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2008, New Beginnings.
Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

     I am back from two weeks in the US visiting family. I ate way too much and watched a ton of English TV and then sat on the couch a lot as well. I also got a ton of stuff done, saw some extended family, and recharged my batteries. Well I literally did that, but here I meant I took a break from life in Japan and relaxed. My checked bag was exactly 51 pounds on the way back, which should have cost me $50, but luckily the guy at the check-in was nice. What wasnít nice was how the Chicago-Tokyo flight was 6 hours delayed. The airline should have done something for all the passengers, even if it was nothing more than a sky-miles bonus. Iíll rant on that later.

     A general summary would beÖI took a bus from Koriyama to the airport and had my bags picked up two days before. I had so much luggage it was insane, but I used the chance to carry back a Ďshedloadí of clothes I no longer wear and other stuff. I lucked out going to the US and got a bulkhead seat with leg-room. I took a sleep-aid and managed to sleep around 6 hours. The 12 hour flight was great and seemed like only 3 hours. The bad thing was that jet lag kicked my butt when I landed and I think it was because I slept on the plane.

     My flight was slightly delayed from Chicago to Atlanta which caused my landing to be around 11pm and us to get home around 1am which was about 4 hours past my parentís bed time, but they didnít complain. I never really slept well while there. Well I would sleep great for about 3 hours and then wake up completely at something like 4am. Also, I found I was going to the bathroom a billion times. I mean that almost literally. I would drink a glass of water and then go to the bathroom. One morning I woke up and had 6 glasses of liquid and I was still dry mouthed. It was really odd. I was either dry mouthed or peeing every hour. I donít know what that was all about, but it seemed to have straightened out now that I am back.

     My presents were better than previous years, I mean those that I gave. I had some money this year and was able to get real gifts rather than cheap Asian things. I gave my brother in law a steak branding iron with his initials, my sister something that I forgot now, my mother a digital picture frame, my father some random small gifts, and some toys for my nieces. I got a lot of clothes which were all badly needed. Oh I think I gave my sister a gift certificate maybe.

     It was great to see my nieces even though the 3year old is a handful. Sheís constantly running around touching everything and talking or asking about stuff. Sheís really bright and I was talking to her like an adult. The 2 year old isnít talking yet, but she is adorable. She smiles a lot and says some small words and seems to understand a lot.

     I managed to see a movie, Charlie Wilsonís War, which was pretty good and packed with stars. I restocked on so many necessities that I can either not get here or they have some odd Japanese element to them. One of my favorite things is my new coat that my great aunt got me. Itís really warm, as was the last one, but this is classy and fits me. I also spearheaded a few trips of old stuff to Goodwill which really cleaned out the closets. Then we went to our lake house in Alabama and that was ultra-relaxing. The water was really low, but I raked a bit of straw and lounged a lot. We exchanged gifts with my cousin and aunt/uncle. I got some warm slippers from them as well as a long sleeve shirt that I didnít seem to take off for days. I also bought a lot of underwear and socks and undershirts and the like.

     Then it was time to leave and we left for the airport at 5am to arrive by 6am for an 8am flight. I checked in, gave them the overweight bag and went on. I think the reason I got by was the couple in front of my had no sense of weight and packed each bag to about 60 pounds. Then when the guy told them that each of the three bags would be $50 overage charge, they started arguing and complaining and what not. When I got up there and saw my bag was 1/10th over the cut off limit I said ďoh dear, how much do I oweĒ rather than complaining about a clearly marked rule. The guy let it slide and I was on my way. Then I passed through the screening part and they confiscated some toothpaste and shaving gel. No major loss, apart from the fact that the airline safety board is getting completely out of hand with rules and regulations. I had to nearly strip down completely to pass through the gate. ARGH.

     Fine. The plane takes off and arrives in Chicago at 9am. When I land I check the gate for my 11am flight to Tokyo. A 2 hour layover isnít bad at all. Iíll get breakfast and chill and then board. Except that the flight seems to be delayed until 2:30pm. Argh, thatís 5 and a half hours. Then it becomes 3:00. Then 3:30. Finally at 4:00pm we are moving toward the runway. I would have like something for the huge hassle it was. I was really trapped at the airport for hours with nothing to do. Something like some bonus sky miles would be fine.

     You know the airports arenít really set up for people to wait that long. They could make money if they had day rooms, or even some recliners. I would have paid something fat to chill in a recliner for a few hours and somewhere to keep my carry on luggage, but I had no options other than sit in the intentionally uncomfortable chairs the whole time. Iíve learned my lesson and will pay the extra bit for a direct flight when possible. On a plus for American Airlines, apart from the delay most everything was really smooth and pleasant. The meals on the plane were rather large and the drinks were hefty. I would have chalked it up as a great flight both ways apart from the layover.

     Ok, I am back in Tokyo and itís 9:30pm-ish. We stand in a long line to get photographed and fingerprinted which is a new law in Japan for foreigners. Most of the people I know complain about it, but we are foreigners here and are simply lucky to be allowed to live here. Iím photographed when I go to Thailand and foreigners are photographed when they enter the US so I donít complain about it. Some of the arguments are nonsense things like ďnow you are in the system, they can do whatever they want with the infoĒ. Ah yes, great argument since of course there would be no other way to frame me if they didnít have my photograph or fingerprints. My photograph is already all over the place since I am a civil servant and have a driverís license and how hard is it to get someoneís fingerprints?

     Ok, I am through the airport so I go to have my bag sent to my house directly. The company I wanted to use was closed so I went with some no name, but it was actually cheaper. The only bad thing was they took 2 days so I got the bag last night, which was ok in the end. Then I catch a cheap train (Keisei Skyliner) to Ueno and the Ginza line to Asakusa and stay at the capsule hotel that I always go to. I slept ok, but woke up around 5am and then slept a bit more. It was good to take a thorough shower and scrub myself several times. I had some Starbucks the next morning and then bought a ticket to Koriyama on the bullet train, aka the Shink. I put my bags in a locker and walked around Ueno park for a bit. At one point I noticed a cat was just sitting in the middle of the passage. Nothing spectacular, but for some reason this was the most amazing cat to everyone who walked by. They would get near and gasp and say "oh look, a cat" then someone would go over and touch it and other people would gasp and say "oh wow, look at that person touching that cat". It was the most menial thing I had ever seen and yet such a big deal to everyone. It was a cat.

     While in the US my mother had to have her license renewed. For kicks I checked the expiration date on my Japanese license and realized it was Christmas Day, which had passed, and I wouldnít be back until the 4th and not in Fukushima until the 7th. When I got back I drove home and then woke up the next morning (Monday the 7th) and drove to the local license renewal place. When I got there I explained the situation and they said no worries since I have a month after my birthday to renew it. Then she realized it was already a week after a month after my birthday. So I had to spend the whole day at the license place because the process is moronic. If someone knows the reason behind the moronic process, please let me know since I didnít find much of anything that was rational or logical about it.

     I get there around 9 since I assumed they would be open around then. They had opened at 8:30 and were open until 9:30am. Hmmm, sounds like a bank. I explained the situation and she said I would have to do the whole process all over again including the driverís test, AND since my license had already expired I could NOT drive anymore until all that was done. Wow, my stomached dropped as I realized how huge of a hassle that would be. Then she said ďunless you have a legitimate reason for not renewing it.Ē I showed her my passport and said ďI was out of the country from the 22nd to the 4th and it expired on the 25thĒ. Then she said well in that case I just had to fill out some paperwork and listen to a lecture. Whew. So then I asked what I needed to do now.

     First I had to submit all sorts of documents, which I had brought assuming this would happen. Then I had to ďcome backĒ and turn them in at 1, it was now 9:30. I couldnít drive so I decided to sit for a while and then walk 30 minutes to the convenience store. I walked there and then caught a taxi into town and had sushi and did some banking. Then I walked another 2-3 miles and caught a taxi back to the place. When I got back I remembered how packed the lot was when I got there in the morning and how they had directed me to park in the middle of the driving course, the same course they might be using in the afternoon. Then I noticed all the lots were empty so most likely my car was sitting there in the middle of this course. Which it was, so I moved it to the front.

     It was now noon so I started to get my things in order. I had to pay around $55 and realized I probably wouldnít pay at the counter since the Japanese bureaucracy loves to have people buy special stamps rather than pay a fee. So I went to the special store in the building and asked if they had a pen. When I did someone else was paying for some special stamps and I asked if I pay my fees here as well. She said I did so I paid and she gave me some forms with special stamps. I filled them out and then asked if they were ok and she checked them for me. The forms were all the exact same and I wrote all the info (in Japanese) about 5 times. During this whole time all the lights in the building were cut off. I have no idea what the employees were doing, but from 9:30 to 12:55 everything was shut down. We were allowed to sit in the waiting room.

     So then at 1 I go back to the counter and submit all the forms to the nice lady who was helping me. She gave me a card and said come back here at 2:05, which I did only to receive another card that said ďgo to the first time driverís course on the 2nd floorĒ, which I did. Here I sat with 21 other people about my age and we listened to a lecture about basic driving techniques. It was the most useless thing I had ever sat through. It was 2 hours of some old guy talking about things like ďwhen you come to a traffic light, even if it is blue (green), you should slow and look each wayĒ. My license expired, I didnít run over anyoneÖbut I sat there and listened. Then we watched a 20 minute movie from the 80ís about blind spots. The absurd thing was in all cases there were several stupid people doing illegal stupid things and yet it was the driverís fault. First there was a truck just stopped in the middle of the road unloading something, which was fine since his hazard lights were on. The driver pulled around the truck as some guy in a black suit walked out from a dark alley and was hit. Itís always the driverís fault in Japan.

     Then the teacher went around the room asking each of the 22 of us questions about basic driving. We all had numbers and assigned seats and I was 21 of 22. I was next to a cute, but slightly whorish looking girl who couldnít have been sitting any further from me. For my question, and I donít know if it was dumbed down for me or not (I donít think it was), he stated that the license previously called ďregularĒ, was now called ďmiddle classĒ. Then he asked me what the license previously called ďregularĒ, was now called. I said ďmiddle classĒ and he made some clapping noise and said something like ďyea thatís rightĒ. He sounded like a seal at Sea World. He asked one girl what red means on a traffic light. If I had felt like causing a scene, I would have said ďthe first 10 seconds of a red light means speed up and go through the lightĒ which is exactly what happens. The things he went over were mostly safe driving and if people followed them then it would be great, but no one does.

     Then after the course was over I went back to the counter and presented my card and received another card that said come back in ten minutes, which I did and was then told to get my photo made for the license. When I was standing there talking to the lady she asked how I liked the course. I said ďit was interestingĒ and as I did the course instructor came out from the office and had apparently heard me. He mentioned he was impressed at how I was attentively listening to his every word and making notes. I didnít have the courage to tell him I was daydreaming and making notes about things I have to do this week. Then he asked what part was my favorite. All I could remember was a long bit about intersections so I said "the part about intersections" and we both nodded in a way that meant ďyea that part was really importantĒ.

     Finally I sat down for a few minutes and went back up to the desk and received another card to take to the photo place. I had to take off my glasses and look down and not smile, so I look like some angry bird in the photo. Then I had to sit again and wait to be called. Everyone else in the room got up at once and got their license. Then I waited and waited. Finally all the lights were cut out and people started sweeping. A few minutes later the lady came out and handed me my license and explained something about being on probation for a year and I had to show a special seal on the back if I was pulled over or something. It was now 4:30 and I had my license and was allowed to drive, which I did, like a madman. Not really, but that would have been the perfect time to get in a wreck.

     That pretty much brings me up to now. Well one thing that was good for me was the bag delivery place knocked around 7 and gave me my bag. I really felt bad for the guy since the snow was bad around my place and the bag has already been established as being heavy. But itís a service I paid for so I donít feel too bad, itís not like I asked some friend to deliver it. I had planned to unpack that night, but I felt jet lag kick in so I went to bed around 8pm and woke up at 5am at which time I was wide awake and unloaded/sorted the contents. I need to go home and sort a bit more and really go through the whole place.

     One thing I was asked by pretty much everyone was how long will I be here. I donít know for sure since it changes daily. The absolute most would be 3 more years I think, but that would be pushing it. If my Japanese were to explode exponentially and I were to get married then that would change some plans, but for now I am thinking one or two more years. One goal is to leave Japan debt free, which is possible in two years, but I would have to live rather stingily (which seems to be an actual word). With just that one loan out there I plan to pay it down rather hardcore, but itís pretty big still.

     I guess I should have some New Year resolutions. One is definitely to pay that big loan down by half, but I think what is more realistic is to pay it down a lot while building up some savings. Another goal is to eat a little better and watch my health. Iím not setting a weight goal or anything, just to make a distinct effort at eating better and getting some exercise. This should be no problem since I have already started eating better and getting some exercise. I would like to travel to a few new places as well, but the health and money are at the top.

Medical Check.
Thursday, January 10th, 2008

     I had my annual medical check yesterday and thought it went great, but today the principal sat me down with the English teacher and told me it didnít go great. The two points that were of concern were my blood sugar and fats in the blood. One was about 10 times the norm and the other was more than double. So today sometime I am supposed to go to a hospital with the school nurse, who doesnít speak any English, and get another test. I donít know how much lower they expect todayís test to be, but I have to go anyway. The funny thing is I was planning on joining a gym tonight and start going twice a week to get some exercise. I guess that gets moved to the ďdefinitely listĒ.

     The part that annoyed me was they were saying how this could affect my job next year. I donít see how since I never go to the doctor with sickness and there is already another teacher with diabetes which is where they think this is leading. If I were constantly sick and missing classes then I could totally see the problem, but I never miss school. Plus simply having diabetes canít be an issues since there is another teacher with it and I donít see how it would cause the BoE problems.

     So the English teacher and school nurse came over at some point and said we couldnít go today since the doctor was out, but we will go first thing tomorrow. So once again tonight I canít take sleeping pills to get to sleep which means I either wonít get to sleep or I will wake up at 4am again. I guess I will drink gallons of green tea which supposedly lowers blood sugar and helps with all my general issues. Other than that I canít eat after 9pm again tonight and I shouldnít eat anything fatty which means I donít know what I can eat tonight. Maybe I will eat sushi when I go into town to join that gym. ARGH.

     Since they are making such a fuss about my future and my health, I have been looking at other possibilities such as Hong Kong. I have a friend working there now and I just canít believe how different it is. He lives in a serviced apartment that looks like something from Vegas and makes two to three times what I make here and the job is similar, apart from the fact that they seem to use him a lot more. I need to clarify with the BoE exactly what would cause me to not be re-employed and when they would let me know about said decision. Iím pretty sure this test was skewed because I ate a bunch of carrots for dinner the night before the test and they have a flushing effect on the liver. So the liver flushed some fat out and into the blood.

     Around the school today the elementary school kids made this dough treat called Dango. I donít like it since it feels like body fat and pretty much has no taste. But they made it and then put it up on this tree in the museum like room. I helped/watched them for a bit and then left. I remember doing that last year or the year before.

     The 2nd year (8th grade) teachers are having a meeting with the travel representative about the school trip next year when the 8th graders become seniors. They usually go to Kyoto for their third year and I have never been allowed to go since there are some stupid insurance issues for foreigners. This falls into the category of ďsometimes you are an equal civil servant, but other times you are a special foreign situationĒ. My position changes based on whatever benefits anyone who is not me. The only time it benefits me is when they let us take vacations during school breaks without using a lot of vacation time, but even then we have to fill out several forms and write a report about what we did and how it could be passed along to the students. All the other times I am on the short end of the stick. Honestly, I would prefer if they picked either one and stuck to it. If I were an equal teacher I would get the bonus. If I were a special situation I would get the breaks off. The bonus would be wicked helpful since they get it twice a year and itís usually a fair amount, assuming one meets all the criteria for it. Itís usually around one monthís salary times 4 or 5 or some fraction between that. The criteria is like no or minimal sick days (which is why teachers come in when they are deathly sick), as well as taking some refresher classes and doing other proactive things. Man I would do pretty much anything for a bonus of my monthly salary time s 5.


Your Privacy is Important.
Friday, January 11th, 2008

     Thatís what they said yesterday when the principal sat me down with the English teacher to explain my medical test results. He was worried that I would be upset that he was having the English teacher explain things to me in English. I wasnít upset since it was important, but I didnít really want anything broadcast around the teacherís room.

     But in Japan, we must keep in mind that you do what you do. If there is something that is always done, then it will be done without question. One thing that is done is that any event at school is written on the big whiteboard in the teacherís room. Since the nurse and I will go to the hospital today for my second test, that was written on the board. Several teachers saw it and asked why I was going back and then one said ďoh health check...bad dataĒ and I said yes. They werenít being clever by writing just a little on the board, they were simply doing what they do. School events go on the board. Two teachers leaving the school is a school event. This must be written on the board. End task. What that information might reveal is irrelevant, you simply do what you do.

     We are about to leave and I totally expect it to be absurd. Even though it is a five minute process I expect they will tell me to get naked and change into that hospital gown. Iím going to resist that as much as possible, and flat out not take off my long johns or socks because I am cold. There is absolutely no reason to take off my pants or long johns for a blood test from the arm.

     When we left for the hospital, the school nurse did what one does when one leaves the school. She announced to the vice principal why and where she was going. ďI am now taking Ryan to the hospitalĒ. Then some teachers heard it since they have normal ears and asked what was wrong. As I left I saw the VP slyly telling them why and where she was going. I wasnít mad at the school nurse one bit, she was doing what one does when one leaves the school. Actually, Iím not mad at all Iím just amused at the whole process.

     At the hospital it was a lot of waiting in true Japanese style. We were given a card and told to wait until the number on the card was called. When it was called we were then told to wait until a sign on the wall showed another number. When that number appeared 6 years later we were escorted into another waiting room and told to wait until we were called. Then the doctor said basically ďyouíre fat and on the verge of diabetes so weíll take blood and do an ultra soundĒ. They took blood and then I waited for a while and was escorted into another room where they did the ultra sound. One thing I noticed that was interesting was that the machine was completely in English. Yet another reason to learn English.

     Finally it was all over and they gave me some medicine and said I have to come back in a month. The medicine is to lower my blood sugar / fat as well as control my cholesterol. Another funny thing about the day was that I was told to sit in one area for a while until they called my name. I leaned over to the school nurse and told her they werenít going to call my name, they were going to come over and tell me directly. Thatís always the case when I go somewhere with my foreign name and foreign self. The final funny thing was everyone at the BoE and health check place kept saying over and over ďtake your insurance card and you wonít have to pay anything, nothing, not one yenĒ. By not pay they meant pay. The tests were about $40 and the drugs were about $20. I had the money luckily, but it was funny that they made a big deal about how I wouldnít have to pay and I knew I would.

     Then we came back and so far about half the teachers have asked about how my diabetes tests went. The principal even came over and looked through all my medicine. Again, Iím not even slightly mad since thatís how things work in Japan. We are all part of a group and the group must know everything about all the members, especially the foreign ones. Iím not mad and not complaining, really just amused as I said. If I ever had some personal problem I would go to a different prefecture and change my name or something.

     Oh, on the way back we were driving along not really chatting about much. Then we get near the school and I see a car parked in the road with the hazard lights on. Behind it and off to the side (slightly) was someone squatting down. Maybe he/she is changing a tire. Oh no, wait, whatís that coming out ofÖ.oh lovely. Some old woman stopped on the side of the road to take a dump. She just squat down for the world to see and started ďdropping the kids off at the poolĒ, but minus the pool. That was simply awesome. By awesome I mean ridiculously obscene. Only in Japan would that happen, only in Japan.

     I think I am going to take off early and go home. Since itís Friday the kids leave after 5th period which would be around 2:30 and then I have to hang around doing nothing until 5 and I really donít feel like doing that for another day. Iím really getting sick of all the down time I have here. I do things to pass the time and other things that are productive, but the general misuse of me is getting annoying. I thought I was refreshed during the break, but it seems I was just reminded of all the annoying things here.

     After school the nurse sat down with me and the English teacher. I said over and over that I understood everything the doctor said, but she spent all day with me and wrote down so much I figured the least I could do was play along and listen while she explained things to him and he explained them back to me. While she was explaining it all I was adding comments, but that still didnít phase anyone and they kept on with the explanation. In the end, there was no harm done and everyone was happy. I have to find some small gift for her since she was forced to go with me and really just sit there the whole time.

     I went into town last night for three reasons and two of which were completed. One was to eat sushi since it would probably be not too fatty for my test today. I did that around 6 and havenít had anything since then. Task one completed. Then I went to check out and probably join the gym. I was told it was $60 a month, but itís really $75 which is still ok since they have treadmills and weight machines and free weights, but no track. I think they have an onsen thing as well. Iíll probably do that this weekend. Although, now that I think about it, they might have said Tuesday and Saturday were holidays. That would make perfect Japanese since in that it makes no sense. Task two incomplete. Then finally I went to TRIAL the discount store and bought some wipers for my car. I went for the $4 set rather than the graphite $10. So my bill was $12 since I needed three. The funny thing is, in Japan each wiper is different. The driverís wiper was one special model, the passengerís side was another, the rear wiper was a 3rd type. By different I mean virtually the same so I got the same model for all three and they all fit as I expected. I installed them right there in the parking lot and sadly it was clear the whole way home so I couldnít use them.


Whining Helps.
Sunday, January 13th, 2008

     In the first paragraph at the top of this page I mentioned how my flight was delayed and I felt the airline should have done something to say they were sorry. Well whining about it helped, since I got an email saying I would get 5,000 sky-miles added to my account since there was such a layover. That's fine and I am back to being satisfied with American Airlines. I just wish they flew directly to Atlanta.

     Yesterday I went and joined that gym I had been thinking about. I was misinformed when a friend said it was $60 a month since it is actually $75, but it seems worth it. There's a jacuzzi and showers and maybe a sauna which I wouldn't use, but maybe the jacuzzi. There are treadmills and a decent sized weight machine room. The machines use an odd air pressure system that I have never seen, but it seems really convenient. There's a free weight room as well as an aerobics room where they occasionally have yoga classes. I've been interested in that for years, but gave up on it when a teacher said only cults teach yoga.

     I signed up and went ahead and worked out on Saturday. I had planned to do a general workout, but apparently the fee comes with a trainer that made a workout for me and led me around a bit. That will be great the first few times, but eventually I'd rather do my own thing. Although, clearly my own thing hasn't been working well. But I haven't really been working out. It's going to be tough getting to the gym since it is a good 30 minutes away, but it is the closest thing and most affordable. I can probably get to it on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then once on weekends. Maybe I can workout and then take a shower there and then go eat sushi. That could be a nice habit.

      Today I've done nothing other than stay inside and clean and then watch sumo. I am going to see sumo in Tokyo on the 26th of this month, or whatever day is a Saturday around that time. 4 other Fukushima people are going so it should be fun. I think the standard national English test is the Friday before so maybe I won't go down until Sat morning. I plan to stay in a capsule hotel again and possibly get more photos.

     For dinner I realized I had no food here so I went to one of two local restaurants. I drove there since there is a nasty blizzard out there. Actually the winter season is part of what is making me look toward leaving. I really want to see my current 5th graders become JHS students, which I will do if I stay one more year. But I would also like to teach them a bit which would require staying two or more years, but the thought of more winters here is not appealing. There is a foot of snow everywhere on the ground. The wind is violently blowing. It takes about 10 minutes to get the car ready to drive, sometimes more, which includes a few minutes of trying to get the key in the door and turning the frozen lock and then de-icing it and then maneuvering around the deep snowy parking lot. Then there is the matter of my frozen toes which stay numb most of the season as well as the poorly insulated apartment which is in a poorly designed building which dumps the snow from the roof directly in front of the building making it nearly impossible to get in or out some times. But the spring, summer, and fall are good and the kids keep me hanging on.

Oddity.
Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

     I have had the strangest thing happen and it is driving me crazy. Sometime last week, I think Friday or Saturday, I went to bed with my long johns on. Thatís long thermal underwear if you donít know. When I woke up I didnít have them on and now I canít find them. I have no idea where they are or what I did with them. When I walk in my sleep, I usually have some memory of it and even if I canít remember, my apartment is so small that I couldnít have hid them in too many places. I am seriously totally confused.

     Iím in the process of making an Excel spreadsheet of every single thing I have eaten since I had the medical tests and started the new medicine. I will present it to the doctor when I go back on the 8th. Since I joined the gym on Saturday and I plan to go three times a week, Iím sure the tests will be better. I think my problem is the fat in my blood is supposed to go into the muscles to make energy, but since I donít exercise much (by much I mean never) then it has no where to go. At least I am hoping thatís what the case is. I really plan to bust my butt for at least a month until the second test is over. If the results are good then hopefully my job will be safe and I will continue to lose weight. It seems my weight and not exercising are the big factors. So much for my life as a sumo wrestler.

[later]

     I went to the gym right after school to work out. When I got there the clerk asked if I had left a pair of long johns in  a locker. Wow, I don't have any idea how I made it all the way home not wearing them since it is freezing around my town. I simply don't remember not wearing them, but I am so glad I found them since they are really needed.

     The gym was good overall, but I don't like the way he has arranged my routine. First odd thing, which I can live with, is that I do one exercise of each type 10 times and then move on to the next. When I have done that a few times, then I repeat the cycle. Normally one would do three sets of 10 bench presses and then move on to another part. It doesn't surprise me in the least that the Japanese way would be different simply for being different, especially from a country that is not known for weight lifting. The other thing I might change occasionally is he had me do all the major body parts on one day and then the arms and shoulders on another. When you work out your biceps AND triceps on the same day you find you can operate your arms the next day. I can barely lift them now and they are more or less useless. I've always heard and been told that you do chest and triceps together since they work together and then back/shoulders and biceps together. I'll do this for a while and then add stuff later. I found out the yoga class meets Mon at 1pm, Wed at 7pm and Saturday at 7pm. I'll try for the Saturday since I don't want to drive in T-W-Th-Sa as I am planning on driving in T-Th-Sa now.

In sight.
Thursday, January 17th, 2008

     I am having actual thoughts about when I might leave Konan and Japan. I donít mean now nor would I break my contract, I mean when I might not renew my contract. Or at least ask for it to be renewed. Iím thinking along the lines of one more year from August so I might leave in July 2009. I might renew another year so that I stay until 2010, but I donít know. Itís strange to think about that since my plan was always to stay longer and probably see my current 5th graders graduate. I really like that class and want to see them as JHS kids, but I donít see how I could stay that long.

     My main issue is that I am on a treadmill here. I make the same amount of money that I did the day I started. There are no raises or bonuses. Itís not about the money since we are paid well and this is no surprise since thatís just how the job is and they told us up front. But at some point in your life you want to move up. I have moved up in each job I have had since graduating college, but I am starting to get feelings of unrest and desire for change. The only way to control change is to create it.

     I am checking into a variety of options. One is teaching in Hong Kong where teacherís allegedly make more than we do. Itís also a Native Teacher position though a little different I think with more of a focus on reading. Iím also considering Thailand, even though I wouldnít make any money to send back from there. Iíd make decent money while there and could live nice, but it would only be around $800 a month which is less than what I send back now. If I can pay down my last big loan I could live on that in Thailand, I just wouldnít be making any profit or building up savings. Iím going to shoot for the HK job since it sounds like what I like to do. Itís a definite bonus that HK is always warm. I hate cold weather.

     Next week I seem to have 2 classes with the 5th graders and 2 with the 6th graders. Iím sure the 6th grade classes will be jus the teacher by himself since I havenít been to his class more then 5 times and that includes the whole 3 years I have been here. I have no idea what I will do with the 5th graders, but there is a chance he will lead the class and I will watch and possibly participate in a small capacity. Iím going to request two classes a month per class on fixed days next year so I can get in a habit of teaching.

     Tonight I am going into Koriyama to workout and get my new glasses. Iím worried that the prescription, which was perfect last week, will be off this week since the medicine causes my vision to change slightly. Sometimes I notice one eye is out of focus and other times I canít even use my glasses to see the computer. Now I have them on and they are fine, but around lunch ,when the medicine really kicks in, I usually have to take them off to see the screen. I mean I canít even see through them sometimes. It all started around the time I started the pre-diabetes medicine.

[later]

     You know what's really awesome? I mean just the greatest thing in the world? When you hang some clothes in a doorway and then go to sleep. Then you wake up in the middle of the night and see the clothes and think it is a person standing in your apartment waiting to axe you. You know what is not as awesome, but still really dandy? When you pull the string on a fluorescent light, but it doesn't come on and you don't notice. Then in the middle of the night (conveniently after the axe murderer incident) it pops on and blinds you after waking you up abruptly.

My new glasses make everything look like I am in a movie.

 

As Expected.
Monday, January 21st, 2008

      I have two classes planned for each the 5th and 6th grade this week. So really four classes I should say. I was panicked since I have never been to any of the 6th grade classes, even since they were 4th graders when I got here. To be fair I have maybe been to 5, but a few of those were me sitting and watching. I have been to several of the current 5th grade classes, but mostly when they were 4th graders or in the first term of their 5th grade time. I was panicked because I didnít want to go to the 6th grade and teach them something too easy or something too hard because I donít know their level. Then I remembered, exactly as class was starting, that the teacher always does the 6th grade on his own so he wouldnít ask me, which he didnít. That was good too since I had to prepare for the 3rd grade class 3rd period.

      I am going to write out something in English and give it to all the new elementary teachers in April. Basically it will say ďlook here you #&%#&-ing slackersĒ, no seriously it will just ask for a fixed schedule of two classes a month, minus August, on fixed days. That way I can complete my curriculum and it wonít jump around like now. Iíll also have more time to prepare since I will know in advance about the class and it wonít be dropped on me the day before. I think twice a month is fair.

      As some point in the day, around 10am I think, all the teachers went to the window in the teacherís room and gasped in amazement atÖÖÖI have no idea. Some kids were skiing since that is our winter P.E., but they do that every year andÖÖ.itís just kids skiing. The teachers were all gathered at the window gasping in surprise and saying things like ďwow look at thatĒ and ďoh, thatís amazingĒ and I kept looking for the meteor that crash or the UFO that landed. But it was just kids skiing. I even asked the English teacher and he didnít know why so many teachers were interested in what seems to happen every year. It reminded me of the time I took a raw carrot (not a nuclear bomb) to Higashi High School and was eating it for lunch. It was a raw carrot. The teachers looked at me as if I had come to school naked. It was honestly the same reaction. There have been so many of those experiences where this tiny thing brought on a huge unwarranted reaction. I really donít know why.

      I had a weird experience regarding the 3rd grade class. Last week the teacher asked if I could teach the shopping lesson this week. Thatís where kids ask ďmay I help youĒ and then order something by saying ď___ pleaseĒ. I spent all weekend, well all Sunday (well some of Sunday), working on a lesson. Then when the class starts he says ďletís do this Bingo game firstĒ. Thatís fine since my thing might be a bit boring. But the Bingo game took up the whole class. They had to draw these animals in these spaces and that took 25 minutes. Then when I called things out that took 10 minutes. Then I had to sign the sheets of the kids that won and that took 5 minutes, so we had 5 minutes left. I used that time to explain what we would do next time which ended up being ok since it is semi-hard. I donít care if the teacher has a plan, I can be an assistant, but donít ask me to plan something then give me a whole class lesson.

Greatest Invention EVER.
Thursday, January 24th, 2008

     I had a remote control engine starter installed last night. This is the greatest invention in the history of all things. Well language and computers rank up there, but this is better. I press a button on my remote and my car cranks right up. Then I get in the car and insert the key to on and drive away. If you try to shift without the key it shuts down, as it also does 10 minutes after being remotely cranked. I can also unlock the doors, which sounds lazy, but recently the keyhole has been freezing over and I either could not get the key in or if I did then I couldnít turn it. Iíve had to enter from the passenger side twice and once through the back. All this sounds like a luxury, but this morning there was a foot of snow on my car. I hit the remote and could hear the car crank from my apartment (which was odd Ė either it cranks loud or the walls are not insuÖ.oh never mind). Then when I got to my car it was already nice and toasty.

     It took 1.5 hours to install which was no problem. While I was in the waiting room I noticed they had a computer off to the side and it had a camera in the installation room (garage) so I could watch the process, which was as exciting as watching wheat grow, but still it was interesting. Then I walked around outside for a bit, even though it was a blizzard. I passed by McDonaldís and passed it up. This new medicine is great since I am no longer hungry. I mean I get hungry, but not ravishingly hungry and I donít overeat. Iím already losing weight, though slowly, when I check myself at the gym. So far itís like a kilo a week or so. A kilo is 2.2 pounds, so thatís pretty good I think. I really donít know how I could not lose weight since I no longer eat sweets and work my butt off at the gym. Seriously, one time it fell off.

     Last night I went to the gym and killed my chest. I did bench press, dumbbell flies, butterfly machine, chest press, tricep pull downs, and a few more things. I needed a more intense workout than what they made out for me. I plan to do chest, triceps, calves, and something else one day, then back and shoulders and biceps another, then legs and lower back and something else a third. Iíd rather burnout one muscle group than lightly work several. I also upped my cardio. I donít get tired anymore like before, but I do get bored. Oh, when I went to the gym last night I found a parking space right up front. I backed into it and stopped about 2 1.5 cm from a concrete embankment. Wow, that was close. I am one finger width away from hitting this thing. I donít think it is possible for me to be any closer.

     As I mentioned before, I had 4 classes with the 5th and 6th graders this week. Actually, as expected, I had only 2 with the 5th graders since I have never stepped foot in the 6th grade classroom with the current 6th graders. I think I have been to that class 4-5 times in the 2.5 years I have been here so I didnít expect anything. I see I have two more next week and I am not even going to ask the teacher about them. Anyway, the 5th graders did great with all the computer games I made. They were all about English letters both upper and lower case. Most games involve doing something in ABC order like chasing the letters that at moving around randomly. Iím working on some other games now.

     Earlier this week, I went to the gym. After the gym I went to the supermarket to get some food for the week. When I finished I sat in the parking lot for a minute opening a package of sushi to eat on the way home. They are small tuna rolls that are easy to eat without much effort. Anyway, I am sitting there and I notice a car pull up, look around and see there are no spaces, and then just park in a space that said ďdo not park here, this is for loadingĒ or something. Eh, who cares, he needed a space and couldnít be bothered, by parking in the back. Then another car pulled up, looked around, and parked more or less in the middle of the drive through area, but up against a light post in an area with stripes on the ground (to mean no parking). Then the best one was a woman who pulled up and went through the routine and then said, ďIím not handicapped, but this spot is so close, AND there are no consequences in Japan so Iíll just park hereĒ. She parked, got out, and walked into the store.

SIT DOWN.
Monday, January 28th, 2008

     I went down to Tokyo on Saturday with some friends and we went to see the first sumo tournament of the year. I had been before, but I enjoy going and I wanted to see a friend who was going with another group from another prefecture. I managed to talk to her a bit so that was fun. There were only 5 of us from Fukushima and we got tickets with 35 from a nearby prefecture. Overall it was a fun trip and really cheap since I took the cheap bus down and back and stayed in a capsule hotel. There was one thing that wasnít too fun thoughÖ

     And this has nothing to do with the group we went with since it happened when I led a FuJET sumo trip in January of 2006. We sat in the cheap reserved seats this time, and the less cheap reserved seats last time. We were in the 2nd to the top row which is fine. The group of 35 had reserved seats around us in the 2nd and 3rd rows from the top. It was a sold out tournament too. The key words there are ďreserved seatsĒ and ďsold outĒ. Logically that means everyone has one seat and there are no spare seats. But just as my group did in 2006, this group decided to sit wherever they wanted and move around frequently. I canít really understand this since you must know you are going to be sitting in someone elseís seat. If it were people sitting randomly within the block of seats they reserved, that would be no problem, but that would require people to stop and ask where it was ok to sit. They couldnít have the carefree attitude of ďIíll just do whatever I want and #&%$ the rulesĒ as so many foreigners in Japan have.

     There were about 6 foreigners sitting in front of us in seats that belonged to other people, a trivial detail. On top of that, they were really messy and spilled two cups of beer. Then the people showed up and said ďI think you are in our seatsĒ and the foreigners were somewhat shocked and surprised that they would have to move. Then one of the Japanese women pointed out that a foreigner had spilled a beer, but he just shrugged and said who cares. So she had to track someone down to mop it up.

     Then 2 people from the Fukushima group showed up a bit late and had no seats. Iím sure you can guess why. So they had to ask the group leader of the other group where their seats were, even though they knew, just so she would ask her friends to move to either their assigned seats (strange concept) or at least not our assigned seats. While they were sorting that out they were standing up. Some guy in the top row yelled ďSIT DOWN, PLEASE SIT DOWN, I have asked you 5 times to please sit down, SIT DOWNĒ. I mean he was yelling it. Everyone in the area turned and looked. My initial response was ďsomeone should throw a cup of beer on himĒ, but then I realized he was absolutely right. People (foreigners and Japanese) would just stand in the aisle or near their seats and chit chat. The way the building was shaped put them directly in peopleís line of sight. I know when my group went people were standing and chatting and doing everything BUT watching. These things are always social events where people try to show how cool they are around their friends.

     It was really funny watching this other group because I saw so many people acting exactly like people I know/knew. I think it would be interesting to study group dynamics. It seems that whenever a group forms, there are certain roles that are always filled. Certain people are always the center of attention, other people are always following them, etc. I think it would be interesting to learn more about it.

     In the end I did have fun, but I should have planned it for the 5 of us alone. There was no real benefit to going with the other group. I was thinking that 35 or so would go from Fukushima and they would all meet up with the other group and become friends and there would be peace on earth, but that was naÔve. Iím pretty much doing less and less with group planning and focusing more on one to one relationships. I had an interesting discussion with Stephanie the other day about two people doing something together versus three people. Thereís a different dynamic between 2-3 people and it is interesting to think about for me.

     Hmmm, this week I have the usual number of classes plus 4 with the 5th and 6th graders again. But really I just mean 2 with the 5th graders and even then I donít know what I will do. I have made a few more games so maybe thatís what I will do with them, but they are getting tired of the games. I need to make some fun game like an arcade style shooting game or adventure game.

Just to reiterate from above, the three greatest (winter time) inventions in the history of all life:

1) the remote control engine starter
2) the delay feature on my house heater
3) my electric blanket

Not Listening.
Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

     The school nurse came over and told me I had to go back to the doctor for my follow up visit next week, which I knew. I went and told the powers that be that this time I would really prefer to go to the hospital alone. Hereís how it went:

Me: I would really prefer to go to the hospital alone this time. Last time I really appreciated the school nurse going, but this time I would like to go alone.
Him: Thatís no problem, I totally understand.
Me: Great, so I will plan to drive straight there and get there a little earlier this time.
Him: Well she can leave here about 8:30 like last time.
Me: Ah, but this time I will be going alone as I just mentioned.
Him: Of course, I understand, that sounds great.
Me: Ok, so I will leave my apartment around 7am and get there around 7:45.
Him: Well I think she can leave school around 8:30.
Me: Thatís fine, but this time I will be going alone, by myself, one person alone, by myself.
Him: Yes, I understand.
Me:
Ok then, I will leave my apartment alone and drive straight there next week.
Him: I think she can leave here around 8:30.

     Itís still the strangest thing to me. Things are done in Japan the way things are done. People say whatever it takes to move a conversation along, but in the end things are going to happen the way they happen and I canít inject variables into them. They are received, processed, and ignored. Iím getting a bit tired of being treated like a child sometimes. Most of the time I appreciate the help and how people look out for me, but when I say I can do something by myself, such as go to the hospital and sit and wait for 3 hours, then I donít need another teacher to go with me. It would be different if she spoke English, but sheís just there to be there. Iím not even having minor surgery and I really feel bad about making her drive there and then wait for me.

Just Do It!
Thursday, January 31st, 2008

     First period I was an ALT with the 7th graders for English. The teacher is the 5th grade teacher who doubles as the JHS 1st year (7th grade) English teacher. Today it was class as usual and I was writing a comment on the board when the teacher started talking to the class. Then his voice got louder and everyone was quiet, then he threw down his book and kicked the desk. Oh, heís mad. I had to do everything I could to not smile or giggle. There was nothing funny about it and Iím glad he did it, but I always laugh or smile when I am not supposed. Itís like when someone says ďdonít think about _____Ē you have to think about it.

     He was mad because he was going around the room asking kids to translate each line of a paragraph and half the kids said they couldnít do it. They always say that and itís more or less a perfectly acceptable answer in Japan. Other acceptable phrases are ďI canít speak EnglishĒ which ironically usually comes out as ďI can-toe speak-U EngurishuĒ. I tell the kids they should say that, or they should say ďRyan, you and the English teacher are bad teachersĒ since they mean the same thing. The problem is the kids just donít try because they donít have to. If they try they do well and pass and move on, if they donít try they donít do well but still pass and move onĒ. Thereís no real concrete reason to do any work since you are going to pass either way.

     Still loving the remote engine starter. I can crank my car from inside my warm house and when I get there itís already toasty inside. Furthermore, if the heater is set to defrost, then the window is already warm which makes it much easier to clean. I might get electric slippers soon to use at school and I might get a new electric blanket since this one is weak in some areas. As in physical areas of the blanket arenít so warm. I should really decide how long Iíd like to stay so I could then decide what things I want to buy. There was one kitchen table-appliance thing I wanted, but itís about $150 so I might pass if I am only staying another year (from August). Honestly, my decision changes everyday. I have some big changes planned for this coming year (from April) so I will see how those go and then decide something.

     The big thing pushing me to leave now is how there is no punishment for not doing work. I have never had more than maybe 5-10% of a class do an assignment or any work at home. Often in class if itís not fun they wonít do it either. I canít send loud mouths out of the class room, nor can I do anything really. Even if you donít do ANY work in school or if you are rude to a teacher or if you donít even come to school you can still participate in sports and other activities. Kids know that and often take advantage of it. I would like to teach somewhere that kids, or adults, want to be there and want to learn English. Thatís why I love English Camp so much. They are the bright kids who want to learn and listen and do things and enjoy itÖand say thank you.

 

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