Well, kitty almost found a new home. On Friday a girl at one of my schools said that she wanted the cat and that her parents didn't mind. I gave her my number and told her to tell her parents to call me so we could talk about it. No word. Then Saturday morning she called at 7:50 and told me to bring the cat to the school. I live in a different town, so I told her to meet me at 9:30 and to be sure to bring her parents. After a very stressful and expensive (taxi) journey, kitty and I finally got to the school. Wouldn't you know it, the girl never showed up. Instead, kitty and I sat in the sun and burned for two hours (my nose, kitty's ears) while we tried to figure out how we were going to get home. Taxi's are one way if you don't have a phonebook. Finally, one of the PTA members came by the school to prepare for Sports Day and ended up driving me to Shibukawa. My poor cat was so traumatized during the journey that she hid in my backpack half of the time.
Anyway, so I was so frustrated when I got home that I put the cat to bed and rode my bike to Ikaho. Oh, wait. Allow me to explain. Ikaho is 8 km away. Shibukawa is at an elevation of (I think) 150 meters above sea level. Haruna, the mountain that Ikaho is on, is ~1,500 meters tall. Ikaho is half way up the mountain. Translation: 8 km of serious uphill. Actually, though, up wasn't so bad. I finally decided to turn around at dusk. And then the decent began. My brakes were not designed for such a long decent. After about 2 km they became useless. By that time it was dark. Plummeting down a busy, steep road in the dark with no brakes was quite an experience.
When I got to the bottom, I had to eat. So I went to Mos Burger, Japan's In-and-Out. Mos Burger has the most bizarre Hamburgers you will ever see. This is a seafood tempura patty on a fried rice bun. Served with tea and onion rings. Actually, I recommend Mos Burger, just be prepared for a really small meal. Just after finishing this burger, one of the other foreigners invited me to dinner and karaoke. I went to Karaoke.
Sunday was the Sports Day for my other Elementary school. The weather was good, the students were excited, there were tons of people there and almost everything went off flawlessly. Here is Akagi-dan (Red) marching.
This elementary school has the best brass band in Gunma-ken, which is quite an accomplishment. If you want to hear excerpts from the music they played on Sports Day, click here and here. Here are the first year students.
And here is the school. Great day, as you can see. Why was the weather so good? There was a Typhoon approaching Japan, which seemed to suck away all the bad weather. I guess.
Well, Sports Day ended. We teachers and the PTA (which had about 100 members) packed everything up. Then the teachers had a meeting and took a group photograph. I am wearing black, in the first row, 4th from the left, in case you were having trouble finding me.
And then I went to another office party.
It was insanely expensive, so I was expecting a lot of food, like last time. Sadly, rather than being all-you-can-eat it was all-you-can-drink. Since I don't drink, I just ate everybody else's leftovers. It was a really nice party actually. I received huge compliments, which has really helped my self-esteem. I have been concerned recently that as I have become more comfortable and more outgoing at work I have been causing problems or being bothersome to the other teachers. Those fears were put to rest at the party. Basically, I get the feeling that the very fact that I can communicate and am eager to learn and adapt has really put the other teachers at ease. Allow me to be boring and explain. Japanese people have very little interaction with foreigners. There are very few foreigners in Japan to begin with, and, like every other place in the world, foreigners tend to stick together here. With so little interaction with foreigners, confidence around foreigners is very low. If you want to learn a language you need to speak, and to speak you need confidence. Thus, the greatest service that I can offer my students is to help them get used to foreigners and try to foster confidence around foreigners. I have been trying to do this in several ways. First, I always say "hello" and wave to my students anywhere I encounter them in the school and try to get them to say "hello" back. Second, I have been trying to make myself as visible as possible. When the students are not in the class room, even between classes, I make an effort to wander the hallways making small talk with people. If I am not teaching, I try to find a teacher that I can help so that I can remain visible. Third, I always participate in "cleaning time" with the other teachers don't do because it is the students' job. However, "cleaning time", I feel, is the most important time for me to be with the students because it gives them the experience of actually working with someone from another country. Also I get to show off how good I am at cleaning, and act like a clown on occasion. Much better then sitting in the teacher's room and drinking tea silently at my desk.
Here is the downside. Firstly, my behavior is not what is expected of a Japanese teacher. I don't fit into the office hierarchy, which might stress some of the teachers out. Second, doing things outside of the norm, especially the cleaning, might erode the respect that the students have for other teachers, which I do not want. Thirdly, time spent with students is time not spent with teachers. I worry that the other teachers will feel like I always goofing off with the students rather than working with them. Lastly, occasionally my presence can be disruptive. When I walk by a class room, class stops. These are the things that worried me before Sunday night.
On Sunday night the vice-principal, most senior teacher, school controller and the 2nd grade teachers all told me that I was the best foreigner they had ever met and that they loved what I was doing. The school controller, quite intoxicated, said he was going to get on the phone with the school board and demand that they give me a raise (which would be meaningless even if he was serious, plus, I don't deserve a raise, even though I am REALLY low on cash). The man who is, in my opinion, the greatest teacher in the school, said I was a "good guy" and was going to be a great teacher, even though his is the class that I bombed so badly I spent 10 minutes giving away stickers until the period ended. They even paid for Karaoke for me. By the way, I thought I was pretty good at Karaoke, but these elementary school teachers put me to shame!
Anyway, next day. Monday was the middle school English Speech Contest. I had to judge. It sucks to be a judge for middle schoolers. I mean, there were times where I was judged harshly in Middle School and just gave up. Now I was the one potentially crushing someone's interest in English. That wasn't the only depressing thing about judging, though. Our orders were to "be severe" with our decision. At the end, after the awards ceremony, we were told to give "critical remarks" in front of the whole group of middle schoolers who had participated. The other two judges really got into it, telling the assembled middle schoolers how they should try harder and pointing out the most common problems with the speeches. By the time it was my turn to give "critical remarks", I'd had enough. I stood up, gave everyone in the audience a round of applause, and told them that 1 year earlier I lost a Japanese Speech Contest in San Francisco, and that now I live in Japan. "Basically," I said, "how you did today means nothing, it is where you go from here that counts." Sadly, I delivered my words of encouragement in English, and I got nothing but blank stares from the students.
After the contest, I registered for the Gunma Marathon, and then began my training. I got on a bus to Ikaho, and hiked up the second half of Haruna. I took a tiny little trail behind the Ikaho shrine that it looks like no one has used in ten years, judging by the fallen trees and leaves on the stairs.
But the hike was gorgeous.
From the top I had a very good view od Shibukawa.
And Ikaho. Just as I took this photo, the 5 o'clock chimes went off in every town in the area. Since I was so high, I could hear them all.
There were no people on top of the mountain, even though it was built up. But, I felt like something was watching me the whole time. Not something bad, just something.
It's a shame that this is what has been done to the mountain. An unused ice rink.
Oh well. I will be going back to the top of Haruna. Because of it's high elevation, the trees are already starting to turn red up there. I may be the only person aware of that fact, since no one else seems to bother to visit the mountain. I not thrilled about fall right now. Fall means I need new clothes and a quilt to keep warm. New clothes and quilts cost money, which I don't have much of at the moment. Thank goodness for the 100 Yen stores and their $1 emergency blankets!