Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Returners Conference and so much more!

Last week Wednesday (February 23rd) I got back from a three-day job conference in Yokohama It was put on for the Japanese Exchange Teachers returning to their home countries looking for jobs. Great stuff! The night before, I made the mistake of staying up past 1:00 in the morning to finally finish cataloging and boxing the Christian Fellowship library. The next morning, Sunday, I caught the 5:00am train for the shinkansen (bullet train) on Sunday, February 19th to make sure I`d be there on time, all settled in and hopefully not exhausted. Here is Mt. Fuji out the shinkansen window:

I got in around 11:00am on Sunday and dropped my single backpack off (I travel light) at the apartment I was staying at. A really nice Japanese lady I met on couch surfers let me rent the extra room in their apartment complex for only 3,000 yen a night. Yea, much cheaper than a regular Japanese hotel! I was totally spent from lack of sleep, but I decided to go to the famous Yokohama Sea Paradise anyway. It was OK. Wakayama Adventure World is better, I think. But here`s some cool videos:

Walrus eating, I like the whiskers. Kind of looks like an alien. I had never seen one before:

Feeding the penguins. Check out the end with the little guy who wants a special hand-feeding. He was so cute and funny! Every time the keeper pushed him back into the water, he would jump right back out again, nipping at her leg in hopes of his very own fish. He must have done that at least three times! Persistent little fellow.

Dolphin flip and the marine mammal show:

Dolphins showing off for the trainers in their pool in hopes of extra food:

Here`s a cuddle fish. They communicate by glowing and flashing lights inside them (a kind of bio-luminescence). I accidentally flashed my camera at them and this is what they did in response:

Oops! That was one angry cuddle fish!

Baluga wale during "friendly time." I got to touch it for free!

This was something I had never seen before, a mermaid`s purse. It`s a protective sack that forms around the eggs of rays, skates, and dogfish. This isn`t picture in the world because it`s so dark, but it gives you an idea:

One cool thing they had at the aquarium was a “magic sardine light illusion.” They put on music and did something in the sardine tank (maybe manipulate the currents) to make them swim in really cool patterns and shimmer in the light. Here it is from a distance so you can see the patterns:

And here it is up close so you can see them flashing in the light, and the “illusion.”

I guess the illusion is that they`re swimming through each other. Cool, huh?

I found out from my land lady that evening that there was a free plumb-blossom festival with koto (Japanese harp) and other traditional performances in the park right next to my rented apartment. Oh, well, you don`t know what you don`t know. But now that I knew about the park, the next morning I went to see it. On the way, I saw this cool building:

I think it`s an old court house. Now it`s the city museum. They were filming a TV show on the inside. Being a film major, I asked if they needed an extra, but they glared at me, not answering my English or Japanese (they were a foreign company) so I left.

The flowers were just starting to bloom. Here`s some pictures from my new camera. It's nothing fancy. Cost me about $70. The secret is that when I want a detailed, sharp shot, I change the setting to facial portrait/close up. Then it doesn't blur.

I just love plum blossoms! I like them even better than cherry blossoms because they smell better and there are more colors. For lunch, I had some juicy delicious dumplings in Chinatown.

Monday afternoon, the conference started. There were about 200 Japanese Exchange Teachers there. I saw my friends Diana and Patty. The first day was just about reverse culture shock, strategies for re-entry, life goals, and general tips of job hunting, resumes and interviews. Good stuff. The session on North American resumes was particularly helpful. Afterwards, the guy in charge offered to look at our resumes for free. I emailed him mine and am still waiting for a reply.

Monday for dinner we went to this really cool restaurant called Amazon. It`s in the basement of some building downtown and you have to push a secret button to get in and then the wall swings open. (To get in the bathroom, you have to wave your hand in front of a sewing machine and then a fake bookcase opens.) We ate under a full-scale reproduction of the Creature From the Deep while discussing zombie movies. I had spicy Tai soup. Yummy!

Tuesday the conference was about specific jobs. I went to the panels on journalism, media, graduate school, tourism, and ESL teaching. Each session was about 1 1/2 hours. ESL was probably the most interesting. We talked a lot about the myths surrounding ESL and some of the political issues such as “inner” and “outer” countries, former British colonies and American territories. Do former British colonies like Kenya have a legitimate form of English, or must they be taught the old, “proper” British standard? What about people from the Philippines, should they be considered “native speakers?” If someone is born in Japan to Japanese parents, but learns English from an early age, can they reach a status of “native speaker,” or do you have to be born into it? (In other words, is there a sort of aristocracy when it comes to language learning?) Very hot topics. One huge myth is that the primary purpose of English is for non-native speakers to be able to communicate with native speakers. Increasingly, English is becoming a Lingua Franca. It is used by Chinese to communicate with Koreans, by French to speak to Germans, by Pakistanis to write to Indians, etc. This is one reason English has so many words and so many forms, and why I often have to translate non-native English for native English speakers. Of all the languages that have ever existed in the entire history of the world, it has the highest number of speakers, in the most amount of locations, from the most varied of language backgrounds. Hence, it is bound to change the fastest and have the most dialects of any language ever in existence so far. Interesting, huh?

Tuesday night, I was going to go to a Circ du Sole performance with some friends, but they ran out of tickets. So I went back to Chinatown to do some shopping, check out Mazu temple and the trick art museum. Here`s a picture of the temple before it was lit up:

After it was lit up:

And the pretty lights outside:

Next, I bought a beautiful blue and silver Chinese short dress/shirt. It goes great with black slacks! Then I ended up in the trick art museum. Here are some neat, mind-bending pictures. Can you figure out how they work? Answers at the end of this section.

Here is a really cool statue:

From the other side:

In the middle:

Some fish for my mom:

This may not look like trick art, but this trick is that all the old men are exactly the same size! Can you guess how?

Answers to trick art:
The statue is carved at an angle. From one side you see the violinist, from the other the pianist, and from the middle you see both.

Fish jumping from picture frame: The picture frame and wall are actually painted onto the REAL wall. The whole thing is one big painting.

Old man who stays the same size: He only appears to get bigger because the door is actully getting smaller. Also, the picture slants up, giving him the appearance of increased height. Finally, the human eye expects things to get smaller the further they are from the viewer, so when in this picture the old man doesn`t, the mind translates it into increased size. he`s actually getting bigger.

If you want to see more cool trick art and figure out how it works, you`ll just have to go to the museum yourself! If you can`t make it out to Yokohama, Osaka Tempozan Harbor Village has one too. Riddley`s museums all over the world (such as the one in Branson, MO) have similar things on display.

For dinner I ate at this super nice all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant. It was about $20, but worth it I think. I had Peking duck, stir fries galore, peach cakes, coconut and sesame steamed balls stuffed with anko (red bean paste), and what all else I can`t remember. Why is it that the Chinese are such better cooks than the Japanese? Sorry, just my opinion.

The final day of the conference, Wednesday, was mostly about the various consulates. The American embassy did two long presentations, first on the Japanese Exchange Teacher Alumni Associations in our various areas, Japanese culture clubs, volunteer ambassadors to schools, and other ways to stay involved with Japan after we return home. The second presentation was on jobs available with the embassies/consulates. Totally not interested. That`s something you have to dedicate your whole life to. I`m a writer. That`s my life. Everything else is just part time and hobbies.

We wrapped up around 11:30. I had lunch with Diana and Patty at subway, then caught my bus to Nagoya. From Nagoya, I took the train to Nabari and got home around midnight. Totally worn out, I took off the next day from work. And boy am I glad I did! Friday I spent the day giving and grading tests, and Saturday I went to Spa World again with Christy, this time for the Asian spa zone. (Still just 1,000 yen ($10) for the whole day until April.) We worked out and took a bath in green tea afterwards. Not kidding.

That evening, I went with her to Osaka Namba to see her church street band play. They`re called Jesus Life House. They`re an international church with worship on Sundays and Tuesdays, street band Thursdays and Saturdays. They sing worship songs in both Japanese and English. Lots of people stopped to watch the band and ask who they were and within five minutes we had a huge crowd of people singing and dancing and wanting to know what it was all about. Until we got broken up by the police. It`s not illegal to have a street band; they just didn`t like us in that location on the bridge. So we moved to the other side of town and our audience followed. These guys are good. See for yourself:

The girl dancing and clapping is my friend Christy.

I got home about 11:00 and went to church the next morning. During the service, the right-winger nationalist party started driving around the block in their vans, blaring hate messages at us over their loud speakers. They were telling us to get out of Japan and that they want a pure Japan. They worship the emperor and were shouting stuff about him, like how they want him to live forever. It was hard to continue the service; poor Pastor Toshi with his influenza had to shout over them with a hoarse voice. I think that should be illegal. What right do they have to scream hate messages for everyone to hear? They kept driving around the block for a full hour. It was such a contrast to what I experienced the night before. The street music wasn`t bothering anyone. We weren’t near anyone`s house or business, just a fixed spot on the street. If someone didn`t like it, they could walk away and didn`t have to listen to us. We were singing about love and joy and peace. The right-wing nationalists screamed about hate and war. Of course they have a right to voice their opinions, but over the loud speakers on top of their cars? It`s really disturbing. Sometimes it wakes me up in the morning. Not something I want to be waking up to. If they want to say stuff like that, they should hold a meeting people can choose to attend or not to attend, or print it in a newspaper people can choose to read or not to read. That`s the way democracy works.

Why haven`t I mentioned the nationalists before? They`re not all that common. It`s an extremist group in Japan, very much akin to the Fred Phelps group (the “God hates fags” people). When you mention him to Americans, most either hang their head in shame or get angry and start spouting obscenities about him. Same goes for most Japanese and the right-wingers. They`re not a good representation of Japanese society and shouldn`t be counted as such. About once a month I hear them blaring their loudspeakers, but this was the first time they`d done it in front of the church. Why worry? They can`t do anything to us. If they tried to burn the church or something, they could be imprisoned. So go ahead, march around with your stupid megaphones. We`re not going anywhere.

After church, we had a meeting to discuss the church budget and strategies for further growth and evangelism. We divided into three teams: the housewife team, the businessman team, and the English team. Each team will plan outreach events that will appeal to people in their area of focus. Good start!

Tuesday was graduation. I felt very Japanese. Some teachers helped me put on my formal kimono and I ate the sushi lunch with everyone else with my green tea and chop sticks and spoke Japanese to everyone. When we sang the Japanese national anthem, I felt somehow…patriotic. Japan is my country too. The church members even say so, and some of the teachers I work with. “You`re more Japanese than we are!” they say sometimes. I know that even when I leave this country, a part of my heart will always belong to Japan, just as a part of my heart will always belong to Malawi, Africa. I`m really glad I went to that conference in Yokohama, because even if I didn`t benefit from the job advice, it gave me ways I can stay connected with Japan for the rest of my life.

Prayer Requests for this week: For my pastor and his family who still have the flu. Also, Lent started yesterday. I`m giving up junk food because I think I`ve been spending too much money on it and I`ve noticed a drop in my overall health lately. I think if I give it up, I can serve God better both with my money and increased energy. I need strength to see it through; already I have to resist my cravings!

Until next time, keep praying and keep loving, no matter what the cost,

L.J. Popp

(This is the teacher`s room where I spend most of my working days, typing at the computer behind me.)

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