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Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

I got back from Taiwan, not Thailand, on Thursday. We arrived around 8:30 and ironically made it from the plane to the the train platform in about 20-25 minutes, which is unheard of. The funny thing is since we arrived so late we didn't rush since there was no reason to. We had to stay the night in Tokyo since the last train/vessel heading our ways stopped at 9:30 and it was impossible to get to Tokyo station by then.

We called various places and they were all full, probably because it is spring break in Japan. So I knew a few places that would not be full. One was a capsule hotel in Shinjuku and the other was a capsule hotel in Asakusa, one of the few that allows women to stay. I can't upload photos yet, because my camera is being stupid.

That was only 3,000 yen (less than $30) a night, but you get what you pay for. It was fine for me though, and I am even in the process of setting up a Tokyo on a Budget page. That mixed with the $20 bus to/from Tokyo means Tokyo can be a really cheap trip. Cheaper than Taiwan.

Geez everyone said Taiwan is so cheap, but nope, not really. It was between average and slightly less than average. On occasion we ate for semi cheap, but nothing was like Thailand where you eat for pocket change. We took a Japanese packaged tour. This has it's advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages are everything is packaged in a nice container and it's cheap. For less than $600 we had airfare to and from, picked up and dropped off at the Taiwan airport (that was about $35 each way), then checked into the hotel for 4 nights. All included. Plus the hotel was a B-Class hotel in the package which means it was nice. I highly recommend the Santos Hotel if you ever go to Taiwan. Breakfast was also included everyday. So that is really nice and convenient and cheap.

The disadvantages are that it must be done in a Japanese way. The hotel staff said years ago they didn't speak much Japanese and didn't do things in a Japanese way so they had hardly any Japanese guest. But then they started hiring people who spoke Japanese, and changed the breakfast from traditional Taiwanese food to Japanese friendly. They also made maps of all the Japanese restaurants in the area. The girl said it was like when the Japanese travel they can't leave their natural surroundings and will only be internationalized if it is done in the Japanese way. I told her I fully understood what she meant.

Another example of this is when we are picked up and dropped off at the airport they stop twice for us to buy gifts, of which they get a commission. That would be ok on the way out. I mean that makes sense. Hey we are going to a really touristy gift place just as you leave so don't worry about buying last minute gifts. Yea, that's fair. But when we arrive and want nothing more than to go straight to our hotel and relax that is the wrong time. They take us to some strange place and say meet back here at 4:10. If they didn't have our bags I would have caught a taxi myself. To make things worse, we went to a luxury store. They were selling Louis Vuitton and Prada and such. I couldn't even afford to enter the store. We were all on a discount package, why on earth would you think we could afford this stuff?

There were two Japanese guys and two Japanese girls in the pick up van with us. Oh that's another thing about the Japanese tours, they are always in Japanese. So anyway, the girls spoke decent English, but the guys were in med school and spoke minimal. After the second place we went I said I am just going to say HOTEL over and over if they take us somewhere else. The girls said this is the Japanese way and they expect it. Then she said it would be strange if they didn't go to places like this. Ah yes, the variable. That would be strange, doing something different just once.

I won't go into the boring details of our trip. I will make a Taiwan page soon and upload the highlight photos. I would suggest a few things if you are ever going to Taiwan:

* Cash in money somewhere inside Taiwan, like a Bank or one of the places you get dropped off to shop. The rate is much better than the airport.
* If you want the easiest way of sightseeing, sign up for one of the tours. They have several half day tours. Expect to pay around NT $1,000 which is like USD $35. You can do tours on your own, but you don't save much money and waste a lot of time searching. Plus you don't get the inside scoop on things.
* Save up and stay in a slightly nice hotel, ours was great, but the lower ones are dumps and far away.
* If you don't get picked up, take a bus from the airport to the town. Taxis are about USD $35 and the bus is about USD $3.
* If you plan to ride the convenient MRT subway system, buy a NT$150 day pass. Each trip is about NT$20-30 (USD 60 cents to $1).

I'll add more later when I think of them.

We did a few day trips. Well two I guess and then one on our own. One was a night tour with a couple from California and the other was a long trip to see some famous rock sculptures way up north near the port town. I'm glad I went to Taiwan, but I doubt I will ever go back unless it's business related. Which I can't see being in a business that would send me there, but who knows. Ten years ago I couldn't see myself teaching English in Japan.

Tomorrow I go back to school though I think the students don't come until maybe Thursday or Friday. I don't particularly mind since I do have a lot of things to plan and do. I have to gut and redo the English room. I just want to update it some since it is looking slightly stale. Then I need to plan my mega point system. I can't decide if I am going to use Ryan-Dollars or just points. I think RDs would be more lucrative since others could see students with the money. Japanese often have to have the newest thing or what other people have. That's why all women service workers in Japan have to wear a uniform. It is said they are so competitive they would constantly try to outdo other employees. That works out good for me really. I'm definitely going to pit ach class against each other with the point system, although that won't work next year since there will only be one class of first years. But this year there will be two of each.

[later]

I was searching for a "generator" type thing for some programming I am doing and found this non-related page. It has several generators and quiz things. Here are the results from my Linguistics Test:

45% Dixie
45% General American English
10% Yankee
0% Midwestern
0% Upper Midwestern

Try it yourself at http://www.blogthings.com/amenglishdialecttest/ and there are other tests and such there as well. Ok back to thinking about cleaning my apartment, but not actually doing it.

Monday, April 3rd, 2006 Ė First Day of New School Year

Last night I started getting worried about today, just because of the logistics. There would be new teachers and a new vice principal and things would be different. Change can be good, but itís never easy. Who would sit near me? What would the new teachers be like? Most importantly, what would the new vice principal be like? The changing of the guard in April can make or break your life for the next year.

So far things are going fine. They moved my desk which I like because the old placement was bad when it was too bright. The sun would shine on my screen and I couldnít see anything. I now sit beside the main JHS computer station/color printer and the wife of one of my bosses at the board of education. I just have to remember to always say great things about the BoE since she has been sent for the sole purpose of spying on me. They say she is a Japanese teacher, but I know the truth. She is a spy.

I really wanted to be a part of the culture club, but I am not officially. Thatís ok I guess, but I at least want to have special meetings with them about 4-5 times a year. I want to teach them about tye dye-ing shirts, making a piŮata for Cinco de Mayo, developing B&W photography and so on. I can probably still do that, and actually I might think about starting a photography club, but that would mean I need to stay here at least 3 years after I start it. Which would be a total of 5 years and that is entirely possible, but we will see.

I just walked around the elementary school and itís really lonely. Itís hard to believe how much life students give a room. They clearly have no soul now. The desks are all lined up perfectly and flatly. The walls are bare. The desk tops are blank. But soon the students will bring life to it.

Today is a day of meetings. I had planned to prepare various things, but there are meetings from 10:30 to about 3 and I will probably have to sit here and listen to them without typing. At 8:30 all the new teachers lined up and gave short intros. I followed some and then spent the rest of the time staring at people and repeating their names. I have about 4 names down and the rest will come later. Itís a bit off seeing new faces and not seeing others. Actually if I stay here 5 years total I will have the most seniority in the school, but since I am a foreigner that will mean nothing. I am going to treat this new school year as a new calendar year and make some goals. Three simple goals they shall be. They are vis-ŗ-vis, the following:

* I will drastically improve my Japanese speaking/listening/reading through a regimented program of weekly studies and severe self beatings when I lack discipline.

* I will save money so I have no problems with my car tax and apartment fees next year as well as having over $1,000 USD in the bank and paying off the one loan.

* I will get to and maintain the weight of no more than 100Kg.

From henceforth and herein I declare all such goals to be hereby official. Ha, I am starting to crave the ceremoniality of Japan.

One thing I donít crave is the ridiculous copying of papers. This morning there were about 50 stacks of paper on the back table. One teacher, by himself, was picking them up and collating them. Of course all the new teachers jumped up to help. I mean it was like a leopard jumping for a deer. So then all the other teachers had to help. Then we had about 30 people collating and it took all of 5 minutes, but now there is a stack of papers about a half inch on my desk. As I collated them I read a few and they are completely and totally unnecessary. 

The party tonight is still on, which is good, I am looking forward to it. Only at parties are people allowed to relax and talk freely. Japan is all about appearance and thatís not me just being bitter. At school and work you must act a certain way. The baseball coach was like that last year. He was uber-strict at school and a party fool at gatherings. I will be able to talk freely with teachers and they with me. There will be some drinking, though I did start my new eating plan in April. And all the teachers in the area will take a mega-taxi from this area to Koriyama. Itís going to be \2,000 each for the taxi, but overall itís worth it. Otherwise I wouldnít be able to drink. Then the party is going to be \5,000 so it will be around a $100 night if there is a 2nd party. Thatís really a lot more than I wanted to pay now since I have to save something for my car tax, but I am already committed to it.

Iíve noticed people of a similarÖ..personality seem to look similar. I mean our new baseball coach looks like a baseball coach. When they were lined up I could just tell. Bill Gates looks like a computer nerd you know. The art teacher looks artsy. The math teacher looks mathy. The pilots of my Taiwan flights looked like pilots. Most of all our new vice principal looks like a vice principal, and somewhat mean as well. He may be nice, but he always has a ďI donít like foreignersĒ look on his face. When I say always I mean for the entire time I have known him, about 6 hours so far.

Well itís 5pm so I am heading home to shower and get ready for the party tonight. The group shuttle picks me up around 5:40, though it will be late. Thereís just no way it will make it all over the place in time if it is leaving the farthest place at 5:30. Just no way. People will be late or something. But I will go outside at that time anyway so I am not the hold up.

I was beaten up on the way home from school. By whom? No. By what. It was so windy the umbrella I was trying to hold managed to whack me all over about 10 times. I mean I was really trying to stop it but the wind was blowing from all around and it kept flying into me. Whack whack whack. I tried to let it go but it didn't go anywhere just hit me again.

[later]

The party was fun. Not enough food as usual, but very tasty. It is amazing how people change from school to the party. I mean all sorts of teachers were coming up to me talking about nonsense. New teachers were being humble and making small talk, which was obligatory since I already work here and they are new. Old teachers were talking about how they want to learn English, but can't. A few teachers and office workers asked me to first speak to them in English and then in Japanese for practice. Wow. The new social studies teacher, well one of them, talked to me in English for a while about how he liked American football, specifically the Miami Dolphins and Dan Marino. I drank just enough to have fun, but not enough for a hangover. Over to beddy bye.

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

I am sitting in a 4 hour teacherís meeting. Seriously four hours? FOUR. The best part is, and no sarcasm hereÖ., we are just reading handouts that were handed out before the meeting. Then people are asking absurd questions and then we discuss the absurd questions until all parties feel the absurd questions have been thoroughly discussed. I mean really four hours? I am typing slowly so it can barely be heard, but with the placement of my desk now in the middle of the room, the vice principal can see me typing. I donít know if he cares and I know that I really donít care because it is a four hour meeting and so far we have only endured one. I have already surfed the web, surfed some nonsense sites, gone to the bathroom, and typed all this, and I have 3 hours to go. If it was the old VP I would just leave and walk around talking to students, but I have to semi impress this guy early on.

Somehow the 4 hour meeting only took an hour and a half. That was a refreshing relief when he said ďwell letís finish earlyĒ. I have little to do before lunch, but after lunch I plan to redo the English room. Donít get me wrong, I donít hate it, I just want to update things. I want to add more English and organize what is already there.

The argument that because someone put a lot of effort into something I should therefore really care about the issue is silly to me. What I am interested in has no relation to how much effort someone put in. What if someone built a life sized model of the white house out of mashed potatoes? Well actually that would be pretty cool. So then what if someone spent a lifetime moving a mountain with a spoon. Hmm, no that too would be cool. Ok, what if someone spent a week cooking some exotic Nepalese casserole that tasted like stinky feet? Should I act like I like it because they spent a week making it?

Well that was a long pointless ramble based on some of the paperwork on my desk. I flipped through it and wanted to trash it all, but a teacher pointed out it was important because the students spent so long making it. Not actually the sheets I was holding, but the original which was then copied. But to me itís just more nonsense paperwork and doesnít matter who made it or how much time they took.

I found out most of the teachers living in the teacherís apartment moved out. There were 7, but now there are only 3 of us. Two ladies are on the other side and just me on the guy side. Thatís a little sad to me, and scary if we are attacked. Which is highly unlikely though. But I guess it will be easier to keep the general expenses down since the one guy that lived on my side always left the outside light on, whereas I always cut them off during the day and usually at night as well. Now I will pretty much leave them off.

For lunch I was too late and didnít get in on the group order. To the amazement of all around I managed to order lunch for myself from the restaurant across the street. I called and said the standard ďexcuse me but, I am called McDonald of Konan JHS, can and order be made?Ē. It sounds funny, but that is really what you say. The clerk said ok and so I ordered and they delivered it. Maybe in the future I will order more from them when I am home alone and donít feel like leaving. Hey itís already 4. Tomorrow will be action packed since I am on the prepare-the-gym-for-the-opening-ceremony committee. Today was average although Ben, Moira, and an ex-JET just stopped by. The ex-JET taught in Koriyama years ago and was back in town for a bit and Ben (my technical boss of sorts) was showing him around and of course the new ES-JHS mixed school was on the list.

I took my flashcard to school and retrieved the photos of the trip so I can upload more soon.

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

Did I mention I didnít have to pay for the party Monday? I meant to mention that, but I donít think I did. It was something about me having paid extra or not using some money from the monthly teacher fee. I have to pay 3,500 for a teacherís fee and then 6,500 for school lunches each month. So that helps a fair bit, even though I have to buy lunch each day this week. We order from one of two restaurants in town and they deliver. I order the cheapest thing, which I coincidentally like.

Another teacherís meeting. These meetings are driving me crazy mainly because all we are doing is receiving about 20-30 handouts, then having them read to us. Itís one thing to say ďas noted on the handoutÖ..Ē and then elaborating, but they are just flat out reading them. Itís good listening practice for me.

I was just handed an envelope with $30 in it. Something about not going to the farewell party and having extra money. Crazy. Between not having to pay for the party Monday and getting this money, I should be alright for this month. I need to save as much as possible for the car tax inspection scam. I plan to go to the shop connected to the Indian food place, as odd as that sounds. Maybe they can give me some discount. I need to call him.

Today was indeed a busy day. We spent all morning setting up the gym for the opening ceremony and then various other cleaning and preparing related ventures. I thoroughly cleaned the English Room and plan to make it more attractive this week and next week. I have just a few classes next week because the 2nd and 3rd year students go on their school trips so all the remaining teachers have to share the 1st years. I will do a basic intro to my class type thing and explain my new point system, if I understand it myself. The other teachers in the teacher's apartment building mentioned they want to have a gyoza party that I mentioned before.

Had another slightly amusing language goof. I was talking about the group taxi to the party the other night. I tried to say it was "good transportation" since that's about all I can formulate in my head in Japanese. To say that would be ii kootsu. ii is good and kootsu is transportation. Note the two IIs and the two OOs. They are important. I tried to say it naturally fast which means slurring slightly. I ended up saying ikotsu. It looks and sounds similar right? Well it means human remains. So it sounded like I said "it's for human remains". Luckily I have grown to quickly recognize the wide eyed look of surprise. I said it slower and the truth came out. It was good for a laugh. Good times.

Tomorrow all the new kids come. Well it's really just 22 new 1st graders, but I bet they are uber-cute. I have already met them at the intro/health check back in the fall sometime. I think most were cute/cool, but I only saw them in small groups. I know a few of the boys are little devils and that will be fun. At least they already know my name and have seen me. I should take my camera.

Thursday, April 6th, 2006

I am getting accustomed to some things in Japanese culture, but the group thing is not one of them. Itís really just polite discrimination. One of the big things that bugs me is how everyone in the group must have input on a matter. About 5 of us were putting some carts into a room. There were three carts and they wouldnít fit. I quickly figured out if we turned them sideways they would fit with no problems. I suggested that and everyone nodded. Then we had to make sure each personís ideas were taken into consideration. One person suggested my idea was good, but perhaps diagonally would work, which it did not. Another teacher suggested we turn them around, which means they would still be lengthwise. So that didnít work. Then I just stopped playing the Japanese culture game and turned them sideways. People stared for a minute them mumbled about how that worked but something seemed odd about it. Argh. Hulk no like.

The opening ceremony was the same as always, but one thing that is annoying is how long it is. This was a ceremony that included the new 1st graders who are all about 5-6 years old. They have the attention span of wallpaper, similar to myself. They had to sit through this hour and ten minute formal ceremony and were constantly told to stop fidgeting. I was also fidgeting since it was just boring. They were wiggling and squirming whereas I would just stand up and walk around. That was really annoying.

But the strange thing that happened was the photographer had a flash problem. It worked twice and then stopped. He had to plug it in and then it still wouldnít work. That was the main reason why I would never be a professional photographer. Then just 10 minutes ago (1:30pm) we had a different photographer take the teacherís photos and he also had the same flash problem. Worked twice then died. Wow. The teachers were making jokes about how the school is haunted by a flash ghost or something.

Today has gone by rather fast. We had a ceremony this morning welcoming the students back, then we welcomed the new students and had the big ultra formal opening welcome ceremony. Then we ate lunch and just now had our photos taken. Now it is about 2pm and I have many things to work on. Iím not staying until 7 tonight though. I have impressed the new vp enough I think.

Oh semi big news. I am an official substitute homeroom teacher for the 1st year JHS. Thatís really a big step and I think it is a test. I seriously doubt I would ever be a full homeroom. I will have to make sure I know whatís going on and really pay attention. I am aggressively trying to learn as much school related vocabulary as possible and improve my speaking. I spent most of the ceremony practicing the 1st year JHS names. I am going to change into something really casual now since the other teachers are.

Something I have noticed that is interesting about pictograph based languages, at least Japanese, is you can create new words just by placing words together. When I get a sheet I look up the main header and topic kanji so I get an idea of what is going on. Quite often what is written has no meaning in any dictionary I use because it is not an actual word. But everyone knows what it means. Thatís interesting.

Iíve been doing something recently that is really getting on my nerves. First of all I need to think about things for a while before I do them. That goes for planning a lesson, writing something, programming something online. Whenever I just do something, it works out badly for me. Recently I have been planning lessons and, more specifically, working on my new point system, the Ryan Dollar. In March I spent hours making RDs from Monopoly money. Then today I realized I need to have them on the computer so I could print serial numbers on them to keep kids from copying them, as if they would do that. So I found some decent fake dollars online and spent an hour copying and adding my name to them. Then another two hours lining them up with an Excel sheet I made with numbers on it. Finally I had them lined up so I could work on the script to generate numbers and when I printed they would be on the bills. Then I realized it simply wouldnít work for various reasons. So I spent like 8 hours total working on them and now itís wasted. But a plus side is it kept me at school after hours so I look loyal. It doesnít matter what you are doing at work, as long as you are at work.

Friday, April 7th, 2006

Itís funny watching all the new teachers act stupid since they are new. You know they canít reveal their real personalities for a while to make a good first impression. Thatís not a Japan thing, just a new person thing. Kids will come in and be disruptive and the new teachers just smile and laugh a bit, whereas last year teachers would have been like ďYo dude, cut the shouting, go back to classĒ. Iím sure I was that way too.

This morning I wanted to hang out with the new kids, the new actual first graders, not JHS first years. When I got to the classroom it was chaos. Kids were running around playing and there were already about 10 upper grade kids in there, mainly the 2nd graders looking at how young the 1st graders look. I hung out for a minute, but I am really sensitive to things like too many people in a room at the wrong time. I managed to meet about 5 of the outgoing kids. I have to practice there names. I could make a song using their names. Hmmm, what tune could I useÖ.

I donít know what there is to do today. If I have nothing official to do I have about 50 things I can do. I always seem to take on projects that are unnecessarily too long. Well not so much unnecessarily, but they always take up time. I guess I do that because I hate having nothing to do. My first year here I had several weekends with absolutely nothing to do and that nearly killed me. ON top of having nothing to do I had no money which meant I could only sit in my apartment and re-watch the same videos I had seen 400 times already. I would look for stupid things in the background or try to memorize the script.

One productive thing I am working on is writing a few books. One is based on this journal, though I just decided to redo it. Since it is based on the journal I have to write it in a journal/diary format. I know that is not a Pulitzer prize style, but the way it is written now seems to jump around too much. I keep saying ďone time this happened and then another time, and then onceÖĒ. So I am going to re-write it. Another book is about short Asian stories. They are based on real things, but I built a story around the small truths I knew of. Then I have a few Japanese language books in mind. All of these will take a long time to do, but I want to produce something this year. I wanted to get the journal book out already, but things keep happening that are worthy of submission. The other books just take time. Another big time taker is my online English quiz for the kids. There will be about 50-100 questions in each of the sections and at least three sections, but really far more. One for each JHS grade, then one for each grade again about grammar checks, then one for each of the 4 grades of the standard English test students can take three times a year. They need lots of practice with that. There are actually 4 grades, but once you get past the pre-2nd grade test, you are more or less conversational. Level 2 is a college level, and really pre-level 2 is a high school level, but I have a handful of kids testing at it. Testing at pre-2nd that is and one kid might pass it by his 3rd year. Heís a 2nd year now and has passed level 3. So he has about 6 chances at pre-2nd grade and his father runs the local cram school.

The people at this school have an amazing ability to just disappear. There have been numerous occasions where I would be doing something with a group, turn around for a minute, then everyone would be gone. This time we were in the gym doing a traffic safety seminar for all the kids, even though the JHS kids have done it for 8 years already. I stepped into the bathroom for a minute and when I came out the gym was empty. So I looked down the hall and that was empty as well. Then I walked down the hall and the classrooms were empty. Finally I found everyone outside practicing getting on and off a bus. When these things happen I have a brief feeling of really being in the twilight zone. Itís strange how that show just created that term and now it has a distinct meaning. But yea I feel like time just stopped for me while everyone else left. That would be really cool to do on command, just stop time. There was a book about that called The Fermata, but it was only ok I thought. It jumped around a bit and didnít really focus on the time stopping. It had some great parts and some parts I just skipped.

Some times it depresses me that I donít have a skill to really teach the kids, like being good at soccer or baseball or tennis. I helped the volleyball club last year with basic things and I might do the same this year. I helped the soccer team a bit until it was obvious the kids ran circles around me, literally. I have never been able to play tennis and me being out there would just be me playing around, not doing anything helpful. One thing the volleyball team still does is stop practicing with a teacher comes into the practice area. Then they turn, bow, and say something like ďthank youĒ or ďHello so and soĒ. Itís quite respectful. I was watching them today briefly and there were two new 7th graders watching as well. They plan to join the volleyball club next week and were just watching the warm ups. Then when they were ready to leave they ran over to the club captain and thanked her for letting them watch and then left. At times I do appreciate the structured rank system of Japan, itís just the inflexibility and dismissing of other ways that I hate.

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

I cleaned the heck outta my place today. I opened the windows, put on a breathing mask, and cleaned. I kicked up a lot of dust, but it should be alright. The place looks nice now. I plan to just hang around all weekend since I need to save as much money as possible.

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

Man I am bored. B-o-r-e-d. I chatted online with Michelle for 2 hours this morning, then watched some DVDs, then just recently drove to the 7/11 to check my balance and waste time. I was hoping some kids would be at the school practicing, but there was no one. Luckily I have far more than I expected in the bank, but sadly most of my bills come out around the 10th I think. So I will re-check it Monday or Tuesday. I should be alright even though I wanted to go to Utsunomiya on Saturday to watch the FuJET soccer team, or footy team as the brits call it. Though I do agree soccer should be called football, and American football should be called something that is not football. It rarely deals with the feet anyway.

I have several things that I could do, but nothing that really needs to be done. When I was out driving around I really didn't want to come back here since I have nothing to do, but I can't afford to go anywhere or do anything. I should bug the Koriyama JETs to remind me when there is something going on in town.

[later]

I caved in and drove into Koriyama. I had sushi for dinner and then bought a plastic stool to go in the shower. It's a popular thing in Japan to sit down while bathing and to be honest I do enjoy it. It's great to sit and relax and really scrub your feet and lower legs, rather than bending over and all the blood going to your head. At first the only  stool I could find was at a home depot type place and it was $15. Yea no way I am paying that for plastic shot into a mold. Then I had sushi and went to the $1 store and found the same stool for $5. That's more like it, though still a tad high. Then I just drove home since I still have this mild headache.  Now I want to take another shower and test the stool.

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

I don't know when I managed to overdose on caffeine, but I must have. I got home around 6:30, had a light dinner, and worked on various web things for an hour or two. Or so I thought. The first time I looked at the clock it was 2am. I sat here for like 7 hours just working. I got a lot done, done get me wrong, but 2am was pushing it. I was still hyped and couldn't get to sleep until 3 or so, now it is 7am and I am still asleep and yawning like a bear. If they actually yawn.

The kids here still donít get the fact that I am just messing with them have the time. Plus itís hard for me to remember they se me as an adult an actual teacher. Like today some kids were horsing around and one got mad and stormed out. They were in the lobby of the school waiting on the bus. When he left he opened the door a bit to fast and it slammed open. It made a loud whack and I heard it and stopped. I was heading for them anyway so I was close. I opened my eyes wide and made that gasping shocked sound. All the kids got quiet and looked at me as if I was about to yell. I went over to the door and then said it was ok. A few kids apologized and they had nothing to do with it. Plus IT was really nothing. Itís just weird having people take you THAT serious. Itís something I have to get used to.

Today was such a beautiful day. I didnít even wear a coat and it wasnít even like I needed to but refused to wear one. Just a cool spring day, but not too cool, just right for me really. I plan to open my windows when I get back to the apartment. Too bad I live on the first floor. I love to have the windows open all the time, but being on the first floor people can see me. They can just see right into my place. Plus there is a house about 20 feet away from the window and they too can see me changing or dancing naked.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Two of my favorite kids, who are now 4th graders, and I were saying goodbye around the shoe lockers on Monday. Then one girl asked if I would write her another note. She said she really loved getting letters from me especially when I put them in her shoe and she would find them in the morning. The other girl said she wanted one too.

So I wrote one for each girl. I made it special and put several things they liked. For instance one girl always rides a unicycle and the other does stilts. I put some clip art images of tall stilts and then wrote her name a lot. For the other I found some huge unicycle images and included those. Then I forgot it Tuesday and Wednesday morning and then put it in their shoes Wednesday as I left so they would find it this morning. I got to school right at 8:10 and went down to their room to see if they had seen the notes. When I looked in the window of their classroom they were huddled around each otherís desk staring at the notes with huge grins and pointing to different things.

Things like that make my day so much more fun. Honestly the reason I put up with the rigid Japanese culture is because of the kids. I donít think there is anyway I could work for a Japanese company. It would just be too rigid and there would be minimal if any reason for me to jump out of bed and rush to work. Is it sad that I am really good friends with these kids? I mean I really look forward to seeing them? Well it is going to make leaving here all that more difficult, but as of now I donít have any plans to leave for a while.

Iíve been doing a lot of translating recently. Donít let me make that sound bigger than it is. I am translating some of the millions of forms I get across my desk everyday for my own use, but just enough so that I can understand what is going on. Iím not at a United Nations translation level by any means. So this process takes me a long time and is sometimes painful. I have to take the sheet, write the character out on another sheet so I can count the strokes and check all the components, look up each component and then have it list all the characters with that component, then find words that start with that character. The sheet I try to focus on is the weekly schedule. Itís a one page chart explaining everything that is going on at the school for the next week. The vice principal makes it and passes it out on Thursdays. Today I had him (by had I mean asked ultra politely in a roundabout way) save it to my flash drive. Then I saved the MS Word file as a web page and then used a free program to highlight the characters and display the readings and meanings. Now it takes me about 5 minutes to understand the form rather than 2-3 hours. Most of that time was spent just waiting on the slow school network to connect to the site. The site itself is pretty fast, but our network is, how do you say in English, slow.

This morning seemed like every other morning. I woke up, goofed off, got dressed and left. Then at the Smile Mart, as I opened the freezer to get my morning coffee, I noticed a strange reflection. Ha, the glass in the freezer door distorts my hair and makes it look like I didnít do my hair this morning. Oh wait, I didnít do it. Yea my hair was standing up all over the place. I quickly ran into the bathroom and wet it down a bit. Thatís reason number 35 why I have short hair.

Friday, April 14, 2006

One problem I have been causing for myself is due to the fact that I can determine the context of something by hearing a few key words. It doesnít matter if it is listening or reading. When I get a memo I can recognize most of the heading or keyword characters and then I, more or less, know what it is about. When people are talking and I hear various key words, I can figure out what they are discussing. So how is this a problem? Well it makes people think I am far more advanced than I am. Now several teachers talk to me full speed and sadly I usually understand the jist (or gist) of what they are saying. I guess thatís a good thing overall, but it makes it more difficult to practice listening.

That actually worked out better for me in college when I worked for a record store. The store sold mainly gospel and rap and I knew nothing, and cared nothing about this. There was another more mainstream store that sold popular songs, but this one was in a mall and the traffic that came in always wanted gospel or rap. Since I didnít care about gospel that should make me a lousy salesperson, but one person would explain something to me and I would repeat it later. This went on so much that eventually I could carry on a good conversation and even a good debate about various gospel songs or artists. I knew nothing of what I was talking about and was just repeating what others had said, but it worked.

You know me typing that paragraph made me start to think about my college years in Statesboro, Georgia. Home of the song by Greg Allman called Statesboro Blues, which was ever so true. We called it Staysboring since everyone would leave on weekends and run home to their high school friends and parents so there was nothing to do on weekends. But then I started thinking about various parts of the town and realized I couldnít remember where a certain road went. It was driving me crazy so I had to open a Google Maps Satellite window and try to job my memory. It didnít really answer anything so I will just have to visit the town at some point and see. Itís stupid, but I am type-A personality and canít let it go.

I knew the ES kids were having some party today, but I forgot. Then I heard them squealing in the big hall so I went down to see. All the curtains were closed so I walked around through a back door. Just as I did someone stuck a mic in a my face and all the kids were staring at me. Ha, I accidentally walked onto the main stage. Then a student asked a question: Are you a boy or a girl? What is a witty answer? Girl would be the obvious, but surely others have said that so I said ďit is undecidedĒ. They all erupted with laughter.

Then other things happened and blah blah blah. Finally we sang the school song and I confirmed a theory I had previouslyÖtheorized. There are certain times when anyone can cause a whole group to start clapping. There are certain cues that require only one person to slap their hands together once and itís all downhill, even when people have no idea why they are clapping. When we finishing the school song there was a lull of what to do next. I slapped my hands together and others started clapping. Then as people realized we were really clapping at ourselves it trailed off. I have done this before and it almost always works.

I was dead set on walking out the door promptly at 5, but now it is 6:30. Hmm, what did I do to waste time? I hung out with the clubs since today all the new 7th graders were allowed to join and start practicing. Then I printed out and copied some of my new Ryan Dollars (see below). Then some past students showed up and I chatted with them for a bit. Then I walked around and watched the kids practice a bit more.  Then I called the Indian guy that owns the Indian food place and asked about having my car tax-inspection-scam done.  He said I could give him the car on Thursday and it would be done on Friday. Then it was 6:30. So soon I will head home and eat and watch movies and do nothing tomorrow. Argh.

The ones and fives will be just black and white on colored paper with a number stamped on it. The $10 notes will be printed in color since I won't give as many out. At first the students were unclear on the point system and then  one asked about the party for the winner and asked if there would be cake, I said Oh yea and then they started to get the idea. Pitting each class against the other is the Key part. I'm taking advantage of their group competitiveness. I will have a chart in the hallway for them all to see.

I actually created that dollar in MS Excel because it allowed me to center things better and most of all I can add a self increasing serial number somewhere. Probably just below the ONE with the paw print. That's from Between The Lions, some TV show that had a similar looking fake money dollar. the drawing is from a Japanese friend who draws me in a cute childish way. She is the daughter of the Home Ec teacher at Adachi high school who now lives in Tokyo. The daughter not the Home Ec teacher.

Today I am going to focus on writing. I have several books I am working on, and by working on I seem to me just thinking about. So today I am going to get something down. I currently have about $600 in the bank for the car tax, plus $200 in savings, so I am doing great. If I make it all the way to payday, this Friday, with at least $500 that will be the most I have had in my account on the day before payday in the 3.5 years I have been here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Just found out I have to attend the PTA meeting tonight. It lasts until past 8. I guess I canít complain since I want to be considered more as an equal, but I will just be so bored. I have to give a self introduction in Japanese to all the 1st grade parents, but after that will just be me nodding like I understand what people are saying and agree with them. Luckily about 90% of everything Japanese people say are statements, as opposed to questions, so I can just nod and play along.

We had a fire drill this morning. They timed how fast the students made it to the safety zone. I was hoping we would do a safety dance. I would have told them ď you can dance if you want to, you can leave your friends behind, but your friends wonít dance and if they donít dance then they are no friends of mineĒ. Sorry, thatís a song from the 70s or 80s. Of course before the students ran outside they had to change shoes. Safety or tradition?

The office lady just gave me some urgent form to fill out and it made me anticipate a problem. Itís about my car and I have to produce all sorts of forms about insurance and proof of that absurd inspection. This Thursday I will be driving to Fukushima city to go to Coreyís wedding and then to have my car inspection done. The coincidental timing of this urgent car report leads me to suspect there will be some problem with the paperwork and I will not be allowed to drive it. Why must it be turned in now? Why not after I get it done? Is it me being pessimistic or because I have seen a repeating pattern? Weíll see tomorrow.

Dang itís already 6pm. I figured it would be around 4 and I would still have two or three hours until the PTA meeting starts. Speaking of writing out numbers in text form, I signed up for a 7 day free trial of a site that lists home foreclosures. I was going to let it run and actually pay for it, but then I read in small  grey letters at the bottom of the page which was white and all other text was black, formatted exactly like this:

 Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text. Lots of normal black text.

 Sign up now for your free 7 day trial, then why not stick around for the low price of $9.95
a week, or thirty nine dollars and eighty cents per month.

 

Notice the line break and writing $39.80 out in text form? Of course your eye is drawn to $9.95. What a sad way of getting people. I wonder how many people complain after getting billed $39.95?

It is 8:30 and I am still at school doing this PTA thing, but actually I donít mind. We have been busy all day doing various things. I have worked 12-14 hours a day on a regular basis and I donít mind it when I am busy. I am hoping the journals I am having the students write will cause me to work late more often. Iíd rather be at school getting credit for working late, than at home not getting credit, but still working late.

I had an interesting conversation while I was giving my self introduction to the 7th grade PTA parents. I worked on a fancy self intro for a few hours and had it down. Then at the last minute the English teacher suggested I add something. It seemed simple enough so I did. Then I give my speech and here is what they heard. It was all in Japanese:

Me: My name is Ryan McDonald. I come from Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I am 34. I taught at Fukushima Higashi High School for 3 years. Now I live in Miyo. I am the asthma English teacher at Konan ES-JHS.
Some PTA guy: Asthma?
Me: Yes, asthma.
PTA: Is always hard to breathe?
Me: No, the air is clean here.
PTA: That's true, it is easy to breathe here. What about when you exercise?
Me: I don't exercise that much.
PTA: Of course, because of your asthma.
Me:  Hmmm, uh...not so much because of that, I'm just not that into exercising.
PTA: Have you been to the hospital?
Me: When I was sick I went to the local hospital.
PTA: For asthma?
Me: Well I could go to another place if needed.
PTA: I think another teacher here might have asthma also.
Me: No they all rotate every three years. I work (as I say the word for asthma in my head I know it is wrong). Ha ha, I have been saying ZenSoku right. Sorry, I meant to say SenZoku.

So let's play the conversation with the correct word, SenZoku, which means "exclusively".

Me: My name is Ryan McDonald. I come from Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I am 34. I taught at Fukushima Higashi High School for 3 years. Now I live in Miyo. I am the exclusive English teacher at Konan ES-JHS.
Some PTA guy: Exclusive?
Me: Yes, exclusive.
PTA: Is always hard to breathe?
Me: No, the air is clean here.
PTA: That's true, it is easy to breathe here. What about when you exercise?
Me: I don't exercise that much.
PTA: Of course, because of you are exclusive.
Me: Hmmm, uh...not so much because of that, I'm just not that into exercising.
PTA: Have you been to the hospital?
Me: When I was sick I went to the local hospital.
PTA: Exclusively?
Me: Well I could go to another place if needed.
PTA: I think another teacher here might be exclusive also.
Me: No they all rotate every three years.

Wow, that was really interesting. It went on for a bit and both asthma and exclusive seemed to fit.

I had that same problem as before when I did my self intro. I practiced it all day and apart from the above mentioned fiasco, it was very smooth and polite. One parent later commented my Japanese was perfect, apparently she missed the whole asthma exclusive conversation. So I keep getting credit for being better than I am. If only I could have that problem on a test.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

There is a amusing tradition in Japan. When you enter a room, especially a room of someone of higher rank, you announce ďshitsurei shimasuĒ. It means I am being rude by disturbing you. But the funny part is simply entering a room is no disturbance. When you enter a room and yell ďI am being rudeĒ that is the disturbance. The yelling, not the entering. Itís a nice tradition on paper, but in reality itís amusing.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

I was teaching phonics to my new 7th graders, because phonics will allow them to actually read on their own rather than just memorizing words and using the Japanese foreign word language to (mis)pronounce them. I will teach the alphabet in four parts. They already know the letters, but I am going to focus on the sounds. First I taught A-I, then J-R, then S-Z. In the last lesson I will teach letter combination sounds. Not funny yet is it?

Today I taught A-I to some 7th graders. Then I had them test their skills by sounding out some words made up only of A-I. Well there arenít that many. They did B-E-D. Easy. Then D-I-G and B-A-D and a few others. Ok, letís try a longer one. I told them B+E is Beh as in Bed, but B+E+A/I vowel is usually just the B sound or even BEE. For example Being, Beach, Bead, Beak, Beam. Ok so they have that sound down. What can we spell with just A-I? Hereís a good one. Letís sound it out.

BEACH.  BEA=B   A=A   CH=CH

So what do we have? A class full of kids saying B-A-CH. Biyotch. Over and over. I couldnít stop laughing which made them say it more and more. Then they were pointing at each other saying Biyotch, but they didnít even know that was the correct slang context. It was painful.

Teaching phonics is actually hard. Itís one thing to teach reading and letter sounds to kids who speak English and will recognize the words when they say it, but when they spell BAD and keep thinking itís bird because thatís the only sound they know, itís a challenge. I was explaining all the words to them in Japanese as they said them. Apart from the Biyotch fiasco, it was a boring class.

I had another bout of the giggles today, but for a bad and wrong reason. Well just a language mistake on a teacherís part, but still something I shouldnít laugh at. I was really laughing more at the fact the teacher said this rather than the word itself. We were walking down the hall after cleaning and a student was about 50 feet behind us. Everyone was returning to their rooms and he was slow. I was chatting with a teacher who likes English. I yelled ďhurry upĒ in English. Then there was some casual silence and then the teacher said ďretardĒ.

I burst into a shocked laugh and asked why he said that. The teacher asked if it was wrong. I said it had a rude meaning in English and we donít say it. When we get back to the teacherís room he showed me in the dictionary that it meant ďdelayĒ. I explained it was a special word that no longer means that.

Well I am considering myself officially single. I donít actually know if I wasnít single over this past year and a half, but I do so consider myself single now. Eriko moved to Osaka to be a real teacher. Thatís fine,  I encouraged it and was happy for her. I can easily get down there occasionally and it wouldnít be much different than before. We have a 5 day weekend in early May so I said I would come visit her and sightsee the area. She said she would be back in Fukushima during that time. Then I suspected something and tested her. I asked if she would have time to see me, who she hasnít seen since March 18th, during the holidays. She said she would be too busy visiting friends.

Itís not the friends part, itís the fact that she canít make time to have dinner with me and I would even drive all the way up there to Fukushima city. I guess I am just a casual friend or something, so I am going to just cut my losses and move on. Iíve mentioned it before and she said I was more than that, but actions speak louder than sending messages on a phone. I might visit her once to see how things are, but I canít see it going anywhere long term, especially with her so far away. Even when she lived 5 minutes from my apartment she was too busy to see me more than twice a month. Weíve gone 2-3 months without seeing each other or talking.

I really just donít have anything good to say about the sink nonsense in Japan. There are no towels anywhere. How is that logical in the slightest? When I wash my hands they are wet. When I finish I want them dry. Why are there no towels? What purpose does this serve? I feel like a doctor preparing for surgery when I leave the bathroom. I have my wet hands up in the air and I open the door with my elbow. Then I get to my desk and dry my hands. I should point out the benefits of increasing our paper quota by having paper towels.

Something I like about Japanese kids exercising is when they count they do so in a cool sounding way. They count to 8 for various movements and slur the numbers a bit. Iíll try to explain below.

Japanese spelling - English rough pronunciation - #

Ichi Ė E Chee Ė 1,
Ni Ė knee Ė 2,
San Ė sahn Ė 3,
Shi Ė she Ė 4,
Go Ė go Ė 5,

Roku Ė row coo Ė 6,
Nana Ė na na Ė 7,
Hachi Ė ha chee Ė 8,
Kyuu Ė Q Ė 9,
Juu Ė jew Ė 10

So those are the regular numbers, but when they exercise they slur them into one syllable each. The leader will count to four then the group will count from 5 to 8 ( or five to eight as some websites go). So it sounds really monotone and something like:

Each-knee-san-she     Go-Rok-Sheech-Hach

Hard to type really, but it sounds cool when a group does it in unison. I wanted to teach them to count in English, but I like the way this sounds. I always count along and they think I am doing it just for the cool sound of it.

I just found a brochure I scanned from the Taiwan trip. We ate at a Subway (restaurant not underground train). There were brochures outside that caught our eye. We were wondering what kind of store that was, but now we know for sure.

 

It's a Dong Men store. Man that's great. A Dong Men store. There are so many jokes in my head I can't even narrow it down. A Dong Men store. Gotta love Asian languages.

 

I don't know why I haven't linked to this yet, but I uploaded the Taiwan photos and some from the new capsule hotel visit as well as a bonus section called Every Japanese Festival. Since they are nearly identical, if you see one you have seen them all.

Taiwan & Taipei 101 :: Keelung (port city with shrines) :: Capsule Hotel :: Japanese Festival

A Dong Men store. I can't stop laughing. Are we now Dong Men for eating there? Is that good or bad?

Monday, April 24th, 2006

Wow. What a long 3 days. So much happened and I will write as much as I can mainly so I can remember these magical moments. These special memories shall never be forgotten. Sorry, I felt like being silly for a minute. So let me back track to Thursday.

I drove to school so I could leave straight from here and go up to Fukushima city to get my absurd car tax inspection scam done. I mentioned on Tuesday there might be some problem with my car? Well there was a huge problem, but I managed to ďpower throughĒ it on Wednesday and they let me drive up there. However the problem came when I got up there. I dropped off my coat at Davidís and asked him if he ďwanted to eat Indian food on meĒ. After we stopped giggling about how silly that sounded, I explained I meant I would pay for it. So I drove to the place and we went in. The owner called the guy to pick up the car and when he arrived we discussed the car.

The problem is that none of the paperwork is in my name. The car is in my name, but all I have is paperwork in Rebeccaís name, and copies of them at that. Thatís like trying to pay for something with a two party post dated out of state check, it just donít work. So we concluded since I had no paperwork I would just leave it and they would figure it out. Then the mechanic noticed the inspection time had expired back on the 5th. So the car is not legally allowed on the road and the fee for merely getting caught is around $2-3,000. Groovy. So no more driving that for a while. I call my connection in Koriyama and he tells me he will contact the car company and we will figure something out.

Thursday night I go to Koriyama and get a hotel room since the next morning I have a meeting. I managed to find the crappiest, but cheapest room in town. On Friday I wake up too early, after accidentally sleeping in my normal clothes, and head out to the meeting. I leave too early which ended up being perfect since there was so much traffic. I get there about 30 minutes early and just chill. The meeting was good, we talked about various lesson plan ideas and I picked up a few good tips. Then Ben (my semi-supervisor/liaison) talked to the car company and it was decided they would simply pick up the car on a flatbed truck and bring it back to Koriyama and do everything here. Then that wouldnít happen until Monday, then Friday was ok, then Monday again. Finally it was actually picked up on Friday, but nothing could be done until Monday so I would need a rental car from the place.

So the meeting is over and I go back to Fukushima via the bus and have a room waiting at the hotel where the wedding will take place. I check in and relax and then around 6pm I grab a bus back to Koriyama for a JHS teacherís party. The bus takes an hour and costs $7 so no biggie. The party was good and the new teachers were surprised I would attend it. I love the parties, even though I am trying to drink less. Then I caught a bullet train, since it was all that was running at 10pm, back to Fukushima and found Corey and David and two friends drinking. I hang with them for a minute and then we walk back to their apartment and I get my suit and go back to the hotel.

Saturday I wake up early, have breakfast, and walk around the area to waste time. Then I go back and get dressed in my suit with the hole in the knee, but I managed to tape it so itís barely noticeable. But I do realize I have no decent shoes or matching socks. Argh. We all linger in the lobby. Later we pay our wedding money and get a program. In Japan at weddings you donít give a useless gift the couple canít use, you give money. But itís a fixed amount, usually $200 for a single person, but $500 for couples since the number 4 is bad luck here. I donít mind paying at all, however, not all of the money goes to the couple. As a way of thanking us, rather than sending a note that says Ďthanksí, they buy us each about 4 gifts worth at least $50-70. But at weddings that doesnít bother me nearly as much as at funerals. When someone dies you give the family some money, usually $30-50. Then, when they should be mourning or closing the details of the deceasedís estate, they go out and buy you some gifts worth about $10-15. That is stupid. I donít mind giving the money at all for either event, but having them give me gifts back makes ZERO sense. Just say thank you, but thatís not the sacred ďJapanese wayĒ.

Then we go up to the wedding room. We waited outside for a few minutes and the couple made their grand entrance. We were only in the lobby of the room and itís ok for the couple to see each other on the day of the event before the ceremony. She was in a formal wedding kimono and he was in a traditional menís kimono type thing. It looked really cool. Her outfit was a rental and worth about $20,000. Then they lined up before the door and people lined up in order of rank behind them. Japan is all about rank and making sure people know your rank, more on that another time. The room was about 40 feet long and 15 feet wide. The walls were white and lit, but there was a lattice of sorts around the walls. It was very Japanese and clean. Not clean as in not dirty, but just simple and nice. The bride side sat at a long table on the left and the groomís party sat on a long table on the right. There were two young girls who were assistants plus the bride had a kimono assistant. The priest was dressed like a Shinto priest, so maybe he was a Shinto priest. He then explained the process to them. That was the first time the happy couple knew anything about the process, though Corey said he wasnít listening since the guy was talking full speed. Occasionally we had to stand and bow and once we had to sip from the sacred sake. I think it was about 30 minutes or so. Not long, but not too quick. Then we left and went to the reception hall and the B&G hung around for family photos. Finally they entered and we began the ceremonial things before we could eat.

In our seats were big bags of gifts that I mentioned earlier. I had a box of sweets, something else, and a nice little chest thing with some glasses in it. Iíll take a photo because itís really cool. There was a guy from Tennessee who lives in Tokyo and plays at a Jazz bar who was playing piano and singing. He sang all English songs and sang them well. The B&G left a few times to change clothes. First they entered in their formal Japanese wear, then they changed into tradition bride and groom outfits, a fancy tux and a white dress, then they came back in a different outfit. The last time they entered they had a big torch thing and lit all the candles at each table. Then they lit the Memory candle at their table and sat down. Itís tradition to serve other peopleís drinks so people were walking around doing that as well as serving and chatting with the B&G. Their glasses were always completely full. Finally it was over and we left and hung around for an hour and then went to the 2nd party at a nearby place.

The 2nd party was more or less uneventful, but as we were leaving I realized the stereotype of foreigners being loud is dead on. I wasnít loud, but the group in general was rudely loud. When we entered an adjoining grocery store, someone in our group suggested we talk softer, why, because thatís what educated mature adults would do in a public setting. But one of Coreyís friends from out of town yelled, at the top of his lungs, ďWe need to shut up since people think foreigners are loudĒ. Of course everyone looked at us. It was embarrassing and I decided I would never get mad at Japanese people who say foreigners are rude and loud, especially in a group. Then we went to Karaoke for an hour and a half and luckily had two rooms. I absolutely canít stand when people smoke in small confined rooms. To me smoking is a nasty disgusting habit anyway, but itís just rude when you are in a small room. If you step out of the room, thatís fine. You arenít affecting other people. But in a small room other people have to breathe your stink. So luckily there were two people who didnít want there to be smoke in one room. A smoker did step in and it instantly stank up the room. Then we left and some of us went to Indian food. A group of 4 hurriedly got in a taxi and went straight there and ordered. None of that waiting and deciding and debating and then waiting for the group to order. Later the rest of the group came. Some people in the group were really drunk and really loud and rude. There was even rude talk in Japanese which really bugged me. Itís just rude to be loud in public, but in Japan where foreigners have a semi-bad rap anyway, being loud and filthy was just too much. I kept saying ďlower voiceĒ and finally ďshut up if you are going to be rudeĒ. I am turning into my father.

Then back to the hotel room. Sunday morning I got a shower around 8:55am. I know that because at 9am someone called. I just let it ring for a minute since I was all soapy. Then it didnít stop. Seriously, after 20-30 rings, especially in a small single hotel room, HANG UP. They are not answering. Nope, I counted over 70 rings after the initial 20-30. Finally I rinsed off and answered it. ďMr Ryan. Breakfast stop at 9. Will you eat?Ē. It was a variable and they couldnít understand someone not answering the phone. Then I checked out and put my bags in a locker at the station. I had nothing to do for 4 hours so I saw a movie. It was V-for Vendetta and it was better than I thought it would be. It was a 10:30am show and the cinema was packed. Then I hung around the station for an hour and finally took a bus to Ryon and Erinís place. They had a farewell party since they are leaving for good on Wednesday. Then I went back to the station, caught a shink to Koriyama, and a bus to the JETís place. Then someone drove me to the car dealership to check on my car.

When I get there they had a free rental car for me. It was a stick shift. I can drive it just fine, but in Japan you get a license for Automatic or Stick & Automatic. Mine is stick only, along with 90% of the population so why would you assume I could drive a stick? They shuffled around and found me an automatic. I drove it back and they said they would call today with details about my shaken. They just called and said the total was $1,500. So now I am nearly dead broke for the month. So broke I might have to borrow money for food. But this is the last month that will happen. I am starting a savings program and not going anywhere expensive during the summer. Once I pay David off for the Taiwan trip I will be ok. If I have to come to school everyday during the summer then I will exercise and clean the English room. I might go to Tokyo and take a private language course, but that would only be for a week. I thought about going back to Sapporo and taking only private lessons, but I donít know if I can afford that or want to go back. It was ok, but far.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

You know itís strange. The more I look at my yearly car inspection report the less I feel like it is a scam. Hmmm, I canít believe I am saying that. You arenít so shut up. No really it has a lot of good points and there is only a slight scam feel to it now. Stop typing you bloody arse. Seriously, Iím almost glad it happened. What? I quit. Who was that anyway?

So back to just me, the me that is trying to understand Japanese culture. It seems like a scam because itís a yearly fee, but when you add up all that it includes, itís really not so bad. (Hmmm, no voices in my head, maybe they did leave). It includes a full inspection top to bottom of what looks like 50-80 different things. Joints, axles, cables, tubes, pads, gaskets, all get inspected. Then they replace what needs to be done and change all the fluids. I would say that is worth $500 or so. Then it includes the insurance for the car which is another $400. The rest is the only part that would be a scam. Itís a bunch of silly processing fees and other things that are either unnecessary or overpriced. There's some "weight tax" added as well. Mine came out to be $1,500 which everyone says is an average price, but good for a car that old. It has 138,000K which is about 80,000 miles. But I donít drive it much and it drives fine when I do. Plus it just had a massive thorough inspection. Iíll just save up about $150 a month for the car fee and the apartment fee as mention in a previous post.

You know what annoys me (ha if you read this occasionally then yes you do), what annoys me now is there is a language used by Japanese to communicate with foreigners and itís wrong. The fact that itís wrong doesnít annoy me, thatís almost expected. Some Japanese guy tried to convert the Japanese alphabet to English sounds in the 1950s and made a few mistakes, only a few. Thatís fine. What bugs me is that foreigners still use the WRONG spellings. The whole point of the language is to show Japanese in phonetic English characters, so why would a foreigner knowingly misspell something. Here is a chart explaining what I am annoyed about:

Wrong Spelling

Wrong Sound

Right Spelling

Right Sound

Si

see

Shi

She

Zi

z

Ji

G

Tu

2

Tsu

T-sue

Zyu

Z-U

Juu

Jew

Ti

T

Chi

Chee

 

This language is only for foreigners. Japanese people would use their native language to communicate with each other. I fully understand a Japanese person not being clear about this language and making mistakes and even teaching foreigners incorrectly. Itís a new language to them. But it is a phonetic language. Foreigners should be able to look at Sinkansen and know that is not how it is pronounced. It is SHEEN-KAN-SIN not SEEn-KAN-SIN. In Japanese itís pronounced SHEEN-KAN-SIN, why would you just turn dumb when you write it out?

There are arguments that it should be altogether dropped since learned it slows actually Japanese reading ability. I am in favor of that. I was taught using the correct language and I still default to using it, and I do read slow. But for now, since we are not dropping it, please use the correct, obvious spellings. Sankyuu Beri Machi.

Dong Men store. Man that still cracks me up. There was also a spa called So Young Men. We thought that was a joke. I'll try to scan the ad about that.

Man I read this page last week at school and saw some bad grammatical errors and misspellings, but I can't find them now. Argh.

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Friday was a long day. First I had the observed class which was about giving directions. We had studied "go straight, turn left, turn right, stop" so I made a challenge course for them to  walk around blindfolded while some other student shouts directions. In theory it was a great idea, but in reality it was tough. They would not really listen to directions or speak really soft, or turn at odd angles. They had fun, but it was not as cool as I thought it would be.

Then I went to play with the kids outside while the PTA had some boring meeting. Later some teacher comes to get me to say we have to do introductions and they are all waiting on me. Groovy. So I go back in without my tie and line up. Then that's over they have some other stupid meeting so I go back out. Oh there's another teacher telling me I have to go to the 1st year students meeting. Great. So I go and do another introduction (though these people had just heard it). Finally everything is over. I find out I had "signed up" for the party that night, which was ironically in town. The party started at 6:30 and it was 6 so I ran home to change and then was picked up.

We arrived on time and went into some big room of a small community center type place. There were about 50 people including parents and teachers. Finally after waiting for late people we have an opening ceremony. Then we have the toast and start eating and drinking. It gets annoying sometimes because you can't pour your own drink and have to watch others to make sure they don't need something. Then came the ultra annoying part.

All Japanese people secretly want to be talk show hosts. Give them a mic and a room full of people and they will always make some joke to make everyone laugh. It's a given. So here we have 50 people, a 2 hour limit on the party, and some moron says "Hey let's do self introductions AGAIN". Even the people around me thought it was a bad idea. So 50 people with a mic and each person has to say something witty to make everyone laugh, apart from the basic self intro. That will take about 1 minute per person including the obligatory clapping at the end. One minute multiplied by 50 people equals what? Nearly an HOUR of stupid time. Mine was quick and to the point.

I talked to all sorts of parents during the course of the night. At one point I was able to guess who their kids were. It's amazing how some parents are identical to their kids and others are nothing like them. Most people said their kids constantly talk about how much they love me and love my classes. That was nice to hear.

Then Saturday I woke up early and tried to find some school in Koriyama. The volleyball club had a game there so I searched and search and finally found it. On the way my power steering gave out which is really fun. I gotta see about getting that fixed now, right after I paid $1400 to have them check and make sure everything was ok. Hmmm. Then I came back and watched the tennis club practice. I also put up some new English words and changed some things. Then I brought some yellow paper home to make a sign for the tennis club.  I spent the rest of the day Saturday making the yellow sign and then making a pińata. I want to show the elementary schools about Cinco de Mayo and pińatas. But I don't know if I will have time.

Then today I woke up early and went to the school and put up the sign and the girls loved it. They even made a little cheer to go along with it. The sign just said "Fight Fight Konan" and had a bad drawing of a racket, but they liked it. I wish I had my own club at school so we could do things like that more often. I stayed there for a few hours watching the games, then I just got bored and came back. I have cleaned a bit here and might make a second pinata.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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