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Smaller Day
Sunday, December 3, 2006

     We had a smaller observed class today. This time just for the parents. I prefer these classes since all I really have to do is have the kids speak a little and the parents think it’s wonderful. “Oh that was my kid that answered that difficult English question”. I couldn’t really think of a good lesson so I am borrowing something the 4th grade class did recently. The students wear a blindfold and have to feel some soft plastic letters. They do that for 3 minutes and then change positions. Then they do this thing where they spread the letters out and have to search for a word. I will write something on the board in Japanese and they have to translate it and search for it. I wasn’t sure how it would go over, but when I practiced with the other class 1st period they seemed to struggle in a positive way. It wasn’t too easy, which is always a bummer.

     We get tomorrow off since we work a full day today. That’s fine with me. I can go into Koriyama and there will be no traffic since it’s a work day for everyone. I might even see a movie. I shouldn’t really spend the money on that, but I want to get out of my town and there’s not much I need to do in Koriyama. I’ll probably get some Starbucks and check out some electronic shops, buy a few things at the $1 store, get lunch somewhere, and then see a movie. I no longer go into Koriyama, especially near the station on Sundays after 10am. It’s just too crowded.

     I think I have a fever now, I feel miserable. If I were in my heated bed with nothing to do for a few days and someone to bring me soup every so often, I might enjoy the feeling. But being at school and having to talk to people and act “sober” is making me feel worse. If I could just chill in my apartment, I’d be happy. So I don’t know if I am going into Koriyama tomorrow. Definitely not if I feel this bad.

Monday, December 4, 2006

     I did go into Koriyama city, but I didn't see a movie. I just had Jintei for lunch, which is this great place that serves fried pork and...well you can't really explain it. It's like watching a fireworks display, they are great, but you can't really explain it to people afterwards. "So...yea...there was this red one...and...well...then a big blue one...and...hmmm...at some point there was a green one". It's a great place and I always eat so much I literally feel like I am going to burst.

     Then I bought just a few things at the $1 store and finally I got a haircut. Most haircuts are $30 for men, and I can't justify paying that since all they do is buzzcut my hair. I found a place that's only $10 and has great service. So then I came back and prepared a bit for Thailand. I leave in less than 20 days. It should be a good trip. I just confirmed part of the trip that should be amazing. I want to keep that a secret until we do it. Also, this year I plan to stay at the orphanage a bit longer than the rest of the group. I calculated my finances and found I can't afford the beach so I will stay up there a few more days and then head back to Bangkok. It's for the best since I would be rushed at the beach and that defeats the purpose. I want to go to the beach when I have a week or two to just chill and enough money to not worry about every little penny, or baht.

     Then I filled up and turned on my kerosene heater. It heats up the room cheaply and quickly, but there is always that smell. I don't mind it so much, since it has a winter smell to it, but the first time always gives me a headache.

Big Morning…
Tuesday, December 05, 2006

     Wow it’s already starting to be a big morning. Well the first thing was just amusing, but I’ll include it. When I arrived I walked around the elementary school chatting with the kids. They always make me happy since they haven’t learned to be moody yet. Well most haven’t, most are like puppy dogs and always smiling when I come around. Anyway, I start in the 4th grade since my favorite kid is there, then go to the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st. When I was in the 2nd grade I told them we had English today and they were happy. Then I reminded one kid they would learn about making Japanese Soba noodles today. They had all forgotten since they have the memory span of cloth. They started reminding each other and became increasingly happier and happier. I put my arms in the air and yelled “SOBA”. Another kid mimicked me. Then I started chanting “soba soba soba soba” and the kids joined in. Then one kid started rhythmically banging his fists on the desk while chanting “soba soba”. Then the teacher came in and asked what we were doing. There was silence for a moment and one kid replied “I don’t know”. It was a movie moment of sorts. I guess that’s another “fireworks” explanation.

     Then the bigger news was that I finished, with the help of someone, my game for the 4th graders. It’s a computer game where all 26 letters are displayed and the player must click them in order. I can do it in about 20-30 seconds, the 4th grade teacher did it in about 40 seconds, I imagine the kids will take well over a minute. There is a timer by the way. So I put it online and showed the 4th grade teacher and he loved it. Then he showed some others and they loved it and word spread. Soon I will tell the Board of Education about it and tell them they can distribute it freely if they want.

     Oh, what else….well one thing that is really getting annoying is my psychic abilities. I just wish I could control them. Today again I thought “I should really take my camera”, but then I decided against it. So I get to the Smile Mart this morning and the owner tells me he will be doing a soba demonstration, hence the chanting as mentioned above. So I should have listened to my inner voice and brought the camera. Another example happened on Monday. I was watching some special on TV about how communities don’t want military recruiters in their neighborhood because they allegedly tell high schoolers things they want to hear and then the story changes when they enlist. That’s what it was about, not my opinion. So anyway, during this one part the recruiter is talking to the guy telling him he could learn any skill her wanted. Then I said, out loud no less, “I want to work with helicopter avionics”. Later the recruitee was being interviewed in the hallway and he said, verbatim, “I want to work with helicopter avionics”. I was blown away. Had I already seen this show in my sleep or something? I don’t know. Then I was driving in Koriyama and this woman was crossing the road. I thought to myself “you’d better hold that bag tighter or you will drop it and nearly get hit by a car”. Sure enough as soon as I finished the thought, she dropped the bag and was nearly hit by a car. I’m sure there are explanations for all these things, but they are weird sometimes.

    I just did the Bruce Almighty thing again. The VP and a few teachers were having a chat by the printer across the room and I sent “I likea do da cha cha” to it, written in the Japanese phonetic language. So they saw it and read it out loud and I had to leave the room to keep from laughing like an angry chimp. Luckily, but painfully, when I started to laugh it turned into a cough which made it seem I was leaving the room to cough. I had better prepare for my class with the 2nd graders.

     I had to take a photo of this. It is beyond absurd. I was making color printouts of things for my class with the ES 2nd graders. Then I had a different class, so when I came back I was going to continue. However, much to my dismay someone was using the color printer to make, and you are not going to believe this, completely useless color printouts. I checked the screen and it showed the print job was 2 pages and 30 copies. I snapped a photo with my mobile phone just to show you the absurdity of it. It’s 8 photos, 4 on a sheet. Each photo is of the exact same hill with the principal standing in slightly different positions. If it were even one photo of the hill 30 times, I would think that is silly, but this is beyond all logic. Even more absurd is the fact that these sheets are for some presentation for some visitors and the same images will be on a PowerPoint presentation. Why not make massive poster sized enlargements too. How about one for each person? How much more absurd can we get?

     I just watched the 4th and 6th graders make soba noodles. It seems pretty straightforward, just a little time consuming. You take a certain type of dough and roll it flat for a while, the fold it and chop it into strips. Then boil it and eat it. I think it’s great for the kids to learn how to do it. They won’t remember in 5-10 years necessarily, but they will at least have the experience of doing it. I want to show them about developing black and white film since it too is relatively straightforward. It’s not terribly expensive and can be done at home. You can develop the film for less than…say $50 (and that lasts a few times) and you can make prints for less than $200. Once you buy the equipment, you only need more chemicals which are cheap. I would want to at least show them how easy it is and if people were interested in going further, we could do that as well. Maybe one of them go on to be the next M.C. Escher.

      The 5th grade teacher just came over and said “Ryan next class I will do Math ok?” I said “ok” and thought “why are you telling me?” Then I checked the schedule and noticed it was scheduled as English class, but didn’t even mark it or prepare for it. That whole “I have an English teaching license so why do I need a native English speaker for class” mentality is really annoying.

     One thing I do like about picture-characters such as the Chinese characters used in Japanese (and obviously Chinese) is that even if you don’t know the reading you can usually figure out the meaning. I suppose English has that to some extent using prefixes and suffixes, but English doesn’t use 2,000+ characters with multiple readings and meanings. I’m trying to read the rest of the schedule for December and I came across a few words I didn’t know. When I looked at each closely I recognized a few characters in each word and then figured out what it meant. It pleased me. I was pleased.

Starting to Feel Better.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006

     Went to the doctor last night. That last bit of medicine was like water. This time I had the other English teacher translate some symptoms and I handed the doctor the note. That seemed to work out much better. He gave me some much stronger stuff and some throat lozenges. I was able to sleep a bit better, but the medicine seemed to wear off when I woke up. Though the violent dry nearly gagging coughing fits have subsided (knock on something that resembles wood). Then again, last time I went the first dose was great and gradually went downhill. I don’t have the flu since there is no fever and I feel alright apart from my nose either draining like a fountain or completely closing. The cough is classified as a non-productive cough, I Googled it, and that makes sense because I don’t seem to be coughing anything up, just this dry heaving of sorts. Hopefully, this new stuff will put a whooping on it AJAX won’t take off.

     While at the doctor I saw a cut little kindergarten girl. She is the sister of one of the 2nd graders here. I met her at the orientation last month and when I walked into the office she announced “OH RYAN SENSEI”. We chatted and then she got her medicine and left. I told her I would write her a letter today. I’ll fill it up with stickers and drawings and make it cute. I’m good like that (READ: I am as mature and am amused by the same things as a kindergarten girl).

     I nearly had a nervous breakdown last night. I made this cheesy video of things to impress and inspire some students. For example, one kids loves fighter jets and the song Dangerzone so I found some videos about the Blue Angels and made a little video montage with the song playing in the background. Then I found some soccer trick videos. Or videos about soccer tricks, the video wasn’t a trick video…anyway. And finally I added some bloopers. It came out to be about 30 minutes and is really cool. Sometimes the videos and music really match even in parts I didn’t plan. So I kept saving it and saving it, then it was time to finalize the video and the machine locked up. Windows XP so that’s to be expected. I had saved it so big deal. I restarted XP and opened the file and it took an hour to “check” the files before it would open. Finally it opened and took 2 hours to finalize the video. I was going crazy expecting it to lock up again after I had put in all that work. About 5 hours after I started, and close to 2am, it finished and I burned it to a CD and today I tested it again. Whew.

     I had a humorous typed language goof earlier. Before I showed the video to my seniors, I made them do this short little worksheet where they had to put 10 sentences in correct order. I searched an online dictionary for a natural phrase that meant “put this in order”. I know the word for order, so I searched for that and copied what I thought was a good phrase. Maybe when I highlighted the phrase the cursor moved or some other stupid crap, but I copied something and pasted it on the worksheet as the directions. Then I gave it to the students and they read the directions. Then they all folded the sheet and put it in their bags. “Uh…er…what are you doing?” I asked. One boy with good English replied “the directions said ‘talk this over with your parents’ so we will”. ARGH. NO. Take your sheets out and put the sentences in order. ARGH.

     There are many reasons why I don’t like sitting next to the teacher’s computer, but recently the main reason is because people use my desk as a table for whatever they are working on. That in itself is ok, the part that is bothering me is when they leave some memo on my desk. Even more annoying is when something is highlighted on the memo. I see the memo on my desk and think it is for me especially since someone took the time to point out some important part. Then I translate it and it says something like “be sure to drink your ovaltine” and I’m like “what…..” and then realize it’s for someone else. ARGH.

     I have mentioned how I HATE when things go on past their obvious ending point. Well today when I showed the videos I discovered I fell victim to my own pet peeve. Parts of the video were hysterical and the kids roared. Then parts would be cool like the slam dunk contest, but then they went on and on. There’s only so many variations you can do when you slam the ball. But it went on for 3 minutes. Then there was a part with motorcycle tricks which was cool for 30 seconds, but also went on and on for 3 minutes. Only so many wheelies you can watch. Overall they enjoyed it, but I learned a valuable lesson. I don’t really know what it is, but it’s valuable. Maybe more bloopers and everything else no more than one minute.

I learned how to say “I am bored to death” in Japanese. Taikutsu de shinisou da.

     These two photos below didn't fit in above, but they are worth posting. The one on the left is from some book in the library. I'm looking at the cover and hey there's some kid on the toilet. Wow, why would you put that on the cover of a book? Of course some kid comes over when I am snapping the photo and wonders why I am taking pictures of boys on the toilet. "Mommy, Ryan sensei was....". The other photo is from some students bag. I happened to glance at the bottom line of the chart. The categories are school, address, name, photo number, school grade, and blood type. I can't think of anything more irrelevant. Maybe, favorite animal or number of missing teeth, maybe age he stopped wetting the bed. I could see blood type on a medical bracelet, but his bag?




Great Lesson
Thursday, December 07, 2006

     I just had a great lesson with the 2nd graders. I think it was the ideal lesson, even with my scratchy frog like voice. I can’t heal my voice because my job is speaking and I can’t go very long without speaking. Anyway, Tuesday I taught them “Hello, how are you?” and more importantly and then how to answer in one of eight original ways. Elementary kids are always taught to respond in the robotic way of “I’m fine thank you, and you” which I hate because it’s well….robotic like. I taught them 8 different things like “I’m happy, I’m great…”. So Tuesday they learned it and since then I have been quizzing them in the hallway or between classes. Then today I reviewed some animals and closed the class with a game where two kids ask each other “Hello, how are you”, then they respond. Finally they do rock-paper-scissors and the winner gets promoted. I used the animals as ranks with mouse as the lowest and elephant as the top. By the end of the game, the kids were saying H,HAY and responding fast. It was just a good class.

    I am in the 3rd annoying week of having no voice. Three weeks is a bit absurd. Some days it’s close to normal, other times such as now it’s deep and crackly. It’s really beyond the point of absurd. Of course I can’t not talk, even if I take a day off something happens where I have to talk. Once my mom called and even though I kept croaking “it hurts to talk” she managed to keep me on the phone for 20 minutes. Maybe I will be getting food somewhere and some English speaking random person will start chatting me up. I can’t even say “I can’t talk” sometimes.

So Far So Good
Friday, December 8, 2006

      I had the 6th graders play my ABC alphabetical order game. It went over very well. I spent about 30 minutes in the computer room turning on 30 computers and then starting Internet Explorer and loading the page since I know from experience that would take the kids 10 minutes. They came in and sat down and I explained what to do. Then they started and gradually got their time down to as low as 21 seconds. That girl is super good at English, but others got close to her time as well. As the title states, so far things are going as planned with this game. My next one is a Concentration style game, but that will be around January. Then I have a few others planned as well.

     Well that was it for me as far as classes go today. I suppose I have some other things to be working on, but I really prefer to have classes. I’m going to talk to the principal closer to the end of our year and tell him I would like to be in the elementary school at least twice a month per class. That means about 12-14 classes which would add 3 per week. What I would love, and what really makes sense, would be for me to have a regular slot each week in each class. Man I could get so much done with them, but that would be absurd (for them at least). Having a native speaker in the class that much, I couldn’t even imagine.

Please Take My Life.
Monday, December 11, 2006

     We had natto for lunch. Dear God please take my life. As objectively and honestly as I can describe this substance is as such:

     The smell: Take a shower and put some socks on your wet feet. Now wrap a plastic bread bag around each foot and tie it with tape so it is air-tight. Now put on more socks and then some shoes. Go running and exercising and hiking. Do this in the summer for 3-4 weeks and don’t take off your plastic bags. Leave them on your rotting feet. Finally take them off and put them in a bowl and inhale the sweet aroma. That is natto.

     The goo: It looks like rotting beans (which it actually is) mixed with horse mucus. There is a stringy consistency that wraps (or smothers) the rice. I have seen it used in alien movies when the aliens give birth. It’s like their placenta with the sock stench.

     Well how do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it? The same way I know I don’t want to eat zebra feces. It’s nasty. I can’t get near it without gagging. Do the sock thing above and then let’s talk.

     I did my ABC search with the JHS 1st years (7th graders). At first it was a horrible flop since the stupid computers in the JHS lab are worthless. Honestly we couldn’t even sell them for parts. Nothing that is remotely useful will run on them. The real icing on the cake is how you can’t even bookmark anything. That way we have to spend half the class typing in the web address every time. So we get it typed in and then they load it and BOOM it won’t play since…well who knows. So I rush to the elementary computer room and turn on the computers and have the kids come down. Hey 30 minutes of a 45 minute class wasted. Finally they loaded it and started playing and it went ok.

     I just got my papers for my annual health check. Luckily this year it is days after I get back from Thailand. That’s good because I always eat great in Thailand and exercise while working at the orphanage. Last year they razzed me about my blood pressure, but this year I will take the medication more before the exam. I always forget to take it since it’s not really that high. It’s borderline high. Anyway, I usually come back from Thailand feeling great since the food is light and healthy and I stay busy. Rather than in frigid Japan where I am sitting here at school or sitting at home on the computer. I could be outside in the -10°C 6 foot snow drift, but that’s not likely.

     I had a slightly funny, but luckily not embarrassing written language typo today. It wasn’t entirely my fault, I just misunderstood someone. This Friday is the last day for students to write in their journals. I asked the English teacher how to say “final push” as in an army’s final push in an offensive. He told me and even sounded it out. Then I wrote it as I heard it. I printed a few and put them up. Almost immediately some student brought them back to me chuckling. She showed the English teacher and he chuckled too. He explained the problem as such:

Hito means one, and osu means push. The noun form of osu is oshi, so together they are hitooshi. As in “one push”. I had the word “final” before it, which was correct. However, what was incorrect was my reading of the hito part. I know it mainly as “person”, so I wrote that. There is another use of the word which means “One”, but I wrote the “person” reading. So basically I put up posters around the school that said “Journals: Friday is your last chance to push someone”.

The seniors are busy filling out applications for high schools to which that want to go. Students must apply, interview, and test for schools beyond the JHS level. Up through JHS you just go to the school near your house, but high school and beyond is different. Sadly, the education system in Japan is not decided by the Japanese Ministry of Education, it is decided by the groups that make the university entrance exams. Then the MoE creates a curriculum to prepare students for those tests.

Anyway, they were filling out the applications and some teachers were assisting them. I walked around asking where they were going and getting sad at the number of students going to the local catch-all school. Some are trying to go for the bigger schools in Koriyama city, which is great, but some only go where their brothers or sisters go/went. After seeing where they are going I walked around with this big fat black magic marker and told them it was ok to use it. They all laughed and it was a refreshing break. I’m good like that. Ryan – the refreshing break. Eh, it’s better than it could be. Ryan – the guy who stares at you strangely from the dark corner. I could go on, but I will not.
Japanese kids climbing all over the room during cleaning time

I chatted with my mom last night about life. She said some kid at school got in trouble for standing on a chair or a table or something. I thought about how different things are here. When the kids clean the school, they climb all over the room. Seriously you would be expelled from school for doing what is shown in the photo. The girl in yellow on the top is about six feet in the air. My little camera phone slightly distorts the photo. The girls sitting on the bookshelf are at my waist and that cabinet is at or about 6 feet tall. There is a bookshelf to the right that is out of the photo that is also 6 feet and they climb all over that. The funniest part is the teacher left the room as usual.


Pretend Time.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

      Sometimes when I am bored I act overly Japanese, merely to amuse myself. A side effect is that I get “points” for really trying to fit in. That means allowing myself to be assimilated and not resisting. Today I came in and when a teacher approached I would stop and give a strong bow from the hips with my arms at my sides. I usually say “good morning”, but today I said it all in Japanese. When a teacher came and talked to me I jumped to my feet if I was sitting down. I made sure to greet incoming teachers first and I was clear when I spoke and I gave a deep bow (that’s bow as in bending, I didn’t wrap them a little Christmas bow).

     I haven’t been drinking my coffee at school or rather my Smile Mart coffee on the way to school. I drank it once during my 3 week voice-less coughing fit and I think it made my voice worse, so I have been avoiding it recently. I suppose it’s good since I have my health check coming up, but it sure makes me sluggish in school.

     Yesterday I realized today was the deadline for me to get my alien card renewed. Well I have already applied for it to be renewed, but today was the pickup date deadline. So I came back to school late last night after eating curry at the local restaurant, one of two ramen shops. I checked my schedule and realized I had to go during 3rd and 4th periods and possibly lunch. So in about two hours I will head into Koriyama to get my new alien card. I’m looking forward to it since I looked like an angry bird in my last photo and this new card has a new photo.

     I just got back from getting the new card in Koriyama. I realized I grossly over-planned and had nearly two hours to kill so I went to the station and had McDonald’s for lunch and then did a teeny bit of shopping. I had some Starbucks coffee and a cookie. While there I saw some TV show being filmed. As usual with Japanese TV, it was someone doing something really stupid to get a laugh. This time it was a girl dressed in almost underwear like gym clothes dancing/jumping around outside in the freezing cold. Elementary school kids wear these absurd outfits that are obscenely too tight and short. I tried to get a photo, but it wasn’t really clear.

      Man the elementary kids are a bunch of little tattle tales. I was helping some girls and the teacher clean the shoe boxes and some of the other girls ran up and told the teacher everything the boys were doing in the room. I had just been there so I knew they were cleaning and playing a little, nothing worth telling the teacher about. Then more girls ran up and said the same thing, then more. It was very childish, which I guess was fitting.

     This teacher is talking on the phone in the teacher’s room and she keeps getting louder and louder. She got to the point where the conversation was moving fast and she was excited and literally yelling in a hyper way. I tried to get my phone out and film it or at least record the audio, but she was shushed since the principal is having a meeting. She got softer, but since no one as volume control here she went right back up to full volume. She did this three times and the vice principal kept telling her to be quiet. It was amusing. I don’t understand the origin of this lack of volume control. I have had people talking loud during my observed class which is uber-rude, but acceptable here. I bet it wouldn’t be for me though. [Update] In the end she got loud and was shushed 8 times.

     I really don’t understand this no-grades thing. The kids don’t get grades they get comments on how they did. I don’t think there has ever been one single student in the history of Japan that was held back for grades. I’m serious, I don’t think it has ever happened, and if so there was less than 5. In the entire history of the human world. At my JHS I can remember 2-3 people per year being held back. Even in elementary school, and then in high school they would just drop out or blend in with the lower classes. Then they’d go to summer school and be back on track or just not come back. But here there are seriously no grades. What’s even more surprising is the kids do well, most kids are really smart so clearly the system has some merits. But not for me, it’s hard to get them to do things sometimes and for the most part I have great kids in comparison to others. But I will say finish this project by Friday, and no one will do anything. Or maybe memorize this for next week, and not one single person will put out the slightest effort. It’s something cultural and I don’t get it, nor do I understand the purpose of it.

     I bought some Vicks Medicated Cough Drops while I was in town and I have been eating them like candy. I just read the wrapper and it said take no more than 4 in a 24 hour period. Oops, I’ve already had 6 in about 3 hours. They are just so tasty and I feel better after having them.

Random strange too tall truck.









86 the Heater.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

     The English room was really hot so I told some kid to 86 the heater. I said it in Japanese and it was one of those things I was more or less thinking about, but accidentally said out loud. It wasn’t rude or funny or anything, I just accidentally told some kid to 86 the heater. As far as I know it’s English slang for ending something. The kid looked at me and said “86” and then I heard it and said “oh sorry, turn off”. The good part was I said it in Japanese without thinking. The bad part was it was stupid.

     I’m going to play “You Sank My Battleship” with the 6th graders. There’s not too much English and just enough I think. There’s hit, miss, battleship, aircraft carrier, cruiser, (I added airplane), and then “you sank my”. It should be good.

     Whenever I am planning something for the next term, I always have this urge to make it easy for the kids or have them stop doing things at certain times so they can relax and enjoy life. But that’s really doing them a disservice. I should make them do more useful things that will benefit them in the future. I struggle between wanting to be their friends, or at least have a favorable memory of me, and preparing them for the future. I know what I should do, but I am too empathetic. That rolls over into when I plan trips for people. I always try to please everyone. I hate saying “no” or “too bad you are late” and I usually get stressed about it, even though it’s my own doing. Nice guys finish last.

     Battleship was so-so. It took a while to explain and then a few kids still didn’t get it. Most of them understood what to do and did it right and they seemed to get something out of the game even though there wasn’t as much English as I thought. They would say “F5” and then hit or miss which was good, but not too much more. Before the class I gave them a short review listening quiz and they knew most everything. Which seems good, but it really limits my classes. I can’t, technically, teach letter writing or things like that and they seem to know all the allowed vocabulary and last week they did great with my computer letter-order race, so what can I do from here. At least I have an idea of their level now.

     I remember in JHS and then SHS if you didn’t do your school work you couldn’t participate in after school activities. This was especially true in SHS, but I do remember some in JHS. But here, even the kids that do absolutely nothing in school participate freely. The thought of connecting doing work and participating in extra curricular activities has no correlation here. It’s truly dumbfounding.

     Today I gave grades to some of my 2nd years. Just the ones in my elective class. The conversation was the same as always, very roundabout, but with a goal in mind.

Teacher: please give grades for the 2nd years today. You should give A, B, or C. C is bad.
Me: So I guess I should only give A’s and B’s right.
Teacher: Right, but only give a B if the student was really bad. We usually give only A’s.
Me: As I expected. There are only three students I will give a B to.
Teacher: Oh. Well you must give 4 grades per student, so maybe only give one B per student. If you give 4 B’s then maybe…well I don’t know.
Me: Oh the thought of 4 B’s to one student? I can’t imagine such a thing.

In Japan all students ALWAYS get an A
     There is such a delicate frailty to Japan. When foreigners are taught Japanese we are taught the polite forms first, even thought that is stupid and causes problems later. What’s most important is we are not rude which might offend the fragile people. We can’t give real grades or fail people because that person might be sad, but then we end up not preparing them for actual life when bosses don’t give a flying #$%& how you feel about doing work. I just want to cry sometimes because it’s so frustrating. Then I want to hit things. Then I want hit things while crying. I really just want to understand why it’s like this, but in the long run it makes my life easier. I don’t have to pay attention to how students actually do, I just give everyone A’s. Even the kids who can’t read, here you go you get an A because you tried as hard as the kid who reads at a college level. [inflammatory joke about reading removed].

     I really don’t mean to sound rude when I say I think the special needs kids should be separated from the others. I know that can be read wrong, but the mere fact that the phrase is “special needs” should mean “not in the normal needs group”. For example, today the battleship game class was delayed a good ten minutes because the teacher and I had to explain over and over and a few students still didn’t get it. Then the groups around them had to stop and help them constantly. It disrupted the whole class, but more importantly, the whole class in general moves too fast for them. They need a school with more constant attention and a slower pace. That’s one thing I miss about Fukushima Higashi High School, it was an upper level school and the students had to test to get into it. So on average they were all similar levels. Whereas now, one person will be high level, the next person below remedial, the next person average, and so on.

Nothing Yet.
Thursday, December 14, 2006

     I am getting a little worried about the weather. Last year there was a solid layer of snow on the ground starting around the end of November, but today nearly halfway through December not only is there no snow, but it was only cool today. I didn’t need a jacket when I walked out of the house, but I wore one anyway since the weather changes fast. I’m afraid it’s just going to drop suddenly soon. Maybe we will have a warm winter to make up for last year’s blizzard winter with 6 feet of snow.

     I was just googling Thai gas prices to see how much we will need to donate to the orphanage for gas since they have a small truck and will be carrying us around some. I found that one US gallon is about $1.60 which is like 160 yen. That’s great for a whole gallon. In Japan it’s about 130 yen per liter which means about 520 yen per gallon, which is around $5.20 give or take. My favorite place was Venezuela with a whopping 14 cents per gallon. I could fill up my entire tank for less than $2.



Someone: I see you are going to the orphanage again.
Me: Yes. This year we are doing a fundraiser for the home by selling postcards.
Someone: Oh, that’s a great idea. I hope you sell very many.
Me: Yes, me too. I think I could sell many to students. If each student bought a pack or maybe if the teachers bought a pack then I would raise a lot of money.
Someone: That’s true, but unfortunately, we can’t do fundraisers at school.
Me: Oh, really? Hmmm. What is that box beside your desk?
Someone: That is a fundraiser box for students and teachers.
Me: (waiting for the connection and then explanation). Ah. Hmmm. So…..
Someone: We raise money for the victims of the earthquake.
Me: Which one? The one that was last year or two years ago?
Someone: Yes, that one.
Me: So we can do fundraisers at school?
Someone: No.
Me: Then what is that box beside your desk?
Someone: That is a box for collecting money from students and teachers for the earthquake victims.
Me: So it is a fundraiser? But we can’t do fundraisers at school.
Someone: That’s right, we cannot collect money at school from students and teachers.
Me: So what’s that box for right there?
Someone: That’s for collecting money from students and teachers for the earthquake victims.
Me: (waiting for the connection and then explanation). Ah. Hmmm. So…..We CAN or CANNOT collect money at school?
Someone: We cannot collect money at school from students and teachers.
I am completely confused.

Then something hits me and I decide to test my theory. Surely what I am thinking cannot be the case, but then again this is the land of no logic. I look up charities IN Japan and find a needy one. I pull it up on the screen. Then I pull up another Thai orphanage site which also has some Japanese. I continue the conversation.

Me: Oh here is a great charity, we could collect money at school for this. (Japanese site)
Someone: Yes, that looks very interesting. You should talk to the principal about it.
Me: Oh here is another one.
Someone: Oh, that looks nice but we can’t do fundraisers at school.
Me. That’s what I thought. I understand now.

     The whole conversation was very amicable and pleasant. It was all very polite, which is exactly what the Japanese are known for. Being polite, even when they are being….well you know. The part that bugs me the most is how there is no connection between the two, it’s simply (A) is ok (B) is not ok and the fact that they are very similar has nothing to do with it. I can totally understand organizations having approved charities and I would have no problem with a response like “sorry we have some approved charities that we give to”. Then I would go about seeing how to make something approved, but even if I couldn’t I would understand the logical chain of events. Here, they can’t even connect that my charity is similar, just not IN Japan. Therefore, it is not allowed even though they never said that directly. As much as I love the school and the kids, the culture really gets annoying quite often.

Leap Frog
Friday, December 15, 2006

     I had the most annoying conversation with some girls in the meeting hall. They were playing a spinning game with the jump rope and then somehow they turned to leap frog. In Japan, of course, they do leap frog in their own illogical way and defend its superiority to the death. The way I was taught was for one person to bend over and squat a little and tuck his/her head down. Then the second person puts his/her hands on the 1st person’s back/lower back and goes over. It makes sense to me and seems relatively safe. But the superior way that we westerners can’t understand is for the squatting person to turn sideways. Sideways means the jumping person has to stretch his/her legs really far, and there is a better chance of the head getting smacked.

     Their way is not even something I could see how it is different but equal. It’s just dumb. When I did it every single kid smacked my head. Why? Because I was turned sideways and much wider. When I tried to show them our way they all laughed and refused to do it because surely the squatter’s head would get whacked. NO. In fact your way is how the head gets smacked. They spent a good 10 minutes stalling from doing it my way and finally the bus came. This is one of those things that would be far easier to accept if they just said “oh yea your way is different, but we like our way”. But they won’t acknowledge any other way of doing something. The Japanese way is the supremely correct way and all other ways are simply inferior. Even when the Japanese way is grossly inferior, they stick to their guns.

     Another annoying example was when this old man was saying “we don’t eat soup like you do because that’s how dogs eat, we are more civilized”. NO. WRONG. YOU eat like dogs. Dogs slurp from the bowl. YOU slurp from the bowl. We use a spoon. How is that more civilized? Then there was my favorite argument. “You use beds like dogs, we use futons because it’s not as primitive”. Actually you sleep on some blankets ON THE FLOOR. Dogs sleep on blankets ON THE FLOOR. We sleep on beds above the floor. How is our way anything like dogs? It’s not in any way shape or form. How many dogs sleep in beds? How many dogs sleep on the floor? It would be 100% different if they said “oh you like beds, we like the floor, it’s different”. But they chop down foreign methods in ways that don’t even make sense.

     It’s nothing like this in the other countries I have been to. Well that’s just based on me being there a short time so it really doesn’t come out. To really get the vibe of Japan, you must work for a Japanese company/organization where it is run by Japanese and they are the majority. If you work at a foreign company in Japan it’s different. If you visit for a week or a month it’s different. If you know some Japanese people in a foreign country it’s different. You have to be in a situation where the Japanese way is the way things are done.

Monday, December 18, 2006

     I had a boring weekend. Well Saturday I went to meet up with two girls who are going to the orphanage with me next week. Hey, next week right now I will be sightseeing in warm Thailand. Anyway, they gave me some money from the postcard fundraiser. It looks like each person is going to have around $200 which will be great since there are about 10 people selling them. One girl sold $400 worth and a few sold only $100, but it’s all pure profit and balances out. Another girl in the US sold some baskets and weaving products and will be sending that money too. I’m hoping we can donate around $3,000 this winter. He can buy a lot of stuff with it.

     So I wrote ‘finally’ as the title since it is finally snowing like it should be. It’s coming down in buckets too (not literally). I was really getting worried since we are past the halfway point of December and it was not only not snowing, but really warm on Saturday. I was physically too hot a few times and drove to Koriyama with my window down. I don’t like the cold weather, but I also don’t like it being too warm when it should clearly be cold. I’d rather just get used to the cold weather than wake up sweating because my heater was on a timer and set to 18°C. But next week none of this will matter. I will be in 25°C weather which is like 80°F something.

     So I managed to send my Christmas presents back to the US for my parents, my sister & her husband, and then someone else. I can’t mention what they are yet because she might read this. I had hoped to do something else for them, well the same thing but different. Forget it, I will explain all that after they open it. I can’t discuss it without being vague.

     Oh, I am going to send Japanese New Year’s cards this year to all my Japanese friends and colleagues. Last year I didn’t send any, well I never have, but I have received some in the past. This year I plan to send some out and it will really freak them out I think. Especially because you are supposed to send one back to someone who sends you one, so they will have to scurry out and send me one and I’ll get like 50. I have to write this one phrase in Japanese about 50 times, but it will be ok. I’ll just be an expert at writing that phrase I guess.

Phantom strikes again
Tuesday, December 19, 2006

     I was in the bathroom stall again, taking care of some business, and someone came into the bathroom. Within the course of about 30 seconds I counted 23 flushes. That’s almost one per second. He was at a urinal too. I could understand if he was some 60 year old ultra conservative easily embarrassed woman who can’t bear to hear completely natural bodily noises, but this was some guy at a urinal. Can you not go without the sound of running water? Do you want something to mask the sound, even though there really is no sound?

     I can’t find my little notebook of notes and things for Thailand and it is driving me crazy. I couldn’t find it at home, though I only glanced where it should be and assumed it was here. Now that I am at school it’s not here and I assume it must be at home somewhere. So I am about to ask to go home and get some forgotten thing and destroy the place looking for it. I have to make lists so I don’t forget things and when I do make the lists I then forget all the things on the lists. So now that I can’t find the list I am going crazy trying to remember what I had to do. I really need to mark things off a list to feel good about packing.

     I think one of my favorite things about Japan, sarcastically, has to do with standing in line., more to the point, breaking in line. There is some strange cultural thing that I cannot figure out. It has happened to me so much I expect it and usually don’t say anything about it. Most recently was at Mr. Donuts. The Thai volunteer meeting ended early when some people had to leave to catch a 9:00 train and others were waiting until for a 9:50 train. We went to MD to waste some time and chat about various things. I got in the long line and waited. When it came time for me to go to the register, I stood at the waiting line and waited for one of three registers to finish and call me. Some couple behind me thought I was in one specific line waiting for one specific register. Even though the sign was written in Japanese, and they were Japanese. So they pass me and jump behind someone at register three. I just looked at them and didn’t say anything, but luckily the girl behind the counter beckoned them back to the line.

     Oh, while we are on the topic, another thing I really love about Japan is how people rudely block off areas around them with bags. I went to Starbucks while I was waiting for the volunteers to show up and got a small coffee. Then I was going to sit somewhere. The place was about half full, but everyone took up the empty seats around them. There are those semi-plush seats for one person, but there would be one person and a bag in the seat near them. I find that to be utterly rude, especially when the place is packed and people are obviously waiting. I have seen it on trains and buses. What makes me want to fly into a rage is when I ask if someone is sitting there and they get all flustered and say the seat is taken, yet no one ever shows up.

     Someone emailed me and asked “if you hate your life in Japan so much why don’t you leave?” Well apart from that being stupid, I mean who loves their job and life, it’s not even my point. I like the job. I am making a difference and the kids are great. Overall, apart from some small issues, the teachers are great as well. My problems stem from the fact that I like things to make some form of sense, and Japan rarely fits my form of logic. Surely it fits some form of logic, but it almost always irritates me. I like the job and it’s a good job in comparison to others I’ve had, but the culture gets annoying.

     I was watching the news the other night since there is an English audio button I can press when they broadcast both languages. Sometimes I watch the news when there is something of interest, but usually I don’t since (oh here I go again) most of the time their style annoys me. What annoys me is how they go on and on about the same small point until I start stabbing my neck and pulling out my hair. One example was when a young girl was kidnapped and killed last year. They interview some friends and the broadcast went like this: “this girl said she was nice and everyone liked her”, “this boy said she was a good girl and they were friends”, “this girl said all the students seemed to like the girl”. OH MY GOD we get it already.

     But that wasn’t nearly as bad as later when they talked about how she walked to school. At one point in her walk she passed a dog who was tied up in the street or something. From this point I was nearly screaming at the TV. “The girl walked down this road every morning. She passed this dog and sometimes stopped to pet the dog. The owner said many children like to pet the dog. The dog is very friendly and likes children. Many dogs don’t like children, but this one does. (eh…did I change the channel accidentally?) This dog is a Norwegian Terrier mixed with a New Zealand French long haired poodle. His name is Mr. Chompers. He was born ten years ago. His owner has a blue car. My grandmother’s name was Marie”.

DEAR GOD WHAT ARE YOU GOING ON ABOUT? Seriously, they mentioned the dog and then started focusing on it. A girl was killed, who cares about this stupid dog.

     That was a big one I remember, but there are others. Once they talked about a volcano in Hokkaido that was covered in snow earlier than the previous year and they said it like 30 times. I think I already wrote about that somewhere. Now I forgot why I started this whole thing. I went on a tangent and can’t remember the main purpose. [trying to remember].

     Oh I remember now. They were doing a story on a boy that killed himself. The thing is he was an elementary school student. At first I couldn’t imagine why a kid that age would commit suicide, but then I listened and found out it had to do with the group system and specifically bullying. Part of the way kids get bullied in Japan is by being excluded from the group. Since society as a whole revolves around the group, being excluded is worse than physical abuse. They did a study and found that Japan ranked very low in physical abuse from bullies, but very high in social abuse. I’m clearly not a fan of the rigid group system here, and anything that causes a kid that young to commit suicide should clearly be re-examined. Ha ha, I said re-examined and was referring to something in Japan. Ha ha, that was a good one.

     The English teacher told me he had to stay late and work on progress reports for some students. I was in a mood and flat out asked him “why, they all get A’s with good comments”. His Japanese instinct kicked in and he said “oh well it’s far more delicate than that, we have to make sure we give a correctly worded comment to each student. They would be confused if we gave them criticism”. Confused in what way? Either it is so difficult for me to understand or it’s so stupid no one can explain in. I think he was saying “it takes a while to think of saying the same positive thing 30 different ways”. That would be a fine answer since that’s really what they do.

     Man I really need to get to Thailand. I am getting frustrated more and more as the days go by. I need a change of pace and Thailand always seems to recharge me until spring.








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