in building supplies for the houses. If you want to donate towards the building materials or just want to know more about the trip, you can visit our team`s website at:

Until next time, keep reading and keep praying,
L.J. Popp

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Trip to Korea…ha, ha

“You know what? I am soooo stupid. I can't believe I did this. Before I left for the airport, I checked and double checked everything, but when I got there and they said, "passport, please" I realized the one thing I had forgotten. And to make matters worse, I should have known better, because two weeks before, I sent my passport off to the India visa office in Tokyo, I totally forgot about it, and it still hasn't come back yet. So I won't be going to Korea anytime soon...dang it. That`s what I get for trying to visit every single Asian country in one year.”

That`s what I wrote to a friend on Saturday afternoon when I got back from the airport, miserable and depressed and most of all furious with myself. Because it was nobody`s fault but my own. I can`t blame the passport agency, I can`t blame the airport, I can`t blame the travel agent. Only myself. And if there`s one flaw I have in glaring proportions, it`s a kind of self-deprecation that manifests itself when I do something really, REALLY stupid. This wasn`t like forget your keys in the car or say something stupid to your boss kind of dumb. This was four hundred dollars down the drain because I didn`t notice something that had been glaring me in the face for the past month. Grrr…

But that`s why I didn`t post my blog the moment I got home. Because one week has given me perspective. It might have actually been a blessing in disguise. But before I get into that, here`s exactly what happened, because I know people will ask:

Remember that upcoming trip to India in March to build houses for the “untouchable” population? I sent off my passport to the India visa office in Tokyo about three weeks ago now, and the Monday before I left, they even called me to say I was missing some ridiculously small amount of money, like 150 yen (a dollar seventy-five) and that I had to send it or they couldn`t finish processing. If that was a hint, I don`t know what was. Tuesday, the very next day, as if I totally forgot about my passport, I bought presents for my friends in Korea. Friday I printed off my e-tickets, discount Wonderland tickets, the maps, and the little travel itinerary I`d written up for myself, along with a list of useful Korean words and packed. Then on Saturday morning I got up at 7:30, did my morning routine, double checked EVERYTHING and then hopped on a train for Oehomachi at 8:55, then from there caught the 10:15 airport bus, standing out in the freezing cold for at least twenty minutes. That took me to the airport, which is always a nice little ride along the ocean, which got me there around 11:15. I went straight to the Asiana airline ticket counter and waited in line for about fifteen minutes. I had my tickets and ID in hand. But when I got to the front, the first thing the agent said, of course, was, “passport, please,” and I felt all the blood drain instantly from my face. Can you believe it? It was that moment that I remembered. Not a second before. At first I thought I just left it at home, and the agent offered to look through my bag, but within a minute of searching back through my scattered brain I knew it wouldn`t be there. Dumb di dumb dumb dumb!

The one thing I did right was remain calm. I did not panic. I didn`t freak out. The second I realized what was wrong I explained briefly to the agent and left the line. He told me that there was no way to get a refund, as it was a “deal ticket,” something I had gotten on discount, but I already knew that, as I make a point to read all documents I receive about my travel before I sign them, no matter how boring or long they are. I immediately emailed “Opa,” my Korean friend who was going to pick me up at the airport. I called the travel agency that booked the ticket to see if I could at least get a discount on my next flight or something, but they were closed. I thought briefly about calling a friend to see if my passport had come in the mail, but “what then?” I asked myself. Could I really ask my friend to drive an hour and a half here and an hour and a half back just to give it to me? No, this is your mess, you are not going to inconvenience anyone else on the off chance that your passport might be there and if they speed all the way to the airport you might catch your flight. No. So I ran to catch the very next bus to Oehomachi. I knew that in case my passport was in my mailbox, I`d have no time to get back home and get back to the airport (it`s at least six hours round trip by bus and train) but I didn`t plan on wasting time hanging around the airport either.

I left the airport at 10:45 and got home at 2:15 in the afternoon. On the way I called my friend Kae and asked the cheapest way to call Korea internationally. She told me and as soon as I got home I called Opa. He had already left for the airport to pick me up, but I talked to his sister, an English teacher, and she said it was all right. The airport wasn`t far from their house, they had taken off no days from work, and hadn`t bought any tickets in advance. That was a relief! It was no inconvenience for them at all, she said. So the only one I inconvenienced was myself. That made it a little easier for me not to hate myself for the rest of the day. And she invited me to come back to Korea some other time, when it`s nicer weather. I reflected that perhaps it was a little rude for me to suddenly spring the trip on my Korean friends, only five weeks in advance, but now we had lots of time to plan ahead.

I thought of a hundred things I could do for the rest of Saturday, but I just didn`t want to deal with life for awhile. So I lay in bed, eating the chocolate truffles I bought for Opa`s sister and read 225 pages of Orson Scott Card`s Speaker for the Dead. That was cathartic. There are people in the universe with problems bigger than mine, who make even stupider mistakes. Or at least make-believe people, anyway.

The next day I felt a lot better. I called my mom on skype and whined to her, and she made me feel like a person again. I called Kae, usually my ride to church, but she never called me back, so I decided not to go to Kikyogaoka station for her to pick me up. I should have, because she`d simply forgot her cell phone and was there at 10:20 as usual. I guess that just wasn`t my weekend. But I used the time to write, and I wrote ten pages of my latest novel An Honest Assassin and played a little Breath of Fire II, something I hadn`t done in a long time that made me feel better. (There`s something about burning things alive or slicing them in two with a sword that makes me feel a little more in control of my life. We all have a dark side, I guess.) All in all, I just needed a nice relaxing weekend, not to gallivant off to another foreign country. Getting some sleep helped too.

Monday and Tuesday it actually turned out a very good thing that I didn`t go to Korea, because the teachers really needed me at school to help grade the entrance exams from the middle schoolers who applied. I wasn`t actually allowed to grade the tests myself, but I stayed in the room beside them, and every few minutes one of them would ask me a question. They were wrong on most points. On some things they were certain I was incorrect, but I always insisted, saying, “Look it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. I promise, it`s there,” or “I promise it`s not there.” One of these points was, “The train starts at 4:00.” “The train can`t start at 4:00,” I explained. “The train departs at 4:00, or leaves or 4:00, or starts at London and ends at Edinburgh, or it can start on time, or it might `set out` at 4:00 or an event like a baseball game might start at 4:00, but the train does not start at 4:00. Never do we say this in English; you`re translating directly from the Japanese. Dame! (Don`t do it!)” And of course, it turns out I was right. Another major point was “I will stay in this country for three weeks.” They thought this was the only correct way to say this sentence, but I explained there are many correct ways. “I will be staying in this country for three weeks” “I will stay in THE country for three weeks” (OK, because in context, THIS is implied), and the most controversial to them of all, “I will VISIT this country for three weeks.” While they agreed pretty quickly with my other comments, they were certain the last one was wrong! It took them half an hour to decide I was right! Can you believe that? These are ENGLISH TEACHERS! If I hadn`t kept insisting, they would have marked half the students papers wrong and put them in the low-level English class! Boy, am I glad I was there for that.

And then there was another point I was right about but we all decided to count as OK, because the teachers all realized it was something they never taught, that THEY had never been taught. In formal, written English, you`re not supposed to begin a sentence with a conjunction. Nearly every student wrote something like: “I want to be a doctor. Because I like help people.” Besides the other obvious flaw, beginning with because instead of writing, “I want to be a doctor because I like helping people” just doesn’t look right. It`s OK to say it that way, or to write that way in informal English, (like a letter to a friend or this blog, for instance), but not in a formal paper to a teacher. It`s the same for starting a sentence with “and,” “but,” “or,” etc. The definition of a conjunction is that is links two parts of a sentence together. Words like “however” and “therefore,” which can start a sentence are not true conjunctions in this sense. Anyway, we decided to count it as OK because the teachers hadn`t even been taught that in school. It is sort of a higher level concept, and doesn’t do anything to disrupt communication or understanding.

Monday night held a wonderful surprise: the Nabari Ebisu festival. Remember when I went to that in Osaka and Kyoto a few weeks ago? Well, apparently every region has it at a different time. I saw the food stalls at the train station as I was coming home from school, so I realized something must be going on and asked the station manager. He gave me a map, so I decided to go! This one was lot better than the Osaka/Kyoto version because there weren`t nearly as many crowds! First I got something to eat. I`m such a sucker for over-priced food, but festival food is so delicious! It`s one of the few times I can get fried chicken or fried corn on the cob, French fries, or cotton candy. Here`s the raw oyster stand:

As I was buying some fried barbeque chicken, I saw these cute little bowing dolls in the adjacent stand. Here they are:

And here`s the shrine wardens. Sorry the picture`s so fuzzy!

This is a video of two parents teaching their son to ring the bell and say a prayer. Not going to go into my opinion of that again. But it was kind of cute to see him try to imitate them.

Here`s the “wine shrine.” All the paper you see is wrapped around alcohol bottles, and there`s fruit on the alter. I guess they still make agricultural sacrifices to the god of wealth. I wonder if it just rots or if the priests eat and drink it like in the Old Testament:

And here is the vegetable shrine:

And the trash heap. Much smaller than in Osaka!:

Besides the hundreds of food and game stands, there were also two traveling flower merchants selling fruit trees and banzai (dwarf) trees. After comparing prices, I bought a potted purple plant from one of the regular flower shops along the road (much cheaper) and a sacura cherry tree from one of the traveling merchants (for my balcony garden). He promised I would be able to bring it back to America, but I doubt it. I dreamed last night that it would bloom in a few weeks, and produce delicious cherries, but who knows if the dream will come true or not. But anyway, when my friend Li comes back from China, I will ask him if we can go to Viva homes together, and I will ask the people there to transplant it for me in a bigger pot and give me proper fertilizer and other such things. Having plants in the apartment really brightens things up, especially with all the cold, rainy dark days we`ve been having.

After the festival, I got home in time to have Bible study with the other girls in my group on skype. A new girl, Stephanie joined us. That was quite a treat! It`s actually quite a work of God. She was my roommate at the orientation conference in Tokyo seven months ago, but we hadn`t been in contact since. Then she wanted a book, and since I`m the JET Christian Fellowship librarian, she emailed me for some books, and also remembered that our mutual friend Charlie had recommended my blog. She checked it out and came across “My Faith Story” which is a lot like her own personal story, and she emailed me some questions she`s struggling with in her own faith, we got to talking, and I suggested she join our Bible study! God works in mysterious ways. Nowadays that includes the internet. And to think, that connection wouldn`t have happened so fast if I went to Korea!

Wednesday I was also glad to be in Japan, because that was the day of English Speaking Society’s (the club I`m in charge of) Valentine’s Day baking party. I learned something that day. It`s impossible for me just to “supervise.” I can`t just sit and do nothing, chat with the other girls like the other teacher, anything like that. No sir, I see them working and I have to do something too. So I accessed, the ingredients they weren`t using, and thought, “If I just had milk, we could make crapes!” So I rode my bike in the rain all the way to the combini, (convenience store), slipped on the wet pavement, cut up my right hand, got the milk, came back, visited the nurse for some ointment and a band-aid, and brought the milk to the girls. On the way, I met a boy working at the combini who was obviously Western and asked him, “Doko de kara kimashta?” Where are you from? He stared at me blankly, so I asked the same question in English. He still looked blank, so I asked in Spanish. He said, “I sorry, I don speak English.” So I asked him in Portuguese (one of the few phrases I`ve learned in Portuguese, since so many Japanese people ask me that). Finally, one of the other workers asked very slowly, “Doko de kara kimashta?” what I had originally asked me my rapid “survival Japanese.”

“Oh, Francujin des,” he replied. (I`m French.)

I couldn`t help but laugh on my way out the door. Of course, French. Well, you can`t know every language.

As I walked back into the home ec room, the girls all cried, “Ah, hiyai des ne!” “You`re fast!”

More inside laughter. If I only you knew.

Anyway, I made my crapes, which came out more as pancakes since I made them too thick, but the girls loved them. One of them made a caramel sauce to go on top, which was amazing! So now I know how to make caramel sauce. At 6:00 I went home stuffed with chocolate cake and muffins, with some left over in a baggy. So it was a good day.

(I must have the most insane, hyperactive metabolism in the world, because the girls still poke and pinch my sides and tell me how “smarto” I am. Maybe it`s all the exercise or the fifty sit ups every morning. But I have made a resolution to try to eat healthier. Just whole grain rice and bread, no refined or bleached grains, three cups of green tea a day, no more instant noodles and not so many sweets. It`ll probably give me more energy and maybe help me stay healthier. Some friends of mine in global ministries suggested that the swelling in my right hand might be partially do to diet, and another friend helped me figure out that it very well might be the very sweet, small Japanese oranges I`m so fond of, as they have naturally inflammatory prosperities I wasn`t aware of until he randomly mentioned it in a letter. Well, lent`s coming in two days so maybe I`ll have some incentive to keep it.)

Oh, speaking of health, I went to a skin doctor for the swellings in my hand, and he said it was frost bite. That makes sense, because it is different from the swelling I usually get, much more localized, for one, and it`s not so much swollen and just red and painful. And the fact that it`s only on one hand, my right hand, the one I don`t always wear a glove on, makes sense too. I just didn`t believe that taking my glove off for a few minutes here and there so I could use my hand more deftly as I`m walking to and from work would be enough to let frost bite set in. But I was reading up on it, and apparently, if it`s cold and windy enough, it only takes a few seconds. I also started showing it around to some local people, and they all said the same thing. Frost bite. They showed me their hands, and many of them hand something similar, though not quite so severe. Also, the first symptoms came on after I went to a New Years Eve party, where I lost the glove for my right hand. It was extremely cold and windy that night. The final piece of evidence that convinced me the doctor is right is that I often wear a glove that has the tips cut off while I`m typing, because my apartment is below freezing most of the time. (Darn Japanese rice paper walls.) The places where my fingers are red and swollen are mostly the places where the glove does not cover. So the solution is simple: just don`t take off my gloves outside and inside ignore the electricity bill and turn up the heater!

That`s a relief! I hadn`t had that problem with swelling for at least two years. However, the two problems may be related. The doctor said I am more susceptible to frost bite because I have poor circulation. I have always known this; anyone who feels my hands or face says they are very cold and my limbs fall asleep quickly. Fortunately it`s been warmer the past few days, and promises to continue to steadily warm up. The doctor also gave me some vitamin E and cream to put on my hands, which has been helping a lot. It still hurts and itches off and on, and the skin on my fingers is reddish-gray and dead. But the doctor said it should eventually flake off and my hand will heal on its own.

Wednesday afternoon, while still at school, I started to have a bit of a dilemma. I called my favorite travel agent (Pie from number one travel in Osaka- she speaks English very well and always gets back to me immediately when I email or call her and specializes in getting me really good deals) to arrange my flights to and from India. Turns out there were only two seats available on any flight for the days I wanted, and it was really expensive, and I had to make my choice by Friday morning. I had to ask myself, Do I really even want to go? I was so stressed out and I`d just been reading about all the diseases and sicknesses you can get over there, and with my immune system being so low the past few weeks, I wasn`t sure. I`d already spent a hundred and fifty dollars on my visa and gone through all that trouble of not going to Korea, and I`d have to do all that again if I decided to go later.  

Thursday was a holiday, so I spent most of it thinking about whether to go or not and carefully researching my options. I checked out all the online resources I could find to see if I could find a better price on the plane tickets, but no such luck. There were a few flights that were maybe two hundred dollars cheaper, but that didn`t include the airfare to Hyderabad, had ridiculous layover times, and would get me there at 2:00am a day after I wanted to arrive, and make me leave around the same time the day before I wanted to go. So I decided if anything, I would go with Pei`s offer. Then I looked at some stuff online from past trips, and everyone had such wonderful things to say, and I got into the spirit of planning my trip, and by the time I called Mom around noon, and I had decided to go, and she was really supportive. She said it would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance and that I should do it. I still have five weeks to go, so that would give me plenty of time to rest up and prepare. And it turns out, since I didn`t take off those three days of work for Korea, I could take them for India! So I spent the rest of the day planning what I would do with my one extra day in Hyderabad and two extra days in the Deli/Agra area. I`m still not sure yet, but I`ve got some great ideas. Wow, what a wonderful country! I`m definitely seeing the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, I tried to get some travel partners but none of them could make it, so I`ll be traveling alone. So I might go with a tour package, (I found several decent ones, but they`re pretty hectic. The least hectic one had just two hours for the Taj Mahal, is that enough time?) Has anyone else been to India and have some suggestions? Can I just go wherever I want and then hire a cheap guide when I get there?

In the evening I wrote and sent out a query letter and synopsis for my novel Treasure Traitor to another agent. I already got the rejection letter, but it was nice and she said she would like to see “any other projects I have in the works” so if Dargon gets rejected by Joe Monti, I`ll send it to her. Not that I`m hoping it gets rejected in the least. But I do have back up plans. I will be a published novelist! Nothing will ever make me give up.

Thursday night I taught my English/Evangelism class, but only two people came because it was a holiday. I had been planning to talk about my trip to Korea and do the second part of our travel lesson, but it turned out OK. Kae said we only had until 9:15 because she had to be up early the next morning, so we only had time for the second part of the travel lesson anyway, (I always plan too much/try to cram too much in) and after that we just had casual conversation. Pastor Toshi was really shocked that I didn`t go to Korea, but he said they had a nasty blizzard in Seoul this week, so that added another good reason why it was better for me to stay home anyway.

Friday was the school marathon! I stood at check point one with Nakayama and Horinouchi sensei. The first and second year students warmed up in the gym, then the girls ran 6.8 kilometers and the boys ran 8.6 in the freezing cold drizzle. (A kilometer is .6 miles, so that`s 4.08 miles for girls and 5.16 miles for boys. Now I`m really starting to be thankful that I paid attention in math class, since I can now make conversions in my head, even though I thought I would never use it. I wish my students would have the same mentality. You never know when you might need some boring bit of information.) All ichinensei and ninensei (1st and second year) students, except those who were sick, had to participate. Sannensei (3urd year) stayed home to study for college entrance exams or went to the colleges to take the exams. I think it`s dumb that every single university in Japan has it`s own entrance exam. Students have to study for each separately, and that means third year students end up missing half the school days. It would be a lot simpler if they had a unified test like the SAT or ACT, then students who have just one to study for, one to take, they wouldn`t have to go all the way to Tokyo to take it, and they could freak out over just one instead of ten.

Anyway, the students all did a very good job, every student completing the race in less than three hours. Here`s a picture of Nakayama sensei encouraging some of the runners as they came back, “Mo scoshi,” just a little more!

Towards the end, I got tired of shouting "gambatte!" (A Japanese phrase you hear constantly that directly translates to "fight!" but is similar to our "do your best!") So I started shouting "You can do it!" because I knew they would recognize this phrase from all the hype my predecessor did with the Obama campaign, plus hearing it on TV all the time. One girl from English Speak Society (ESS) club shouted back, “No, I can`t!” but most of them responded, “Yes, I can!” and leapt forward with a burst of energy, so that was exciting to see.

Then, some of the elementary schoolers from the school across the street came out to play, and one of the little boys was teasing our runners, shouting “Konichiwa!” (Hi!) and of course, being Japanese, the runners had to answer back, despite all their huffing and puffing. Mean little kid, here he is:

Here`s Nakayama sensei after the race waving her flags:

And here`s me with some of the other teachers:

I wanted to include some pictures of the students, but of course revealing their faces online isn`t allowed. Sorry.

Here`s a video of the closing ceremony. For first, second, and third places, the band played a stanza from “Thine is the Glory.”

When I explained to the teachers around me that it was a hymn that we usually sing at Easter, giving praise to Jesus, the victor over death, and sang them the words, they were really shocked. “You mean it has words?” It`s just one of those songs they hear so often, whenever there`s an awards ceremony. Of course, most Americans don`t realize that “Pomp and Circumstance,” that annoying, slow, repetitive song we hear at every single graduation, is a British patriotic song with words extolling the vast, powerful, wealthy British Empire with slightly racist connotations. Ah, we are so uneducated about our own cultures. Or maybe we simply omit the words or references that bother us and keep the music we love. Sort of like how many modern hymn books and translations of “Amazing Grace” have changed “wretch” to “one” or something ridiculous like that. “Save a one like me?” Where`s the power in those words?

After that, there were prizes for “lucky numbers” and a male coach dressed up as the “priest” Whoopi Goldberg from Sister Act, a very popular movie in Japan, drew the numbers. Wow, talk about politically incorrect! First of all, I had to explain to the English teachers that “nun” and “priest” are two very different roles, (which they laughed off as being the “exact same thing,” and then to boot, black face! I could hardly believe it! When I explained that a non-African American in the U.S. could be arrested for going around in black-face, the teachers were shocked! But they seemed to understand. I guess it wasn`t that big a deal, but here`s a video of the “atrocity” for you to judge yourself:

One more really weird thing about Japanese culture before I get into the super weird thing that day: All the girls have to wear the school skirt uniform to school, the exact same they wear in the summer. Can you imagine how cold that must be this time of year? They can`t wear any pants underneath it, just their socks and underwear. Their knees are bare! And they must wear toeless shoes too. And they`re only allowed a light sweater and very light dress-jacket. That`s so mean! What are they trying to do, kill the kids? They`re not allowed to wear any gloves in school, or anything to keep their feet warm. I`ve seen girls get in trouble for it! If kids point it out to me, (sometimes they`ll tattle on another girl just to be mean), I just ignore them and pretend not to understand. I`m not going to punish the girls for trying to stay warm! The boys have it a lot easier; they often wear thermals under their pants and shirts. Girls are not allowed, because it shows, and the teachers think it`s tacky.

Now for the super weird thing. After the marathon, I stayed after school until 6:00, then Hada sensei (the geography teacher I sometimes teach with) and another teacher helped me drop off the clothes for the clothing drive at church, then gave me a ride to the after-marathon enkai at a local restaurant called the “Full Moon.” Enkai literally means “drinking party,” a very traditional part of Japanese culture, and this was my first. We waited quite a while for the others, watching the winter Olympic preparations, then got started around 7:00 with the “kampai” which loosely translated means “cheers” but literally means “drain the cup.” Like Americans, Japanese usually drink to get drunk. So when they asked if I wanted any beer、and I said “atoday” meaning “later,” they were really confused. I tried to explain that I won`t drink on an empty stomach, but this was a totally new concept for them. Another new concept apparently is water, because whenever I order water at a restaurant the Japanese people around me, including the waiters, always look confused. What, you don`t even want tea? But this is a restaurant! It confused them even more when I only drank half a small glass of beer, just to try it, then said I`d had enough. They kept trying to refill my glass and I had to keep putting my hand over it, saying, “Kekko desu. Oolong ocha, onegaishimas.” (No thank you; Chinese tea, please.) When along came the hot sake, again I just had a little. “Don`t you like it?” they kept asking. “This is a Japanese delicacy! Everyone loves hot sake.” It was OK, but to keep them from continuing to ask, I finally said that I simply didn`t like the taste of alcohol. I described that it felt like burning in my throat. (Sake is 15% alcohol by the way, so it really does taste like burn, with a tiny bit of ricey sweet aftertaste.) Next time, now that I`ve tried the stuff, I`ll simply go with tea from the beginning. Here`s a picture of the traditional Japanese table before we started eating:

Most everyone else, except the one other female teacher who came late, got absolutely hammered. And of course they were planning to, because most of them had already booked rooms at the nearby hotel. I just don`t get that sort of mentality. At least Japan has really strict no-drinking-and-driving laws. One of the teacher`s wives came afterward with his two young daughters to take her smashed husband home. I didn`t know whether to think that was sick or sweet. It really wasn`t that bad. The Japanese aren`t rowdy drunks, at least not from my school. They just get blood-shot eyes and start slurring their speech, which means if I couldn`t understand their Japanese before, how do you think I did then? And their English level goes from .5 to zero, though I did have some nice conversations with the new math teacher about the upcoming plum blossom and cherry blossom festivals before anyone got too plastered. And the food was very delicious, unusual for Japanese food, in my opinion. It consisted of toriniku tempura (fried Japanese chicken), udon (long noodle) soup, salmon and tuna sushi, no-sugar egg custard, and sweet tofu with fruit. It was all really expensive, but enkais are an extremely important part of Japanese life, and forming work relationships. To refuse to go is to refuse to be part of the office. Some of them are still mad at me for not going to the “forget the year” enkai back in December. So I`ll keep going, they are kind of fun, I`ll just be careful.

The female teacher gave me a ride home. Saturday morning I got to sleep in late, then did four loads of laundry and cleaned my kitchen and closets from top to bottom. Can you believe it? It took ten hours! But it soooo needed it, especially the kitchen. I scrubbed inside all my cabinets, my refrigerator, even behind the refrigerator and oven and cabinets and all my other appliances. Some of those places looked they hadn`t been cleaned in twenty years, since the apartment was built! I wanted the kitchen to be spotless before the cockroaches hatch in the spring. If there`s not a trace of food for them that`s not tightly sealed in plastic packaging, they won`t be bedding down at my place. Those roaches I found hiding away last summer were four inches long. I`m not kidding! I measured them after I killed them. Six inches if you include the antenna!

In the afternoon, I got a funny Valentine`s Day card in the mail from my friend Jason. Thanks, Jason!

Sunday Kae picked me up for church. It was a lovely service centered around First Corinthians chapter thirteen, the love chapter. The pastor gave a very insightful sermon about what it means and doesn’t mean to love, and the meaning of the ultimate love, God`s love, agape. Afterward we had a lovely “hot pot” lunch. I had found two hot pots in my kitchen the day before left by my predecessors, but didn`t know what they were for and considered selling them to the local second hand store. But now I know, so I`ll keep one! It`s basically like soup, only you put it in a special cooker with a special sauce, kind of like stew in a crock pot. Very tasty! My friend Kae gave me a present of chocolate and cookies so I was a very nice Valentine`s Day. I spent the rest of the day resting, organizing pictures, and writing.

Only I got sick at the end of the day. Maybe too much chocolate...though I didn`t have that much…maybe I`m allergic to the stuff Kae gave me. I hope not. But it was the second day in the row I went to bed with a really sick stomach and migraine, and I didn`t eat the same thing, so maybe I just had a really weird, passing flu bug. I feel fine now.

So moral of the story: I do stupid things, REALLY stupid things, but God always somehow turns them out for good. It`s a good thing I didn`t go to Korea, because they ended up needing me at school, their was a festival in my town, a new girl at Bible study with lots of questions, the baking party on Wednesday, and the nasty blizzard in Korea. I`ll get to spend the three extra vacation days in India, and use the money I saved to see sites in India. I just have to remember: “All things work together for good, for those who love the Lord!”

Prayer requests for this week: Continued health, please! That stomach bug or whatever it was certainly wasn`t fun. Also, thanksgiving that the swelling in my hand was just frost bite and so easy to fix. I sent off the first set of books to the prison this week, so please pray that the inmates will get a lot out of them. Please continue to pray from my Thursday night class, that it grows and the students are moved by the Holy Spirit. Also pray for the upcoming trip to India, that plans and travel go smoothly this time and I don`t make any more stupid mistakes! Thanks so much for praying for the clothing drive! The students have donated a LOT of clothes, and I`m sure those will be useful in Haiti.

Until next time, keep reading and keep praying,
Laura (L.J. Popp)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I`m headed for Seoul tomorrow. Yea! Since I won`t have access to internet or even a computer, I`ll post my blog now. That`ll get me all caught up!

The week of January 17th-23rd I taught a lesson on travel. I talked briefly about my trip to China and showed pictures, and then had the student practice a dialogue booking a trip to a country and city of their choice. That went pretty well. I even taught a geography class (emphasizing China more and doing a quiz game of China facts instead of the dialogue) and the principle, a former history teacher, sat in and really enjoyed it!

The 23rd there was an international event in Tsu, the capital of my prefecture, Mie. I`m going on a trip to India in March to build houses for the “untouchables,” so our group had a face painting booth to raise money for the building materials. Only I and the leader showed up. Well, Ashley, the Irish dancer from Canada, came a few hours later, and it`s a good thing too, because she brought an apron to cover my nice purple shirt! It was a pretty good event and lots of fun. The Brazilians had the most delicious soda and fried cheese pockets, and there was organic chocolate and mango for free!

I forgot my camera, but here`s a link to a news video of the event. Sorry it`s in Portuguese. If you don`t want to watch the whole thing, I`m about two minutes into it. They interviewed me! So now I`ve been on American, Japanese, Chinese, and Brazilian TV! How crazy is that? But if I`d known I was going to be on TV, I would have done something with my hair. It looks so sloppy.

I`m not a very good face painter, but I can do hearts! And four leaf clovers, and Mickey Mouse, and flags, and the Brazilian flag crossed with the Japanese. I`m nothing compared to Vishal. He painted dragons and the Dragon Ball Z cartoon character Goku. (Every little boy wanted a dragon or Goku, and every girl a heart or a clover or a flag, so he did the boys and I did the girls.)

Towards the end (after the videographers left), Ashley did her Irish dancing, followed by Mathew, an American. I was in charge of taking all the photos of them with their professional camera (which I still haven`t received copies of) so I only got one, blurry shot on my I-phone just before the performance. At least you can see her costume:

Next to us was the Bolivian stand, and it was fun chatting in Spanish with them while I painted. All in all, it was a really great event, even if we didn`t raise much money. (By the way, if you want to know more about what I`ll be doing in India or donate some money for the building materials we have to raise ourselves, you can visit our website at。)

Our leader did get a little on to me, because he knows I`m a Christian and he wanted to make it very clear this is not to be an evangelistic trip. I`m not even supposed to mention the name Jesus or church or Christianity. I assured him he didn`t have anything to worry about, I never try to “convert” anybody. I just tell them what I believe, listen to their problems, and love them. He didn`t seem quite satisfied with this answer, but I suppose it will have to do. I can`t stop being who I am. It surprises me the number of people who “fear” Christianity like it`s the plague or something. Religion can`t do anything; it`s people that use or abuse it, and he knows me enough to know I won`t abuse it. Though I can definitely see why he distrusts Christianity, being originally from India himself and Christians have a rather nasty reputation in that country. I`m definitely not excusing the atrocities done in the past. Christianity doesn`t promise to make us perfect, rather, that`s the whole reason we need Christ. But I would argue true believers would never do those things; the British simply used their religion as a way of asserting their power and authority as some sort of chosen people. (Of course, we all know what happens to actual chosen people. Far from making life easier, it`s supposed to get harder.)

He said it`s a shame people should need religion as a motivation to help others. I should have said, “Maybe you`re looking at it from the wrong angle. If Christianity is motivating people to help others, what`s so special about it? What makes Christians want to help while a lot of other people just sit around and feel sorry for the people in Haiti? If the result is good, how can you call it evil?” I also find it extremely hypocritical for someone to judge another`s motivation as evil when they themselves have absolutely no motivation at all to help the situation.

Speaking of Haiti, last week I mentioned that I`m doing a clothing drive at our school and church. In a few weeks, we`ll send them over via Pastor Toshi`s contacts. The drive started out slow, a new concept to the kids, but now it`s spread, and when I announced it in my last class, a few of the boys took the jackets off their backs and handed them to me. I had to explain that Haiti is a tropical climate so shorts and T-shirts are best, but I was touched by their enthusiasm to help. So, thanks for praying, that prayer was answered! To clarify what I said before, I`m not at all saying that non-Christians aren`t helping Haiti. They are, in many ways. The Japanese people especially have big hearts.

The following week, I got a little sick, and had to stay home Wednesday from school (I had no classes, so it was OK.) I went to the doctor and he said it was “kazai (cold) to (and) general fatigue.” Guess what the Japanese term for “general fatigue” is? General fatigue. He and the teachers said I need to rest more. I`d been planning to go to J-house and the Osaka aquarium that weekend to see the penguin parade and the light up festival, but I stayed home. Well, mostly. About 3:00 I went to a writer`s meeting in Osaka where they ripped apart my story “Emperor of the Dead.” It deserved to be ripped apart. Then, while I was in Osaka, I got some cold medicine at a foreign food store that I really like. Gosh, that Echinacea and Cold Plus tea works wonders. And then on Sunday my Pilipino friend Karen called me and really wanted me to come to her birthday, so I rode to Jusco to get her a gift, cooked rice pudding and went to her party. It was nice and relaxing, though, with tons of delicious Pilipino food. We sang old American rock songs. Not that I knew any. The guitarist was a “lapsed Baptist” and he wants to go to our church next Sunday. OK, so maybe I am an evangelist wherever I go, whether I mean to be or not! Pray for opportunities and God will present them.

Did I mention that the Haiti clothing drive is a going along great with this weeks`s lesson theme of natural disasters? The kids have really enjoyed that. I taught them the vocabulary of different natural disaster in English, and they had to match it with appropriate reactions, then we played a quiz game. Now that I`m getting into the swing of teaching and learning what works and what doesn`t, it`s getting a lot easier. I even have time to write at work. I`m 9,000 words into my latest novel An Honest Assassin. It`s absolute trash right now, but it always takes me a couple of drafts before it starts to come into its own. It`ll get there. Eventually.

Monday night after getting my India visa application all filled out and properly mailed, me and a few of my friends had Bible study over skype as usual. That`s going great, though I`m a little sad because two of the girls are leaving, including Sam, the leader. I might take over for her next year, since I`m also a member of the JET Christian Fellowship (JCF) leadership team. Li is starting to talk during Bible study and ask questions, which is great. Lu too seems to be coming along in his faith. And that reminds me, as the JCF librarian, I`ve started a new outreach with a prison in Tokyo, providing Christian books for the inmates in English and Japanese. Oh, yeah, I should ask Pastor Toshi if we have any extra copies of books at the church we could donate. So many projects…ug, I feel a little dizzy.

Tuesday I invited my friends Kae, Asahi, and Karen (Philipino Karen) over for a Tai dinner I made. Kae couldn`t make it, but the rest of us had fun. We had Tai curry over brown rice with rice pudding for desert. Totemo oishi des yo! (Very delicious, for sure!) I totally cheated and used a curry spice packet for the seasoning. I have no idea what curry spice is even made of. Gosh, I wish we had curry sauce in the U.S. Maybe we do. Here`s a picture of my friends:

Tuesday night it started to snow and I was hoping school would be canceled the next day, but no such luck. It doesn`t matter, because even if school is canceled for the students the teachers always have to go in, no matter what. I ended up staying late to plan for the Valentine’s Day baking party with the English Speaking Society club, even though I`ll be in Korea when they have it. Valentine`s Day is sort of backwards in Japan; I think girls give sweets to boys, and for the boy they really like, they give him something they baked themselves. Ha, ha, and they also call dark chocolate “men`s chocolate” when in the U.S. women are notorious for preferring dark over milk! Funny little cultural inconsistencies like that make me smile.

That evening my adult “You and I” English club class was canceled because of snow, which was a bit of a relief. After writing a lot and fixing the mistake with my visa application, I took some pictures of the snow. Here are my favorites:

Thursday night we had an amazing English lesson at the church. Five students came. The lesson was about travel, and afterward I taught about what Christianity means in a practical sense. We are supposed to “reconcile the world to God,” meaning do our best to help those who are suffering in our broken world and tell them about the joy they can experience by being adopted as God`s children through Jesus Christ. That all segwayed very nicely into my bit about helping Haiti. Several of the ladies seemed very curious and open, and one even said she used to go to a Catholic church and might want to start attending church again. Praise God for that!

Prayer Requests for this week: Please continue to pray for Pastor Toshi`s father who is still not doing well, and for my friend Kelly`s dad who`s dying of cancer. He`s not a Christian, but he seems to be opening up to the idea. Also, I have some very strange swellings on my right hand, especially around my joints, that are very painful. They`re getting worse everyday to the point that my pinky finger is actually crooked now and causing me the most pain. I`ve had this problem before in the US, but no doctor was able to figure it out, and it always went away on its own. Not this time, and I`ve never had it in winter. I`m going to see a Japanese doctor today but I`m afraid he won`t be able to understand me or the problem. It`s making it hard to write and type. And of course, please pray for safe travel and inside Korea tomorrow!

Until next time, keep reading and keep praying,