Archive for April, 2017
Summer in Numazu is unbearable. The heat isn’t much higher than what I experienced in Winnipeg (yes, summer temperatures can be hot), but the humidity is horrible. The damp air comes in from the ocean, gets stuck on the mountains, and then hangs over Numazu, turning it into a city sized sauna. It’s typical to have humidity over 80% in July.
I have one air conditioner in my 3 bedroom apartment, located as far away from my bedroom as our apartment layout permits. There is not much cool air left by the time it travels through the living room, past the kitchen, down the hall, and into my bedroom.
I have to wear a shirt and tie to work, doing my best not to sweat through them while riding my bicycle to my school. NOVA is extremely well air conditioned, almost to the point where I can see my breath. When I leave the school at any time during the day my glasses instantly fog up when they hit the thick, humid outside air.
After a few years in Japan I have adapted to the crowds, the language barrier, and people staring at me when I walk around. I don’t think I can spend enough time here to ever get used to a humid sauna-like summer.
Teaching English overseas is a fun way to make some money and have some life experiences. Finding the right balance of experiences and saving money can be a challenge. When you are away in a fun, exciting, foreign country like Japan for a year or less, you want to get out and do everything that is available. It’s easy to end up spending as much or more than you earn.
The teachers who hang around longer than a year all find different ways to balance experience vs. savings. I have been doing my best to send some money home to pay off student loans while still getting out and experiencing the country occasionally. One of the best ways I have learned to save money is to find something fun to do at home instead of going out to the izakaya or karaoke for the 900th time.
Tonight, in the interest of being fiscally responsible, I invited some people over to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 presenting the classic film “Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell”. Please note: the term “classic” is not an indication of quality in this case.
DSatWfH is actually the third movie in the Deathstalker series. It’s the kind of movie you would get if a group of rich teenagers decided to act out their latest D&D session using only props and costumes they had around the house.
Although I did save money by staying in, I ended up spending more than expected on all of the beer I needed to survive this movie.
Due to the continuing shortage of teachers at work, we only had 4 teachers available on Saturday again. Numazu used to have 10-12 teachers in total, and at least 8 of them would be scheduled on Saturday, usually 6 working mornings / afternoons and 2 covering afternoons / evening.
Working at about half of our previous capacity was a challenge for staff and students. Some classes were guaranteed and had to be offered: group kids classes and voice always went on the schedule first. After that, any lesson slots were available on a first come first served basis. To complicate this, students had to be grouped by skill level.
As an example, let’s say that there are 4 teachers available at 5:00pm on a Saturday. There is a group kids class and voice offered at that time, which leaves 2 teachers available to teach lessons. If a level 5 student calls for a lesson, they turn one of the open slots into a level 5 lesson. Other level 5 students can join, and in rare cases a lower level student may challenge the lesson. If a level 3 student books the other open slot then all teachers are booked. Students of other levels who want a lesson at 5:00pm are out of luck.
Students usually buy bulk lesson packages in advance. Lesson tickets can expire, which really makes students upset when they can’t get lessons at their level to use up their tickets. It’s a major frustration that they frequently complain to teachers about.
If you are thinking about buying lessons from an English conversation school, make sure to ask about the numbers of teachers available: you may find yourself unable to get lessons and your tickets will expire.
2017 Update: Attracting teachers to smaller areas and retaining them was always a challenge for NOVA. What made the problem worse is that in 2006 NOVA was facing some serious financial problems. I don’t know the exact details, but this probably explained the cuts in overtime and hiring. It was a bad situation for students who wanted to use up their lessons!
After fighting bravely for a few days, I finally gave in and called in sick to work. A full day of sleep had me feeling much better. I found out later that instead of calling in a teacher to replace me, NOVA had instead provided students with multimedia lessons taught by a teacher from another branch.
NOVA has their own video conference equipment available for multimedia lessons. This allows students to learn from home, or to get lessons at their branch in another language. There is a huge demand for English teachers in Japan, but a much smaller demand for French, German, and Italian. The most efficient way to provide this service throughout Japan is to have the non-English teachers based in Osaka (NOVA HQ) who can virtually commute around the country where they are needed.
When a teacher is not available in person, students generally prefer a MM lesson to rescheduling. However, they did tell me that it’s just not the same as physically being in the same room.
So tired. Very nauseous. No fun.
I was considering calling in sick, but there is a big shortage of teachers in the area at the moment and I am worried that lessons would be cancelled. I didn’t give any award winning English lessons, but I did teach some English.
Feeling terrible. I have caught the cold / flu thing that is going around through the teaching community. Blargh.
Despite not feeling well, I still put in a decent day of teaching. Don’t teach = don’t get paid.
Today was Atami summer festival. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but I had so much fun last year that I decided that I couldn’t miss out. A few of my coworkers and I met up after work and rode the train through the mountains (literally through tunnels) to Atami, where we were greeted by Koalako.
Before the parade, we did some pre-gaming at Koalako’s parents house. They supplied us with Hapi coats, the traditional vest like garments that people wear to hot, humid summer festivals. Just like the year before, we got to help pull the float through the hilly, winding streets of Atami, completely surrounded by people, noise and lights. It was hot and humid and felt like we were in the world’s noisiest sauna! We all had fun, the only incident being Molly getting beer in her eye on an errant pour.
Koalako’s parents invited us back to their house for a post festival celebration including lots of food and beer. The beer was served in the traditional style, pouring into small glasses from big bottles. Every time there was some space in a glass, one of our hosts would fill it with beer. This is a great way to lose track of how much you’ve had to drink. Having some experience with this before, I kept a close watch on my beer consumption. My coworkers took a while longer to catch on, so making the walk back to the train station particularly challenging.
Despite Molly falling asleep on the platform while waiting for our train, we all got home safely, if a little drunk and sweaty. Just like last year, Atami summer festival was a great time!
Half way through the day my voice gave out, which is a pretty big problem for an English teacher. On my dinner break I went to a nearby convenience store looking for something to help.
Convenience stores in Japan are exactly that – convenient. Like convenience stores in Canada, they sell pretty much everything. Unlike Canada, you can’t walk down the street in Japan without tripping over at least two different convenience stores.
While browsing in the store, I found a mysterious looking coloured spray. What I could read on the bottle indicated that it was a throat spray. I couldn’t understand most anything else that was written on the bottle. I needed to try something, so I decided that it was probably safe if it was being sold over the counter.
I tried it out when I got back to work, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it helped! The pain went away, and I was able to speak at a normal volume again. The combination of mystery throat spray and doing my best to limit how much I spoke got me through the rest of my shift. I’m not going to press my luck by going out for karaoke.
** Note to readers – it’s probably not the best idea to take medicine that you don’t understand!!
Last night I went to karaoke for the first time in a long time. I’m not what anyone would consider a good singer, but I make up for this with volume and enthusiasm. I usually leave with a raspy voice.
Enthusiastic karaoke decided to team up with a cold that is making its way through the teacher’s room. By the end of my shift I had lost most of my voice. Not all teamwork is good!
After my short vacation in June I have been pretty reclusive, trying to save money by staying home after work as much as possible.
Tonight I went to karaoke after work for the first time in a long time. Fun was had by all and I stayed out too late (as usual).