Friday, 9 April 2010

Update! - Starting Schools!


I realise I haven't updated this for a while, I'm sorry. Sooooo..... since the last time I wrote, I actually left Hamamatsu - to visit Fukuroi, a whole 15 minutes away on the train, with Saba. We strolled around, got bored and then took a bus to a place called Hatta-san temple. We walked up a delightful path littered with restaurants and market stalls, and tried the local delicacy - dumplingy bean paste things on sticks! Yum.

Eventually, following a group of giggling Japanese schoolgirls (calm down, boys) who seemed almost as confused as we were, we reached a million stairs. There were little shrine stop-offs everywhere, where people prayed and gave donations.

At the top of the stairs was a big temple, which I failed to take a photo of because I decided it would be disrespectful. We walked around for a bit, cleansed our hands and wafted incense towards our faces (basically copied whatever the other people were doing...) and hoped that we didn't look TOO much like tourists!

Other than that adventure, I have discovered other things in Hamamatsu (and Japan in general). One of these things is "nomi hodai"... all you can drink. Several bars have all you can drink offers - with time limits. So twice, now, have I paid 1200 Yen (about £8) for unlimited drinking for an hour. Plum wine is nice. The hangover... not so much.

However, with one of these hangovers, I explored things nearer the lake with Andy, Jenny and Matt (fellow ALTs in the area!).... after driving around for hours, Andy took us to the Garden Park, which was free... and had some pretty flowers. We then went to Cat's Cafe, which boasts the biggest ice cream dessert I have ever seen....

Well, that is a photo of it in the menu... I didn't order it, firstly because it was 5,500 Yen, secondly because I would have died. Mind you, it's probably one of the cheaper ways to get some fruit into your diet here!!!

So, anyway, on Tuesday I had my first day at one of my schools!! Needless to say, I was terrified. There was no need... everybody was lovely! Well, there are two English teachers, one of whom has very good English, and the koucho sensei (who is a woman! girl power!) also speaks it well. Everybody else... well, I use my minimal Japanese, smile and nod, gesture and kind of pretend I understand things. I was shown to my desk, and found that last year's ALT had left me a lovely letter about the school, as well as a bunch of flashcards and stationary!! That made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. She also left her email address. So, down I sat. Classes don't start until next week so I spent a lot of the morning looking busy....

Until I was taken to the ceremony for the start of the year, and introduction of new teachers!! Eek! Luckily I wasn't the only one - there were 6 of us! I was, however, the only non-Japanese person in the room, so I followed the other teachers up on stage when I was prompted to, bowed when prompted, and luckily didn't have to make a speech! An interesting thing, though... everybody bowed when they got up on the stage and when they left. I soon realised that they were facing the flag of Japan and bowing to that!! I copied, of course, it would have been bad form not to. Then they sang the school song... very pretty!....

I was then given things from Interac... books of lesson plans for every year, from elementary to JHS... and a big black bag, filled with awesome stuff! There was a lot of stationary, some weird things like a thumbs-up hand on the end of a stick, some dice, but the best things were a CD of children's songs (with a book of activity ideas) and pretty, shiny flashcards! Yay! I am, however, assuming that I have to keep these in mint condition and give them back at the end of my contract! (Well, maybe not the crayons)

The first day was cut short because I had to attend a Board of Education meeting. Here, I met the girl who I had replaced at this school, and the guy who I was replacing at my other JHS! They are both with JET, so their schools change every year, I think. I met some more teachers in the area... there are about 40!!! Only 7 or so of us are new, so I have plenty of places I can get advice, if I can find them again!

This school (we'll call it TJHS), however, was not going to let me "look busy" easily! They have asked me to make workbooks much like the ones that last year's ALT prepared. So, I spent Wednesday making them... using Microsoft Office in Japanese is not the easiest thing in the world! Luckily, I'm enough of a geek to know most keyboard shortcuts by heart, and they seemed to be the same.

Yesterday was my first day at the other - KJHS. This time, my IC was not taking me there, so I had to hope that I got the right bus... that I got off it in the right place, and that I could find the school! I was terrified... thoughts of getting lost, being late, not knowing how to find the teacher's lounge rushing through my head! However, I asked the bus driver where the school was (in my best Japanese, oh yeah!) and he pointed... so I walked through what looked like tea fields and greenhouses for a while, until I saw a sign saying KJHS - 100m! Yay! I got there and there was a man outside, so I asked him if this was the right school, said that I was the new ALT, and asked where to go (all in Japanese, booyah). He showed me my special shoe locker with "ALT" written on it (the other school had written my actual name though!) and then another man directed me to the teachers lounge.

Now, this school has a lot more English-speaking staff! Both principal and vice principal have good English, as well as a couple of other teachers who don't teach it (shame)! My desk was right at the back of the room, right next to the coffee making facilities! And oh yes, I got my omiyage out, although the plan was to give the staff pretty toffees, and give koucho sensei a special girl of teabags. Now, TJHS koucho sensei loved the gift, but this one didn't quite get that they were for him, and shared them out before I had a chance to say anything... oopsies! Still, I think they liked them, someone even asked me if she could keep the tin today (it was shaped like Big Ben tower).

So, Thursday, KJHS... I was told "there are no classes yet. You have lots of free time!!!" - and basically I had the entire day to do... nothing... heh! So I wrote ideas down, looked on the internet for some, copied ideas from the Interac lesson plans, and drew some pictures... Then, at lunchtime, I was invited outside to eat with everyone under the sakura! Hanami lunch! I hadn't brought lunch with me, so the vice principal very kindly disappeared and brought me some breads which I think he must have bought... I thanked him, but ever since I have worried that I wasn't humble or thankful enough, because he was a lot quieter after lunchtime!

The kids outside were ichinensei (first years) who had just started, and not many of them looked at me! Ah well. Later on, I was called to come to the gym for part of the ichinensei induction. They had been teaching the new pupils the school song. Then there was some kind of play, I think - showing a typical day in school! I saw some of the teachers falling asleep against the wall.... well, it says it all! Then they separated into teams to do a quiz about the school. It was around this time that a lot of the older kids noticed me, and suddenly a lot of people were staring at me! So I waved and smiled... genki genki!

Last night (Thursday night), after getting back from KHJS, was the TJHS enkai!! (Read: party at an izakaya. Izakaya = Japanese style bar/restaurant, where big groups of people can sit and drink and share a lot of yummy food) This particular izakaya was one where you take off your shoes and kneel on cushions - my first time actually doing this! And yes, it is uncomfortable, but everyone sat side-saddle so I did too. I had to switch positions a lot because of the bad circulation! Anyway, I was given beer and sake, and was able to help myself to a lot of yummy food (from what I recall... salad, chips, sausages, shashimi, chicken, beef, soba noodles, soy beans). I could only really communicate with the English teacher next to me, but I enjoyed the good vibes anyway. Watching everybody slowly descend into drunkenness in the space of two hours, becoming louder and more animated... I had no idea what was being said most of the time (although I picked out words and made stories up in my head)! But one male teacher did come to sit near me and said to another one "kirei, desu ne?", then looked at me and asked if I understood Japanese. I gave my standard reply of "sukoshi!" and later looked up "kirei" in the dictionary - pretty (well, or clean)! How... sweet! Heh! Koucho sensei told me that I had good DNA for drinking, and offered me some shouchu (potato sake?) which she then revealed was 25% proof... after pouring me a HUGE glass! I was back home by 9.30pm, though - it wasn't a hardcore party like some schools have... but the potato beverage had taken effect by then!

Aaaand, today at TJHS I was nearly late, because my bus was slow and I was too stupid to realise that the main gate wasn't padlocked, I just had the slide the chain off and... well... koucho sensei had a good laugh at me so I felt relieved (and embarrassed, naturally)! I spent most of the day making paper workbooks... 100 of each, 2 different kinds... with all the photocopying and making sure it's in order, it takes a LONG time (ie all day). But... I ate lunch with some students! 3-1 came to ask me to eat lunch with them, which I did. Sadly, not many of them actually spoke to me, I feel disappointed - some of my fellow ALTs walk around with celebrity status! But nah, about 4 actually talked to me, asking when my birthday was and how old I was... one girl was very excited when I told her that her birthday was the same day as my dad's! And healthy food... massive thick slices of white bread with maple syrup and margarine?? Mmmm!!!

So, that's all for now! I'm very apprehensive about actual classes, of course, but I feel this way I'm being broken in gently... my entire Japan experience so far has been very step-by-step!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post - I read the whole thing, very interesting! It seems like your schools are giving you loads more direction than mine in terms of what they want you to teach! I've only really been told to prepare my introduction so far...hopefully nothing was lost in translation and I won't get any nasty shocks next week!