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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September 17, 2006 – Piano Recital year 3

For the 3rd year in a row I went to The Penpal’s piano recital. As usual, she was fantastic, making difficult pieces look easy.

The star of the show was the 3 year old boy who played first. When he got to the middle of the stage and saw the crowd his expression was hilarious! He needed a special chair and booster pedals, but he played a simple song well.

Yes, 3 year olds play piano better than I do.

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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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