Monday, April 10, 2006

Little Crumbsnatchers

Here are some pictures of my preschool kids at good old PROS Language Center. I have a few more students, but only brought the camera (or remembered to get it out, more accurately) on a day when I only teach two. This is Chiaki and Miyu enjoying some free play on a rainy afternoon. It also shows the classroom I use (I have since switched the alphabet posters in the background. They always seemed a little confusing to me: Aa, Bb, Ee?) Here is Chiaki, cracking a crooked smile for the camera. She is an excellent little artist and can already write her name (albeit in simple Japanese). She does tend to block out English speakers after a long day, and when I first started teaching her I asked if maybe she was hard of hearing (Chiaki? Chiaki?? Chi-a-ki?!) She is a very sweet girl though, and very bright. And next is Miyu. She comes to PROS five days a week, so her English is pretty advanced for a 2-year old. She can read 3 letter words and she remembers a lot of the phrases I use in class. Once, during snacktime, she starting singing a little song that went "Sit down properly, sit down properly!" That was pretty funny. She's a lot of fun to have in class, and it's been amazing to see her progress. I hope to have some pictures of the other kids soon!

Hanami = Look at the Flowers!

Hello everyone! I'm so sorry for my long absence from this site. However, I will make it up to all of you out there with not one, but two fantastic posts! So get ready!

It's cherry blossom time here in Osaka, and that means all the work weary inhabitants, Japanese or otherwise, are enjoying the flowers in the traditional way: barbequing under the trees, drinking sake and singing. The park outside our apartment, has transformed into a wonderland of delicate pink blossoms and happy groups picnicking on the grass. The festivites began when the first blooms started to show, and both the fun and the flowers were in full force this weekend. Jeff and I spent last Sunday morning watching the crowd from our balcony, trying to decide what to do with the day. After a mention of hiking in Nara and haircuts in American Mura, I said, "Well, let's make one lap around the park and then see how we feel." Stepping out into the street, the smell of yaki-niku and grill smoke in the air, I think we knew we weren't going anywhere. We watched some kids catching goldfish at a small stand, next to a vendor selling shaved ice and grilled noodles. Hanami goers everywhere, who were obviously pros, had large tarps spread out with inummerable tasty delights and small pillows holding family members of all ages. Walking on the crowded path, passing old ladies (meaning 80-90 years old) strolling arm-in-arm enjoying the view, we began to hear some wonderful, strange guitar music. We stopped to listen to a young man play the sanshin, a traditional Okinawan guitar with only three strings. Soon, we found ourselves sitting with the family, enjoying canned beer and fish stew. Our host was a talkative native of Okinawa, whose little knowledge of English didn't stop him from chatting us up. He was a great dancer too, demonstrating some traditional Okinawan moves. However, the grandfather of the group really showed us how it was done; breaking out a fan and shouting "Sore, sore!" It was wonderful to see everyone letting loose for a change! Jeff and I spent about 3 hours drinking and chatting, and we didn't make it around the lake until the sun had set. What an unexpected afternoon! I'll be sorry to see the cherry blossoms go. Soon, we are moving to a new apartment, up in the mountains between Kobe and Osaka. It will be a big change, and I'll miss the lake, but having a new area to explore will be really fun. Hope you are all well! Lots of love, Erin

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Genki de o?

Hello all. I just wanted to write a quick post here dedicated to a really great Japanese word. It`s one of the first I learned and one of the few I use even with my American friends, the ubiquitous "Genki."
What does "genki" mean? When I first learned this word, it was in a Japanese phrasebook, under Greetings. "Ogenki desu ka?" translated to "How are you?" I tried it out on my neighbor, Mr. Tanaka, a middle aged man who by all evidence is single and unemployed. He owns a collie named Mary who is always beautifully brushed and who hates gaijin (foreigners, like myself). Catching him on the stairs, I called out "Tanaka-san! Ohayo gozimasu! (Good morning) Ogenki desu ka?" He laughed and put both arms in the air "Genki de!" Hm, I thought. Strange reaction. I decided to consult Marisa, my Japanese culture guru. She`s lived in Japan for about 3 years combined (never in one trip), worked as a hostess, had Japanese boyfriends, and is now working in public schools.
"Genki! Yeah, that`s a great word," Marisa said to me in the Imazato apartment over some Chu-hi`s. "It means like healthy, happy, excited. But it also means other things. There`s just no word in English for it." She later used it in this context, describing an illness she was suffering: "Normally, I`d be all genki and look it up on the internet and find out lots of information." So, it kind of means gung-ho, or hard working too.
Another encounter with "genki" came during the Japanese class I was taking at a local community center. In the textbook they gave us, genki was written next to a stick-figure drawing of a man jogging in the snow.
Historically, I guess genki means "good energy" or "having vitality, spirit." It literally translates to "root energy" In recent times, it`s taken on more of an over-the-top meaning, sort of like super happy, excited and ready-to-go.
I love this word. Just had to share.
Hope you`re all genki!!
Love, Erin

Sunday, January 08, 2006

An Olympic holiday...

So Christmas is probably a long ago happy memory for you all by now, but I just had to post one more picture of my very happy Osaka Christmas. This is Jeff and I getting ready to chow down on Christmas Day. Thankfully, our homecooked meal was MUCH better than the pitiful excuse for turkey that we got at Tin`s Hall. I still think it had to be chicken... After the festivities, we traveled to Nagano for a three day ski trip! Wow, look at this place! It was fantastic. We actually skied on the same mountain that they used in the 1998 Olympics, the ski jumps were still there and everything. (there was also a McDonalds at the summit, thanks a lot America!) And just look at all this snow! It actually snowed the night before we arrived, so we had some nice powder the first day. We took an overnight bus, left Osaka at 10:00PM and arrived, bleary-eyed and stiff, at Happo-one around 8:00AM. What a surprise to see so much snow (9 ft!), since there`s only been a shower of it where we live. This was a seriously beautiful place, and it had some pretty serious runs too. Now, I`m not the most experienced person when it comes to skiing. I think my most daring endeavor up to this point was tackling a black diamond at Jack Frost in Central PA, which is probably the equivalent of the bunny hill at this place. But seriously, it was challenging, but sooooo much fun :) Don`t you love my rental ski wear, by the way? I`m lucky nobody mistook me for ski patrol... One good thing was that Jeff couldn`t lose me if he tried. He was attentive enough to document one of my better wipeouts (I`m the orange blob behind that good skiier). Thanks a lot, honey!

A big highlight of the trip was staying at a Japanese style hotel. We had futons, a kontatsu table, tatami mats and all the green tea we could drink (no ice though). For breakfast, we were served rice, fish and miso soup, as well as some eggs and strange vegetables. And dinner was beef nabe (like a little cauldron that cooks on your table) more rice and fish and miso, as well as other, stranger vegetables. The food was quite good, wholesome and healthy and whatnot. However, we had to make up for all that behaving by dining at the only Mexican restaurant in Nagano each of the three days we were there ;) The hotel also had a little hot spring to ease those aching muscles, very relaxing. So, after three lovely days, I didn`t break any bones (or skis or poles for that matter) and even though my butt saw a little more of the snow than my skis, it was a great time. And, best of all, we had a visit from Santa, on vacation after a long holiday season. Wow, didn`t know Santa was so cute ;)

More to come soon...
Love, Erin

P.S.-For more of Santa`s adventures at Happo, visit Jeff`s site: update coming soon... Stay tuned :)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime...

Merry Christmas, everyone!! It`s that wonderful time of year again... packed shopping malls, crappy Christmas songs on the radio, department store Santas and all the rest. This year, I thought I`d be leaving this all behind in the States, but guess what?! Yes, it seems all those annoying things about Christmas have made it to Osaka as well. The Japanese have adopted the Christmas holiday pretty much intact, complete with light displays, like the Luminaria in Kobe (Jen, Kevin, Jamie, Marisa, Jeff and I braved the cold for this one [Marisa`s taking the picture]). However, it`s more of a time to be with friends and sweethearts than family. And also, no one knows who Jesus is. It was nice to feel Christmas spirit in the air, though. Jeff and I decorated the veranda, and decked the apartment with poinsettias, candles and a mini Christmas tree that Mrs. Bender sent us. (Thanks so much, by the way!! :) I baked chocolate chip cookies (in the microwave, which turns out is a conventional oven too! do the wonders never cease?) and gave them to our neighbors and my coworkers. Our landlady was very pleased with our decorations and took the time to write us a sweet note. In case you can`t read it, it says "What a fine light! I and my mother and other people are very very glad. Thank you! Merry Christmas! from Sawa" It felt good to spread some Christmas cheer :)
We even had a little snow, which is almost unheard of in Osaka. It was quite beautiful, but melted almost as soon as it fell (though not soon enough that I didn`t almost break my neck on my bike :) As for actual celebrations, on Christmas Eve (and like most Japanese folks) Jeff and I went to a foreigner bar with some of his Nova buddies (who are also working over the Christmas holidays, bummer!). We ate some TV-dinner style turkey and mashed potatoes and had some eggnog while listening to a Japanese acoustic guitar player singing Bob Marley. Lots of girls were dressed up for the holiday in Santa hats and I think I even saw a sexy reindeer outfit. Tonight, it`s stuffing cooking time again, wish me luck! Happy Holidays to everyone and I miss you lots! With love, Erin

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Hello all! I hope everyone is well and happy remembering their fantastic Thanksgiving dinners that I couldn`t eat! Seriously, it was pretty tough to see this day come and go without so much as a whiff of turkey. I did, however, have a lovely Thanksgiving celebration with my American friends (and one Canadian, but we don`t hold it against him ;) Those of you who know me know that Thanksgiving is a big deal in my family, so to honor this hallowed tradition, this year I decided to take up the task of making homemade stuffing Lawrence/Waterkotte style. And what a task it was! You should have seen me, guys. I layed out the bread to stale during the afternoon so I could guard it from the mice who live in our ceiling. I buttered and spiced it all by myself! I ran to the store to buy more butter all by myself! (and prayed the mice wouldn`t come snacking in the meantime) And I cut it all up myself with a dull bread knife. Then over to Jen`s apartment with a shopping bag full of precious ingredients (one hour on the train!). Jen and Marisa watched the sauteing of the onion and celery and the thickening of the chicken broth, and of course the mixing! They were duly impressed by this labor-intensive process, but it wasn`t over yet! I baked small portions at a time in the toaster oven using a tinfoil dish of my own construction. The top burned, the bottom didn`t really cook through, but damned if that stuffing didn`t turn out delcious! I was so proud :) Of course, by Waterkotte standards it was sub-par (you guys would have definately been disappointed with the wetness factor) but under the circumstances, I think I did a good job. And my friends agreed. Leftovers for everyone! I forgot to take pictures at dinner, so instead here are some random funny things. Enjoy!
Mmmm.. hamburgers... You want the one with the eggs or the one with tarter sauce all over it? And guys, please...

Love, Erin ;)

Monday, October 31, 2005

you say you want a revorution

Oh my god, how much do I suck? Honestly, how much? Let me tell you, I haven't updated this poor site over a month!! Like I need to tell you guys, all patiently waiting out there for some news. Well, wait no more! Things are going well over here in Osaka. Jeff and I are totally settled into our new place (which means it's pretty much a hopeless mess most of the time) and my job is pretty comfortable by now (though I do have kids songs in my head a lot more often than I'd like). Jeff took me to the World Expo in Aichi for my birthday! The theme this year was "Nature's Wisdom" and as you can see, the whole place was built with gardens, lakes, and tons of plants and wildlife areas, despite it's capacity to hold 10,000 people a day. A lot of the pavilions had green roofs too. The coolest buildings were definately the corporate ones. It's not a great shot, but this nondescript looking one with the pipes had water dripping from it constantly. I hope you can see it, because it was so cool. They turned the entire building into a giant fountain! These pavillions rocked, but the lines to get into these things were 5 and 6 hours long! Obviously, I did not have time for that. So, no, we didn't see any frozen mammoths or robot bands, but instead, we saw an array of smaller countries with shorter lines: India, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, New Zealand. I bought an amber necklace at the Morroco pavilion, then I went to the Ukraine and they told me it was a fake. Oh well! Guess they were just trying to represent their country. India was my favorite. All the African countries (except Morroco and Egypt) were lumped into one pavillion that had nothing but a food stall, some handmade crap and an awesome Makossa band. It was so great groovin to African music again, even though the crowd didn't know what to make of it. We also saw a performance of traditional Japanese drums (taiko). This was amazing, especially considering these were high school age kids and retired women. Except for the incredible drumming, the whole event had the feel of a high school talent show, with parents taking pictures, and kids in the audience hooting and hollering for their friends. Damn, can you imagine this being your after school activity? Amazing. Overall it was a great time, even though I didn't have time to check out the most important country of all! Ten bucks says this stupid mascot was not an Irishman's idea. Will this stuff ever stop being funny? Just let me know when it happens :) More to come soon. Love, Erin!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Reggae, apartments and the fabulous life of an English teacher

Hello again! Well, I`m settling into life in Osaka. My job is pretty much in full swing now. I`ve been teaching most of the classes during my shift (and being observed by the head teacher, how nerve racking!). The kindergarten begins on Thursday. It`s so nice to have a schedule again, though it`s definately not one that I`m used to. I usually don`t get home until around 8 and Jeff doesn`t come in `til 10 or 11. So, I`m eating late, staying up late and waking up late. But, I guess that`s the life of an English teacher!
Speaking of English teachers, here`s a few awesome ones that we met who were visiting from Korea. Lena and Rodd (on the right) were fresh off the plane and looking lost, so I helped them find a hotel. We ended up meeting up the following night, along with their friends Aaron and Jennifer. Much beer was drank and karaoke sung and a fabulous time was had by all. We hope to relive the sequel in Seoul when Jeff and I make our visa run!
This is a pretty funny event we stumbled onto. A reggae party at the Osaka-jo Park, where you can find the famous Osaka Castle. Now, I know what you`re thinking. Japanese reggae?? Yeah, you read right. It was actually a pretty hip scene, complete with turban-clad rasta guys and chicken cooked in a big oil drum grill. Note the Buddha on top of the speakers. He`s got a beer beside him :) The DJ`s were surprisingly good too, playing classic Jamaican dancehall along with some new stuff, and shouting out things like "Chop! Chop!" and "Leggae Vi-bra-tions!" I never thought I would see so many Japanese butts shaking. What a trip!
Here`s a few shots of the new apartment. It`s nothing special, but it is comfortable. This is the front room, kitchen and front door. Hey, can we get a close-up of that clock?

Nice! This place is endlessly amusing. Most of the decorations and amenities were there when we arrived. Our landlady Mama-san is very generous. That`s her in the red. Can you believe she`s 89?? Incredible. The other woman is Sawa, her daughter, who speaks English. She`s just about the nicest person on earth. I`m peeking into the shower. We have a bathtub! Though, it is small but deep, like bathing in a big bucket. The other room is a living room/bedroom.

Like I said, nothing special. Jeff took one of the bureaus and rigged up a double bed.

Sawa painted the door. Lovely! So I know you`re thinking, why did you take this dump?! It`s tiny! Well, here`s the reason:

The veranda! Overlooking:

The most beauty place in Osaka! (as the ad proclaimed) And it`s true. This pond is huge and filled with wildlife like turtles and cranes. We can go fishing and watch people do tai-chi in the morning and it`s all right outside our door! You`re right, the close quarters will probably end up making us move at some point, but it`s not bad digs for the time being, eh?
Alright, thanks for reading this enormous post. Lots of love and take care of yourselves (and each other :) Love, Erin!