YSIS Summer School

Yokohama Sai International School is a new school that focusses on creative and educational activities for children aged between 4 to 8 years. The school is run by Ms Bharathi Chandiramani who started the school in the year 2015 with a passion to teach children   using creative methods. This was the first time the school had a Summer Camp for not only their own students but also for regular Japanese children who went to Japanese schools as well so that they could  get an exposure in an international environment.

Ever since I had made a model of a Science Theme Park in 9th grade for my Personal Project I was always interested in educating children about science using creative methods. This encouraged me to request Ms Bharathi to allow me to apprentice in her play school during their summer camp

The  kids who attended the summer camp  were quite an energetic bunch. Ms Bharati,  had planned a variety of activities for the children.  During the Science week we taught the children about magnets and which materials are magnetic and non-magnetic. We also taught them about 3D shapes and how to create them. We made our own 3D glasses and managed to look at 3D images with them. The next thing we taught them was about primary and secondary colours and how to create new colours. The children got to create their own coloured markers.

Initially I was only planning to go to Science week but they asked me to come back for Planet Week and a few days during the Ocean week.  Ocean week included a visit to the local pet shop. This newly opened pet shop in Baytown has a variety of animals including birds, rabbits and even monkeys. We looked around the pet shop and I taught them a little bit about the creatures in the ocean and the importance of saving the ocean.

The next week was Planet week. The students created the entire Solar System with arts and crafts material. We taught them about space and the different planets and their moons. The next day we went to the planetarium in Hamagin Space Center in Yokodai. It had various interactive displays such as the Space Captain Room, the Space Discovery Room, the Space Training Room, and the Space Laboratory. The children got to learn about electricity and how it is conducted. They also learnt how it is produced on the International Space Station. This trip took a whole day. I felt that this was a very good experience for the kids because they learnt about science in an interesting way.

This experience in the summer school with the children helped me realize how inquisitive and interesting children are. I found it to be a different experience from being with people of my own age. Their questions made me think of how I could make these topics more fun and easier to understand. They made me realize how it is like to have a sibling. When they asked me to play with them and hold hands with them I felt very happy that I could connect with them and influence them. Working with Ms Bharati was a great learning experience for me.

I learnt that teaching children does not necessarily come from reading out books to them or making them do activities. It involves answering a great deal of their questions. I learnt that children ask intriguing questions that  made me think for a while before answering.Teaching these small children made me realize that I am actually a very calm and patient person and it was not at all stressful. This experience made me learn more about teaching tactics and methods. For instance, during the Ocean week, we described the general importance of the ocean first and gave the big picture and then later broke it down to small segments like how and why each sea creature is important for the environment of the ocean. I learnt simplifying the complex concepts in an interesting manner helps to hold the children’s attention for a longer time.

During the summer camp I had the opportunity to take care of the children when we went on field trips and and outings. It was  a completely different experience from the classroom environment. I learnt that going outdoors during the school time helps the children have a break from their routine academic work and when they are back they can concentrate more during class. Further, when we were outside I leant to be more alert and careful as children of this age group tend to be more excited when they are outdoors.

The summer school lasted only for a few weeks as this is their first time and the school became quite popular in the neighborhood. I have not visited the school after summer school was over but I have maintained my contacts with Ms Bharatii. She found that the children were very fond of me and asked me if I could help out during my summer holidays in future. I will be more than happy to work with children again and I will definitely go back to the school as and when I can.

Lighting

Three years ago, I took the Basic and Advanced Lighting Course offered by the school. This helped me learn about Light Rigging and Programming. My drama background enabled me to light scenes effectively and create appropriate moods. I built my experience in Lighting over the past few years by Lighting almost every single school event such as Elementary, Middle and High School plays, concerts, Art shows, and more.

I do both rigging and programming of the lights. Rigging is quite simple, you place the light on a steel bar on the ceiling either using a ladder or a crane. You fasten the light to the bar with a clamp and  an extra steel cable to ensure the light does not fall if the clamp fails. Then the light has to to be turned to the required direction. At this point plastic coloured sheets called Gels are also added if the scene/event needs some colour to it.

Lighting any stage requires a combination of lights. Different events require different effects. The first is the Front Wash light. Lights placed directly behind the audience creates a general wash of the stage so that the audience will be able to see every part of the stage and the performers clearly from any part of the theatre. Then there are Spotlights. Spotlights can be placed anywhere. These are required to light an individual or specific parts of the stage  for musical or dramatic performances. Usually 2 spotlights are used from either side of the performer at a 45 degree angle.  Backlights is the third important light effect for the stage. Placed behind the performers, these lights are used to create a specific effect or to highlight the performers on stage.

The Programming and operating the lights are done through the Lighting board. A lighting board contains about 50 sliders that correspond to a channel. Each light is on its separate channel. The intensity of a light can be changed with a slider. The Board also includes other features like macros, dimmers, etc. Through the board multiple lights can be assigned to a single channel to facilitate a simple operation.

Programming the lights is easy for a simple setup but it takes time to master  a multi-scene setup. For instance, the “Studentainment” performances in YIS which is a simple show that includes music and dance performances require as a Single Scene set up where the individual lights can be changed easily. On the contrary, the High School Play requires a Multi Scene set up that needs more complex set up. For such set ups multiple lights are patched onto the same channel to make lighting easier but these lights cannot be changed during the performance. These plays have multiple scenes so multiple scene presets are required.

As a Lighting Technician my duties included the following;

  • Setting up and focusing lights
  • Rigging the lights
  • Patching lights to different channels for easier use
  • Changing the set-up of lights during a performance or concert
  • Packing down lights after the show

As I have been doing lighting for multiple events these past few years, I was appointed as the Senior Lighting Coordinator for YIS. I also had  to supervise and help the juniors who were taking the Lighting course. I was able to give them tips on how to make lighting easier and more effective.

Although I had done lighting for several events, I was more involved in ES, MS and HS Productions. This year’s High School play was ‘The Haunting of Hill House’. As the name implies, this play required a mysterious and spooky environment. The lights, sound and stage had to give the effect of a old Victorian style mansion. This was a challenging and exciting task for me. I was able to learn several techniques and apply various aspects of stage lighting I had learnt over the years. I realized how hard work, patience and experience actually pays off.

I was also the Technical Manager for the play. Apart from lighting this Multi Scene play, I was also responsible for creating the set and managing the play. Play management involves coordinating various aspects such as Sound, Light, Positioning, Cast and Crew. These kind of plays take months of rigorous work to plan and prepare. We went through multiple sessions of rehearsals and technical run-throughs so that the play could be as smooth as possible. There were 4 performances for audiences and each time we tried to make the next show smoother and fix any problems that arose during the previous show. Since I was responsible for many things, I had to think and act fast in between and during shows. Time management skills, quick thinking, keen observation etc that I had learnt from Mr. Meiklejohn  helped me manage the play very well. These are some of the skills, I am sure, will help me in several other areas of my life as well.

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When I reflect back over the years I realise that I have in fact overcome a few of my fears and apprehensions through Drama and Lighting. I used to have great fear of heights as a child and rigging lights on to the high ceiling using tall ladders and steps has helped me face my fear and get over it. Also, I was very apprehensive about going on stage during my first play as Issaiah in “Ghosts of Marvin Grange” but over the years I have become extremely comfortable with the stage presence. I thank the YIS Drama Community for supporting and encouraging me to reach where I am today.

 

Cooking for the Homeless in Yokohama

Sai center was founded by the Sindhi community who came to Japan over 60 years back. This is a religious community that conducts Indian celebrations and festivals in their centers. One major area of their activity is to distribute food to the homeless people. As a developing country, India still has large percentage of people living under the poverty line. Unlike in many other developed countries, where you can only read about the poverty statistics in books and papers, in India, one can actually see people suffering hunger, lack of basic needs, shelter etc every day. It is something you cannot escape noticing or pretend that it does not exist. Hence, in India offering food to a hungry person is considered to be not just a noble act but also it is sort of a duty of people who have enough money.  Also, as per the Hindu holy texts it is important to help others by providing them with food, shelter and clothing. To follow this principle, Sai center has been preparing and distributing obentos to the homeless people in Yokohama area. This cooking happens twice a month, once on a small scale on the 3rd Wednesday of every month and another one on a large scale on the first Sunday of every month.

I have been going to Sai center for over 10 years for different religious events but I have only recently started going to cook with the center for the food distribution activity. I started this in 10th grade as an extra activity without sufficient knowledge about where the food goes or how it is cooked. As I love to cook, the only cooking I have done until then is at home for me and my family. I did not realize at that time that this can be counted as a CAS activity as well.

The first time I went there I was guided by the Sai center people which consisted of both Indians and Japanese. I did not realize how much food they were actually making but I knew that we had to pack 200 bentos in 3 hours. At that time I did not realize it is an overwhelming feat. Soon I found how phenomenal the whole process is and how it required complete dedication and focus. Over the next few months I found myself taking more and more initiative in all the aspects of the activity.

I realized that this consists of several things like planning the menu, buying ingredients, chopping, cooking and packing etc. and this gave me a new perspective on how to cook on a large scale.

Initially I was entrusted with cutting of vegetables for the process. Gradually I extended my hand in all the areas until one day I was able to manage the whole thing almost by myself. The cooked food had to be packed properly with proper eating utensils like chopsticks etc, neatly and decoratively arranged in bento boxes and individually wrapped in polythene bags. The whole activity of cooking 200 bentos once a month might be a small event, but my take home message from this whole experience is phenomenal and I consider this as a great learning opportunity given to me.

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I also learnt how to cook several vegetarian Japanese/Indian fusion dishes. The food has to be measured precisely and packed so that we don’t waste anything. Depending on the number of bentos we were packing and the menu, the measurements varied. I learnt that there should always be a balanced menu with proper nutrients with sufficient amount of carbohydrates, proteins and vegetables. It should neither be too spicy nor too bland and it should be easy on the stomach. It has to be prepared with utmost cleanliness and hygiene. Every month the menu has to be changed to create a variety. The menu also should be within a specific budget.

The cooking also includes the cleaning process. Since there is a large amount of food to cook there are lots of dishes to wash as well. This had to be done in addition to the cooking and packing so that the kitchen is left clean and spotless. This is where I learnt effective time management skills. I also learnt to work as a team. I was the youngest one in the team and it consisted of people over 70 years of age as well. Working with Japanese elderly people taught me a lot of discipline. The washing, mopping of the floor, cleaning the kitchen and putting away the utensils and the huge pots and pans were done systematically.  Even a small fork or spoon has a place in the kitchen and has to be put back in the place. Every single time the bentos were packed and ready for distribution I felt completely exhausted but felt a great deal of satisfaction and sense of achievement!

After all this we headed for distributing the food to the homeless people. I did not realize how many homeless people were there in Yokohama until that time. The places we went to distribute were in Kotobuki cho and near the Yokohama stadium. The people usually line up and receive their bentos one by one in an orderly fashion. I came to understand that several of them are not actually homeless, some of them have homes but they couldn’t go back due to reasons like losing a job or  “losing face” in the society. I found that there are more males than female homeless people. I learnt that the government has provided some places for shelter for the homeless people. One of those shelters is Hamakaze, Japan’s only purpose-built, permanent homeless shelter, right in the middle of Kotobuki cho in Yokohama. It is a white seven-story building with 250 beds with four to eight beds in each room. The homeless people also stay in other places like the subway of Kannai station, and around Yokohama stadium. Despite being homeless and hungry they came in an orderly fashion to collect the food and thanked us. I learnt how humble and resilient they are despite their adversities. I could see how they survive the cold winters and hot summers bravely. This increased my respect for them and I was humbled.

 Every year while going to India during my summer holidays, I see several people under the poverty line who have no food, clothing or shelter. I am especially disturbed by the sight of small children walking dangerously right into the middle of traffic during the red lights to beg for food and money from the people traveling in cars. I always wanted to do something to help but I thought since I lived in a developed country like Japan I cannot do much to help starving people. However, when I came to know about the homeless people  in Yokohama it surprised me a lot. I felt that even though I could not help the people back in India, I do have an opportunity to do something to help the people in Japan. In a developed country like Japan we as foreigners do not expect to see homeless people. Earlier I never used to notice these people but now I know they are there and I am able to empathize with them. This cooking and distribution activity gave me a new perspective on life. After my experience I realize that I am very fortunate to have everything I have today and I thank God for it. In order to show my gratitude for my blessing I decided to put away 100 yen every day so that I can give it away later on for charity. I promise to set aside a sum of money from my earning in future as well for the rest of my life for this purpose.
I have read somewhere, “A small good deed is better than a grand intention”. I hope this will be my good deed!

Audio reflection below

Internship at TIFR

Ever since I was a child, I have been interested in space. I remember watching the movie Apollo 13 several times and getting fascinated by the endless depths of space. In 2014 an excellent opportunity came by. I got an opportunity to visit the TIFR ( Tata Institute of Fundamental Research,  a research center under the department of Atomic Energy for the Government of India) and take a look around the different labs and facilities in the campus. It was the first time I saw their mass spectrometer and  particle accelerator which they used regularly for their research purposes. I was able to understand much more in detail about these equipment and their functions.
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In the summer of 2015, I applied for the most coveted internship at the TIFR and they agreed to let me pursue a short term research study in their facility. I was to produce a comprehensive report about any topic (related to science obviously) of my choice using the resources available. I chose to research on Exoplanets as I wanted to delve more deeply into the mysteries of the outer space. I had the opportunity to work under the supervision of the renowned  Archeoastronomer, Prof. Mayank Vahia, the author of the book “Physical Sciences and the Future of India” who is also a Senior Scientist at TIFR. After having spent years of research and publishing several papers on High- Energy Astrophysics etc he is currently one of top Archeoastronomer in India. I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks at the institute to learn, research and understand more about Exoplanets. I focussed on the research of Exoplanets that could have similar conditions as Earth in terms of habitability. I was able to successfully produce a 10 page report on 3 different exoplanets and compared them to Earth.

You can see my report here

After the 3 weeks I presented  my report to Professor Vahia for his review. Through the discussions we had all through my internship I was able to get a deeper insight on not just about Exoplanets but also a good understanding on how to choose a research topic, how to focus on one aspect and systematically conduct a thorough research and produce a good scientific report. I learnt how to filter information and use only the relevant ones effectively for a research paper.

I was so thankful to be working under a very renowned scientist and hope to do more things with TIFR in the future. I had an opportunity to talk to many other scientists and researches, a few of them who had come from other countries to do their research. I understood about the professionalism and work ethics and how humble they were despite their wide knowledge and experience. Mr. Mayank Vahia himself is my greatest inspiration. He taught me that despite having a sea of information in the internet these days, excellent information still comes from the library and books. The library in TIFR is one of the best and I was able to use it effectively for my research.

This experience has helped me open my eyes deeper into the vast expanse of Universe and it has inspired me to widen my knowledge and may be one day contribute to the field of Astronomy.