Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lewis Money: The key to motivating senior high school students. Apparently.

The Creeping Cold

It's been another one of those crazy busy months - I spent most of last week running around like a blue-arsed fly trying to get my presentation together for the JET Mid-Year Conference in Fukui, and the entire week before that was taken up with editing JETfuel. JETfuel was a pretty mammoth job this time around, but I reckon it's our best issue yet (you can see a photo of the latest print issue below and the online edition can be found here, although only a few articles have been added so far).
The Mid-Year Conference went pretty well too - I foolishly agreed to make a one hour presentation about motivating students, and I've spent the past month cobbling together lessons and trying to figure out how exactly to stop my students falling off their chairs with boredom. I photocopied a few successful lesson plans and handed them out, then showed some videos of my students doing some drama, which went down well, so I think the whole thing went OK. It's all I've been able to think about for ages, so I'm just glad it's all done.
Later on I was one of the comperes at the post-conference Pub Quiz, which was great fun, but unfortunately I indulged a bit too much in the free beer and didn't quite make it to the club night afterwards. Yes, that's right, you guessed it: I fell asleep on the bus, then paid a taxi driver 3000 yen to drive me round and round until I could remember where I lived. Classy.
Other than that, I saw the new Harry Potter film at the weekend, but failed to spot my sister (she's one of the extras - according to my mum you can see her in the scene where they draw the names out of the Goblet of Fire). I did manage to spot my sister's friend Megan though, which was quite exciting - she plays one of Cho Chang's best friends.
I also got a couple more fancy origami letters from Chihiro, which always cheers me up. All the first years at my school have to write at least 5 letters to me every term, but inevitably they leave writing them until the very last possible moment, right before the exams, which means I now have a pile of approximately 400 letters on my desk waiting to be marked. They're usually pretty much identical too - the standard "My family has a dog. It name is Taro. I like Taro etc etc", so it's always a nice surprise to get intricately folded letters from Chiharo. Last time it was a hedgehog, this time it's a pencil and a heart - what will it be next time? I'm actually really excited to find out, but I'm not sure if that makes me dedicated to my job, or just sad.
Finally, it's bloody cold. But the school rules state that heaters are not to be turned on before the 1st December. NO MATTER WHAT. Which is why I'm wearing gloves as I type this on the school computer, whilst I listen to disgruntled mumblings among the English department about "inflexibility". Bets are being circulated about how many staff members will come down with frostbite before the Great Turning On this Thursday. Roll on heated classrooms.

JETfuel December 2005 "Winter Bumper Edition": Done (And Surprisingly Big And Bulgy Considering The Numerous Desperate Pleas for Articles).

Heater Next To My Desk: Still Not Turned On.

Here's a photo of class 1-3 we used in our mid-year conference presentation "Motivating Senior High School Students". Obviously this has been completely staged, since in this classroom almost all the students are awake. In fact, what appear to be eager students are actually carefully placed cardboard cut-outs of what I believe eager students would look like if they existed.

Chihiro continues to delight me with her origami letters - here are two of her latest creations, a pencil and a heart.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Uses For 1 Yen Coins - Volume 1, Dealing With Scotsmen

This is an article I wrote which appears in the new issue of JETfuel, the Fukui JET magazine. Big thanks to Colin, our local Scotsman, for being such a good sport and letting me take the photos. Apologies in advance to any Scotsmen/women reading this...

Somewhere in your apartment I'm sure you have, as I do, an enormous jar stuffed full with 1 yen coins. There's very little you can do with these all but useless pieces of monetary fluff. You sure as hell can't spend them, unless you're willing to go down the conbini with a sack full of change every time you want to buy a loaf of bread. Keeping them is impractical: it has been estimated that after three years of living in Japan the storage space required for 1 yen coins is likely to equal approximately one fifth of the size of the average ALT apartment.

You can't even throw them away, since the bin day for one yen coins occurs only once every ten years on the second Monday of the fifth month between the hours of 5am and 6am, and even if you're lucky enough to be present on said bin day, the hallowed bin is guarded by a vicious obaa-chan, who will rifle through your bags of coins and put them back on your doorstep if she finds even one five yen piece in with the ones.

But don't worry, help is at hand. An Englishman in Nyu-gun is proud to present the first in a series of articles giving advice on what to do with those pesky little shards of metal. First up: dealing with Scotsmen.

The problem is a familiar one: one day you come home to discover empty cans of McEwans lager strewn across your living room floor, ginger whiskers in your sink and the powerful odour of haggis wafting through the drawing room. That's right, your house has become infested with Scotsmen. “But I kept it so clean!” you cry. “I always clear up the leftover food in the kitchen and put the bins out on time. I might have expected to have a Scotsman when I was living in my student house, what with all the mess and all, but how could I have one now?”

Nevertheless, despite your best efforts, a Scotsman has moved in, and he ain't budging. You called the council, but they can't send an exterminator round until next March, and the humane traps you bought from the local DIY store were useless. You even bought a cat, but somehow the canny Jock is still scuttling along behind the skirting boards, keeping you up all night. You've tried everything.

Or have you...? What about that jar full of one yen coins by the door...

Fig. 1 - Here we see a Scotsman who has set up nest in this wall cabinet. Startled by the light, he quickly retreated to safety behind some old porn magazines hidden at the back of the cupboard shortly after this picture was taken. Note the mug of rancid, watery tea: Scotsmen have been known to reuse the same tea bag for up to a year or more.

Fig. 2 -There's simply no way you'll be able to get close to the Scotsman whilst he's holed up in his cupboard – you need to lure him out into the open. As everyone knows the Scotch are famed for their miserliness, so the Scotsman will have an instinctive urge to hoard any money he can get his hands on. This is where the one yen coin comes in – simply place a one yen coin on a table near the cupboard, then secrete yourself behind the curtains. Now wait. Once the Scotsman catches the scent of money he will be irresistibly drawn towards it...

Fig. 3 - Now's your chance. The Scotsman will be momentarily stunned by the shininess of the tiny piece of metal, and will stand transfixed for a few moments admiring “his precious”. Whilst he contemplates the shiny surface of the coin, quickly leap from your hiding place and batter his brains out with a frying pan.

Problem solved.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

They've opened up a new toast restaurant in my home town. Does it get any better than this?

Going Home

Last week I paid an unscheduled visit back to England for the funeral
of my Grandad (by the way, thanks for all the messages of support I've
received from you lot over the past couple of weeks - it really means
a lot to me). The first few days after I heard the news sort of passed
in a blur. I organised time off school and booked the first flight I
could back to England, but it only really dawned on me that I was
going home when I saw the lights of London emerge below me, and
suddenly I was picking out Canary Wharf and Big Ben and the London Eye
and jumping up and down in my seat with excitement, much to the
annoyance of the stern-faced Swedish guy trying to watch the film next
to me. This was it. I was back in the land of crumpets and tea.

Obviously it was a bit of a strange week - my excitement about being
home was dulled by the sombre events I was there to attend. The
funeral was obviously very emotional but I was so glad I could be
there: I think you really need to be with family at times like that.
There was a fantastic turnout too, and I got to meet tons of relatives
I never even knew I had. The reception afterwards at the Kings Langley
Social Club was packed out, and the tuna sandwiches and vol-au-vonts
fairly flew off the plates, whilst the subsidised bar kept the ale
coming all afternoon.

I don't think you could ever describe a funeral reception as "fun",
but it was a pleasant feeling to be surrounded by so many people I
know and love after so long spent in Japan. It was nice not having to
speak in Japanese too, not that I ever really do in Japan aside from
the odd staccato conversation about the weather, or a quick "ohayo
gozaimasu" to the neighbour. Lamentable I know, but I'm working on it.

Anyway, like I say, an odd week. Aside from the funeral it was great
seeing my friends and family again, and it was great to indulge in all
the things I've missed, ie. really decent sandwiches (God bless you
Marks & Spencer!), mince pies, BBC TV (actually better than I
remembered it being - maybe I'm used to awful Japanese dramas now),
comfy chairs, wonderful wonderful tea, really smelly cheese,
doughnuts, fresh pasta and being able to buy magazines and actually
read them.

As comforting as all this normality was though, I began wondering what
things would be like when I return home for good. I must say that the
thought of going home next summer appeals to me, but at the same time
I realise that leaving Japan for good is going to be a massive
comedown. After all, nothing's really changed in England, but I'm
experiencing brand new things almost every day in Japan, even after
living here for 18 months. Like the toilet with the self-raising loo
seat I discovered in a restaurant in Fukui the other day, or the
poster for a local production of "Driving Miss Daisy" featuring a
blacked-up Japanese guy in the lead which I saw this afternoon. Life's
going to be a lot more boring outside the Land of the Rising Sun.

Now playing at the Fukui Culture Centre, "Driving Miss Daisy", or as the Japanese reads, "Doraibingu Misu Deizii". Good old katakana.

Here's just some of the family, from left to right: (top row) Uncle Roy, James (Lizzie's boyfriend), Uncle Adrian (middle row) Cousin Adam, Uncle Pete, Auntie Lynn, Sister Kerri (bottom row) Counsin Jake, Cousin Lizzie, Auntie Andrea, Mum and Nan. And they all live in the same village, along with a few more of the clan. Note Jake's Darth Vader helmet on the table - something that will definitely be on my Christmas list this year.

I got a bit over-excited when I was going round the supermarket, and I started taking photos of all the food I missed, much to the bafflement of my fellow shoppers. Check out this killer sandwich - "Brie in a Pear Tree", a combination of brie, pear, pear & apple chutney, mixed leaf and creme fraiche on cranberry and onion bread. Possibly the best sandwich in the world ever. Can anyone name a better one?

Now this is what I call a sandwich - Wensleydale Cheese and Caramelised Carrot Chutney. Get in. And look! They haven't even cut the crusts off! (It's a little known fact outside of Japan, but all sandwiches sold through convenience stores here have the crusts cut off - and no-one knows why. Possibly they're aiming them at vicars who need to throw a tea party in a hurry.)

Just look at that - real cheese (drool appears at corner of mouth, eyes glaze over). I love cheese. I love Cheddar, Wensleydale, Stilton, Red Leicester, Brie, Camembert, the lot. Unfortunately they only seem to have one type of cheese in my beloved Japan - a yellow, bendy substance they simply call "cheezu".

Organic wholemeal bread - oh how I've missed thee!!! For too long have I supped on tasteless, semi-stale slabs of bleached white so-called "bread" here in Japan. A bakery! A bakery! My gaijin card for a bakery!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sad News

I had some sad news last week. On October 31st my Grandad was rushed for an emergency operation following problems with his heart. The surgeons did all they could, but unfortunately he didn't pull through.

I rushed to book a flight as soon as I heard the news, and I'm currently writing this in my parent's house in England. Obviously the whole family is devastated. The funeral is tomorrow.

I just wish I could have seen him one last time.

Goodbye Grandad. I'm going to miss you.