Sunday, 28 October 2007

PostHeaderIcon Spiders in a car


As I promised... here is an update. Although it is now 10pm and I'm just back from a weekend in the city. There was a big Halloween party and I had an amazing time woohoo. I only got about 4 hours sleep and we stayed up till about 6am. I even met this guy from Dundee and apparently I was the first Scottish person he's met here in five years. It was quite nice to to slip back into my more natural accent and talk about the football and Irn-Bru. There was an Aussie guy dressed up as William Wallace and I think we scared him by questioning his motives.

I did loads of other stuff too... there's so much to catch up on from the last few weeks. I don't know where to start. I'm feeling pretty tired now but I'm going to go shave Noah's head so he looks somewhat acceptable for work (he shaved a mohawk for his costume).

Oh yeah... on the way back from the city tonight. Joey (from Muroto) was driving and I noticed a quite large YELLOW and black spider hanging from the window. In my head I was screaming "SPIIIIIIIIIDDDERR" but I didn't want him to crash the car. So I said "Joey my good man, I don't want to alarm you but there appears to be a spider next to your head". So he went to hit it out the window when it fell INSIDE BETWEEN MY LEGS. I honestly couldn't inhale because of the shock... it was true fear running through my veins. Everyone else was laughing at me but soon they realised that they were stuck with it too. Then it appeared on someone (Annie from Nankoku) whilst Noah and I almost passed out with fear in the back seats. It was quite funny but pretty scary. Oh yeah, we bought a proper pizza and had it at Andrew's place in Aki on the way back. Also, Mark (from Muroto) dropped me off some massive speakers outside my door... nice nice. Also also my box of stuff should come tomorrow.

Ok, more updates this week... although it's a busy one.
Thursday, 25 October 2007

PostHeaderIcon The wind of the rainbow washes away the tears

Apologies for neglecting my blog recently but I've not really had any time to update it. I've maybe had about 2-3 spare hours in my apartment after work this week and they've consisted of cooking, cleaning and then going to bed.

Everything up until this week at work has still been good but it's been a bit of a drag recently. I can feel myself getting twinges of culture shock just like the graph in my JET handbook says. A few things in the office and schools have been irritating me when really I should just be more patient. An example being that yesterday I had to go get a school photograph taken at the junior high school. This turned into a massive problem with school lunches and times and phone calls and miscommunication and blah blah blah. I try not to complain too much in these posts so I'll stop there for now as there is a lot of fun stuff that I've still to update on too. I'm going to busy right up until Sunday afternoon probably so I might do a big update then. I might need to make my blog private soon too because I got an email warning all the JETs about writing negative stuff on their blogs. That's some internationalising for you... only write good stuff.

Right now I'm at work and about to head to elementary for a few hours. So I better get organised and turn on my super happy enthusiastic English teacher mode.

Also, the title of this post is taken from the cover of one of my student's notebooks.
Monday, 15 October 2007

PostHeaderIcon Passion Fruit

Hey hello konbanwa good evening こんばんは

I had no desire to write a blog entry tonight but I clicked on my bookmark by accident so here I am. I was actually reading some previous entries which were quite embarrassing. All of them are littered with grammar mistakes and missed words. Also, I seem to mention being tired all the time and drinking a lot. The two are probably connected.

I don't have much to report on at the moment. It was a glorious day today; imagine a really nice summer's day in Scotland with a nice cool breeze. When I was cycling back from school today I was so reluctant to go sit in the office for another four hours so took a detour for ten minutes to enjoy the weather. I had a really good day at the junior high school today actually. I felt accepted in the office and in the classroom for the first time. I also managed to talk a fair bit with some pupils over lunch about their brass band performance yesterday. On a quick side note... school lunch today was rice with sprinkled whole fish and some fishy tasting jelly.

I was playing my guitar for a few hours tonight, made a nice dinner and watched a new episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'. Good times.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention what my entry title is about. The English teacher asks me to make 'Who am I?' games up to test the listening skills of the students. She gives me random words each week and I come up with five hints in simple English. Last week one of the words was 'poem' which was exceptionally difficult baring in mind that Japanese poetry is completely different. Wikipedia is my friend and I think the school think I know a lot about some old Japanese poet now. Anyway, I made up one for 'passion fruit' today but it turns out that's not what my teacher said. She said something completely different and so after each hint she was looking at me like I was insane. Eventually this unfolded into a very amusing revelation and everyone in the class laughed.
Sunday, 14 October 2007

PostHeaderIcon Whose pen is this?

Kore wa dare no pen desu ka
これは だれの ペンですか

This is the latest Japanese phrase that I have learned. Whenever I learn a new one I try to use it as much as I can until people want to hit me. My last favourite one was kino nani o shimashita ka which means "What did you do yesterday?". I ask it to at least one kid at every single lunch and never get tired of it woohoo. I really like eating school lunch with the kids but I do find myself getting frustrated at not being able to communicate beyond basic phrases. Especially when it's my favourite pupils being friendly and talking to me lots and I just stare thinking "Right... I heard 'ka' which means it's a question... can I get away with saying 'hai/yes'?". The other day someone asked me a question and the whole table looked at me and I hesitated and went "eeeeh" as I thought about my answer. Of course I had forgotten that the same sound is the casual form of 'yes' in Japanese so they all took that as my answer and laughed away to themselves. My Japanese is still pretty appalling and when we went out to dinner last night I couldn't read the katakana on the menu. Katakana is used for all foreign words so things like 'toilet' are spelt out 'toire' or 'cake' is 'keki'. Also, my name is spelt out in it as ku-rei-gu ha-n-ta or クレイグ ハンター. The other day I had to sign my name and I had to stop and think about the katakana for it. In my defence I hardly ever use it and a lot of the time the words don't sound anything like their supposed English equivalent. However, earlier this morning I did attend a town show in which the katakana for 'do-re-mi' was held up and I knew that 'The Sound of Music' song was going to come on. Take that katakana.

Funnily enough this links well with my next point as The Tartan Army seem to be singing this at games in reference to the Euro 2008 being held in Austria. I stayed up late again last night to watch the Scotland game over the internet and it was glorious again. When we scored two goals in the first ten minutes I was absolutely ecstatic but then nervous the next eighty. 3-1, take that Shevchenko. It's interesting how a simple football result can affect your mood so much. After each result I've been on a small high for a day or two after it and I'm not even in the country! I can't imagine what Glasgow was like for the France game.

It has been quite a relaxing weekend (shuumatsu in Japanese, I learnt that yesterday) and I've managed to sleep in past 7:30am for the first time in 10 weeks. The weather is cooling down significantly too which is actually a nice change after the long summer. Right now it is at a perfect temperature and it's only raining occasionally. I was quite busy earlier in the week and started to doubt my ability to teach after my 4th grade class didn't run as smoothly as I had hoped. Although I was rushed for time that morning and didn't have enough time to prepare. For the first time I started to get quite anxious and nervous before my other classes but did put a lot of planning into them. I mentioned to Noah that having him in my classes made me a bit anxious and he agreed. Instead of trying to communicate with me the teachers would just head straight to Noah and this was detrimental to my relationship with them. It was just a small issue but I noticed the difference when I came to teach the other classes. The 6th grade teacher can be quite disorganised but I talked through my lesson plan with her and she was great at helping me. The other classes went better than I had anticipated and now I feel I can build on the experience each time.

So, that's the teaching aspect covered. On Thursday night I went to play football with the Tano guys and the minor injuries from my fall last week are healing nicely. I've been admiring how great the human body is at repairing itself by checking the progress of my scab... interesting mmm yes. Friday was a glorious half day so I took a drive up to the temple near Tano; the one that I got dehydrated trying to walk up months ago. It was a fun drive and I was the only person around for miles and at one point I was on this dirt road with leaves and branches smashing off my windscreen. It was awesome. The top of the mountain looks like something out of 'Lost' or 'Jurassic Park' with structures appearing out of the thick green vegetation. I went up to the viewing station, lay down on my towel and listened to the new Radiohead album on my ipod. It was a very relaxing afternoon doze and I've started to enjoy 'In Rainbows' a lot more too.

That evening a few of us hit the metropolis of Aki City (20000 people) to celebrate Andrew's birthday. We bought him a Japanese fashion magazine for 15 year old girls and four cans of 'Cocktail Partners' which are the cheapest looking alcopops you've ever seen. It was quite a good night despite it being a smaller crowd than usual as a lot are off to Hiroshima for a sake festival. At around 2:30am we got a knock on the door from two policeman DUM DUM DUM. Why did they come around knocking at that time? Because Noah had parked his car in an illegal space... oh the humanity. The lack of space in Japan means that people need to pay for parking places but this car park was always empty and we'd both been parking there thinking it was fine. So this turned into an absolutely massive deal the next morning and Noah had to go talk to the guys at the Board of Education. On top of this he needs to go talk to the woman at the centre of it and probably bow and apologise or some rubbish. It's a complete joke and is even irritating me as I type this. The woman has a valid point if she has paid for a parking space but all she needed to do was mention it to us/write a note and we'd have known what the problem was. Instead she calls the police, gets our work involved and then wants to meet Noah face to face. I think the guys in our work were quite cool about it though so nobody really got into trouble.

I do believe that completes my round-up of events here in Japan. Cheerio for now.

Update: I forgot to mention that one of my lessons revolved around "My favourite .... is because it's...." I used music as the example and managed to burn a CD that included Led Zed and Bach. Take that J-pop.
Wednesday, 10 October 2007

PostHeaderIcon In Rainbows

Today has mainly consisted of me getting excited about the release of the new Radiohead album. I had been keeping up to date with the news of their next album and it looked like it was going to be months away. However, they don't have a record label so are letting fans download it for however much they want to pay. Anyway, sadly this new change in musical distribution isn't reflected in the music which is far too mediocre/similar to the last album. I had a live version of one song called 'Videotape' which I loved but they got rid of the guitars and replaced it with some weird drum loop. Bah

I did have a fair bit of work to do again today. I sorted out the Halloween posters for the party Noah (and me... I guess) are organising and they were handed out today. Also, I spent a lot of today planning my elementary classes for tomorrow which will probably end in failure again. The 6th grade are just so non-responsive and I don't know if I can fill 45 minutes. I might just make some awful bingo game.

I bought pita breads from the import store at the weekend and tried to make a meal tonight. Sadly, the beef just went all oily and it ruined everything else. I'm tired, smell of garlic and need to type up two lessons plans.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

PostHeaderIcon I think ants broke my laptop speakers

Ants from next door have gradually migrated their way into my apartment. Their main bases seem to be in my sink (for reasons unknown) and around my computer desk. I noticed them the same time my laptop speakers started to crackle and die. Thus, I have concluded the little gits have crawled in and burnt their bodies onto all the electronic stuff. My only comfort is that when I go to brush my teeth I can turn on the tap and flush them all to ant hell.

I never got much sleep this weekend so I'm carrying about two weeks worse of 5-6 hours of worth of sleep a night. That's normal enough but that's on top of many demanding activities in this never ending humidity. Honestly, this morning was so humid I thought I was going to faint after my cycle to school. I got annoyed about the "It's Autumn so we can't use the air conditioner" so I went for a walk around the school grounds to get some air before classes. Today was pretty busy actually as I had three junior high school classes then a period of marking about 80 books. For some annoying reason the junior high school lunch ran 30 minutes late so I had to run to elementary and try to set up my class. I kind of ran out of time and it threw me off my lesson slightly. I like elementary but I think I'm going to suck at the classes. I get the whole 45-50 minutes which can be a bloody long time trying to entertain thirty 9-10 year olds knowing no Japanese. Never mind that I have no teaching experience, the teacher knows no English and they insist on Noah being in my class which makes me anxious. I made some stupid mistakes but hopefully I'll be able to learn from them next time. Well, I hope I'll improve because I'm not used to failing miserably at things I try really hard at. From elementary I went straight to the Board of Education to plan my advanced English class which took a few hours. I spent most of the 90 minutes talking about the Roman Empire and I got quite excited at some points and went off on tangents about the Picts and the Byzantine Empire. So it has been a fairly long day.

I only meant to do a small update but my tiredness has spawned a short rant.

I bought an ipod station for about £20 to make up for my lack of music due to the broken speakers. I spent most of the holiday weekend sober which is a first and pushed my car to the limits by driving all around the prefecture. Half the JETs were away down in Muroto for an English camp so some of us that weren't went out for dinner and drinks most of the weekend. I got up at 6:30am on Sunday to drive to the Minnaport Cup over in the city. It's basically a four team tournament with local schools and foreigner types. I think my predecessor used to organise it all but now it's an Aussie guy called Steveo who seemed pretty fun. I met some new folk I haven't seen including one New Zealand guy who was almost in tears when I told him France had beaten them in the rugby. He told me later "I thought you were joking but I've got a missed call from my brother and he only phones when something awful has happened." Our team was a varied mix and we got gubbed 4-0 in the first game by junior high school kids. We drew 0-0 against some University students (but should have won) and then won our last game 1-0 against some older blokes. I played alright but my best chance was ruined when I ran past the last defender and about to strike the ball when he elbowed me right in the face. It was a cracker and the crowd went "huuuooohhh" as my arms and head waved about. Also, both my legs were killing me from falling down the drain but I was smart and rubbed moisturiser into my knee scabs for flexible running.

Yesterday was a holiday Monday and I volunteered to help out at a sports day way up in the mountains. It's the most rural place in Japan you could possibly find and the school only has four pupils. Matt from Aki teaches there once a week and his Board of Education managed to convince (ie. lie a bit) me and Andrew to help out. I was expecting a stupid little sports day that finished at lunch and that I would actually be needed. Instead, they imported some students and had a 24 event day that lasted from 9-4. It was bloody awful and I hated every single crappy minute of it. They took 10 minutes to set up every useless event and at lunch half the kids vanished. The second half of the day involved all the 80 year old villagers. This was how I spent my last holiday Monday in ages and didn't event get paid/time off like Andrew and Matt. I'm a useless mug sometimes. Although I felt more sorry for Andrew since it was his birthday and he was stuck on a wooden bench up in the humid mountains.

Speaking of me being a mug and being too kind for my own good... I now have a lodger staying with me for another 10 days. I may have mentioned her in a few previous posts as she has hung out with us for a few weeks. Yeah, so Marika, the Japanese girl has been crashing at Yasuda David's place just up the road for a few months. She had been the fiance of Kitagawa Nick but they split up a few months ago and she still had a job/friends here or something. Yeah it's so very complicated and American high school drama-esque. Anyway, his Board of Education decided she wasn't welcome and gave her a day to move out so she has ended up crashing at mine. She's moving to Hiroshima soon enough and needs time to organise it and work her notice. It's pretty weird and uncomfortable but she's a cool girl and us east side guys have gotten to know her quite well the last month or so. I think she pretty screwed if I didn't put her up so I didn't want to be a heartless person. Anyway, so I've got that going on at the minute too.

That's probably it for now. Did I mention it's so humid I could die?
Thursday, 4 October 2007

PostHeaderIcon I fell down a hole

I was walking back from football with Noah and had just bought a drink at a vending machine. I was probably being cocky and saying Americans can't play football or something and then one wrong step and "hello hole".

They have these bloody mini concrete burns/streams next to the side of the roads to collect the water. I guess it would be their draining system. Anyway, it was dark and I just fell into the corner of one and my right leg landed in all the gunk. I pretty much cut every all part of my body breaking my fall. I'm just out the shower and everything stings like an expletive. I cleaned all my cuts because I don't want crazy stream disease. I'm also going to have a massive bruise where I smashed my thigh off the concrete. It's started to tense and stiff as I type this.

This displeased me somewhat but it was extremely funny when it happened. I was talking to Noah mid-sentence and then I just vanished into the darkness. He kind of had to double check over his shoulder to see where I went and I think I replied with "I fell down a hole."

Update 5 minutes later
Note to self: Never use an antiseptic wipe again arrrrrrrrrrrrgh
Wednesday, 3 October 2007

PostHeaderIcon The enkai week

The last week has mainly consisted of me going out and drinking. Before you think I am some raging alcoholic or party animal, the majority of them were work related. Yes, that’s correct. In Japan socialising at enkais is a very important part of the work environment. Although it translates as party the word enaki defines them better. An enkai usually consists of a large group people in a traditional Japanese room sat at long tables drinking beer and eating raw/fried fish. The cover price is usually 5000 yen which is about £20. This is actually quite good value for money as it is an all you eat and drink buffet for a set number of hours. There is usually a seating hierarchy were all the big chiefs sit at one end and all the new folk at the end. At my welcoming party I got to sit at the top but my position has gradually fallen to the other end. If you arrive first then you are greeted with a nice cold beer… that you can’t drink until the KANPAI is done. This is basically a large ‘Cheers’ that happens after a small opening speech. So after a long day at work you need to stare at this beer and then sit through a speech. However, my prefecture are crafty chaps and introduced their own ‘Renshuu’ which means practice and depending on the enkai allows them to have a good few sips (i.e. a whole glass).

After that the women start serving food and pouring more drinks for the men. This is because males are the dominant sex and should be treated like the kings we truly are. Haha I’m making myself laugh. Not wishing to generalise too much but women in Japan are still subservient to men even if it is sometimes just in a traditional sense. It is certainly strange to have the principal of my junior high school scurry about to fetch me some food and beer. Everyone gets pretty drunk early on and the formal barriers fall away to be replaced with lots of laughter and slaps on the back. I’ve become accustomed to not understanding 90% of what is said during the course of the evening but it is a good way to practice my Japanese. It’s amazing how much communication can be achieved by each partner knowing basic questions and words in English and Japanese respectively. Of course this is aided by many gestures and the occasional consultation from Noah who is the only one present who can speak both. Continuing my theme of explaining an enkai there is also something specific to Kochi called ‘Hempai’. This consists of a number of people drinking sake from lovely ceramic shot glasses. A bottle is placed on the table and one person pours for the other. After they drink it the same glass is returned to the pourer who then becomes the drinker. This is repeated until the sake is finished only to be replaced by a new bottle two minutes later. There is usually a second party that basically consists of more drinking and karaoke.

So… that is an enkai. Last Thursday I went into Nahari for one as it was Chika’s leaving party (my old supervisor). She gave a speech and all the women cried along with her. I’ve read in numerous books that it is a very Japanese thing to cry when the occasion calls for it regardless of your true emotions. Apparently all the teachers cry their eyes out at graduation even if they dislike half the children. Anyway, with all this taken into account I think she was genuinely upset about having to leave the office and the others were sad to see her go. I think this was her first major job (she just turned 22) and she took it very seriously and did a good job. I’ve also been told nobody really wanted her to go but the town hall next door used its weight to get her to move because they want more women there. It kind of sucks that she has left and although I’ve settled in now the first few weeks took some getting used to but she was always there to make me feel welcome. Even at the airport where I was so jetlagged I forgot my entire introduction speech and could only remember the phrase “Atsui desu ne” which she laughed at. Ah well, our new supervisor seems quite cool too and I was talking to him a bit that evening. When I was talking to her later that night I didn’t know the word for crying so because I’m such a genius I referred to it as ‘me ame’ (meh ameh). They are the words for eyes and rain!

I forgot to mention that there some B-list Japanese celebrity with us that night. This woman called Umi sang on the ‘Spirited Away’ soundtrack and apparently lived in Tano for a few years. She was back in town to give Noah some proper CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) work. Her sister or something is putting on an English stage show in Osaka for children and Noah was checking over the dialogue. A personal highlight amongst the 1930s American slang was the line “Oh man, I can’t bullfight a duck, can I?”

On Friday night everyone from the office met up for a barbeque up at a community centre. This was because students from Kochi University were in town to help with the elementary school sports days on Sunday. It was pretty cool to meet some Japanese people the same age as me and just joke around. The guys were upset that there were no American women present whilst the girls were thrust upon us when someone let slip Noah and I were single men. That ended around 10:30pm so we both got a taxi up to Aki City to attend the Marika’s birthday party. We caught the end of some karaoke before heading to a local bar and crashing at Andrew’s apartment once again.

The following morning we travelled into Kochi City to attend a dodgeball tournament organised by Nick in Kitagawa. We slept in and missed the start but got a few games in. I was pretty average but once found myself as the last player on my team facing five people ready to throw balls off my face. I won the award for best costume woohoo. This mainly consisted of my tartan bunnet and the fact nobody else brought anything to wear. That night we went up to Nick’s massive ex-dormitory for a party. We told some ghost stories in the abandoned bit of the house and then played some poker.

I had to get up early that morning and drive back down to Tano because it was the elementary school sports day. All the kids seemed to enjoy it but I’ve watched so many practices and rehearsals the past few weeks that I’m glad to see the back of it now. I was exceptionally tired that night but Noah and I went to the sports day enkai that night. We walked into a room of 40-50 student parents staring at us. It was the longest and most awkward walk that I can remember and I had avoid kneeing the back of the principal’s head when I sat down. After a few drinks all the parents got drunk and had fun picking my gaijin brain. A few asked if their children were good at English but forgot to mention their name. I hardly know any of the names yet anyway so I just nodded and said they were excellent.

Monday morning was really tiring and it took me until the middle of second period to fully wake up. The best girl at English in my 2nd grade class laughs at everything I say with a slightly Scottish accent. I don’t think she is doing it maliciously but instead can’t help but laugh whenever I say something. One day at school lunch she made me talk some Glaswegian (Glasgow-ben) and had a fit of the giggles. I waited until she calmed down and drank some milk before I said something again and she sprayed it everywhere. My evil plan worked perfectly. After lunch that day I went to Aki City to have a meeting with the prefectural advisor (a high up JET). It was a confidential talk to see if everyone was okay. I didn’t really have any complaints so I just talked with her about some stuff and when culture shock might kick in. The only concern I did express was I teach a lot less classes than other ALTs and it can make me feel a bit guilty. Whilst I don’t teach as much I do have quite a good relationship with the community and pupils. This is because I have some base schools and interact a lot more with everyone than a busy ALT who visits lots of schools randomly. This situation also allows me to put a lot of effort into the lesson planning for the classes I do teach as well as extra time to study Japanese. Also, this free time allows to plan some other things I want to pursue. Namely establishing a link between my old school (Mossneuk primary school) in East Kilbride and the elementary here in Tano.

Where was I again?

This is the problem with trying to catch up with a week’s worth of events and thoughts. I’m always writing these entries late at night when I’m already too tired… it makes me English ungood.

Right right right

Last night I had a welcoming party held in my honour by adult class. I was really tired and just had enough time to take a shower after work at 6pm. Everyone was being so nice that I had to wake myself and turn on my sociable charms; not that I have any. Most of my students turned up along with some other JETs. After that we went to a karaoke room in one of my student’s houses. It was quite peculiar but fun at the same time.

Right, that’s yer lot for tonight.

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.