Sunday, January 11, 2009
More to come soon, but I'm back from 3 weeks with the parents. It was
70 degrees there (18C) and it is about 18F here with 3 feet of snow
(and counting). Argh.
Back in the SwingÖ
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Today was the first day back to the regular schedule. Most other AETs
and NTs came back last Wednesday, but I booked my flight to leave
Atlanta on the 8th which meant arriving on the 9th.
In retrospect I should have left earlier since I was really bored
sitting at home with the parents overeating everyday. Actually every
meal. We would eat a huge breakfast, then go out and have some huge
lunch somewhere and then follow that up with a huge dinner. A few days
I just couldnít do anything other than lie on the couch watching TV.
One day we ate at Ted Turnerís Montana Grill which serves Bison. Itís
supposedly leaner than chicken and it tasted rather well. We ate at
home mostly, but the meals were some oversized casserole of sorts.
My flight back was ok. It was about 9 hours to Minneapolis
and then 2 down to Atlanta. There was only a slight delay on the
runway since we had to be de-iced. I did realize one thing that I had
thought of before. People are stupid. In general, people are just
selfish moronic idiots. I am amazed at how consistently the obnoxious
people on a flight end up being the Christian missionaries and the
best passengers are military. This time there was some jerk arguing
with the check in lady about upgrading his seat. He didnít like his
placement and made several rude comments to her. Then on the plane
again he started out nice with the flight attendant, but when she
replied the flight was full he started to be rude again. Toward the
end of the flight he started talking, slightly too loud of course,
about how he was returning from a missionary trip somewhere. Something
similar happened on the way back, again with missionaries being the
cause, but this time they were just loud teenagers acting like normal
loud teenagers. Later someone asked where they were going and
magically they matured and explained they were going to Thailand to
spread the good word. As loudly as they could apparently.
My seating on the way back was crap. I am really sick of
Delta and wished they werenít they airline that flew direct from Japan
to the US. I specifically reserved the front bulkhead row middle seat.
There is no physical way in any form of hell that I would have
reserved the seat I was in. I was in the middle seat about 3 rows
back. It was extremely too narrow and I had to eat like I was a T-Rex.
I couldnít sleep, because I couldnít recline nor stretch my legs. The
awesome pre-teen behind me kept kicking my seat and the guy beside me
slept most of the trip. I will almost never wake someone to get out
which makes me miserable. Then the entertainment system messed up,
just like the last Delta flight I was on. The food was good though,
Iíll give them that.
The other annoying thing is it was a 15 hour flight,
thatís fine, so we ate lunch around 3 hours into the flight. Then we
chilled a bit. Then they shut the windows so we could sleep so I took
my two Nyquil gelcaps which put me in a coma. I never made it into
said coma since the seat was designed for a newborn (many of which
were screaming around me). So then I start to get drowsy and didnít
fully doze off, but went into a sleepy state. Then there was about 9
hours left on the flight so I figured they would wake us up around 2-3
hours from landing to feed us again. So I should have 6-7 hours to
sleep and then the meal and then landing. Nope, they served some
stupid (and yet tasty) sandwich at 6 hours to landing and then the
meal at 2, so that totally disrupted my sleep chance. Once I am woken
up once or twice I am up for good.
Getting to the airport in December was interesting. I took
a direct bus with some friends. We met at Erinís apartment at midnight
on December 20th (morning) and then made our way to the
station for the 1:20am bus. The bus was supposed to get us to the
airport around 6:30 or later, but since there was no traffic we made
it by 5:45am which gave us another awesome hour to kill. We were
literally the first people in the airport for several hours. Then we
helped some lost girl get to Korea. Then I had to leave for my flight
at 4:30 (I left around 2 something). We just sat there talking and
sleeping and walking around. It wasnít really as bad as I expected and
time seemed to go by faster than I thought.
Getting to the airport in Atlanta was more difficult.
There was some traffic and we were a tad later than we planned, which
was 2 hours in advance. Then I found a fast check in and was in
earlier than I thought. I realized in Atlanta (and other cities I
think) there is no exiting immigration. In Japan and Thailand and
Cambodia and Taiwan and so on, you pass through immigration and they
check you out of the country. In the US, you just go to the plane
after the security screening. That was ok and yet surprising.
I got back on Friday around 4 and went to a capsule hotel
where I crashed until 6am. Then I went
walking around and got breakfast at both McDonaldís and this meat-rice
place I love. Then I had Starbucks. The coffee caused me to find a
bathroom and I managed to find the cleanest and nicest ones in Japan.
Iím not even being sarcastic, the public bathrooms in the Asakusa
shrine are super cool and really nice. I encourage using them whole
heartedly. Later I made my way to Shinjuku to take the JR bus to
Koriyama, but all of them were full so I took the shink instead. It
was only $35 more and actually more comfortable and shorter. Then I
took a bus to my car and drove home. I had my bags delivered that day
between 6-8pm. Itís a super convenience and only costs $35 for two
huge heavy bags.
Click image for my Capsule Hotel page.
Since then I have been unpacking and catching up on
things. A friend got me into World of Warcraft which is an amazingly
big online role playing game. I never got into all the dungeons and
dragons stuff, but this is pretty cool. I am actually more interested
in the 3D programming involved. It would literally take me weeks to
constantly run around in it and explore everything, itís huge.
My main goal of the whole year is losing weight. Iíd also
like to save some money since I am tired of living check to check and
constantly being broke. Right now I have about $200 to my name, total.
Thatís sad and not good for my retirement future. Iím actually going
to stop typing this now and read about some creatine and whey protein
Last Winter I HopeÖ
Monday, January 19, 2009
This should be the last winter I spend in Konan since I hope to be
moving to Koriyama in April. I like Konan, but the winters are harsh
and the houses are pathetic. I should try to say something nice about
it, but really thereís not too much. Itís clean and has no mice or
critters, but there is no insulation and huge gaping holes in the
walls. They arenít things that arenít supposed to be there, I mean the
window will have a big area where air passes right in. I bought some
foam insulation, but it can only do so much. The second I turn off the
heater I can feel it start getting cold and shortly itís freezing. I
think the heater is forcibly pushing the cold air out and when I cut
it off it starts coming back in. The front wall is literally more than
50% window, just two huge sliding glass windows that I hate. I have no
balcony to hang clothes, I have to lean out the window and hang them
above the ground. Invariably at least one thing will fall from the
wind and get dirty on the ground. Plus I am on the first floor and can
never have my windows open since students passing by can see directly
The new place should be cool. There are three apartment
units that the BoE rents. One for the young cool hip AETs, one for the
less sociable less fun AETs, and the third one where I will be going,
the one for older no social life (most are married with kids) AETs.
That one is actually better location wise since I am closer to more.
The second one is a bit out of the way and people have a long bike
ride everywhere. The second one has more people I would hang out with
since they arenít married, but I can get a bike and ride out there.
The apartment itself is bigger with 2 bedrooms and a living room, plus
(my favorite part) a bigger shower, one that 3-4 people could use at
the same time. I barely fit in mine now and the tub is too short, but
this new one has a separate tub and shower. Thereís also a slightly
bigger kitchen and the toilet / bathroom sink are separate. Now I have
an aircraft bathroom more or less with a shower/tub built in. Itís
cozy, but I am a bit big for it.
Another awesome thing is that it is directly across from a
park. A big park no less that I can walk in or jog. I can also walk to
a post office, grocery store (multiple ones), and ATM, the BoE, the
other apartment unit (if there is a party). Wow, I feel like I will
actually be able to start living from April. I feel like my life is on
hold out here or I am in a holding pattern or 2-3 other generic HOLD
On a different note, I am starting to plan the next
English Camp and the next Konan Snow Day (where 21 AETs come out and
play with the kids in the snow.
Funny Things my Students WroteÖ
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Iím grading some papers from a review of the sentences the students
were taught (I didnít say learned). Here are some of the mistakes they
made that were not coincidentally rude:
Where is the CD? Itís in the dog. (in
Itís in the bog.
(in the dog in the bog)
This is my whores bag.
(this is my bag + whose bag is this)
This whore bag?
(whose bag is this?)
This is my dike.
He is wet.
(Howís the weather)
How long are you?
('How long does it take?' which is below 'How are you')
Itís man day.
Whereís my tit at?
(Whereís my CDÖ..that was a stretch)
I have ham dar.
(Iíll have a hamburger)
Use this pee.
(Use this pen.)
This is pee.
(Letís have lunch. Drop Ďhaveí R=LÖch is often written as T or Ti.)
Others were just too rude (coincidentally) to be listed here. The
students didn't mean to write rude things, it's just when they leave
out certain letters of certain words or add letters to others.
So So Week.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Monday and Tuesday were regular days with 1 class on each day.
Wednesday was a nice meeting in town with the other AETs. I talked
about the Konan Snow Play Day coming up February 20th where
all the AETs will come to my school and play with the kids. Then we
broke into three groups to talk about lesson plan ideas. Two were for
junior high school and one was for elementary. I was in the JHS one,
though I need more elementary ideas than JHS. My group didnít have any
major contributions, but a few people had some things to show. One was
Angela is an insane artist. She could easily draw manga in Tokyo with
the best of them. Some other people talked about problems they had at
school. Then I talked about some English camp ideas.
After that some of us went to Milky Way which is a
great semi-American style steakhouse. I over-ate mostly from the salad
bar, but it was all worth it. I had some big steak dish to go along
with my overloaded soup and salad dishes. After that I did laundry and
then drove past the gym. I didnít stop and go in like I should. Iíve
been lazy recently, but in my defense it is hard to wake up early,
work all day, drive 50 minutes in bad weather, and then have energy to
work out. I did stop by Trial (discount shop) and buy some needed
Then Thursday I went to Ohse JHS and had 4 great
classes. I really like the kids there and there seems to be no
annoying trouble makers. Maybe because one of the teachers is really
strong minded and strict, but in a good way. After that I planned to
go to the gym, but I managed to eat curry, buy protein, buy E.T. and
some other movies, and then drive past the gym again.
Today I had 3 great classes that went as planned. First
with the 8th graders I showed part of E.T. since there is a
chapter in the textbook that references the movie a few times. Itís a
good foreign movie thatís clean and no sex or too much language, itís
English listening, itís perfect timing since they are stressed with
end of the year things, and itís in the textbook. I couldnít ask for a
better combination. Then with the seniors I had them work on two high
school entrance test prep tests. It wasnít fun for them, but it was
worthwhile and educational and lasted the whole class time. Then with
the 7th graders they had to redo the lousy test the took
last week. Lousy as in no one did well at all, but this time offered
$5 Ryan Dollars for each perfect answer, and there were 60 questions.
A few students got all of them, but most were less than half. It took
was the whole class, though actually it went over a bit.
Tomorrow morning I assist with the national English
test. Itís at 8:30am which is fine since I would be up anyway. Iíll
get here and watch them take it and then go home or go into Koriyama.
Iíll probably play World of Warcraft all night tonight. Itís an
addictive online fantasy game. A friend got me hooked on it recently.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Iíve come to realize, and I think I have mentioned this before, junior
high school in Japan is not so much about education as it is about
forcing the kids to start fitting into the mold of being Japanese. It
is a mold and I donít mind saying that. They want everyone and
everything to be the same. They do not like deviations. My JHS years
were actually about education so itís hard for me to really understand
it here. Itís ok for students to miss tests and even school, but
missing, or being late to, club sport events is unheard of. A girl
took the national English test on Saturday and the second it was over
rushed to her fatherís car who sped her away to the tournament. Even
though our team wasnít playing for another 2 hours, she was part of
the group and the group is strongest when it is a whole and all
members are present.
Thatís another thing I have trouble with. Teachers who
live in the city will get up early and drive all the way to our school
to check in. Then drive all the way back to about 10 minutes from
where they live for some meeting. Then drive all the way back to the
school when the meeting is over, then all the way home. I had trouble
with this when I was a Fukushima JET years ago. I had to go to a
meeting near my house, but the school insisted I go to school (which
was past the meeting) and then backtrack. I was late to the meeting
and when I tried to explain (using logic) I realized I could only
apologize since there was no logic involved.
One part of the culture that makes me furious, though
thereís no way to change it (think bulldozer in a flower bed), is the
ďWe Japanese EndureĒ part. They constantly put themselves into absurd
Kafka-esque situations and then brag about how much they can endure or
how ďgreenĒ they are. There is zero insulation in my apartment and
gaping holes in the window where freezing air comes in unobstructed.
Why? Because Japanese can endure the cold and not complain. Hereís my
favorite part, by favorite I mean completely absurd, school girls in
JHS and SHS wear their skirts NOTHING ELSE ON THEIR LEGS socks and
these thin walk shoes in the snow. The snow and ice comes straight in
and they invariably walk to school in soaked freezing shoes and socks.
They then change at school into another pair OR sometimes they donít
if they donít have another pair.
There are two JHS girls that live a rockís throw from me
and I often pass them as I am driving the
6 minute walk to school. They are walking IN the road since there is
too much snow to walk the back way. They are in slush ice and about 2
inches of water wearing their skirts with their legs glowing bright
red from the freezing air. I have pants, thermals, two pairs of socks,
and my snow boots on and I am usually cold. This is stupid and
pathetic and I have nothing good to say about this part of the
culture. In any other part of the world, at least the logic based
English speaking countries, an unspoken policy like this would last
about as long as it takes someone to unspeak it. At the end of the
sentence parents and students alike would laugh in someoneís face and
say ďyea walk to school in sub-freezing temperatures wearing only a
skirt on my legs, ha, hereís my lawyerís number. Oh and blow it out
yourÖ.Ē But in Japan you do what you are told and donít complain.
That system works great if you are doing the telling, but
if you are on the receiving end then it sucks. It works great in
business since employees will come in as early as they are told, stay
as late as they are told, work as hard as they are told, come in every
single day of the year for 14+ hours if they are told. From a
management point of view itís great I suppose. Another aspect of the
culture that makes this seem great is the belief that you must do
whatever job you are assigned to the best of your ability. If I am
told to do something remedial and demeaning I will scoff and complain
and not do it very well. In Japan everyone does whatever they are
assigned to the absolute best possible extent. Thatís why things
produced in Japan are such high quality such as cars, electronics,
computers, games, mobile phones, etc.
I uploaded some photos of my apartment and someone
commented that there canít be strict building codes. I firmly,
honestly, and objectively believe there are ZERO building codes. Some
live in things I wouldnít want to call a tool shed. Itís like someone
had some spare wood and put it up to block only the wind, but not
preserve any heat or cool. My apartment is clean and well built (not
in the design sense) so I am happy about that, but the design is poor
in so many ways. The door jambs are less than 6 feet tall and yet many
Japanese people are over 6 feet. Two meters is the standard for public
buildings, so why not houses as well? I have honestly hit the top of
my head hundreds of times. There is a small indention in my head from
hitting it now. I usually look down in the apartment when I walk
around to avoid it.
More than 50% of my front wall is a huge window with two panels of
sliding glass. There are gaping holes where they meet the wood frame.
I have no balcony to hang clothes and invariably something falls to
the dirty ground. The roof is shaped in a way so that snow builds up
and then falls in a huge dangerous crushing chunk and piles up to form
a 6 foot plus mountain. This blocks the door and covers the stairs
DAILY. I have to constantly dig out a path to the car.
The bathroom is tiny and hot moist steam has no where to
go other than into my apartment &
causing mold and mildew. There is no central heating so the apartment
is constantly around freezing. I have no closet that is tall enough to
hang my clothes without them dragging the bottom. Nor do I have any
closets wide enough to hang clothes in. My sink is in the tiny
enclosed bathroom. My shower is in the tub and not wide enough for me
to stand in without pushing the curtain out with an extension bar. Iím
almost taller than the shower head. I canít shut the door and sit down
on the toilet. Thereís no dryer so I hang my clothes to dry for 4-5
days in the winter (or go to a laundromat).
I wear two layers of pants and 3+ shirts as well as two or
more socks while in the apartment. While in the US I would wear shorts
and a T-shirt while inside since we had two stupid things called
insulation and central heating. My kerosene heater heats up the place
cheaply, but I have to open the windows TWICE AN HOUR to air out the
fumes or it shuts down. Once the room is nice and toasty, I have to
open the windows and let it air out and cool down. Awesome. Simply
Overall itís a good job though. When I complain about
Japan itís not about the job so much as about these odd cultural
things that make life frustrating. The culture is so rigid you either
do what is done or you are left behind. No concessions are made. But
the actual job part of life here is close to great. There is some
pointless annoying downtime that is totally unnecessary, but when I am
working itís pretty cool. Again the culture gets annoying since it
allows kids to talk full volume in class and you canít kick them out
or their parents come to school and yell at you because their child is
rude. Once you learn to navigate around those things, you get into a
cool groove and the job can be fun.
Something that has been keeping me busy, on the verge of
an addiction, is an online role playing game called World of Warcraft.
Iím not into the role playing part, but the graphics and quests are
pretty cool. You make your character run around in this hugely
elaborate world and find people who send you on various quests. Then
you move up in power and get more difficult quests. I know the whole
stigma with that, but itís enjoyable and keeps me inside not spending
money on some boring weekends. I spent most of Sunday doing it and I
really didnít have anything else to do that wouldnít cost money. Itís
simply too cold to get out and do anything in Konan now, but maybe
when I move I will be able to get out more.
Friday, January 30, 2009
The group environment in Japan is, at best simply different and takes
getting used to, but sometimes itís flat out annoying. There are
several students I know in both elementary and junior high school who
exceed in English, but will not respond in class because it would
single them out as better than the group. They will act like they
donít know the answer since thatís what everyone else is doing (though
others genuinely donít know the answer). Most of the time this is
really a pain in the butt and is one of the cultural things that hold
kids back from learning here.
But I have found an activity that works incredibly and is
group based so they actually do it. Japanese people are fiercely
competitive, but thatís seen most often when groups go against other
groups. In this activity I have the class divide into 4 person groups
and number themselves 1-4 (or 3 or 5). Then I write a category on the
board such as Animals and tell group 1ís number 1 person to tell me
one such as ďdogĒ. Then group 2ís number 1 tells me another. This
keeps going around and then the number 2 people tell me one and so on.
Eventually it gets really tough and students have to really remember
English. If they canít answer within 10 seconds they get a ďbuu buuĒ
noise and that group is out for this round. The pressure makes them
plan ahead and have multiple answers ready.
I did this first with JHS students at Ohse and they came
up with all sorts of whacked answers. I literally had about 100
answers on the board for sports and then school subjects. They were
saying things I could never have imagined and actually had far more
answers than I could think of in English myself. Then I did it this
week with the 5th graders and they had about 80 animals on
the board such as walrus, squid, dolphin, flamingo, polar bearÖ I
never taught them that so where did they learn it? They had to say it
in English too so itís not like they were just reciting animals they
knew in Japanese. It was amazing and the best part is it takes up the
whole class, itís fun, and it takes ZERO preparation on my part.
On the flip side of me being happy is when I showed a
movie in class. I always show E.T. to the 8th graders since
there is a bit in the book about it and itís a great all around movie
encapsulating American culture, science fiction, and a great sad and
clean story. Well, of the 29 kids in the class about 10 were doing
other homework. I was so annoyed at this I almost stopped it. Next
week when I show the conclusion I am going to tell them to not bring
anything to the class. I am considering writing a letter and saying
ďitís really hard for me to show movies in class. You will never again
have a class like mine where you can watch a movie over three weeks.
High school isnít like this and no other teachers do this. If you want
to study, we can study or you can stay in the classroom to work, but
donít study in my class during a movie. I donít think you would study
math during XX-senseiís science class? Why do you do it in my class?Ē
I might do it.
Last night I went to the Indian food place with Matt and
we talked about how to practice for the high school interview. I gave
him some tips that are easy to implement since the students prefer
things they can memorize like a script rather than free talking. The
interviews are rigidly precise and we as AETs are able to prepare
students for most of it. Of course the content is different each time,
but even then there are things that are similar and can be taught.
Then we talked about our online RPG game we are playing. Well I am
just starting he has mastered it. He has a character my level so we
play at the same time (I avoided saying play together or play with
each other). Since he ďreferredĒ me we get bonus points forÖbeing
online at the same time in the game environment. It has actually saved
me some money since I donít just sit around eating and it gives me
something to do at home rather than go into town and pay for gas,
parking, food, etc.
The bad news about last night was the Indian food place
has changed and there are new owners with new ideas and menus. The
food was ok, but we agreed the old place was a tad better. Food wasnít
as spicy, no one understood English or Japanese, portions were
differentÖbut still ok overall. I
had a mango lassi after dinner which apparently had yogurt in it since
it rocked my digestive system in an epic way. I donít want to get into
it, but wow. Itís like a judge saying ď30 days in the county prison or
drink this.Ē I might go back to the place, but I am now tempted to try
others. The owner and workers were nice though.
We havenít had much snow recently in Konan. For about the
first week of school in January it was a blizzard every day and we
racked up a few feet. I had to dig myself out often and constantly use
4WD on the Pajero, but lately Iíve been getting by with 2WD which
saves gas in a big way.
Things from studentsí journals:
* I lick cake everyday.
* I play the gut hair.