Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A few firsts…

Last week I got to tutor my first Japanese “student.” Her name is Kyoko and I will meet with her once a month for 2 hours to help her with her conversational English. Kyoko is an English teacher herself (ironically), but wants help with her English so that she is teaching her students correctly. She is good at speaking English for a Japanese person, but there are things she is not perfect at and wants to be!

For instance, she could not pronounce "fifth" and "twelfth"...she struggles with her x's, th's, r's, and l's. Lucky for her, I tutored at Sylvan and had to work with kindergartners and first graders on these very things daily! Japanese do not use their tongues or their lips to speak; therefore sounds that require the tongue or lips, they have trouble pronouncing! Upon meeting me, Kyoko told me I looked like a “modo” which left me confused, but I finally figured out she was saying “model.” Japanese don’t use l’s in their vocabulary, making this simple word sound very different! These were the things we worked on during her lesson! Kyoko also had many questions about grammar, wanting to know the proper way to say certain phrases. For example she got her past and present tenses mixed up! (Not that the English language isn’t complicated or anything!!!)

It was an intense two hours, but I left feeling like I learned a little as well. I learned, I really need to talk slower when speaking to a Japanese person. (It was the 3rd time I had been told I talk too fast since I got here!) This wasn’t that hard, I just had to get in the “Elementary teacher” mode (the one I know all too well) and talk like I would to my beginning readers. Also I learned that the food court on base smells “very American”…which is what Kyoko said the minute we entered the facility! (To that I had to contain a giggle, I mean what do we smell like? Greasy? Not fishy?) I learned that the Japanese are “skinny” because they drink tea…again what Kyoko told me during her lesson!

This week I got to teach again, but this time it was with two 3rd grade girls! They were so cute! (Or kawaii, as the Japanese say) I have always really enjoyed teaching the little ones, and this lesson was no exception! We did flashcards, discussed articles of clothing and played memory…all things that help to increase their English! One of the girls is really good at English and the other is a beginner. Both are eager to learn, and extremely attentive to my every word! I am going to enjoy teaching English in Japan!

I also finally got brave enough to leave the base by myself!!! (Or at least drive off base by myself…I have taken a train by myself, but never driven off base on my own!) This might seem silly to some, but being in a foreign country, driving a foreign car, and navigating foreign streets alone is scary and somewhat of a challenge!!! Well, one of the guys in Nick’s squadron is deployed at the moment and therefore not able to pay his rent. Nick volunteered (which really meant he volunteered me, since he is too busy to do it!) to take this guy’s money to the realty office for him. Being that I have my new I-phone, (loving it, wouldn’t be able to survive without it!) Nick dropped the pin where the landlord’s office was for me on my I-map. Easy enough right? Well, not exactly….since it was literally my first experience driving off base alone, I was trying to navigate the small streets, major traffic and people darting on foot and bicycle the entire trip! (As I have said before, Japanese streets are TEENY TINY. 2-way streets are smaller than what a 1-way street would be in the States! No joke!) On top of all that, I was holding my phone and following the pin on my map while driving!!! It is a miracle that I found the place, or that I didn’t hit some poor pedestrian! However, I did find the place and I had to give myself a pat on the back for a job well done (after I allowed my heart to stop beating so rapidly from the anxiety of going the wrong way on a one-way street)!

All the guy told Nick was to look for a glass building with advertisements of houses along the front windows. (It wasn’t as if he could give me the name of the company, because everything is written in Kanji!) Well, I found what Nick had described to me; only there were 2 of them, right next to one another! ….hmmm? Which one to try first? I did a little eeny, meeny, miney, moe, and walked in one of the realty offices. I breezed in through the automatic door and stood there waiting on someone to come ask me what I needed help with. A little man ran up to the front desk and said something in Japanese. (Huh?) I say something back in English. (Which is where he does an inside “huh” as well.) Then he runs off to get someone else to help me. Then a girl comes running up to the front from the back, (wait, what’s with all the running? I am not going anywhere till I have paid this bill) and tries to speak English to me. I say, “I am paying rent for an American!” (???) She nods her head like she understands, then runs off! She quickly returns and says, “Holomon?” I nod my head vigorously, “YES” I say! (I’ll forgive her for the mispronunciation of my name) Score, I did pick the correct place after all! Now we are both nodding our heads and the girl picks up the phone, says a whole lot of Japanese jibberish and then hangs up and writes down the name of the guy who’s rent I am there to pay along with the amount I need to pay. She pushes the paper in front of me to read, where I then reply, “yes that is correct” and quickly hand over the cash (yen)! I did not want to have that money in my possession any longer than necessary! The girl goes running to the back, (again with the running…so efficient I tell you) then returns with a receipt. I walk outside, and remember that I parked at some weird parking meter and I didn’t know what to do?!? I turn around and walk back inside. The girl runs back to the front desk and I point to my car and give her the shoulder shrug and question gesture and say, “parking, I don’t know what to do?” (I am an idiot sometimes, I know!) She goes, “ahhhh” and runs to the back. She returns and gestures for me to follow her outside, which I do. We both run (heehee, I can play this game too) outside to the meter and she asks me which car is mine, I point, she pushes a series of buttons on the meter machine, and a ticket pops out. She bows to show me that I can leave, I bow and tell her “arigato gozaimasu” and run to my car, while she continues to bow! Done and done!

After that little trip, which was an accomplishment, I felt on top of the world! I mean, I put my “big girl pants” on that day and had left base, drove and navigated, successfully found the realty office, chosen the correct one, and paid rent in a Japanese facility all by myself! So, while I was you know, doing so well, why stop? I decided, I was going to find Nick and my new house! Mind you, we had only been there once, and we didn’t know that we would be getting that house, so we didn’t drop a pin there or really pay attention to where it was located! But, I felt I could do anything at that moment, so why not! It was worth a shot in the dark! (Literally) Well, I suppose looking at 18 different houses (yes, I did house hunt for 3 weeks and looked at almost 20 houses) did have it’s advantages, because with all that looking around I guess I knew the area better than I thought. Next thing I knew, I was smack dab in front of our soon to be home!!! Success #3 for me! (Of course, I won’t lie, it did take me a few turn arounds…where I received more than a few stares from Japanese pedestrians, but hey, I found it!)

I almost didn't recognize our house because this is what it looked like...

Oh yea, duh...the whole reason we haven't been able to move into the house yet is because it is being re-painted! (Like the way they paint houses in Japan? Cover the ENTIRE house with a tarp/net...??? So that it doesn't get dirt or bugs in the paint? Hmmmm? Smart, I guess?!!)

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