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Friday, January 1, 2010

        I sent 120+ new year's cards. I received about 17. I got only one from a student, but it was my favorite student, so maybe  :)   There's a second round where people can reply to those cards that they received from people they didn't send them to. But the ones today are from people who were thinking about me. Maybe the snow or the fact I moved were factors.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

        I've actually been sticking to some of my changes. First I have been eating much better these past three days. When Barbara and Megan get back I'll have them teach me some healthy stuff to make. Secondly, I walked to the grocery store today. It was freezing and 20 minutes away, but it was decent exercise and about all I could do for the day. I wanted to jog a bit, but there are patches of ice which make that impossible. I have a semi-real plan of only driving to school and walking/riding a bike to other places around town. I didn't have a car for three years and got around fine, I can do it again here.

        I have gotten a few more new year cards, but not nearly as many as I sent. I think more might come in this week, but we'll see. Also, I've been playing with a trial version of Adobe After Effects which is for special effects and motion graphics. Man the learning curve is way steep, but I am making some progress. Maybe I'll upload something when I finish. I want to buy the program when the trial expires, but it's $800 which will be tough.

Still Moving.
Wednesday, January 3, 2010

        I walked to the grocery store today and filled out / turned in the form to have my water bill automatically deducted. That should happen at the end of January which will help me pay things on time from now on. They send a bill and I pay it a month or so later just before they threaten to cut it off. Now it will just be deducted and I won't have to worry. I also checked the ATM and found I have less money than I thought, but oh well. Before that I had a Japanese lesson with Kyoko (someone you don't know) and we arranged to do one every week. I really hope to get my Japanese up to a better level. I walked to that as well and it was about 20 minutes.

         I've been having second thoughts about having a car. I love the convenience, but this year alone I will have to pay about $2,000 just in repairs and taxes and that doesn't account for the $50+ a month I spend in gas. I've just been thinking about how hard it would be to walk or ride a bike to any place I want to go. Having the car is really nice, but it's so expensive. I have to pay to park almost anywhere I go and gas is so expensive. I've thought about using the car only to get to school and back, but really I would only need it for Konan and technically there is a bus that goes out there. If I only go there twice a week the bus might not be that bad depending on what time it leaves and returns. I could actually ride my bike or catch a local bus to all my other schools. Hmmm, the verdict is still out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

            I have been going through either a phase or hopefully a general life change. For a while I have been getting really annoyed at how much stuff I have and how I donít fully live here and shouldnít have more than the basics. During the break I sent a box of stuff back to the US and took care of a number of other things. I also went to the thrift store last week and asked if they pick up stuff and they said they did, but only once a week. So I made an appointment for today and they will stop by after school with the truck. Hopefully Iíll get some money, but even if they wonít give me money and just take the stuff I would be happy. I know Iíll get some money even if itís only $20 or so (though they pay in yen). Iím getting rid of 2 computer desks, 2 chairs, a storage bin thingy, some old ties I never wear, two ski outfits, my snowboarding boots that I have never worn, two snowboarding/skiing outfits, and some other odds and ends. When I moved it out of the room into the kitchen last night, the room suddenly opened up and I felt like I had so much more space. They wonít buy a stupid folding bed I have and donít need.

            Another change I am going to make is that I am going to move everything into the main room. Now I have my main computer in the front room and actually spend most of my time there, but my laptop, projector, and heater is in the other room. I always have this need to keep one room ready to receive people for all the parties I have, but never seem to realize I donít actually have the parties. So Iím going to make the room livable and put everything in it. That will mean I have two spare rooms, but I didnít pick the apartment so thereís nothing I can do. I am grateful for the space and nice apartment, but all I need is a two room place really.

            Iím totally a grass-is-greener guy and I hate it. I went to a friendís tiny apartment on Saturday to play Monopoly (thatís a whole different rant) and they live in a tiny one room long apartment. Itís like having two rooms with no wall. For some reason I kept thinking about how cozy it would be to live there, but I have nearly the same design as that room so I could recreate it if needed, but I really have a much bigger and better apartment so why was I thinking that.

            We played the new Monopoly City game created this year or last and it was WICKED complicated. I mean we didnít even start for 30 minutes while we tried to figure out how to play. Someone suggested we just play and figure things out as we went along, which we did, but there were so many new things to remember. Each personís turn took about 3 minutes and sometimes longer. We didnít like it, but could also see what they were going for. We assumed people complained that the original version was too simple and people wanted something modern. I like Monopoly, but next time I will play the original.

            I just went into the office to make a copy and the office lady gave me $40 since I didnít go to the year end party. I didnít have to pay, but they took it out of my monthly teacherís fund. I assumed they would just leave it or put it back, but Iím not going to argue with free money. Iíve found a place where I can use a credit card for groceries which is good since I was taking out $100 at a time for spending money here, but now I can just charge what I need for groceries. Food and the car are both my two main expenses. More on that later.

           Starting this week I have been taking Japanese lessons in order to pass the level 2 test in December. I think they changed it this year so itís twice a year, but if I took it in July it would really just be to see how it goes. I would only have a chance at passing it in December I think. Itís a lot of kanji, grammar, reading comprehension, and vocabulary as one would expect from a language test. But here is no speaking interview at the moment. Last week I met with the tutor and she gave me a weekís worth of things to study and only yesterday did I start doing anything with them. We are meeting Thursday to have a test and get stuff for next week. It would be nice to be up to the level 2 which is a level of fluency. The level 3 and 4 are pretty much for beginners. They have changed or are changing the test because the levels were so far apart it was absurd. Level 4 was like ďlearn 80 kanjiĒ, level 3 was ďlearn 200Ē, level 2 was ďlearn 1,000Ē, and level 1 was like ďlearn 2,000-5,000Ē. Thatís a big jump, but I guess they assumed once you take a test then you know how to study and what to expect.

            Iíve been not using my car much recently. Since the past week or so I only used it to drive to school today. Before that I rode my bike or walked everywhere I needed to go. I have been having flashes of a thought of not having a car, but I would have to figure out how to get to Konan. There is a bus, but from where does it depart? I could easily ride a bike to Tadano, Ohse, and Kozu since students living in that area ride their bikes to the city and back everyday for high school. Plus the girls have to wear skirts and nothing on their legs, even in blizzards. If they can do that, surely I can ride a bike to the schools all bundled up. There might also be a bus to those schools. Not having a car would save me:

$500 a year in the car inspection tax (really about $1000 every two years)
$50 a month in gas ($600ish a year)
$200-$1,000 a year in various repairs (this year is going to be near $1,000)
$400 a year for the separate May tax

            Bringing the grand total to around $2,000 and I really donít use it that much. I have to change the timing belt around now (100,000k) and while doing that you are supposed to change 3-5 other belts. That whole bit costs around $600 and takes a day. Then I just changed the muffler for $200, then in May thereís the $400 tax (might be $350), then in November I have the big car tax which is around $1,000 maybe $1,500. I have spent well over $10,000 on car related things in the 5 years Iíve had a car. Itís such a headache to have it, but at times it is convenient.

            I turned in the form to renew for a 9th year here, but I have had thoughts that might be my last. I donít know yet. I love teaching the kids, but everything else gets in the way. Itís more about forcing me to become Japanese than caring about what the kids learn. The culture is so rigid, that it makes it difficult for me, as an American, to live here. Itís so different from my sense of whatís right or what makes sense. Iíd like to pay off my big school loan and then save a little money, but I could be able to do that in the time remaining. Iím not sure about anything yet.

            In April sometime, an ex-JET will visit a friend of mine and I will hang out with him some. He now teaches in Hong Kong and I have an interest in doing that. The problem is that program highly prefers a teaching license resulting from a degree in education and taking a test for the degree. They do hire people without that, but those people donít get the best schools. The biggest perk of the job is the salary starts at more than I make now and on top of that you get a big living stipend. It would be a considerable raise, but itís not easy to get into the Ďschemeí as they call it. I don't want to give up this stability for a risk at a better salary and different job. I might know more after he visits.


            They came and picked up the stuff and gave me....$23. Ha, I was $3 off, but I really don't care since the stuff was just sitting in my closet or in a corner. Them giving me even 100 yen would have been 100 yen more than me taking the stuff to some garbage center and filling out the 1,000's of nonsense forms. I still have a few big things to get rid of, but for now I am happy with what little I have. Now I need to start moving stuff into the other room (I accidentally wrote 'otter' room).

Too Busy.
Sunday, January 24, 2010

            I have been too busy to write anything, but I have some notes to make an update soon.

Nearly Bubbling Over.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

            There are some things that are really starting to really actually annoy me. One is a certain way of thinking in Japan and I cannot understand it for the life of me. There are two things that happened recently related to this that caused me to write this. First, I was volunteered to be the American representative at another elementary school next week. Iíll go for a bit and the kids will ask me questions about America and how it is living here. So far itís fine. I love doing these things, BUT this thing is a total of two hours long over TWO DAYS. So I basically canít go to two different schools on two different days since this thing is at 10:30 and we need to be there before 10. Thatís some kind of strange thinking to me. Rather than have an all morning thing one day, they choose not to re-arrange the schedule and choose to cause me two disruptions. One would be fine, but I go there for an hour and then have nothing to do and then go back two days later for an hour and then have nothing to do. ARGH.

            So that is one recent part of the annoyance, but the big one is related to the second day. The first day I miss going to Tadano since I would have to leave about 9:30 and wouldnít get back until afternoon and thatís pretty much when all my classes are. Plus they are having a special presentation that day that I will miss. The second day is a Konan Friday. So when the vice principal was explaining it he said ďit starts at 10:30 and you need to be there just before 10, so youíll come here and then leave.Ē WHAT? It takes 45 minutes to get out here when thereís snow and ice on the roads so that means I would have to drive out here and arrive around 8:30, sit for 45 minutes and then drive RIGHT BACK to my apartment. I actually let out a little laugh when he said that. He could not understand why I wouldnít want to do that. Itís part of their culture to be with your group as much as possible. I couldnít imagine why he would ask me to drive out here in the dangerous snow and ice TO SIT FOR LESS THAN AN HOUR. There is no way I am doing that. Iím either going to take vacation time or simply not come and say ďoops Iím stupidĒ.

            Something else that annoys me, but is super polite in Japan, is how everyone ďsees me offĒ when I leave a school. At two of my schools the vice principal and maybe the principal and other teachers will walk with me to the lobby and just watch me get my shoes on and put my coat on. Thatís something that I personally hate, but I canít say anything because in Japan itís an honor. I try to wait for people to be on the phone or busy sometimes, but it rarely works.

            I had the demon class today and they werenít terrible. There were loud parts and the main kid chose not to participate, but he wasnít loud and the others were ok. Granted any other teacher coming in would think that class was horrible, but I have severely lowered my standards.

            Last week I ordered a jogging suit from the salesman that comes here every week. I asked him to let me try some on back in November or so and we found my size is called XO in Japan which is a nicer way of saying 4L. I found some that were nice, but they were $200 and that seemed steep for a track suit. I looked at a catalog last week and picked out a cheap set that was $120. When he got here on Friday he brought that, but also a nicer version and said I probably wanted that one. In fact I did, but it was $170 and I didnít want to pay that now. Then he said that was the ďfirst priceĒ and the special price was $130 so I went with it. Iím glad I did since it is warm. I went jogging last night and it was great. I also noticed I am getting closer to wearing size 38 pants again which will be nice. I think I can buy clothing in Japan that goes up to about 38 waist. Plus I have some pants I bought in the US last December assuming I would lose weight.

            I had my health check on Monday the 18th. I think it went well even though I didnít lose any weight or cm around my waist. I prepared for it much better by not eating garbage for the days leading up to it. Then I went to the hospital on Friday and had my bi-monthly check up and the results were better as well. Some tests were still too high, but most were just slightly out of the range and I expect them to be normal when I go back in March. I should get the annual health check results in a week or so. You know the younger people whine about this test, but at my age I thoroughly appreciate it and even more so since itís free. They check our heart, blood, I had a barium drink x-ray of the whole digestive system, eye test, glaucoma test, hearing test, urine, poo test, chest X-ray. Man we get it all.

            So here are two more annoyances that came up recently. Thereís a habit of dropping things on people at the last minute for some reason. They told me about the changes to my job last April, LITERALLY while we were standing in line to get meatballs at the welcome party. The changes were something they CLEARLY had planned and worked out for several months leading up to the new year (starts April 1st) and somehow they could never find the time to tell me that I no longer had any classes until the welcome party. BIG #$%&-ing OOPS. Then last week a teacher called me the day before he had to go on some business trip, that was also clearly planned weeks in advance, and asked if I could plan/prepare/teach two classes for him the next day on top of one I already had. Seriously, whatís with the lack of notice?

            The other one is a big all-encompassing problem that is everywhere in Japan and really shows its face in the education system. Oh that made me think of another one. Anyway, I, being an American, am goal oriented. As long as the goal is achieved I am less concerned with the process and how we got there. I teach so that kids learn something each class. Today we are going to learn about Animals. If the kids can remember the names of the animals and had a reasonably fun time then that is a success to me. If there is an event that is next week and someone plans more than someone else and the event runs smoothly, that is a success. In Japan, however, the goal is not as important as the process of getting there. We made a plan (maybe a good one maybe a faulty one), we stuck to that plan, we all did our parts to the best of our abilities, and thatís all that matters. The kids didnít learn anythingÖ.who cares. The event didnít go well since the person in charge of X knew more about YÖ.who cares. My lesson was ruined because a teacher over-reviewed and gave away all the answersÖ.no problem at least no one felt stressed about the process.

            To me this causes so many problems in Japan, but itís just how things are done so they keep on doing it that way. Kids either do their work and get an A and graduate or they donít do their work/donít EVER speak in class/donít even come to school everyday and get an A and graduate. The goal is not graduation itís following a plan, no matter how illogical that plan may be. When I tried to plan the Winter Meeting at Konan years ago where all the ALTs came and played with the kids, I thought it would be nice to plan it all and let the teachers not worry about things, but they kept trying to interfere since to them itís normal for everyone to participate in the process. To them the event was frustrating since they didnít plan much of it and since there wasnít a lot of time wasting open ceremonies or excessive greetings. To me it was frustrating since they kept trying to add these time wasting things and ended up hijacking the plan on the day to force some in.

            Half the time when I get a plan for a class it has explicit directions for each step of the way. They want things to follow a certain process. For me I like to change things on the fly to adapt to slow or fast learners. Once I got a plan for teaching a grade 1-20, but I knew they already knew 1-60. We politely argued/debated a bit and then I did the Japanese thing of backing down and simply doing what I wanted during class. She was more interested in me following the plan than what the kids already knew. It would have been a mark on the process of we skipped it. Even if the kids became fluent in English magically by skipping it, she would have been frustrated we didnít follow the plan.


Wasted Time.
Thursday, January 28, 2010

            I went to Ohse today, but almost didn't. One of the teachers there mistakenly sent me a message that said I wouldn't have any classes today. He meant I wouldn't have any 3rd year classes, but I ended up having 4 total with the other grades. But then when I asked about next week the other teacher said I would also have 4 classes on Thursday, but only 2 on Monday. I might leave after lunch if they are morning classes. In Japan there is no concern for wasting someone's time. It's simply a non-issue. We are expected to be at work and ready if/when we are needed. If I have one class a week, I am expected to be there all week doing nothing. The thought of me not being there doing nothing never comes up. Sometimes when I try to take vacation time I get a chuckle at how I don't like sitting there doing nothing. I want to yell and explain how stupidly ignorant and wasteful it is for me to be sitting literally doing nothing when I want to be working. I want to be doing something. I don't want to be at home, just not here doing nothing. Efficiency is irrelevant.

             After Ohse I stopped by Trial (a discount store) on the way home. I realized how noisy Japan is. You never go to any store and enjoy the peace and quiet. There is constantly something going on or someone yelling. In the store there was an annoying repeating jingle about coming to the store. The store at which I already was. Then all the employees are yelling "welcome to the store" when someone enters. Then I went to the veggie shop right beside it and they were yelling it as well, but stretching it out since they weren't a corporate chain and could have their own style. I mean there was nearly no pause in them saying the welcome bit. Just over and over and really in a loud voice too. Then when I got home I heard some truck driving around the neighborhood playing, no blasting, old music over speakers. Seriously that would last about 1 minute anywhere else before someone came out and shot the speakers. Here it's ok for some reason.


Walk a Mile...
Saturday, January 30, 2010

            I had an urge to get out of the house today, but didn't have anything to do. I previously cut out my regular habit of going to the station and having McDonald's breakfast and then Starbucks Venti Caramel Frappucino, so what could I do? Well I did go to the station and had the McD's breakfast, but no SB. To add to the plan I walked there and back which was 7.7km or 4.8 miles round trip. I wore my headphones with Nike+iPod so I could log the walk as a workout.

             I have nothing really interesting planned this weekend. I might sort out one more room and get some things in order, but other than that nothing worth remarking about. Maybe I'll see a movie, maybe not.

Boring Week Ahead.
Sunday, January 31, 2010

            I have a boring week ahead. Tomorrow I have two classes with the 7th graders even though there are 3 other English classes. For some reason I'm not needed in those. Then Tuesday I have just one at Konan. Wednesday is completely shot since I have a one hour meeting regarding something I have to do on Friday. The meeting is at 10:30, but I have to be there at 10 so I would have to leave any school at 9:15 which is during 1st period and I would finish around lunch. Then there's no point in going to a school for 5th period only. Then Thursday I have 4 classes which is the bulk of my week and finally Friday I have this one hour seminar where I get to talk about differences in American and Japanese culture. 7 classes in one week, awesome use of resources Japan.

           On a lighter note, I walked around the park twice today and that felt good. I tried to jog some, but felt so heavy and lethargic that I couldn't really pick up the speed. Then I ate dinner with Jake at an Indian food place semi-near my apartment and walked to that as well. I've been really good about walking as opposed to driving and I hope it's paying off. I've also been eating better as well.

          I've been trying to rearrange my finances to pay off my big outstanding totally unnecessary college loan. I've been paying on it for years and really just nipping at the interest. Recently I've been sending $500 to it, but I plan to pay off my credit cards and then start throwing some severe money at it per month and hopefully get it paid down or close to down in a year or so.





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