Daily Journal of an Assistant Language Teacher / Automatic Language Tape Recorder (ALT) in the JET Programme living  and learning in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. More information on the JET Programme here and here.

Monday December 1st, 2003

I go to Higashi today. I have tons to study which will make up for not having any classes. Maybe I will but I doubt it. I'll study the honorific language since we have a party this week for the soccer team winning the regional finals. We might even be the best in the whole upper half of Japan. Which means in Tokyo they will play some team from the southern half like last year. This year we have a good chance of winning since they main guy was a junior last year. I'll see if Liz and the others want to go to see a game. Man if we win that, we will have a blowout party.

Tuesday December 2nd, 2003

Nope no classes. I just sat there reading Ender's Game all day, I read nearly half the book. It's a pretty easy read. Then I had some pictures developed which cost far more than I expected for some reason. On the way to the place to get them developed I bought lunch. I was standing in line about 2 people back. There were 5 or so lanes open and all the same number of people. An old woman walked by them all and looked at a woman cleaning her unopened counter. She waved as if to say, not going to open. The lady just stood there waiting. Finally she looked around and cut right in front of the woman in front of me. Just squeezed in there. The woman in front of me looked nervously uncomfortable and finally said something. The old lady didn't apologize, she just looked up at her and moved out of the way. Then she looked at me, though I was pretending to look away, and she walked toward me. I slowly and semi-casually moved forward enough so that there was no gap between us. She paused and looked up again and started to step behind me when I heard movement and coughing back there. I felt good that I was just being a rude foreigner. So then she moved over a lane and stepped in front of some kids who stopped and then started saying something in Japanese, most likely about here.

I'm determined there is some unwritten rule that old people can just cut in front of younger people, especially foreigners. It happens so much that it can't simply be an isolated thing. It must have some cultural backing to it. Another thing that really gets me, but this one is more indirect, is driving. When I was walking back from the lunch / film place, there is a parking lot behind the supermarket. During rush hour a guard will stand at the entrance direct traffic and telling people it's full. So this car pulls up to the gate and he has the "Full" sign and the woman gets a little mad to herself, as anyone would. So then she just sits there  in the middle of her lane with her blinker on. There is a car behind her, then another, then more. A few give polite honks and she just sits there. I actually stop a bit down the road, because I am amazed at this rationality. It's like "I must go to store. I must park car in lot. Lot full. Must wait.". So finally people were honking and trying to pass her and the guard was waving like "Idiot, you can't just stop there". This also happens enough to make it cultural.

I really want to have a baby with a Japanese woman for the singular reason of walking around with it and showing people alternative ways to care for kids. It almost seems like kids are in the way here. Mothers will wear them on their backs in this little backpack type contraption and their heads will be flopping around. When they hold them it's always this strange half dangling thing with their heads flopping all around. Then when they get older there is zero discipline, kids can run around screaming and the parents just watch. Once I saw a kid screaming on a ride in the supermarket for her mother and no less than 15 minutes later her mother came running up the stairs from an entirely different floor. I would have a quiet well disciplined, non-bobbing head child.

For some reason when I am waiting inline, not online (that's a computer), for the ATM, Japanese people always take about 10 minutes. They stick their card in then their account book for an update, then they type a letter to their parents, then they file their taxes. I go in and press about 6 buttons and leave within 2-3 minutes. I really don't get it. AND if the ATM is in one of those self enclosed booths, you wait outside. Even if it is raining, you waiting outside. I walked inside one and stood in the corner, a good 6 feet away, and was looking at my booking and I could see the man the MAN getting all nervous about me. I'm sure he told his family about his horrific ATM experience.

I am really looking for something to collect. Something Japanese, but something interesting. I like sake, but can't afford to collect Sake bottles, or labels. Nor can I drink enough to make it worthwhile. I was recently thinking about old Japanese money. I found a store with some old money and I might go in there and get it. That could be nice and learn the history of it too. I'll think more on that.

Man yesterday I left just before 4:15 since I was so tired of being there with nothing to do. It was dark when I left. It gets dark by 4:30 here. That is so strange, in Atlanta in the summer, I seem to remember it being light until almost 7 or 8 and maybe getting dark around 5:30 in the winter. But it's different here. This winter is really different. Today the sun is out and it's probably in the low 60's. I have the patio door open and I am in my undies. Don't worry, there's a thin curtain blocking the world from my lingerie show.

I told them yesterday I was not coming to Higashi today since I normally go to Adachi (read: no classes at Higashi), but they needed me at Chuo tonight. At 4ish I'll head over there and sit for 4 hours. I think I have to go into two classes and read a dialogue and then I'll study Japanese. I should make note cards somehow about grammar.

Last night we went to the tutor's place and it was brutal. We did the listening part of the test. The bad part was Liz and I took the listening part of the test Sunday and did great. Actually we took the first half of the listening part since we didn't know the second half had no pictures. The "study guide" we have is lousy. It's all in Japanese with no English. I want something to answer some questions and then, I don't know, maybe explain the next part of the test. We were flipping through trying to match what we thought we heard to the book. I hate the TOTAL IMMERSION crap. Rather than whine about it, Liz and I are going to do something about it.

Anyway, we took the first part and felt great, then we get there and she asked how we did on the second part with no pictures. Yikes. So we take the test, but first we ask how many times they play it in the test. Of course they only play it once, why not. So we listen to it and I give up after #3. It was too fast for one time. Further, and this really aggravates me, it was A) full speed B) too fast  C) they used all sorts of accents and genders, and D) They used some old gender related phrases.

Hey guess what? I AM LEARNING JAPANESE, I don't speak it nor do I know all these old sayings and such. ARGH. That made me so mad. There was this one guy on the tape that sounded like a dying samurai. Imagine giving an English test to people who are just learning and having people like Justin the Cajun chef, Snoop Doggy Dog, some ultra-country hick, and then some kids from the West Coast speaking all in their native natural slang and speed. THEY WOULD FAIL. As I suspect many people do on this test. I am going to check the stats online in a minute. If most people pass then I will shut up. If most people fail then I think I have a point. PLUS it was obvious that the test was made by Japanese people only. There is a line in the test booklet that said "Please do not soil your test". I'm so mad I'm about to soil my pants if you could make a test that was a little more aggravating.

I'm going to relax and watch a tape of Alias my mother sent me. Then I'll drink my lunch which is 5 carrots, 3 green peppers, 3 cloves of garlic, 4 tomatoes, and some green leafy things. Over and out.

Wednesday December 3rd, 2003

I went to the Fireman's school again today and as always it was a blast. This time we played the bag and stick game where they all line up in a big circle and one person has a bag and another, across the room, a stick. Then they pass it around the room and when the music stops, the bag person has to dig in and read something. Then the stick person has to translate it to whatever language it was not in. It was funny watching them pass the stick along and then I'd stop the music and they'd accidentally (or not) pass it down a few more people. Then they'd refuse to backtrack, as expected, and everyone would laugh. Most of the time they would get it right. Japanese people learn English from elementary school and although they insist they are very bad, if they had a gun pointed to their heads, they could form something close to a complete sentence. Most of them did and the few that didn't were pulled into the center where they had to wait until the punishment.

They had to come to the front of the room and sing a stupid song. I suggested a kid's song called Ito Maki Maki, which is pretty silly and funny. They came up and took it like men. Tomorrow we go back for the last day. I'm taking both a video camera and digital camera so I can upload pictures.

Man I called the IRS back about my refund since it's STILL not here. I finally get someone that really cared and had no quota. He helped me and gave me his personal address to send another copy of the tax return with an updated signature. He said he saw there was a problem, but apparently no one did anything about it and it seemed to be "sitting on someone's desk" status. Someone told me when they finally figure it out it will include interest, man I hope so. I was planning on using that money to send Xmas presents home and then some for Thailand. Without it I will be strapped until payday. We'll see.

Thursday December 4th, 2003

Went back to the fireman's school for the last time this year. We might go again in the Spring, but I took some video and pictures in case I never go back. It was really fun and I'm glad I went. Here's a link to the pictures.





The server crashed and the only backup they had was from December 5th. I can't remember what all I wrote. I should see the positive in the situation and be glad they had a backup. I guess the lesson learned is back up the journal to my own computer daily as well.


December 15th

I went to the party at the Dentist's place since David knows his wife. It was interesting, and odd. First they are pretty rich, since he's a successful dentist in town. They own a building right in downtown that is 4 floors. The 1st floor (2nd level off the ground) is the office. The 2nd floor is another part of the office, maybe more rooms. The 3rd floor is where they live. The top floor is a recording studio / music room. When we got there she had us pay 2,000 about $20, which I thought was odd, having a Christmas party and charging that much for it. That's almost the profit level door fee. It was also a little odd because they are obviously well off and I figured they could host a party with no problem. There was a mini keg, some liquor and some food and about 30 people. We ate and drank and most people spoke English. Later we did live Karaoke and then there was a band that played. It was all around odd, but fun at the same time.

I am really going to start drinking a lot less. I only had about 5 beers at the party and a glass of wine over the course of 4 hours. The next morning I had a nasty hangover and hurled even. I think because I drink so much carrot juice and it is a natural diuretic that I am always a little dehydrated and the alcohol makes it worse. It's really good overall because now when I think about drinking I feel bad. Like Pavlov's dog I guess.

In between the aforementioned server crash and this entry, I have failed the Japanese Language test (unless I guess correctly), my family dog died, and I read a great book called The Da Vinci Code. I don't feel like rewriting all the details about everything now so sorry.

Getting ready for Thailand this Saturday. I mean I am going there this Saturday, I am getting ready for it today. Last Saturday I took the malaria pill which has some major side effects, but so far I have only had a minor headache, vivid dreams/nightmares, and indisputable proof the Schnozberries do in fact taste like Schnozberries. That made a lot of sense in my dream, but not so much now.

I got the Indiana Jones Trilogy on DVD from my aunt/uncle/cousin recently and it kicks butt. I need to thank them. I guess that's it for now.

December 17th, 2003

Went to school today even though there were no classes. But this time I told my temporary supervisor I was coming in late since there are no classes. I ended up leaving early as well. I simply cannot stand that. I am flexible on many things, but that is something I must fight. I cannot just go and do nothing for 8 hours x 3 weeks. I can't imagine going to a job in the US and them saying, there's nothing for me to do today, but go sit at your desk anyway and do nothing. They would either find something or let me go home.

I went to the post office near the school and mailed more things for AJET. I was standing in line, second person from the counter, about 1 foot from them. Clearly obvious I was in line. Can you guess what happened? An old man stepped right in front of me. I let it go thinking he was already in line and had to make some change and then jump back in line. IN LINE, not ON LINE. He took forever, but finally he was almost finished and an old woman came up and said excuse me and started to step through, which I thought was odd since she could have walked around behind me. But she stepped in between us and just wedged her self there and stayed. So I said "Oh I see" out loud in Japanese. At this point I was about to snap and start punching old people randomly. Then another old lady came over and started chit chatting with the break-in-line lady. Then she asked a question and the BIL lady said no problem and she stepped in line, again IN LINE, in front of me. The old lady gave her friend fronts even after she cut in line.

That was it. I was boiling. I was sure it was because I was a foreigner. The second lady bumped into me a little and for some reason I dropped my envelopes. I could have held them, but I felt like adding emphasis to the situation. They were big magazine sized envelopes with magazine sized magazines in them so they made a flopping crashing sound. The 2nd BIL lady looked at me as I bent down to pick them up. I looked up when I heard a faint lull come across the room and I said in perfect, yet slightly rude, Japanese "we are in line here". She smiled and kept standing there. I stood up after picking everything up and waited.

Then, no it's not over, then I finally get in line. The 2nd BIL lady took forever once her transaction was over. She was gathering things making notes and putting things in her purse. The she stepped out of the way and I moved up. I put all my envelopes on the counter and began to sort them. One went to the US and the rest went to parts of Japan. I picked up the top one to put it on the scale as I always do and from behind/beside me is a hand with a letter. An old man just walked up to the counter, even though there were a few people behind me, because he didn't feel like waiting.

I had never felt so much rage and I instantly understood road rage and crimes committed in the heat of the moment. Still grabbing my envelope and moving it toward the scale I simply  twisted my wrist so the envelope was up and down, like a broom, and swept his letter off the scale and on to the desk beside it. He looked at it and then at me and said the Japanese equivalent of "what the %#$*". I looked straight into his eyes, if not completely through him, and in my best samurai/degrading tone said "we are in line here".

At the end of my transaction, the teller, who was a quite young man, leaned over and spoke in surprisingly decent English. He said "I'm sorry, old people are often rude in Japan, especially to foreign people". I apologized to him for anything I had done that was overly rude. Luckily I don't have to go back to that post office for several weeks so maybe they will forget. I can see how foreigners get a bad rap here, because we don't simply put up with certain things. I think Dave Berry said it would be easier to get everyone in Tokyo to wear matching suits than for two Americans to agree on pizza toppings.


They are redoing this side of the station and so far it looks great. There will be a new book store, convenience store (that closes at 9), a coffee shop, and some travel places. I think they will transform the other side of the station to look like this as well. They are hauling butt. I realized they are almost always working on it. They work everyday, even Sunday, and they work as late as 10. In the morning I see them doing daily warm up exercises and I think about how long that would last in the US. I know I wouldn't have wanted to do them, but really they are probably helpful. It always took me until about 10 am to get going.

Another thing I noticed was the Japanese dump trucks. In the US they are big and the dump areas are about 10 feet long by 6 feet deep and maybe 8 feet wide? Something like that. In Japan all the dump trucks I've seen were almost flat bed trucks. They would be about 10 feet long or more, but the bed was only 1 foot, maybe 1.5 feet deep. What a complete waste of space. I have seen a few like this and I can't figure out the point.

I've got to do some serious laundry tonight and really start packing. It's going to be tough there because I here shorts are not considered proper in most parts of the country, but it's going to be hot. They need to get over that idea and realize shorts are cooler. You can get a prostitute for a whole weekend for $20, but they consider wearing shorts inappropriate? This falls into the 'whatever' category. I'm going to do some packing now.


On the phone now with the wonderful IRS. I still haven't received my tax return. They said two returns were submitted when in fact only one return was submitted, the other "return" was blank and said "Taxpayer Abroad" across the top which is what I thought was the proper thing to do.  Now they are saying they have my original return, which is not a return, my secondary return, which is the actual return with numbers and such, and then my final copy to prove my signature. Then she said a reviewer had the case as of December 18th, and would be reviewing my return and I need to wait 90 days for an answer. GEEZ, what takes 90 days? it would take 5 minutes for an actual person to look at this and figure out the deal. This is the epitome of the phrase "red tape". Hopefully, there will be interest added since it will be 6+ months late. I'm going to put that straight towards my credit card loan.

The thing that really sucks is this trip to Thailand was going to be financed strictly by that refund. Now, since it's not here, I had to use my savings, which was not enough and then save a little from each paycheck. What sucks even worse is my forbearance went through on my school loans and I should have extra money to send back towards my credit cards now, but I don't so the forbearance is almost useless. This sucks.

[later still]

I feel so clean now. I cut my hair and trimmed it all up nice and neat. Then I shaved the side burns down. Then I shaved my wanna-be beard (I have American Indian roots, not much, but enough to prevent facial hair), then since hair was everywhere (that rhymed) I took a shower. After the shower I found some Arm & Hammer toothpaste and I brushed for about 10 minutes. I usually use the three color swirly thing, but that doesn't feel as good as the A&H.

Then I was typing and an old friend sent me an instant message. We chatted about various things and then I told her how I would call another friend at his job and just say "can you come to my office right away" and hang up. She laughed so when we finished chatting, I called her in Atlanta and did that. Now we had discussed it 30 seconds before and her response was......who is this.

Thursday December 18th, 2003

The malaria pills cause vivid dreams and so far that is the truth. My dreams have been incredibly detailed. When I wake I can briefly remember everything and it's almost like it really happened. In middle school I used to dream I did homework and then turned it in, but it was a dream so I missed many things. Strange.

Well day after tomorrow we head to Thailand for 11 days and then back to Tokyo for some sightseeing, and then finally off on another secret trip. The location will be disclosed later.

I should already be at school right now, but I told them I would be late again. I will tell them that I am not coming in tomorrow. I have too much to do that does not involve just sitting in the teacher's room. I'll take the vacation day just so I don't have to sit there. We have a full schedule planned maybe I'll create a link and list what we have planned, then the same link can be used for pictures and details. See I recycle links as well, how thrifty. Thailand Schedule.


Out of school early as predicted. I just sat there doing absolutely nothing for a few hours then couldn't take it and left. Bought some carrots and tomatoes for dinner on the way home. Pretty much out of money until payday tomorrow. Here is a random baby face.




More nonsense can be seen at my mobile phone picture page. When I return from Thailand and the other place and Tokyo I will ad some photos to my new site worldwide robot. It's pictures of me doing the robot in foreign countries in the name of peace. If the leaders can see the sacrifice I am making then maybe they can change their ways.

I have nothing to do tonight except pack. I've got a list of things to do but they all involve spending money, of which I have none at this juncture. Tomorrow around 10am I should get paid and the spending spree can begin. It's going to hurt to take out almost all my paycheck, but it has to be done. I have to buy bus tickets, train tickets, a special gift for our Thai guide, money to give to the Travel Agent for trip #2, money for Thailand, then more money to another account that I can access from Tokyo. Pretty much all spent. The only good thing is I'll be getting back from my travels around Jan 8th and I'll only have 10-11 days until the next paycheck and that is the time I planned on starting my hardcore juice fast, which is surprisingly cheap anyway. I bet I run out of money, but at least I will be thinking about it and can save and pinch when needed.


It's times like this when I wish I had a fast forward button for life. I have nothing to do and more importantly, no money. I get paid tomorrow at about 10am, and until them I have zero. Actually I found 30 yen which is like 30 cents, and I was going to go make some copies of my passport but then I found a message from BJ about wanting to meet at the station so I just met him. He ended up buying me ramen which really hit the spot and then he left for his small town of Koori-machi. I haven't seen him much this year (this year being since August) since I have been so busy with AJET and then studying for the JLPT. Sadly  starting in January, I'm going to be equally as busy on different things. I'll be studying hardcore Japanese for the level 2 test (they are not cumulative), and I'll be working on TWO local book projects, as well as my second book for the masses.

Well I think I have everything pretty much packed in the backpack. It's a big one David Kowalski found at the thrift store and I whined until he let me buy it. I even fit the video camera in there. It might be a hassle to take it, but man I would love some video of Thailand. Digital pictures only go so far. Then I will have it in Tokyo as well and I can get some good footage there.


Why is it impossible to re-fold a map? I was just looking at a map of greater Tokyo and I could not refold it. I have no idea how to get it back in the same way as it was. I ended up folding it like I thought and then just creasing the edges so it stayed closed. Argh.


My food demon just got the best of me. He was hiding and jumped out and tackled me and while I was pinned down, he force fed me a bag of Dorito's and a whole sleeve of chocolate cookies. I was doing great all day. I had had some carrot/tomato juice then ramen with BJ and I was feeling good. Then something came over me and I have this craving for them that I couldn't get rid of. Part of it was boredom and restlessness, but the rest I blame squarely on the food demon. I think a January Juice Fast will make him go away for a while.

Friday December 19th, 2003

I am so mad right now. I've mentioned this thing called Ryan Syndrome before, where the perfect obstacle is put in front of me at the perfect time. Well it's happening again. We ALWAYS, without fail, get paid on the 21st of the month, if that day falls on a weekend, like this month, then it's bumped forward or backwards to the 20th or 19th. So today should be payday. We ALWAYS, without fail, get paid between 10am and 10:30am. But today, even at 11am there seems to be no money in the account.

I have some errands I have to run and a few are time sensitive. I must get to the Travel Agent by noon for a certain reason. NOON, should be at least 1.5 hours after payday and the TA is directly across the street. ARGH!!!. Plus I am hungry, and on top of that it's just stupid. Put the damn money in my account. I have been here 16 months and never once have I been paid later than 10:30am, NEVER ONCE, but the day I need it at a certain time, suddenly there's an obstacle. If this were you and it happened on a regular basis, you might see a pattern. But your friends and family would say, oh you are just being silly.

Yet we are supposed to believe in higher powers? But when something we can't explain happens, good or bad, it can't be any external force, oh no that's silly, it's just me. Why can't a higher power have a sense of humor? Maybe it sees me playing jokes on Liz and wants to get back at me. Too bad it's been going on since as far back as I can remember.

On a lighter note, this will be the last entry for a while. Unless there is cheap internet access in Thailand, which is possible. I don't know if we will have much free time to check email, but maybe.