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Letís Preparing.
Thursday, March 1st, 2007

      Have you ever noticed how stupid baseball pitchers look when they are in a still photograph? They aren't moving and just captured in time. To me it often looks like their arm is broken or contorted in some strange way.

      There are no classes today. Not just for me, but everyone. 1-2 periods are some self study thing, 3-4 are graduation practice, 5-6 are for a school council meeting. Itís a little funny about the school council thing. They are going to take suggestions and then plan some activities for the next year, but coincidentally all the previous years have been the same. Itís just one of those things where we have to go through the motions and appear to be planning new things. I should have taken a day off, but itís a Thursday and I have nothing to do. Iíll use the time to catch up on some things I can do at school.

     The main thing is I am trying to plan out my whole year of classes so I donít have anymore of these last minute no plan classes. Iíve made a sheet with about 32 spaces for each grade and I am marking off things like ď3 for Goonies, 3 for various tests, 1 for A/An/TheĒ and so on. The next step will be to make some activity for all the grammar points I want to reinforce and then try to line those up to happen after the other teacher teaches them in Japanese. I try to reinforce the important points rather than teach too much. There are certain things the kids consistently have problems with and JHS should be a time to get a good foundation to build on.

     I donít have a good foundation in Japanese which is mostly my fault and partially the way itís taught. I casually took a Japanese class my last quarter of graduate school. It was just for kicks and possibly due to a cute girl being in the class. Then I didnít study for a while and went to Waseda Univ in Tokyo to study more. Then no studying and finally to Japan. So all that is my fault. The part that is not my fault is the way Japanese is taught. There is a base form for verbs, but we are taught the polite form first because itís more important to always be polite to the delicate Japanese people than to build a house with a solid foundation. There are several other things that should be taught differently as well. One big thing is I think for the first day or two a native English speaker who speaks Japanese should explain things.

     Things like how everything is a state of being. You arenít angry in Japanese, you are in a state of feeling anger. Angry is a verb, to be angry. Japanese people and the language donít focus on I or YOU, both of which are semi-impolite to say, they focus on groups and implied subjects. There are several layers of Japanese, you canít always learn by what you hear. Women and men have different words, superiors to inferiors have different words, and then there are dialects and other nuances within those layers. You donít just learn the language you have to learn the culture as well. Part of you must become Japanese. Eventually you have to stop thinking in English and translating, you have to start thinking the Japanese way. Adjectives are conjugated. Songs donít rhyme because all verbs end in U. And so on and so on. There are so many things that just need an initial English explanation. Some things wonít make sense until much later in your studies, but when you learn them you wonít be confused or surprised. They donít/wonít teach that way so when I learned a new structure it took me a while to feel ok with it.

     Hereís one example I am working on now. Transitive and Intransitive verbs always have the same preceding particle. One takes O or WO, the other takes GA/WA/and something else. Itís like ďthe door has been openedĒ versus ďthe door is openingĒ versus ďI opened the doorĒ. Or maybe ďraise your handsĒ versus ďthe screen is risingĒ. You canít put IS into the RAISE sentence. Itís the same in Japanese, but we are just taught all these verbs and then have to come back later and learn and figure out which particle they take and try to memorize that. My idea is to teach the verbs with a preceding particle in parenthesis so people will always know to say them together.

     Oh I was wrong about todayís schedule, but itís no big deal. 1-2 was graduation practice, 3-4 was the student council meeting. 5-6 will be the rigid farewell party, though they arenít leaving for a while. I think they may have the option of attending a few days though. During the student council meeting I left and went to the post office and mailed two packages. I shipped them sea mail which takes two weeks to get to Thailand and thatís fine. Although the price was only a few bucks short of express airmail, gotta love Japan sometimes. Thatís another thing I can mark off my ďto do this weekĒ list. It feels great getting things done like that. Tonight I have to pack for the night schoolís graduation and ski day, but I can leave all my international festival things here and pick them up later.

     We just had the senior farewell party. By party I mean rigidly scheduled function. TO the point of ďplease feel emotional now. Ok stop. Now we will have a heartfelt speech by a freshmanĒ. The part that really bugs me is the whole lack of presentation. Iíve always been really aware of little things in a presentation and I try to explain some of them here, but I donít understand the culture enough. For example, last year some boys were dressed like girls and were going to sing something. I tried to get them to have the curtain closed and start the music and then start singing as the curtain opens. They all agreed it was a great idea and they did it, only after they each stepped out of the closed curtain so everyone in their ďgroupĒ could see them. People in a group shouldnít know something more than the others. These boys had more information about something (just their surprise costumes) and they had to share that with the group as soon as possible. They totally ruined any surprise aspect of it.

     What bugged me today was the video they played and how they played it. I expect these 14 year old country kids to have little or no video making experience, thatís fine. But there are some basic things that are just so annoying. One example was when, in the edited video, someone put a camera down on the ground and filmed part of the wall and part of someoneís legs and a lot of the floor. FOR AN ENTIRE MINUTE. Arenít you editing this? Doesnít that mean cutting out these parts? Then there were several handheld camera views that moved around so much they were almost nauseating. Then people would talk 30 feet from the microphone and it sounded like someone was crumbling paper by the mic. I couldnít physically hear half of it.

     My possible favorite absurd part was partially caught on film. Well digital non-film. Anyway, the 8th graders (second years) sang a cool song to the seniors (3rd years). But some of them might not have known all the words. So a teacher held up cue cards. He was standing about 50 feet from the closest kids, it was a bit dark, and best of all it was orange words on pink paper. I couldnít read the card from one foot away. It was so absurd I had to snap a photo.

     Another amusing part that wasnít absurd, just funny, was when they released the contents of the magical ball of pure happiness. It really has some dumb name like that and I forgot. Anyway, they gathered the seniors under it and pulled the cord and I snapped the photo. I should have used video so you could see it fall and swing and hit two kids and knock them over. It was great. They werenít hurt, but it was so slapstick movie like and it happened so fast.


 

This Makes No Sense.
Friday, March 2nd, 2007

      I played Uno with the 6th graders since it was our last class. I made new easy to read sheets about what to say in English and when. They said the English things far more than usual, but the really strange thing I noticed was how they played. It was so completely different it might not even be called Uno. First when someone plays a Draw 4 card the next person can put the same card down and not draw 4, but the next person has to draw 8. Ok, that might be an actual new rule, but itís not at all how I remember. Then if you canít play a card you just draw one and get skipped. Eh, no you keep drawing until you can play. Sometimes they would put any card down. Like someone would play a Red 5 and the next card was a Green 6. I think you can play any Red or Wild card, or a 5, but a Green 6? What?

     When class was over they gave me a nice Shikishi (she key she) which is a nice piece of stiff cardboard with gold edges and glitter. People block off little areas and write messages. I was trying to do that for the seniors graduating, but itís going to be just sheets of paper instead. Iíll be happy when these 6th graders are JHS students. They seem eager to learn English and I plan to push them. They have 28 kids so it will be just one class which I think I am looking forward to. Several times I will do something in one class and then have to duplicate it for the other. Though most of my friends have 7-12 classes per grade so I am really be selfish about it.

     Today around 1 I will go home and finish packing and then drive to Fukushima city for the last graduation (that I will attend) of the night school. These kids were 1st graders and really cool when I first went to the night school. Since they are leaving and the teacher I like there is leaving, I have no real reason to go back again. This year will be odd since itís a new VP and principal, but the party will be cool. Although I canít drink too much because I have to wake up around 6:30 and leave by 7ish to get to the ski place by 8 and rent a board and then take snowboard lessons from my friend who probably doesnít like run on sentences like this one nor does he like the fact that I will leave the ski slope in the afternoon and go home for a bit and then head out to the Big Palette international festival.

     I am really confused and slightly miffed about how some students donít have to attend classes. Itís always 1-2 per year. One kid has pretty hardcore emotional things which is fine, but why even go to this school The ones I am slightly miffed about are the girls that seem normal though slightly shy and possibly just donít like crowds or something. Iím making these thank you cards as mentioned above and, although I really need some comments from about 20 more people from one class I gave the packet to a lady whose daughter is in the class, but doesnít come to school much. The phrasing is always ďshe doesnít feel up to it todayĒ. For people with cancer or something, that phrase means a lot. I could be wrong about her and she could have some disease and be really fighting to be here, but she really seems normal on the rare occasions she shows up. Anyway, I gave the lady these sheets that I really needed to have a school for the other kids to finish, and said please bring them back tomorrow (today Friday). She said fine. I asked the lady about it today and she said they were in the car, but her daughter ďdidnít feel up to it last nightĒ. COME ON itís just writing. You can't even wiggle your wrist after I went to all the effort to include you as part of a group you are barely in? Hulk no like.

     I was dead wrong about the cultural thing where I thought it was ok to talk when others are talking. I think it may be a school thing where teachers are considered lower than whale crap in the Marianaís Trench. We had that visiting weight lifter guy come and talk and none of the kids chatted during it. Iíd say maybe three times some kids would turn their heads to whisper and some teacher would point at them and shut them up. Everyone was great and I really donít understand the reason they are allowed to chat during other times.

More ESP.
Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

      I left school on Friday around 1:30 and came home. I concluded I should leave by 3 to get there at 4 to check in and rest for a bit before heading to Fukushima Chuo High School early. I wanted to chat in the teacher's room before sitting in the principal's office sipping too hot tea and listening to too fast ultra-formal Japanese with other visiting dignitaries.  I managed to leave around 3:30 and arrive at 4:50. I parked my car in this parking tower at the hotel which is always odd. It's like a graveyard for cars. They are all stacked up and it just fades into darkness. It feels weird, but it sure is convenient.  Then I got something to eat since we wouldn't eat until 8:30 and it would be "not enough, but really tasty" as usual. Then I took a taxi to the school and walked in at 5:30, for the 5:50 start. I was immediately ushered to the principal's office since we must acknowledge rank first and foremost. It would have been rude of me to say hello to the teachers first.

     I sat in the room with some other teachers, a few I knew, most I didn't. Most people were PTA or alumni related somehow. Then we all filed into the gym. As we walked in all the (30) graduates were standing outside and were really surprised to see me. One girl's name is Eri and she was a really great kid. Every time I would call on her in class I would point to my collar since in Japanese collar is "eri". So when I saw her this time I did it and she had that smile like "wow you remembered that". It was a good time. I took a photo of her and her boyfriend and two other cool kids with my phone after the ceremony. The kid on the left was talkative, but would be quiet when it was time to be quiet. The spiked hair dude was just a good kid that would participate. There are a few kids in that class that were loud and annoying, but they aren't in the photo. There was one other girl I wanted a photo with. She sat right near the front and always smiled. For graduation she wore an authentic kimono and looked really nice. I should have taken my camera, but I forgot it along with my belt.

       So where is the ESP then? Well this morning I woke up and realized I had $20 and needed more for the ski day. I went to an ATM in the 7-11 which are open 24 hours. I still love how Japanese ATMs close at 5 on Sundays, or don't even open. It wouldn't give me money because it said I couldn't use that ATM card there. Hmmm, seems like I had a problem before at that same place so I will go somewhere else. I go back and get dressed and leave and then stop at a few more 7-11s and they all say the same thing. I can only figure it's because my card is slightly chipped on one end. It's been cracked for a while and I keep thinking how I should get the card replaced since it is 5 years old and been used a lot. So I ignored all those silly thoughts and now I can't use the card.

     Ok so maybe that's not ESP, just some kind of seeing the future or something. Anyway, I leave and drive over the mountain. The weather was great and there were several majestic views. As much as I don't like snow, snowy mountains are nice in the crisp cool air. I get to the ski place and Amy pulls up. She is in charge this year. I gave her a map for some bars around Koriyama station and then showed her the new place where we get the tickets from. From the tickets are gotten. Whatever. So then I tell her I can't participate and I tell this guy I can't take lessons today as well. I was really hyped about getting lessons from him on snowboarding since he cuts through all the crap and gets right to the nitty gritty. Then I hung around for a minute since I didn't want to leave and come back here and do nothing all day. But then I was just the freaky old guy hanging around for no reason so I had to leave.

     It was one of those days where you aren't where you are supposed to be. I had been looking forward to the ski slope for so long, but now I was driving back to my apartment. It just didn't feel right. It reminded me of the few days I would skip school as a kid and go to a doctor or dentist appointment with my mom. It just felt strange not being in school, like I was behind the scenes for a play about my life. When I got home I didn't have anything to do so I slept for a few hours. I wasn't really tired, but it was my default Stand By mode. Tomorrow should be alright though. I will get to the big palette around 8 and wait for Amy and help her with her Jambalaya booth.

     Oh, on the way up there I was a stupid driver for a brief moment. I was the type of driver I would honk and scream at. In Japan they have strange traffic lights sometimes. I'll get a picture of this one particular view that's really strange. In this case I came to a red light and stopped, but after I looked for a minute I noticed there were two lights. One light was red and seemed to say Bicycles the other light was in the traffic light location and was green. I was flustered and just stayed and since people are polite in Japan, no one honked. Then it changed red and I realized I what happened. I snapped a shot with my phone. Why would you have a traffic light looking light for bike crossing? How about a red X or anything that is not a traffic light. Anyway, I can admit it, I was the stupid driver for that moment.

 

WhapÖright in the kisser.
Monday, March 05, 2007

      Japanese culture can really slap you in the face. Iíd have to say most of the time itís frustrating. My job is great and the kids are great and the only complaints I have stem from J-culture. Todayís entry comes from the Big Palette festival yesterday. Amy and I and a few others ran a food booth selling Jambalaya while some others ran the face painting booth. The FPB was slammed the whole time as usual, but our booth received only average sales. The reason for that was explained to us several times by a staff member.

      She came over and explained that people weren't stopping because we were internationalizing them in the proper way. We explained we are an American booth with American food and we are greeting them in our own way. She said this was not acceptable and we needed to attract customers in the Japanese way, otherwiseÖand this is the best part, otherwise the Japanese people wouldnít know what to do. Ah, I could see how that would be confusing. We are a restaurant selling one thing for $5, there are too many options for the Japanese people to understand. Thereís you giving us money and us giving you food andÖ.well... no thatís it. HOW HARD IS IT TO FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO?

      None of this mattered. She came back three times and explained we needed two people out front saying ďThis is American food, how about trying someĒ. She went on to say they wouldnít know we were selling food unless they heard that phrase. Again, we were a restaurant with signs in Japanese explaining what we were selling. Oh and also we were in the MIDDLE of the food court. Then it got better. We also need to stop what we were doing when a potential customer approached and greet them. Everyone in the booth should stop, bow to 45 degrees for 3 seconds, and say ďgood morningĒ or ďgood afternoonĒ in a polite and clear voice. Otherwise the Japanese people would be confused. She said the customers would feel uncomfortable if they werenít greeted this way. We explained we are an American booth selling American food and we donít greet people like that in America. Irrelevant. Resistance is Futile.

      We tried to explain this was an International festival with several different cultures and customs and the whole purpose was for people to see and try new things. Then she flat out told us, no itís not. In not so many words and quite the roundabout way she said this festival was for Japanese people to remind themselves of their Japanese-ness. To see how other people and cultures around the world are still growing and evolving. Japanese people donít want to learn new ways of doing things, but they need things to reinforce their beliefs. Basically, from what I could understand from her little discussion was that this festival was for everyone to show how close to the advance Japanese culture they have become. The fashion shows, the food booths, all the cultural exhibits were basically for people to look down at and remind themselves of their superiority.

      Perhaps there is a more delicate meaning than this and she just couldnít explain it, but the way she explained it matches with how they wanted us to act. They wanted us to fit in certain molds. Molds that would present us in a way that we were expected to fit into and would not be surprising or disruptive to the status quo. She was polite the whole time and smiling so it was like being slapped with a velvet glove as it always is. Eventually we just started ignoring her and smiling when she came by. Everyone that tried the Jambalaya said it was great, but our problem was getting people to try it.

      IF I do something next year it will be much easier and less ingredients. We spent a while chopping onions, celery, green peppers and other ingredients. Then mixing them and cooking and waiting and serving. I still want to do the hotdog idea since it would be so fast to cook them especially if I let people serve their own condiments. It would just me someone boiling about 25 at a time for 10-15 minutes and then someone putting them in buns and handing them to people. But I donít want to deal with all that ďyou must do it this wayĒ attitude. If they even have the festival again, I might just do the face painting booth since that was packed and always a blast.

      The other slap in the face was with my stupid ATM card. I couldn't use it since the corner was broken so the machine was rejecting it. I get that. There was a scam in the past where people made the fake things and shoved them into the ATMs and got out money. So I take a half day off and drive all the way into Koriyama to go to the main branch of my bank and explain the situation. I'm told I need my name stamp, because a signature means nothing in Japan. Understand this, a name stamp that someone could easily duplicate or steal is secure, advanced, and fool proof. A signature that is different for each person and takes and expert to duplicate is worthless. So I had to forget the whole thing and just have lunch.

      I tried to find the Mexican restaurant, but it was no where to be found. They gave me a little map and it said it was right across from Ito Yokado which is a grocery store, but I drove all around that area and there was nothing. ARGH. Fine. I drive back to school and explain the situation and take all of Tuesday off since there are no classes at all.

I Feel a Stroke Coming On.
Tuesday, March 5th, 2007

      I had this really strange dream. I was in prison somewhere and it was all so real. There was nothing that was dream like. I was flying or falling or naked, just in prison. Once we were sitting in a room listening to instructions and I had a Gobstopper in my mouth and the guard came over and made me spit it out. That was the most unusual part of it. Other times we were in the cell having normal conversations. Once I was walking around the corridor, but nothing really strange. It was so real that it scared me.

      Then I got dressed and shoveled more snow. It's almost all gone, but what's left is in clumps and is melting slow. I broke it up and moved it around so it would melt faster. Then I drove into town with everything I could possibly need to get a new ATM card. I had my name stamp, my bank book, the broken card, and my ID. I got to the bank and filled out the form and had a horrid thought. The Japanese banking ďsystemĒ here is whacked. I have an account not with a banking system so much, but with one branch of it. If you want to deposit money in someone's account you have to send it to them via transfer, you can't just go to a bank and deposit it unless their account is at that branch. So I could see them saying ďoh you have to go to Fukushima City to get this done since we don't have telephones or systems that connectĒ. Luckily I was wrong about that. She took all the info and charged me $10 and said it would be about a week.

      Then it's lunch time and I was going to find this stupid Mexican restaurant that had a booth and Mexi-Truck at the festival. I drove all around the area again and finally asked the corner store where it was. She drew me this map and I said thank you and knew she was horribly wrong. It had me going the other way and turning down the wrong way, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt and followed the directions. First she said turn left and then right at the big light. Then three lights down I would see Ito Yokado on the right. I should turn left there. I knew this was wrong because I could see Ito Yokado on the left now. So I drove through one...two...three and there's....oh crap it's the corporate headquarters of Ito Yokado on the right. So I turned left and boom, there was LA Amigo (I think it would be La Amiga or El Amigo). So I go to the door and they are only open for dinner. ARGH. Well at least I found it. Then I drove around and did some smaller errands and came home and checked my email and found.....

      I got an email from the girl that ran the food booth that I helped with. She said the group that planned the whole festival was furious that we didn't take our garbage with us. Furthermore they were really mad that we carelessly dumped rice into a garbage bag with some nice postcards for the JET Program and some American flags as well. She got a nasty email from someone about it so I wrote back and said I would ask for more info. I got an email about it as well and replied with this:

 

The postcards and flags weren't in the trash. The rice was dumped into the bag of things to take home. The only rice we dumped in a bag trash bag was dumped before 10am when we realized the big red cooker didn't like the fast setting and made crap rice. We took 4 big bags of garbage and thoroughly checked our area. The only thing I can guess that happened was we packed all our stuff up and took it out to the car and while we were at the car someone came and took the bag. Then we went back to check our area and it was all clear no bags or trash. I'll apologize for leaving early and not helping people take stuff down, but the rice in the bag that was left was an accident.

You can tell them that it will 100% never happen again. I can say this whole heartedly because I will never participate in this festival or any FIA festival again. Definitely not a food booth and probably not the other booth. We had to beg the face-painters to get the stuff ready and be there on time. There are several reasons why, but this was the breaking point.

First of all, is it remotely possible that we put the flags and the post cards in a bag to keep and somehow rice was accidentally dumped in it? I mean it's not like there was some mad rush for everyone to get out of the BP as soon as possible. Oh wait, yes there was. We weren't even finished serving when someone took our tables and started tearing down our walls.

Secondly, we were repeatedly told to be more Japanese. They told us we needed two people out front saying "amerika ryouri wa ikaga desu ka" and we should bow 45 degrees and say irasshaimase. But we were selling American food at an international festival. We don't do that stuff in America. I thought it was about presenting different cultures, but the way it was explained to us was that Japanese people would be confused and not know what to do if they didn't hear those things. I would imagine it would be hard to figure out what to do in the food section of a festival at a booth that sold one thing.

Thirdly, exactly how is soba and Japanese curry an international food? They sold out first and took business away from the other actual international food booths. Not to mention the soba people took up the entire sink with their three washing and cooling trays of water.

Fourthly, the things on stage were all too loud and rarely international. The only international things I remember were the kids singing in English and the international fashion show. Both of which were interesting. But then the crotch grabbing mask wearing dance stomping group got up and danced and stomped and how was this international?

Lastly, for an international festival there was an amazing lack of English. None of the forms were in English, any English info we needed went through you. The meeting last month had no English and it was just really difficult.

But the big thing is how they instantly jump to the thought that foreigners just leave trash. What was left? One bag with some JET postcards and some American flags and some rice. Is that all the trash we generated from 8am to 4pm? Where did all the cans go? What about the food scraps? The paper plates? Those metal sheets we bought on the spot to protect the wall from the fire? All our posters and streamers and other garbage? They went to my house and to Amy's house. But we leave one small bag of stuff with rice accidentally dumped in it and it means we can't follow directions and are rude and simply don't care about those nice Japan postcards. There are no other possibilities other than that. We must be rude foreigners who can't understand the polite Japanese way of doing things. That's what did it for me.

I'm not at all mad at you and I apologize if you have caught crap because of this. This has probably made your work environment difficult and for that I apologize. We didn't do anything intentionally wrong. We are quite upset that the cards are ruined as they were nice postcards and we wanted to pass them out elsewhere and/or mail some of the cards to people. The festival has been the highlight of the year for me for the past 4 years, but this one was no fun. Last year we sold a lot of Philly Cheese Steaks and people seemed to enjoy it, but this year the vibe was different. You can say we are sorry for being so disrespectful. It really doesn't matter to me, I am finished trying to push a round peg through a square hole.

Ryan

 


 

      That's really a shame since that festival, up until this year, was the highlight of my year. I really looked forward to it. But this year, they just really wanted us to be more Japanese. They don't want to be internationalized, they want to see how ďthe others liveĒ. When they instantly assumed we just didn't care, that's when it broke for me. This is the part of Japan I hate. It's such polite racism and intolerance. I think it's called Xenophobia, fear of anything different. They even wanted an apology from us for being so rude and leaving trash. If we were to have apologized in person and explained it was a mistake they would have ignored that and yelled at us for about an hour about how we should respect foreign cultures. Itís the irony of it all that makes my want to explode.

      I am still bummed about the whole situation. I had big plans for next year and was deciding if I wanted to sell hot dogs or sell Burmese wooden crafts as a fundraiser for BaanDada.org. I could still do either at the Aizu International Festival which is more about internationalizing and less about being Japanese.

New Magical Powers.
Wednesday, March 6th, 2007

      Throughout the weekend and then some Monday and Tuesday, shoveled snow and broke it up into smaller melt-able chunks. Last night it had all melted and I was pleased. Yesterday as I went around to various places it was so hot I had to take my coat off and later my pullover thing. I was just wearing a button up and t-shirt. Then this morning I wake up to see an inch of snow on the ground. I have the amazing ability to make it snow. I can either will it to happen or just clean all the snow in one area. This is the third time it has snowed right after I cleaned it all. This time it should melt soon. The big problem was when it slid off the roof and formed a little mountain range which took forever to melt.

      Oh hereís a nice bonus. I just received $270 as a refund for living in the teacherís house. I really donít know what I should do with it. I am really tempted to buy an iPod Nano, but I think I am going to be smart about this for once. I still havenít paid for my alternator and that will be around $300-500. I guess that is what I will do. I have bought whatever I wanted for years and it caused me to go way in debt. I canít complain about being broke if I buy things like iPods. ARGH. Though I do plan to start a $100 a month savings plan to buy some big things I need like a dryer, a bike, and that couch-bed. Itís so silly not having a dryer, especially in the winter. The bike is just so I can explore the area easier and go farther. The couch bed is because there is no where to sit in my apartment, just my computer chair and bed.

      The more I think about this money, the more I think the universe is testing me. Itís like ďwell he has been paying off his debts and weíve been throwing little obstacles in the way, so letís give him a chance to see if he has learned his lesson.Ē So thatís exactly what I am going to do. I am going to send all of this plus some to the car place as soon as they send me the bill. Speaking of the bill itís been almost a monthÖcheckingÖyea Friday will be one month. I mean I am glad they didnít make me pay on the spot, but I would think they would have sent the bill by now. I was planning to pay it over two months, but this will be nice to pay it off at one time.

      Iím falling behind on paying my 2nd loan down since these new bills have come up. But my target date was the June paycheck at the latest so I should be alright. I owe $1,600 and have 4 more paychecks. This paycheck will be tight since most will go to the language school in Tokyo, but since I am staying with Daisuke it will be pretty cheap. Iíll have to take him out to dinner a few nights as ďrentĒ. Then on the Wednesday of spring break Iíll have to take a bus back, go to the farewell party, and then bus back down the next day. Iím sure the language school will let me shuffle my classes. Maybe take a 3 hour lesson twice to make up for missing a two hour lesson.

      One of the 2nd grade girls has a shirt that says ďPublic FavorĒ on the back, in English no less. I donít quite know what that means, but it sounds sleazy. Maybe there is something on the front to explain it, but most likely itís just bad English. Another example is the used goods store around Japan called Hard Off. It means hard things, such as furniture, marked off. But either way it still sounds bad. It reminds me of when a student was writing about her family and she wrote: ďMy mother is easy. Everyone in town likes herĒ. Iím sure she meant easy going or easy to get along with, but still. Public Favor, hmmm.

      I am going to cook a big gumbo sometime soon and just dump anything into it. I want to see if I can make a weekís worth of food at once. But then after a week Iíll get sick of it and never want it again. I want to make some casseroles, but many require some small ingredient that I probably canít find. I consider leaving it out, but then maybe itís like yeast and bread dough. Kinda important even though itís really small. I bought an aluminum pan to make a better pizza so maybe I will try that soon. I donít think the local grocery store is open today so I canít make either of the above, but I should have something left over somewhere.

      Hmmm, other big newsÖwell nothing ďbigĒ per se. I put my child sized refrigerator up on a child sized desk that was in the apartment so now I donít have to bend over to the floor to get things. In Japan, everything is on the floor. You sit on the floor half the time, you sleep on the floor (unless you have a bed), there are tons of floor appliances, there are tables designed for the floor, there are computer desks for the floor, and much more. I just donít like living on the floor. Iím too tall and it takes too long to get up. I donít want to buy a big fridge since that would be a few hundred bucks, so I will just prop it up. Oh, I also put my kitchen table in the closet since I was only stacking stuff on it. Thatís about what I did yesterday.

Boredom
Thursday, March 8th, 2007

      We have tests for the 1st and 2nd year JHS kids. The seniors are either goofing off at school or taking the second round of entrance exams. Some people didnít pass or do well the first time and have a chance to retake the test. I havenít been near the seniors this morning, as it is only 9am, so I donít know who is here and who isnít. I still have several kids who need to sign the thank you sheets to teachers so I might wander in a minute and try to get more messages.

      The Big Palette email attacks have subsided. Both sides have calmed a bit, though Iím still not participating next year, at least not with a food booth. There is the slightest chance that I might participate selling those wooden Burmese goods for BaanDada.org, but even that is unlikely as Japanese people only do charitable things at certain times of the year. Anyway, the last message I received said they understood it was a mistake and the JET that works there will be presenting our views at their meeting soon. I doubt they will be well received. I would imagine it will just reinforce their beliefs that foreigners canít follow directions and do what we want and then complain about it. I donít care anymore, at least not where the Fukushima International Association is concerned. She even printed out my email and gave it to the lady in charge. That one from above that was a little harsh, but life goes on.

      I just went to the 1st class of the seniors and helped them put up banners and streamers for graduation. While they were working I would go around and have one kids to write some messages in the blank spaces of the thank you sheet. Then as they got busier I had them just write their name so I could track people down one by one. We are getting close and I hope to finish tomorrow some time since there is only today, tomorrow, and Monday. I really doubt there will be any time Tuesday when teachers or parents arenít around. Iím afraid there will be some blank spaces since some kids have been absent for a while.

      I was just typing something and accidentally hit some random key that sent me into the useless Overwrite Mode. I donít even know why this feature is still around since you can just highlight what you want and change it that way. Then I spent about 30 minutes doing a useless Google search for ďdisable overwrite wordĒ only to find a whole community out there of people who believe the same thing. Whenever I switch into Overwrite Mode, I have to save the file and shut down Word and then reopen it. Thatís the only way I have found to solve it. I know there is a simple key stroke or shortcut, but since I am on a Japanese keyboard I canít seem to find the answer.

      Last night I made some tasty Korean Kimchee. I really shouldnít imply I did more than cook a cup of rice and mix it with the Kimchee base that came pre-made. It was pretty good, but I felt like it was missing something. Perhaps I had too much rice in the mix, but otherwise it would be really spicy. Tonight I might go into Koriyama and eat at the Mexican place and pick up some ingredients for my Jumbo Gumbo. I plan to dump all sorts of nonsense in the pot and cook it for a while. Hopefully it will make a lot of gumbo. Oh, I keep reaching down for my fridge and then I am pleasantly surprised when I remember it is normal adult height. [later] The photo is of my jumbo gumbo. It tastes ok, but I do have four heaping containers left over for weekend meals.

      One thing I really like about this school is how no kid is left out. There are still social groups like the cool (sports) kids, the music kids, the nerds, etc. But even the coolest kid in the school is nice to the nerdiest kid. Itís not like that in Koriyama at some of the bigger schools and probably no where else in Japan, except for the smaller schools. Thatís pretty much the only reason I can think of. Everyone here is a country kid and has pretty much known all the other kids all their life. Even moreso now that it is both an ES and a JHS in one building. These kids will spend the next 9 years in the same class. Iíd say they will be pretty close. Especially since the kids before them would split into two classes for JHS, but the young kids are in groups of less than 30 so they will stay as one class for 9 years. That might make it pretty tough when itís time to separate and go to high school.

      But the thing I noticed was the cool kid walking and chatting with a nerdy kid as the seniors were leaving early moments ago. They were standing out front talking which would be normal anywhere since it was just the two of them. But then another cool kid came by and joined them and they all were chatting. Rather than ditch the dork, he stayed and they all talked. I donít know maybe itís nothing, but I seem to remember a much bigger separation at my high school in the US and even at Fukushima Higashi High School two years ago.

      Iíve been walking around stopping seniors and saying ďtoday is the last Thursday as a JHS student, itís ok to cryĒ. They laugh a bit and then get silent as they realize in less than a week they wonít be students at all, just in-betweeners. You canít really say you are a SHS student and go to a school you donít yet go to until you actually go to that school and you would never say you are still a JHS student, so they are tweeners. I would teach them that, but they wouldnít get it and it would take too long.

      I didnít make the farewell video that I wanted, nor did I make the CD. I guess there is still time to make the CD, but I would have to copy it 40 times. I planned to put all the pictures I took of them, the video they made for the school festival, some little sayings and stupid things I said and did during the year, and this really big photo-mosaic type thing I am hoping to make. I should probably get on that tomorrow or tonight. ARGH. Mr. Last Minute is my new nickname. I have to go into Koriyama tonight and get some blank CDs and other stuff. I had just decided to not go and stick around town, but I might as well go.

      Since this school is an ES and JHS together, I assumed all the teachers were equal and could participate between the two schools freely. Since they work for the board of education there should be no problem I thought. But as it turns out the teachers canít do things in each school without special permission. For instance, I was walking with the English teacher and he put his ďdaily English phraseĒ in the slot by the door. Then we passed the one for the ES and it still had yesterdayís, but he was holding the new one. I said ďoh how convenient, you can update it nowĒ, but he couldnít. He could only give it to the teacher in the ES who agreed to update it and wait for him to put it up. It seems odd and inefficient and yet I understand it somewhat. I guess that is the part of me that is trying to turn Japanese, but the other 99% is blocking it.

      I signed up for this service that lets me monitor my credit report and FICO scores. It was $12.99 a month, which was more than I wanted to pay, but I wanted to check everything. When I signed up around October, everything was so-so. I tried to cancel, but I had to call a number and wait and press some buttons, but they would just repeat the menus and eventually hang up. So I forgot about it for a while then recently saw the charge again and wanted to cancel. I emailed my bank since the service is through them and they gave me another number. I called it and the nice girl had no record of me or my account number. Yet when itís time to charge my CC, thereís no problem. So then I forgot again, saw the charge again, and tried to cancel again. While I was waiting on the phone I logged in and noticed it had updated my scores since it had been a new quarter. Hmmm, my score went up a fair bit and it listed some reasons why. So I hung up and decided to keep it for one more quarter and see how my score continues, especially since I have been paying everything on time.

      One thing I noticed was my revolving credit was at 83% of the limit. I only have one revolving account (credit card) and the limit is only $500 (meaning I had around $420 at the time). So now I sent all my money in my banking account to the credit card and I will do the same next month. I mean I can still access that money as easy as my savings account. Itís probably even better since Iíd have to get to a computer and the internet to transfer it to checking and then withdraw it here. The 83% mark was two of the three bad points. The other one was that I was late, which was my fault in a ďnot entirelyĒ sort of way. A creditor told me I was getting a deference, but I didnít get it for two months. It was my fault in that I didnít check the bill each month. I donít know why the 83% thing takes up two spots, it is worded virtually the same. One says ďYou are using 83% of your creditĒ the other says ďyou only have $80 available credit on your revolving accountsĒ. So after a month or two this should knock those two marks off I hope. Unfortunately the late payments were recorded in March of 2006, so I have 6 more years of that on my record, but everything else should push my score up a bit, especially the constant timely payments and having no credit card balance.

      The desk-top drawer system I bought the other day has been working out rather well. I dumped all my colored pens and markers in the big double tray and for another tray I am putting important memos. I get about 10 per day and it takes a while to figure out which one is important and which is not. The two other trays are being used for silly things now, but I will find something good for them later. I have given the drawer thing a high please-ability rating.  Notice my McDonald's cup beside it.

 

 

Shut Up and Write.
Friday, March 9th, 2007

      I got to school a little early and went to the seniors rooms, specifically the 1st class (of two). I had a few of the kids write one more thank you message. Today is really the crunch day and I need to get several kids to write something. There are only a few more spaces left on each sheet and I get 5 kids to write something at a time. I am really close. This morning I had a few kids write then more kids came in and I said please sit and write just one really quick. Half the kids wrote one and the other half sat there staring or worse, chatting. I kept saying over and over please just write something really quick. Then the teacher came and I had to ask her to wait for a second in the hall. Sheís not stupid and now knows I am doing something. I was really hoping to completely surprise the teachers. Next year if I do this I will do it a lot differently, starting with using two or more class periods for it.

      My mom called this morning and said the neighbors are selling their house. Iíve wanted to buy it for a while, but I canít afford it now. I donít even mind that I am in Japan, but I just donít have the money now. Itís lousy timing for me. Iíll have the money in about 3-4 years and the credit score as well, but not now. Iíd like to buy some fixer-upper somewhat close to home (though not directly next door to my parents) so it would be closer to get to. Then fix it up and sell it for 100x times what I paid. Or more likely 1.5x to 2x. Or at least some profit, maybe enough to buy dinner one night.

      My Jumbo-Gumbo is/was pretty good. Fairly good I should say since I really only taste the tomato base and the Tabasco sauce. Itís filling, but I thought there would be more. It has a lot of meat, rice, tomatoes, celery, an onion, some green peppers, mushrooms, tofu, garlic, and much more. I guess I could just increase the ingredients when I get a bigger pot. A bigger kettle or a biggerÖ.well you remember.

      Iíve gotten almost all the kids to write their messages. There are a few more spaces left. One space on every sheet is the girl that doesnít come to school much. By much I mean almost never. I already tried to get her to write the messages on the sheets at home, but she didnít feel up to it. I asked her mom today if she could write them over the weekend and her mom said she would try, but she (the girl) might not feel up to it. All she has to do is write simple messages in Japanese to 12 teachers over the course of Friday evening to Monday morning. The space for messages is maybe 1.5 inches wide by 1 inch tall. She might not feel up to it.

      I really wonder if she is going to high school and if they are going to put up with that. I am 99% sure itís not something serious. I really think itís just her being lazy in a system that allows it, and actually pampers it. Seriously when kids get even slightly injured, something that might require a band-air, the kids chill in the nurseís room and their parents are called. Usually the parents come and get the kid. Most of the time itís a real injury or they have a fever and thatís fair, but I have seen numerous small silly injuries result in the same response.

      On a different note, there is one aspect to the Japanese group system that I like. I mentioned it above briefly, but I have made more progress in figuring it out. Each class is a complete group and it has all the parts that are needed. Furthermore, the kids recognize these parts and acknowledge them when needed. When someone has a question about Anime, they go to the Anime (nerd) person. When there is a sports question, they go to the jock, when there is a math or history lesson, they go to that person. The whole group knows all the parts and people arenít left out. They actually fit in because of their differences. I realized it when one senior class was playing dodge ball in the gym during a break. They all had nicknames for everyone and they all cared about each member. When the cool kid threw the ball a bit to hard and hit the nerdy Anime girl, he was the first to run over and say he was sorry. He didnít turn and laugh to his other cool friends. Yea, that is the part I like about Japan.

      I really should have traveled somewhere for spring break. I need a break from the Japanese-ness here. The kids are cleaning all the windows inside and out. For some reason they are opening the windows, I guess so they can stand on the ledge and get the top ones. With all the windows open it was getting really cold in the teacherís room so a teacher went over and turned on a heater. I was standing beside it so I suggested maybe we wait until they close the windows. She said something like ďno no these heaters are made to run with the windows open, itís the Japanese wayĒ. I just smiled and said ďoh okĒ while nodding. But I wanted to say ďthat has got to be the absolute dumbest thing I have ever heard. I mean that is simply stupid. Special heaters that are made to run while the windows are open? But I didnít argue since Iím not paying the bill and I wasnít hot or cold. Clearly there is ZERO issue of waste here.

      We just had a meeting and the principal announced the teachers that are leaving. Only one from the JHS (and one of the part time teachers), but three are leaving from the elementary school. One I expected, one I donít care, and one I didnít expect. One teacher is leaving the teacherís house, but we might get one or two more. Iíd rather not live in it completely alone, but that would save a bit on the general electric bills.

      I was just goofing off with the 6th graders. They are painting this huge banner thing for their graduation. Iíve been going in there for a few days now to see how itís going and just hang out with them some. I donít really ďhang outĒ with them at school and because of that we arenít really close. I guess the reason is their classroom was upstairs and I rarely went up there other than for classes. Anyway, one girl was looking at an English book. I knew she goes to a private school after school here and on Fridays she learns English. I went over and asked if she could read the book. It was only a few lines with simple sentences about the weather. I was about to sound each letter out and she just read it outright. I thought she had memorized something so I flipped the pages and she read the new thing slower, but still read it. Wow, this class really likes English and excels so now I have to make sure my class really pushes them. I need to start beating out the plan soon.

By Far, The Most...
Monday, March 12th, 2007

      This MUST be by far the most snow Iíve ever seen in any 7 hour period. Last night I drive to the local grocery store around 6. Then I came back and goofed off and started to get ready for bed. First thing I did was unload my pants (ha ha). I put my phone, keys, coin purse (but very manly), and my wallet in the tray where I always keep them. But wait, whereís my wallet? Oh I remember some issue in the car so Iíll go check quickly so I can sleep and not worry about where it might be. So I run to the car and find it. I notice itís colder than usual, but not snowing or raining.

      Then this morning I get up to go to the bathroom around 6am and happen to notice it was really bright outside. I peak out and see some snow. Eh, no big deal I guess since it is technically still snow season. Then as I am closing the window, my eye catches a glimpse of the metal framing from the greenhouse behind my apartment. There seems to be about 1 foot of snow, but that canít be right. So I look closer and it is. Then I get ready and leave and sure enough there is actually about 1.5 feet on the ground. It was more than knee deep and there were several places that hadnít been plowed yet. Snow was hitting me around low thigh and coming into my boots. All this in no more than 7 hours.

      Then I get to school early so I can help and itís just as bad here. Actually when I turned behind Smile Mart I couldnít even see the school. There was this wall of thick falling snow. I truly couldnít see anything and had to look down and walk. Luckily a tractor had driven by earlier and there were tracks in the snow that I followed.

      Last night I packed tons (literally) of candy into little bags and taped them shut. They are my retaliation for Valentineís Day. On VD, girls give guys chocolate, and on White Day, boys give girls chocolate. This year I am only giving chocolate to those who gave me something. I only have about 20 to give and have already given 9 to the seniors. I might give the 2 2nd years theirs and then see about the 1st years. I made some of the chocolate myself (as in poured it into a mold). Tonight I have to finish making the CDs for the kids. I made 30 yesterday and have 10-12 more to go. Actually I made 25 the hard way and then figured out the easy way for the last five. I was just making one CD 25 times until I found the ď# of copiesĒ button which copies and then ejects automatically. All I have to do it reload and close the tray rather than press a bunch of things on the keyboard. I made 5 in the time I made 2 before. So I will whip out the last 10 + 2 for teachers tonight and give them out tomorrow. It will work out well since some kids were asking for a copy of the festival video we made and then forgot after winter vacation.

      Tomorrow I am wearing my black suit, white shirt, and white tie that I havenít worn in 5 years. I bought it before I came to Japan, and never had a need to wear it until now. I hope it looks alright, if not I will bring a backup tie. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. We have no classes all day and graduation ends around noon. At 12:30 the kids leave in the long procession down the hall where everyone gives them something and says goodbye. It will be sad and I plan to cry since it is the last time I will ever see most of these kids again. Iím going to give them a little sheet of paper saying ďif you need help with the national English test or have any English question, please email meĒ and I will have my keitai address on there.

      Man it is still coming down hard. Thereís no wind, itís just these big flakes dropping and sticking. I can barely see the trees across the street from my desk. If it stays like this all day itís going to be brutal tonight and tomorrow. I was hoping for good weather on graduation day since parents and important visitors will be here and there will be a lot of parking lot activity. This morning I shoveled a good bit. One teacher commented on how I got here early just to clean the snow for the kids. I thought ďyea thatís it, it wasnít about me getting a little morning exerciseÖit was all for the kidsÖyea thatís the ticketĒ.

      I think I am saddest about losing the students I refer to as my ďrocksĒ. I mean that in the sense that they are solid and I can always count on them. Most students are averagely good. Some students just donít participate and either chat or just do something else. But a few students quickly understand what I am trying to do and help organize things. When I need to get things done outside of class like making those special thank you notes or something, I give it to one of my ďrocksĒ and s/he makes sure it gets done and then back to me. Those are the kids that are going to go places in life, whereas the others are just going to do what needs to be done to get by.

      In Japan you go to the JHS near your house. Luckily for these kids this school has become the flagship and will always have good teachers. But for high school you test to see which level school you can get into. Thatís better than my high school which had a genius sitting next to a guy who canít spell his own name. I like this system better than the US system. When I was at Fukushima Higashi High School for three years, it was a high academic school and all the kids were well above average. Then again, when I went to Matsukou, the technical school, all the kids were well below average, except for a few.

      The seniors have a bunch of little things to do today. They have one last graduation practice (since there is a rigidly strict format), they have some farewell parties and speeches by teachers, and then one last cleaning. One meeting they just had was with the senior chief teacher who showed some pics from when they were first years and some from when they were 6th graders. I need to make a point to take a lot of photos of the current first years and save them somewhere. I already have several, but I need to take more random photos while the kids are young. I couldnít believe how much they changed from 1st years to 3rd years.

      I am getting decent at making the homemade pizza. This time was the best so far, but I think I am giving up on making my own crust. I can buy it cheaper and it turns out better, plus making my own crust takes at least 2 hours and preferably more. So I will find the store bought crust and just make the sauce and toppings myself. As you can see in this photo, it's looking much better. As you cannot see from this photo, it is tasting much better also.

      I have never given any student a grade that was less than a B while in Japan. Iíd say 98% of the grades were Aís and very few were Bís. To be honest, I wouldnít be surprised if those B grades were changed when I wasnít looking. I saw the 3rd year students grades earlier and they were all Aís. Across the board and every subject. For a while I would cause minor problems when I tried to do silly things like grade people according to their actual effort. But since then I have learned grades in Japan donít mean anything. Itís like blue on black or tears in a river, it Ďs doesnít mean anything. I have never heard of anyone receiving anything below a B and certainly never failing. I mean there are kids that donít do anything at all and graduate with Aís. Iíve actually heard from several people that once you pass the university entrance test itís all downhill. You show up to class when you want and donít have any homework and then you graduate and get a job. The job cares that you got into some school and stayed with it for the whole 4-5 years, not about your scores on any tests or grades (since they were probably all Aís). It takes a lot of getting used to being a teacher.

      The thing I really donít like about it is that there is no real motivation to do things. Kids have no reason to behave or do work in class. Honestly I have never had one student do homework. I have given assignments and even told kids to simply think about something we were going to do in class later, but once they leave the classroom thatís it. It all stays here. I know they study for other languages, but not for English. I personally think the whole English education system in Japan is flawed and I can prove it, but I know it wonít change so I donít worry about it. How can I prove it you ask? Simply ask any college graduate something in basic English and they canít respond. That is 4+3+3 years of English education and they canít answer any basic questions. They might be able to pick out the past participle of some essay, but as far as speaking and listening to natural random English, they canít. I have asked several new teachers who just graduated basic questions and they run away in fear. I want to say ďif you canít speak or understand any English after 10 years of English, you are admitting something is wrongĒ. I think I could learn Chinese via Arabic in ten years of constant learning.

      The whole graduation thing in Japan is strange for me. I still think of graduation as the last big finale. The big closeout to the year and school. I didnít go back to my schools after graduation and it was always on the last day. But here graduation is tomorrow and then for another week and a half we have regular classes with the 1st and 2nd years. The elementary school graduation is on the last day, even though my last classes were two weeks ago. Fukushima Higashi high school was the same way. They graduated much earlier around the 2nd of March I think, and the 1st and 2nd years came to class until the end of the term. The teachers that were homeroom teachers came and had to teach as normal. This, like many things in Japan, just goes well beyond the natural ending. It feels strange doing things after graduation.

      Everyone is busy setting up something for tomorrow. Iíve been walking around helping with small things, but Iím not in charge of any particular project. Iíd like to be but I get frustrated with how they do things sometimes. Since things are always done in one certain way, the Japanese way, they may or may not make sense. It might be the absolute most inefficient way of doing something, but they do it anyway. I might suggest doing something slightly different, but they only nod and continue doing it the way itís done. Sometimes I go with the flow, but quite often itís so absurdly inefficient that I canít do it.

      When they were setting up the gym for graduation, one teacher noticed there was a HUGE portable projector screen in the elementary school. It is exactly what I have been looking for when I show movies in my special classes. I measured it using my arm span (which is almost 2 meters wide) and it was about 5 meters wide which is about 15 feet and it's too tall to measure. I am psyched about this and plan to show some big movies this year.

 

The Big Day.
Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

     The current thing I really hate about Japan is how there is zero insulation in the walls. My apartment is always freezing. When the heater is not on, the apartment is frigid. About 3 minutes after the heater goes off, the apartment is frigid. Iíve had toothpaste and toilet water freeze, liquid in the kitchen be colder than things in the refrigerator, and much more. Today I woke up to the heater already on thanks to the timer. But the timer only lasts 45 minutes for safety reasons. So I forget to punch the ď3 More HoursĒ button and jumped in the shower. When I got out the place was freezing. It was as if there were no walls. Actually, and this is no exaggeration, more than half of my main front wall is a huge poorly insulated window. By poorly, I mean not at all. When I open the sliding Japanese screen thing I feel cold air rushing in. I want to find a way to physically tape a sheet of plastic over the window next winter since it lets so much heat out.

     I am dressed in the most formal attire I can in Japan. Well minus coat tails and a tuxedo, but as close as I can get. A plain black suit with no stripes, a white shirt, a white tie, and cufflinks. Oddly I am wearing beach sandals and I wore snow boots here, but shoes donít really matter in Japan. In a way I understand that since they are shoes and people should always look up. Iím waiting to go into the gym for a few hours. Iím not waiting for a few hours, Iíll be in the gym for a few hours. Iíll take my camera and get some random shots. Then later I will pass out the CDs of videos and photos I made for the kids. Finished all 42 copies last night then inserted the little ďcall me if you need help with EnglishĒ card I made, as well as YARK. That stands for Yurina, Ayaka, Ryan, Kyouhei. The 4 people in the Elective C English class. They wrote about their memories and I made it into a silly newspaper.

[later]

     Well itís over and I actually didnít cry. I think the reason why is because I was so focused on giving each kid a CD and silly newspaper that I didnít get emotional. I almost did when some kids would see me in the line and come up to say something touching like ďI really appreciate everything you did for meĒ all in Japanese of course. Then we went outside and took photos of people leaving for about 30 minutes. It was/is freezing and windy so I came in after 30 minutes, but some kids were still around. All the kids have left today, but tomorrow the 1st and 2nd years will return for classes. There will be this big void in the school for a while with the 3rd years gone. I have to shift my thoughts to the new kids and the remaining kids now and start to forget about the 3rd years.

     Something that is amusing to me and I could never explain to the kids leaving is how big this all seems now, but how small it will seem soon. Everyone made promises to stay in touch and took so many photos, but once they start high school, this will be something from their childhood. They will look to the future and think of this as silly. Graduating high school was big for me and then I went to college and didnít care about any of my old friends. I made new friends and had new stories. These kids will too, but they canít see it now. Thatís why itís hard for me to be a teacher. I make connections that I donít want to give up, but I have to. Even when I see kids walking around town we donít have that same connection as before.

     Tangent: Man I am loving these cufflinks. They go right on and come right off. It always takes me so long to button the sleeve buttons and tie a tie to the right length. I have a low waist and that makes it difficult. The sleeve buttons are just tough because you have to do it with one hand. Anyway, yea I dig the cufflinks and wish they werenít so formal. End Tangent Transmission.

     So now itís around 2 and all the kids are gone and there is really nothing to do. I should probably plan something for my next few classes. I think I have a total of 6 more through the 23rd which is the elementary graduation. That makes far more sense to me since itís the last day. I guess the JHS kids have to get ready for high school or something, but the ES kids also have to get ready for JHS. Whatever, water under the bridge. Iíve never actually used that phrase and donít know if I used it correctly.

      Tonight I might go into Koriyama and mail something. It needs to arrive tomorrow so I would mail it tonight and that should do it. Iíve mailed things from Tokyo and they arrived the next day so the post office in the same town should be no problem. If I do that then I should probably go to the Mexican restaurant since they are only open from 5-midnight. Oh and I got my new ATM card today which is nice. My old one just about died, but it was almost five years old and had constant usage. Oh poo, all the kids are gone and I forgot to give my White Day chocolates to the 7 - 1st year girls. Oh well tomorrow is actually White Day so that would be better. Thatís why I am mailing something tonight, so it will arrive tomorrow. Itís chocolate to someone (oh wait actually two peopleÖargh) that sent me something on Valentineís Day.

     Why do I always have itchy eyes during sad things? Any sad movie or graduation or thing like that, my eyes will itch, not water, but itch. So then it looks like Iím crying, which is fine, but people say ďoh why are you crying?Ē Then I say ďIím not, my eyes are itchy.Ē Then they say ďoh itís ok to cry.Ē But Iím really NOT crying now. ARGH. The kids were bawling during the ceremony. First there were sniffles and whimpers, then some sobbing, then a few kids were bawling which caused others to as well. It was like someone said ďyour whole family just died and you will die painfully within a day, also you have no home or money, and those pants make you look fat.Ē I mean the tears were flowing. I remember being happy at my graduations. Actually I donít remember any middle school graduation, but Iím sure I was happy on the last day of school.

 

My favorite line in the history of all things:


     Since the weather is so bad, and graduation is finished, and weíve all worked very hard, and there is nothing much to do now, you can leave early if you want. Please give me your vacation time-off requests as you leave.

 

What a Let Down.
Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

     This is even more disappointing than the Matrix sequels. I went into town last night and bought some nice chocolate for White Day. Then I went to the main post office which is open 24 hours and mailed them to two people who mailed me chocolate. I set them to arrive before noon for the teacher and after 7pm for the Koriyama ALT friend. So that should be happening today. None of that was disappointing, rather it went better than expected.

     Then I go to the Mexican restaurant. Itís after 5pm on Tuesday so they should be in full swing for business. I get there and they are open. YAY. Then I go inside and see no one. Not even a cook or a greet. Oh thereís someone, sleeping on the bench. Hmmm, I say ďexcuse meĒ twice in Japanese in a decent voice, but he doesnít hear me. So then I decide to leave and when the floor squeaks he wakes up. Heís a bit disoriented and rushes over. I say one person and he canít decide where to seat me. There was no one in the whole placeÖSo finally I suggest a table near the front. Ok, I am seated. Then he goes and brings me a menu. Oh this is the drink menu and I am driving, can I have a food menu?

     This was the biggest shock to him. I would have received a lesser response if I said I had been to the moon earlier in the day. ďYou really want a food menu?Ē Ehhh, am I in the twilight zone? I mean this is a restaurant and you are open and you had a great booth at the big palette festivalÖSo he goes and looks for this rare elusive food menu. About 5 minutes later he comes back and says that he found one and will get it now. Then he walks out the front door. Heís gone for about 15 minutes. Actually it was 14 since I checked my phone to make sure. I was sitting there alone in the restaurant for 15 minutes just staring at the wall.

     This was a prime example of one of those times when you want a button that just makes you disappear. It sends you anywhere other than where you are now. Or it might even make you invisible. I just wanted to be anywhere that wasnít there. It was a tad awkward.

     So then he comes back in and has the menu. I look through it and see, as sadly expected, it was a very Japanese style menu. Everything was in annoying groups or sets. I just wanted a few tacos. Oh here is a set with three tacos. Waiter, Iíll have this please. Oh that is the one thing on the menu they canít make now. Then how about this? Oh no that too. Ok fine, what can you make? They can make some two taco set. Fine I will take that.

      He goes in the back and does something for 5 minutes. Then he comes back and says he doesnít know how to turn on the grill. Seriously? Why is this place open tonight? The sign said it was closed on Wednesdays. What is going on? So he leaves again and then comes back in about 10 minutes. 10 minutes of me just sitting there looking around, man it felt like more than 10, something like 11 I tell you. Finally he comes back and starts the grill and cooks this stuff in like 3 minutes. Great I have the food and I eat it and it tastes so good. Then I go to pay and itís the same thing. He has no idea how to turn on the register so he leaves and comes back in 5 more minutes and then takes the money and of course there is no change. So I scrape up exact change and give it to him and then leave. Iíll give it one more chance on a Friday or something when I think it would be busier and Iíll try to take someone as well to verify my claims of awkwardness. Maybe Iíll just figure out how to make tacos on my own.

     Oh, I made a silly joke at the grocery store when I was buying the chocolate. When I bought it the cashier asked if the box of chocolate that said WHITE DAY, that was being purchased by me a day before White Day, was in fact for White Day. I said it was (and thought about commenting on how observant she was). She told me the service counter would wrap it as a service. I knew this only meant putting in it a slightly nicer bag and tying a special ribbon around it, but hey it will look better, so ok. So I went to the service counter and asked if she would wrap it. She asked if I would like her to put this special folded paper thing on it. The word for that is ďnoshiĒ (no she). But that also means iron, as in ďI need an iron to get the wrinkles out of this shirtĒ. So I made an ironing motion and said ďnoshiĒ. The lady laughed and then put the string thing on it.

     Half the graduates came back today, wearing their JHS uniforms, and were just loitering around. Some are getting people to sign their yearbooks, others are telling everyone they were finally accepted into some big school in Koriyama. Itís a little strange seeing them since Iím big on endings. We had a big farewell yesterday and today itís past the end point, but itís nice to see them. Most of them have mobile phones and I am exchanging email addresses with them. I still write to one student from last year and a few high school students from years before. I imagine a few will email me and I will stay in semi-touch with them. They seem much less student like today and are quick to make jokes. When a student arrives they all freak out and greet them like they were war buddies and havenít seen each other in 30 years.

      When I came home the teacher I sent chocolates to for White Day called me. It's odd in an interesting way. We met briefly when she reviewed my class back in November. On a whim I offered the PowerPoint presentation to any teachers that wanted it. Two guys casually showed interest and then this lady did. I don't even remember if she is cute or not, but I'm leaning toward maybe. She was really interested in it and I explained my ABC order game that I would send later. I sent that in Feb and she sent a thank you card. Then she sent chocolate on Valentine's Day so I retaliated last night and she got it today. So she called to say thank you and we chatted a bit. It's odd, in a pleasant way, how she is so thankful. After reading the Celestine Prophecy it makes me think we have something to talk about. The book says if you keep running into someone then you have some message to pass along. Maybe that message is "hey let's have dinner" and her message is "my husband wouldn't like that so much".

AHHHHHHH.
Thursday, March 15th, 2007

      My principal is leaving after only two years. Heís going back to work at the board of education and we are getting a new principal. Thatís what I donít like about April in Japan, my whole life can change for better or worse. This shouldnít be a bad change, but the new guy doesnít speak English and doesnít love me like this guy does. He lets me go without a tie all winter. Could be better, but no one really likes change. Although, the only way to control change is create it. Still heís such a nice guy and is actually from Konan, I assumed he would be here four or five years. I imagine this new guy will shuffle things up next year. ARGH. Well, we will see I guess, we will see.

      Hereís the real funny thing about Japan, the announcement of him moving was a big secret until it was announced in the paper. If some people know before other people know then itís bad for the group, so it must be announced all at once in the paper. All the upper level important people knew in advance, but the lower people found out via the newspaper. Actually the lady at the Smile Mart told me and I was sure she was wrong. Itís odd to have a principal stay somewhere only two years.

      The other thing is the principal loves it here. I mean sometimes the shuffle system is good when a teacher hates a school and gets to leave, but he is from here and loves this area and the school. Now he has to go to the board of Ed everyday and sit doing paperwork. I know that wonít be easy for him. He is such a people person. I was really hoping the idiotic shuffling of people was limited to the Baboon Monkey Clown Circus, which was explained in my first three yearsí journal. But maybe itís not limited to them. I just donít see why he is moving to the BoE. Being a principal is a top honor and people usually retire after 10 years as a principal. I guess this culture is too advanced for me to understand.

      I just had two classes with the 2nd years (8th graders). I used a Flash game for testing prepositions. It was the beta release and I wanted the kids to do exactly what they did. They tore it apart and found every possible fault that was to be found. It was frustrating in a way, but I expected it and will build in preventative measures. It was frustrating because they would figure something out and then Iíd say ok ignore that and just play, but they would focus on that. Like if you donít click the start button on one program it still starts, but the timer doesnít so you can play for ever and rack up a huge score. Also, if you just keep clicking one answer then you have a chance of randomly picking the right answer each time. So Iíll find ways to block this.

      I did find a way to get them to stop goofing off and surfing the web. When I would sit down across the room they would subtly (or so they thought) open a web browser and surf some. I could see it and would let it slide when it was one person, but a few times some people would gather around one machine and just ignore me and the programs. On the projector screen I had some explanations about the game. Then I opened a Word file on my machine and people could see it on the big screen. In Japanese I wrote ďNames of people who are not participating and their club activitiesĒ. Then I would list someoneís name and their club (which is really important to the kids even though they can simply not do any work and still participate. Finally I wrote the teacherís name that overseas that club. When the non-participating kids saw this they freaked and jumped back on their machines. Some got semi-upset that their name was up there, probably because it pointed them out as losers to the class. I mean they were really nervous about it and participated for a bit, then faded back.

      I found out my principal will be promoted. There are only three positions higher than principal and he is moving to the 3rd one. There is Shuukan, Kacho, and Kyouikuchou. The shuukan (shoe cahn) is some upper manager, kacho (kah cho) is the section manager, which in this case is the guy over all the curriculum people in the BoE, and then at the top is the kyouikuchou (kyo ee coo cho). Kyouiku is education and chou is leader, so he is the chief guy at the BoE. Above him is the mayor. My principal will be a shuukan for a while, so Iíll see him when he visits here (which will be awkward for him being a visitor in his ex-office) and when I visit the BoE.

      Itís 1:35pm now and I am about to be asked to enter the big hall where the graduating sixth graders have prepared some thank you party for the teachers. Some canít go since they have class, but most can. All the elementary teachers can go since the other kids just left. Only the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders are still here. I went last year and it was as I expected. It was cute and fun and silly. I heard the goth girl practicing drums in their so I guess a band will play like last year. Thereís the big sign they made and then there will be some delicious food, well snacks at least. I could smell it all morning in the computer lab. It was coming from the 2nd floor Home Ec room and I was directly above it.

[later]

      Well the party is over. It was amusing and enjoyable. They played a quiz game and I could actually follow it. First they opened the big sign and it got stuck and blew the climatic ending. I got it on video, well a small video from my phone (right click save as). Then we ate some snacks while kids sang. There was only one annoying thing with two parts, though one part is more amusing than annoying.

      When they were doing the quiz thing they would give some hints about someone and each table had to guess who it was. The points went down with each hint. Fine, but they had some music on in the background and it was a little too loud. I couldnít hear the girl talking and I later realized neither could anyone else. She would ask something and people would say ďwhat?Ē and she would ask it really loud and then people might hear. It was like every single time and never once did anyone make the connection that they couldnít hear because the music was too loud. The second thing was when they were going around the room giving thank you gifts to the teachers, they had some nice music playing in the background. This time it wasnít too loud. The song played for a while and this part took about 30 minutes. About 20 minutes into it the song changed into some grossly inappropriate heavy song. First it was wrong because it was too fast and angry, then it was wrong because the only English word they would say was ďdickĒ. Part of the song was just crunch metal and someone shouting ďdick dick dickĒ in a deep angry voice. It made me laugh, but the whole thing was just wrong.

      I know certain people reading this are thinking itís just me being negative YET again, but really without the music being too loud during the quiz, everything was fine in a kidís party type of way. Granted I didnít understand some of the Japanese, but the party wasnít for me and that wasnít annoying. Though I am annoyed at myself for not knowing more Japanese.

      Speaking of which, I have been thinking about what to do during the summer. I have the whole month off and want to do something, but I should really save some money. I thought about 4 weeks of hardcore Japanese at the school in Sapporo. I wasnít too fond of it last night, but that was due to them placing me in the lobby of some hotel (like my bed was off in the corner behind a screen). The other thing was they wouldnít speak any English in class which is typical of Japanese education and a very poor practice. They swear by the method and yet donít speak only English when teaching English to kids. Oh THAT must be differentÖ

      So if I go to this school it will cost about $3,000 for everything for all 4 weeks. Thatís including tuition, room, food, some private lessons, partying after school, traveling around on weekends, getting there and back, and anything else I could budget. Itís an overall good deal for 4 weeks of education, but thatís 3K I could do something else with. With which something else could be done. Though 4 weeks of constant Japanese would really bump me up a bit and that could be considered an investment in my future if I ever use my Japanese at some job. Plus I would really hate to leave Japan after 5+ years and not be any better than I am now. Plus this year I wouldnít be in the upper beginner class. Come on people at least call us lower intermediate to make us feel good.

      Though I would demand to be placed only in the boys dorm, which was really cool. Much cooler than the private apartment (read: always alone with no meals included and no TV), and definitely much cooler than being in the lobby. That was a seriously odd thing. I understood being placed there the first two nights, but then when school started it was just odd. People kept walking into the lobby (being its purpose) and some even came over and wondered what was behind this odd screen in the corner. I canít sleep when people are walking around like that, especially people I donít know in a foreign country. I also had to use the landlordís private shower and walk through her room or the main lobby to get there. And there was no where to safely put my stuff. Oh, it was just bizarre that someone would even consider that. So yea this year I will say ONLY the boyís dorm since it was clean, convenient, and included breakfast and dinner.

Munchkin Jubilee.
Friday, March 16th, 2007

     Hereís a conversation from this morning in the convenient store. I walked in and say good morning to the lady and walked to the cooler to get the cans of coffee I should not be drinking. There was a man at the counter who was paying as I am leaving and since Japanese people have no volume control his conversation was rather loud.

Him: Well I should be leaving, but Iíll wait around a bit.
Her: Why? Is there something else?
Him: Well there might be. You think everything will be alright?
Her: With what?
Him: With him in the store.
Her: (cackling) Oh yes, heís just the local English teacher.
Him: Oh well I guess Iíll leave then.

     He left, but sat in his car looking in the store. I acted like I hadnít heard any of it and had no idea what was going on. When I paid I bowed and thanked her and waved as I left. I was trying to be overly friendly. When I passed him in the car still sitting and watching me like a hawk, I bowed and smiled and walked on. It didnít phase me or bother me really. Getting mad would just make me look like a belligerent foreigner and further propagate the stereotype.

     I made some little thank you notes for the kids last night and put one on each kidís desk. They all have desk mats that they put over papers and such so I was able to slide them right in. Hereís a sample of what it looked like:

     It says ďthanks for yesterday, the food was delicious, the entertainment was interesting, the art was wonderful. Letís have fun with English from AprilĒ. Then I stamped my name stamp which is bright red and signed each one. No word on if they received them, but surely they must have.

     I think I might take a half day vacation today. I want to go to Tokyo tomorrow to visit a friend who is from Thailand and in town for a while and to reserve the bus to Tokyo Iíll need to do it a day in advance before 6pm. I have to go to some convenience store and pay. The Sakura bus is only $20 each way and round trip is the same price as one way via the JR bus. The bullet train is the same as two round trips via the Sakura bus, so I try to avoid that when money is an issue. I would take the time off partially because I have no classes and partially to get to the place by 6 to pay. Iíll try to book it online first and see how that goes then decide.

     I emailed a friend about how I thought it was strange that I still donít have a bill for the alternator that was repaired on Feb 9th. He said he had the bill and it had come about a week before. I have no idea why they sent him the bill. They have my address and have sent me several things by mail, the latest being that Ten Point Check reminder that I shouldnít have ignored. I donít have any idea why they sent it to him.

     I just witnessed the greatest thing in the history of all life. Well at least something that supports my ďwe canít think for ourselvesĒ theory. There is a HUGE tractor pushing some leftover snow around in the parking lot. Itís going back and forth down the length if the lot to get the full effect of it all. That might also have something to do with the fact that the snow is being piled up by the gym at the end of the parking lot. Anyway, the tractor is moving along in a straight line through the parking lot and a car pulls in. Itís some salesperson selling some travel related something. So he thinks to himself ďI am in car. Car goes in parking lot. This place is parking lot. Car will park in parking lotĒ. He pulls up in a space and stops. It is directly in line of the currently plowing tractor. He gets out and walks into the school. The tractor goes around the car a few times and then stops and the driver goes into the school. The guy comes out and moves the car directly in front of the school where the buses pull up. The buses donít come often and donít ask people to move, they just pull around the cars who park in what is clearly not a space. The only thing more amusing is when people walk past the huge main entrance to the old smaller entrance which is not used anymore. They pull and knock on the door totally confused until someone points out they should enter at the door cleverly marked Entrance.

     I just played the grading game in true Japanese style. A teacher gave me a list for grades and I took it and said ďI will think about this before I mark the gradesĒ. To which she replied ďyes it is always difficult deciding grades for kidsĒ. Then I gave them all perfect scores on everything. The girl that can already read English got the same grade as the special education student who canít even speak Japanese. Then I put it off to the side. When I saw her walking around near me I would grab the sheet and look at it deeply while looking at the photo sheet with their names and faces. Later I gave it to her and she was so excited everyone got an A. I told her how difficult it was, but it was the right choice.

     Both buses were full and I didn't feel like taking the bullet train down and back for $140 so I decided to stay through the whole day. However, Wednesday is a holiday and Tuesday I have no classes so I might take a vacation day Tuesday and head down. I could see my Thai friend who is in town visiting and probably bored to death. She is staying with Daisuke, my friend from college, and he works about 18 hours a day 6 days a week. That's no exaggeration. He leaves his house around 5am and comes home around midnight or 1am. I could never do that especially since I know most of the time is just being there to show loyalty. I find it annoying sometimes when I visit, but it's the Japanese way.

     I stayed late and the Japanese/calligraphy teacher helped me with reading a newspaper. I teach her some easy English and she helps me with Japanese and/or calligraphy. I need to learn to read faster so she picks and article and I read it and she corrects me and teaches the new grammar. So far it has been helpful. We finished around 6 and I started the leaving sequence. I have to clean my desk, gather my coat and bag, slide various pegs to show I'm no longer here, stamp various books to show I was here, and then say all the proper phrases as I leave. Then I am in the lobby chatting with some kids and I asked what they were doing. One kid said it was a Munchkin Jubilee. I made her repeat it five or six times and then I finally realized she was saying Munchkin Jubilee, which makes no sense. I don't know where she heard it, but I would guess it's from some wrong English printed on something.

Last Monday.
Monday, March 19, 2007

     I keep telling kids today is the last Monday for them as whatever grade they are in. Then I say itís ok to cry. Most people laugh, but some fake cry. I had a class with the elementary second graders today and said that to them. It was funny, well to me at least. The class with them was pretty good. I couldnít really think of anything to do, but finally I did this morning. We reviewed animals, fruits, numbers (1-10), and How Are You responses. Then we played bingo with animals and then numbers and when we finished I asked how many ďbingosĒ they got and they answered in English. Then I showed them their names in English letters and at the end I told them I made them diplomas, but their names were in English so they had to search for their own all around the room. They loved that and when we finished one of my favorite kids made a little thank you speech wrapping up the year. It was a good class.

     Then I had a class with the 1st year JHS kids, the 2nd class this time. I did the speed race where they have to quickly ask people questions until everyone has asked /answered. I used a stop watch and compared their times to the other class. When that class was over they too gave a little farewell thank you speech. Itís the Japanese way.

     Tomorrow I might actually go to Tokyo. I have no classes and Wednesday is a holiday and I will be paid tomorrow so I can afford the trip. Plus I will get to see my Thai friend who is visiting and must be deathly bored, as I mentioned before. I wish she was staying until next week since I am going back to Tokyo for spring break to take Japanese lessons, but I can take the bus down and back and thatís pretty cheap. Oh wait, I probably canít take the bus down since I have to wait until I get paid and then I will transfer money back to the US. That should happen around 9-10 and the next bus would be noon-ish arriving around 5. Thatís the whole day. I guess I will take the shink down tomorrow and the cheap bus back. Shouldnít be full since itís aÖwell poo it is a holiday, but why would people be coming back to Fukushima on Wednesday. Iíll check now.

The Most Expensive Sushi Ever.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

     I sent an email to my friend Daisuke (die sue kay) in Tokyo and told him I would be down there to visit him and our Thai friend on Tuesday. He said she was leaving on Thursday. So then I sent two messages saying ďtell her I will be there at 1Ē. I sent two because I had this gut feeling she wouldnít be there and I would just be sitting in some coffee shop waiting for her. He would be at work all day (literally ALL day) so I would have no way to get in touch with her.

     This all happened Monday so then Tuesday came and I had the day off. I had this feeling of not wanting to go to Tokyo, but since I had backed out of going on the weekend I forced myself to go. I drove into town, sent money to the US, got on the too expensive bullet train (since the bus would take too long), got to Tokyo and changed trains four times and finally made it to his place. Knock knock knock. Hello in English, Japanese, and Thai. Knock knock knock, hello konnichiwa, sawade krab. She must be sleeping or in the bathroom. 15 minutes later I leave to go get lunch. There is a great sushi place around the corner and itís usually pretty cheap. So I go there and sit and send Daisuke a message saying ďsheís not answering the door, where is she?Ē He writes back and says ďoh no, we are in Hakone (itís far), we will be back tonight. Please wait for usĒ. Well poo. So I write back and say ďwhen will you be back?Ē He said not late, but later tonight. Hmmm, so I should just sit around some coffee shop for 4-8 hours alone? Yea, Iím just going to head back. So I get a bus ticket and hope on the next bus back to Koriyama. Basically I spent $75 to get to Tokyo, $10 on various trains, $20 on sushi, and $40 to get back. Really the only thing I did was go all the way to Tokyo for sushi. I paid nearly $150 for nothing more than sushi.

     Thatís actually not the most Iíve ever paid for a meal though. Once I went to Tokyo with a friend named Liz to spend a few days goofing around. We took the shink down ($82 from Fukushima City) and ate Mexican Food. Then looked at some books and realized Tokyo was too crowded during Golden Week and we came back after the book store. So that day we spent about $180 each on Mexican food, via Tokyo.

     Thereís actually a Japanese thing that is far more expensive than any of the above mentioned items, though itís caught a lot of bad press recently and isnít advertised as it once was. Itís where you eat sushi off a nude motionless (most likely too young) girl. Itís about $1,000 a person. Honestly for me to pay $1,000 for sushi it would have to be the finest sushi ever known andÖwellÖserved off a nude girl. I wonder how much she makes off that. I hear itís a skill to be that motionless for an hour or two. That is so Japanese and would work in no other country.  [I tried to Google that to show a link with more info, but these days it's just a porn thing and it's hard to find any actual cultural links about it (possibly because it's really hidden, you have to know people who know people to do it. All the people I know don't know other people)].

     Students keep asking me who is leaving this year and I have to act like I donít know. Itís actually believable that I wouldnít know since I just say they probably announced it in a meeting and I missed it. Truth is I do know who is leaving and hate the little game we play. The kids wonít know until next week on Monday, after they are out of school. They canít give thank you or goodbye messages and itís really crappy. You know how they will find out next Monday? It will be in the newspaper. Thatís such an impersonal way of saying goodbye since you arenít actually saying goodbye. I can only imagine how shocking it would be to be Japanese and go to another country and have people saying thank you and tell you goodbye.

     When I ask teachers if they will be here or leave itís always a vague answer. Thereís head tilting, air being sucked in, several hmmms, and finally ďI donít knowĒ. That means you do know, but canít say until I read it in the newspaper. This year I asked teachers at some party back in the fall and everyone told me a wrong answer. Those that said they were leaving are staying and vice versa. Iím learning to stop asking.

And so it all ends.
Friday, March 23, 2007

     We had the elementary school graduation today. It was the same as last year. With only 28 kids it went by rather fast. The only part that annoyed me was when all the 6th graders stood  up and turned to the 1st through 5th graders and took turns thanking them for something. I'd say each of the 28 kids said about 5 things in random order. I mean the sentences were in normal order, but the order of the kids was random. Then ALL the remaining 1-5 graders said one thing. "Thanks for teaching us how to clean properly", "Thanks for making sure we are all ok every day". Silly things that no on really did, but they sound good.

       It's like when some kid dies and everyone talks about how great they were. "He always made sure each of us was happy" or "she was never sad, she always made everyone smile". It's like no idiot annoying terds ever die. "Oh yea, he was a real ass, I'm glad he died". Well that's something I think about. I'm sure the psychiatrist will ask me to explain that when I am locked up some day.

     I lost my Clip Drive Memory Stick Flash Drive, whatever they are called these days. I wasn't so mad that I lost it, as much as I was mad that it seemed to just disappear. The funny thing is I found it later. It just appear somewhere that I checked 48,000 times. I knew I would find it and I knew how I would find it. It had something to do with Karma. I'm not going to go into it here.

     I hate it when I lose something and I am certain it should be somewhere so I check that place like 900 times. I kept checking my pockets "just in case" I missed it the previous 899 times. Then I searched in places it couldn't possibly be. Then my pocket again. Then more impossible places. Finally I gave up. I found it nearly glued to my forehead in a place that was too obvious, but I am certain it wasn't there before. I found it when I undid some bad Karma thing that I had previously done. More of taking a step on a slippery slope than anything. Enough of that.

     All the kids left around noon. The graduates left with their parents and the others trickled out. I don't even know why the JHS kids came. They got here at the usual time and left around 10am. Oh I guess they had to "graduate" from their grade at the closing ceremony. They all received some document stating they completed the difficult task of receiving all A's and may now advance forward.

     I found out some great news. A certain teacher will be teaching the new 7th graders. The one last year was a fine teacher, fine indeed, but he never used me. I went to the classes about 6 times and then it was "oh reading test" or "oh listening test" or "just me today, they will be writing something...". So finally I stopped asking and he never asked. The new guy, who is an ES teacher, has already talked to me about it. He had a great idea of using the 7 advanced kids as mini group leaders. There will be 7 groups of 4 kids, one of which is the advanced mini-teacher. These 7 girls take private English lessons from a private school in town and they are near the 8th grade level as 6th graders. They are probably more advanced than the current 7th graders. They can read and write several English words. Several as in more than 100.

     Other news is about 15 teachers/staff are leaving. No one really makes me sad, but I will miss them. One guy who is the assistant in the ES was really broken up about moving. He is a really people person and makes connections with the kids. He's kind of goofy in a good way and all the kids love him. He was really sad when the 6th graders were leaving and I am sad for him. I think I'll have the kids write him a letter some time next year. One teacher who was in Tanzania will be returning to teach. I think he speak English so that will be another teacher to chat with. I heard the names of the teachers who are coming here and I heard several -ko endings which is a common female name. It means 'child' of something. So the character preceding it might mean "autumn" and her name would be Akiko, which would mean "autumn's child". Something like that. So anyway, maybe we will get some cute single female pro-foreigner teachers. Most likely they will be old, ugly, nationalists though.

Spring Cleaning
Saturday, March 24, 2007

     I cleaned, rather purged, my apartment and computer today. I mean I threw away about 4 garbage bags of nonsense. I don't know why I have so much stuff. I mean I know I am a partial pack rat, but where do I get all this stuff? I tossed old magazines and  crap that I was keeping "just in case". I always toss something and then need it later and swear to never throw anything else away ever. Then I get frustrated and purge things. Then need something, swear, keep, purge, and so on. It felt good and I hope I can keep it to a minimum for a while. I am getting better. I don't go buy something on impulse like I have done in the past.

New Find.
Sunday, March 25, 2007

     I woke up too early, since I am turning into my dad. Finally around 9 something I left for Koriyama. I needed to buy this cheap rack system from the $1 store and more cheap notebooks from the art store. I also wanted lunch somewhere and to pay for my alternator. More on that later. For some reason I left too early and had to wait about 10 minutes everywhere I went. Well except for the bank, it opened the ATM at 9 so I strolled right in and wired the money to the garage. Then I went to the $1 store which opened at 10 and I got there at 9:50. Funny thing about Japan happened there. The clerk came to the door at 9:57 and waited for 3 minutes to unlock the door. The people waiting in line also waited politely. At precisely 10am she opened the door.

     So the garage alternator thing. If you check the 4th paragraph of my February 9th journal post, you will find I predicted it would cost around $300 to fix the alternator since that was the exact amount I had allotted to save that month. Well the bill was $316. This has happened several times in the past and only recently have I started to notice the relation. The silver lining is that Iím glad it didnít cost $500 (rather Iím glad I didnít allot that much for savings). Anyway, I used the $270 rebate from the teacherís housing plus $46 of my own so it was ok.

     Back to the $1 store, I got everything I needed and then noticed it was still only 10:15 so I went to get a haircut from the $10 place. That took 30 minutes or so putting me at the sushi place at 10:50 and they opened at 11. So I eat sushi and head over to the arts store and they open at 11:30 and it is 11:20, so a bit more waiting. I really didnít mind since it was a peaceful drizzling Sunday morning and I was in no rush.

     In the arts place I bought some knick knack teacher supplies. I also bought some notebooks for the kids to write their weekly journals in. Into which their weekly journals will be written. They have packs of 5 for $2. My previous best price was a pack of 5 for $3. So then I left with my heavy bag of notebooks and started to head home. On the way I passed a place called TRIAL Store and I have assumed for a while that it is a store of trial sized things or something. I go in and find it is a Wal-Mart type discount store. I look around for a while and find several things I want to buy when I have more time and money. Everything is marked way down and there are no top name brands. I get some socks 4 for $3 and a few other small things. Then I see they have similar notebooks in packs of 5 for $1. They have about 50 packs or more and I almost bought 10-20 packs, but then I thought I should get one pack and check to make sure they are useable for English. Sometimes lines go up and down which is how Japanese can be written. But they are fine so I will go back and buy more.

     Then I get home and assemble the kitchen rack and watch the final day of sumo. The grand champion lost and it was a classy way of losing. When he had his final match he pulled a cheesy move and won. When they start they squat and then charge each other head on. He stepped to one side and his opponent just fell. You win, but itís not respectable. So that move tied him with another lower ranked guy so they did a face off. First the grand champion took too long to come back out to the ring which made the other guy wait. Then when they were ready to squat for the match, the other guy paused and made the GC wait. Finally when they started the other guy stepped aside and the GC touched his hand. The GC smiled as if to say Ďtouchťí and the other guy one the match and the series, but not in a respectable way so it wonít count for much when he wants to become a grand champion.

More Purging.
Monday, March 26, 2007

     Today at school we cleaned the gym for a few hours in the morning. Then we cleaned out desks. Mine was especially bad since I didnít clean it last year. I went to Taiwan during spring break and came back right around the first day of school or a day before maybe. So my desk had two years plus stuff from the girl before me. It felt great to toss half the stuff. Itís hard to get over my pack-ratted-ness, but I have a plan for it. I ask myself if I have used it in the past 6 months and if not I put it in a ďpossible trashĒ stack. Then I sort everything else and come back to it. I tossed out a full trash bag of stuff I didnít need. If I had unlimited space I would have kept most of it. Itís such a refreshing-spring-new-year feeling to clean like that.

    I complain a lot about Japan, but there are some things that I prefer. Their school year goes from April to March. Actually the business cycle does as well. People are only hired in April, apartments are rented from April, cars are bought in April and sold in March, and so on. I like it because the transition from winter to spring has a ďnew beginningĒ feel. Much more than starting things in summer. I wish I could leave this school in March whenever I do rather than in the middle of the year in July.

     Japanese teachers donít have much time away from school unless they take personal leave time. My mother is a teacher and she gets summers off, 2 weeks off around the new year, a week for spring break, and of course all the holidays. Japanese teachers get about 10 days of per year for holidays (though many of them work on these days anyway), then they get 5 days off in the winter for a special family-ancestor holiday time. But as far as summers and winter vacation, they are expected to be at work unless they take their personal leave time. Also, they get a bonus each year, but part of the criteria for determining the amount they receive comes from how much vacation time they used. Thatís one of the tough points for foreign teachers in Japan. When there are no students and no classes for a week or more, we find it hard to come to work and do nothing just for the sake of being at work.

     I was away for a bit and when I came back to my desk there was the sacred list of which teachers are coming to the school, from where, and who all will be teaching what. There were some surprises and many things that were expected. One pleasant surprise was who the new 7th grade English teacher will be. Since itís a small school we borrow a teacher from the elementary school who has an English license. Last year it was a fine teacher, fine indeed, who was such a fine teacher he never used me. This year the guy is one of my favorite ES teachers and will use me a lot. He already has a great plan for using the 7 students who are advanced because they have attended a private school for learning English for 2 years. Heís going to have them act as mini- group leaders. Sine there are 28 kids, there will be 7 groups of 4 with 1 of the 4 being the advanced student. Itís a great forward thinking idea and I plan to use it in my classes as well.

My Brain is Full.
Friday, March 30, 2007

     Monday after school we had our send off party at a nice hotel in town. It was a good time, but it was more of a ceremony than a party. At parties there is drinking and eating and we did that this time, but when parts of a group separate there are many things that take place. First they ceremonially came in the room while we clapped and sat for a photo. Then they left and came in again to start the party. They we opened the party, had a few obligatory speeches, and did some opening related things. Then each of the 13 people came to the stage and said a few words. 13 people times 3 minutes each. Then we had the toast and ate and drank for, Iíd say, 30 minutes or so. Then each person was called back to the stage and some other teacher said a few words, cried a bit, said a few more words, and then present the leaving person with some flowers and a plaque thing we all signed. 13 people times 5 minutes each. Then each person made another small speech right after being given the stuff. 13 people times 2 minutes. Then it was time for them to leave so we made a bridge, or tunnel rather, with our hands and they passed through.

      I left shortly thereafter although we were milling around doing something or nothing in the party room. Maybe they were waiting for the people to actually leave the building. I got a taxi and then on the bullet train and zipped to Tokyo. I got there just in time to catch the last trains to my friendís place, who actually DID leave the key for me this time. Where did he leave the key? Under the washing machine. But wait, should that be inside? Yes it should but Tokyo the apartments are so small the washing machines go outside.

     Whenever I ride packed trains in Tokyo I always cringe at the thought of these trains in the US or other country. Being such individuals, Americans would complain and simply not tolerate it at all. The trains are packed and you think, oh too bad for these people waiting in line, but somehow they ALL get in the train. I had my hands above my head trying to hold the handle, but I didnít need to since there was no where to fall. I couldnít take a picture for several reasons, but it would have just been a sea of black hair.

     It took a while to remember where they school was, but finally I came across the memory clue. I remembered it was in the same building as an incubation center, whatever that is. The school itself was pretty good. I sent them a lot of things I wanted to learn and they covered all the topics. My favorite teacher was the director of the school who was fluent in English and I needed several English translations and explanations. I studied several grammar points in excruciating detail with several repetitions. I think I will be able to remember everything as soon as I review my notes and rewrite them. On Thursday, in the afternoon, my brains just started to get slow. I would day dream and I couldnít concentrate and I couldnít remember basic words. It was almost like I was drunk. It was just slow sluggish thoughts. I told the lady my brain was full which it probably was. We covered a lot of stuff.

      The only thing I didn't like (yes there's always one thing) is that it's a bit far from everything and in a really busy business part of town. It took 45 minutes to get to and most of that time was packed trains. We had an hour and a half lunch break everyday and I ate at McDonald's twice. The last day I simply refused and bought some lunch box thing on the street and ate it at the place. I wanted to eat in a Japanese style place, but they were always packed with a long line. Some places were so pack and had such limited place that they had no tables, people just ate while standing.

     Classes ended Thursday around 4 and I went back to my friendís place and then to Shinjuku station to catch the bus on Thursday. The strange thing was the bus holds about 45 people and there were only about 15 on board. But what was strange was that we were all packed in little sections and several seats were free. We stayed like that until we passed the last pickup stop and then we all took our own seats. It just didnít make any sense and I was glad to see the Japanese people agreed. I got to Koriyama around 10 and back to my apartment around 11pm. Then I unpacked and sorted some things for today. Finally I fell asleep around 1am.

     As usual I undressed for the event today. Everyone was in a suit and I wore my usual button up shirt with green pullover. I stood out, but I always do so what does it matter. Plus I only have 2 suits really. First the leaving people had a meeting in the principalís office. Then they came out and said a few words. Then we had a ceremony in the big hall where the VP said something about each person and then each person got up and made a speech. 13 people times 5 minutes. These speeches were really to the kids since they were all present. I had to leave for a bit since it was just too much for me. I ďwent to the bathroomĒ for about 30 minutes and then went back in to the meeting. I just canít sit through long ceremonies that are all in Japanese, especially today since my brain is full of Japanese. Plus I had bad heartburn from eating some candy a teacher gave me in the morning. One odd thing about the candy is when they put it on my desk they put it in a strange shape. I don't know if it is a proper shape, or a coincidence, or if it means what it looks like it means.

     Finally the meeting was over and it was time for the seeing off. They have a word in Japanese that means see + send and thatís what this was. We did it for the graduating seniors in both the ES and the JHS. Basically everyone lines up down both sides of the hall and the leaving people walk through. We give them messages or flowers or both. Since these teachers knew many kids, most of the kids gave them flowers. They had so many flowers each that they had an assistant following them with a few shopping bags to hold all the flowers and gifts. Then they actually left and wonít be coming back for a while which was a nice climatic ending, and weíve established I really like big endings that are actually the end of something.

     I just found out my new desk placement. I guess itís fine, but I donít really have too many preferences. Well I did have two and both were met. One was that I didnít like having my back to the window since the sun shines in and I canít see my computer screen due to the glare. The second was I hated sitting next to the teacherís computer. Either kids/teachers would be all around it and encroaching on my area. Other times teachers would just put their stuff right on my desk while using the computer. Lastly there was this label printer that would make an angry piglet sound. It was like weeeeeeeÖwah wah wahÖclick click clickÖ..weeeeeeeee, well you get the idea. So I will be sitting on the end of a row, facing the window, pretty far from the computer, and I should have a cabinet beside my desk to put things on. On which things will be put.

     Oh here is another thing that was changed and will be really cool. Since the 6th grade class was under 30 people, it will just be one class rather than two. Actually it will be like that for the next 5-8 years as well. So it should have been the single first year class on the 3rd floor, two classes of the 2nd years on the 2nd floor, and 2 classes of the 3rd years on the 1st floor. But the new 1st year students will be in the 3rd classroom on the first floor, by the 3rd years and the 3 classrooms on the top floor will be subject specific classrooms.

 

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