Friday, February 29, 2008

The End Is Coming!

It's nearly the end of the Japanese school year. I've just taught my last classes. I still have a couple of weeks until holidays, but they will be mostly filled with test marking and admin stuff.

I was sad to say goodbye to some of my students. My last class on a Friday afternoon was a delight to teach. I had the cutest boy in the front row, a tiny little thing, but what he lacked in size, he made up in confidence. I loved his responses to things I would say to the class. Once I asked "Do you want to play a game?", I got a half-hearted reaction from the class. So I asked "Do you want to do a test?" The little sweetie in the front came out with a really loud "No way!". Another day, when it was time to do a test, I said "Let's do the test", his reply, again very loudly was "Let's not!" You've gotta love that.

Another boy in the same class was a big beefy character. I love to tease the kids so when I was going around the class asking future tense questions, I asked this boy "Will you kiss a boy tonight?" His brow furrowed in consideration and in Japanese he said to himself "Mmm.. I don't think I will.." The class erupted in laughter. His friends pointed out "She asked if you're going to kiss a boy, A BOY!" Defensively, he turned around and said "Yeh, I know, but she's asking about tonight, that's the future. I don't know what's going to happen in the future!"

I'm happy to say some of the kids have told me that they'll miss me next year, as I they'll have another teacher. My favourite reaction though was from my Domestic Violence Boy. He yelled out "NOOOOOOO.. But I loooooove you Melanie! I really, REALLY love you! Really I do! I love you sooooooo much!" It's a nice way to finish a year.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Individual Difference Is Existence

Found on a fabric item I bought today;
"Because of the commodity nature it may falls the color to other goods if it soaked by water or with the friction situation ,so please be careful. Please understand the individual difference is existence. Seperately wash with other clothing."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

All About Me Meme

Ahh... I'm slowly starting to catch up on life. End of the school year tests are written and recorded, I've caught up with all my marking, I think I've updated all my links on my blog, I'm slowly tackling my email inbox.... Still lots to do, but I'm getting there.

A little while ago Azumarisan tagged me, so here I go....

What I was doing;
10 years ago
Living in Brisbane, running my own business as a professional photographer, about to get the most horrendous tax bill that would make me rethink my life and that would motivate me to come to Japan for the first time.

5 years ago
Living back in Brisvegas after my first three years in Japan, suffering from reverse culture shock, doing a post-grad in Linguistics and trying to decide what to do next with my life.

1 year ago
Sitting in the cold teachers' room getting exciting about an upcoming trip back to Australia in spring holidays.

Sitting in this cold teacher's room, getting exciting about my upcoming trip to Australia in spring holidays.

5 snacks I enjoy
1. Chocolate
2. Licorice
3. Chocolate-coated licorice
4. Gingerbread
5. Did I mention chocolate?

5 books I like
1. Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World - Haruki Murakami
2. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
3. Memiors of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
4. Any Art/Photography/Design book
5. Freakonomics - Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt

5 things I'd do with $100 million
1. Buy a beautiful house in the Sunshine Coast Hinterlands (beautiful mountain area not too far from the beach), with a fantastic, large, well-lit studio space and plenty of training space for hubby.
2. Help out friends and family with things that would make their life easier and happier.
3. Start up a charity for education of children in Northern Vietnam.
4. Open up a concept cafe/ resource centre that I have written up business plans for but don't want to reveal too much about now in the hopes that I can get finance for it in the next few years
5. Travel, travel, travel and then some more travel.

5 places I'd love to run away to (what, only 5? That doesn't really fit into my travel, travel, travel plans...)
1. The same little house on the edge of a cliff in Yamba (small beach town in the North of New South Wales) that I ran away to years ago by myself to write for a week - it was one of the best weeks of my life. I then met hubby a few days later (well technically had met him before that, but he says he fell for me when I got back from that trip, I was full of life and energy)
2. Another secluded place in the rainforest, but this time I'd take my husband
3. Italy
4. South America
5. Spain

5 bad habits and pet peeves I have
1. PP - People that throw rubbish on the ground, especially anyone that opens up a car door to drop out their takeaway food wrappings
2. BH - I talk way too much, I even tell myself to shut up in my head and times, but still don't stop. I sometimes give people far more information than is maybe socially acceptable or they really want to know. Just ask the people I work with!
3. PP - Teachers yelling at my students during my class while I'm teaching, especially when I work hard at creating an friendly environment so that students feel comfortable speaking English and the teacher is yelling at them about the top button on their uniform or that both feet aren't under their desk.
4. BH - I get lost in my own little world for weeks at a time, can become a hermit and am terrible at replying to emails and keeping in contact with people during those times.
5. BH - I can justify to myself the need to eat chocolate and reasons for not going to the gym at any time and do so way to often.

5 things I like doing
1. Making things, nowadays mostly things with Japanese paper or textile
2. Taking photos
3. Catching up with friends in a nice little coffee shop that has a good selection of teas and cakes
4. Reading
5. Shopping

5 things I would never wear
1. Anything with leopard print.
2. Anything high waisted (they just don't fit)
3. In public - any shirt that I can't wear a bra underneath (you may want to see the too much information bit on my bad habits for this one)
4. Yellow. I hate the colour. Not, I don't like the colour - I hate the colour. It induces rage in me.
5. White pants (not as in nickers, but as in trousers), I could never keep them clean. After about 10 minutes, there would surely be chocolate on them.

5 TV shows I like (all stuff I can get here - I really miss the selection of British shows I can get back home)
1. Grey's Anatomy
2. Dr Who
3. Torchwood
4. Lost
5. Desperate Housewives

5 movies I like
1. Like Water For Chocolate
2. Run Lola Run
3. Amelia
4. Love Actually
5. Pretty much anything by John Waters or anything with Johnny Depp in it

5 famous people I'd like to meet
1.Johnny Depp
2. Bono
3. Michael Luenig - actually I've already met him twice
4. Dali Lama - I've been to one of his talks once and he was so inspiring
5. Haruki Murakami - as long as I had a translator

5 favourite toys
1. My laptop - couldn't live without it
2. My ipod
3. My Nikon D200
4. My sewing machine
5. My Japanese vibrating hairbrush, while it doesn't give me the frizz-free look it promised, but I like the feel on my scalp and the noise makes me giggle.

5 people I'd like to see complete this
1. Badaunt - I just love her blog!
2. Jason - gotta do something to get this boy to write a new post on that blog.
3. Contamination - would love to know more about this fellow Aussie ex-pat.
4. La Fuji Mama - am totally in awe of her, she's the only gaijin woman with a gaijin husband that I know that has gone down the baby having and raising path here, something I've decided I'm not brave enough to do.
5. Geisha Interrupted - I'm quite fascinated about her and can't wait to read her book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Guess who thought she'd just change the colour of her blog, didn't back up her template and has now lost all her links and stuff....

All should be back to normal soonish......

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Chocolate Day!

Really, that's all Valentine's Day is here in Japan. Despite all the love hearts on packaging, there is far more giri-choco being passed around than declarations of love. And we won't even mention that only women give presents to men in Japan on this day....

My husband and I don't really make a big deal out of Valentine's Day. We use it as an excuse to give each other a little token of chocolate and go on a date, but that's actually not so different to what we do on a regular basis anyway.

I do feel a little sorry for the girls in Japan. When I was that age, there was nothing more thrilling than sending an anonymous card to a boy I had a secret crush on, or the hope that I might get one myself. The girls here give chocolates to all their friends, male family members and teachers, so the expression of any real romantic feeling must be diluted quite considerably. They then only have the hope of a return gift by someone they gave something to in the first place. A bit of a killjoy if you ask me.

Mind you, unlike in my Christmas That Isn’t rant, I'm not complaining about the Japanese twist on this holiday - it means I score lots of goodies! Since Tuesday, girls at my school have been dropping by my desk, giving me treats they made themselves. The picture at the top is of some of my stash from today. I don't know why I bothered bringing lunch really.....

Last year, it took me by surprise, so on Valentine's Day I was busy writing down students' names and then on White Day, running around trying to find those students to give them a return gift. This year, I came prepared. I have lots of little packets of treats (though not handmade) to give in exchange. I hope I've brought enough... and of course, anything I don't give out, I can eat myself!

Happy Chocolate Day everyone!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How to have a bad day and How to make it a little better...

How to have a bad day
  • Be in February - When my friend Joan lived in the UK, she used to call this month "Slit-your-wrists-February". After a couple of months of the cold and not being outside much, now I've hit February I'm so over it and know that I still have weeks until it's going to start getting warmer.
  • Be a Tuesday - I have my least favourite high school class on Tuesdays. By half-way through the lesson, I feel the need to check their pulse, by the end, I feel the need to check mine. While on Mondays I have my least favourite junior high school class, I have my best high school one the same day, so they even out. On Tuesdays, they are all kind of duds.
  • Be a rainy day - not only is it cold, grey and dreary but it also means you can't ride your bike to work, so have to leave early to walk there in time.
  • Be tired due to not enough sleep and nightmares the night before due to stress.
  • Start your day writing tests.
  • Start your first class breaking up a play fight just in time to stop a kid's head being split open. This is after you've already yelled at them to stop. Yell at them again and hurt your throat.
  • Notice that the curtains in your classrooms and teachers room are the same colour as what you imagine what body odor would be if it had a colour.
  • Have a series of high school presentations that are so bad you feel your very life essence being sucked out of you. The worst, going for ten minutes and you realise at the end, you have no idea what they were talking about.
  • Resist the temptation to slap a kid across the head for laughing at a student during his good presentation.
  • Be cold despite the fact that you're wearing your mountain-climbing long thermal underwear under your jeans, two pairs of long woolen socks, disposable, stick-on "sock warmers", a thermal under-shirt, a long-sleeved turtle neck shirt, a vest and a lined woolen coat. AND you're in your teacher's room.
  • Record two listening tests and be so cold in the recording room you can no longer feel the tip of your nose or your fingers despite the fact that you're wearing the above plus a down-filled jacket.
  • Have a pile of marking sitting in front of you that you know you should be doing even though all you really want to do is curl up and go to sleep.

How to make your bad day a little better

  • Use your brand new, thermal lunch box for the first time and have a yummy warm lunch at work.
  • Get handmade cookies and chocolates as an early Valentine's Day present from a student.
  • Have a student give an inspiring presentation about his time at the World Scout Jamboree and how meeting other non-native English speakers who didn't care about the mistakes they made with the language made him feel more confident in speaking.
  • Know that you have a Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Brownie Mix at home that a friend brought back from Guam for you. Plan to make them tonight and surprise your husband when he gets home.

How's your day going?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

One More Year

There are a couple of times a year that I find myself reflecting upon my life and its direction more than at other times. It’s probably similar for most people, the beginning of the year and before my birthday. As my birthday is in the beginning of March I find myself looking inward a lot in the first two months of the year. This year is no exception.

For Wayne and I, we know we only have one more year left in Japan before we head back to Australia. It hadn’t always been planned that way, there were times we thought we’d stay here until we’d put children through kindergarten to give them a good bilingual start, others when we thought we’d be going back to Aussie shores this March to start a family. There have even been brief moments when the stress that living in another country can add to a marriage that I’ve feared we’d be returning to Australia at different times.

With time rushing by as it seems to do, I start to look at why we came here in the first place and what I want to achieve before I leave.

Coming to Japan was not a long thought out decision, but rather an impulse that felt so right. I had lived in Japan for three years and was back in Australia as an ex-gaijin trying to find my feet once again. I found that the gaijin part of me never went away. Japan had seated itself in my heart and was there to stay. It was in my fourth year back in Australia that as desperate to grow roots in the country as I was, the universe seemed to be telling me that wasn’t where I was supposed to be.

It was a bad year. Only months after moving in with a friend, a new man in her life wanted them to live together so I needed to find a new home. Wayne and I spent weeks going from one rental inspection to another until we found the perfect place. It was an early 1920s Queensland Colonial with polished wood floors, pressed ceilings and a huge second bedroom with perfect light for my studio. It is the type of place I have always wanted. Our request to sign a long lease was denied and instead, we signed the standard 6 month lease with assurances that we could renew it at the end of that time.

In the space of a handful of months, both before and after the move, bad luck seemed to visit our door. Between the two of us, we suffered through the deaths of four people close to us. My new job went sour and I and other staff found ourselves having to seek legal advice to be paid the wages we were due. In the next few months I found myself changing jobs a number of times, something I’d never done before. I came very close to buying a small art gallery with a coffee shop, but that deal also fell through.

I was then finally in a job that I loved, an English school with a real international selection of students. My boss was a true inspiration in her passion for teaching and life. My fellow teachers, all so intelligent, well traveled and funny, quickly became dear friends. My classes were great and often I had classes filled with people from all different cultures. Students changed and then I had a class with all Japanese women. I loved the class but a homesickness for Japan set in. I had the feeling I could be doing the same job in Japan.

The final blow came suddenly. Right after getting engaged, I had just lost two people very special to me and was still in the midst of grief. We got a letter to say that the owner of the house wanted to move family in there and so would not be renewing our contract in a month’s time.

Something snapped that night. I felt that every attempt I’d made that year to put down roots had failed. I felt that the universe was telling me that Australia was not the place I was supposed to be at that time. Wayne and I made the very difficult decision that I would come to Japan for a year. On my own. We would hold off wedding plans until I came back, I just needed to get away, to come back to Japan, to photograph, to finish the book I was writing.

The next morning I awoke at 4am. I had a large order for my sideline business to get out that day before I left for work. I touched Wayne’s shoulder and began to cry. I couldn’t imagine not waking up next to him every morning. In my studio I managed to work while tears ran down my face. Suddenly, a light bulb went off. He was looking for a change, looking for a break from his business. Why couldn’t he come with me? We didn’t have a mortgage yet, no children. What was tying us down? At five, as the sun was just beginning to give a golden glow to the bedroom, I touched his bare shoulder once more, this time to wake him.

“Why don’t we sell everything we own and just go, go to Japan together?” I asked.

As the sleep in his eyes wore off, I could almost see the thoughts turning over in his head. After fifteen minutes he agreed. “Yep, let’s do it!”

And that’s exactly what we did.

The decision to move back has been a much harder and drawn out one. For months last year we were on a rollercoaster of uncertainty. I’m sure I drove my workmate nuts, everyday telling them, “We’ve decided to stay” and the next, “We’ve decided to go.” While the resolve changed everyday, how I felt about it changed by the hour. It was a relief when we came to a final conclusion, regardless of what it was.

So for now, we have one more year, and a bit, left in Japan. It’s hard not to get lost in the teaching and with making extra money to put towards a house and a family. It’s hard not to get caught up on the fact that I should be, at this later stage in life, concentrating on being in my best shape to have a child. Somedays, it’s hard not to get frustrated with cold teacher’s rooms and crappy school lunches that I now know I’ll have to put up with for another year. But for the next year, I’m going to try my hardest to do what I came here for in the first place. To write, to photograph, to soak up and to journal the creative inspirations this place has to offer.

Just one more year.