Archive for January, 2013

Of Finances, Phones, and Mario Kart

January 23rd, 2013 No comments

Nothing big enough to warrant a journal entry has happened lately, but after a couple of weeks there are enough little things worth writing down that I might as well do so.

I suppose the most significant thing has to do with my financial situation, as a few days ago I transferred some money from my Japanese bank account to my American account and it showed up online today. That put me over the top of what I needed to pay off the remaining balance on my credit card and bring me, finally, completely out of debt. I’ve been in a state of owing money for over a year, ever since I bought that plane ticket back to the U.S. and compounded it with the ticket to the Virgin Islands shortly thereafter. Now I’m finally back in the black and it feels pretty good. All I had to do was refrain from excessive adventuring and social activity for awhile, something I do normally anyway. Living like a hermit has its advantages.

The next social event I foresee in my future will be my birthday, and I plan on sending out Facebook invites to a handful of people for another night of dinner and karaoke later today.

Last weekend the tip of a headphone plug came off and got stuck in the headphone jack of my iPhone, thus rendering the main speaker mute and making it so I can’t hear people on the other end of the line if they called me. No one’s actually called me during this time so it hasn’t been much of a problem, but it definitely needs to be fixed. When O-sensei noticed me trying to pry the thing loose with a set of paper clips at work on Monday she set out to ask other teachers to help and I was inundated with offers to borrow various small tools, tweezers, super-glue and so on—typical Japanese zealousness in trying to help someone solve a problem—but none of it was of any avail. I wrote to my phone company about the problem and they said I’d have to send it in and pay a rather significant sum for them to fix it, or I could just upgrade to a newer model and pay the extra cost of that for a few months. That cost ended up being about the same, so in a few days I should have an iPhone 5. Considering my luck with iPhones so far, we’ll see how long this one lasts before breaking or mysteriously vanishing.

Over the winter break I grew back my beard and decided to finally implement my plan of shaving off a little bit of it each week before ending up clean-shaven again. Last week I had the goatee (which looks pretty good), and this week I’ve been sporting a Fu Manchu (which looks ridiculous). It’s been interesting that not a single teacher has made any comments aboutit. I think it’s a part of Japanese culture not to make comments about other people’s appearance. But I have been getting a bunch of amused smiles from students, and on Monday there was one pair of girls that couldn’t stop giggling whenever they looked at me. Since my only intention is to draw a reaction I considered that a success, and noted how odd it was to feel happy about being laughed at.

As for lessons, I came up with a doozy of a game for the first-graders before winter vacation and had to wait throughout the whole break and several days of school before finally getting to try it. I had the idea to have a racing game where teams would translate a sentence into English and advance their cars (laminated and magnetized pictures) across the blackboard each time they solved one, at which point they could take the paper for the next sentence and continue.  When deciding what pictures to use for the cars, I figured it would be fun to use Mario Kart characters instead of plain old racecars.


Then I figured since I was using Mario Kart graphics (incredibly easy to find in a Google image search) I might as well go a step further and introduce the element of items into the game as well, so I printed out, laminated, and magnetized a bunch of pictures of green shells, red shells, and banana peels. As teams would advance across the twenty lines I’d draw on the blackboard, every four lines they’d come to an “item box” and they’d get to reach into the bag and draw an item which they could use to hit another team and slow them down. Similar to the video game, green shells would hit the car in front of them, banana peels the car behind them, and red shells any car of their choosing. If a team had an item on their car when they came to advance it, they’d first have to take it to the back of the room and put it in a box before advancing.


I also printed out and laminated pictures of Wii wheels for each team, as the person doing the “driving” (advancing the car on the board and taking the next sentence-paper) would be holding the wheel and they were the only person from the team allowed to get up and move around. Once they’d done their job they’d hand the wheel to the next person and it would continue in the same fashion.


It took many hours to prepare the game, especially as I had to cut out sentence papers for each of the 6 teams in all 5 classes. Coming up with the sentences for translation was the easiest part, as I just used the textbook as a guide. Like I said, I had all this planned before the winter break but I had to wait until the new year before trying it out, and I was quite excited when I finally got the chance.

It went over with the students as spectacularly well as I’d hoped. When I asked them at the beginning how many of them had ever played Mario Kart, almost all of them raised their hand. During the game, the concept of using the items to slow other teams down came naturally to them and this was the element of the game that made it most fun for the students. They’d be shouting at their driver across the room to use their item on this team or that, and the teams would be working diligently to translate those sentences as fast as possible. In every class, at least one team made it through all 20 sentences, and I’d give Kyle-dollars as a reward for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, place, often to more than three teams because of ties.

I’d spent so much time working on that game and O-sensei and I had so much fun doing it that we decided to try it with the 3rd-graders. T-sensei is in charge of their English classes but unlike 1st and 2nd grade she hasn’t given us any instructions on what we need to teach them during these final weeks of the school-year (they’ve already finished the textbook and are now in the process of taking entrance exams) so we can do whatever we want. Today we tried the Mario Kart game on two 3rd-grade classes for the first time, and while it was somewhat less wild and crazy than with the 1st-graders it still went over really well and the students had a lot of fun.

So just when I thought I’d never top that moja-moja-ball lesson from last year, I might have done it with this one. And it’s all thanks to my familiarity with Mario Kart. Turns out spending massive amounts of time playing video games actually does pay off sometimes.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

In the Short and Long Term

January 7th, 2013 No comments

It’s the first school day of 2013 and the opening ceremony just concluded. It was almost exactly the same as the closing ceremony for 2012, only this time the speech lambasting the third-graders to take their entrance exams seriously only lasted for a few minutes as the other two grades filed out of the gym. It was nice to be back among the students again, and sad to think I’ve only got three months left before I never see at least a third of them again.

Today was just for the opening ceremony and most of the students will be leaving at lunch time, so I won’t be doing any lessons until tomorrow. I can hardly wait to get back to that again, particularly because I know what I’ve got planned for this week is going to be fun.

The winter vacation was a nice change of pace, but two weeks of it was more than enough considering I had absolutely nothing going on. It was just me alone with myself every day except New Years’ which didn’t exactly go as planned. Stephen came to Togane and we were going to join Stacy and a bunch of other Josai students for karaoke but she called us early on and explained that unfortunately the rooms needed to be booked in advance and theirs was already at maximum capacity. Stephen and I spent most of the night at my place engaged in intensely personal conversation, getting to know each other much more than we did previously.

Shortly before midnight I suggested we go outside to start the year somewhere slightly more interesting than my apartment. The only walkable place even remotely interesting is Togane Lake (the place where they have the hanami) so that’s where we went. There was nobody else just hanging out by the lake but there was a nearby temple where many people were going for the traditional New Years’ worship. It’s interesting how the Japanese are so secular most of the year but the one big religious holiday is New Years’, but they go by the Western calendar. So we didn’t get any fireworks but we got plenty of ringing bells.

The next morning we went out for breakfast at the nearest place that served it, which happened to be the infamous Denny’s where the Yakuza shooting occurred last year. That’s the first and probably the last time I’ll ever eat there—not because I’m afraid of another gang shooting but because the food doesn’t appeal to me. Although I must admit that the French Toast was pretty decent.

After Stephen left and I called my grandparents I biked to the beach for the first time of the year and was at my favorite spot—the river mouth on the beach—when 2:00 p.m. came around and East Coast USA officially entered 2013.

The rest of my vacation was as uneventful as the beginning, and while I had plenty of enjoyable ways of passing the time by the end of it I was starting to slip back into a mildly depressed state, weary of my relatively worthless existence. Teaching Japanese middle-school students might not be quite as fulfilling as other ways I could be spending my life, but at least I’m appreciated by people I also appreciate.

One thing I’ve been considering that I think I confirmed today is that I can only spend one more year at this school before moving on. I love this school so I won’t be disappointed if Interac keeps me here another year (something I won’t know for sure until the year is pretty much over), but there’s a much wider world out there and I’d like to expand my horizons a little, maybe get a taste of what it’s like to teach elementary or high school. If they do keep me here another year I’ll formally request to be moved next year, then depending on how that goes I’ll decide from there whether to stay or move on to a new country.

Before Stephen came to Japan he spent one year teaching in Saudi Arabia because the Middle East is apparently where you can make the most money teaching English. It makes perfect sense, as Japan is such a highly desirable location they can get away with paying peanuts, but not many Westerners are willing to live in Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia doesn’t appeal to me, but I know someone who taught in Egypt and that strikes me as perhaps the most interesting of the Muslim countries to live in as well as relatively safe and modern. Plus from there I could do some travelling to Israel or deeper Africa, places I’ve always wanted to see as well. This is far from something I’ve made up my mind about but now it’s floating out there as a possibility for my next and quite possibly last destination for overseas English teaching. I think after one more country I’ll be ready to settle down in America or some English-speaking country for a long-term career teaching something other than English as a foreign language to students I can actually communicate with. It would be worth it to spend a year or two in a well-paying country first to have a decent financial position with which to plant my feet somewhere.

So that’s where things stand at the beginning of 2013. I don’t expect it to be the most exciting or interesting year of my life, but I fully expect to enjoy it.