Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Calvin & Hobbes in the Classroom

The Japanese love comics. Half their bookstores are devoted to “manga,” which means comics. The English textbook my schools use contains a reading passage about Japanese Comics. Before class Kanno Sensei asked me if I wanted to share about American comic books. I immediately thought of Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes.

I explained about newspaper strips in the United States and their significance and mentioned Peanuts, Snoopy being recognizable and popular in Japan. I then presented comic strips with no words and easy English that I thought the students could read. These proved difficult to find, because Calvin is known for his big vocabulary! To help the kids relate to the unfamiliar boy and his tiger companion, I compared him to his Japanese counterpart, Kureyon Shinchan.

Like Calvin, Shinchan is a boy who drives his parents crazy with rudeness, crazy antics, and misbehavior. By Japanese standards, Shinchan can be quite outrageous, at times offending more traditional folks. On the TV version he moons everyone at least once a week.

Luckily the kids took to the idea of Calvin as the American Kureyon Shinchan. Unfortunately, they seemed more interested in which Japanese manga and anime (cartoons) were popular in the USA than Calvin & Hobbes. They found some of the prints quite funny though. A few kids asked for more after class. I happily obliged.

Kureyon Shinchan might be difficult for American audiences. Without knowing social expectations in Japan, Shinchan wouldn't be very funny. But he's hilarious if you live in Japan. Even if Calvin was heavily marketed, I honestly don't know how well he would be recieved in Japan.

I've decided to include a few Calvin and Hobbes strips for everyone to see. These do not necessarily constitute the best strips, but I think they are all above average.
Also, here's a great website with most, if not all of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strips.
Here's the official daily Calvin & Hobbes website from

The Dali Museum

Koriyama is not the center of the Japan by any stretch. Japan’s economy, society, and culture orbit around Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto. Their rich histories date back hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Large cosmopolitan populations congregate around the money and jobs of thriving automobile and consumer electronics firms. Koriyama would be like the Mobile, Alabama of Japan.

In what I’m guessing was typical at the time, the Meiji era brought an aqueduct to irrigate rice fields that continue to define the landscape today. Thus Koriyama was born! There are no castles, truly remarkable landmarks, or other historic sites in the area. While I like Koriyama and its people, I must admit Koriyama is a jumble of drab, concrete eyesores surrounded by rice fields and mountains. There’s a reason I don’t have many pictures of my city in this blog. Surrounding areas are more scenic, but also much more provincial and rural. The “inaka” consists of tiny hamlets of old people tending their rice fields (young people typically leave after high school for obvious reasons).

So you may be surprised to learn that along a tiny two lane highway through the mountains, (in an area roughly analogous to Pagosa Springs in CO, Camp Verde in AZ, or Needles in California) lies the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art. Locally people refer to it as, “The Dali Museum.” About 2/3 of the museum’s floor space is nothing but Dali. You know Salvador Dali right? The Spanish guy who painted all the melting clocks, elephants with insect legs, and naked people with drawers coming out of them? Surely you’ve seen his trademark melting clocks! Why somebody built a very decent Dali museum in a rural mountain backwater like Inawashiro is anyone’s guess, but that was the museum to which Emi and I went.

I learned a few interesting things about Dali. A prolific sculptor as well as painter, his sculptures are just as strange and intriguing as his paintings, although it is obvious that many times he just started sculpting what he had previously painted. The melting clocks and paintings were very cool. All of his melting clocks are stopped at the time Atomic bombs detonated. One famous painting I saw, The Three Sphinxes of Bikini features people’s heads and tree branches as symbols for mushroom clouds over Bikini Island. Havent seen this one since that Humanities class in College. He drew inspiration for a great deal of his paintings from the early Atomic Age.

They also had a large collection of boring paintings by some woman named Marie Laurencin (yawns and snores). Her dainty pastels of melancholy ladies cured my persistent insomnia and could be developed into alternative anesthetics for the oral surgeon’s office! Let’s hope for the museum’s sake that these do not make up their permanent collection. But the one Picasso I saw there definitely rocked.

OK, I won't lie! While I enjoyed Dali and wanted to take his paintings home, I didn't learn all that much. I spent most of my time joking around with Emi and making fun of Marie Laurencin. Still, Dali is something to be seen. Also, I can't claim to have seen every painting of Dali's featured on this blog. I saw a sculpture that looked just like the Anthropomorphic Dresser, and I saw the Three Sphinxes of Bikini, but the other paintings I can't claim to have seen (yet). Still, an impressive museum devoted to Dali. If you ever find yourself in the village of Inawashiro, go see their Dali Museum!

Very Bad Timing

Most readers know I'm not thrilled about leaving Japan. I seriously contemplated a fourth year for a number of reasons. Quite frankly, I like life here in Japan. While life isn’t perfect, and can be downright frustrating, I like my social life and my group of friends. While I was definitely growing tired of some of the more tedious aspects of my job, I was willing to do it for another year for the opportunity to stick around. I certainly didn’t see myself in Japan forever, but I’m not quite ready to leave.

Professionally, I should be leaving. The fact is, an Assistant English Teacher can’t really go anywhere here in Japan. Pay is livable, but stagnant. The job is nice, but a dead end. My job is easy so other skills I possess are at risk of eroding. I consider myself extremely lucky to have landed the job I did in Kuwait with Universal American School. Quite frankly, the position looks thrilling, exciting, (and I must admit somewhat intimidating).

But what do you do when you meet someone new that you really want to know? I suppose readers want to know that I’m spending a lot of time with a girl named Emi. We met at the gym I frequent. Everything about her is great except for the completely awful timing. She’s a nurse in a nearby town called Nihonmatsu. She’s funny, lots of fun, very pretty, always smiling, and brightens everyone’s day. She goes to the same gym but I never even saw her until a few weeks ago! Why couldn't I have met her a year ago?

On the day we took these pictures, we were hiking near Lake Hibarako and went to the World’s most out of place art museum to look at paintings by Dali.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Duke: Someone Else's Editorial & My Rant

I never followed the whole sordid story at Duke until the players were exonerated. I also don't claim to know more about the American legal and criminal justice system than most educated Social Studies teachers. While I can talk intelligently on the subject, I can't say I'm an expert by any means. Nor did I investigate the article's statistics. But I'm still going to recomend this article for no other reason than I think he's right.

One Off Offing: Why you won't see a disbarment like Mike Nifong's again.

Call me cynical and pessimistic, but I think this editorial is right on the money. Mike Nifong went down in flames as he should have! He should be cained for ruining those guys. They plan on suing him, but lets face it: DAs and prosecutors get fabulous immunity from lawsuits (for obvious reasons). Even the best lawyers will probably have an ordeal getting any kind of settlement out of that jerk.

Seriously, let's all admit it. The only reasons these guys aren't in prison right now is because:
  • Their folks were filthy rich and hired the best legal guns and PR talent that only old moneyed people at a place like Duke could possibly afford.
  • They were demonstrably innocent to a degree most defendents never are.
  • They're white. Come on folks, would the media really care so much had they been black guys on Duke's basketball team? Que our last point...
  • The entire nation was watching everything on TV.
Nifong was a bad prosecutor. But I have trouble believing that he was particularly incompetent or dumb. He probably just did what he would normally do under similar circumstances. Media attention was on him, so he probably wanted to appear tough (harboring political ambitions are we?). This time though, he underestimated who he was up against. A few simple mistakes spiraled out of control. Even so, the best lawyers money can buy show up and commentators STILL say the boys are lucky! Gosh, What would have happened to me in their shoes?

While I consider myself relatively privileged by American standards, I certainly wasn't in the same league with these lacrosse players. I'm convinced my parents love me. Had something like this happened when I was at NAU, they would probably have taken out a second mortgage and maxed out the credit cards to make bail and help out. But my folks don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars lying around to keep me out of the slammer! Eventually, I'd get stuck with some lazy, two bit, court appointed, law-school grad rookie begrudgingly doing Pro bono work!*

Even if I got off like the lucky boys at Duke, my folks certainly wouldn't have had the millions in legal fees to extract a modicum of justice in a lawsuit (probably a crapshoot anyways). I shudder to think what would have happened to me or my friends in similar circumstances. A shortened prison term in exchange for a plea agreement? Shorter if I ratted out friends? Parole after a few years? Calling all legal experts to speculate on what my fate would have been!

*Disclaimer: I'm just being sarcastic and cynical here. I don't really mean to demean all court appointed criminal defense lawyers! I'm sure many of you are the dedicated, hard working public servants that everyone deserves (including folks at Guantanamo)! If nothing else, this case certainly highlights the desperate necessity for good criminal defense attorneys!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Engrish with the Art Club

I can't live in Japan and not do at least one post about the silly English you see around here.

I was hanging out with Asaka JHS’s art club the other day. They are a fun bunch of mostly girls who sit around after school, gossip, and draw or trace cartoons in the distinctive Japanese manga/anime style. The characters have big oversize eyes, flat faces, and very dramatic hairdos. We were talking and laughing and the subject of the English on their bags, notebooks, and folders came up. I was telling them that they often have big errors, are incomprehensible, or outlandishly funny. They instantly asked me to start translating the stuff on their bags. Here are some of the following:

  • Who is the person who ate my cake?
  • Stars are always twinkling on our heads.
  • I want to see strange people in South and North country.
  • There’s no reason for loving.
  • Special Happy Time! (With accompanying photo of a morbidly obese blonde girl shoveling ice cream into her mouth; kind of disturbing.)

The kids couldn’t stop laughing at the translations I provided. I’m not sure whether it was my lousy Japanese or the absurdity of the messages printed on their things. Probably both. I’ve become immune to most of the bad English used in graphic design and only occasionally find something hilarious anymore. If you aren’t so jaded and desensitized to it as I am, feel free to look at this website for a few laughs.

But bad English isn’t limited to Japan. Its quite prominent in some of the other asian countries I’ve been to, such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Korea. I even spied some strange things during my trip to Europe (although I don’t recall anything specific or particularly funny). Anyways, just go to for a good laugh.

Also, don't think this is because Asians are lazy and can't translate English. These are part of the graphic design of products and aren't really intended to communicate anything. Americans with Chinese character tattoos might be an apt analogy for understanding what's going on. Americans with chinese tattos like the look and wouldn't be expected to have the communicative competency to avoid a silly error.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Forgive Me if I'm Skeptical: Nigerian E-mail

I've been in Japan for awhile, a notoriously safe island country. Its people definitely posess a naivete and gullability befitting such a safe and orderly island culture. I suppose some of this has naturally rubbed off on me.

Moreover, my father has even at times accused me of being a "bleeding heart liberal," and I plead guilty as charged on many counts. Yesterday, I even had a student at Asaka JHS try to slap a large piece of tape on my back with "fool" scribbled in Japanese. (Wow! Nobody ever thought of doing anything like that before!) My folks can verify that I even flunked kindergarden! (The kids on the playground never let me forget it either!) And I'll be the first to admit my Neanderthal demeanor and poor table manners leave people thinking that perhaps I'm not playing with a full deck.

But do I truly look so boneheaded as to respond to the following?

With Respect,

I am Olivier Thomas and My sister is Rosemary Thomas. Our parents Mr. and Mrs.David Thomas were assassinated here in IVORY COAST. Before my father died, he had SEVEN MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS kept in a well concealed trunk box and deposited with a security company here in Abidjan. I want you to do me a favour to receive this fund to a safe account in your country or any safer place as the beneficiary. I have plans to do investment in your country, like in real estate and industrial productions or any other profitable sector in your economy. This is my reasons for contacting you. Please if you are willing to assist me and my only sister, indicate your interest by replying.
Thanks and best regard.
Olivier Thomas

Seriously, to all Nigerian/Ivory Coast email scam dudes out there, if you want to swindle me out of my money, the least you could do is use my first name! Get a clue Olive Boy!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sakuranbo Half Marathon


Like most Japanese road races, the Sakuranbo Marathon is not actually a full Marathon, but a 5K for old people, a 10K for the slightly less adventurous, and a half marathon for everyone else. This particular race was in Higashine, high in the mountains of Yamagata prefecture Northwest of Koriyama. This race is quite well known and popular for “Sakuranbo,” or cherries. The entire region’s economy and reputation revolve around exporting exceptionally delicious (and exceptionally expensive) cherries.

Despite weather concerns, the race itself proved quite pleasant. Cherry orchards and rice fields cover the lush green valley system as it carves a path through rugged Japanese Mountains. The course meandered through the heart of Yamagata cherry country and the biggest cherry and apple orchards with commanding views across the valley. The orchards and valley might have been the most beautiful in Japan, were it not for the fact that translucent plastic tent structures covered every single cherry tree. Forgetting my camera proved no great loss, as all the orchards across the countryside lay beneath a blanket of rusty scaffolding and white plastic sheeting.

Having previously spent the night with Yohei and family, I didn't have very far to go.

The tiny little hamlet of Higashine hosts the race at the local Jeitai (Japanese Self Defense Force) military base in the area, being the only place large enough to handle parking, thousands of racers, and all the spectators. I was shocked that such a remote race was is also one of the most popular races in the region.

A minor snafu almost turned into a complete tragedy when I FORGOT MY NUMBER TAGS AND TIMING CHIP! Fortunately I explained what happened to the race coordinators and they had an extra tag for me to use. No problems there. The rain from the previous night and the morning also had me worried, and I almost decided to forget the whole thing. 30 minutes before the race started, the rain cleared up. 10 minutes before the race, blue skies were peaking out from the west. By the time the race was finished, I knew I was getting sunburned.

The race proved to be easier than the Towa Half Marathon, as the area was relatively flat. About half way through the race though, I found that my target pace was simply not sustainable, and I was going to be lucky to finish in 1 hour and 35 minutes. I ultimately finished in 1 hour and 41 minutes, almost exactly my time for the half marathon in Towa. My knees and left ankle certainly weren’t happy with me.

I also ran into (literally) a guy I had met on a couple of occasions before named Nathaniel. He drove us to an onsen hot spring after the race to soothe our muscles. All the racers got a t-shirt and a small package of cherries and onigiri at the finish line. I suspect the entire race is one big conspiracy between cherry growers and the local chamber of commerce. Regardless of their sinister purposes, the cherries they gave away were undeniably delicious.

Note to Readers: This post is two weeks behind schedule but I will try to be caught up tomorrow.

Why We Fight

Lying far North in Yamagata, the Sakuranbo Half Marathon requires an overnight trip from Koriyama. So prior to running, (Two weeks ago, holy cow I’m behind!), I stayed at the home of a very hospitable host close to the race. Yohei is a smart guy who lived in California and studied film for five or six years. His gracious family served up a delicious curry and put up with me for the night. I felt bad for his parents, because Yohei and I quickly discovered a shared interest in politics. His articulate English far superior to my Japanese, we unfortunately left his parents out of the conversation. ごめんなさい!
Yohei shared his sharp insights and perspectives on both Japanese and American politics. He’s also currently writing a book about American and Japanese politics (in Japanese). His time in film school must have paid off, because he showed me an excellent documentary about American militarism. I thought it was so good that I’m recommending everyone see it. Eugene Jarecki’s “Why We Fight,” takes the title of the WWII propaganda series and argues that American leaders misled the public about reasons for fighting in Vietnam, Iraq, and most of the 30 to 40 or so other countries where US troops have fought since WWII. From the Johnson administration lying about events in the Gulf of Tonkin to Bush admitting Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or link to 9/11, the film begs the question: Why are Americans fighting, dying, and killing around the globe?

The film places a lot of blame on the military industrial complex. The film cites facts even I didn’t know. Components of the B2 bomber are constructed or assembled in every single US state. Such saturation arguably forces American lawmakers to spend money on weapon systems or risk losing jobs and investment in their districts (and votes).

While the degree to which Congressional legislators are beholden to the defense industry is debatable, and while I remain skeptical of some of the film’s implicit suggestions, Jarecki certainly makes an unchallengeably crushing indictment of the companies that have profited from the war in Iraq. According to the film, Halliburton makes $100 each time they launder a soldier’s clothes. Soldiers are strangely forbidden from doing their own laundry. This film definitely shows your tax dollars at work!

The film also explains the concept of “blowback.” Blowback is a CIA term that describes unintended consequences of American foreign policy that reach the American public (Sept. 11th, for example). When such events occur, the American public cannot put said events in any coherent context. How could they, when politicians and leaders distort, cover up, hide, and spin the complex realities of America’s foreign conflicts to serve their interests and not those of the American public?

It also follows the human interest, as a Vietnam veteran becomes angry about the war in Iraq. The man's son, a victim of the World Trade Center bombings, gets caught up in the easy answers. He goes so far as to request US marines put his son's name on a bomb dropped in Iraq. The resulting indignant anger and disgust he feels at hearing Bush's admission that Iraq played no part in 9/11 or had any WMDs was an especially compelling story. I wish more Americans were angry about this ultimate sham.

I recommend this film to anyone interested in the future of American democracy, any of the wars the US is fighting, or even folks just interested in seeing where their tax dollars go. Compelling interviews with John McCain, John Eisenhower and others make this worthwile also. Also, for no particular reason, I’m adding a new section to my sidebar of links called Recent Films and Movies. Unlike the other two sections, this one will have links to the films! Yay!

Also, thank you again to Yohei and family in Yamagata for hosting me*

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tale in the Philippines

My first trip to the Philippines was surprisingly exciting and wonderful. More and more, I'm amazed that the Philippines isn't a major tourist destination in Asia. Anyways, here is a collection of posts from my first trip ever to the Philippines.

Anyways, here's the photo album above and the complete story from Day 1 in Manila.

Entry 1: Job Hunting, A Party, and Going to Manila
Entry 2: Manila to Baguio
Entry 3: Hotel Key Lost in Cave
Entry 4: Sagada to Banaue
Entry 5: Preliminary Pictures
Entry 6: Batad, Bangaan & the Bitternut
Entry 7: Diving the Wrecks of Coron
Entry 8: Sundry Observations on the Philippines
Entry 10: Some Pictures
Entry 11: Pictures From Farid Maames
Entry 12: Some More Pictures from the Philippines
Entry 13: A Heap of Philippine Cave Pictures
Entry 14: Here We Go With More Philippines Pictures

Student Impressions of Me

Foreign English teachers in Japanese Schools must do a lesson called a jikoshoukai. It means "self introduction." Depending on how many schools you teach at, how large your schools are, and how often they change, you could introduce yourself anywhere from 3 to 148 times a year. I only did it 14 times if I don't count Koriyama 6th JHS, where I visit as a sort of guest (its complicated, don't ask). The lesson is further influenced by the teachers and how much freedom and they allow for this. Some teachers only allow me to speak English & only allow 10 minutes. Others let me do the whole thing in Japanese for an hour.

If I have complete creative control, everyone has a good time learning about me, Arizona, and the English language. I've perfected a standup routi..(cough, cough) er.. lesson that leaves everyone in stitches. I play a game that gets kids asking simple questions in English. I have great pictures of myself, friends and family. I also shamelessly promote Arizona as a tourist destination (I deserve some special recognition from the governor for this).

Yoshida Sensei at Asaka JHS gave me the whole hour with the stipulation that I use English before Japanese so students could listen for keywords they learned in Elementary school. She also gave the kids a worksheet. The worksheet required students to ask me questions in English and write the anser. It also contained a space where students can draw a portrait of me. I thought the impressions I gave the students were rather interesting.

I intended to post this in April, but I couldn't find the time to scan or properly edit the pictures. April is when the school year starts and schools recieve new students. But I still can't figure out how to crop them in any of the programs I have. So if you don't mind blowing them up, you can see some interesting portraits that my students drew of me.

This one is my absolute favorite. It tells me that my time at the gym is finally paying off. I know Japanese people think foreigners are big and tall, but I'm not sure I'm ready to take on Godzilla.

Another favorite that tells me my time at the gym is not a complete waste. While I'm flattered, where does he get off thinking I look like this? I agree I'm getting a little definition in my shoulders, but those are definitely not my abs.

The girl's impressions of me seem to be a little more realistic. Note the believable size and receding hairline.

Here's one where I'm actually smiling. This was refreshing, because I'm certain that I was laughing and smiling with the kids throughout the whole lesson. I was surprised when most of the pictures came back with me not smiling. I must have forgotten to wear a tie that day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Teiden (Blackout)

I'm at my favorite school, Katahira JHS last week. Things are going pretty good. But then, with my last class of the day almost finished, the lights went out. It was my first teiden (blackout). The students of course, were all in a state of panic. Nevertheless, we proceeded with cleaning time; all the students and teachers tidying up the school for about 20 minutes.

We used to have blackouts in Tennessee all the time when I lived there. So why am I mentioning this otherwise mundane abnormality? When the blackout happened, the water pressure and phones failed as well. Normally this wouldn't bother me much, except that I had to "go" really really bad! And now I couldn't use the toilet (three people emphasized this to me). I sat at my desk aching while my eyes turned yellow! There's never a problem with the water during a blackout in the USA. I asked a teacher, and she said the water pumps are run with electricity. Makes sense I suppose. Presumably water pumps in the USA are electric as well, so why don’t they go down when the electricity does? Are they on a separate power system?

And how come American phones work during a blackout and Japanese phones don’t (or didn’t). Even during the all too frequent blackouts in Memphis TN, the phones never stopped working. Calling all city planners, utility experts, and engineers with appropriate backgrounds in either the USA or Japan! Can you please explain this to me?

My First Funeral in Japan

When I first came to Japan, I hoped to witness and experience everything about the culture. I kept a personal goal for myself, trying to see at least one wedding and one funeral before leaving Japan. Last week, I went to see my first funeral in Japan.

I don’t know why I wanted to see a funeral. When the time came to go, I actually found myself dreading it. I can’t say I enjoyed the funeral very much. After giving the matter some thought, I've concluded funerals are long, sad, awkward, boring, tedious, depressing, expensive, terribly imposing and often inconvenient. To put it bluntly, funerals are a total buzzkill. Why anyone would ever go to the trouble of arranging for such an event is something I don’t quite understand. And yet, funerals happen every day around the world almost every single time someone dies. Perhaps I’ve never been sufficiently close to a loved one who passed away to fully appreciate this human custom. However, kindness and decency requires me to be present during a friend’s time of need, so I attended to help a friend through a difficult time. And after going though it, I'm glad I did.

The funeral was held for the child of my friend and co-worker. On Saturday (when we were both planning to attend a party with our neighbors) she began having vague pregnancy complications and was rushed to the hospital, where she gave birth to Faith Hewitt two months ahead of schedule. Born premature and on a respirator, the odds were never in Faith’s favor. She died a few days later.

This particular funeral wasn’t the most traditional Japanese funeral, and is probably the shortest ceremony I will ever see in my life. We paid our respects to the deceased in a room made completely of stone.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Great persons: Ito Mie

Mie Ito is my neighbor and friend. I met her a year ago and she has been one of the kindest, most generous and tolerant people I have ever met. Always a very curious person, she’s someone who doesn’t quite fit the mold of what a Japanese person should be. She would even agree with me if I told her so. But not in a bad way. In fact, she embodies some of the best values and characteristics that I really appreciate and admire in Japanese people.

I first met her about a year ago at a Japanese lesson. She later brought me to join her Japanese language tutoring group in Motomiya Machi, a nearby suburb of Koriyama. With other volunteers, she teaches Japanese every week to numerous foreigners from all over. She’s also very keen to learn and practice English. And despite her struggles to learn it, she’s never shy about it. She keeps at it despite any setbacks. I’ve always encouraged her to practice it around me.

Mie is also very well traveled. Every year she goes off to someplace in Asia or Southern Europe. She recently took a three month tour around the world aboard a ship called the Peace Boat. She traveled to 6 continents and over 20 different countries, including Jordan, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

We often hang out and go hiking together on occasion, or go visit some site in the countryside. But alas, she is moving to Minami Aizu in a couple weeks. Over 3 hours drive away, she is going to work at a resort in a National Park to, “be close to nature.” She will be missed when she’s gone. Let’s hope that I can visit her in her new home at least once before I head back home.

Was Missing in Action, But Funk Is Over!

I apologize about the lack of updates lately, but I’ve been extremely busy! I finally finished paperwork to send to Kuwait regarding my upcoming job. I’m busy trying to stop procrastinating about a teacher in-service training course I need to apply for. The following has happened in the last few weeks:

1. I got a physical for my job in Kuwait with a tetanus booster and Hepatitis A vaccine. I have to go back and get more shots soon. I don’t mind too much, except I missed most of the annual Chutairen, or city sports tournament where all my teams compete against each other. Hiwada JHS did particularly well in volleyball. Unfortunately, I only saw the last bit of some basketball. Here a picture of Katahira's table tennis team!

2. I went to a party with my neighbor friends and former neighbor friends. All were young mothers with lots of children between 2 and 6. As Japanese parents are far more permissive than their American counterparts, they ran wild in the restaurant. Myself and one woman’s husband constituted the only males over age 6. The mothers were all throwing Adoni and I a “Farewell Party” of sorts. Over the past three years, we’ve played with their children after school, joined them for BBQs and celebrated their children’s birthdays. They also presented me with a brand new yukata, a casual summer garment that resembles something between a kimono and a karate gi. While I don’t have a photo yet, I assure you its quite stylish! I will always be grateful to Aki, Noriko, Kaori, and the other ladies for their generosity, kindness, and good spirits.

3. Emailed David Hanson about returning to the USA and I will possibly see him, the Hansons, and others in Phoenix and Arizona before heading off to Kuwait. Which reminds me: I need to email Paul Brodar, the Hansons, Uncle David and Aunt Nancy, Jonathan and Jessica, my grandparents, and anyone else in Arizona I can think of. The only reason I thought to email David was because I happened to catch Ola on instant messenger.

4. My quest to “get buff” before returning to the states is progressing, but very slowly. I found a great shoulder routine that I’ve been doing and I’m adding some leg exercises that I think will help my knees feel better when I run. The weather is nicer now, so I have fewer excuses not to ride my bike, which is also adding some light aerobic activity to my day and generally making me more active.

5. I’m trying to stop my procrastinating and sign up for a teacher in-service online course to renew my Arizona Teaching Certificate before going to Kuwait. You all know me. If I don’t really want to do something, I always find creative excuses to put it off, delay it, or otherwise avoid it. I’m always open for tips on avoiding procrastination!