Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New Pictures (Undokai and World Champs)



I am really enjoying the EBC class that I am a part of. My reader is very knowledgeable and has an astounding vocabulary. He has already taught me many things and I know that our relationship will be a blessing to me. I hope that I can be a good example and a helpful teacher. It still humbles me to think of how much wisdom and life experience that he has and I am trying to teach him. There are so many people I have met that are full of a different wisdom and knowledge than I have ever been introduced to and I can’t help but be changed by meeting them. From the dedication exhibited by my Japanese

coworkers to the women who sacrifice their time and energy to teach a thick headed rock like me, Japanese, I have learned from all of them and hopefully will continue to do so. God has blessed me with so many opportunities.

September 16th was the school undokai (sports festival). Imagine elementary track and field day on steroids and you have one-fifth of an undokai. The rest is made up of dancing and shouting and opening and closing ceremonies. I really enjoyed watching my first undokai and was lucky enough to participate in one event. I was passing out ribbons for fourth place. When suddenly the PTA ladies that I was working with stood up and beckoned me to come with them. From my experience these situations rarely turn out well. Sometimes I am asked to give a speech or sing a solo of some song or something that I am entirely uncomfortable doing. I looked around nervously and one of the teachers shooed me along. I just knew I was going to be asked to address the crowd and tell them about the difference between quantum and molecular physics (I would have to make something up quick). I readied myself with some of my biggest and best vocabulary words (little, red, you, nice, train, apple, dog, you know impressive words like these) and I prepared to storm to the microphone and rant and rave for at least 45 seconds. However I was steered away from the microphone and into a long line of parents. I was on the red team they told me. Great!! I love the red team. I stood waiting for an explanation of what the competition was and what my part in it would be. I waited longer. I could see that this was going to be one of those faith experiences. I looked around and saw six lines. Apparently each pair of lines were on the same team. They rolled out these huge balls (about 4 ft in diameter) and I immediately envisioned Indiana Jones fleeing from a giant boulder in the heart of a forgotten temple. I stood watching and waiting. The line of parents across from me looked at the ball expectantly. I heard a whistle blow and the ball came hurtling through the corridor of parents, each one giving it a slap to keep it rolling as it past. It came closer and I cocked my arm to give it a good wallop, however the man directly to my right gave it such a hard smack that it flew right past my swinging arm without any contact. My arm continued on its course only to meet with the arm of the man next to me. I pretended like it didn’t happen. It wasn’t very effective so I moved on to plan B and apologized. It was then that I realized the race wasn’t over. The people at the end of the line were pushing the ball around a cone and then picking it up over their heads. We began passing it back over our heads until it reached the starting point. It was a blast. The red team won. But wait, someone was saying something over the loudspeaker. I don’t know what was said but I like to pretend that one of our team members was suspended for using performance enhancing drugs (or it was a practice round). We played once more and the red team met a bitter defeat at the hands of the blue team. I wept unabashedly, tears gushing, rolling down my cheeks, my breathing came in ragged gasps. Some first graders comforted me off to the side while the other events continued. Once I had regained my composure I went back to my post of handing out ribbons to the fourth placers. After the undokai was finished and cleaned up the teachers went to a really nice restaurant and relaxed.

The next Monday was a holiday and I went with some friends to a hiking trail in Iwaki. We hiked/climbed across chains and ladders for several hours enjoying the natural beauty of Japan. It was the most beautiful place that I have been in Japan. We swam in the frigid waters below a small but powerful waterfall.

This past Sunday and Monday I went on a church retreat to a small camp north of Mito. It was a great time of fellowship and relaxation. It was a great way to get to know some of the church members better and I was lucky enough to have several great cabin mates to study and talk with. I don’t have much on the schedule as far as adventures are concerned. Unless you consider fighting ninjas an adventure…

Friday, September 7, 2007

The World Track and Field Championships, Osaka 2007

Where do I begin? As a runner and a huge track fan I love to watch huge track meets. I was privileged to travel to Osaka and watch the final day of the World Track and Field Championships. What an opportunity! Austin and I busted out of town last Friday night (8/31) on an all night bus headed for southern Japan. I was excited and couldn’t wait for the track meet on Sunday night. It was amazing to think that in a few short hours I would be watching the best runners in the world compete for a World Championship title. I had been keeping up with the meet via my Japanese cell phone (keitai). It has TV capabilities and I can watch local TV. So for the past week I had been watching the meet on a 2.5 in by 1.5 in TV screen. I would soon be watching them in real life! With the help of a few Tylenol pm I fell asleep. I woke up about 30 minutes later and again 20 minutes after that and again….let’s just say that Japanese buses aren’t designed with 6’1 in mind. We arrived in Kyoto around 6 am. We had planned on riding the bus all the way to Osaka and then riding the train to Kyoto and spending some time sight seeing and then return to Osaka for the night. We didn’t know that the bus would stop in Kyoto, so we hopped off and started walking. We bought an all day bus pass and spent the day riding/walking around looking at very old temples and palaces and castles. We rode the train to Osaka that night and I met our hosts for the first time. We stayed with a very nice couple (Gavin and Lindsay) and they showed us around Osaka that night and the following morning. We ate at Outback and went to a bookstore with a huge English section. I didn’t need any books but I enjoyed being in a place that I could actually read the writing on the books and magazines. And now for the main event: the track meet was scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm. Our bus left for Mito at 9:30. Could we watch the entire meet, catch a train to the bus station and then catch our bus to Mito? We did a test run in the afternoon and realized that we would be cutting it close. We went to the meet a couple hours early to get good seats. The evening was spectacular. Even though most of the races were tactical and slow they featured huge moves in the final laps and meters. We saw a total 4 of American medals (3 gold) in 7 events and watched medal ceremonies from the day before. We heard the USA national anthem 4 times (pole vault, 4x100 M&W, 5000M). Overall it was a great time and it was definitely worth the trip. We stood at the exit to watch the final race of the night. The men’s 4x400. Jeremy Wariner opened up a huge lead and crushed the field to help the relay team win another gold. As he crossed the finish line and his race ended, our race began. We sprinted from the stadium drawing frightened glances from the event staff. We had purchased train tickets ahead of time and our first leg to the train station was smooth. We arrived at the bus stop with 15 minutes to spare. When we boarded the bus we had to bend sideways at the waist to walk down the aisle. The ceiling could not have been taller than 4 and a half feet. It was a double decker bus so they had to make both floors small. It was by far the shortest bus (ceiling height) that I have ever been on and it was even short for Japanese standards. We sat down, relieved about making the bus and settled in for the 12 hour ride. I still had a decision to make. The bus was scheduled to arrive at Mito station at 8:15. Mito station was about 15 minutes from my school and somewhere in there I would have to change into some nicer clothes. I could just be late and try to explain or I could get off an hour before Mito at a train station and hope that I could catch a train. This was a pretty risky option because I could miss the train that would get me there on time and then be stuck waiting for the next train which might make me even later than if I stayed on the bus. I went to sleep not knowing what I would do. I woke up at each stop and renewed the decision making process. I decided that if we arrived to the train station early enough that I would try to make it. I sprinted off the bus at about 6:50 hoping to make the 6:59 train to Mito. After rushing through the station trying to figure out which platform I needed I waltzed up to the train with a few minutes to spare. What a victory! I rode a packed train feeling very self conscious about the fact that I hadn’t showered in awhile or brushed my teeth. When we got to Mito I threw on some nice clothes in the bathroom hopped on my scooter and zoomed to school. I arrived about the same time I usually did chalked it up as a victory (though a painful one: I still had to teach 5 classes after not sleeping much the past 3 nights).

The next day I went to the Japanese version of the DMV. I was there to attempt (for a second time) to obtain a Japanese driver’s license. My first time was an utter failure. The instructor ripped me apart (although in Japanese so I didn’t really understand until a friend translated). I was disappointed and felt like a failure. After I considered the circumstances I lightened up quite a bit. I don’t speak Japanese and since the test was administered in Japanese it is no wonder I didn’t fully understand what was expected of me. In addition to that I had not driven a car for 3 months and was still trying to get use to the Japanese driving system. Because of this previous experience it was no wonder that I was very nervous for my second attempt. I passed!! It was a great feeling!!

As I am typing this, I am at school. It is Friday morning but there are no students here. Is it because it a snow day? A national holiday? Nope, it is because there is a typhoon pounding the city. However, teachers are required to go to school. I rode my scooter to school in a typhoon that has recorded winds of over 75 mph. I don’t think that it was quite that windy when I left this morning but it was still scary. The rain was pounding my face shield on my helmet and the wind was blowing me all over the place. I was happy to arrive safely.

Sunday will be my first time to participate in EBC. I am in a one on one Bible study and I am anxious to meet my student. Please pray that I will be an effective instrument.