Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ine Ika

One of the students had caught fresh squid (ika) in the morning, so he offered a bunch of them to the teachers during lunch. Yoshida-san, the wife of the cutest Japanese couple ever- is sthe home economics teacher at Ine Bunko, so she and another teacher were cutting and cleaning them out. I've never seen sashimi prepared outside of a sushi restaurant. It was wild to see this happening at school- in a home-ec classroom! The ink was spilling out all over in the sink while they were pulling at the various pieces of the squid. At one point, Yoshida-san told me to touch one of the slimy tentacles, and it's suckers totally sucked onto my finger. I screamed like a girl and everyone laughed (inside they were all shaking their heads and thinking- "City girl...")

IPP: Ine Ping Pong

After school, and this is the best part- I got to play ping pong with the students for like 2 hours!!!

The girl in the bottom picture has some wild ping pong techniques- she freaks you out by doing this Karate Kid stance- shoulders hunched over, arms raised in the air.

Ine Bunko

Today I went to my "visit school" at Ine Bunko, which is a tiny rural high school almost an hour away. There's like 50 students (about 95% boys to girls ratio) in the whole school and like 6 teachers!! Adam used to rave about how great Ine Bunko was and how he didn't go there enough. I can see why- it was awesome! Everyone is so chill and the school is in this beautiful old rustic wooden building.

It was my first visit there, and I will only go there like every 2-3 months. The young, easygoing English teacher, Mori-sensei, gave me a ride this morning which was sooooo nice. As you can see from the photos, the view on the way there is breath taking. It's so funny, everyone who drives me around here is so taken back by my awe of the scenery. They're like "Ehh, you get used to it. I'm so glad you're enjoying it, I'm bored of it!"

The students' English level is pretty low, but they are so friendly and easygoing- willing to share music or whatever. I felt like after just a few hours there, I had known some of them for months already. They're totally pals with the teachers, the guys have long hair, and have hobbies like playing guitar, skateboarding, and boxing. It's almost like they are more "high school" than some of my other academic students who live in the more "urban" areas of Miyazu. So I taught four classes back to back and then I got to hang out in the nurse's office with all the other teachers who didn't have classes and chit chat or whatever. (Bascially I did my self-introduction lesson 4 times for the students and a much more detailed one for the teachers).

To Biwa or not to Biwa... that is the question

Ha ha, I had to steal the subject title from Eric (after he had to explain it to me). If you still don't get it, say it out loud. Hint, it's from Hamlet. If you still don't get it, you're no longer my friend.

Anyway... had a lovely weekend at Lake Biwa- the largest lake in Japan. We enjoyed lovely water sports such as sailing, water skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, swimming, and drinking. Actually, I only enjoyed the sailing part. The rest I either didn't partake in, or didn't enjoy (the after-drinking-too-much part). A group of about 30 new and returning JETs frolicking in the water and getting absolutely sloshed, singing karaoke, and then passing out on tatami mats.

So, sailing. Can someone please win the lotto already and buy me a sailboat? I have the perfect pair of nautical themed flip flops already.... ahhh, I miss New York and the overpriced but gorgeous shoes!!

Umm, ok, back to sailing and Biwa... We were not allowed to have cameras onboard (I understand now why) so unfortunately we don't have proof of our sailing adventure. After about a 5 minute lesson with the Japanese guide, he set us out on our own (in pairs) to brave the waters with such useful vocabulary as: centerboard, a rudder, a tiller, a boom, and a sail. I think a "dinghy" is the technical term for what we "sailed" (see photos). I have to admit that Becky (ahoy, mate!) and I did an absolutely fabulous job navigating the waters of Lake Biwa, our full sails buoyant and our dinghy cutting and skimming the water like we were in a regatta. Bonnie, we were just trying to scare you when we almost ran you over in your kayak! And we were just joking when our dinghy started tipping over sideways and we started screamiing for someone to bring us buckets to scoop out all the accumulating water in the boat. and also about the flares. We'll send out an email shortly regarding tryouts for our rowing club.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Good food

I keep forgetting to take pictures of my meals here before I eat them. DAMN! It's probably because I see the food and it just looks so delicious and we just all dive in. Of course, there's that coveted last bite on the plate that nobody wants to take because, HORROR- that would be rude- there's even a phrase that you say when this happens: "enryonokatamari". That, of course, is my phoenetic translation of what my students tried teaching me, so there's probably a few spaces and vowels missing there.

Apparently I have quite the eclectic vocabulary -I have this random mix of teenage boys' slang ("for real?!?", "dude, buy me something!"), cute teenage girl words ("good friends!", "love! like!") and then some of the uber super polite phrases that my landlady has taught me ("thank you very much for all the kindness and generosity that you have provided for me"), etc.

Um, yeah, so what spurred me to write this entry is that I went to my favorite restaurant in all of Japan again tonight with my best buds here Bryn and Jannie. It's an izakaya in Iwataki (the next town over- technically the name's been changed to "Yosano" but nobody calls it that yet). Anyway, it's got the most delicious food ever. Since Bryn is absolutely fluent and charming in his Japanese, he usually just orders for us, and tonight was no exception. We always get edamame to start, and tonight we got a selection of perfectly fried non-greasy octopus, fried potato croquettes with some sort of divine savory filling; a pot of heaven- baked potato, bacon, and cheese dish; a stir-fried (?) chicken and vegetable dish; a "Japanese-style" salad which consisted of seared bonito (a type of fish) over lettuce, onions, cucumbers, and cabbage; cucumbers w/ a miso dipping sauce... I'm sure I'm missing something but anyway, I have to remember to take pictures!!!


Pauly sent me my beloved wonderful lovely stunning worn-in decade-old cherished Italian stovetop double espresso maker!!! and freshly ground Porto Rico Importing Co. espresso beans!!! I really thought I could wean myself off coffee and enjoy the healthy benefits of green tea.... but after smelling that wonderful strong aroma, and then tasting it.... well... I'll never be able to stop. Sorry mom and dad- I may have to just stop in Italy "on the way" back home so that I can get a year's supply of good cappuccinos and espressos in me to make up for lost time. Am I still pretty hyper after 14 hours? Maybe.

Paul also sent me a box of animal crackers which I shared with my ICC students. I made each one of them tell me the animal they got (in English) and one poor girl got a "hippopotamus". Of course I made her say it a few times and THEN told her that in America, we just call them "hippos". Hee hee hee.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mini Cooper

One of my JTE's at Kaiyo High School, Karino sensei, has the COOLEST vintage Mini Cooper. He gave me a ride back to Miyazu the other night after dinner with some of our other teachers. Karino-san is also the only person I know who's ever been to Alabama. He did a one-year exchange program during college and ended up there. So his view of America is a little different than how most of us view it. Another one of the Japanese translation stories- one of the teachers at school said that he is the "minimum" size of all the teachers (as in the shortest).

Mochi Festival

So yesterday, I went to a Mochi Festival at a shrine with my friend Becky and some of her Japanese friends. We hiked up a bunch of steep steps and found a little shrine and a local community of neighbors. Becky and her friends (Takashi and Eri and daughter Huka) made Mochi the day before as did many of their neighbors.
There were some ceremonies being performed inside the shrine but it seemed somewhat secretive (and only older men were allowed in there) so I'm not exactly sure what was going on. However, the fun was really on the outside. There were many children lining up for the sumo wrestling challenge. A 10' diameter circle was drawn in the dirt and the children had to wrestle eachother to either push the other outside of the ring or push them to the ground.

At the end, the men in the shrine came out with a bunch of baskets of everyone's mochi balls wrapped up in cellophane bags (2 to a bag). They climbed up above the shrine and threw these bags of mochi down from above, which actually seemed pretty dangerous. Besides in the New York City subways, I've never seen little Asian old ladies move so fast. They were running around, swiping these bags of mochi off the ground, out of childrens' hands, etc. I think the goal was that the more bags of mochi that you caught, the better your luck would be or something like that.

Poor Huka was upset that she didn't end up with a mochi bag. (Actually, a Mochi-stealer swiped one out of her hands!!!) Brutal.

Shirafuji Ya, Miyazu

I love this sweeet shop.
and I love this woman- she is the sweetest woman in the world.

They make these exquisite mochi desserts fresh every day.
Apparently they are also well respected in town because when the emperor came to visit Miyazu, they presented him with a box of their best sweets.

Cafeteria Ticket Vender

If I buy lunch from the cafeteria at Miyazu High School, I first have to buy a ticket from the vending machine and then present it to the ladies behind the counter. I've had a few items like curry and rice (hot, spicy, and filling!), udon noodles, oyakadon, and katsudon, and they were all pretty good.

One of my JTE's (Japanese Teacher of English) quickly translated each of the lunch options for me the first time I went, but of course I can't remember anything. So it's a surprise each time until I memorize the "menu".

It must be a translation thing- her comment about school lunches was "I should bring lunch from home more often. The school lunches do not provide me very much nourishment".

"Drip Coffee"

An interesting way to make a personal size cup of drip coffee.

This came in a packet a little bigger than a tea bag. It's got these "handles" that you stick on the sides of your mug, and then you pour water through the filter. It wasn't Peet's or anything, but it's been difficult to deal with my lack of espresso here!!

Thursday, September 14, 2006


One more month until Paul arrives in Japan!

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Lisa, you're the best!!!
I'm so sorry you spent more on postage than the contents of the package, but you really cheered me up!

Trader Joe's dried cranberries!!
Nail polish!!
Ginger lemon cookies!!!

THANK YOU!!!!!!!

rain... rain... and more rain...

So, for shock value, I might be evacuated from my apartment in the next 12 hours!!!

It's been raining in Miyazu for about 5 days straight with occasional spurts of beautiful blue sky and hot blazing sun. I experienced the most powerful thunder/lightning storm ever this morning between 5-6am. The ground is soaked and unstable, and since 6.30am, there have been hourly warnings about the rising water and fears of mudslides, especially in the area where I live. It sounds like I'm in a Communist-era village with these loudspeakers blaring announcements and sirens- at first I thought that they were air raid sirens!!

A few years ago, the most damagiing typhoon ever to hit the area destroyed homes, blew down the sacred ancient trees at Amanohashidate, caused major mudslides, and many people died. My apartment is at the base of the mountains where these mudslides occured. Thank goodness I have some Japanese friends in the area who know that I don't understand the announcements and have been calling me to update me. If we get evacuated, most likely we'll have to go to the gym at Miyazu High School or to the city gym. It obviously doesn't have the urgency of something like Hurricane Katrina, but it seems that the people here are kind of blowing it out of proportion- or just REALLY being prepared- JUST IN CASE.

I've packed an overnight bag- just in case.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Kaiyo (Marine) High School

Kaiyo (Marine) High School is my visit school- I go there twice a week and it's one stop away from Miyazu. It is a marine based school, so most of the classes deal with anything to do with the sea, from raising fish to surveying to scuba diving to tying knots to sailing! I'm sure there's a bunch more that I don't know about it, but it's awesome. It's right on the Sea of Japan and they even have their own ship that they use for student trips. Every year they go on a trip somewhere for about 10 days- last year it was Russia, the year before, Guam, and this year- to Hawaii!! I'm desperately trying to get on this trip but each person is assigned a certain duty and I have no seafaring experience to boast of. I tried using the "everyone needs to practice their English" excuse but so far it's not going so well.

Anyway, so it's Culture and Sports Festival time at all the schools. Man, it's like teambuilding to the max! Sports Day at Kaiyo was like nothing I'd ever experienced. Each grade (1, 2, and 3) were separated into teams of red, green, and white and they competed in all these events. And so after the opening ceremony, raising of the flag, and all that, there's this super analog music box sounding song that they play on the loudspeakers, and everyone, and I mean everyone, including the school principal, gets down and does the "morning exercises". It's like watching the old people doing tai chi in the park- hundreds of us all stretching for the sun and touching our toes to this random piano piece.

There were some typical games/sports such as tug of war (with a giant rope) and then with a giant bamboo (probably about 10 feet long and about 4" in diameter), relay races... and then there were some really complicated games.... too complicated to explain in the blog. Tried doing a google search and of course, was distracted for like an hour. So... back to the blog... Oh, so the day ended with a "cutter race"- kind of like a rowing race. It was sweet, sitting on the beach, hanging with the students, exchanging slang and talking about music or celebrities or whatever.

Anyway so it's a high school where only like 7% of them go onto university, so studying English is WAAAY down on their priority list. They're also the super hipster/slutty/too cool for school students who could give a ****, compared to the super smart, overachieving students at Miyazu. But, they're energetic and are pretty fun outside of the classroom!!

Unclaimed shoes

Students (and faculty) all have to change into "inside" shoes whenever entering the school or gym or whatever. All the students have these great canvas shoes, kind of like our Keds when we were in junior high, and each grade has different colored stripes to differentiate (red, blue, and green).

And now... for something totally unrelated.....

a website that kept me amused for more than a minute!

Sunday, September 03, 2006


The infamous narrow sand bar / "floating bridge to heaven" known as "Amanohashidate" is only about a 15 minute bike ride from my place.

Swimming season is now officially over for the Japanese because it's "jellyfish" season, but that doesn't stop us crazy gaijins from going out there. The beach photo is from about 2 weeks ago. Today there were about 3 people out there!

Also, there have been some complaints there haven't been enough pics of me so here's one of me looking like a Japanese tourist (wait, can I say that??) at the top of the lookout point.


The highlight of the Miyazu High School "Culture Festival" (every class put on a play, skit, musical performance, etc.) was the Home Ec. Fashion Show where each of the students designed and made their own outfit.

The students are normally so quiet and shy and it was so great to see them in bright colorful outfits and strutting around on the stage!!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Shiny Happy Cell Phone!

OK, here's the last of my contact information, FINAL revisions and
everything all in one!

Cell Phone: +81 090 5673 8595
Cell Phone email: laurie_c@docomo.ne.jp

Home Phone: +81 0772 22 8140
Skype name: lauriecheung

Apartment 202, Takiba 244-1
Miyazu Shi, Kyoto Fu 626-0034

Thanks to peeps Giuliana, Tiffany, Nia, Wendy, and Paul for the packages, postcards, and mail!!!

Oh, time difference info: I am 13 hours ahead of NYC, 16 hours ahead of CA. Japan does NOT observe Daylight Savings so work out the math and let me know how that works out.