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Monday, October 3rd, 2005

I've been getting really lazy at school recently. We have an older copy machine, the kind without an auto feed tray on the top. This requires one to lift the lid for each copy and replace the sheet. Takes a whole 3 seconds, but it's enough to make me wait and do them later. There is really no excuse for this. It's about as sad as me not taking the phone numbers of people's mobile phone because they don't have the infrared option. With the feature we simply press a button and touch phones and all the info is transferred.  Without it, I have to manually enter the info. Again, big whah.

Not that you will know, but my internet service has been cut off since Friday. It's not because I didn't pay the bill, I think the modem died. Well actually I am pretty sure of it because there are no lights on it at all. Even when I unplug it and plug it back in. Nothing. So I am sure that died. I called the English support line and they sent a new modem overnight. It was supposed to get here this morning, but it didn't. So I get home at 6:00pm and drop off my bad and run to the store for a minute. I get back in 15 minutes and there is a stupid note that I just missed him. Sadly I passed him on the road and assumed it wasn't about me. On the note there was a phone number which I called, but it was an automated entry system. I made it through about 5 steps and then they asked for a number I didn't understand. I will have a teacher call tomorrow. I hate asking teachers to do that stuff since I am no longer a helpless ALT. I am considered a full fledged teacher now, so I should be able to handle things myself. I will ask Shoko sensei, who I have been teaching English to at night. She also teaches me Japanese.

I have come to decide I don't think I will take anymore "intensive Japanese" courses. They all insist on total immersion which I utterly loathe. Why on earth would I want to be taught Japanese IN Japanese. I clearly don't understand the language, so how are you going to explain it to me IN the language? Of the few total immersion classes I have taken, they have all be wastefully inefficient. For instance, one place took an HOUR to explain the phrase "may nichi" (my knee-chee). It means "everyday". Mai means every, nichi means day. There I explained it in 4 seconds. How is one hour more efficient that 4 seconds. In less than one minute I could explain that mai- is a prefix for time related things. So one could say mai-year, mai-week, and so on. It's not for people or places. But this lady spent one hour going through a calendar point and drawing things. People were guessing things like "a week, one week, several weeks, a few days, days of the week, a calendar week".

 

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

JUST SAY EVERYDAY !!!!!

 

Nope. She just went on and on. Finally I got frustrated and mumbled it. I got in trouble. She should have been the one to get in trouble for wasting people's time. The other time was at the language school I went to in the summer in Sapporo. We spent one entire day of classes, 9:30 to 3pm, learning this upper level grammar structure. One entire day out of a two week course. None of us got it and the teacher thought it was his fault. Finally at the end of the day someone in the class said "oh it means blah blah". We all understood.

There is a point in which a foreign language should be taught completely in that language, but I am not at it. I would be happy with someone teaching mostly in Japanese and then explaining something in English when we get stuck or if there is a fine detail about it, but completely in the language with no English at my stage is wasteful. So I get Shoko sensei to explain things in English to me. It helps her English and helps my Japanese. This week we are learning about giving and receiving. There are different verbs for each and different verbs depending on who is doing the giving and receiving and depending on who is on the other end. It's tough, but I am getting the hang of it. Though it would take 4 weeks if I was learning all in Japanese.

I've really been disappointed with my classes recently. I mean my teaching plans. At first things were really flowing and I felt there was good continuity flowing through them, but now things are flopping and I am getting blank stares. Like last week I showed some Bugs Bunny cartoons because I thought they would be easy to follow. Then I realized they are horrible for teaching English. Bugs acts like an idiot and no one can figure out what he is doing. Daffy slurs like a drunk sailor with a lisp and a fat tongue. Elmer Fudd, well he talks like Elmer Fudd. Porky Pig stutters really fast. Geez it was awful. I had this test for them to fill out but I had them trash it since it was impossible. Other classes have flopped around as well. I don't know why things are different. I should plan things better or check my astrology chart.

So I was all excited about the prime minister's plan called "cool biz". It's where government employees don't have to wear a tie in the summer so places can use the A/C less. By less I mean not at all. Yea that was a fun summer plan. Unfortunately, Cool Biz has a bastard red headed step child named Warm Biz. That's where people dress overly warm in the winter so places can use less heat. By less, I'm afraid it means none. I can dress warmer, that's not a big issue. Though I do find it silly when people are wearing huge coats at their desk. What's more annoying is when the windows are open in the winter. Body heat would heat up the place a bit if the windows weren't open. But the biggest complaint about Warm Biz, is that it means wearing a tie. Starting Oct 1st, or the 3rd being a Monday. I wear the same old tie-less short sleeve shirt, only to find everyone else dressed for a meeting with the president. I'll wear long sleeves tomorrow, but I am waiting on the tie for a while.

I really hate wearing ties. I really hate that. How does wearing a tie make me work better? I think it makes me less effective since I am worried about the tie. I can only imagine the elementary school kids yanking my tie all the time. Not looking forward to this. I will delay the tie thing as long as possible.

Why does chocolate taste so good? Even more so on an empty stomach? Before leaving the school I saw a stick of chocolate on my desk from some reward system thing in the past I had. I grabbed it and bit into it. Man it was heaven. I ate another and another. It was insane. It was the best thing I had ever eaten. Finally I stopped myself and left. Then I went to grab dinner and missed the stupid delivery guy with the modem.

You know the school is much different from my school. Once school is out it becomes a day care type place, but with no supervision. Elementary school kids are wandering around or in the yard playing and teachers are in the classrooms or not. Maybe they are in the teacher's room or in a meeting or somewhere else. For a system that has no discipline, kids are amazingly well behaved sometimes. Not at the devil school that I no longer go to, but at Higashi and here in Konan. There was never a time in which I was just alone and wandering around my elementary school. At least while not getting in trouble.

So two weekends ago my buddy from Georgia got married. I was supposed to be the best man, but I was unable to get back to the US for it. If I was able to get back it would have meant I was on the ground for less time than in the air. It's just not feasible (or possible at this time) for me to fly back to Georgia for the weekend. Well he's married and happy so that's good. It would have been fun be the best man, and throw the bachelor party. We were even going to visit my college and see all the changes that have been made over the years.

[later]

I'm watching the news in English. Some of the bigger channels have English dual signals. What is annoying about the news in Japan is they say one point and then repeat it about 10 times slightly differently. Now they are talking about some now found on the top of a mountain in northern Hokkaido. Well that's not surprising. Hokkaido is really far north and the mountains are high so it could easily be snowing there now. Just say it and move on. Nope, they must be sure we understand:

Anchor: In Hokkaido, on Mount Doodlepoop, 1 centimeter of snow was reported. This year was one day later than last year in which snow was found on the mountain. The temperature dropped to -3 C which caused the centimeter of snow to fall. Last year, but one day earlier, approximately 1.5 centimeters fell, but this year it was only reported to be 1 centimeter. Mount Doodlepoop is the tallest mountain in Hokkaido and as of this morning 1 cm of snow was reported. A mountain ranger was checking the temperature at the top of the mountain when he noticed, and measured, the 1 cm of snow that is currently present now. This is .5 cm less than what was reported last year, but one day earlier.

 

WE GOT IT.

 

It would be awesome if the translator got tired of repeating it and just said " In Hokkaido, on Mount Doodlepoop, 1 centimeter of snow was reported. Blah blah blah. Words words blah blah blah more words. They are just saying the same thing over and over. Go to the bathroom or get a glass of water, I will whistle when something new starts. They are going to repeat it for a few more minutes. No one else at the station speaks English so they don't know what I am saying. Blah blah blah. Words and more words. Hey did you know nothing rhymes with orange or silver. Yea I guess that is true. Blah blah blah and words. Oh they are wrapping it up. Ok they just repeated the 1cm of snow again, and now.....wait......ok...back to you Tanaka-san".

What might be even more odd than that, is when they show movies and go to commercial breaks. Right as they are going to a break they show scenes that are coming up, but they don't really pay attention to what they are showing and quite often just give away a major plot point. So why should I watch the commerical, you just told me how it ends. Although I have already seen pretty much anything they show here, but it's still fun to watch native English occasionally. My brain gets tired from trying to decipher Japanese all the time.

Wednesday, October 5th

I had an embarrassing silly giggle awkward miscommunication today. First I must make a comment that my mother has asked me not to mention, but A) it's relevant, and B) she no longer reads this. I was sitting at my desk and I was talking to a teacher about a class. Then I excused myself and said that I had to go to the bathroom for a moment. A few minutes later I returned and we continued the conversation.

That was relevant and not too descriptive.

About 5 minutes after I returned I began talking to the other English teacher again. Then a teacher from across the way leaned over and asked me a question. She wasn't an English teacher, but she spoke a little. Most educated adults can speak a few basic sentences and understand a bit more than they let on to. So she leaned over and said:

"Ryan sensei do you like do-do?".

Uh...what...is this about the bathroom...uh...

And the silly awkward "I am thoroughly confused" giggling starts.

"Do you like do-do?". "Have you had do-do before?".

Oh my god, what is going on here? Am I being Punked? Is this Candid Camera? Oh my god I can't stop this awkward giggling. Is it because she said do-do? What is going on.

"Do you like do-do?".

By now I am uncontrollably flipping between laughing, asking her what she is trying to say, asking an English teacher what was going on, and more giggle-snorting.

Then she leans over more and hands me........

 

 

Now one might think this resolved the matter. Nope, it made the giggling worse. Then everyone around me was wondering why I was giggling uncontrollably and making snorting noises like that duck selling insurance. Finally I stopped and had to explain what was funny. There I was, in the teacher's room, explaining what do-do is to full grown Japanese teachers. That was the highlight of my day.

So I went in really early today because I needed to plan a few lessons and make some flash cards. I get there before 7:30 and I couldn't get anything done. Some clubs had a trip today so they all came into the teacher's room before school and made a "we will do our best" speech. Then a few teachers made a "all that matters is you do your best" speech. We all had to stand and clap while they were doing this. Don't get me wrong, I was all in favor of cheering them on and would have made a speech myself if I had better Japanese, but the timing was off for me. I needed to get some things done and I had to sit at my desk to do it. Oh well, life goes on and I ended up with some good plans.

The weather is changing and I am feeling it. I felt bad today and I thought I was catching a cold. I had that pre-cold feeling. Hard to explain, but I'm sure you understand it. I've also been a bit depressed recently. For several reasons, one being the weather. Another being that one of my little 1st grade friends is playing mad at me. I don't know why, but she is ignoring me. It really bugs me, I mean it made me sad. I always do math with her in the afternoon, but today I could see she was hiding, and not in the playful way. Another time when I went into her room she walked to the other side and acted like she was busy. My moods shouldn't be affected by a 6 year old, but they are.

Is it affected or effected. I really don't know, and yet I teach English. How sad. I think it's:

This has an EFFECT on me.

That AFFECTED me.

Sad. More so that I typed out this derailment rather than think about it and not look stupid. Oh the 3rd reason why I have been feeling down is recently I feel like my lessons are disjointed. At first things were flowing and meshing and all was complete in the universe. Now, occasionally it seems like things are failing, like the cartoon fiasco. Maybe it's just me. My horoscope said this would be a great month. I've just come to realize I am no longer an ALT, a toy, a puppet, a play thing. I am a real teacher. My lessons don't have to be approved and modified. If I want to give the students a big test everyday I could. If I teach them wrong English, I could. I am free to do what I want.

That seems like a great thing with all the freedom, and it really is. But sometimes I worry that I am not right or doing something wrong or something. I know I am overreacting, but it has got me down a bit. It doesn't help that I am semi-isolated in this small town. Again, that's what I wanted, but sometimes it adds up. I think another thing, while I am whining about myself, is my lack of a creative outlet. I'm not good at sports, art, music, computers, or anything really. At least not in a way that excels. So I can't release any creative energy I have built up. I have always wanted to pick up a trumpet or guitar and just make everyone freak out. Or rip out some classical piece on the piano. But nope, nothing. My only outlet is being funny. Which is really acting stupid and letting people laugh at you. I've always done that and it's my little thing, but it takes it's toll on you. When people are always laughing at you, even if you want them to, eventually makes it hard to tell when they are laughing at you for other reasons.

I am really getting tired of hearing about Hiroshima. Honestly I don't think I have gone a month without being asked about it, or reading about it. We are currently in the chapter of the 3rd year book where there is a really sad story about it. The story is about a tree who hears a lullaby and remembers when the bomb dropped 60 years ago. It talks about how people were badly burned and dying everywhere and some boy was crying for his mommy. Then a young girl comforted him and he died. Then she died the next day.

It's sad and I get sad reading it. But I get tired of how Japan is always the victim. I don't want to start with this line of discussion because it is huge and will get me all riled up. Plus it will put me into my 'bitching about Japanese culture" frame of mind. Speaking of which...

I have actually had 3 emails all within the course of a week asking/telling/suggesting I stop bitching about Japanese culture. One of the main points is that I renewed and am still here. Since I am still here I shouldn't complain about things. Well I will talk about this for a minute.

I am, by nature, a negative person. I can admit that. I do try to see both sides of an issue, but I can't always get there. Since my job and life has drastically changed, I think I becoming less negative about things here. But simply because I am still here doesn't mean I can't complain about things that bothers me. That doesn't really make sense to me. Who just quits their job and moves on because they don't like something? I like enough about my life here to continue, but I don't love everything. Maybe I can't find a decent job back in the US, maybe I don't want to be in the US now, maybe I like teaching English, maybe I still want to learn about Japanese language and culture.

Furthermore, I set up this journal for a few reasons. One being to let people know what I am up to and to show people about my travels. Another is to document my day to day life so I can look back in 20 years and remember all the small things. More recently it has become a place for me to let off steam about things that really bug me, the current thing being Japanese culture. I don't write this to amuse people, I treat it like an open diary. I'm not going to say "if you don't like it then you can go.....". I enjoy comments and feedback, but I really don't want to start worrying about censoring what I write. I want to write what I feel and what I am thinking. I know from experience I can't please everyone. I hope you can understand that. I also hope you can laugh with me, or even at me.

However, I do think I have been complaining less recently. Well apart from the Hiroshima thing and some other stuff. My job is much better and my life is getting there. When I get some debts paid down I will be much happier. But really, if I wrote about how wonderful life was all the time it would sound a bit silly and fake. Maybe I can have Whiny Wednesdays or something. I'll try to keep it more positive, but when something really irks me I am going to rant. Like the stupid speech contests. When students bust their @$$ for months and don't even place in the top 8, and yet people who read their speech get in the top three simply because they go to a certain school.

Anyway. 3 emails all within a week. All with a similar message. I believe the universe steers people by sending messages in different ways. This could be a message to me. Or it could be a conspiracy. Not really, but that is my new Japanese word I have been using. Whenever something goes slightly not-my-way I yell conspiracy in Japanese. The word is "inbou" pronounced EEN-BOW (as in what's on top of a present). It's usually a laugh getter.

Speaking of nothing related. Tomorrow I am going all the way to Nihonmatsu with my vice principal to see the Lantern Festival which I really dig. It's a 1.5 hour drive each way so I assume I will get back here after midnight. I probably won't drink, at least not much since I don't want to be hammered around the VP nor on a school night. I will take more pictures and maybe video. Here is a link to a previous Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival.

Monday, October 10th

Well the lantern festival was great as usual. It's more fun on weekends when one can drink and not worry about school the next day, but it was still fun. The only thing I didn't like was about halfway there I realized the vice principal live in Koriyama and was planning to drive me all the way back that night. How wasteful and utterly nice of him. I should have just crashed at his place on the floor or something. He gets to school at 7am so I could made it back hereto change in time, but I didn't make the connection until it was too late. Here's a map.

       

As you can see he went way out of the way for me and I am really thankful. I am torn between acts of extreme kindness and cultural disparities that drive me batty. I've decided to handle the "stop complaining about Japanese culture" in a way that will appease all parties.

I'm going to continue doing it because typing it out makes helps me slow down the thought process and consider reasons for why it's like it is. It's also a chance for me to just vent about it as well as keep a record of it.  Plus my friend, Renee, who came to visit said this:

I figure people only make the effort to complain about something they actually care about. I know you like it over there, so you want it to be as good as it can be. That means seeing the things that could
benefit from a little change and speaking up about it.

But can understand how people think it gets in the way of my usual witty banter. So I am going to continue doing it, but have it on a separate page. That way people will have to click a link knowing what they are going to read is my whiny complaining about something I can't change. Plus it will keep all my negativity on one page. I'll just keep adding to the page.

Here is my first entry for the Japanese Cultural Differences page. It's about my Saturday plans, which went as planned more or less. Though Friday I drove all the way into Koriyama to see a friend DJ but I couldn't find the club so I had to drive back that night. Then the next day I drove right back to do some shopping and get some things I can't get in the small town.

At one point I was almost in a massive accident. It wouldn't have been my fault. Well I take that back, this is Japan, it most likely would have been my fault even though I was stopped in my lane at a traffic light. I was sitting there waiting to turn right across traffic (opposite side driving here). It was a bad intersection that needs a turn signal. Cars would lurch in front of on coming traffic. The two in front of me did that and the car behind it and in front of me did that as well. But the 2 up car stopped while someone was crossing the street. That put the car in front of me in the middle of the road. A car that was speeding toward it veered into my lane. We made eye contact for a minute and it managed to turn just before hitting me. He never slowed down a bit, though he was on the horn pretty hard.

Other than that I went to Starbucks, a nice burger joint that has a Whopper copy, a book store, the electronics store, and a few other places. Then I goofed off at this mall out of the way a bit. It has some big Ferris wheel in the parking lot that can be seen for miles.

Taken with my phone so not the best picture. I found a nice home store and a Jusco which is like a big discount store. I think I am going there next pay check to get some household supplies. I watched the Ferris wheel for a few minutes and calculated it would take 15 minutes to go all the way around. I'd like to ride it at some point to see the view. Maybe at night or something.

Today I have done nothing really. Tomorrow I might go exploring a bit. Just find out what is in each of a few different directions. I really have only go two ways which are toward Aizu Wakamatsu and Koriyama city. There are a few other roads around here that I should explore. Later tonight (this morning it's 12:50am Monday since Monday is a holiday), I might translate more stuff from some important paper that was put on my desk Friday. It has my name all over it, in Japanese, so I will try to figure out what I am responsible for now. Sometimes I translate papers at work for practice. Matter of fact I might set up a page on here of useful kanji I have found and translated at school. It would be helpful for people in Japan who work at schools, maybe. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 12th

I was standing in the bathroom, the men's bathroom, at the stand up toilet. It was actually the teacher's bathroom, but that isn't the interesting part. Then, as I am standing there, taking care of business, one of the 4th grade GIRLS walks in and stands beside me and starts taking care of her own business. Wow. This is freaky. She is standing and I hear something so what's going on. She has long hair all the way to her butt. So after she leaves and I can start again, I go to the teacher's room and look for her on the picture sheet I have. I can't find her anywhere so I ask a teacher and he says "oh yea the long hair. That's a boy".

Booya. Nearly two months of me seeing him/her everyday thinking it was a girl. I mean his hair is A) really strange for a 4th grader in Japan and B) really super strange for a boy to have. It's girl's hair flat out. It's always braided and seriously it's down to his butt. I will try to take a subtle picture sometime. I would bet money on him being a her if I didn't know better. Wow.

Then I was preparing a big sheet with several small insects on it and in big letters the word INSECT across the top for one of the classes. Then a teacher asked me how to pronounce it. So I said the word insect and he looked at the sheet and tilted his head in that "I don't understand" sorta way. So I looked at it and said "yea it's insect. Hmm, it's odd how we spell it though. It's like Wednesday. We say WenSday, but spell it WEDnesday. Yea this is the same way. We say inSect, but spell it.... OH CRAP. I wrote incest".

So I rush over to my desk and mark it out with white out and make another copy. Then the other teacher goes and sits down and is looking at some paper. Or a book. Some book. Oh it's a dictionary. I figure that part out as his head pops up and chin drops. I apologize and thank him for catching my mistake, though the kids wouldn't have even known.

"Ok class let's talk about incest today".

Well I talked about doodoo last week so might as well stay on path. Seriously though, in another class we did poems. The kind where you write one word on one line, then two on the next, then three, then four, then one to close it. Most were just average since their vocabulary is limited. half the time kids wrote two words where only one goes. But there was this one kid, who cracked me up.

He always hangs out with this other kid. They are kinda dorky, that's not me being rude, they are just kinda dorky. They are also rather feminine. Then again most boys are in Japan, but these two are more so. So this one kid gets a dictionary and works and works. Finally at the end some kids read them out loud. He read his.

Dolls
Soft Cuddle
It's my hobby.
I will hold you.
Friends.

It just cracked me up and I laughed a bit while everyone was clapping, but no one noticed. I wrote a few samples on the board and people enjoyed them. I won't write them here because they are boring. but I will say I still can't write on the board to save my life. I write diagonal even when I am trying ultra hard to write flat. Some letters are big and others are small. It's sad and pathetic.

I just translated some sheet they put on my desk because it had my name on it. It says I will be one of three teachers administering a test on Friday at the school. It starts at 4:30 and lasts for 90 minutes, give or take. I don't mind doing it, and it being Friday is no issue either. What I don't like is we are giving the test to our own students. That's going to be hard to be fair and impartial. Plus students will know who gave them what score. I really meant to have some practice sessions with these kids, but I am actually so busy. I get to work early and leave around 6 or 7pm. Then I usually have about 2 hours of stuff to do at home to prepare for the next day. I have a huge list of things I really need to be doing or have already done, but I just get so tired and worn out that I can't get around to everything. I still need to put up some "New Words" for this week. Maybe I will do that on Friday for next week. Well back to work. I have to write out some scripts for something for the kids. But at least I enjoy doing it so it's not like work.

Thursday, October 13th

I am convinced the school system has a contract and minimum quota for paper usage. There is no other way to explain it. Today I received, all in the course of one day, the following:

A) Three copies of the same sheet, all on different sized paper.

B) A paper with one line of text on it. "There will be a party on Saturday, please tell so-and-so sensei if you are going".

C) Another sheet, an hour later, that said, no joking, no exaggeration whatsoever, "correction, the party will be Friday, not Saturday".

D) A sheet with the phrase " see other side " in Japanese, though the other side info was on a separate attached sheet.

E) A 10 page packet with random completely unnecessary colored text.

Maybe that should have gone under cultural disparities. Oh well.

I got myself into a small jam with the language barrier. Nothing as stupid as the doodoo mishap recently. I was studying some vocabulary since the kids had tests all day. One word was "straight line" so later when the kids were finished cleaning and lining up I tried to say "get in a straight line". I mixed up the words slightly. Actually I used the correct meaning words, but the combination was wrong.

The phrase I wanted to say was "chokusen". 直線 【ちょくせん】 (n) straight line. That is an entry from an online dictionary, maybe you can't see the Japanese characters.  It's pronounced "chough coo sin". Choku meaning straight, and sen being line. I forgot that exact term, but remembered Choku. Then I remember a word for line is retsu as in form one line. So I said "chokuretsu". Seems like nothing bad right?

Well it is nothing bad. It's something very good. All the kid's faces lit up and they started screaming "chokuretto chokuretto". Hmmm, why are they yelling Chocolate? Oh crap. So now I have to buy the entire 2nd grade class chocolate since I promised I would apparently. Argh. Well of all the things I could have said, that is on the OK list.

Today there was some hour long meeting where we discussed all the problems with the kids. It was a bit sad. Some kids have emotional problems, which I picked up on, some kids had said rude things to teachers, which is really strange, and some kids felt isolated because they didn't fit into other groups. I understood most of it and we had this sheet that was stamped "secret" and numbered with all the details.

I spend much of my free time translating things. Not in a way that I could make money from, but when I get a memo that I can tell is important, I will circle words I don't know and look them up. It's slow and painful, but it really helps me remember them. I feel so bad constantly asking people to translate things, even though they don't mind. I mainly do it because it makes me really focus on the kanji and the parts of it. I have to look up kanji characters I don't know by how many strokes they have and certain parts they contain. It's hard, but so far I have a list of over 100 things I have translated.

Monday, October 17th

Got to school really early, like 7am, because I had some classes to plan for. The walk there was a bit cool and I was anxious to get to school since it would be warmer. Granted only slightly warmer since Japan is not big on heaters until it gets really cold. So I get to school and all the windows in the teacher's room are open. It's actually cold outside. There is no reason for this. I can slightly understand not turning on the heater / AC for a while, but when it's cold outside, CLOSE THE WINDOWS.

On the way to school I was walking down a cut through. There were bushes on each side of the path and it was about 10 feet wide. As I was walking I noticed a spider web across the path. I was dumbfounded. How did the spider get the web across the path? I mean did it climb down the bush across the path, then up the wall with the thread coming out of it's thread maker? Then back across a few times until it was strong enough? Man that was just a mind blower. All day I thought about it.

Last Friday we gave the students a standardized English test. The English was correct and they spoke slowly and clearly. Then I noticed all the directions were in Japanese and only the actual test questions were in English. Then I remembered when I took a standardized Japanese test, everything was in Japanese. I mean Everything was in Japanese. The directions both on the test and the verbal ones. I also noticed that both the English test and the Japanese test were made by Japanese people. That seems to remind me of how English Speech Contests are judged by 2 Japanese people, who learned English as a second language, and one native English speaker. Interesting.

Oh this next part goes into the cultural disparities section. It's about funeral customs.

Ok back from that heated rant. Remember the 1st grader that I would help her with math a few weeks ago then she started ignoring me. She's still acting angry and ignoring me, but I have figured out it is a game and she's just a moody little brat. I asked her teacher about it to make sure if I had done something or said something and she said I hadn't. Apparently nothing was wrong. So I assumed it would pass, but it hasn't. Although now she will hang out with two friends and ask me to play some chase type game, but when I get near she gets really pissed off. If I am far she will laugh and squeal and run away and hide. But when I sneak up on the group the other two will squeal and run away, but this one will get really mad and stomp off. Then once she gets far she just runs away and joins the game again. Occasionally she tries to pull the others away and it seems like she is trying to make it an us/them thing. I'm no longer down about it, I just ignore her now. Her loss.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2005

I had a humorous "only in Japan" mispronunciation discussion today which led to the giggles, but they weren't as bad as the dew-dew conversation. I was discussing first how to say various body parts in English with the 3rd grade elementary teacher. Then we moved on to the dreaded song "head shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes". He was explaining how differently he plays the game.

Him: I tell them to say "head shoulders knees and ...oh crap".
Me: What?
Him: I tell them to say "head shoulders knees and ...oh crap".
Me: What's wrong?
Him: Nothing.
Me: Did you forget something?
Him: No. Did I?
Me: Oh, well nevermind.
Him: So what about "head shoulders knees and toes...oh crap".
Me: Oh crap what?
Him: Touch their toes...oh crap.
Me: Oh crap what?!?!
Him: You know, crap. Crap crap crap. Touch their toes...oh crap.
Me: Why are you saying "oh crap".

Then he started clapping.

He was saying rather than touch their toes they could do that OR CLAP. When I figured it out I started laughing. Plus I was exhausted since it was late, but mainly because where else in the world would that conversation happen? Oh Crap!

This is probably a math question, but why are there always between 19 and 23 students in each JHS class. It's not like high school where they have a maximum. JHS is based on people living around us. If 100 families have twins in one year, 6 years later our 1st grade will have 200 kids. But there is always around 20 kids per class. That means there are around 40-45 kids in each grade level. Why is it always like that? Why not 4 students one year and 30 the next? Students are not re-zoned if there are too many or too few. There is always the same amount, more or less. It's a conundrum.

The halls are alive with the sound of music. We have our culture festival coming up on Sunday October 30th and all the kids are staying late to work on various things for it. There is an a cappella group, some dance groups, the teachers are singing a famous Japanese song, and all the classes have some presentation or something. Now everyone is painting the backs of cut up milk cartons. I mean little small lunch sized ones made of cardboard, or milk-proof cardboard. I'll be there all day taking pictures and participating. Is it "an a cappella group" or "a cappella" group?

There is one student, a 3rd grade girl, who I really like. She is just really cute and fun and always laughing. I make a point to see her everyday and give her a high five. I think she is slightly, how should I say it, special. I'm not sure, but I just get that vibe. For instance, the 3rd graders are learning to ride a unicycle (which is really cool actually), and also walk on short stilts. I asked if she had learned the unicycle yet and she said something like "oh of course not, I can't do that". Then the teacher (actually the oh crap teacher) told me she isn't able to do things like unicycles. It takes too much brain-balance coordination. So I figured it out more or less.

But the point is she is always laughing and smiling and happy. I helped her with the stilts one day for an hour and she kept falling. Sometimes it looked semi-painful. Each time she would get up and smile and laugh. It's like a drunk person saying "oh man, did you see me bust my butt just then? That's gonna hurt tomorrow". She falls, looks up at me, laughs and tries again. It's really inspiring to be honest. She has an older sister in the JHS who is really sweet as well. Some kids are just cool, while others are little brats.

One kid is now fascinated with my testicular region. Outside the clothes of course. But he keeps poking me there, sometimes painfully, and saying "kintama kintama" which means "golden balls". I have tried the whole gamut of ways to tell him to not do that, but he does anyway. Some kids ignore me altogether. A few other kids are just like little people. Just regular adults who are small. Their expressions and speech is so adult like, sometimes it's odd. I can only remember being quite kid-like as a kid.

I don't think it was actually a conundrum. Just a curious question.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I said something stupid to a student by sheer accident. Mainly because it's one of those "only in Japan" moments. The kids name is Ryouji, which pronounced like "row G" , but the row has a "y" sound maybe like r-y-ow G. So he asked what his named would be in English. Since Ryouji would never fly, I sounded it out a few times and got Rog, short for Roger. Rog almost, and I mean almost, sounds like a fast Ryouji. Not really, but maybe sorda if you were drunk and 300 people were yelling. Then you might think Ryouji sounds like Rog.

So anyway, I explained Rog is short for Roger, but Rog is a bit cooler. I was thinking of "What's Happening" with Rerun and the gang. That cool 70s show. Then he asks how to say Rog, so I spell it out in Katakana which is the language that is used for foreign words. I write out RAAJI. He has an awkward half smile, but his buddy is laughing and hitting him. I say it a few times then realize RAAJI is how you say "large" in Japanese. Plus Rog happens to be the "largest" kid in the school. Well that was fun.

Then for some stupid reason I wrote the wrong kanji character on the board. I was write some notes about the activity and one was grammar point, another was time limit, and  the last one was purpose. For some insanely stupid reason, I went dumb for 30 seconds and looked up the wrong word. I looked up porpoise. I write the characters on the board and the whole time I am thinking "man I remember this word being much easier than this". Then I even look in the dictionary again to make sure it is the right word. Porpoise. Yes that's it. Moron.

Here are the two words:

The only thing I can think of is I temporarily went stupid. I write all that on the board and I even notice the middle character means ocean. The students are giggling and some are making dolphin/porpoise sounds. One is jumping around the room acting like a porpoise (or possibly a dolphin - out of water it's hard to tell them apart).

Finally I get home and I am working on more stuff. Then I go to CNN.com and look to see if anything has happened recently. No buildings defied the laws of physics. Then I noticed an ad for Dell computers. I start clicking around on the specials and find one I like. I might be able to afford it around Spring or so. Then I see the customize button and click it and start pimping out the model. I clicked on everything making it top of the line. Here is what I would have had to pay.

Yea, I think I am going to wait on that purchase.

So my big class with the 1st graders went fine today. I had two people from the board of education come by to watch me for a while. Though I realized I could never be an elementary school teacher full time. Man it was a headache just keeping them in line. The game was a rip off of a Japanese game call "iro-oni". Iro means color and oni means IT in a game of tag. So iro-oni is color tag.

I put up about 10 big colored sheets all around the gym. Then they got in a circle and said "color color what color?" and I would say a color and they would run to it. It was great for a while. Then I added animals around the room too. I told the girls to go to the color and the boys to the animals. So they would do their little chant and I would yell "blue monkey" and the would split up. Then I turned stupid again and didn't think more than two seconds ahead. Two times in a row, and after the first time I should have learned, I picked a color and an animal that caused the kids to criss cross, while running full speed. So twice, TWICE, the kids plowed into each other and  took out like 2 of each gender. They sat down pouting and then I did it again. TWICE. Man today was a dumb day. But the important people from the BoE saw the best part of the game and seemed impressed.

Tomorrow I will take my camera and get some shots of students preparing for the culture festival. Starting in April I really want to take part in the culture club, not the gay 80's band that sang Kharma Chamelion, but the English/Culture Club at school. I want to have them do things like pumpkin carving, Easter egg hunt, make tye dyes. Things to really share my culture with them. For some reason they aren't active now, or just don't want me around. Those little.......

Thursday, October 20, 2005

This morning I got to school around 8am as usual. It was a bit colder today than recently. When I get there, once again all the windows in the teacher's room are open. I leave my jacket on and sit down. A few minutes later a strong, frigid, breeze blows in. I stand up and shut the windows. I didn't ask anyone and I didn't care. There was simply no reason to have them open since it was so cold.

I had a few classes today. Two in particular were the 2nd year JHS classes. Today was my solo day with them. First I gave them a huge list of questions that I will ask before class. I had been asking the same ones and they weren't listening to them anymore, just waiting for the first word. Then the activity was a self introduction in English, but written. I wrote out about 10 questions like:

My name is...
I live in ...
I have __ brothers and __sisters at this school.
Their names are ___ and ___.

And so on. It turned out to be a great whole class lesson/activity. They learned some new words and had fun filling it out. I was really just interested in finding out who is related to who at the school. More and more kids have brothers and sisters at the school and the number of separate families is going down.

Later in the day the kindergarten kids came by to register for school in April. The moms (some cuties) came and had a boring meeting while the kids got a checkup and took various tests. Some had great English for their age. I talked to them a bit and told them we would play fun English games when they get here. Some are really cute and others are going to be bratty.

Speaking of bratty, that 1st grader who suddenly got mad at me for no reason has turned out to be a real brat. There was this other kid in the library and I was going to sneak up behind her and say BOO. When the brat saw me doing that she announced what I was doing and ruined it. Ok. Then I was talking to another girl and brat came over and took her away. It was clearly "don't talk to him, play with me". I don't know how to react to this. I might make a point to have extra fun with the other kids until she gives in. I might point out that she is being rude to her. I don't know. I don't want to do anything that will cause her to tell her mommy that I was mean to her. I still don't know why she just turned on me though. It's only her.

Tomorrow I go to Koriyama all day for a meeting at the board of education. Then I will come back here and do nothing all weekend. I wanted to go to Tokyo for the weekend, but that will be at least $300 if I take the shink or $200 if I take the slow bus. I really need to save that money since I have some Halloween parties to go to which might require hotel rooms. The Fukushima city party will cost around $200 or more for one night with all the trimmings so I had better not go to Tokyo. Maybe I will go to Sendai for the day or something on Saturday. Buy some books or games or something. Eat some Mexican food. Who knows what else. I'd like to find the capsule hotel in Sendai, but I don't know where it is.

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

Didn't go to Sendai. Did manage to clean my apartment thoroughly. I went back to Koriyama and bought a new kitchen shelf and another small bookcase so I actually have places to put things. It was great to sort things and clean stuff.

It's really getting cold here now. I had to pull out my electric blanket which I love so much. It heats the bed up nicely and I sleep so much better. I don't know how I lived here for 2 years with out it (I bought it the third year). I pulled out the humidifier as well. Soon I get to crank up my brand new kerosene heater which should be effective, but not as convenient as the wall heater. It's cheaper than the wall heater though.

I have developed a nice little habit regarding taking a shower in the cold weather. My bathroom has a toilet and the shower. Then there is a sliding phone booth type door. Beyond that is the washing machine room with a small closet, and most importantly a sliding accordion style door. So before I take a shower, and before I strip to my birthday suit, I close the accordi-door and gank up the steamy heat for a while. Then I take a shower and when I finish I step out into a warm room. I also bought some snap together carpet stuff so I don't have to step on the cold floor. Loving it.

There have been a few earthquakes recently. Ones that make me actually get worried for a minute. There were two semi big ones within the course of one week. I can hear and feel the apartment building moving and I know the upstairs is moving worse than I am. They last for about a minute or two. I felt one in the car the other day, which is rare, but it was strong so I knew what it was. When the earth moves it's just odd.

My school is a new school and new concept. Because of that we are always hosting various visitors. I'd say at least once a week we have some people come in. This week we had a group of 100 people observing classes. Which means of course they want to see the class where the foreigner is by himself. I had about 50 people watching. We were studying "Do you have any..." so logically the best English based game to play is....Go Fish. At first the people would see everyone playing cards and wonder what was going on, but then they would hear students saying, in rather decent English, "Do you have any fives? No I don't. Go Fish". Then the teachers would get it and  nod.

Another day we had some important people come from the BoE. I think I mentioned it above. When they were finished they had a meeting in the principal's office. The second they were finished and the door opened, everyone in the teacher's room shot to their feet. It was militaristic like. I was crouching down at my desk and when I looked up, everyone was standing and bowing and saying something in Japanese. I stood up and bowed with my hands behind my back as others were. The two big wigs left and everything returned to normal. When I saw one of the big wigs at the BoE on Friday for our monthly meeting I thanked him for watching my class. It's the Japanese way.

I've noticed something odd a few times about the Japanese "group". I eat lunch with various classes each week. I can't drink milk so I always give it away. I physically can drink milk, but milk is like a bullet train and my intestines are the station at which said train does not stop. So anyway I give the milk away. Most of the time the kid will just drink it, but occasionally he stands up and announces he has an extra milk. Then a small group forms and they rock-paper-scissors for it. So I gave the milk to this kid who really wanted it, then being part of a greater group, he had to offer it to all. It's both honorable and strange.

I have been thinking about starting a haunted house next year. I don't know if I would do it at the school just for the kids at the culture festival, or if I would consider doing something in a nearby town for more people. I know I could get volunteers, but it's a year away. What I would really like to do is have it at the school and have the culture club assist since it would be a different culture type thing for them. I have so many culture club ideas like teaching them to tye-dye shirts, teaching them about my college degree printing/graphic arts, carving pumpkins next year since I couldn't get them in time this year, and much more.

I think I am going to wake up early on snowy mornings and build a snowman in front of the school. I want to, if possibly, build a bigger and better one each time it snows or each month or something.

Had a slight language goof today. Nothing really interesting, just documenting it for my sake. I meant to say:

Did you see the bulletin board?

but instead I said:

Did you see the horse race?

Bulletin board is kejiba (K-G-bah), and horse race is (K-Bah-Joe). They are close enough in my head so that when I am speaking fast my brain just pulls the first word out, which is often wrong.

Well I need to go work on my list of things to take and do in Thailand at the orphanage again. I have a better idea of what they need so I can get more stuff in Thailand rather than send it from here. Over and out.

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Friday, October 28th

I think I beat the brat. I've mentioned that this little 1st grade girl was all nice and then suddenly she was mean and ignoring me? Well it escalated to the point that she was really annoying me and recruiting her friends. So finally I think I broke her.

She and a nice girl were playing in the school yard one day after school. They get picked up late so they stay around along with some other kids. At first I was playing kickball with another kid and they were near us. Then they started throwing rocks, obviously no where near me since they throw like young girls. Then they, by they I mean the one and the other was just following, started yelling things at me. Things like "liar" and "idiot". It was slowly annoying me more and more, but there wasn't much I could really do. Nothing I could do to make them stop or to relieve the situation. Then they did something I could do something about.

They gathered the stones they threw in a pile. They were actually all in the same area since that was as far as they could throw them. Then they wrote something in Japanese. They wrote BAKA, which means idiot. This didn't bother me as much as the whole escalating annoyingness I was getting from the one. So they called me over and ran away. I read it. I turned to them and made a gasp-type face. I looked very serious and upset. Then I told them I was going to tell their teacher. I looked at it again and put all the stones back where they belong.

They were dead quiet and serious. The innocent friend started to whimper a bit so I walked off. They ran into the library room which is near the playground. I came back out a few minutes later and they summoned me over. Oddly they summoned me rather forcefully, but I knew what it was about. When I got near they had written nice little sad apology notes. They said things like:

I'm sorry. Please don't tell. When we fight we have to apologize. I am sorry. Please teach me English.

I took the notes and stormed off. That was Wednesday. Then on Friday, I gave them two little notes saying:

I was sad, but now I am happy. From now let's be friends. Let's study math and play (some stupid chase game). Being rude is very bad.

Then I put two stickers in each note so they would have an overall happy vibe when they read them. So they read them and both thanked me and the brat seemed nice about it. I will have to do a time based analysis of the situation, but I think it's ok. I think she just needed an "out" of her little mood thing and this was it. More on that later.

Thursday, in the teacher's room, we were having a meeting about something. It was a nice day so all the windows were open. A bee flew in and was pestering me. It flew around me and then left then back then left. That went on for a while. Finally it came back and flew around my ear and really irritated me. I grabbed my metal thick ruler and took some swats at it. Amazingly I hit it. I smacked it all the way across the room and it landed on someone's desk. She kinda squealed, mainly from the surprise of it, and the meeting stopped. I put my head down like I was looking for something under my desk. I was giggling at the sheer coincidence of it all. Then I played my "I'm a foreigner" card. I looked up and asked what was going on? I had a really confused look so no one expected I know what was going on. They all thought the bee just died and landed on her desk.

This place is surreal sometimes. It's really like I am in a movie. Sometimes they play music after school if the kids are working on something. The music is always like you hear in a TV show or movie. The part of the teen-show where they all make the commitment to work really hard preparing for the school dance. The music that plays while they are doing that. So this music is playing and kids are running around all happy like a Mentos commercial. It's nice, but weird sometimes. Surreal weird, not culturally weird.

I've been doing this funny thing with some of the young kids. I will hide behind a wall and say something and the kid will mouth it. So it looks like they are talking with my voice. I'm going to get it on film at some point since it's that funny. Depending on who is doing the mouth moving, I usually burst out laughing. When my 2nd grade friend does it, I can't stop laughing because she puts such emotion in it and matches my words perfectly.

Tonight I will go to Fukushima city for their big annual Halloween party. I don't have a costume, which is sad, but I had many ideas. Maybe I can win if I describe my costume ideas. Maybe I will will the almost award. I'm going to start working on a costume for next year. If I can do it, it will be amazing. But it will probably cost a bit of money so maybe I can't do it. Some other ideas were an original Oompa Loompa, Marvin the Martian, and a Borg. This new one will be tough, but it will win any award hands down.

I made a language goof, and this time it was really stupid. I knew the word I messed up, I was just talking fast. The kids are preparing for the big school festival on Sunday. Some are doing cool science tricks, of which I will show later, and others were preparing the gyms for various functions. I passed some girls in the hall and they were dressed like samurai. Or is it samurais. Who knows. So I meant to say " you look like samurais ". In just a blanket non-sarcastic way. But I spoke too fast and said you look like monkeys. The word for monkey is saru. TO say look like you just add "mitai" to the end. So I said sarumitai rather than samuraimitai. No biggie, they just laughed and ran off.

I really want to do something for the festival next year. It is a culture festival and I have a whole different culture to show them, so I'll have to think of something good. Maybe the haunted house idea, but for that I would need about 5-10 people really into it to help me. Sure people could double up and do multiple parts of the house, but still they would need to help me for a few hours and maybe they want to walk around. Plus there will be tons of kids there so I would have to have like a kid version and an older kid version.

All that was written on Friday. Since then I have gone to the Fukushima JET Halloween party. Well it's not really a Fukushima JET party, just the Fukushima city party. It wasn't really good. No fault goes to the planners, but the new Fukushima JETs just aren't into traveling like the ones were last year. Last year was a great group, but this year they only get together in little clumps. It was depressing.

What was really depressing, is I was actually semi depressed last week. Our big school festival was today and last week all the students cared about nothing other than preparing for the festival. I'm not mad, it makes perfect sense, but I just started feeling a little detached last week. Everyone had a thing to do for the festival except for me. I've got plans for next year already, but this is not the point. I was depressed all week. Then Friday I get all the way to Fukushima and was about to go out to dinner with Eriko when she texted me and said she didn't pass her teacher's test and didn't feel like going out. She was about 90% of the reason I went up there so now I had two hours to kill and didn't feel like going to the party.

I really didn't feel like doing anything. It was one of those times when I wanted to press fast-forward on my life remote and zoom ahead to today. I had already paid for my hotel room so I was going to stay for the night. I went to the party and had a decent time chatting with people, but the low number was a bit depressing. I ended up getting sick at the end of the night and not because I drank too much. I think my liver is just sick of alcohol and it's trying other ways of letting me know since I don't seem to be getting the hint.

So I get back to the hotel and sleep after the party. I wake up and feel like death. Literal death. It was partially a hangover, and more so just the overall blahs. I was still feeling down, but now I had that pre-puke feeling. I had some sushi and felt a bit better, but still crappy. Finally I drove back to Konan and did nothing much here.

Then about 5pm another teacher who lives in the building knocked and asked if I wanted to eat raw fish at the principal's house in town. I said sure, even though I still felt like death. He drove me to the school and we waited for an hour. I almost left twice because I started feeling bad again. But I waited and we left around 6. The food was great. It was raw fish and a salad of sorts, with rice and soup and a few other things. It was a good home cooked meal. And we sat under the heated table which is a really nice Japanese custom. They aren't so big on heating a house or even insulating it, but this heated table thing is rather nice.

Finally I come back and take a hot shower and go to bed in my heated bed via my electric blanket. Which is one of my best purchases since I have been in Japan. Once I figured out how hot to make the bed, I sleep like a baby. At least like a baby that is sleeping well.

So then today I wake up and head over to the school. The whole day I felt like crap again. A different type this time. Really a mixture of being down and a possible cold coming on. There was one thing that annoyed me today. It's not just a Japanese thing, but I have noticed it more often here. Things seem to go on too long.

Like first we had an opening ceremony. There was a distinct opening part, then a climax, then a big finish. But it went on for an hour after the big climatic ending. Each class sang a song. Some were upbeat some were slow. The whole school was there too, even the elementary kids and they were getting all fidgety because it was boring. And it was boring. I know they put in a lot of effort, but it was 6 classes singing songs. Then with some songs they felt the need to repeat them over and over. Then we watched a movie about something, then a skit. Then a dance routine by some boys. The dance routine was cute for the first 4 minutes. Then when they did two more songs with more dancing it was just too much. People laughed at first, then just got bored.

It's definitely not just a Japanese thing. I used to work with a band out of Atlanta. They had a great opening song and a climatic closing song. But a few times they would play a slow draggy song after the big finish. It was just awful. I begged them to never do it again. People had this sense of closure and then here comes this song that, by nature, drags on and on. The song is fine, the placement was not. People would be milling around not knowing what to do. Then it was over and they would golf clap. I hate it when things go past the clear ending point.

Like I mentioned earlier, I felt like I wasn't fitting in much recently. I think it was because of the festival, so I will see next week. Next week is a slow and short week. Monday is a holiday for the school since we worked on Sunday. Then Thursday is culture day and a holiday as well. The three other days I have no solo classes so I don't have to prepare anything this week. That's good actually, I don't feel like planning right now. I need a week to get over this down phase.

So at school today Friday I played with this thing where you pull a thing and it makes a propeller spin and then take off in the air. I had three on Friday, but I, not the kids, managed to get two on the roof. Oh well, they will come down soon. The last one wouldn't fly super high and I thought it was because it was a bit heavy. It had a three pronged prop and a circle around it. Well this is easy I will take the outer circle off.

Yea, not the smartest move. I never realized the outer circle was there to protect people from the fast spinning blades. I put the killer prop on the base and pulled the string, not at full strength, just to test it. With the reduced weight it takes off and smacks a teacher in the face. She put her hand to her face and left the room. Man whose the big idiot now?

Oh, I played this prank on someone I don't know. I did a web search to see who linked to my site and found a number of people and sites I didn't expect. Then I found one link directly to a certain picture. Rather than just taking the picture, he simply linked to it. So I changed the picture, but kept the name. So now it links to something, considerably different. I don't want to give more details than that right now, but you can imagine.

I'll add more info later, I am tired and I am going to take a shower then go to bed I guess. Over and out.

As you were.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan McDonald 2005, for information about using images or text please click here.