Sunday, December 3, 2006
We had a smaller observed class today. This time just for the parents.
I prefer these classes since all I really have to do is have the kids
speak a little and the parents think it’s wonderful. “Oh that was my
kid that answered that difficult English question”. I couldn’t really
think of a good lesson so I am borrowing something the 4th
grade class did recently. The students wear a blindfold and have to
feel some soft plastic letters. They do that for 3 minutes and then
change positions. Then they do this thing where they spread the
letters out and have to search for a word. I will write something on
the board in Japanese and they have to translate it and search for it.
I wasn’t sure how it would go over, but when I practiced with the
other class 1st period they seemed to struggle in a
positive way. It wasn’t too easy, which is always a bummer.
We get tomorrow off since we work a full day today. That’s fine with
me. I can go into Koriyama and there will be no traffic since it’s a
work day for everyone. I might even see a movie. I shouldn’t really
spend the money on that, but I want to get out of my town and there’s
not much I need to do in Koriyama. I’ll probably get some Starbucks
and check out some electronic shops, buy a few things at the $1 store,
get lunch somewhere, and then see a movie. I no longer go into
Koriyama, especially near the station on Sundays after 10am. It’s just
I think I have a fever now, I feel miserable. If I were in my heated
bed with nothing to do for a few days and someone to bring me soup
every so often, I might enjoy the feeling. But being at school and
having to talk to people and act “sober” is making me feel worse. If I
could just chill in my apartment, I’d be happy. So I don’t know if I
am going into Koriyama tomorrow. Definitely not if I feel this bad.
Monday, December 4, 2006
I did go into Koriyama city, but I didn't see a movie. I just had
Jintei for lunch, which is this great place that serves fried pork
and...well you can't really explain it. It's like watching a fireworks
display, they are great, but you can't really explain it to people
afterwards. "So...yea...there was this red one...and...well...then a big
blue one...and...hmmm...at some point there was a green one". It's a
great place and I always eat so much I literally feel like I am going
Then I bought just a few things at the $1 store and finally I got a
haircut. Most haircuts are $30 for men, and I can't justify paying
that since all they do is buzzcut my hair. I found a place that's only
$10 and has great service. So then I came back and prepared a bit for
Thailand. I leave in less than 20 days. It should be a good trip. I
just confirmed part of the trip that should be amazing. I want to keep
that a secret until we do it. Also, this year I plan to stay at the
orphanage a bit longer than the rest of the group. I calculated my
finances and found I can't afford the beach so I will stay up there a
few more days and then head back to Bangkok. It's for the best since I
would be rushed at the beach and that defeats the purpose. I want to
go to the beach when I have a week or two to just chill and enough
money to not worry about every little penny, or baht.
Then I filled up and turned on my kerosene heater. It heats up the
room cheaply and quickly, but there is always that smell. I don't mind
it so much, since it has a winter smell to it, but the first time
always gives me a headache.
Tuesday, December 05,
Wow it’s already starting to be a big morning. Well the first thing
was just amusing, but I’ll include it. When I arrived I walked around
the elementary school chatting with the kids. They always make me
happy since they haven’t learned to be moody yet. Well most haven’t,
most are like puppy dogs and always smiling when I come around.
Anyway, I start in the 4th grade since my favorite kid is
there, then go to the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st.
When I was in the 2nd grade I told them we had English
today and they were happy. Then I reminded one kid they would learn
about making Japanese Soba noodles today. They had all forgotten since
they have the memory span of cloth. They started reminding each other
and became increasingly happier and happier. I put my arms in the air
and yelled “SOBA”. Another kid mimicked me. Then I started chanting
“soba soba soba soba” and the kids joined in. Then one kid started
rhythmically banging his fists on the desk while chanting “soba soba”.
Then the teacher came in and asked what we were doing. There was
silence for a moment and one kid replied “I don’t know”. It was a
movie moment of sorts. I guess that’s another “fireworks” explanation.
Then the bigger news was that I finished, with the help of someone, my
game for the 4th graders. It’s a computer game where all 26
letters are displayed and the player must click them in order. I can
do it in about 20-30 seconds, the 4th grade teacher did it
in about 40 seconds, I imagine the kids will take well over a minute.
There is a timer by the way. So I put it online and showed the 4th
grade teacher and he loved it. Then he showed some others and they
loved it and word spread. Soon I will tell the Board of Education
about it and tell them they can distribute it freely if they want.
Oh, what else….well one thing that is really getting annoying is my
psychic abilities. I just wish I could control them. Today again I
thought “I should really take my camera”, but then I decided against
it. So I get to the Smile Mart this morning and the owner tells me he
will be doing a soba demonstration, hence the chanting as mentioned
above. So I should have listened to my inner voice and brought the
camera. Another example happened on Monday. I was watching some
special on TV about how communities don’t want military recruiters in
their neighborhood because they allegedly tell high schoolers things
they want to hear and then the story changes when they enlist. That’s
what it was about, not my opinion. So anyway, during this one part the
recruiter is talking to the guy telling him he could learn any skill
her wanted. Then I said, out loud no less, “I want to work with
helicopter avionics”. Later the recruitee was being interviewed in the
hallway and he said, verbatim, “I want to work with helicopter
avionics”. I was blown away. Had I already seen this show in my sleep
or something? I don’t know. Then I was driving in Koriyama and this
woman was crossing the road. I thought to myself “you’d better hold
that bag tighter or you will drop it and nearly get hit by a car”.
Sure enough as soon as I finished the thought, she dropped the bag and
was nearly hit by a car. I’m sure there are explanations for all these
things, but they are weird sometimes.
I just did the Bruce Almighty thing again. The VP and a few teachers
were having a chat by the printer across the room and I sent “I likea
do da cha cha” to it, written in the Japanese phonetic language. So
they saw it and read it out loud and I had to leave the room to keep
from laughing like an angry chimp. Luckily, but painfully, when I
started to laugh it turned into a cough which made it seem I was
leaving the room to cough. I had better prepare for my class with the
I had to take a photo of this. It is beyond absurd. I was making color
printouts of things for my class with the ES 2nd graders.
Then I had a different class, so when I came back I was going to
continue. However, much to my dismay someone was using the color
printer to make, and you are not going to believe this, completely
useless color printouts. I checked the screen and it showed the print
job was 2 pages and 30 copies. I snapped a photo with my mobile phone
just to show you the absurdity of it. It’s 8 photos, 4 on a sheet.
Each photo is of the exact same hill with the principal standing in
slightly different positions. If it were even one photo of the hill 30
times, I would think that is silly, but this is beyond all logic. Even
more absurd is the fact that these sheets are for some presentation
for some visitors and the same images will be on a PowerPoint
presentation. Why not make massive poster sized enlargements too. How
about one for each person? How much more absurd can we get?
I just watched the 4th and 6th graders make soba
noodles. It seems pretty straightforward, just a little time
consuming. You take a certain type of dough and roll it flat for a
while, the fold it and chop it into
strips. Then boil it and eat it. I think it’s great for the kids to
learn how to do it. They won’t remember in 5-10 years necessarily, but
they will at least have the experience of doing it. I want to show
them about developing black and white film since it too is relatively
straightforward. It’s not terribly expensive and can be done at home.
You can develop the film for less than…say $50 (and that lasts a few
times) and you can make prints for less than $200. Once you buy the
equipment, you only need more chemicals which are cheap. I would want
to at least show them how easy it is and if people were interested in
going further, we could do that as well. Maybe one of them go on to be
the next M.C. Escher.
The 5th grade teacher just came over and said “Ryan next
class I will do Math ok?” I said “ok” and thought “why are you telling
me?” Then I checked the schedule and noticed it was scheduled as
English class, but didn’t even mark it or prepare for it. That whole
“I have an English teaching license so why do I need a native English
speaker for class” mentality is really annoying.
One thing I do like about picture-characters such as the Chinese
characters used in Japanese (and obviously Chinese) is that even if
you don’t know the reading you can usually figure out the meaning. I
suppose English has that to some extent using prefixes and suffixes,
but English doesn’t use 2,000+ characters with multiple readings and
meanings. I’m trying to read the rest of the schedule for December and
I came across a few words I didn’t know. When I looked at each closely
I recognized a few characters in each word and then figured out what
it meant. It pleased me. I was pleased.
Starting to Feel Better.
Wednesday, December 06,
Went to the doctor last night. That last bit of medicine was like
water. This time I had the other English teacher translate some
symptoms and I handed the doctor the note. That seemed to work out
much better. He gave me some much stronger stuff and some throat
lozenges. I was able to sleep a bit better, but the medicine seemed to
wear off when I woke up. Though the violent dry nearly gagging
coughing fits have subsided (knock on something that resembles wood).
Then again, last time I went the first dose was great and gradually
went downhill. I don’t have the flu since there is no fever and I feel
alright apart from my nose either draining like a fountain or
completely closing. The cough is classified as a non-productive cough,
I Googled it, and that makes sense because I don’t seem to be coughing
anything up, just this dry heaving of sorts. Hopefully, this new stuff
will put a whooping on it AJAX won’t take off.
While at the doctor I saw a cut little kindergarten girl. She is the
sister of one of the 2nd graders here. I met her at the
orientation last month and when I walked into the office she announced
“OH RYAN SENSEI”. We chatted and then she got her medicine and left. I
told her I would write her a letter today. I’ll fill it up with
stickers and drawings and make it cute. I’m good like that (READ: I am
as mature and am amused by the same things as a kindergarten girl).
I nearly had a nervous breakdown last night. I made this cheesy video
of things to impress and inspire some students. For example, one kids
loves fighter jets and the song Dangerzone so I found some videos
about the Blue Angels and made a little video montage with the song
playing in the background. Then I found some soccer trick videos. Or
videos about soccer tricks, the video wasn’t a trick video…anyway. And
finally I added some bloopers. It came out to be about 30 minutes and
is really cool. Sometimes the videos and music really match even in
parts I didn’t plan. So I kept saving it and saving it, then it was
time to finalize the video and the machine locked up. Windows XP so
that’s to be expected. I had saved it so big deal. I restarted XP and
opened the file and it took an hour to “check” the files before it
would open. Finally it opened and took 2 hours to finalize the video.
I was going crazy expecting it to lock up again after I had put in all
that work. About 5 hours after I started, and close to 2am, it
finished and I burned it to a CD and today I tested it again. Whew.
I had a humorous typed language goof earlier. Before I showed the
video to my seniors, I made them do this short little worksheet where
they had to put 10 sentences in correct order. I searched an online
dictionary for a natural phrase that meant “put this in order”. I know
the word for order, so I searched for that and copied what I
thought was a good phrase. Maybe when I highlighted the phrase the
cursor moved or some other stupid crap, but I copied something and
pasted it on the worksheet as the directions. Then I gave it to the
students and they read the directions. Then they all folded the sheet
and put it in their bags. “Uh…er…what are you doing?” I asked. One boy
with good English replied “the directions said ‘talk this over with
your parents’ so we will”. ARGH. NO. Take your sheets out and put the
sentences in order. ARGH.
There are many reasons why I don’t like sitting next to the teacher’s
computer, but recently the main reason is because people use my desk
as a table for whatever they are working on. That in itself is ok, the
part that is bothering me is when they leave some memo on my desk.
Even more annoying is when something is highlighted on the memo. I see
the memo on my desk and think it is for me especially since someone
took the time to point out some important part. Then I translate it
and it says something like “be sure to drink your ovaltine” and I’m
like “what…..” and then realize it’s for someone else. ARGH.
I have mentioned how I HATE when things go on past their obvious
ending point. Well today when I showed the videos I discovered I fell
victim to my own pet peeve. Parts of the video were hysterical and the
kids roared. Then parts would be cool like the slam dunk contest, but
then they went on and on. There’s only so many variations you can do
when you slam the ball. But it went on for 3 minutes. Then there was a
part with motorcycle tricks which was cool for 30 seconds, but also
went on and on for 3 minutes. Only so many wheelies you can watch.
Overall they enjoyed it, but I learned a valuable lesson. I don’t
really know what it is, but it’s valuable. Maybe more bloopers and
everything else no more than one minute.
I learned how to say “I am bored to
death” in Japanese. Taikutsu de shinisou da.
These two photos below didn't fit in above, but they are worth
posting. The one on the left is from some book in the library. I'm
looking at the cover and hey there's some kid on the toilet. Wow, why
would you put that on the cover of a book? Of course some kid comes
over when I am snapping the photo and wonders why I am taking pictures
of boys on the toilet. "Mommy, Ryan sensei was....". The other photo
is from some students bag. I happened to glance at the bottom line of
the chart. The categories are school, address, name, photo number,
school grade, and blood type. I can't think of anything more
irrelevant. Maybe, favorite animal or number of missing teeth, maybe
age he stopped wetting the bed. I could see blood type on a medical
bracelet, but his bag?
Thursday, December 07, 2006
just had a great lesson with the 2nd graders. I think it
was the ideal lesson, even with my scratchy frog like voice. I can’t
heal my voice because my job is speaking and I can’t go very long
without speaking. Anyway, Tuesday I taught them “Hello, how are you?”
and more importantly and then how to answer in one of eight original
ways. Elementary kids are always taught to respond in the robotic way
of “I’m fine thank you, and you” which I hate because it’s
well….robotic like. I taught them 8 different things like “I’m happy,
I’m great…”. So Tuesday they learned it and since then I have been
quizzing them in the hallway or between classes. Then today I reviewed
some animals and closed the class with a game where two kids ask each
other “Hello, how are you”, then they respond. Finally they do
rock-paper-scissors and the winner gets promoted. I used the animals
as ranks with mouse as the lowest and elephant as the top. By the end
of the game, the kids were saying H,HAY and responding fast. It was
just a good class.
I am in
the 3rd annoying week of having no voice. Three weeks is a
bit absurd. Some days it’s close to normal, other times such as now
it’s deep and crackly. It’s really beyond the point of absurd. Of
course I can’t not talk, even if I take a day off something happens
where I have to talk. Once my mom called and even though I kept
croaking “it hurts to talk” she managed to keep me on the phone for 20
minutes. Maybe I will be getting food somewhere and some English
speaking random person will start chatting me up. I can’t even say “I
can’t talk” sometimes.
So Far So Good
Friday, December 8, 2006
I had the 6th graders play my ABC alphabetical order game.
It went over very well. I spent about 30 minutes in the computer room
turning on 30 computers and then starting Internet Explorer and
loading the page since I know from experience that would take the kids
10 minutes. They came in and sat down and I explained what to do. Then
they started and gradually got their time down to as low as 21
seconds. That girl is super good at English, but others got close to
her time as well. As the title states, so far things are going as
planned with this game. My next one is a Concentration style game, but
that will be around January. Then I have a few others planned as well.
that was it for me as far as classes go today. I suppose I have some
other things to be working on, but I really prefer to have classes.
I’m going to talk to the principal closer to the end of our year and
tell him I would like to be in the elementary school at least twice a
month per class. That means about 12-14 classes which would add 3 per
week. What I would love, and what really makes sense, would be for me
to have a regular slot each week in each class. Man I could get so
much done with them, but that would be absurd (for them at least).
Having a native speaker in the class that much, I couldn’t even
Please Take My Life.
Monday, December 11, 2006
natto for lunch. Dear God please take my life. As objectively and
honestly as I can describe this substance is as such:
The smell: Take a shower and put some socks on your wet
feet. Now wrap a plastic bread bag around each foot and tie it with
tape so it is air-tight. Now put on more socks and then some shoes. Go
running and exercising and hiking. Do this in the summer for 3-4 weeks
and don’t take off your plastic bags. Leave them on your rotting feet.
Finally take them off and put them in a bowl and inhale the sweet
aroma. That is natto.
The goo: It looks like rotting beans (which it actually
is) mixed with horse mucus.
There is a stringy consistency that wraps (or smothers) the rice.
I have seen it used in alien movies when the aliens give birth. It’s
like their placenta with the sock stench.
Well how do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it? The
same way I know I don’t want to eat zebra feces. It’s nasty. I can’t
get near it without gagging. Do the sock thing above and then let’s
I did my ABC search with the JHS 1st years (7th
graders). At first it was a horrible flop since the stupid computers
in the JHS lab are worthless. Honestly we couldn’t even sell them for
parts. Nothing that is remotely useful will run on them. The real
icing on the cake is how you can’t even bookmark anything. That way we
have to spend half the class typing in the web address every time. So
we get it typed in and then they load it and BOOM it won’t play
since…well who knows. So I rush to the elementary computer room and
turn on the computers and have the kids come down. Hey 30 minutes of a
45 minute class wasted. Finally they loaded it and started playing and
it went ok.
I just got my papers for my annual health check. Luckily this year it
is days after I get back from Thailand. That’s good because I always
eat great in Thailand and exercise while working at the orphanage.
Last year they razzed me about my blood pressure, but this year I will
take the medication more before the exam. I always forget to take it
since it’s not really that high. It’s borderline high. Anyway, I
usually come back from Thailand feeling great since the food is light
and healthy and I stay busy. Rather than in frigid Japan where I am
sitting here at school or sitting at home on the computer. I could be
outside in the -10°C
6 foot snow drift, but that’s not likely.
I had a slightly funny, but luckily not embarrassing written language
typo today. It wasn’t entirely my fault, I just misunderstood someone.
This Friday is the last day for students to write in their journals. I
asked the English teacher how to say “final push” as in an army’s
final push in an offensive. He told me and even sounded it out. Then I
wrote it as I heard it. I printed a few and put them up. Almost
immediately some student brought them back to me chuckling. She showed
the English teacher and he chuckled too. He explained the problem as
means one, and osu means push. The noun form of osu is oshi, so
together they are hitooshi. As in “one push”. I had the word “final”
before it, which was correct. However, what was incorrect was my
reading of the hito part. I know it mainly as “person”, so I wrote
that. There is another use of the word which means “One”, but I wrote
the “person” reading. So basically I put up posters around the school
that said “Journals: Friday is your last chance to push someone”.
are busy filling out applications for high schools to which that want
to go. Students must apply, interview, and test for schools beyond the
JHS level. Up through JHS you just go to the school near your house,
but high school and beyond is different. Sadly, the education system
in Japan is not decided by the Japanese Ministry of Education, it is
decided by the groups that make the university entrance exams. Then
the MoE creates a curriculum to prepare students for those tests.
were filling out the applications and some teachers were assisting
them. I walked around asking where they were going and getting sad at
the number of students going to the local catch-all school. Some are
trying to go for the bigger schools in Koriyama city, which is great,
but some only go where their brothers or sisters go/went. After seeing
where they are going I walked around with this big fat black magic
marker and told them it was ok to use it. They all laughed and it was
a refreshing break. I’m good like that. Ryan – the refreshing break.
Eh, it’s better than it could be. Ryan – the guy who stares at you
strangely from the dark corner. I could go on, but I will not.
I chatted with my mom
last night about life. She said some kid at school got in trouble for
standing on a chair or a table or something. I thought about how
different things are here. When the kids clean the school, they climb
all over the room. Seriously you would be expelled from school for
doing what is shown in the photo. The girl in yellow on the top is
about six feet in the air. My little camera phone slightly distorts
the photo. The girls sitting on the bookshelf are at my waist and that
cabinet is at or about 6 feet tall. There is a bookshelf to the right
that is out of the photo that is also 6 feet and they climb all over
that. The funniest part is the teacher left the room as usual.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Sometimes when I am bored I act overly Japanese, merely to amuse
myself. A side effect is that I get “points” for really trying to fit
in. That means allowing myself to be assimilated and not resisting.
Today I came in and when a teacher approached I would stop and give a
strong bow from the hips with my arms at my sides. I usually say “good
morning”, but today I said it all in Japanese. When a teacher came and
talked to me I jumped to my feet if I was sitting down. I made sure to
greet incoming teachers first and I was clear when I spoke and I gave
a deep bow (that’s bow as in bending, I didn’t wrap them a little
I haven’t been drinking my coffee at school or rather my Smile Mart
coffee on the way to school. I drank it once during my 3 week
voice-less coughing fit and I think it made my voice worse, so I have
been avoiding it recently. I suppose it’s good since I have my health
check coming up, but it sure makes me sluggish in school.
Yesterday I realized today was the deadline for me to get my alien
card renewed. Well I have already applied for it to be renewed, but
today was the pickup date deadline. So I came back to school late last
night after eating curry at the local restaurant, one of two ramen
shops. I checked my schedule and realized I had to go during 3rd
and 4th periods and possibly lunch. So in about two hours I
will head into Koriyama to get my new alien card. I’m looking forward
to it since I looked like an angry bird in my last photo and this new
card has a new photo.
I just got back from getting the new card in Koriyama. I realized I
grossly over-planned and had nearly two hours to kill so I went to the
station and had McDonald’s for lunch and then did a teeny bit of
shopping. I had some Starbucks coffee and a cookie. While there I saw
some TV show being filmed. As usual with Japanese TV, it was someone
doing something really stupid to get a laugh. This time it was a girl
dressed in almost underwear like gym clothes dancing/jumping around
outside in the freezing cold. Elementary school kids wear these absurd
outfits that are obscenely too tight and short. I tried to get a
photo, but it wasn’t really clear.
Man the elementary kids are a bunch of little tattle tales. I was
helping some girls and the teacher clean the shoe boxes and some of
the other girls ran up and told the teacher everything the boys were
doing in the room. I had just been there so I knew they were cleaning
and playing a little, nothing worth telling the teacher about. Then
more girls ran up and said the same thing, then more. It was very
childish, which I guess was fitting.
This teacher is talking on the phone in the teacher’s room and she
keeps getting louder and louder. She got to the point where the
conversation was moving fast and she was excited and literally yelling
in a hyper way. I tried to get my phone out and film it or at least
record the audio, but she was shushed since the principal is having a
meeting. She got softer, but since no one as volume control here she
went right back up to full volume. She did this three times and the
vice principal kept telling her to be quiet. It was amusing. I don’t
understand the origin of this lack of volume control. I have had
people talking loud during my observed class which is uber-rude, but
acceptable here. I bet it wouldn’t be for me though.
[Update] In the end she got loud and was shushed 8 times.
I really don’t understand this no-grades thing. The kids don’t get
grades they get comments on how they did. I don’t think there has ever
been one single student in the history of Japan that was held back for
grades. I’m serious, I don’t think it has ever happened, and if so
there was less than 5. In the entire history of the human world. At my
JHS I can remember 2-3 people per year being held back. Even in
elementary school, and then in high school they would just drop out or
blend in with the lower classes. Then they’d go to summer school and
be back on track or just not come back. But here there are seriously
no grades. What’s even more surprising is the kids do well, most kids
are really smart so clearly the system has some merits. But not for
me, it’s hard to get them to do things sometimes and for the most part
I have great kids in comparison to others. But I will say finish this
project by Friday, and no one will do anything. Or maybe memorize this
for next week, and not one single person will put out the slightest
effort. It’s something cultural and I don’t get it, nor do I
understand the purpose of it.
I bought some Vicks Medicated Cough Drops while I was in town and I
have been eating them like candy. I just read the wrapper and it said
take no more than 4 in a 24 hour period. Oops, I’ve already had 6 in
about 3 hours. They are just so tasty and I feel better after having
Random strange too
86 the Heater.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
The English room was really hot so I told some kid to 86 the heater. I
said it in Japanese and it was one of those things I was more or less
thinking about, but accidentally said out loud. It wasn’t rude or
funny or anything, I just accidentally told some kid to 86 the heater.
As far as I know it’s English slang for ending something. The kid
looked at me and said “86” and then I heard it and said “oh sorry,
turn off”. The good part was I said it in Japanese without thinking.
The bad part was it was stupid.
I’m going to play “You Sank My Battleship” with the 6th
graders. There’s not too much English and just enough I think. There’s
hit, miss, battleship, aircraft carrier, cruiser, (I added airplane),
and then “you sank my”. It should be good.
Whenever I am planning something for the next term, I always have this
urge to make it easy for the kids or have them stop doing things at
certain times so they can relax and enjoy life. But that’s really
doing them a disservice. I should make them do more useful things that
will benefit them in the future. I struggle between wanting to be
their friends, or at least have a favorable memory of me, and
preparing them for the future. I know what I should do, but I am too
empathetic. That rolls over into when I plan trips for people. I
always try to please everyone. I hate saying “no” or “too bad you are
late” and I usually get stressed about it, even though it’s my own
doing. Nice guys finish last.
Battleship was so-so. It took a while to explain and then a few kids
still didn’t get it. Most of them understood what to do and did it
right and they seemed to get something out of the game even though
there wasn’t as much English as I thought. They would say “F5” and
then hit or miss which was good, but not too much more. Before the
class I gave them a short review listening quiz and they knew most
everything. Which seems good, but it really limits my classes. I
can’t, technically, teach letter writing or things like that and they
seem to know all the allowed vocabulary and last week they did great
with my computer letter-order race, so what can I do from here. At
least I have an idea of their level now.
I remember in JHS and then SHS if you didn’t do your school work you
couldn’t participate in after school activities. This was especially
true in SHS, but I do remember some in JHS. But here, even the kids
that do absolutely nothing in school participate freely. The thought
of connecting doing work and participating in extra curricular
activities has no correlation here. It’s truly dumbfounding.
Today I gave grades to some of my 2nd years. Just the ones in my
elective class. The conversation was the same as always, very
roundabout, but with a goal in mind.
Teacher: please give grades for the 2nd years today.
You should give A, B, or C. C is bad.
Me: So I guess I should only give A’s and B’s right.
Teacher: Right, but only give a B if the student was really
bad. We usually give only A’s.
Me: As I expected. There are only three students I will give a
Teacher: Oh. Well you must give 4 grades per student, so maybe
only give one B per student. If you give 4 B’s then maybe…well I don’t
Me: Oh the thought of 4 B’s to one student? I can’t imagine
such a thing.
There is such a delicate frailty to Japan. When
foreigners are taught Japanese we are taught the polite forms first,
even thought that is stupid and causes problems later. What’s most
important is we are not rude which might offend the fragile people. We
can’t give real grades or fail people because that person might be
sad, but then we end up not preparing them for actual life when bosses
don’t give a flying #$%& how you feel about doing work. I just want to
cry sometimes because it’s so frustrating. Then I want to hit things.
Then I want hit things while crying. I really just want to understand
why it’s like this, but in the long run it makes my life easier. I
don’t have to pay attention to how students actually do, I just give
everyone A’s. Even the kids who can’t read, here you go you get an A
because you tried as hard as the kid who reads at a college level.
[inflammatory joke about reading removed].
I really don’t mean to sound rude when I say I think the special needs
kids should be separated from the others. I know that can be read
wrong, but the mere fact that the phrase is “special needs” should
mean “not in the normal needs group”. For example, today the
battleship game class was delayed a good ten minutes because the
teacher and I had to explain over and over and a few students still
didn’t get it. Then the groups around them had to stop and help them
constantly. It disrupted the whole class, but more importantly, the
whole class in general moves too fast for them. They need a school
with more constant attention and a slower pace. That’s one thing I
miss about Fukushima Higashi High School, it was an upper level school
and the students had to test to get into it. So on average they were
all similar levels. Whereas now, one person will be high level, the
next person below remedial, the next person average, and so on.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I am getting a little worried about the weather. Last year there was a
solid layer of snow on the ground starting around the end of November,
but today nearly halfway through December not only is there no snow,
but it was only cool today. I didn’t need a jacket when I walked out
of the house, but I wore one anyway since the weather changes fast.
I’m afraid it’s just going to drop suddenly soon. Maybe we will have a
warm winter to make up for last year’s blizzard winter with 6 feet of
I was just googling Thai gas prices to see how much we will need to
donate to the orphanage for gas since they have a small truck and will
be carrying us around some. I found that one US gallon is about $1.60
which is like 160 yen. That’s great for a whole gallon. In Japan it’s
about 130 yen per liter which means about 520 yen per gallon, which is
around $5.20 give or take. My favorite place was Venezuela with a
whopping 14 cents per gallon. I could fill up my entire tank for less
I see you are going to the orphanage again.
Me: Yes. This year we are doing a fundraiser for the home by
Someone: Oh, that’s a great idea. I hope you sell very many.
Me: Yes, me too. I think I could sell many to students. If each
student bought a pack or maybe if the teachers bought a pack then I
would raise a lot of money.
Someone: That’s true, but unfortunately, we can’t do
fundraisers at school.
Me: Oh, really? Hmmm. What is that box beside your desk?
Someone: That is a fundraiser box for students and teachers.
Me: (waiting for the connection and then explanation). Ah.
Someone: We raise money for the victims of the earthquake.
Me: Which one? The one that was last year or two years ago?
Someone: Yes, that one.
Me: So we can do fundraisers at school?
Me: Then what is that box beside your desk?
Someone: That is a box for collecting money from students and
teachers for the earthquake victims.
Me: So it is a fundraiser? But we can’t do fundraisers at
Someone: That’s right, we cannot collect money at school from
students and teachers.
Me: So what’s that box for right there?
Someone: That’s for collecting money from students and teachers
for the earthquake victims.
Me: (waiting for the connection and then explanation). Ah.
Hmmm. So…..We CAN or CANNOT collect money at school?
Someone: We cannot collect money at school from students and
Me: I am completely confused.
something hits me and I decide to test my theory. Surely what I am
thinking cannot be the case, but then again this is the land of no
logic. I look up charities IN Japan and find a needy one. I pull it up
on the screen. Then I pull up another Thai orphanage site which also
has some Japanese. I continue the conversation.
Me: Oh here is a great
charity, we could collect money at school for this. (Japanese site)
Someone: Yes, that looks very interesting. You should talk to
the principal about it.
Me: Oh here is another one.
Someone: Oh, that looks nice but we can’t do fundraisers at
Me. That’s what I thought. I understand now.
The whole conversation was very amicable and pleasant. It was all very
polite, which is exactly what the Japanese are known for. Being
polite, even when they are being….well you know. The part that bugs me
the most is how there is no connection between the two, it’s simply
(A) is ok (B) is not ok and the fact that they are very similar has
nothing to do with it. I can totally understand organizations having
approved charities and I would have no problem with a response like
“sorry we have some approved charities that we give to”. Then I would
go about seeing how to make something approved, but even if I couldn’t
I would understand the logical chain of events. Here, they can’t even
connect that my charity is similar, just not IN Japan. Therefore, it
is not allowed even though they never said that directly. As much as I
love the school and the kids, the culture really gets annoying quite
Friday, December 15, 2006
I had the most annoying conversation with some girls in the meeting
hall. They were playing a spinning game with the jump rope and then
somehow they turned to leap frog. In Japan, of course, they do leap
frog in their own illogical way and defend its superiority to the
death. The way I was taught was for one person to bend over and squat
a little and tuck his/her head down. Then the second person puts
his/her hands on the 1st person’s back/lower back and goes
over. It makes sense to me and seems relatively safe. But the superior
way that we westerners can’t understand is for the squatting person to
turn sideways. Sideways means the jumping person has to stretch
his/her legs really far, and there is a better chance of the head
Their way is not even something I could see how it is different but
equal. It’s just dumb. When I did it every single kid smacked my head.
Why? Because I was turned sideways and much wider. When I tried to
show them our way they all laughed and refused to do it because surely
the squatter’s head would get whacked. NO. In fact your way is how the
head gets smacked. They spent a good 10 minutes stalling from doing it
my way and finally the bus came. This is one of those things that
would be far easier to accept if they just said “oh yea your way is
different, but we like our way”. But they won’t acknowledge any other
way of doing something. The Japanese way is the supremely correct way
and all other ways are simply inferior. Even when the Japanese way is
grossly inferior, they stick to their guns.
Another annoying example was when this old man was saying “we don’t
eat soup like you do because that’s how dogs eat, we are more
civilized”. NO. WRONG. YOU eat like dogs. Dogs slurp from the bowl.
YOU slurp from the bowl. We use a spoon. How is that more civilized?
Then there was my favorite argument. “You use beds like dogs, we use
futons because it’s not as primitive”. Actually you sleep on some
blankets ON THE FLOOR. Dogs sleep on blankets ON THE FLOOR. We sleep
on beds above the floor. How is our way anything like dogs? It’s not
in any way shape or form. How many dogs sleep in beds? How many dogs
sleep on the floor? It would be 100% different if they said “oh you
like beds, we like the floor, it’s different”. But they chop down
foreign methods in ways that don’t even make sense.
It’s nothing like this in the other countries I have been to. Well
that’s just based on me being there a short time so it really doesn’t
come out. To really get the vibe of Japan, you must work for a
Japanese company/organization where it is run by Japanese and they are
the majority. If you work at a foreign company in Japan it’s
different. If you visit for a week or a month it’s different. If you
know some Japanese people in a foreign country it’s different. You
have to be in a situation where the Japanese way is the way things are
Monday, December 18, 2006
I had a boring weekend. Well Saturday I went to meet up with two girls
who are going to the orphanage with me next week. Hey, next week right
now I will be sightseeing in warm Thailand. Anyway, they gave me some
money from the postcard fundraiser. It looks like each person is going
to have around $200 which will be great since there are about 10
people selling them. One girl sold $400 worth and a few sold only
$100, but it’s all pure profit and balances out. Another girl in the
US sold some baskets and weaving products and will be sending that
money too. I’m hoping we can donate around $3,000 this winter. He can
buy a lot of stuff with it.
So I wrote ‘finally’ as the title since it is finally snowing like it
should be. It’s coming down in buckets too (not literally). I was
really getting worried since we are past the halfway point of December
and it was not only not snowing, but really warm on Saturday. I was
physically too hot a few times and drove to Koriyama with my window
down. I don’t like the cold weather, but I also don’t like it being
too warm when it should clearly be cold. I’d rather just get used to
the cold weather than wake up sweating because my heater was on a
timer and set to 18°C.
But next week none of this will matter. I will be in 25°C
weather which is like 80°F
So I managed to send my Christmas presents back to the US for my
parents, my sister & her husband, and then someone else. I can’t
mention what they are yet because she might read this. I had hoped to
do something else for them, well the same thing but different. Forget
it, I will explain all that after they open it. I can’t discuss it
without being vague.
Oh, I am going to send Japanese New Year’s cards this year to all my
Japanese friends and colleagues. Last year I didn’t send any, well I
never have, but I have received some in the past. This year I plan to
send some out and it will really freak them out I think. Especially
because you are supposed to send one back to someone who sends you
one, so they will have to scurry out and send me one and I’ll get like
50. I have to write this one phrase in Japanese about 50 times, but it
will be ok. I’ll just be an expert at writing that phrase I guess.
Phantom strikes again
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I was in the bathroom stall again, taking care of some business, and
someone came into the bathroom. Within the course of about 30 seconds
I counted 23 flushes. That’s almost one per second. He was at a urinal
too. I could understand if he was some 60 year old ultra conservative
easily embarrassed woman who can’t bear to hear completely natural
bodily noises, but this was some guy at a urinal. Can you not go
without the sound of running water? Do you want something to mask the
sound, even though there really is no sound?
I can’t find my little notebook of notes and things for Thailand and
it is driving me crazy. I couldn’t find it at home, though I only
glanced where it should be and assumed it was here. Now that I am at
school it’s not here and I assume it must be at home somewhere. So I
am about to ask to go home and get some forgotten thing and destroy
the place looking for it. I have to make lists so I don’t forget
things and when I do make the lists I then forget all the things on
the lists. So now that I can’t find the list I am going crazy trying
to remember what I had to do. I really need to mark things off a list
to feel good about packing.
I think one of my favorite things about Japan, sarcastically, has to
do with standing in line., more to the point, breaking in line. There
is some strange cultural thing that I cannot figure out. It has
happened to me so much I expect it and usually don’t say anything
about it. Most recently was at Mr. Donuts. The Thai volunteer meeting
ended early when some people had to leave to catch a 9:00 train and
others were waiting until for a 9:50 train. We went to MD to waste
some time and chat about various things. I got in the long line and
waited. When it came time for me to go to the register, I stood at the
waiting line and waited for one of three registers to finish and call
me. Some couple behind me thought I was in one specific line waiting
for one specific register. Even though the sign was written in
Japanese, and they were Japanese. So they pass me and jump behind
someone at register three. I just looked at them and didn’t say
anything, but luckily the girl behind the counter beckoned them back
to the line.
Oh, while we are on the topic, another thing I really love about Japan
is how people rudely block off areas around them with bags. I went to
Starbucks while I was waiting for the volunteers to show up and got a
small coffee. Then I was going to sit somewhere. The place was about
half full, but everyone took up the empty seats around them. There are
those semi-plush seats for one person, but there would be one person
and a bag in the seat near them. I find that to be utterly rude,
especially when the place is packed and people are obviously waiting.
I have seen it on trains and buses. What makes me want to fly into a
rage is when I ask if someone is sitting there and they get all
flustered and say the seat is taken, yet no one ever shows up.
Someone emailed me and asked “if you hate your life in Japan so much
why don’t you leave?” Well apart from that being stupid, I mean who
loves their job and life, it’s not even my point. I like the job. I am
making a difference and the kids are great. Overall, apart from some
small issues, the teachers are great as well. My problems stem from
the fact that I like things to make some form of sense, and Japan
rarely fits my form of logic. Surely it fits some form of logic, but
it almost always irritates me. I like the job and it’s a good job in
comparison to others I’ve had, but the culture gets annoying.
I was watching the news the other night since there is an English
audio button I can press when they broadcast both languages. Sometimes
I watch the news when there is something of interest, but usually I
don’t since (oh here I go again) most of the time their style annoys
me. What annoys me is how they go on and on about the same small point
until I start stabbing my neck and pulling out my hair. One example
was when a young girl was kidnapped and killed last year. They
interview some friends and the broadcast went like this: “this girl
said she was nice and everyone liked her”, “this boy said she was a
good girl and they were friends”, “this girl said all the students
seemed to like the girl”. OH MY GOD we get it already.
But that wasn’t nearly as bad as later when they talked about how she
walked to school. At one point in her walk she passed a dog who was
tied up in the street or something. From this point I was nearly
screaming at the TV. “The girl walked down this road every morning.
She passed this dog and sometimes stopped to pet the dog. The owner
said many children like to pet the dog. The dog is very friendly and
likes children. Many dogs don’t like children, but this one does.
(eh…did I change the channel accidentally?) This dog is a Norwegian
Terrier mixed with a New Zealand French long haired poodle. His name
is Mr. Chompers. He was born ten years ago. His owner has a blue car.
My grandmother’s name was Marie”.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING ON ABOUT? Seriously, they mentioned the dog and
then started focusing on it. A girl was killed, who cares about this
That was a big one I remember, but there are others. Once they talked
about a volcano in Hokkaido that was covered in snow earlier than the
previous year and they said it like 30 times. I think I already wrote
about that somewhere. Now I forgot why I started this whole thing. I
went on a tangent and can’t remember the main purpose. [trying to
Oh I remember now. They were doing a story on a boy that killed
himself. The thing is he was an elementary school student. At first I
couldn’t imagine why a kid that age would commit suicide, but then I
listened and found out it had to do with the group system and
specifically bullying. Part of the way kids get bullied in Japan is by
being excluded from the group. Since society as a whole revolves
around the group, being excluded is worse than physical abuse. They
did a study and found that Japan ranked very low in physical abuse
from bullies, but very high in social abuse. I’m clearly not a fan of
the rigid group system here, and anything that causes a kid that young
to commit suicide should clearly be re-examined. Ha ha, I said
re-examined and was referring to something in Japan. Ha ha, that was a
The English teacher told me he had to stay late and work on progress
reports for some students. I was in a mood and flat out asked him
“why, they all get A’s with good comments”. His Japanese instinct
kicked in and he said “oh well it’s far more delicate than that, we
have to make sure we give a correctly worded comment to each student.
They would be confused if we gave them criticism”. Confused in what
way? Either it is so difficult for me to understand or it’s so stupid
no one can explain in. I think he was saying “it takes a while to
think of saying the same positive thing 30 different ways”. That would
be a fine answer since that’s really what they do.
Man I really need to get to Thailand. I am getting frustrated more and
more as the days go by. I need a change of pace and Thailand always
seems to recharge me until spring.