the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Thursday, July 27, 2006

How to...

Here are some interesting How to's brought to you by Wiki HowTo.

How to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions

How to live without a car

How to sleep comfortably on a hot night

Monday, July 24, 2006

The best keitai

I'll soon be in a position where I'll be buying my own keitai (Japanese mobile phone) . Here in America, I can understand the finer details of a cell phone contract. But I don't think I will have that luxury in Japan.

I plan on traveling inside Japan on breaks, so a company with national coverage would be great. The other areas I am interested in are of course, good value and good reception.

My Japanese readers, if you could do me a huge favor, please comment. Which keitai service do you have? DoCoMo? Vodaphone? AU? and why? Which service do you think is best? why? Thank you so much!

Living with Lutherans

The orientation I am at is an ecumenical training - it includes many denominations - but in reality, nearly everyone here is Lutheran. Schematically I've found traditional Lutheran services to be very similar to Episcopal Services, and yet they also seem to have some contemporary problems that I am more familiar with from the church I grew up at.

The thing I love about Lutherans is that they are a people, young and old, who are bound by a common litergy and faith. And they're fairly open-minded. But the one thing I hate about Lutherans is that they assume we know their tradition because they are the majority. And that's not so bad, I'd just like to be informed about the differences - and they probably aren't even aware.

There are only four volunteers from the RCA here, and similar numbers for the other denominations. Yet there are about thirty-five Lutheran volunteers here. Our churches are all similar. I wonder why the Lutheran church is more popular.

I have found the people at this conference (ranging in age from 20's to 60's) to be largely inviting, encouraging and accepting. We are all in relatively the same boat; we are going out to do service in an unfamiliar country. And doubtlessly, this has formed hard and fast bonds. I feel I have more incommon with people here than I did even in Sioux Falls. This is a luxury to have. It will be a different sort of thing to form relationships with people in Japan - I will have less incommon with them. And yet, everyone needs to tell their story, and a foreigner is a great excuse to tell your story.

One of my Canadian friends here said, "You use so many Americanisms here, and you don't even know it." After this experience of ever so slight exclusion, I'll try even harder to keep my Americanisms (and my Christianisms) in check.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Finished Visa

I finally got my real visa today. Now I just need to buy a plane
ticket. The Japanese embassy shares a building with an upper class
department store that sells Guchi, Armani and Prada (among others). And
it's also next door to the Disney Store. Isn't that ironic?

I also had the chance to read a Japanese children's manga while I was
waiting for the ambassadors to get back from lunch. The comic was a bit
more scandalous than American children's comics. In one episode a mole
was burrowing to the surface, only to be defecated on by a mother bear.
In another two mating boars where hit by a tree that had been cut down
by a woodpecker.

Tomorrow I'll look into plane tickets. Yay!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Random orientation facts

Step 1: Take off your clothes
Step 2: put them in a sealed bag, take a shower three times being sure to wash inside your mouth, nose, eyes, ears, etc.
Step 3: put on clean clothes
This should decontaminated you from exposure to biological hazards.

Muslims believe there are two angels assigned to each person. One to document every good act you have committed, and one to document every bad act committed.

Taking aspirin before a flight decreases your chances of having blood clotts.

Dengue fever is Malaria's evil cousin.

Isolation is a symptom of burnout, so is a lack of follow through.

The word for "stranger" and the word for "guest" are the same in most languages.

The USA State website tends to be a little jumpy about declaring a stage of alert in foreign countries. For more realistic alerts try the Canadian or British State websites.

A Chicago Transit (CTA) Day pass lasts 24 hours from the day it was purchased. That means one card can get you through most of a weekend if you work it right.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Visiting the mosque

Last Thursday we visited a mosque here in Chicago. It was Friday (the
Muslim holy day of the week) and there were over 1,000 people attending
the prayer. We have been talking about seeing people as people first,
and this visit - besides being a much needed education experience - was
an attempt to teach us that lesson.

Our guide was a woman named M. A woman in her seventies from Iowa who
had converted to Islam in the early 1960's although this was not the
norm. I was surprised at the number of Caucasians attending, but mostly
the congregation was African, Indian/Pakistani and Arab.

M. guided us into the meeting room, and we sat in the far back so as to
not disrupt the service. There was separate seating for women, but as
M. and a few other members later told us; the separate seating was more
cultural than religious. I was surprised to see many members come in
much as they do in church, in groups, with children, shaking hands and
even late stragglers. Everyone came in and did their individual prayers
(facing East) after finding a spot. Then there was a sermon - in Arabic
- and then everyone scrunched together towards the front and did the
prayers in unison.

Before entering, you must ceremonially wash your extremities. In Islam,
prayer itself involves many physical forms of sitting, standing,
kneeling, and bowing. After the service, we went upstairs and had a
very candid talk with M. and some other parishioners. One of the men
talked about how when he first came to the USA how he had been an auto
mechanic, and he prayed in the corner of the shop on a piece of
cardboard at the appropriate times of day. Over his shoulder he saw his
supervisor watching him, and he worried what would happen to him for
praying. Later that week he came back to find the corner of the shop
spotless. The supervisor had asked the janitor to clean it for him.
And "that was when I knew that this really is the land of the free."

We talked about rising tensions about being religious in the USA, and
the continuing misrepresentation of our faiths by the media. M. said
tensions against Muslims have been noticeably rising since the late
1970's. She also told a story about people who saw her wearing her
headscarf in public and yelled "go back to your own country!", but they
never stopped to ask her where she is from.

We also talked about our concerns for justice and equity for the poor as
well as the unbelieving. At least in this mosque (and I believe
globally as well), their 'tithe' is figured according to their
abundance, and any member who is poor can come and make a report to a
special committee to prove their poverty and receive funds from the

I also met a young man who was into "political rock er, actually more
punk rock". When I had exhausted my conversational knowledge of
underground music, I asked him if his passion for political rock came
from Islam's tradition of justice. "Yeah, it probably helped", was his

In short, I found a bunch of great people, and we got to know each other
for a little while. And while we may mean slightly different things
when we say "salvation" or "justice" this doesn't mean that we can't
work together towards these goals, or at least be friends.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Racism and Colonialism

There were guest speakers today, foreigners attending the seminary, who
spoke about racism from colonialism, and how that effected their country

The most striking speaker was a man named Benhi from near South Africa.
Here is a paraphrase of what he said:

You must understand that these scares are deep, so deep you
remember them everyday. So what I am about to tell you is very
personal. I see that you all want to be missionaries, and you are all
white. And it scares me. It scares me because I know about the Dutch,
English and German missionaries, and how they helped colonize my country.

My country is rich in natural resources - diamonds and gold - and even
to this day even though those mines are a part of our country - owned by
DeBears - they are guarded by the militaries of Europe and America.
They are their territories, and they are protecting their territory.


And the missionaries brought schools to teach us. They taught us good
things and bad things. They gave us the academic discipline to find
more education and eventually be able to ask for our own freedom. But
first they taught us the language and literacy - in their language.
This enabled us to work in their offices, their kitchens, their armies.
Some people think Afrikaans is an African language. No, it is a
European language, taught to the kitchen servants so they could
communicate with the masters and the children.

What was most striking to me was that the three conquers of his country
were English, Dutch and German - the same three ethnic groups
represented by the PCUSA, the RCA and the ELCA, the three major
denominations at this orientation.

When we talked about white privilege in college, my friend DE used to
say, "I hate it. I hate people making me feel bad for being white."
But I don't think the point is to feel bad. The point is to make us
mindful of the situation we are going into.

Earlier this year, I was sitting on the beach after a day of
wakeboarding - which I am not a pro at. And I began to feel downcast.
I started to notice what resources were needed for this day - the boat,
the gas, the truck, the equipment, the food, the spare time - resources
my family didn't have when I was young. And I asked God why I was here
in this place of extravagance on that day. And after a long while of
pondering, the answer seemed to be that I must be ready to produce and
answer for the faith I have in all situations. We must be able to act
tactfully and swiftly in all situations.

I hope this day has stretched more than my mind.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Orientation begins!

It's been a rainy start to the week here in Chicago, but that hasn't kept our spirits down. Most everyone here has been very polite and friendly.

I made some friends this week, and I became a social runner. I've run at least four miles this week! Me, I ran a distance more than a mile, repeatedly. And it's only Wednesday. My new friends who have spurred me onto greatness are Tim, Adam and Lori. Without them I would have quit long before two miles - or not even started.

The conference is a ecumenical event and combines the talents of the PCUSA, the RCA, the ELCA and the United Church of Canada. I have been pleased to see volunteers from all ages and backgrounds here. There are about seven volunteers going to Japan, and we might start a Japanese conversation table at lunch tomorrow. Later this week we will be visiting mosques in
an effort to be stretched in a culture unlike our own.

I also had my first slice of Chicago-style deep dish this week. It was both filling and delicious.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Last Day in SF

Today is my last day in SF. Tomorrow I am selling my bike, buying some fireworks, changing my address, and leaving town. It seems like the last few weeks have just flown by.

It's been a great life here, and I learned a lot of things. I learned how to live on my own. I was taught how to be generous. I learned how to be friends with married couples. I learned to widen my definition of "friends" to include people other age groups with different pass times. I learned that I can't do everything myself. I was taught how to live healthy. Maybe someday I will learn to quit being lazy.

But here I sit, alone at Sunday coffee. DK came in, and I got a chance to chat with him before I go. Then JF and IR came in too. It was good to see those guys before I go. I'm going to miss Sunday coffee, after a year I finally know enough people in town that I see some I know here. And now I'm leaving again.

The church is going to pray for me tonight, and I need a little introduction. I'm thinking about something like "I'm going to Japan with just clothes and computer. I have no special knowledge except English and the Gospel. I'm going to be powerless in a foreign country, and I'm really looking forward to it." I've been glad to have the support of the church this year, and I'll be glad to have their blessings while I'm there.