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School's Out.

Friday, July 21, 2006
The last real day of work is behind me. Seven goodbye ceremonies, seven speeches in English and Japanese, seven big groups of kids all waving and shouting good bye - all done and dusted. Finishing now, getting ready to go home, it feels like I made the right decision to not re-contract. I am heartbroken to leave, but I feel ready. The kids are on summer break, it's warm and green here, I spend my afternoons taking pictures and enjoying life, and I can't think of a more wonderful way to end.

Speaking of taking pictures, I haven't taken many recently - a few here, a few there, but my 50 a day average is taking a hit. I would have loved to take pictures of the kids all sitting in rows listening to me talk, but I think it might not have fit in with the mood of the speeches. The schools I went to in the latter half of this week are schools that I love and have very heavily photographed, so I felt like trying to take pictures of everyone on the grey cloudy last days would do them a disservice. I always immediately know when I have missed good photos by not bringing my camera, but after my last days, I didn't feel like I had missed anything.

What that means blog-wise is that these are the last pictures on my camera. There are only eight pictures here, and then it's up to me to take pictures that I like over the weekend. I have a faculty goodbye party, possibly spray painting a van, and who knows what else, so I would guess that I'll come up with something.

Recently, Mori and the skating crew built a new halfpipe. It was an epic task, taking many months and costing many thousands of dollars, mostly in lumber. Last week they finished it, and before cleaning anything up, before putting away their tools, they had to try it out.

That is a pretty sweet ramp. It gets excellent reviews from everyone who skates on it.

It's going to get a grafitti mural or two on it soon, but for now you can appreciate the beautifully installed plywood.

Last weekend, I met a family of foreigners on the island. It was a long weekend and they were vacationing here, it was a long story but they were brother and sister by different mothers, and her mother lives on the island. We arranged to meet up and have dinner, after which I drove the brother up to the top of the mountain to see the view. It was about 7:30, so it was getting dark, but it was still lovely up there.

For the longest time I have been planning a photo trip around the island at night or late dusk. I generally shoot handheld, whatever grabs my eye, and these last pictures are about the limit of my hand's steadiness. I can do an exposure for a second or two, if I'm braced on something and breathing slowly, but beyond that I'd need a tripod, so shooting at night necessitates planning. Maybe this weekend.

The very next day, Liz came for a visit and we managed to score a totally rainy and miserable day. Video games were played and we went out for some drives, and since Liz has never managed to see the view from the top of the mountain, we thought we'd have a go at that. The top of the mountain was beautiful from my house, with clouds creeping up on it and blowing around. I though were were going to have another amazing view, but by the time we reached the top, the creeping clouds had covered the top, and we found the view erased. This is the second time this has happened.

While I didn't take many pictures last week during the goodbyes, I did take a couple, and I liked this one as a last memory of Kinoe Junior High.

The End of the Beginning of the End

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
As it is wont to do, time marches onward. 30 days until departure have become 27, and those three days slipped through my fingers like so much fine sand. I went to work, I said some goodbyes, but I feel like I should be having a party every day, celebrating the things I love about Japan, running all over the island, but instead it has been rainy, I have done some laundry, cooked dinner, lounged around with my cat, and tried to make arrangements to mail stuff home. I have just one more day of school, and maybe then the parties will start. For now, sitting at home, listening to the Goldberg Variations mixed with the sound of rain outside, smelling the sea and the warm straw smell of my tatami mats, and writing - I can think of worse ways to spend an evening.


Some time last week, maybe Thursday afternoon, I got home and instead of going back to my apartment I kept scootering right out to where Mori skates. When I got there, I found a group of my junior high school students, but no Mori. I asked the kids where he was and they told me he had just gone out swimming. I looked out onto the water and saw a tiny boat with four or five people in it heading out, and I wasted no time in calling Mori and telling him to come back, because I wanted to go swimming too. I was changed and back at the dock before he even got in, and so I jumped into the boat and we headed back out.

We got to a spot where Mori decided it was good for swimming, and he dropped the anchor. Everyone dove in, and it was wonderful. I don't have any pictures of that, obviously, but it was delightful - the water was cool, but the air was hot and the sun was shining. We swam around for a bit, jumped off the boat, and then headed back in.

Hosing off and drying off in front of Fishing Nakamura - Mori's family fish store.

At some point I started pushing a wheelbarrow around - it seemed like a good idea at the time.

After swimming Mori had to go fishing, so I headed home. It was too nice out to just sit around, so I went out to try and catch the sunset on my scooter.

This is one of my favorite spots on the road out of Osaki, and two of my students were crossing the street after catching bugs.

I headed up the mountain and stopped for a remarkably beautiful view. As I looked at it through the viewfinder, I realized I had taken this exact picture before, almost a full year ago. It's good to see that if anything, it has only gotten better with time.

As I kept stopping to take pictures on the way, about halfway up I realized the sun was going to set before I even got to the top. I got on the scooter and proceeded to recklessly head up. I was riding with my sunglasses on, and there are a few spots where you pass through thick bamboo forests, and it was just pitch black to me. I kept going towards the light at the end, hoping there weren't and new giant potholes in the way. I got to the top and practically kicked the back wheel into the air stopping, and ran up to the observation deck. My efforts were rewarded.

So this picture. I went around the side of the mountain to get a better view of the sunset, except that you'll notice that the sun has already set. That is because the trail that is usually clear was essentially undistinguishable from the rest of the mountainside, except that under the four feet of underbrush, there were steep wooden steps. I half fell down these steps, holding my camera up above the bushes, and then missed my turn onto the loose gravel slope that is so good for watching the sunset. I missed the turn, because the turn had washed away in the recent rains, so I tried to climb over and nearly ended up falling down the mountain. I slid quite a ways on my ass, then had to climb back up, grabbing onto trees and such to haul myself up, and finally - covered in cuts and scratches - I took this picture.

Heading back down was less eventful, I didn't even die once. Coming back to the water, I saw something I had never seen before. The clouds and sun, long below the horizon, were casting shadows up into the night sky. It was hard to photograph but really cool to see.

I sat and watched boats come in while a lightning storm flickered in that big cloud on the right.

Last Day at Higashino

So another day, another farewell to a school packed with cute kids. I am running low on time, so I am not going to write much. Higashino was one of my least favorite schools all year, but on the last day the kids were great, the lessons went well, and I got some nice pictures.

The group pictures are usually not my favorite, but sometimes they just come out perfectly. I think this is one of those cases.

Some of my kids:

Maho - she wins the "cutest kid at Higashino prize"

Maho again.

And that was about it. We said our goodbyes, I gave a little speech in Japanese, and then I headed home as everyone came out to wave goodbye.

A Trip to Kui-cho

So last thing before I crash. Higashino was Friday, that night I went to Kui to visit Theresa - Theresa is a JET from Philly who is in a little mountain town near Mihara called Kui. We got dinner in Fukuyama, and then headed back to Kui as there was no ferry back to the island at night.

By the ferry port - a family of work boats. There was an even bigger one on the left.

To get to Mihara, one can take the Shinkansen of ferries - the Hayabusa fast ferry. This thing is awesome, and big! It carries up to 100 people at 32 knots, using two big engines and thrusters in the front. Sitting in the seat as it accelerates, you are pressed into your seat, a little bit like an airplane taking off.

Pictures from the ferry:

That is a funny looking boat. From my time on the Maritime college boat, and the lectures they gave, I know it is a car transport, carrying 5,000 Japanese cars to parts unknown. Mazda has their main factory in Hiroshima, so that's probably what this is.

In case anyone had forgotten, I live in a tropical island paradise... for 27 more days.

We passed awfully close to the Koyo shipyards. Giant cranes and giant tools making giant ships.

One of the half-finished giant ships. They were making five ships, all for MOL - you can see another one on the right.

After a lovely dinner and a lovely night of sleep in Theresa's impressively air-conditioned apartment, we had a day to kill and see Kui. Kui is a tiny town (about 5,000 people) stuck up in between some mountains. It's a little town in Hiroshima-ken, much like Osaki, but the feeling is very different since it's on the mainland. I couldn't tell you exactly why, but it just feels different. More space, more fields, longer and straighter roads - it feels more rural. Also, you could potentially get lost on the roads - a new experience for me, hemmed in as I am by water. Theresa and I did our best to get lost, and saw some cool things in the process.

Two temples around Kui. The first is in the town, the other is about five minutes out.

What's wild about this to me is that these aren't destinations. Nobody knows about these places other than the people who live around them, but they are beautiful and old and right in the middle of some really beautiful scenery.

The entrance.

Looking back in.

We don't quite have vistas like this on the island.

And that was my trip. Heading back through Mihara, I passed this restaurant that I had seen before, and every time I see it I think it looks very American. What do you think?

The First Last Day of School

Monday, July 17, 2006
Just yesterday it was exactly one month until I go home, and I am having trouble wrapping my mind around that. I'm sitting in my room now, my cat is hanging out around my feet, Mori just went home after stopping by to visit, I have school tomorrow, and it definitely doesn't feel like in 30 days I'll be in Brooklyn, New York, USA.

Things are starting to wind down (or wind up, depending on how you look at it) - last week I had my first last day of school, at Nakano Elementary school. I taught six mini-classes, got lots of hugs from the first and second graders, signed autographs for a lot of kids, and then had my last school lunch there. As I was gathering my stuff in the teacher's room, an announcement went out over the loudspeaker, and since I wasn't listening I just caught my name at the end of it. Suddenly all the kids came running to the windows of their classrooms and started waving and shouting goodbyes. It was wonderful and I stayed there waving to them until they had to make another announcement saying "ok, ok, thank you. Now eat your lunches."

Boat Adventures

So, Tuesday was my last day at Nakano, and on (brutally hot) Wednesday, I was at Osaki Junior High for my second to last day. In the morning we taught two (sweaty, lethargic) classes, and then in the afternoon I was informed that the students had an event at the Maritime College, and I was invited. The event could have been burning American flags for all I cared, as long as it meant I didn't have to stand in that stifling English classroom and melt.

The entire school formed a long line of bicycles, 100 kids long. I went back and forth along the line on my scooter, stopping to take pictures here and there.

A lot of lines.

We arrived at Shosen (the maritime college) and it turned out that there was no flag burning, only a trip on the Hiroshima Maru - the big ship that docks by the school, goes out on short learning trips, and once a year takes the graduating class around the world.

This was actually pretty lucky for me. The junior high kids only get invited for a ride on the ship once every three years, and seeing as I go to Osaki for a day and a half every two weeks, for a total period of about ten months - the odds were not on my side. The trip is a field trip for the kids, but for Shosen, it's a recruiting event too. They want students from the island, and the earlier they can plant the maritime seed, the better.

Everyone donned life vests and practiced abandoning ship, except they only jumped forward about six inches, and not off the deck of a sinking ship.

So we're going along, and after heading out from the pier, the ship starts picking up speed and pretty soon we're cruising along. I don't know exactly how fast, but it wasn't slow. I'm wandering around the deck, and off in the distance I notice a couple of coast guard boats sitting out in the water. As I watch, they both gun their engines and start turning towards us. I wonder what it is they want from us, and then I notice a third speck, moving faster, and not in the water. Then I realized we are being followed by two coast guard boats and a helicopter!

Not something you see every day.

They pulled up along side us, and then pulled a giant hard left in formation.

The boats settled along side us, but the helicopter wasn't done. He did a couple low slow passes, one on each side, then circled the ship sideways, and then went off ahead of the ship, turned around, and made a high speed pass maybe 50 feet above the water.

After one last pass next to the boat with everyone in the chopper waving goodbye, the helicopter and one of the boats headed off.

One stayed with us as an escort for the next two hours.

After that excitement, I was ready to sign up as a student. Four years of helicopters and ships? Yes please. For the next couple hours the ship was open to everyone, kids were crawling all over the decks and the bridge, and having a grand old time steering the boat, operating the radar, or just taking in the view.

Also, some lectures about how great being a student at Shosen is.

Kinoe Junior High, my school with the incredible view - it looks pretty good from this side too.

Here you can see the bow wave - we were going fast! You can also see how calm it is here in the summer. Never windy, always humid, always hot.

And that was our trip. The ropes were tied off at 4:30 and I wasted no time in getting home.

Nishino - Second to Last Day

Not so much a heartbreaking milestone as a good opportunity to photograph the kids, last Thursday morning was my second to last day at Nishino Elementary, the school that has hosted both my family and Gabe, whose teachers bend over backwards for me, and whose kids are cuter than you could possibly imagine. I brought my camera to lunch and took a bunch of pictures.

Hatsune - at this point she needs not introduction. She is wearing the outfit that all the kids have to wear while they prepare lunch.

There is something adorable about this picture - with the towel under her chin, and her hands just resting on the surface of the water - clearly she is doing something important.

The volatile Kodai.

At the end of lunch, Hatsune and her friend suddenly stopped smiling and making silly faces for me and struck perfect bored-with-life-hipster poses. Awesome.

Back on Wednesday with hot boys in their underwear, dangerous sunsets, and another tragic last day.