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January, 9th, 2006

I have a huge update to make but it will take a few days. I took two 512 MB cards full of pictures and most are about 150K. I won't upload all of them since many are just for me to remember parts of the trip, but I will upload a lot. The rundown of the trip:

Four Countries
10 passes through immigration/customs
75 hours on buses
120+ hours on all transportation
Too much money spent
$1,000 worth of custom made clothes for less than $300
Smiles from ear to ear from the orphans we visited

So yea, wow, lots of stuff happened. Some interesting some not. I'll create a separate section and upload it all in a sequential order rather than on one page.

For now I have to figure out whether or not my pipes are frozen or if I didn't pay some bill. Either way I have no water. I was so looking forward to a hot shower. All the liquids in my apartment are frozen. It will only get worse.

Coming back to Japan was bitter sweet. I really wanted to stay there and yet I wanted to get back to my comfort zone. My apartment, my bed, my shower with real water pressure (excluding now). But I really hate cold weather and love the temperature in Thailand. It's always warm. We slept with the A/C on. I slept on the covers. Lots of cool drinks in the sun. Wearing just shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. Walking along the beaches. I already decided I am going back next year, but I will only go to the orphanage and then straight to a beach. Preferably Koh Phi Phi where the movie The Beach was filmed. My fingers are too cold to type now.

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

I did pay the bill. The pipes were frozen. Some guy from the water company came out and hooked up a massive electrical wire to my pipes and warmed the water. Then they started running. It all took about two hours.

 

So yea that was fun. But I have water now. However, I think I have to stop and start the water everyday from now until the end of winter out in the lobby part of the building. It's not just me turning some knobs either, I have to squat and reach way down and behind something and twist the knob. Really going to be fun. Apart from that it's like 10º F here and I am freezing. Literally freezing. This is really helping the "move to Thailand" idea that at one point was trapped far within the depths of my soul.

I've noticed my students and the teachers have a stealth like way of disappearing. I went to the bathroom this morning around 8:30am. Just dropped in for a quickie and then washed the hands. When I went in teachers were in the teacher's room and students were roaming about. When I came out, only 2-4 minutes later, there was no one to be seen anywhere. I searched for a bit then heard clapping in the big hall of the elementary school. It was the opening ceremony. Japan loves their ceremonies.

When I got to my desk around 8am this morning there were some things that had piled up from the break. One was a package from my mom with mail and such. Another was some candies from the school's big year end party in December. I didn't go so I didn't expect anything. I opened one, there were about 20 inside, and assumed it was some nasty candy as usual. But it was this rectangular cookie like thing that was delicious. I made the mistake of eating one on an empty stomach. As soon as I did, I had to eat 10 more. Then about an hour later, I go into a sugar coma. I was doing that stupid awake-asleep head bob. You know when you are trying to appear wide awake, but you are really asleep and your head keeps flopping around. So then I went to the counselor's room and dozed for a bit. I only needed to be able to close my eyes for 15 minutes really.

One of my new year's goals is to lose weight and I am dead serious about it since I was so uncomfortable in Thailand carrying my fat belly around. Plus we met this older ex-pat in Thailand who was basically me in 30 years. More on him later. But he had the big jelly belly too. That and my general discomfort, and the people laughing at me all the time caused me to make the hard decision. No one really laughed to my face, but it felt like it with all the cruel stares and smirks. Actually no one really did that either.

So the point of all that was I made a commitment to exercise. At least 3 times a week at school. So today I decide to play basketball in the gym, alone, but it will be good running anyway. But then I realize I am just too cold to do that. My body just won't move at this temp. I am walking around wearing my big coat all through the school since the concept of closing windows and doors in the winter hasn't caught on. I just can't move. It hurts to walk around much less run. So then I went back to the teacher's room and ate the rest of those yummy cookie things.

I'll start uploading the Thai/Malay/Singapore pictures at a time later than this, but soon.

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

I felt like death yesterday. I couldn't keep any food down. Well a better analogy would be I couldn't keep any food up. I managed to stay at school and get through all my classes although I grossly mis-planned one class and ended up giving them 30 minutes of "do whatever you want" time. I felt like a moron for doing it, but the activity I planned took 5 minutes rather than 30.

Anyway, I made a big commitment one I hope to keep to really get in better shape. I've already started doing good by juicing lots of green veggies. I mean I drank the equivalent of 4 bell peppers, a bunch of spinach, and 5 stalks of some celery type looking thing, plus a carrot. To add flavor I pour in the juice of half a lemon. Greens have a weak taste so it's really just thick green lemon juice. I feel great and hope to keep drinking good juice. The other thing I do is steam some veggies over rice. There's simply no way I can live in Japan and not eat rice. Simply impossible. The only analogy I can think of is actually living in Japan and not eating rice, which is not an analogy.

I've been watching Sumo every night from 5-6. It's on all day, but only the good fights are in the evening. It's over at 6pm when the Yokozuna (grand champion) goes. I am going to see it on Saturday the 21st so I should have many good pictures to upload.

Going to get more veggies and then work on the Thai photos. Over and out. As you were.

Friday, January 13th, 2005

So here is my current "thing". I don't know how else to phrase it.

Each morning I have to go out in the lobby of my apartment building and cut the water line off so it won't freeze. Fair enough I guess, I don't want them to freeze again. I have to twist three knobs in the morning and then reverse it when I get back. [sidebar]

For some reason I have to turn them off during the day because they might freeze if I am not here, but I can just let them drip all night and they won't freeze. Hmmm, isn't it much colder at night? Furthermore it's not like it got bitterly cold all of a sudden one year, it's been like this since the dawn of man. Couldn't they have built the building in a way to prevent this?

[end sidebar] So turning the three knobs doesn't see too bad. Let's explore this with a visual diagram.

No no, if knob #3 were there I could feel like Oz and reach two at once.

Weeeee, happy fun times twice a day.

 

So yea, anyway. I didn't do much tonight. Today I had 3 classes. One assisting and two leading. The assisting one was fun, though there was a spelling test for most of the class. Then the teacher said I should talk about Thailand, but I had talked about it the day before to that class. So I suggested we play the game where we right a word on the board then the kids have to write a new word starting with the last letter of the previous word. It goes on and on until time is called. So this time I said each word is one point, but using words from today's 100 word spelling test will be two points. The kids thought it was a great twist on the game as did the teacher, but I just pulled it out of my.....out of thin air. I just made it up on the spot.

So tonight I just came back, turned on the water, and have been working on the site. I sorted the vacation photos and should be uploading them this weekend. I took nearly 1,000 but many were just for me to remember certain parts of the trip, not for people to be interested in. I'll limit it to the interesting ones as best I can.

Tomorrow I am going to check on the $5 ski day that FuJET plans each year. Though I am not running it, the person planning it asked me the details and I said we had always sent someone there to ask about it so I had no details. Since I live 20 minutes from the place I volunteered myself. Oh I should update my Goals page.

We weren't able to stay at this place. For some reason it seemed to be very popular.

 

I can't imagine telling my family or my school "I will be at Porn Smile Bungalows, oh yea it's actually legit".

 

Saturday, January 14th, 2006

It would have snowed all day today except for the fact that it was about 5ºC/42ºF. That means the heavy snow was just a constant downpour of rain. It was rather annoying apart from the fact that it was so warm. The really groovy part was when I was coming home the temp dropped back to the usual -5ºC/22ºF which means the wet road is now turning to ice. Joy.

I went by the ski grounds to help FuJET organize the $5 ski day, which is a massive savings since it's usually $45 to ski for a day. But some guy wasn't there so I have to call Monday. Then I went into Koriyama to buy some stuff. I got more cheap old movies with Jpn/Eng subtitles, but they are all in English. It's good for me just to see all these famous movies, and I can show some to the kids. I might even let the teachers borrow them as well.

Then I signed up for a membership at a video store so I can rent more current videos and show them in class. I play them in English and have Japanese subtitles. Students hear the English and pick up a little. Or I find some phrase for them to listen for. Or I have them write about what they watched in English. My job is more English conversation than grammar so it really fits just fine.

I had my semi-formal review recently and I think I received all good marks. He had a big list of all the things I have done and they all looked good. He asked if I have any problems I wanted to mention and I honestly had none. The only thing I requested was a budget to buy English games and such, but no complaints to speak of. That was honest as well. There's really nothing I wanted changed with the school or the system, if they asked about certain points in Japanese culture, well that might be different.

Monday, January 16th, 2005

Had two strange things happen today. First the school was freezing all day. That's because it's freezing outside and the doors and windows are always open. I truly and sincerely don't understand the logic behind this. I can almost understand not heating/cooling the whole school. They heat/cool the teacher's room and heat the class rooms, but no where else. Hallways and such are same as outside. So in the summer we just open all the windows and there is usually a nice breeze blowing through. Ok so far. In the winter, to save money, I can somewhat see not heating everything. I can also almost see having no insulation and lots of windows for ventilation. I can further somewhat see the point in occasionally opening windows to air the building out, even in the dead of winter, because we use kerosene heaters and they might pollute the air. But, I cannot for the life of me understand why doors and windows are left open all the time.

I mean the front doors and back door and other random doors just wide open. Sometimes it's 5ºF outside. What on earth is the point in this? I cannot understand this whatsoever. It drives me crazy. I walk around with my outside coat on, why?, because technically I AM outside. It would be much better if everything was closed. It would be ideal if they heated the hallways, but realistically,

 

CLOSE THE DOORS

 

Why is that so hard to figure out?

So then school was out and I went across the street to have Ramen. It was really good and the owner gave me a discount since I was a teacher. But I started eating around 5:15 and realized I was missing sumo. The best parts of the day is from 5:00 to 6:00 when the big names go at it. So then around 5:30 the guy switches on the tv in the corner and watches sumo. Cool I can see it. There was no way I could finish the big bowl of noodles and make it home by 5:55 to see the grand champion match.

So we sit through the 4th levels, then the 3rds, then the 2nds. Finally the grand champion is coming up. Dude changes the channel to some learning disorder children's show. Seriously this guy is like 70 years old and we are watching these kids (in too tight clothing) dance around singing stupid half English half Japanese songs.

Hey Hey Go Go YEA [Japanese] [Japanese] Go Go Wonderful [Japanese] [Japanese] Baby

Then he changes it back at 5:59 and the match is over.

 

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS SACRED

WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?

 

What just happened? We were doing fine then he had a brain aneurism then he recovered just as the match was over. Seriously, WHAT?

Other than that I spent the whole day organizing the last bits about Sumo this weekend. Now I have to mail out people's tickets in advance. At one time the plan was for us all to take the bullet train down, since it takes 1.5 hours and it's payday. But apparently some people are going to take the painfully slow bus that's slightly cheaper. Not cheap enough for me to take, but cheaper. There is a bus that's ¥2,000 each way and takes 4 hours, but I really don't want to be on a bus now. Not after the 75 bus hours in Thailand.

Dang, I still haven't uploaded those pictures. HULK NO LIKE.

Anyway, since people are now not taking the bullet train I have to get them their tickets in advance. I was going to pass out the remaining tickets on the train, but I had to mail some today. I don't know if I will have time to mail the rest.

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

I have an amazing ability to make up a great lesson at the last minute. This is bad in the sense that it causes me to never prepare, because when I try to I can't get as good a lesson as when I make something up on the fly. A recent lesson that was made up on the spot was showing the kids a 20 minute Charlie Chaplin silent (with music) video from the 20's or whenever. That was entertaining. Then I had them write about the video, which lasted another 30 minutes. Most students wrote "I like very much. Very much interesting". But a few wrote close to proper English essays about it. I was really impressed. One girl wrote the title and then at the bottom wrote The End. So I marked various [blank] parts and wrote things like "great, this part is interesting, watch the spelling".

They really laughed at the Charlie Chaplin thing, which I thought was only humorous. I guess I am beyond that humor, but CC is very similar to Japanese humor which is just making yourself look really stupid, which CC does very well. But I mean they really laughed at parts, parts that my parents might laugh at. My dad will roll around on the floor when watching Bob Hope, but I don't even crack a smile. It's like "So I was walking down the street and this guy comes up to me and he asks, I say he asks me, 'Hey buddy, you gotta light?' and I say yea up in the sky there's a light it's called the sun". So my dad, and other family members his age, will burst into tears and I am still waiting on the punch line, or at least something that was slightly funny.

On a side note to CC and laughing, when I showed my kids pictures from my Thailand trip, which I still haven't uploaded, they started laughing at the wrong parts. I don't mean one kid would laugh and others would join, I mean they all burst out laughing at the same parts. And the parts weren't even partially funny. One was a photo of a monk, heck here's the photo:

 

See. It's not "Not Funny" as in making a joke that's inappropriate. It's just not funny. It's equally as not funny as the words blue, catfish, CD, Biography, or Trundle Bed. Well, that's not true, Trundle Bed is fun to say. But it's as not funny as the light and sun joke above. But these kids roared with laughter. And there were other no funny pictures they laughed at. I was thoroughly confused.

On Wednesday I practiced Japanese calligraphy at school with a cute (but older) teacher. We didn't practice together, she was teaching me some things. I had practiced years ago with a great teacher at Fukushima Higashi High School, but I sucked at it. I mean I was really bad. I want to leave Japan with a conversational ability in the language and one hobby related to Japan. I'm not athletic so I picked Japanese Calligraphy. I want to be able to write like this:

Kanji (Chinese characters in Japanese) are really popular and make great tattoos and wall art. So every time I practiced I would only do the character for 1 which is just one horizontal stroke. But mine were awful. Just garbage. So I was never motivated to practice much. So the teacher shows me examples and mine are still crap. I can't get it right. Then I practice with her brush once and did great.

For all these years I was practicing with a piece of poopy brush. It was a bad brush. Ha, I thought I was really bad, but it was actually not me. So now I am encouraged to practice again.

At some point on Wednesday I was in class and the office lady came and got me. She was a little frantic. Oh no someone died. What's going on? Who was it. She was really nervous. She is mumbling (because she is so upset about taking the call). Oh no who called and had to speak Japanese or English? What did they say? So I get to the office and I am getting nervous. There are other teachers looking at me. Oh now it's serious. It's a parent or my sister oh no.

When I get in an English teacher looks at me and says:

Ryan sensei. Your mother....we need you to................to.....................sign for this package from the post office.

 

HOLY WHAT?

#$@*%&$*@

ARE YOU #*@&$% ME WITH AN OLD @&$*%(#^ IN THE !&#%!@

SERIOUSLY.

WHAT THE @^$%@*!

 

They pulled me out of class to sign a package from my mommy. A package of clothes. I asked why one of them couldn't sign it for me and as soon as I did I realized the response. They all gasped as if I had 100 pounds of C4 taped to my body. It would be unheard of for someone else to sign for my package. I should be whipped for suggesting such a thought. Someone said I had to sign my name or it wouldn't be official.

So I signed the name "Boobies" in cursive.

Later in the day I was out in the back playing with the 1st and 2nd graders. When the bulldozer came by to move the snow, they piled it up like a mountain. Really more like a mountain range, but it's only 8 feet tall and maybe 50 feet long. So the kids play on it and the school bought a bunch of plastic sleds they can use to slide down it. So before I went out there I was putting on my shoes, my thick rubber snow boots, and my gloves. Some first graders were watching and commenting, as usual, at how big my shoes were. Then I let a few put on my big gloves which were way too big for their tiny hands. Then I showed them a magic trick. I showed my hand and the glove. Then I slid my hand into the glove making a fist, but not letting them see that. I let my thumb go into it's thumb slot. So I moved my thumb around to show my fingers were in their slots. Then I grabbed my fingers, which weren't really in the finger slots, and pulled a little and made a cringing face. Then I pulled them all the way back to what would clearly have broken them. Ha ha Ryan sensei make a funny joke.

Nope.

Apparently illusion humor is taught in the 2nd grade.

They ran around nearly hysterical. Some were crying some were just running around as kids do in movies to show chaos. A teacher heard the loud racket and asked what happened. They all started crying-explaining what happened. Then a few of them tried to demonstrate and ended up hurting their own hands. I quickly pulled my hand out and showed them I was ok. It took about 5 min for the drama to stop. Wow.

Even later in the day the 3rd graders (my favorite elementary class) went out side to go sledding on a big hill. A big hill indeed. It was this huge slope behind the school. I'll get a picture later, but seriously, it was big. In the US kids would NEVER be taken to a slope like this because so many parents would complain. But not here and the kids loved it. Honestly I was a tad scared. I mean the hill was probably 100 vertical feet with a semi-steep slope near the end. Well anyway we were there and at the top. One girl, my favorite, Mami wasn't going to do it. I think she's a tad slow in some respects but I love her to death because she is always smiling. She is the one that would laugh when she would fall on the stilts. So I realized I had class in 10 minutes and had to get back. I asked if she wanted to go with me.

We started from about halfway down the hill. I said it was for her, but really it was for me. I might have done it if I was not wearing my school outfit or if I had more time. Plus from the top we would have been going so fast. Like that scene from some Chevy Chase movie where he greases the bottom of a sled and goes light speed. So we fly down the hill and get to the bottom and come to a stop. I kept saying "wow that was fun" and I was waiting for her to agree, but she was quiet.

I spun her around and she was holding her hand and teary eyed. I asked her what was wrong and she said her hand hurt. I looked for her glove and it was under the sled. I realized what had happened. I pulled her off to the side and made some stupid faces so she would laugh. She said "I won't cry. I promise I won't cry". I told her it was ok. She lowered her head and whimpered a little. I stayed with her a minute and then had to leave. As I turned the corner. I saw her sitting there alone holding her hand. I felt so bad.

After my class I wrote her a note, in Japanese, telling her it was fun and asking about her hand. Then I drew some silly faces of us on the sled. When I gave it to her she smiled, of course, and was so happy to get a letter from me. It really was fun and I might go back there some time with a better sled.

Tomorrow I leave for Fukushima city to spend the night and hang with old friends. Then Saturday I will go to Tokyo to see Sumo. I will take tons of photos and eventually upload them. Over and out.

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

Wow. I have had a really interesting few days. Not sure how much I will share though. I intentionally didn't make an update earlier because I was on the verge of a stroke from dealing with Japanese Culture. More on that later. This morning I was almost late for school. I left at the usual time which would have given me plenty of time to make it, but there was this horrific arctic wind on the way. It took me 30 minutes to make the 6 minute trip. When the wind would blow I had to turn my back and either stop or duck behind the snow drift. It was blinding and freezing. I had my warm jack on too, but it was more than I could take. I had to take a few steps and then pause. Luckily some kids were late too so they confirmed my story. Plus I am never late so it was ok.

When two bullet trains love each other and want to show their love.

So Friday I went to Fukushima city to have some good Indian Food at Mana's Indian Place. Yummy. But I ate too much. Then Saturday I met with a few people to go to Tokyo for the sumo match. I really went to Fukushima to help take people to Tokyo on the bullet train and show them where we are staying, but half the people took the painfully slow bus. Ouch. 5 hours on a bus, ON PAYDAY. Do not understand the ultra thriftiness, but whatever.

So here is my big sumo page.

I am still working on the Thailand update.

By "still working on it" I mean haven't started because I know how many pictures I took.

On Sunday someone suggested we could see one act of Kabuki in Ginza at the Kabukiza. So we all went and got tickets for one act. It was only $10 and well worth it. We had an English translation from a radio. I would have been totally lost with out it. This is the original building and has been here for something like 100 years. Maybe more. Or maybe I am totally wrong, but it was an old building.

Apparently there is a discount on the subway for children wearing red. Not sure what's up with that.

Then we went by the Imperial Palace so the other people could see it. I went back to show them some things I knew about. Click on the picture to see a job that would really just bite it.

So then Dave, Juan and I go and eat sushi. Others wanted Italian food, but I am just not impressed with that. I don't know why. I guess I just eat so much of it. The sushi was $40 A PERSON, because it was really high quality. That's because we were less than 1 kilometer from Tsukiji Fish Market, where all of Japan gets it's fresh fish. It was indeed fresh, almost pre-chewed.

Then Dave puts the tab on his sky miles credit card and I pay him. No biggie, I have used Mizuho ATMs before. I get to the VIEW ATM which accepts Mizuho, which is the parent of my bank. I jump through all the hoops, but it won't work.

So I go all the way across Tokyo to the Mizuho headquarters to use the ATMs there. They won't work either. So now I have no money. I go back to a VIEW ATM and manage to take out $20 from my postal account, because they ARE NETWORKED TO OTHER NETWORKS. Which would make sense. Then I start panicking and trying to reach everyone I know in the area. No one replies, or at least no one that is near me or not already on the way back. Finally I get to the bus station and give them exactly all my money for a ticket to Koriyama.

It is absolutely ignorantly stupid that the most technologically country in the world can't network ATMs. For the love of all that is sacred, ATMs close after 8pm and on holidays.

SERIOUSLY ?!?!?!

Do you not get the point of ATMs? They are so I can access my money at any time. They actually stand for ANY TIME MACHINES. But some half drunk baboon made the decision to turn off ATMs at 9 at night. No one dares question this because you do what you are told in Japan and that's that.

But I solved the problem. From now on I will get paid directly into my stupid-drunk-chimp-gasfilled-bag-spinach account. Then I will transfer money to the US. Finally I will take out all but about $200 and move it into my Postal Account, because...

The POST OFFICE

Not the banking system

THE POST OFFICE

The people that send paper mail around the world.

THE POST OFFICE

has a national networked system that can be accessed by several different types of machines.

 

So that solves that problem. From now on out I will be able to access my money anywhere in Japan because I am no longer relying on the ignorant country bumpkin stupid head bank. I was livid. Simply furious. Nearly had a stroke. [after thought] I was trying to use ATMs of the parent company of my bank. I have used these ATMs several times before in Tokyo with no problem.

Tomorrow and Thursday I go back to English Camp with Koriyama city. It's really fun and we get fed well. I won't make an update for a few days, but what's new really.

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

I was just told I can’t use a certain computer to surf the internet. I somewhat understand this, but what they don’t understand is that I have some free time and don’t like having free time. I am too efficient for the Japanese office system. When I do that I surf the web for various things. It’s never anything questionable, usually teaching English ideas, or my future plans, or things that I am just curious about. See Japan office culture is based on simply being present. If an employee or teacher comes to school 2 hours early and leaves 4 hours late, they are seen as very eager and loyal. Even if they are openly doing nothing, even though they would never openly do nothing. There is always the guise of doing something. However, in the US if an employee got to work 2 hours early (off the clock or just salaried) and left 4 hours late it would most likely look like they were slow and couldn’t get their work done in the allotted time. If they were seen doing the standard time fillers as are done in Japan, they would appear to have no social life.

So I guess from now on I will surf the web from my desk even though any site I could possibly want to visit is blocked. Well seriously not every site, but truly the vast majority are blocked. When they aren’t blocked they simply time out because they are so slow. Which is another way of blocking sites in a passive way.

Last night I stayed at the English Camp place near Koriyama. The Koriyama Board of Education sponsors an English camp several times a year. So when the JHS students enter as 1st years 1 or 2 students are picked as the best of the school and come to this camp twice in a year, remember there are three grades each in JHS and HS and 6 grades in elementary school. Then as 2nd year students the same students come back twice and then once as 3rd years. It’s a great opportunity for these kids to speak with foreigners. But…

To me it’s almost a great idea. Most everything about it is super, but there are just a few things that drive me nuts. First, it’s only two hours a night. We are all picked up by taxis from all around the city and driven to this place. Then we have dinner. Then we have two activities. Then it’s study time, bath time, and suddenly sleep time. It’s really only two hours of direct contact. Even then we don’t seem to be making the most of it. Like they have to go around and introduce themselves to the foreigners and ask some questions. The second problem I have is that they aren’t pushed as much as they should be. For example the three question they have to ask are “what’s your name? Where are you from?” and then any question they like. BUT when they are told to ask anything they want, they always revert to the standard question they are taught. Out of 60+ kids I had %90 ask me “What sports do you like?”. Because that was given as an example of “anything is ok”. I think they should have to draw a topic out of a hat and ask something related to that topic.

The third thing is when we have this group clue game. First they give each group a noun like a famous person and we have to think of three descending difficult clues. So ours was Koizumi, the Prime Minister. Our clues were Japan, Hair, Very Important Man. Once we got to the last clue someone guessed it. Overall this is a great activity, but we get so caught up in the idea of everyone getting a chance to speak that no one actually realizes what is happening. When each group presents their clues all the members say each clue at one time. I HATE THIS. Because yes everyone is speaking, but no one can understand them. Japanese want to be part of a group, so no one wants to go first or speak alone. There are exceptions, but overall it’s a big group. We Japanese is a common phrase. So that works out as everyone in the group mumbling and the native English speakers trying to over-compensate. Which they don’t, they just add to the mumbling. One of the clues was “Brownd”. We honestly stopped for about 2 minutes asking “did you say Brown or Round”. Several of the other clues were mumbled as well.

But we can’t change it. I have suggested we change it, but the idea of everyone speaking overrules the fact that no one can actually be understood. It’s like the miracle education reform called “No Child Left Behind”. On paper it sounds great. WOW, no one is left behind, everyone gets a fair chance. But in reality it’s crap, ask any teacher. It means that no one is left behind, but everyone else has to suffer. But the idea of questioning it sounds like someone is against everyone getting a fair education. It’s the same as saying you don’t believe in the war in Iraq. That translates as you are anti-American or unpatriotic, which is not the case. I think maybe two people should take turns speaking or there should be a part for everyone. All I know is everyone speaking at the same time sounds like everyone having a big “buardtchi”.

That’s the sound a group of people make when they try to say “party”. Well anyway, today I have one class and it is 6th period. It will take me about 30 minutes or less to prepare for it since I am efficient, which means I have several periods to kill and I can’t surf the web on that machine and I can’t play solitaire that long. I guess I will do something productive (for me) like work on some writing ideas. I’ve never thought of being a writer until I came to Japan and started writing this journal three or so years ago. Now I have tons of ideas, but I don’t know if I can finish them all. I am working on a book about my time here in Japan. A kind of culture shock book. There are already a few but this one will have my own little bitter sarcastic spin. Then I have a children’s book idea, as well as a series of short stories related to SE Asia. Then a few language based books like a list of grammar topics explained in down to earth English and then a big book on Chinese character vocabulary. The grammar book, and I am no grammarian, is written in a way that lay people, like me, can read it. I hate reading grammar books that say:

The past dangling participle is never combined with a negative structure such as immediate imperative conjunctive partial clause unless the recent progressive state is implemented in a reciprocating circumstance.

Yea, WHAT? I always have to put those books down because they lose me. This book has about 500+ useful Japanese phrases and then the grammar behind each phrase explained in a basic manner. Like “this is the form you use when you really want someone to stop doing something now”. So anyway I guess this is a blessing in disguise. I’ll just write and write and write. Then I will take a break and have a snack and then come back and write more.

[later]

Actually I am going a little insane not being able to check email. I’m not a huge email freak, it’s more about being connected and really about getting things done. For instance I have no way of getting this journal entry home to upload because I would usually either save it to my Flash Drive, which I left at the English camp, or save it to the network and then email it from the main computer. But since I can’t use that either to email or at all, I have to wait. I’ll be alright since I do have things to do and I should start being more Japanese by cleverly doing nothing in a way that appears I am really busy.

I got pretty good at that when I worked for a phone book printer back in Atlanta. Quite often I would have nothing to do so I would walk around the factory and talk to people. Since I was always missing people started to wonder what I was doing. So I would have a stack of papers and walk around the corporate part of the office staring at them. Sometimes I would hit the papers and say something like “oh that makes sense” or “How can we get these numbers down?”. But I was really just talking to myself when I knew other people were around. Then I would listen to people and re-use their conversations later. I might hear someone say Judy was off at headquarters discussing the Borland matter. Then when I ran into certain people I would say “Have you seen Judy, I have some questions about the Borland matter”. I really think this is how VPs get promoted. I impressed the bosses on several occasions. Well at least until I was laid off.

Then I worked for the world’s largest (and possibly most poorly run) internet company. I was a drone for most of my time there and would pass my time with certain gags. One was to dial a random internal number and say “please come into my office right away” then I would hang up before they had a chance to ask who it was. I would also send people anonymous messages to their computers. There is a way to do this, or at least there was 5+ years ago, between Windows OS computers. It’s called NetSend or something. It pops up a message on someone’s screen and may or may not show who it’s from. Sometimes I would send messages to people that were across from each other trying to provoke them. It was things like “Look at the pretty bow on my shirt” and at the same time to the person across from him “that’s a pretty bow on your shirt, it’s so pretty it makes me smile inside”. So guy-A would be looking at the bow (that I told him to) and guy-B would be wondering why this freak is so into his bow. It was amusing until other less cool people got out of hand with it.

I think two of my favorite gags were near the end of my time when I didn’t care anymore. First I would send an instant message to certain people using AOL’s instant messenger. It would pop up a window that showed my screen name and then the message. But I would hold down the shift or CTRL button and hit return about 10 times so my name was off the screen. Then I would type the screen name of our upper VP (who oddly had a screen name). Then I would type a long nasty message. Not nasty as in filthy dirty, just corporately mean. I would also change the color of his name since incoming names were one color and outgoing ones were another. The real incoming name was above and couldn’t be seen. So someone, usually in the same room as me, would get a message like:


(my real screen name)
 


Lots of spaces


UPPER-BOSS-MAN: What are you terds doing down there. I swear you are worthless. We need to increase productivity by 21% by this afternoon. We must maintain system purity. Re-route the main network through the internal bindings. What is going on? Do I need to start busting heads?
 



So of course half that jargon doesn’t make sense, but the VP in question would talk like that. He would also use the same phrases like “terds”, “increase productivity”, and “do I need to start busting heads”. So people would freak out and of course never mention it because we weren’t really allowed to send messages at work.

The other gag was that I changed my outgoing hotmail email account name to one of the upper managers. Then, strategically, on a well known layoff day I sent several people an email that said:
 


Mark,

Can you come up to my office immediately.

Please log off your workstation and collect all your belongings.

Thanks,

Boss guy


Sometimes I would catch them at the door and tell them. For certain people I just let them go. One guy nearly got himself laid off even though he wasn’t on the list. He went up there and sat down and said “I am here to be laid off”. The manager, not knowing anything about my email, assumed he was volunteering to be laid off. Luckily he got distracted and the whole thing blew over. The victim ended up thinking he secretly saved himself somehow.

Not sure how I got on the gag angle here, but oh well it was fun. I guess I should start preparing for my next class which is 4 hours away. Sometimes I love it here, other times the culture gets so overwhelming that I know my time is limited. Spending time in Thailand really made me realize I am not a Japan-lifer. I will leave here at some point. I predict 3-5 years. The money is too good for now as is the job security, and the fact that overall I love my job and the respect that goes with it. But I hate the cold weather. I bitterly and passionately hate the cold weather and the lack of insulation in the buildings. That alone will limit my time, unless I get a job in the south. But also seeing a different, more open, culture such as Thailand made me realize more things about the rigid inflexible Japanese culture that truly spike my blood pressure. I feel so at peace in Thailand and plan to volunteer there for a while. Ok, off to plan some lesson or something work related.
[later]

Here’s an actual conversation that took place recently between myself, a Japanese person, and someone who speaks Japanese very well. It was all in Japanese.

Me – Can we order now?
Waiter – Yes. What can I get for you?
Me – I’ll have this and this. She is a vegetarian. She can’t have any meat, it will make her very sick. Do you have anything with no meat?
Waiter – Yes. This dish only has a little meat.
Me – No, she can’t have any meat. None. Zero. No meat. Do you have any salad or some dish that has no meat. Without meat. Nothing that is meat. None.
Waiter – Yes we have a chicken salad.
Me – Chicken is meat. Do you have a salad with no meat?
Waiter – We have a salmon salad. That has no meat.
Me – Is it called salmon salad because it has salmon in it?
Waiter – Yes.
Me – Salmon is meat.
Waiter – Ok. I will ask the cook to prepare something especially for her with no meat.

Later

Waiter – Here is a dish for the vegetarian. There is no meat in it, only a little pork.
Person B – (in near perfect Japanese)
Pork is meat. Pork is a pig which is meat. She is a vegetarian and cannot have any meat. If she has meat she will get sick and vomit all over the restaurant. Do you know the difference between and animal and a plant? She can only eat plants. Nothing that was an animal. Nothing that has even a teensy weensy bit of pork, beef, fish, bird, horse, whale, human.
Waiter – Oh that’s no problem we don’t sell anything with human meat.
Person B – That’s not the point. If it had a head and walked or swam and was capable of breathing she can’t eat it.
Waiter – Ah, she is a vegetarian.
Person B – He said that 10 times. Yes. No meat. Do you have anything?
Waiter – Yes. The blah blah salad only has a little meat.
Her: I get this a lot. They simply don’t get it. I’ll just pick out the meat and it should be alright.

In one sense I really feel bad about being different. I know these people are trained to follow a script and not think outside the box. Really not think at all. I know we come in and break the system and it probably upsets the wait staff, but the rigid inflexibility drives us crazy. More than that is the lack of ability to listen and understand variables. If the waiter were to say “nope, not really, everything either has meat or was cooked in meat”, then that would be a whole different issue.

Friday, January 27th, 2006

I finished the English camp last night. It was fun as usual, but I still think we are not pushing them enough. I don’t mean that we physically push them over and we aren’t doing that enough, I mean we don’t take full advantage of having the best English speakers mixed with native English speakers. They arrive around 4-5. Study alone until 6. Then eat dinner till 7. Then we explain some game for 15 minutes or have the standard opening ceremony. Then we have 1.5 hours worth of activities. Then it’s more study time and then bath time and then sleep time. That’s only two hours of direct contact and during the other time the kids are usually too shy to approach us. I’m going to suggest a point system of sorts for the next time.

I had a recent event that proves my belief that Japanese people are taught foreigners simply can never learn Japanese correctly. On several occasions I have said something to someone in Japanese and they simply didn’t understand me. Then when they figured it out and repeated it back in a way so that I could see my mistake, it was the exact same way as I had said it earlier. This time it was with writing.

I usually write something and then ask someone to check it. It seems more polite and less lazy than simply asking someone to write something for me from scratch. Many times I can get it right, but I can never imagine writing something in Japanese that Japanese people will read and not having it checked by a native Japanese speaker. So this time I wanted to write the phrase “Place & Supervision Info”. It sounds odd in English, but it was exactly the Japanese thing I needed for something. It was about a test that is coming up. So I knew how to write this, I’ll tell you why shortly. So I wrote it as I knew how to, then I had some teacher check it. He promptly said we don’t use this phrase. I asked when do they not use it because I know it is used at certain times. He said it’s never used, it’s grammatically wrong.

Then he asks someone around him and the other person agreed. Then they asked the vice principal who also agreed it was never, under any circumstances, ever at all used. At least by no one with any true native sense of Japanese. I am usually frustrated when things go to the group for discussion, but this time I was pleased. I clarified and they all said it was never ever used. Then I pulled out a memo written by none other than the vice principal who was standing there saying it was never used. I circled the line in question and showed it to them. There was nodding and pointing and reading and re-reading.

I could tell by looking they knew they were stumped. They couldn’t just say “well we didn’t really read it because we knew it would be wrong” so they were trying to make sense of it somehow. How can they explain this to me? They just said it was never used, but then I produced a form that shows it is used and now they are confused. They eventually just mumbled something to the extent of “well in THIS case it’s ok”, but in other cases like the one you are using…..even though the case I was using it was the exact same case. That’s why I knew it was correct.

When I arrived at school this morning there was a situation with a bus. By situation I mean there was no problem whatsoever, but some Japanese person was trying to break out of the formal rigid constraints of society. There was a small delivery truck parked in front of the school. It was right at the entrance where the buses pull up. The driver was inside, most likely making said delivery. A bus pulled into the parking lot and the panic set in. What are we going to do? There is a truck parked where the bus usually pulls up. Oh no.

Now keep in mind the truck was taking up maybe 5 feet of the whole front entrance which is over 25 feet wide. The bus had more than enough room to stop before the truck and unload people since the only part of the bus that really needed to be there was the 2 foot wide door which was less than 1 foot from the front of the bus. So that makes 3 feet, then the truck width was about 5 feet so there’s 8 feet of space accounted for and over 25 feet total.

Nope. This is school entrance. Bus unloads here. Truck must move.

Teachers were running around searching for the driver as if the truck was about to explode. Two teachers ran toward the bus frantically waving for it to stop about 100 feet away from the “blast zone”, which was really just where the truck was parked. Finally the bus driver had an uncharacteristic flash of common sense. He told the people waving him down that he had to drop the kids off and get on with his route since he was already delayed from the weather. He pulled up about 10 feet before the truck and opened the door. Teachers were telling students to wait before getting off. The crisis would be over soon. Now the problem was that the mat the kids stepped on when there is snow was too far up. It was past the bus. Was it stapled to the ground? No. Was it made of lead? No. How can the mat get from there to the bus? What can possibly do in this situation.

I was sure there was something I was missing but I had to try. I walked over and slid the mat from point A to point B. It took about 9 seconds. Then people looked around and weren’t sure what to do. The kids who haven’t learned to stop thinking, just got off the bus. About the time they were done people had figured out there was no problem.

I write about these things not entirely to make fun of the culture here, but partially to just write them down. To make a note of them and to force me to organize my thoughts and make sure I am not missing something basic. I have actually written a few things like this before and then when I re-read them I realized something I had missed and deleted the part because it was not as I remembered. These are people I know and work with and respect and it drives me nuts when they suddenly go brain dead about basic things. I know the culture is “do what you are told and don’t ask questions”, but I would assume that at least some people can think out of the box.

Today I am one of three teachers giving the standardized English test for Japanese students called the Eiken (A-ken). There are three groups of kids taking it and I was going to be in charge of the easiest level but then something came up. What came up is that there is a teacher’s meeting and some teachers have to attend it. So these two teachers who were going to be giving the test now have to attend a teacher’s meeting. But the meeting starts about 30 minutes before the test is over. So one teacher asked if he could be late because of the test. No. He needs to be there. The funny part is for the first hour it will be the elementary school part of the meeting and completely irrelevant to the junior high school teachers. But they are part of the group and must be there. It was absolutely unheard of for them to NOT be there, even though this test has been planned since November and is a national test and this teacher’s meeting will most likely be a review of something that has already been covered in a meeting and in several memos. There was simply no question about it.

Teacher’s meeting. They are teachers. They must be at the meeting.

Resistance is futile.
 

Sunday, January 29th, 2006

So for now I will take the time to point out a classic case of Japanese stupidness.

I can fly for two hours domestically for nearly the same price as I can fly 14 hours to Atlanta. The funny part is people actually pay these prices which is why they don't go any lower.

 


Monday, January 30th, 2006

I just had an interesting conversation about my body temperature. I have a slight fever and I took some medicine for it, but it was Japanese medicine which means it doesn’t work. How I miss Nyquill “the coma” Nighttime. So I had the nurse check my temperature, under the arm because the mouth is so primitive. She asked me what my personal body temperature was. I said probably 98.6°. She said in Japan they each have their own personal temperature. I had no idea what time was since the rest of the world just goes by 98.6°F foolishly, as far as I know. So I asked around and found that almost everyone’s own personal body temperature was around 36.0°C. And yet they were all different somehow. Japan is always uniquely different. All other cultures are primitively inferior.

So we took my temp and it was 38.8ºC which was apparently the end of the world. The nurse started panicking and said I had to go straight to the hospital, and she would call an ambulance. 38.8ºC is like 101.8ºF which is an annoying fever, but not an ambulance fever. So I said I will just go back to the teacher's room. I go back and start working on my next lesson. Then she calls the vice principal and tells him and he said they will call the life flight helicopter since I was near death.

Life flight helicopter.

For a fever of 101.8ºF.

I think you would get arrested and then beaten if you tried that in the US. I told them I would go home and if it got worse I would go to the hospital, IF it got worse. The word for hospital is the same for clinic. So I go home and take a nap and wake up in a nasty fever sweat. Then I decide to actually go to the hospital because I won't be able to sleep otherwise.

I walk about 1,000 feet or less to a clinic near my house. It was 5:30 and logic would dictate it stayed open late, but this is Japan and logic plays no part so it could possibly close at 4 or 5. It did stay open until 6 which is semi good, I am used to clinics being open later, but for now 6 is fine. When I go inside I explain my symptoms and the lady stares at me. I say I have a bad fever. More staring. I want to see a doctor. Staring. Then I hand her my medical insurance card and sit down. She stops staring and gives me a thermometer. I stick it under my arm (as all superior cultures do) and when it is finished it shows 39.9ºC which is like 104ºF. Remember fevers above 40C and 106F are deadly. So I get rushed in and treated.

The basic jist of it is when I started using my gas heater it dried out the air which caused me to get a cough, dry throat, and then a fever to fight it. When that started getting better I went back to school and managed to catch something new from the kids because my immune system was busy. So now I have Tuesday off, and possibly Wednesday.

I feel fine now. The only thing is I am a bit weak. Also, when I sleep I had been having those weird fever dreams. I mean dreams can be strange to begin with, but when something like a fever is involved, well I'm sure you've had them too.

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

I took the day off by force, and ironically I really didn't want to. Back in Fukushima city I would take a day off at the drop of a hat, but here I enjoy the school and planning my lessons. Since I actually still feel a little bad I didn't resist. Though I still had to use vacation time for being sick. I have learned to not even think about fighting that. I even suggested it in advance. In Japan, not being at work is a vacation, even if you are having major surgery.

So I started feeling better around noon and decided to go to the store. Then I remember I need to go by the post office to take care of two simple forms. One to get a new ATM card, the other to send money to Thailand. Should be in and out.

Ha.

First I get there and I need two other forms and a book. Ok, I think I have them at home. I will go back. I go back. Then I return with everything. Then one form isn't filled out correctly. By correctly, I mean I made ONE mistake and marked it out. So I redo the whole form. Then I wrote the kanji character for "gift, donation" wrong. There was space to mark it out and correct it, but nope. Whole new form. I know have the orphanage's address memorized. Ok the form is fine. Oh, my address is still for Fukushima city. I need a form from the Fukushima city post office proving that I moved.

As my temples started pounding I politely said "forget it" and moved on to the new card form. Well there is a problem right off the bat. I also need the address to match for this. There was nothing I could do. I politely collected my things and left saying all the appropriate "I'm so sorry. How rude of me" and walking backwards out the door while bowing. I was defeated. Might as well go out in style.

So here I am at home stewing over the rigid inflexibility of the culture and I think about if I can really stay here another 3 years. Right about at the peak of my private whining the doorbell rings and it is the vice principal and a teacher. They came to check on me. We chatted for a minute. They gave me a bag of food and some drinks so I wouldn't have to get out in the cold. I told them I would probably take tomorrow off as well. Then I apologized and backed into my apartment bowing the whole time.

An hour later another teacher came by with more stuff. Each bag had about $20 worth of stuff in it. So in one day I go from culturally homicidal to really happy to be in Japan. Japan is such a complex culture. I wonder if I will ever be able to understand it.

 

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