Saturday, January 31, 2009

Good listener

At the beginning of the second semester, we began to write weekly letters home. Each Friday, the students will write a letter to their parents about what has happened to them during the week. The parents reply and send it to school on Monday and the letters are collected into a book for each child at the end of the year. And, it's a free lesson off for me each Friday morning. Everyone wins in the end.

Our first week of letters were really good. I was impressed that, during the first time trying, the students did so well. Gustavo was no exception. The letter, although grammatically incorrect (Gustavo is a second-language learner), and without a lot of details (it was the first week, I accepted this as well), was formatted correctly, and it is evident that he did his best.

So, like all kids, I proofed it over, but in Gustavo's case, I laughed out loud when I got to the end. I scanned it immediately to share to you that kids truly do, pick up and regurgitate everything you say. Gustavo has taken my words and used them to let his parents know that all is well. Just in case they were worried...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Love Advice from the Japanese

Now, the above statement is a laugh in itself, as the Japanese are so modest that they refuse to admit that they even love their spouses. To them, admitting it is an embarrassment, and seen as showy, immodest, or forward. Often, I'll ask my students (fully knowing what the answer will be) a question like: 'So does your wife cook well?' to which the reply will always be, 'No.' whether she, in reality, cooks well or not.

Tonight, though, feeling a bit amorous about Jono coming tomorrow, and a bit lazy about wanting to actually do real teaching, decided to have a conversation about love. I wanted them to tell me about how they met their spouses, as well as advice for relationships. Just for fun.

Their answers made me DIE! We laughed so loud and so hard, but often, the advice, though worded poorly (if their English teacher would only actually teach instead of muck around) was good, good stuff. Worth sharing.

"Misokatsu. Misonikomi. At Yamamoto-ya in Chunichi Bldg. In Sakae. Eat there. It is Nagoya special food."
(in essence, she wants me to feed Jono, possibly noting that the quickest way to a man's heart is, in any language, through his stomach)

"You should do natural. Wendy is very cute. Please have a natural action and attitude."
(basically, be yourself)

Aiko (with two pieces of advice):
"Don't show your navel to him!"
(as I had just demonstrated what a six-pack was)

"You need to feeling for believe to himself. You have to feeling to believe him - trust."
(trust him, which was, by chance, the best advice I received the whole evening)

"Request 100% percentage to your lovers. Don't request 100% to him. Don't expect perfect - he can't get. I, Jono, you want 100%... don't."
(Yama, who chooses not to try to improve on his spoken English, is my lowest speaker, but after a bit of questioning, I recognized that he was advising me to not expect 100% from anyone. in the end, the advice was that nobody is perfect)

"Having kind.... heart. Take care of him. Use a tenderly heart."
(later, when I asked Takako if she treats her husband with a kind heart, she replied with a fierce 'no!')

Now, there was much more noted in this conversation, as the events of my love life have become a favorite conversation with my ESOL learners. This night, though, was all about them, an their great advice, which made me laugh, think seriously, and be glad for such fortune in my life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes We Can

It was worth it, waking at 2am on the couch to watch the inauguration. As I laid there, eyes barely open, straining hard to really appreciate the words, I knew it was all worth it.

Concurrently, I had a great conversation with myself (you surely didn't think I had company at 2am, right?) while watching, and found myself coming up with great one-liners as the whole thing unfolded. If only I would have had my blog open, recording these thoughts, I would have filled pages with my sarcasm and humor. But for this morning, I'll add a few of the most memorable things I was thinking during it all...

Those trumpet players. Where did these guys come from? I felt like I was in 18th century England. Who invited these guys?

That's right, Bill and Hillary, go on. Draw the biggest claps, you rock stars you.

(as 43 enters, announced as 'The president of the United States of America'): When are we FINALLY going to get to refer to this guy as the FORMER president of the United States of America??

Oh, Aretha. Honey. What is WITH that hat? Really?

The first reverend? BO-ring. Come on, sir. It's 2am here. Get on with it already!

YoYoMa? Very cool.

In a crowd of 2.2 million, just where DOES one find parking?

Boy, he didn't even use a cue card once. Does he memorize this crap, or does it just come to him naturally?

Oh! The Star Spangled Banner! Oh! (yay!)


In the end, it was an amazing moment. I was literally a half a world away, and was absolutely amazed at the crowds, the current, the electricity, and the wonder of it all.

Although I am proud of what our country achieved on this day, I would like to think that the crowds were big for more than just history's sake. I would like to think that the crowds were innumerable to instead witness the hope of that brighter future we have craved, and that we are ready to expect from a great leader. It is my hope that this president will be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character, and that when he leaves office, he won't be remembered as the first black president, but rather, the first to bring real hope, real change, and a sense of pride back to the American people.

And then I went back to bed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Important question of the day: Why do parents write their child's name on the tissue boxes they send to school?

This one has always made me laugh.

I thought of it today when I pulled out a fresh box of tissues for my goobery little kiddos. I was reminded, immediately, of my little Nina from last year, as the tissue box clearly stated that the box, and all of the tissues inside, were hers.

Now, I tried to think like a parent (ha!) and imagine that, in the heat and fury of labeling everything else at the beginning of the year, tissue boxes are not exempt. But I still have a chuckle at the fact that my students' parents take the time to carefully affix labels and designed stickers to the tissue box. Sometimes I have the privilege of getting an ancient box from a kiddo from a few years back. How do I know? Because I recognize the name on the label as a current fourth or fifth grader. But luckily, I can be thankful that THAT box of tissues was so thoughtfully provided by that family.

So, to any moms and dads out there who find it important to clearly label the tissue boxes, thank you.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A letter to his mother

As I am set to head back to school on Monday, I thought it fitting to share one more little nugget of real from the mouth of a kiddo.

Last year, June Q was one of my favorite students. He was clever and smart, and could not sit still for the life of him. This was never an issue, though, because June Q was like a sponge, and no matter what I said, he remembered it, was thoughtful with it, and was one of the most meaningful learners I had. A bit of a pain in the rear sometimes, no doubt, but a good, good kid.

June never had trouble saying exactly what he felt. A the beginning of the year, it was a bit of an issue, but as the year went on and we dealt with kindness towards others, June's brashness changed into honesty. Often times, his honesty was worth a good laugh and chuckle, and a pat on the back.

So is the example below, where June Q, writing a letter to his mother, was very honest. Only the first paragraph is really worth reading...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The good, the bad, and the funny

We just might have been the dumbest people ever to have traveled to India without a plan, a first aid kit, antibiotics for colds and stomachs, or vaccinations, but one thing we had more than enough of was laughter. Now, after returning home to the safety and cleanliness of my own apartment, I decided that, before I even unpacked, I needed to spend ten minutes finally typing out the Best and Worst of India 2008-09 list that we've been working on for the last two weeks.

It was a brilliant move to purchase a couple of small notebooks for writing down precious words and phrases, moments of hilarity, and titles that we gave to each other. My little black one, used for just that, is also full of personal things, blog ideas, to do lists, and mementos. It was a necessary part of my trip, and will allow me to share the following hilarities with you. Now, I figure that this stuff will not be as funny as it may have been to us, but allow yourself, if you will, to fall into our world of immaturity, sarcasm, naivety, and good-natured fun. And please, have a laugh at our expense.

And with no further ado, the following is a list of everything good, as well as the worst, of our winter holiday in India.

Best and worst:
Best stomach: Wendy
Worst stomach: Michele, who got Delhi belly at least three times

Best bargainer: Greg, who could swindle the price down enough to save himself money for many taxi rides in the Philippines

Best sleepers: the Nonato boys, much to the disdain of Michele and myself

Best thing we stole: Airline blankets, which were useful day after day after day

Best looking: Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan

Best purchase: A 3x4 cardboard cutout of Shahrukh Khan, which was tragically left at a hotel in Udaipur

Most likely to be able to grow as much facial hair as a Venezuelan Barbie: Greg

Best packers: a three way tie between Greg (for having the least amount of stuff), Wendy (for packing light AND never having have had to do laundry), and Mike (for coming home with the least amount of things)
Most unusual packer: Michele and her rolling suitcase

Most likely to have sunshine coming out of his ass: Greg
Least likely: Wendy

But, by far, the Best Entertainment Value title goes to Michele, who earned herself a whole slew of titles on our trip including, but not limited to, Most likely to bring a rolling suitcase to India, Most likely to wake up with some ailment or another, Most likely to be drugged up on Gravel, Most likely to laugh until she literally pees, and Most likely not to have kids until she's 32 (or to get a second opinion about it).

Michele, for all it is worth, was an incredibly good sport. We really gave her a hard time, and made her laugh at herself, which she is a pro at doing. She also provided us with so many nuggets of laughter in her quotes, which were sometimes as naive as they were memorable. Some of the best quotes from Michele:

"Italians, they'll touch you. But if your friends are cakers..." (in referring to Canadians as cakers, a reference that neither Mike, nor I, understood)

"Am I a year older than you? Maybe I should be the mature one?"

"Shut ta zit! And that means 'be quiet'!" (yeah, Michele, as if we couldn't figure that out)

"Some people will never see these sights in all of their lifetimes."

"Would somebody PLEASE just eat these cows?"

"Excuse me, sir, but could you tell me what's on your omelet sandwich?"

"I can't take the camel seriously. Seriously."

"Those stupid, two-ass snowstorms." (referring to the two, stupid-ass snowstorms that kept her flights back to Japan, before India, late)

and our favorite quote of all: "It's the Italian in me." (which was Michele's response to EVERYTHING)

Best quotes from Wendy:
"Uh, guys, Greece is sounding pretty good right now."

"Michele, in honor of you, we're naming this camel Guiseppe, because it must be Italian - it's eating everything in site!'

Best quotes from Mike:
"So, do you guys adjust each other's boobs in those backpacks?"

"NRI must mean 'Not Really Indian', PIO is 'Pretty Indian Ofcourse', and OCI surely stands for 'Of Course I Am'." (in answer to the boxes we were asked to check on our Indian entry customs forms)

"Wear diapers." (in response to Michele's insistence that she couldn't help that she had to go to the bathroom all the time, and what else would he suggest she do instead?)

"I don't want to see your ass hairs!" (in response to Michele saying 'Eww, look at all of these nasty-ass hairs!').


In the end, it was amazing to travel with this group. We laughed, we cried, and if you were Michele, you even peed.

In Closing...

This past two weeks in India was not a holiday. It was an experience.

I have vowed that next time I want to go somewhere, I am going to take a holiday. I am going to go somewhere where relaxing will be part of my day. Where my bikini will be required, and hot showers expected (I might even take with me a tall, handsome man to fan me with peacock feathers and feed me olives, and I am not even joking for one second...).

But, in retrospect, this experience has been incredible. And it couldn't have happened without the help of some incredible and amazing people.

For starters, India was brought to us by the letters 'L' and 'P'. Without our Lonely Planet guidebook, our tour in India would have truly been a failure.

Special thanks also go to the following:

To Mike (the peacemaker), Greg (the navigator), and Michele (the Italian), my awesome travel partners. It could have been a lot harder, but it wasn't. The mix of personalities really went together in a way that worked. It wasn't always flowers and roses, but we did an amazing job with what we had.

To Leila, Brian, Greg and Amy: thank you for getting us to and from the airports with all of our bags. You were absolutely necessary, and are in our debt.

To Rachel: For your promise to bring me Lysol from America. Without it, my apartment, and my belongings, would be ruined for life. I am anticipating the moment of delousing already.

For Patrick: One of my number one pals, who was also indefinitely responsible for keeping me sane. His bi-weekly Facebook chats kept my mind free and easy, and my connection to the real world strong. My deepest gratitude to you, friend.

and lastly, to Jono, whose gifts kept me organized (with the very useful friendship-bracelet backpack) and warm (with your knitted hat and socks). I apologize in advance for the delousing that will have to occur in order for your belongings to be usable again, but am grateful nonetheless.

After two weeks to think about it and reflect, I have added to the list of things that would be invaluable for future trips to (third-world) countries like India. If you are thinking of traveling that way, please feel free to look me, or my travel partenrs up, and accept my suggestion of the following items to make your holiday just a little more comfortable: earplugs (for trains and hotels, planes and taxis, these are a must!), a first aid kit (yes, we really did travel without one of these), antibiotics (and without these. too), a sleeping bag cover (this would have been very useful in all of the dirty places we had to sleep or sit), more than one sports bra (for day two of the camel safari when the camels gallop, rather than walk), a flashlight, and a mobile phone (with a Ricco-style, attached safety cord so that your lame-ass doesn't lose it on the first day, Greg).

And to anyone who is going, I wish you gambatte, good luck, and God speed. It will be an experience that you will not forget.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Last night, under the stars in the desert dunes of Rajastan, I laid awake for 2 good hours and wrote 67 pages of blog in my head. Now, in a dirty internet cafe within a fort, I will attempt to relive those moments and thoughts into this blog. This will likely be the last serious note I make about India and its impression on me.

It all started with a toilet and a sore throat.

Waking up, freezing cold, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the night can be frightening, especially when a full bladder is luring you out from under your blanket and into the unknown. Except that on this night, Orion and his belt were waiting for me. And in that brilliant instant when I realized where I was, I immediately was awake and alert, and ready to think about the moment forever. It took me a good three minutes to convince myself that, yes, I did have to go to the bathroom that badly, and no, there was no waiting. So up I went, putting my shoes on, grabbing the tp, and heading out. Next to our six blankets on the sand were mice, scurrying out of my way. Beetles ran out of the way of mice. And for not one moment was I frightened of either.

I crawled back into bed 5 minutes later and bundled up. My throat was feeling a bit sore, and I was cursing my bad luck for getting sick on the end of my journey. But, within an instant, I stopped and really thought about it: two weeks, in one of the dirtiest countries in the world, eating God knows what, putting my fingers God knows where, and I was seriously complaining about a small sore throat (that was gone the next morning, by the way)? Here I was, laying on a cold dune, surrounded by some of the greatest people I know, worrying about the wind over my nose making me sicker and regretting my bad luck. It was at that moment that I stopped, and became immediately thankful for my amazing body and all that it does for me, and the healthy chance to be a part of a world under stars.

I have looked at those stars hundreds of times in my life. Out on the farm as a kid, on the back porches of my girlfriends' houses, and more than once on the beach with friends. I have pointed out the 'W' that makes up Cassiopia, and searched for the familiar Big Dipper countless times. On this night, I was afforded the same opportunity to do it in a world that seems a million miles away. Jono would say, 'To hell with a small world. It's a big giant world, but the people we meet and the experiences we have are no accident...' I completely agree.

When I lived in New Zealand, I often walked to work at the bar under the newly-shown night stars. As I walked towards the Sky Tower in the cool of the night, I would often look up at the beauty above and around me, and instantly be grateful for my time on Earth. I would often think of my mom, and be comforted by the fact that she too lived under those same stars. It was at this time, more than once, that the song 'Because' would come on, and it was those poignent moments that encouraged me to permanantly capture the moment, and those feeling, in one simple word printed on my wrist.

And so it was in the desert, under the stars, 100 miles shy of the borders of Pakistan, where I was reminded of this exact feeling.

There is so much more to it that cannot be captured in words, so I won't even try. But it can be said that during those hours, I was thankful for the many experiences I have, and I was thankful for every person, from my friends to my camel men, who make experiences like this happen.

And it all started with a toilet, a sore throat, and my old friend Orion.

Camels 1

(as Camels 101 would be a place you could actually learn something useful about these fine, two-humped, fellow mammals...)

My knowledge of camels is about as good as my knowledge of politics,
and rightly so. But there is one camel fact that I have been
regurgitating since high school, thanks to my former science teacher, Mr.
Bechtel, who was always good for a bit of useless, but interesting

As I head out into the desert on a two-day camel safari, I would like to share one of those bits, a bit particularly pertaining to camels, with you...

Did you know that camels were among the first animals to reap the
benefits of the inter-uterine device? You see, herders long ago, not
waning to have the worries of pregnant camels during long trips across
the desert, would insert rocks inside he uterus of the female camels. As you
can imagine, the constant bouncing of the rocks, caused by nothing
more than regular movement of the camels, would ensure hat no baby
camel fetuses were able to begin life within the uterine walls.

Of course, I always wondered how they decided who got the lucky job of
placing the IUD within the camel, but I didn't think it relavant to
ask at the time.

Thanks, Bec. I guess some teachers, and their words, do stick with you for years and years...

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Magic Tour Bus

I think we all almost died last night.

Our first overnight bus experience was, as the Lonely Planet urged, death-defying. Knowing full well that overnight drivers are reckless and fast, we boarded anyway, tickets in hand, to get to our transit city of Jodhpur.

We picked up a few people on the way, although the driver barely stopped for them to get on, and often only slowed down to a crawl. We'd hear the squealing of brakes, the door open, and the driver yell 'Johdpur?!?!' at the top of his lungs as unsuspecting and uncaring Indians managed their way on board. Within five minutes of the bus slamming itself through the city, Michele and I, both sick to our stomaches, popped back Dramamine, and waited.

The driver was going somewhere between 120 and 180 kph up and down hills, and during the first hour, came so close to the edges of cliffs that I, half asleep by this time, held on for dear life as best as I could.

But, during our first restroom break, Mike chatted up some other foreigners, finding out that they travel the same route often.. They seemed at ease and familiar with the jostling and bustling of the bus, that with every application of the breaks, squeaked and squealed like a woman screaming. But, at that moment, knowing that others were unafraid, I became the same. And for the rest of the trip I rested easily (thank you Dramamine), and truthfully, sort of enjoyed it.

This morning, I am thankful, to the greatest extent, for the drug Dramamine.

Friday, January 02, 2009


Oh Lord, give us strength.

Today we checked out of our hotel at 10 am and have been wondering the city aimlessly while our luggage rested in the lobby of our hotel. There have been few opportunities to use clean toilets, and no showering.

I sit here at 8pm, India time, and in 2 hours I will be on an overnight bus to Jodhpur. No nice comfy bed for us tonight.

Tomorrow we spend the day sightseeing in Jodhpur, a city that we have been told is disgusting. We arrive there at 5am, and will not be staying the night. Therefore, we are hoping to find a place to store our luggage, and will then spend our day tiredly finding something to do. There will, again, be no resting, napping, or showering.

Tomorrow night at 11pm we board a train for an overnight trip to Jaisalmer. No nice comfy bed for us tomorrow night. No shower. Probably not a clean toilet either.

We arrive at 5am on Sunday morning and check into our (last) hotel. We'll hope for a shower and a rest before exploring Jaisalmer for a day. We will rest comfortably on Sunday night, probably taking advantage of the hot water (maybe even taking two showers, actually).

On Monday afternoon, we again store our luggage and head into the desert on camels for an overnight safari. Although this will be rock-star cool, we'll be sleeping on cots in the sand, and roughing it for a night in the cold, bare desert. There will be no comfy beds, or showers. Probably not a clean toilet either.

We come back Tuesday morning and pick up our luggage, only to go straight to the train station to catch a 20 hour, overnight train to Delhi.

We arrive on Wednesday morning, and will head to a hotel to recoup, shower, and a bit of rest, before heading out, aimlessly, to again suffer in Delhi.

Our flight leaves out of Delhi at 4am on Thursday morning. We'll be traveling for 20 hours, with a 5 hour layover in Hong Kong (hello, Burger King!), before arriving back in Nagoya at 9pm on Thursday evening. We anticipate rolling into the Bel at around 11.

The moral of this story? 6 nights, one hotel room, very few showers, and dirty toilets.

And just when we thought our vacation was starting to get good.

But, Miche reminds me that, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If Indian people don't live in luxury, why should we?

Either way, please, somebody, send us some strength...