Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Hints of spring

Plum blossoms

Spring is beginning to peek it's head around the corner. The days are growing longer and as you can see, blossoms are beginning to bloom. In a few weeks sakura (cherry blossoms) will sprout and I will live in springtime bliss for a few weeks. I shared the autumn verse of this song last fall, but again I feel it's appropriate as the door closes on winter and opens to spring.

And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter

And everything thats new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season's change
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring.

Ann with plum blossoms

English Section Farewell Party

Tonight was the farewell party for the English section of Namekawa Junior High. There are 5 full teachers and me. I am leaving, along with 2 other teachers. So half of our department is leaving. The women I taught with are really remarkable. Yes, at times they have each driven me a little crazy, but I have grown quite fond of them and will miss them dearly. I hope that we can remain friends despite our dispersion. Please pray for these women, giving thanks to God for bringing them into my life and also that He will work within each of their lives to reveal Himself to them.

me, Ms. Yatabe, Ms. Kushida, Ms. Namekawa, Ms. Kitaguchi (Ms. Oohira not pictured)

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Minha hermana

The beautiful young lady on the left is my sister, Molly. Last Thursday she turned 17 years old. Where does the time go? It still seems to me like she should be about 8. Growing up we didn't have the closest relationship. It seemed like we were always at equally obnoxious ages, which was amplified by the fact that we're 6 years apart in age. But since I've been in college and more so since I've been across the world, we get along really well. I'm slowly growing accustomed to the fact that my little sister is growing into a young woman. She's making her own decisions and developing her own identity, which happens to be quite different from mine. But I couldn't be more proud, and I should probably tell her more often. She has a sweet spirit with a great heart and a laugh that makes you laugh along with her. I miss her and love her very much.

Happy (belated) birthday, Molly!

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Must haves/Can't stands

It's a little past 2am and I'm still awake and feel like blogging something. A while back one of my friends posted their eharmony "must haves" and "can't stands" on their blog and I found it interesting, so I went and found my own. So here you go, a little peep into my mind. By the way, these are eharmony's descriptions of the traits, not mine (although I do for the most part agree with them).

Must Haves:

Communicator- I must have someone who is good at talking and listening.

Strong Character- I must have a partner who is honest and strong enough to do the right thing.

Kindness- must have a partner who is gentle and kind.

Patience- I must have someone who can handle life's frustrations or momentary setbacks with a patient, steady, demeanor.

Conflict Resolver- I must have a partner who will work to resolve rather than win arguments or conflicts within our relationship.

Affectionate- I must have someone who is comfortable giving and receiving affection.

Intellect- I must have a partner who is bright and can share my understanding of the world as well as enjoy discussing important issues.

Loyal.- I must have someone I can count on to always support me.

Adaptability- I must have a partner who is able to adapt to life's surprises.

Spirituality- I must have someone with a similar deep commitment to spirituality, who shares my beliefs.

Can't Stands:
Racist- I can't stand someone who believes that any particular ethnic group to which they belong is superior to the rest of humanity.

Hypocrites- I can't stand someone who holds a double standard for their actions and those of other people.

Judgmental- I can't stand someone who finds fault with everyone and everything.

Undependable- I can't stand someone who fails to come through and is unreliable.

Cynicism- I can't stand someone who generally sees the world from a cynical perspective.

Self-Centered- I can't stand someone whose main topic of conversation is himself/herself.

Intolerance- While I understand that religious conviction is a positive trait, I can't stand someone who is self-righteous and feels that their particular faith is the only one that matters.

Mean Spirited- I can't stand someone who has a devious nature and is mean to others.

Childishness- I can't stand someone who is not emotionally mature.

Boorishness- I can't stand someone who is inclined to rowdy, vulgar or disrespectful behavior when "having fun."

PS- Today (well, the 28th) is my 7 month Japan anniversary. :)

Sunday, March 27, 2005


I have been neglecting the blog! Between my very stressed out/not wanting to confront or talk about reality state of being for the week prior to my vacation and then my week of being gone to Singapore, I have really not been a very good blogger to my dear friends and family (and whoever else stumbles upon this site). So here you go, a summary of my trip to Singapore. Warning--this could be boring unless you really love me and are interested in my life.

The night before I went to Singapore I was stressed. I had just had my last day at school and I had to pack and my apartment looked (and still looks) like a bomb hit it and I was just not in a vacation mindset. But I pulled it together and set off Friday for the beginning of my "week to forget," named this in honor of my head English teacher, Ms. Yatabe, who told me right before I left that she hoped I was "able to forget all I want to forget" during my week away.
Why Singapore you might ask? Well let me tell you. During my awesomely awesome junior year at OC, Dave and Debbie Hogan and their daughter Breda were serving as the visiting missionaries to campus. They served the Moulmein Church in Singapore. I became friends with them and became fascinated with Singapore, and really hoped to visit one day. And since some of my friends have a history of not knowing where in the world the places I go to are (e.g., Brazil is in Africa...), Singapore is a small island located off the southern coast of Malaysia.
So on Friday off I went. The flight (about 8 hours from Japan) was great, despite the fact that I flew Northwest (which endeared itself to me as "ghetto airlines" after my experiences with them over Christmas). Apparently I was on a newly renovated plane which had an awesome state of the art personal entertainment system for each seat. I was able to watch 3 movies that I'd really wanted to see (Ray, The Incredibles, and Finding Neverland-- the last of which impressed me most) and I stayed awake for the whole flight. I arrived that night, met Dave at the airport, then went to their house and crashed.
I won't give you a day by day breakdown, but just hit some highlights. Sunday was fabulous. I met a lot of great people and the church service really moved me. I guess it hadn't hit me that it'd been almost 4 months since I'd been in a church service where I understood everything, and it just made me really emotional to be able to be fully involved in a time of worship. Especially the singing. Usually in Japan I'm so focused on trying to keep up with reading the hiragana that thinking about the meaning is totally lost. One song in particular really struck a cord with me:
For all that you've done I will thank you
For all that you're going to do
For all that you've promised and all that you are
Is all that has carried me through,
Jesus I thank you.
During those moments I was able to step back and evaluate the last months... and even years of my spiritual journey, and truly and deeply praise and glorify God for where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going. So Sunday was a great day of worship and fellowship. The young adults class at church kind of adopted me, so I had a big dinner with them that night. Great group of dedicated people who I came to adore.
That night I moved from the Hogans house to one of their neighbors/friends/fellow church members houses, Mark and Karen McCurley. The McCurleys are Americans who have lived in Singapore for 10 years. They were moved there with Mark's company. They have two college aged kids in the States, so they were happy to have a guest around their kid's ages. The Hogans and the McCurleys are some of the most gracious hosts I have ever seen. They truly opened up their homes and welcomed me as part of their families.
Dave served as a great tour guide, since he moved to Singapore when he was a teenager. He took me down around the Singapore River and through the old original colonial area of town. I got to see the Merlion (I will include the obligatory picture of me with the mini-Merlion). I went through Chinatown and saw some very cool temples and mosques. I went to some awesome museums. I ate a TON of food, including a lot of typical Singaporean dishes (which are combonations of Chinese, Malay, and Indian food). I tried lots of new foods, most of which were great (including sting ray! I ate sting ray, and it was good!). I did some serious shopping, since they actually have clothes that fit my American body. I stocked up on some American food that I can't get in Japan at the grocery store (including Cadbury creme eggs! Praise God for His provision when I thought I'd go an entire Easter holiday without Cadbury creme eggs!). I vegged out and relaxed and slept in. I read 2 books (Bridges of Madison County and Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott). I watched several good movies, including the 2004 College of Bible submission to First Week Follies-- BSC Dodgeball. Hilarious! I made new friends and slept in a comfortable bed. It was blissful. It was hard to come back to Japan. But 2 things brought me back-- this week Blake and the Barneches and some other great folks are moving to Japan (This week! YATTA!) and in a couple of weeks cherry blossoms will bloom.
So there you have it-- Singapore. It was the perfect vacation for me, with it's combination of familiarities from home yet historically and culturally rich exoticness. I am tempted to say that I really needed this vacation, but I also know that that is extremely vain, considering that there are many more people in the world who have lived in much more stressful situations than me for much longer than I have who deserve a break far more than I do. So I give all thanks to God for providing this time of refreshment and fun.
If you're still reading this, I thank you. May you have a blessed Easter and wonderful week, and may God refresh your soul as He has mine.

Ann with mini-Merlion

Pictures from Singapore! More coming after I develop my film camera!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Hello from Singapore!

Hello all!
Just wanted to let you know that I am in Singapore and am having a wonderful time. This country is gorgeous and I am staying with great people, Dave and Debbie Hogan. I think this week will provide much needed refreshment and relaxation.
I will write more after I get back. Love you all!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Day completed

Well I did make it through today. It was difficult... so difficult. But it'll be okay. I just need time to recover from my loss-- that's natural.
Tomorrow I head off to Singapore! Boy could I use a vacation right about now. Since I got back from Christmas there has been stressful situation after stressful situation, and I am tired in mind and body.
Thank you all for the support you've been over the past several months. It's really carried me through.
Love you all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Stress, thy name is ashita*

Lately I've been feeling some stress. Yesterday I started announcing to my classes that this was my last week at Namekawa, and it's positively ripped my heart out. Tomorrow's my last day of classes. This is difficult enough in and of itself, but my allergies are acting terribly (which means I really look like I'm crying all the time), and I'm trying to get ready to go to Singapore on Friday... like, in 36 hours. And last night I went to bed with my watch on but woke up with it gone, and I can't find it. Ugh. So I'm stressed.
If I don't update tomorrow, then I will try to give a shout out from Singapore (adding another notch in my proverbial "countries I've blogged from" belt). Take care... love y'all.

*ashita means tomorrow

Monday, March 14, 2005

Daughter of the mask...

Yes, go on... I invite you to get your laughs in on this one. I know I would if it were you. :) It's true, today I took another step in becoming Japanese and wore a surgical mask. No, I'm not sick, and it's not germs I am afraid of catching. My hayfever has been acting up and so I am trying limit my pollen intake by wearing this while I'm outside. Plus, I really couldn't go through a whole winter in Japan without experiencing "the mask." And while I was wearing out in the cold wind today, I realized another reason why Japanese people must wear these all the time-- it keeps your face toasty warm!
So there you go... the ongoing saga of the Japanification of Ann.
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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Fu desu

Today I learned a Japanese phrase that fits quite nicely with what I have been feeling the past few days (especially today):

Watashi wa shogi no fu desu.
I am just a pawn.

Reality bites.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Pomp and circumstance

Yes, today was our junior high graduation. I didn't have a gradution for junior high, although I do know some people in the States who did. Anyway, junior high graduation is a significant milestone here in Nihon. You see, compulsory education ends here the last year of junior high (9th grade American equivalent), so really this is all the kids have to complete (although the vast vast majority do continue on to high school). Since high school is semi-optional, that means that they apply to the schools they want to go to. Some high schools specialize in the arts, some in English, some in vocational work. For high school many of these kids who have been friends their whole lives go their separate ways. So these kids this can be a pretty emotional day, and who can blame them. They're so young to have to start saying goodbyes.
The ceremony was very formal. It included speeches by the class president, principal, and some other man I didn't know. We all dressed up (see pictures below). Sadly, unlike Texas graduations it lacked the whoops and hollers and cow bell ringing. :) A lot of my little girls cried all the way through the ceremony. The emotional climaxes were when all the teachers and parents stood up, and one teacher read a letter to the teachers on behalf of everyone thanking them for everything. She fought crying the whole way through. Also was when the entire student body sang a goodbye song. Thank goodness I didn't understand it, or I might have been boo hooing too. I did have a tearful moment when I said goodbye to one of my favorite students.
After the ceremony, all the students, teachers, and parents line the driveway entrance to the school and the 3rd year homeroom teachers lead their classes to the gate then say goodbye. I thought it was a very nice custom and a good way to say "mata ne" (see you later).
I'll miss those kids. They were a great group. It reminds me of my impending departure of Namekawa Chu. But I am reminded of the wise words of a very wise man, Bailey McBride. He's worked at OC almost 50 years, so he has had some experience seeing people come and go. As I left OC last year, he told me that while it was hard seeing people he loves leave every year, one thing he never regretted was opening his heart to love people, no matter how temporarily they might be in his life. I can understand what he means now. I am so blessed to have so many people to love on in my life.

Ms. Yatabe's class before graduation

Our graduates ceremoniously leaving

There they go. Bye bye junior high... hello high school!

Yumiko Yatabe (my head English teacher who is fabulous) and me. The 3rd year homeroom teachers all wore traditional Japanese dress for the graduation ceremony.

For the fam-- fully spiffed out and sensei-ified. :) I finally got to wear my suit!

Full Namekawa Chu Gakko Photo Album

Monday, March 07, 2005

Song of the Moment-- Let it All Out

Let it all out
Get it all out
Rip it out
Remove it
Don't be alarmed
When the wound begins to bleed

Cause we're so scared to find out
What this life's all about
So scared we're going to lose it
Not knowing all along
That's exactly what we need

And today I will trust you with confidence
Of a man who's never known defeat
But tomorrow, upon hearing what I did
I will stare at you in disbelief
Oh inconsistent me
Crying out for consistency

And you said I know that this will hurt
But if I don't break your heart
Then things will just get worse
If the burden seems too much to bear
Remember the end will justify
The pain it took to get us there

And I'll let it be known
At time I have shown
Signs of all my weakness
But somewhere in me
There is strength

And you promise me
That you believe
In time I will defeat this
Cause somewhere in me
There is strength

And today I will trust you with the confidence
Of a man who's never known defeat
And I'll try my best to just forget
That that man isn't me

Reach out to me
Make my heart brand new
Every beat will be for you
For you

And I know you know
You touched my life
When you touched my heavy heart
And made it light

-- Relient K, "Let it All Out"

Appeal denied

Today my boss rejected the appeal from my English teachers and principals and has firmly stated that I am moving away from Namekawa junior high school. Today I didn't cry, although there will probably be tears tonight and over the next few days as I say goodbye to my kids. Just for the basic info to straighten out any confusion, I am not moving out of my city or anything. I am just going to a new school. It's name is Hidaka. It is the school at which my friend Jared used to teach. I'm sure it's a great school. Jared loved it. Like I told my boss today, I'm not sad about going to Hidaka, it's leaving Namekawa that I hate.
I think God gave me the past two amazing days so I would not fall apart now. I wrote a big blog bemoaning the Japanese work culture and school system, but ultimately decided that would not be most edifying to post right now. I'll be okay, I just need a while to be sad and angry. Please pray for me.

More birthday fun

The birthday fun continued yesterday as my wonderful church family treated me to a lovely day. I got to go to lunch at one of my favorite restraunts with some of my favorite people, and then last night an incredibly sweet family hosted a lovely dinner at their home for a group of us. I am so grateful for my wonderful Taga family.

Mr. Ishikawa, Sho (I love Sho!), Roxanna, Satsuki, me, Judith, Sugao

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Japanese people are punny, too :)

I was impressed by this because it not only made sense, but was clever and was humorous in English. :) Way to go, Engrish!

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Saturday, March 05, 2005

It's my birthday, and I'll blog what I want to... :)

Yes, yes, I realize it's somewhat vain to write about your own birthday, but I had a great day with great friends and just want to share it with you guys.
My alarm went off at 10am this morning, and approximately 30 seconds later my phone rang. My family called me! :) Even my sister was there to talk to me! It totally started my day off right to know that my dad went to the trouble of figuring out the notoriously tricky phone card to talk to me this morning.
Then I got ready and Alina and I went to Tokai, because Tomoko (my roommate from college) and her family (the Kikuchis) had prepared a big birthday lunch for me! How sweet is that? They took me in like their own family. After a very oiishi (delicious) lunch, I spent a very fun afternoon hanging out with them and playing a rousing game of Simon Says with her 7 year old neice, Ai-chan. And they gave me the big stuffed Hello Kitty you see below! :) I love the Kikuchis so much and am so thankful they always take good care of me!
Then Alina and I came back to Hitachi, where Jessica and Peter and two girls from Tokyo visiting Jessica (Kumo... and I've forgotten the other's name...I am so bad with Japanese names! Gomen'nasai!) came to meet us. We all went to karaoke, which was an absolute blast. I can't help but think that 3 hours of karaoke is all that the body was designed to be able to take in one session. :) After that we had a quick dinner so they could catch the train, then they went home.
Alina and I walked home and made sure to stop by the big snow man and take pictures. Then about five minutes after I got home, the phone rang and the Carpenters called me! How sweet of them!!!
I would like to give a big thank you to everyone who made me feel so special on my birthday. I thought today was going to bring on a bout of homesickness, but instead I was reminded of how blessed I am by the people in my life. I love my friends.

Birthday 2005 Photo Album

Ai-chan, Kitty-chan, Ann-chan, Alina-chan
(see, this is funny because Alina's last name really is Chan)
(I just realized that also to understand the humor in this, you need to know that "-chan" is a diminutive added to children's names and what close female friends often call each other)

Alina, Ann, Airi, Tomoko in front of doll display

Karaoke crew

Sweet girls

Alina, Ann, Peter

Ann with the big yuki-man

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Snowy day!

Today we woke up to a winter wonderland, although in my book spring should be starting. Snow had fallen most of the night and continued to fall (at times quite heavily) all day today. Sure it sounds nice and romantic, but as I stood at my bus stop for 50 minutes this morning in the wet and cold, I was not so amused. I honestly had lost such feeling in my cheeks that I thought I would never regain it again. :) But it was beautiful. The students got to go home early today, and I took the opportunity to take some pictures. Aren't my kids too cute? :)

Kids leaving school

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

More to come

I know I owe you guys an update on and better explanation of my Monday post, but I haven't wanted to think about it (nor have I had the time). Actually I have been working on a post that is still being tweaked. I hope to get it up tomorrow. I will tell you that there's a glimmer of hope for my staying at Namekawa-- my awesome English teachers aren't going to give me up without a fight!!!-- so please pray that I can stay with my beloved kiddos!
Since I'm not entertaining you, let me direct you to my blogger buddy Praying Mantis. His posts on Monday (February 28) were so encouraging and edifying to me. Blogging can be a spiritual discipline! (see PM entry for 2/23/05)
I would also like to give props to Derek Webb's album, She Must and Shall Go Free, for blessing me this week. Have a happy Thursday for those of you just starting the day.