Friday, December 19, 2003

nana na na na-nana hey! (number 7)

originally an email

Seven is nana or shichi in Japanese.

Once again I will attempt to make some kind of attempt to account for myself before I go to some kind of major event. I have tried this twice before, and neither time it has worked out. I tried to send off a large email before Visualogue, and failed. I tried to get one done before the soccer tourney, but did not manage to. Now, I will try again to write, and hopefully get this one sent before Christmas vacation.

Also, let me warn you that I generally refer to Christmas Eve as "New Years". Unfortunately I also refer to New Year's Eve as New Years. You may have to determine which I mean based on the context. I will try really hard to get it straight, but for those among my family and friends who recall, I have had this problem for a few years now, and I only get it straight when I try really hard. Ganbarimasu! (I'll do my best!)

Okay, so we left off way back at the soccer tournament, right? Looking at my dayplanner, I see that there was also a week around that time where I taught all my Junior High classes solo. My JTE went on vacation; she was using her "refresh leave" which is a few extra days off every ten years. After ten years of teaching, people get three extra days. After twenty years they get another 5. Usually after 30 they hope to be retired. These few days mean a lot, because unlike the Canadian system, teachers are expected to work nearly every day of the year. That includes about half of winter break, half of spring break, and all of the summer. Any days off have to be used from their "nenkyu" (yearly leave). There is such a thing as "byokyu" (sick leave) but teachers generally use nenkyu instead. To use byokyu, they have to be sick enough to go to the hospital, and need to get a doctor's note. Also, days off due to byokyu are taken out of their annual bonus. As a result, they prefer to take nenkyu, so they can just go home. They are generally allotted around 40 nenkyu days a year. To take days off in summer or during the breaks, they must use their nenkyu.

On the other hand, JETs, like me, are allotted only 20 nenkyu, but we are also allotted 20 byokyu, and are permitted to use them. We get no bonus, so it is no skin off of our back to use them. Because so few Japanese people use byokyu, and then only in extreme circumstances, it is far from unheard of for ALTs to get cold stares for using them. Japanese don't seem to think it is right.

Some of the more fortunate JETs are allowed to do what they wish with their holidays. I am one of those privileged few. If I have no plans, I must come to school rather than sit at home and chill, but I am free to make plans (ie, going into the city, travelling, etc) and merely have to tell them what I am up to in order to get the day off with no charge. It's a sweet deal.

So, as I was saying, Mrs Nakanishi used her special 'refresh'-kyu. I taught the classes by myself. Afterwards I was talking to one of the Jets who has been here three years, and he told me that what I did was a bit touch-and-go. I should not have taken the classes by myself because I do not have a proper teaching degree. My predecessor did. I guess nobody thought about it. So I did something mildly illegal. Ignorance is bliss, right? Anyhow, it was a good learning experience for me, and I got to put my Japanese skills to a little bit of use. Any Japanese I write on a chalkboard is a source of instant applause from the students, especially since my predecessor could only say basic greetings in Japanese, even after two years. Fun as it was, it was by far the most trying week I have had in classes; it made me much more conscious of there being language barrier than I have been at any other time. Talking is way easier than teaching.

Also, that week of trying to teach JHS kids by myself has influenced my days of teaching in the elementary. I couldn't put my finger on exactly how, but I do know that the classes seemed to get way easier to do after that.

---

On the last Saturday in November there was a party at Dr Otsuka's. Who is Dr Otsuka? My question exactly. He is some guy who lives in Awa-cho, which is in the mid-north part of the prefecture, along the Yoshino river. He is also very affluent, so he throws a massive party for ALTs and locals, and charges a mere $5 to cover some of the food and booze. The party itself needs little more than a cursory mention. The house was huge, there were three bands which each played three or four song sets, and there was a lot of food. The ALTs/JETs (some of the ALTs were not JETs) mostly kept to themselves, and the Japanese mostly kept to themselves. Apparrently that is not normally the case at this annual party, so Dr Otsuka was trying his best to be extra 'genki' to liven things up a bit. It was an OK party, I guess. My original intent had been to drive home after the party, but I underestimated how long it would take to drive to Awa-cho. It took me more than two hours to drive there. The party was going to end at 11.30. I had to be in the City the following morning at 9. that would mean a 2 hour drive home, putting me in bed at 2.00 am at best, and then I would have had to get up at 7.30 in order to be back in the city for 9.00. And all that is an ideal circumstance. In reality, I would probably be restricted to three or four hours sleep, and then miss my appointment in the morning, due to my body taking 8 hours without consulting me first.

So when someone offered to let me crash at their place near the city, I was sorely tempted. When I was told that I would not be the only one crashing there, I accepted. Whose place was it? None other than [A-san] herself. Who else was crashing there? None other than her boyfriend [B-kun]. I probably don't need to tell you that it was a weird weird situation. I am glad that she hooked up with [B-kun], because he had been interested in her from the start, and she had been harrassing me from the start. Once they hooked up, she basically left me alone, which suits me fine. She has a really big place, with two bedrooms separated from eachother by the length of the apartment. Unfortunately the guest room was filled with laundry and other things, so they put me up in the living room, which is right next to the bedroom. Thankfully, they kept quiet.

The foamie that I slept on was moderately comfortable at best. Add to that an odd situation and an unfamiliar ceiling, and what do you get? light sleep. I may have been up before my alarm. With what should have been seven hours sleep, but felt like five, I was up at seven and off to the city. I nabbed myself a McDonald's breakfast (hotto keki, orenji jyusu, soseji mikku-mafin) and even made it to the place early.

Where was I going? I went to ASTY Tokushima, which is some kind of a convention centre in the city. I have no idea what the ASTY stands for. My third year students were participating in an industrial fair. For the preceeding several weeks, they had been visited by students from one of the High Schools in Katsuura (the next town over). The HS that was sending students is an Agricultural school, and they were teaching the JHS 3rd years about growing plants; panzies in particular. Er, that is, the plants were panzies, not the students who were learning.

The industrial fair was mostly High Schools. The main reason for our participation was to give our students some exposure to more High Schools so that they could see what options were out there. The group was divided in half, and day was divided into four one hour shifts, starting from 10.30, after we had gotten set up. One half would stay and mind the booth, and the other half wandered around. I "chaperoned" some of the boys. More accurately, I hung out with them, walking around, buying snacks, such as ice cream or squid tenpura, and chowing down the occasional free plate of steaming "maguro atama" (tuna head). It was delicious. When we returned and told the others that we had found a place that gave out free tuna head, everyone was pumped. It turns out that the meat from inside the cheeks of the tuna is one of the choicest bits. As I have already said, it was tasty. However, I must confess that I passed off the lumps of solid fat to some of the others, and fortunately never got served an eye.

It was a cold day to be outside; it was windy and the skies threatened rain, but it never actually rained until after we left. It was the kind of weather in which I would normally be scraping siding off of a house in Winnipeg at the beginning of September.

But despite the weather, the day was a lot of fun. The third years are an intelligent, fun group of students, and many of them speak a good amount of English. I like it when I can hang out with them.

---

Sometime in the last while, Nakanishi-sensei asked me to help her prepare a test for three towns: Kamikatsu-cho, Katsuura-cho, and Komatsushima-shi (a city). The test would go to all the junior highs in all three places. They alternate who prepares the test from year to year. This year it was Kamikatsu JHS's turn. My part was to draw the pictures for part of the test, and record the spoken English for the listening portion.

I had to do the voice of a girl for one part of it, seeing as how there are no natural female English speakers in the vicinity. My poor attempt at a female voice had the both of us rolling on the floor in laughter when we heard it played back. We kept it. A few thousand students have since listened to that tape. The idea is still funny to me. Sadly, our own students were too focused to laugh when they heard it at the test. At least most of them talked to me afterwards with a smile saying that my voice had been very strange.

---

On the first Saturday in December we JETs did our annual Christmas visit to an orphanage. Usually they have tried to go to as many as four, but this year it was only possible to do one. All the kids are bought presents for by JETs who are given only the age group and sex and price limit ($10).Then on the day of, we are there for two hours. We blitz the place and decorate a main room with Christmassy stuff, and then do some games and crafts with the kids, followed by carols and presents, and then another game. It's a good tradition to have.

---

Last weekend was a busy one for me. As I said in the "Judo = fun" letter, I had hurt myself at judo, but was missing the friday anyhow to go our of town. Out of town meant out of Kamikatsu. There is a former JET named Rowan who is now a regular ALT who teaches at a few elementary schools. One of his schools was putting on an "open school" and wanted some international special guests. These guests provided a reason for the open school, and made the day even more fun for the kids.

Because the open school was to start at 9 on the saturday morning, Rowan invited anyone who was so inclined to come to his place for dinner the night before and then crash for the night. That's what I did. It's just as well, too, because I had a nightmare of a time trying to find his place, Though he lives only a little north of Tokushima City.

He did make a delicious dinner, tho. I stuffed myself silly, much to the amazement of everyone watching. That evening, for some reason I was granted the kind of bottomless stomache that could have given the infamous Phil Miners a run for his money, even back in his Junior High prime. Perhaps it was because the food was very flavourful, and pleasantly spicy, a nice change from the Japanese quisine, which though I enjoy, I certainly eat more than enough of.
Unfamiliar ceiling or not, I slept well at Rowan's.

He made french toast for breakfast, and had maple syrup to go with it. Three cheers for comfort food! Banzaaai! Banzaaai! Banzaaai!

When I went back to where I had parked my car (in parking lot) it was surrounded and boxed in. At 7:3o am. It had been an empty lot the night before. It looked like several little league baseball teams were coordinating travel from there. I guess I came at the right time though, because the gridlocked parking lot emptied completely in about fifteen minutes. Only in Japan.

The open school was interesting. There were 14 or so of us, though we were not all ALTs. Rowan is engaged to a Venezuelan university student who is working on her masters, and so there were other South American uni students (their friends) among us foreigners. After the opening ceremonies we were split up into four groups and guided around through the various things by the grade 6 kids. The four areas were: making torn ricepaper collage, calligraphy, making mochi (a kind of snack made by mashing rice into a chewy paste), and traditional japanese games (an ancient ancestor of badminton, shooting paper wads out of bamboo shoots by using compression, spinning tops, a form of cup-and-ball, and a game that resembles tiddly winks.)

After all that was the closing ceremonies. We adjourned to another room where we were given tasty bento (japanese boxed lunches), little souvenirs, and $20 for our trouble (travel expenses, etc.)
after that, I made my way back into the city to audition for the musical and park my car for the xmas party.

That's right. The musical. Tokushima is the only prefecture whose squad of JETs puts on an annual musical, although I think a couple other prefectures have started to consider doing their own. Now, I admit that class is hardly a consideration when coming up with these plays. This year will be the 10th annual AJET musical, and as such we are taking a play from Shakespeare. We have modified "The Taming of the Shrew" to be "The taming of the Brew". There is a role reversal, so now it is two brothers instead of two sisters. Bruce is the name of the beer-drinking, pizza-loving older brother. Groomio is the younger bro.

I wanted the role of Groomio and got it with absolutely no competition. Yatta! So I have one of the leading roles in the play this march. Practices start in January.

As for the party I was referring to, it was the AJET annual christmas party, which was meant to be a twelve location pub crawl; becoming a kind of drunken "Twelve Bars of Christmas". I joined a couple others and just hit three places before the final destination. We met at the starting point: Big Brother's Sandwich Shop, Then went to St Patrick, which is the expensive joint that has Guiness and Kilkenny on tap. We got there while the first two teams were still there, and relaxed there until all the other teams had come and gone. Then we made our way to the Queen Vic, picking up a few others along the way. We beat all the teams to the queen vic, and chilled there until once again everyone had gone through. Then it was on to P's Paradise (which may or may not be a strip club during the day) which was the place we had rented to finish up at. I got there at around 11.30, and the party was well under way. At around 2 am the party was tanking fast. Me and another guy named Stirling were trying to come up with an antonym for "lucid" because it would have been the perfect word to describe the state of most people in the room. I made my exit and went to crash at Dan's place. Which was locked. Rats. Fortunately Drew and Emily (who live two flats over) were in and they provided me and Tom (who had turned up shortly after) a floor to sleep on. I still had all my bedding in my car from crashing in Matsushige, so I was able to drag it out and sleep quite comfortably.

In the morning (or early afternoon) we all woke. After packing my bedding back into my car, I went with Tom to go find some food. We settled for authentic curry at a place in the city called Masala. Very tasty. Good naan.

Then Tom split to go look for xmas prezzies and I went to look for a bath/onsen. The kind folks at TOPIA pointed me in the right direction. The place I went to was a very old, very busy, very strange onsen in the middle of the city, at the base of Mt Bizan. I don't know what else to say about it other than I just took it in stride and tried to relax. However, when I came out I felt refreshed in one way, and worn down in another. It was like I had been under spiritual attack the whole time, and not realized it. I got hit by this wave of hopelessness as I left the place, and felt like doing something self-destructive. It was bizarre. When I realized what was happening I prayed and walked away, and was fine after. There was a thought in my head thinking that I should frequent that little place. I will probably not go there again, at least not for fun's sake. No, not to that little onsen in the shadow of Bizan with its many shrines.

After that I picked up an Icelandic fellow named Oli, and took him to church. He had come to the party the previous night, and was interested to come. It was our Christmas service, and the last foriegners/english service for the year. It was alright. Because he's stranded here at xmas, I invited Oli over for xmas dinner as well.

---

I went to the hospital on monday to get xrayed to make sure I had no broken bones. I'm fine, so the doctor gave me some painkillers and a chest-tenser strap thing and sent me on my merry way. ---
I had my schedule rearranged a bit this week so that I could join the junior high schoolers in their marathon on Wednesday. I am usually at the elementary on Wed, but this week they did me a favour and switched me to Tuesday.

---

The marathon was only 2km for the girls and 3km for the guys. Kuchihodo ni mo nai. Mouth bigger than action. I thought I could pull off the run no problem. I placed 13th out of 23 guys.I ran the 3 kilos in 14 minutes and 39 seconds. I don't think I am quite at the point of doing 5 kilos yet, which would make me very happy.I was glad for the run. It was good.

---


Thursday (currently last night, but probably longer ago by the time I finish this)Thursday was the Christmas party for my Eikaiwa class. It went well.

I suppose that at this point I should talk a little about what the Eikaiwa class is. It is an evening conversation class which is held once a week. Anyone can come. Most ALTs have eikaiwa classes composed primarily of middle-aged women. I am more fortunate. I have pretty girls my age in my class. In fact, I have nearly stolen one from Tom's eikaiwa class. Her name is Naomi (with a soft "a"). One of the teachers at my school went on a two/three month trip to New Zealand. Naomi was the replacement teacher. She is pretty, and though all the Japanese say she's tall, to western eyes, particulary those covered with bush-goggles, she is just the right hight. Also, she lives in Katsuura, and as such has gone to some of Tom's classes. I casually invited her to mine. She comes. Tom was shocked. Dismayed. Then, he was pleased when she came to his class this past monday. The prettiest girl in Katsuura-gun (county) goes to both our eikaiwa classes. Ironically, neither of us will make a move on her. Why? For me, I wouldn't bother because she is not a Christian. For Tom, he would if he didn't already have a girlfriend. So we both just choose to enjoy the fact that we can have pretty girls in our classes. It makes preparation so much easier to do. I also have a couple of University girls who come to mine, and one of them, Mae, is quite pretty too. Taku-chan, who is a local shop owner and a very funny guy, had tried to set me up with Mae during the first week I was in Kamikatsu.
So what do we do at eikaiwa classes other than talk to pretty girls? Well, we talk to other people too. I have a low-level class one week, and a high-level class the other. With the higher level class we mostly discuss things, and if it comes up, I will teach a grammar point. We also play games, like lateral thinking games.

With the lower level class I generally have some kind of grammar or vocab to teach and have a game or two focused around it. The trick is trying to figure out how to make the class both a social event and a learning experience, because it is meant to be both.

Taku-chan and Mae come to both levels, as their English level is moderate. Tera-san comes to the low-level class. Though her English is better than Taku-chan's, Naomi comes to the low-level class because one of the other teachers from the elementary comes to the low level class as well.

Hiraoka-san, who helped sort out the martial arts stuff and occasionally gives things (like venison or pickes) to me, comes to the advanced class from time to time. The mothers of two of my more skilled students come to the advanced class as well. One of them runs an organic bakery, and the other has traveled the world.

The christmas party went well. We did it pot-luck as far as food goes, and everyone paid $3 to cover drinks and snacks; Taku-chan brought them. Taku-chan did most of the coordination for the evening; he is one of those guys who demonstrates the Law of E. F. Hutton. (cf Maxwell) There was a lot of very good food. I made a curry.

We played a few games; I prepared some, and a couple other people prepared some. Taku-chan smoothed over some rough spots. All the games loosely required English. Then we did the good ol' "White Elephant Gift Exchange" which is the one where you can steal instead of opening.

All in all, it was a highly successful evening, though it felt like Taku-chan carried the weight of it for me. Thanks Taku-chan! (guess who's the real leader?)

Wow! and that's it! Now I have to rush home and shower and shave before heading off to the staff party in the city.

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