September 10, 2006 – Children’s Entertainer again

Today I made my second ever appearance as a paid children’s entertainer for Yamaha English school. Apparently my performance as “foreigner Santa” went well enough to get another call.

The event I was working was in nearby Fuji City. Usually when I go to Fuji I take the train, which is comfortable and stress free. Today I got a ride with some of the teachers from Yamaha (all friends of The Penpal). The roads between Numazu and Fuji were narrow and terrifying. The same roads in Canada would have been one way streets or back alleys, but in Japan they were two way streets where we came perilously close to walls or other cars. Even through I have been in Japan for 3 years, part of my brain is still convinced that driving on the left is wrong. This, combined with the narrow roads, made for a scary experience.

We arrived safely and set up for the parties. There were two groups: young kids in the morning and older kids in the afternoon. The Yamaha teachers had a list of activities already prepared, so all I needed to do was speak English, follow the script, and be fun. Highlights included a giant game of rock paper scissors with a line of kids and a ridiculous “Simon Says” type game. Fortunately for everyone involved, I was not required to sing.

By the end I was exhausted, but I had fun and so did the kids. A few of the parents even asked me to pose for pictures with their kids, which I took as a compliment. I’m sure that in a few years nobody will remember why they had a picture with the random Canadian guy.

I wish I had gotten some pictures or video of my work – it would be fun to look back someday and remind myself of what I did for money while I lived in Japan. I did get a video of parts of the scary ride back to Numazu, which I’m sure will make me thankful for the wide, straight roads of Winnipeg when I move home.

All the respect in the world to full time children’s entertainers – it’s hard work!

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September 8, 2006 – Fuel surcharge??

A few days ago I was celebrating that without doing anything, my travel agent got me a better connecting flight on my trip home.

Today I received yet another letter from the travel agent. This one said that a fuel surcharge had been applied to the ticket that I had already paid for. I needed to go to their office and pay an additional 5000 yen (about $50) for my ticket home. WTF? I’m not sure if the problem is with the travel agent or Air Canada, but it sucks either way.

On a more positive note, I got to work at Fuji school today, like I will be doing every Friday this month. Working at Fuji is like a vacation compared to Numazu – there are fewer students, the kids classes are well behaved, and the students in Voice are extra friendly, like most schools with a visiting teacher.

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September 4, 2006 – Procrastination FTW

Last week I purchased my plane ticket home from a local travel agent. My route home was Tokyo, Vancouver, Winnipeg, but the connecting flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg was awful and would have me sitting at the airport for half a day. I had the best intentions to go back and try to change things, but hadn’t actually made any progress.

Today I received a letter from the travel agent stating that my connecting flight had been changed to something much more reasonable. Basically I did nothing, and everything worked itself out!

Who says procrastination is a bad thing?

(2017 Update) I can’t imagine buying plane tickets through a travel agent these days!

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August 29, 2006 – Bike ride in humidity

The main themes running through my summer are teacher shortages at my branch and the insane humidity. Today I got to experience both of those things! Hooray!

Tuesday is usually a less busy day at NOVA, but today we only had 3 teachers on the evening shift, which is about 3-4 people short of fully staffed. This meant that during our dinner breaks only 2 teachers were available to teach lessons. I ended up doing Voice (the open conversation room) 4 times! Fortunately I had some chatty students, so the 160 minutes I spent in the room were not just an extended staring contest.

The humidity was so bad today that the 4km round trip bike ride to and from work actually made me feel crappy. Japanese summer humidity is NOT for Canadians.

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August 28, 2006 – Bad form

Today is one of my scheduled days off. This morning I was woken up by my phone. I got a call from NOVA asking me to work an overtime shift in Fujinomiya.

Numazu to Fujinomiya (thanks Google Maps)

I was totally caught off guard by the overtime request and still half asleep so I almost said yes. Somewhere in the back of my brain an alarm bell started ringing, reminding me that Fujinomiya was about a 40 minute train ride away and that the school was full of group kids classes. I like extra money, but I needed the day off more so I declined and went back to sleep for a few more hours. I found out later that the overtime shift came available due to a teacher calling in sick the day after a party.

One of the annoying things about being a conversational English teacher is that everyone has different days off. This allows the branch to be open 7 days a week, but guarantees that no matter which night of the week there is a party, someone is going to have to work the next day.

Drinking is part of the English teacher culture – many of the fun events after work involve alcohol in some way. In time you either learn how to moderate your intake on work nights or how to work through a hangover. Calling in sick the next day is universally considered to be bad form among teachers, and will make you very unpopular with managers and branch staff (as I learned first hand).

It should be noted that “not drinking” is always an option, but then you risk truly hearing how bad everyone is at karaoke. I don’t recommend this at all.

If you are teaching English overseas, always make sure you can get into the office the next day!

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August 27, 2006 – State of the Union

Today was a rare Sunday shift, working on a shift swap to help another teacher. I had forgotten how busy Sunday was!

In the voice class, I had yet another student asking questions about the state of NOVA and our branch. All of the schools in our area are seriously understaffed, short of both teachers and the Japanese branch staff. Students are finding it harder and harder to book lessons, and the staff are always extra busy.

As a teacher we are not supposed to talk about school business or policies. However, this is a topic that keeps coming up regularly. A few students have told me that I’m one of the few people who will actually have the conversation and they appreciate it. I sympathize with the students – they have all purchased large lesson packages that expire in time, but the shortage of teachers is preventing them from getting what they paid for.

I could be getting myself in trouble talking about the school, but at the same time I’m leaving in two months so I’m not as concerned as I would normally be.

(2017 Note) The financial situation for the company was MUCH worse than anyone knew at the time. The students were right to be concerned.

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August 26, 2006 – Cool biz where are you?

In case I haven’t mentioned it a few hundred times already, I really dislike summer in Japan.

Realizing that Japan is hot and humid in the summer, the government introduced a new business dress code called “cool biz” this year. The idea is to reduce electricity use by setting air conditioners to 28 degrees C (that’s 82 F for my metrically challenged friends) and allowing people to not wear ties.

The private sector is slowly adopting the idea, but NOVA is still insisting that all male teachers must continue to wear ties in the office, even thought the air conditioner is now set to 28. Ironically we are now less comfortable than we were before.

Today, like other summer days, I got out of a cool shower, put on my shirt and tie, and then rode my bike to my branch through scorching sunlight and sauna-like humidity. My ride to work, combined with reduced air conditioning in the office and 3 group kids classes left me as a sweaty mess for much of the day. Hopefully my very professional looking tie distracted my students from the sweat stains on my shirt. Urgh.

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