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Getting There…
Tuesday, September 01, 2009

            My overall fitness grand redesign is falling into place, though slowly. Last night I went to Core Conditioning and found out it was not yoga, but full on aerobics. I was nearly dead, but then we changed the intensity after the first hour and it moved into some stretching-yoga type activity. I can probably keep doing it although I was completely dead afterwards. There were several lovely ladies in this class too as well as the teacher, but I doubt I attracted any of them with my blobbish girth in the background.

            During the day before the death class was the 58th Annual Koriyama Oratorical Elimination Contest for His Imperial Highness Prince Takamado’s Trophy. In English we call that the English Speech Contest. One of my girls got 2nd place in recitation and she deserved it. Everyone feels like their students should win, but I was more realistic about it. I had four students participating from 2 schools and would have been happy if they all won, but realistically I only had hopes for 1. The other three were average on their performances and I didn’t expect them to win, but the one that did get 2nd was a little above average. I would have been really mad if she didn’t get somewhere in the top 8. I wasn’t expecting her to win since the private Catholic school was participating and they always blow away the competition, but I was hoping she would get the top 8. Second place is just a bonus really.

            Speaking of the private Catholic school, I actually don’t think they should be able to participate since they are private. In one sense I wish the city would copy their model for teaching English, but at the same time it’s slightly unfair. They are private and have a waiting list for kids to enter which means if someone is a jackass in class they can be kicked out and someone else can enter. In public schools we can’t even kick someone out of class much less out of the school. The girl that won the origination (original speech) contest was Chinese which is also unfair. Granted she’s not from an English speaking country, but still it’s unfair.

            Honestly the whole thing is a bit skewed to me the way they do it. I don’t know how these are judged, but one thing they should do is have students show up in white shirts and black/blue pants or skirts and not use names or school names. That way there would be less bias in judging. When I judged some contests back when I was a JET the other judges would bring in totally irrelevant things like “well her father is a local dentist who just started a new branch and it would be nice for her to win”…..or “well that school won last year so they shouldn’t win this year”. It was simply the dumbest judging I had every taken part in. I can’t imagine this group would be like that since the chief judge is a foreigner and another judge is as well. I really think there should be either all or 4/5ths foreign judges since it is an English contest. If there were a Japanese speaking contest I would expect all Japanese judges.

Stupid American T-shirt and custom Thai-made short sleeve shirt. At least they are both white.

Staying Busy.
Friday, September 04, 2009

            I have core conditioning on Mondays, a possible English-Japanese exchange on Tuesdays, free time on Wednesdays, Japanese class on Thursdays, and Power Yoga on Friday. Last night, Thursday, I went to the first J-class and it was tough. Luckily everyone is around my level with one girl being really advanced. Last night we took a placement test for the class. There’s only going to be one class for people who already speak some Japanese, but the teacher wants to find the general ability of everyone. That’s fine, but what annoyed me were two things on the test.

            I have always hated, and avoided, Japanese language tests because they intentionally try to trick you with small things. I thought it was just how people are tested, but then I heard the English tests the students take and the listening was how it should be. Two people who annunciate were speaking clearly and slowly and not trying to confuse you. Whereas the Japanese test goes out of its way to trick people. Here are two questions we had last night nearly verbatim: (they were all in Japanese of course)

1) Teacher: Please open your books to page 60.
    Student: But sensei, we stopped at page 57 last week.
    Teacher: Oh 57 you say, well study pages 58 and 59 at home then.

  What page are they starting from today?

            57
            58
            59
            60

If you aren’t great with numbers this is confusing. The English question like this would not say any other numbers since that would be confusing. It would just say something like “please open your textbook to page 60…question What page should they open their book to?” See that’s simple enough and not designed to trick you.

2) [There are four females in the photo dressed differently.]

  A: Which one is your sister?
  B: Oh she’s wearing a long skirt.       (that narrows it down to 2 people)
  A: Does she have glasses.
  B: Uun.
  A: Oh it’s that girl.

UUN? WTF is that? Un means YES, but Uun means NO. Seriously? On a Japanese language test? That’s like having someone say uh-huh or uh-uh. It’s slang and shouldn’t be on a test. It sounded like a grunt. STUPID. Then I was so annoyed at the question I missed the answer.

            So those two points annoyed me since it’s so typical and so stupid to have stuff like that on tests in Japan. It’s weird how there are different standards for people learning English vs. Japanese. Some Japanese people say that Japanese is uniquely difficult to learn, with which I disagree, but if that is true it’s because they make it that way by testing people stupidly. Seriously, if I wanted to make an English test equivalent to the Japanese tests I would put words with Ls and Rs since that’s a weak point for them, as well as TH sounds. What is this….1st? Is it Farst, First, Fast, Filst. It would be so easy to make a test the same way, but then people might feel uneasy about it which is more important in Japan than actually learning anything.

            On a lighter note, today I had 2 classes that went great. One was with the first graders who are still cute and well mannered. There’s one kid who does his own thing sometimes, but is overall ok. Today we did “fruits” and they had fun. Then I had the 4th graders who are currently my favorite class. I reviewed some things and then had them play with little foam letters. They mostly knew all the letters, but I reviewed the names on the board. Later I will teach them the sounds of the letters as well as let them play my video games. They were at just the right level this time. Most kids knew most of the letters, but there was no one who was a master of all and no one who knew nothing about any of them.

            One of the kids might be autistic and I was worried about her, but she knew all the letters well. It reminded me of a student at a special school I went to a few times as a JET back in the day. He was a little bit more autistic than this case and would often hit himself hard if he made a mistake. Just about the time I thought I had him figured out he blew me away. They had small classes with about 10 students, but one day someone was absent so there were only 9. The teacher counted everyone and said 9 in Japanese and then looked at me and said 9 in English. When she said “9”, this kid looked up and said “Nine companions, so be it. You shall be the fellowship of the ring” in perfect English with correct intonation and emphasis. Later he quoted something else from LOTR that was a two person dialogue and he did both parts in different voices and it too was amazing, perfectly timed, semi-relevant, and in great English.

Progress Begets Progress.
Sunday, September 6, 2009

            Now that I have been exercising and eating better (most of the time) I actually look forward to eating better and exercising (most of the time). I no longer enjoy eating junk food and actually really think about what it will do to me in regards to running. If I eat McDonald's then it will make me run heavily and slowly. Now I eat a few small tomatoes, bananas, some carrot/spinach/tomato juice or something else light like that. For dinner tonight I made (or tried to make) tofu hamburgers, but they were too soft and I need to redesign the plan. They were über-healthy though and relatively cheap. I haven't weighed myself recently, but I'm sure I am lighter. I feel better overall.

              Tomorrow I go to my second new school. It should be good, but it's so small it's going to be tough. I say that because there are only about 28 students at the whole school, whereas my other new school has 28 students in the 6th grade. This school has 2 grades together which is going to be interesting as far as teaching goes. The lower grade will be lost or in too deep, but the old class will be bored. It's going to be a challenge, but it should be fun overall. They sent me a plan, but one of the activities I never do and the other uses this stupid new textbook for the 5-6 graders. It has more Japanese than English, Japanese explanations of Japanese culture (what?), and generally poorly leveled activities. The 5th graders are doing "head, shoulders, knees, and toes" which is so clearly a first grade game. To me it's insulting and I am going to try to use it as little as possible.

              Then after school I have another round of Core Conditioning. This time Dan said he won't wuss out and will make it. It's great for losing weight and generally getting in shape, but it's is brutal. The teacher is cute though.

Busy, Busy, Busy.
Friday, September 11, 2009

            I have had a busy week and I am exhausted. Monday I went to a new school and it was great. The school is really small and almost shouldn’t even be used since another of my schools (Tadano) is about 1-2km away. I would think, from a financial point of view, it would be cheaper to bus the kids over to the other one since it’s much bigger and could easily handle the 28 students. Yes, there are 28 students total. The classes are together usually so grades 1-2 are in one room with 6 students, 3-4 together with 6 students, and 5-6 usually together with 16. The school is great and like a family and I am glad it’s not a part of the other school. There is something really amazing and special about small country schools. I already learned all their names and just feel at home there. The only slightly strange thing about that school is that the teacher’s room is so small I sit by the vice principal and it looks like I am some foreign VP. Two visitors came by Monday and looked at me really funny, more so than usual.

            Another new school (somewhat) that I went to was the extension of Tadano, my other new school (the bigger one near the above mentioned smaller one). There are some students who live too far from the main school and go to this really small school in the country. I love it there and the kids are awesome and adorable, but there are only 9 kids in 4 grades. I really think a bus (even buying a bus company) would be cheaper than this, but again I am glad they don’t. There are 2 first graders and 2 second graders, ONE third grader, and 4 fourth graders. There are two classrooms, the smallest teacher’s room I have ever seen, a lunchroom (the size of my living room), and about 1 bathroom per student. The gym is smaller and has a domed roof which is rare. There was both an amazing family feeling there as well as a slightly lonely feeling. It was like we were in the remote ski lodge from the movie The Shining. I can’t fully explain the feeling, but it somewhat felt like an old haunted building. The kids were really amazing though and far better at English than I expected. I really want to go there more, but it’s only about once a month.

            Tuesday I came here to Konan and had one class with the loud kids, but it went ok. I found they respond well to drawing and had them draw various monsters while telling them how many eyes, ears, noses, mouths, and heads. It was a face lesson and went over relatively well. I think it was because the one mega-loud rude kid wasn’t there. That morning he had a huge temper tantrum, the likes of which were biblical. Not even epic, but biblical. He was kicking and screaming as 3 teachers were trying to pull him into the clinic. Then we could hear him all around the school screaming as often as a clock ticks. It was funny since it was so over the top. What struck me as really funny was that when I went to class and asked how many students, they said everyone minus one because he “went home with a fever”. They all knew what happened, everyone did, but they are a group and they protect their own to some extent.

            After lunch I started preparing for my classes at the extension mentioned above. I also had a class at Tadano with the 6th graders and started making a new game about directions. As usual it got bigger and bigger and then really out of hand. It was a good game in the end and it took a while since I made it permanent by doing color printouts and laminating it all, but it still took a while. Then I prepared lessons for the extension school, which I will herein refer to as Bunko (bun is like part/division/section and Ko (or kou really) is school). When I got home and looked at the lesson plans (that I had forgotten) I realized I planned for the wrong lesson. I forgot the notes because after the intense class of Core Conditioning on Monday, Dan and Kumiko convinced me to go to Indian food although I didn’t have the time or money. It caused enough worries for me to make me remember to not go out again after a 7-9pm class. Anyway, I ended up working on stuff until midnight Tuesday.

            Then on Wednesday I got an email from a teacher at Ohse and he explained the lessons for Thursday. I really wanted to make a movie with my new computer and advanced editing program and the topics were “have to” and then “how to” for separate grades. I thought of a few good ideas and started mapping them out later in the afternoon on Wednesday. They took me until 1am to semi-finish and then I woke up at 5:30 to add subtitles and render them. They were short and needed a bit more work, but the kids really enjoyed them. I used some special effects to make myself talk to myself. It was useful for conversations since I had no other person there.

            Finally Thursday was here and I could have a rest. I thought about going to Jintei all day and having a beer and relaxing slow dinner then doing nothing in the apartment. About the time I got home and was going to head over I realized I had Japanese class that night so I scurried around getting a few supplies for today and then went to class. The class was ok although we haven’t really done anything yet. The first day we took a test and then last night we checked the answers and talked about the reasons. It was helpful, but I hope we pick up the pace soon. We did talk about that stupid question more and I’m sticking with my objection that it was stupid to have a question where the speaker says “un” versus “uun”. It’s like having someone say “uh-huh” and “uh-uh”. It’s slang and shouldn’t be on a test.

            Tonight I have power yoga, which was a bit odd last week, but I wanted to go. A teacher just told me I had signed up for a party for tonight so I can’t go to yoga. I miss the class with the other teacher since it seemed a bit different and better for me. So I guess I will go to the party tonight around 7 and drink a little since it’s been such an exhausting week. Once I get more in the habit it should be a little better. I definitely think making those two short videos was too much for one week. Maybe I can make one per week and flip flop which grade they are for. One good thing about making them was the students loved them, but said they wanted to see something better next time. That will cause me to constantly improve and learn new skills.

188.
Saturday, September 12, 2009

            I went bowling with Lydia, Paula, Yuya, Dan, and Kumiko tonight and bowled a 99 the first game and then I changed balls. Bowling balls, I changed bowling balls. I was using a L10, but it was light and I kept throwing it so I changed to an LL12. The grip was great and the weight felt good. I was just aiming for the center dot and hurling down the line and I kept making strikes. I started out with three in a row for the infamous turkey. I don't know what happened the second game, but I am considering getting my own ball. We have a bowling game with the board of education in November so it would be nice to get something before then so I can look good at that.

 

Waste and Waists.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

            Today fell into the frustrating day starting around lunch. They prepared the lunch as usual and as I sat down to eat I was told several teachers were eating in the elementary lunchroom since the 3rd and 4th graders were on an overnight field trip. Fair enough, I haven’t eaten up there with the kids in a while. So I go to grab my tray and see some extra things on the table such as Japanese pickles and some kind of pickled eggplant that is awesome. So I go to grab one and a teacher said I couldn’t because the kids only get three grapes each and it would confuse them if I had more than them.

            This annoyed me for two reasons. First, it makes the kids sound stupid. They will become confused that I, the bigger adult teacher, have more food than them on my plate. When I hear “they will be confused”, that really means “they won’t understand why you are not doing the exact same thing as them and it will teach them to think for themselves…which is bad”. The second thing is that I am supposed to eat the same amount as an elementary first grader. I’m grown and have slightly more metabolic needs than a 5 year old, but in Japan everyone must do the same thing at the same time in the same proportions.

            Then we start eating and the girls around me say “we hate grapes, do you want them?” So I said yes and I ate them. Then I looked around and saw nearly no one eating their grapes. I literally mean 1-2 people per table of 12. I asked why they got grapes if they don’t like them and was told by a JHS student that all the lunches must be the exact same before starting. Then they all start eating in unison and end at the same time. So if a kid is allergic to something and cannot eat it, he still gets his equal portion on his plate and it’s either given away or thrown out. To this day I get a milk everyday and give it to someone. I have told them I am never going to drink one since I can’t. It’s not about preference or taste, it’s about violent pain. I saw the plate of grapes to be tossed when lunch was over and it was huge.

            When I went to elementary school we were able to choose our own lunch and get extras of something or nothing of something else. Granted that required individuality and independent thinking, but it was far less wasteful than here. The amount of food that is thrown away each day is appalling, but at least none of the kids are confused about doing things differently.

 

State Champion !!!
Friday, September 18, 2009

            My student who won the city finals for the speech contest went on to win the state championship as well. Technically here it’s called a prefectural contest, but a prefecture is like a state, just smaller. To be fair, I don’t know if she deserved to fully take the first prize, but she did deserve to get in the top 6. I honestly think the reason she won was because A) she had a good speech that was solid and she delivered it well, B) she possibly had too many gestures, but they were all natural and never felt like too much, C) she went last and her performance was the last thing on the judge’s minds, and mostly D) the 3 kids before her gave average performances and the one right before her was a sad solemn speech.

            This kid recited Anarchy in the UK to me when she was a 5th grader. I’ve had my eye on her ever since. There’s something about her that’s a little different in a good way. As an elementary student she wore some black pants with a chain connecting her legs at the knees. I had never seen that anywhere, much less on a Japanese student. She has her own sense of style that is an actual thing and not her merely copying someone. She has a sister who I assumed would be the same way and this girl was copying, but nope. Her sister is normal and dresses regularly with no knee-chains. I’m going to remember her name and look for her TV show in about 10 years. She’s definitely not going to have some office job.

            At Konan, in the computer room, we have the Guinness Book of World Records 30 slowest computers. They are about 1.5Ghz machines with 512mb RAM. Windows itself takes up most of that then all the virus protection software plus the security let’s-block-any-site-that-is-remotely-useful software takes up the rest. When it boots it takes about 3 minutes to get to the non-hourglass start page. Then when you double click on internet explorer it takes another 2 minutes for it to simply open and another 2 minutes for the page to load. From double click to being able to use a web page in 5 minutes is torture. It’s actually 5 minutes, I timed it. Plus the kids were constantly like “Ryan, my computer isn’t up yet…..I know just wait 2 minutes….Ryan it’s still not up….seriously dude that was 5 seconds, wait a full two minutes….Ryan it’s….ARE YOU SERIOUS……2 minutes….count to 240 in Japanese, do it now (they count fast)”. I basically went around to each computer and typed it in by hand. When it was over I used the “instant shutdown” program on all of them which annoyed the kids, but class was 5 minutes over and they were ignoring me.

            So next week is a three day holiday (technically 5 counting the weekend). I am going camping with Matt, Keiko, and a few other people. I’m going to try to buy a table that goes around a grill since it’s always such a hassle to grill by holding things in one hand doing the grilling with the other. Then there is no where to put anything and you have to balance and yadda yadda yadda. The table is only $40 and the grill fits in the middle. Other than that I am only buying food for one meal and some alcohol and that’s it really. It should be fun and relaxing as long as the incoming typhoon avoids us.

             Oh, I was wrong in my assessment of the computers. They are not 1.5Ghz with 512. They are in fact SLOWER. I wanted to check and see how fast they actually were in case it was some software bogging it down. Seriously, this is on the verge of absurd. Here is a screen capture of the system tab on the control panel.

 

Green Screen.
Sunday, September 20, 2009

            I ordered a green screen a few weeks ago and had it shipped FedEx 2nd Day air. Then they sent me an email and said "your package has shipped, it should be there in 8 days". LOL. Shipping Fail. Anyway, it came and I haven't had time to set it up, but then on Friday (payday) I went out and bought the cheapest things possible to hang it in my apartment. Said cheap things are 2 camping lantern poles for $20 each, a laundry pole across the top since it stretches out to 4m (12 feet ish) for about $8, 2x 250watt work lights to light the screen evenly for $10 each, and several towel clips ($2 for 6) which are big clips that would hold a towel across said laundry pole. I guess a picture is worth 1,000 words.

my home made chroma key green screen

The green screen in my kitchen with wrinkles.

lantern poles to hold up my chroma key green screen, they go up to 2 meters

Lantern stand #1 (of 2).

clips to hold up my chroma key green screen

By the ceiling showing the clip and the top of the lantern stand.

lights for chroma key green screen

The two 250 watt lights. I have to diffuse them later when I have more time.

 

                I was a little surprised/disappointed at the color of the green screen as I always thought it was some bright neon green, but really it's just plain old regular green. It's actually on the dark green side a bit. I think I could have found a screen that size here in Japan, but I assumed it was a special bright color. I didn't pay too much extra for it, just $50 shipping, but that brought the total to around $100 and I could have used that money for a bigger screen had I known it was just a regular green.

The Panya.
Friday, September 25, 2009

            I’m at Konan today and as usual some local bread shop stopped by in their delivery van. When this happens the office lady comes out and announces it with a sense of urgency. I’ve never understand what the fascination was since I don’t eat a lot of bread. She’ll come out and say “panya san ga kita  (pahn ya san gah key-ta)” and people act surprised and pleased and scurry outside to buy some bread. They always translate the situation for me even though A) I know how to say bread store in Japanese, B) I have told them a billion point 5 times that I don’t eat bread unless forced to, and C) if I wanted bread I would buy it at the store. It’s not like they are selling something we can’t buy anywhere. Are they selling designer bread for a few yen? I don’t know and don’t understand why people go crazy when the panya shows up.

            Camping was fun Sunday-Tuesday, but I ended up sleeping for 12 hours Tuesday night when I got home. Wednesday I goofed off all day and then made another video for Ohse about “Could you tell me how to get to ____?” It was nice and the kids liked it and requested I get better for the next one. They didn’t say it like I was an idiot, more like a challenge for me to improve my skills. I had a split screen where my “twin” passed something across the alleged boundary. It involves key framing a split screen at a certain moment and isn’t terribly hard to do. I asked what my classes would be next week and one will be great for a video. I also used my green screen for parts of the video to make it look like I was in a Paris train station and then flying at the end.

            Just had some good news come in, though for you it’s merely the next paragraph. Since my student won the prefectural speech contest she is going to Morioka which is up north about 2 hours by bullet train. I wanted to go, but it would cost $200 to go up and back by train or 8 hours in a car with my principal. He’s nice and all, but 4 hours up and 4 back are a bit much, especially since we would leave here at 5am. So not only did the board of ed allow me to go up and said they will reimburse me, but they also said I could get a hotel room for Friday night and they would pay for that. Another good thing is they always overpay rather than pay based on real expenses. For me merely paying me back would be dandy, but they pay for my time as opposed to my actual expenses. In the end I am glad I can go support my student.

2 More Poles.
Saturday, September 26, 2009

            I rode my bike to the station this morning for my usual routine of McDonald's breakfast and then some Starbucks coffee. I need to stop that since the SB is like 2 cups of sugar, but it's good and I like getting out of the house. After that I rode to Viva Home and looked at two light poles with 500w lights. The lights I have now work ok, but I need stronger lights on poles. Now I am using my lantern poles for the lights since I found a way to hang the green screen in my apartment using nails. The lights aren't made to hang on these poles so they don't work all that well, but they are ok. The pole lights are about $30 each, but that includes a pole and a 500w light so it's not bad. I'll post a video when I do something worthwhile with the GS. Now I've only been goofing off with it.

Japan, the magical wonderland.....
Sunday, September 27, 2009

            Everyone always thinks Japan is a wonderful magical fairy land that floats high in the clouds and treats foreigners like heroes and gold medal winners. It's not, it's just a place that treats us well sometimes and makes fun of us other times.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/94000-Japanese-McDonalds-Makes-Fun-of-White-People

 

Fureeeee.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

            Last night we had the welcome party for the BoE even though it was on a Monday. It was supposed to be last Friday, but the big chief couldn’t come then and that’s what’s really important in Japan. He’s a super nice guy and I like him, but to be honest it wasn’t his welcome party and they shouldn’t have made it inconvenient for everyone by making it convenient for him. I know rank is more important than everyone having a good time, but it was a little annoying for me. We usually have a nice after party somewhere and really chat and get to know each other much better, but we had to more or less go straight home.

            One thing we did that Ben started doing a few years back is a Japanese Yell. It’s really an honor in Japan to be yelled at this way so we do it. Basically someone is chosen to be yelled at, another person or group yells “osu” which is really just a grunt, then they raise their right hands up diagonally while yelling fureeeee (fu ray), then their left hands. Then you stretch the recipient’s name over three long syllables and then do a little clapping bit. We did this for the new people and then for some big wigs at the BoE then we sat down.

            That part was fun, but the part before this wasn’t. First the new people introduced themselves and gave a short speech as usual. Then we started the party that was supposed to go for 2 hours. I enjoy walking around mingling at these things and talking to individuals, but that’s not the Japanese way. About an hour into the party someone suggested all the Japanese people give a short speech in English about who they are and what they taught and so on. This took a good 20 minutes. Then to balance that out someone suggested all the old foreigners get up and give a little speech in Japanese. I hated this since I never speak Japanese and mine has gone to pot. This took about 30 minutes. Then we did the fureeee thing mentioned above. Then the party was over. It felt like it had just started and then it was over.

            I took a taxi back with a few people was heading in when John said he was going to a 2nd party. I really shouldn’t have gone, but I did. I ended up having 2 Coronas and a Guinness. The worst part is I got really screwed on the bill and will certainly have correct change from now on. The bill was $20 a person, but all I had was $100 so I took the bill and what was on the table and said I’ll just keep the change. There was $160 on the table and we owed $195 so I ended up paying $35 which most likely means someone didn’t pay. I really shouldn’t have gone to the second party at all, but John went who rarely goes out so I wanted to go for this rare experience.

            Today I have two classes at Konan elementary. I’m not really prepared for either of them, but I done these lessons before so I can just make up stuff as I go alone. One class is with the hellishly loud class so I am going to have them do some drawing which really made them quiet last time. I might try to take the afternoon off and go watch some of the JHS student’s games.

[later]

            I am probably one of not many who are glad about the USD dropping. I actually wish it would drop further like around .80 to the 100 yen. That would give me a wicked profit when I sent money home. Honestly if the dollar got around 80, I would send most of my paycheck home and live off tofu and tomatoes here. At .80, with me sending back $1,000 it would end up as $1,200. That’s a $200 profit which makes up for years of the dollar being at 120 yen and me losing money. Now I gotta get these loans paid off so that money can be more profit.

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