October 11, 2006 – Married with Children

Working during my overtime day with a cold killed my voice, meaning I couldn’t teach today. Sorry NOVA!

I did my best to recover – lots of sleep, lots of tea and vitamin C drinks, and I binge watched Married With Children.

MWC was one of my favourite shows as a teenager: in addition to laughing at the continuous failures of Al Bundy, I had a huge crush on Kelly. The show is still funny now, although I found myself getting really annoyed by the excessive laugh track. My only other complaint was that they couldn’t get the rights to the song “Love and Marriage” to open the episode on the DVD release, so they simply dubbed in some generic music over the title cards which is pretty weak.

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October 10, 2006 – Overtime day

Today, by request from management, I worked a rare overtime shift. I really value my 2 day weekend, but this was an early shift and it’s hard to turn down extra money right before I’m move back to Canada.

Work was busy but not terribly difficult. I was fighting a bit of a cold, so my voice was starting to disappear by the end of the day.

After work I went out for dinner with The Penpal and one of her church friends, who is quite possibly the friendliest person in the whole world. Even though I gave up half of my weekend, my day didn’t turn out too badly!

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October 9, 2006 – Shinto shrine Bingo!

There are around 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan ranging in size from massive structures like Mishima Taisha down to tiny miniature shrines on the side of the road. The Penpal has a neighbourhood shrine near her house, and today I was invited to the annual festival where her father volunteers.

The neighbourhood shrine was small, but was surrounded by a large courtyard where I found the usual stalls that are found at festivals around the country: yakisoba, yakitori, takoyaki, and some treats for the kids. As I was filling myself full of delicious yakitori, I started to notice that I was the ONLY person at the festival who wasn’t Japanese. Many of the people seemed surprised to see a gaijin at the neighbourhood festival. Even after 3 years in Japan, it’s still fun to surprise people by eating with chopsticks or speaking Japanese, both things that aren’t normally expected from a foreigner.

In addition to the food, there was also a free bingo game with lots of prizes. As people got bingo, they got to choose a prize from the prize table. Eventually it was my turn to get a bingo, and I proudly walked to the prize table at the front of the crowd, smiling as people stared at me. I chose a badminton set, which was probably not ideal considering that I’m moving back to Canada in about a month.

In the evening I got to enjoy a wonderful home cooked meal at The Penpal’s house, a treat for someone who eats convenience store and pub food far too often. After dinner, I was shown the family photo album including pictures of The Penpal as a kid. Japanese people as a rule don’t smile for pictures, but The Penpal took that a step further looking positively annoyed at having her picture taken.

When we had embarrassed my fiancee thoroughly, the Penpal and her mother went to wash the dishes. What came next was the highlight of the evening: I was watching TV with The Penpal’s father, my future father-in-law, when he handed me the remote control for the TV. I think this means that I am now officially accepted into the family! Hooray!

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October 7, 2006 – Renovations during lessons

My usual Saturday evening teaching partner Molly was on vacation. Due to the ongoing teacher shortages in the area, I was the only teacher in the building for the last 4 lessons of the evening. Each of my classes was at its 4 student capacity, making for a busy evening.

During the afternoon, right before my group kids class, one of the branch staff decided to replace the filters in the air conditioning units in each of the kids rooms. I’m not sure why they decided to start this right before a group class – usually the staff go out of their way to avoid disrupting lessons. When the lesson started, there was still a ladder in the middle of the room.

Realizing that a bunch of energetic children in a small room with a ladder was a disaster waiting to happen, I decided to improvise and moved my group into the unoccupied Voice room.

In branches that have dedicated NOVA kids classrooms, these rooms are specifically designed to teach children. There are teaching materials on the walls, high shelves for anything that the kids shouldn’t get at, and a total lack of furniture. The Voice room was designed with adults in mind – there was a giant movable white board, tables, chairs, maps, and all kinds of English books and magazines. The kids were so distracted by everything in the room that the 40 minute lesson flew by. It was one of my easier kids classes ever!

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October 3, 2006 – Sad Cows Song

After work I had plans with a few teachers to go for a beer at Wara Wara. Our outing started small, but as word got around more people kept showing up. Our table started to get cramped, so we asked to upgrade to a larger table. Wara Ware was already hosting a large party, so they couldn’t give us anything bigger.

Since we didn’t want to remain stacked like sardines, we relocated to Uotami, where we were joined by even more teachers and friends. I’m not sure if everyone really needed a drink, or if people were afraid of missing out: whatever the reason our small group going for a few beers had turned into an event. We eventually outgrew our table at Uotami, so the staff moved us into an available party room.

The good news is that our spacious party room contained a karaoke machine. The bad news was that the karaoke machine did not have the usual selection of English songs that we could find at our usual karaoke places. The thought of staring at an unused karaoke machine was too much for me to bear, so I started searching through the song book for anything that might have more English than Japanese.

Many of the printed songbooks for karaoke rooms show the first line of the song next to the name and artist. I scanned through the list and stopped at something that looked amazing: Sad Cows Song by Japanese ska / punk bank Shakalabbits.

The song was 98 seconds of pure awesome.¬†With lyrics including “Let us drink to much milk hey, because we feel sorry for the cows around the world” it quickly because a highlight of our evening. Hooray for Shakalabbits!

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October 1, 2006 – Speech contest

Today I attended the annual English / Japanese speech contest at Numazu library. The event was hosted by NICE – Numazu Association for International Communication and Exchanges. The Penpal is a member of NICE, so I went along to check it out.

When I learned about the contest a few months ago, I had given some thought to entering. The demand was much greater than the supply – 24 people tried to enter but only 10 Japanese speeches were presented. There were also 10 English speeches by Japanese residents. My favourite speeches were about the differences in communication styles between Japanese and American housewives, and an elderly Japanese man’s scorching rant about those annoying teens in sweatpants who hang out in front of convenience stores.

I really admire the courage shown by everyone who made a speech: public speaking makes a lot of people nervous, nevermind public speaking in your second language.

I overslept before the contest and didn’t have any time to eat before I got there. By the end of 20 speeches I was STARVING. On my way home I stopped at the new donair food truck in front of Don Kihote. If you’ve never eaten a donair, you are truly missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.

When I got home I received an invite from the Penpal to come over for dinner. I was still full from my late lunch, but I never, EVER refuse homemade curry. Yum!

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September 29, 2006 – Please don’t spit on the teacher

Today my experiences teaching English to children hit a new low: a 4 year old girl spat on me in the classroom.

Most kids that I have taught are pretty good, if uninterested. However, over the past few years I have been hit, kicked, kanchoed, and had a variety of objects thrown at me, most notably a marker which bounced off my face. I have also had kids call me terrible names in Japanese: I usually let this go for a few minutes before telling them in Japanese that I can understand everything they are saying. Today was the very first time I have ever had someone spit at me in class.

At first I was shocked, then disgusted, then occupied with trying to find something to wipe it off, then back to disgusted with a bit of angry.

Teaching English to children is a very effective form of birth control.

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