Friday, April 25, 2008

Illiterate in Tokyo

So this is what it feels like to be illiterate. You can't even look something up in a dictionary. The streets have no names so following a map is almost impossible. We've (I'm travelling with Gary who was my counterpart in Region 2 and then moved on to handle the entire Bronx) figured out you have to use buildings as markers. Luckily we have Marcio with us. He's a New Yorker of Japanese decent originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He lived in Tokyo for 9 years and even he finds it confusing. He took us out last night to the east end of the area where his hotel is located. One of the known red light, raunchy districts in Tokyo. But we saw little raunch and ate on the 5th floor of a building. Many restaurants are on top of each other in a vertical pile. So are some people around here I imagine.

We're in Shinjuko in the west end of Tokyo. The train station here may be the busiest in the world. Some 2 million people pass through a day.

We want to walk everywhere. Marcio discourages us, urging us to take the subway. We did convince him to walk to day but it is not easy to get around that way for anything but short distances. Some aspects of the city remind me of London, certainly that they drive on the opposite side of the road. But London could be walked. Here, you have to go up stairs, then down stairs. Streets do not run parallel.

We got back to the hotel this afternoon for the meeting with the organizers and volunteers. Most are from Europe and LEGO education. We were led on a school-type trip back to Shinjuku station for a 4 stop subway - really, many trains here are elevated- ride to someplace I can't pronounce - they have the offices there. Someone from LEGO Japan did the translating for us. I am going to be a referee for the first time and had to relearn the game. Gerhardt from LEGO in Denmark is a lifesaver and we went over all the aspects and now I have a feel for it. We're meeting Sunday at 9:30 to go over stuff and practice scoring - I need the most help - to be ready for the real competition on Monday. The 56 teams from 24 countries and 456 kids. Really all over the world. Peru and Brazil, a bunch from the US, Canada and Mexico. Five from China, teams from Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan. any from Western Europe. And Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia. We were disappointed to hear the 2 teams from Israel had to cancel at the last minute - we could have solved the middle east in 3 days.

We were taken to eat after the training at an 8th floor restaurant with a buffet right over the train station - there's lots of these big shopping areas as part of train stations. I sat with David who is a phys ed teacher in Barcelona and runs all of the tournaments in Spain and a woman who runs the tournaments in Benelux. Is iit amazing meeting all these people who speak fluent English? What a dunce I feel like.

After eating the organizers felt the trains would be too crowded, so they piled us in cabs to get back to the hotel. I could have walked faster. Tokyo traffic is awful. But in addition to David, a gal from Germany was in the cab and she works in the social responsibility section of a major corporation and recruits mentors for teams.

In a major interesting point of the conversation, she asked about KIPP involvement in FIRST activities and said she has friends who work with KIPP in the states. That led to a great follow-up - I told her to tell her friends to contact me if KIPP in NYC was interested in FIRST robotics. We did get to talk about some of the broader issues facing the corporate takeover and she surprised us by saying there were few private schools in Germany and those that do exist are viewed as havens for kids who buy their degrees because they cannot make it in the much better perceived public schools.

Back at the hotel, the organizers told us the tallest building in Tokyo was open for us to go up and check out the views and David, Gary and I went on up but the glass prevented us from taking good pics. Gary and I went over to the Hyatt to try to find the school from Little Red which had raised $1200 in bake sales to contribute towards the Ritter Kids from the Bronx who arriving 17 strong along with their principal and 6 parents Saturday afternoon. They didn't check in 'till after 7 (what a long, grueling trip they must have had) but must have gone out to eat.

Tomorrow we go on an all day excursion out of the city.

I think I'm jet-lagged up the kazoo.

The only ed news that seems to have come up of note is that Queens Bor. Pres Helen Marshall seems to have woken up and appointed a Queens rep to the PEP. Leonie posted a good article from the Queens Courrier. Will Manhattan PEP Rep Patrick Sullivan have another independent colleague?

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