Daily Journal of an Assistant Language Teacher / Automatic Language Tape Recorder (ALT) in the JET Programme living  and learning in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. More information on the JET Programme here and here. A real life Fukushima JET.

Monday March 1st

Made it back from Kyushu alive, just barely. We had AJET meetings all weekend, which were boring for the most part, but it was great to see everyone. I'm not saying AJET is boring, but all organizations must have occasional meetings to map out the future and discussing the past. Who really enjoys sitting in a room for 8 hours talking about stuff like that?

I get there Friday and we go out to a restaurant and then a bar and drink and party all night. That was fun, but I felt bad the next day because there were too many people at the place we stayed and not enough beds. Saturday we eventually get to this cool place on the mountain with bungalows and an onsen. So we check in briefly since we are always running late and go straight to the long meeting. The details aren't really interesting as mentioned above.

That night we all go to the onsen, sexes separately of course, then we have a big Nabe style dinner prepared for us by someone's host mother and some people's girlfriends. It was quite tasty and I really need to learn how to make this stuff on my own. It's really just a big post of a Japanese style stew I guess. After that everyone drinks for a few hours, but I headed out early to get some sleep. I was exhausted from no sleep the night before and the 2 hour flight. I have heard your body compresses during flight and that's why you always feel tired after a flight. I still think flying is bizarre, I can't understand how metal shaped a certain way lifts hundreds of tons in the air.

I pass out around 10pm and sleep like a log all night. There was a massive storm and everyone was scared, but being from Georgia we have our share of thunderstorms so I slept through most of it. I woke up the next morning and we had a breakfast prepared for us. Had I been thinking earlier I would have prepared a Southern Style breakfast for everyone. Of the few things I can cook,  a good breakfast is one of them.

Then I had to leave to catch a taxi and then a bus then another bus then a train and a bus and then the flight. Well I missed everything between the taxi and the flight so I had to alter course a bit. I was at the bus center in Kumamoto (coo mah moe toe) and the next bus to my airport was going to put me there after the flight, then a bus to another station pulled up and I explained the situation to the driver and he said I could do it. So I got on and relaxed and tried to go to sleep. Finally I get to sleep and a woman wakes me up. Geez, did she want to sit here? Nope, she was babbling full speed about something. I heard airport, following, next stop. So I repeated next stop and she said ok ok. I didn't really know what was going on but I figured I was going to miss the flight I might as well get off the bus. Plus Japanese people don't often intervene like that so I figured it was a sign.

I get off the bus and I figure I had to wait an hour for some bus and hope it was going to the airport. Then as I get off I see another bus "following" ours that says Fukuoka Airport (foo coo oh ca). HA, that was great. I wish I could thank that nice lady now that I figured out what she was talking about. I thanked her, but I was half asleep and uncertain of what was going on.

It was 12:30 and I had been on the bus about an hour so I figured I would make it with no problem. For some reason the bus stopped at almost every stop so I barely made it to the terminal at 1:50 for a 2:10 flight. I was in just in time. They put me in seat 3A by the window. That will be relevant later.

The flight was smooth, for such a small plane. It was a jet but smaller than normal and not full at all. I mean who would be flying between these obscure cities anyway? The flight down there seemed to take forever, but the flight back seemed only to take 15 minutes, when it was actually a 2 hour flight. Right before landing the pilot said something and the stewardess sat down and buckled up. I now know the word for severe turbulence, Ranryuu. I'm not sure if it is true or not, but the woman in my row who spoke English said it was the worst turbulence the pilot had seen in 40 years of flying. I didn't think it was all that bad. We bounced a little, and then......

We started to land. We were flying under a huge storm of some sort, which I saw after we landed. The turbulence was bad, but it was bad in a way I've never felt before. Usually the plane bounces a bit like someone sliding down stairs on a cardboard box. We were twisting and contorting sideways, leftways, rightways, slantways, and otherways. I mean the plane was moving in ways I didn't think it could. We'd go down a bit and then it would seem like we were turning without tilting, like a car turns on a flat surface. It truly felt like being on a boat in rough water. The worst part was right as we were landing the plan yawed or whatever the term is and I, sitting in seat 3A, could see the runway. That means the nose was facing diagonally away from the runway and yet we were still moving toward the runway. I think I actually said sh*t out loud. It was a white knuckle experience.

Then I made it back to the apartment successfully with no problems.

Today I went to Adachi's graduation. It was cool seeing all the students. They were so happy to see me, which is why I wanted to go. Higashi students would be happy, but when I stuck my head in a few rooms the girls, and some guys, would squeal and their face would light up. It's really a good feeling that I am not taking for granted. I wish I could bottle it, since I know at no other job will I ever have that type of reception.

The ceremony was shorter than Higashi's but I started thinking. Why do we have these long dramatic ritualistic ceremonies? No one there really liked it? the students were dozing off, the teachers were snoozing, the parents were even nodding a bit. If it weren't for the constant "kiritsu" which means stand up, we'd all have passed out. The students worked really hard to complete high school and move on, not to hear some old man talk about irrelevant out dated cheer me up things. I didn't like my high school or college graduation. I had to sit in a chair for 2 hours while people babbled about nonsense and then finally they gave me a worthless piece of paper that said I completed high school. The only reason I went was for my parents.

Finally it was over and I mingled with the students. I get along with them so good because I am never really serious. OH, there was this one thing that was funny for me at least. I walked into the teacher's room and a few teachers were gathered around a boy with a new haircut. They called me over and asked what I thought so I said I thought it looked cool. Then all their heads turned at me and I asked "oh are we supposed to be angry?". So I started saying things like "what were you thinking? This is an outrage, how dare you?" but the kid already knew I didn't care so he smirked while the teachers looked on. I really hate how the Japanese society tries to destroy any individualism in people. His hair was not bad, not long or unkempt, it was fine, just a different style.

There's a phrase in Japanese that says the nail that sticks out will be hammered down. They do not encourage individualism and enforce group mentality. It gets so annoying when you ask someone a question and they MUST ask people around them for opinions. Look at some of these ridiculous ideas I have found around the web, they are all true and anyone in Japan, even Japanese will tell you they are true. They are so silly, they wouldn't last long enough for the ink to dry on the paper in America:

"The winner in an 800-meter race at a junior high school track meet last year climbed the stand to get his gold medal, and officials noticed that he had brown hair. They denied him the medal even though the boy asserted that the color came from "overuse of a hair dryer."

"Once a month, we have to get our hair checked by the teacher at school," said Remi Sato, a 16-year-old high school girl. "If it's brown, then we have to bring in a childhood photo to show that it's always been brown."

"I have a job interview tomorrow, so I've got to dye my hair black again tonight," said Yuki Makiguchi, an 18-year-old college freshman sporting tea hair. "It's part-time work as a math tutor, and if I had this hair, I'd never get the job. They wouldn't hire me like this -- no way!"

If you are born Japanese then it might not be that strange, but if I were to come in and someone say my hair color was not allowed I would laugh in their face. I'm not talking about having long hair, purple hair, or messy hair. Just slightly browner than pure black. And how is it old people can have purple hair and A) think it looks good, B) not be judged like the youth, and C) tell kids they shouldn't do the exact same thing they are doing?

Anyway, after that I left early and came home. I had sushi for lunch and now I am working on various things. I'd better get back to them now.

Wednesday March 3rd

I had 3 classes today where we played a newspaper game. The class got in 5 groups of 8 and I explained the rules. I put 8 parts of a story around the room and told them one person was an editor and the other were reporters. They had to go around the classroom and write down the story parts and the editor had to assemble them. The first group to do so would win a prize.

It went over great as usual. It lasted 30 minutes and before that I talked about Thailand and South Korea. One of the classes was a geography class, which was strange, but I enjoyed it. I talked about the US for a while, which I seemed to know more about the climate and agriculture than I thought. Then I left early and went to the prefectural office so they could print some colored flags for the big international festival this Sunday. I'll have pictures of that. It's so much fun, I loved it last year.

When I got back to the apartment, Michelle emailed and suggested we go out to eat and then to play pool. So we did and it was good to get out, but sadly I really wanted to come back and get on the computer again. I need to get out more, but I've been addicted to the computer recently. That and mango juice. Also Brown Sugar Oatmeal. Oh I just remembered I had some carrot juice left over. I will go drink some now. Yummy.

Saturday March 6th

I had planned to clean all day since my apartment is a wreck, but last night was a late night with Colette and her friend from somewhere. Us three, Michelle, and Liz went to Shoya and had dinner and then on to a karaoke place. I can do karaoke, but I hate it when we all play upbeat group songs then one person puts in some slow obscure song and we all just sit there starting to fall asleep while they sing.

That let out around 2am I think and then I couldn't sleep for a bit. Finally I did and then I woke up around 9am starving so I went to Freshness Burger to eat lunch. I had planned to clean all day, but when I came back I was about to go into a coma so I laid on the bed a minute and woke up 5 hours later.

Tomorrow I have the big Fukushima International Festival in Koriyama, which is a total blast. Last year I had so much fun. Kids would come up and ask us to stamp their sheet and we'd ask them a question in Japanese about what countries foreign teachers might come from. Behind us is a wall with all the answers and someone pointing at the answers so the kids get them right. Then we give them all a high five and stamp their card. I have a picture somewhere from a festival last year and this adorable girl that came up. Let me find it.

She was so cute. They are all like this. One time I gave a girl a high five and her whole face lit up and she put all her effort into jumping to touch my hand. It was so cool. I plan to get video this year. I got a hotel room in Koriyama tonight since it will be so cheap. There are these hotels called Toyoko Inn and they are like $30 a night, but actually nice. This will keep me from having to get up at 6 am since I have to be at the festival around 8-8:30. I should start packing now I think.

Wednesday March 10th, 2004

I guess because I whined about having no classes, as well as students not even coming to school for two weeks, my supervisor allowed me to leave early a few days and not even come in Thursday and Friday. It's always my luck that I have nothing to do and time off just before payday when I am super broke. I called the IRS and they said my refund check (from my 2002 return) was actually mailed. I should get it in about 2 weeks, then sign it and send it to my bank in the US. I think I'll have access to the money a total of 4 weeks from now. That's not so bad. It's only 6 months late. It only took 6 months for someone to look at two sheets of paper and say "this one is blank, this one is filled out, I bet the filled out one is the real one". I thought I had a cushy job. It wasn't even peak tax time.

The point of that rambling is I'll have free time tomorrow and Friday so I will make a better update. There's a lot to discuss including the cool festival that was on Sunday. There is a Taiko festival coming up this Sunday and I hope to go to it. Anyway, more later.

Friday March 12th, 2004

Still don't have time to make a big update. I am in the middle of working on something and I don't want to get too far sidetracked, but I will pass this along. I was at the store buying some lunch and I thanked the lady as I left. I'm sure you all know "arigato" is thanks in Japanese. So I said it, but I said it fast and slurred it a little. I've been doing that recently and just making the dumbest mistakes. I am well beyond the level of messing up "thank you" so I don't know why I am doing it. Anyway, after I said it fast and wrong I turned and saw a friend of mine, a Japanese girl. She asked what I just said because she heard me. I told her I meant to say thank you but I said it fast and messed it up.

She laughed and told me I actually said "ari gaccho" which means "ants and geese". I then remembered saying that quite often by accident and all their strange stares suddenly made sense. What an idiot. Ants and geese.

[later]

Ok, the international festival on Sunday was great. We asked the kids to name three countries that foreign English teachers come from. All the answers were behind us. It was a load of fun. We also had a ball toss game where the kids get candy after they throw a ball through a hole in a board. We destroyed the board after the day since it was so big and bulky and hard to move. I can't wait for the next international festival.

The rest of the week was spent at school with no classes. I took my computer and got so much work done. I am working on a few little booklets to sell at Tokyo Orientation for the prefecture. They are really useful books and I hope they sell good. Too bad I don't get the money. We are actually going to donate some of the money to a charity and use the rest to plan cultural events.

Luckily my supervisor let me off early a few days and then off completely Thursday and Friday. Liz emailed me earlier and said she got moved to a new school as one of her traveling schools which makes me think I will get moved as well I really hope not, since I like my schools now and want to stay. But if I say anything I am a whiner.

I spent the whole day, and night actually, yesterday working on various internet projects so I have been avoiding this update since I don't feel like typing anymore. I think I am actually not going to type as much as I had planned since I have been getting a headache from staring at the computer so much. I just spent the past few hours cleaning my apartment top to bottom. I am about to tackle the "kitchenette" and throw so much crap away. I am a pack rat and I hate that, but when I throw things away I end up needing them later.

Part of the cleaning turned up something that made me feel like a royal arse. I've been calling the Georgia Tax department asking why they haven't received my Georgia tax return that I mailed 5 weeks ago, only to find it stuffed in my closet. So I didn't actually mail it, I only thought I did. Argh. The good news is I finally received a letter from the IRS saying my 2002 tax refund was mailed last Friday so I should get it in a week or so and then sign it and mail it back. Sadly I am going to send every penny to my credit card debt. I've learned my lesson about debt and my goal now is to pay everything down as fast as possible.

Saturday there is a party for Brad, a local Fukushima JET and a DJ. The next day there is a Taiko festival in a local town. Taiko is the Japanese drum and it's usually entertaining. I don't know about an all day Taiko festival inside, but I'll at least go and see what it's like. A lot of Fukushima JETs are in the performance so it will be a little reunion. I love drums, but for some reason I have never been interested in doing Taiko. I don't know why.

I wrote a chapter in my book about my time here and I let someone read and he said he liked the flow. I need to let one more person read it and once he gives me some feedback then I will continue. It's going to be a big book I'm afraid, since the first chapter was a good ten pages and I have at least 20 more chapters to write about. Some will be longer than others and some will be short. It will just be the highlights of my time here and not as many of the tangents as I use in this journal. My sister pointed out that I use the word tangent more than anyone else she knows. That's probably true. I could thank her for that comment or just say ants and geese.

[later]

I just had the most pleasant experience with someone in Tech Support, or customer service as they call it these days. I buy all my domain names from a place called GoDaddy.com because the are dirt cheap, only $8.95 each for a year, as opposed to the other places that cost $35 a year with two year minimums. I tried to renew the domain name for my book website http://www.learn-japanese-fast.com and it kept saying my card was blocked. So I opened a ticket and customer service (CS) said there wasn't a problem, but I still couldn't renew. We went back and forth for a few days and finally I get an email from billing and then the fraud department saying my account was cancelled because my credit card was fraudulent or something.

So I call this place and am on hold for about 15 minutes, at 50 cents a minute I was not too happy. Their hold music was retched, I mean horrible. It sounded like someone was playing a 45 record in a room with a microphone 5 feet away. Anyway, at some point a nice female voice picked up and I explained the problem. Then she put me on hold and came back and said everything was ok since I called. I told her I lived in Japan for some reason [maybe because it is 3am now] and we started chatting about Japan and how different it is. Then I gave her this website address and she started looking at some pictures. We talked about the shinkansen and the JR Rail Pass. Finally I realized we were finished and just chatting so I said I had to go.

Point being, I was all angry when I called and she was just too nice to be mad at. Plus I worked in tech support before and I knew the types of calls she gets daily so I could never be one of those angry jerk callers. In the end we chatted for about 25 minutes. I felt great after calling. I didn't even get her name.

Saturday March 13th, 2004

Why are things that are bad for you always so good? Like chocolate and salt. Not together necessarily, but individually. Salty things are so good, so are sweets. Why must something be bad for you and yet so desirable? Why can't carrots and spinach taste like French fries, or vegetable juice taste like a chocolate shake? Don't get me wrong I like carrots and spinach and vegetable juice, but they are not chocolate shakes. I just don't understand why it must be opposites.

I was up all last night working on the FuJET book and then I slept all day. Now I am up again and I actually need to get some sleep tonight since I have to go to that Taiko festival all day Sunday. But I am not sleepy after sleeping 10 hours. I did wake up for an hour to watch two episodes of South Park which I am oddly addicted to. I didn't like it when it first came out, but now it's hysterical. Maybe because I never watch TV anymore and it's in English. Who knows, but I crack up while watching it. Even the episode I hated before, Mr. Hanky, now it's funny.

I just realized there is a party tonight that I forgot about. I didn't really forget about it, but I realized it is Saturday and not Friday. I had already typed the Bold date above this section so I didn't realize it was Saturday right off the bat. Shucks, it will take me over an hour to get ready and go. Which would be fine since it will probably go until 3 or 4, but I don't really have the money to be drinking tonight. Oh well, such is life. There will be others.

Monday March 15th, 2004

It was a happy and sad day for many students today at Higashi High School. It was the day that the potential JHS students found out if they passed the written and interview entrance exams. All the potential students lined up at the opposite end of the front parking lot, and the current 2nd year students lined up at this end.

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Then at exactly 3 minutes until noon the teachers brought out the two board with 300 numbers written on it. Each number was assigned to a student before the process began so no names would be used.

The potentials started growing restless and a few people for some reason forgot there was a line and a rope and started walking toward it. Teachers would catch them and tell them to go back. The current students were also moving about. They were dressed up in various costumes to try to get people interested in their club. Finally at exactly noon....

The flood gates were opened and everyone charged the boards. It was a mad rush to see if your number was on the board. For a while there were squeals of delight.

Girls in the brown uniforms are current students and the guys dressed in dresses or underwear are as well. The soccer club wasn't there since they are famous throughout Japan and everyone wants to join it anyway. Our students were passing out flyers and the potential students (with the dorky backpacks) are overloaded with them.

In the upper left corner you can see some students who didn't make it. It was quite sad and I actually had to stop watching at one point. You'd see four boys come in as a group and then three dancing and hugging while one walked away with his head down. I always feel for the odd man out. It's like when the antelope finally gets caught by the leopard. You are sad, but that's life. The leopard has to eat as well. It's sad here because these kids are not outsiders to their old group. They will have to go to a lower school and meet new people. There is a lot of separatism like that in Japan.

At this point I was standing on the roof of the school. for some reason that is allowed, by teachers and students. These kids saw me taking pictures and wanted to pose. At first I pointed the camera and then said ok, but some smarty knew I didn't snap a picture so I had to take a real one.

Look at the guy with his back turned to us and no shirt scratching himself. Sucks to be him, talk about lousy timing. It was about 50 degrees that day, pretty cold. The judo club was walking around with no shoes on. Japanese students are gung-ho about dedication. The girls wear nothing but the skirts year round (nothing as in no long pants, not no tops).

Tuesday March 16th

Did nothing today. Had 2 classes and played a mock Jeopardy game, they liked it. Then booked a flight to Kobe for some AJET thing. OK, so nothing was an understatement. Nothing worth writing about, though I wrote about it anyway.

Thursday March 18th

I honestly don't understand the weather here. Yesterday and Tuesday it was warm. At 10:30 pm last night I was riding my bike back from a friend's birthday party in  a t-shirt and still somewhat warm. Today it was sleeting, freezing cold, and the wind was blowing like crazy. I actually had to throw away my umbrella because the wind was blowing so hard it ruined it. I don't mean it just popped back which they do occasionally. It was completely ruined from the strong wind. To make things worse it would occasionally hit me in the head by the pole.

Friday March 19th

Payday, I can breathe again.

I am trying to work on some programming things and I imported an Access db into Excel so I can work on it. I tried to use this VLOOKUP function that I have used dozens of times in the past, but it wouldn't work. Then I tried it in a separate area and it worked fine so I copy and pasted, but it wouldn't work in the chart. I searched online for this problem and found a few things and pasted them and they didn't work. Whenever I would test it off to the side it would work fine, when I used the exact same function in the spreadsheet it wouldn't work. I have no idea why this was happening but I eventually gave up. I simply made no sense. Anytime would try to check for a typo or human error it would work great, but when I actually tried to use the function in the chart it wouldn't work. I have no idea why and it's so aggravating.

The new S-Pal opens tomorrow, which is the department store at the station. The old one was called Lumine which was ok, but this looks much nicer. The $1 sushi place is right on the outside so maybe they will be open later. I have no idea what S-Pal means, but it's the name of the department store.

Speaking of weather, in the above entry, today it was warm again. Not sure how or why, but it was comfortable outside. I went in to school at about 1 for about 2 hours and then came home. I am an ASSISTANT teacher, ergo I have nothing to do when there are no classes. NOTHING. Why must I sit in the teacher's room? They only get their money's worth when I am in a classroom. When I am just sitting there it's a waste of my time.

We are getting a new Kyoto sensei which means vice principal. I am scared he is going to be a wanker. I can say he because there are only a few women VPs and chances are good it will be a man. Maybe he will be cool and maintain the vibe that this one started, which is not as cool as it could be, but also not nearly as stupid as it could be. I do have to go in all this week but at least it's only for a few hours. He could say I have to come in all day and do nothing. Since this is my last year I'm probably not going to put up with anything that's really stupid. I can maintain this level of stupidity, but if the new guy says I must come in all day during the summer when there are no classes and I cannot go to Tokyo Orientation, then I'll just go anyway and use sick time or vacation time. When I run out, I'll use sick time or just go anyway. Stuff like that I cannot put up with. There's nonsense and then there is mental insanity.

Monday March 22nd

Found out the hard way last night that Green Tea is packed full of caffeine. I had two big piping hot glasses and the last one was at about 10pm at the sushi shop. Then when I tried to go to sleep at 11,12,2,4, and 5 I was just wide awake. I watched some Voyager and X-Files tapes that Michelle loaned me. Then at 6am I crashed hard and finally woke up around noon and went to my busy job of sitting for a few hours. When I told my supervisor she laughed and said Green Tea has so much caffeine, and most people don't drink it after 3pm. So now I know.

Wednesday, March 24th

It's technically Wednesday since it is 3am and I am stuck in this habit of staying up late and going to sleep around 4 or 5 am. I didn't drink any green tea today (yesterday) but for some reason I had a coma nap around 8pm. I had sushi at the new 100 yen sushi place and drank only water. Then I had some wonderful dried mango which I am quite possibly addicted to as well as sushi. Then I came back and worked on the computer a bit. While I was waiting on something to print I leaned back in my chair and my head drooped forward and I just passed out. I woke up briefly an hour later and rolled over to the bed. Then I slept until 11:30. I finally woke up and knew I wasn't going back to sleep anytime soon. Since then I have been typing on various projects and not even remotely sleepy. I'll try to get to sleep soon enough.

Tomorrow I have a farewell English party which should be fun. I haven't been to any school parties in about a year and I need to re-bond with the English teachers so they use me more. I'll let the ruse of alcohol allow me to say "gimme some dang classes" while we are all toasty from the free flowing sake. I actually went ahead and found the place today so I wouldn't be late. It seems like a really nice place and I hope to go back if it is. The prices look good and the mood looks cool as well. More details on that later. I might even take a camera, but I don't think drinking pictures are the norm during parties. We are saying goodbye to two teachers, one will go somewhere unknown, and the other will go to Adachi so I will work with him again. He said he was glad to be going there, because he can actually teach English and not focus on the college entrance exam. I sometimes wish I would be based at Adachi since I would get used a lot more and they seem to accept me more, whereas at Higashi I sometimes feel like Captain Pickard working his way through the Borg. As long as I don't do anything that makes me stand out, they don't even acknowledge I am there.

I've been taking my computer to school and getting so much stuff done, but I am really getting annoyed at having to go there and just sit for no reason. It's better than having to be there from 8-4 every day, but then again getting hit once a day with a baseball bat is only a little better than getting hit twice a day.

Saturday, March 27th

Last night there was a small DJ thing at As Soon As, my favorite bar. I try to explain to Japanese people that it is "smooth", but it really doesn't translate. Tracie invited me, and Brad was playing. At first I said I'd go, then my plans with BJ fell through, as usual, so I had a later dinner and got tired. Tracie ended up waking me when she messaged me around 9:30. I couldn't get back to sleep so I went ahead and went to the party.

It was fun, but would be more fun if people wouldn't smoke in bars. I know that will never happen, but I can hope. My clothes always smell like crap after I go to a bar. When I got there Brad was playing and I like his style, then some other DJ went on and varied between ok stuff and crap. But we were all talking and it was fun over all. I saw a girl who knew me and said I took her phone number a the dentist's wife's party in December, but I didn't remember her or her number, nor was it in my phone. So I took it again. I felt like Joey from Friends.

Today I went to Sendai for a few hours to get some books. I needed one because I am researching something for a new book project I am working on. No details yet. I ended up buying two others for another project I am working on. That pretty much blew my "fun" budget for the month. I had wanted to save money this month and actually not go broke, but no luck. Next month I hope to use that paycheck for some possible traveling during Golden Week. If you take off 3 days during GW you get 11 days off due to the placement of certain national holidays. There is a Thursday holiday then the following Mon-Wed I think. It's crazy. I don't know where, or IF I will even go anywhere.

I think I might like to work for the IRS. Apparently there are no deadlines and nothing is urgent and you can take your nice sweet time. I filed my Federal Tax Return in September of 2003, for the year of 2002. It was late because I had to be out of the country for 1 year to get a tax discount, so August to August was one year. I filed an extension in April, but I used the wrong form. I can admit it was my mistake, I found info on the internet somewhere and I thought it said file a 1040EZ and just write Taxpayer Abroad on the top. So I did. Then in August I filed an actual return with actual type numbers. Apparently at that time I should have used an Amendment form and not another 1040EZ. How long does it take the IRS to look at two forms and figure out my mistake?

So far it has taken 5 solid months, and that is not including mailing times. 5 months to look at two forms and say "one is blank the other has numbers". Talk about a cushy job. I bet it sat on someone's desk for 3 months in the "processing" stage. They told me it would take 90 days for review, when I thought it would take 90 seconds to resolve. I called recently and they said the check went out 3 weeks ago. Apparently "went out" in IRS talk means was authorized to go to someone to press print on a computer which will then send the check to the printer and eventually be mailed. It doesn't take 3 weeks to mail something here BY SHIP, so why does it take 3 weeks to get here by regular mail. On top of that they have sent me 3 letters saying "this is not your check, but a letter saying it's on the way". So I no longer get excited when I see a letter from the IRS.

Anyway, on the train ride back from Sendai there were tons of empty seats around me and some old woman sat down beside me. It was really odd since there were at least 4 empty benches all around me and people usually don't sit near foreigners when at all possible. I had to move my bags and slide over and then we were squished. What's worse is I didn't want to move right away and make it seem odd so we sat there for about 5 minutes and I acted like I was getting off the train, at some random obviously not-my-stop place, then I got back on another car.

Finally at the station I had sushi and sat beside two Japanese women who were about 50 years old. They didn't know how to make Japanese tea, operate the hot water nozzle, or how to get chopsticks out of the tray. I wonder how that is possible as all three of those things are pretty basic Japanese skills. Then some kid saw me using chopsticks and commented, loudly, to his parents about my talent. Of course the second I heard that I started fumbling with them. A few minutes later I heard him say "oh never mind" in Japanese. Just my luck.

I managed to stay just above my daily budget, but I got a lot of stuff I needed. I also got out of the house for a while and made it up to Sendai. I don't get up there as much as I'd like even though it's only a $8 bus ride. I took the train back which was $13, and only takes 20 minutes longer. The bus gets a little cramped occasionally and also gets caught in traffic. It's disproportionate to the shinkansen I think. Here's a chart to show my point:

Route Bus Local Train Shinkansen Time
Fukushima to Koriyama $7 $10 $16 40/55/15 minutes
Fukushima to Sendai $8 $12 $32 70/90/30 minutes

See the shink to Sendai just seems too expensive. Everything else seems to make sense in a gradual manner, but the shink is just too much. It's convenient since it's only 30 minutes and usually skips the Shiroishi stop, but just not worth the cost. I always take the shink to Koriyama and the bus to Sendai. I didn't feel like waiting today for the bus and traffic was bad on the way up so I chose the local train which was leaving right then. It actually took the same amount of time as the bus did going to Sendai.

Sunday March 28th

Remind me to never had Starbucks after 3pm. I stayed up all night went to sleep around 6am. Don't get me wrong I got a ton of stuff done, but I need to stop messing with my system. Though it would be a good idea to drink coffee before going back to the US because I would be on US Eastern time by being awake at night. Might help jet lag. I'll try that next time I go back.

In about 5 minutes I am going to meet Michelle and we will have an early dinner and talk about FuJET. She just got back from playing some game popular in the Midwest call Eucher or something. Never heard of it, probably because I am not from the Midwest.

Wednesday March 31st

We had a really cool year end party last night. Remember our school year goes from April to March. A lot of people were leaving, including the cool Vice Principal who was promoted to Principal at another school. That's a massive raise probably something like currently 60-80K to 120-150K. PLus he will have to retire in 7 years and is really more of a figure head as the principal.

I was afraid the party would drag on until we could drink. All the leaving people had to go to the stage and say a few words. About 5 people were retiring and they each gave 5 minute speeches. There were about 10 more people on stage and I was afraid that would be over an hour before we could get started. It wasn't that I really wanted to eat and drink so much as the fact that I couldn't understand everything they were saying. I could hear things like "sad............many  years.........relax........good times" so I knew what they were saying, but still I was afraid I'd have to sit through an hour of this. Luckily on the retirees spoke and everyone else was lumped into a group with one representative.

Finally we could start eating and drinking. The food was great, although not too much of it. Once we started drinking everyone got up and moved around the room. I took that as a sign to eat their share of the food since they were gone. I was hungry. I have to remember to eat before I go to one of these in the future since they are not about getting full. Plus I rarely get full anyway.

I had all sorts of people talk to me. People I didn't even know worked at the school and a few I knew of but didn't know they could speak English. The Ethic teacher talked my ear off, then the grounds man filled my drink. The grounds man? It blew his mind that I knew his name. I told him I would help him shovel snow next year. That was probably the alcohol talking, but I meant it. Then I promised the Calligraphy teacher I would actually practice and I really want to. The thing is calligraphy is so relaxing, when you are good. I am not good yet so I get frustrated and I don't have time to relax and practice, at least not recently. But I do want to leave Japan fluent in Japanese and with at least one Japanese culture skill and calligraphy would be cool. My friends are taking Kendo, Judo, Karate, and other sports, but I don't feel like getting thrown around the room right now.

So after the first main party, we split off into smaller groups for the second party. The 2nd party is always more relaxed and about a quarter of the people. Our 2nd party went from 100 at the first to 10. I knew no one at the second party, but they all knew me and dragged me to it. Some guy who is second in command of the PTA grabbed me and actually held my hand for a while until I broke free. That is a Japanese custom, but a tad weird for me. We got in a taxi with some attractive lady and another guy, none of which I knew. We went to a really cool French restaurant in the basement of some building. Basement bars are extremely common in Japan since space is so limited and expensive, some places have two basements.

The restaurant had an old feel to it. I actually felt like I was in the early 1900's. It was all candle lit and there was old music playing. We had goblets and old plates. Basically we had wine and cheese and chatted for a while then we left. The 3rd party was at a small sushi place. There are so many restaurants just hidden away in Japan that you'd never find unless you already knew where they were. Technically they would already have been found in that case. This one wasn't even marked, just a door on the 3rd floor. We had sake and some nice sushi. I didn't pay for anything.

Finally we left and went to the 4th party. Again this is not uncommon in Japan. As we were leaving the sushi place two girls squealed and knew me. They were handing out flyers for "massages" which was curious to me since I hadn't had any "massages" so why did they know me? Apparently they were students at Adachi and they had just graduated. I really can't recognize many Japanese students when they are not in their uniforms. There are only a few students at all my schools that I can easily remember. It would be different if I went to the same class every day, but I might only see these students once a week. They explained which class they were in and then we left.

The 4th party was at a Chinese restaurant somewhere. It was also not marked and I don't think I remember it. I had some Chinese alcohol and a beer. By this time it was only the PTA guy, another PTA guy, and the cute PTA lady. They all had children at the school (otherwise it would be odd for them to be in the PTA). They told me their children's names and I'll try to keep an eye on them. I couldn't imagine these kids would be loud if their parents were involved in the school.

Finally it was over and I went home. I drank too much, but I wasn't drunk. I had so much food in me it soaked it all up, but still I drank too much. There's a custom in Japan where you don't pour your own drink. You pour other people's. When your glass is low you pour someone's drink and they check yours as a courtesy. At some point you just want to stop drinking, but the only way to do that is have a full glass so no one can pour anymore. I hate to leave beer so I usually drink too much.

Today was the last day of school for the actual students and teachers that are leaving. I can't imagine graduating and then coming back for more classes, but they do that here. I don't think it is required, but the students know they need all the info they can get for the college entrance exams. I said a final goodbye to the vice principal. Oh that reminds me. At the first party, I had a teacher write out "It was a pleasure working with you, from Ryan" in really fancy Japanese. Then I went up to the vice principal and said I had a message. I acted like I was writing it out right there and then I clicked the pen like I was finished and handed him the note. His eyes nearly popped out of his head, he started passing the note around telling people to look at what I just wrote. I was holding the pen to "prove" I just write it. Everyone was flipping out. Then I fessed up and told them I had the math teacher write it, but I meant what it said. We all had a good laugh.

I've started writing my memoirs of Japan. I should finish in a few months. I am on page 70 now and want to get it up to about 150. That would make it a decent book I think. It will be in a fiction format, but everything is based on my journal. I'm calling it fiction since some things happen out of order in the book. It would be too boring to write everything in the correct order. Some things in the book happen all in one day, but in actuality they took place over weeks or so. There's no title now, there's a working title, but no official title. I'll make a big deal when I finish. It should be on Amazon.com as well as my other book. I am also working on a few other Japanese Language books, but they wouldn't be interesting to anyone not studying Japanese. I think I have about 5 books that I am working on slowly. I've already written 3 little booklets that FuJET will sell to new JETs coming in August. Well it's 2am so I'd better get to bed.

[later]

Couldn't sleep so I was watching some episodes of Matlock that a friend sent me on VHS. There was one scene where someone found a dead body and was later accused of the murder. The reason he was accused was he was an idiot. Here's why:

If you ever come across a dead body:

A) Don't flip it over
B) Don't stand there looking at it
C) DON'T TOUCH THE KNIFE IN THE DEAD BODY.

I get so mad when someone sees a dead body and touches it and then pulls out the knife and suddenly someone walks in and sees the person standing there looking at the body with a knife in their hand. That is so stupid and such a weak plot point. I had to get out of bed to make not of this.

@