On November 6th, class 2-5 (our aforementioned unofficial favorite class) went on a field trip to Make Elementary. It was a student teaching excursion, where they had to have simple conversations in English with the 5th and 6th graders. Since we weren't especially busy that afternoon, Paul and I got to tag along. I literally took over a hundred photos, and mostly just hovered around grinning like a proud mom. Really, I would adopt almost anyone in that class. America, be warned; they're all coming home with me!
On November 22nd, I had one of those great and hilarious Japan experiences that I will always treasure. Together with Fig and our pal Amanda from Wittenberg, who is now doing the English thing in Osaka, I made my way to the town of Takarazuka. Now, this town is famous for one major thing: a popular all-female theater troupe of the same name. I can only guess that it was started as a reaction to all-male kabuki troupes, and there are some vague similarities (mostly in the outrageous overstyling), but this is about as far from traditional Japanese theater as you can imagine. It is a grand spectacle of singing and dancing and crossdressing and outrageous costumes and really, shockingly amazing settings. Modern Japan, nutshelled?
To make the inherent craziness of this theater troupe even crazier, the show that we went to see was a Japanese language musical adaptation of "Casablanca." By funny coincidence, I had just seen the movie for the first time one week prior, when one of the English teachers decided to screen it for a class. Thank god, because I never would have been able to follow the plot of the musical if I hadn't already known what was going on. Anyway, the songs were mostly great, though sometimes the greatness was directly tied to the silliness. Mainly, the silliness factor was in the constantly rehashed Japanese cover of "You Must Remember This," and the totally bizarre blackface performance of "Knock On Wood." Oh, Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam. You are not really a black person.
That said, the actresses playing Rick and Victor Laszlo were completely awesome, and had really interesting and compelling singing voices. (Made intentionally deep, as they were pretending to be men.) I may have a weird girl-crush on one or both of them. There was also a revolving stage that they used to amazing effect, walking on and off of it while it was moving, and going from room to room in Rick's cafe. There was even one section in the middle of the revolving bit that could raise and lower like a box, revealing an entire room inside. (And the sets themselves, let me reiterate, were stunning.) Mostly, it was faithful to the film, following the story with very little deviation, but some embellishments. It ended the same, with Rick striding off into the fog, and I start getting my stuff together to leave.
LITTLE DID I KNOW. Apparently, it is a Takarazuka tradition to follow every performance with a crazy four or five song encore, in which the cast reappears in insane costumes that have been bedazzled with in an inch of their life and does a few gratuitous dance numbers. In the grand finale number, a huge set of stairs came out from the back wall of the stage, and everyone came dancing down them to thunderous applause. The three protagonists, for some reason, had these crazy massive turkey peacock feather halo tailpieces that bobbed around while they danced, and we just stared in awe. Fig said to me, "Let's cook them up for Thanksgiving!" and I said to her, "Humphrey Bogart is rolling in his grave."
Anyway, if you can't tell by my veritable essay of description, Takarazuka was awesome. We have tentative plans to go again this spring -- they're putting on "The Scarlet Pimpernel," which is one of my favorite stories. Score!
Now, back to normal life. On December 1st and 2nd, we had our annual Mid-Year Seminar for Kyoto JETs. I had to give a presentation on the exciting topic of, "Effective Use of the Textbook With Other Materials." With some input from my vice-presenter, Takemura-sensei, I put together a pretty respectable powerpoint presentation, and the whole thing went off without a hitch. I can honestly say I've never had a lot of trouble with public speaking, and its times like these that I'm glad for that skill!
That Friday was the end of term staff party, at which I ended up sitting beside my BFF, Hosoi-sensei (surprise, surprise). We're like staff party magnets -- we always, always end up sitting together. He's a little bit of a maniac (in the best sense), so more fun for me! Unfortunately, Paul couldn't make it to that or any other of the staff parties, because his friend David suffered a punctured lung and was in the hospital, so Paul went to be with him. It just punctured on its own while David was sleeping. Scary! Apparently it can happen spontaneously, especially to young, tall, slender men -- all of which apply to David. (Fortunately he made a full, if long, recovery, and is fine now! Bless his heart.)
On Sunday the 6th, as a culmination of several months' work, I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I only took level 3, which is the second lowest, but I think I rocked it. The results still haven't arrived, alas, but I'm 90% positive that it was a pass, and maybe even a high one. I spent the day before in my apartment studying, and being total sweethearts, my Sonobe buddies Alex and June came by with cake for a study break Saturday evening. It's nice knowing people locally! Also an interesting point, when I actually got to the test site, in addition to seeing a lot of Kyoto JETs that I knew would be there, I ran into John Neal. (For those of you who don't know, John and I have lived on the same street in Atlanta for years and years, and went to school together from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation. He's now a JET in Shiga, a neighboring prefecture.) We hadn't seen each other in over a year, so we had a nice time catching up.
Then things started winding down into exams and Christmas classes at school, though I ended up missing most of the latter, thanks to...SWINE FLU!!! That's right, I survived the epidemic of the millennium. (Bearing in mind that there've only been ten years in this millennium so far.) I started feeling sick on a Sunday, but just crashed early and didn't worry about it. (On an unrelated note, that was the same day that I encountered a horror movie insect on my laundry: a hornet, longer than my thumb! TERRIFYING.)
Anyway, the next day I got up and went to school, though feeling a bit off. I thought maybe it was because I had skipped breakfast, or that I was coming down with a cold. The flu did cross my mind, but I dismissed it as the opposite of wishful thinking. Dire circumstances thinking? I sat at my desk for the first two periods, feeling kind of floaty and having trouble concentrating on my work. Then I barely made it through my third period class, actually having to sit down after giving them instructions. As we returned together to the teachers' room, Ueda-sensei asked me if I was okay, and suggested I go see the nurse, which I decide to do. I ask the nurse to check my temperature, and the results seem to startle her. "38.5 degrees!" Of course, celsius means nothing to me, so I ask, "Is that bad?"
Apparently, it's really bad. She told me that I should go home immediately and rest, and that I should go see a doctor tonight. Not tomorrow, not tomorrow morning even, but TONIGHT. I go back upstairs, and in the thirty seconds it's taken me to get there, the nurse has apparently phoned my supervisor (Wakabayashi-sensei) and explained the problem. He comes running over and pronounces, "You are not okay!" Within five minutes, they've shuffled me out the door, into a car, and back to my apartment, where I take the nurse's advice and go to sleep. A few hours later, Wakabayashi-sensei returns to take me to the doctor. The doctor is nice, but he tends to repeat himself a lot, and so for an hour I am sitting on a backless stool, getting progressively dizzier and just wanting to go home. They check my temperature again -- now, it's up to 39 -- and do a flue test. Bingo! I'm given some medicine and Wakabayashi-sensei informs me that, due to medical procedures outlined by the government, I am officially banned from school...for a WEEK.
To make a long story short, I spent that week eating Saltines and tangerines, watching TV, and not leaving my apartment. (Also forbidden!) On the upside, I had visibly lost weight by the end of the week! Too bad I probably gained it all back and more over vacation. :P Now I just need a record of my accomplishment -- maybe, "I Survived the Swine Flu and All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt!"
The day that I was pronounced safe to leave my house was, conveniently, also the day that my neighbor Sabrina was hosting a dinner party. I was so glad to get out of my apartment. The party was actually a matchmaking scheme by Jo Kan, an adorable New Zealander who lives one town over, who has seemingly made it her mission in life to set up all her single teachers with foreign girlfriends. There were some cute guys, and some numbers exchanged, but nothing has come of it so far, so let's leave it at that for now.
And that's the gist of it...at least, until MY BROTHER CAME!!!
But that's a story for another post.