Mar 30, 2013


Last weekend, Roomie and I took S out for her birthday for her (and my!) first onsen experience!  Coworker C had suggested 東京大江戸温泉物語 (Tokyo Ooedo Onsen Monogatari), as he had taken his family there just a few weeks ago.  
I had always avoided going to onsen (Japanese hot springs) for a couple reasons; One- I just never had a big desire to get naked in front of a bunch of other people.  Yes, I took baths and went skinny-dipping with my friends as a kid, but that was many many years ago.  I just felt like I would be too self-conscious here, being a whitey and all.. I guess I felt like people would be staring at me too much.
Second reason- my tattoo.  A lot of places don't allow people with tattoos, this place included.  On their website and at the entrance of the onsen as well it states "persons with tattoos are asked to refrain from using the facilities".
Neither issues turned out to be a problem, though!

We took the free shuttle to the onsen from Tokyo Station. (The free shuttle also runs from Shinagawa Station, and while the English site mentions the shuttle bus stops, I was only able to find the time tables on the Japanese website, go figure: here)
After we arrived, we each got a wrist band that had a number, a key, and a barcode attached to it.  The number was our locker number, and the key for the locker as well.  The barcode was used throughout the facilities to "pay" for things, so you don't really have to carry around a bag/wallet.  When you go to purchase food or whatever, they scan the barcode, and then before you leave they add up your total and you pay at the end.
We also got to choose what yukata we wanted, then went on into the locker room to change.  I had S and Roomie help me put my icy-hot patch things on my back to cover my tattoo (while standing in a secluded corner!) when we changed into our yukata.
In addition to the hot spring baths, there are lots of little food shops and gift stores, a little stage for performances they have going on throughout the day, massage rooms, a "relaxation room" with reclining chairs and personal TVs attached to each one, and a foot-bath area where you could soak your feet, walk around the pools over various little rock beds for a (rather painful!) foot massage, or even pay for some "fish therapy", where you stick your feet into a pool of little fish that eat the dead skin and stuff off your feet!

We got some lunch first, then finally braved the bath.  S and I were pretty self-conscious at first, but after a while in the baths and seeing all the other naked people walking around (who were not staring or making a big deal of the foreigners, yay!) we were fine.
Oh, and the patches covering my tattoo ended up being a little see-through when they got wet, so I just kept my little towel draped over my back while in the bath, and it was fine.  No one said anything or tried to kick me out.
There were baths with different temperatures- the main ones being about 41°C- and even some outdoor baths which we tried too, and the steam room, but we stayed most of the time in the 38° bath because the others got too hot after a while.
After our bath we relaxed in a massage chair.  I wanted a real massage- just a short shoulder/back massage- but all the options were too expensive, so massage chair it was!  Then we got some desserts, tried the foot bath area, then decided it was time to go.  We were there for a little over 5 hours- it was nice and relaxing and we felt pretty pampered and refreshed afterward.  Definitely worth a visit!

Our tradition- take a picture at any face-hole picture thing we come across!

Inside the main area- everyone in their yukata

Blurry food pic, sorry!  Tempura rice bowl, miso soup, and Japanese pickles

Dining area

Matcha ice cream with anko and shiratama (green tea ice cream with sweet beans and sticky rice dumplings)

The guy that took this picture for us kept telling us we were "kawaii!" (cute)

The sakura were blooming outside in the foot-bath area

Mar 28, 2013

Rambunctious Reunions (finally!) and Irish Pride

This should (hopefully!) be the last post about my Last Day.  

After we left the school, Coworkers C, L, M and I had to go to the office to drop off our uniforms.  Once we finished with that, I got out my phone and played what I felt was an appropriate video for the occation:

Coworker A, who left back in December, met us in front of the office building and joined us for our celebratory lunch at a nearby ramen shop.  Coworker C, M and I had eaten there the week before, because they were advertising their "veggie only" ramen and gyoza (pot-stickers?).  I was sure the broth would still be meat-based, but it turns out it was completely vegetarian!  Extremely rare, but it made me extremely happy.

Soooo good!  The noodles were even made with spirulina.
Coworker L had to leave to go teacher her last afternoon class, but Coworker K (who left with Coworker B back in September) had joined up with us so we then headed to Baskin Robbins for ice cream, then to an izakaya that touted an 800-yen, all-you-can-drink-for-two-hours deal.  Coworker L rejoined us later with the addition of Coworker Sumi.  Then we headed to Ikebukuro, where we met Coworker B and Coworker S (who left in November) at another izakaya.  I think just before midnight we decided to call it a night and all caught our trains home.

So now, on to St. Patrick's Day!  Which actually happened before all of this did, but oh well.  I hadn't done St. Patty's properly for years, but I finally made some plans for this year and stuck to them!  Invited S, and since her good friend G (he hung out with us occasionally back in our UW days) happened to be in the country on business for the week he got invited too.
Headed up to the little food-import store at the station and snagged the last bottle of Baileys.  Wanted to get a bottle of dry cider for the baked salmon recipe, but cider in Japan is something completely different, so when I asked a worker if they had any, something got lost in translation and I was shown to the club soda.  Just said eh to that and grabbed a can of Guinness instead.
Then, I cooked up a feast.

Had the Baileys over ice cream for dessert

The spread:  baked salmon, cabbage (just steamed until tender, then drizzled with melted butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper), champ, and soda bread


Mar 23, 2013

Tearful Goodbyes, Rambunctious Reunions, And Great Balls of Fire! (Pt. 2)

Continuing on from last time...
(And I think the 'rambunctious reunions' bit will have to wait until Part 3.. this one got a bit long too!)

After we got the explosion incident under control, Coworker L and I worked to get all the kids ready to go, which is a chore under normal circumstances.  However, since it was the last day we had to also make sure all of the kids had their drawers and cubbies completely emptied and bagged up to be taken home.  But we got them all packed up with jackets on and in their seats with a few minutes to spare, because we're pro like that.

I knelt down at the head of the table to say a few last words to them.  Told them how glad I was to meet them and to be their teacher and watch them grow over the past (almost) year.  Told them I was proud of them- "When you started last year you didn't know any English, right?  But now you know a lot!  You guys have learned so much and done so well this year."  I know my words were lost on the younger ones who started mid-year, and on Yuri-chan (the little imp) who was rambling on or goofing off like always.  But my two sweet boys Ei-kun and Haru-kun were listening intently and nodding.
Coworker L said her last few words, then I said to them, "I want a hug from all of you before you leave, okay?" 
I didn't get a chance to see if any of the kids noticed because I had to turn to Yuri-chan who was talking really loud to CL and I about something completely irrelevant, but the next thing I knew Haru-kun had run up behind me and threw his arms around me a in a big hug.  
And the tears I was doing so well at keeping in broke free.  
I turned and hugged him back, that wonderful little kid.  Ei-kun was behind him, looking a little worried at the sudden waterworks, but I pulled him in for a hug too.  There were many more hugs that went around, and then it was time to go.
Most of their parents came and left as they always had- Ai-chan, R-chan, To-kun.. 
Ei-kun's mum had invited all the teachers over for lunch this coming Wednesday, so it was not so hard to see him go.  His family is very friendly so I know they'll keep in touch.  I wrote letters to all of the others with my email address and a note saying that Japanese was okay too, since I believe most of them know very little (or are at least very uncomfortable with) English.  But I'll be surprised if I hear from any of them again..
Kei-kun's mum gave us all a little note and a bag of sweets.
Kao-chan, Yuri-chan, and Haru-kun had to stay until later when their parents could pick them up.  Haru-kun followed me around a bit while I got ready to go.  Usually I'd tell him off and make him go back to the "Stay Room" to play, though I didn't have the heart to then.  Instead I led him back to the classroom to give him the book I had bought over Christmas break in the US- Going On A Bear Hunt.  All the kids loved that one and would listen intently when I read it, or would even read along with me once they got the words down, and would ask for it to be read again as soon as it was finished.
But it was Haru-kun who would request it every day.  "Read Mei's book, please!"  (The kids don't really call me Mei, just FYI)
"Your birthday is soon, right?  So this is a birthday present for you," I told him, and slipped it into his bag.  He took his bag back to the Stay Room.
He caught up with me again as I was clocking out for the last time.
"I'll miss you!" he said.
"I'll miss you too!" I said back and knelt down to give him another hug.  "You're going to make me cry again!"
"For Mei's birthday, I want to give you a birthday present."
My heart broke a little more.

I realized I had forgotten to get a picture of the whole class and was kicking myself for it then.  But Coworker L and I decided to get the Stay kids together for a picture instead- most of them from the older classes.  Yuri and Kao-chan were off playing and couldn't be bothered.
We said our final goodbyes, and then...
we were...

The freedom I had been looking forward to for months.  I knew it would be bittersweet, but I don't think I was expecting the bitter to be so overpowering.
All I can do is hope that these kids go on and do well in school and have happy successful lives, and that they'll remember me from time to time.
Throughout it all, I tried so hard to make an impression on these kids and have a positive effect on their lives.  I just didn't realize, though, that it would be the other way around.

A picture of me, by Ei-kun

Thank you card from Haru-kun

Some of the most amazing kiddos

Mar 20, 2013

Tearful Goodbyes, Rambunctious Reunions, And Great Balls of Fire!

Yesterday was the final day of my first year as an "official" teacher.  Thanks to a terrible company and a business owner who could care less about kids and teaching as long as money was being made, it was a rough, frustrating, irritating, emotional, and stressful experience.  But at the same time very strengthening; I was able to see that I actually can be a pretty decent teacher.  (At least for little kids...)  And if it weren't for this job I wouldn't have made such great friends with my amazing coworkers, or gotten to form such great relationships with my wonderful little students.

Not much teaching went on yesterday, though I did finally get to do one of the activities (of many) that I had been wanting to do with my class since we came back after winter break, but couldn't since they decided to make me fill in for the teacher-less Tiny Class half of the time.
I had some food coloring left over from Easter eggs last year- red, yellow, and blue- and I also collected some small plastic water bottles to use for the project.  Each kid got to pick two colors, and after putting sparkly sequins and confetti things into the bottles and filling them up with water I sprinkled the two colors each kid had chosen into their water bottle, then let them shake it up to see what color it turned.
One of my two favorite kids, Haru-kun, absolutely loved this project.  He's such a bright kid and loves learning, and the look on his face when he shook up his bottle and saw that the blue and yellow he had chosen turned his water green was priceless!  He was so excited, wanting to see what everyone else had chosen too and kept hovering over their shoulders and mine, and I had to keep telling him to go sit back down and wait for them to finish, haha.  I was really glad the kids enjoyed it so much.

Then, maybe a half-hour before it was time to go, Coworker L (we've been teaching the youngest class together on and off throughout the year) went to unplug the CD player.. I was facing the opposite direction helping a kid with something when I saw a bright flash, and heard a sound like fireworks crackling and popping.  I paused for a second, thinking maybe a lightbulb had died or something, but then quickly turned around to see Coworker L standing there with a look of shock on her face and her hand singed black.  I realized a bit what had happened and was afraid she had been electrocuted, but she said, "No, no I'm fine.  It was just really hot!  I went to unplug this and it just... exploded and there was this big ball of.. fire or something, I don't know!"
The actual plug part was still in the outlet, but the cord had blown off of the plug.  I stood in front of the outlet trying to keep the kids away from it, and called for another teacher to come help while Coworker L went to wash off her hand.
We were laughing about it a bit, in a kind of "hey, there is only 30 minutes left of this school year, let's get through it without anyone blowing up or catching on fire!" sort of way.  The scary part was, maybe 10 minutes before that had happened, the kids had been playing on the floor right in front of said socket, and the day before Haru-kun and been messing around with the CD player- putting CDs in and out, and unplugging it himself, despite me telling him over and over that it was "only for teachers".  A stroke of luck I guess that it didn't explode on one of the kids!  God, there are so many hazards at that place...

I've still quite a bit to write about yesterday, so I'll end it here and try to get a Part Two up tomorrow.  Now I'm finally back to teaching full time at the daycare, and since I work the morning shift tomorrow I'll actually have an evening free.  What an amazing thing!

(Also forgot to mention that on Tuesday of last week, R-kun came back for a visit!  Last time he visited was back in October.  He's now 3-years-old, and has changed so much!  His hair was quite short- an actual boy's cut.  He had really mellowed out too, and while he didn't play much with the other kids (he spent most of the time playing with me, which made me really happy! ^^) he was very nice with offering toys to the other kids, or when one of the other kids would come and snatch a toy off him he would just kind of shrug it off and play with something else, when before he would've started crying and making a scene!  He has a baby sister now too, only 2 months old.  Seems he's shaping out to be a good big brother.  :) )

Mar 15, 2013

Nice Day for a White Wedding

Last weekend was Coworker C's wedding, as I had mentioned before.  They had the ceremony at a resort in Kawaguchiko, a place that's about an hour and a half bus ride outside of Tokyo, right near the base of Mount Fuji.
Last Saturday the weather was brilliantly warm- so warm in fact that I went out in short sleeves without a jacket!  Caught a train to Shinjuku around 1pm, then from Shinjuku Station I took the highway bus to Kawaguchiko.  Was picked up at the station by the hotel's shuttle service.  The driver was very nice, at first talking to me in English until I let slip a word in Japanese.  He asked, "Oh, you speak Japanese?" and looked very relieved when I confirmed, so he switched to Japanese after that, haha.

View of Fuji from my hotel room

Got to the hotel and checked in and was greeted by the bride's mother.  She's a very sweet lady, and was very happy that I could come.  Apart from Coworker C's family who was able to fly in from Columbia (only his mother, little brother, and a good friend), I was the only other person there from his side.
There was time to change and freshen up in my room (got a room all to myself, woohoo!) before the ceremony and everything began. 

It was amazing.  A lot of people wore silly costumes and I regretted not bringing mine!  There was a box of silly costume accessories there to choose from so I did end up putting on some bunny ears.  Everyone headed outside after the "Welcome Party", where everyone just had some refreshments and chatted for a bit.  We all lined up along the sides of the red carpet that was rolled out and lined with little tea candles.  Each guest also held a candle, and the first person on each side had their candle lit by the bride's father, and then each person passed the flame along to the next person, all down each row, and the bride and her father proceeded down the aisle as each candle was lit.

Words were said, they said their vows and exchanged their rings, and then there was a surprise fireworks display over the lake.  Not even Coworker C or his wife knew about it!  A very exciting touch.
It was pretty chilly around that time so we were all glad to head back inside for the reception and food.  I ended up seated across from a couple university guys who were studying English, so we chatted quite a bit throughout the dinner.  There were quite a few speeches, musical performances, slideshows, and dancing throughout dinner too.  Partway through, Coworker C and his wife left to go change from their Western wedding clothes (tux/wedding gown) into some traditional Japanese clothes.

They are so cute together!

Then there was the after-party, and they changed again into some traditional(?) Columbian clothes. There was more eating and drinking and singing and dancing.  And of course in true Japanese style there was a karaoke machine, so me, Coworker C, and a couple of the bride's English friends got up and did the YMCA.  Later CC and I also got up and did Backstreet Boys' "Larger Than Life", including the dance that the older boys at the preschool did for the Christmas performance (don't ask me why we did BSB at a Christmas performance..).  Lots of people loved it and asked us if we had practiced the dance specifically for the wedding, lol.

The after-party went on until midnight or 1am, I don't remember, and I headed back to my room and crashed.  Got up at 7am to shower and get dressed in time to make it to the breakfast buffet.  Had some time afterwards to relax a bit in my room before the shuttle bus was scheduled to take us to the station.  Got back to Tokyo just in time to be greeted by the huge dust storm that blew in that day.  Had to battle my way home against the wind, and by the time I got back a bunch of dust had collected in my tear ducts.  Gross!

A very fun weekend though, and I was very happy CC had invited me.  Will be sad once work ends and we won't get to "hang out" every day anymore.

Oh, yesterday was the kids' graduation ceremony.  A couple weeks ago I had a dream about the graduation and it was terrible, but in reality it actually went fairly well!  Though Cruella (as I've come to call the evil boss lady who is the reason everything at that company is shit) was not happy and was running around yelling at everybody, as she does..

Sorry for this novel.  I've decided I'm incapable of summarizing anything!

Mar 6, 2013

The Home Stretch

The end is in sight!  Nine mind-numbing and painful months.  My "due date" is now less than two weeks away.. And if we're talking only working days, there are only nine of those left!

Last day:  March 19th.

Then I can go back to having a semi-normal life.  One job.  A little more time in the mornings/evenings to do something other than come home, eat, check Facebook, sleep.
No more dealing with all the BS of that company.  Good God I could write a book about it all!

It will certainly be bittersweet though.  I will miss my students dearly, though some of them are going to other schools so I wouldn't get to see them anyway even if I did stick around.
And my coworkers.  They have certainly helped to ease the pain, and have helped pull me through this metaphorical desert I have been dragging myself through.  Coworker C and Coworker M, especially.  My legs gave out (again, metaphorically) a while back and I would've just given up without their support.  Wonderful, wonderful people.  As Coworker M said today, "This company has hired so many good people that they just don't know what to do with."  They are indeed going to be losing a great group of teachers. 

I uploaded my chocolate-making video like I said I would a couple posts back.  It's in the sidebar to the right (which you can see if you're reading this from my blog's website).  

I also mentioned in that same post that I would have my first driving-experience in Japan.  It was nothing terribly exciting.  I was freaked out at first when we were shown the car I would be driving at the rental place- a rather large moving-van-sized truck.
I did pretty good though.  No driving down the wrong side of the road.  No accidents or pedestrian casualties, though there were a couple times we almost lost the side mirror.  Thing stuck out way too far, and with the very narrow roads here, well...  I did turn on the windshield wipers a couple times too when trying to turn on the blinker.
The only terrible thing was that what should've only taken two hours or so each way took nearly four hours each way, thanks to the new Apple Maps application or whatever.  Never, ever use it.  You may as well just try to find your way without any directions at all, for all the help it is.  In the end, tired and frustrated with a throbbing headache, S's phone finally gave out and my phone's handy-dandy navi saved the day.  Got us right back on track and we were kicking ourselves for not just using it in the first place.
Got some video footage of that venture so I will have to compile and post that soon too.

This weekend's plan- attend Coworker C's wedding!  Looking forward to it.  :)

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