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.

Friday September 3rd, 2004

I have so much to write about, it will take me quite a while to update it all. Let's see, first I have had no classes at my base school in about two weeks. That's usual. Tuesday of this week I went back to the fireman's school and taught more emergency English. It was a blast as always. Then Wednesday, that's when the real adventure began. I am going to water it down a bit since the truth would just be unbelievable.

I went back to the same speech contest that I went to last year. Not going to say where. I was a judge, as was the same man as last year (important to make note of that), and a nice woman from Adachi. She said the whole school was very sad that I stopped going there. That of course was covered in August's post. The reason I am not going there is unknown, but due to the drunken baboon circus known as the prefectural Board of Education.

The contest was odd because the organizers developed a new system of judging. So the person who had the highest actual score didn't actually win. I called it the Florida voting system since the actual winner didn't actually win. I hate doing speech contests and I am glad they are over for me. They are long and drawn out and it's always sad judging the students and drawing a line between the winners and losers. They give everyone either a gold or silver award to make everyone feel like a winner, but I find crap like that just degrading. IF EVERYONE GETS A PRIZE NO ONE ACTUALLY WINS. So The Silver prizes were the losers and they knew it.

When it was over I got a ride with the male judge, the same guy as last year. About ten minutes into the ride I realized what had happened last year and I found myself in a bizarre Twilight Zone episode. This man had no idea how to get back to Fukushima. That's ok. I can live with that.......

EXCEPT

There were signs in both English and Japanese all along the way. How nice of the Japanese Department of Traffic to put up these things I will cleverly call "Road Signs". So we are driving along this road and we come to an intersection. Here is a drawing of the sign:

Now remember, we both speak and read English, and even better, this is Japan and he is JAPANESE. So which way do we turn at this intersection? WHICH WAY MIGHT POSSIBLY BE THE CORRECT WAY TO FUKUSHIMA? I have no idea. I am retarded zebra.

We turned Right. About ten seconds after turning RIGHT, I said " I think we were supposed to go straight". He replied, "we are going straight".  I said "I mean back there at the intersection, the sign said go straight for for Fukushima, but you turned right". He says "Oh, so you think I should turn right now?".

So we turn right. After about 10 minutes we end up back at the center where the contest was. Then we leave again. This time he asks every third person directions.

The whole time he is occasionally honking the horn. When we cross any intersection he taps the horn twice. Ok, I guess he is being overly safe. Then as we pass people he honks at them. Once he honked at scarecrow in a rice field. At this point I was a little worried.

So we drive and drive and he makes more obvious wrong turns. Then he asks someone where to go, but doesn't follow the directions. Then we are about 25K away from Namie (nah me eh) which is a long way from Fukushima. If only someone had put signs up along the way

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This bad map will at least show you how silly the trip was. But wait, it's not over. We are near Namie and he realizes, maybe this is the wrong way. So we turn around and get on a major road, that even I knew (I am a foreigner having lived here for two years, he is Japanese and has lived here for 50+ years). We are going fine and see another one of those confusing signs show above, and we turn again. Now it starts to get good.

We see a sign that says, much like above:

He says, I think we turn left. WOO HOO. We are going to take the correct course this time.

Nope.

The sign was about 100 yards from a major intersection. About 50 yards from this major intersection, and roughly 50 yards past the sign was a small dirt road, I want to say two person walking path. Of course we turn down this. We drive slowly down this OBVIOUSLY WRONG road as far as we can. Then it dead ends and we have to awkwardly turn around. The whole time he is complaining that it was strange to put a sign up before a road that isn't actually the road. Finally we are turned around and heading back out. He tries to turn right and I MAKE him turn left. So we get to the big intersection and he stops in the middle of the lane and asks some schoolgirl which way to go. She couldn't stop staring at me and wasn't really listening. She told him to turn left (as the sign says) and follow that road until it dead ends into Fukushima.

I think I could teach a blindfolded one legged elephant how to get to Fukushima from this point. Go straight.

Ten minutes later we pass a small road and of course we turn and go down it. So we are lost again. He stops and asks some old (I mean OLD) lady walking a dog. The lady starts babbling about something and I can understand it's not about directions. She might have been telling him a muffin recipe or talking about her kids. After a good 5 minutes or so of her pointing and babbling and swinging this walking stick around, he leans over (since she was on my side) and says "I can't actually understand her Japanese, it's very old and she might be drinking a bit".

So for 10 minutes we sit there and she is rambling about something. Maybe she was saying wait here while the posse gets here to kill the impure foreigner. I was just smiling and nodding and making the "oh really" face, as I do when I am no longer listening. At one point she swings the walking stick around and smacks the dog and knocks him out.

I have never seen a dog get knocked out, but it was actually funny. She didn't even notice. He swaggered like he was drunk and then plopped over. After another minute or so of her still babbling and me staring at the dog, I said, in Japanese "what about the dog?". She looked down and said what I think to be "he's sleeping". It's something like nemutte iru. So then another five minutes pass and the whole time the guy is doing the Japanese thing for "I can hear your voice, but I may or may not be listening", which is basically to make a grunting noise. It's a nice you would make it you were bumped into or punched in the neck. For about 20 minutes I have this guy grunting in my ear.

So finally he gets bored and we leave. Well we start to leave. She isn't finished. Apparently we are only up to the oven part of the muffins or what her niece did in the second grade. We start backing up and leaving and she is walking beside the car. The dog, who was not sleeping, is being dragged behind her. This goes on for about 20 feet. She glances back (at the dead weight) and as she does he hits the gas and we drive off.

At this point it's no longer funny and I start giving him directions. I don't take his input and I don't listen. I just simply tell him where to go. How can the foreigner know this and not the local? I don't even have a car. We make it back to Fukushima and he drops me off and I go home for a few minutes. It took 2.5 hours to make a 40 minute trip.

At 7 that night I meet Hiromi (my girlfriend who doesn't actually know we are dating because it's only in Ryan's world). We have dinner and I teach her some English since she has a test coming up soon. Then we came back to my apartment so I could let her borrow some English videos I had watched several times. St some point I turned on the TV and we were watching The Adams Family, which was in English. I was sitting on the floor and she was on the couch and straining to see the TV. I told her to sit on the floor by me and we watched for about 15 minutes. I happened to glance over and see her and thought how nice it would be if we were married and just sitting on the floor watching TV. That would be nice. She must have picked up on my thoughts because about a minute later she said she had to go. I was genuinely sad and walked her to the bus. She's so cute. I think she is my soul mate, but her boyfriend might disagree.

Then on Thursday I went back to the Fireman's school and gave them a test. Before that they had to do some role playing. There were 10 groups of 5 and they would act out things like what to do in case of a fire or pregnant lady or suicide. Most were dull, but a few were creative. That leads me up to today.

Friday September 3rd, 2004

I went to a new school today. I really didn't want to go there, and I was especially saddened it was near Adachi so I had to see all my favorite students and then walk a different way. It's a technical school, which means students don't care jack #%&@ about English. They learn things like electrical wiring, farming, building, plumbing. Then they go off and work in these fields and marry a woman who will work at a bank as a secretary and then they make babies who grow up and do the same thing in life.

It was a long walk. I just followed the boys I didn't know. They were all staring at the foreigner and wondering who I was. Let's take a wild guess Bozo, maybe I am the foreign English teacher? I met my supervisor at the school and she's really cute. Then I gave a formal introduction to all the teachers in the teacher's room. One man came over and talked to me in the strangest, textbook English I have ever heard. It was something like this:

Hello, would you mind terribly if I spoke with you for just a few moments?
Ok.
My name is Mr. XXXX and I would like to ask you 2 or 3 questions at this time.
Ok.
What is your full name?
Ryan McDonald
What would you like me to refer to you by in matters regarding yourself?
Ryan
I see. I understand. I enjoy English very much. I listen to the English program everyday.
Ok.
I teach Electrical Engineering here at this school. Do you know of this subject?
Yes.
Well then. It was indeed a pleasure to have this conversation with you today.
Ok, bye.

I'll try to talk to him more later, but it was clear he only listens and repeats from the radio. He doesn't have interaction with native speakers. Other than that I did 3 self intros and then they told me I needed to stop at some photographer on the way home and get my picture made. So Around 2:30 they told me to leave and go do that. Which I did. The guy was super excited to take a picture of a foreigner. Once I was finished I went to the station and waited for the train. I ran into some crazy guy who of course spoke English and asked me stupid things. Why are you fat? What is your shoe size? How tall are you? Where are you come from? My name is Hara-something.

At this point I realized he was off a bit and just brushed him away. I had bought a book on train schedules and I was just figuring out how to use it. Then I rode the train back to Fukushima while flipping through my book and listening to my iPod. Here I am now making brownies for a birthday party tonight. Tomorrow we have a big AJET meeting in Fukushima that FuJET is hosting. That should be fun. The party tonight will be fun, but I have to cook more brownies and breakfast tomorrow. I don't mind since I won't be drinking. I actually haven't had a drop since the beach party just like I promised myself.

Sunday, September 19th, 2004

Sorry for the lack up update until now. I have been busy. But I have discovered the greatest invention known to mankind. A food steamer. When I was in Guam last week or the week before we went to the World's Largest K-Mart (seriously I'm not being funny), and I bought about $250 worth of things I can't get in Japan. Then I saw a $35 food steamer and thought I would give it a try. All I do is throw various food in it, turn it on, and 18 minutes later I have a complete steamed tasty meal. It's truly the greatest thing in the world. I have been eating so healthy recently.

AND

I've been walking at least an hour a day, usually more like two hours. I walk to and from school and then at school, since I don't actually teach, I walk around the track several times. Then in the evening when I have free time I go for an hour long walk. Someone told me a teacher at their school walked an hour every day and lost 50 pounds. So far I feel better. I stopped drinking for a few months and I am eating steamed food, so I should see some weight loss soon, I hope.

Let's see, Guam. Major let down. For several reasons, the main one being it was all Japanese people and everyone spoke English and Japanese and everything was in Japanese, some things were in Japanese and NOT English. But I did over eat at TGI Fridays, Longhorn Steakhouse, Burger King, Taco Bell, and some Mexican food. It was a let down, because it was all Japanese as mentioned above and because the beaches were all coral. There was a nice view of the sunrise and sunset, but it was by no means a honeymoon place.

I went with two girls which proved my theory of 3 person group dynamics. People feel good about themselves when they gang up on someone and knock them down. Not literally, but through words and what not. In High School I had a few great friends. They were great when we were alone, but when a third person was around we would all gang up on someone. Usually it would revolve, but sometimes it's always the same person. Plus we had a "triple" room which was actually a double with a crappy cot in the corner. Being the gentleman, I gave the girls the two nice beds and I slept, or technically didn't sleep, on the cot. It was only a 3 hour flight from Tokyo so if I lived in Tokyo at some point and wanted an escape, I would consider it, but this time wasn't all that great.

A night view from our hotel balcony.

A view of a huge cloud, from out balcony.

Other than that, not much has happened. I've been going to two new schools, of which I am really angry about. One school is ok, but far, the other school is a technical school and they have no desire to learn English what so ever. They should be taught English that they will use one day, they will ALL become blue collar workers, that's the point of the school. But we are teaching them PAST #*@$-ing PARTICIPLE. That is so ignorant, but I would expect nothing less from the fat smeared donkey farm known as the Kenchou-BOE, the people who make the SHS decisions. These kids should be learning basic English that they might need at some point. The things we are teaching them, and they are NOT learning, are upper level grammar. It is the most wasteful display of inefficiency I have ever seen.

Here is a pic of the school I go to, and a few pics of the nice views I have from the school. This is the far school that I don't mind going to.

and finally the bus I ride there and back on

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So this week coming up is a two holiday week, sadly one of the holidays falls before payday. I have a 3 day weekend, and then Thursday off as well. So I go to both traveling schools, and luckily Higashi only once. Since I have returned from summer break, I have had ZERO classes at my base school. Most people have had 3 per day for the past what 20 days? I have had ZERO. What a complete waste of time to pay for a foreigner to travel the world and sit in the teacher's room. When I ask to get there late or leave early since there is no point in me just sitting there, they think I am being lazy. In Japanese society it is more about being present than actually doing anything. I'm not being bitterly sarcastic, that is a known fact. In the US, and most other countries, we are productivity based. If you show up 4 hours a day at your job in the US and get all your work done you are seen as super efficient. If you show up in Japan an hour early and stay 3 hours late, you are seen as a great employee. It doesn't matter what you are actually doing as long as you are actually AT WORK. I have proven this several times over by talking to various teachers and watching them work. They will get to school early and do nothing at their desk. Occasionally they will run to the copy machine to look overworked. When I ask to help teachers do things, they won't let me. I thought they were being nice, but they want to look like they have more to do than they actually do.

That is the hardest thing about living in Japan. People won't think for themselves. There are of course exceptions to this. I know a few teachers, a very few, that get there at 8:30 and leave at 4:30. Maybe 2 out of the 500+ teachers I know. Most teachers fall into the groove and do what they are told. They also brag about never taking vacation time or using vacation time for sick leave. They actually come to school when they are sick, and highly contagious. They think they are helping the company by not taking time off, but they don't realize they are hurting it even after half the teachers get sick and eventually can't come in. It's so aggravating coming from a society where people think for themselves, if not too much.

So today is Sunday and I have nothing to do. I want to get to Sendai, but there isn't a whole lot to do up there other than shop (with no money), buy English books (still with no money), and maybe see an overpriced movie (again....). I have off tomorrow as well, and of course payday is Tuesday. Though I just had a lead on some additional income that I might pursue. I had this gig for a while when I first got here, and I enjoyed it, so I might continue to do it. It's an extra $100 or so per week and really helps out. If I can do it a few times before winter break I will have some extra money saved up for Thailand and Cambodia.

Oh that reminds me, I should update the Goals page since I have completed some and have some dates planned to complete more. I'll do that now.

[later]

Ok, that's updated. So nothing much in the horizon. Going back to Thailand in December and going to jump over to Angkor Wat. Also going to buy a custom made suit from the place in Bangkok. In February I'm going back to the Sapporo Snow Festival with some FuJET members. Then in March I think a friend from the US will visit and we will travel around seeing as much as we can in one week. In May I might go to Fiji if I can find a cheap flight. If not I will consider doing a Hawaiian cruise or something. I'm going to check into the cruise thing now. Be right back.

[considerably later]

Have you ever wished there was a Fast Forward button on life? I've had nothing to do this weekend since it is a three day weekend right before payday (Tuesday). I have a little money, but not enough to really do anything of substance. I could take the bus to Sendai, but then I couldn't really do much else. If I had this button I would fast forward to next Sunday when we have a cool Kids Festival in Aizu (eye zoo). It's on Sunday and it lasts all day. It's always a load of fun and I am rally looking forward to it.

I've come to realize the JET program would really be fun if we didn't have to go to school. That seems odd, but it's the big downer for me. It's inefficient, wasteful, and a general drag. Other than that my life is pretty cool. I have some good friends and I'm (slowly) learning Japanese. Occasionally I get to travel to exotic places such as South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Guam, and soon China. But then I have to come back and sit in the teacher's room wasting my time. Such a waste.

I think I'll call in sick on a few Fridays so I don't have to go to that school. It's a real drag, far more than any other school I have had to go to. Maybe this Friday I will go visit the night school, that will be fun. I really miss that place. The more I think about it the more I get really pissed off. My heart starts pounding. $%#* I really miss those kids. I really hate working for the baboon clown crapping monkey known as the Kenchou BOE. ARGH. I'm almost finished with the nasty letter to them. I have to stop thinking about it now.

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