Thursday, 5 December 2013

miyakonojo shenanigans

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Miyakonojo, or at least as Christmassy as it could possibly be. The days are cold and the mornings are frosty (although the air is insanely dry which makes it feel colder). I found a memo the other day for Student Health Committee members, telling them on which periods to open their classroom windows to prevent colds and flu! Still trying to get my head round that one. Many of the girls sit with fluffy blankets over their legs to counter act this. 

Most cafes have some token decorations, and heinous jazzy versions of carols can be heard in the supermarket shopping aisles. I'm doing my best to get into the spirit with a an advent calender found in Miyazaki-shi by a fellow JET; some flashing fairy lights that make you feel mildly anxious if you have them on for too long; and Chrsitmas-themed message boards, lessons and English Club at school. Us JETs in Miyakonojo are also embarking on a secret santa using this site. Items on the boys' wishlists already include "boxer shorts, large", "a peace deal in the Middle East" and "a midget", so this one may be tough... I realised today though that what I really miss is the Christmas tree smell, and that simply cannot be approximated like most other traditions - can anyone box it up and send it over?! 

In other news, things had been going pretty smoothly at school and I was due another gaijin mishap soon, when I asked a JTE (fellow English teacher) where my payslip for this month was. I soon realised that I have been using the wrong pigeon-hole for 2 months and have been blithely taking another teacher's memos and recycling them, wondering why I was given them and tutting at the waste of paper. I also received my first Japanese thinly-veiled hinting criticism when a teacher said "Oh Sophie, nice skirt... are your legs cold??" Safe to say that skirt will not be making another appearance. However, I felt a little better when I found out that a JET chum had thus far successfully avoided using the school toilet a single time! After finally giving in on a busy day, they realised it was a Western toilet anyway. 

Despite my various ineptitudes, I continue to be stunned and touched by Japanese kindness. As I waited at a train station this weekend, an old man shuffled up to me. After regarding me for a second or two, he reached into a paper bag, placed a homemade bun in my hand, smiled and shuffled off! Two minutes later, another approached me in Family Mart, asked me who I was, where I lived, what I did and where I came from, then turned around and left. When I got back to Miyakonojo station, I found my unlocked bike secured with a free lock to stop thieves from taking it. Also at the station, I received a baffling call from an Amazon man: at one point it went something like this. Him: "blah blah blah Peru!" Me: "Peru?" Him: "Peru, Peru!" Me: "Ohhh hai Peru!!" Eventually I managed to tell him "Outside ok, outside ok" in Japanese. Later in the evening, having been in my house for 45 minutes, the doorbell rang. He'd been waiting for me "outside" for an hour... and I still don't know what Peru has to do with it. 

Today this was topped when I found a gorgeously wrapped package on my desk at school. Inside was a beautiful scarf and a Christmas card from the adorable old lady who works in the copy room. After I'd thanked her profusely and was leaving the room I saw her smile to herself and just about cried right there! I will honestly never forget the kindness of the people here and will be paying it forward to any foreigners in need I might meet in life. 

A bunch of pictures from the past few weeks, starting with some English boards I made for the kids - 

This is my Autumnal  cycle home from school. 

Singin Backu Streeto Boysu at karaoke. 

A few weeks ago Saito-sensei took me and the other ALT at my school to a pottery making work shop in Mimata, twenty minutes' drive away. It was lovely to be back in an arty atmosphere again (I miss you, lifedrawing! One activity I cannot imagine working here.) 

Me with my somewhat basic cup. You can see Saito-sensei's superior goblet ("for a lot of shochu") in the background.  

Neko neko kawaiiii.

Afterwards we had a wee wander along Nagata Gorge - the autumn colours were gorgeous. 

And I paid a visit to Jo and Luke's new charge before the gave him to his new adoptive mother! They found the wee thing almost dead on the side of the road and very kindly took him in, nursed him back to health and found him a home. I think a litter had been abandoned that week because there were many helpless kitten sightings. Attitudes to animals seem a bit different here and I think abandonment is quite a problem. 
Sunday brunch 

A quick snap of my kotatsu/ life saver to show you what one looks like. I plan to source one in the UK for sure! 

Keeping cosy with pizza, wine and Gossip Girl 


A bargain from my 100Y store. Poundies has NOTHING on these places. 

The week of the selfie...

Lessons and school life are going fairly smoothly; for the past couple of weeks I've been focusing on speaking with various presentation and debate activities. Both push the students out of their comfort zone, as neither presenting nor expressing opinions are common aspects of the English classroom. In one class I had them summarise famous stories for the other students to guess. However, I found it pretty hard to decipher what were expression mistakes and what were just crazy ass Japanese fairy tales... 

Some other gems from students writing about Paris - 

  • "A Parisienne seems plain, but she has to judge how to express herself. That's why Japanese media have special sections of Parisiennes on the web."
  • "It's so beautiful, as if someone robbed you of your heart." 

Other highlights include writing letters in English Club to a tiny school in the Scottish Highlands where my pal Rachel is teaching this year and a class of students spelling my name "Soffy". I also found out from a bunch of girls that in the Japanese Harry Potter, Voldemort's name translates as "bad boy." BAD BOY. I have no words. 

Their journals continue to be one of the better parts of my week. 

"I was amazed. It's too late now."

I'm pretty sure this is not how the story ends...

The sunsets from my balcony continue to amaze.

A few weekends ago I went for an afternoon drive with some other JETs to nearby Kirishima for a ramble. 

Even in the dry cold, the winter sun is very strong here, so the afternoon temperature can vary a huge amount from morning and evening. 

Peace sign madness.

Beautiful momiji leaves ^^ 

Two weeks ago the school (bar the hard working third graders) took a Friday off lessons for a spot of long distance running. Every single kid ran at least 4km, as well as relays for the best runners - and the teachers - 2km was my limit for the day though. When I first started work I would feel bad that the students seem to work constantly and have not much of a life outside schoolwork and clubs. However, as time goes by I'm realising that 'refresher' activities like sports days, plays, trips and chorus singing are very frequent fixtures. 

Chris and I grabbed sushi with some other teachers in between athletics. 

I'll leave you with the tune that will haunt my lunchtimes for years to come - this is what we clean to for ten minutes every day at school! 

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