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.