a day in the park

The weather as been perfect lately, and to be honest I’ve needed some quality time to relax, so last weekend I spent all day Sunday strolling around Fukuoka’s famous Ohori and Maizuru Parks. The ducks and turtles are out playing; and the wisteria and yaezakura are beautiful.

Lazying about the park can be tiring though, so after a few hours of doing nothing but trying to get the perfect shot of a turtle, I went to my favorite restaurant in Fukuoka, Evah Dining. It’s a macrobiotic vegan restaurant, but their meat alternatives are so good I dream about them. I can’t recommend it enough to both vegans and meat-eaters. Please check it out if you’re ever in Fukuoka! (I never did get my shot of the turtle though…)

 

I also took some videos. If you want to see what the parks and restaurant are like, check it out!

 

Beautiful Moments

I love my job. I really do. Such amazing, hilarious, heart-warming, and beautiful things happen there.

In case you didn’t know, I used to be an ALT (assistant language teacher), but now I am a teacher at an all-English day care in Fukuoka, Japan. We take care of kids from the age of 3-9 (at the moment) and teach them about the world in English. I am currently running the Elementary class, but I help teach all levels. It is not an international school; most of our students are 100% Japanese. Some of our kids come from mixed backgrounds, but they still live their lives mostly in Japanese. The biggest difference between my workplace and the typical Japanese English school is that we also teach our students how to take care of themselves, how to function in society, what makes a good person, etc. We also run class with lots of games, praise, and encouragement.

If you have ever interacted with a small child in your life, you know that they have little to no filter and are usually naturally confident and unashamed. Combine that with an upbeat English environment, and you get some pretty funny situations. I used to write little posts about interesting moments I shared with my old students, and I thought I’d start doing that again. So here is is: Beautiful Moments this far.

1. The Kissing Epidemic

Last month’s theme was fairy tales and movies, so we taught the kids a lot of fantasy words like witch, knight, dragon, princess, blah, blah, blah. There is one particular fairy tale you may know involving a princess and a lucky little frog. There were flashcards for princess and frog and kiss, of course. The elementary school kids were not pleased with this one. One third-grade girl actually shrieked every time she saw the card. The funny thing is, when I asked her if there was anyone she wanted to kiss she said, “Ah, yes” very casually and calmly. She’s only selectively embarrassed I guess.

The preschool-aged group had an even better reaction. They all thought the kiss card was the funniest thing ever, and many of them started kissing each other randomly from the first time they saw it. Two boys, who are close friends, started kissing each other on the mouth a little too much, so we had to start making a bit of a social lesson out of it. I mean, it’s flu season people! Let’s keep our lips to ourselves! The smaller boy actually ended up getting the flu, so he really should have listened to me.

Some other 6-year-old boys also tried to kiss, but it was more like a weird comedy act than anything else. One would approach the other and pretend to kiss him, but the receiver of the kiss would always pull away and pretend to be disgusted. Everyone would laugh. I would tell them all to stop kissing each other, so they’d resort to kissing their own hands.

Just today the mother of the boy who got the flu warned him not to kiss any more people in front of all the other kids. The other kids told him in English to stop kissing. But he still says “YES! Kissing please!” so excitedly. More than a few of them have said to me, “Kissing teacher is good!!” They’re just too cute…really.

 

2. Genuine Smiles

When the parents come to pick up their kids, we do a mini presentation for them to show them what we’re teaching and help them see their kid’s progress. Yesterday I did one of these presentations for a second grader who is usually pretty rowdy but is getting so good at speaking English. I explained to his mom that we’re learning color theory this week, and the boy identified some of the flashcards. Then I asked him a few questions, and he answered them all perfectly. I, the school director, and another teacher all let out a huge “WHHHOOAAAA!” and the biggest smile cracked across his face. I almost started crying it was so beautiful. I told his mom he really is improving so much, in regards to English skill and behavior, and he just smiled even bigger. It is these exact moments when I know I’ve found my calling.

 

3. The more you mess up, the more you learn

Thursday is a small class day. In Elementary, we only have seven kids. This means we have a lot more time to get off topic and just talk to each other. Today, I read them a book about the solar system and asked them some questions about space. I had this pretty normal conversation with a 3rd-grade-girl:

“What is space??? In English please.”

“Sky. It’s black. Uh…many stars.”

“Yes! Good. Okay, so what are people who live on other planets called?”

“Um….space people!”

“Aliens. Nice try though. They definitely are space people.”

During free time, we were talking about superheros and villains, and she gave parts to everyone there. “He is villain. He is the police. He is superhero.” and so on.

“Okay, so who are you?”

“I’m so-so people.”

“So-so people?? What’s that?”

“futsu na hito. So-so people.” (NOTE: futsu means normal, so she meant an ordinary person, but futsu is also what you say to mean fine/okay/so so when someone asks how you are).

“OOOOOh, a normal person. Person!”

“Ah yes, person! I’m normal person!”

I’m telling you this story because this girl would not stop talking today. Every silent moment was an opportunity for her to tell a joke or ask a question or something, but I was so happy she did it. She keep saying she alone was “people”, but it opened up a chance for me to teach her about irregular plurals. More importantly than that though, it gave me a chance to bond more with her and for her to practice her conversation skills. She is an amazing student because she is never afraid to make mistakes.

I’ve honestly learned a lot from my students. The mess up and brush it off. Sure, the teachers always encourage them and praise them for trying alone, but they are so brave! I want to be childlike in that way. I want to not care at all about failing, because I know I’ll learn something and improve from it. That’s why this story is beautiful for me.

 

4. Caregivers

Little kids are so pure and kind. A lot of crying goes on at my school, but the little ones always look out for and comfort each other. We have one little boy who wears diapers, and the other little boy in his class always helps him get his diapers ready to go to the bathroom. If a little girl cries, there is always another little girl there patting her head and asking “Are you okay?” If I accidentally drop all the flashcards on the ground, there are at least five kids at my feet trying to pick them up. Way to go parents of these darling children.

 

5. I am a monkey.

Little kids are essentially monkeys. They climb you, run around with no direction, throw food, and other monkey-like things. However, it is I who has become the monkey of my school. I will do literally anything to make them smile and laugh, including act like a monkey. My favorite moment at work so far was during a kindergarten spelling lesson a few months ago. My work name is Teacher Koko. You need to know that. So during this particular spelling lesson, I decided to ask them how to spell monkey, because they love monkeys. One boy, without missing a single beat said, “K-O-K-O! HAHAHAHAHA!”

I died. I literally couldn’t finish the lesson. I just let them watch me double over in a fit of laughter for three minutes or so. It’s still funny.

 

 

Kids are amazing creatures. I used to hate the idea of ever birthing another human, but gradually I have come to really want a child of my own. Someday. I cry all the time at work. Mostly it’s because they are genuinely that funny and can make me laugh until my sides hurt. But sometimes it’s because my job is so beautiful and rewarding that I feel almost unworthy of it. I get paid to hang out with children and have fun all day. I am so lucky.

 

Snow Storms and Slipping: My first trip to a Japanese emergency room

You’re probably thinking based on the title of this post that I slipped in a snow storm, but you would be mistaken. It definitely was snowing when I slipped, but rather embarrassingly I was actually inside my apartment. You see, last weekend, Fukuoka received a cold snap and a large amount of snow which is rare for this region. I was safe in my bed asleep when the majority of it fell. However, some time between 4 AM and daybreak, I really needed to use the restroom.  All this trying to stay hydrated in winter stuff really comes back to bite you. So I quickly got out of bed, neglected to put slippers onto my socked feet, and made my way down the stairs of my loft apartment. Ok, so you see where this is going right? It’s cold, my feet are slippery, and I have wood stairs to get down. I made it down most of them, but on the last four or so, I slipped way more than can be easily corrected and landed on my right side. I initially thought the pain was just temporary; it would bruise like when you hit your leg on a low table and that would be it. But of course it didn’t. I still really needed to use the restroom, so I awkwardly sat on my porcelain throne while moaning and whimpering like lost puppy. I attempted to go back to sleep, but could not get at all comfortable. Somehow though, my determination to get my beauty rest paid off, and I got a few more hours of sleep.

In the morning, IT WAS SNOWING! My balcony was solid white, and everything was glowing. So naturally I continued to ignore the pain, because a Southern girl needs to enjoy the snow while it lasts. My mom wanted to see it as well, so I video called her. I told her about my fall and being the good mother she is, she said, “Why haven’t you gone to the hospital!?”

Anyway, I left my place to go get some soy milk, because that’s how much I care about Sunday morning cereal and how little I care about bodily pain. Two minutes into my walk, I could not breathe, and I was literally doubling over in pain, clutching my swollen elbow under my chest to support my surely cracked ribs. Luckily, I live a mere five minutes from a huge Red Cross hospital. I passed the path to the supermarket (breakfast can wait, I guess) and found the emergency center at the hospital.

I’m an American, if you didn’t know. We don’t just waltz up to the emergency room on a holiday so nonchalant. It’s so expensive, people don’t go unless it’s a life-threatening situation. At least not in my family. So as soon as the nurse sat me down to wait, I started freaking out about the price. I was in pain, okay? I wasn’t thinking about that fact that Japan has pretty great national health care, and that I’ve never paid more than $50 for anything medical related here. Still, I was freaking out. I asked a group of other people who live in Japan online if they have experience with emergency situations, and they all assured me it would not be too expensive even if I did need X-rays and medication. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. I only had 5000 yen on me, which is less than $50.

After about 20 minutes of waiting, the doctor called me in to talk and look at my elbow. He wasn’t really concerned with my rib cage though, even though I was convinced I had a bruised lung or something. So he said they’ll take some x-rays and see what they can do.

I waited in that waiting room for two hours watching the news freak out about the snow. Everything was cancelled. Trains, buses, freeways were closed for the day. Some other people in the waiting room were trying to get home and had to wait 30 minutes for a taxi because the taxi companies were all that busy. Like most of Texas, Kyushu, Japan can not function if fluffy white stuff falls from the sky.

Eventually the x-ray man came to get me, and they took two scans of my elbow and two of my rib cage. All of them hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I felt so stupid when they asked if I fell down stairs because they were frozen, and I had to tell them I fell in my not frozen apartment. Pain and humiliation complement each other so well. Throw in missing an amazing opportunity to make snow angels, and you have a very sad Kori.

After the x-rays, I was out in about 20-30 minutes. The doctor said nothing was majorly broken, but it’s hard to see hairline fractures or cracks in the chest area, so he sent me away with some pain meds and told me to come back if everything still hurts in two weeks. “But sir, I can’t breathe.” “Oh,” he said, “you’ll be fine. It’s just swollen and painful now. Come back if it feels worse.”

Once everything was over, I got nervous again because I’d have to settle the bill. The receptionist called my name and said….”It’s 4300 yen.” Thank you all that is good. So I got my pain pills and left the hospital. At this point, I was starving, so little broken me still went to the supermarket with 700 yen in pocket. I had to have my soy milk! My huge bowl of Cocoa Krispies and a long nap made everything better.

If you are wondering, I am fine! My elbow only hurts occasionally and isn’t swollen at all anymore. I still can’t sleep properly because of my ribs, but they’ll heal in time. I’m just so satisfied with the insurance system in Japan. In America, injuring yourself can be such a nightmare, because on top of all of your pain, your wallet hurts too. But in Japan, you can go to the ER, get x-rays done, and get two weeks of medication for under $50. Tis a great country indeed!

 

明けましておめでとう

明けましておめでとう!Or as they say in Texas: Happy New Year, y’all.

 

Work was insane in December. We were super busy because the kids are out of public school, and a few teachers got sick on our busiest day. Needless to say, it was exhausting. However, it is now holiday season in Japan, and I’m off until the 4th. I made zero plans this year, so I’ve mostly been hanging around my house, watching horrible movies, and lightly cleaning my apartment. Riveting, I know.

Today I actually left my house and did what is know as 初詣(hatsumoude-the first shrine visit of the New Year), where everyone goes to a shrine to pray and receive their yearly fortunes. I took a little video so you can see somewhat how it happens.

 

As  you can see, I pulled pretty good luck from the おみくじ (fortune teller), so I’m thinking it’s going to be a pretty good year.

 

I hope everyone’s holidays have been great, and I wish you all a happy and healthy 2016!!IMG_9664

Where has the year gone?

Wow, I have become super bad at blogging. My job now is way more involved than my last one, so I have been a lot busier during the week and a lot more tired when I get home. On top of that, the last few weekends have been crazy as well! So here I am on a Sunday night minutes before going to bed filling you in on my little Fukuoka life.

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that delicious umegaemochi, famous in Dazaifu, Fukuoka

A few weeks ago, a friend from Kagoshima came to visit, and we had some great food and good beer. We also went to Dazaifu to try to see some fall leaves changing color, but it wasn’t quite the right time to get the full effect of 紅葉 (kouyou-autumn colors/leaves changing color). Regardless it was a nice weekend!

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too concerned with the margarita to worry about the flash

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Christmas…disco balls?

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all veggie and bean burrito mmm

The next weekend, some of my best friends in Japan came to Fukuoka! We all went out Saturday night to the exact same places I went to the previous weekend, but it was so much fun. On Sunday, some of us saw the amazing Big Bang and the Yahoo Dome. Big Bang is always great, but their new album is amazing, and this year they are all looking especially beautiful (ok, fangirl moment over). I really really missed my Kagoshima friends, I’m glad some of us were reunited in my new home!

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same Mexican restaurant, different people to enjoy it with

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we sneaked a few illegal shots at the concert

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a little bar called Cable Car in Daimyo

Last weekend, one of my favorite people on the planet came up for some personal business (but also sort of to see me). I also had my first 忘年会 (bounenkai-end of the year party…I’ve talked about this before) at my new job. It was at a swanky hotel in Hakata and although I couldn’t eat hardly anything there, I had a blast (mostly because I drank A LOT of wine and also because my coworkers are super cool). We had a little karaoke session afterward and my friend even got to meet my coworkers for a bit. My old and new lives combined. So good. On Sunday, we went to Ohori Park to see their winter illuminations (I don’t know…is that a real English word? They were Christmas lights…), and we had good long talks about everything. It was amazing to have most of my friends from the first leg of my Japan journey (who are still in Japan) come see me here. But I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t exhausting! Keeping your apartment in shape for sleepover guests is hard, and having to be in a good mood for three weeks straight when you are me is even harder. I am so thankful for my friends though, and I’m so so happy I got to see them.

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I love where I am now. I am so much happier with my life and where it is going. But I do miss things about Kagoshima–and America. I miss all my friends and that feeling of community I had before. I haven’t been in Fukuoka very long, so I haven’t made a lot of close connections yet. Now that I’m eating plant-based, I miss American grocery stores that much more (haha…totally not important). I miss my family too, now more than ever I think. It may have something to do with the fact that I am not going home this year to visit, and I don’t know the next time I will be able to go home, but I also think it’s because I have fewer distractions now. Like I said, I am so much happier here. But now that I am so much happier and so excited for future possibilities, I’ve been thinking more about the other things that are missing. It’s almost Christmas, and I wish I was spending it with my friends and family back home, but I want everyone to know that I am doing super great here. Healthier and happier and just great. I will see all of you back in America soon enough. I promise you that.

Girl’s day

June has been good to me. Though it’s now rainy season and sunlight has been rare, I am definitely enjoying my final months here with my lovely friends.

I was invited out to Miyakonojo for lunch and a rock bath/sauna trip with two of the coolest ladies I know. We went to a restaurant called SLF and had an amazing four course meal. The salad was covered in local veggies and a perfectly paired blueberry dressing. For the main, I went with margarita pizza and it also did not disappoint. I ate the soup too quickly to take a picture. I’m sorry, it was pumpkin and delicious. Finally, I had a cappuccino and coconut gelato. Ahh, it was the perfect lunch.

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After we headed to Miyakonojo Green Hotel for their stone sauna (岩盤浴). I had never been to a place like this before, and I am so glad the girls invited me. You change into a provided cover-up, drink some water, then lie down on the hot slab of rocks in a dark room that’s about 40 C (104 F). First you lie on your stomach for five minutes, then switch to your back for ten. They play light instrumental music, so it’s extremely relaxing, but staying in past 15 minutes isn’t recommended this time of year because you can easily overheat. In-between sessions, you can a break in an air-conditioned room and rehydrate. We did three times total and each time there was more and more sweat. But each time I felt lighter and lighter, like all the impurities and tension were leaving me. Afterwards you can shower, and they have necessary products like shampoo and body wash available. It’s said to have a lot of health benefits, and there were quite a few positive testimonials displayed in the lobby. It was an amazing experience, I highly recommend it if you feel like you need a detox or just want to relax.

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I’m trying so hard to save money for my future move, but I can’t pass up opportunities to see my friends and experience new things. I’m considering this day justifiable because of its therapeutic nature. I feel amazing! Make sure to check out these spots if you’re ever in the area!

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I think I had the busiest week of my career here last week. All of the sudden everyone I work with/for needed my help AND I had so many plans!

Around this time every year, I conduct an interview for students hoping to study in America. The program is run through my board of education, and they always ask me to help out with the English portion. It’s pretty simple; I just have to make sure the kids have decent communication skills so they don’t faint or something the first time they interact with an American in America. I knew about the date and time way before, but five of the students hoping to go this year are students at my junior high and a few of them asked me to help them prepare for the interview. We met up a few times last week, and I gauged their attitudes and skills. One girl in particular wants to go so bad, that she’s been visiting me every week after lunch or after school since the beginning of term. I love when my students are motivated and passionate, no matter what it’s about, but when it’s about English…and they want to talk to ME, I get super excited. So even though I haven’t had a break at work since March, I’m pretty happy.

The actual interview was Wednesday. There is also a high school program, and one of my favorite students from two years ago was there! I haven’t heard the results for the high school interviews yet, but I hope he gets to go to America. He is such a kind kid, and I know he’ll do great. (I did get results from the JH interview and all of my 8th grade girls are going to America! I am so proud!)

In addition to this interview’s prep, I’ve been helping students with English test prep as well. The test, called Eiken, has a speaking component from level 3 to level 1, and one of the students didn’t have an idea how to do it. I helped again during my “break time,” and I feel confident she is going to do well!

Okay, let’s go back to Tuesday. I’ve been applying to some jobs online, and I got an interview for a school in Fukuoka. The interview was via Skype so I didn’t have to go anywhere, but I was surprisingly nervous. Talking to a stranger via a computer screen is really odd. I think it went pretty well though. Even if I don’t get the job or even a second interview, talking about myself really helps me put my thoughts and dreams into perspective. I’m really starting to get a good idea of what exactly it is I want to do with my future.

I also had to practice music a ton this week because, the band and I had a show on Sunday. We messed up super super bad on one song (I blame the sound guy ha), but we performed all of our originals and had a good time. Some friends came to watch, and I saw some people I haven’t seen in a while. That’s always a treat. Anyway, I really think our sound is coming together nicely. We even finished recording some songs and sold a few copies of our single. Baby steps guys! Baby steps.

Other than that, I hung out with my friend Kina and some new friends. I’m a pretty shy person, but I’m getting better at talking to new people. BABY STEPS.

Although it was a hectic week, and I literally slept all day Saturday to make up for it, it was wonderful. Being busy with things you enjoy is certainly a good thing, and when it’s all over and you take a breath, you can look back on it and feel accomplished. Yea, I definitely feel good about last week.

party with my girl!

party with my girl!

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