Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Empty Calories

Today I was teaching at the Junior High School. I was all excited -- today was the elective English class with the san-nensei's. Today was scheduled to be our cooking class. I was asked to show the students to make something Canadian and told that I would have a class period to work with.

Well, everyone likes desserts, so I decided on Nanaimo Bars. Yum! I trekked into the city to find the necessary ingredients -- strange foods like "icing sugar" and "graham crackers". One cup of icing sugar costs 280 yen, for those who are keeping track. Conveniently, some previous resident of my house left behind a load of coconut. I planned a lesson where the students would learn some cooking vocabulary: ingredients, verbiage, utensils and such; and then they would follow the recipe in English and make Nanaimo Bars. Sounds great, right?

Well, you forget my new JTE is quite possibly the laziest man on earth. (Not really, he just suffers by comparison to the JTE he replaced).

This morning I was at school, printing off some things for the lesson. My other JTE approached me. She was worried about the lesson. Apparently, there was no actual structure to this lesson aside from "let's have a fun day of cooking"! Her concern was that the students hadn't prepared anything (other than the food), and that we would run out of time. She asked me to help keep the students on task so we could finish on time. I told her I would do what I could, thinking to myself -- wait, won't there be three teachers?

So we had a cooking class. The students made a lot of different desserts and had a really fun time. What they did not do was learn anything. I was under the impression that the goal was to a) speak some English, b) have some fun and c) maybe internationalize a little (because that's the word around here -- internationalize). I ended up scrapping my lesson and making Nanaimo bars by myself because there was no time for me to do any of that crazy "teaching" stuff.

It was a really frustrating day. Yes, I realize my JTEs are busy, but isn't their job mainly, well, teaching? And isn't an elective class WITH three teachers and nine students an ideal teaching environment? The other JTE was also feeling frustrated, which makes me feel better, but really doesn't do anything for the lesson. What a waste of two classes.

I mentioned my troubles with my JTE to someone at Sapporo Orientation last week, and the advice I got was to present more of my ideas to him -- pre-empt his laziness. I don't know though. It feels to me like it wouldn't do much good. There never seems to be enough time... case in point: I haven't been to an elective class in months (despite the fact that the schedule drawn up at the beginning of the year was basically to accomodate things a native speaker would talk about -- like Canada).


(Incedentally, the Nanaimo Bars were excellent. I had enough to share with the students in the class and all of the teachers as well -- not bad for an 8" x 8" pan.)


It was an exciting journey to the post office today. No, I wasn't shipping boxes of books anywhere -- I was taking care of my own finances. People don't pay for things by credit card or cheque here. It's all about post office banking.

Note to self:
- parking tickets are stupidly expensive in Japan: the one I got a few weeks ago ended up costing 15,000 yen (somewhere in the vicininty of $150 CDN).

- Strange that I had to go back to the issuing office to get my parking ticket, but I could pay it at any post office in Japan.

- that 5500 yen to take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) seems like an awful lot of money to put yourself through some pain and anguish. Why are you challenging Level 3 again??? Yay! for self punishment.


Apparently my office never sees me in anything dressy. I was wearing a nice skirt and a relatively nice top and heels today (the shoes are new, I got them in Sapporo a couple of weeks ago. They give me blisters).

One of my office ladies remarked that I looked like a grown-up. Well, I guess when I'm at the office I'm generally headed to an Elementary school or a kindergarten. Or on "school holidays". No wonder they were surprised to see me "dressed-up".

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sapporo O: Redux

I have returned.

Yeah, I was in Sapporo since Saturday (well, Saturday I was much closer to Sapporo anyways). Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was orientating/indoctrinating newcomers. Well, mostly I just sat at the back and made snarky comments, which is really what I'm good at.

I sold a lot of books (I gave the treasurer 70.000 yen out of my cashbox -- not all from this week though), had a lot of fun, didn't sleep for five days and managed to pick up a cold. And so now it's time for bed. After I do that "recovery" thing tonight, I'll fill you in on any important details. Please don't hold your breath!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Parking Ticket Part 2

Like any offical thing in Japan, paying a parking ticket is a pain in the ass.

After figuring out what to do with the thing, I made my way back to the original office that issued the ticket. The one in Sapporo (Atsubetsu to be precise). Armed with triple gaijin power (aka: three blonde western women, one from Texas) I went in to face Japanese bureacracy, hoping that feigning a complete lack of Japanese would help me out of a hefty fine.

At the reception desk, once it was established who the offender was, I was led to the back office of the station. Funny, it looked just like the inside of every other Japanese office I have ever been to. Only with more people in police uniforms. Nobody in helmets though. I guess the helmets are only for driving in. No, I did not make that last comment up just to be funny.

I was seated at a desk, across from a very cute, young officer and a very nice older officer. They proceeded to examine the ticket, and then explained to me why I had recieved the ticket. They drew a helpful diagram and everything. Just so you know -- don't park on the sidewalk. That is where the people go! Cars should stay on the street. Sidewalk = X, road = O. I wish I could have kept the diagram. It was awesome. If it wasn't a police office I would have laughed out loud.

During this time, more officers gathered around to examine my ticket. And make me nervous.

With the reason for the ticket established, the next step was getting all of my details and explaining the procedure for the ticket.

The first thing they wanted to know was where I got the ticket.

"Well, I was dropping my friends off at their house -- I was only there for thirty minutes."

"Friends? Mr. Benjamin?"

"Ummmm... yeees.... Ben."

"Your friend? Mr. Benjamin?"


The older police officer pulled out a map. He knew my friends too. At first, all I could think was, great. Now they want to drag them into it! In fact, they were trying to see if they knew anybody who spoke English who could explain things to me. Apparently they even went out to the lobby to check the Japanese of my friends (spoken, not so hot; listening? Excellent). Did "Mr. Benjamin" speak Japanese? No, and his wife only speaks a little.

Eventually, the eight police officers surrounding me decided that they should call someone who apparently spoke English. Good thing I'm gaining proficiency in ESL.

I was handed a telephone. One of the eight officers "helping" write up this ticket knew an English teacher who could help.

She explained in choppy English what I had just understood in Japanese -- yes, you are getting a ticket. You have to pay it at a post office within a week. I was also given a postal payment slip with an amount and a big red date on it -- generally good clues that there is money due at some point.

There was further discussion among the officers in Japanese.

I was given a sheet written in legalese (I don't speak that one) about how my ticket would be handled if I failed to pay. And of course, handed the phone to have it "explained" to me in English.

They all seemed terribly sorry to have to issue me a real ticket, and extremely willing to help with everything. I even tried the old "It's my first ticket" thing, but that didn't work. There was paper to be filled out, and this large Sapporo-area police station had nothing better to do than to help the gaijin living in the sticks figure out her parking ticket.

I got a big "ki o tsukette; take care of yourself!" on my way out. They were very nice about the infraction. It would have been nicer if they had ignored the infraction.

It was an interesting and unintentionally comic experience in Japanese law, to say the least.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

back to the old 印刷する (insatsu suru = printing)

Well, today was actually mostly binding books. Ms. Jeshie left me in chage of her precious HAJET Annual Report -- the report we send out to all the Boards of Education or High Schools in Hokkaido who host JETs to let them know how wonderful HAJET is (and convince them to let their BoEs send them to our meetings, give them money, yadda yadda yadda...).

It was supposed to get finished up a few weeks ago, but I just haven't had the inclination to do it until now. (Sorry Jess! They'll be in the mail next week!)

And since I have no school this week I figure I'd better get some inventory back up to where it should be. So this evening I have a trip planned to Homac to buy another load of paper so I can print more books. This time I'm planning to get the rest of the PC board to help me do the collating -- I don't like getting my office to do it, and most of us will be in Sapporo this week for orientation.

So that's been my summer vacation. Frantic book making, relaxing, studying, printing, driving. What joy...

Monday, August 14, 2006

parking ticket

Well, I guess I really am becoming a Japanese driver.

Last week while I was in Sapporo I managed to get a parking ticket -- a big, bright yellow, kanji drenched parking ticket. Ugh. And the bastards ticketed me at 3am. Who does that? One of the neighbors must have called.

The only English on the whole thing says:

" Illegal Parking. This vehicle was identified as "hochi-sharyo" (an "abandoned vehicle" or a "vehicle left unattended"). The user of this vehicle may be subjected to the order by the Hokkaido Public Safety Commission to pay "hochi-ihankin" (infraction money). "

Not terribly helpful.

I had one of my kanji reading friends take a look at it, and the Japanese is just as vague.

So I took it over to one of my Japanese friends. Like most of my friends who live out in the inaka, she had never seen one so wasn't sure what to do with it either. So, being the inaka, we took it to the local police box.

You know you live in the inaka when the police officer (who lives behind the station) has never seen a parking ticket. So he called the Sapporo office. After much discussion it was decided that I couldn't pay for the parking ticket there, but will have to return to the office that issued the ticket.

Good thing I'll be back in Sapporo next week for Sapporo Orientation to deal with it.

Bad thing Japanese parking tickets are very expensive (maybe 一万円, or about $100 CDN) and will cost me one demerit on my new license.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

too hot

That is all. It is too hot in my house. It is too hot in the office, and too hot everywhere. Please don't remind me about this when there are two meters of snow on the ground and I have to sleep with a toque on. Thank you, I appreciate it.

In other news, I bought a T-shirt that says "Give money in exchange for cheese". This and my astroturf iPod case are making me happy at the moment. And my fan.

Things that are making me not happy?
Excessive heat in my house, saying goodbyes, itchy bug bites, missing people, blisters and did I mention it was very hot?

Stay cool people!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Returners and Newcomers

It's been a busy busy few weeks here -- when isn't it?
The last little bit has been mostly taken up by the production of the Annual Newcomers Manual -- a (hopefully) helpful guide to life in Hokkaido that HAJET distributes to all new JETs. As the HAJET Publisher, I got to edit and solicit contributions (and ended up making a few myself) to the guide. Last year they were handed out to new JETs as they arrived. Literally -- off the plane, pick up your stuff, go to meet your new supervisor and get assaulted by HAJET members looking to give you more crap to add to the pile. And hopefully make you feel like joining HAJET... It's very Jehovah's Witness. Last year's manual wasn't very good so I decided to do a real overhaul. I think it turned out pretty well, although a lot of articles could still use an update. I did what I could (and learned that getting other people to help you can be a real pain in the ass).

Sunday I was *supposed* to be finishing the Manual so I could print it on Monday, but my computer was hijacked by Ms. Jeshi and her translator so they could finish writing the new Elementary teaching Manual that HAJET will be publishing. A worthy cause.

Monday night I pulled an all-nighter to finish the Newcomers Manual, put the finishing touches on it Tuesday morning; then printed, collated, folded and stapled 150 copies to hand out to the newcomers on Wednesday. Now my office REALLY thinks I'm nuts.

This week I've only been the the airport twice (the international airport is near Sapporo, roughly a three hour drive by expressway), and next week I will make another two visits. Last week was only one visit (picking up Canadian exchange students -- more on that next post). I think I will be sick of the airport for a while.

It's been both exciting and sad -- saying goodbye to good friends here has been tough, but I think it was harder at the summer meeting. There I said goodbye to a lot of people I will probably loose touch with. Everyone knows it, but nobody admits it. Saying goodbye to my close friends here is sad, but I know I will see them again, maybe just not as regularly as before. But when you consider that most of my non-Japanese friends here I see on maybe a monthly basis, it isn't that bad.

Seeing the newest crop of Hokkaido JETs get picked up by their offices was surprisingly fun -- and not just because I got a day off of "work" at the Board of Education office. Most of them looked like they were feeling a combination of JET overload (they throw a lot of information at you during orientations), jetlag, hangover and terror. But there were some people who were really genki from the get-go. It brought back a lot of memories for me and the other people who were there as HAJET greeters.

A few weeks from now we'll see what the new JETs are really made of. Because I am on the HAJET PC, I have conviced my office (with the help of a fabulous letter from our VP, and the fact that my office knows I do actual work for HAJET) that I need to go to Sapporo to help with Orientation. Yay! Three days in Sapporo!

I'll have another few days in Sapporo this week as well. I'm seeing a friend off on Tuesday, and Wednesday I'll be greeting new JETs, so I decided to take Monday off as well. Yay for summer vacation. and I think my office is under the impression that it is ALL for HAJET business, so I don't have to take real vacation days.

Hopefully I'll be able to catch up on the blog in the next few weeks, as things should be a bit less hectic. No big deadlines looming...

Until then, enjoy the summer weather. I hear it's already autumn in Wakkanai...