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A Fresh Start, butÖ
Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

            The new teachers arrived at school by 8 and went directly to the principalís office to be greeted. From mid-March to this morning around 7am the weather had been nice. It snowed yesterday morning, but then melted by mid-afternoon. Today, between the hours of 7am and 8:20am, hands down, was the worst weather I have ever seen in Japan. It snowed about 6 inches last night, itís still snowing heavily, the wind is blowing violently, itís frigidly freezing, and there is strong thunder. I assume it is a thunderstorm, but itís just too cold to sustain it as water. I got here early to shovel snow from the front as the new teachers came in. Wow, I have never heard thunder while it snowed before. The biggest wow is that I went jogging last night. It was a little cool, but not anywhere near freezing.

            Around 8:30am they all gave their short, nearly identical introductions. Hello, I am so-and-so from (previous school), I am surprised at the weather here, I am happy to be here, blah blah. Then we gave our even shorter intros and then they all took their new seats. Then the lead teacher said something and all the new teachers instantly whipped each otherÖha ha no they whipped out their mobile phones and called someone. I was told they were calling their old school to let them know they made it safely and so on.

            Then the mound of gifts they each brought was passed out. Sadly I canít eat one bit of it since I have a blood test on Friday. It is a required courtesy to bring nice candy to pretty much anywhere you go in Japan especially when you start a new job or move to a new location. Each person gets a Halloween bag of treats and sweets, but no meats or beets. That was stupid sorry.

            One good thing I noticed about the new teachers is that they are mostly younger than some of the current teachers. Now that I think about it we always seem to get younger teachers that replace the older ones. I think the powers that be want this school to be progressive or at least as much as a place can be in Japan. The guy that teaches PE sits beside me and he is the 1st year homeroom teacher, with which I am attached. Heís in his late 20s maybe early 30s and he coaches volleyball which will be good since they are all good girls. The new math teacher is a young guy and I can see myself partying with him. We are going to party down big boy!! Except for the fact Iím not drinking much anymore. The two new elementary teachers are young (married) females and the new ES nurse is as well. Even the new maintenance man is a young guy. The two new vice principals are in their 40s but seem to bee cool. One is a new VP the other is a vet. When I glance at him I can see a huge grin occasionally when he remembers he has taken a big step up in life, even though his family has lost a member. He will now virtually live at the school and rarely see his family again.

            I was planning on going into town tonight to go to the gym, but since the weather is so bad and I have to go in tomorrow for a new teacher party, I might just work out at home. I have a weight set and a bench and should be able to get a decent work out, minus the cardio. I got it going a bit last night as I jogged around some, but I only went out for 15 minutes because I was getting cold and it was getting dark. Part of the reason why I will probably work out at home is because it is customary for Japanese people to work late. This is especially important for the first few days or even a week or so. For me I want to show the new VPs and teachers how different my job is from the Koriyama foreign teachers. They get driven around in taxis and leave promptly at 4. If I want the new teachers to treat me differently I have to show them I am willing to work late. I donít have anything to do today that would cause me to stay late, but itís all about the appearance of being busy.

            First day of school (teacherís prep day) itís still before noon and I am already up to 5 memos in the memo drawer. This seems to be a usual pace. I hope I can do this the whole year just to see. I remember one day I got about 10+. Hmmm, other than that we had a meeting where I found out I didnít get any of the things I requested and I donít even know why I expected any different. Iím not part of the student council, but Iím back with the club that seems to do nothing other than have meetings and write about what we did last time, which was a meeting I think.

            The 1st year homeroom teacher is a young guy, as I mentioned, and he seems really nice. When he left (promptly at 5 ha ha) he gave me some RAM for the school computer. He said it was his and he couldnít use it so I could shove it in the machine and double the RAM. That would be wicked fat since computers need at least a gig to run these days. All the software makers probably have quota contracts with RAM makers and intentionally beef up their programs so the computers run slow and then the user goes out and buys more RAM. Iím going to install it right now. Ė Oh the other good news is that the office lady will drive to the welcome party tomorrow and offered me a ride. Now I can drink a beer or two even though I really shouldnít since I have a follow up blood test on Friday. I wonít have more than two and then I will drink water or something. Then Thursday I will flush my liver with carrot juice.

            Man the new teachers are running out like (generic analogy about things moving fast). Maybe they are too young to know they are supposed to stay and look busy for a while. Maybe they get a free day of leaving early since itís their first day, but I doubt that. All I know is I am in this for the long haul. Iím going to stay until 6 or 7. I have several things that I need to do and all of which require me typing on a computer. I can do those here at school and get credit for being dedicated and loyal or I can do them at home and not get credit.

Thursday, At Last.
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

            The party last night was ok, but I was reminded why I donít like going to them. I mean I do enjoy going, but there are always times when I am the guy standing in the corner looking around the room. Or I am standing behind some other people while they are talking and I am just laughing with them or nodding when they nod. I got a ride with the secretary who lives around Konan so I could drink a little.

            My rapid weight loss is losing its rapidness. Iíve leveled off and Iím getting the munchies again. It started when I was taken off two of the three medications even though they were for cholesterol and should have had nothing to do with appetite. Iíll tell him about it tomorrow, but I donít know what can be done. I plan to drink some carrot juice tonight, which flushes and cleans the liver, then go work out at the gym, which will burn the fat the liver shoved into my blood. That should help the test tomorrow, but even if it doesnít itís alright. Iíve already turned my health around 180į.

            So far this week I have just sat at my desk all day. I might get up every few hours and walk around, but for 8 of the 9+ hours I am at school I am sitting. Iíve been busy and getting a lot of things done, but Iím still just sitting at the computer. Itís really getting annoying and I wish the regular schedule would kick in so we can get back on track.

            I saw Vantage Point at the theater the other day. It was fairly good, though I couldnít see it again. When it was over I felt like it had just start 15 minutes before which was due to the way it was filmed. It took a bombing incident and showed it from several different angles and perspectives. It was a good Saturday afternoon time killer.

            Iíve already used the $200 that I received as a refund for the teacherís fund. I didnít spend more than $50 on unneeded things and it put me ahead of budget for the month. I have two more full weeks and three weekends until payday and I have $300 put aside so Iím alright. Plus I think Iíll get a little money for doing English Camp even though I consider it to be part of our job and didnít really expect to get paid. That will come in the April check so I plan to put that extra bit aside for Thailand this summer. Thatís really going to be tight since I leave a week before I get paid in July. If I can survive for a month in Thailand without using any saved money then I will have two paychecks in the back when I get back. It would be great to send that back and severely pay down my big school loan. It would be so awesome to leave Japan either debt free or nearly debt free.

Long Weekend.
Monday, April 7th, 2008

            I had my blood test on Friday and then took the rest of the day off to get various things done. The big thing was I really didnít feel like rushing back to school so I could sit in the teacherís room. The blood test went as expected which wasnít as good as the previous times. When I was taken off two of the three meds I started getting the munchies and not feeling full when I eat. My levels went up a bit as opposed to being under the limits which is where they would have been had I been on the other two meds. Anyway, after that I had sushi for lunch and bought some health things at the Sport Authority in Aeon Town. I bought more protein powder, a few more weights for my dumbbell set, and most of all some new shoes. The shoes were only $40 and were actually sized 12 which is awesome. I usually have to ask for the largest shoes in the store and just decide if I like them or not and they are usually too small, but this time I got good looking shoes that are the perfect size. They arenít awesome looking because they are mostly white and look a little bright in my opinion. I want to dirty them up some, but not really.

            Then on Saturday I hung out with Paula a bit and we went to eat lunch. She told me about her trip to San Francisco with another ALT from Koriyama and how they saw George Lucas at his Skywalker Ranch. She was having a coffee-lunch with Dan and his girlfriend Kumiko who were going to see 'Cloverfield' at the local theater. I have already seen it and it was pretty good minus two or three small points. First there were times when they were standing close to the monster, but chose to put the camera on the other person. It was like ďhey man are you seeing this?Ē, but the camera was on the person he was talking to. There was no way I would take that camera off some monster attacking the city. Second, there were a few Hollywood shots that were unnecessary, but tried to add a ďwowĒ moment. Without those few shots I would have been much happier, but it was still interesting, and I think the budget was really low since there were no stars and it was filmed with a handheld camcorder.

            Sunday I thoroughly cleaned the apartment including scrubbing the shower and bathroom as well as dusting and re-arranging other things. Mostly I sat around and watched some DVDs I had, but I would chalk it up as a productive day. I also jog-ran for 30 minutes in my new shoes. I have a course that takes 15 minutes to get to the farthest point. Then 15 to get back and that includes jogging a bit. If I were to only walk it would take longer.

            This morning we had the new teacher ceremony first off. That way we are now a new group and we, as a group, can welcome to new students. I noticed something funny about the parents who were parking. They showed up at precisely the same time, I donít know when since I didnít see a clock, but one moment there was an empty lot and the next moment there was a traffic jam and 50 cars. The reason there was a traffic jam is because they filled up the areas closest to the door first and then moved to the far area. I mean they fill all the spots then they start parking in the middle of the lot and double parking in places. They did all that before taking empty spots that were slightly farther away. I notice that in parking lots as well and usually just go for the far ones so I can park right away.

            Next up we have the entrance ceremony which is going to be painfully long and ceremonial. Iím waiting until the absolute last minute to enter the gym since I will just be sitting and day dreaming for the hour after that. Each kidís name will be called and they will enter and walk a precise number of steps to a precise location and turn and walk another precise number of steps and so on.

            There are two times of the year when the seniors are idiots, the weeks leading up to graduation and the first few days of the year. These times are when they have no responsibilities and feel the need to flaunt their status. ďLook at us, we did it, we made it, we are the hot shots of this school, we ruleĒ and of course there are no upperclassmen to keep them in check.    

            The seniors leave for their school trip tomorrow. Iím not mad that Iím not going because I really wanted to go, but I am mad that I paid all my dues with them and did everything required to get to the stage of going, but then I canít go. I was the assistant to the assistant homeroom teacher when they were first years, then I was an assistant to the assistant when they were second years. I went on all their trips and attended all their grade level meetings and functions. Then when I get to go on the trip, that I was willing to pay for myself, Iím not even told I canít go. They never said I couldnít go even when I asked point blank. They kept saying ďwe donít knowĒ, and then just attached me to the new first years as an assistant to the assistant homeroom teacher and hoped I would figure it out. I did and I havenít said anything else about the trip. It just burns me up the way groups are important in Japan, as are personal relationships, and yet they can change in an instant when itís convenient. Things like that give the Japanese a deceptive image in business, even though itís a cultural thing.

            I seriously doubt I will have any classes for a week or two. I remember begging for classes last year after the second week, but this year Iíll just keep working on various side projects that involve typing on a computer. I need to work on my first term plan for the classes so I looked more prepared this year. Iím going to tell the kids that writing their weekly journals is not necessary this year since only about 10 people did it last year. The new 1st years will have to practice the alphabet weekly, but everyone else can choose to turn it in. They still get points for turning one in, but Iíve learned my lesson on how things work. I am at the bottom of the food chain and really not important in the over all scheme of things. I heard from a student last year that a teacher told them they didnít have to do things I asked them to. I didnít give real grades (no one does really) and my marks didnít count. AWESOME.

(later)

            Well the ceremony is over and it wasnít too bad. The visiting dignitaries were paraded in around the front after everyone was seated. Since rank is important it must be flaunted as much as possible. There were 36 dignitaries this time which is the average number for an event of this magnitude. Then the kids were led in one by one to some festive pomp-ish music. We had to stand and bow about 50 times. The funny thing was we would stand and bow and sit down, but that sequence was the closing of the previous part of the ceremony. Then we would immediately stand and bow again for the next part. Once we sat down we were told to stand back up for something. Each part includes and opening and closing bow even if that means we bow two times in a row and stand/sit back to back.

            I teeter back and forth a lot about should I leave next year or stay a bit longer. Today I would vote for leaving next year or even this year if I had a job lined up. There are so many groups that are private, but not public and I rarely fit into many of them. I know that sounded vague so I will do my best to explain.

            I am attached to the first year students. Today I asked if I should go with the homeroom teacher and the assistant HR teacher during the pre-ceremony preparations. No, we donít need you, you can sit at your desk. AWESOME. Thank you. I dreamed of sitting in Japanese teacherís rooms all my life and you are making this dream come true. Then after all the ceremonies there was another meeting and I offered again and was once again given the honor of sitting and typing this. Then finally there was a commemorative photo taken to mark the start of a new year and all the people even remotely related to the new 1st years were called from all parts of the school to be in the photo. I was standing in a place, and in a way, as not to imply I thought I should be in it, but close enough so that they could see me if they wanted me. I made sure all the teachers saw me and knew I was there. I moved around a bit and dropped some papers once. I wasnít included in their reindeer games.

            The funny thing is, I really want to be a part of the group. I am willing to come in early or on weekends or stay late or go on club trips. I am willing to do all the stuff required, but Iím just not part of that group. Itís frustrating and heartbreaking when I am expected to be part of the team, but rarely treated like an actual part. I am a social person, but I can feel myself being pushed more and more into becoming an introvert. The more I try to reach out and meet people or make connections, the more I am excluded. Itís really strange and I donít know what to do about it.

If a tree falls...
Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

            If I turn my stereo on and then get in the shower, where I canít really hear it while the water is running, is the music still playing or does it just advance to the point at which I turn off the water.

            I mentioned that I was in the newspaper recently because I am doing folk tales in English with my students. Apparently some local people have called the newspaper to ask specifically when the performance will be because the newspaper has called here a few times asking me for a specific date. The English teacher suggested July since thatís the next time the parents will come to the school for an observed class, but I told them sometime in May. That gives us a few weeks to rehearse and I am tired of giving them more time than they need. The kids goofed off a lot last term and wasted many of the practice sessions. Iím simply not going to put up with it this time. I will demand compliance.

            Last night I typed a lot on my application for the intensive English teaching course this summer in Thailand. When I got to school today to finish it I found all the changes I made were gone. The file is still there, but it is the original file before the changes. I canít understand this to save my life and I blame it on Ryan Syndrome. Itís my junk drawer for things that make no sense. I am going to see if I can plug my USB drive back in and have it sync up. I know I saved the file so thatís not the issue. This is why I end up making 500 backup copies of files and have everything cluttered.

BooyaÖ
Thursday, April 10th, 2008

            Some people came in to install a new fancy coffee machine in the teacherís kitchen area. It was a regular man and a smokiní hot girl. I canít even be subtle about it or socially acceptable she was like ďBOOYAĒ and I couldnít stop sneaking peaks. One time the guy saw me and gave me a Ėguy-smile that means ďyea, and I work with herĒ. We shared a little moment.

            Earlier in the day there was an interesting moment not related to the hottie. The 1st year homeroom teacher had a business trip around lunch so he told me the assistant HR teacher would take over, but wait sheís absent today. Hmmm, what can we do? Hmmm, letís ask the vice principal. He doesnít know either. Letís ask other people and see what they think. Finally after asking about 300 people someone said ďhmmm, isnít Ryan the assistant to the assistant HR teacher?Ē Ah, lightbulb. Yes, he is. But can he handle this task? Letís ask him. ďRyan, can you eat lunch with the kids? They will prepare everything all you have to do is go there and eat with them. After that can you oversee the final homeroom? Again, they will do everything. All you have to do is go there and watch. Do you think you can do this?Ē I really hope thatís just the Japanese way of being absurdly polite otherwise itís insulting.

Beaten and Tired.
Friday, April 11th, 2008

            The newspaper called again and asked for a definite date for doing the English folk tales that I said I was planning on doing by now. I told them I wanted to do the skit in early April, but then I had no classes all through March and two were cancelled in February so the kids arenít even remotely ready. So the next option was July 11th, the night before I leave for Thailand to take a CELTA course. Plus that is 3 months after I said I would do it, but it had to be on a day when the parents are coming. The skits are only going to be 10-15 minutes each which means if the parents came to see just the skits one night it would be more of a hassle than itís worth.

            So we agreed on May 10th. By ďwe agreedĒ, I mean I finally gave in to the heavy suggestions of having it on May 10th. The reason I didnít/donít want to do it then is because that is a Sunday and itís the day of our Sports Festival. So during lunch when parents and kids want to do nothing apart from relax and have lunch, they have to perform/sit through a skit in English that they donít even understand. Itís completely the wrong atmosphere and I fought as long as I could, but I saw the Japanese way of saying ďhave it on this dayĒ over and over so I gave in since I knew I was defeated.

            Then I told the kids they had better start re-memorizing it since the performance date was set. When they figured out it was the sports festival day they starting saying ďno, thatís no good, we canít do it that day, we arenít going to do it that dayĒ. So I replied ďitís going to happen that day. Either you are on stage and you have your lines memorized or you are on stage and look stupid. But on that day you will be on stage performingĒ. I am so sick and tired of some of the kids in that class. The thing is they arenít loud or rude or troublemakers. The ones that annoy me the most are the ones that excel in English. They just simply refuse to do certain things that I assign. Even though it might help them, they just donít do it. That class is part of the reason I am thinking heavily about leaving next year. Seriously, that class has turned me against teaching in Japan. How there is no discipline and kids donít have to do anything and still pass. I canít function in a society like that.

Back to losing.
Saturday, April 12th, 2008

            I went to the gym to workout around 12:30 today. I didn't have breakfast, but I did eat some egg whites before going for a protein boost. I walked fast for 30 minutes on the treadmill and then worked out my legs to complete exhaustion. I could barely walk afterwards. I also drink a protein shake before and after working out. When I weighed this time I was back on the losing weight track. I'm at 103 now, but I think I will gradually keep going down. I had a food slip up time recently and that caused me to gain some weight. The problem now is I am gaining muscle and that weighs more than fat. As long as I lose fat, I don't care what I weigh.

            Then I went to 'Trial', which is a discount place and I bought some coffee flavored soy milk and some veggies. Outside the store I met the nicest kid in the world. He was probably kindergarten age, but he seemed very smart. He was talking to his mom when I stopped near him and looked at something. He turned to me and said in Japanese "excuse me, what do you call this in English". It was a badminton racket so I told him and he said it rather well. Then he bowed and said thank you. It was just odd, but very polite.

          Why do bugs hit your windshield exactly dead in your line of sight? I mean of all the places to hit, they have to strike dead in your view of the car in front. Not near it, but exactly dead in the center. Then when you try to use the wipers to clean them, they streak all over the place.

Accepted.
Monday, April 14th, 2008

            I had a relatively normal weekend, of sorts. Friday I sent in an application to take an intensive English teaching course during the summer in Thailand. It was accepted and I was offered a phone interview for next week. It was more than an application since there was a 7 page pre-interview task. It was tough and Iím glad they had it since now I know only people of a certain level will be in the class.

            Saturday I went to the gym and worked my legs so hard that I canít walk right since then. It was a good workout though overall and Iím satisfied with it. I might even add on some exercises in the future, but this time my legs were dead when I finished. I could barely do the after workout walking though. Then I did a little shopping and came back home.

Japanese Archery            Sunday I went to the park in Koriyama city to see the hanami, which means flower blossoms. I didnít feel like going and I shouldnít have gone, but I wanted to see Stephanie and Keiko as well as the flowers. Itís a really nice Japanese tradition and in most cases I really like it. When I got there I discovered a whole new aspect to the park as well as an archery range where I watched some students learning Japanese archery. Itís called kyudo and it is rigidly exact as you would expect from anything natively Japanese.

            Back to the hanami, the reason I didnít have as much fun as normal this time was that it was a little drizzly and cool, we had to sit on the ground (thatís usual), and it was a big group of people that didnít know each other. Well groups of 3-4 people knew each other, but as a whole we didnít so those little groups (which I prefer anyway for this reason) just sat together and chatted. Then I came home and had a slightly odd experience.

            I bought some tasty bran cereal, which I have since learned is tasty because it has sugar in it. I ate said cereal and then I got on the bed to watch Season 2 of The Office. Then I dozed off and woke up an hour later. Ok maybe the driving made me tired. Now it was around 6pm and I was still watching and resting. Then I dozed off again and woke up at 9. I went to the bathroom and came back to watch another episode. Then I dozed off again until 1am. Then I just rolled over after turning off the lights and TV and slept until my alarm went off at 6am. I really wasnít that tired, I was just comfortable when I was watching TV. Hmmm.

            Today I get to school and see a memo on my desk about an escape evacuation drill today. I donít know if it is a fire drill or something else. It might be the drill where an unknown assailant enters the school and we debilitate him in a very procedural way.

[later]

            Nope, it was a fire drill, but since it had rained earlier it was in the gym. There was a bell and an announcement and everyone casually walked to the gym. [I often wonder what would happen if there were a real fire. Would everyone panic and run around in chaos or would everyone follow their exactly precise training and ignore immediate danger? Is it more important to follow directions or be safe?] There we had an opening ceremony and a speech by a fireman. Then we left and returned to our classrooms/teacherís room. I found it funny how even though there was a line of teachers entering the teacherís room each teacher tried to close the door after he/she went in. Do what you are told. Resistance is futile.

            What is the correct way to say he/she? That is awkward as is s/he and people say that ďtheirĒ is wrong rather than his or her. I think they and their should be the genderless pronoun and I hope it will be one day. There is nothing in English that fits easily into ďwhen a child is looking for his or her motherÖĒ The easiest way to resolve it would be ďwhen children look for their mothersĒ, but that doesnít always work. ARGH. I guess I will learn about that this summer.

            My summer is going to be expense, close to $4,000. The course itself is $1,600 then airfare is about $1,000. Finding a place to stay for a month is about $500 (plus the same in deposit) and then food and spending money will be around $1,000. That is already over 4K so I should probably expect closer to $5,000. ARGH. I have to really save these next few months and make sure I have all expenses taken care of. It will be much better than sitting in the teacherís room all summer like last year.

Waiting.
Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

            Iím still waiting to hear about my future. There is supposedly a 90% chance that my job will be renewed as would my license, but we still donít know. They decide on the budget in March and then pass around the contracts and have literally 60 people stamp their approval, so that clearly takes time. Itís really too late to apply for anything else, which is the thing that makes me mad. Iíll be alright if I can just get one more year. I have been thinking of moving on next year, but leaving in 3 months would be a bit too early for me.

            I forgot to mention the toilet from Sunday. When I went to the flower watching thing there was a public bathroom on the grounds as one would expect. It was for men and women, at least the entrance. When I entered I found a typical pattern of building bathrooms. There was a shared entrance that split off into a menís and womenís side. The womenís side was in the back, the menís was in the front. There was no door to the menís side so women passing virtually had to stare at the backs of men peeing. Thatís not a no-no in Japan and men often urinate on the side of the road when driving around or in the middle of the street if drunk.

 

 

            I canít really start in situations like that so I went into the stall. I could create a website and have 100s of photos showing direct views into menís bathrooms. There are often ones where young girls can see directly in and that makes it impossible to go.

            Today I have one class with the 5th graders. I donít really know what to do, but the year plan shows we should make self introduction cards, so I planned something along those lines. We will also do a review since I didnít go to their class on a regular basis last year. This morning I went to the seniorís English class where both classes were in one room. There were 32 kids there and it was tight, but later the class will split into good kids who pay attention and the kids that would rather be elsewhere than in class. Guess which class will get the native English teacher? Remember it makes the least sense.

Balance.
Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

            How is it possible that a teacher can be a great guy and a loved teacher and yet have such a poor sense of time? Thereís a certain teacher who I really like because said teacher is around my age and I love said teacherís class. But today the aforementioned teacher said that for the first 10 minutes of the class it would not be my activity, but another one. Ok, thatís fine I am flexible even though I spent hours worrying about and then planning the lesson. Well 10 minutes before class ended it was time for my activity, the activity that was supposed to take up the whole time. So I cut most of it up and used only a small part. Do I scrap the activity or keep it for next time, which would throw off the schedule? Itís things like this that I love about the JHS NT job, there is no one in the class to blindside me. But other times I like it when the teacher has something planned to balance out my idea.

            I went to the gym last night, but I almost didnít go. I just didnít feel like going suddenly at 4:45. Just before I was ready to leave I felt a fever-ish weight come over me. I felt great from lunch to precisely 4:45 and then I just felt awful. I went home and had some egg whites for protein and a banana and made myself go to workout, but I just felt weak. It was strange and I donít know where it came from. I did an average workout even though I felt a bit sluggish while working out.

            Iím going to stop eating the bran cereal since it seems to be doing more bad than good. I have varied energy levels after eating it and if I eat too much, my system gets a bit too clean. I love the flavor of it and hoped that bran was just naturally tasty, but I have since learned it is packed with sugar which really defeats the point of working out. Apart from that I havenít had any sugar intake in several months, or at least not much. Well thatís excluding the spring break slip ups and binges, but looking at the big picture Iím doing great. I eat oily fish about 3-4 times a week, I take in plenty of vegetables and I get enough water and green tea. All this on top of no soft drinks or packs of Oreo cookies and Iíve quadrupled my exercise since before Christmas.

            Oh I just thought of something really funny from the class. The long drawn out activity was about a self introduction. The teacher had them say ďIím ____, Iím ___ years old, I live in ____, I like ____.Ē The funny part came when some kid said ďI live in JapanĒ. I said that was correct even though he was trying to make a joke. Then another kid tried to out do him by saying ďI live in the Earth (on)Ē. The problem is Japanese people canít say Rs or THs so the word was ďI live in the AssĒ. Then the teacher wrote it on the board and everyone was saying ďin the AssĒ over and over. Then he wrote the pronunciation of Earth on the board which is ďAósuĒ. Then we had a little tangent on ďAssĒ and I couldnít stop giggling. Luckily I walked around the back of the room and looked away till it was over.

 

We canít split, but letís split.
Thursday, April 17th, 2008

            Way back when I suggested we split the 2nd year English class since 10 of the 30 are already at a high school level, 10 are average and about 10 are below average. I suggested taking anyone who scores perfectly on 2 tests and separating them into a second upper level focus group. That was shot down because ďgroupĒ is more important than efficiency or giving some people the best education possible. Then the principal suggested the 3rd years should be split into regular and low level. He suggested almost exactly what I suggested, giving both groups focused attention based on their levels. In which level do you think the Native English teacher will be used? The lower level. Even though I could help the seniors with advanced topics and really give them attention (these are the kids that enjoy English and will go on to good high schools), it was decided I help baby sit the class of kids who have no desire to speak or learn English and constantly act up in class.

            Itís so hard to get used to a culture that isnít based on logic. Youíd think that I could just get over it and move on, which I have to an extent, but I am constantly amazed at the level of illogic that exists. Clearly a country can function without logic, but I canít understand it at all. I truly want to know how and why a country, if not an entire continent, can be illogical and still be so powerful.

Maybe Earlier Than Expected.
Friday, April 18th, 2008

            We had another practice yesterday for the English folk tales. It was supposed to be a regular English class, but there were two scheduled for the same day and the teacher had nothing prepared so he said (well I asked suggestively) that I could use his class for working on the folk tales. The kids got a lot done and we are really close to finishing the back drops. There is another class today during their self study time which should be perfect timing since lunch is before it and there is nothing after so the kids could, hypothetically, work a little longer if needed. Yesterday some kids did show up early and stay a few minutes after class.

            Next week we start actually rehearsing the order of the skit. They already know their parts in English, but we havenít had time to run through what will happen and when. Itís going to be great listening practice for all involved since the non-actors still have to do their stage things at certain times when people say certain things, so everyone has to listen to all parts. The only thing bugging me about the performance now is that it has to be done during the lunch of the sports festival. No one wants to do it at this time and no parents will want to watch it. It really sucks and I was more or less forced into doing it. They were really Japanese about itÖĒhmmm, I think the date should really really be on this day, yea really it should. I really think it should.Ē They wanted me to say I wanted it to be on that date so the whole group was in agreement, but it was the absolute last day I wanted. I held strong as long as possible until the pressure made me break. I really hope it rains that day so we can postpone the performance.

            Anyway, none of the other teachers really helped me much before yesterday. The English teaching was invaluable in helping with the translation since it was old Japanese and not in the dictionary. I would write what I thought it meant and he would say it was something completely different. The skits would be about samurai attacking flower beds rather if he hadnít helped. But since then I have asked many teachers to come by and help or at least wrangle the kids that were just playing, but no one would. Then the English teacher came (since he had no ďIím busyĒ excuse) and he nearly doubled my efforts since I started. He suggested (as I have) that the kids keep the drawings simple to save time, he walked around and politely busted the kids that were playing, he quizzed the people who have speaking parts, and best of all he asked the actors to ask their parents and grandparents if they have any old clothes we could borrow. I never even thought of that and had planned to buy some cheap cloth and make cheap sad looking clothing. He canít be there today, but what he has done so far put us well ahead of the curve.

            I had my first class with the new first year JHS kids (7th graders). It went about as expected. Even the parts where I told them not to do something. I didnít say it went well, just as expected. It did go well for the most part, since they were just doing what they were progrÖ.taught to do. I said ďdo not use your book for this quizĒ and then students pulled out their books. They werenít defying me, just doing what they are taught. Then I said ďdo not ask your neighbor if you donít know something, this is about testing your skillsĒ then they all asked their neighbors or even worked together on the quiz. I tried to explain it over and over and they all understood it, but the culture supersedes anything I tell them.

            Next period we are supposed to have the folk tales practice even though it is scheduled as a self study period. Iíll see what happens. I think we should finish the backgrounds today. I would love it if we were able to perform the skits on the 28th which is the next time parents will visit, but thatís only three practices away and I doubt it. We are most likely going to do it on the 10th unless it rains and then it will be in July.

            I find it interesting the way teachers will talk about something that is related to me right around me and assume I donít understand simply because I am looking away or doing something else. Then they will ask me something about it, still in Japanese, and expect me to understand it. What makes them think I didnít understand the first part that they assumed I couldnít?

[next period]

            Ha ha, I donít even know why I expected them to change self study to the folk tales. Itís on the schedule as SS, but the lead teacher announced and personally told several people it would be used for the folk tales. I just went to the class to ask something about the FTs and the teacher said it would be SS as thatís whatís on the schedule. She was told directly that it would be my FT class, but the schedule says other wise. Ok, so forget the chance of it being on the 28th then. I donít even know why I said such nonsense.

            Iíve felt really detached from the school since the new year started. Obviously things change each year especially since teachers rotate, but this year seems much different. The schedule and my usage has changed in a way that implies I wonít be here or I am not needed or something. I had a separate special elective class where I did different things from the English teacher, but this year we will be combined. Could be several reasons, one of which could be that after August I wonít be here and they donít want to rearrange the schedule then. On a few occasions, a teacher would ask me to do something such as think about a Halloween presentation for October and then another teacher would tell that teacher something and he/she would look at me awkwardly and say ďoh I seeĒ. That could be explained by many things such as ďoh he wonít be here after August, we all know but he doesnít haha jokes on himĒ. Some teachers just seem different as well. I canít explain it and hope I am being paranoid, but there are things that seem to imply something.

Good news and thenÖ
Monday, April 21st, 2008

            Itís payday which is great. Plus I got a little bonus from doing English camp. The good news, which is really only for me, is that recently I have been able to sleep with the electric blanket on 1 rather than 4. Actually there is no 4 setting since that kanji means death so it goes 1-2-3-low-5-6-7-8-high-10. The kanji for 9 is also related to death so they skip the combination frequently. Itís getting warmer, and yetÖ

            At school itís getting colder. By that I mean my job. We still donít know if we have jobs from August. I have heard there is a 90% chance we will be renewed, but no solid contract yet. The other school-downers are that the English folk tales are really behind. When the English teacher helped me last week the students all busted their butts, but this time he had class so I was alone. About 25 of the 30 really worked, but 5 or so just played. I doubt we will be ready by May 10th. Iíll take full blame even though itís not entirely my fault. The other-other school-downer today was that they forgot my lunch. I was a little late after cleaning up during the folk tales practice and when I came to the teacherís room I noticed there was no extra lunch for me. My name was in the correct place on the board, but they just forgot. I was able to get some rice and soup, but the other things had already been divided up. It was a little sad, but it happens (though I canít remember it happening to anyone else before).

            Tomorrow around noon I have my phone interview for the intensive English course I plan to take in the summer in Thailand. As long as they donít throw any trick grammar I should be alright. I spent part of the morning reviewing basic grammar.

             Something, of many, that is really annoying about the Japanese JHS system is that it is not really about education. The focus is more about teaching the ways of Japan through education and club activities. I seem to remember having more of a focus on education and grades and learning in JHS, but here almost anything can come before actual academic learning. For instance, there is no choice between staying after school for any unofficial academic reason versus missing (or being late for) oneís club activity. Itís unheard of to miss that. Further, teachers allow different behaviors in the classroom than they do on the field/court. Students can chat to each other in class, but you had better shut the #%&$ up during practice. Since I donít coach a sport I find it hard to maintain discipline sometimes.

Winnie the Pooh window sticker in Japan

Look at the huge Pooh sticker on the car.

 

It still cracks me up.

Interviewed Again.
Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

            The English teacher told me that local people called the newspaper about my English folk tales so much that they are coming to interview me about it. But wait, they have already interviewed me so what is going on? The people called the wrong paper, the bigger one that goes all over the place, and they are coming to get info about me and run it. Wow, Iím famous but I hope this is not my 15 minutes of fame. I do, however, hope it helps my job get renewed again.

            Speaking of that, one of my close Native Teacher friends said she is most likely not recontracting this year. Thatís assuming we even have jobs which we havenít been told about. She is at a rough school and the kids are not overly interested in English, plus there are about 900 kids. The principal keeps calling her ďthe gaijin senseiĒ which is rather disrespectful in many ways even though he is nice. It means he, and many other teachers, have no respect for her or the idea of foreign teachers.

            Itís got me really thinking about what I am going to do. Sometimes I feel I can endure another year and other times I get near panic attacks at the thought of another year of the exact same thing. I know teaching repeats every year, but there are so many things that could go much smoother and yet things cannot change in Japan. This is the only job where I have actually asked repeatedly for more work and duties. I have requested that I go to this and another school since I am not busy all the time, but that doesnít happen. There is another small school about 20 minutes away which I could go to for 2 days a week and see all the classes, but itís better that I sit here doing nothing.  This week I have 6 of my own classes and I could go to 6-8 other English classes. When I ask what we will be doing I get the typical Japanese answer. Not even ďwe donít need you this timeĒ, but a really ďJapaneseĒ response. ďWe donít need you in this class because we are doing a listening exerciseĒ (perhaps since my strong point is not speaking native EnglishÖitís more about sitting in the teacherís room).

Opposites.
Thursday, April 24, 2008

            This job, just like Japan itself, is such a contradiction. Sometimes I love it and realize how wonderful and special it is, other times I am frustrated at the inefficiency of it all. The really funny part about the things I donít like is that all the things I want to change about it would benefit the school and the board of education. I want more classes or to go to other schools when I have free time. I want to do more work. When do you ever say that at a job? ďHey boss, I would like to work moreÖOh no Iím sorry, itís better if you just sit at your desk and do nothing.Ē Thatís only a Japan thing where appearance is more important that efficiency. [Photo -  One of the highlights of my morning. Seeing some local kids walking to school and yelling "Ryan Ryan Ryan" when they see me]

            Now that my friend is leaving I have started thinking about leaving myself. Not leaving myself as a wife or husband would do, but leaving (the school or Japan) myself. I myself have start thinking of that. Then I think about how I know I will never have a job quite like this. Some days I will go outside and play with the kids for hours. When they are practicing for some sports event I will walk around and chat with them. Iím friends with most all of them and I have little ďthingsĒ with many of them. By that I mean one kid always does a high five, one kid always says ďwhatís upĒ, one girl writes me little notes, one kid always wants me to do a jumping game thing. I might have a job that pays more or one that takes care of all the paperwork for me, but I will never have one like this.

            Even my other friends donít have this situation. Either they are at a junior high school and donít have the elementary school kids to play with or they are at about 10 elementary schools and donít have time to learn anything about the kids. Some have 5-6 classes a day and never have any free time to leave the teacherís room. I do know it is a special situation and even though I complain a lot itís almost always about a Japanese cultural thing rather than anything about school or town.

            Some days things are just perfect. The kids are great and happy to see me, Iím feeling good and thinking about new ideas, and everything is running smoothly. The next day nothing goes right. The kids are ignoring me and I feel sluggish and tired and worthless and I have no ideas and generally donít want to be here. Plus, since Japan is group based sometimes everyone goes to their group and I am left dangling. Those are the days when I really feel alone and want to leave. Other days I fit into a group perfectly and want to stay forever.

More Practices.
Friday, April 25th, 2008

            A reporter from another newspaper came and interviewed me for about an hour and then watched us rehearse. Some of the kids were great others were their usual self. The kids last year who just graduated were so much different. They would cut up some, but then where there was some reason to be serious like when a reporter came by or there was an observed class, they would get serious. I was like that as a kid and it frustrates me when other kids arenít. The practice went great for a while, but then a few kids started playing and got really annoying. One kid was climbing all over the place and then playing the piano. Seriously you #$%&, shut up. Can you not see we are rehearsing here? Honestly, I wanted to bite his head off. Playing the fricking piano while we are rehearsing. Not even playing it really just hitting the keys loudly. Heís even a decent kid usually, but there is no discipline so kids never learn to not do things like this. The only time there is discipline is when someone does something not culturally acceptable. It can be rude and still be accepted, but when someone defies the group, rank, appearance, or precision components of the culture, then they get in trouble. Talking or being disruptive in class is perfectly acceptable though.

            My memo drawer is filling up. I get about 2-3 per day and each one goes in the drawer. Before long itís going to be really full and I will be able to properly show how ďgreenĒ Japan is. We go through mountains of useless paper with memos that are completely unnecessary. So far the best memo series I ever received was one that said ďnext week you will receive a memo about whether you want cherry or banana pudding for the observed class lunchĒ. Then I actually received the memo. That could have easily been asked during the meeting ďwho wants cherry puddingÖ.ok thanksĒ, but it was more ďGreen-JapanĒ to send a memo stating we will receive another memo regarding that. Forty people got those memos twice. 80 sheets of paper in Green-Japan. I just got the schedule twice. Two pages of schedule stuff sent out Wednesday as a pre-cursor and then changes were requested and the final version sent out today. It is physically impossible to put the first version on the server as a web page for people to glance at and request changes. Physically impossible.

            My class with the 1st years using my online ABC games went ok after a slow start. The slow start was because no matter how many times I told them to NOT press the button that switches to Japanese, they pressed it. So I had to basically type the web address for each kid. Then I told them in Japanese ďyour score will NOT be recorded, nor will the number of times you play, if you press the back button. Do NOT use the back button.Ē Can you guess how many times they used the back button? It rhymes with ďevery single timeĒ. Not to defy me, but because thatís what you do in Japan.

            Then there were other problems related to Ryan Syndrome. Hereís another prime example of RS. I made some games and put them online. I checked them at home and then at school. They work fine in both locations. I checked all the usernames and passwords and made sure everything worked fine. Absolutely no problems so I decide to make it a class. Then in class there are some problems. Itís as if someone else came in and made some changes. Some of the games just didnít work and I had to make some changes on the spot. Why? They worked fine before, but now they donít. What happened? I donít know so I blame it on Ryan Syndrome.

Party Time.
Saturday, April 26th, 2008

            Friday night the Native Teachers got together and had a small gathering. We ate dinner at anJapan Engrish Examples international place called Bamboon that has nearly authentic food from around the world and a chef from Sri Lanka. I allowed myself to drink a bit and I had fun. Then three of us went to "God's Party" for a small low key second party. We ran into a girl that was a high school JET from another school and she brought two teachers from another party. The school is one that has a few of my graduates so I chatted with the teachers about them. Some of my favorite kids go there so it was fun. In the bathroom I made sure to utilize cleanly. I was also careful to not break.

             That night I stayed in a hotel room. I could have stayed with one of the other people, but I am getting old and I like my privacy and being able to move around freely. If I had stayed with one of them I would have to sleep on the floor and not watch TV and go to sleep early and blah blah. There is a cheap place in town, technically on top of God's Party, and it's cheap. I can also park my car there for the night and it comes with a big buffet breakfast. When I woke up I did some shopping and then went to workout. Two of the things I bought were socks and underwear. The type of underwear I chose to buy were called Black Man. I bought them partially because they are long and fit well and also because of that name. Another interesting thing about buying underwear in Japan is they wrap it insanely too much (but Japan is GREEN??). I've heard it's the same way with women's feminine products. The underwear was in a paper bag in another yellow bag.

Picnic.
Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

            I went to the gym and worked out early since today was a holiday. Next week is Golden Week Japan Koi Kiteson Monday and Tuesday. Sometimes Golden Week is great like when the holiday today is on a Friday and then we have the Mon and Tues off, but this year it's not so great. They have a really cool holiday here called 'between day'. That's when there is a free day between two holidays, it becomes a holiday as well. But that is rare I think. Anyway, I went to the gym and when I finished Stephanie called and said she and some friends were at Kaiseizan Park in the middle of town having a picnic. I dropped by for a minute and it was good to see Megan and her 3 month old baby. The Koi banners were up and getting ready for May. I think the Golden Week holidays are about boys and koi or something. I always end up finding something new at this park. This time I found an amphitheater and an old steam locomotive on display. The amphitheater wasn't on display, just there. But anyway it was cool and I'd like to go walking around the track sometime later.

Confucian System.
Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

            If they were to hand me papers today asking if I wanted to renew, I would say no. Thatís just a today thing and Iím sure Iíll feel different tomorrow. First I had morning practice with the 2nd years for the folk tales skit. About half of them actually came so we really couldnít do anything. Then I had the actual class with them and we got about 10 minutes worth of practicing done since there was so much constant chatter. I would say ďbe quietĒ and literally 30 seconds later the kids would be back to full volume. Itís either full volume or nothing at all, there is no in between. Then I had to tell them all over and over the same things. I would say ďyou stand here and you there. Ok letís try it again. Ė Ryan sensei where do I stand?Ē There is absolutely no short/long term memory. I know for a fact that only 1 or 2 kids of the whole bunch actually practice at home, everyone else only practices (and even thinks about it) during class time. Itís not going to be a great performance and at this point I donít care.

            Then I had a class with the 3rd years, the big seniors. I used my new lockout buzzer so we could play a quiz show game. I could barely play the game because they were constantly trying to show off to each other. I would ask the first word of a question and someone would hit the buzzer and say ďha ha ha I not knowĒ. Then I changed the rules so that if you buzzed it and didnít answer you lost points. Then the challenge became how low their points could be. I put a lot of work into that game and I am so sick of the Confucian system.

            Whatís that you ask? Itís the reason their culture is the way it is. Japanese culture comes from Chinese culture which is heavily based on the Confucian way of life. Most of that is fine except for things like the group system (where I canít split a group and teach one thing to upper level kids and another to lower Ė and if I ask difficult questions in class the lower level kids might feel embarrassed that they donít know the answer [they donít know because there is no reason to know, if you donít do anything you still move along fine]). There is also fear of being singled out such as standing to answer a question. My favorite is fear of doing something unless it is absolutely perfect. Since Confucius taught relationships are more important than laws, there is no punishment. I come from a law and logic system and I have such difficulty functioning in a system where thatís not important (or non-existent).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucianism#Themes_in_Confucian_thought

 

 

2005-2007

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