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 May 3rd, 2004
Went to Tokyo for Golden Week with some people. Big mistake. Apparently the entire population of Japan also went to Tokyo for Golden Week. It will take me a while to write it all out and upload the pictures, so I will leave you with this little blurb:
Tokyo Trains Are Now Safe
Train stations have been on high alert recently because of the ongoing terrorism scare, but the entire problem has been resolved. All (twelve) trashcans that were previously located in Tokyo have been covered and will not be used. Since the past terrorism attack in Tokyo involved putting poisonous gas in a subway trash can it has been determined there are no other ways to carry out terrorist attacks, ergo Tokyo is safe. The proof is this recent radio interception between two terrorists, translated to English:
Bad guy 1: Let's attack Tokyo.
Bad guy 2: How?
Bad guy 1: What do you mean? There is only one way to attack Tokyo, since Godzilla is gone we must put poison gas in the trashcans.
Bad guy 2: OK, I will make the gas, you find the trashcans.
Bad guy 1: What do you mean? There are only 12 trashcans in Tokyo.
Bad guy 2: Ok, yes. I have gas, let's go.
Bad guy 1: Oh no, the trashcans are covered. What should we do.
Bad guy 2: Let's sit a minute and reflect on our lives.
Bad guy 1: I think we are bad and shouldn't do this.
Bad guy 2: I agree, let's go to Starbucks.
That's all the proof we need. Since there is no other conceivable way of attacking Tokyo, the logical way to prevent a terrorist attack is to cover the trashcans.
Thursday May 6th
I have such a desire to force my hand about tomorrow. Today being Thursday means I am at Higashi and tomorrow being Friday means I go to the night school. My ex-supervisor instructed me I have a chest x-ray tomorrow at 10am even though I normally have off until 4pm. My first thought was no I can't make it since I usually sleep late, but it has been a vacation week so I don't need as much catch up sleep. So then I made it clear it was inconvenient and said I will be here.
Then she said I can probably leave right afterwards. In all honesty, that was never an issue with me. She said 10am, so I plan to show up around 9:45, do the ten minute unnecessary chest exam, and then leave. There never was an issue of whether or not I would stay around.
I noticed recently that there is really no cross internationalization here. It's really just me putting up with the red tape and "different" ways of doing things. There's no learning from my background. No introduction of new ideas. Part of this is because the Japanese are rigid when it comes to doing what they are told and are not really big on new things or changes. Take for example, the Japanese haven't invented much in history, but they have taken existing things and improved on them exponentially.
Another reason is foreigners are always wrong and disruptive and the Japanese can only do their best to tolerate us. Even when we are not actually disruptive we are. There is this cloud of a stereotype that we cause problems and make trouble. This is because Westerners are accustomed to doing something that makes the most sense. Whatever follows some logic as best the general consensuses sees it. It might not make sense to me, but I can at least recognize the reasoning behind it. Whereas in Japan, many things are done simply because somewhere along the lines one person said that's how it will be done, and Japanese are not taught to question things.
When a foreigner comes across various things like this sometimes we bend and give in to un-logic other times we express our viewpoints, which is never done in the typical roundabout Japanese way, and therefore we are seen as disruptive. I can only take so much of the Borg-like structure of Japanese society and when I have had enough I don't accept it. That sounds worse than it is, but it's the best I can describe it. After so much Key-money nonsense, Television monthly fee garbage, ATMs closing at 5pm, and other such things I reach my breaking point. My breaking point is usually just saying the word NO which is very non-Japanese or not restraining my urge to laugh out loud when something happens that is utterly stupid.
One example is my Japanese tutor's new son. He's about 2 months old and rather cute, as far as newborns go. I visited him this week and he was sleeping all the time, but he was still fun to look at and poke. Anyway, the father, from New Zealand, was telling me they chose a foreign name that could be spelled in Japanese. When they went to the courthouse to register their new son, the first name they chose was rejected. It wasn't allowed. It wasn't part of the X number of appropriate names. I can't imagine that for one second. Having someone tell me the characters I chose for my child aren't appropriate. I would probably use them anyway just to "cross-internationalize" the city office.
Then I asked if there would be a middle name and he said "There's way too much paperwork involved in a child having a middle name". As surprising as that sounds, I totally believe it. The Japanese love paperwork. I have to fill out a form before and after I go to my traveling schools. The first one asks permission to leave my base school for one day and go to this other school. The second one requests that my absence be considered as work related and could my travel expenses possibly be reimbursed. Keep in mind I am told to go to these schools by the very office I am submitting this paperwork to. If I try to visit another school on a day that I have no classes at my base school I get rejected because it's too much paperwork.
Wouldn't that make sense to you? If I am going to be a my base school for one week and they said no classes, doesn't it seem like a good idea for me to go to a friend's school who actually has classes? Nope, not in Japan. Here it's alright for me to sit in the teacher's room doing nothing. That's perfectly acceptable. What's not acceptable is me earning my keep by teaching at a different school. This is an example of me being disruptive. On several occasions I've thought of calling in sick and just going to the other school. I can only imagine the headache that would cause. The paperwork, the immediate need to figure out what this crazy foreigner was thinking, how they can justify this.... It would be disastrous and that's why I've never done it.
Michelle got back from Hong Kong yesterday and we had dinner. I figured she wanted to talk about it and I wanted to get out of the house. We had Chinese food, ironically at a new Hong Kong restaurant. It was delicious, but too expensive and not enough food. We called it a romantic date place and agreed it would be better served as that. It also had a preferred dress code to which we did not adhere. After that we went to another Chinese place that was much cheaper. I really want to get to Hong Kong soon, but it's the summer there now and she said it was already ridiculously too hot. Maybe I'll pass through HK on the way back from somewhere. I'd like to get to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong during about a 1 month period or less, not really spending much time in each place. Since I am this close it would be nice to go there and say I've been there, but not really linger.
Thursday May 13th, 2004
Just like last year I have had no classes in May so far. I have grown accustomed to it and I manage to get a lot of stuff done. However, wasting time is one of those things. One thing I am working on, but it's well on the backburner, is a book for ESL students/teachers (English as a Second Language). This one would have tons of copy-and-go games and activities. Some of which are crossword puzzles, word searches, cartoons with the text whited out. What's the past tense of "to white out" (which isn't even a verb it's a brand name)? White outed sounds wrong, but whited out does as well. I can't even think of a non-brand way of saying it that isn't equally as stupid. It's liquid paper, but that's a noun and can't be past tensed (nor can the phrase past tense I think). I thought of saying removed, but that sounds like something a bouncer would do at a bar with a drunken patron. Well you get the point.
Apart from that book, which is really only an idea now, I am finishing up the book my prefectural organization will be selling. It's turned into a great book and I really hope it sells. We have 4 chances to sell it this summer and the last two are the better opportunities. The first two are for current JETs who are renewing. It would still be a great book for them, but after a year of JET people are jaded and situated into their routines. The last two chances are the newcomers. The book will actually benefit them the most. It's called the Kanji Survival Guide and it has listings of nearly 1,000 characters translated into the easier language (hiragana) and then into English. It was approved by AJET and then by the Council of Local Authorities and International Relations (CLAIR) so it goes to the printer today. He promised it would be ready by June 1st which is when the first conference is.
I am going to that conference, which will be paid for by AJET, and then I am staying two extra days. It ends on a Friday so my flight back will be on Sunday. Granted it's at stupid 8am, but my hotel will be right by the airport so it shouldn't be terrible. I will have to wake up at 6am and get out there by 7am or so, but it's do-able. I plan to kill a few birds with one stone while I am there. Not actual birds, but sightseeing. First I will go to the most famous castle in Japan called Himejijo (he may G Joe). If you see a photo of Japan with a castle, chances are it's this one. It's big and beautiful and very Japan-castle like. The tour is supposed to take a half day, but I plan to do it in less time. I might even stay the night before in that little town so I can be all that much closer.
I'd like to finish touring and taking pictures before noon. That way I can get over to Nara faster and see the sights there. The reason the castle tour is supposed to take so long is the maze like entrance. The castle builders being the wisest of their time didn't build a "runway" straight to the castle from the front gate. You have to wind around the back and take all sorts of turns and what not. As long as I get some good pictures of the tower and the overall scope of it then I will be happy. I'd also like to check out the view from inside.
Nara has several things of interest. One is the deer park where the deer will eat out of your hand, or pocket for that matter. For some reason they eat maps. Tangent: did you know deer is already plural as in 1 deer 2 deer? I always say deers because sounds better, but that's actually not a word, as my spell checker underlined it. Same with beer and beers, but I really can't say give me 3 beer, it just sounds stupid. Back to Nara. Other than the deer park, Nara has the oldest and largest wooden structures in the world. A few shrines still standing are known as the oldest wooden structures, and one in particular is the largest. I'll find a picture later, as I am at school typing offline.
Speaking of offline, I had to give in to an ongoing argument Michelle and I have. She says "10 of 6" to mean 5:50. I say that's wrong because of means part of or belonging to. As in Joseph OF Aramathea, he is from there, he belongs to the group OF people who are from there. So we always debate this when she says it and finally I looked it up. Stupid Merriam Webster agrees with her. OK, I can give in, although so many people say it's wrong here. However, she also says "I was standing online" which MW does not agree with. Online is only used for computer related things like being on the internet, or maybe even, a printer being online. That I won't budge on since it not only sounds stupid, but it is wrong.
I did some odd sleep thing last night. I fell asleep at 8pm and woke up around 2am. Then I couldn't get back to sleep so I stayed awake until about 7am at which time I dozed off for 30 minutes and had bizarre dreams and then finally got out of bed.
I just had to unplug my laptop and yank the battery out. I hate when computers do that. I only had two programs open and I wasn't straining the computer at all. It just got caught in some processing loop and started acting really slow. It wouldn't flip between programs and wouldn't let me type. I tried to Ctrl-Alt-Del a few times and even that wouldn't work. I have such a low tolerance for computers doing that, I give it about 2 or 3 minutes to finish whatever it is doing and then if it is still looping I yank the power and start over. There should be a function that stops all processing and then only allows task manager to start up. There should also be some program that allows you to forcibly delete a file or program. All too often I try to delete something and the computer won't let me because the file is "currently being used by some other process", which in fact it is not. I can reboot and stop all programs, but it usually takes a lot of little tinkering.
I was actually getting up to do something when I decided to type one or two lines of this journal. Now, several paragraphs later, I forgot what I was going to do. I'll get up and go to the internet computers and see if something jogs my memory.
I remembered, I was going to find some game for the school I go to next Tuesday. For some reason I go to this Special Education school twice this year. I said for some reason because I have to go past about 4 other ALTs to get to this school, so I don't know why they picked me. I guess I am the most senior in the area, but I don't know what that means. They sent me the map and a schedule today and I will have 5 classes. I think there are only three classes each with about 10 students. The fax said the handicaps range from ADD to Autism. My mother works in this type environment so I'll have something to relate to. I think I do self introductions in all three classes and then I have a free class. Wait that's four. [checking] OK, it is four and then I watch PE and eat lunch with them.
I really don't like eating lunch with the kids when I have a full load of classes. I need a quiet-time break and I like to eat in silence anyway. Oh well, I'll treat myself to sushi or something after school is out as a way of having quiet time. It should be stressfully interesting.
The week after that I go to some absurd school. It's honestly an hour and a half away by train. I go past at least 15 other high school JETs and for the life of me I can't see why I would go to this school. I heard I will be there with other ALTs and if so then that's ok, but if I have to ride the train for an hour and a half to get to this school to do nothing but self introductions alone all day, I will be mad. I will probably go and talk to someone at the prefectural office about it. I forget the name of the school, but the kanji has the character for medical and college. Is this some medical college I will be at for some reason? I can't imagine why I would go there.
At least I will have fun in Tokyo in a week and a half. We are having meetings all day and then "Oscars" at night. We will give out a bunch of humorous awards to the people on the council. It should be a blast.
Friday May 14th, 2004
Good news and bad news. I'll start with the bad and end with the good.
I have some curse about double filing my tax returns. I think I accidentally sent in two to the state tax office. I received a letter about something and sent it back with the requested info. Then I emailed the tax office and luckily my email was transferred to the tax specialist in charge of my case. I hope there is no 90 day waiting period on this as well. He tells me there are two 2002 tax returns filed. I try to explain one is 2003 and the other is 2002. He insists there are 2 for 2002.
Later I reviewed my records and found something I forgot about. My tax preparer made a mistake which I caught and then she redid the return. I must have mailed the corrected return and then accidentally kept, and later mailed, the incorrect return. I remember thinking I mailed the first one and then calling the office and having the automated phone thing say they had not received it. So I must have been confused about whether or not I mailed it or not and then found the old one in my records. I remember finding one late and thinking I mailed it already, but since I was holding a 2002 tax return, I thought I hadn't.
At least I am in email contact with the person in charge of reviewing the case. Hopefully it won't be delayed much longer. I really want to use it to pay down my credit card loans and I am almost there. If I send in that refund, plus my regular monthly payment then I will only owe a few more month's worth of payments. That will be such a burden off my back.
The good news is I recently bought a supplement called Spirulina. It's an algae that is compressed and sold as a pill or a powder and supposed to have tons of natural proteins and minerals and other good things. I bought it because I read if you take a few pills before you eat it acts as an appetite suppressant. So far it has not only been suppressing my appetite, but also it has cut out my cravings for food and especially sweets. I also keeps my blood sugar in line between and after meals and I no longer get coma-tired after eating. The added bonus is I've had more energy lately and I actually walk-jog around the track at school. A few minutes ago I returned from jogging around the river.
I NEVER JOG.
but I had this urge to get outside and I felt like crap as I was just lying on the bed this morning. I got on my exercise clothes and started walked. I was doing that silly looking fast walk and a few times I had a burst of energy and started sprinting just a little bit. As my heart rate got up a bit I found myself jogging and feeling ok about it.
The even better part is I really don't want to drink alcohol for a while. Granted I almost have to in a week when I go down to Tokyo for a conference, but apart from that I don't have the urge to go out every weekend and get hammered. I really don't even want to drink at all since I feel so good about cleansing myself and I know alcohol would just be a step back.
After I stick with Spirulina for a month or so, I'm going to try to convery to Chlorella. It's just like Spirulina, but apparently a lot better. Both of these are all natural algae and have no other stuff added. So the energy kick stays and I don't have a sugar-crash afterwards. As of now I feel great and plan on losing weight (that rhymed). I really want to get down to 200 pounds, which would be something like 90 Kilos (1K = 2.2 Lbs). That's about 20 pounds to go, but I think I can do it. That would be a good body weight for me and I would be comfortable for once in my life.
Update on the tax return. I got an email from the tax guy looking into it and he said he figured out what happened and closed the case. A check should be in the mail within 15 business days, which means I'll get it in about 20 days and then I will sign it and mail it back and have it deposited and I'll have access to it within a month. That's good news. I should get my debt paid down close to my goal of July 1st. It might be the end of August, but it's not far away. Then I can start chipping away at the other private loans.
Tomorrow I am getting up early to go to some park place near Sendai with some friends. I'm not sure what the plan is, but I had no other plans and I enjoy exploring new places. They said something about a boat and deer so I'll see. I'll take my digital camera and see what there is to be seen.
May 29, 2004
I was actually just thinking to myself that it's about time to back up my site, but alas, too late. The server crashed and the website company used the back up they had from a month ago or at least after May 14th. So Whatever I typed since then is gone. I'll have to re-add the pictures and what not. I guess I've learned my lesson twice, back up the journal after each time.