Monday, 30 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon 太っています

I'm feeling a bit knackered today as I hardly slept at the weekend and I got up at 3:30am to watch the Euro 2008 final. I was pretty busy teaching this morning and so I was enjoying chilling at my desk reading the news and making some lesson plans. I was feeling rather parched as the weather is pretty bloody hot today. I headed outside to my favourite vending machine and as I was deciding what drink to buy a woman from the town hall passed by me:

Her: Oh... Hello
Me: Hello
Her: You.... you.... ffffff (She then makes the 'fat man' gesture)
Me: ..... uh... hai
Her: Yes.... (She then runs on the spot)
Me: ......
Her: Bai bai
Me: Bye

Cheeky bitch.
Sunday, 29 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon 6am to 7am - Sunday 29th June

6am: 5 air raid sirens in a row
6:05am: Town hall announcement in Japanese
6:20am: 5 air raid sirens
6:25am: Town hall announcement
6:40am: 5 air raid sirens
6:45am: Town hall announcement
6:50am: Annoucement + air raid siren from a van driving around the town (ie behind my window)
7am: The usual 7am alarm with its bloody jingyly jingle

This is my one long lie of the week.
I hate Japan.
Friday, 27 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Sheep in Kenya

Good morning world.

It's just after 9am and I'm sat at my desk with the usual enthralling and intense workload. This pretty high up teacher at the elementary school sits next to me at the Board of Education. She has been irritating Noah and I for the past year now. I've called her Katakana Sensei because her English is appalling and it sounds a bit like her name... how witty. Anyway, despite having the most abysmal English out of anyone I've ever known, she is somehow in charge of the elementary English curriculum. Recently she has taken it upon herself to steal some of our classes without actually discussing it with us. However, this does not stop her from asking us the most basic grammar and pronunciations questions in preparation for her classes. I treat these little exchanges with a little bit of contempt whilst Noah tries to explain to her politely. Even with two native speakers telling her the correct answers... she'll continue to try and skew things to make them easier for her. Here is an example:

Katakana Sensei: Noah... Kureigu... "Watto karaa izu diisu?"
Noah: It is red.
Katakana Sensei: Iitu... iitu... i...izu... re...? reddo?
Noah: Yes. It is red
Katakana Sensei: Japanese Can they just answer with the colour?
Noah: I suppose. Craig?
Me: Sure. Why not?
Katakana Sensei: Watto karaa izu diisu? Reddo! Reddo! Japanese Can they answer with 'Yes' and 'No'?
Noah: No, not really.
Katakana Sensei: (not listening) Watto karra izu dissu? Yesu Yesu No NO YESU YESU NO NO
Noah: Errr (polite Japanese) No. What do you think Craig?
Craig: No.

This is honestly the only time I would mock someone's English ability (considering how bad I am at Japanese) but she is just so bad. If she wasn't in charge of the curriculum and didn't interfere in my job as much then I wouldn't attack her either. However, this is the woman who will come up to me at lunchtime and start the conversation with "Good evening". This even confuses some of the 11 year old children I eat lunch with. Last week she was asking us the correct pronunciations of some animals:

Katakana Sensei: (without warning) shiaru... shi....aru.... shiaru
Noah: Seal
Me: Seal
Katakana Sensei: Hai Hai... ccc....cccciiiaru....ccc....shiaru.
Noah: Seal.... seeee...aaallll
Katakana Sensei: Shi....aru

I can understand how it is difficult for Japanese people to pronounce some words but there comes a point in a conversation where you can't do much else but say the world in the correct manner. Anyway, this morning we had another little discussion. She tried to pronounce 'sheep' with a heavy 'c' at the start despite the katakana for 'shi' actually being more appropriate. We tried to explain this but bizarrely she rejected her own katakana mindset and continued to say "ceeeepu ceeeeepu ceeeeepu."

What was to follow was even worse and pretty uncomfortable. She held up a picture of a young black girl and started saying "Kenya? Kenya?" At first I thought she was just asking about the pronunciation of the country and I was quite pleased because Kenya fits the katakana perfectly. Then I glanced up and saw what she was holding and was taken back a little bit. Then the whole office decided to join in. This included our annoying supervisor who thought he'd be helpful by just repeating whatever Katakana Sensei said. After a lovely few ignorant and borderline racist shouts of "Africa... Jamaica" they looked at us both and were like "So where's this black kid from then? Go on tell us." I was having none of this so I said that I didn't know and hoped they'd drop it. As it continued I wanted to be a bit more proactive about the situation but I didn't know what to do. I eventually tried to change the discussion by saying "Well, she could be American..." but it was over by that point.

Ironically, there is a Hollywood movie being filmed in Kochi right now. It stars Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon/Ghostbusters... apparently) and is called "The Harimaya Bridge". The writer had a previous film called Kuroi Hitsuji or Black Sheep which was about: "An African American ESL teacher in Japan contemplates returning home to the United States having grown weary of his mis-treatment by ignorant local people."

I'm not really suggesting that everyone in my office is a dirty racist but it was certainly an uncomfortable situation to be in. The bit at the end was just a weak link to let everyone know that Kochi is going to be on the world map soon. Woo Danny Glover.
Thursday, 26 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Good Japan: Vending Machines

Vending Machines

コーラ - They sell Kora in Japan.

I'm never sure where to begin when I start these good v bad style posts. I basically get my ideas from walking around town and deciding what I like and don't like. Therefore, it may seem strange that my first positive mention about Japan is about nothing more than a vending machine.

When I left my hotel room in Tokyo almost a year ago, the first thing I noticed was the abundance of vending machines. They were absolutely everywhere. Every street that you walked down was illuminated by them. After a minute of admiring the new selection of drinks available I forgot about them and went and drunk some beer instead. However, I would some become acquainted with the machines again in the month that followed. My first few weeks in Japan were in the height of the summer and the heat/humidity was pretty intense. I would go out exploring quite often, be it cycling around my town or walking to some temples. It's hard to explain how often I desired to quench my thirst during this time. Luckily there are vending machines in the most remote places and I spent a fair amount of yen using them. I'm sure that in the whole of Japan you are only a few minutes walk from one. I still tend to use them quite often and in the winter they stocked hot coffee cans which were always a nice treat in the morning.

The drink vending machines are by far the most common but they're are also a variety of alcohol and cigarrette ones. I'm sure everyone has seen the latter in a pub back home but they have them out in the streets here. Anyone was free to buy them until about a month ago where they introduced an I.D card that you need to put in the machine. However, I think the alcohol machines are free from this new scheme. I'm sure there are a lot of delinguent teenagers back home that would love this. No more asking someone's big brother to get them a cheap bottle of cider out the local Spar. The larger cities also have a much larger selection of machines that include a lot more unsavoury item although I've never seen them.

I don't exactly love them... I just appreciate the conveinence of having them dotted around everywhere. Indeed, some could argue that they're an eyesore and that the evil corporate logos have now taken over even the most remote areas of the countryside. Also, for some reason it is almost impossible to find a vending machines that sells food. I once saw a machine in a hotel that sold hot food but there just aren't any that sell snacks or anything. It's probably for the best since I'm turning into such a pie.

I reckon when I go home I'm going to be desperate for a drink one day. I'll look about for a machine in vain but in the end I'll need to walk to a shop. Oh... the horror of interacting with people and waiting in a queue.
Wednesday, 25 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Bad Japan: Natural Disasters

Natural Disasters

Run for the hills!

When most people in the world think of Japan I'm sure they imagine all the stereotypical classics of sushi, Mount Fuji and bullet trains. If you were to continue to pester someone about what else was synonymous with the country then I'm sure many people would mention that Japan was a little bit prone to earthquakes. This was certainly the view I had growing up which went part in parcel with another stereotype of: "those crafty Japanese with their advanced technology and earthquake proof structures."

After living in a very rural prefecture for almost a year, I look back on this view with a little chuckle at my naivety. Everything around me is very old; people and buildings alike. I believe that everything built before the late 70s/early 80s were not subject to strict regulations that reinforce them for earthquakes. I'm not sure when my apartment was built but it could be either side of that time. Still... my apartment looks like a castle compared to some of the houses near me. From my window I can see a street of houses with rusted sheet metal on them. Towering over them all is a very, very fragile looking warehouse. I'm surprised they stay standing when a truck passes by them on the road to be honest. This is about as far as you can get from the modern Japan that you constantly see on television.

I reckon a pretty moderate earthquake could bring down a lot of these houses. However, my area of Japan is not exactly prone to your everyday earthquakes. The rest of the country experiences a lot of small ones that'll knock some things off a book shelve. Occasionally there is a bigger one that will bring a lot more chaos and destruction. Much like the one that happened in the north of Japan about two weeks ago. However, whilst my prefecture may not experience frequent earthquakes... it experiences the earthquake. Every 150 years, two Teutonic plates just off the coast from my cosy bed decide they've had enough of each other. Decades of tension build up until one of them jolts away from the other causing a massive earthquake. It has even been labelled the Nankai Earthquake and the warning leaflets in my prefecture quite happily let you know that: "It is coming! PREPARE OR DIE!"

If I'm not crushed to death or burned alive in the magnitude 7.5-8.5 earthquake then there's still a whole round of ammunition to go through. It's very likely that a massive tsunami is going to hit the coastline (a 2 minute walk from my house) just following it. There are wave defences and a sea wall but even so the coastline is expected to be swallowed up. People in the mountains don't fair that much better as a whole hillside might bury the town. If they survive that then they need to deal with the tsunami that will then flow UP the river. You know you're in a bit of trouble when you live in the number one hot spot in a country that has frequent earthquakes AND came up with the word tsunami itself. If I think about it too much then reactions like these are pretty common of: Am I about to die? Part 1 and Part 2

I do have a little bit of time on my side. They expect that it will certainly happen by around 2050 but there is only a 10% chance just now. I don't know how they work that out but it seems quite low. I quite like to joke about the possibility of my gruesome death because I'll probably be out of here in just over a year. However, supposing I live to your average life expectancy. There is going to be one day when I turn on the television and it's going to tell me that Kochi prefecture in Japan has been wiped off the map. It's quite an unusual feeling to know that it will happen one day yet here I am teaching a bunch of kids that will probably still be here when it occurs. I've focused a lot of my own personal disaster but the whole of Japan is the same. Honestly, who'd want to live on this collection of mountainious rocks that violently shake themselves apart all the time?
Monday, 23 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Japanese Style

I was cleaning the floor at the junior high school just before lunch today. It's a common occurrence as all the staff and pupils clean the schools rather than hiring someone. I agree entirely with the concept but it is certainly hindered by old equipment and an apathetic attitude. Anyway, I was doing my usual sweep whilst muttering to myself how dire the Japanese music was that was being played over the sound system. Then the secretary who cleans the office with me did our usual little dance of awkward flirting through the language barrier whilst brushing the rubbish into the pan. However, today's cleaning was spiced up a little bit when another teacher walked past and looked at us sweeping. We were having difficulty because the metal is buckled and the brooms are absolutely woeful. She looked at me and said "Ah yes... very difficult eh?" to which I nodded in agreement. She wasn't finished though and added "Ah yes... Japanese style cleaning... very different eh?" If by 'Japanese style' she meant the continued use of two ancient pieces of simple equipment then yes... it is very different. If by different you mean retarded. I learnt long ago that the results are easily second and somewhat negligible in regards to the actual act of the cleaning itself.

I'm eating some magnificent cherries just now. I bought them for £2 out the supermarket after I went for a run. The run brought just as much pain and wheezing as usual. One day I will regain my fitness. Then maybe I can hope to master the strenuous task of Japanese style kuriningu.
Sunday, 22 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon The discovery of the earthen vessel whose shape is a small brazier

Might as well get the unusual title out the way first. I was marking some eikaiwa papers and this one woman was writing about some artifact found near Osaka. It was decorated with deer and apparently they were/are symbolic of the rice growing seasons. Anyway, that was the title of her paper and every time she had to refer to it she wrote all of that out. For example: "The earthen vessel whose shape is a small brazier is the first of its kind to be found. The earthen vessel whose shape is a small brazier is thought to be hundreds of years. The earthen vessel whose..."

It's about half 8 on a Sunday evening and I'm sitting directly under my air conditioning trying to think of what to do. The humidity this week has been almost unbearable. I can't cope with it because I'm weak. I woke up on Wednesday night sweating and there was just no air to breathe. I had opened almost all of my windows to try and ventilate the place. I then stuck on my air conditioning for the first time in about 8 months and planked my sheets down on the floor under it. My place is so massive that the only way to get anything out of it is to be in line of its lovely drying air. It's a very depressing sight in all honestly. I've got a horrible neon light on, I'm sitting on the floor in the most uncomfortable situation and I've no idea what to do with myself.

Also, I've got a pretty bad hangover. The reason for this is that I went to another international music event in Kochi City last night. Not much to say about that really other than it was pretty good. There was a mixture of Bluegrass (weird seeing Japanese dudes playing it), Jazz and some Rock. The best band were a punk band full of Japanese dudes who looked like they were having fun. The singer did this great little dance/arm waving thing with a big grin on his face. There was the usual messing about for ages after it until some people decided a plan. I just decided to jump onto any group that was leaving. We ended up in Mos Burger which is a Japanese burger chain... surprise surprise. Above the counter is a poor arty type photograph and the quote Hamburger is my life.

The plan after that was to hit some karaoke and then possibly a club. I went and booked a hotel once I knew there was a plan. Every time I tell someone I've got a hotel room they look at me in an almost disgusted manner like I'm sort of demented fool. The truth is that I don't know anyone in the city well enough to ask in advance to crash at their place. So for the most of the night I don't know where I'm going to be sleeping and the festivities are usually over when the city folk decide. So now I just book my own place for £20 so I can relax, sleep in and have a shower. There... I felt I had to justify myself in some form after feeling like some sort of weirdo. It's not like I enjoy paying that just to have a half decent night for crying out loud. Although, I have always been pretty terrible at accepting generosity or trying to ask people for favours so that could have something to do with it to. I remember it took me a few weeks to finally accept a coffee at school as my first reaction is always "No no thank you, I'm ok." but then I immediately regret it.

When I went to karaoke I asked "Where are the foreigners?" and got the number off the guy at the desk. When I got there I realised I was kinda crashing in on a clique and my entrance was greeted with a little bit of "Oh.. it's Craig" I get on with everyone that was there but as a group I realised I had pretty much just barged in. They all knew their own karaoke etiquette and style if you know what I mean. I think I'm probably in my own clique with the guys out east as well. For instance, there was a bit of tension at the music thing over their band getting a spot on the lineup and then the tickets being sold out or what not. The thing is, I'm not in the band and I'd bought my ticket in advance yet people kept on talking to me about it. Then there is each conversation where people ask "Heh... where is blah blah?" before turning into a "Oh so you're Scottish? Say something... Scottish... what's a kilt? What's... Scotland again? Like Britain and that?" It turned out pretty good in the end especially as the numerous spirits I had consumed began to kick in. We went to a club after that but it was rubbish. In my mild culture-shock this morning I decided that most Japanese people are dull and don't know how to party. At clubs they stand about and at international music nights they just sit motionless and clap in annoying unison when "Now it's the time to clap" kicks in. Another wee nod of the hat to a different racist post there.

As I walked about in the humid city with a banging headache I decided to go straight home. However, I had missed the hourly train by exactly 30 seconds. I then had a moment of genius when I jumped into a taxi and told the guy to take me to the cinema. I had remembered that the new Indiana Jones film was released today so I got myself some popcorn for breakfast and parked my fine self down. I reckon it's been a good year and a half since I went to the cinema actually. I enjoyed the film despite it being full of obvious dodgy bits. I liked being the only one to laugh at certain points and found the subtitles (that I could read) pretty strange. There was one scene with a nuclear bomb going off. That was certainly a lovely touch... what with being the only whitey surrounded by Japanese people. All of whom had stared at the hairy, hungover foreigner as he walked in.

As I was feeling pretty rough today I wasn't really in the mood for the usual crap. When people asked me questions I just nodded rather than trying to pretend I understood what was going on. I noticed it more than usual today that I was constantly surrounded by people staring at me wherever I went. There was the odd instance where I blatantly stared back to try and let them know to stop it. For instance, I was in a shop looking through some stuff when this old guy just stood there looking at me. I can't really expand on it anymore... he was just waiting on his wife and passing the time by looking at me. That's pretty unusual but as I was leaving the shopping centre I was very aware of glances coming from everywhere. I'm not totally miserable of course. I'm actually very pleasant when people strike up conversation like this old woman who sat next to me on the train. She had herself a little packed lunch and an alcopop deal going on and we talked about the usual stuff. That was a nice few minutes to distract myself from my the usual hangover induced train ride of self-loathing and crippling doubts over what I'm doing in life. I've just about wasted enough time to go to bed now. Hurrah.

Other thoughts today:
Japanese 'bakeries' are appalling. Most of the stuff is lukewarm, sugary rolls filled with a hot dog covered in mayonnaise.
It cost me like £10 to get into the cinema. I didn't really think twice and don't care but it seems awfully expensive.
Out of all the Japanese stuff in a convenient store... a coke and a kit kat are the best.
Far too many Japanese men wear pointy, elf shoes. They'd get destroyed in Glasgow or... anywhere that isn't Japan.
The female fashion is pretty over the top too. They're continually tarted up like they're going out to a sleazy club on a Friday night. It never fails to amaze me when I pass Dunkin' Donuts and see gaggles of these skinny lassies stuffing about a dozen doughnuts in their face.
The new Coldplay album is actually really good. They've irritated me a bit for years but I really like it. They've not been cool to like for years but that's not how old Hanta rolls.

Terrible Euro 2008 commentary of the day:
"We're into the dying minutes now. I'm sure those Russian fans are checking their new Swiss watches!" (The competition is being held in Switzerland HAR HAR HAR)
Thursday, 19 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Fitbaw - May 30th to June 1st

The finest selection of players from the English speaking world.

A few weeks ago I went to the island of Awaji in Hyogo prefecture. The island is famous for a few things ranging from onions, whirlpools, suspension bridges, the epicentre of the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and for being the base camp for England during the 2002 World Cup. Indeed, it is the latter that I will focus on because it is that very ground that witnessed the arrival of an army of bright yellow JETs from Kochi.

For the past few years there has been a football tournament arranged for all the nearby foreign Assistant Language Teachers. It turns out that Kochi is well known for failing miserably but always dominating the party on the Saturday night. With this in mind, about 20-30 people in our prefecture set off in search of a fun weekend, safe in the knowledge that nobody cared how good they were at playing.

We (Noah, Andrew, Joey and I) set off on the Friday evening in Noah's car. His car is actually the real deal and can survive the motorway unlike the rest of our tin foil mobiles. We had a bit of a road trip vibe going on that night and after a few hours we eventually reached our (surprisingly pleasant) hotel. We drank a few beers as the rest of the prefecture gradually arrived and occupied about two whole floors of the hotel. We then had a bit of a gathering in someone's room where we handed out the team shirts and sung our very own team song (KFC... we're on the lash again) We had about 20 guys in the men's team and about 10 for the women's team. It turned out that that I was the only British male out of the whole lot so I ended up being turned to for my... err vast football knowledge. I had really just turned up to party myself though so I probably wasn't much help. Our captains were a friendly/fun pair of Steveo (Aussie) and Rosa (English) who made sure that everyone continued the good spirit of years gone by and didn't take themselves too seriously.

After staying up and drinking more than I expected... it was time to get down to business. The weather was reminiscent of a drizzly weekend game down the local park back home. This was probably the best conditions in the end as the following day was roasting and everyone got sun burnt. Our first game was against Kyoto if I remember. We lost the game 2-0 which was pretty good considering we hadn't played together and the team was full of unfit and/or injured blokes. This proved to be our best result on paper but we played far better in the games that followed. We lost 3-0 against Fukuoka where we knocked the ball about fairly well but they were a much stronger team.

The third match was against Real Osaka and there was a bit of a build-up to it as some of the guys had played them the year before. They were an actual proper team with some semi-professionals playing for them. They had all the snazzy shirts, talked all the fancy tactics, hurling abuse at each other for simple mistakes... and then there was KFC... the exact opposite. However, we only lost the first half 1-0 and they looked a bit bewildered by our tactics which I have only seen previously in primary school playgrounds. They were a bunch of miserable, serious and hacking gits in all honestly. Even when I played seriously back in the day it never seemed that bad... and that was in proper tournaments rather than playing a bunch of happy, gibbering misfits from non-football playing countries:

Here's an idea of the amount of people we had at the side of the pitch. That's Noah throwing me the ball as well. The name on my shirt was embarrasing but you can't read it so ner ner.

Ironically... we got completely stuffed in the second half in terms of goals but probably played our best half of the tournament. We had some really fit guys running about in defence/midfield whilst Noah and I played upfront and chased down any chance. We had our best passing move of the match (stringing more than 2-3 together was good) and Noah found himself just outside the penalty box with the ball. It didn't look too promising at first as the pair of us had two lanky defenders towering over our tiny selves. However, Noah did a cheeky turn Jinky Jonhson style and smashed the ball towards the goal with his left foot. It took a slight deflection off the other defender and sailed past their keeper. It was excellent to see about thirty people in bright yellow jumping up and down despite being 6-1 down. Get it right up ye Real Osaka. We got hammered 8-0 in our last match but it was our second game in a row and most people were knackered. I gave away a penalty in the last minute out of frustration as they were actually dancing about outside our goal and nobody was "sticking the boot in". I felt a bit embarrassed after that but I apologised after the match and they were cool about it. They missed it as well so nae bother.

"We scored a goal. How embarrasing for you."

The real fun of the day was the partying we did later on. We took over the hallway of our floor in the hotel and had a lot of good banter going on. Awards were given out for best goal (I think the girls only scored one as well), man of the match, best save/tackle etc. Then the drinking fines were handed out for numerous frowned upon behaviour through the course of the day. We had more fun games like that and then a few of us attempted a beer bong. This is basically an American college thing where you pour a can of beer into a funnel and then down it in one go through a tube. After that we hit a club near the hotel which was fun for an hour or two before everyone got pretty exhausted and headed home. We tried to get some fried food on the way home but the bloody konbini (convenient store) didn't have any. Some of the other guys bought an onigiri (a filled rice ball wrapped in seaweed) which I thought was complete madness for post-drinking food. I thought I was a genius for buying an ice cream and a sponge cake and then mixing them together. I wanted chips though.

The next morning everyone slowly dragged themselves back to the pitches. We were now in the knockout competition and had to win to stay in it. It was pretty obvious we would be departing the tournament early but we still put in a good effort. We played another team from Osaka who were pretty serious and no fun to play against. We lost the game 4-1 in the end but it was by no means a walkover. I scored the goal for our team as well which was great. It came from a penalty after we had a really good move down the wing. I think Noah and a guy called Kalen managed to get the ball into the box. I saw this as my one real chance over the 2 days and legged it towards the ball. It bounced far too high to make easy contact with it so I actually launched myself to try and volley it in the air. Luckily for me the defender clattered into me whilst I was in the air and I went down pretty dramatically. It was certainly a penalty but I was lucky because I don't think I would have managed to kick the ball. Like most of the free kicks and corners that day, I tried to offer them around but nobody really wanted to take them. I did feel a bit of pressure when I stepped up to take it. I tried to remember when I last scored a penalty in an 11-a-side match and it was probably when I was 12 and played at Strathclyde park in the pouring rain. In the end I went for a safe kick and hit it towards the bottom right corner. It wasn't the fastest kick by any means but the keeper was pretty slow to get down. I wanted to do an elaborate celebration (ie a roly poly) but I forgot about it in all the... intensity.

Here's me scoring. I love the smell of narcissism in the morning.

I had to referee the next match which was a quarter final between two Osaka teams. Nobody else wanted to do it so I volunteered even I really didn't want to and my leg was starting to hurt near my break. It turned out to be an absolute nightmare. From the moment it started I was getting shouted at from players of both teams. It got to the point where I really wanted to pack it in and tell them to naff off. I don't know if it was just because I was the referee but I've never heard such continuous abuse hurled. I didn't really respond well to it and in the second half I kind of told them to go **** themselves and to focus more on playing. It was the least fun I've ever had in my entire life. In the afternoon we watched the girls playing who were doing much more better than ourselves. I shouldn't make fun but the amount of injuries that occurred from people getting hit in the face with the ball was unreal. I worked out that when two girls chased down a ball then one would just HUMPH it and more often that not it was directed at the opposition player's face.

I probably wrote a bit too much about the weekend but it was a belter. It was easily one of the best times I've had in the past year. Some people that read my blog are always making fun of me for handing out the nicey niceness but the KFC crowd of people are great. It's a shame that I don't see a lot of them that often because there is always good fun to be had. Yeah, my prefecture is the best.
Tuesday, 17 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Predictions

I'm not long in from my English class this evening and I doubt I'll be awake for much longer as I want to get up early to watch Italy v France. It's the first class in... months that actually turned out partially successful and enjoyable. I set some creative writing templates by giving them characters, basic plots, locations, feelings and items. All of them turned out far, far better than I hoped and I was generally impressed with them all.

Anyway, here is something mildly interesting/not very nice that happened at work today. There is a single toilet right outside my office door that doesn't have a lock on it but you can see someone is in there by the light being on. It's not really the most ideal location or design now I think about it because if someone were to open the door when you're at the urinal then the whole office could see you. Anyway, the light was on when I went earlier in the day so I took a detour to the larger toilet down the corridor. Whilst walking I started to think how awfully awkward it would be if I walked in on one of my colleagues. So even though the light was off in the other one I still knocked for the first ever time.

Fast forward to the end of the day where I stayed on a bit late to print off the stuff for my adult class. Whilst waiting on that I darted to the toilet just outside the door where the light was off. I had actually managed to open the door, put on both lights and turn around before noticing the guy who sits next to me was in there. It was a bit of a shock because my original reply went something along the lines of "Oh f**k... whit... oh dear... sorry man" before I said something in Japanese. I just found it very strange that this was the first day the thought had crossed my mind. Even more confusing is why he was taking a single fish in the dark? I don't get it. Also, I do realise how boring it may be to read about my toilet schedule at work.

I do have more prediciton related business to mention. Since the start of Euro 2008 I organised a little results guessing bracket thing with the guys out East. It makes the mornings at work a bit more interesting as I tally up the results and then weep because an Aussie who guesses at random is beating me. Although, I've recently shot up the table. Me: 16, Joey: 13, Noah: 12 and Andrew: 8. What an exciting life eh?
Friday, 13 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Bad Japan: ¥1 coins

¥1 coins

Good projectiles

I was at the supermarket buying dinner this evening. As I walked around the aisles I was thinking of what my first entry should be in my Good/Bad Japan series. The decision was made for me just as I left the the checkout as I was given four ¥1 coins as my only change. I did something unprecedented and threw them in the nearest bin with my receipt. Thus triggering my desire to write my first bad thing about Japan... mainly because it would ease me into things and stop me from being too racist.

The yen symbol is not actually used in Japan and I believe it is a modern addition to make it fit in more easily with it's Western brothers of the $ and £. In Japan they use this: 円 and it is put onto the end of the number rather than the beginning. The main reason I am explaining this is because I don't have the western symbol on my keyboard and I can't seem to paste it in anymore. The coin shall now be referred to as 一円 or ichi en.

The 一円 coin is not worth very much. It is the equivalent of about 0.5 pence (or 1 cent for any American readers.) It is made of the inferior and lightweight aluminium so it does not even pretend to be a serious contender like the solid, copper penny. I don't like the feel of it in my hand because of this and numerous times they slide off the receipt and get lost in the breeze. I never feel like a confident consumer when I have these coins in my possession and can't actually imagine myself using them. I want to get rid of them as fast as I can and so more often than not I dump them in my change bowl. Now, it's easy enough to accumulate change in Japan so most of my spare yen gets thrown into this receptacle anyway. However, on my way out I will quickly pick a few worthy coins to be spent. The number one choice is the 500円 coin which is a hefty beast worth around £2.50 that stands out like a golden nugget in the bowl. These are a rare breed and more often than not I am left looking for some 100円 coins. The bowl is usually full of these but they are harder to spot as they disappear into the silvery mass. If times are rough then I can rummage around for a few 50円 and the occasional 10円 and 5円. The latter are usually quite plentiful but combined they are still outnumbered by their weak and redundant sibling. I currently have about 10 months worth of 一円 coins and they are starting to overflow and congest the bowl. I started to put them in some Buddha piggy banks that I found but they filled up in a matter of mere seconds. It is not unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night with an overwhelming fear that I'm drowning in a sea of them.

The solution to this problem was set in motion this evening with my binning of them. I'm a bit nervous that I'm breaking the law and such an act is the equivalent of punching the emperor. The other option is to increase my participation in the art of 一円 throwing. If you are purchasing some goods with friends then you can surprise them by hurtling a few coins at their heads. Not only do you get rid of the coins but you can also revel in the ability to viciously throw objects at people whilst safe in the knowledge that no harm will come to them.

PostHeaderIcon Blog 2.0

I've decided I don't like my blog being dominated by personal whinging so I'm going to try and do more light hearted updates. I've spent the last day trying to sex up the appearance of the main page but that proved harder than I first thought. It turns out I am not a master of computer code after all. However, I did manage to tweak a few things that just about made the experience worthwhile. I wanted to separate my personal stuff from the rest but for I'll just bunch them altogether. I'm going to start my first post right now. Also, feel free to comment advent readers of my life. I have this little stat thing that tells me how many people have visited and it's more people than all of you think. Although, occasionally this thing tells me the search engine requests that people have entered to eventually end up here. There seems to be a lot of people from Thailand looking for a "Japanese office lady". You lot don't have to bother, I'm sure you're busy.
Wednesday, 11 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Earache

Rice and Snakes

After I finished teaching at junior high school yesterday I headed off to elementary to get the green light for my holiday in August. That was surprisingly easy since I’ll be missing one or two meetings and classes at the start of September. On my way out I was greeted with teachers, pupils and University students all planting rice in the elementary paddy/garden. I was coerced by my boss and other B.O.E colleagues into getting my shoes off, rolling up my trousers and getting the hell into the manure smelling slop. I kind of wanted to join in anyway so it didn’t take me long to jump right in. As usual I made a few errors in my approach by a) walking across some planted crops and b) walking over already planted rice. On my way across the treacherous paddy I was greeted with an “Oh Hanta” by a few of my students and each time a frog was thrown into my hands. Eventually I made it to my destination and began planting my rice. I was terrible at it of course. I made fun of myself in Japanese which was a mistake because then everyone assumed I spoke the language and then asked me all these long questions. Coupled with the stress of planting rice and trying not to fall over I could only answer with a “Yes….?” I assume the whole experience has made me 33% more integrated into the culture as that is what Japan is/was all about.

I must have felt about 3 frogs in between my toes whilst I was doing it which didn’t bother me until I remembered what happened the previous week. As I was heading out to play football at playtime I noticed some 5th grade boys over by the rice field. Wondering what they were up to I walked over to see what all the fuss was about. It turned there was a pretty big snake swimming about in the muddy water and the kids were throwing rocks at it. I had seen a snake a few weeks before in Aki but this one was much bigger. It just looked like your average green/harmless snake and I was more curious than anything else. The snake then slithered out of the paddy field and was obviously angry by the arsenal of stones being thrown at it. That’s when I realised it was now directly in front of me and my students were legging it in the opposite direction. It went straight back into the rice field but for a few seconds I was thinking to myself “Oh dear”. The vice-principal came out in the end to give the kids into trouble and I then realised I was participating with them. I then waved my arms around whilst muttering “Aye yeah… come on kids… enough of that… terrible behaviour.”


When I got my third supervisor back in April I was sad to see my old one leave… just like I was back in September with my first. My new one was exceptionally timid and uncomfortable to get along with at first. I don’t actually need him for much apart from taking holidays so I just ask the office supervisor instead now. It was a rubbish relationship but I was quite content with making small talk and nodding politely when he approached me with a form to fill in or whatever. However, he recently returned from a meeting in Kochi City that was for JET supervisors. The people in charge had obviously talked to them about bonding with your ALTs and improving your relationship with them.

I’m about to get stuck into him a bit which makes me feel a bit guilty since he is obviously trying hard but instead I’m finding it all very irritating. If I was in his position then I would suggest a normal bonding activity like getting some dinner and a few beers after work. His proposal for Noah and I was to meet his mother on a Saturday afternoon. Now… at first I was not entirely opposed to this because I knew exactly what he was trying to do and I was giving him a chance. This then changed when the location of this meeting was not Tano but instead a 3 hour drive across the prefecture. The next day Noah and I agreed to let him down gently by saying it was just too far to drive as we had plans that evening. I thought that was the end of it until Saturday morning where the tale takes a weird turn. I was in the middle of my Indiana Jones marathon (an outstanding trilogy) when I got a phone call from Noah. He had been walking to the supermarket to get some lunch when he was approached by our supervisor. It turns out he had been waiting in his car for one of us to walk past. Yeah… just sitting in the car park near work until one of us was unfortunate enough to come into sight. He informed Noah that the location of the monumental meeting had been changed and that we should meet at 1pm. Then he drove off despite it being about 12:30pm and the place was about an hour drive away. I did not want to give up my Indiana Jones afternoon so I refused to go. In the end we phoned him to call it off but the whole experience was pretty grating on the nerves to say the least.

Although my job is a piece of cake, I think I’m the only JET I know who doesn’t really have a proper supervisor. Everyone else has someone who does all the problematic crap for them and even speaks English to a reasonable degree. I’m pretty much left to my own devices and need to struggle through with my appalling Japanese whenever I want something done. Although most of the time people don’t even make eye contact with me and just pass things on through Noah which is a pain in the arse for both of us.

More irritating things

Speaking of my wish to be left alone… I need to go on a trip this upcoming weekend with my eikaiwa class. They pretty much told me that I was coming because “we go on a trip once a year”. So now I get to spend my weekend on two 5 hour train rides with a couple of old Japanese women. They’re very nice and everything but lately I’ve found it quite intrusive by how much say they think they can have in my life. I’m a terrible person really because I’m all smiles and “oh yes that sounds wonderful” and they have organised the whole thing. It doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it though. I’d rather be getting drunk with their granddaughters and watching the football in a bar somewhere. Noah and David are coming along as well so not all is lost. I’m going to start refusing things that I don’t want to do from now on. For starters I’m not going to a junior high school enkai coming up and I’m not going to some depressing little function after work this evening.

I had a bit of a failure at life yesterday when I made the mistake of thinking I could perform simple tasks in this country. I had to pay the deposit for my plane tickets so I went to the post office because I did my last money transfer there. I was a bit unsure if I could do the same thing so I asked if it was alright. That turned into a 15 minute nightmare when they could just have said "no" to begin with. Instead... right... they insist on trying to call my work every time I walk into the post office. I nearly had to wrestle the manager's walkie talkie thing out of his hand this time. It's not even as if he had tried to explain it to me... he took one look at the sheet and tried to call. If he tries it again then I might... raise my voice.

After that I went to the drugstore (it's not really a pharmacy, hence the Americanism) where I wanted to buy some ear drops as I was struggling to hear. Considering the place is like a warehouse and has a whole wall dedicated to eye drops, I assumed there would be some ear stuff somewhere. So I went up to a member of staff and asked 耳の薬はどこですか which I'm pretty sure just means "Where is the ear medicine?" Now, it's probably not the most natural way to ask for it but it's pretty damn obvious what I'm after. If I worked in a pharmacy and some non-native speaker came up to me and barked EAR... WHEN..... MEDICINE.... NOW then I'd use my non-retarded brain to assume they wanted some ear drops. This is where nobody in this country gives me a chance with my Japanese. They just bark their local gutter speak at me at a 100mph and then grimace when I say something which I know is correct. Even when someone tries to speak the most bastardised version of English (which they were taught for at least 6 years) I am friendly about it and can decipher what they mean. People are just constantly looking at me like a retard no matter what I do. For example, I'm in a cafe for lunch with about 8 things on the menu. I order something which I think sounds fine but maybe my accent obscures it slightly. However, there is nothing else that sounds like it so you'd think the woman would take the initiative. Nah nah... she just stares at me and I repeat it about 4 times until it clicks in her head. Anyway, the staff member in the drugstore looked at me like I'd just tried to communicate with her through the language of naked dancing. Immediately she ran away to get her boss who then quickly scuffled over before I could "It doesn't matter" my way out of the situation. I repeat my question as politely as I can but then they both start to panic and tell me a lot of things... none of which sound like ear or medicine. I bought some cotton buds in the end.

You may have noticed that this entry has gone from content ramblings to a bit of a moan about other things. I’ve been writing this gradually all week and it pretty much sums up how it has developed. I was in a good mood at the start of the week and was on fine ALT form at school on Monday and Tuesday. It’s the same old story every week really. It starts off alright but then come the long afternoons of sitting at my desk in my damp clothes. Then there is the usual funeral march that is eikaiwa… followed by going straight to bed. Recently there has been the constant mourning of missing out on that fuzzy feeling of watching the summer football in the pub. Then it's time to wake up and go back to work… where I spend my time writing this. I'm still in a pretty good mood but I do like to moan occasionally.

Other things this week

My little brother left Scotland for California yesterday to work as a football coach for 2 months. I failed to phone home twice because of the time difference so good luck to him. I’m dead jealous actually.

I have finally been accepted by the P.E coach at junior high school after I started a conversation with him about Euro 2008. He even apologies now when he dumps his stuff all over my seat when I go off to teach.

There are three new student teachers at junior high school this month. I scared the Music and Social Studies students by approaching them in a rare moment of being sociable. I think they are the only people in about 10 months who have complimented me on my Japanese. I mean, they were patronising me but I don't care. The other one is an English teacher who I have fallen in love with. By that I mean she ticks all the crucial boxes of a)Not being 80 years old and b)Her English is better than my Japanese. I must have talked to her for... 6 minutes.

A 14 year old student asked me where Scotland was. I took the easy way out and told him it was Britain. They asked me where Britain was. I said it was in Europe. They asked me if that was near America.

Tuesday witnessed the best school lunch in recent memory. Meeto Soosu Supagetti, Sarada and Keki. "Kids KIDS... we have cake... everyone look at the cake... everyone tell me how delicious the cake is"

Friday, 6 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Gaun Hame

That's me got my flights sorted for going home in August. I leave Osaka on the 13th August and get back on the 2nd September so it's just short of 3 weeks. I pretty much got the best ticket I could have done at the time. The prices are really expensive because every single person in Japan travels during the month of August. However, I got mine for 210,000 yen which is just over a £1000 so it's not all bad. I got the best times for the flights too and I've got myself on a comfy Emirates jet with a connecting flight in Dubai. I had another option of a KLM flight that was about £100 more and there was a 5 hour layover in Amsterdam so it's all good. I was thinking of doing a cheeky wee tour of Europe on my way home but I can't really be bothered trying to plan that. Although since I'm home for 3 weeks I might go on a long weekend jaunt across the Channel anyway. Yas.

I was reading the application form for my tickets just there and the company was trying to sell me travel insurance. I figured that since I'm in Japan and don't want anymore hassle I'd just accept it and pay a bit more if need be. Then I remembered that I don't need it because I'm going home and can have all the free health care I want! YAS

PostHeaderIcon The rest of May

May was a good month by all accounts. Like the weather, the months have slowly being warming in enjoyment since my winter of discontent. After I returned from Tokyo I spent a good week of my free time playing Grand Theft Auto 4 on my Xbox 360. That was fun for a short time but then I realised that games can be a waste of valuable time off when you need to go to work all the bloody time. I then tried to crank up the Japanese studying but my enthusiasm waned after a day or two of stems, particles and the like. I'm currently reading my way through a book on the British Empire by a historian who taught me at Glasgow but is now some Harvard big shot. I bought it in an actual bookshop when I went to Tokyo actually.

The first half of the month was a bit quiet but I remember it being alright. One weekend a few of us (Noah, Andrew and Joey) had a small barbeque down at the beach in Aki. The beaches on the east side of the prefecture aren't exactly breathtaking but it was nice enough to just sit back and stick a beer in the sand. The night consisted of all the usual banter such as singing a few unflattering songs about Joey, making fun of America, making fun of Scotland and going for a quick pee in the Pacific. The latter proved to be more difficult than it sounds as the waves were surprisingly strong that night. There I was taking a stroll to the ocean... having a wee whistle to myself when a wave crashed against the shore and came hurtling towards me. I had misjudged it by about 25 metres I reckon. I quickly ran back so that I wouldn't drown. I warned everyone else about this but they subsequently went through the same experience. After the fun of being up to your knees in sea water, we got talking to these old Japanese guys who were digging in the sand with flashlights on. One of the old guys had noticed that a turtle had laid about 50-100 eggs earlier that day and this was now a rare thing these days. So him and his mate were moving them further up the beach as a typhoon was due to whip the prefecture with its tail the following week. Then that was the end of the night.

Those waves are not to be underestimated.

The following weekend was work related as I helped organise an event with Noah. We tried to change it from the norm of 'English Camps' which towns will hold for their students and get some other ALTs nearby to help out. Instead, Noah had the idea of just having a fun day with some Western food and meeting some other foreigners. This mainly stemmed from a pretty woeful Kochi University day that our town had a few weeks ago. There must have been about 12-14 Education majors and all they managed to do for 6 hours was create static electricity with balloons and organise an 'English hunt' around the town. It was crap basically. Our day was originally planned to be outside in a park but the weather forecast said it was going to pore down. We had to move it inside to a gym which took some of the outdoorsy/summer/picnic shine off the day but in the end it was probably easier to keep all the kids together inside. A lot of the younger kids are adorable but they also run about like crazy and it's hard to keep their attention focused at times. Quite a lot of our local friends came to help out too without getting any daikyuu (paid holiday) out of it which was cool. They were Joey (Aussie/Muroto), Nick (Aussie/Kitagawa), David (English/Yasuda) and Erin (American/Nankoku) We played some games in the morning before stopping for a barbeque lunch thing. It was actually a load of hassle to get enough minced beef for everyone and Noah had to arrange for a local bakery to make proper rolls. His sister sent him a few boxes of Mac&Cheese too and we just cut up some apples for the last dish. In the afternoon we played some dodgeball, did some limbo and then let the kids smash the pinatas that we had made. They were a real pain to make and decorate (the football looked appalling thanks to me) but they were a success in the end. It was a pretty good day in the end I reckon.

Introducing the foreigners.

3rd to 5th grade kids.

Playing 'British Bulldog'

I'm surprised nobody got food poisoning. Damn, dirty kids.

My 4th grade eating lunch.

Singin' gaijin

Before the smashing (of mainly the wall) begins.

The goods.

The end

Last weekend I went to football tournament but I will save it for later as it deserves its own post. Work has been going pretty good recently and teaching has become exceptionally easy. There were 2 weeks in a row where my English teacher at junior high school was off so I had to teach all the classes myself with about 15 minutes notice. They all went really smoothly and I got a bit of a kick out of teaching them. I had one class where the principal and the head of the Board of Education (big boss) were both sitting watching me but it went great. I actually watched some baseball later that day and enjoyed it too. It was the bottom of the 9th inning (I think... I had to check) and they had a runner on 2nd and 3rd base. He had struck out once before smashing the ball for miles and they all made it round. Those 3 runs won them the tournament. It was all very exciting when I processed what had happened.

So that was the majority of May then. The start of June brings with it the rainy season but so far there have only been a few days of heavy rain. It's really quite lovely outside just now. I reckon it is another case of sun soaked Americans and Aussies moaning about a few weeks of fairly regularly rain. I've had whole summers in Scotland where we got less sun than I've seen in the past day or two. The whinging gits.
Wednesday, 4 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Golden Week - April 29th to May 5th

Aye aye
I've managed to scrape some motivation together to kick start my blog back into life. Following my dismal last entry I've decided to try and salvage something from the burning wreckage that was my linking to a dodgy Europop video. It's Wednesday morning at work and I've just fired out my lesson plans for the rest of the week in record time (about a half hour) in order to update.

Golden Week - ゴールデンウィーク - Gōruden Wīku

The month of May in Japan begins with a number of national holidays that coincide to create almost a week of time off. I believe there is a day celebrating the old Emperor who's birthday was around this time. Actually, I did a cheeky wikipedia on him just there to double check his name as there is the name of the era and his personal name to contend with; Showa and Hirohito. Indeed, I might have a little study of him later on today to see what his game was all about and by that I mean... the war. There is also the fun sounding Constitution Memorial Day which is pretty self-explanatory. The following day there is the very environmentally friendly sounding Green Day.

I'm going to start a new paragraph here because the simple task of listing the holiday days has thrown up a few interesting facts about them. A little bit of research has told me that Green Day is linked to the old Emperor as well. You see... after his death... the birthday holiday re-branded itself as Green Day in a kind of dodgy continuation of the celebration. Apparently it was called this because the old guy used to love his plants or some other tripe. Then last year they decided to bring back the birthday with a ballsy new nationalistic title of Showa Day. So now Green Day is just an extra holiday thrown into the mix and it hasn't got much to do with saving the planet.

As an additional tangentical side note to my increasingly weak structure; the Japanese are no more environmentally friendly than the rest of the developed world despite everyone thinking they are. I found out a few months ago that the endless sorting of my rubbish was merely so it was easier for the 'recycling' people to decide which incinerator it should go into... everything is burned. The rest of the country is covered in terrible looking concrete. I mean... concrete is never nice looking but this stuff just screams ugly at you. If there was a 'Concrete Beauty Pageant' then I reckon Japan's entry would only come ahead of North Korea.

The last day is on May 5th and it is the day where "children's unique personalities and happiness" are celebrated. I know that the old custom was to eat sweet rice cakes wrapped in a bamboo leaf on this day and that homes usually hang up carp flags like the one below:

From top: Father, mother and son (nae luck daughters)

I don't know why it is called
Golden Week because the only time I got off was a Tuesday one week and then the Monday and Tuesday the following week. Kind of takes the glimmer of that title, doesn't it? "Oh yes a GOLDEN WEEK... a whole week of fun filled delight." I think most Japanese people find themselves stuck in crowded airports going on overpriced trips to Hawaii and panicking about what gifts (omiyage) to buy their office. Sometimes I wish I wasn't generalising for their sake. The whole adoption of the English title is kind of puts me off it a little too. It sounds like something a totalitarian government would call the week where it executed all political opponents and the population were given an extra helping of mud soup in celebration of the great leader.

Nevertheless... I had a few days off work that I was very thankful for. I did think about travelling around Asia somewhere but I didn't have the money or energy to start planning it. Instead I returned to Tokyo with Noah and Andrew for a few days. Once again we stayed at one of Noah's University friends place. I mentioned him before a few months back but his name is Yohei and he's a fine gentleman who likes a beer or two. We met up with some people from last time on the first night for dinner and beers. The following day Noah and I took the train to Kamakura which is a town near the coast. It is famous for this big Buddha statue and has some nice gardens and temples around it too. Trying to get there proved to be agony for the pair of us. Noah was playing football the day before and some Korean guy destroyed his calf, so he was limping about the city. My pain came from my own stupidity as I decided to buy a new pair of shoes but picked up the wrong size by mistake. The pain slowly built over the hours until it was almost unbearable. We then took the wrong path which added to the journey. I lost it at one point and tore off my shoes in an act of defiance to the pain I was suffering. Then about a minute later we turned a corner and entered a busy street full of tourists and I felt a bit stupid standing there with my bare feet.

Eventually we met up with Andrew and another JET in the prefecture called Amber as well as some Japanese friends. That day and night turned out to be a bit of a nightmare though as I was constantly moving about the city meeting up with different people whilst trying to form a plan with Noah about that evening. We all wanted to go out to a club but we still didn't have a hotel and everyone had different preferences. We ended up in an area called Roppongi which is well known for being the foreigner district of the city. The place was an absolute dump and it really didn't feel like Japan. We did have a good laugh at our predicament what with all the terrible sleazy people, hotels and bars but it was a bit of a downer. We didn't really have any solid plans for the next few days but we went to a few art galleries and museums. Also, we went to the Yebisu beer museum one afternoon and spend the other in Yoyogi Park where we saw some unusual chaps doing their stuff. However, most of the time was spent eating lots of different kinds of food. We went to this excellent noodle place, a good izakaya with massive portions, Jamaican style chicken and got a whole Peking duck at a Chinese place. In between all of this was lots of coffee breaks and the like. I don't think we really drank that much alcohol actually... or not enough to actually get drunk. It was another pretty good trip but I think I've had my fill of Tokyo for now. Might start looking to get out of Japan in the future. Here are some of my pictures to conclude my entry:

Here are some pictures of Shibuya crossing.

Hold it.... hold it


Here's a picture of me doing a dance in the middle.

I swore a lot at these shoes

The Great Buddha at Kamakura. Not bad.

Hot Carrot! The old one must have rusted over so they just stuck a new one next to it.

Amber and Noah riding the Yamanote Line. I must have been on it... 14 times.

Taxis from our hotel window in Roppongi.

At the beer museum.

Yoyogi Park. Ye cannae make this stuff up.
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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.