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Out with the demons…
Friday, February 2nd, 2007

     During first period we had a little festival in the big hall. It’s called Setsubun (set sue boon) and it has to do with casting out demons and welcoming good fortune for the new year. It’s actually the day before the turn of the season, but that is absurd. It’s snowing heavily and it’s probably peak winter here. The festival was interesting, but as it was a Japanese festival it was done in the Japanese style. First thing worth noting is we had more ceremonial pomp and circumstance than actual festival activities. There was the opening bit, speeches by teachers, regimented group cheering, and then we began. The actual activity lasted about 10 minutes. Then we had a closing ceremony and then moved on to the second Japanese way of doing things.

     In the festival people run around with this demon-looking mask on their head. Then people throw peanuts or beans (video) at the demons while chanting “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (oh knee wah so toe – foo coo wah uu chee). It means “devil out, fortune in”. The people dressed in the oni mask will run around and fall from the pain of the peanuts pushing their evil spirits out. Other people around them run around picking up good fortune peanuts. Some get many, others get few.

     That’s where the second Japanese style comes in. Some getting many is bad for the group, so after the ceremony-event-ceremony all the peanuts are divided equally among the group. No one can stand out or be different. Which is true in life as well. When someone in my department gets a raise, we all do. When someone has a baby, we all do. We are all the exact same, there are no differences. We are one. We are Borg.

     During lunch a few of the classes had more setsubun bean fights. The seniors really pelted the demons in their class, which makes sense. I would too were I that age. Then I walked around and threw some leftover peanuts at kids in the hall and the kids making lunch announcements. It was funny since I waited for the guy to start making an announcement about the setsubun, then I hit him with about 10. The intercom was still on and you could hear him saying “ouch” as well as the peanuts hitting him and the wall.

     Sunday there is that super fun meeting with the organizers of the international festival in Koriyama. Last year we sat through 30 minutes of Japanese people telling other Japanese people how to properly greet Japanese people at an international festival at which everyone should be learning about foreign cultures. But remember, We Japanese can only be internationalized if it is done in the correct procedure. Any deviation will result in total confusion.

     I have magic powers. Everyday since January 8th, it has been sunny and warmer than usual. It hasn’t snowed for more than 30 minutes and most of the snow has melted. We are having a foreigners-and-kids-playing-in-the-snow-together day on the 21st and I was worried there would be no snow. So I emailed someone about it and said “I’ll make some backup indoor activities since there might not be any snow”. Within the hour, which was 24 hours ago as of the time of this writing, there has been a blizzard. There is well over 1 foot of snow on the ground just in the past day. I caused that to happen. I willed it to become so. And yet, the other things I have been trying to will into reality, seem not to be working.

Completely Wasted
Sunday, February 4th, 2007

     I spent three hours yesterday shoveling snow from the parking lot. It was immaculate. There was not a white spot on the pavement. I also cleaned the stairs and the walkway here as well as both entrances. It was a lot of hard work, but well worth it. Today I have a meeting in Koriyama about the international festival, plus the two female teachers who live in the building will be coming back and I really wanted them to see how clean it was. However, they can't because last night it snowed another foot or more. Granted the snow is soft enough to be easily shoveled now, but I don't have three more hours. The meeting is at 1 and I have some other things to do in town so I need to leave here around 10-10:30 (it's 9am now). I suppose had I known it would snow this much I could have woken up earlier.

     I have managed to rip a big hole in the butt area of two of my pants. The first was some nice pants I love called Savane. They are classy looking slacks. Anyway, I was putting them on recently and weaving the belt through when I felt this gapping hole. Clearly unfixable and I was really surprised since I had no recollection of doing it. Fine, it happens. Then I shoveled snow in my jeans, went to two stores, came back and as I was taking them off, there was a full butt cheek sized hole. Like one of the pockets was barely hanging on. Seriously, what is going on there? I had absolutely no idea what happened here as well. If it happens again I will go insane.

Oh well…
Monday, February 5th, 2007

     I have calculated how much the hot dogs and drinks will cost, told the deli place I will need 300 hot dogs by a certain date, had my kids make posters and menus and several things for the wall, asked volunteers to help me sell them, and…..I won’t be selling them. There were several little problems along the way, but I pushed through and found ways to deal with them. The straw that broke the camel’s back, was when I showed up for the prep meeting and found out we only had one food booth instead of the two that we had ordered. With just one we’d be really crammed in their and it was the last little obstacle I could take. Well the actual last one was when they said we can’t sell canned drinks, only big bottles that we pour into these obscenely small cups that we have to buy from them. At that point I said forget it all and I will just help Amy who is selling Jambalaya. Hot Dogs weren’t going to be what I wanted anyway.

     I had a vision of selling American style hot dogs and maybe having a little pitching thing to show the hot dog and baseball connection, but it wasn’t meant to be. I had my vision and I kept having to condense it to fit into the Japanese way of internationalization. They kept squeezing it until it fit a preconceived idea of what internationalization is. The final squeeze, plus the one booth thing, was just too much. It will be much easier for me to just help Amy and not have anything to plan on my own. I can enjoy the other booths some that way, and I heard one guy will be selling Mexican food.

     There is some major problem with the network and the IT people (math teachers) are running around trying to follow wires and see what’s wrong. I joked that maybe the mouse we found last week had eaten the cables, and they said no. But now I think that might be the case. People keep running in from all areas saying the network is down. It reminds me of years ago when networks were new and they went down a lot. It was a common thing to hear “networks down again” and just wait it out. I can’t remember a problem with the network going down in 3-5 years. The annoying thing is I can’t secretly eat my Ritz Treats and drink my coffee since everyone is all around me. ARGH.

     I just had a class with the 1st years. It was bad because they were doing the second part of making posters for my hot dog stand. The HDS that is no more. I couldn’t tell them to stop since they were so into it, but next week I’ll have to figure out a way to tell them. Ironically this year is the year I don’t want students to come see me, whereas last year I wanted them to and no one came. Argh again.

     I am in charge of creating the plan for the Konan Snow Day on the 21st. I had this plan of playing in the snow with all the grades. Then some teachers mentioned they would like to help plan it (translation: me by myself does not appease the group). So now half of the day will be inside and half outside. The other thing I was desperately trying to avoid, which was a stupid idea, was the injection of ceremonies. It was stupid because we do nothing without a ceremony in Japan. So the first 15 minutes of the day will be a ceremony, then we have a 45 minute activity (10 minutes of which is the greeting, getting into groups, explanation, putting on shoes, walking to the area and then 15 minutes of which is a closing-photo taking ceremony), and then we do it again two more times. So we are going from a whole day of playing with the kids in the snow to less than one hour (20 min x 3) of total playing time.

February 6th, 2007

     I never realized, even though it makes perfect Japanese sense, that students cannot enter the teacher’s room unless they are wearing their uniform or gym outfit in perfect form. One kid entered with a coat on and was sent back out. Then, and this is the kicker, another kid entered to take the teacher’s basket to the class as they always do. He had his formal uniform on, which is what they have to wear to school, but he didn’t have his name tag. The teacher saw this and sent him back to the classroom to get it, even though she knew who he was. Man that’s strict. Nothing terribly wrong with it per se and I guess it is good to teach (and reinforce) proper behavior at this age.

    The principal called me into his office and said we had to discuss my health check results. Although they were much better than last year, they were still bad and I have to go back and get some things rechecked. He gave me the envelope with all my results in it and said he could not open it, but since I was here I could so we could all have a look. I laughed inside at the thought of a boss saying that in any other country and not getting sued, but in Japan it’s A-OK. I imagine they will discuss it in a meeting later. Seriously.

     The good news, which is really bad news, is the insurance place is not pleased with my results. Even though they are using the absurdly to strict Japanese standards that would have my ideal body weight around super model level, I still have to get in better shape. They sent a report that I translated and some things, though better than last year, are still not so good. One not funny, but funny, thing on the report was under the “problems” list. It simply said in Japanese, “too fat”. I’m really hoping this will be the event that causes me to get in better shape. It should since they implied they won’t insure me unless I start losing weight.

     Not to place blame, but I know a big part of it is the food here. Japanese people have different digestive systems and can take in more fat. There is fat in almost everything here. The world's fastest (and most) hot dog eating champion is a skinny Japanese guy from Nagano. I have wanted to eat less meat for a while, but I can’t possibly imagine fixing vegetable dishes that fill me up. I guess I get to start experimenting and finding some. I think the big reason I fared so well on this check up is because I was just coming back from Thailand. I ate great for two weeks and exercised a bit. I’ll have to try to eat better here and run in the gym a few mornings as well as shovel snow.

I think I get it…
Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

     I asked another teacher if I could use a room they are in charge of. Once again the answer was “not use”, which surprised me even though I was expecting and hoping for that answer. I’m starting to understand why that is the response. Things in Japanese are based on states of being or matters and conditions. For example, in correct Japanese, “I” don’t do something, but “something is done”. I don’t like things, there exist things that are liked. As a matter of fact, at some point in learning Japanese you are taught that saying “I” sounds arrogant. Yea, that’s something that should go toward the beginning of learning Japanese.

     So in regards to using rooms of other teachers what I am asking, even when I don’t ask correctly, is “is the computer room being used first period”, which warrants a response of “not in use” rather than what I think I hear “don’t use”. It’s really hard to think in terms of states of being all the time and not in terms of “I do this” or “I want this”. I’m not saying either way is better, just that it’s difficult for me.

     The actual room I wanted to borrow was the Home Economics room. When I asked the teacher she said it was not in use, but hem-hawed around in the Japanese way when I asked if I could use it. She said “no” politely, but vaguely, the way they do, but I persisted since I really needed to use the room and I knew there was no real reason I couldn’t. It was culturally rude of me possibly, but I really needed to use the room and I plan to clean up. Anyway, we are cooking hot dogs for my elective class. I don’t feel like we’ve done that much this year and I wanted to have this one international memory right near the end so they think of me and the class as fun and overall worthwhile.

     Talk about good timing, or strange timing, the battery light in my car just popped on and then at home I get a postcard from the dealership that services my car about a free 10 point check for Subarus. There are a few small things I’d like to get checked as well, but the battery thing is urgent. Well it might be urgent or it might be just some faulty wire. The other thing is my fuel gauge is way off. It never goes about 3/4 and always drops to zero within 100K. I usually drive around on E until I see the low fuel light come on. I filled it up yesterday with $68. A bit more than I expected, but I had the money. Although it was actually for two weeks of food, at least now I don’t have to worry about gas.

     I stopped drinking coffee since I am a fat greasy slab of hog meat again and now I have to lose weight to keep my job. The result is I am so sluggish in the morning and I will take a nap right after lunch. The other bad news is I feel way too sluggish to job, but maybe if I just start jogging it will go away.

You Can Do Magic
Thursday, February 08, 2007

     I definitely have some mild ESP and whatever that thing is called where you can make people do things with your mind. I haven’t developed telekinesis yet, but I am working on that. I had a class with the 6th graders planned today and I have been sweating about what to do. There’s a balance between something easy as a reward for graduating soon and something useful to prepare them for being 1st years in the JHS. I have been thinking and planning and worrying and more thinking all week, but nothing has really struck me as a good plan. So this morning I was sitting at my desk looking through some absurdly too difficult activity ideas and then I just looked up at the 6th grade teacher and thought “cancel the class, cancel the class, you have something else to do, cancel the class”. Then she looked up, looked around at me (while I was still staring at her and sending my thoughts) and she came over and told me the class was cancelled today since she had something else to do during the time. Wow. Though it hasn’t worked on anyone else (especially the nurse or assistant P.E. teacher), nor has it worked at the board of education when I send thoughts of getting a raise. But I have proven it works.

     We have our ski day tomorrow. I guess I will go, but not ski since the boots were so tight last year I broke my toe. That was awful pain, I can only imagine a leg or an arm. But I either have to go or take vacation time, which would be alright except I have nothing to do. I could go and read some books, for 7 hours, or something. Hmmm, vacation time is looking better and better as I type this, although I have nothing to do and really no money to spend. Hmmm, there will be more thinking about this during the time allotted.

     I’ve been trying to ask my principal something all morning about another Koriyama Native Teacher coming to visit the school on the snow day with all the Koriyama ALTs. There’s some issue since we are NTs and not ALTs. Anyway, I’ll see him walking around doing nothing and I will grab my note with all the details on it and run over to him. Every single time I get near him something happens. The phone will ring for him, someone will call him, he will have to run out of the school for some urgent (though not really) appointment. It’s strange that every time he is free and I try to talk to him something happens. ARGH.

Don't Ignore Warning Lights
Friday, February 9th, 2007

     Remember that 10 Point Check postcard I received? Also how my battery light came on? Yea, those are things that shouldn't be ignored. I took vacation time as I mentioned I might and decided to go to Koriyama to run some errands. I go to the local post office to make a payment and when I crank my car to leave, it hesitates but cranks. That was foreshadowing and I should have listened better, but I drove on to Koriyama. Then about halfway there the RPM and speedometer die. They just go to zero. Then all the lights start blinking like the check engine, battery, fuel, blinkers, and so on. If it was at night I would have thought it was aliens. I turn into a parking lot (oddly the one for the place at which we have English camp) and I check a map. I decide there's no way I can get to the car place since I don't even know where it is.

     Then I turn to leave and the car completely dies. Kaput. Nothing. No sound when I turn the key. So I call the place and tell them "my car died" since I don't know how to say "my car will not crank". Ok they will send someone so where am I. I don't know, I'm near some building that says "Koriyama City something". It's on a road, does that help? Oh, we have English camp here. Yea, why would you know that. So finally I run inside and ask them what this place is. They ask why and I say my car died, but they didn't hear "car" just "died" and see me on the phone so they assume someone died and I am calling an ambulance. So they are running around panicked and then I explain it's just my car.
Fine, all that is taken care of. The car place is on the way and I am waiting for them in the lobby. Finally they get there and tow the car back and I ride with him. When we get to the place (that I now know where it is) I sit in the lobby while they check it out. After an hour he said they don't have any idea what is wrong with it. Finally they figure out the alternator died and will replace it. They said while I'm here they will also do the 10 Point Check. When they do they find the oil needs to be replaced and the wipers are crap. So they changed that. I was there about 5 hours, but it was good since I wanted to get out of the apartment and had nothing else to do. Luckily they are sending me the bill which is going to be a few hundred bucks.

     It will probably be around $300 since that is the amount I allotted for savings this month. Every time I set an amount for savings, that amount comes up as due for something like a car tax, teacher's house fee, new alternator, etc. It's amazing in an aggravating way.

4 Wasted Days
Friday, February 9th, 2007

     So this weekend is actually a 4 day weekend since I took Friday off. Monday is a holiday for some reason. We have holidays about once a month here and usually on Mondays. I don't like them since I have nothing to do and usually no money to spend. I really need to take up snowboarding since I live so close to the slopes. I could go a few times a week for night skiing from 5-9 as well as on weekends. That would be good exercise and something to do on weekends. I have the clothes so I am going to try to buy a board at a used shop sometime. I might wait until they go one wicked sales at the sports places in March. I could just rent the equipment, but there is a small practice slope at the school I could use. It's only about 100 meters long, but it's a practice slope. I could get some decent practice in.

     Today I cleaned the heck out of my place and the car. The car was priority one since it was embarrassingly dirty when they towed it. I had crap all over the place and it was really sad. There were a few bags of trash in the floor board and crap behind the seats. It was sad let's leave it at that. So I cleaned the car thoroughly and then the apartment and even mopped. I rearranged a bit, but not too much. Lastly I bought some tofu for lunch and made that. It was ok and it seems to have some good health benefits so I will try to eat more of it in the future. It's like solid air though, it has no taste and is really just a filler. I washed it down with a beer. Ha, not really.

     Once pay day comes around I should be able to clean a lot more. I am waiting to mail some packages to various places and they are just sitting on the table. Plus I have some clothes for the cleaners. Tomorrow I plan to clean out the lobby of the apartment since I have some boxes stored there and Monday is the box pickup day. I have to cut them up and wrap them in string, but that will be easy. I might try to make my mother's chicken soup recipe Monday if I can get lima beans. I makes a lot and should last me a few days.

Complete Moron.
Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

     I have no love for smokers. I think it is a nasty disgusting ignorant habit. But if you want to do it at home I don’t care. When you smoke in public, because you have some special rights, then you become an idiot, a rude completely self unaware idiot no less. Well it’s not even just in public, I can ignore it when you are outside. Although you don’t realize it makes your clothes smell like feces. Not just bad, like actual fecal matter. When you smoke in a small confined space with other people who may or may not smoke, that’s when you are eligible to be cast in Deliverance 2.

     I was in the parking garage near Koriyama station. There was this guy smoking and puffing everywhere. We were right by the machine where you pay and then get in the elevator to get your car and leave. Not only was he puffing away, but he had some small kids. I was coughing, and here’s the best part, so were the kids. Dear GOD, how completely #&%#&$ stupid do you have to be to A) smoke around kids and B) smoke while they are coughing. Then we turn around and wait for the elevator and see a sign that says in Japanese (that only I was able to read amazingly) No Smoking in the Parking Lot. That could be because they’d have to pick up butts all around the ground, it might bother other people, and what’s that other thing…oh all the gas in all the cars. But no, the guy can’t read it or doesn’t read it and keeps puffing away.

     Then, and here is the best part, we get into a small elevator. Me, a couple, smoky bear, his two kids. I was going to the 5th floor and he was going to the 6th. Around the second floor the closet-sized space was completely filled with smoke and the kids were coughing, then I couldn’t hold it back and I started coughing. Then my “make a point by any means necessary” gene kicked in and I turned to face him. I was still coughing loud and in his face. All the way to the 5th floor I was facing him and coughing loudly. He never got it. People like that shouldn’t be allowed to raise kids, much less be around them.

     Other than that I had a slow wasteful weekend. Friday I’ve already covered, Saturday and Sunday I stayed in cleaning and watching things on TV. A teacher videotaped the SuperBowl and I watched that as well as some other things. Then Monday, the holiday, I went back to Koriyama to get a saw so I could cut some things that I don’t want to explain now. I did all sorts of things, but forgot the saw. Sweet. The sole purpose in going to Koriyama was to get that saw. I did find some needed ingredients at the foreign foods store at the station and get some other things done, but no saw.

     We still haven’t received the English test results from last month. The interviews are this Sunday and they always have about two weeks to prepare. Since the answer sheets are those fill in the blank things, there is no reason why it should take longer than two weeks to process them. Really I think it should take less than that, but two weeks is fair. I mean those sheets go through the grader really fast. I would guess you could grade a thousand or more per hour. That’s 8-10,000 in one day on one machine. Surely there are multiple machines and temporary people whose job is to feed the tests through. Either way, there’s no excuse to have either not graded the tests or not tell us that there is a problem. We only have 3 days to practice if we get the results today.

I Heart You.
Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

     It’s Valentine’s Day here and in Japan girls give guys chocolate on V-Day. Then a month later, guys give girls chocolate on White Day, both of which are huge sales days. Last year I only got chocolate from three girls on V-Day. A senior and two 6th graders. Then on White Day I gave chocolate to every female at the school. Today I am expecting a better turnout than last year, although I’m really not supposed to eat chocolate since I have to retake the health check. I’m going to see if I can push that into March since I need time to exercise and change my eating habits. If they test me now the results will be the exact same and I am pretty sure they are expecting my condition to magically heal itself for the next test.

     I haven’t received as much chocolate as I expected, though it’s only 2pm. I figured it would pour in after lunch. Don’t get me wrong, in one sense I don’t want to get a lot since I shouldn’t be eating it, but also it feels good to know someone thought about you. And it feels bad to have kids give chocolate to the people on either side of you. A few kids mentioned they will give me some later. I won’t be mad since these are all country kids and don’t have immediate access to tons of money or getting around to stores.

     If it were cold today it would be snowing like mad. But what is the result of snow in warm weather? Rain. It’s been raining all day and turning all the snow into slush. That would be alright if it weren't for two things: it will most likely freeze and be all icy by tomorrow, and next week is our “play in the snow at Konan” day. Luckily I brought an umbrella since I had that impulsive ESP thought and then actually followed through with it. I also brought my camera since there is some special doll display in the special use room. (click photo for more info)

     Today some of the local high school teachers came to observe our classes. Mine wasn’t one of them, but the class that I am supposed to go to every week, but never go to was. The funny part was the principal and other English teacher told me to go watch the class. Then the principal said “you should help with the class you know”. I just said “yea”. I don’t mind not going since he is a fine teacher. Actually I should model some of my classes after his. He has nice structure and organization. He’s going to be a vice principal next year or the year after. But I don’t know any of those kids and I really don’t know their level, though from today I think it is quite high.

     Some kids just came in the teacher’s room and gave me a valentine’s package from a past teacher. I never taught with her, but she came to visit on that big city wide observation day in November. Later, around January, I sent her and some other teachers a CD with my Power Point presentation and the flash ABC game I made. She has thanked me a million times since. I guess that is good for her since I remember her name and will send her more as I finish them. Plus it’s just nice. I was surprised and slightly confused as to why the kids gave it to me, but then I realized she mailed it to them so they could deliver it to me on this day. It’s big and nice and will definitely cause pimples and stomach problems, but I’ll eat it anyway.

     This travel agent dude is walking around the room passing out flyers to people. He totally skipped me. He gave one to the lady beside me, then paused, then the person on the other side of me. I didn’t/don’t care since I couldn’t read it and wouldn’t be interested, but still it was funny. Even funnier was how the teacher beside me quietly pointed out how he skipped me. I don’t know if she was saying it was odd that he did since I am part of the group, or that it was good that he did since I am a foreigner. Oh well.

     Yea, I was wrong about the chocolate. The dam broke after school. As you can see, I received a fair share. Not as much as I expected, but enough to feel loved. One student even said “I love you”. She didn’t mean it like that, just that she really liked me, but still it was nice. [wait more kids coming] Booya, even more just arrived. Luckily I started making a list early on so I can “retaliate” properly when White Day comes around.


Dairy Queen
Thursday, February 15th, 2007

     It rained so much yesterday that most of the snow melted away, but none of that matters since it has snowed blizzard style since last night. There’s more than a foot on the ground in 12 hours or so. Students must have looked up the word for this since they keep saying “do you like blizzard?” When they say it I think of Dairy Queen’s Blizzard which I loved at one time. Now I can’t drink milk so I can’t enjoy the simple pleasures. It’s not a lactose thing, just a milk thing.

     I heard some kids were sick in the nurse’s room so I wrote some stupid little notes and gave it to them. They just said “get well soon” in Japanese with a dumb picture of me. I said I found it on the floor and they smiled. Then I found the 1st and 2nd graders in the big hall having some games day. There were various kinds of games and everyone was playing some and then moving around. One was Japanese badminton, another was marbles, yet another was some card flipping game. I joined in for a while and then left when they finished.

     We got the scores for the English test today. It said don’t open until Friday, but we both agreed that was stupid and opened. The people that I really wanted to pass did pass, but few didn’t. All the level 4 and 5 people did which was good. Especially the level 5 person since she is the only one of the 7th graders to pass. The two top levels didn’t pass, but one will next year. The other people had low levels and I wasn’t surprised.

     There are five, not very subtle, girls standing near my desk. They are sorting gifts for the day after valentine’s day for teachers. The cute, and cool, thing is they were verbally listing people to give chocolate, not very quietly, and one girl said “oh and Ryan”, then another said “oh of course Ryan, but who else”. That was nice. Then they started practicing “happy valentine’s day” and finally came over and said it while presenting their offering.

Konan Winter
Friday, February 16th, 2007

     I think I have the ability to will weather to change. Last night I was thinking about how it was more like what I heard a Konan Winter was like and then I tried to will the weather to show me how bad it could get. Well it’s pretty bad today. There is about 2 feet of snow on the ground (60 cm) and the wind is still blowing hard. It literally took me 30 minutes to walk to school. First because I could barely cross the road since the drainage line overflowed and then froze. There was about 10 feet of ice and I couldn’t cross or get around it for a while. Then the snow was above my knees and it was really hard to get through some places. Finally in the long stretch from Smile Mart to the school the wind was brutal and I couldn’t even look up at times, although now that I am at school it has calmed down. I should will it to snow even more, maybe the worst blizzard in the history of the world. Or maybe I should wait until payday so I can just stay in my apartment during the blizzard. (click photo for before and after shots)

     I just had a class with the 6th graders. They are far more advanced than I thought. I taught them about various country names to prepare them for next week when all the foreign teachers come. I suspect there will be some game involving “what’s your country?” so I taught them that phrase as well as the country names. I wrote the names of the countries on the board in English and I prepared to sound out each letter until they read. Nope. When I wrote them and pointed to one and said “what’s this” they all said “New Zealand”. Then I went through the other 6 and they read them all. Argh, but good for next year. I can hit them hard with vocabulary right off the bat. Later they walked around and asked each other “what’s your country” and responded with country names I gave them earlier.

     This was almost one of those lessons that I could have pre-made and just pull it out of the drawer and use it. That’s what I want to happen, but it will take a year or more. One year to have the lessons made and test them, then I could have them ready the second year with changes made. I guess I could still have them made and just adjust them as I go along.

Why am I here?
Sunday, February 18th, 2007

     Not in the philosophical sense, but the actual literal local sense. It’s Sunday and I am at school. Everyone is here and it’s classes as usual I think. I came in my brown suit with my long cashmere coat and the students surrounded me squealing “kakkoi” (that’s cool). Granted the coat is a little cool, but I didn’t think they would think it is that cool. Anyway, I thought the elementary kids had a ski day at some ski slope like the JHS kids did last Friday, but their ski day is at the small slope behind the school. That’s a little disappointing since it’s only 100 yards long and the worst part is, there’s no lift. You ski down in 2 minutes and walk up, sideways, for 30 minutes. They are all happy and smiling so I guess it’s fun for them, and it is huge relative to their size. I’ve seen some kids at the real slopes so I know they can ski there.

     As I said I dressed up, not to the nines, but in my nice brownish suit. I’m saving my black suit for graduation. I want to wear the black suit, a dark tie, and my shiny dark colored new shirt. It’s a pretty phat looking outfit, but this being Japan there is a set outfit one wears for graduation. It is the black suit, no stripes or whatever, a white shirt and a white tie. For funerals you dress like the bad guy from the Matrix with a black suit, white shirt, and black tie. Anyway, no one else is dressed up all that nice. So I get credit for overdressing I guess, but still I would rather have not dressed up for no reason.

      At one point I hated wearing suits, but now I like it. Since I bought some cool suits and outfits from Thailand, I want to dress nice more often. This year I wanted to get a corduroy blazer with dark patched elbows. I also want to take pictures of me sitting by a fire looking like some eccentric rich guy for my New Year’s cards this year, well technically next year. I wouldn’t mind getting a few more suits of varying styles. I don’t have any casual style suits, which is what I was going for with the corduroy blazer. There were two colors and I was sure the darker brown looked better, but the two girls in the lobby said the lighter color looked better. I have learned from experience to just stop right there. For some reason my brain insists on one style until I buy it and get it home then I realize it’s awful and never wear it. I hate it and don’t know why it happens, but I am learning to recognize it and prevent it.

     I willed it to snow like mad again. For some reason I thought it would be good to have a lot of snow today and it has become so. Luckily there is no wind so it’s just the heavy snow falling and sticking. Well somewhat sticking since it’s not as cold as it should be. Everyone in town keeps saying this winter is the anomaly. Usually it’s much deeper and cold everyday. It was much deeper last year and colder as best I remember. This year I am using my kerosene heater a lot more since it’s fast and cheap. I don’t mind the Japanese heating system, I have a problem with the lack of insulation. The second the heater goes off I can feel it get cold. After an hour the apartment is freezing and things start freezing. I’ve had virtually all the liquids in my apartment freeze at some point, well anything without alcohol.

     Tomorrow I will go into Koriyama and return E.T. since we are finished with it. The kids loved it and some cried. It’s fun to show a great movie and have kids chatting through it as usual and then there is suddenly total silence as they all get into it at once. I’ll also get something to eat somewhere nice, maybe Indian or something. I can’t do any real shopping until Wednesday or later though since that is payday and I have less than $50 left. I goofed this paycheck and sent back a lot, which was ok, but I had also planned a trip to Tokyo, a budget trip, but the goof was I spent $500 on various things that I semi-needed. Without that big expenditure I would be alright. I’m going to send back the same amount this time and either send a big chunk to the bill or send it somewhere else that I don’t want to get into now.

      Well I had better get back to translating this huge PTA packet I have about what will happen today. That would make things a lot easier. I usually translate these things and save the new words in an Excel spreadsheet with the kanji, reading, and English meaning. Soon I plan to make flashcards and drill these common kanji so I can just read these things rather than half-recognize most of the words. I will see a word and know part of it and look it up and then remember it, but I need to just see them and know the meaning. I can do that for several now, but I need to increase my vocab exponentially.  The photo on the left is a shot of all the memos I have received over one year. Well not even all of them since I tossed some. Yowzers. Don't forget to multiply this times 30 teachers. Most of them were read to us in a meeting. I can't even comprehend how wasteful it is. Well I can guess I can.

      As usual the special boxed lunch at school was tasty, but severely insufficient. I still have hunger pains as if I ate nothing. I’ll drink some water and have this miso soup, but I’ll still be hungry for a while. Speaking of food, I think something tragic is happening. When I went to the small supermarket in town recently there was a whole row of shelves taken down. I assumed they were rearranging or something, but today the kids wrote some skits in the senior English class and one group wrote “I want to go to sansho (the store), but it will close”. ARGH. That’s the nearest one for several miles. I think I’d have to drive about 30 minutes to get to the next nearest one. Argh again. I had planned to ride my bike to sansho during the summer (the bike I plan to buy), but now I won’t be able to. If this place closes it will keep me in the house even more since I’d have to buy a week’s worth of food at one time and just stay in and cook.

      There was a meeting for all the seniors where they talked about their memories from the past three years. Parents were invited to attend and it was it in the big special hall of the JHS. I went for a while even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow what all was going on. I ended up leaving early since Japanese people have no volume control and it’s socially acceptable to talk while others are talking. I was in the back of the room about 50 feet away from the students speaking. Then the non-speaking students were sitting and behind them the parents, near me. At first everyone was chatting, then it started and they all stopped. Then as the kids started speaking the parents were talking to each other full volume. It’s the shear stupidity of it that makes me want to scream. There’s nothing culturally different about it, it’s flat out rude. Why can no one see this? It would be one thing to be whispering slightly loud, but it’s full volume plain and simple. I had to leave I was so annoyed.

     There was a long meeting in the big hall with all the teachers and the parents. I got there early and sat in a strategic location. I made sure several teachers were between me and the parents and other important people. That way I could practice Japanese. I was writing various things in a few notebooks, small notebooks, I have. Things such as important phrases and so on. I would look up occasionally and nod and clap when others did. I managed to snap a photo of where I was sitting, but as I did one of the teachers in front of me stood up and there I was with my phone taking a photo of something. ARGH. You could see how I would be blocked if she was still sitting there. Anyway the meeting flew by since I wasn't paying any attention to it. They were talking about the PTA budget and some other stuff that didn't involve me. Then they elected a new PTA chairman and officers. I said the obligatory Japanese phrase to him later.

      Luckily we did have the meeting as shown above so I looked alright in my suit. Other teachers dressed down during the morning classes and then slipped into a suit for the afternoon meeting. I should really have a change of clothes there since it's annoying having to wear a suit the whole day sometimes. I wore my brown suit as I said above and a yellow shirt. The yellow shirt doesn't have a button down collar, which I insist upon, but I wore it anyway. Though I probably won't wear non-buttoned down collars anymore. I walked all the way home and probably around the school for a while with my stupid collar sticking out of not only my jacket, but also my outer jacket. I just looked stupid and self-unaware. I caught it when I got home and glanced in the mirror. Maybe if I run fast enough I could catch air and take off. Idiot.

Preparing for war.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

     I hate it when I have some system of doing something running really efficiently and then I no longer need it. I was sorting kid’s names into groups and had all the Koriyama JET names laid out in front of me. I would check the spreadsheet and find a kid’s name and then his/her group and then search for the foreigner’s name. I quickly got really efficient at finding the names and was doing it fast. Then after about 10 minutes, it was over. I wanted more names. I’m really good at this now. I can do it fast. Argh.

     Tomorrow is going to be fun, but it’s more or less nothing like I wanted it to be. I really should have known better since I am Mr. Negative, but I foolishly thought I could plan this by myself and have it done in a new different and foreign way. But alas, everything was filtered through a Japanese meat grinder until it came out nice and easy to chew. The really amazing thing about Japanese culture is how they always seem to get what they want and still have the loser feel good about it. It’s like “sure we can do it that way, that’s great, woo hoo, oh yea”, then the next time it’s “yea that sounds great, you know we could also do this…”, then “oh yea your way is fine, but we should find a way to work in this…”, later “we also need to work this and this in”, finally “Ah yes, this is great you did a great job”. But the end result is nothing like the plan.

     I wanted to have all the Koriyama JETs and all the kids doing something all morning. We could have different activities going on and maybe play in the snow a bit, and then they would all eat lunch together. But now we have a 5 minute “get in a group” activity, then hopefully 30 minutes of activity time, and finally 10 minutes (or more) of taking photos of groups. But those are ideal times and things never run that smoothly. When I suggested my plan at first it was like “oh my GOD three periods of English”. Yea, why didn’t I expect that?

     I know I sound like I am negative about everything, but I really came to Japan with an open mind. When I visited here in ’98 to study in Tokyo, I loved it and really wanted to come back. That’s the trick, when you visit Japan, or know some Japanese person, you get a whole different view of it. You have to work in Japan for more than a year in a Japanese workplace where everyone, especially the top brass, is Japanese. That’s when the real culture starts to show it’s head. I had a blast in Tokyo, and I am having a great time now, but the culture keeps slapping me in the face. I seem negative because I have seen a pattern of certain things and grown to expect them. I am happily surprised when I am wrong.

     It’s 7pm and I am no where near finished. I have so much to do for tomorrow. I was prepared, but then “it was decided” some events should happen inside. By some I mean all. So then I told the guy who is a liaison between the Koriyama JETs and the board of education about it being inside and he was politely not happy. I wanted it outside, but when I mentioned that certain teachers would say “hmmmm”, which is the closest thing to “no” or “would rather not” as you can get in Japanese. So then I said to heck with it, we are having it outside so now I have to re-prepare what I had ready for the inside activity.

And so it begins…
Wednesday, February 21, 2007

     The weather is perfect, but…last night it went to negative absolute Kelvin so everything is frozen. Everything includes the snow. So we can have the activities outside, but the snow will be hard and not fun. But it is a beautiful day. Cold, but sunny and no clouds. I tried to prepare for one activity, but since even the fence was frozen I’m going to have to change some things. Also last night the liaison guy suggested a new way of playing some game so I’ll have to more or less make that one up on the spot. I have an idea of how it will work, but I’m not sure of a few things. Well I have been through all the plans 100 times and triple checked everything so all I can do now is go with the flow and tackle anything that pops up. I have learned, through various ways, you can never account for everything, but you can anticipate a lot of things.

     You know what might be my biggest pet peeve? When someone is supposed to be somewhere at a certain time and they are late AND they aren’t answering their mobile phone. They might have a great reason such as being in a tunnel or being held hostage or they are drowning, but I get so mad anyway. I guess it’s because if there is an existing time deadline and I am going to be near it or past it, I always call and let people know I will be late. Especially if others are waiting on me or something is leaving. I understand people are late sometimes and might not be able to use the phone, but it still annoys me when I can reach someone for a long time. And yet on the same token there are times when I don’t answer my phone. Granted I always call people back if I miss the call or I try to answer the phone and say I can’t chat now.


     Well it’s all over and for the most part it went great. Several activities were completely changed and one was even dropped. Last night they told me there would be a brief welcome ceremony this morning. I was really trying to avoid that since it was an international event and we don’t have Japanese style welcome ceremonies before every event. But Japanese people do so we had one. I didn’t plan for it so it ruined the first plan. They had a welcome speech, a 6th grader read some English, the kids sang the school song and then that song the Japanese lady wrote about the area. Both are nice and both take 3 minutes. Then the kids chatted for 5 minutes while I was trying to get things organized. Then the “find your team leader” activity took way too long since the kids were too shy to ask people their names. Then we decided to have the first activity outside so people had to change clothes. Once we got outside I looked at the clock and realized we had 10 minutes until the end of the class so I said forget the game, just play in the snow.

     For the second group we reduced the English part, but still had time for the game. Mostly because the kids got into their snow gear early and walked out to the area and waited. Once we played the game for a few minutes then we said they could sled down the hill. Not everyone went down, but most people did. They said that was the most fun part of the day. Then we came back in and had an indoor activity where the kids asked the foreigners questions. It was a nice relaxing one after the outdoor running one. Finally we all had lunch together and then took some photos together and the kids got signatures. Then as the Koriyama JETs left the kids lined up and shook their hands as they said goodbye. Some kids cried.

     It was a great day for everyone overall. The kids had a blast and were exposed to various cultures, accents, and faces. The foreign teachers all said the kids were cute. That’s true, but they only saw them for an hour and everyone, even the bossy kids, acted great. I still say they are all great though. Everyone has some bossy family member, but you still love them I’m really glad we were able to do it here. There are some changes I would have made if it were only my plan, but if you teach in Japan you’ve got to be able to adapt on the fly. The only things that bothered me were how we were subtly forced to accept Japanese culture at various times. It would be small things like when I had everyone lined up and ready to go and someone pointed out we hadn’t taken a group photo. I suggested we do it at the end, but that was politely shot down. Start an event in Japan without taking a photo? Well…I never. It's not like the Japanese are known for taking photos all the time...Then it took ten minutes because we always take 10 photos. So that took 10 minutes with all the chatting, stalling, lining up, adjusting, posing, picture taking, then re-lining up.

     Tomorrow I think I am going to take a half day off and get some things done in Koriyama. Priority one is transferring money back to the US. Then there are a few things I want to buy. Finally I need to mail a few packages to various world locations. Most of all it will just be a break from the norm even though I have to come back to school around 3-4 and do more interviews. Man I am so tired now I can barely stay awake. I have to keep walking around and doing things to get my blood flowing.

Why I’m Not Good at Math.
Friday, February 23, 2007

     Math requires a certain logical way of thinking. Although I think I am logical about many things, I cannot do difficult math. I don’t have that type of logic. I took Algebra 3 times in college and finally squeaked by. I can’t do fractions and certain math questions make no sense. One example was when my friend Liz and I were watching the show Numbers. It’s about the FBI using math to solve crimes. They always throw in some math tidbit at some point and this one in particular confused me.

     They said if you have three cards with three different images on the back and say you are trying to flip around one particular image. Say it’s a game show and if you flip the card with a Cadillac on it you get the car. So you guess card A and then they flip C. It’s not C and now you have the option of keeping card A or choosing card B, what do you do? For me it’s 100% irrelevant since each card has an equal chance. At first they all have a 33.33333% chance of being correct, when you eliminate one the chances move up to 50% and A could be the car as much as B could. But the answer is yes you change, because B now has some greater chance. It was so simple and logical to Liz, but I can’t even begin to understand why they aren’t 50%. She explained it 10 times and it never once made a shred of sense to me. My parents would just say “oh you aren’t concentrating or you don’t really want to understand”, but that’s not it at all.

     So the reason I am writing about this is because I planned to use the ESL game I am making in class today. Last night I wrote out about 100 questions for the cards that are drawn when people land on certain squares. Then today I came in and copied them onto colored paper. Then I was cutting the paper thinking about how fun it would be, hopefully. As I am cutting I am thinking, “man each of the 4 categories has 4 sheets of about 15 questions, that’s a lot of cutting, but the class will enjoy it. We can play in groups of 4-6 and there are 24 kids so that would be 4-6 different groups which…..oh…..wait…..crap…..that means I have to cut 240 cards PER GROUP and there might be 6 groups…..I’m an idiot”. Now I don’t have a plan for that class. ARGH. I guess we are watching another movie. POO. Lots of Poo.

     Yesterday I took off 4 hours and ran some errands. One was to eat lunch at the nice place I always go to as a treat. There’s always an hour long line so I timed it that I would be waiting at 11:30 when they open. I wanted to be first so I would get the two person counter. Otherwise he puts me at a table for 6 and then a group of six comes in and I feel stupid for taking up the whole table. I always eat too fast and he sees me and tells me to take my time, but I can’t. So I get there and wait and he opens the door and I run in and see two stupid morons sitting at my counter. HOW did these Chimp #&%$##-ers get in before me and why are two people sitting at the one person bar? Sit at a table or something chumps. Argh, well luckily no big group came in until the very end so I could eat in peace.

     Then I went to the beer garden to ask about a party we might have there. It might be 50-100 people so I wanted to go and physically make sure they understood me. They said it was ok, but the latest time we could go in would be 6:30 and that’s not going to cut it since we are finishing skiing at 4:30 and that is an hour away. So now I have to look for a place that can hold a lot of people, but we still don’t know how many are coming.

     I’m filling out an application for a language school I want to go to during Spring break. I plan to take a class in the morning and then have a private lesson in the afternoon. There are several things I need to get a straight answer on and really start doing right. Anyway, the application asked for things like name, address, employer, nationality, and other relevant things. Then it started asking for things like my college educational record and major. I skipped the transcript thing and wrote Graphic Arts. Then they asked all sorts of other strange questions and I just ignored them. I hate it when places ask stupid things to the point that it sounds like they just want to play office. “Oh I have another form I’d better file it and then create a report based on blah blah.” You don’t need to know my college major. You could ask “did you major in Japanese or another language?” But why do you need my college record? I’ve been to mechanics (in the US) and they asked stupid questions that had nothing to do with my car. Yet oddly, if someone in Japan asked my blood type I wouldn’t find that as odd.

     Speaking of which, this is so Japanese. I went to have sushi sometime last week. As I was paying I noticed there was a new manager’s photo on the wall. I’m giving the lady the money and reading his profile. Oh I see he is from a coastal town and he majored in something that looks like restaurant management (which seems to be going well for him), hmmm what else…he’s married and then what’s that? It says A gata. What is gata? Is that like he is the top of the class or something or some award. Wait….oh my god….gata means blood type. That’s his blood type. I can’t imagine how funny that would be if someone posted a “new manager” sign with the person’s blood type in the US. It would probably be on the news or something. I can almost understand asking about blood types for match making couples, but at a sushi restaurant? Wow. And yet part of me finds it to be normal.

     There is something going on about the day all the Koriyama JETs came out here. Yesterday I heard the vice principal asking the 6th grade teacher about something related to the day. It sounded like “what activity did they do” or something. Then today there is some visitor and the principal asked the VP about something related to the AETs and now the VP is on the computer trying to find some file. I don’t know if it is a problem or what, but they are not including me in their reindeer games (or discussions).

     I just had a near nervous breakdown on the phone. I called the beer garden to let them know we wouldn’t be able to have our gathering there. I told the guy named Watanabe that I would call him by Monday, but we already know we can’t do it so I figured I would call before they made any preparations. Well he wasn’t there and I asked the lady if I could leave a message. It was at this point that I started free talking and she figured out I was a foreigner. Up until then I was saying all the required things you say when calling somewhere and I was doing it fast so she might have though I was Japanese. But now I had to explain various things and my grammar started slipping. I asked a simple question “can I leave a message” and she replied with “hello?” Ok, maybe she didn’t hear me or she was checking something or whatever. So I said “can I leave a message for Watanabe?” Again she replied with “hello” which is what Japanese people do when they don’t understand something. So I said “message” about 5 different ways and she kept saying she didn’t understand. Then she asked if I made a reservation and I said no so she said when do I want to make a reservation. I said I didn’t, I just need to talk to Watanabe. I asked if he would be working later or tomorrow and she said she didn’t know, but she could take my reservation. I told her I didn’t have one yet, but wanted to let Watanabe know that we couldn’t make it “please tell Watanabe the 100 foreigners won’t come on the 3rd of March. She replied with “hello”. I swear if you say that one more time I am going to reach through the phone and slap you. I said “Please tell Watanabe we cannot come on the 3rd of March”. She asked if I want to make a reservation. I said “please listen carefully, the 100 foreigners under the name Ryan cannot come on the 3rd of March. We didn’t make a reservation, I talked to Watanabe about it yesterday.” She replied with “hello”. I SWEAR ON ALL THAT IS SACRED AND HOLY IF YOU SAY THAT ONE MORE TIME… Then I said “does Watanabe work tomorrow” she asked if I want to make a reservation. I said “does Watanabe work tomorrow…does Watanabe work tomorrow…does Watanabe work tomorrow…does Watanabe work tomorrow…does Watanabe work tomorrow…does Watanabe work tomorrow…does Watanabe work tomorrow…does Watanabe work tomorrow…” I was saying it fine and she was just asking stupid nonsense questions. Finally I said “nevermind I will call back later”. She replied with “hello”. I just made some angry half-pig half-duck mutant squeal and hung up the phone.

     That’s a huge aggravating thing about Japan. Foreigners cannot speak Japanese. Even if they are speaking Japanese, they can’t. I know a Taiwanese girl who is fluent and looks Japanese. People understand her perfectly until she says her name and explains she is foreign then nothing she says makes sense. She says it’s really annoying and I can totally understand. I know that my Japanese is not perfect and I make a lot of mistakes, but this lady just locked up when I deviated from the allowable phrases slightly. Not everyone does it, especially face to face, but when it happens it makes my blood pressure hit the roof. Even when I was speaking really wrong no tones Thai people figured out what I meant and would correct me. So now I will call back later and if she answers then I will hang up and try again later.

     It’s so weird how Japanese people cannot talk slow to foreigners. She could hear I was making simple mistakes and should know I was not a native Japanese person, but she continued to speak full complete sentences at full speed. I’ve had that happen thousands of millions of times. When I speak to someone and hear they are not a native English speaker I slow down a bit. If they are from somewhere like India that does speak English, I’ll speak slightly slower, but not enough to make it sound like I am slowing down. I adjust it according to the situation. But Japanese people have two options, full speed or not talking. There’s also full volume or not talking. I really want to understand the culture, but it’s so opposite from what I am used to and that makes it really hard. I have several books about why it’s like it is, and they are helpful, but there is so much to take in.

     I sometimes try to play cards in class using games that can have English in them. On the surface it’s a great idea playing Go Fish and having kids say “do you have any ___, yes I do, no I don’t”. Ideally they would say that phrase over and over and really understand it. Then they would be able to use it comfortably in other situations when they needed to ask “do you have any ___”. But it never works out that way. They do it like that for a minute, then they stop and revert back to either Japanese or just no English. Then some groups get sneaky and switch to another game. Sometimes I let them play if they again use English. But as usual that only lasts for a few minutes. It’s depressing sometimes.

     What’s really depressing is my lack of planning. Sometimes I just can’t think of a good lesson and then I fall back on playing cards and then that turns into them just playing and using no English. I really want to have some pre-made lessons that I can just pull and go, or maybe pull and copy and go. I feel like even though they are having fun in my class, I am doing them a grave disservice by letting them play games. I have good intentions, but that doesn’t count for much. Not only am I a fat greasy slab of hog meat, but I am also a pathetic sack of abused gorilla vomit. Though my weekly diary plan seems to be working well.

Can Apes Throw Things?
Monday, February 26, 2007

     Clearly they can throw things like feces, but can they throw things in a way that said things land in a certain area? I am amazed at how accurate humans can lob something to another person, especially when one person is running like in football. The mental calculations that take place within a second are amazing. On several occasions I have tossed something across the room to a kid and it would land right in from of the target person. More or less right in a 6 inch zone of where I wanted it to go and it was from across the room. I don’t know why that’s so amazing to me, but it is.

     Saturday I went to Koriyama to do several things. The main reason was I wanted to find a nightclub / restaurant that could seat everyone for our ski day after party. Unfortunately most places require 1-2 weeks notice and I won’t know the final number until Wednesday at the earliest. It might be upwards of 100 people which is more or less impossible. It was supposed to be at the beer garden, but they require us to get there by 6:30 and the last lift up the slope is at 4:30 which means people won’t finish until 5ish and then start to leave around 5:30ish and won’t arrive in Koriyama until 6:30 and will want to change and rest a bit. So we had to axe that idea, which would have been perfect. The only way that would work is for us to take a bus directly from the slopes to the BG, but people would still want to change and what not.

     Then I bought a few small things for the house, even though it still added up to be $200 worth. It was just a few small $10-30 purchases and then I had no money in the wallet. I always think “hey it’s only $25 and I have $200 so no worries”. But I do that 5 times and keep saying $200. Anyway, then I bought some food and ingredients for various things I am trying to cook. I made good pancakes with natural Canadian Maple Syrup. Tonight I will be making homemade pizza, even though dough. In the future I am going to try funnel cakes and Low Country Boil, as well as some casseroles.

     This morning I really and truly planned to get to school early and run in the gym with the kids. I woke up early and got ready, took a shower, and then looked at the clock and I was about to be late. Late as in late to school, not late to being early to run. Where did the time go? Seriously, did I pass out standing up in the shower for 30 minutes? I’m going to have to set my clock to get up even earlier.

     I am excited about making pizza tonight. Last week I made some pseudo-pizza on bread things, but tonight I am even making the dough and I have more toppings. I will document the finished product in a thorough manner. If the taste is pleasing then I will document the process of making said pizza. I still need to find a larger pan. Later I will experiment with cream cheese and some other nice pizzas I’ve sampled in the past.

Not Gonna Happen.
Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

     I brought my running clothes and got here early, but I just couldn’t run. I went to the elementary gym and changed clothes, but it was so cold that I couldn’t do anything. I mean I might as well have been outside in Antarctica. I was shaking and just couldn’t move, plus there were no kids there. I could have possibly put up with it if there were kids there running too, but since no one else was and I was approaching hypothermia, I had to back out. I guess I have to wait until the spring.

     Since I have my clothes and running shoes (my indoor shoes) I will try to run later when my body and the school heat up. I have no plan-classes today, only three that I attend as an ALT. I’m hoping to get a lot done today as far as planning next year’s curriculum and some other small things.

     I made the pizza last night and it came out so so. For the most part it was my fault for using a stupid recipe. The sauce and toppings were great, but I tried to make my own bread dough and that was where the problem came. As I was making it I knew something was wrong since there was no “wait 2 hours for it to rise” part. Everything else made sense, but without that it was just runny dough. Then I threw it in the oven for five minutes to help it along, but that just made it tough. Not done, just tough. I put the sauce and toppings on it anyway and cooked it for a while at 425, but when I finished the crust was like a foam mattress. I ate it anyway since the toppings were great. I’m searching for a real crust recipe, one with a rising wait period. At that point it should be better.

      It looks like I will be going back to a language school in Tokyo over spring break. There are two reasons why I am going to this one in particular. I’ve been there before so I know how they teach and that way is by showing a grammatical structure and then drilling it for 5 minutes. It works well for me. The other reason is because I can live with Daisuke for the week which saves $50+ a night x 6 nights. It will be well under a $1,000 week with the language school being $700 of that. That’s still a great price for 4 hours of private tutoring per day. It would be 8 hours of classes, but there are only a few people signed up and most likely won’t be the same level as me. That will be relatively cheap and most of all really needed. I need a burst of Japanese improvement and this should do it. I could just stay around to save money, but this is an investment and will make my life easier.

     No bill from the car place about my alternator replacement. I’m still worried though I do expect it to be around $300-500. I’ve budgeted for that though I might still ask to pay over two months. I didn’t really budget so much as have decided to not save that money and put it towards the car. Argh. That money was really going to make a big dent in my 2nd debt. That’s going to take longer than planned to pay off, but I can still kill it by June. Then I hope (barring some new unexpected expense) to send back $1,000 a month for a few months to save a bit. Oh well there’s the flight back to the US in December, that will be a big expense. I’m not going anywhere, as in a foreign country, during the summer so I can save money then. But then there is my $1,500 car emissions fee and immediately after my $450 weight tax. So apart from all that, and any other unexpected expenses, then I should be able to send back $1,000. I think if I can pay all those things and still have 3-4 grand in the bank, I will be alright.

     The principal just walked in (around 8:30am) and anyone with a hopeful political future shot up to attention and eagerly greeted him with a shower of “good mornings”. Whereas people like myself, the secretary, a P.E. teacher and some assistant teachers just sat at our desks working and mumbled something out of the sides of our mouths. That sounded like we have multiple mouths. The two VPs were the first to jump up since they will be principals soon, I’d say within 10 years. One or both of the vice principals are almost always here. They arrive around 7am and stay until 9pm or so. I’ve seen their cars here on several weekends as well. Not that there is any chance a foreigner would be a VP, but if there were, I would never want to be one.

     Today there is some “Viking” feast for lunch. That actually means buffet style, though today won’t be buffet in the sense of going back for more. Only that there will be food on a table that we can choose and take in predetermined too-small portions. It’s some special lunch with the seniors and I seem to remember it last year. I had no real connection with the seniors last year so I didn’t care, but I really like these kids (for the most part) so it will mean more.

     I didn’t eat breakfast today mainly because I never do and yesterday was just the oddball day since I had pancakes and yummy maple syrup. So the consequence of eating it one day and not the other days is that now I am deathly hungry. My stomach acid is eating through the outer lining it’s so bad. I never eat breakfast because I always, minus a few vegetarian meals in Thailand, get bad heartburn before lunch. So far I haven’t found much of anything that doesn’t cause it. I know it’s better for losing weight, but that doesn’t make my heartburn go away. I also get deathly hungry around lunch when I eat breakfast, but if I don’t have anything I am fine.


      Oh I was wrong about the lunch. There was food galore. I went back twice and stopped eating only because I was bursting at the seams. It was good too. It was this fried shrimp thing with some chicken nuggets, a tasty salad type thing, strawberries, kiwis and bread. My first portion was decent sized, but when I saw everyone had sat down and there was still a whole second serving leftover, I knew it would be fine. I waited for another teacher to get seconds first and then I dug in. Later the younger teachers, who are in the political future group, walked around passing out every last remainder of food. I ended up leaving with an extra piece of bread. It was a good meal.

     Almost all the snow has melted since it’s warm everyday. It’s so opposite from last year and I wonder how it will be next year. It started out slow and late, but when I came back from Thailand it hit hard and heavy. Since then when it snows it pours, but also melts the next day. I remember so many more days last year that were snowy and windy and bitter cold. I wonder if it is an anomaly as they say or if global warming is taking effect faster.

     Here is a strange conversation I had today. I think that’s my purpose in Japan, to amuse Japanese people with my inability to learn the language. This came from me trying to make something polite which ended up backfiring. Luckily it was with the English teacher, though all in Japanese, at least until the hysterical laughter.


Me: Where can I rent a homosexual?
Eh, you want to rent a homosexual?
Me: Sure, but just for a day.
Why do you want to rent a homosexual for a day?
Me: For cooking.
You want to rent a homosexual to cook for you?
Me: Yes, and it would need to be a big one.
Why do you want to do this?
Me: For the international festival next year.
And the homosexual would do all the cooking?
Me: Sure if it is big enough, I think I would only need one.
Why do you need a homosexual for the international festival?
Me: It would make it easier to have one big one rather than a few smaller ones.
I have no idea where you would rent a homosexual. Why don’t you ask your friends?
Me: Oh, well I figured you could ask whoever rented them last week.
Who rented what?
Me: Last week when the three homosexuals came to the school.
When? On the PTA day? Did you ask people if they are homosexual?
Me: I asked the vice principal and he said they were homosexuals.
Who were?
Me: The three outside.
I don’t remember who was outside.
Me: The lunch ladies.
Three of the lunch ladies are homosexual?
Me: They were using three to cook lunch.
Let me ask the lunchroom chief.

Him: Did you rent three homosexuals last week for the PTA day?
Yes, didn’t you see them? We used them to cook lunch.
Him: What?! No I didn’t. Were they male or female? Where did you get them?
Male or female? You can’t really tell. I mean they are both or neither.
Him: Last week you rented three homosexuals to cook lunch?
Well we don’t call them homosexuals, we just say kettles.

     The word for homosexual is Okama. The word for kettle or pot is KAMA. To make things polite in Japanese you add an O or sometimes GO. For some strange reason when I added the O I didn’t hear the other word, probably because I didn’t play the conversation in my head first. I was just trying to speak and practice Japanese. The best part was when the lunchroom chief misheard it as well and thought he was saying kettle. When I redid the conversation in English, after the laughter subsided, he still didn’t know where or how much they were. I want to use the kettle to cook a huge low country boil for next year, and I would provide my own help…

Getting Better.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

     The pizza process is getting much better. Last night it was 100% better than the previous night though I still have some crust related kinks to work out. Last night I used a crust mix that actually rose, though possibly not long enough. I let it rise for about an hour and then kneaded it. Then another almost hour and then used it. In the oven it rose again and made a slightly overflowing deep dish style crust. Again not terrible, but still not perfect. I’m not really skilled at working with dough which is most likely my problem. It took me a while to figure out that flour repels dough and water makes it stick to my hands. I think once I get a proper pan and practice a few more times, it will be pretty good. The sauce was great, no issues there.

     This weekend is going to be busy, but for another person it’s going to be even busier. One person is planning both the ski day on Saturday and cooking something at the Big Palette Global Citizens Festival on Sunday. I am going to Chuo High School’s graduation (the night school from 2 years ago) on Friday, then leaving around 6:30am to drive to the ski place and snowboarding all day and then home for a bit and finally to the Big Palette festival on Sunday. I’ll leave here around 7am and get there early to help Amy set up, prepare, and then cook all day. So it will be busy for me, but slammed for her. The worst part is she is in Tokyo all this week at a conference for people leaving Japan.

     We had some past Olympic weight lifter come by and give a talk to the kids. It was all the JHS students and the 5-6th graders. I’m glad the younger kids weren’t there because they can’t sit still that long. I watched for about an hour and two a shot of him lifting 66 Kg over his head and then I came back to the teacher’s room and printed some things I didn’t want to print with teachers around. One thing was a color image of Jambalaya for the festival this weekend, as well as some big signs. The other thing was an activity I am doing with the seniors today. They are writing some small message to most all the teachers, well all the teachers that teach in the JHS or have taught them. I’m really hoping they can do it fast since this is the last class and it will be hard to keep it a secret from other teachers after this. I want to give it to the teachers at the farewell party along with a framed photo of the class. Hopefully I can do that, but it might cost too much. The frame would be from the $1 store, the photo might be $1 each so that’s $2 a teacher and there are about 20-30 teachers I think. We’ll see.

     After school there was some big teacher's meeting in the principal's office and I managed escape casually. Luckily I can use my "foreigner card" and say either I didn't know or I need to help a student with something. There's just no way I could have sat through another full speed meeting about something that didn't concern me. I sat through most of the two hour weight lifting "always do your best and try to overcome the odds" pep rally that was all in Japanese (as it should be). I went to the gym to help the kids prepare for the graduation coming up. I had so many plans for graduation, but then I looked up one day and it was Feb 28th and there was no time to do them. I helped the kids put this sign up since it was about 10 feet off the ground at the top and I had to stand on some milk crates. If you can't read it, the top 4 posters say (L-R) 3-nen-sei-o and the bottom three say okuru-kai. It's a send off party for the seniors from the lower ranks. I kept arguing that the 3 is tilted slightly to the left, but they insisted it was straight.

     I am listening to "Dueling Banjos" the theme song from Deliverance, which was filmed in Georgia back in the 70s. I guess the Georgia hick in me is still there because I jumped up and start dancing around slapping my feet and legs. Then I caught myself in the mirror and thought "dear god what am I doing?" I don't even know why I am typing this.

On to March...








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