Monday, October 29, 2007

Going home for Christmas!

And Yasu is coming with me! I booked my flight a while ago and tonight we booked Yasu's too! We booked the exact same flights and now we need to get the airline to seat us together. We booked flights with KLM! This will be the first time I fly on the Dutch airline. It's a direct flight from Osaka to Amsterdam, and on the way back KLM has put us on Air France (their partner) flights with a short stopover in Paris. Unfortunately the direct flight was booked full already, but now that I'm flying with Yasu I don't mind anymore!

We will be arriving at Schiphol on December 23rd, and we'll be leaving there on January 3rd. This is the first time Yasu is going to celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve with us in the Netherlands so I am very excited to show him all our Dutch traditions for the holidays!

Friday, October 26, 2007

It's over for Nova

After not having paid their Japanese staff since July and a continual delayment and postponement of payment to the foreign teachers, Nova has finally filed for bankruptcy today. I have been following the financial crisis at Nova online for a long time... Even though the company couldn't pay their current staff, they were still recruiting new teachers totally oblivious to Nova's troubles. Even this week some new teachers arrived in Japan, just to return home because there is nothing waiting for them here.

For weeks, I've been keeping an eye on the Nova school in our street, which is right next to the konbini where I get my iced coffee everyday. And it always surprised me when I found the school in business, but today they've finally closed their doors and put a bankruptcy notice up. It was about time, they couldn't keep making empty promises to their staff, I'm amazed they managed it for this long.
For people (mostly Dutchies) who have no idea what Nova is:
Nova was another language school in Japan, with a marketshare of about 50-60%. It was the biggest and most (in)famous English conversation school (eikaiwa), and now that it has gone bankrupt about 5000 native teachers are looking for a new job or a way home.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Halloween costume week

It's costume week here at AEON because Halloween is just around the corner. The manager got a big bag of hats, wigs and things like that from storage and all the teachers are supposed to don some kind of costume for their kids classes. I didn't teach any kids today so I was safe (today at least), but Kristin taught her kids (and I think even some adults) looking like this:

Yeah, it was quite hilarious! Tomorrow I'll have to try something on too, I'm not planning on looking that outrageous though...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Changing colors

Officially it's autumn in Japan, it has been for a while, but it is still quite hot during the day. At night it's nice and cool though, sometimes even cold. I love it! The leaves haven't really been changing color yet and it's sometimes so hot that it can be hard to believe that it is really autumn. So the city of Inuyama has put up these beautiful fake colored leaves all over the city to remind us that autumn is really here, even though the real trees still have green leaves.

My hair has also changed color, again (see picture in my last blog). My roots were showing too well and I was never really comfortable as a semi-blonde, I just really wanted to be a brunette again. So last weekend, I dyed my own hair for the very first time in my life. Of course, I used a Japanese product and my Japanese boyfriend to translate every single word of the instructions. I was a bit nervous that my hair would turn out to be purple or green, but it ended up a slightly weird color of brown. Interestingly, almost nobody has noticed this sudden change of hair color though. There were only two students (female, obviously) who noted the difference and of course my mother. I guess returning to your (somewhat) natural look isn't quite as radical and people adjust to the change without even registering the transformation. Well, I'm happy I look a lot more natural again, and I don't resemble a big tangerine anymore!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Exploring Inuyama

This morning Yasu and I were wondering what to do, we didn’t really feel like going to Nagoya but we didn’t want to waste the day staying in my shoebox apartment either. We decided to go for a walk through glorious Inuyama. I have lived here for almost 5 months now, and I have seen little more than the route from AEON to my apartment. To be honest I wasn’t really expecting an exciting walk, but it couldn’t hurt to explore a little.

We started in Castle Town and I already felt like we were really in some pretty town a long train ride away from Inuyama. But we were still here, in a neighborhood literally around the corner from AEON. The small streets felt a little like walking through Kyoto, complete with small souvenir shops and beautiful old style Japanese buildings.

On our walk to Inuyama castle we walked past a radio station, which was broadcasting with the doors wide open. Like good tourists (in my own hometown) we waved to the DJ’s and they didn’t only wave back but started telling their listeners about the international visitor walking past and how they were afraid I might strike up a conversation in English (according to my personal translator).

Inuyama castle is the oldest standing castle in Japan (built in 1537 if I recall correctly) and it is cute little castle. You have to take off your shoes before you climb the steep and slippery stairs to the top, which was quite the adventure on its own.

The view from the top is spectacular, but standing on that narrow ledge with the strong wind trying to blow us off the castle was kind of nerve-racking. Yet, I found myself very excited when I could spot the video store down the street from my apartment, all the way across town.

After safely finding our way down again, we headed for the Kiso river, which was a lovely walk (who knows maybe someday I’ll end up one of those people who actually enjoys going for long walks…) and observed a stunning sunset from the riverbanks.

My feet still hurt from the long walk but it was great to finally find out there is more to Inuyama than AEON and my shoebox.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Long time, no blog...

A while ago the manager of our school emailed me in the morning to tell me that they were going to take pictures and that I should get ready. I thought to myself ‘what else is new’, as they are always taking pictures of the teachers in our school, to use on the website or on promotional posters in the school. It was kind of odd that Mayuka sent me an email about it though, but I forgot about it and just went to work. Then at the end of one of my kids classes, Mayuka comes storming in tells me to make sure I look pretty and then enter one of the classrooms in the back. ‘Allright’, I thought slightly confused and walked to the back classroom, totally expecting Moe (assistant manager) to be there with her digital camera… Instead, I found one of my adult students, a professional photographer and his lighting assistant armed with heavy and expensive looking equipment ready to shoot away! In shock I realize I haven’t tried to make myself look pretty (not that I could, but I could’ve at least tried) and the air conditioning isn’t turned on in this room so I start sweating immediately (due to the heat and nerves). Two photo shoots (in between classes) later, the photo professionals were happy and two months later I found this magazine on my desk:

I thought this was some local Inuyama magazine promoting all the schools and businesses of the area, and that foreign teachers in AEON schools everywhere had joined in the professional photo shooting fun. But after I proudly showed the magazine to Yasu (even though I don’t like my pictures, it is fun to see myself in such a glossy Japanese magazine), he informed me that this wasn’t exactly a local magazine. This magazine is distributed all over Central Japan! Why they chose Inuyama school for the add, I have no clue. The add would have probably looked better with a beautiful all-American blonde girl, but I’m glad they didn’t because now I have something cool to send home. Which I still haven’t done, because I still haven’t figured out the Japanese mail. Maybe, I'll just bring it with me on the plane when I go home for Christmas...

We recently had a counseling week, which meant about half of the regular lessons were canceled, still I ended up being ridiculously busy that week with special ‘Play with Louana’ (sounds a bit creepy) kids lessons and kids demonstration lessons. But I had one slow day that week so I decided to redecorate my classroom. I really didn’t like the old posters and maps on the walls (see below), and they had been there for years so it was time for a change.

I now have a Dutch wall with black and white pictures of Amsterdam, Dutch flags and of course a map of the Netherlands and a world map with Dutchie-land clearly marked on it. It kind of looks like a robot with no legs, but I’m planning on adding more Dutchie pictures on that wall once I get my hands on it.

My favorite country in the world also needed to be represented so I also have an American nook. It shows an old map of the States, a map of the NYC subway network and instructions on how to greet people in America. I have some cool maps of the States I would like to add, unfortunately they are in a box somewhere in my parents’ house. Maybe after my next visit home they will end up on this wall too.

Then my room also needs the obligatory kids posters: days of the week, months of the year, weather and the alphabet. Making new ones by hand was going to take way too long, so I went online and printed some more colorful and prettier versions of the posters than the nasty old ones that used to be up in my room. Except for the alphabet, I had some inspiration and decided to make my own caterpillar alphabet. It took me about 4 hours and a lot of stress to make and it still wasn’t completely finished (letters A till J have no decorations yet), but I loved it and I was happy to finally nail it to the wall.

Unfortunately, kids can be wild and after just one kids lesson the next week, some legs were missing already. So we decided to laminate the caterpillar, with the school’s laminator. I carefully took all the nails out of the wall and divided the caterpillar up into A4 sized parts (because the only size the laminator can handle), and put it in laminating plastic. Mayuka was going to demonstrate how to use the machine, because she is the only one in the school who knew how it worked. First in was the caterpillar’s head, it was put into the slit cautiously and we patiently looked at the narrow opening at the other end of the machine to see a laminated orange head come out. But nothing came out, but the head did keep going in… Meanwhile the machine was stinking up my classroom with a disgusting smell of molten plastic. Well, to make a long story short: the head never came out again! Even the manager’s attempts to open it with a (too short) screwdriver, a pair of scissors and a knife (see the picture) didn’t help. Later, she borrowed a longer screwdriver from the neighbor and successfully opened up the laminator, but still wasn’t able to pull out the any part of the head. She closed the machine up again (an ended up with several extra screws, which weren’t there before), put it in the box and sent it back to the factory… In two weeks, the machine will be healed or replaced, but there is no hope for my caterpillar-head. So some day when I have time, I will have to craft a new head for the alphabet, but until then that part of the wall stays empty.

Last Sunday, I had to work. A while ago the rest of the school decided that I was going to host a karaoke party at the school on that Sunday. I was not part of the decision making process and was only informed of this fact after I returned from a study meeting at Honbu, and I saw a huge poster in the lobby promoting this event. True, I really enjoy singing karaoke in a karaoke box or room, while enjoying some chu-hai and being amongst friends who are also enjoying a nice amount of alcohol… But singing in my classroom, in front of my students? I would lose any respect they had for me, and perhaps be scared out of ever teaching again. Not quite so secretly, I was hoping that no one would sign up for these crazy sessions of me trying to hold a tune, while the school had a no-holds-barred approach to promoting the event with flyers and even more posters in the end (see picture). I kind of started planning some kind of a ‘Bon Jovi - It’s My Life’ lesson, but I hoped I would never have to execute the plan. Well, Sunday came and went and nobody signed up, pfew!

Recently, I joined a gym in Komaki. It's a 15 minute train ride away from Inuyama and the train costs me about 700 yen every time I go there. The gym doesn’t come near the luxurious gym I used to go to at home, but it’s a huge improvement from the one in Inuyama. And they actually have the same brand of equipment as they had in Veldhoven, so it feels slightly familiar. I have an evening subscription, so I can go after work from Monday till Thursday, only bad thing about it is that they kick you out of the exercising rooms at 22:30 instead of 23:00 (which is when it closes). They told me I should use that time to take a shower and get dressed, but I prefer taking a shower at home and working out some more (as the earliest I can jump on a cross trainer is 21:40), but that didn’t matter to the inflexible Japanese. And of course they informed me of this policy after the contract was signed and safely stowed away, kind of like an afterthought.

So far, I haven’t been able to go there nearly as often as I had hoped to, mostly because of extra work after my last lesson ends at 21:00 and once I miss the 21:17 train, it is pointless to even try and go there. But yesterday was my day off, so I hopped on a train to Komaki and went to the gym. During my weight training an aerobics lesson started and I observed a big group of people (men and women, old and young) chaotically jumping, dancing, and stepping around in a small studio to some loud music. It in no way reminded me of the nicely synchronized routines we used to perform in aerobics and steps classes in Veldhoven, but it did look like fun. And a whole lesson in Japanese will be impossible to follow for me anyway, at least this way I won’t be the only one looking like a fool in this class. So next week, I’m going to try it too! While I was enjoying the comical sight of people attempting to stick to the teacher’s routine a Japanese man suddenly appeared in front of me. He started talking to me in Japanese, and somehow he communicated to me that he was going to teach a 30-minute core training in the next room and that I had to come inside and join them. All right, why not? So I followed the trainer inside, got an exercise mat and listened to a lot of Japanese while trying to copy the exercises the other students were doing on their mats. It wasn’t as intense as I was expecting and hoping for, but it was fun to join into a group workout again. Next week: aerobics… kind of!