Sunday, December 21, 2008

Finally a Break

Winter break is finally here! I've only been teaching for three full weeks yet it feels so much longer. Settling in isnt so much more of a problem anymore. I'm starting to like where I live.. actually its pretty nice since there are so many other teachers around here.

I'm getting used to my kids as they are getting used to me. Lesson planning is also getting easier by the week. Other than working, I havent really had time to do much. It almost feels like I'm living in dorms again with the late night combini (convenient store) runs and the local bar hang outs. For some reason, the younger kids (age 4 and 5) love to hit my butt! Maybe they dont know any better or they just think its funny, either way... sometimes i dont know how to react n im like uhh.... yeah doesnt make me look too smart haha I have an autistic student who is langugely talented and can remember anything you tell her. Its pretty amazing actually. Its so easy to teach her since she remembers everything but if you mistakenly say something wrong, she'll pick it up and it will take forever to correct. Of course I have some bratty elementary boys in my classes but they're just innocently naughty, no bad intentions or anything. They are just active and have a short attnetion span. On the other hand, I have some pretty high level adult students. All of my adult students are retired, housewives, or part time workers. They range from 20 - 70+! The 70+ ones are very well arounded, have traveled a lot and have a lot to say. Those are my favorite classes since you can talk about anything and they can run with that.

Anyway, enough about work. Last weekend I headed into Roppongi to meet with a friend from college for dinner and a party. It felt like partying in NYC with people who actually are bilingual and arent teachers. It was a nice break from the teachers and to talk about something other than work. Roppongi is such a nice place, but then again Tokyo in general is pretty awesome if you know where to go. So... holiday break is here and it will fly by before I know it! My family will be visiting at the end of the month and will be spending NYE in Japan. Pretty exciting since I hear the temples are a great place to go on the 31st. Japan gets all crazy with the lights and things like that. Imagine Saks 5th lights everywhere in Japan. Of course, nothing can compare to the holidays at Rockefeller (which I completely miss - even the tourists). The Japanese are really creative with the "illuminations" and such. All the big department stores have crazy decorations and it might be even more awesome to be in Japan during the holidays. All the lights and decorations make Christmas so magical.

The first thing on my itinerary for break was Tokyo Disney Sea. It wasnt very big but being there right before Christmas made it all worth it. Didnt go on many rides since the lines were 2+ hours for the good rides (tower of terror, etc). Since I went today (Sunday), it was way crowded and hard to find anything. Maybe it was also because I got the Starlight Pass which is only valid from 3pm to closing. Fireworks today were cancelled because of the wind conditions so that sucked but they still had the closing Christmas song with the Disney characters on boats and stuff. It was very cute and reminded me of the first time I went to Disney. (Tokyo Disney Link)

Next on my list is Snowboarding in Niigata!!! (SnowJapan Link) I'm psyched and all but the season did just begin so I am a little worried about the resorts not having enough snow. Peak snowboarding season is in February so I'll be making another trip out there then. Hopefully it'll all work out. Will let you know how that goes!

When my family arrives, we'll be making a day trip to Hakone (Hakone Travel Guide) for the famous onsens (hot springs). I've never been to one so it should be an interesting experience... you have to go in buck naked!! :O Hakone is also close enough but far enough where you can see Mt. Fuji on a clear day so I'm excited about that too. I will hopefully be climbing Mt. Fuji in August since its too cold now and it is a two day trip.

Most of all, I cant wait until my family comes so I can finally enjoy all this awesome Japanese food with people who can appreciate it! Tsukiji market is definitely on the list along with many other ramen, yakiniku (bbq), kaiten sushi (conveyor belt) sushi restaurants! This will mos def be a memorable holiday season.

P.S. New photos added to Picasa

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Move on in!

I'm finally moved into my apartment! Its not exactly what I would consider to be my first choice but its what I have so I'll just have to make the best of it. Its very different than what I was used to in NY. I mean the most obvious would be the size and second would be what I consider to be my "bedroom". I have a loft or as I call it, my treehouse. Its nice and cozy since the heat blows into the loft so it gets quite warm. I've made it liveable. I bought shelves and some organizers to help me clean up a bit and they work quite nicely. Overall, tiny place but I'm dealing. I wouldnt say I'm a fan of it, but its what I got so dont make me feel any worse about it.

Living in Katsutadai is great though. There are about 8 other teachers who live in the two buildings and its really nice to have people around. Erin and Ricky (the two teachers who started with me) are living in Sakura which is about a 15-20 min train ride away. I really like the fact that if i needed to borrow anything or need help, theres always the guys around to help. I've met some cool people in Japan but still very hard to meet good friends. Everyones story is different and being here has definitely opened up my eyes and made me less sheltered

First week of real teaching is finally over. It was a very stressful week. Just meeting all the kids, parents, adults, managers. Not to mention, I'm still working on getting to know the material and games and activities. Lesson planning is harder than I thought. Props to all the teachers out there especially for younger kids. Seriously, kids' attention time span is very limited and so hard to control. I would say my first week wasnt too shabby. A lot to improve on and change but I'll eventually settle into my schedule and routine. Im already counting down... 50 weeks left...

i just miss nyc

p.s. new photos are up on picasa

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Real World Japan

"This is the true story... of seven strangers... picked to live in a together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real...The Real World."

Well, really.. this is the story of four strangers, hired to teach English, share a house, work together and have their lives interrupted by Facebook, when people start to get to know each other and start getting real....The real world.

We finished training and training was informative and interesting. There are definitely pros and cons of training. I really like the idea of new teachers staying at the guesthouse. People really get to know each other and its a good way to start the journey. Most people are here alone so its a great way to meet people. Even though, there are couples that come together, still nice and refreshing to be with new people. The guesthouse sucks since its not really our own place. Erin, Ricky and Jen and I are dying to move out here.

I havent really had too big of a cultural shock yet. Being that I've been to Taiwan and some Asian foods are very simliar to others, food has been awesome. The supermarkets are really great especially for foodies. All the items are so nicely packed and are so fresh. Sundays are the best days to go to the supermarkets, you can fill up on all the samples! Today, I made flat udon-ish noodles with an already packaged soup base with veggies, bean sprouts and I topped it with sauteed beef with garlic steak sauce and inoki mushrooms. (see picasa for photos)

Last night, some of the teachers threw a "Steven Segal" party @ Katsutadai - where i'll be moving to. Good thing no one was paying attention to the movie or else we would have been bored to death! It was at a joint called Beats.. pretty much dive bar and tiny. Had a good time and we went to karaoke afterwards. People here party right through the night since trains stop running at 12am and first train is around 5/6am. Apparently, people here do that a lot. Around 4am, i was falling asleep at the karaoke bar but good thing it was within walking distance to the guest house.

The toughest thing about being here so far is the fact that I'm traveling alone. You'd be surprised as to how many couples traveled to Japan to teach together. Its a little crazy. I think its awesome though, wish Adam was here to experience things with me but not everyone works in my favor.

Even though I miss home, I wouldnt change anything for the last week and a half and this is just the beginning.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lost in Translation

Ever see that movie, Lost in Translation with Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray? It's about a movie star with a sense of emptiness, and a neglected newlywed meet up as strangers in Tokyo, Japan and form an unlikely bond. This is how my life in Japan seems to resemble. Walking in the streets of Japan, not knowing more than 3-4 words is quite interesting. No one really understands you and you have to use hand motions to help them understand you. It doesn't really hit you until you need help with something and no one speaks English or very little English (eigo).

Perfectly good first example, the first night I arrived in Japan, I had no shampoo, conditioner or bodywash/soap. My two new housemates and I walked to town to a Family Mart. I went to the toiletries aisle and picked up shampoo/conditioner and the only thing I wasnt sure of was the bodywash/soap. There was no bar of soap to be found so I went for a bottle of Johnson/Johnson. How could I go wrong? It said 24 hour care on it and the rest was in Japanese. I came home, took a shower and little did I know, it wasnt bodywash!!! it was LOTION! haha

Next was our train ride to Narita. Of course, being that it was the first time any of us took the train (JR to be exact), we had no idea how to buy tickets. we stood at the ticketing machine and pressed buttons, didn't exactly help. Good thing, we bumped into a few Americans who happeend to be some other teachers from ALS. They were headed to an event in Naruto. We got on the train with them since we were chatting up a storm and yet again, little did we know, we were headed in the wrong direction. Now, that isnt so bad when you can back track and still arrive at your planned destination. After arriving in Narita, we did all the sight seeing and decided to head back. We jumped on the Kiesei Narita Line. For those that are not familiar with the Japanese train system, it is not like the MTA who monopolizes all the transportation. Here, different large companies own their own lines. Keisei and JR are two different lines/owners. We got on the wrong line and ended up having to speak to the fare adjustment guy and he had to point us in the right direction. Not only did we have to take a bus there (extra $$), but we didnt understand how to pay the buss driver either. Lets just say a lot of hand motions were thrown out there and eventually, we realized we pay when we get off. All in all, you learn from your experiences and ended a great day with awesome ramen in Chiba.

The two most used phrases of the day: "sumimasen" and "wakarimasen" which means excuse me/sorry and i dont understand.

So i'll leave you with this... "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time. "

Here is the new link for picasa (you can also click on the slidesow to the right):
Picasa Web Album
Picasa Web Album for the Foodies

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I made it!

I'm finally in Japan.... the long awaited journey has begun. Its almost 9am on Friday 11.14.08 and i'm sitting here with jetlag. I was up at 5 with nothing better to do except go on line. I havent really explored anything yet since I arrived yesterday afternoon/night. I am staying at the guesthouse for the first two weeks. There is another couple here. The girl is teaching and the guy is substituting becuase they werent able to find him a position.

The flight was alright, nothing special. Saw a few movies, ate some mediocre plane food and slept a mere 5 hours. When I arrived, a guy who is an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) picked me up since he lives in Narita and drove me to the school to pick up keys and dropped me off at the guesthouse. I guess you're really on your own. Its not a host family or anything, just a hostel.. no ones around except whoever stays here (mostly new teachers though).

I'm thinking of heading to Narita (20min by JR - Japan Railways) to go to Aeon Mall, supposedly a very large mall and stop by Chiba on the way back which is 10 min from Yotsukaido, where the guesthouse is. Traveling alone really sucks but I guess it's part of the experince. I'm definitely looking forward to meeting new people along the way and just seeing what Japan has to offer.

check out my picasa web albums for some photos that I have taken so far

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Almost there...

So here I am, all packed and ready to go. I'm checked in, and my bags are on their way on the conveyor belt. I've tried to see as many ppl as I could before I left but there just wasnt enough time. Thanks for coming out last Friday to Sin Sin, had a blast and it was nice to see everyone before I left.

I think its finally hitting me... I dont even know what to think, my mind is a blur and all I want to do is just go home. I'm going to miss everything about home, mostly family and close friends, okay my bed too. There's no turning back as much as I want to. Perhaps I dont really want to, its just preflight/leaving jitters. I've wanted to do this for so long but how come it doesnt seem right?

Well, in any case, my next update will be when I'm in Japan....

Japan, here I come!

Friday, October 31, 2008

One step closer

So I finally reserved my flight... I think I'm starting to get hit in the face with the fact that I'm really going. Maybe I was in denial the last two days. I am traveling out on Nov 12... leaves me with less than two weeks to pack, get everything together, buy some teaching supplies, order trashy magazines, buy a slingbox and just set everything up. Its a little overwhelming right now... I still dont know too much about the people that I will be starting with nor the kind of place I'll be staying at. All I know is that it is a furnished apartment, I think it will be a loft.

I finished my last day at NBC today. It was sad to think that it was going to be the last time I'll be swiping my ID, taking BDFV to 47/50th st, and just seeing everyone. Definitely a bittersweet moment. Great things happened in 1566E and 1567E. I've come across some amazing people who have helped me through the tough days. Unforunately, we cant all stay in the same place forever... We'll see where things go when I come back, who knows, maybe it wont be the last time. Wishful thinking that is, hah

Anyway, thats as far as my update goes for now. Happy Halloween everyone!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I've always wanted to travel the world. Recently, my friends and I have been on this travel craze. Whenever we return from a trip, it just doesnt seem enough and we immediately search for new deals. Sad to say that I will be unable to join them in Vegas, Belize, Iceland, Brazil, etc. However, I am beginning a new chapter in my life. For the next year (at least), I will be teaching English in Japan. I officially accepted my offer today and am waiting to hear on details about flight, schedule, housing, and all the important stuff.

Support and encouragement? My parents have traveled a lot in their younger days so they support me and think its a good idea for me to travel abroad. They know and understand that I might be giving up good job opportunities here. Although my NBC Olympics job was only a contract and ends Oct 31, I had a few interviews that looked promising. I turned them down because I was set on this option. They think this is a great opportunity for me to branch out, see the world, and be on my own for a little bit. I'm pretty glad that they are behind me on this, definitely makes the transition a bit easier. As for my sister... she's not so easy to convince. I wish she can see where I am coming from. I know that no career rise can come from going to Japan, but you never know. That is the risk I am willing to take. She questions the legality of the school and worries about all the smaller details. Sure, they're important but I choose to see the bigger picture, just wishes she could too and believe that I will be fine.

Friends are pretty supportive as well which is great since it was a tough decision to make. Some think its great, some wonder why I'm doing it, some like to play devil's advocate, and others think I'm running away. I dont think its so much that I'm running away rather than having the desire to experience something completely new. Who knows what doors this can open and what can stem from this.

How am I feeling? The moment I sent in my official signed offer, I began to feel anxious and nervous, but in all in a good way. I cant wait to arrive in Japan and just see what it's all about. Of course, there are all the logistics to take care of since I only have two weeks to get ready/pack. The whole entire process surprisingly moved pretty quickly. I applied for the job 6 weeks ago and once I was found out I was accepted, I had 3+ weeks until my training date which is Nov 17. Now, with the days dwindling down and I still have no travel out date, I'm a little apprehensive. All in all, I should find out by the end of the week when I leave and everything will work itself out. For some reason, I'm not worried about logistics. Maybe because this is really what I want and believe that everything will fall into place. Well, I'll be back when
the finer details emerge themselves.