Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Educational Blogging
Blinger asked a little while ago that I talk some more about my experiences using blogs in my ESL class. Sandy, my fabulous supervisor, had asked me to participate in an online course on using blogs in the ESL setting a while ago, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot anyway. Here are some more organized thoughts on it.

Just tonight in my teaching methodology class, one of the issues we were discussing was how to inspire bored ESL students who appear to have little attachment or interest in their own writing, and who have no conception of how to write for an authentic audience. My immediate response was to use blogs. Blogs are an excellent way to introduce the concept of writing for an audience. The teacher can spend a lot of time talking about the fact that because their blogs are on the internet, the students need to consider the following things:

1) What topics are appropriate to write about? Anyone can see their blogs; classmates, teachers (their own and others in the program), friends and family from home, random strangers. They should spend some time thinking about what kinds of things they feel comfortable writing about.

2) What topics are going to be interesting? This can get them to think about presentation. They need to think about their prospective audience and how they wish to present themselves to these people out there.

3) What kinds of details should be included? This is a good time to emphasize that writing is different than carrying on a conversation. Students need to think about what kind of background information their audience shares with them, and what information needs to be explained. This is especially important to think about when contrasting ESL and EFL teaching contexts.

Of course, the most direct way of making students aware of their audience while blogging is to also use the commenting function. My students just installed that function on their blogs, so I haven’t used it as a teaching aid or big motivation with them much. However, just before we installed the comments, one of my students received an email from someone in Pennsylvania, who had gone through the trouble of contacting a friend at MSU to look up the student’s email address for her, just because the person wanted to say hello and offer encouragement to my student. I have no idea how this woman found my student’s blog, but it certainly is an illustrative example of how blogs can make connections all over the world, from very unexpected sources. My student was quite surprised.

My own class seems to be keeping up their blogs well. No doubt a large part of this is due to the fact that updating their blogs at least 3 times a week is 15% of their grade. However, I do not think that they would be so inclined to keep it up if I had simply told them it was a requirement and they had to do it. I spent a lot of time explaining why I thought this was an important thing for them to do, and how it could help their learning. I told them that writing on their blog forces them to think in English outside of class, but it lets them think, and write, about subjects that interest them. Constantly practicing their English writing will help their reading, speaking, listening, and grammar as well, because putting their English to use helps them remember vocabulary, and notice grammatical structures they have already learned.

Because I teach in an ESL context, that is, in the United States to international students, I also took the opportunity to mention to my students that I hope they will continue to write on their blogs after they return to their home countries. Doing so will let them stay in touch with each other, as well as offering a constant medium for them to practice their English once they are no longer living in an immersion environment. I think many of my students realize how easy it will be for them to lose much of their English proficiency after they return home, and I hope they will actually follow through on their currently professed desires to keep practicing. Since this is the first semester in which I have used blogging with my students, this remains to be seen. I don’t think this method of inspiration would be as successful in an EFL setting, either, since most of those students may already live near each other and have no need of such a method to stay in touch. Then again, I live many states away from most of my college friends and use blogs as a way to stay up to date on their lives, even though we all live in the US. So who knows.

If you are hoping to encourage blogging as a long-term project, instead of something closely tied to the content of your particular class, I think it is also important to stress that simply the act of writing is beneficial. Many ESL students seem to become overly concerned with making sure their grammar is perfect, rather than pursuing overall fluency. I told my students that I would not correct their grammar on their blogs; instead, they can see it as a easily viewed personal record of their language progress from the start of their current course onward. I have tried to make them more aware of how much actually trying to think in English can help the fluency of their writing, whereas stopping too often to make sure the grammar is correct or to look up many new words makes their writing choppy and hard to follow. This is a very different philosophy than many of my students have ever experienced towards learning English, but I think that they do recognize some merit in it.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Finally Friday
The above title is not a reference to today, but rather a reference to the fact that, just 2 weeks after I got back from Japan, I am going to finish writing about it. I guess in some ways it's fitting, because I heard somewhere a long time ago that it takes you dreaming mind about 2 weeks to catch up with your body's physical location, so you keep dreaming about where you were. Two nights ago, I dreamed I had to go back to Japan again, which was convenient, because I needed to buy a tea canister. I blame it on having looked at my pile of leftover yen just before going to sleep. I have about $10 in coins.

Friday was a fun day, but it did seem to go in circles. At 11:15, Chris arrived on the shinkansen from Tochigi. This was his first trip on the shinkansen. I think it is entirely fitting that Chris and I absolutely had to get together while I was in Japan, because I know him from when he was the only other person in my Japanese class at Grinnell, back before they hired a professor, when it was just self-study with a native speaker tutor. Chris is on the JET program this year, so he got to Japan just after I left. He actually did his semester abroad in Tokyo, and has been far more diligent than I with the whole self-study thing, so his Japanese is far, far better than mine, and he's slated to take the Level 1 (highest level) Japanese proficiency exam.

First, we got lunch at Freshness Burger, which also involved a lot of reminiscing about Grinnell and JET teaching. Then we wandered down Clis Road a little ways before Chris spotted the Book Off, and wanted to go check to see if he could find an apparently very elusive volume of manga from a series he likes. No luck, as it turns out, but then we were in the right area to go into Loft, so he could see the evil bear and all the vending machines. I'm not sure he was as excited as I was by all the weird little toys, so we didn't stay long. He wasn't satisfied with his lack of Book Off success, so we went over to AER so he could look at the bookstore there, which is where all the English books are, as well. No luck again with the comics, but he did look longingly at a set of the entire untranslated Tale of Genji, which is about 8 books. (He wants to go to grad school for Japanese now.) We made our way upstairs to Starbucks from there to meet Richard at 1:30, because he had gotten off work early, since he has nothing to do there right now in between semesters.

Richard was hungry, and Chris wanted to see Jupiter, to check for any foreign food he'd been craving. (Tochigi doesn't have a foreign food store.) Thus, we headed back to Sendai Station, so Richard could eat at the other Freshness Burger, and Chris could wander Jupiter to his heart's content. He didn't find anything he had to have, but as we later sat with Richard while he finished eating, he told us of his quest to find an alarm clock with actually glowing numbers that he could see in the dark. This meant it was time for a trip to Yodobashi Camera! (Alas, I would say Laox, but my dear, beloved Laox is now totally closed. *sniff, sniff*) Lo and behold, they had a proper clock. Chris declared his trip to Sendai a complete success.

I can't remember the order of everything else we did, and no one probably cares, but I have the impression in my mind that there were a lot of circles. We walked back across the station, but went up through the weird bar/arcade/retro music theme restaurant, and stopped to watch people betting on a tiny, mechanical horse race, on a felt green track, with a paddock, tiny jockeys, and little metal horses with legs that moved. Then Richard had to see the evil bear back in Loft, and then I had to go upstairs to get chopsticks and a loose tea teapot from Muji. We walked down Clis Road again, and Chris tried to get a toy from one of those catcher claw machines in an arcade. Richard had to go meet a friend at a batting cage at around 4, and his bike was parked in front of AER, so after I said good-bye to him, Chris went back into the bookstore, and I went upstairs to check my email. Then it was back to Sendai Station again, so Chris could get his return train ticket and some dinner, and I could meet Sharon and Danola at, yes, another Starbucks.

After Chris got to briefly meet Sharon and Danola, he had to be off for the last train that would stop at the closest station for him. Sharon, Danola, and I sat for a little while longer, talking about Danola's trip to Australia, followed by their joint trip to China, and all the places in the world we'd like to meet in the future. Eventually, though, it was time for Sharon to go meet another friend, and for me and Danola to meet Kristel for dinner at India Gold. It wouldn't be a trip to Sendai without a trip to India Gold. After dinner, there was a brief pass through Loft to show Danola the evil bear, (can you tell he was the highlight of my trip?) and then onto the train for my last night in Japan. I said good-bye to Kristel as she got off at Tagajo.

Danola and I had one last night of laughing at her borrowed DVDs of "Sex & the City" and talking, and then it was sleep and get up and get on an early train to catch an early shinkansen to catch another train to the airport, to catch the plane back to Detroit, on which there was this very interesting semi-transvestite guy, who had tri-colored highlights and got out a mirror to do his eyebrows before the plane landed. I was behind him in line at customs, so I got to experience the full glory of his giant Louis Vuitton rolling suitcase and his passport case dangling multi-colored Mardis Gras beads. I was the one who got flagged for a random luggage check, but it ended up getting me through the line faster than everyone else, and Mark picked me up to take me home, where I promptly fell asleep and screwed up my sleep cycle for the next week.

The end.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Now, back to our regular programming...
Right, where was I? I think I was up to last Wednesday. I didn't really do much on Wednesday morning. Sharon went to work, and I met her at Starbucks around 3 to give her her apartment key. The arrangements about me getting out of her apartment and locking up as I left were more complicated than anything else involved in the cross-world trip. There were originally all sorts of complicated plans for me to unlock the door on the second floor and then leave the key in her mailbox without the mailbox door being completely closed, but then what if someone noticed the second floor door and locked it before Sharon got home? Eventually it got sorted out, though, and we rendevouzed briefly at Starbucks before she had to go back to work.

After an hour of reading my book and drinking tea, I got the train to Tagajo, with my suitcase, to meet Kristel, who was making us dinner. Us? Yes, this was the night that Danola came back from Yokohama! So Kristel had offered to make dinner for me, Danola, and Stephanie, the new ALT who lives upstairs from her. I used my nicely honed chopping talent to cut things for salad while she made a mushroom risotto with the approximately 5 tons of mushrooms she had gotten the day before, and Stephanie applied some muscle to the wine cork.

We had just started to eat when Danola got there, and then there was much hugging to be had. The risotto was excellent, and we were all stuffed for the big ALT gossip session that followed. I must say, I found out very little flattering about my successor on my trip. She apparently has not adjusted to life in Japan very well, and is not recontracting, much to no one's surprise. She also is reported to have once accused me of having stolen the shelves from the refrigerator that I left behind with all the other furnishings. I would just like to state right now that the fridge never had any shelves in it. Sheesh.

We called it an early night, though, since Danola was tired after her trip, and everyone had to teach the next day. Danola gave me her bed with the electric blanket, since I am such a delicate American flower, no longer used to cold Japanese apartments. We did, of course, stay up talking for several hours, like that's a surprise. It was okay, because she had the morning off of work.

On Thursday, we woke up late, and had... coffee! Danola loves her coffee maker. Eventually, she did have to go to work, so I spent a few hours reading before I took the familiar way over to her train station to get back to Sendai. Why was I going back into Sendai? I had a dinner date with Kamiyama-sensei! He and Mr. Ogata, the teacher who sat next to me at Mukaiyama and had such perfect English even though he wasn't an English teacher, (the one with the hybrid car,) met me at the little shrine that was across the river from my old apartment, where I could hear the bell ring every night. We went to get soba, as you might have guessed. Sadly, our habitual haunt was mysteriously closed that night, so we went to another place down the street that Kamiyama-sensei had previously found. Mmmmm, it was good. I miss soba. I can't find it anywhere here.

Kamiyama-sensei sounded so happy to hear from me! I felt so loved. It was a lot of fun to see him again. He was and is my favorite JTE. I wish him only good ALTs in the future. I gave him a Thunderbirds vending machine toy as a present, because when they started replaying all the episodes last year, he said he was taping all of them. He got the pink car when he opened the egg.

Eventually, though, we really had eaten all of our dinner, and they both had to be at school the next day, so they dropped me off at Sendai Station, and I made my way back to Danola's.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Happy Birthday!
(to me, that is.)

We interrupt the scheduled Japan tale continuation to bring you this announcement. It's my birthday! Yay! Originally, I was not so keen on having my birthday on a Monday, which this semester is basically a 12-hour work day for me, but it hasn't been so bad. Mark continued the theme of giving me weaponry for gift-giving occasions, my parents sent me a gift certificate to Amazon, and when I got home, they had sent me flowers, too! Irises, of course, for the purple.

I was surprised at the gift certificate, since I thought my trip to Japan on my daddy's SkyMiles was my present. Now I have to plot and plan how best to spend my new riches.

*rubs hands gleefully and grins maniacally*

Also note that since this is an even-numbered year, I am spending this birthday in the US. This means that I really am turning 24. Birthdays in odd-numbered years since I entered college have all been spent out of the US, in that strange removed timestream that separates my life, and thus do not really exist. Does this happen to anyone else? The time that I spend outside my home country, particularly living outside it, ends up surrounded by little bubbles in the chronology of memory, so all of my semesters at Grinnell run together, despite being broken in the middle by my semester in Chile, because Chile is not in the linear timestream, but instead out to the side. In any case, this means that I had a very hard time remembering how old I was during the years I was 19, 21, and 23, (Taiwan, Chile, and Japan, respectively.) I've kept up my in-out streak for 6 years of birthdays now, but it is beginning to look doubtful that I will be able to continue it, thanks to MSU's inconvenient spring break scheduling. Alas.

Oh, yes, and should you care to interact with my students, they put commenting features on their blogs today.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Gloomy Bear in Loft
On Tuesday, Sharon had the morning off, but had to go to work after lunch. Thus, we arranged to have brunch with Kristel downtown, and then Kristel and I would do stuff until Sharon got off work at 6. We had brunch at a new place Sharon and Kristel have discovered, called something along the lines of "Green Organic Natural Cafe," except possibly more Engrish-y. The exciting thing is that you can actually get real bagels there, which is quite the rarity in the land of people who do not really understand the concept of bread.

When we finished brunch, we went next door to what used to be the AMS building. I think this was the biggest and most noticeable change to downtown Sendai. AMS is no more. The entire building is now Loft. This is important because it was the building that had Muji in it, so we were frequent visitors. It is also the building directly across from the front of Sendai Station. Now I have to say that I'm glad Loft wasn't there when I was; I'd have spent far more money.

We went to the stationery floor first. I was supposed to find a weird Engrish pencil case for Alison, another TA, as her Japanese friend had brought her back a tasteful floral one, no doubt putting her advanced English skills to good use. I, on the other hand, got her one that said "Pencil House," with a little bizarre description underneath. She was quite pleased. Then I wandered the rest of the stationery department, remembering why it is not a good idea to turn me loose in such establishments. They had stationery! Calendars! Notebooks! Stickers! And pens, oh, the pens! I really do have a thing for pens. How can anyone pass up super-fine .04 tipped pens in an array of colors? And of course, let's not forget the glitter pens. Though they're Uni-ball, you can only find the Signo Rainbow line in Japan. I am such a connoisseur. I, of course, got a purple one, and Kristel had to have a pink one, our respective signature colors. How Sharon turned one down I don't know. I also found silly "French" and "German" stationery for Amy and Heidi, which they found hilarious. After all, if it's a language written with the Roman alphabet, it's considered decorative; grammar is kind of incidental.

Sharon had to go to work then, so Kristel and I took the pilgrimage to Muji ourselves. They moved it upstairs! It's bigger! They had no currently tempting clothes! I made it out without spending any money. The most important thing we found in Loft that day, though, was discovered as we came down the escalator from Muji to the other side of the floor with the stationery. Over on the other side, it turns out, it where they keep all the weird toys. Loft, it turns out, has a new kind of teddy bear, which they had given a very large display. His name is Gloomy Bear, the adult bear. He is plush and comes in a range of bright rainbow colors. Oh, and he has long white plastic claws on his hands. First I thought, oh, that's kind of weird, but maybe you could think it was cute. Then I walked around to the other side of the display to the other version of Gloomy: Gloomy with blood on his claws and dripping from his mouth. Turns out, Gloomy is a teddy bear who got tired of being a child's plaything, and apparently had a lot of anger to get out. You can buy bloody Gloomy bears, little "hang bear" keychain icons, pencils, pens, pads, and lunchboxes, plus postcards, posters, and videos showing Gloomy violently beating his owner. Lest you be too concerned for the youth of Japan, it doesn't seem any small children are terribly interested in Gloomy. All the people we saw there were teens and young adults. Gloomy also has some non-violent cousins, all little "hang bears" with different themes, such as "Healthy Bear," "Halloween Bear," and about a dozen others in various colors. There also appears to be a futuristic bear, all in metal, with rockets in its feet.

We also discovered the aisles and aisles of vending machines. Yay! I'm quite serious, they had rows and rows of little vending machines full of little plastic eggs containing a variety of prizes. Each one had a different theme. There were Winnie the Pooh machines, Simpsons machines, Dragon BallZ machines, "Frog Style" machines with little rubber frogs in clothes, Thunderbirds machines, and on and on. The best ones, we decided were the Campbell's soup and Homepride machines. Each of these had bigger eggs with tins in which there were two nostalgic magnets and a "mascot" on a hook so you can attach it to your phone. We had entirely too much fun with these machines. Kristel said the clerks probably thought she was insane, because she went back to the desk twice to get more change for the machines. I would have spent a lot more money there if I'd had more change. I wish I could go back, but this might be a sign of addiction, so perhaps it's a good thing I'm on the other side of the ocean, with all the boring, untempting vending machines we have here.

Kristel and I then briefly hit Uniqlo, Beaux Arts, the shoe store, and Comme Ça, all with little luck. I did get a pencil case of my own at Comme Ça, but eventually we went to the grocery store for Kristel to prepare for her dinner the next night, and then went to the coffee place where we were meeting Sharon. We narrowly avoided an encounter with the infamous Cindy, and lived to regale Sharon with tales of Gloomy Bear, and give her the Homepride and Frog Style eggs we had gotten for her.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

The Lovely Sharon
Do not adjust your browser settings, nor your brain. The timestamp on this entry is correct. It is nigh unto 5am. I have not been asleep since 3am, and having given up on sleeping anymore, you get to profit. Behold the much anticipated, I'm sure, next installment of my trip to Japan.

On Monday late-morning, I trundled out with my trusty suitcase to meet Sharon, who had graciously agreed to be my keeper until Danola got back from Yokohama and demanded my presence. Sharon was, of course, late. As she said, "You wouldn't believe it was me if I wasn't." This is true, and I wouldn't have given the drivers going across the big bridge that I used to see from my back window last year nearly so much to speculate about, standing around waiting for her on the corner as I was. From the corner, we went to her apartment, which turns out to be the apartment of a Japanese friend who is abroad this year, and whose parents are letting Sharon rent the apartment from them so their daughter doesn't have to find a new place when she gets back. Therefore, she is living in the building "in secret." It also turns out that her apartment is nearly dead center between the Atago-bashi and Itsutsubashi subway stations, which doesn't mean anything to people who don't live in Sendai, but which is extremely nostalgic for me, and for the layman translates to a location approximately a 5-7 minute walk from my old apartment. If only she had lived there last year! Of course, if she had, I wouldn't have had so many reasons to constantly take the train out to Shiogama, and she wouldn't have been able to throw any of her apartment-packing parties, since the new apartment is only one room, and the old apartment was a palatial four. Never fear, though; my beloved co-"Muji Monster" has put her own ever tasteful stamp on her borrowed apartment as well, and I felt much like I was living in luxury.

We didn't stay at her apartment long. After dropping off my stuff, we set out to Atago-jinja, which is the shrine (actually a temple, I guess) on the hill behind my old apartment. As you may recall, I didn't visit it until my year in Japan was almost over, even though I could see the entrance every day. In any case, Sharon hadn't been yet, and wanted to go, so we went. She liked the Buddha riding the elephant as much as I did, and as we were walking around the circle to see the rest of the Buddhas, one of the monks actually came over to talk to us. He was actually up there supervising the construction that's being done, apparently to restore the roof on one of the older temple buildings, but after a very nice conversation, in excellent English, in which he asked us where we were from, where we (had) lived in the area, what we did, and told us his name and to ask him any questions, he also told us we should take the stairs down the other side of the hill so we could see the larger, more proper temple complex. It seemed like a good idea to me, as I was fairly certain I knew where the other stairs came out, as it had been on my walk to Mukaiyama.

When we got to the bottom of the stairs, I was astounded. I had no idea there was so much else over there. The true main temple is not at the top of the hill after all, it's only halfway up, and hidden from the road I walked on by intervening houses. The most I had ever seen of it was part of the graveyard. The building(s) are truly huge, not to mention much more modern, in a traditional way, than everything at the top of the hill. The best part for me, though, were all the little foot-high comic monk statues set in the garden border of the sidewalk. I think I took half a roll of film just of pictures of them. As we were leaving, we saw the most gorgeous, and gigantic, Siamese cat sitting on the edging of a wall, its colors perfectly matched to the light walls and dark woodwork edgings and roof, and the most brilliant blue eyes. It came down the stairs to visit us, and I got its picture. It's not developed yet, though, so I hope it turned out well.

Also from the temple area, I was able to point out the roof of Mukaiyama's gym to Sharon, and then we walked back to Atago-bashi station via my old route home from school. Sharon thought it was quite neat, but she was not subjected to the big hill. When we walked past my old apartment, I could see there were new curtains in the window, and it at least seems the new person living up there has similar tastes in curtains to me, rather than to whichever ALT predecessor of mine who left the weird dark blue acetate Zodiac symbol-covered ones. Whoever it is up there, though, they're no longer an ALT. My sucessor was moved across the street to the same, newer building as the landlords live in.

We were headed to Atago-bashi because our next stop was to try to see one of the well-known temples in Kita-Sendai. Of course, when we got to Kita-Sendai, we had no idea where we were trying to go, as maps only make sense while you're looking at them, not when you leave the station and are faced with the actual (unlabeled) streets of Japan. We walked around for probably 15 minutes or so before we found a man to ask for directions, which we accurately followed and it did get us there, except, we later realized, by a very roundabout way. We walked up the stairs to the temple's gardens, and they were lovely. There was a very interesting sort of boxy pyramid frame that had been built around a massive vine, probably wisteria. There were various nice statues, and an arbor, I think, and some ornamental trees, but what really caught my attention was the hand-washing fountain on the other side of all that. It was another dragon-shaped one! I saw my first one when we were in Kyoto. The one at Kita-Sendai was even more impressive, although not a pretty blue-green. Instead it was black with gold highlights. I can't wait to see the pictures of that one.

We managed not to get lost on the way to the train station from there, and we were just in time to grab the express train to Tagajo, where Kristel lives. We went with her to the little coffee shop that Kristel and Sharon basically called home last year. We sat there forever, talking, the only people in the shop. I'm sure the woman who runs the place was starting to wonder if we'd ever leave, but she didn't seem much to mind. Eventually, though, Kristel had to get home and Sharon and I whisked back to Sendai on the train. We stopped at the grocery store to get food, and I finally got to have yakisoba again, despite everyone's insistence that it actually exists in the US. I am simply cursed that the store will always be just out when I get there.

We spent the latter part of the evening watching one of Sharon's Japanese TV shows. She wasn't much into them last year, but now, like me, she has gotten caught up in the drama. I can't remember if Monday was the night with the three hockey players who all have burgeoning relationships, or the one about the father who is trying to win custody of his daughter, and in the process falling in love with the nanny as she teaches him how to actually be a father. The father one, incidentally, stars the same SMAP boy who was in the show I watched last year about the chemistry teacher who found out he was dying of cancer and was inspired to do the things he'd always wanted to do. The man playing his character's father in the new show played his father-in-law in the show from last year. In some ways, it's rather like Chilean TV, because all the shows run for a limited period of time, so you get to see the same actors over and over again, in many different roles, but somehow they all stay related to each other. You don't want to get me started on my Chilean show, Pampa Ilusión, though. I will be forever heartbroken that I didn't get to see the end of it.

Eventually, I passed out. In comfort, though, I must say. Sharon gave me her bed, you see, and made herself a nest on the floor. She said she was quite comfortable, because her apartment has a wonderful invention in the land-of-no-building-insulation: a electric heated carpet. Will wonders never cease. That ranks right up there with the kotatsu as one of the greatest Japanese winter survival things ever.

Well, this post is quite long enough for now, so you will have to wait until tomorrow, or rather, later today, or something, to hear all about the most disturbing teddy bear ever.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Jet Lag
Yes, I did actually get back from Japan. This time coming back, though, I have managed to totally screw up my sleep cycle, so I fell asleep for 5 hours upon arriving home on Saturday, and somehow still managed to be completely dead to the world until noon yesterday, and thus, no blog updating goodness until now. I'd still rather be sleeping, but instead, I have to stay awake to go teach yet another class later tonight, as our practicum has now started, and my teaching workload has correspondingly increased by half again. Joy. Let me instead return to thinking about the pleasantness that was last week.

I got to Japan after a mere 14.5 hours, direct from Detroit to Narita. This is the first time I have ever been relegated to the middle of the middle row, and it sucks. However, I did get all my midterm grading done, as I had nothing else interesting to look at. The woman sitting next to me was a Chinese woman who now lives in High Point, NC. The guy sitting on the other side of her was noting that she had managed to pick up a Southern accent in her 5 years in High Point, which is why he didn't recognize the name of her home city in China when she said it the first time. Ah, accent confusion, it is so much fun. Anyway, upon landing, customs wasn't too bad, even though I couldn't go through the resident line, (the customs agent looked very confused about my old visa, since it looks like it's still valid through 2005,) and I did manage to find an ATM right away. This made it easy to get my ticket for the Skyliner to Ueno, which I felt very clever about getting, since the Narita Express to Tokyo Station was full, and I could just change my plans all quickly and confidently like. Go me. Yes, I did live in Japan before. I am not just a dumb tourist. Not that I could answer the customs baggage person in Japanese after 14.5 hours on a plane. All I could think of was a combination of Chinese and German, which was really not so helpful. Good job, brain.

From the Skyliner, I crossed over to the shinkansen station and caught a well-timed train up to Sendai. Then I caught the subway to my old station, Atago-bashi, and walked the rest of the way to Richard's, just like old times, except with a wheelie-suitcase. He fed me rice and offered lots more, which in my addled state I couldn't eat, and I actually managed to stay up until 11 talking to him. He gave me a nice bed on his new fold-out couch, with lots of covers and a hot water bottle, declaring, "If you catch a cold, it is not my fault." I then fell asleep in much warmth and comfort until 6:45 the next morning, which isn't bad for jet lag going that way 'round the world. Richard had woken up at 5, though, unable to sleep anymore, so I woke up panicked that I had slept ridiculously late. Since I hadn't, we had a good 4 hours until he had to go to work, since he had take two hours of nenkyu, as there is nothing for him (or anyone) to do at work during March. For breakfast, I got rice with gyu-tan (beef tongue, Sendai's specialty), toast with jam, juice and coffee. I don't eat that well pretty much anywhere. I felt quite the guest.

Eventually, though, Richard had to go to work, so it was time for me to be handed off to the next person to house me for the week, Sharon. The continuation of the story, however, will have to wait for tomorrow.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Break Time!
That's it! I'm done! I gave my students their midterm today, and now I have nothing to think about other than getting ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow, I leave for Japan!!! For the next week, I will be back in Sendai and Shiogama, this time as a tourist. I'm going to be staying with Richard on Sunday night, Sharon on Monday and Tuesday, and Danola for the rest of the week when she gets back from a conference in Tokyo. Sharon has all of Monday off, and half of Tuesday, and apparently she and Kristel have my itinerary all planned, with a tour of the temple district of Kita-Sendai, a new coffee place, and the shrine behind my old house. I don't know what Danola has planned for me. I also don't know yet if I'll get to see Kamiyama-sensei, but I hope so. On Friday, my friend Chris, who was the only other person in my Japanese self-study class at Grinnell, and who is now on the JET program in Tochigi, is taking his first ride on the shinkansen to come up and see me and whoever else I draft into helping show him around.

I'm very much looking forward to it, but I realized that it's also kind of disorienting. I'm going back as a tourist this time. It's the first time I've had to deal with organizing my travel around Japan from the US. I don't already have a shinkansen ticket ready to go to Sendai, I don't have a Japanese ATM card (although my US one should work), and I don't currently have any yen. I actually had to call my dad last night and ask him how they got money when they were visiting me. Hopefully, though, all of these things will be easily manageable, especially as I have a good idea of what I'm doing and can ask where things are, such as ATMs. But! If I couldn't ask for directions, I could always rent one of these personal translation robots. Well, not the robots, actually, just the PDAs, but look, they're right on the Narita website. I think the nearly 100% accuracy rate is rather impressive. I don't think I'll get one, though. I'll just have to make do with my own brain.

Anyway, I may or may not update this while I'm over there. I know I can get internet access at the AER building next to the station, I just don't know if I'll have time!

Thursday, March 04, 2004

You Only Need One
Next Tuesday, March 9th, my mother will go to the hospital to donate one of her kidneys to a co-worker. Betsy, her co-worker, has a genetic kidney disease that has affected all the women in her family. Last year, a month or two before Christmas, she had her second kidney removed and has been living on dialysis ever since. Her husband could not donate because he had had a benign melanoma removed at one point, which is good for him, but bad for his kidney donation prospects, as sometimes the melanoma is lurking in the donated organ and can come back as malignant. So my mom got tested, and she turned out to be a good match. While I was home over Christmas, I got to take my mom to the hospital for the final test. The surgeon drew pictures of her kidneys on the sheets for us, which was highly entertaining, and now I know that the left kidney usually has the least number of little veins running from it to the heart, because it has one big artery instead. It is the one they generally try to take, so that's the plan for my mom.

I am very proud of her for doing this. I will be sending her all my healthiest thoughts on Tuesday, and I hope you will, too. I would be there in NC, but I'm going to be in Japan next week, so I will have to think those thoughts very loudly. My aunt is going to be there from Tennessee to try to take my mom's place helping Grandma with Granddaddy, and the next week, my aunt and uncle from NJ are coming down. I don't know what they'll do after that, because it's supposed to take about a month-6 weeks for the donor to recover.

I love you, Mommy. You are awesome.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Public Service Announcement
In case there are any people reading this who don't know yet, if you get email telling you your email account is being shut down unless you follow the instructions in the attachment, DELETE IT. It's a virus. Hopefully, this will be obvious to everyone, and your email virus software will catch it anyway, but it will come as an email appearing to be from the administrator of your email provider, no matter what that provider is. I had two in my Yahoo account this morning, and have since gotten 3 on my MSU account. They all have the same text, regardless of what address they claim to be from. And just in case that isn't enough evidence, let me just say that while some people in IT may not be able to spell, they do at least know better than to call an attachment an "attach." As an ESL teacher, I was not impressed with these hackers' language abilities.

The Cutest Digital Asian Man Ever
Speaking of hackers and other people who need to be beaten, if you need to get some anger out, you can always try playing Jet Li's Rise to Honor. You can learn Chinese! And if you already know Chinese, you can just turn off the subtitles and listen to the dialogue, truly voiced by Jet Li. Even his punching noises are voiced by him. How do I know? Because we watched the special features about how they made the game first, of course. It was all done with Jet Li and a bunch of other spiffy people, all under the direction of Corey Yuen, who has been the martial arts choreographer for nearly every Jet Li movie in the US. They all got to wear motion capture suits and spend all day having fun with wires and weapons and pads and just moving around. It's like every martial arts student's dream. Oh, and Jet Li's really cute.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Testing, Testing
Yesterday, I was at work for 13 hours. This is because part of the fun of being a grad student in a field oriented toward teaching is that you get conned into teaching for free. This is also known as "practicum." Yesterday was the beginning of the end of what little free time I had managed to scrape up for myself this semester.

We have been having our practicum class all semester, but we don't start teaching until after spring break. The way the practicum is set up is that before spring break, we share teaching ideas, and after spring break we begin teaching a community ESL conversation class. There are 6 levels, and to place them into levels, we have to give them a placement exam. This is a process that is destined to never go smoothly, no matter how many times MSU has the practicum.

Apparently, there are a lot of people in East Lansing who really want to take an ESL conversation class. We got over there at 5:30 to set up the registration table, and there were already about 50 people there. We only had 150 receipts and information packets, and it said on the advertising signs that we would only take 150 people, but somehow, we ended up with about 170. Heidi and I were in charge of the registration table. Each person had to pay $10, (the total course fee,) we made out a receipt, and then gave them their information packet to take into the testing room. A simple process, no? But somehow the lines got screwed up, and some people who had been waiting since before 5:30 for registration to start at 6:00 got bumped to the back of the "line" and didn't get in until nearly 7. We ran out of receipt books and packets, so we had to just tear off bits of paper for improvised receipts, and put together packets from extra info sheets on the fly. We finally got all of them into the testing room, and then they ran out of test question booklets. Of course, the reading part of the test was the first section, and it isn't as important for placement (which is why it's first, to account for latecomers), but we still had about 20 extra people who were mad that they didn't have tests. The professor and one of the other TESOL students ran back to the office to make more copies, but that still took a while. For the listening part, apparently either the recording or the tape player was distorted, so it was hard to hear.

I wasn't in the room to hear that in person, though, as I was still sitting at the desk to answer questions from family members wanting to know when the test would be over. I also ended up helping to babysit a 1-year-old child whose mother was taking the exam and didn't have a babysitter. There were 3 other small children waiting out in the hall, too, but they had their fathers looking after them. Apparently, TESOL grad students are better babysitters than dads, as "our" little boy was quite happy, and the other three were screaming and crying for their mothers, 2 of them pretty much constantly, one only intermittently. When our baby got bored taking crayons out of the box and putting them back in, one of the other TESOL students gave him a little rice cracker. He didn't seem to like it too much, but he liked taking them out of the bag. When it became obvious he wasn't going to eat the one he had taken out, I held out my hand and he gave it to me, so I ate it and said, "Mmmmm." He then decided that I seemed to like them, so he pulled out another one and put it, not in my hand, but in my mouth. Good thing I liked them. He thought it was so much fun, he fed me all the ones that were left in the bag.

Somehow, we managed to get through 3 hours out there in the hall, doing nothing productive besides entertaining babies. At 9:15, the test ended, we cleaned up, and Heidi and I cleverly offered to take the folding chairs back to the professor's office, so we escaped earlier than everyone else. I was very glad to go home, after 13 hours straight on campus. Should you ever take a large-scale placement test, please feel some pity for the people administrating it, as well as for yourself.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Culture Shock?
Feeling the effects of culture shock?

My students can tell you how to get over it. (Well, at least if you're a student studying abroad.)

Oh, Canada!
I really do think the best channel we get on TV here is the Canadian channel. I realized over the weekend, though, that if Canadians ever have any complaints about the stereotypes people hold about their country and culture, they have the CBC to blame. For the past several weeks, they've been pre-empting Solstrom to show hours and hours of NHL hockey. Yesterday, they showed 3-4 hours of curling, followed by the Opening Ceremonies of the Arctic Winter Games. And yes, I watched. Curling is still boring, but the Arctic Winter Games look really interesting.

The Arctic Winter Games are for all the countries or groups who live above the 60th parallel. Some of the stuff they do seems like normal winter sports, like biathalon, cross-country and downhill skiing, hockey, and speed skating. Other stuff, though, was very much not your average winter sport. The "arctic sports" are things like high kick, knuckle hop, and head pull. The knuckle hop looks really painful, as you are supposed to hold yourself in the down position of a push-up, and hop yourself down the floor on your knuckles and toes. The "Dene games" are things like snow snake (throwing a spear about 2 inches off the ground, sometimes more than a football field's length), and a "hide the stick" hand game.

The other thing that really amused me during the opening ceremonies was not actually the ceremonies at all, it was the commercials. The Games are being held in Fort McMurray, which is apparently known for its oil sands. The big tourist attraction at the oil sands is not really the sand, apparently, but the truly, utterly, astoundingly HUGE dump trucks they use to haul the sand around after it's mined. They have to have a staircase on the front of them to get up to the cab. All of the tourism board ads feature these huge trucks prominently, and in fact list them first amongst the main attractions at the end of the ads. If that doesn't make you want to go to Canada, I don't know what would.

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