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Tour of My House
My Schedule and Workplace

Jump to April:
    Week 1:   1st   2nd   3rd   4th   5th   6th   7th   8th  
    Week 2:   9th   10th   11th   12th   13th   14th   15th   16th  
    Week 3:   17th   18th   19th   20th   21st   22nd   23rd  
    Week 4:   24th   25th   26th   27th   28th   29th   30th  
Image Jump: My Beijing Trip (from last month):
  • Confucius Statue
  • A Chinese McDonalds
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Chinglish Sign
  • Mao
  • Nine-Dragon Screen
  • Forbidden City
  • Men in Uniform
  • Pathway of Mini Paintings
  • The Great Wall
  • A Chinese Toilet
  • The Pretty Darn Cool Wall
  • The Summer Palace
  • Summer Palace Detail
  • Odd Signs
  • The Temple of Heaven Park
  • The White Dagoba
  • A Chinese Garden
  • The Merging of Seven Japanese Towns
  • Cherry Blossoms in Sakugi
  • A Shrine On Our Trail
  • Middle of Nowhere, Sakugi
  • Week 1

    Thursday, Apr 1

    Friday, Apr 2

      IN A NUTSHELL: Bye Bye Beijing

      Giving New Meaning To Airport Prices I got screwed! Out of... a dollar fifty! It was really early in the morning so I used a taxi that was parked at the corner, even though the driver seemed really confused at first. The drive was extremely fast (about 30 minutes) since it was before rush hour but I got charged 82 Yuan instead of 69. He didn't give me a receipt, he just wrote down the amount. I probably would have objected except that it wasn't worth fighting over (I mean, the tip would be more than that back home) and I was ready to get going. The airport was confusing. I had to go through a security barrier before I even checked in, but I had to get the airport tax paid beforehand. Then once I was in, there was no obvious map so I just had to walk around until I found my airline counter. Then they printed my gate number wrong which wasn't really a problem since it was the right area, but the gate at THAT number led to the same city! I found myself stuck waiting in a lot of lines because I was on a flight with a MASSIVE Japanese tour group. Anyway, the airport was amusing because it was fully, fully back to normal prices, which would have looked ridiculous except that, more often than not, they printed the price in U.S. dollars! The gift shops would probably do no business if their prices were five times than that of the city, but when printed in dollars, it did not look as bad. Anyway, it was a good thing I gave myself time because they boarded very early due to having to drive us all on a bus to the other side of the airport.

      Dalian The plane stopped over at Dalian (a Chinese port city) on the way and we all exited the plane for an hour even though there was no physical way to leave the seating area. On the way out of the plane, they made me put my palm up to something that looked like a video camera, presumably to take my temperature. Why did they do this? I can only imagine it is because I filled out the health form in correct completion unlike the Japanese, who couldn't read it, so only put in their names. Well, I did manage to sneak WAY ahead in line not realizing that the Long Line was for people staying on the flight, so it wasn't all annoying. So, for that hour, I basically just hung around and looked out the window. I saw several decent looking apartment buildings right next to what looked like a nuclear cooling tower. Then, after watching the planes take off for awhile, three fighter jets took off! Strange place.

      Back in Japan The Japanese/Foreign Resident Line is much faster than the Foreigners line which is a given, of course, but its really a LOT faster, despite that the foreigner line looked SO MUCH shorter. I was happy to be back in the familiar atmosphere of Japan where I could relax and not worry. No one would stop me and try to sell me anything and, in fact, if anyone spoke to me they would probably be trying to help.

      * * STUPID THING OF THE TRIP * * So I went up to the money changing booth at Fukuoka Airport... and they couldn't take my Chinese money! What do I do now?! I have way, way too much of it because I did not know stuff would be cheap. I did read the advice in Lonely Planet about keeping your money-changing receipt and so forth (which I did) but I did not take it to heart. And I think my logic (about getting a better rate in the home country) is backwards to boot. At least one person I talked to had no problem changing money in the U.S. so I assumed the rumors were exaggerated. I assumed that since the Japanese don't need a visa to come to China that they are friendlier. Um, not enough to change each other's money! I felt like a whopping idiot. I have a massive stack of Chinese bills that I MIGHT be able to change in Osaka. (It would not seem like such a massive amount, but the biggest bill is an 100 Yuan bill which is about 13 US dollars, so my stack looks even bigger.) Stupid, stupid me.

      Melf's Advice for Beijing-goers:

      • Bring tissue packets, at least one for each day, to use as toilet paper. Learn to squat (though check every stall first, just in case a Western-style one is hiding in the back). Not all McDonalds will have that toilet when you need it, though department stores might have nice, Western ones to use.
      • When haggling (only at markets and places where no prices are listed really) don't counter their offer until they have gone down (even if it involves 'walking away') and smile a lot when you give out your first ridiculously low bid. They always have a calculator on hand so no Mandarin is needed (though knowing how to finger count Chinese-style is helpful.)
      • Learn the art of ignoring. If someone starts talking to you unsolicited, you probably don't want what they have at the prices they are selling at. Talking to them, even saying 'no' is not worth the trouble. Pretend like you are deaf or don't see them.
      • In everything but high-end restaurants, if food has fallen from your plate to the table, do not pick it up and eat it. The tables may look clean, but they aren't. Watch for yourself how the waitstaff do it. (And in general, don't eat anything with your hands. Chinese money and surfaces are not clean.)
      • They have bills, as well as coins, for ridiculously small denominations of money (like a penny) so if you get a slightly smaller, purplish bill with a '1', it is only one tenth of an actual 1 yuan bill. They also have coins for all these denominations, just to confuse things. Get to know what the yuan look like (also called "kwai" or "RMB") and keep everything else as a souvenir or give it to a bum since it is virtually worthless.
      • There is no such thing as right-of-way (at least, that the foreigner can tell) so exercise extreme caution at intersections, even when it is your turn to cross the street. I tended to cross only when Chinese people were crossing.
      • Carry a notepad, pen, and map/guidebook with Chinese characters in it. You will need it to tell any taxi driver your destination. Having it pre-written is better.
      • Picking up rides from strangers is not as dangerous as it would be in other countries. In general, people are not out to hurt you, even if you are a woman. Women seem command more respect here. (I felt safe for the most part, just stared at a lot, and only targeted by hawkers.) People mainly want to sell you stuff so they can get your tourist dollars.
      • They might confiscate those DVDs at customs. They might not.
      • Do as much research as possible before coming so you are prepared.

      Ah, where shall I go next?

    Saturday, Apr 3

    Sunday, Apr 4

      IN A NUTSHELL: Well Known at the Convenience Store

      Changes Happening This morning, some random guy in a suit came over and wanted my insurance card. I have no idea who he was, but I gave it to him anyway. I think it has to do with the changeover. I also drove by, for the first time, the newly uncovered sign for "Miyoshi City Hall: Sakugi Branch." I stopped by the bunka center and heard firsthand from Akiyama-san and Jicho-san how busy it was. Oh, wait. I can't call him Jicho-san since he's not the vice-superintendent anymore. This will confuse me. I've attached that to him like his name. Ack. It will be hard to call him Kato-san from now on. Furthermore, I will have to track down Maruyama-san, even though she has officially retired, to find out my schedule this week, though I have a feeling she doesn't know much more than I do. In the craziness of the merge, I'm sure JETs are not high on the list.

      Photo Developing I went to Popura with my pile of cameras (I had two undeveloped before I went to Beijing, so now I have five) and when I went to the counter, they said "Melissa, right?" Whoa! I guess I frequent that convenience store a lot. I must be one of only two foreigners that do. I also found out for sure that they can't do double prints when I finally learned to ask correctly in Japanese. Ni-mae-zutsu dekimasu ka?

    Monday, Apr 5

      IN A NUTSHELL: New Supervisors Everywhere

      New People! Ah, its fun to go to work when I have absolutely no idea where I'm supposed to go. I decided on the Junior High, but I stopped by the elementary school, where I normally go Mondays, and it was a good thing I did because I was greeted by many new faces, including a new elementary supervisor. (Not an Official Supervisor, just someone who keeps track of what my lessons are and stuff.) I'm surprised not only how many new staff members there are, but that some of them changed grades to stay with their kids. The second grade teacher became the third grade teacher and the same with the fifth who became the sixth grade teacher. Luckily, my schedule changed very little. I had to suddenly come up with a lesson plan for next Monday. I felt a little overwhelmed since I was not sure there would be classes so soon next Monday, but I'm glad I was able to get on top of that early. At the Junior High, I met my new supervisor. Watanabe-sensei has replaced Nosohara-sensei as vice principal and luckily her English seems to be just as good. I wonder if I'll ever get to see Nosohara-sensei again. she was the first person I ever met here. Strange how quickly that happened. Although I liked the new vice principal initially, at one point, she called over to Tomomi really loudly, saying "Will you tell Melissa that she needs her bank book and her pension book at her meeting in Miyoshi tomorrow?" I listened to her and, judging by her surprise at my "wakarimashita" she obviously thought I didn't know Japanese, but still, she didn't have to announce it to the whole room. The Japanese obviously don't count calling things out loudly to the whole room as rude. I mean, I say "Ohayou gozaimasu" (good morning) the quietest while everyone else belts it out loudly when they come in. I don't like to interrupt people's work, personally, but I guess no one minds. Everyone always announces when they come in, leave, or even run and errand. At least people don't announce when they are going to the toilet.

      "Where Were You Born?" In my attempt to make my Corner interactive, I put up a map of Sakugi, Hiroshima, Japan, and the World as well as arrow stickers underneath my welcome message. To start, I put up a few celebrities birth places, and hope the students follow suit. We'll see what happens.

    Tuesday, Apr 6

      IN A NUTSHELL: The Miyoshi Board of Education

      Evil Clock Gnomes For months, I knew that if I got into my car and my car clock said 8:11, I could make it before the bell at 8:15. (My car clock is a few minutes fast.) However, today, I left at 8:09 and the bell was ringing as I walked in, which is sort of embarrassing on the first day of school. Did the vice principal change the clock on me? What's the deal? I know I'm being whiny. I could just leave five minutes earlier and not worry about it, but, hey, I like to be able to rely on my clock.

      Musical Desks As the bell was ringing, I had to take a moment to reorient myself. About half the teachers had changed desks and there were a fair amount of new teachers present. However, I noted that my desk was in the same location and untouched. I wonder if they wanted to move my desk and I was too busy trouncing around in Beijing? Well, I suppose it doesn't matter much. Anyway, I made a point of going around an introducing myself to all the new teachers including the new full-timer that sits right next to me.

      Meeting in Miyoshi In the afternoon, I went with Carina to the Big Meeting in Miyoshi for all the ALTs and it turns out that the new Board of Education is in the same building as my Japanese class! The Board of Education itself is in a big, disorganized room with a million people in it. We squeezed into some table in the back and waited for the other 5 ALTs to arrive. We did a little ceremony with some Important-Looking Men In Suits in an office, then we went to an empty classroom and our new supervisor Nishida-san, gave us our contracts, which are going to stay the same anyway until July. She also gave us a folder called "ALT Daily Report" and she wants us to write down what we do every day. At first I was irritated, then I realized she was trying to keep the lines of communication open about what each of her ALTs were going through. She was a little condescending at first -- maybe she had some disorganized ALTs in the past? Well, it was true that a fair amount did not have their bank book or their personal hanko stamps on them. I lucked out since I carry all that stuff around with me all the time, anyway.

      New School! After the meeting, Kate was nice enough to take me to the school that I'm starting at tomorrow! (It was really important to me to go to the school beforehand and introduce myself. I didn't want to walk in to a place I've never been with people I've never met and teach a lesson to kids I didn't know.) By some massive stroke of luck, we ran into all three English teachers on the stairway. They are all women and there is one from each generation, it seems. They seem very nice and I'm very glad that we have met face to face. My desk in the staff room is in a nice feng shui position. My back is to the window and next to me is the youngest English teacher (younger than me) and it was nearly completely empty except for a nice note from Kate, telling me the names of the teachers, which I would never remember just hearing them. One thing is a relief, though. It turns out that, although the 7th grade A class is about 30 students and the 7th grade B class is just as big, they split them both up for English into four 15-student halves. It will be just like the class sizes in Sakugi. Whew. I've never had to make activities for classes bigger than 20 and did not really want to try to.

    Wednesday, Apr 7

      IN A NUTSHELL: My First Day At Miyoshi Junior High

      Too Many Red Lights I picked up Carina and then proceeded to hit EVERY red light on the way to her school, just ask her. I did make it to my school on time, but noticed that the infamously narrow parking lot was completely empty. I parked in it and walked in to promptly find out that the space was reserved for something else (maybe a bus bringing the new 7th graders in, or maybe for the parents?) So me, and another new guy who obviously did not get the memo either, had to drive around to the back of the school where the baseball field was and park there. We were both late to the meeting - d'oh. At least it was not just me, or I would have been really annoyed since I'm kind of obsessed with punctuality and making a good first impression.

      Entrance Ceremony There was a ceremony today to induct the new 7th grade class (about 60 of them) into Miyoshi Jr. High. It was remarkably similar to the 9th grade graduation. The seating arrangements (for students, staff, Important People, and Parents), the bowing, the national anthem, the speeches... it was nearly identical except that these students were coming not going. I got to stand in line with the teachers in the front and say my name at the end. I thought, so THIS is where that photo was taken - in order to memorize the names of the Sakugi teachers, someone gave me a picture of the teachers lined up and I always wondered when it was taken. Here. It is too bad I will not be in the Sakugi pictures this year, though.

      No More Kyushoku I found out that there is no school lunch at Miyoshi Jr. High. Everyone brings their own lunch. I drove over to the 7-11 today but it looks like I have to remember to bring a bento from now on. Well, I suppose I had to remember to bring rice to the preschool, so it's almost the same thing. I was getting spoiled by having such a delicious lunch served to me every day.

      Welcome to Nothing-Like-Sakugi-ville Although I had no classes today, I can already tell how different it will be here compared to Sakugi. Kids were already coming up to my desk and talking to me, like they have known me forever. The kids STILL haven't done that in Sakugi. Maybe Kate's good rapport with the kids is transferring to me? Or maybe it's the fact that the English teacher sitting next to me is very popular. Either way, they tried a lot more English on me and are not shy at all! The kids here are a lot more like the junior high kids I've heard about: the girls roll their skirts up high, they have cliques, and everyone is obsessed with "puri-kura" or Print Club. Print Club is basically tiny, stylized and customizable photographs you get from special photo booths in arcades and the like. One girl I met had a notebook where every page was full of tiny pictures of her friends. Anyway, I noticed that none of the kids were using the polite form with me, so I dropped it, too. One 9th grade girl seemed particularly interested in getting to know me. She seemed sorta shy, but she talked her mumbly Japanese non-stop to me. She was the one with the notebook full of Print Club, but I had the impression she must be lonely if she was talking to me and not her friends. I wish I could have understood what she was saying better. Anyway, I've met a fair amount of students already today, which is great. Kate told me that she played an after school sport and that helped her relationship with the kids. Maybe I should do that next week, when clubs start. I also met a lot of teachers, too. My favorite was one friendly woman who traveled the world - I talked to her awhile in the staff kitchen. Both the principal AND the vice-principal are new here, not that I would know the difference. I like them both.

      I'm Usually Very Smart With Copy Machines However, today, when I was making 200 copies of my English Newsletter for the Miyoshi kids, not one, but BOTH copy machines baffled me. They are really not all that different from their counterparts in Sakugi, but I just could not get them to do what I wanted. Ack, embarrassed.

      No Hey On my way home, I picked up my pictures. My China pictures turned out pretty well, even from the cheapo camera I bought in Beijing. Yay. Tonight, I registered my first domain ever: "supermelf.com" It was not so hard after all. Yay for me! However, my favorite show was not on tonight. I nearly went ballistic and thought the Heeeey show was gone, but it was just taking a break for a week.

    Thursday, Apr 8

      IN A NUTSHELL: I Am Supermelf

      Yay, Rejuvenation I had my first English classes of the new school year today [editors note: and I had no idea how many times I would sing the ABC song in coming days] and I felt great! I loved being back and finally having the school full of students I knew. Seeing the old 6th graders in Jr. High mode was just neat, except they actually used more English in elementary school. Tomomi is the homeroom teacher for the 8th graders this year which means he is in the '8th grade teachers' group of desks now (still across the room from me) and will probably have a lot less free time than he used to.

      Odd Stuff The teachers are now apparently eating in the lunchroom with the students. I was sitting at my desk, waiting for the trays to come in, when Moriguchi-san informed me. Hmm. This is a new development. I find myself blaming the vice-principal again, though it is not wholly a bad thing. I will miss my quiet lunches at my desk, though. In other strange news, I noticed, when I was going through the name lists, that there was a new name in the 8th grade class, even though I did not recall seeing any new faces. Turned out he had changed his name since his mother remarried! Wow. And here I thought names and history were so important to the Japanese. Speaking of names, my domain name came through and I am now officially supermelf.

      Don't Trust the Stereotype A JET I talked to in Hokkaido was telling me about how some of her classes have students with disabilities (her example was an autistic student). She made it sound like Japanese parents are in denial that their kids are disabled and so don't put it on the form. My assumption that this was common completely messed me up. I thought that the slightly learning-disabled girl newly in 7th grade would just have to receive extra help from teachers and classmates because no one would admit that anything was wrong with her. Wow, was that so wrong. They hired a new teacher and, in fact, created a whole new level of Junior High for her called "nobi nobi" where sometimes she is with the rest of the class (like in art, music, P.E. and sometimes English) and sometimes she takes her own special class. I felt really stupid because I was earlier trying to subtly mention it to Tomomi because I assumed no one would have told him. (Then I mixed up her name with someone else's and I probably just confused things more.) It seems like every time I hear something that the Japanese do that just doesn't seem like common sense, it is not true in my town. Either I have an especially logical town or the rumors are exaggerated.

      Family Resemblance I made the connection for the first time today that three very smart, friendly, talented students I have are all related! The Fukada kids! Although I wouldn't have guessed by their appearance, the 9th grader, 7th grader, and 5th grader do have fairly similar personalities. I can't believe I didn't notice before.

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