Saturday, April 25, 2009

Land of Cherry Blossoms and Egg Salad

My spring break trip to Japan turned out to be absolutely phenomenal. Before every trip I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about what I can expect and what my reaction is going to be. This trip so far exceeded my expectations which turned out to be a lovely surprise. Although I could write a small saga on everything we did and saw. I am sure it would be more interesting for me than you, so I will try to keep to the essentials. I took around 900 photographs...most of those of the extraordinarily gorgeous cherry blossoms, but the pictures don't even begin to communicate what it was really like.

Knowing that my students would regale me with a thousand questions, I came prepared with my camera(s) and my notebook.

Scott got his first taste of what it is like traveling with me. I believe he had a great time, but he mentioned that he had never seen so much on any of his prior trips to Japan. When I plan my travel I try to be as detailed as possible and pack the days with as many different activities/museums/sites as is reasonable. Because I travel with a very limited time frame and I want to get my money's worth. This trip was no different. We visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Kurashiki and Kanazawa. Each place was beautiful and I loved them for vastly different reasons. Tokyo was efficient and really modern. Kyoto was packed with site after historical site. Nara housed the most beautiful Buddhist temple. Kurashiki was a charming, small town (200,000 people...small for Japan) with a beautiful canal and a noticeably slower pace of life, and Kanazawa had the incredible "Ninja" Temple, gorgeous gardens and tiny buses (see picture below).

Two funny/interesting stories of our trip:

1. Looking for love.

Scott has this shirt that says "looking for a Japanese girlfriend", but it is written in Kanji. He enjoyed wearing this a couple of times and always got a ton of looks. Teenage girls especially liked it. However, whenever someone would read it they would get a little smile on their faces and then turn and see me. As soon as the person would see me they would frown and think that Scott was disrespecting me. Of course, when you see an adult man and woman traveling together the assumption is that they are a couple. He explained a number of times that I was his sister and so it wasn't a problem, but I wished I had a shirt that read "this is my brother" with an arrow and it would have solved many unasked questions.

Here is a picture of the two of us in front of the largest wooden building in the world. It houses the largest Buddhist sculpture in the world. You can see the man giving Scott the dirty look after reading his shirt. (Nara, Japan)

2. Lost wallet.

The evening of April 8th we were wandering around Kyoto after dinner in the Geisha district looking for Geisha. I really wanted to take a picture of one (there are only 300 in Japan today), but we were having zero success. As we were walking back to the main road to hail a taxi, I noticed a wallet on the sidewalk. Scott picked it up and discerned that it belong to a Japanese person. I was concered about protocol and told him to go into a nearby business and ask them what we should do with it. His response to me was "let's just find a mailbox and put it there." I thought this was a ridiculous idea and felt it needed to be given to a police officer. Scott continued to assure me that "mailboxes are where wallets go...the postman will deliver it the owner's home." Needless to say I continued to disagree with him. Finally we saw a Japanese man whom we stopped asked. He instructed us to take it to the nearest Police box. Fearing we would get lost in the myriad of unnamed streets he lead us. We got to the first police box and it was empty and so he took us to another one.

We were lucky at the second location and there were four officers present who appeared as though they were having a slow night. The lost wallet got LOTS of attention. The nice business man who had spent a good 1/2 hour wandering around with us spoke with the police and let them know the area it was found and then left. The police officer in charge then donned a pair of black leather gloves and with the most delicate of touches started to take items out of the wallet while another officer was asking Scott a thousand questions. During the questioning the missing wallet's owner just happened to stop by to report his wallet was lost. (Happy coincidence!) The police then interrogated him on everything in the wallet (color, name each card, where did you lose it, at exactly what time did you realize you lost it, exactly where did you realize you lost the wallet), of course with all this questioning they had already confirmed identity from one of his id's, but that didn't slow down the torrent of question. The young man was very grateful to Scott and when Scott assured him that it was no big deal one of the officers very intently informed Scott about his rights. Apparently, when a wallet is lost the finder is allowed to negotiate for between 5-25% of the contents value as a reward. Once the young man had finished filling out the numerous pages of the police report (all for a lost wallet!) he humbly turned to Scott, thanked him again and asked what he could do to show his gratitude. Scott wasn't about to accept any money and declined any monetary reward. The officers made Scott acknowledge that on the police report and sign it before we were finished. When he exited the building all he said to me was "see, I told you we should have just put it in a mailbox"

(All of this was spoken in Japanese and Scott filled me in on all the details after it was over.)

Here are a couple of examples of Japanese mailboxes. For the rest of the trip whenever we passed a mailbox Scott would say "a mailbox...that's where wallet's go."

Scott's suggestion for the title "Egg Salad" was due to the fact that he ate about 4 egg salad sandwiches a day (I would have 1). Funny thing was, they kept them sealed on the shelf (not the refrigerator section) and I thought that they would be toxic because of the mayonnaise, but they were actually very good.

I will post a few additional stories and some of my observations on a later post.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


In last months post I mentioned that I had applied at a couple of different schools, unfortunately I did not get either of them. However, on a whim just before I left for Japan earlier this month, I applied at a magnet school in the Northwest region. After returning from Japan, I hadn't heard from the school and I assumed that they had filled the position. Earlier this week they contacted me--I interviewed today. They told me how much they liked me, but they still had one more person to interview. On the drive home from the interview (about 15 minutes after I left) they called and officially offered me the job.

It is definitely a bitter sweet decision. I have loved working at Durango and I will definitely miss teaching my AP classes, but I couldn't turn down the opportunity to teach at this school. As a magnet school the students have to maintain a "C" average and as a result there is high parent involvement and student desire to succeed. Students that fail are sent back to their zoned schools. Here is a link to their website. When I visited the school today I was astonished at the beautiful campus. It looks more like a college than a high school. This summer I will more than likely move to be closer to the school.

I don't know exactly which classes I will be teaching, but I am excited for the new opportunity. Since I will still be teaching in the same district there is no change in my salary or any benefits. I was told in the interview though by the department chair that this is the most satisfying teaching position he has ever held. (He's been teaching for 20+ years). This is a great sign and just the change I had been looking for.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dancing Fever

I know that my post in March said that I would be catching up, but I have been negligent with my online voice. Much has happened since my last post, but you will have to patient with me until I can get the rest of my posts listed. In the meantime, I will post my most recent news.

On Friday, Durango had their annual Battle of the Sexes assembly. This assembly is by far the most popular and entertaining assembly of the year. Usually the assembly consists of various school groups dancing and a few silly relay games with one of the sports teams. This year the students were treated to the rare performance of Durango's famous FIVA dance squad.

Our student female dance group is known as Durango's Dance DIVA and the faculty dance group is the FIVA. I was one of 12 lucky participants in this years group and we brought down the house. My friend Julie always does a stellar job choreographing a routine that contains the latest dance moves and the most popular music. The students were out of their seats screaming in pleasure as we rocked the house. It was tons of fun, but halfway through I wondered if I could keep up the pace. My mouth was so dry that I had a hard time breathing, but the adreneline was pumping and I finished strong.

My students have informed me that there is video on youtube of our performance, but after a couple of hours of searching I have only found last year's video (still good, but we didn't get to finish because of a destroyed sound system). If I manage to find the link I will add it to my blog so that you can enjoy.

I must confess that I am by far the worst dancer in the group, but I still have a great time. On the way out of the gym to return to my classroom for some after school grading, I was stopped by a student. Initially, I thought the student looked familiar, but I couldn't place her. While I was quickly trying to pull up a name one of the special education aides was next to her and told me that it was Claudia. As soon as I heard her name I remembered her. She was one of my world history students during my first year teaching. A sweet girl, who would always make sure I got her employee discount at Panda Express whenever I was there. I was surprised that it took me so long to remember her until I really looked at her. She had huge tracheotomy scares along her throat and she couldn't speak. I had no idea that she had been injured and I was stunned. Not knowing what to say I kept asking her questions, which of course, she couldn't answer. She indicated that she wanted a hug and I almost lost it during our embrace. Leaving the gym I definitely shed a few tears.

I spent the weekend trying to find out what happened and at a co-workers babyshower on Saturday I heard the tale. She had skipped school January of '08 during "Senior Ditch Day" and while sledding on Mt. Charleston ran into a tree and split her head open. She wasn't expected to survive and spent a number of months in a coma. After she came out of her coma there was no hope that she would walk or talk. She can walk, but still struggles and she is still working on her ability to speak. It was heartbreaking for me to see her...I could by looking in her eyes how much she wanted to say and yet how she just couldn't. This is just another reminder to me of how much my students have to deal with, most of the time I never even aware of their struggles.