Thursday, December 29, 2005

Pulau Pangkor

Today could be my most active day this week...

I've spent the last however many days here on Pangkor. Has it been a week? a month? I don't remember anymore. Tropical time, especially on the beach, is much slower. The days have been mostly eating, going to the beach, eating, reading, sleeping. An excellent vacation.

We spent Christmas Day on the beach even. We built a giant Christmas tree out of sand and decorated it with sea shells. We even opened presents to the sound of the waves.

The mosquitos here think I taste better than anyone else. I suppose that means I'm keeping our island free of mosquitos for everyone else. Even the owner of our hostel noticed it. He gave me some sea cucumber oil to put on my bites. I was dubious, but it actually worked. I no longer look like a giant bug bite.

I'm going to go kayaking around the bay with some friends this afternoon -- I think I'm meeting them now, but I haven't bothered with keeping track of time. I guess I'll wander over and find out...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pulau Pinang

Caught a bus from Kuala Lumpur yesterday afternoon, and spent five hours driving up the west coast of Malaysia to the city of Georgetown, on the island of Pinang (Penang). It's an old colonial city, with a really strong Chinese influence, but so far, all I've seen of it is our hostel and the inside of this internet cafe. This evening, we're planning to go up to the big hill on the outskirts of the city, but so far, this vacation has been very much about taking it easy. After the bustle and heat and crowds of KL, a smaller city will be a nice change. What I'm really looking forward to is going to our next stop and meeting up with everyone else to laze about on a beach for a good solid week.

The food here has been incredible. I've eaten load of excellent Indian and Malay food, had some Thai TomYum soup the other night, and here on Pinang I think I'll be able to get my fix of Chinese. After five months of Japanese food, the variety of spices is a real treat. Not that I don't like Japanese food, but it isn't up there on the list of spicy foods. Much more austere and about the natural, raw flavours of the ingredients. Here, street stalls sell all varieties of delicious curries, fish, fruits and everything else for so cheap! Yesterday I had lunch at a busy street stall, and my plate of fried rice, fish, chicken and salad cost me a whopping 9 Ringit (about $3CDN). And it was incredibly good. Just typing about it is making my mouth water... not helped by sitting just up the road from a big conglomerate of food stalls.

Alright, off to find some food!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Almost there...

Found a free internet terminal on a twenty minute layover in Singapore -- happy to say we made it from the outskirts of Sapporo this morning at 5:15 to Chitose airport for our 8am flight. It was a close call, but we didn't get lost in the maze that is the Sapporo eki (train station).

A few more hours until we touch down in Kuala Lumpur...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!

I'm heading off for a holiday in Malaysia this evening, so this will likely be my last post this year. That's right -- three weeks on a beach in the tropics!

I'm meeting up with friends, so even though I won't be spending Christmas with my family I'll still be spending Christmas with people I love.

But, yeah, I will definitely miss having a family Christmas. So for all of my family (and my friends too!) that read this blog, I'm sending out big hugs and lots of love for Christmas. I sent out Christmas cards yesterday evening, so I hope they get to you. I hope everyone has a safe journey, drives carefully, and enjoys a warm and happy Christmas.

Until next year, lots of love,

He sees you when you're sleeping...

A good rule of thumb for teaching English lessons with songs: don't choose something with vaguely creepy lyrics. You will have to sing it a lot, and every time you do, the lyrics will get creepier. Especially if you have designed actions to go with the song.

I taught at the kindergarten yesterday. We played "Pass the Present". For those of you not familiar with this game, you wrap a box of treats in multiple layers of paper, and pass it around the room and everyone gets a chance to take off a layer. And for added English learning fun, we counted in English to decide who would get to unwrap the present. And as always, teaching at the kindergarten is a blast. What kid doesn't like opening presents?

After opening presents, we sang "Santa Claus is coming to town". Complete with actions. These kids are too little to learn a lengthy song in another language in under 10 minutes, so I made up actions to go with it. Have you ever realized how creepy that song is? Especially the "Big Brother is watching" aspect. The teacher at the kindergarten liked it because of it's "good message". Believe it or not, the lyrics sounds even scarier when translated into Japanese. But the kids had fun dancing and watching me make a fool of myself. And I always have fun making a fool of myself. But by the third class we did this lesson in, I was ready to never sing about Santa Claus knowing what you are doing at all times.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Do you like...? Kids say the darndest things!

Today was my last day of the year at the local elementary school, and because I'll be missing a day of classes next week to go to Malaysia, and I missed a day last week to go to the Mid-year conference, I went to an extra class today. I think they should always give me three classes a week -- it's a lot more fun! And, the students would benefit (I would like to think) from having me in class more than once a month.


I was reviewing the grammar patterns "I like _______", "Do you like ________?" with the Grade 1 class, and the students are asking me about what I like. All of the standards come up: Do you like apples? Do you like dinosaurs? Do you like volleyball? Do you like Ebisutani sensei (the Grade 1 teacher)? Do you like beetles? Do you like Hard Gay?

Ahhh yes, Hard Gay. My favorite Japanese television personality/comedian. Other blogs about teaching English in Japan have covered the Hard Gay phenomenon, but this is my blog, so I'll elaborate. Hard Gay is a character that runs around dressed in bondage gear -- he looks like one of the Village People -- yelling "1-2-3 Fooooo!" and humping things. Whenever I count to three, there are inevitably a couple of kids who yell "Foooo!" and shake it like a polaroid picture. His act is incredibly popular with the elementary and kindergarten students, and was also the feature of my office year-end party. I have video of the latter. Best keitai video EVER. I personally think Hard Gay is funny, probably because I don't have to understand Japanese to see the humour. And it's surreal to see him humping the grouchy old lady that judges IRON CHEF and making all of the other guests uncomfortable.

So how do you answer a question that you know will have every kid in the Grade 1 class on their feet, yelling "Foooooooo!" and humping their desks? Is there really a good way to answer a 6-year-old who asks "Do you like Hard Gay?" I went with "Well.... tokidoki. Sometimes." And moved immediately to another topic.

Full contact Alice the Camel. They really like singing Alice the Camel, but today we had to sing extra slow because there were too many casualties. And that's why I was always a fan of Alice the Camel.


Later in the day, some of the 3rd year students were going through my things and pulled out my Alice the Camel prop. She's pretty cool, if I do say so myself. Alice has gone over well at the classes I've taken her to. It's all about the multi-coloured humps. Anyways, myself, some students and one of the other teachers are chatting before I head back to the teachers room. As she is leaving the classroom, one of the students turns to us and says, "Canadian camels are a lot more colourful than other camels!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I think a little piece of me just died...

Today's lesson:
Using "that" as a conjunction. For example: you know that, you hear that, and so on. As if teaching extraneous words wasn't bad enough (I'm a fan of removing any excess "that" 's in writing), today's dialogue was as follows:

Guide: Of course, you know that dolphins aren't fish. They're animals like us. They live about 20 years.

Aki: What do dolphins eat?


and later:
A: Dolphins are animals like dogs.

B: ...

A: Do you understand? I said, "Dolphins are animals like us. They aren't fish."

Wait a minute -- don't you mean mammals?!? I mentioned it to my JTE, but because it's in the textbook (written by non-native English speakers), that's the way it is. Dolphins and dogs are animals. Fish are fish. Dolphins are not fish. Do you understand? Wakaru?

Does this mean fish are not animals?
Do I have to turn in all those Biology degrees now?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Weather Report

Just checked the weather forecast before I head to my many-blanketed bed: Hokkaido is expecting up to 70cm of snow in the next 24 hours, and because I've been extra good this year (and live in the central, mountainous region of the prefecture) I'm sure we'll see even more.

Does this mean I have to get up early to find my car?

In other news, I decided to have Christmas this evening, because some of those presents were books, and I was looking for something to read on the beach. Thanks to everyone who sent presents. I may be too old for them, but it doesn't mean I don't like them. I'll email you all special. Unfortunately, I'm not on the ball enough to be sending any presents back home before I go on holidays.

But think! That means you get something cool from Malaysia!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Snow:1 anyram:0

For once, I was actually in town on a Saturday evening. Usually I'm out doing something on a Saturday night, and as a result, don't usually attend Saturday evening kendo practices. But yesterday, I was home, and had every intention of going to practice.

Until I went outside.

My neighbors, who have lived here for a number of years, understand that we get a lot of snow. They had been out earlier in the day, dealing with the huge dump of snow that's come down in the last 24 hours. At least on their half of the parking lot. I hadn't really noticed, and was enjoying a Saturday afternoon of bad comedies (Tim Robbins: what were you thinking when you made "Nothing to Lose"?) and hot chocolate. So, when I went out to my car to go to practice I wasnot pleased to find it buried under two feet of snow, and that I would have to shovel out my car before I could go anywhere... So much for kendo this weekend.

It took me about an hour to move the snow from in front of my car to the other end of the parking lot, and to "clear" the driveway. Only there's so much snow, that you don't really clear the snow so much as take off the loose layer. I shudder to think how much snow there will be on my car after I go to Malaysia for three weeks.

It wasn't so bad, but I did manage to smack myself in the head really hard with the shovel handle. What can I say -- I've lived in Victoria for 4 years and forgotten how to operate a snow shovel.

Only five more months of snow to go!!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bright Lights, Big City: Sapporo Mid-Year Conference

I spent the beginning of this week in Sapporo.
I left the office Monday morning, even though the conference didn't start until Tuesday. It's nice having a contracting organization that loves me. I didn't have any classes on Monday, so my boss let me leave early to spend some extra time in Sapporo. And they paid me to go!

I had grand plans for my free day in Sapporo -- lunch, shopping, meeting up with other JETs... but I've gotten more accustomed to living in the country than I thought. Sapporo isn't that big of a city (only about 2 million), but I was everwhelmed by all the people, noise, music, and sheer amount of stuff. Just when you think you're settling in, the big city throws you for a loop. I was also just tired and cranky, so after a fruitless search for a pair of shoes to fit my "huge" feet, I gave up and crashed at the hotel.

The conference was a standard JET conference. Lots of people, boring speeches, not so helpful discussion sessions. I did go to a couple of entertaining seminars, but most of what was said was things I already knew. Really, the best part was going to a trivia contest/fundraiser, meeting new people, going out with people I don't get to see too often, and visiting a real bookstore.

The bookstore was the real highlight of Sapporo. Books are ridiculously expensive here. I can't believe I spent roughly $15 on a Harper's magazine -- worth every "yenny". Even so, getting to browse a bookstore with a real English language section, and even a small French and German section, was a real treat. As was spending the rest of the evening playing "Settlers of Catan" instead of going to an over-priced enkai. That's right. I'm a geek and I'm proud.

Friday, December 02, 2005

It's snowing again...

... and I have a bounenkai this evening.

忘年会 literally translates to "forget the year party". I think this is the first of many that I will be attending, not to mention all of the new year's parties that will take place in the new year. Christmas may technically be celebrated in Japan, but the true festive event is New Year's. Cards, good wishes, and parties all center around this time of year.

It's too bad I'll be in Malaysia for New Year's this year. I was looking forward to experiencing a Japanese New Year's.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

For teachers everywhere...

In standard Japanese, the names of the months are pretty basic: each month is numbered, so January is ichi-gatsu (one month), February is ni-gatsu (two-month), and so on. But there are other names. Yesterday I learned the old Japanese term for "December". December is also known as 師走 (shiwasu). This literally translates as "running teacher".

Fire Training

"Fiya trainingu", my supervisor says to me the other day.
"Nani sore?", I asked.
"Fiya trainingu", he says again, handing me a kanji-laden memo.

I look over the memo, and recognize the kanji for "fire" 火 and "disaster" 災.
"Must be a fire drill."

This morning, an otherwise slow day at the office was interrupted by "Fire Training", Japanese style. Truly an interesting experience. Three firemen in dress uniform come to our office at the appointed time, and start the process. I know a couple the firemen, and off duty they're nuts. Here, they're all business. After some preliminary greetings, they start the drill. Two different bells and about three very polite voices start to sound. Strobe lights start going off too. Everyone in the office has a specific duty to perform. This is, of course, after the head librarian has made an announcement, which we all listen to very politely. After the announcement, everyone gets up to man their stations. The younger guys grab the fire extinguishers, and some of the other guys get the hoses. My supervisor goes upstairs to clear all the other rooms. My job is to hang out with the superintendent and "supervise", or "stay out of the way".

It's too cold to go outside, so we stand around the unheated entrance waiting for the drill to wrap up. Once everyone is gathered in the lobby, the head fireman gives a lecture on the importance of fire safety. At least that's what I interpreted it as.

My supervisor says that at next year's fire drill I can run around yelling "Fire!"