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Monday, July 3rd, 2006
I am going back to the US for about 2.5 weeks in late July. My ticket was about double what I usually pay since it is peak season, but it was not the most expensive coach ticket. I could have flown Air France and paid 20 times the usual amount.
SIXTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.
There should be some kind of filter in the system that blocks absurd fares like that. Clearly it found a flight to Paris and then a flight from Paris to Atlanta, probably via New York, though it only shows one stop. At first I thought it was a great price, then I realized it wasn’t in YEN.
Hypothetically I have two classes where I assist today, but I imagine they will be reviewing the term end tests from last week so I am not counting on them, which is still ok since I have to prepare for all my classes this week. We have another English camp from Tuesday to Friday, which means after Monday night I won’t go home, just straight from here, by taxi, to the English camp place. I have some photos that I will upload later since I am typing this at school.
Over the weekend I went to Tajima which is in Minami Aizu which means south Aizu, which is just a place in Fukushima. A JET named Molly (sounds like a children’s book) planned a camp out / cookout on Saturday and it was fun. We actually have two cabins that were really nice and people brought way too much food and beer. The whole thing was only $30 a person and well worth it. It was a bit far for me, but doable, as I did it. I found this amazing road between my place and Tajima. First it was a normal road, then a one lane road, then a dirt road, then I am passing all sorts of temples in the woods and the road is lined with tall trees, then I am on the curviest road in the history of all that is known, then it’s a normal road again on the other side of some mountain. I might go back on my bike thought that might be a bit far. There was some really cool hidden temple thing that I want to explore.
Today I plan to work on my book a bit more. If you have been reading this for a few years, yes it is the same one I have been talking about since I wrote the first one. I have at least two more planned and about 4 more on idle for now. I really wish I could stop time and just catch up for a while. I promise I would be good if I could stop time. I can’t promise I would be good if I were able to turn invisible though.
I’ve spent most of the morning translating various things and putting the translations into a spreadsheet that I use for both flashcards now (so I can learn to read memos faster) and so I can compile them all into a book later. There are several kanji vocab books, but few that target foreign English teachers trying to survive in a school.
I do something that really bugs me. I just spent an hour making this elaborate points chart so the students could see how the points are progressing. The whole time I was thinking “wow this is great, this looks great”. Then when I finished, something clicked and I ripped it up. It looked stupid and I felt dumb for spending so much time on such a dumb idea. I don’t know why I do that, just flip between the two extremes.
My impulsiveness is also getting annoying. I took down the old points chart and put up a new one, that I was modifying above, I did it on an impulse and didn’t really take much time to think about it. Then some kids asked what happened and said the old chart was really easy to read and see how close they were. I usually think things through for a while, if not too much, so I don’t really know why I changed this chart. Plus it was two weeks before the end of the term, I should have just waited. Argh.
There are only three people in the teacher’s room now, myself, the cute 6th grade teacher, and the 2nd grade teacher. The 6th grade teacher just asked the 2nd grade teacher how many English classes the 2nd grade has had. The answer was zero, and then he proceeded to explain it wasn’t necessary since he can teach them. Then he saw me and said maybe he will have some in the fall. It was all in Japanese, but I picked out the necessary parts.
I have been tasked with writing an English title for a PTA newspaper. I am having some trouble since all they said was “write a title in English for the PTA part of the newspaper”. Should it be serious or fun or what? I don’t know. I wrote “knowledge is power” and it was rejected as too serious, so now I have tried “let the games begin” and “work hard, play hard”. We have to have some group discussion on it now since everything is done in groups. It is going to get turned into “I need to be held” or something stupid once everyone puts in their opinion.
Wow, they went with work hard play hard, but changed it to study hard play hard, which is what I think I meant to write. Once it was translated they all loved it. So groovy I guess.
Now I am packing for the next English camp. This one lasts three nights and should be interesting. The next time I will be in my apartment is Friday sometime. Then Friday is the big Fukushima farewell party. Argh.
Tuesday, July 4th, 2006
I planned and have prepared all the lessons for this week. As expected I have a semi-full load. About 14 classes this week, though one or two might overlap with another and be cancelled. Usually 18-20 is a full load, but I can’t complain this week since it’s the second to last week of classes and they have so many other things to do.
For my first years I am having them speak more. I had them memorize some little things in the book today and then recite it to me. For my 2nd years I will do this activity I saw an AET do at English camp last week. It involves taping something on a student’s back and then other students read it and write hints. At the end of class the clues are read and the person tries to guess what it says. For the third years I am drilling them on prepositions such as At, In, On, To, & Of. It will help them when they take the tests in the fall and winter. Argh, winter. Not looking forward to that again.
Then in my two selective classes, or are they elective, we are watching the end of Phantom of the Opera (the original) in one and then finishing Monopoly in the other. When we finish Monopoly I will try to teach them a drinking game, minus the drinking, that I learned over the weekend. I think it’s called King’s Cup or something. It has to do spreading the cards out and drawing one. When certain cards are drawn certain things must be said or done. You can see how that would be an interesting drinking game. Plus certain cards are rule cards where you can make a rule. We made rules like “when a red card is drawn you must say a word starting with a vowel”. It was hard to remember, but I think it might be fun for an English activity.
Tonight is English camp again. I always have mixed feelings about these camps. They are fun and I enjoy being around kids that want to learn English and listen to your advice as well as actively participate. But then we spend so much time doing things the Japanese way and lose some valuable one on one time. Plus I always think we spend too much time with some too elaborate game that we lose real communication time. Plus it is really hard going to this thing by taxi straight from school. It’s like we are working from 8am to 9pm three days a week.
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
English camp was fun, but I am so tired. It’s really hard being “ON” from 8am to 10-11pm. Plus during EC we are all busy running around having some high paced game. Last night was a World Cup challenge that is hard to explain, rather I don’t feel like it. Tonight is a 2 hour murder mystery game and I am the cop. I made a small paper badge for all the kids so they can be my official deputies. I made a big dumb badge for myself too. The best part is I had the music teacher play some dramatic music while I recorded it on a small tape recorder. It’s just the three dramatic suspenseful notes. I can’t really write it here, but it is three notes that are deep, dark, and bass-like and the just get lower. As in “oh no someone was killed” da da da. So when I say my lines I am going to play this and it’s going to be really stupid, but just how I want it. So tonight will be fun, but then I will crash again and be exhausted. Part of the reason I am tired is they force us to get up at 6am. Maybe I don’t want to eat breakfast and would rather sleep until 7am? Not the Japanese way.
The worst part of the whole thing is Friday I wanted to go to the Fukushima farewell party that I planned for the last two years and now the new FuJET person is planning. They are doing the FuJET awards just like Michelle and I did last year. To be fair, it was more Michelle’s doing and I merely assisted.
Oh I just noticed it’s pouring outside. No big deal really. Except that I am not taking the taxi tonight, I am driving since I need to buy stuff from the $1 store before I go to EC. Oh well I have an umbrella.
Thursday, July 6th, 2006
Wow. I am really in a slump today, just a low mood basically. It’s from a series of small unrelated things, but it has caused me to feel bad. I was feeling great all yesterday. I left around 4 and went to the 100 yen store to buy some things for the English Camp. I ran into Joel (then backed up and ran into him again) at the $1 store and we agreed sushi was in order since it was across the parking lot. Still feeling good. He’s a nice guy and I enjoy talking to him. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t gossip or spread rumors or act all dramatic and so on. Then I left and headed to the EC site. I get there and go to my room with 3 other guys and am just chilling until camp starts.
Then our boss comes in and pulls me out of the room. In an ever so polite and typical roundabout way, he suggested maybe it would be better if certain people in our room moved to another vacant room. It was in Japanese so I wasn’t really understanding it completely. He kept saying something about my snooze button. Then I realized he was saying basically “since you snore like a donkey giving birth, the other guys want you out of the room”. So I moved to the vacant room next door.
I’m not mad at the other guys for doing it. It seems like I would be, but honestly I am not. I’m not mad at the situation at all apart from being annoyed that I snore. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone does something that affects other people. Like smokers for example. I don’t care if you smoke 800 packs a day, but when you are in public and are blowing smoke my way which causes me to cough, that bothers me. So the guys couldn’t sleep because I was too loud. Fair enough, plus I got my own room. The best part was as soon as the Murder Mystery was over I went straight to bed and turned up my headphones to drown out the sounds of the kids running up and down the halls knocking on all the doors.
So that was one thing, just a small thing as I said. Then there was the badge and costume incidents. First I spent hours making little badges for all the students to act as detectives. Then when I got to the place I looked at them and they were the dumbest things I had ever seen. I was humiliated to even have them and found the most remote trashcan and threw them away. I’ve mentioned how I flip like that before and I still don’t know why I do it. Then we did a murder mystery and I was the detective. We were all told to dress according to our parts, but I didn’t really know what to wear or have time to find anything. Plus at the last minute we recruited another guy to be my assistant cop.
Then we show up and present out outfits. I looked the worst. By that I mean I just looked stupid. Everyone went to so much effort and looked really good. The butler looked like the logo from Ask Jeeves, the gardener had a hat, hoe, apron and looked perfect. All the characters did too, except for me. I just looked dumb. When we had volunteered for parts, I just picked one that would be a small bit part, but no it was the main role. I had no idea what was really going on and kept asking people for cues. It was lousy and several people “jokingly” told me it was lousy.
So after that triple hitter I just went back to my room and cut the lights and cranked up my headphones. It was at this point I was really glad I had a private room. I quickly went to sleep and woke up this morning at 5:30am. I packed my stuff and slipped out before everyone woke up. I really enjoy English Camp, but it just wasn’t right for me to be there this time. Nothing was going right for me and I had to leave.
Now it’s Thursday around 10am. I had a class with the 3rd years 1st period. It was boring, but important. I taught them about At / On / In / Of / and the On/In differences in relation to vehicles. It was boring and I saw them looking around and even while I was speaking I started boring myself. I should have made it more like a game or something.
Tomorrow is the Fukushima JET Farewell party and I have been looking forward to it for a while. But as it turns out, I think we have some stupid PTA barbeque or something at school at 6pm. I didn’t know it was tomorrow and I hope I can get out of it. The teacher in charge said only 4 people said they were coming so I hope they don’t need me. I really want to see the leaving JETs as well as all the others. Even if I have to be here at 6, maybe even something like 6-8, I could still make it though it would be tight and I would miss the FuJET awards which are always interesting.
I think from here I am going to start separating myself from the JETs since most of my friends are leaving / have left already. I need to find ways of meeting more Japanese people especially ladies. I am always going to focus on things such as learning more Japanese, writing more (books….), saving money, practicing calligraphy and so on.
I’ve always wanted the ‘Friends’ type living situation, but I have never been able to get it. In college we almost had it a few times, but never completely. After college I moved into a community based apartment complex only to learn all my neighbors were either flight attendants, pilots, or otherwise not interested in hanging out. I know the ‘Friends’ type place is probably a myth, but there were always some people who had that situation, but I was never included. Even now, all the JETs and NTs live in two or three apartment blocks. They are always getting together and having cookouts or group dinners or going out on weekends. But not me, I live an hour away in a small town with less than 1,000 people. Of those 1,000 about 999 are either old rice farmers, kids I teach at school, or their parents. The other 1 person works somewhere far and speaks no English. There has to be a reason why the universe is pushing me to become an introvert, I just wish I knew what it was.
I’ve accepted the fact I probably won’t get married. Don’t get me wrong I do want to, but I have come to terms with the fact that it never seems to work out. I don’t think I sabotage the relationships, but maybe I am too eager for them to work and come across too strong or something. This last one was going semi-fine and then she moved to Osaka. That alone made it difficult to see each other, but she was always too busy anyway. I do need to meet someone who is willing to move to the US since I can’t live in Japan forever. Maybe I can meet a Thai masseuse who speaks English, Thai, Japanese, and does computer programming and loves to practice massages. Also her parents should be really rich and own some beach hotel and love foreigners. Also maybe there is some sacred tradition of giving the husband-to-be a dowry of some obscene amount.
Well that made me feel a little better. Oh wait, I just remembered. I have no money for 2 more weeks and then on payday I will have no more money again.
During the 5th and 6th English Elective classes I had planned to finish monopoly with the three kids, but the other English teacher suggested we watch Madagascar instead. I told him that was a much better idea and the game could wait. Then I suggested we try to watch it in the gym on the massive white wall with the massive gym PA system. BOOYA. I will work on that during the lunch break.
We just watched Madagascar in the gym and it was a big success. I could make a few small changes, but really that would just be me preparing better. I projected it on the big white wall which was/is about 12 feet high and 50+ feet wide. I’d say the movie was about 8 feet high by 12 feet wide. We ran small speakers from the DVD player and then put the PA wireless mic beside them. Overall it was pretty cool and just like a movie theater.
Then after school I mock-interviewed 4 kids who have the interview part of the Eiken test Sunday. “Ei” is the first part of how you say English in Japanese, and “ken” means test or examination. It has a longer official name, but people call it the Eiken.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Had a busy and then slow weekend. Friday I was supposed to go to some boring PTA meeting at school, but I didn’t. There was no need for me to go and it would be easier to say I was sorry than to get permission to not be there. Whenever I go to these I just sit through 2 hours of Japanese people talking to Japanese people at full speed Japanese. It’s never about me, it never includes me, and furthermore, even when they ask for my input they aren’t asking for my input. The Japanese way is to “ask” someone how they feel and the person knows to just agree. That way everyone in the group has an opinion even though they don’t. But sometimes everyone’s opinion is actually implemented and you get some absurd result. One such example is cute character the senior citizen’s center came up with. It started out as something and now looks like a butt plug. A naughty sexual toy. There’s no other explanation of what it might be.
So anyway, I skipped the PTA meeting and went to the FuJET farewell party. It was fun as usual, though I realized after next year when the group of current second year JETs become third years and then leave in July 2007, I will pretty much know no one. Granted I can meet these new people, but we won’t have the experiences that I have shared with the older people. We won’t have much to talk about and I will be the older 5th year guy and they will be young. So we will have even less in common. Though I do intend to plan some trips around to various places and I can open them up to the new people. I really need to make some Japanese friends.
The party went until 1am as usual and then they kicked us out. Then some of us went to Karaoke for an hour. We signed up for two hours, but after 45 minutes we realized our voices were gone and we weren’t into the vibe anyway. Then 4 of us, at my urging, went to the tasty ramen place across the street. Finally Kowalski and I ended up back at his place around 4am. Sadly I had to be up around 10 to pick up some stuffed dolls for the orphanage and get my tickets to Atlanta in late July. OK all that is done, then I catch a train back to Koriyama, happen to arrive just in time to step on a bus as it was leaving for my stop. Then get out and drive back to Konan where I take an hour long shower.
Saturday night there was a 4th of July party planned for a nearby campground, but there was no way I could make it. I was exhausted and had some cleaning and planning to do and the thought of camping just wasn’t appealing at that moment. I worry that several people backed out since a lot of people were gung ho before the weekend, but then after the party everyone I talked to said they were too tired to go. It was really just unfortunate planning.
Sunday I mainly cleaned the apartment and watched some movies. I watched some shark movie on Sunday night that was broadcast on TV. Maybe it was Deep Blue or something. It was about some people in some ocean exploration place and these three sharks get really smart and attack them. I think LL Cool J was in it. There are two annoying things related to the Japanese broadcasting TV shows. First they would go to commercial during an action scene. Not just before to hold suspense, just right in the middle of one. Each time I was like “what the???” and then realized what happened. Secondly, when they are coming back from said commercial, they show previews of what is coming. As in how it ends…..who dies….plot twists….so much so that you don’t even need to watch the rest.
Oh, when I went up to the party I rode with Dave Popoff from Koriyama. He lives in the block of 12 apartments owned by the Board of Education. It actually made me sad to be there since they had the situation I always want. They all had their doors open and were just bouncing between each apartment. Even when you are home alone, there are other people all around you. The BoE has 2 apartment blocks like that around town. I doubt there is anyway I could live there. I wish there was another teacher that lived far away like me and needed a place to stay in the city so we could share some apartment, but that would benefit only myself and I doubt anyone would go for it.
It’s weird the way suits and dress clothes either look good or just don’t look good on certain people. Like the P.E. coach for example. He is wearing slacks and a dress shirt with no tie since the Prime Minister set forth a plan called “Cool Biz” to get government agencies and schools to use even less air conditioning in the summer. So he is wearing that and looks like a pimp. A pimp in the sense of actual pimp, not just cool guy. I look ok in a suit, though would look better if I had no belly. But other teachers like the principal and VPs and some other teachers look fine in suits.
This week I am a little low on classes. Hypothetically I would be alright, except most of my classes are with the 1st year students and that is the teacher that never uses me. He is a good teacher, but likes to do things his way and when I am in class I usually throw in some notes or side things and I can tell they are not on his agenda. He has never said he doesn’t want me to come or doesn’t want me to say those things, but I noticed he said he needed me less and less and now I don’t even go at all. I’m hoping someone will ask my opinion on the 1st years so I can say “I don’t know, I never go to their class”.
I need to start packing and making a list of things that I must take as well as must buy and bring back from the US. It would be nice to find some sleeping pills here that knock me out. I think I have some, or had some, that were supposed to be powerful, but last time I used them on a plane they didn’t even make me drowsy. It’s the generic form of Ambien. I think maybe it’s because I took it after eating on the plane. I seem to think they might work better on an empty stomach. If I can find them I will try one on an empty stomach around the apartment and see if they work. They are supposed to knock you out for a solid 6-8 hours, which would rock on a 12 hour flight. Oh I should register for sky miles with Northwestern now.
Wouldn’t it make sense for there to be a ranked chart with transportation expenses that go from most convenient/fast to most inconvenient/slow and they would cost proportionately different? I mean in Ryan’s World, an airplane would cost the most because it gets you there in no time. Then a train would cost less, then a bus, finally a car and then hitchhiking. I am trying to fly up to Washington D.C. for a day or two to visit a few friends, but I can’t afford it. The cheapest plane ticket is $250, which seems high. Then I would expect the train to cost less than that around the $100-150 range, and then the bus to cost less than $99. Well the train costs about $280, which makes no sense and explains why less people are riding trains these days, and the bus costs $180 and takes longer than the train, about 18 hours.
Something is making me itch. I think it is the 8 eggs I ate last night. I was hungry and had some eggs leftover from something. I usually don’t eat eggs like that anymore so maybe the sudden shock of dairy caused some reaction. Too much dairy makes me overly-mucus-ish so I avoid it when I can, plus I don’t drink milk. If I were ever a vegetarian I would virtually be a vegan since I avoid diary as much as possible. I'll take a Claritin and stop the itching later.
Man the time has flown by today. I didn’t go to the 1st year class as expected and I was sitting here writing this as well as updating a travel site we have. I have some other writing things to work on, but I should really be working on my lesson for 5th period. It will be observed by parents so it has to be “spot on” as the British say. It will be the same writing thing I did last week which was a success more or less. Plus it took up the whole class and has the kids moving around and active. I think it would be more fun to watch than a boring lecture. Observed classes are hard to do since they have to be “ideal” classes. Sometimes the classes are effective, but not fun to watch. So these need to be more fun to watch than effective. I will ask some questions (which I have prompted the kids in advance) and then play the game.
I am officially sick of this “cultural difference” where people talk in class. I am currently more upset at the 2-1 students, or at least a certain group of them. We just had the big observed class and a few kids were talking the whole time. It’s rude to do it when I am alone, but then I can slam a book or say something rude in Japanese, but in front of parents when I am giving a demonstration class is just mega rude. You should be on your best behavior. The best part is half of their parents were there and the kids were just babbling away. Some parents were chatting, but they were semi whispering. Honestly if I ever had a kid and he/she was cutting up in class I would drag him/her into the hall and make sure they aren’t loud when they come back. But there is no discipline in Japan, nothing I can do. These kids are now 2nd years and are only going to get worse as 3rd years. I will have to develop some plan to keep them quiet. Maybe I will take away their points or something, which means I will have to make the prize for my point system be worthy.
I think we had some PTA meetings that I was supposed to go to, but I have just been getting frustrated at various things recently and didn’t want to go. One thing is I get 900 memos a day and 899 of them are useless. The 900th one is the one that said which meetings I needed to sit in and not understand anything. But I have to translate them all to figure out what I need to do. I am frustrated that I get so many useless memos and that my Japanese isn’t better.
Half the forms are redundant. I have had to fill out the same vacation time / special leave time form 4 times so far, but they were all slightly different. Just in layout really. I don’t know why I need so many different ones. They all say the same thing.
It’s been almost a month since we had to urgently send in our video of the students’ skit contest. Almost a month and no word. There is no excuse for that, especially since they’ve said they have already watched them all. We turned them in on Friday June 16th and the next Monday I heard which ones were good and which ones were bad. So why the waiting? I can’t explain it, but I am starting to understand it. I am not saying it makes any sense, but I am starting to see how things work. I assume everyone in the group has to watch them and then have time to think about it before they can tell us “everyone was accepted”.
Had two language goofs, one today and one Friday. Today I asked a teacher who some parent was that I always see around town. He told me and I said "oh yes, he has a fat face". What I meant to say was the proverb that literally says "his face is wide" as in well known. But I reversed two words and said he has a wide face, or fat face.
Before that on Friday, we stopped by Indian on the way up to the party. The Japanese wife of the Indian owner asked if there was a party tonight and I said "Yes, there is a discrimination party later". I meant to say farewell party. One is sobetsukai, the other is sabetsukai. One small vowel makes all the difference.
Tuesday, July 11th, 2006
I might have the most wasteful thing we have printed on the color printer so far. Some teacher has to give a presentation on something. He is using MS Power Point. There will be 100 people in the seminar. Not only is he projecting the presentation on a screen, but he printed out each slide on a sheet of paper. Each person will receive the entire presentation in color as well as being able to watch it. Now when I have had to give a presentation, I might print the slides out in black and white, but if so they would be about 8 per page. All these slides have a dark blue background.
The school bell rings slightly off in the teacher’s room and in the rest of the school. I’d say about 1 second off so it sounds like an echo. Some of the teachers act like each time they hear it is the first time and are surprised. The cool social studies teacher across from me just looks up with the annoyed look like I have, but some other teachers act like they are surprised. It has been like this since last week.
[Color Printer Update ]
The person printing the Power Point presentation has already gone through 1.5 color ink cartridges and it is not finished. Remember these are for industrial use and are bigger than regular commercial cartridges. First the original one finished, then he replaced it with a new one. That one finished after about 30 minutes. Now we are on #3 ( or possibly 2.5 if we are being technical).
I am having the worst time figuring out two things. First, I have a plastic crate beside my desk that says in natural native Japanese, put your daily diary here. It has been there since April and I even told all the classes about it. To this day (even though the diary-for-points deadline was Friday) students will ask what they should do with the diaries as they as standing over it.
The second thing is everyday, every single day, some student will ask where a certain teacher’s desk is. I could understand if were different students, but it’s only about two or three students that come per class, and they all ask “is this Otsuka sensei’s desk?” YES. It was yesterday, it was last week, it will be tomorrow, we don’t change desks each month, yes yes yes, learn where it is. It is on the corner.
They rejected our skit for the skit contest. I'm going to save you my temper tantrum, but just imagine an entire page of me screaming at the sheer stupidity of the......nope....just imagine it. I'm actually so mad and frustrated that I can't even formulate a thought on it. It's as if I don't even care.
The 6th grade teacher came over and told me the grade sheet for her class was needed last week and wanted to know if I had finished it. I told her I hadn’t and she said she needed it right away. She asked how long it would take and if I could finish it by Friday. Ha ha, in the US it might take me that long because the grades would actually be commensurate with their effort, but that’s not how it works in Japan. I had a sheet from the last time I went and it showed who answered or even tried to answer my quiz game. If you spoke you got an A for something, another A for effort, and a 5 ability. If you didn’t make a sound you get an A for something, a B for effort, and a 4 for ability. Even the kids that don’t pay any attention in class or have learning disabilities get the same marks as those that really try. That’s fine with me, not my kid who is getting blind reinforcement.
I heard my principal called someone to complain that our school was not accepted into the speech contest. The English teacher told me and then I used it to my advantage. Rather than act like I expected it to happen, which I did since I know how the system works or (doesn't work), I acted like I and the students were heart broken. I think the three students were a bit downtrodden since they practiced really hard for it. The principal came over at some point and told me the news and I laid on the sappy sob story. I told him how the students were really looking forward to it and so was I.
I thought for a minute and said he was going to call someone else about it. If he manages to get us in the contest, we are assured of not winning, but at least the boys can perform.
We still have a speech contest to organize. I have one student in mind, but I've already been told in a Japanese way that she probably won't get it. Even though there is a group mentality, sometimes things are just mentioned to the group so the group feels like they have input, but the decision has already been made. I think this is one of those times.
People ask if I am a lifer in Japan. There is no way I am spending my life here. I could in Thailand, but not here. No way. I'm now thinking 4 years total maybe. That would give me a chance to see my favorite elementary school class as JHS students, at least for one term. There's almost no way I could see my second favorite class as JHS students since they are a year younger. 3 years seems to be a good cycle.
Friday, July 14th, 2006
My big finale plans went off semi-perfectly. Almost perfect I should say. No real problems apart from not having nearly enough candy in the piñata and then running a little extra on time. I led the class into the gym and explained about Mexico and Cinco de Mayo and the whole piñata thing. Then I let a few students take a whack at it while closing their eyes. But Japanese have a process for everything and there is a game using a watermelon that is similar to this so they used the process from that game for this. The hitter person would start at a certain place and walk forward and then take a swing. When they missed they would start all over. I deemed that would take way too long so I just whacked it myself. The candy went everywhere and the kids scurried for it. Then we went back to the room and watched Thumb Wars which is a parody on Star Wars, but the actors are all thumbs.
The best part of that movie thing was actually going to the video store and saying, in Japanese, “I have a really strange question. I am looking for a movie like Star Wars, but it’s about thumbs”. Luckily other foreigners have apparently asked the same question because she knew exactly what I was talking about. So we came back to the English room after the piñata thing and I let them watch the 30 minute movie in Japanese. They were happy and I told them the other class had to do some boring assignment. Then I told them the losing class was mad and promised to fight like mad next quarter. I expect far more journals to be turned in. I already have it so we will watch movies in the elective class if everyone in the class turns in a journal.
After school I was walking around and saw some 3rd grade elementary students in the gym practicing dodge ball. I grabbed a ball and joined in. They were just throwing it against the wall. When I did it made a loud gun sound and all the kids stopped. Then they ran over and made me throw it again and again. Then they made me throw a ball as far as I could across the gym. Then they were saying “throw it at that light” or “try to hit the stage from here”. It was strange and I felt like some animal, and yet it was amusing since they could only throw a short distance.
I didn’t have enough green tea this morning since I had so much to do when I got here. Now I am dragging because of it. It’s past 5 and I am about to pack up and go home. I am supposed to stay late and close all the windows, but I really just don’t feel like it. Plus the VP seems to walk around and double check it anyway. If he is going to do that then there is really no point in someone else doing it. But things must be done according to the way. The way things are done.
I had something strange happen today. Strange in a bad way and I am thoroughly confused. I am writing a book about short stories that I have come across. Well I am writing the short stories, but they are based on shorter tales or ideas I have come across. One is about a doll that was sent over to Japan as a gesture of friendship in the 30's. There is a doll at my school and I made up a story about it.
Then today a student was choosing a story for the recitation part of the speech contest. I flipped through and saw a story was nearly identical. It even had the same name of the doll. So now I have to change mine or not use it at all. I honestly don't know how that happened. I wouldn't plagiarize something. Plus I hope to publish the stories, so how would that look? If I had seen this story before I surely would have at least changed the names. I am really confused about this, but glad I saw it before I printed the stories.
Saturday, July 15th, 2006
I've done nothing today. I went to bed at something like 9:30 last night and woke up at 9:30 this morning. Since then I have been just surfing the web for various things. Nothing in particular, just whatever I could think of. Then I worked on some finishing touches for Yes, I can use chopsticks - the book. Not sure when I will get that out. Then I decided to go to Koriyama, but I couldn't make a plan of what to do in my head. I was going to make the plan in my head, not make a plan about doing things in my head. So by this time sumo was on and I watched that and decided to go around 4, but then at 4 the English translation of sumo came on so I watched some of that. Then I was going to leave around 5:30, but then at 5:50 the grand champion of sumo comes out so I will wait. Now it's 7 and I decided to leave 5 minutes ago. Then it started pouring so I gave up. I'll just stay in and watch videos or surf more.
Monday, July 17th, 2006
Sunday was a busy and productive day. As you can read Saturday was a waste of 24 hours, but I made up for it on Sunday. I woke up around 9am and procrastinated for a while. Then I decided, even though it was Sunday and I have a rule of not driving near the station on Sunday, I was going to run a few errands in town.
First I drove to Aeon Town, which is just the name of a shopping center, though it is about the size of a town. I returned some videos from Tsutaya and rented a few more. Then I decided to search for the Indian food restaurant in Koriyama. I left my car there and walked about 30 minutes to the station area. I was told, by a Canadian, what road it was on. He also said "It's just past God's Party (a bar in town)". So I go to GP and walk just past it. Nothing, maybe I missed it. So I walk back. Nope nothing so I walk all the way to the love hotel Honey Rabbit which is like 8 blocks past GP. Nothing. So I walk back to the 7-11 since they know everything in the area. She told me go past the 2nd light and it was around there. So again I did that, walked all the way to the HR love hotel and turned back. Then I asked people at the shipping store (like Fed-Ex) and they were the first people to be honest with me.
Oh it's a hike down the road. Like a few hundred meters, it's on the corner of where Route 6 crosses Route 4. ARGH. I know where that is and sadly I have driven past it several times. So I walk past the love hotel and sure enough there it is and sure enough I have driven past it a few times. Anyway, I go in and have some pretty good Indian food, though technically he is Pakistani. This place has better Nan, but Mana's in Fukushima city has better curry.
So I found that place, finally I can get some good Indian food once a month rather than having to wait once every three months to get back to Fukushima city. Now I need some Mexican food and my diet of not actually losing weight will be complete.
The reason I mentioned I got directions from a Canadian, is that is about the 5th time I have received vaguely poor directions from a Canadian. The first time was when two of them came to my apartment back when I was a JET, before I moved to a nicer smaller place. They said my apartment was like a 5 minute walk from this cheap and tasty meat and rice place. Wow a five minute walk. So the next weekend I got on my bike and peddled semi fast down the road. Well I have been riding for 5 minutes so it should be right around here. Nope. 25 minutes of fast peddling and I come across it. 25 minutes of active peddling on a bike or a 5 minute walk.
So anyway, after Indian I went to see a movie. I saw Silent Hill, which was somewhat of a random unconnected series of visually intense scenes. It really had minimal plot and often jumped around a bit, but it was ok. I would rather have rented it, but seeing things on the big screen add so much.
Then I went back to my car, which was a good 30 minute walk. I went into my favorite store which is like Wal-Mart and sadly is closing at the end of the month.
Then I came home to my small apartment in the country. All alone.
Tuesday, July 18th, 2006
I think I know why the kids go crazy when I give them chocolate at school. Today I did the final pinata party with the 1st year JHS students. Since there are only 17 and two were absent, the remaining 15 kids got heaps of candy. Then as a form of tithing almost, I told them to give some to their homeroom teacher. I later learned he fussed at them because candy is not allowed at school. Ha, it's been nearly a year and no one has said anything about that. Gotta love the good old non-confrontational Japanese. I'm not super worried though I will be more subdued about it from now on. The teacher that got mad at the kids is one of a few that still smoke at school even though it is banned prefecture wide. They "secretly" go to the far end of the school, the back door of the gym and smoke. So if they say something to me I'll mention smoking.
Recently I've been using red and yellow cards in class to keep kids quiet. Most kids are really good, but a few get loud sometimes. When they are loud I pull a yellow card, like in soccer since the World Cup is huge in Japan, then when they are loud again I pull another YC. Finally the 3rd time I pull the red card and dock them points.
I had two classes today, both with the 1st years. Then there was some meeting I went to with the 1st years. I do like them as a whole, though there are a few that are...well terds. I mean a few try and are just not great, but a few are just terds. One or two now, which is not bad, but still they get others to chat too. I think this party and beating the other class was a good idea. The losing classes vowed to destroy the winning classes and the winning classes vowed to maintain their victory. I'm going to narrow down the points system over the summer.
If I haven't mentioned already, I am going to Atlanta for 2.5 weeks starting next weekend (I should really pack) so there will be no update for about 3-4 weeks. When I get back around the 10th I will stay in Tokyo for a day or two and then maybe travel a bit, even though I will have no money. I should have stayed in the US for another week, but my mom goes back to work on the 7th and I would just be sitting at the house watching TV with no car.
I did some web searching and found my pages on Japan's Coffin sized Capsule Hotels are getting some wicked fat hits. I don't think I can really pull that off anymore. Saying things like 'wicked fat' and 'mad props'. Anyway, they are getting several hits from all over the place and one link is even in Arabic. Freaky.
Wednesday, July 19th, 2006
I turned into the little host earlier. I was in the kitchen room waiting for my green tea to steep and someone came in for some hot water. There is this thing in Japan like an electric kettle that keeps water near boiling and people just press a button for some to come out. It has no hose and needs refilling. It’s best to boil the water first since this is designed more to maintain hot water than heat it from nothing. So that was empty and I volunteered to heat some water and then pour it in there while I was waiting. Then someone else came in and looked at the coffee so I said I would also make some coffee.
The coffee was no problem to make, though I am sure the drinker will think it tastes less good than if one of the Japanese ladies made it. The water in the big pot took a while to boil, but then it did and I opened the kettle thing. Then the lid closed and I nearly burned my hand. I opened it again, nearly burned the hand, and it closed. This happened 5 times before my brain saw the pattern. Then I held it open with a chopstick using my left hand and poured the hot water in. The lid of the hot water pot thing came off and made a loud noise, then the boiling steam (as opposed to cool steam) came out and nearly scalded my hand. Then I dropped something else and the kettle lid closed again. I heard the teacher’s room get quiet and I had an instantly brilliant idea to said I’m sorry in a high voice so they would magically think it was someone else. Before that thought could pass the “stupid ideas” filter I said “I’m sorry, that was rude” in Japanese….in a high pitched voice. There were a few chuckles so I just continued.
Not that this means anything to you, but I am converting back from PHP to ColdFusion. Any über-programmer geeks reading this need not lecture me on which one is better. That’s a moot point and has nothing to do with why I am changing back. What does have something to do with it is the fact that I can do some cool things in CF and only modify existing scripts in PHP. Even then I can only modify some basic things. So there, that’s out there. I’m moving back to ColdFusion.
I had some coffee this morning since I wanted a coffee flavored smoothie and I had some bananas. Man, I need to get the hint already that my body doesn’t want coffee. I had the burst of caffeine and then the usual two cups of green tea with more caffeine and I was bouncing off the wall. My chest actually hurts a little and I think it’ s from the coffee, plus I had this hyper rush after lunch. I wasn’t running around so much as just really alert. I’m usually good at getting hints, or bad I should say. That’s why I am single probably. I go out with a girl a few times and then call her and she has some legitimate excuse, but I take it as a hint. Or maybe it is a hint and I am right. I don’t know.
BIG NEWS: For me at least. One of my 3rd year students passed the pre-2nd level of the standardized English test. This is usually taken by 2nd year high school students. It looks really good for me and much better for him. Actually all the kids passed the interview, which is probably because we practiced everyday for it. I bet most kids don’t practice with a foreigner like that and I was fortunate enough to do that a few times at Fukushima Higashi High School in Fukushima city.
You know what I hate the most about not having money? My options are limited. I can't just up and do whatever I want. I don't mean things like buying a new TV or something. I mean I have to just sit at home most of the time watching movies or doing things that don't cost anything. I can't travel since that costs money, I can't even drive into Koriyama since gas is around $35 a tank and then parking is outrageous. I'm just trading time for money and waiting for the next paycheck. I can't really enjoy life when I am always worried about budgets.
Now I am currently broke mainly because I intended it. I made some big purchases expecting to just stay in town and do nothing this summer. But when I make a budget there is always some unexpected, and usually stupid, expense. Once it was a $400 car tax. I was fine with the $1,400 car tax/inspection, but then getting another $400 tax right after was a bit much. This check was messed up because I didn't know about some $200 citizen's fee. Next month will be a mixture of finishing some debts I can't pay this check and then sending back a lot to start paying back the ticket. Then I have to start saving for Thailand in December. I had thought about trying to take some students and teachers around the US over spring break 2007, but I can't possibly see how I can afford that. I'm going to start saving $200 a month for all these fees and scams as well as send back $1,000 a month to over pay some debts then save some. It's going to be tight for a while, but I need to plan for the future better.
Friday, July 21, 2006
Last night there was a party in town, in Koriyama city, and I went. It was a farewell party for the 5 Koriyama JETs / NT who are leaving. One has been here for 7 years. She used to visit one of the schools that closed to make my new school so I had all those kids write this special Japanese style card and then I took all their pictures, cut them out, and glued them on this heart shaped card. So I drove all the way into town and gave that to her and some cheesy little English camp diplomas to the other people leaving and then came back. I didn’t drink since I had to drive.
Oh, I am about to drop my mobile phone off the Grand Canyon. I hate it. Maybe I can find a way to drop it from the plane next week. First I hate the “New Flat Panel Speaker” system, because there is actually no speaker. The whole top panel is a strange speaker thing and I can never actually hear people. Phone maker people: Bad Idea. The second and main reason is it sometimes doesn’t actually send an email when I send an email. I sent 5 emails from the phone to this guy that supervises us and asked him for directions. From Tuesday, through 5:30 on Thursday. Then he calls me around 6:50 and tells me where it is. He said he just received all 5 at once. So they held the whole speech thing for me which delayed everyone. I feel so bad. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone, but I did have a good time.
One funny thing in my favor. Most of the big wigs from the board of education were there. Not the top dog, but all the dudes under him. A few came up and talked to me and said they heard I was such a good teacher. A really great teacher. I am curious as to where they heard this, because I think I am a bad teacher. I always think I should be doing more or the lessons should be better or the kids are getting as much as they should have. Basically I am always worried. But this guy, who is way up there said he heard I was a great teacher. I guess that is good as far as job security goes, but I am curious who said that. Then I had made some small English Camp diplomas for the people leaving. They were cheesy and silly, but all the big wigs came over and said they were great and I was great for doing it. I was really a bit confused because they were way over-reacting for the effort I put in.
Today is an off day / duty day. It’s not an official school day, but of course we all have to come to school. Luckily I have made things to do like writing this, my short stories, rearranging my desk, cleaning the English room, and so on. One thing I have to do, well two, is help two kids with the speech contest. The girl doing the recitation part will come by in about 20 minutes and we will go over it one last time before I leave for the US. Then she will start to memorize the speech. The second guy will be more fun.
I spent an hour translating his English translation to actual English. First he wrote something in Japanese, then used Yahoo translation to find the English, then gave that to me. It was close to making no sense. I wrote out something that was about one page long and pretty well summed up the basic idea of his speech. The other English teacher, who is really cool, had some small points for me to look at. It’s just a Japanese culture thing to correct native speakers. I have had it done hundreds of times. The small changes he wants will require me to re-write the whole thing. I reference the intro in the conclusion and he wants me to take out something from the intro. Plus it seemed to be really petty and not make any sense. I’ll take another look at that later. If I can just delay something until I leave today then it will be alright.
Green tea makes me very alert. Coffee makes me giddy and bounce off the walls, but GT just makes me alert and want to do things. Things like program computers and plan activities. So in general that’s good. I’m glad I am over coffee. It is easy to get addicted to the rush of coffee as well as the many flavors, but the health benefits are minimal if any. Whereas green tea is almost pure life in a green liquid. I know it is working because I had a class with the 1st year JHS students on the 3rd floor the other day and I wasn’t panting like an old dog after climbing the stairs. When I get back from the US I plan to exercise on a regular basis. Or at least make plans to exercise.
I managed to stay busy until 3:40 then I finished everything and had nothing to do. Nothing to the point that I was just moving things around on my desk like you do on the first day of a new job. Maybe this can go here, or this can go here. Then boredom started to set in and time slowed down. I just finished working on the original speech, or as the Japanese call it origination. We had to cut it several times since it was about 7 minutes when the student was reading it fast, before any vocal or dramatic pauses. That meant when he slowed it down it would be around 10 minutes. Finally I cut it down to about one page and it worked. I recorded my voice reading it in several different styles. I read it fast then slow then sentence by sentence with time for him to repeat, then each of the hard words. It should be ok. Then I called the package delivery place and told them to come to my apartment tomorrow morning and pick up my fatty luggage and take it to the airport check out counter. Japan is such a country of contradictions. Some things are super convenient, others are painfully inefficient.
Here is a prime example of Japanese logic, and I am not necessarily saying this happened to me or to anyone at all…..
The school won’t be open on X-day so you can't come in. Please fill out your vacation time off form for that day by tomorrow.
can’t come to school for some reason, but since we won’t be at work for
I think I am finished packing my big bag. I always feel like I am forgetting something since I pack at the last minute. My bag is full of dumb stuff that I just want to take home. It isn't all dumb though. But it's not all clothes. I plan to buy a lot when I am there.
Hey it's a square watermelon.
Tomorrow I am going to
Fukushima city to hang out with Dave and a few others. We are going to eat
Indian food and then see Pirates of the Caribbean and then maybe do
karaoke. It will be the last time for some people and a bit sad. It's a
bit more than I want to spend, but I have to go and give Dave the last bit
of money I borrowed for the computer and Taiwan trip. While I am there I
could really use some Indian food and need to talk to the guy anyway since
I am working on his website for the restaurant. Oh well, it will be my
only spending thing of the month. Money is going to be really tight and I
need to plan ahead and make sure I have money to survive upon when I get
back. I will have 10-12 days before we get paid and will have to get back
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