Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Camping and Barbequing in Japan!

My apologies that this is so late! My computer died so I haven`t been able to download any pictures, so I had to wait until the I got some from the school photographer (the computer teacher). Sorry!

Last weekend was my birthday! Part of me wanted to stay in Nabari and celebrate with my church and friends, but months before I had paid to go on a camping trip with some other English teachers, and totally forgot that this weekend was my birthday! So I decided to go and celebrate with my friends next weekend. We went to Owase in the South of Mie Prefecture, planning to swim and hike and have a great time. But, alas, it rained ALL weekend, so we were stuck in the cabins. (I shared one with a Canadian girl named Erica and her Japanese boyfriend Yoshi.) I spent most of Saturday reading Eragon, though in the afternoon I got literal cabin fever and decided to take a walk in the rain. I must admit, the mountains were beautiful through all the mist, and everything was so GREEN! Once I finally get my computer fixed, I`ll download some pictures.

I don`t feel like the weekend was wasted because of the rain though, as it rained in Nabari too and would have canceled any plans I made with my friends. And Saturday evening we had a delicious barbeque, though it was the Japanese sort that lasts about two hours, just cooking, eating, and cleaning up, rather than the American kind that can last all day with games of frizzbe, potato sack racing, watermelon seed spitting contests, and just generally being stupid and American. One guy tried to lead us in some good ol` raucous singing, but our Japanese neighbors politely asked us to shut up after two songs. I can`t really blame them. If the Japanese are going to party, they do it inside in a privately rented room at a hotel, bar, club, or restaurant, with appropriate karaoke machine, not live instruments, whereas just a few decades ago in America, to have a party without live instruments was considered very low-class (and ironically, some people still think that). I find it humorous how each culture and time has their idea of how to “party appropriately.” To the Japanese, outside is supposed to be peaceful and quiet. So basically the whole concept of “inside” and “outside” voices doesn’t really translate cross-culturally.

I totally missed the memo that we were supposed to bring our own meat and vegetables to grill (though that makes perfect sense and it was dumb of me to assume otherwise), but thankfully Jonathan from my town brought extras for everyone and we just paid him. Yeah, thanks Jonathan! Then everyone surprised me at the end of the barbeque by singing me Happy Birthday and giving me a strawberry ice cream shortcake bar! Awesome, thanks guys! And then we had a mini-dance party in the all-girls cabin. I may stink at dancing, but I love it, especially when there are no guys around and I can just have fun.

Sunday I got back to Nabari about 1:00 and spent the day hanging out with my church family (watching a documentary about the historical inaccuracies of the Di Vinci Code: rather interesting) and goofing off in my apartment. Goofing off to me is reading, watching movies and playing video games. So all in all, it was a good birthday. Next weekend I`m going to Nagashima Spaland to celebrate with my friends! Yeah! Hmm, I have so many fireworks I have to get rid of. I got them as a present from my cell phone company when I signed on last year…weird, huh? I wonder when I can use them…

Monday June 28th, I taught a two hour English class for parents and teachers at my high school. I was totally stressed about it. I had written three different sets of lesson plans and the other English teachers rejected all of them, despite the fact that I kept asking over and over “what do you want” and I tried to cater to their vague answers like “we would like to bake something American” and “not too hard, we just want to have fun…” Originally I started with a sort of “hello” lesson, a very basic conversation builder designed, by the end of the class, to have them saying their name, where they were from, what their hobby was, and where they worked. No, too hard. So then I worked out a baking lesson with some fun games to fill the other hour, games like telephone, guess the English word, English shiritori (where you have to start a new word based on the last letter of the previous word: ant, the, egg, green, etc). No, too hard.

“Tell me exactly what you want me to do,” I insisted.

This made them very uncomfortable. “Well, we just want you to talk about America. It is the Fourth of July coming.”

“For two hours? You want me to lecture about America for two hours!”

“Well,” they replied sheepishly. “Technically it would only be one hour, since we would do translation for you.”

They totally missed the point. It wasn`t the workload that bothered me. It was the BORINGness of it. Who wants to sit in a room with a native speaker and listen to her gab for two hours with a translation? They can look up lecture on American history on the internet! They can read a book about America! But when are they going to have two hours with an actual American? I asked about the demographics of the class, entirely housewives and female teachers, and I figured, like the English teacher`s original idea, what these ladies probably want is just to relax and have fun with a foreigner. So, I made yet another set of lesson plans, this one baking red, white, and blue cupcakes, me presenting about America in a colorful, fun manner introducing easy vocabulary for just five minutes, some very simple American games requiring no English, and “cultural pictures” from my childhood including stuff like Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and school. The teachers still seemed a little skeptical, but after much deliberation, tweaking, debating about the room and materials, we finally came to a compromise that made everyone, believe it or not, not just satisfied, but happy. I even got to test the recipe beforehand during school and shared the delicious results with my Thursday night English class at the church!

So the teachers had told me time and again that most of the women would not speak a word of English. Imagine my surprise on Monday afternoon when the very first lady to enter is wearing a American flag skirt and blouse and announces that she loves America, it is her favorite country, and her son lived in Oklahoma for five years! In Okmulgee! That`s not very far from Tulsa! We chatted in perfect English for a good ten minutes before the other ladies (nine all together) started arriving. Sure there were a few who were uncomfortable answering questions more advanced than “Where are you from?” but they seemed to be able to understand most of what I said. And then, low and behold, a newspaper reporter showed up, and then the local TV news!

Fortunately, I do have a little theater training, and I was able to turn on the charm and properly improvise. Here`s me starting us off with introductions:

Then we made the cupcakes, followed by the icing. Here`s some pictures of that.

Here you can see the TV news guys in the background:

(Of course the best part is licking the batter of the beaters, right?)

Then we moved into another (cooler) room where I did my little song-and-dance with American history, we played a map game (find the famous American states and cities on the big map), we decorated our cupcakes and ate them, I talked about Oklahoma with all my colorful posters, and finally sang the Oklahoma State song. We had quite a few laughs on camera, and the TV guys interviewed one of my students (the one wearing the America paraphanalia):

Then they turned around and interviewed ME. I was a little nervous about that; I had to speak entirely in Japanese! I hope I didn`t say anything stupid…as far as I recall I just said I loved Japanese people and Japan, that I think it`s a beautiful country and I look forward to another year in Japan. That`s pretty safe, right?

Fortunately the newspaper interviewer spoke perfect English, so I felt a lot more comfortable with her and didn`t explode into a fit of nervous giggles. OK, now I know how my students feel. Being asked to speak English in front of the whole class to them is like me being asked to speak Japanese for a television interview!

Anyway, it was an amazing class. All the ladies said they had a great time and apparently the school was very pleased too because Tuesday morning in staff meeting one of the teachers who participated announced that it went well and thanked me in front of all the other teachers. I think that`s the first time they`ve ever acknowledged me in staff meeting (though honestly I prefer it that way because most of the time they rattle off the announcements so fast I would have no idea what they`re saying about me). I got to tell everyone in that Monday class about my Thursday night English class at the church, lots of ladies seemed interested and the newspaper reporter said she`d print about it too. Maybe it even got on TV! So hopefully this will result in lots of good publicity for my high school and my Thursday class. Yea! (In retrospect, it WAS great publicity. Two ladies from that class have started coming on Thursday nights, plus the paper reporter! Now I have a total of nine poeple in my class!)

Yesterday (Tuesday) Pastor Toshi surprised me by saying he wanted to throw a barbeque in honor of my birthday! Yea! So I went to church at 6:00 and he, Pastor Kumi, their daughter Ayatan, my friend and fellow teacher Kae, and one my students from my Thursday night class all ate delicious yakiniku, yaki-yasai, and yaki-soba! “Yaki” means barbeque, “niku” is meat, “yasai” is vegetables” and “soba” is a type of noodle. “Yakisoba” is always fried noodles mixed with pork and cabbage. Very delicious! Then they sang “Happy Birthday” to me and we had cake! What a wonderful church family I have! Oh, but I should have brought my fireworks! Next time…

Prayer Requests for this Week: That I get my computer and camera fixed soon! I hope it`s not a permanent problem…I have friends coming over tonight to look at it. Prayers of thanksgiving for an amazing birthday! My mom always used to say this to me: “Many happy returns on the day of thy birth. Many seasons of joy be given. May God in His mercy prepare you on Earth for a beautiful birthday in heaven.” It means that when we die, if we believe in Jesus, it`s not really death at all, but a second birth. So when we go to heaven, we`ll be celebrating an extra special birthday with God!

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


Claire Dawn said...

You always have to be prepared for cameras here. And speeches. They're always getting sprung on me.

Happy Belated Birthday! It's great that you enjoyed.

L.J. Popp said...