Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Les Miserables

So I went to see Les Miserables the movie on Sunday...This was my first time seeing an adaptation on the musical.

I thought the movie was a lot of fun, and there story was strong. For a really long film, the plot felt very fast-paced and focused. But there were still some quiet moments, so it didn't feel too fast. The characters all seemed very distinct to me, even the ones that only appeared for a few scenes. You could tell right away what kind of person someone was, and even if I didn't remember a character's name I could recognize them again right away.

I liked how grimy the poor characters looked, particularly in the Lovely Ladies song. That's a bit morbid...but the makeup was really good!

Some things I didn't like:

I wish there could have been more scenes where people were in different places singing at the same time. There were a few scenes where one person was singing, and the camera just showed a close up of their face for the whole song. Especially in I Dreamed a Dream, this seemed a little boring. During that song, it would have been nice to see flashbacks of Fantine with her child--because you don't get to see much of her backstory before. With so many characters to establish and little time to spend on them individually, it seemed like there was an opportunity missed here to fill in the gaps in Fantine's story.

Also, Marius got a bit annoying. It's unbelievable that he could pay so little attention so anyone so gorgeous and lively as Eponine! Eponine is a great character, and the actress was so pretty too. At least he showed her consideration as she was dying. Also, he has a really mopey song later on (when the film is already starting to feel long). I guess it makes sense that he grieves for his friends, but I kept thinking "Can't you be a little more grateful for being alive? Cosette, the girl of your dreams, is right there!"

I know it's this was in the book and the musical, but it seemed contrived for Jean Valjean to leave Cosette at the end. At this point, no one is coming after him. And Cosette obviously suspects that he's an ex-con (looking at the scars on his wrists), and she still loves him. I feel like he could have told her the truth sooner.

However, I still really enjoyed the movie!

And I think this is the most overtly Christian film that I have seen in the theaters for a loooooong time! I loved how straightforward Jean Valjean's religious journey was. There was no irony about his faith. There aren't always easy answers in the movie, just like life. But you really feel like Jean's Christianity was what gave him strength. I felt encouraged to show mercy in real life.

Monday, December 24, 2012


A picture from the End of Year party. All of us had a great time. We're holding the presents from our gift exchange here. (Mine is a piggy bank--super cute!) Taeko ended up with the present I brought. After the restaurant we went to a bar, and I just had ginger ale because by that time I didn't want more alcohol. I won't name any names, but I think some of the people who did have their inhibitions lowered by alcohol may have regretted it later...

On Christmas Eve I visited Souichirou in his hometown of Kure and got to meet his Mom, sister, Aunt, and Grandma. It was a little scary trying to speak all in Japanese, even with translation help, but they were all nice!
Here is another picture of us by the sea.

Later we went to the candlelight service at Mitaki Chapel. I missed church on Sunday because of work, so I ended up going to my first service all in Japanese. And singing Christmas carols in Japanese. (More furigana would have helped...) But even though I could only understand a little, it was a special time to think about the birth of Chirst with the people at Mitaki.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Package

Today the long-awaited package finally came from home, and a house mate deposited it outside my mini-size door. I am definitely looking forward to the surprise of finding out on Christmas what my family sent. (I can even tell them when it's still Christmas Eve in California! Hahaha.) Unfortunately, the mail system doesn't like surprises as much as I do. So I really TRIED not to read the clearly marked contents label on the outside of the package...

Looks like I'll be getting some DVDs. At least it will be a surprise what kind of DVD. Haha, who am I kidding, I've got exactly one guess what movie it is. (But if it's DVDs plural, what's the second one?)

It's funny how when you're a kid, the idea of having to wait is so painful, but when you're an adult the idea of having your presents spoiled early is even more painful.

Soooo....While I was walking home tonight this guy on a bike tried to talk to me. I have no idea what it was about. I mean, he could have been asking directions for all I know--except that no sane Japanese person would ask directions from a foreign woman. So I was highly suspicious and gave a very brusque, "Excuse me...don't speak Japanese."

There's also a guy with a food van selling some kind of sweet potato snacks, who keeps trying to get me to buy something. To make it worse, Taeko bought something from him while I was with her, so now it's like he knows me...I'm pretty sure he's calling me "Sister." Today I laughed at him, just because I understood some of his Japanese, and I shouldn't have because now he'll just keep trying to sell me food even more...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Customer Service

Today I had an interesting lesson with a higher level student who mostly just wanted to talk through class. It was a review lesson, so the topic he ended up choosing was how to handle customer complaints--and to tie in English we chose complaints from Americans. Instead of doing grammar, we mostly focused on content and expressions.

And boy, this was a lot more complicated than a lesson on grammar! The first time he practiced taking my complaint (and he was trying to do American body language, mind you) it was hard to believe that his person looking down and saying "I'm sorry," wasn't just blowing me off. And when we switched roles, the first thing he noticed was how much expression I put into my face. My student noted, "American faces use more exaggerated expressions, and their mouths move around a lot more when they talk."

We discussed the important aspects of dealing with a complaint, such as a sincere apology versus offering an action, and whether customers want to let of steam or fix their problem. Now I'll have a different perspective when I go to a store and there's a problem. Even if the people look like they just want me to leave, they might really be trying their best to help me.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Pics from today, our ex-pat Thanksgiving in Japan.

We were at the apartment of Jenn and Brendan, who are friends of Lizbet, who's my friend from church. So I guess I can call them friends of friends? Anyway, their apartment is amazing. It's huge. The kitchen is huge, and the dining and living room are not only adequate for a party of up to nine people but downright spacious. Supposedly this apartment building was built with ex-pats in mind. Whatever that means.

We didn't have turkey, but we did have chicken with homemade gavy, and mashed potatoes and vegetables and other sides. People laughed at my "Japanese portions," but it was quite good. I had a small glass of white wine with dinner, and it took a while to wear off. Luckily I didn't end up going drinking tonight too, or going to work tomorrow would be a real pain!

From left to right, Olivia, Lizbet's husband, me, Brendan, Lizbet, and Anne Laurel.

After dinner we pretty much just hung around, discussed music preferences, and played trivia games. A major plus is that the place had wifi, and I was finally able to register my new nook with glowlight! This is definitely something to be thankful for. Thanks, mom!

As if I hadn't had enough food that day, I ended up doing a late dinner with one of my Sharehouse friends. We ate Tenpura Soba, so I guess this counts as trying both at once. This dinner turned out a little awkward, since I don't speak much Japanese and he spoke minimal English, so there was a lot of pointing, guessing, and Google translate. Looking at photos also helped. Well, asking a foreigner to dinner when you can't speak their language takes more guts than I honestly have.

Japanese notes of the day--

Jen: Does anyone want some ice cream?
Me: (Nodding emphatically) Nnnn!
Jen: (laughs) You sound Japanese

Also, I've learned that the correct intonation for "Sumimasen" can be very similar to the American "Hey, you!"

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Settling in...Maybe

Last night I had my first detailed nightmare about work. Not just being late or not having the books, but I was actually in the middle of a lesson and I had only taught two sentences, and neither related to the lesson goal. So I guess this means the mindset of the Berlitz lesson has sunk deep into my subconscious.

Now that I actually have a place, my feelings are half "Argh I never want to move again!" and half "Next October is a long, long time away..."

I still have dreams where I wake up at home without the trouble of airplane travel. I miss everybody back in Fremont! It would also be nice to see all the old places again, and go shopping in a store where people speak English.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Some Halloween Pics

Looks like both I and my family back home got up to some fun on Halloween...

There's Dad, William, and Hobbes waiting for trick or treaters.

Luckily, my hostel had a Halloween party on the Saturday before Halloween! Even though I work on Saturday, I got off work in time to go to the party after. I even met a friend from church (Mitaki Green Chapel) who was staying at the hostel for one night. What a coincidence!

Everyone thought the police outfit was very cool. And about five people wanted pictures with themselves being handcuffed by me. It was a little awkward when someone's brother-in-law turned out to be a real member of the Japanese police force...but I don't think he was offended by the slightly irreverent outfit.

In Japan people like the Halloween stuff, but there aren't really any traditions for celebrating it. I said there wasn't enough candy at the party, and was told "But candy is for kids! We're adults so we have alcohol!" Maybe candy flavored alcohol would be a big Halloween seller in Japan...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Top 3 Reasons for Not Writing Blog Posts

3. Stuff is either not interesting or too complicated.

2. Teaching sucks up all of my English skills.

1. "Meh" is not a good attitude for writing blog posts. "Meh" is probably the best attitude I can come up with at the moment.

Friday, October 12, 2012


At long last I am finally free of Ark and checked into my Hostel in Hiroshima. Training starts on Tuesday, so I will probably spend the weekend reading the pre-training materials and shopping around for more business clothes. And pumps. Real pumps.

Of course, Hiroshima is a beautiful city, and I think there will be lots to do here. One thing I definitely want to do is check out one of the churches on Sunday. There's also a cool-looking art gallery downtown. Wonder whether I'll have time to make it down to Miyajima and the floating gate...

The hostel is very clean and new-looking. Mostly like a really nice college dorm. Pics will come later. However, I do have to admit that the four-bed dorm is slightly smaller than my own bedroom back home. Apparently, things ARE tinier in Japan.

Already met a nice French man in the lobby studying Hiragana. I told him in French that I spoke a little french, but rather badly. :)

I did get a little nostalgic for Innoshima on the bus going over. I kept thinking, "Goodbye Ikuchi bridge! Goodbye cafe I never went into! Goodbye Daiso! Goodbye freaky weird dinosaur!"

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Suit

Well, I've got a job interview in Hiroshima on Sunday, which is good news overall in my job search. However, I've spent the last few days worrying about how I'm going to find a suit (at least one), since I didn't need to wear a suit at Ark and consequently didn't buy any before I left. :P Planning...It's never about what you think you'll need.

This morning I'm happy because I managed to drive over to the mainland and buy a suit!

That doesn't sound like much, I know...But to do that I needed to A) decide which city and which store to go to, after receiving conflicting advice from several different people, B) navigate over two bridges and through an intersection with several bypasses, where many of the signs were in kanji, and C) communicate with a salesclerk where our pool of common words ranged at about 5.

This could have gone horribly wrong in so many ways...But actually it turned out to be really easy. Turns out I CAN drive over freeways in a foreign country. And the store was easy to find and had good selection--and helpful people, even if we didn't speak each others' language.

So I ended up going to a more upscale place to get a more expensive suit, but overall it was worth it. $200-$250 is what you'd expect to pay anyway, and more importantly, they had my size! Every department store I've been too has been swamped in mediums and larges, so good luck finding anything smaller than a size 9 in the suit section. Maybe no one can wear those sizes in Japan so the smalls sell out super quick?

I finished much earlier than my estimations, so afterwards I drove down the road a bit and had lunch at a shopping mall, where I also found a few gifts to take home. I didn't even get lost on the way back!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Change in Plans

Well, due to some conflicts at my present school, looks like I will be applying to work at an adult conversation school in Japan. I will miss the friends I have made here in Innoshima, but I think this will be a good opportunity to do more of the teaching work I enjoy the most.

Not sure where I will be teaching yet--maybe a chance to see more of Japan!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hiking Adventures

So today I sort of, kind of, not really pilfered a graveyard...

At least, this is as close to pilfering a graveyard as I'm likely to come. So my bud Aine and I were walking around a temple somewhere in Innoshima (after looking at a travel guide I still have no idea which temple it was), and as you might expect we saw lots of stone memorials. Some had unopened beer cans in front of them (????) and a few had artificial flowers--that looked suspiciously like the ones at the Daiso.

On the way back we passed a trash bin nearly full of the same flowers. They were a little dusty, but overall in surprisingly good condition. As I looked at the discarded flowers, I couldn't help thinking, "Hey, I wanted some flowers to decorate my room...Looks like no one is actually using these ones...oh, what the heck." So I surreptitiously picked out some of the better preserved stalks, stuffed them in my purse, and tried to look nonchalant as we walked back to the car. So now I have some in a glass on the shelf and some taped over my mirror. This is decorating for cheapskates.

Later as I was walking in the hills I finally found the tunnel that Collette showed me my first weekend here. It's really like a maze up there. On the way back I also saw my first family of wild pigs! At a distance in the gloom, they at first looked like dogs. Then they snorted as they ran away, and I could still hear them snorting in the undergrowth. I don't know who was more freaked out, me or them. Luckily, there was a house nearby with lights on so I guess if they did decide I was worth attacking I could always use my very limited Japanese to yell "TASUKETE!!!!!"

Monday, September 3, 2012

Jane Austen's Emma

Most people like Pride and Prejudice, and I get that. It's a great story and a great romance. But Emma has always had a special place in my heart.

This is how Jane Austen starts her book, Emma.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

With this opening, we can see that this is not going to be a typical heroine or typical love story. Usually, protagonists want something. They want affirmation, or security, or to just be taken out of their current situation. Emma wants nothing--in both senses of the verb.

Well, Emma does need something. She just doesn't know what it is yet. And as readers we don't really know yet either, because Austen has already gone through our mental checklist of "Things Heroines Usually Have to Get." We'll see what Emma has to get later.

So we're about to read a love story about someone who apparently has no problems. Unlike an Elizabeth Bennet, she has no financial or social drive to get married.And neither does she have an emotional reason, because she already receives love and affection from her family. She even has children to love her, with her nieces and nephews. And given social norms, she could probably have a niece live with her for extended periods of time. All the fun of motherhood, and no risk of childbirth--which is pretty dangerous in those days.

This story is about love for the sake of love and marriage for the sake of marriage. Emma doesn't need any of the incidental things people try to get by entering a marriage. In this book, marriage isn't a fairy tale ending or a solution to life's problems. From Emma and Knightly's relationship, you can see that a good marriage means having someone understand you, help you, contrast you in some areas, see your faults and tell you of them, but love you completely anyway.

Finding someone like that is a million times more exciting than having a rich, sophisticated guy ride up on a white horse and save you from gypsy bandits.

Emma starts the book thinking that she has no story, because she's already got it made--she's rich, she's beloved, she's clever, she's secure. But like Neil Gaiman's Sandman, she has to stop making stories for other people and come to see herself as someone still in the middle of her own journey. Still making a lot of wrong choices and still learning a lot.

By the end of the book, Emma has learned a little bit about love and a little bit about how not to be a douchebag. Which is probably one of the hardest lessons anyone has to learn. "Why You Shouldn't Be a Douchebag Even if You Can Get Away With It" is an immensely difficult concept. One thing Emma learns is that people get hurt. Nice people get hurt. And unless you're the best one-upper around, you get hurt.

With Emma, you've got a book that shows you the nature of love in itself and why justice should be valued for itself. Essentially, it's the same questions Plato asked in his Symposium and his Republic.

But it's a lot funnier and it's got love triangles. Go read Emma!

The Refrigerator

Now officially moved into new apartment! We finally solved the refrigerator problem by moving in a smaller model that needed lower voltage. Only problem was up until today that refrigerator was in use, leaving the inside...lacking certain qualities one wishes for in one's food storage box.

My boss Matt appeared to be getting queasy from the mere sight of the interior. But there wasn't another fridge handy, and after two days of running upstairs to do cooking, I really wanted any working refrigerator. So I just decided, "I will defeat this  thing!" and had them haul it to my room where I attacked it with hot, soapy water.

I didn't take any pictures of the inside because some things I do not wish to remember. The majority of the food had been remove (except for general grime), but the few items remaining had managed to cement themselves into the massive freezer burn (yes, this was in the refrigerator section) in the back. Michael was my moral support during this adventure and can bear witness to my efforts of chipping away at the ice with the end of a spatula.

Pound, pound, pound. Thawing with warm towel. "No, still stuck. Wait....I got it! It's a...potato?"

This isn't the worse refrigerator I've ever seen, though it deserves a prize for effort. I still have not seen anything to rival the condition of the two refrigerators at Oxford after twenty students had been using them for three months. Luckily, I didn't get that cleaning job. But now I can wholeheartedly sympathize with the people who did, even though they threw out my last day's food in the process. (One girl explained: "Everything was disgusting down there, and if it wasn't it was touching something disgusting so I threw it all out.")

An hour and a half later, I chipped through the ice, leaving the inside a shade reminiscent of Melville's aquatic monster. This was my accomplishment to day. I feel immense pride in transforming this object and now crown my self Queen of Refrigerator Cleaning.

There is one definite bonus to the new, smaller refrigerator. Even though I have less space inside, I can now reach the microwave and toaster oven on top much more easily. Before, I had to stand on tiptoes to open the toaster and judging the brownness of my toast was impossible. Now both are at a more appropriate level.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Funny things that happened today...

At the end of a lesson where pretty much everything seemed to go wrong, there was a moment of hilarity when a student read "friend" as "food." This was mostly because he wasn't paying enough attention and didn't want to spend the mental effort figuring out how to pronounce the word "friend." However, he certainly knew both words because when I raised my eyebrows and said, "Food?" both students (and me) started giggling.

My last class started at 8:50, and usually for the later classes everyone's running low on energy. Most of the time it's a struggle to get the students motivated, let alone myself. However, this high school boy was...different. He actually seemed enthusiastic about being there and doing the lesson. "Bouncing off the walls" might be a more accurate term. (Maybe I shouldn't have offered him coffee, but I don't think that was the cause.) Collette agreed that this kid can be kind of strange. But overall it was a nice change to teach someone who actually wanted to talk about travel information, and in English too.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lost in Translation


Sometimes living a in a certain place can make you a target for "So have you seen X movie?" questions. If the place is Japan, Lost in Translation is as classy a choice as any.

Overall it's a good movie, with talented actors. It's definitely a smart, complex move where you can find a lot of different meanings. It's ambiguous, mostly because everyone seems pretty...lost. The people who know what they want to do are kind of jerks, and the self aware people seem to realize that they aren't really what they want to be. But there no moment of "Now I suddenly know who I am and what I want to do!" or "Now I totally get Japanese culture! Yay!"

So this isn't Ramen Girl. (Which I also really liked.)

But this isn't one of my favorite movies, mostly because the humor was lost on me. Obviously, there's some truth to cultural stereotypes because otherwise there wouldn't be so many movies and jokes about them. But Lost in Translation seemed just mean spirited. Sometimes they're making fun of clueless Americans, sometimes it's weird Japanese people, sometimes it's both, but in none of the cases are the jokes really funny.

Take this exchange: "So why do they mix up the Rs and Ls?" "Oh, just for kicks."

Is it making fun of stupid Americans who expect everyone to sound like them, or stupid Japanese who dare to have Non-American accents in modern society?

It probably sounds really PC to say lines like this make the characters seem like jerks. The "I am too snooty to like any humor that involves people being less than perfectly cultured," attitude.

What bothered me about the movie (besides too many shots of Scarlett Johanson's underwear, and that Bill Murray isn't glamorous) is it didn't seem to allow for the possibility for any non-American person to be sort of, well, normal. It just went for cultural stereotypes (as perceived by ignorant Americans) and stopped there. Maybe that's not the point and there's some other story about finding yourself going on, but it wasn't good enough to make me feel comfortable with the way the setting was portrayed.

Besides that convenience stores are everywhere, I know nothin' 'bout Japan or Tokyo. But I know countries are made up mostly of ordinary people trying to just live their lives. Lost in Translation might have missed it, but there's quite a few normal people in Japan.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bad Boss Meme #1 and #2

#1 Criticizes everything from your lesson plan to your interaction with students.

Reminds you that you need to have more confidence around the kids.

#2 Lets class run five minutes late while you are TA.

Criticizes you for being late starting your next class, which starts when his was supposed to end.

More to come...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stuff from 8/22

I've observed a pattern each for conflict in Japanese children. Today I was teaching this really stubborn kid, who pretty much just wanted to goof off instead of doing class (and he was smart so no excuse).

 Anyway, I've found that when they don't want to get their books, or put away they're books, or whatever--if you just keep bugging them, or offer to help them, they just break down and decide it's less effort to do whatever they were supposed to be doing in the first place.

This defeat is signaled by a return to Japanese with the phrase, "Wakatta" (as well as I can spell it), which means, "I got it, I got it already, teacher, so stop hassling me, sheesh." It saves face as they get ready to do what teacher has been telling them to do for the last five mintues.

Kids are weird.

Today almost made teaching worth while when I went to assist with Matt's class, but both his students (little girls) grabbed my arms and dragged me to the chair because decided they wanted me to be sensei instead! It is strangely validating that a few students remember me and apparently like my classes. These were probably the ones I let play an extra game of Uno Stacko last week...

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Today I took an important step to becoming more independent in a different country and got gasoline for my car.

Up until now, Kyle has shared the car with me and he has gotten gasoline for both of us (though never very much because it's expensive). I know this car gets really good mileage and the needle moves very slowly, even when near empty. But I got nervous today and decided to take a crash course in "How to get gasoline from a Japanese pump" rather than risk misjudging the fuel capacity and getting stranded on some back road.

Luckily, the pump attendant (there are some self-service pumps over here, but also some where your gas is pumped for you) was an older guy and he was very nice. After some "wakarimasen," some pointing to the halfway mark on my tank gauge, and some bantering of numbers in both Japanese and English (fifteen liters, juugo liters, nisen hyaku en, etc), we managed to work everything out.

I'm embarrassed that I didn't know where the switch to open my gas tank was. I felt like such a dumb blond (or dumb redhead) standing there with a blank look while the attendants leaned into my car to look for my switch, and then showed me where it was for future reference. If I had enough Japanese skills I would have like to say "It's a new car! I'm not some mechanically challenged woman!"

Gas is pretty expensive here. In the end I think I got about 15 liters for 25 dollars. But the car is an economy car and doesn't use a lot of gas, so it should last a while as long as I don't do any long road trips. Not really planning to go farther than the next island anyway, and if I use the car for work I can hand the gas receipt to my boss Matt.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Story of the Scar

So I returned from camping recently with some good memories and a conspicuous scar on my right foot.
The night of

Day after
I think the burn is healing pretty well now, but it was one of the more memorable moments. We were all sitting around the grill cooking beef, chicken, etc, and my coworker Kenta had just added some more oil and was stirring it around. Suddenly it splattered, and I felt something warm and gooey on my foot.

My first thought was "Ohhhhhhh shit this is going to hurt!" Then I just stood there in stunned shock trying to figure out where the nearest water was. Kenta was in pretty deep shock too but at least he managed to point me to the sink in the ground about fifteen feet away. So I turned on the tap and put my foot underneath. Kenta suggested ice, so for the rest of the evening I was icing my foot.

It didn't hurt for the first twenty minutes, then it got really annoying for an hour or so. I took ibuprofen for the pain, and by bedtime it was only sensitive to hot water and pressure. The next day the burns got a little darker, but so far they've been healing ok.

The most serious damage seems to be Kenta's guilt complex. He has already offered to pay my hospital bills if I end up going. I think what bothered him most was causing someone else a problem and not being able to fix it. But looking at the rate the burns are healing I probably won't be able to tease him with the scar for too long...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Test with picture

New post for my test blog, now renamed something actually appropriate. Seeing if I can put pictures in this:


Yep, looks like this picture of the restaurant uploaded ok, though it wanted to be above the text at first.

Today Colette and I went hiking up in the mountains.  It was pretty cool and at some points we could see out to the water. My legs will be sore tomorrow...

Friday, August 10, 2012

This is a test, trying out a blog post address and format.

Looks like Lisestarlancer is the only address that isn't taken. Forever to be known by a game I played in junior high....