Friday, October 28, 2005

The Things Children Say...

My last day at this particular school was yesterday. The teacher wanted me to do a bit on holidays in the US, and she chose Thanksgiving and Easter (for some reason) as additional ones to Halloween. It was a listening task where I explained a little about each holiday and they students had to fill in the blanks in Japanese. My bits on Thanksgiving got some laughs, especially describing turkeys ('big chickens'), but Easter took the cake. I told the children that "two symbols of Easter are eggs and rabbits." One of the little girls couldn't fathom this, she kept asking me about why eggs, and then said she couldn't understand why we'd want to feed eggs to rabbits. Sounds pretty strange for a holiday activity. But just try explaining the religious meaning behind it. In the simplest words, I said that "Jesus Christ died and then was alive again." They couldn't understand the name, which was the answer for one of the questions, so they kepst begging me to repeat that bit. So I said, "this man, Christ, was killed, he died, and the next day he was alive again." The same little girl jumped up and shouted, "I know! It's Dracula!"

The first-years at this school really warmed up to me. Usually they stand there in awe of me, or run away like I'm some big, evil demon coming to get them. But these kids were full of questions and made every effort to speak to me. One of the boys would come to the teachers' room between classes and ask me questions that he'd translated and written down on his hand so he'd remember. There were also a pack of girls who'd hijack me in the hallway and beg me to take off my glasses or my shoes so they could try them on. Kids here seem so much more innocent and childlike, yet they're giving a lot more responsibility compared to kids in the states, or at least how I remember my schooling to be like. I'll try and write more about that later.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Stanford, meet Apple, Apple, Stanford

For anyone interested, looks like Standford University has put some content up on iTunes for free. Lectures, sports games, etc. I'm gonna enjoy listening to some of the lectures during my commute. I think we'll start with sleep disorders. Maybe there's something in there about me. link to ArsTechnica

Chicken Hearts and Japanese commodes

Last night I went with Ana and Damien to have dinner with some Japanese friends of Ana's. We went to an o-konomiyaki restaurant. For less than $30, we got a set course dinner and 2 hours of all-you-can-drink goodness. This kind of restaurant has a large grill in the middle of the table, with a wooden ledge around it for you to put your plates, drinks, etc on. You cook your own food and enjoy.

The first course consisted of two plates, one filled with veggies(pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots and eggplant) and meat(chicken hearts, beef, normal chicken and pork), the other contained seafood(a couple sliced up squid, scallops, and a big prawn for each of us) and a huge mount of bean sprouts. Plop it on the grill and away you go. The chicken hearts were pretty much the only thing I didn't care for, they were a bit fibrous and chewy. But the rest was fun, especially cooking the prawns because they changed color. At least they weren't alive like my last seafood encounter. Course 2 was that wonderful o-konomiyaki in a few different styles, the original Osaka style, the Hiroshima style which adds ramen noodles, and the Tokyo style called monjayaki. Course 3 was yakisoba, grilled noodles, cabbage and bean sprouts. Yum. A salad appeared somewhere in the middle of dinner and vanished just as quickly. So did the roughly 5 bottles of sake that I demolished over the course of the meal. The thing with paying so much for all-you-can-drink is, you feel you have to drink as much as possible in the alloted time. Unfortunately, I had to work the next day.

We planned it early because Ana's friends and I all work on Mondays, and Ana & Damien were headed to Disneyland the next morning, so I got to bed alright. But something, either the overload of meat or the sake got to me as I was on the train going to work.

Here's the thing. Most of Japan is alright when it comes to bathrooms. You can almost always find a Western-style toilet wherever you go. At my previous schools, there were always one Western- and one Japanese-style toilet in the teachers' bathroom. Then I got to this school. This one has only Japanese-style squat toilets. I can understand being in Morocco and all there is is a plastic square with raised footplates for you to stand on and do your business. It's a developing country. But in a junior high school in a big city in Japan, there are only squatters. Try this at home: stand with your feet about 8 inches apart, then squat down as far as you can keeping your feet flat the whole time. Now imagine being in a slightly nauseous state of being and using the toilet. That about sums up my day.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

WTF is up with me & organizing stuff?

I'm a conflicted person. I have a need for things to be organized, yet I'm too lazy to actually do it. Thus I lead a life of frustration and teeth-grinding that's gonna make my dentist a fortune. I've been working on the roughly 3GB of photos I've taken since I acquired my digital camera back in November 2003. I have photos from 3 continents and roughly 9 countries to organize. And it's a nightmare. I read a roudup of photo album software on ArsTechnica recently, and decided to try out Picasa, mostly because it's free and I'd installed it when I had to upload my profile photo for this blog. It's pretty decent stuff as far as organizing goes, but what I hate is the lack of subfolders in the albums. You have your collections, and inside that you get your choice of albums. So for me, each country I visit is a collection, but Japan's collection is giving me a migraine. How do you organize 2,700 photos using only one level of albums? If I want a subsection for trips and another for people, by golly I should be able to do it. And it's nice and all that Picasa doesn't change the actual location of the photos, but it'd be nice to have the option sometimes.

Anyway, this isn't really a post about much. I'm just whingeing about something because I'm putting off actually doing it. So here goes, hope it works. Btw, should have some photos posted soon from my B'day party back in September and the nightmare of a trip to O-shima. I guess I can take heart in the fact that I wasn't on the island when the typhoon past directly over the islands last week.

He's baaack!

Since it's gotten a bit cooler and the typhoon season has swept all the haze out to sea, the sky's become much clearer. The past couple days were rather blah, overcast and cool. But today's a bright, sunny day and Mr. Fuji is back with a hint of white snow starting to be visible. I've had the luck of being able to see the mountain from every apartment I've lived in. The best view was from the previous place, it being on the 12th floor and an unobstructed view. Now, I have to lean precariously over the balcony railing, but you can just see it between buildings and behind some power lines. So here it is, the first good view of Fuji this fall.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

New Technology Brings New Problems

If you check this site religiously (hi, mom) then yoy may have seen a few comments pop up only to get deleted. Seems somebody's figured out how to post ads into comments. What bastards. I log in and see that someone's finally posted a comment, only to open it up and see that some bastard wants me to refinance my nonexistent mortgage. Well, I've set comments so you'll have to be registered somewhere (either on the site or with blogger somehow) in order to post. Sorry to do it, but people taking advantage of the system cause problems for everyone.

Oh, and it's still raining. We'll have the 20th typhoon of the year brush by, but shouldn't be much beyond the crappy rain that gets to us.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Well, it's more than halfway through October, and I was hoping I'd have something fun and interesting to write about. Unfortunately, not so much has happened. I had the first 12 days of the month off, and headed out to O-shima with Julian. The weather was crap, we couldn't see anything, and I spent my last evening there pinning a live lobster to a grill in order to feed myself. Maybe tomorrow at work I'll write a little narrative about that trip.

The weather has been crap lately. I think Wednesday and Thursday we had decent weather, where it was cool and sunny, but besides that it's been raining and miserable. Right now it's pattering against the window, and Tracey just came home from work drenched after riding home. I'd like to go get another beer from the corner store, but there's no way I'm going out in this weather. That's about it, really. I've got no days off until the beginning of November, when we have a national holiday. Luckily, it's the day after a co-worker of Ana's is playing a jazz gig in Yokohama, so I'll finally get a chance to go out on the town there. I haven't gone out enough for living so close to Yokohama and Tokyo, two very large cities with a notable nightlife.

So that's it for now, it's 10pm and time for a shower and bed. I'm pathetic.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The vacation continues

So I'm on my still-unexplained vacation. There was a blank on our schedule and they told us not to show up. Go figure. But then they decided to call us and try and persuade us to help out with training for some new people. Julian wasn't fast enough on turning the company down (I said I had plans every day, and they didn't push it; I think my contract actually requires me to be available when I have vacation), so he had to work Monday and Tuesday, helping our gaijin boss in Yokohama (which necessitated getting up really early).

Tomorrow (Wednesday) he and I leave for O-shima, the largest and closest of the 7 islands that start just outside Sagami Bay and stretch quite a ways south. It's an active volcano for an island, I think it erupted 20 years or so ago, hopefully it won't make a repeat performance while we're there. We got a really good deal on a package: roundtrip ferry from Atami (only 45 minutes away by train), 2 nights in a minshuku, or Japanese-style inn, with dinners and breakfasts for roughly $170/person. Well, it's not all that cheap, but considering we'd probably spend that much just boozing it up in Hiratsuka, it makes sense somehow.

Sunday I went to my most recent JHS bunkasai (cultural festival). It was a lot of fun. Various clubs had presentations set up, the health club had a variety of physical ability tests to do. The students made me do it, and were suitably impressed (think juggling-circus-bear impressed, not wow-he's-good impressed), considering I'm twice their age. The only thing I didn't do well at was the flexibility test, which I failed miserably. The special ed class did a tea ceremony presentation, which was fun to see. The kids there are just adorable, they love to wave and say hello, and if I interact with them at all it seems to make their day. Gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

So after it was all said and done, I met the teachers at an izakaya for a drinking party. It was fun watching them all get pissed up, though most of them were light drinkers. The vice principal seemed a bit wobbly but in high spirits. The principal maintained his required level of dignity, ducking out early saying he was feeling under the weather. That left me free to persuade all these 40-something teachers to go do print club. Do you know those photo booths in shopping malls? The ones you always think are for passport photos but when you try it out you end up with a heart-shaped frame around it that says "Best friends forever"? Well, it's a phenomenon here, and while usually it's junior high school girls, foreigners and drunk adults (especially drunk foreigners) get into it too. So we crammed about 8 usually staid Japanese educators into a booth for photos. I've now got some good photo blackmail. After that was some karaoke, where I tortured them with some Billy Joel and the Beatles, and they sang some traditional enka songs. It's always funny to see people who are normally so serious and uptight really cut loose. One of the teachers invited me to his house to meet his college-age daughter and help her with her English. I think he was pretty smashed, doubt he'll extend the offer again sober.