Friday, December 22, 2006

One more day! Last day of school!

Today being the last day of school meant it was the day of unending speeches at the junior high school. First the "good luck to everyone competing in sporting events" meeting, then the "congratulations to everyone who won an award" ceremony followed by the "end of the school term" ceremony. Last was a secret surprise ceremony. Our principal will be heading to France next term to be the head of a Japanese international school in France. Faculty moves are kept top secret here, even if everyone knows the secret. Well, not everyone.

The students don't know, so it came as a big shock to them. It was a shock to me as well, but it explained why I had heard snippets of conversation about France. Curse my lack of eavesdropping skills in Japanese! Curse my general lack of skills in Japanese!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Last Christmas...

I gave you my heart
but the very next day
you threw it away
this year, to save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special

Why is it that out of all the popular Christmas/holiday songs out there, *this* is the one that everyone in Japan wants to hear? And why in every English class I go to?

Funniest Wham! Christmas moment?
Practicing pronounciation (read: repeat after me) with a bad-ass class of Grade 12 boys. Imagine the horrors of having students reading after you in chorus the words "once bitten and twice shy".

Weirdest Wham! Christmas moment?
Santa showing up at the Rotary Club Cristmas party and handing out presents to kids under 6 to the strains of George Michael et al.

Most standard Wham! Christmas moment?
A tie between requests to sing Last Christmas at karaoke, and showing up to classes where the listening exercise du jour is this song.
Fill in the blanks: A _ _ _ _ on a lover with a fire in his heart.

And no, the Grade 12 boys didn't want to sing along in class. But deep down, I'm sure they wanted to show off their mad English skillz at the karaoke box. Where they assure me they only drink juice.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

This evening was the annual Rotary Club Christmas Party. Last year I was unable to attend due to being in Malaysia, so this year I was more than happy to be able to attend. Unfortunately though, the late start to my holidays means that I will miss most of the 新年会 (shinnenkai = new year's parties) that happen in early January. Oh well, more 忘年会 (bonenkai=lit. "forget the year" parties) for me before I go home.

The Christmas party is a special event for my Rotary Club dudes. Every month, they invite me to their regular meetings where they get together to eat great food, drink far too much, and talk about things that the ALT shouldn't hear (politics). The Christmas party is a chance for these old dudes to bring their children and grandchildren to the party to show them off. It's actually one of the few events that I've been to here where people admit to having a family. I think this is one of the most jarring cultural differences I have run across in my time here. In Japan, your home life is so separate from work and everything else that there are still -- after a year and a half living in this town of 4500 -- people that I don't know if they have families or not. I'm hoping that a lot of this has to do with my lack of Japanese, but I don't think it does. Family is just not something that people talk about outside of their homes.

I had a really great time meeting the families (or putting families together) of people I know at this party. I was seated with my friend Mr. Watanabe and his family -- his wife, their two daughters and four grandchildren. All of the grandchildren were made to introduce themselves to me, bringing a whole new meaning to the embarrassment that is having to talk to your grandparents friends. And I had always thought is was embarrassing enough as a child to have to meet all those boring old people. Imagine doing it in a second language!

It was a fun evening -- not quite as much sake as usual for Rotary events, but I had a good time. It made me really miss family get-togethers back home. For real. It was very なつかしい (natsukashii = nostalgic) for me to see kids running around tables playing with their toys while the grown-ups were being boring and talking to each other. Just one week to go...

Of course, being a Japanese event, there were many many speeches and introductions, bingo, janken, and team games for kids and grown-ups. And presents for everyone -- not just for the little kids. Although Santa made an appearance as well. He only gave presents to the youngest kids though. Everyone else had to earn their おみやげ (omiyage = souvenirs). I guess I earned mine by being asked to lead an improptu sing-a-long. It being a Christmas party, I led everyone in singing a round of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". Since my singing debut it's been hard to convince people that I don't really feel the urge to sing in public at every event I attend. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "sing for your supper".

There was plenty of food to be had, just like at any other Christmas party you might attend. A special mention goes to a traditional Japanese New Year's dish (I assume): boiled red beans with mochi dumplings. The Japanese name escapes me. It tasted exactly like kutyah though, I swear.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Countdown to Christmas

So close and yet so far away. I feel like a kid all over again -- except this time it's not so much the Christmas that I'm impatient for, it's the heading home. Only 8 more sleeps!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!

Fun times in pretend teaching land.

For today's conversational English class, I decided I needed to get my Christmas on. So I brought good old lappy to class and had my students watch "The Grinch who Stole Christmas". I was pretty sure the English would be too weird for them, but maybe it would give them an idea of what Christmas means outside of Japan.

Inside of Japan, Christmas traditions mean two very important things:
1) Eating Christmas cake on Christmas Eve.
2) Eating Christmas chicken on Christmas Eve.

Cristmas cake comes from the covenience store. Seven-Eleven starts giving away samples sometime in October or November. I'm a fan of the vanilla.

Christmas chicken comes from the Colonel. As in Kentuky Fried. Laugh and disbelieve all you want. It's true. People book in advance to go and get chicken from KFC. If I make it into the city, I'll try getting a picture of the Colonel dressed in full santa gear. It's creepy I tell you!

Another thing about Christmas in Japan: it's all about couples. Yup, it's a date holiday. I was at the movies last week, and there was an advertisement hawking jewlery or something. I forget. But the ad copy was "sweet love xmas for couples".

So, for my eikaiwa class, I started out by asking what the students thought of Christmas. The answers ranged from "the birthday of Christ" to "so-so". I think it was mostly an eye-opener for me. I hear all the Christmas carols (and my new favorite -- the Seicomart Christmas song) blasting here and it triggers memories for me of Christmases spent at my grandparents' house in Mudare, eating way too much, staying up way too late, trying not to fall asleep in church (or at least trying to get away with it), and a whole slew of other warm fuzzy memories. It's weird for me to think that people here get the same input and have no emotional response to it. And now I get what it means to say that Japan is a post-modern society... All the trappings with none of the meaning.

So we watched the Grinch be grinchy, the Who's singing despite his stealing all of their Christmas toys (I want a bamboozler!), and the Grinch's heart growing so big it breaks the heart viewer thingy.

The students enjoyed it, and could follow along even if most of the English was incomprehensible.

And I got to re-live childhood memories.


I went to san-nensei class today (Grade 9). They're learning about relative clauses, and using relative prepositions -- today we focused on "who". We started with a quiz.

This is the man who is the Prime Minister of Japan.

Once they figured out what a Prime Minister was, they were fine. (Shinzo Abe, if you don't know.)

This is the man who is the President of the United States of America.

They knew "Bush" and one of them know "George". Nobody knew the "W" part.

This is the man who is the Prime Minister of Canada.


Nobody knew. I was wholly unsurprised. I doubt if any of my teachers could tell me the answer either.

I gave them the initials.

My favorite responses from that?
Strong Horse.
Sparkling Heat.

Someone eventually guessed Stephen (actually Steve, but close enough, right?), and I did some drawing to get the Harper part in. But I really thing he should think about changing his name to Sparkling Heat. Might bring in a whole new demographic...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mmmm...German sausage

Mmmm...German sausage
Originally uploaded by ...and....

Last weekend it was off to the big city for a german Christmas fest, an ugly Japanese proficiency exam, and two days of conferencing. Really -- the most fun was eating sausages with chopsticks.

Aside from sausage eating, it was good to get out of town for a few days. My job might not be particularily stressful, but living in a foreign language definitely takes a toll. And getting out of town to see some movies, drink some coffee at Starbucks, and interact with other native speakers is good for you.

Lets break it down.

"Studying" at nearly every Starbucks in Sapporo. Which basically just made my head want to explode. Lunch at the festival. Dinner and commiseration with other test takers at my favorite Mexican restaurant in Sapporo. An early night. Except for watching free soft core on the hotel TV. 3D, virtual reality aliens! It was too funny not to watch.

The test. Unlike any other big test I've taken, this one didn't start until ten-ish, and was really slow moving. For instance: we actually waited the full 20 minutes before the test started just in case some of those people who weren't going to show changed their minds. A three hour test took the whole day to write. No wonder I was tired afterwards. Some parts were good, some parts were bad. We'll see when I get my results in February. Dinner and commiserartion with other test takers at my second favorite Mexican restaurant in Sapporo.

Slept in, read in coffee shops all day. It was fabulous. Took myself out to see "Children of Men", or as it's called in Japan "Tomorrow World". Not the best movie ever, but it was in English, and I like Clive Owen.

Tried to do some shopping, but was disasterously unsuccessful. Have decided I don't really like shopping. So maybe this year nobody will ge a Christmas present. Met up with other ALTs for James Bond viewing. Definitely worth seeing. I can't remember the last Bond movie I saw in a theater and actually liked. And that new Bond -- me-ow! Finished the night with karaoke at Thriller and dancing by myself (and three other ALTs).

First day of the conference. My hangover was happy things didn't start until 10:30, and further happy to find that the morning was all speeches that I didn't really need to listen to.

This year's conference was geared more to discussion and attempted to actually be something useful for ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) and JTLs (Japanese Teachers of Language). We were put into discussion groups and talked about a variety of issues. It was much more interesting than having someone drone on and on with no actual knowledge of what our jobs entail.

The evening was a dinner and date auction. For the children. I spent 5000 yen on the worst date ever -- he didn't even come and introduce himself to me! To be fair, he did apologize the next day. Think that I should have really gone up for auction -- I'm sure I could have made much more money... Nijikai was fun too, but ran out of money. Ouch.

Last day of the conference: workshops and idea sharing. Lots of great ideas, but as always, it may be difficult to put them into practice. My JTE prefers the "uncreative use of the textbook" to creative use of the textbook.

After the conference, I went to a highly recommended (all my gajin friends go there) hairdresser in Sapporo and got a much needed haircut. Pictures to follow. Or you can just wait two weeks to see it for yourself.

Then it was back home. I tried catching the early train, but there was an accident along the line. So all the trains were delayed heading back my way. Ugh. I ended up on the last train home, the one that doesn't get in until 11pm. Discovered it had NOT stopped snowing since I left home. And everyone had moved their cars around. So again, mine was stuck way out in the parking lot, all by it's lonesome. Except for all the snow. It wasn't too TOO bad though. I was able to 4WD it out of there. Mwah hah hah. 10 points for freaking out the neighbors.

One day of school to round out the week. I got to help teach in one class (yay!) and grade recitation tests in another (boo!). I still hate recitation tests. It doesn't teach anything about communication. But that's a whole other rant posting.

The evening was my office bonnenkai. I was exhausted, but ganbatted until the end. Snuck out at the end of the nijikai to say hi to my friends at my favorite bar, and ended up being joined by the rest of my office. It was fun times as usual. Made a deal to take one of my co-workers to the gaijin bar in Asahikawa. While trying to convince him that he could learn English if he actually tried speaking in once in a while. So now we have a bargain. He only speaks English, I only speak Japanese. And we will actually correct one another's mistakes. We'll see how it goes.

Snow shovelling. One hour. Onna no matsuri = Women's Festival. Basically a party with all the women I know in town. Eating, drinking, gossiping. All the good stuff. We made takoyaki and ordered in pizza. Stayed at the bar for forever. More fun times.

Snow shovelling. One hour. Finished. The car is freed from it's snowy bonds. I am dismayed to find my downstairs neighbor has shovelled the snow from his walkway onto mine. Really hoping that was a one time thing. Rounding the day off with playing with paper for HAJET. Which is really what I do best. And watching TV on the internet. Thanks to the sister.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Two more weeks!!! Eeeee!!!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Weather Woes

You crazy Canadians and your bad weather are great for making conversation in Japan. Instead of last year, when all I had to report was unseasonably warm temperatures and a lack of snow, this year I get to talk about -40 and snow in Vancouver. Well, I hope you're all keeping warm out there. Thanks for making me feel warmer, even when I can see my breath in the halls at school and spend my nights huddled next to the heater.

It also makes for fun demonstrations of things like "block heater". You try explaining that to someone in Japanese. Fun times, ne?

If you're interested, the weather here isn't nearly that cold. However, it has been snowing continuously since the night before last. That's a lot of snow. My friends down near Sapporo don't have anything that is sticking around. I may have problems finding my house tonight.

And with that thought in mind I'm taking off to Sapporo for the week. Sunday is test day, Wednesday and Thursday is the annual mid-year conference, and Monday and Tuesday I'd much rather take off than come to work. Just as well -- turns out I don't have classes either day.

Please enjoying a good week.