October 14, 2006 – Stuff

Today during my last English lesson I was teaching some lower level students. During the lesson they had trouble understanding the noun “stuff”, meaning a variety of things.

When someone doesn’t understand a word, most people will try to explain the word using other words. This can create a problem for English students who might not understand the other words used in the explanation; instead of having to explain one word you now need to explain 5. Teachers can easily fall into a trap where they keep using more and more words, confusing the class and totally derailing the lesson.

I tried a few times to explain “stuff” using other words, and then realizing that I was digging myself a hole, I tried to think of another way to explain it to my class. Inspiration struck, I excused myself from the classroom, ran to the teachers room, and returned with my messenger bag that I use to carry things to and from work. I told the students that I had a lot of “stuff” in my bag as I started dumping the contents on the desk: some pens, homemade teaching materials, snacks, a book, my Ipod, and other things. After filling the desk, I told my students that maybe I had too much stuff in my bag.

One of the best parts about teaching is seeing the exact moment when a student understands something new. My demonstration worked, with all of my students looking happy and making lesson notes. After the lesson I had to repack my stuff and then explain to the branch staff why I had run out of a lesson – they were truly confused. Fortunately my explanation did not involve me once again dumping out my bag.

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October 12, 2006 – Common sense 1, Bureaucracy 0

This morning, in a surprising turn of events, common sense defeated company bureaucracy.

When I woke up this morning my voice was still weak and squeaky. I had missed work yesterday which resulted in cancellations. The branch staff were in a bad situation – not wanting to cancel more lessons and not allowed to pay overtime for a replacement teacher. They asked if there was anything I could do to help.

I called Super Dave and asked him if he would be willing to trade shifts with me in order to help out the branch. He agreed to cover my shift today and I would work one of his on my next weekend. This deal would result in no cancelled lessons, no overtime payment, and Super Dave could get a 3 day weekend; it was a win for everyone involved.

I felt pretty good about myself until I called the NOVA head office in Osaka. I explained that I wasn’t going to be able to work my shift, but that I had arranged a replacement. They told me that I couldn’t do that. I further explained that the branch staff had asked me to find a replacement if possible. Head office wouldn’t budge, saying that if Super Dave showed up to work they would need to send him home. I understand the need for following usual procedures, but I was shocked that head office would rather cancel lessons than allow a last minute shift swap.

In the end, common sense prevailed; the staff left my name on the schedule and Super Dave worked my lessons. I’m pretty sure this happened without the knowledge of head office, but since the end result was good I don’t think anyone minded.

I spent the rest of my day resting and taking some intimidating Japanese medicine that The Penpal brought me. I should be good to go for tomorrow.

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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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