I haven’t posted in a while because there haven’t been any big events worth writing an entire entry about. There are a bunch of little things worth mentioning, but nothing that ties them all together. Still, most of these developments and anecdotes are things I might want to refer back to later, so I should take some time to get them all written down. This will be a long post [what else is new?] but hopefully a fun one too.
I’ll get the details of my financial situation and its consequences on my near-term future out of the way first. As I wrote before, I look out an initial housing loan from Interac which has to be paid back all at once. That money will come out of my next paycheck, leaving me with almost nothing left over. I did take out an extra 100,000 Yen worth of loan to be paid back over the next four paychecks, and that’s already gone through which means the money I have now will have to last me until December 25, at which time I’ll get only about 3/4 worth of a normal paycheck.
This means that it doesn’t make financial sense for me to return home for the winter holidays. I bought a round-trip ticket with a return date near Christmas to get over here, but that was over $1000 and I’d still have to buy another ticket to get back. Between that and the money I’d have to spend while visiting home on things like a car rental, I’d return once again near bankruptcy and another very small paycheck thanks to the loan repayment and the money I won’t be making over the break.
But even if my family were to chip in and help me out with these costs, it still makes more sense to stay here. I work five days a week so I haven’t yet had a chance to travel outside this one little area of Japan between Tokyo and the Pacific, and there are a handful of people I met at training spread out across the country who I’d love to see. It makes much more sense to use my first vacation to explore more of Japan, especially considering that I’ll only have been here about six months and it was two years before I came home from Germany. I have no intention of letting two years pass before returning this time, but I still feel like I just got here and it feels premature to head back home now. And besides, the winter break is only about ten days, which isn’t nearly enough time to spend back home. It makes much more sense to wait for the semester break or the summer break when I’ll have plenty of time to visit everyone I’d like to.
As for the winter break, I’m currently in touch with my old college friend Myson who is teaching in Seoul, Korea, and he might come and do some travelling me him (or I might just decide to head over there depending on the flight cost). In any case, I fully intend to have some sort of adventure.
Halloween is even less of a big deal here than it is in Germany, but the school still wanted me to do a Halloween lesson for the second- and third-graders. It was to take up half the class, so I only had to fill 25 minutes. I was supposed to begin by talking about Halloween traditions in America, so I asked my parents to find and send me some old Halloween photos, which I then printed out and laminated so I could put them up on the board and use them as part of the narrative. As I was hoping, the kids got a kick out of seeing pictures of me when I was younger than they are now.
I also used the pictures of me in my Halloween costumes to give names to the teams. Rather than just have the typical “Team 1”, “Team 2”, “Team 3”, etc. I had each team choose a picture as its mascot, so there was always a “Team Vampire”, “Team Ninja Turtle” and so on.
The games consisted of one round in which I had pictures of Halloween things like ghosts, monsters, and jack-o-lanterns up on the board mixed up with the words that went with them. Each team had to send someone up to try and make a match within five seconds, and I gave more points for more difficult words. The second round was a word-search puzzle I made up with the 13 words I’d put on the board, and each team would get one point for every word they could find. It was a fun lesson that everyone enjoyed.
After the Halloween stuff, the third-grade students had to write a short text about their favorite song. I was asked to write a model text about my favorite song which I’d then read to the class, but part of the text had to explain what the song was about so I couldn’t really go with “Comfortably Numb”. I went with “Wish You Were Here” instead. Ms. S- kept asking me to sing some of it for the class but I resolutely refused. Our favorite songs are all about the associations we have with them, and while it’s no big deal to have an association with this school attached to Wish You Were Here, embarrassing memories of me attempting to sing it in front of students would not be tolerated. The interesting thing was when Ms. S-, who is familiar with British Classic Rock, asked each class whether any of the students had heard of Pink Floyd before. Not one of them did. These poor deprived kids.
Last week I had to teach “Do you want to___?” to the second-graders, and I did that by making up a game of charades where I’d divide the classes into two teams and have each team choose which gestures they wanted a volunteer from the other team to make (to be selected from lists I made up beforehand—a different one for each team), and awarded points when they asked “Do you want to___?” with the correct gesture to fill in the blank. It was a bit of a struggle to explain the rules to them, but once it got under way everyone had a blast. Some of the most interesting gesture attempts were riding a roller coaster, flying a plane, and drinking a beer. Somehow the students always pulled it off. But there was one class in which one of the students, whenever I asked for a gesture challenge for the other team, kept yelling “sex!” I laughed at first, but he drew an intense glare from Ms. Y- so I tried not to laugh when he kept saying it.
Pub Quiz Throwback
When I sat down with Ms. S- to plan the third-grade lesson for last week, we were both sitting around scratching our heads. The target structure was “Do you know___?” with the blank being filled by various question words: who, what, where, when, why, how, what kind of, how many, how long, how old. Ms. S- asked me how I taught this structure when I was in Germany, and I had to explain that it was a completely different kind of teaching I did in Germany and I never taught a lesson just for this. But after a few moments I realized that one of the things I did in Germany—having a mock Irish Pub Trivia Quiz for the students—could actually work for this lesson. So we put together a list of five famous people and a quiz answer sheet where we asked four “Do you know?” questions for each person, the first question always being “Do you know who this is?” I made the teams too big for the first lesson so it failed because they wouldn’t stop chatting, but with teams of three or four in all the other classes it actually seemed to work. Feel free to take the quiz yourself!
Do you know who this is?
Do you know where he was born? (Mikawa / Nagoya / Edo)
Do you know which battle he won on October 21, 1600? (Azukizaka / Nagashino / Sekigahara)
Do you know how long he was Shogun? (3 years / 10 years / 16 years)
Do you know who this is ?
Do you know where she’s from? (The U.S. / The U.K. / France)
Do you know how old she is? (25 / 30 / 35)
Do you know what her first CD was? (Bad Romance / Born this Way / The Fame)
Do you know who this is?
Do you know when he became president? (2006 / 2007 / 2008)
Do you know how many children he has? (1 / 2 / 3)
Do you know how old he is? (39 / 46 / 50)
Do you know who this is?
Do you know what kind of music he made? (jazz / pop / rap)
Do you know what his number 1 song was? (Billy Jean / Heal the World / Beat It)
Do you know how many CDs he made? (8 / 11 / 15)
Do you know who this is?
Do you know where he’s from? (Funabashi / Tokyo / Fukuoka)
Do you know what sport he did? (Karate / Kendo / Judo)
Do you know how long he’s been Prime Minister? (1 month / 2 months / 3 months)
Answers: Tokugawa Ieyasu, Mikawa, Sekigahara, 3 years, Lady Gaga, The U.S., 25, The Fame, Barack Obama, 2008 [technically 2009, but whatever], 2, 50, Michael Jackson, pop, Billy Jean, 11, Yoshihiko Noda, Funabashi, Judo, 2 months.
Did you get all 20? None of the teams did either. The winning teams always had between 13 and 16 correct, but I’ll bet their correct answers weren’t the same as yours. What percentage of American students know about the battle of Sekigahara? In Japan, apparently, it’s nearly 100%.
The Disaster Class
I’ve written many times before that the first time you do a lesson, it almost never works properly. You have to do it two or three times to get all the kinks worked out. For the first- and second-graders this hasn’t been a problem because I meet the classes in a different order every week, but with the third-graders I’ve ended up having class 3-1 for the first lesson nearly every single time. That means that I’ve almost never done a good lesson for them, and it’s really starting to bother me. Ms. S- assures me that this particular class is just full of bad students who are always chatting and never paying attention, but I suspect that some of that is due to the fact that I haven’t had a chance to earn their respect. The difference between how they react to me and how every other class in the school reacts becomes clearer every week. Just yesterday after a particularly disastrous first-lesson with them I felt I had to say something and told Mrs. T- and Ms. S-, neither of whom were aware of the problem. I’m not sure they’ll actually start taking that into account when they make the schedule—Mrs. T-’s tone made it sound like that might be too much of a hassle—but hopefully one of these days I’ll be able to use some tried and tested material on them instead of just using them for the always-terrible trial run.
That concludes the academic portion of this entry. I’ll now turn to more personal matters.
Awhile ago I mentioned that Mike, one of the trainers from orientation week, had found my website and read some of my philosophy stuff and sent a particularly brutal response which brought me down for several days. I felt better once I finished my response to him, and about a month went by without a reply. I was kind of hoping he’d never respond, as he apparently has no qualms about taking a condescending tone in his arguments and it doesn’t sit well with me, but last week I did get another response.
Thankfully it wasn’t quite as brutal as the first one, but a part of that is that I was much more prepared for it this time. The other part of it is that I’ve already conceded to the things he was right about, and most of what’s left are positions I feel I’ve got strong arguments to back me up. I haven’t written a philosophical post for this blog in quite awhile, but if he’s okay with it I might make a couple of entries out of some of our exchanges. Among the topics we’re discussing are whether logical maxims and mathematical principles are Absolute Truths or if they can vary with circumstance (I argue the former), whether or not consciousness permeates the universe and is all part of one grand singular Universal Consciousness which can be thought of as God (I argue that there is), and whether human beings deserve greater moral consideration than lower animals (I argue—reluctantly—that they do).
Lost and Phoned
So we all remember how one Sunday morning I discovered to my shock and dismay that my I-phone had disappeared from the face of the planet, right? I checked every corner of my apartment several times over and it was nowhere to be found. Either a ninja had pick-pocketed it from me at the 7-11 or a mini-black hole had opened up and sucked it out of existence. I went through a long and expensive process of having the phone replaced, and after a week and a half I finally had a working phone again, and although it was a downgrade from the I-phone 4 to the I-phone 3 GS, aside from the slight difference in outward appearance it appears to be exactly as good as the old phone.
One week later I’m sitting down on my couch and firing up the Kindle for my evening reading-session. I reach down to the I-phone at my feet to press the button to check what time it is, then go back to my reading. A neuron in my brain suddenly fires a thought into my consciousness—the new phone looks almost exactly the same as my old phone. But that can’t be right—the new phone has a slightly different body. But it’s right there on the floor and it does indeed look exactly like the old phone, so my previous perceptions must have been flawed because of course I’m going to trust what my eyes see now as opposed to the memory of what my eyes have seen before. And the phone on the floor does look exactly like the phone I lost, as opposed to…that phone…over there…on the desk!!!
‘Unfuckingbelievable’ is the only word for it. It made zero sense that I lost the I-phone in the first place, but it made even less than zero sense that it became un-lost. And that’s exactly what happened—it wasn’t found. I didn’t “find” it. It just appeared again out of nowhere, as though the mini-black hole that originally swallowed it suddenly opened up again and spit it back out on the floor. Insane.
Out of Place
Two very random things to mention. First, this past weekend at the supermarket one of the songs playing was an instrumental version of “Jingle Bell Rock”. I thought, “Are you kidding?” It’s the 5th of November. In this climate, the leaves haven’t even changed color yet. And I thought Christmas came early in America. Apparently in a country where only about 5% of the population even celebrates Christmas, it starts even earlier.
Second, while I was out for a jog after school last week and waiting at a traffic-light, I noticed the driver in the car in front of me, despite his Japanese appearance, was wearing a German military uniform. It hurts my head to think about.
This past weekend one of the male teachers at my school got married, and almost everyone on the faculty went to the wedding. I know this because Ms. Y- showed me pictures of the event from her camera yesterday. I couldn’t help but feel slighted. I know that I’m new here but it would have been a super-nice gesture to invite me to the wedding, especially considering that nearly everybody else who works here was. It would have been a fun and fascinating experience too. From the pictures it looked like Japanese weddings look almost identical to Western weddings (at least this one did), right down to the bride and groom feeding each other the first bite of wedding cake. I would have liked to get a first-hand impression, but now it remains likely that I’ll never get to go to a Japanese wedding.
Not to mention the fact that the last party I went to with my fellow teachers, which I wrote about in my last entry, was so disappointingly lame. I thought I’d get to see everyone loosened up and enjoying themselves, but that wasn’t really the case. From the pictures I saw it looked like this was exactly the kind of experience I’d been hoping to have with my colleagues, to really see them with the mask off. But alas, it was not to be, and now for the first time since I started working here I have reason to feel slightly sour towards my fellow faculty members.
New Pen Pal
But I’ll end on a high note, with the coolest thing that’s happened to me in recent days, which started with an e-mail I got on Saturday. It was from a kid named Kamal who wrote to me because he’d been using the alias “kemstone” since he was 11 and just discovered my website and wanted to know where I was from. I politely replied with the answer as well as a remark about the coincidental nature of the fact that I’d also chosen “Kem Stone” as my alias when I was 11. I also asked him where he was from, because clearly it wasn’t America.
The next day he wrote back saying he lives in Azerbaijan. He’s 14 years old and like me he wants to travel and see the world, but his parents won’t let him, saying he should get a “serious” job with a good salary.
I responded by saying:
I teach kids your age in Japan these days. Your English is incredibly good. I think it’s great if you want to travel and see the world. It’s too bad your parents don’t support you with that, but hopefully they can change their minds. Teaching English IS serious work, it’s a respected profession in most parts of the world, and you can be paid very well if you have a university degree.
Living in foreign countries also helps you grow as a person far more than staying in the area where you’re born, and you learn so much more about the world. Most people just want a comfortable life in a familiar area, but some people want their lives to be an adventure. I’m that kind of person, and if you are too it would be a shame if you don’t follow your dream.
He responded yesterday by telling me that he showed my e-mail to his parents who were surprised by what I said and are now reconsidering letting him go down that path. He also told me that they said I’m welcome to come visit their family in Azerbaijan if I like, which is awesome.
I’d always hoped that kemstone.com would change somebody’s life someday.