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Sunday, January 11, 2009

     More to come soon, but I'm back from 3 weeks with the parents. It was 70 degrees there (18C) and it is about 18F here with 3 feet of snow (and counting). Argh.

Back in the SwingÖ
Tuesday, January 13, 2009

            Today was the first day back to the regular schedule. Most other AETs and NTs came back last Wednesday, but I booked my flight to leave Atlanta on the 8th which meant arriving on the 9th. In retrospect I should have left earlier since I was really bored sitting at home with the parents overeating everyday. Actually every meal. We would eat a huge breakfast, then go out and have some huge lunch somewhere and then follow that up with a huge dinner. A few days I just couldnít do anything other than lie on the couch watching TV. One day we ate at Ted Turnerís Montana Grill which serves Bison. Itís supposedly leaner than chicken and it tasted rather well. We ate at home mostly, but the meals were some oversized casserole of sorts.

            My flight back was ok. It was about 9 hours to Minneapolis and then 2 down to Atlanta. There was only a slight delay on the runway since we had to be de-iced. I did realize one thing that I had thought of before. People are stupid. In general, people are just selfish moronic idiots. I am amazed at how consistently the obnoxious people on a flight end up being the Christian missionaries and the best passengers are military. This time there was some jerk arguing with the check in lady about upgrading his seat. He didnít like his placement and made several rude comments to her. Then on the plane again he started out nice with the flight attendant, but when she replied the flight was full he started to be rude again. Toward the end of the flight he started talking, slightly too loud of course, about how he was returning from a missionary trip somewhere. Something similar happened on the way back, again with missionaries being the cause, but this time they were just loud teenagers acting like normal loud teenagers. Later someone asked where they were going and magically they matured and explained they were going to Thailand to spread the good word. As loudly as they could apparently.

            My seating on the way back was crap. I am really sick of Delta and wished they werenít they airline that flew direct from Japan to the US. I specifically reserved the front bulkhead row middle seat. There is no physical way in any form of hell that I would have reserved the seat I was in. I was in the middle seat about 3 rows back. It was extremely too narrow and I had to eat like I was a T-Rex. I couldnít sleep, because I couldnít recline nor stretch my legs. The awesome pre-teen behind me kept kicking my seat and the guy beside me slept most of the trip. I will almost never wake someone to get out which makes me miserable. Then the entertainment system messed up, just like the last Delta flight I was on. The food was good though, Iíll give them that.

            The other annoying thing is it was a 15 hour flight, thatís fine, so we ate lunch around 3 hours into the flight. Then we chilled a bit. Then they shut the windows so we could sleep so I took my two Nyquil gelcaps which put me in a coma. I never made it into said coma since the seat was designed for a newborn (many of which were screaming around me). So then I start to get drowsy and didnít fully doze off, but went into a sleepy state. Then there was about 9 hours left on the flight so I figured they would wake us up around 2-3 hours from landing to feed us again. So I should have 6-7 hours to sleep and then the meal and then landing. Nope, they served some stupid (and yet tasty) sandwich at 6 hours to landing and then the meal at 2, so that totally disrupted my sleep chance. Once I am woken up once or twice I am up for good.

            Getting to the airport in December was interesting. I took a direct bus with some friends. We met at Erinís apartment at midnight on December 20th (morning) and then made our way to the station for the 1:20am bus. The bus was supposed to get us to the airport around 6:30 or later, but since there was no traffic we made it by 5:45am which gave us another awesome hour to kill. We were literally the first people in the airport for several hours. Then we helped some lost girl get to Korea. Then I had to leave for my flight at 4:30 (I left around 2 something). We just sat there talking and sleeping and walking around. It wasnít really as bad as I expected and time seemed to go by faster than I thought.

            Getting to the airport in Atlanta was more difficult. There was some traffic and we were a tad later than we planned, which was 2 hours in advance. Then I found a fast check in and was in earlier than I thought. I realized in Atlanta (and other cities I think) there is no exiting immigration. In Japan and Thailand and Cambodia and Taiwan and so on, you pass through immigration and they check you out of the country. In the US, you just go to the plane after the security screening. That was ok and yet surprising.

            I got back on Friday around 4 and went to a capsule hotel where I crashed until 6am. Then I went walking around and got breakfast at both McDonaldís and this meat-rice place I love. Then I had Starbucks. The coffee caused me to find a bathroom and I managed to find the cleanest and nicest ones in Japan. Iím not even being sarcastic, the public bathrooms in the Asakusa shrine are super cool and really nice. I encourage using them whole heartedly. Later I made my way to Shinjuku to take the JR bus to Koriyama, but all of them were full so I took the shink instead. It was only $35 more and actually more comfortable and shorter. Then I took a bus to my car and drove home. I had my bags delivered that day between 6-8pm. Itís a super convenience and only costs $35 for two huge heavy bags.
Click image for my Capsule Hotel page.

            Since then I have been unpacking and catching up on things. A friend got me into World of Warcraft which is an amazingly big online role playing game. I never got into all the dungeons and dragons stuff, but this is pretty cool. I am actually more interested in the 3D programming involved. It would literally take me weeks to constantly run around in it and explore everything, itís huge.

            My main goal of the whole year is losing weight. Iíd also like to save some money since I am tired of living check to check and constantly being broke. Right now I have about $200 to my name, total. Thatís sad and not good for my retirement future. Iím actually going to stop typing this now and read about some creatine and whey protein stuff.

Last Winter I HopeÖ
Monday, January 19, 2009

            This should be the last winter I spend in Konan since I hope to be moving to Koriyama in April.  I like Konan, but the winters are harsh and the houses are pathetic. I should try to say something nice about it, but really thereís not too much. Itís clean and has no mice or critters, but there is no insulation and huge gaping holes in the walls. They arenít things that arenít supposed to be there, I mean the window will have a big area where air passes right in. I bought some foam insulation, but it can only do so much. The second I turn off the heater I can feel it start getting cold and shortly itís freezing. I think the heater is forcibly pushing the cold air out and when I cut it off it starts coming back in. The front wall is literally more than 50% window, just two huge sliding glass windows that I hate. I have no balcony to hang clothes, I have to lean out the window and hang them above the ground. Invariably at least one thing will fall from the wind and get dirty on the ground. Plus I am on the first floor and can never have my windows open since students passing by can see directly in.

            The new place should be cool. There are three apartment units that the BoE rents. One for the young cool hip AETs, one for the less sociable less fun AETs, and the third one where I will be going, the one for older no social life (most are married with kids) AETs. That one is actually better location wise since I am closer to more. The second one is a bit out of the way and people have a long bike ride everywhere. The second one has more people I would hang out with since they arenít married, but I can get a bike and ride out there. The apartment itself is bigger with 2 bedrooms and a living room, plus (my favorite part) a bigger shower, one that 3-4 people could use at the same time. I barely fit in mine now and the tub is too short, but this new one has a separate tub and shower. Thereís also a slightly bigger kitchen and the toilet / bathroom sink are separate. Now I have an aircraft bathroom more or less with a shower/tub built in. Itís cozy, but I am a bit big for it.

            Another awesome thing is that it is directly across from a park. A big park no less that I can walk in or jog. I can also walk to a post office, grocery store (multiple ones), and ATM, the BoE, the other apartment unit (if there is a party). Wow, I feel like I will actually be able to start living from April. I feel like my life is on hold out here or I am in a holding pattern or 2-3 other generic HOLD analogies.

            On a different note, I am starting to plan the next English Camp and the next Konan Snow Day (where 21 AETs come out and play with the kids in the snow.

Funny Things my Students WroteÖ
Tuesday, January 20, 2009

            Iím grading some papers from a review of the sentences the students were taught (I didnít say learned). Here are some of the mistakes they made that were not coincidentally rude:

Where is the CD? Itís in the dog.       (in the bag)
Itís in the bog.                                       (in the dog in the bog)
This is my whores bag.                       (this is my bag + whose bag is this)
This whore bag?                                  (whose bag is this?)
This is my dike.                                   (bike)
He is wet.                                        (Howís the weather)
How long are you?                        ('How long does it take?' which is below 'How are you')

Itís man day.                                   (Monday)
Whereís my tit at?                          (Whereís my CDÖ..that was a stretch)
I have ham dar.                              (Iíll have a hamburger)
Use this pee.                                   (Use this pen.)
This is pee.
Letís rant.                                         (Letís have lunch. Drop Ďhaveí R=LÖch is often written as T or Ti.)

          Others were just too rude (coincidentally) to be listed here. The students didn't mean to write rude things, it's just when they leave out certain letters of certain words or add letters to others.


So So Week.
Friday, January 23, 2009

     Monday and Tuesday were regular days with 1 class on each day. Wednesday was a nice meeting in town with the other AETs. I talked about the Konan Snow Play Day coming up February 20th where all the AETs will come to my school and play with the kids. Then we broke into three groups to talk about lesson plan ideas. Two were for junior high school and one was for elementary. I was in the JHS one, though I need more elementary ideas than JHS. My group didnít have any major contributions, but a few people had some things to show. One was Angela is an insane artist. She could easily draw manga in Tokyo with the best of them. Some other people talked about problems they had at school. Then I talked about some English camp ideas.

            After that some of us went to Milky Way which is a great semi-American style steakhouse. I over-ate mostly from the salad bar, but it was all worth it. I had some big steak dish to go along with my overloaded soup and salad dishes. After that I did laundry and then drove past the gym. I didnít stop and go in like I should. Iíve been lazy recently, but in my defense it is hard to wake up early, work all day, drive 50 minutes in bad weather, and then have energy to work out. I did stop by Trial (discount shop) and buy some needed things.

            Then Thursday I went to Ohse JHS and had 4 great classes. I really like the kids there and there seems to be no annoying trouble makers. Maybe because one of the teachers is really strong minded and strict, but in a good way. After that I planned to go to the gym, but I managed to eat curry, buy protein, buy E.T. and some other movies, and then drive past the gym again.

            Today I had 3 great classes that went as planned. First with the 8th graders I showed part of E.T. since there is a chapter in the textbook that references the movie a few times. Itís a good foreign movie thatís clean and no sex or too much language, itís English listening, itís perfect timing since they are stressed with end of the year things, and itís in the textbook. I couldnít ask for a better combination. Then with the seniors I had them work on two high school entrance test prep tests. It wasnít fun for them, but it was worthwhile and educational and lasted the whole class time. Then with the 7th graders they had to redo the lousy test the took last week. Lousy as in no one did well at all, but this time offered $5 Ryan Dollars for each perfect answer, and there were 60 questions. A few students got all of them, but most were less than half. It took was the whole class, though actually it went over a bit.

            Tomorrow morning I assist with the national English test. Itís at 8:30am which is fine since I would be up anyway. Iíll get here and watch them take it and then go home or go into Koriyama. Iíll probably play World of Warcraft all night tonight. Itís an addictive online fantasy game. A friend got me hooked on it recently.

General Aggravation.
Monday, January 26, 2009

            Iíve come to realize, and I think I have mentioned this before, junior high school in Japan is not so much about education as it is about forcing the kids to start fitting into the mold of being Japanese. It is a mold and I donít mind saying that. They want everyone and everything to be the same. They do not like deviations. My JHS years were actually about education so itís hard for me to really understand it here. Itís ok for students to miss tests and even school, but missing, or being late to, club sport events is unheard of. A girl took the national English test on Saturday and the second it was over rushed to her fatherís car who sped her away to the tournament. Even though our team wasnít playing for another 2 hours, she was part of the group and the group is strongest when it is a whole and all members are present.

            Thatís another thing I have trouble with. Teachers who live in the city will get up early and drive all the way to our school to check in. Then drive all the way back to about 10 minutes from where they live for some meeting. Then drive all the way back to the school when the meeting is over, then all the way home. I had trouble with this when I was a Fukushima JET years ago. I had to go to a meeting near my house, but the school insisted I go to school (which was past the meeting) and then backtrack. I was late to the meeting and when I tried to explain (using logic) I realized I could only apologize since there was no logic involved.

            One part of the culture that makes me furious, though thereís no way to change it (think bulldozer in a flower bed), is the ďWe Japanese EndureĒ part. They constantly put themselves into absurd Kafka-esque situations and then brag about how much they can endure or how ďgreenĒ they are. There is zero insulation in my apartment and gaping holes in the window where freezing air comes in unobstructed. Why? Because Japanese can endure the cold and not complain. Hereís my favorite part, by favorite I mean completely absurd, school girls in JHS and SHS wear their skirts NOTHING ELSE ON THEIR LEGS socks and these thin walk shoes in the snow. The snow and ice comes straight in and they invariably walk to school in soaked freezing shoes and socks. They then change at school into another pair OR sometimes they donít if they donít have another pair.          

            There are two JHS girls that live a rockís throw from me and I often pass them as I am driving the 6 minute walk to school. They are walking IN the road since there is too much snow to walk the back way. They are in slush ice and about 2 inches of water wearing their skirts with their legs glowing bright red from the freezing air. I have pants, thermals, two pairs of socks, and my snow boots on and I am usually cold. This is stupid and pathetic and I have nothing good to say about this part of the culture. In any other part of the world, at least the logic based English speaking countries, an unspoken policy like this would last about as long as it takes someone to unspeak it. At the end of the sentence parents and students alike would laugh in someoneís face and say ďyea walk to school in sub-freezing temperatures wearing only a skirt on my legs, ha, hereís my lawyerís number. Oh and blow it out yourÖ.Ē But in Japan you do what you are told and donít complain.

            That system works great if you are doing the telling, but if you are on the receiving end then it sucks. It works great in business since employees will come in as early as they are told, stay as late as they are told, work as hard as they are told, come in every single day of the year for 14+ hours if they are told. From a management point of view itís great I suppose. Another aspect of the culture that makes this seem great is the belief that you must do whatever job you are assigned to the best of your ability. If I am told to do something remedial and demeaning I will scoff and complain and not do it very well. In Japan everyone does whatever they are assigned to the absolute best possible extent. Thatís why things produced in Japan are such high quality such as cars, electronics, computers, games, mobile phones, etc.

            I uploaded some photos of my apartment and someone commented that there canít be strict building codes. I firmly, honestly, and objectively believe there are ZERO building codes. Some families live in things I wouldnít want to call a tool shed. Itís like someone had some spare wood and put it up to block only the wind, but not preserve any heat or cool. My apartment is clean and well built (not in the design sense) so I am happy about that, but the design is poor in so many ways. The door jambs are less than 6 feet tall and yet many Japanese people are over 6 feet. Two meters is the standard for public buildings, so why not houses as well? I have honestly hit the top of my head hundreds of times. There is a small indention in my head from hitting it now. I usually look down in the apartment when I walk around to avoid it.

         More than 50% of my front wall is a huge window with two panels of sliding glass. There are gaping holes where they meet the wood frame. I have no balcony to hang clothes and invariably something falls to the dirty ground. The roof is shaped in a way so that snow builds up and then falls in a huge dangerous crushing chunk and piles up to form a 6 foot plus mountain. This blocks the door and covers the stairs DAILY. I have to constantly dig out a path to the car.

            The bathroom is tiny and hot moist steam has no where to go other than into my apartment & closet causing mold and mildew. There is no central heating so the apartment is constantly around freezing. I have no closet that is tall enough to hang my clothes without them dragging the bottom. Nor do I have any closets wide enough to hang clothes in. My sink is in the tiny enclosed bathroom. My shower is in the tub and not wide enough for me to stand in without pushing the curtain out with an extension bar. Iím almost taller than the shower head. I canít shut the door and sit down on the toilet. Thereís no dryer so I hang my clothes to dry for 4-5 days in the winter (or go to a laundromat).

            I wear two layers of pants and 3+ shirts as well as two or more socks while in the apartment. While in the US I would wear shorts and a T-shirt while inside since we had two stupid things called insulation and central heating. My kerosene heater heats up the place nicely and cheaply, but I have to open the windows TWICE AN HOUR to air out the fumes or it shuts down. Once the room is nice and toasty, I have to open the windows and let it air out and cool down. Awesome. Simply AWESOME.

            Overall itís a good job though. When I complain about Japan itís not about the job so much as about these odd cultural things that make life frustrating. The culture is so rigid you either do what is done or you are left behind. No concessions are made. But the actual job part of life here is close to great. There is some pointless annoying downtime that is totally unnecessary, but when I am working itís pretty cool. Again the culture gets annoying since it allows kids to talk full volume in class and you canít kick them out or their parents come to school and yell at you because their child is rude. Once you learn to navigate around those things, you get into a cool groove and the job can be fun.

            Something that has been keeping me busy, on the verge of an addiction, is an online role playing game called World of Warcraft. Iím not into the role playing part, but the graphics and quests are pretty cool. You make your character run around in this hugely elaborate world and find people who send you on various quests. Then you move up in power and get more difficult quests. I know the whole stigma with that, but itís enjoyable and keeps me inside not spending money on some boring weekends. I spent most of Sunday doing it and I really didnít have anything else to do that wouldnít cost money. Itís simply too cold to get out and do anything in Konan now, but maybe when I move I will be able to get out more.

Group Supreme.
Friday, January 30, 2009

            The group environment in Japan is, at best simply different and takes getting used to, but sometimes itís flat out annoying. There are several students I know in both elementary and junior high school who exceed in English, but will not respond in class because it would single them out as better than the group. They will act like they donít know the answer since thatís what everyone else is doing (though others genuinely donít know the answer). Most of the time this is really a pain in the butt and is one of the cultural things that hold kids back from learning here.

            But I have found an activity that works incredibly and is group based so they actually do it. Japanese people are fiercely competitive, but thatís seen most often when groups go against other groups. In this activity I have the class divide into 4 person groups and number themselves 1-4 (or 3 or 5). Then I write a category on the board such as Animals and tell group 1ís number 1 person to tell me one such as ďdogĒ. Then group 2ís number 1 tells me another. This keeps going around and then the number 2 people tell me one and so on. Eventually it gets really tough and students have to really remember English. If they canít answer within 10 seconds they get a ďbuu buuĒ noise and that group is out for this round. The pressure makes them plan ahead and have multiple answers ready.

            I did this first with JHS students at Ohse and they came up with all sorts of whacked answers. I literally had about 100 answers on the board for sports and then school subjects. They were saying things I could never have imagined and actually had far more answers than I could think of in English myself. Then I did it this week with the 5th graders and they had about 80 animals on the board such as walrus, squid, dolphin, flamingo, polar bearÖ I never taught them that so where did they learn it? They had to say it in English too so itís not like they were just reciting animals they knew in Japanese. It was amazing and the best part is it takes up the whole class, itís fun, and it takes ZERO preparation on my part.

            On the flip side of me being happy is when I showed a movie in class. I always show E.T. to the 8th graders since there is a bit in the book about it and itís a great all around movie encapsulating American culture, science fiction, and a great sad and clean story. Well, of the 29 kids in the class about 10 were doing other homework. I was so annoyed at this I almost stopped it. Next week when I show the conclusion I am going to tell them to not bring anything to the class. I am considering writing a letter and saying ďitís really hard for me to show movies in class. You will never again have a class like mine where you can watch a movie over three weeks. High school isnít like this and no other teachers do this. If you want to study, we can study or you can stay in the classroom to work, but donít study in my class during a movie. I donít think you would study math during XX-senseiís science class? Why do you do it in my class?Ē I might do it.

            Last night I went to the Indian food place with Matt and we talked about how to practice for the high school interview. I gave him some tips that are easy to implement since the students prefer things they can memorize like a script rather than free talking. The interviews are rigidly precise and we as AETs are able to prepare students for most of it. Of course the content is different each time, but even then there are things that are similar and can be taught. Then we talked about our online RPG game we are playing. Well I am just starting he has mastered it. He has a character my level so we play at the same time (I avoided saying play together or play with each other). Since he ďreferredĒ me we get bonus points forÖbeing online at the same time in the game environment. It has actually saved me some money since I donít just sit around eating and it gives me something to do at home rather than go into town and pay for gas, parking, food, etc.

            The bad news about last night was the Indian food place has changed and there are new owners with new ideas and menus. The food was ok, but we agreed the old place was a tad better. Food wasnít as spicy, no one understood English or Japanese, portions were differentÖbut still ok overall. I had a mango lassi after dinner which apparently had yogurt in it since it rocked my digestive system in an epic way. I donít want to get into it, but wow. Itís like a judge saying ď30 days in the county prison or drink this.Ē I might go back to the place, but I am now tempted to try others. The owner and workers were nice though.

            We havenít had much snow recently in Konan. For about the first week of school in January it was a blizzard every day and we racked up a few feet. I had to dig myself out often and constantly use 4WD on the Pajero, but lately Iíve been getting by with 2WD which saves gas in a big way.

Things from studentsí journals:

* I lick cake everyday.

* I play the gut hair.






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