Saturday, October 11, 2008

ALT Stuff, Fireworks, and the Prolonged Summer

Can you believe the temperature is still above 20C these days? I can not. At nights it's cooler, and today, on my way to the convenience store at 10 PM to get some drink *coughIdidn'tbuysnackshonestcough* I was actually cold in a long-sleeve jacket thing, and was wishing I wore something warmer. During the day though I was walking around in my t-shirt and in a skirt, and it was like a nice early September day. So far I have to say that despite the 30+ heat through August I am very happy with the weather in Toyohashi. I guess because I am close to the ocean it doesn't get very cold. I heard that the leaves don't even change color, something very hard to believe... I am told that to see the beautiful autumn red maples I have to go all the way to Kyoto. Not that I am complaining of course, it's a wonderful excuse (haha, as long as I have money to go :D). Apparently the trees get all colorful in November, so I guess that's a bit later than in Toronto, although I can't really remember too well when autumn hits Toronto... I am starting to feel like I've lived here for a very long time. Today I went by my work because I forgot something at the school, and while walking back I was thinking how I've grown attached to my neighbourhood (except the immediate surroundings of my apartment building, I still think they are ghetto). The area is very quiet, with small streets, and grandmas planting flowers in their gardens, and kids riding bikes everywhere, and perhaps that's just like any other neighbourhood in Japan, but it became feeling like home. I am actually surprised, it took me a lot longer to start feeling at home in Mississauga and in Waterloo... maybe I got so used to living here because it is more like Ukraine... everything is smaller, but people still nod and say hi on the streets. For some reason I thought that Japan will be like downtown Toronto in terms of friendliness... In Mississauga older people walking on the streets say hi, but not downtown of course, and I thought Japan was not going to be too friendly either (Toyohashi is a relatively big city, that's why). It's not true though, people are friendly, at least the older people.

In general, I guess it's too early for me to say what I like or don't like about Japan, because I haven't been here all that long, but I am surprised how comfortable I feel here. Maybe it's because I am older now than I was when I moved to Canada, so I had very different expectations coming here, and was ready to accept a lot more and be more open-minded... I don't know, but in any case, for all of you out there wondering how I am adjusting: I didn't really need adjusting, it's a good place to live, no different from any other place.

Back to the stuff I wanted to blog about. Today I was working on some stuff at home when I heard loud noises outside, and what do you know, it's a festival day today and they had fireworks outside. It's so nice to see fireworks on a random day... I thought most of the festivals are over by now, but I guess not. The fireworks looked like they were very close by, and a building was blocking them from view when I tried to watch them from my balcony (being on the first floor doesn't help), so of course I got out of the house and biked towards the sounds. It turned out that the fireworks were in a near-by shrine (I posted pictures of it a few weeks ago), and the best part was that I got to watch the hand-held fireworks really close-up! I thought I blogged about these special Toyohashi fireworks before, but I guess I only wrote about them in an email to parents, but never posted anything here. Toyohashi is famous for special hand-held fireworks that are just that, fireworks that people hold up. Before you light them up they look like a giant cylinder (about 20 cm in diameter and about half a meter long), and there is a string wrapped around the cylinder. Firework-men light them up, and then hold them up against their hip, while the firework is firing. It's quite a sight, makes me scared a little when I try to imagine myself in place of the person holding the firework. Last time I was sitting very far so I didn't see too well what was going on, but today I was standing really close, and let me tell you, the view was really awe-inspiring. I think it's better if I show you pictures and videos, it's kind of hard to explain, but it's really a breathtaking experience.
First, here's a picture:

Please go here to see more pictures, they are quite something.
Here's a video of what Toyohashi fireworks look like. I recommend that you lower the volume before you play it, it's loud.

I rushed out of the house as soon as I heard fireworks, so I left my phone at home, and didn't take any pictures of my own.

In fact, this post won't have any pictures. Because it rained a bit this week, and because I was lazy, I think I took only one picture this week, of the tree with very sweet and kind of unpleasant smell, it's been bothering me for a week, so I felt like posting a picture of it. I am too lazy to get up and upload stuff right now though, so maybe next time. It's funny, this tree smells like some chemical thing dad used in his garage when I was a child. I can't remember what that thing was for, either something for his car, or to polish stuff... I wonder if I ask dad he'll know what I am talking about. I asked my brother when he was here if he recognized the smell, but he didn't, he said to him it smells like flowers.

Ah, and yes, that's the best part of the week: my brother stopped by! So there you go, this is the best week in Japan so far :D.

Hopefully by now everyone who reads this blog got used to the randomness of my posts, because I don't feel like separating everything into proper posts.

Last thing I wanted to blog about is my Junior High School (Otsuka JHS) where I go every week for ALT classes. I had the best week ever in that school so far, because the lesson plans that the teachers prepared this week were really fun. We got to talk to the kids about their favourite things like music, movies, etc., and all the hours I wasted on watching drama and anime (ha, especially Gintama) payed off. Apparently Gintama is a big hit among my students, and they were thoroughly impressed that I watch it too. In fact, I learned about this manga/anime from a student back in Canada, who, I guess, is about the same age as my students now. The girls were also impressed that I watched "Hana Yori Dango" (haha, but the English teacher was not so impressed, we laughed about it with her so much). In case anyone who just went to check out the link is wondering why it sounds like the "Meteor Garden" F4 story, yes, it's the same story, more or less. And yes, I actually watched the first 15 or 20 episodes of "Meteor Garden". And no, I am not posting a link, it's allready embarassing enough to admit that I watched the thing. Taiwanese dramas are really something... I am yet to see a serious one...
Anyways, back to the story about my students, some of the boys were also impressed that I am a Yoshiki fan. If you don't know who Yoshiki is, you really should watch the video below:

(I think I might have posted this before, but probably on my other blog, not on this one. The full version of the song can be found here, part 1 and part 2.)

Anyways, I was happy that I got the students excited enough that they were talking fast, mixing their English with Japanese, but talking. We laughed so much too. Man, it really is so much more interesting for me to talk to junior high school students. I have no idea what to talk to my younger students about. Questions like "what manga do you like" or "what music do you like" don't fly over too well with those who are not in their teens yet... and that's 95% of my students. I watch one of the other teachers fool around and play with the kids, and he does it so well, that I keep thinking I wish I could do that too... but I just get stiff when I try, because I don't know what to do with little kids... and somehow I don't feel like learning. I mean, I don't have too much interest in playing with 5-6 year olds... Playing with my older students, and talking, is fun though, but I don't have very many of older classes.
Anyways, back to the Otsuka Junior High School: not only are they great kids for the most part, but I also found something else interesting about them. Apparently, half of our salary (of the ALTs) is payed by the school board, but only half. The other half is payed by the school, and the students get the money by gathering recycling and stuff... That's so.. so.. I think that's so special. I don't know enough details to say much, I guess, but still that's pretty amazing.

This weekend, when I felt like procrastinating instead of filling the JET application, I thought about Otsuka students, and that made me get myself together and do the work.

There's one more great thing about this school. This week one of the English teachers, who is also the vice-principal, told us that he wants to split the first year (grade 7) English class into homerooms. Right now, of the 3 first year student classes, two are combined and the vice-principal teaches it, with me and another guy from my company helping out. The third homeroom class is taught by another ALT. From November or December the vice-principal wants to split the combined class, so each of us 3 ALTs will be teaching separately, and the vice-principal will go from class to class to make sure everything is going well. In preparation for that he got me and the other guy to teach separate parts of the lesson by ourselves. It was actually not bad at all. The lesson plan was already there, we just had to introduce vocabulary, and while it didn't go stellar, it was not so bad for the first-time classroom teaching experience. Short it may have been, but I enjoyed it. So really, if I had any doubts before about teaching high school, now I don't have doubts, now I know for sure I love classroom teaching. Of course, it was just a small taste of what's to come, but still.

Which reminds me, if I want to get into UBC at some point, I need to start taking the English literature courses that I am missing. If I save enough money, I think I will take a distance education course this winter, so once I send off the JET application, I need to look into deadlines, enrollment procedures, etc. I think I am short 3 senior English half-credits or so, hopefully they have good course selection for the winter... and hopefully I can get away with not taking any Canadian literature...

Ok, I think this is all I wanted to write about. Tomorrow I am going to Nagoya, so I need to finish up all of my work fast, talk to parents, then practice piano, and then go to sleep.

P.S. I just realized how I post every weekend now... I remember checking my brother's blog regularly when he was in Japan. So for those of you out there reading: I probably won't post too much during the weekdays like I did this week, but I will try to keep posting on Saturdays/Sundays.

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