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Cherry Blossom Festival

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I went to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco’s Japantown neighborhood yesterday. It’s held every year on two weekends in April.

Of course, it’s only been 5 weeks since the disaster in Japan. Maybe the organizers were not sure about whether to have this fun event this year. However, it’s really important to the Japanese and Japanese-American community here. For example, it helps Japanese and Japanese-American kids living here learn about and participate in Japanese culture. It’s also really important to the businesses in the area. So the festival was held as usual. However, you couldn’t forget about the disaster: there was fundraising everywhere. I thought that was good.

Anyway, here are some of my photos.

Getting ready
We walked through downtown on our way to Japantown. That’s where the parade starts, so some of the people who were going to be in the parade were eating lunch and getting ready.

Floats, waiting
Here are some of the empty floats. The one with the dolls is a special one to support Japan and encourage donations. It was really big and beautiful.

We stand with you
This is during the parade. I don’t know what group it is.

SF Taiko group
There are several Japanese drumming groups that perform during the festival or in the parade. They’re really popular.

"Cable car"
This isn’t a real cable car, but it looks like one. They’re tossing candy to people in the crowd. That’s common in American parades.

Dancers
These dancers are from a Californian Japanese dance school. Both small children and older people danced all the way from downtown–about 1 mile/1.5 kilometers away. Dancers, cheerleaders, etc. are common in American parades.

Keiko Fukuda
Ms. Keiko Fukuda was the Honorary Grand Marshall (leader) of the parade. She’s a famous judoka (also see this video about her). The mayor and the Japanese consul were there too…last year we saw Japanese-American actor George Takei (Sulu from “Star Trek) and the Japanese ambassador to the US.

Omikoshi
These Boy Scouts have a small omikoshi (Japanese portable shrine). There’s a really big one at the end of the parade, but I didn’t stay this year.

Rock
During the rest of the festival, there are outdoor stages with music. This band from Japan, Soulit, performed on a float during the parade, too! They sounded pretty good.

Religious harmony
This is some kind of Japanese/American inter-faith religious group…They look pretty interesting, don’t they?

Cosplay float
In the last few years, the cosplay group has been popular. This float has the best costumes, and the other participants walk. (You can see another photo at Flickr.)

Cosplay for charity
This participant carried a sign encouraging people to donate to the Red Cross by text.

Taiyaki
During the festival, the Japantown mall is really busy. There’s a coffeeshop that always sells their own special taiyaki (like a filled waffle), but they must sell hundreds during the festival. Of course, I had one. I also had mitarashi dango (a kind of sweet rice dumpling on a stick) at a tea shop. My husband had shaved ice.

Washiningyo parade
There are several displays of arts and crafts during the festival, including origami, cloth-covered wood dolls, and these dolls made of paper. There are also displays of bonsai, antique swords, ikebana (flower-arranging) and stones. They also have demonstrations of martial arts (kendo, kyudo, naginata, judo, karate, aikido, etc.), various kinds of dancing and singing, musical performances on the shakuhachi, koto, and shamisen, and they even play karuta (a kind of card game). Some of the people doing these things are not Japanese or Japanese-American at all.

There are other things to do, too. There is one outdoor area where people sell things like t-shirts with original designs, jewelry, and handmade soap. These things have to be related to Asian culture in some way. There’s another area where community groups like Buddhist churches and bilingual kindergartens sell food. You can buy “sakura popcorn” (rice crackers, seaweed, and popcorn), onigiri (riceballs), takoyaki (with no octopus for people who are scared), and lots of other things. I couldn’t take a good photo of these areas.

If you ever have a chance to visit the festival, I recommend it. It’s a wonderful combination of Japanese and American cultures.

You can see more photos from this year on Flickr, including some amazing origami, more cosplay, and a model of Osaka Castle.

If you have any questions about anything, just ask!

P. S. Where are the cherry blossoms? Well, the name is mostly symbolic–it’s just an image. There aren’t many cherry trees in Japantown. It’s in the middle of the city! Also, by late April most of our cherry blossoms are gone, except the double-blossom (yaezakura) type. But there’s good news! I noticed that more double-cherry-blossom trees have been planted in Japantown recently, so maybe next year…

Orchard

An Early Spring Walk

A few days ago, I went to a special park in my town. This park is a kind of garden around an old house. (I didn’t get a good photo of the house.) I like walking around in the garden. There are different flowers in every season.

Gazebo

You can see a gazebo behind the flowers. It’s is a nice place to sit and look at the flowers. Many parks and some big yards have gazebos.

Orchard

In the 1800s, there were a lot of farms and orchards (tree/fruit tree farms) in the San Francisco Bay Area. All of the orchards in this county are gone now, because we now mostly have cities with houses and offices. (A county is an official area. It’s smaller than a state. Each state in the US has several counties.) However, in the back of this park, there’s a small area with a few short, old trees. These trees are the last few trees from the last orchard in our county. The photo above is of a few branches on one of the trees. It looks like a cherry tree, but I’m not sure.

Blossom

Here’s a close-up of the blossoms on another tree in the main garden. I think these flowers were past their peak (already beyond their best point), but they’re still pretty. It had rained recently, as you can see. (Because the San Francisco Bay Area has a Mediterranean-style climate, we only have rain between around November and April.)

Neighborhood

This is a neighborhood near the park. You can see green hills in the distance. These hills don’t become green until wintertime here. That was hard for me to get used to when I moved here!

How is the weather where you are?
Is it still too cold to take a walk, or is the weather already nice?

A Friend’s Christmas Day

I thought some of you might like to see my friend’s Christmas Day. She lives in the southern part of the central US. On Christmas Day, there were four generations of her family in one house!

Here’s Christmas morning. They have a very tall tree (it’s taller than mine or my parents’). However, many Americans have trees that are about 6 feet/2 meters tall. One reason is because there are a lot of gifts to put under the tree.

Some families only give one gift to each person. In my family and my husband’s family, everyone gives more than one gift to each other. (I don’t know about my friend’s family.) So when I was old enough (maybe 10 or so?), I gave presents to my parents, too. They also gave presents to each other. This year, I gave presents to my mom, my dad, my husband, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law. (I also gave or mailed presents to several friends.)

Anyway, here’s the gift unwrapping at my friend’s house.

Some gifts are practical things that people have been wanting but can’t or won’t buy. (For example, my parents gave me a nice pair of jeans, a pair of trail shoes for hiking, and an extra iPod Touch cable.) Some gifts are educational or to help the person in their job. (For example, my husband gave me a book on English linguistics. Last year, my in-laws gave my husband a book about math teaching.) And of course, other gifts are just fun or nice. (For example, my parents gave my husband a Doctor Who DVD box set and a video game.)

I really appreciate my friend letting me share these photos with you. :) Thanks, Q!

Contest Winners – Most Useful Techniques

Thanks again to everyone who entered! Here are the first two winners. I’ve posted their submissions “as is,” which means that I didn’t edit their English. The main focus for this contest was good ideas, not perfect grammar!

The first category is “Most Useful Technique,” based on my opinion as a teacher and as a language learner myself. Two people submitted similar ideas, so there was a tie (two people scored the same/both won). Here’s the first one:

@10lizy's books

Hi!! 

I would like to introduce the tools of studying in English with attaching photo.
The notebook is necessary to memo for new words or new sentences.

The English-English dictionary and The Oxford Thesaurus are also necessary tools.
I use them since I was a student of English school in Malaysia.
The teachers recommended to use them!

Books are written by English.
I try to read them out!!
Picking up some nuances or learning way to native’s thinking from them.

The magazines, CNN English Express,to Include in CDs. I use for improving my listening.

That’s it!!

This combined technique was submitted by the user @10lizy on Twitter. It focuses on books, but she uses them in many ways. Graded readers are great for picking up vocabulary. Easy-to-understand regular books are great for learning words that go together and sentence patterns. She also mentions that it’s a good way to learn how native speakers think, and the nuances of words. She also uses English learning books with CDs for listening practice. She writes sentences and words in a notebook (some researchers say that this works well if you do it in a certain way.) Finally, she has a thesaurus and a dictionary to help her get a deeper understanding of words.



Here’s the second one:

Hi, I’m AlexaderBD on the twitter and this is the first time I  write to someone that have English as first language. xP

About the  contest I can say that my English was not that bad, but was not
that great  too, and my solution to improve it was to read books. I have choose
the reading of books because books are one of my big love. When I have a  doubt about some word in the book I use a dictionary
This is a picture  of the book I’m reading at the  moment.

alexaderbd's books

I  think this is what is suppose to do in the contest, if it isn’t please let me know.
But the main reason to make me participate is the help me  improve my English.
Hope you can understand everything I try to say.  :p

This technique comes from @alexaderBD on Twitter. He has a more direct approach of reading novels in English. He is comfortable reading English, loves reading, and speaks another language that’s related to English, so this is a great choice for him. Huge novels like The Stand (or Harry Potter) aren’t a good idea until you’re comfortable with them. If you are, then you can use them to improve your vocabulary, your reading speed, the different ways you can use words, your understanding of difficult things like articles, and so on.

If you just read books about English, it’s not very useful. But if you read books in English, I think it can be a very useful technique. Great job, both of you! If you wrote me about which prize you wanted, I’m sending your prizes soon. (Some people didn’t answer about their prizes…)

I’ll post more winners tomorrow!

Halloween 2010

This year I was really busy during October. I wasn’t able to plan a Halloween party. It’s too bad, because I love having Halloween parties.

Here are some photos from a couple of years ago.


Here are some small lanterns I put outside my place. We usually put decorations outside our homes as well as inside.


In the front is a candle decoration that I made. On the right is a pumpkin that has not been carved yet. On the left is what was inside a pumpkin. That pumpkin has already been carved into a jack-o’lantern.


You can see some of the snacks that we had at our party. (No, we’re not good at making sushi!) You can also see party favors in little bags.

Anyway, I’m not having a party tonight or tomorrow. But tonight we visited a special Halloween event that our city has.

There’s an old building here. It used to be part of a rich person’s house. Now it’s only used once a year for a “haunted house”! I think about 75 people were in line. It costs $3, and the money is given to local charities.


You can see just a few of the booths with carnival games and Halloween items for sale. The games are similar to festival games in other countries.


My favorite part: caramel apples! I always get one that’s covered in chopped peanuts. These are made right there by volunteers. They taste so good! The apples are a little bit tart, and the nuts are nutty, crunchy, and a little salty. So it’s not as sweet as it looks.

Lots of little kids and a few adults go to this event in costume. The volunteers who work there have fun, and my money is given to charity. I really enjoy going there every year.

I hope you have a great Halloween, or a great October 31st if you aren’t interested in Halloween!

P. S. Enter the contest! It’s so easy–just share your ideas with us! Only 2 people have entered so far…your chances are good!

Continue reading

WonderCon

A small part of WonderCon
A small part of WonderCon (click for bigger photos)

On Saturday, my husband, my friend, and I went to San Francisco. We went to a convention called WonderCon. This convention is for fans of comic books, animation, movies, TV shows, and so on. Last year, about 32,000 people went to the convention–women, men, kids, older people, etc. It’s not the biggest convention like this, but it’s pretty big.

More of WonderCon (sorry about the glass)
More of WonderCon (sorry about the glass)

Every year, there are a lot of things to do at the convention. In the Exhibition Hall, you can buy all kinds of comics. Often, you can buy the comics from the artist or writer and talk to him or her. You can buy paintings and drawings from artists. You can buy books about comics, history, and computer graphics. You can talk to publishers and ask them questions. You can meet actors and other famous people from TV shows and movies. (You usually have to pay to get their autographs.)

On the left, a friend who's an artist. On the right, another friend and two more members of Legion Fantastique.
On the left, a friend who's an artist. On the right, another friend and two more members of Legion Fantastique.

Look at the photo above. The three people wearing costumes are looking at the original comic book art that is for sale by an artist. (They are members of a group called Legion Fantastique. If you’re in California, you can see them at the Great Pan-Kinetic Exposition in August.) Lots of people wear costumes and walk around the convention. You can usually take their photos if you ask them.

Some people work hard on their costumes
Some people work hard on their costumes

Another reason that people go to WonderCon is because you can go to presentations and panels (group presentations). At these, people talk about topics like how to make costumes, how to teach reading using comic books, religion in fantasy movies, and so on. Actors, writers, and other people are also on panels. Sometimes new movies or TV shows are shown for the first time.

Who's on the escalator?
Who's on the escalator?

We had a lot of fun, and we’ll probably go next year. There’s “something for everyone!”

Have you ever gone to a convention? What kind of convention would you like to go to? You can answer in the comments!


Notes

“Convention” (n.): A big meeting of people on one topic. It might be for people who work in one kind of business, like web designers. Other conventions are for fans of something, like Japanese animation, trains, growing roses, or comic books. People often travel a long way to go to the convention. Conventions are usually held in convention centers or hotels. “Convention” comes from the verb “convene,” which means “come together.” “Conferences” (n.) are almost the same, except that word is usually used for academic (teaching and researching) conferences–teachers, scientists, historians, etc. “Conference” comes from the verb “confer,” which means “talk” or “discuss.”

A “publisher” (n.) or publishing company is a person or a company that makes books, comic books, etc. A publisher isn’t a printer or a bookstore. A writer sends her book to a publisher and hopes that the publisher will accept it. The publisher agrees to buy it and pays the writer. The publisher pays a printing company to print the book. The publisher sends the book to bookstores. The bookstores sell the books. The publisher, bookstores, and writer share the money from selling the book. (The author doesn’t get very much…)

“Autograph” (n./v.): If a famous person writes his or her name on something, their written name (signature) is an autograph. When you write your name on a check, letter, etc., it’s just a signature (n.). If a famous person signs something, it’s an autograph.

If I didn’t explain something, please ask in the comments!

Take a Peek at the San Francisco Bay Area…Present Tense

Do you remember the present tense? (she walks, I read, he tells me, they buy some coffee, etc.) It’s probably one of the first things you learned in English. One place where you will often find the simple present tense is in captions–the explanatory writing that goes with a photo in a newspaper, magazine, etc.

image of newspaper from artvex.com

In journalistic style, the captions are usually written in present and present continuous/progressive tense, as though the event is happening as you look at the picture. Of course, the actions have already occurred, so past tense may seem more logical. However, you can think of the photo’s events as “frozen in time.” If you study academic writing in English, you learn to do the same thing when referring to other writings (Dr. Krashen writes that reading and listening are important, etc.).

Through the Lens is a feature of the San Francisco Chronicle‘s website. Every week, images from around the Bay Area are posted, with captions. The captions show a mix of tenses depending on the situation. For example, in this week’s Through the Lens, we have these captions posted:

If you’re interested in the San Francisco area, you can bookmark Through the Lens and get a regular look at life here.