Thursday, September 30, 2004

Yukon Ho! My Brief Flirtation with Homelessness and the Deep North

This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.

The Law of the Yukon, by Robert Service

That’s what I had written on a piece of napkin, along with a prayer, when I rode the Greyhound bus to Whitehorse, Yukon. I had purchased the “Go anywhere in Canada ticket” for $116 (Canadian). It took five days from Toronto, and I spent the twenty-four hours of my twenty-third birthday on the Alaska Highway . I took with me:
1. The cloths on my back.
2. Two changes of underwear.
3. Several pairs of heavy winter socks.
4. One set of winter coveralls.
5. One heavy winter jacket (Thanks, Mr. Sparkes!)
6. One pair of steel toed winter work boots said to be good down to forty below zero.
7. One sleeping bag said to be good down to twenty below.
8. One six-pack of meal replacement drink, along with seven pounds of homemade trail mix (ingredients purchased at Bulk Barn for $11.69 Canadian).

I mention all this because the other day I received an e-mail from Jim, one of my former housemates. He wondered what I wanted done with all the stuff I abandoned in the hall closet four years ago, and he has kindly offered to mail me the journal entries I made on Tim Horton’s napkins during the homeless stage of my northern adventure.

Here are my three housemates from “phase Yukon” of my life. Jim is the one on the left. It is impossible to even scratch the surface of my surreal sojourn in the Yukon in a mere blog entry, but here are some of the highlights:
1. Trying to sleep down by the river in minus forty-below weather during my homeless phase.
2. Spending half the night reading the "Wanted!" and "Missing Persons" bulletins in the outer entrance of the Mounties' station when I realized that minus forty is too cold for sleeping down by the river.
3. Witnessing a spectacular meteor (be sure to check out this link, I was there!!!) while walking along the Yukon River between the time the homeless shelter closed in the morning and the time the rest of the town opened. It lit up the pre-dawn sky like day before landing about 100km away, and I heard the sonic boom.
4. Getting a job with the CBC as a tech assistant, and then being assigned to chauffer the Inuit reporters from Nunavut during the Arctic Winter Games.
5. Sleeping in snow caves and helping build an igloo while winter camping in Kluane National Park.
6. Taking cross country skiing lessons from a former Olympic coach.
7. Seeing the Northern Lights . . . and way to many other things to mention.

Showing off at Miles Canyon

The Carcross Dunes, marketed as “The Smallest Desert in the World”

A relic of the gold rush on the way to Haines Junction, Alaska

An early snow plough for the Yukon Railway (Haines Junction)

My media pass for the Arctic Winter Games (which made me feel really, really cool at the time). I only spent four months in the Yukon, but it left me with a decade worth of memories, and its magic is still tugging at my heartstrings.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Journey to 北の国 (kita no kuni = North Country) Chapter One: Crossing the Strait

This week I took Friday off in order to link Thursday’s national holiday with the weekend and thereby enjoy a four-day stint in Hokkaido visiting Yuko and my future in-laws. Since I live in Kazamaura the Oma ferry terminal at the northern tip of Honshu is only a ten minute drive away, and an hour-and-forty-minute, ¥1,170 ferry ride lands me in Hakodate, Hokkaido. This makes Hakodate the closest real city to my village in Shimokita: closer even than Aomori City or Hachinohe. However, it’s not always as convenient to visit, since the ferries only make two to four roundtrips a day, depending on the season.

This photo of me napping on the ferry illustrates two facets of my re-Japanification. The first is the unofficial junior high teachers’ uniform I am wearing: sweatpants with a collared sweatshirt. The second (look closely) is my pair of toe-socks.

The return journey was on Sunday evening, and consequently the ferry was a little more crowded than on my first crossing. This picture gives one a good idea of what a Japanese ferry is like: kind of similar to nineteenth-century Chinese inns with communal sleeping platforms, only cleaner. Not that I speak from first hand experience or anything.

Journey to 北の国 Chapter Two: The Importance of being 十勝地 (Tokachi)

As one can see from this photograph of a map of Hokkaido printed on a milk carton, Tokachi is a district in the south-eastern part of the island. Although Yuko’s parents have a house near Sapporo, her father’s work as a civil servant forces him to live in Tokachi most of the time. His suddenly being laid up in Obihiro’s hospital last week created an unexpected occasion for Yuko, her brother, and me to visit him and my future mother-in-law there. Tokachi is an agricultural region, blessed in ages past by the fertile ashes of Showa Shinzan Volcano on the shores of Lake Toya being blown across its surface. It was first settled by pioneers in the late nineteenth century, and has since become a surprisingly accomplished region, populated by people fond of achieving superlative status.

Behold, the world’s longest park bench in Obihiro’s Green Park! And yes, Guinness already knows about it.

NEW ADDITIONAL TRIVIA!! Tokachi is also the birthplace of gateball and parkgolf.

Journey to 北の国 Chapter Three: A Visit to the Zoo

In Tokachi, hairy gaijin visit zoos at their own risk. Like most small-time animal prisons, the Obihiro Zoo has trouble providing even remotely acceptable habitats for its internees. The saddest spectacle there was the beavers. As their fellow Canadian perhaps I am biased, but the he-beaver and she-beaver were penned in separate enclosures: light blue concrete, water, and absolutely nothing else. The he-beaver never ceased from gnawing on the steel door, and the she-beaver was pressed up against the wire mesh with a crazed look in her eyes. I think that next 1st of July I will put on my ninja outfit and return to liberate them as a Canada Day gesture. Which brings me to another point. Which would you prefer to have as your national animal:

this rodent (keep in mind that I had to navigate around naughty web-sites in order to obtain this innocent photo) . . . ?

. . . or this hardened killer of men? People of Canada, it’s time to make a choice. Are we to forever identify ourselves with this “thing” that Europe used to slaughter and put on its head? Or are we finally ready to reinvent our national character into something majestic and awe-inspiring as opposed to furtive, bucktoothed, and laughable? Come on already!!

Journey to北の国 Chapter Four: Cheers to Mrs. Watanabe

While teasing the ducks in Green Park, I received a phone call on my cell-phone and a conversation ensued thus:
Me: “moshi moshi, Eriotto desu
Woman: “moshi moshi, is this Luke?”
Me: “Yeeees, who is this?”
Woman: “This is Anna.”
Me: Thoughtful pause. I have a sister named Anna, but . . . . Maybe this is a Japanese girl I knew by an English name in North America. I had better make sure.
Me again: “Ruth Anna Elliot??”
Woman: “Well, Ruth Anna Elliot Watanabe
Me: “Uhhh, yes, that’s what I meant . . . .”
My younger sister Anna and I were quite close back in the day, but unfortunately our very different post-high school careers have kept us separated for up to five years at a time, and now I am guilty of mistaking her for an English speaking Japanese person on the phone. She gets that a lot. “Ohhhhhhhh!!! You’re practically JAPANESE!!!!” Spoken by a Japanese person to a gaijin this basically means: “You’re messing with my world view as it relates to the exclusivity of the quality of being Japanese, and therefore I am desperate to objectify you as a circus anomaly.” Anna, after a getaway year in France, went to Japanese university and then married Jun, a Japanese policeman. She wears Japanese cloths and Japanese makeup, and most people think that she is a half-blooded Japanese person. I have it on good authority, though, that genetically she is 50% Scottish, 25% English, 12.5% German, 12.5% Czech/Bohemian, and that she carries a Canadian passport—same as me. The Watanabe’s (i.e. Anna and Jun) go to the same church as Yuko near Sapporo now, and Yuko and I were able to spend the evening at their place. Unfortunately Jun was suddenly called in to fill a shift guarding the American consulate in Sapporo against all its invisible enemies, but the rest of us had a nice evening. We took the opportunity to do a recreation of a twenty-five-year-old photo.

Then . . .

. . . and Now.

Anna, Yuko, and Jun at my future brother-in-law's wedding.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Missionary Kid (MK) → Third Culture Kid (TCK)

And that’s how to label me in academic writings. My “kind” used to be called MKs (missionary kids), but intellectual types apparently deemed that label to be an inadequate handle on the complex human beings that we become, so we are now lumped together with a broader category of ex-pat children and called TCKs (third-culture kids). For TCKs, home is a cultural outpost of their parents’ country(-ies) of origin, whereas daily life outside the home takes place within the local culture of the country they reside in. The resulting mishmash and blending of the two cultural experiences, combined with the quality of being a foreign body/object in the host country, results in our existing in a third culture of our very own. TCKs respond to destiny in different ways, but for the most part we celebrate our differences by trying to out do one another in a “more-adventurous-than-thou” sort of way. This competitive spirit burst forth again in my breast the other day when one of my South African buddies with whom I shared the TCK experience in Japan sent me a mini-video (you'll need Quicktime to view this) from his new home in upstate New York. The way this competitiveness works is that he has seen a bear outside his bedroom window, and I haven’t. So I lose. As a good TCK, I now owe it to myself to make sure that I have an even more interesting encounter with one of Shimokita’s bears than Matt had with that New York bear.

This is a photo of Matt, his little brother, and me right after we gave my sister’s mutt a poodle-cut. It was taken at Gaijin-mura, a.k.a. Tak (Takayama Beach Company). Tak is a place in Miyagi-ken where many missionary families have been spending a couple of weeks each summer since about 100 years ago.

My family bought a decaying cabin there for a few thousand bucks, and we’ve been beautifying it ever since. TCK night time activities at Tak in the past included stealing lawnmower fuel from the tool sheds and writing flaming messages on the beach, making huge driftwood fires and then throwing aerosol cans and other explosives into them, crashing beach parties, and waging rocket “hanabi” (fireworks) wars against off duty personnel from the local Japanese Self-Defence Force training centre.

We also had competitions to see who could jump off the highest rung of a ladder using a rope swing (I made it up to the twentieth wrung).

Fortunately, when the rope finally snapped it was just my sister attempting the eighth rung, and a prickly bush stopped her fall. I’m glad it didn’t snap on my turn!

Here are some other interesting sites about TCKs.
From the U.S. Department of State
Parent’s Moving Overseas???
Global Nomads

Thursday, September 16, 2004

What is in a Name . . . ?

This is my self-introduction in the village newsletter. Since I am functional in Japanese the content is undiluted by third party translation. The headline, however, was assigned by the editors. It says: “Welcome, Luke-san.” A kindly sentiment, to be sure, but Luke is my first name. Mr. Luke? It is true that in Japanese this is a grammatical and social possibility. The first name is often used with a title when addressing children—or English teachers. I knew before I came that I would be the only teacher at my schools to be addressed by my first name. I thought that I was psychologically prepared for this, but I was wrong. It grates on my nerves continually. There is, I suppose, an argument for a legitimate rational behind the practice of addressing JET Programme participants in this way. We are contracted to be “friends” to the students; to give the students the warm fuzzies towards things foreign, whether they be vegetable, animal, or mineral. Also, it would appear that the Western world is imagined to be a social free-for-all where everyone is on a first name basis. I do not think most people here realize that I would tear into any North American student who dared even to address a school custodian or lunch-lady by his or her first name. From what I can tell, most JETs don’t seem to mind this first name treatment. Perhaps this is not an issue. Many JETs are significantly younger even than the youngest of the Japanese teachers, and for the most part they only have a one or two year stake in Japan. My investment in this country is for considerably longer than that, and next year I will be living here with a Japanese wife. It is vital that I earn my adulthood in the local community. It is not my intention to complain, or to make accusations of discrimination. The sins of my birth-country against people of Japanese decent have not been adequately atoned for anymore than have the injustices this land is guilty of. Also Japanese people who temporarily reside in the West often face the same attitudes of condescension that gaijin face here. It is my desire, however, to make an end of the grammatically incorrect “Engrish” term “Mr. Luke” as soon as possible and, over time, to earn the right in this village to be addressed as エリオット先生 (Elliot-sensei) instead of “Luke-san” or “Luke-sensei.” It is imperative that I earn that dignity for the sake of my future family.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Gaijin and the Tao of Kancho

Today’s topic may prove shocking to the uninitiated Western elements of this page’s readers who are unaccustomed to open discussion of the regular and private functions of the human body. And, in fact, Japanese language students I have met abroad have almost universally tried to deny the pervasiveness of kancho in the Japanese childhood. But I’m here to tell you, friends, that kancho is very real, and it may be closer than you think! Kancho quite literally means “enema.” I have not often heard enemas discussed in North America, and if I were to hazard a guess, your average elementary school student on that continent would be at a loss to define it. Not so in Japan! As far as I could tell during that period of my life, a good number of my classmates had had personal encounters with the real thing. I came very close myself, once, when I was about fifth grade because in my perpetual quest to get out of school I on one occasion unwisely played the “constipation” card instead of the usual “fever” one. I convinced my parents to take me to the hospital, and after half-heartedly interviewing me for a couple of moments the doctor said: “Right then, kancho it is!” (in Japanese, of course). I jumped off the examining table and said I had to go to the bathroom—RIGHT NOW! Hah, no kancho for me! At least, not in the doctor’s office. The fact is the majority of Japanese school children are fascinated by the Tao of Kancho. Freud would probably have something to say about this. They put their hands together as if in prayer, and then extend both index fingers in imitation of the doctor’s dreaded instrument. Then they shout “kancho!” and try to give someone a fake kancho. Sometimes they even play kancho tag. There were many facets to my experience as a Japanese school boy, and one of them was always having to watch my nether-regions. This may not have been a healthy way to grow up. Ex-patriots teaching English to children in Japan will inevitably face the kancho phenomenon. There are different ways in which gaijin deal with it. Some celebrate it (this post by an ex-Aomori JET is actually what triggered today’s essay). The best aristic rendition I have ever seen of the practice of kancho was done by David Namisato who used to be the Coordinator of International Relations in my old hometown of Ajigasawa, and who is therefor very well informed on the subject. My favorite illustrations in past JET publications were all done by him.

This could happen to any JET at anytime. In conclusion, there are a few steps a gaijin can take to minimize kancho danger:
1)Never turn your back on a Japanese school kid (girls are no exception).
2)Never bend over.
3)Trust no one. Avoid everyone.
Having said all that, I have never yet, in all my three weeks at Kazamaura Junior High School, seen the kancho performed. So far the kids in my school seem to be so pure minded that they are content with the lesser vulgarities featured in this week's video of the week on the sidebar (and please note, they are trying to say "fart", and not the other "f" word).

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Why Shimokita is the Coolest

First, if you don’t know where or what the heck Shimokita is, take a look at the map. The first reason Shimokita is cool is that it is a part of Aomori prefecture. If you don’t know where Aomori is, then you’d better go here and click on #2. The second reason is that it is a peninsula shaped like an axe, and how cool is that!? Besides, we have the world’s northernmost monkeys, some really tame wild horses, one of Japan’s three most sacred spots (a moonscaped mountain named “Terror” that smells like rotten eggs and is overrun by spirits), and tons and tons of nuclear, radio active fun (see section 5 on Misawa and Rokkasho). We are the poorest region in Aomori, Japan’s poorest prefecture. How cool is that!? Besides, this is my home. This is where I live. You know you want to be here. Anyway, I had an opportunity to do some great hiking here in Shimokita on Sunday.

Chris, Dan, Teresa, and I went to Noidoishiyama to check out the great view of Hokkaido and Mutsu Bay.

Strictly speaking, rock climbing wasn’t necessary in reaching the summit, but it was fun to do anyway.

We were able to conquer the peak in a surprisingly short time, and the view of Shimokita and beyond was SPECTACULAR!

Dan, Teresa, and Chris chill at the top. Good job, Teresa! Not everyone enjoys mountain climbing with slip-on indoor shoes and a stomach ache.

The bear repelling bells Dan and Teresa borrowed from the entrance sign at the trailhead were tiny and pathetic, but this dude saved his giant Nebuta bells for scaring away the bears. His wife kept telling him to give them to me, and I kept telling them that I’m Canadian and therefore impervious to bears, and that I only wanted a photograph.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Shimokita's Junior High Sports Competition

The Marshalling of the Schools: The opening ceremony was a colourful affair with the usual martial overtones. Every junior high school has its own unique track suit uniform, and I’m just glad I belong to a school that chose navy instead of pink.

World Famous J-Style Cheerleaders: The third year students don’t compete in the fall sports competition because they officially retire from club activities during the summer in order to free them up for exam studies. So they just cheer and help out.

The Kazama(ura) boys did all right in the 4 by 100m relay. Our boy is on the left.

The third year girls meticulously fill in all the times and distances of all the competitors. The school principle is relaxing in an arm chair behind them. He was obligated to show his support for the track and field team by showing up on this fine Saturday morning.

More cheering. Notice that the school banners resemble military flags of the samurai era.

I Model one of the Kazamaura Junior High School Black Warm-up Trench Coats.

A Japanese Teacher of Engrish (JTE) sports an educational T-shirt illustrating the use of the definite article. If you haven’t, yet, you should check out other cool Engrish products.

Form up troops! I want three ranks . . . move now!

All in all our track and field team acquitted themselves very well considering we are such a small school. We’ll be sending ten athletes to the prefectural meet. Our baseball team was shutout ten-nothing, and our girls’ volley ball team, after winning one game, was spectacularly defeated by the champions in just two sets, 25-0 and 25-4. If you viewed last weeks video of the week "Let's Sports and Stuff" perhaps you will understand why.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

One of These Is Not Like the Others

Now you could go for the obvious fact that one of these individuals is an adult gaijin while the others are Japanese six-year-olds. Then again, you could take it to another level and point out that one of these kids doesn’t seem to realize that we’re on a “peace break.” Get with the Spidogram, kiddo! Yes, this is Hebiura Elementary School’s grade one in its entirety. With a plummeting population comes the sorrow of school amalgamations, and it won’t be long before Kazamaura’s three elementary schools are scrambled into one. On another note, while I am learning to love the company and high spirits of the little people, my elementary school visits are exhausting me. Today I had to run non-stop for forty minutes during the after-lunch break because I was the unofficially designated target of choice in an all-school game of tag. I think that the relatively low average age of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers of foreign origin) has encouraged a culture of benign exploitation in which Japanese educators think of their rent-a-gaijin as nothing better than an inexhaustible source of juvenile entertainment. It’s a difficult transition to make from graduate school. Even my Japanese teaching partner used to apologize to me every time she skipped the warm up activities at the beginning of class until I finally explained to her that game time was not my favourite time, and that it didn’t disappoint me in the least to skip it.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Alice Went to Wonderland . . .

. . . and I went to Shimokita’s annual English speech contest. イットワーズワンダフル!! Sort of. Ten years and nine months ago one of my sisters submitted a “Report on a Speech Contest” in Ajigasawa to our exclusive siblings-only literary club. It read in part: “Students, judges, and the mayor sit in expectant silence as the first student goes up to the podium. She places her hands carefully on the top of it and gives everyone a significant look. Then she begins. ‘Dowwwn dowwwn dowwwn. Alice fell down a biiiiig hole . . .’ .” So naturally I was pretty darned excited when little Miss Mao Kisen in the first years’ category recreated this moment in my very presence a whole decade later. She even won second place. My sister’s report ended in the nervous breakdown of the JET judges, but I actually enjoyed myself as a spectator.

The English geeks of the Shimokita peninsula are congregated here, possibly for mutual protection. Oh yes, and for the contest.

Here I am with the cool speech contestants and my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) partner.

This is Yurie visibly substantiating her coolness through the use of props. She was the only one from my school to achieve a ranking. But then, our other two entrants were boys. Only two out of the total eighteen winners were boys, and one of those two had a really girly voice. So sorry guys. You’d best wear a skirt next time.

This humpty-headed gaijin with a keitai was caught on camera at the Mutsu Cultural Centre. He is not wanted. I enjoyed the speeches, but there were far too many recitations of “Fly Away Home,” and nobody did the “This is My Rifle” speech from Full Metal Jacket. Maybe next year.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Gaijin's Video of the Week Part the Second: Shimokita’s Feral JET

Have you ever wondered what happens to those village JETs you meet at orientation and never hear from again? This primitive flick is just holding the fort until such time as I get my school action footage online. “Feral” defines a wild or untamed creature that has diverged from its domestic roots. Other famous “ferals” include:

Australia’s Feral Cats

Numerous reported cases of feral humans (this one is actually a somber subject, and although I am including it in the current context, it is by no means to be made light of)

And Will Ferrell (a variant spelling to be sure, but definitely related).

Incidentally, Kazamaura’s great shortcoming is its internet connection speed. I decided to try out some of Jamie’s avoidinglife techniques for acquiring movies from the internet and I started downloading Battle Royale on Sunday night. About nineteen hours later I’m sitting at 12% complete. Estimated time left? 130 hours 29 minutes 56 seconds and counting. That’s a little more time than it took me to travel on Greyhound and SML buses from Whitehorse, Yukon to St. Stephens, New Brunswick back in the year 2000. I’m hoping that it will be ready to watch sometime next weekend.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

HaloScan's Auto Install for Blogger Doesn't Work Well

I apologize for the destruction of my comments section. I was attempting to install HaloScan and the operation went seriously awry. I will attempt to get things back in order as quickly as possible. All comments to date have been appreciated, and I hope that you will all continue to post comments in the future.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

I’ve Never Met a Tree I didn’t Like

And I’ve never seen a tree I didn’t climb. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s a principle of sorts that I like to go by.

Saturday was spent once again in the forested hill country with my cell phone and bicycle. And what do you know, it turns out that I wasn’t putting my cell phone camera to its maximum potential. I finally discovered the “picture quality” function, and that fact should be evident hence forth. If you have a “thing” for climbing trees, join me in Kazamaura for a good time. It’s like the moon of Endor here.

This is the mountain stream that runs along my favourite gravel road. Since I travel alone, I need to be creative in getting these pictures. For spots right next to the road my bicycle makes an excellent tripod, with the seat serving as a platform. Off road I use logs, stumps and rocks, or else tie my cell phone to a pole or tree with my neck strap. The self timer only goes up to ten seconds, so there’s a lot of running involved as well.

Here I am, finally defeated by the mountain road. Sadly, I got a flat on the way down, so Sunday will be spent on foot. I need to wait for my next shopping journey before I can get a bicycle repair kit.

This is the son-of-a-chestnut-tree that nearly killed me. I checked the upper branches for monkeys, but apparently these things were just raining down on their own, from about twenty metres up. I was able to get some great video footage of me climbing the tree, as well as a “riders-eye-view” of my decent down the road, with the new and improved picture quality level, and I will include it in a future Video of the Week.

After supper I decided to walk the four kilometres to the nearest onsen (public hot spring). On the way there I was picked up by the fifth grader who ushered me around during my elementary school welcome ceremony and his father. When I emerged from the bath two hours later the bath matron said that they had offered to drive me home and that she would give them a call. I earnestly declined, assuring her that I considered it a short distance, and good exercise to boot. In the bath itself I was initially a little taken aback to find some of my girl students running around with their boy cousins. I’m used to the fact that little boys often go with their (grand)mommies and little girls with their (grand)daddies but still, these are little girls I see at school. And of course they’re all excited that the Gaijin teacher is at the onsen so they want to hop in the little cold tub with me. Oh well, they’re all under third grade, and my facial structure and eye colour are my only anatomical features that don’t blend in with the local scenery. On the way home I was picked up again, this time by the family of the first year junior high girl I’m helping to coach for the English speech contest on Wednesday. Good kid, nice family; and they’re already talking about inviting me along to an onsen in the future.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Gaijin Gets 元気 (Genki)

I have to confess I was a little apprehensive going into my first 小学校 (“little school”=elementary school) on Friday. However, it turned out that both the teachers and students were less shy then those at the junior high school, and consequently much more fun to spend time with. Being used to the sullen cynicism growing in the bosoms of my junior high students, I was astonished at the bright, cheerful, and outgoing nature of the little people. I have never been asked a question in a junior high question and answer time, but at Ikokuma Elementary School the question and answer time had to be artificially cut short around the twenty-minute mark, and supplemented with a post-event question and answer annex. There were the usual questions, of course: how old are you, what’s your blood type, do you have a girl friend . . . ? But some of them caught me off guard. “What other licenses do you have besides a car license?” Well, I do have a Canadian firearms license, but how could she know? What sort of licenses could this fourth grader possibly have been imagining? And: “Do you like alcohol?” Well, do you my little third grade friend? Are you inviting me out for a few cold ones after school? I would like to state for the record that the sixth grade boy and the fifth grade girl facilitating my welcoming ceremony did a fantastic job.

Afterward the fifth graders invited me to eat lunch with them, and the question and answer time began again. Only this time I got to ask questions, too. It turned out that the girl who asked me if I am interested in Judo (I am) practices Judo in the same town where one of the Olympic Judo silver medalists hails from.

After lunch the boys invited me out for a soccer game, and I got to enjoy the beautiful backdrop of forested foothills that the schools in this village are blessed with . . . soccer footage to follow in a future video.

What do you mean there is no separate teachers' bathroom. Do I look like an acrobat?