A Day in the Life: How are things? Let me tell you!

More to answer my mom's question than anything else, I thought I'd just spend some time letting you know how I'm doing.

First, thanks to all of you who read my blog! While it's the least-trafficked of my three blogs, it is my most personal, despite the lack of posts.

Let's start with my mornings. I sleep on a futon, which isn't too uncomfortable, actually. It's a good bit firmer than I'm used to, but that isn't a problem. However, I think my pillow is too firm for my sleeping habits, and I'll probably go to Ikea and get a softer one. I try to get up around 9 now, though I slept in until 11 this morning (I've been quite tired). I fold up my sheets and pick up my mattress to lean it against the wall. This helps it dry out to avoid mold. I've been doing this since day one, as I had been warned that it can develop mold. (At my recent follow-up training, I heard from one of the other trainees that she had not been doing this and already started developing a mold of some sort! The fix seems to be some kind of bleach spray, followed by vacuuming. I want this spray just for a precaution.)
An old picture, but I still fold my blankets up.
I've got the water temperature set just right, and I really like the unit bath. I don't have a water heater in the traditional sense. Instead, I have something that instantly heats the water to the right temperature as it travels to the bathroom or kitchen. I can set the water temperature to whatever I prefer (41 degrees Celsius for regular use, and I turn it up a bit when doing dishes). I don't run out of hot water and don't have to mix hot and cold to get the right shower temperature! The unit bath is perfect. I don't have to worry about a shower curtain or getting water on the bathroom floor. I have a small mat outside the bathroom instead of having one outside the tub/shower. I just take my normal shower, turn the water from the shower to the sink, and brush my teeth while dripping onto the floor before drying off.

And then I get dressed and head off to work! The train is only about a two minute walk, so I usually grab a light breakfast at the 100 yen shop. I might pick up some lunch, too. Convenience store food is quite convenient! The train ride is short. It's still amusing seeing people rush to the station (though I've done it myself on a couple occasions). Other than the background train noises, it's a quiet, isolated trip. People don't talk to each other on the train. I use the time to read my emails, the news, and everyone's blog posts. I eek out some time for a game or two on occasion. I've been playing Words With Friends; if you'd like to play with me let me know!

I usually catch the 11:41 or 12:41 train, and I'm at work by about 12-til. Yes, it's a five minute train ride. If I have a lesson at the next hour, it's busy-time for me, as I change shoes, put on my pin, nametag, and tie clip, and prep the lesson. Otherwise, I take my time and start prepping for the day.

Teaching English is easy for me. I use it all the time, and teaching comes fairly naturally, of course. Unlike teaching high school in America, 99% of my students are motivated, do their homework, and practice hard in class. Each student and each class has its own dynamics, especially with my childrens' classes. At times, it can be frustrating, but it's certainly more rewarding as I can see all my students' progress each week. The smaller class sizes (maximum 8, though I've never had a class over 7) make it easy to work one-on-one with the students.

I've got my work routine down to a science, too. I can prep a day's worth of lessons (about 7, though it could be much fewer depending on the day) in 30 minutes or less. The rest of my planning time is spent doing attendance or other paperwork, prepping kids materials, or helping out around the office. This usually involves folding fliers to prepare for distribution. Sure, it's simple work, but I'm not sick of it yet. It's kind of nice to have something easy to do to relax my mind between classes - it especially helps me unwind after teaching some difficult kids lessons before heading on to the adult levels.

I love all my students, and as the academic year is drawing to a close, several of my kids won't be returning next year - it's kind of sad. I wish they were staying! But next year, I'll have a new batch of kids students. I could see myself doing this for several years, if it wasn't for the money. My paycheck is enough to enjoy myself on the weekends, but certainly not enough to make a career with.

I usually eat out for lunch. I will usually eat gyudon or some other form of fast food or bento box. I sometimes worry that I'm not making healthy food choices, but then I remind myself that I've lost a good bit of weight, and I'm eating what many healthy, fit Japanese people eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I head home around 9pm most days (7 on Saturdays), though I tend to stay a little late at night to help clean, or to answer questions from my students, put away my materials, and sometimes do a little prep for the next day. While I have been cooking more, recently, I still tend to pick something up on the way home from the convenience store. I'll tell you more about my cooking experiences soon. I spend my evenings catching up on internet stuff and generally relaxing.

My weekends are similar to my weekdays in that I'm usually up around 9am, though I try to get out the door by 10. I came to Japan to explore, and I try to spend one day each weekend visiting sites or exploring a neighborhood in the Tokyo area. I have yet to have a bad weekend day out! My other day off is spent doing laundry. If I don't do laundry on the weekend, I have to do it on Tuesday morning. I also vacuum and change the bed sheets frequently. I have a tiny apartment, and despite taking my shoes off at the door, I still manage to accumulate a good bit of a mess over the course of the week. I like to get out even on the other day off, so I'll just hop on the train to the mall at Shin-Misato or head to another nearby town for some minor exploring and window shopping. I think it's pretty important for me to spend one day a week without any major plans, though, when I can.

While there is a serious language barrier, and it can be frustrating at times, I'm always able to work things out. And while I'd like to hang out more with people around here, I've always been a fairly independent person. On the other hand, I have been able to spend some time with friends. It's great to see Ellie, Eiji, and Tora about once a month, and I've hung out with my training mates too. One of them is in a band and I saw her perform last weekend. I met a bunch of expats there, and one Japanese woman who lives near me (one train station away, actually)!

I'm very happy here! I'm looking forward to Golden Week (April 29-May 7). I'm headed off for a (relatively cheap) road (train and bus) trip down to Hiroshima and Kyushu. It'll be my first overnighter outside Tokyo, and one of the highest-priority trips in Japan. I'll hit two amusement parks, see two baseball games at different parks, and visit four cities. Thanks to cheap lodging and a bus pass, the trip isn't terribly costly. I'm expecting things to be pretty crowded, though. I'm also planning two other exciting trips this month: Fuji-Q (the "most important" amusement park in Japan for a coaster lover) and my first Japanese baseball game. In fact, April will be quite the busy month for me as I prepare for the trip, work one Sunday overtime, and attend another training session towards the end of the month.

So that's a look at my life these days and how I'm feeling. I'm surprised I've settled in so well, but I think I knew what to expect and was well-prepared for the experience. Granted, not everything is sunshine and roses, but usually I just feel crappy after teaching a horrible lesson. I'd like to cook more, as I feel like I'm eating only a few different meals over the course of a week, but I think I'm better at getting fruits - at least through juices, plus bananas a few times a week. Anyway - thoughts? Comments? Questions? Concerns?

Location: Miraikan (The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation)

What a long name for a museum. The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Fit that on a key chain! The museum is really named Miraikan, but the subtitles sure help to understand what it is you can see inside.
 The museum is located in Odaiba, which was reclaimed and redeveloped into a nice business, residential, and entertainment district. Odaiba is home to a few more attractions for tourists, including the Fuji TV Building, some themed shopping areas and the Joypolis amusement arcade (closed until July, argh).

Unlike the rest of Tokyo, Odaiba was redeveloped in the past 20 years or so. This means the streets are wide and designed for faster traffic flow and city blocks are quite large. It feels more like the tourist areas of Orlando, but with fancy large commercial and residential buildings instead of tourist trap attractions.
 There's a nice pool out front. I visited in the late afternoon, as the sun was just starting to creep under the roof.
 The centerpiece of the large atrium area once you actually enter the exhibit area is this globe.
 It's called Tunagari (Geo-Cosmos) and is updated with actual weather. It can also show other graphical distributions around the world and be used to display visual arts.
 In front of/beneath the globe is a large seating area, as you can see above and below. Next to that is a futuristic city (Lifestyle 2050), where visitors can be assigned jobs and housing and see their influence on the community over the next several years.
 Other exhibits on the lower floor focus on what you would expect from a museum with such a long, descriptive name: emerging science and innovative ideas.

There was an area devoted to showing how a computer can track our movements and what we do (spacial information science), but it was presented in a fun, interactive way. Hopefully, information obtained from similar systems set up in train stations and cities can help us learn about traffic patterns and how to improve the flow of people through crowded spaces. However, upon reflection, it does show how easy it is for Big Brother to watch you! The exhibit is called ANAGURA. As you travel from station to station, you learn about what ANAGURA can do, and as you interact with it, your "ME" icon changes. Eventually, you create a song that is played on the large wall of the exhibit.

The lower floor is also home to ASIMO, the humanoid robot, as well as other robots with less exciting functions.
 Upstairs contains more general-science related, permanent exhibits. The photos above and below were taken inside a space shuttle model. Yes, that is a space toilet up there.
 You can see how astronauts sleep, and watch videos on how they eat and perform daily tasks. While most of the footage appears to be from the 1980s NASA shuttle flights, it's still interesting to see. A nearby exhibit teaches you even more about living in space - temperature, exercise, etc.
 Another kind of ship is on display - a deep ocean submarine (I think). You can't go inside, but it certainly looked impressive. This is part of the Extreme Environments exhibit.
There are other exhibits showcasing how the brain and body works, other life science issues, the environment, DNA, and medicine.

I love science museums, and Miraikan has some fascinating exhibits. I wish there was more to do, though, as I felt I was just looking at some new, cool, shiny things rather than really experiencing new technology. That said, the ANAGURA and city exhibits I mentioned above are the exceptions, and at least half my time (probably more like 2/3 of my time) was spent at just those two exhibits.

Kids will enjoy the place if they're in elementary or middle school or have a great love of science and technology. Adults can have fun too and learn a lot about some newer technology. Admission is 600 yen for adults, 200 yen for children under 18. The museum is open from 10AM-5PM, but it's closed on most Tuesdays and at the end of the year. Check the English website.

White Day/Shake, Rattle and Roll

Today is a special day for ladies here in Japan. One month after Valentine's Day, Japan celebrates White Day. No, it isn't a sale on bed sheets at Macy's. White Day is when men give women gifts in return for gifts received on Valentine's Day. Many students bring gifts for one or both of the days for us teachers (shared with everyone of course) and I brought a box of chocolates. I probably didn't bring enough, but I can't afford much else now. I think I'll add to the pile once I get paid next month. Maybe I will pick up some of those cream puffs everybody loves!

Meanwhile, right around 9pm, we had a pretty big earthquake/aftershock. The nearby quake was reported as 5.7 by the USGS, though the local news called it a 6.1. It was the biggest earthquake to come from Chiba since the March 11 quake. There were also a couple stronger quakes up to the north. I was surprised that nothing fell off the shelves in my apartment, as I had given no concern to earthquakes when I placed stuff. I guess it just comes naturally? Anyway, everyone's fine although the news said there was some minor(?) damage in the Chiba area.

Hey, there's stand up comedy on TV. In Japanese. I didn't know Japan had stand up comedy. If only it was in English!

Oishii-so: Japanese Curry

I have an addiction. No, it's not to sex, or drugs, or collecting baseball cards (despite what you may think). My addiction is with a plate of rice covered in sauce.

I'm addicted to curry.

How, pray tell, did I come to love this stuff so much? It's easy to do once I found out how delicious and spicy it can be.

Japanese curry has a flavor that's noticeable but not overwhelming. Most of the curry I've had is pork based so it has a recognizable, pleasant taste. It's more of a sauce than soup, and goes well over a plate of rice.

In fact, that part may be the defining reason. Again, I can get it pretty spicy, and it is sometimes served with a patty or cutlet (of chicken, my favorite). It reminds me of the Kung pao chicken I had for lunch in SF at least weekly, and I eat it much the same way.

Even a smaller serving size can be filling, as I will order the smaller plate here and still leave the restaurant feeling like I had a hearty meal.

So as I entered CoCo Curry House for lunch today, I realized it would be about the fourth time this week that I would be eating curry. It's just that good! I know I need to branch out and vary my diet. But I think it's better than choosing a burger or other fast food from McDonalds or Lotteria or eating packaged food for lunch. Maybe next week I'll have a few more different choices in my diet. Or not!

A picture of today's lunch is below. Instead of chicken I think I ordered pork or fish. But it was still good! Now I just need to try the cheese curry...

Location: Sunshine City and Namco Namja Town

It's been a while since my last post, but I've been busy! I'm pretty tired today, as Monday night (Tuesday morning, 4:30 AM to be exact) my neighbors decided to have a bit of a loud conversation. It was two guys and two girls, and I'm sure alcohol was involved at some point that night. Eventually things settled down and I went back to sleep, but I didn't sleep too well last night either. I'm headed to bed soon, but first I want to get a post up on the blog!

My work days are kind of intense. I still haven't quite adjusted back into working mode, so I have only a little time in the morning to handle minor business (cleaning, laundry, etc), and my nights are mostly spent relaxing. But come the weekend, I hit the town! I ended up in Ikebukuro a few weeks ago and decided to swing by the Sunshine City tower and mall.
 As you can see, it's quite a tall building. There's an observation deck, museum, aquarium, planetarium, hotel, convention center, theater, and today's destination, Namja Town.
The entrance sits on the second floor of the mall. Admission isn't too expensive (300 yen), and includes access to the entire theme park area and most of the "attractions" found inside.
 The theming is done very well. Most "displays" have buttons or doors to open and interact with. There are a few games which interact with gadgets you can "rent" - like ghost-hunting wands in the haunted house, and idol gadget devices you can put inside the exhibits to play even more.
 While I have no photos (it's very dark), be sure to walk through the haunted house area. In fact, I recommend spending a lot of time searching through every inch of the amusement areas, with doors to open, buttons to push, and knobs to turn. Put your hands in holes, and try to open every door. There are secrets to be found!

 There are two "restaurant" areas in the theme park. One is "Gyoza (pot sticker) Stadium", which as the name implies, is a large area filled with many small gyoza restaurants. It's not a stadium, in the traditional sense, but an area themed to look like small back streets of a Tokyo neighborhood, as seen above.
 Some parts of the stadium are additional little "stores" which are just additional areas to explore or serve as a place for diners to sit and eat. Again, on the back streets, be sure to open doors and look for buttons to push.
 The majority of the complex is on two levels; the gyoza stadium and haunted house on one level, and Ice Cream City and Dessert Republic on the second. The stairs lead between the levels, or take the escalators like everybody else.
The "Dessert Republic" area has even more interesting interactive elements, and even rooms that look like small chapels.

There are "pay" attractions, a few of which are good for those who don't speak Japanese. These include the merry-go-round on the upper floor, a laser shooting game, a haunted inn attraction, and a laser shooting ride. The "ghost hunting" wand game is in Japanese, and it looks like fun (if you can understand the language), but I wasn't able to give it a chance. The same goes for the interactive idols - it might be fun if you have someone to help translate for you.

I recommend Namja Town for foreign tourists while exploring Sunshine City as a place to try some gyoza and let your kids have a bit of fun. Buy the 300 yen admission pass and consider your next couple hours to be filled (if you're young at heart or have children). Note that the gyoza and desserts cost a good bit extra (400-500 yen per plate of gyoza and 400-600 yen per ice cream/dessert item - more than you'd pay at most restaurants). But, a group can split up and buy all nine different types of gyoza (to the tune of about 4000 yen) and receive a certificate.

Don't forget to put your hand in the holes in the haunted house, and be sure to find the toilet sound booth attraction!

English information on Namja Town can be found here (PDF link). It's easy to find Sunshine City from the east exit of Ikebukuro Station, but you should check a map to see the exact directions. Namja Town is in the "World Import Mart" building. Enter via 1F, and you might want to see this site for directions (though some parts of Namja Town have changed, including the prices).

Ooshii-so: Seafood Flavored Chip Things

Just as the title says, tonight we're looking at a bag of chips. They appear to be made the same way Funyuns are made (mmmm funyuns). However, as you see by the pictures, they're spiraled arcs instead of onion-ring shaped.

They really have the same underlying texture as Funyuns. There is a mild flavor but it's more of a non-hot spice than outright shrimp/prawn/etc. I'm pleasantly surprised and I'll probably pick these up occasionally when I feel like having a snack. There are other flavors so I'll try those in due time.

As you can see, they're made by Calbee, which is the major chip company in Japan. So you can expect to see that name again soon!

Verdict: oshii! A mild pleasant flavor I can enjoy but not get tired of halfway through a bag. The strong-flavored Doritos, for example, have so much cheese/ranch/etc flavor (and strong aftertaste) that I wouldn't want to eat many chips.

What a day.

I was observed today - The first time since I started really teaching. It wasn't a formal observation but it still ended up being fairly nerve racking.

First, in my kids class, most things want pretty well. I have a few areas to work on, but the lesson went fairly smoothly and the kids were pretty conducive to learning the lesson (as with all my grade school classes, the students are pretty good).

I taught a low-level grammar class next, and I know I messed some stuff up big-time. Mostly due to nervousness, I think, I put in the wrong cd (a first time for me) and I did part of the lesson wrong. And I know I messed some stuff up like not using student names and probably giving proper praise.

The last observed class was a low level discussion type of class, and again I did a few minor things wrong and I know I didn't use names at all during the lesson (I botched that up at the beginning and just basically said "screw it" from then on). But then I nearly ended the lesson very early - I recovered well enough and finished with a decent ending lesson.

I know I teach better than I did today, and I know from the feedback I've received that they know anything I did seriously wrong today was probably a fluke. I know there are areas to improve and I look forward to some of the feedback I'll get tomorrow but I don't know why I can't perform well when I am being observed. I'll tell you more tomorrow after the meeting (it's a long one, scheduled for just about 2 hours). I had a drink and talked a good bit with one of the other teachers to relax so I should get a good night's rest and I know there isn't too much to really stress about anyway.

Meanwhile, while writing this post I missed my train station. I hope there is another train going back!

Update: I had to take a taxi back to get to my station. Ugh. However the meeting this morning went pretty well. There are some small areas to work on and some aspects to change but it wasn't too brutal. I'm pretty tired today, though!