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I Donít Actually Exist.
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

     I wore my black suit on Monday since all the new teachers and the new principal came. First they gathered in the principalís office, which was probably odd for the new principal since he was a guest in his own new office. Then they came out and gave a brief intro. Later I chatted with the guy who lived in Tanzania for 3 years doing something related to this school. He said he didnít speak English in English and then we continued to speak English. Then I introduced myself to all the new people one by one. Some seemed indifferent towards me, which is good in a way, others seemed standoffish a bit, which is more common. Since Japan is a ranked society, we foreigners cause problems because our rank is uncertain and some people are uncomfortable with that.

     The rest of the day was more or less normal except for the fact that I was actually busy all day with actual things, not just wasting time. I now know how to say ďwasting timeĒ. I worked on a long Power Point presentation about my classes. Then I worked out some of the curriculum for the first term. Today I will finish those two things up and work on some other things. The main thing is I am going to actually be prepared for the term and have real classes I will be proud of.

     I stayed until 6:30 yesterday for a few reasons. One of which was that I was truly busy, but another reason which holds a bit more weight was that I wanted the new principal to see I am not just a Koriyama ALT. They leave promptly by taxi at 4 and are driven home. I donít know why the BOE spends all that money on driving them around, but it has to come across as pompous to the Japanese teachers who work long hours. Anyway, at some point around 6 some teachers were doing something and I offered to help. One teacher asked if I was about to leave since it was around 6. I said itís no problem because I donít actually exist. They stared at me and then started laughing when they realized I was trying to say ďI have no lifeĒ. It wasnít my usual word-swap dysfunction, this was just the wrong usage of the word ďlifeĒ.

     Here is the big news. Since April 1st, a whopping 3 days, I have gone jogging around 6:30am every morning. I am going to keep going everyday for as long as possible. I am also not eating junk food during the day. This is my new year (Japanese new fiscal year) commitment. I must lose weight and get in shape. I really just need to get the blood flowing and I think that will make all the difference in the world. Until then I would never exercise and sit all the time and then eat whatever I wanted. But now I am determined to expend more than I take in. I have demanded it become that of which that will become so.

     Speaking of odd sentences, a student came in yesterday and asked the J-English teacher a question. The student was about to leave and go to a distant school and stay in the dorms. Incoming high school students have pre-homework so everyone is up to speed. Itís sort of a game since they always return to their JHS and get help (the answers) from their past teachers. Anyway, the J-English Teacher couldnít answer it and showed it to me and it was indeed a tough one. I figured it out, but took a while to explain. The question was ďwhich THAT is the conjunctionĒ and the statement was ďthat that that that student wrote on that paper was wrongĒ. Itís the 3rd one, but man that is tough for these kids.

     Last Friday I was glad my seat was changed so I am facing the window. There was always a glare on my screen. Then after sitting here I suddenly had a bad feeling that I wouldnít like having my back to the hall and seeing all the kids waiting or coming in. But now that I have sat here for a day or so I realize I can see much of the field, all the tennis courts, and the area where the kids play in the warm months. Itís a nice distraction watching the girls play tennis or the boys practice soccer.

     I got the name list of the new first years. I already knew them all, but I wanted their numbers so I could start building the spreadsheet for the points. This one is going to be wicked complicated since I am offering 10% interest for people who leave their money in the bank rather than making me produce bills all the time. Anyway, there were 30 names and yet I only recalled 28. Apparently there are two new students coming here on Friday. Man that has got to be tough, especially at this school where all the kids already know each other. If there was one more they would break it into two classes and I am really looking forward to the one class thing.

So busy.
Thursday, April 5th, 2007

     I have been so swamped at school. I have been getting there early and leaving late. The good news is that I am really prepared for this year, well this first term at least, the bad news is I stay until 6:30 every night and then I am too tired to do anything. I've only missed one morning of jogging and that was only because it was frigid and there was some frost and ice on the ground. I guess frost is actually ice, but I felt it was too dangerous to jog. Back to preparing for next week.

Fresh Beginnings.
Friday, April 6th, 2007

     I got to school around 7:45 and walked around to greet all the kids. None of the ES kids knew who their teacher was so I went into each class and said it was me. They all freaked and were silent for a while, at least until I said I was kidding. There is that sense of excitement in the air and everyone is so happy and bouncing around.

     So far Iíve been able to go jog-walking every morning at around 6:45 minus one. Not minus one minute, minus one day when it was just too cold and icy. Actually itís still really cold as soon as I start sweating I get really cold, but I am hoping it starts getting warmer day by day. Then again you canít count on Japan weather to be predictable. For the most part I feel great and Iím not tired in the morning. I also drink 3 cups of green tea before noon and several 32 oz. cups of water all day.

     Anyway, we had the usual ceremonies as usual. First we had the welcome ceremony for new teachers, then we opened the new term. Then we had an entrance ceremony for the incoming elementary kids and JHS kids. That was over around 11am. The new kids had meetings in their classrooms with their new teacher and parents. They left around noon and the other kids stayed around a while. I think everything official starts on Monday, but today was just getting all the administrative things in order.

Decisions.
Monday, April 9th, 2007

     I did nothing on Saturday. Literally nothing other than eat, jog a bit, and watch some things on the computer. Apart from jogging I didnít leave the house. Then on Sunday I went into Koriyama in the morning to run a few errands, get some things at the hundred yen store, and then have something for lunch that didnít involve sitting in front of my computer. I had the usual sushi since itís always a treat. I could eat it every day. Then I tried to find something else to do other than come back and sit in my apartment. Iím too broke to really go anywhere or do anything so I had to come back. Iím broke this month because of self inflicted things more or less. The more would be going to Tokyo (twice) and the Japanese school as well as sending a lot back. The less would be the alternator.

     When I came back I decided to drive by the school to see if anyone was there. I saw some cars in the parking lot and drove around back to see if a team was playing. It seemed there was a baseball game so I drove home, unloaded, put a few things away and then went to watch some of the game.

     They were playing their own version of baseball. It was highly similar, but there were some things they did to make it Japanese. One of which was a little cheer they would do each time they took the field. The catcher would stand and say something, everyone would repeat it, heíd say something else, theyíd repeat it. Then they would do this little move where they raise their hands and kick out their left leg. It reminded me of country line dancing, how people move around as if they are deathly tired and being forced to do it. There are other sports where they do these forced movements. In sumo all the wrestlers come out during the opening ceremony and do some gestures with the same lack of enthusiasm. Iím sure there are others. Another odd thing they did was when something happened around 1st base, I missed exactly what happened, the whole outfield would jump on the ground, belly first. I saw that twice and canít figure out why they did it.

     After that I went back to the apartment and took a two hour blood sugar nap. I was really thirsty all day and wanted a soft drink, but instead I went for healthy orange juice. Of course OJ is packed with sugar and since I drank the whole thing at once, it zonked me out for a while. Which later caused me to not be sleepy. I didnít do much else after that.

     This morning I forced myself to jog. Once I get out there I am alright, but I never want to get dressed and go. Sometimes I am too tired, but this morning I just didnít want to go. I made myself go and jog-ran for 37 minutes. Then I came back and showered and got ready and came to school. My weekly schedule shows two classes for the whole week and then 5 or 6 classes about the school trip next week. No classes with the 3rd years or 1st years, just with the 2nd years. Although annoying, I can understand it for this week, but next week I need to start my schedule since it is based on 11 classes. My classes are always first to get cut, which I can somewhat understand.

     Iíve pretty much decided on getting a new car. By new I mean different. The odd thing is, by getting a different car now I will actually save money this year. If I keep my car I will have to pay $1,500 in April for the yearly emissions test and inspection, then another $450 in May for some yearly tax, then Iíll have to keep putting $65 a month in the tank since gas is like $5-6 a gallon here. However, if I go ahead and get a smaller car and just scrap this one (since you donít really get any money for 10+ year old cars, then instead of paying the $1,500 tax I could put that towards a car and then only pay a little more for the car. Once you own a car for 5-10 years itís more or less worth nothing more than the yearly tax. If you sell it, all you can get is part of the $1,500 back. Usually you scrap it and it gets junked and stripped for parts. That seems a little extreme to me since it runs fine (minus some knocking sound).

     I have a white plate car now and I will be getting a yellow plate car which will make everything cheaper. White plate cars have a bigger engine and they get the $1,500 yearly fee. Yellow tag cars are usually much less. They can be as low as $600 a year with a $50 May tax and obviously do better with gas. For as little as I drive, thereís no reason to have this beast of a car. Although I do enjoy the power of a full sized engine, I just donít get on the highway that much, nor do I climb steep hills. I wouldnít mind a 4WD yellow plate car though.

     I had the English teacher call since the car place, as nice as they are, is one of those places that only talk full speed and buying a car is something I need to fully understand. So he called and explained it was about time for my $1,500 rip off and they said the last time they looked at the car they noticed some things that would need to be changed and it would probably be around $2,000 this time. Then Iíd have the May $450 tax. So the English teacher asked if they were hip to my request and they said most likely. The main request was I canít pay until the 20th and then Iíd like to pay over 4 months. They said for me to fax my preferences and they would start searching. So I wrote them up and had the English teacher check to make sure I didnít use write anything like ďplease abuse a dying eel for meĒ. Luckily I was really close on all kanji choices. Then I faxed it away. Iím hoping to hear something soon.

Too much.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007

     The car place called me around 7pm Monday night, but I didnít notice until this morning. Iím sure heís going to ask about my budget or he might be telling me I can take my request and shove it. The car place is loaded and always letís us foreigners pay over a few months since we are broke and live check to check. I might not make my goal of paying off that one loan by the June paycheck, but at least it will be really low. It all depends on what kind of car I can get. I donít care about style really, just that itís solid and doesnít clank when I take turns and also that itís not big enough to pull a boat uphill on ice. I called him back Tuesday morning, but we played were playing phone tag for a while.

     Other than that I spent most of the morning working on the computer games I made for the kids. One is a simple quiz thing where they hear a word and then choose the correct image. I recorded about 250 words and made them all into little mp3 files and then added some photos so now itís rather nice. There seem to be some bugs that I have to iron out, but overall they should be good for the kids. If they actually use them at home.

     I didnít go jogging this morning and I really donít know why. The weather was fine, I felt fine, but my brain just didnít want to go. I justified it by swearing I would go tomorrow. I think it stems from the fact that I am simply not a morning person. I can wake up early and function, but I donít really feel like doing a lot that early. Luckily when I got to school the kids were jogging around the track so I might get here early and join them. The only thing is when I jog in the morning I can get stinky and sweaty, but I canít do that at school. I could just walk fast at school, but I really need to get the heart rate up as much as possible as often as possible.

     After lunch the car place called and said my budget was too low for the car I wanted. Thereís this thing in Japan Iíve noticed where people donít understand preferences. I sent them a list of things I would prefer. In case they had two cars and they were going to choose one, I would prefer it to be like this ______. But in Japan it always comes across as ďyou must meet this exact requirement.Ē I even wrote ďpreferenceĒ in kanji and had a teacher check it. Something like this happened with my glasses a few years ago. I said ďIím just curious and looking nowĒ about 68 trillion times, but they took it to mean ďI will buy these nowĒ. I had to pay $500 for them days before my trip to Guam.

     So I typed up another fax and tried to make it more clear. Basically I said certain things are not necessary and some things are. I wrote it out myself and then had the same teacher check it. Hopefully they understand I just prefer these things and donít require them. Another annoying thing about the process is in Japan you apparently pay for the whole thing up front. There donít seem to be much financing. If I am able to pay them over 4 months, itís because they are doing me a favor. I could afford a much better car if I could pay over a year or more. Thereís no way I can get a loan from the bank and I donít know any other way. I canít possibly imagine the paperwork for me to get a loan from the bank. I would have to have so many people guarantee the loan and prove I would be here for at least another year. Thatís assuming they would even consider the idea. It would be slightly different if I had some form of residency.

     After school around 5ish, I was in the library hanging with some kids. There are a few kids who canít go home until later because their parents work or something. There seem to be some older locals who volunteer as ďbabysittersĒ and just play with the kids for a while. Anyway, I was playing with one new 1st grader and a volunteer came over. The kid said ďthis is Ryan sensei, heís the English teacher, Ryan McDonaldĒ. The lady burst out laughing saying things like ďoh McDonald, thatís funny, what a joke, how silly that would be for a last nameĒ. Then I pulled out my license and showed her it was really my name.

Compromising.
Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

     I woke up determined to go jogging. Then I got back in bed until 7:10. I just hate cold weather and my body will not function when I am cold. Itís not a ďget over itĒ thing either. Once I took my morning shower I felt great, but then it was too late and after the shower defeats the purpose. When I got to school the kids were running again so I joined them for a bit. I got my heart rate up somewhat, but since I had my school clothes on I didnít want to do much more. Perhaps I can jog more when it gets a bit warmer, but for now I am at least doing more than I have in the past.

     Last night, as I was walking home, I went into the Smile Mart to buy some dinner things. When I got to the counter the lady said they checked into carrot juice and this was all they could get and she wondered if it would be alright. I told her that actually the bottle she ordered was my favorite and I only drink the other brand since thatís what the store carries. Plus the KAGOME brand is cheaper. Wow this will be great, being able to get carrot juice out the whazoo and itís only around the corner. She sold me that bottle for $3 (the other brand is $3.50) and I took it home and chugged it. I think the rest will get here around Friday.

     This week it seems like half the school has the flu. Well Iíd say half the school is a fair estimate. Half the seniors are out and about 40% of the 2nd years are too. Iíve heard a lot are gone from the new first years. I hope I donít get it, although I would miss nothing major if I did. But last time I had the flu, it was rather annoying. Not painful so much, just a high fever (so high they talked about sending a helicopter to which I promptly said NO) and night sweats. The school nurse even passed out masks for us to wear.

     This is one of the annoying Japanese habits. They say they wear masks to protect themselves from other germs. If that were the whole truth it would be a great idea. But then thereís this thing where itís really horrible to miss work for any reason. Wife giving birth, husband in the hospital, have a fever and contagious illness? All are less important than being AT work. But how can you come to work if you are sick? Oh just wear a mask and it will protect everything. Except when you touch things and take it off to talk, and lower it to cover only your mouth because if it goes over your nose it fogs up your glasses. Except for those and a dozen other reasons, wearing a mask completely blocks your sickness from infecting others.

     Speaking of getting sick and dying, next Friday we are having a party for the JHS teachers (and VP and principal and really anyone else who is in the ďgroupĒ and wants to come). Itís going to be a little pricey and I might not make anymore updates after the party because we are eating the infamous blowfish. Itís called Fugu (foo goo) and must be prepared expertly or you die instantly. Seriously, if it is prepared wrong you get the deadly poison and die on the spot. Iíve never been one to seek it out, but if we are going to an established place that has been around for a while, Iím sure it will be alright. If not then Iíve heard itís more or less an instant death which would be fine. Iíd rather eat poisoned blowfish than get half eaten by a mountain lion and then half to pull myself 5 miles using my left hand only since everything else was slaughtered. I mean that would rank pretty high on my ďthings that suckĒ list. Although getting mauled in a small room with some smokers would also be up there. As well as having to use a slow computer while being mauled. You get the picture.

     After lunch the car place called and said they found the exact type of car I demanded (requested as a preference). They said it was about $4,000 which is a bit out of my price range, but I told them if I could pay over 5 months rather than 4 then I could possibly afford it. This is really digging into my plan of saving mass amounts of money this year, but actually not by much. If I pay 4k for it that would only be $1,500 over what I have to pay for my current carís yearly tax. Plus there is something clanking now and I can only imagine that wonít be cheap to fix. Anyway this is a special version of the car I want, plus itís 4WD which is good for the snow. Another bonus is that itís a wagon and has some room in the back.

     In the morning, when we were running, a kid was changing shoes and as usual I kicked one out of her reach. Not too far, just enough to make her hop a bit and say ďoh RyanĒ. I always apologize and act like it was a mistake, but then I do it again. Then when I was coming back inside after running (jogging (walking fast)), she was changing shoes and I tried to do it again. She saw me and blocked the kick. I told her I would get her later. Then later I was walking around while they were cleaning and I saw her. I went up to her and said ďIím still going to kick your assĒ. She looked at me funny and I played the conversation back in my head and then corrected it. Shoe is kutsu (coo tzoo) ass is ketsu (keh tzoo). Iíve made that mistake before with variations, but never to a kid like that. Luckily it has a slightly softer meaning than how it sounds in English, but itís still rude.

 

Fire!!!
Thursday, April 12th, 2007

     We had a fire drill this morning, but I wasnít expecting it and it startled me a bit. The bell is just a regular ringing school bell, but I was deep in thought working on a programming issue for MS Excel. Iím making my points score sheet really advanced and needed some upper level programming and I was in the zone working on it. Then the bell rang and I was temporarily confused and bewildered. All we did was time how long it takes everyone to change shoes and run outside. Seriously, people change shoes during a fire drill. Thatís a major part of the process. Then they had to stand up and sit back down about 10 times because they didnít stand up correctly. The object was for everyone to stand at the same time and blend in, but some people foolishly stood up too fast. Kids today, with their standing up too fast, well I never.

     I didnít drink my green tea in the morning and that caused me to drag all day. I mean severely especially after lunch. I just couldnít move and often I couldnít even stand up. At one time I would chill in the counselorís office, but recently some student has be staying in there. Heís one of the kids that comes to school everyday, but doesnít feel like participating in class so he just sits in the counselorís office or wanders around.

Computer Dog Time.
Friday, April 13th, 2007

     I love computer time when I have nothing else to do and need to waste some time. I donít mean surfing necessarily, but doing something like working with VBA in Excel. Today the kids left after lunch since more than half are out with the flu and I had nothing to do. I started adding some questions to my new Excel ďPower UpĒ quiz maker. When kids ask for a bonus quiz I press print and they get a customized test. If two people want one I press print twice and they each get a different one. It also prints an answer sheet and an explanation sheet with a code that matches them. A few kids have already asked for one and returned it. I made some changes and then added a bazillion questions.

     The way I make questions is I create an Excel workbook and put in part of a question like ďDo you like to ____ď, then I add a function that copies the word in the nearby cell and adds it to the sentence. Then I copy that down about 20 cells and type in 20 different words. That way I donít have to type much, but I get a bunch of questions. In about 3 hours I made over 500 unique questions and answers and added them to the quiz data. There are about 2,000 now and it grows all the time. Since it pulls questions randomly, the users should rarely get the same question twice.

     After that I beefed up my points system spreadsheet so I can track all sorts of crazy data. I added some wicked functions that add various cells if other cells equal various things. Some cells change colors when certain things happen. I get into a zone when I do this stuff and donít take breaks sometimes because it wonít make sense when I come back. I donít even go to the bathroom during the tough parts. The cool thing about ďthe zoneĒ is time flies like dog years. What seems like one normal minute is actually seven real minutes. I felt like I worked for about an hour, but when I looked up it was already 5pm.

     I had a class with my favorite kids 4th period. They are now the 5th graders and still have a great personality as a class. There is a noticeable difference between classes and I can only assume it is partially due to the teacher. Some classes are quiet, some are loud and happy and everything in between. During the class we used my ABC game where the letters are shuffled and you have to click them in order. Well YOU donít have to so much, unless you were playing the game. I installed it on 30 computers in the morning and then the teacher, whom I really like, said ďoh first letís do introductionsĒ. Thatís great since it is on the curriculum, but I hadnít planned it so I didnít do that great. It went ok, but I prefer more time to plan it. In the end I am just glad I had a class with them.

 

Seriously?
Saturday, April 14th, 2007

     I planned to sleep late, at least to 8 or 9. I can't stay in bed longer than that these days since I am turning into my dad.  But this morning was a special morning. It's a Saturday morning during election season so I was woken up too early by one of the more annoying Japanese customs. I've noticed that Japanese people need a overwhelming amount of information about things. Advertisements are too much and too fast. They don't believe in the "less is more" belief. During elections there are advertisements every where, but that's not annoying.

     Usually around 7:30 or 8am, yes AM, a car will drive around honking with people waving frantically. My first thought was they are warning us of something. But immediately after the car there will be a van with 4-6 of the biggest speakers I have ever seen. I don't exaggerate when I say I think these are stadium speakers, or bigger. In this van there are a few too many people and one or more has a microphone connected to enough amplifiers to power a Live Aid concert. These amplifiers are then connected to the world's largest speakers on the roof. The person or people with the mics are constantly announcing the candidate's name and saying this phrase that means "please treat me kindly". Over and over as loud as humanly tolerable. "Vote for Hiro Tanaka, please treat him kindly. Vote for Hiro Tanaka, please treat him kindly." They drive through the neighborhood then back through again, as slow as possible. I'm not exaggerating when I say this is unbearably loud. [The photo shows a candidate for a smaller local election and he doesn't have the budget for the stadium speakers, but you can see they are still big]

     The other day we had to stop our ceremony at school since they drove by a few times and then slowed since there were so many cars and people in the parking lot. We were having the opening ceremony and the current kids were inside, but the new kids were entering from the parking lot. I tried to put my head under the pillow, but it didn't help. They were outside, but there's not much separating it since Japanese walls are so thin.

     I got the official reply from the international place about the festival problems. It was a generic "we are sorry, that was not what we planned" with various explanations that may or may not have made sense. I didn't expect anything more really. I'm still not going to participate next year. I just have a different view of what an international festival should be like. I don't know if the FuJET people will or not. I'm leaning toward probably not since Amy had to constantly nag them this year to get there on time and even then they had done nothing toward preparing.

Really Trying to be Positive.
Monday, April 16, 2007

     One thing that is really grating my nerves is how I am supposed to have a year long curriculum with lessons planned out using lesson plans and each term planned out day by day, but my classes are dropped/moved/altered at the drop of a hat. I didnít have a class with the first years last week since they were so busy having 4 Japanese classes, two history classes, a double art class, and pretty much any other subject that needed space. So this week I made sure Iíd have a class and it would be today, the first of the week, so they have a full week to write in their journals. Then after my first period class with the 2nd years, a teacher told me about some meeting I had to attend 3rd period, which is when I have the 1st year class.

     The conversation went on for a bit and I was using the Japanese roundabout way of saying no, but not being Japanese I was apparently not using it correctly. She kept saying it was important I be at this meeting and I kept trying to say, politely, that no it wasnít since the kids would be explaining the trip (that I already know all about) and the vice principal would be saying the standard ďbe careful and have funĒ speech. Finally I got out of the meeting, but then the compromise was I go to the meeting room when they are taking the group photo. She said it would only take a minute, but I knew otherwise.

      This is not entirely a Japan gripe, but things never take ďa minuteĒ. The actual phrase actually means ďa short amount of timeĒ, not literally a minute. It would have taken 5-10 minutes and my class is already too long as it is. I always enjoy reading schedules that say ďwe will start at 10 and then at 11 take a short 5 minute breakĒ. It takes 5 minutes for people to get out of their seats start moving to the bathroom, and then 5 minutes in the bathroom, and then 5 minutes to loiter around a bit and then they start counting the actual 5 minutes. Then later you hear ďit seems we are running a bit lateĒ. I love that.

     So anyway, during class someone comes and says itís time for me to come up, but itís dead in the middle of a part I canít really leave so I use ďIíll be there in a minuteĒ back at them. About 5 minutes later another student comes down and says they are waiting so I tell him I am in the middle of class and canít leave so I will have to not be in the photograph. Then he says they are not actually taking it today just practicing. Are you kidding me? I told him to decide where I should stand and let me know tomorrow when we take the actual photograph.

     They would never ever interrupt a real class for such petty nonsense, but the foreignerís classes are make-believe and pretend so itís ok. I couldnít imagine trying to interrupt a Japanese class or social studies class during the part where they are denying some major occupation in history, but my classes are no big deal.

     Why do I stay? Because I love the kids and for the most part they enjoy learning English. I am real friends with some of the students and I canít imagine leaving them now. We write little notes to each other and I look forward to seeing them. A big part of my life would be missing if I went back to Atlanta and had some boring corporate job. Itís just the annoying parts of the culture that bug me. The photo is just of a truck that you rarely see in Japan. It must be a hassle to park.

     Speaking of me whining, Iím going to set up a summary page of my journal. It will be for parents and other people who want to live in a ďlife is great and wonderful all the timeĒ bubble. Iíll just report things I did and news and never say anything negative since thatís what makes you a positive person. Just saying positive things and not acknowledging anything negative. So I will set up that page and people can read it and think about how wonderful life is in Japan.

     I am really trying to keep up with all the memos I get. I get so many each day/week that I canít keep up with them. I canít imagine Japan being a paperless society, even though it would be so easy. We could have a web page on the internal server and when people make a memo they just save it to a certain folder. Then a script on the web page automatically checks for files in the folder and adds a link to the memo. I would love that and it would save so much paper, but I am sure we have some paper quota. You really think I am being witty, but if you saw how much paper we go through youíd agree. Most of the memos are worthy of memo status. Most are nothing more than something youíd say in a meeting. I have separate files for ďthings I need to keepĒ, ďthings I need to translateĒ, ďthings I need to keep for at least another day so the person who made it wonít immediately see it in the trashĒ, ďthings that need immediate attentionĒ, ďthings that really need immediate attentionĒ, and a few others.

     Today I received a memo with the schedules of the two part time teachers for the whole year. Seriously, why do we need to know that, at least in memo form. That should be on one sheet on a chart on the wall, or in my web page system. Next I received 5 copies of all the class leaders. The first copy was a rough draft I guess, then they made a change and we all received that one. Then another change and a new copy, and so on. All the second year teachers receive copies of all communications related to the school trip. I mean ALL communications. ďI called the travel agent today, but he was at the dentist so I will call him tomorrowĒ. I care more about common digestive disorders of African elephants than I do about this. Let me know if the trip was cancelled or something like that, but daily (sometimes twice daily) updates are unnecessary.

Huge Idiot.
Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

      Of epic proportions an idiot am I. A large portion of the reason I wanted to get a new car was because I canít afford to fix my car as well as pay the yearly emissions fee of $1,500 and then the May tax of $450. Since that is due next week I wanted to get it all done now. The guy from the car shop came by today and gave me all the paperwork and we went through it. Apparently for me to pay over 4 months (which is now 6 months yay!), I have to get a loan from the bank. We filled out all the info and he explained everything. Then he asked for my yearly emissions test form from last year and he checked the date of when the next one is due. I said next week and he said ďwell next weekÖÖ.of next yearĒ. Apparently I was completely and totally wrong when I thought I had to get the yearly emissions test every year. My car is 11 years old, BUT it turned 11 during a cycle so the next time I have to get the inspection is next year in April. ARGH.

     To be honest, I probably would have kept the car until next year had I known that before, but as it turns out I might as well continue. The new car will cost $4250 and that includes everything. I laid down a fixed unbreakable limit of $4,000 and added $200 would be the real and true unbreakable limit. So then he said the final complete total cost would be $4,250. Of course I had to give in on that. But the good news is since I am getting a loan, they wonít loan the money for less than 6 months so I am able to put $800 down and then pay something like $550 or so for 5 months. So that helps a lot. I might be able to pay off that loan as well as buy the car. Also, the next emissions for this car is November of next year and it should be around $1,000 including the May fee rather than $2,000 plus repairs. ALSO I might get some money back for something since I paid through next April. The only thing in the way now is the bank has to approve the loan and they really donít like doing that for foreigners without non-permanent status. I know of someone who did get a credit card (and loaned me the money for my new computer via the card Ė though he received some sky miles for it), but it took him about 6 months to get it. Plus he had to get several people to guarantee he would pay, even though the entire amount was withdrawn from his account every month.

     The car guy had a photo of the car and it looked great and I am really hyped about it. It should get much better gas mileage and all the fees will be lower. Plus it is something like 7-8 years old so I should only have to pay the emissions fee next year and possibly the year after or maybe even two years after. Overall I am pleased with the whole process. I wish it was slightly cheaper, but in the long run it will be a savings and good investment. I should be able to get some money back from someone when I leave, rather than just give the car away.

I do exist.
Thursday, April 19th, 2007

     Some lady from the bank called and I had to speak to her since they had to prove I exist and I was actually getting the loan. That makes sense and luckily she talked to me slowly. She just asked basic things about the loan and my address and how long I planned to stay in Japan. Still no news on the result, but tomorrow I will go to Koriyama city hall to get some forms. The funny thing about these forms is I need form A to get form B and of course I need form B to get form A. Thereís got to be some key to the puzzle I am missing since Iím not the first person to need these forms in Japan.

     Today I had a class with the new 1st years, but I was acting as an ALT (Automatic Language Tape-player). Not really in this case, but we joke the meaning of ALT. The 5th grade teacher doubles as the 1st year English teacher since we are a small school. I went to assist since there are 30 kids. I should have gone last year as well, butÖ Anyway, it was a good class and I think we will be able to teach them some intense English. They seem receptive, whereas the current second years simply donít remember things. They arenít stupid, but we teach something and 5 minutes later itís completely gone. Not gone like ďoh I know this, but I canít rememberĒ, gone as in ďI have no idea what you are talking aboutĒ. Itís really strange. I look around the room and see about 5 (out of 34) that might go to some upper level high school. Most of them will go to the local high school.

     Iíve had to redo my point system several times because of the banking system I am trying to build in. The problem was when they earned money (Ryan Dollars) by writing in their journals and then wanted me to keep it in the bank, that money would be counted twice. So now they donít earn money, per se, they earn a point which is later multiplied by another number and it all makes sense in the end. I also had to redo my bonus quiz maker since many 1st year kids were too scared to take it. I made a small 5 question ďquick quizĒ with no unneeded parts of the question. It drills things like AT (time) ON (day) rather than having a whole question like ďMike wants to implement a deliberate structure to enhance his repetitive instincts regarding the events that occurred (_____) Tuesday.Ē Well that was a bit long, but you get the idea.

     After school there was a PTA meeting that lasted until about 8. I stayed for most of it, but the 7:30-8 part didnít concern me (nor did the other stuff really) so I left around 7:45. That was a12 hour day and I really donít mind when I have things to do. There have been several days recently when I would get to work and the look up and say ďitís lunch already?Ē and a few minutes later ďitís time to go already?Ē Iíve been so slammed recently, but itís good since it keeps me at school late and thatís what looks good in Japan.

     The new first graders in the elementary school are too cute. Literally too cute. Itís amazing to me how a whole class can be similar. Obviously each class has will have its own personality, but with these kids the majority are really out going and well mannered. Other classes have a majority of quiet kids or annoying kids. I guess since I gave these kids little name cards at the pre-meeting back in the fall they have grown to know me. I want to go visit the current kindergarten kids in a few months whenever I have free time here. Just to get to know them early so when they come next year it will be much easier, though this year was pretty easy.

     Had a groovy language goof again. I was making a chart to explain the new ďpower upĒ quiz system and I have divided it into four parts. Upper, medium, low level, and then a quick quiz as mentioned above. I found the kanji for all the parts and put it on the chart and put the chart on the wall. I started hearing the giggles from kids and some high level kids asked for a low level quiz. I asked why and they giggled. A teacher explained the kanji I used meant ďcoarse, vulgarĒ. Nice.

I managed to snap a photo of a stadium speaker truck parked for lunch by the school.
You can easily see these are getting close to the stadium speaker size

 

Blowfish blows.
Monday, April 23, 2007

     The party was fun Friday, but I doubt I will be having the poisonous and deadly blowfish again. The taste was so-so and something, probably the blowfish, tore my stomach up to biblical proportions. I mean to the point that I almost went to the hospital. I felt great before eating it and had nothing unusual other than the fugu so I can only assume my body sensed (and rejected) the poison in the fish. I also felt slightly dizzy to the point of hallucinating for a bit after eating it. It was definitely fresh as you can see from the photo. The blowfish come straight from a tank.

     Then Saturday I drove right back to Koriyama for Paulaís birthday party. It was at this place she and I have seen many times and always wanted to eat at. Itís called Wing Garden (which makes perfect sense to me and doesnít sound strange at all oddly). It was $15 for a huge all you can eat buffet. It was mostly Japanese style food, but nothing too Japanese. It was all edible and tasty. There was a huge coffee bar with several things to pour in including some alcohol. There was a beer section, but that was extra. There was also a good dessert section. I would say it was well worth the money and I plan to go back.

     Oh, before the party Friday I took vacation time and went to City Hall to get some forms for the car process. Japan loves forms and paperwork so I need a form for everything. Hereís an interesting tidbit, you canít buy a car in Japan unless you have a form proving you have a place to park the car. I had to go to the board of education part to get that. Of course there was a glitch, and that glitch was that I needed form B to get form A. Guess what I needed to get form B? Thatís right, form A. So I had the two parties chat themselves and I guess it will work out. Then I got the other forms and mailed them to the car guy who will then take those forms and send me another form, which I will then send to the insurance place and somewhere else. Hopefully it should all work out by Friday, which is when I get the car and make the first payment.

     Letís see, what else is new? I found out that the Wing Garden is part of a cheap hotel. Itís both really cheap and conveniently located, although there seems to be no parking. I also checked into tinting my own windows on the new car. That seems to fall into the ďnot likelyĒ category. Eventually Iíd like tinted windows, possibly a decent CD player (with iPod input), and maybe nicer wheels. But I have to pay for it all first. I talked to someone at Paulaís party about how much different a yellow tag car is versus a white tag car. My beast is current a white tag and I am getting a yellow tag. The gas, insurance, and emissions test should be minimal. Not much else is going on now worth reporting. I still havenít made the bland summary page for this site for the parental units. Iíll do that now.

Getting closer.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007

     The official emissions and registration papers came today for the new car so I assume all is in order. I have to fax this sheet to several people and they will then produce other forms that are all equally needed. I think I will get the car delivered here on Friday which is good since there is a party on Friday night at one of two local restaurants. That means I can drink and walk home, whereas I always have to get a hotel room in Koriyama or just not drink (like last Friday). One is expensive, the other is a bummer. Not as much of a bummer as getting deported from Japan for 10 years for driving drunk, but still a bummer.

Seriously, What Is It?
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

     I truly donít understand why the students simply cannot remember anything from week to week. Actually, itís less than that sometimes it within the same day and other times itís in the same class. Iíll teach something and repeat it over and over, but they just donít remember it. I reminded these kids no less than 20 times about the short quiz this week and most of them flat out forgot. Only one girl got them all correct, most got about 20-30%. This happens in my classes and the regular English teacherís classes as well. Itís something cultural and I cannot figure it out. Obviously they learn other subjects, but they just canít grasp a foreign language. Or maybe itís just English.

     I was told I had to pay $30 for the school trip and I will be reimbursed later. I really donít have it now since I am trying to be as stingy as possible. Furthermore, why do I have to pay it and then get reimbursed? It wasnít something I did on my own, it was the school trip that was planned by the school last year (the trip was last week). I guess I will pay and get over it.

     Some friends invited me to go camping this weekend. They are going for 4 days/3 nights, but I donít think I can go for that long. Plus I donít sleep so well in a tent and donít really have the money to buy an air mattress right now. I donít want to back out since itís a good group going (alliteration) and it should be fun. Definitely more fun than sitting at home for the 3 day weekend, but a bit more expensive.

Seriously, What Is It? (part2)
Thursday, April 26, 2007

     Since I am getting the car tomorrow I am really nervous about getting into a wreck or something with the old car since that would complicate things like crazy. Last night I was almost in two wrecks because Japanese drivers will not simply wait for a car to turn, they have to do everything possible to get around the turning car now. I was pulling out of my little road onto a bigger road. My little road is one lane and the bigger, being bigger, is two. I was turning left and a car was approaching from the right. He was turning in so he put on his blinker and slowed so I would pull out and free the way. But the car behind him was in a deathly hurry and passed. Hereís the funny part, the light was red so when he passed he would have had to immediately slow back down. It would have made sense (ah thatís it) to just let the car turn since he was slowing for the light anyway. Anyhoo, he passed and I pulled out and he honked.

     Then on the way back (from getting money for the school trip from the ATM in 7-11), I was coming around a curve and a bus was stopping in the other lane ahead of me. I slowed down since I knew exactly what would happen and it happened exactly as I knew it would. The bus was stopping (on a curve at night) and the car behind him had to pass. Itís a federal law you see, had he not passed he would have been shot on site. So he passes and that puts him dead in my lane as I am coming around the curve in the right of way. Had I not slowed down he would have hit me head on pretty fast. As it was he had to slam on the brakes, but I had already slowed a fair bit since this has happened so many times. I hate when people write ďanyhooĒ, but I didnít want to put ďanyhowĒ twice.

     So as far as the car goes, most everything is in order. That of which that is not in order will be taken care of by separate parties. That one form from the Board of Education is supposed to take longer, but the car people need it tomorrow. I called the BoE and told them I need it by tomorrow and they said it would be difficult. That actually means impossible in Japan, but they donít say impossible because itís too American (or too direct). So I asked if they could contact the car place and figure something out, which is what they have done, so itís not my problem. I sent away the extra insurance forms today so I should be all set when I get it tomorrow.

     I always hate it when things take 3-6 weeks to process. This is not a Japan thing, all countries seem to have absurdly long processing periods for various official governmental things. This form takes about 5 minutes to fill out. If you have other stuff to do thatís more important, thatís perfectly understandable. But saying that this form will take a while is annoying. I think that actually might happen more in the US than here. In Japan they kill you with paperwork that overlaps and where one is required to get the other and vice versa. But in the US things seemed to take so long to process when really it would take five minutes.

     My tax refund is an example. When I first got here I thought I had to send in a blank tax return (completely blank apart from my name and address) with ďtaxpayer living abroadĒ or something written across the top. I did that and then found out there was something else. I hired an accountant to do it correctly and she filed for me. Then the IRS wrote and said I filed two returns and they would have a specialist determine what the problem was. They have specialists who look at a blank form and look at one typed by a professional accountant and try to figure out which one is accurate. I want that job. They said it would take 8 weeks for the investigation to conclude. I finally got the check around the time I was filing the next yearís taxes.

     I actually have a lot of classes next week during Golden Week which is only a two day work week. I think I have 9 classes which is great. Iíd love to have 4-5 everyday rather than 9-12 every week and sitting around programming all the time. I get to teach colors to the new elementary first graders. They are too cute, but Iíve covered that. Iím going to teach them the colors and then have then run around the room touching things that are the color I call out. Iíd better make sure there are some colors in that room.

Pa....tay
Friday, April 27, 2007

     We had the observed class today and I was an assistant during the one class that one teacher came to. Then there were several meetings some of which I went to and others I didn't. Finally we had one meeting that went from 4:00 to 4:50, but a certain teacher who loves to talk, talked from 4:30 to 5:15. Then the rest of the meeting parts had to be cut since the PTA party started at 6:30 at the restaurant across the street (one of three in the area). Finally we finished around 5:45 and I bolted so I could get money and change clothes. I don't particularly enjoy wearing a suit. I know I look good in one, but I'm just not comfortable.

     Oh, before that the new car came. It's small, but nice. It should be much cheaper in the long run. There are some things I don't like about it and miss my old car, but I can see that it will save me money overall and better fits my driving habits than the old one did. Plus I only need to save about $50 a month until the next emissions test and weight tax. It's boxy and narrow, but that is a real bonus in Japan. It's small and compact and turns on a dime (almost literally). Plus it has nice space in the back, which I will get into shortly. I would have laughed at a car like this in the US, but here it's great. The headlights are rare and usually look different. I was actually a little sad when they said the old car would be scraped for parts rather than sold. I get attached to things like that sometimes. I felt like it could have been sold for something, but that's not how things work in Japan with that absurd emissions fee.

     Ok, so all that's finished. The new car is here, the old car was taken away. Now it's 6:10 so I should start walking to the party so I get there by 6:20. Yea, I'm the first one here. For a culture that is famous for being prompt, people are fashionably late a lot. Anyway, luckily there was no long opening ceremony (oh there was an opening ceremony, but it wasn't long) and we got right into the action. I chatted with several people the whole time and many people came over and said they were waiting to chat with me, but I was talking to someone else. That's a good feeling, and part of the reason why I am staying a while (not forever though).

     The party ends around 9:30 and the chairman of the PTA drags me to the 2nd of three places in the area. I had been here before and wanted to come back.  It was the Yakitori place. Yaki means cooked or baked or grilled and tori is bird. Yakitori is like chicken on a stick, though it's something like swallow I think. So we drank for about 2 hours and chatted about various things. There were about 6 people. Then a huge argument broke out between two people. I caught some of it, but not all. Then it was over and we leave. The bill was $30 each, which I can't understand, but I would never say anything. 6 people times $30 is $180 and we sure didn't drink and eat that much. I really don't get it, but that's what everyone paid.

FREEZING.
Saturday, April 28, 2007

     Some friends invited me to go camping over the three day weekend and I really didn't feel like going, but I wanted to go. I had so many things to do over the weekend and I was broke, but I knew it would be fun and I was afraid if I said no too much I wouldn't get invited other times. So I went on Saturday after doing some things at the school. It was about an hour and a half drive from my place, but that's not too bad really. The place was up in the mountains a bit and it was my first trek in the new car. We stayed at a nice place called Lakeland Hibara. Hibara is a local lake. They have some trailers to rent or you can stay in tents.

     We stayed in tents. It didn't fully occur to me how cold it would get at night. It still gets down to around freezing in my area, and this place was even higher up in the mountains. There was still some snow on the ground. You can actually see some in the background. My tent is the smaller one to the left and then 4 people slept in the bigger tent on the right. The next night they set up a different tent so there were two in each big tent. They all had cushions, mats, pillows, several blankets, and probably a heated blanket since there were power outlets. I had my $20 sleeping bag that goes up to my chest and one other little thin waste of cloth. When I got in the tent to go to sleep it wasn't so bad. But that was because my body was still warm. When I relaxed and cooled down I got really cold. I woke up about an hour later so cold that I had to get into my car. Luckily I can sleep diagonally if needed since the seats fold down flat.

     The place was rather well equipped and I fully intend to go back when the weather is better. They had mobile trailers to rent. There was a nice bathroom and shower/onsen (hot group bath) that was included. There was a sink area with hot water and a washer and dryer as well as a restaurant area with a small supply store. It was like roughing it in style. I don't really like the bathroom in the woods no shower for three days type camping anymore.  It really would have been a lot less fun if they didn't have the bathrooms and showers. I'd like to try the trailer at some point, but they are a bit expensive. That's not surprising in Japan, but it might be too much. I'm in the process of setting up a page about the place with a map in case any other Fukushima JETs want to venture there. I should also set up a page about the school trip.

     On Sunday we woke up, had breakfast, goofed off a bit, had lunch and then went hiking at the famous 5 colored lakes. You can really only see two or three colors at one time since the other colors are scattered around the place a bit. I've been there before, twice actually, and it's interesting, but not super amazing. This time we took some photos of the lake and then hiked around it. I think the whole hike was a few kilometers since we were hiking for nearly 2 hours. It was Golden Week so the trails were crowded. Some women were hiking in high heels. I mean you had better look nice when you go out on the town, regardless of what you are doing. You can rent a boat for some obscene price and ride around a bit. I think the various colors are caused my algae or something related to volcanoes. It's one of the big things in Fukushima and it's right near the Salvadore Dali museum. I can't understand why that place is in the absolute middle of no where.

     I drove back after the hike and ended up sleeping from 5pm until 6am the next morning. I was tired from not really sleeping and then hiking. On Monday, a holiday, I got several things done around the apartment and planned a few classes for Wednesday. Thursday and Friday of this week are also holidays, but there is a soccer game on Thursday at the school I think.

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