22 December, 2014

very overdue update (aka i'm a lazy person)

Oh gosh, it's been about 3 months since I've last visited my own blog (let alone written an entry) that Chrome doesn't even remember the URL any more! I need to step up my game, because I have a lot of backlogs to catch up on! Here's a quick update just to let everyone (read: myself and maybe the random stranger that somehow stumbled into here — hello!) know that I'm still perfectly fine and alive, and that I haven't been eaten by any strange Japanese mythical creatures (yet).

There's only 3 days until Christmas, (can you believe it?! Because I can't! Especially with the non-festivity that occurs in Japan) and I'm here, still at work, typing away. My last day of school is on the 24th, which means I've almost finished teaching my first semester! I remember feeling completely out of the loop when I first arrived back in August — actually, I still feel out of the loop all the time, but I guess that comes with being a foreigner in a very un-multicultural society (more on this another time).

I'm actually scheduled to "work" (I use this term very loosely on days during the kids' holidays, because well, it's mostly just down time in my case) on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but I've taken annual leave for 2 reasons: 1) I am not "working" on Christmas Day, and 2) I'll be going to Singapore and Malaysia! With the New Year's holiday we're entitled to, on top of weekends and a couple of days of alternate leave that I've accumulated over the past 4 months, I only had to take one day of annual to get a total of 12 days on holiday! (If you count the days I'm flying as well).  

In preparation, I've… actually done nothing besides booking a hair appointment for tomorrow (gotta look decent in my photos, yes?). I haven't even started packing, and knowing me, I will end up stressing during the last few hours before I have to head towards the airport. My flight is at 9.30am (on Christmas Day — I better be feasting like a king on the plane), and my plan is to take the very first train at around 5am towards Kansai International Airport, so there will be no sleep for me prior. I also have a 忘年会 (bounenkai, an end of year party/dinner) with one of my schools on the night of the 24th, so let's hope I hold up okay! I had one just last Friday with my teachers from another school, and the shit (excuse my French, but there is no better word to describe it) that teachers talk about when students are not within the vicinity is hilarious. Great night (besides the insane 6,000 / $65 I had to fork over), would totally do again.

This post is already longer than I had expected it to be, and I'm not even finished yet! Proves that when I'm not lazy or procrastinating (which is very rare, sad to say), I am capable of throwing together words on the screen for some bored and lonely person to read (I don't mean you, I mean myself when I'm going through my own posts years later and wondering what kind of strange things were going in my head). To end it off, (and as a reminder to myself), here are the blog posts that I need to catch up on, even if just to remember the awesome time I had:
  • Koya-san / Hyogo / Kyoto-Osaka / Thanksgiving-Shingu trip
  •  My Halloween / Christmas lessons (aka games that the kids played)
  • New beauty purchases
  • Taiko experience
  • …and I'm drawing a blank, but I’m sure there was/will be something!
This shall be all for now, it's pass my contracting hours and I'm ready to go home (and do nothing as per usual). 

27 September, 2014

lush: full of grace serum

lush full of grace serum skincare

Lets get back on track with a beauty related post, shall we?

Marketed for dry, sensitive skin, I wasn't sure how Lush's Full of Grace serum bar ($19.90) was going to work on my extremely oily skin. It's not a product I would have purchased for myself — I received this as a prize for winning one of Lush's Facebook competitions (thank you Lush Newmarket!) It's a strange looking serum, in solid form rather than liquid, and it didn't come in any particularly durable packaging either. In order to take it with me to Japan, I cleaned out an empty jar and cut the serum into smaller chunks. With the Japanese summer being over 30°C everyday, I certainly didn't want it to melt all over my luggage during transit. (Let's just ignore the fact that I've been in Japan for almost 2 months now...)

The serum is formulated with murumuru and cupuacu butter; calming ingredients such as calamine and rose infusion/oil; almond oil; and portobello mushrooms for its antioxidant properties. Despite being a solid bar, Full of Grace is easy enough to use: simply warm between your palms and gently massage the oil onto your face. I personally only find this method doable during autumn and spring (or places with moderate tempatures regardless). In the Japanese summer heat, the serum melts into a soft cream-like texture, and I apply it like I would a moisturiser — scoop up a bit and melt between the palms, then pat onto my skin. It also takes a little more effort during winter because the bar stays solid. In that case, I apply the bar directly onto my face before patting the product in with my hands. Because the application is heavier with this method, I would only recommend it for those with dry skin, or during the colder months.

Unlike some other oils, I don't find Full of Grace to be overly greasy even on my skin type. I am, however, a regular facial oil user so my preferences may be a little different. Due to its oil components, I tend to use this as a night time moisturiser, or under a sheet mask to help the essence absorb better (it is a serum after all). I haven't used the product frequently enough to see any noticeable differences in my skin, but it definitely provides just the right amount of moisture. I usually reach for this when I have break outs as I know it won't aggravate my skin any further.

Despite being a serum aimed at dry skin, I think anyone can benefit from using Lush's Full of Grace. From rosacea to acne prone skin, dry to oily; it's a great all rounder for all skin types. I've already purchased their Angels on Bare Skin cleanser recently upon Caroline Hiron's recommendation, will report back later on how that goes...

22 September, 2014

JET: connected to the world again...

I finally have internet! It's taken a long time (just like everything else in Japan — opening a bank account, buying a cellphone, sorting out rubbish...) but I am now finally connected to the rest of the world on my laptop rather than on my phone with a mere 7GB data limit.

It's been 3 week since my last update, and while a lot hasn't happened yet, I feel like a lot has happened. I lived in Japan 3 years ago for 5 months during a one semester university exchange programme, so not all things are a complete surprise to me. However, while there are certain aspects that I got used to very quickly (food, living arrangements, biking everywhere), work life has been the hardest to adjust to. Unlike before on a student visa, I am now a government employee. Being a teacher is so drastically different to my previous job in a call centre for an insurance company... it's going to take a while to fully feel comfortable in these indoor shoes of mine. (See what I did there?) 

Everyone who participates in the JET Programme ends up in a different situation — since we are placed in different prefectures, hired by different organisations, teach a wide range of school levels, encounter different people... and so on and so forth. For the record, here's my situation, in a nutshell:
  • My placement is probably between rural and semi-rural — Yuasa-cho is a small town of around 12,000 people, surrounded by mountains; rice fields; and mikan fields. 
  • I teach exclusively at elementary and I'm the ALT (assistant language teacher) for 3 different schools.
  • My biggest school has 400+ students, while my smallest school has 32 students.
  • At my 2 smaller schools I teach grades 1-6, and at my biggest school I only teach grades 5 & 6.
  • Despite my job title being the "ALT", I plan all of my classes, and conduct them on my own. Team teaching doesn't happen often in my situation.
  • I'm not allowed to drive during work hours, so I bike everywhere — depending on the school I am going to, it can take me between 10-30 minutes. And yes, I have to bike in the rain.
  • I live in a one-room mansion, which seems to be rather uncommon for a semi-rural placement. Most JETs I know live in a tatami style room with a separate living space, and a bigger kitchen/bathroom.
  • I encounter bugs more than I would like to (cockroach count so far: 12. That's more than I've see in my whole life in NZ... I also believe that insects in Japan are on steroids — they are massive and cockroaches can fly). And I don't even live in the mountainous area...
  • My BoE (Board of Education) furnished my apartment for me with the main essential items. I only had to purchase items that I deemed essential, but not my BoE (hair dryer, blender, etc).
  • Although my town is relatively small and I'm about an hour away from Wakayama city, it only takes me around 2 hours to get to Osaka. It may not be cheap, but placement wise I am very happy! 
And that's it really (so far)! I'm really hoping to get back into blogging on a regular basis — and now that I have internet, there's no excuse not to blog.

(Feel free to pester me if I don't!)

25 August, 2014

jet programme: first 2 weeks (part two)

Following my last post.

After arriving in Yuasa, the first thing we did was head to the Board of Education (my contraction organisation). I was first introduced to the remainder of my co-workers at the BoE, then made my way to all 3 schools I'll be teaching at. Luckily my supervisor had advised me of this in an email beforehand, so I made sure I looked somewhat presentable when stepping off my plane. I had to introduce myself each time I met someone new (they take self introductions very seriously in Japan), so I kept my speech fairly short.

During pre-departure orientation back in Auckland, I was advised to repack all my luggage make sure my お土産 (omiyage, gifts/souvenir) were with me as I'd need to hand them out when I first meet everyone (mine were in my check in luggage, which I had planned on sending directly to my prefecture from Narita Airport). I was told that if I missed this first opportunity, it would be very hard/awkard to do so later on. I stressed slightly over this as there was no way I'd be able to fit my valuables, electronics, 4 days worth of clothing and omiyage for 50+ people all in my limited 7kg carry on. In the end, I decided not to rearrange my luggage and I've been handing out my omiyage at random times throughout the summer break with no problem whatsoever (ESID guys, ESID).

After heading to the supermarket to pick up a few essentials, we made our way to my apartment. I've been pre-arranged a one-room mansion, meaning it's a one person apartment with literally one room (the name says it all) as my living space/bedroom. I do have a separate kitchen and bathroom, but they are very small. Looking at the space initially and seeing my 2 giantic suitcases (they arrived safely!) propped to one side... I was apprehensive as to whether I'd be able to fit everything or not. I've definitely made it work, but I'm still hoping to be able to utilise my space a bit better.

japan wakayama yuasa view
view from my apartment
I started "work" the very next day at the Board of Education. As I mentioned in my brief update, there's technically no work assigned to me yet. I've been sorting out a lot of paper work in the first few days, such as opening a bank account; buying a phone; registering my address with the town office... but for the most part I've just been at the BoE. This is the best time get acquainted with the textbooks we will be teaching from, but regrettably I haven't been using my time to its fullest. I've prepared a powerpoint presentation for my first week of classes (the theme is self introduction — see, I told you) and thought of a small game I can do with the kids, but I'm not sure if it'll work well. I may have a degree in Linguistics & English Language Teaching, but my knowledge is all theory based, not practical. If I'm not doing that, I'm either blogging, window online shopping, or checking my emails over and over again. (Please, don't be like me — use your time wisely and prepare some lesson plans! However in my defence, I don't have internet set up at my apartment yet, so... at work it is).

I've been assigned 3 schools — I go to my main (and biggest) school on Monday, Wednesday, Friday; my second school on Tuesday; and my final school on Thursday. While my main school is close (under 15 mins by bike), my other 2 take around 20-30 mins. I'm really unfit, so I'm hoping this will change for the better...

I can't believe how fast time has flown by — I actually start school tomorrow! I've heard that a lot of schools outside of my area don't begin until September, so we're about a week early. I've got a 30 second assembly speech prepared, class presentation sorted, and an activity up my sleeve (that I'm really hoping will work). Wish me luck! 

20 August, 2014

jet programme: first 2 weeks (part one)

It's been well over 2 weeks since I've been in Japan (wow has it been 2+ weeks already?) Which means another update is in order! Nothing has changed much since my last update, but I thought I'd briefly talk about what has happened in the time I've been here so far.
Lets' start off with Tokyo Orientation, shall we? We had 2 days jammed packed with seminars, speeches and presenations to prepare us for our new lives in Japan. It started on August 4th, just a day after we arrived in Tokyo after an 11 hour flight (and a 2 hour bus ride). We stayed at Keio Plaza in Shinjuku, which was very luxurious! I do feel bad for the other guests who also stayed at the same hotel during our orientation, especially when there are over 900 of us trying to use the elevators all at the same time... (I had to wait 30 mins for one of the lifts once ಠ_ಠ)

japan jet programme 2014

Because Tokyo Orientation is very formal, we had to be in business attire for the presenatations. Shirt, blazer, tie (for men) — the complete works were required for the opening ceremony, while "cool-biz" was allowed for the remainder of the sessions (which simply meant no blazer and tie necessary). Wearing a suit in the middle of a Japanese summer is not exactly my first choice when it comes to clothing, but as long as you stay inside the hotel, it's bearable. While the seminars were very in depth (sometimes too long), and full of information, I felt like a lot of it wasn't particularly relevant for my situation. For instance, I won't be able to apply the key points from the session on teaching grammar and/or writing at my elementary schools. As much as I dislike the infamous JET acronym — ESID, which stands for "every situation is different", I'm finding it more and more relevant as each day goes by. (I might elaborate on this in another post).

Besides the lecture-esque presentations, we ended with a buffet dinner on the first night. I was finally able to meet other Wakayama JETS — there's only about 15 new Wakayama JETs this year, quite a small group compared to other prefectures such as Hyogo or Nagasaki. Unsurprisingly, they're mostly from America, but coincidentally the only other New Zealand Wakayama JET (he's from Wellington) has been placed in the town right next to mine. On the second (and last) night of the orientation, we were kindly welcomed by the New Zealand Embassy in Shibuya.
On Wednesday, I gathered with my fellow Wakayama JETs at 7am, and we headed to Haneda Aiport for a domestic flight to Osaka. It was only a short flight, meaning it won't be too impossible for me to fly to Tokyo, (as long as I have the funds to do so!) My supervisor, another colleague from the Board of Education, and the other JET in my town came to pick me up at Kansai Airport. After an hour or so of driving, I finally arrived in Yuasa!

Part 2 here (coming soon).