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Body, Mind & Smell February 28, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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At Elementary School this week I’ve been teaching them about the plural s. To do this, I’ve introduced the question “Do you have brothers and sisters?” To be honest, I was dreading it, as I know that the addition of an extra letter to make a word plural can befuddle people that speak a language that doesn’t do that natively. However, my kids have taken to it like a Japanese person to raw fish. Most of them hardly seem to have to give it any thought. I’ve got to say, I’m really starting to notice my kids getting better. Every lesson we review what we did the previous lesson and refresh the other questions that we’ve covered so far and the constant repetition really has made it stick. I’ve also got to admit, that when I ask my Junior High students how they are, most of them cock their heads to one side, mumble something, cock their heads to the other side, look at me blankly and finally venture “Aimu…guddo?” My Elementary Students have no such hang-ups and I often ask them in the corridors how they are and it just rolls off the tongue for some of them.

The class that I’ve just had are a class of 4th graders and are therefore 9-10 years old. It is this class where the kids constantly smell me. I know, right – if they’re not laughing at my crotch (for the record, that’s only at Junior High) they’re inhaling me. When it first happened, I thought they were taking the piss, so I ignored it. However, having heard the phrase “Ii nioi” uttered quite a few times and finding out that, roughly translated it means, “Goddamn it, Mitch, you smell great!” I’ve taken to indulging them and allowing them the odd olfactory treat in class. Most of them run up to me outside of the classroom and sniff me there. I’ve got to say, it’s a little weird, but I suppose at least they’re not being malicious.

I got the elusive timetable for March and really am pleased – it turns out that, other than the first week when I’ve got to go into school on a Saturday for graduation, I don’t have a full week of school this coming month, as they wind down towards the end of their school year. This means I can wind down and get ready for my holiday in Malaysia in peace.

Yesterday, I went into Junior High after Elementary School which is unprecedented, just because I don’t want them thinking that it’s OK to do that – doing lessons at Elementary isn’t easy, especially with the language difference and the last thing I want to do when I’m finished is go and sit in a stuffy staffroom playing on my computer. That, I can do at home!

So I went in, because Julie asked me to help her prepare the final test for the 2nd graders. It’s quite nice that I get consulted on what they should be presented with and I take an active part in preparing things. Yesterday I was choosing sentences for them to translate and drew a map for their directions quiz. The real reason I’m mentioning it is because I went in for an hour and a half in the end and they absolutely loved me for it. The sheer fact that I had taken time out to help them really was appreciated and there were profuse apologies for annoying me and compliments galore showered upon me. All in all, my time here is becoming much easier to bear as I’m enjoying things, even the teaching side of things. Of course, there are still lots of lessons where things don’t go to plan, the kids are comatose, the teacher tells the kids in front of you that she has no earthly clue what you’re wittering on about (like my first lesson yesterday) and it makes you want to rip off your own arm just to have something to throw at them. But there are good days and I don’t acknowledge that enough.

Still never going to be a teacher though…

Till next time!

Low Flying, Adored February 26, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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My kids laugh at my crotch.

The suit trousers that I wear to Junior High aren’t the best I’ve ever owned and for some reason the piece of cloth that is supposed to cover the fly, doesn’t. Therefore, the zip is visible.  When I first saw this, I thought nothing of it. At least the zipper works, right?

Wrong. To the great amusement of my 2nd grade classes, they constantly enjoy pointing out the fact that they can see my fly. It gets a little grating, especially as every time one of them points to my groin area and says something, I can’t help but look, just to make sure that it hasn’t come open, thus indecently exposing me to a group of 13 year olds. Last time that happened, trouble ensued…

Now, I’m sure that a lesser man would feel inadequate by the constant mirth invoked by that area of his anatomy, but to be honest, it just annoys me. They have enough to take the piss about what with me having ballooned in weight since I got here, without adding insult to injury.

However, let’s move on from the subject…

I’m almost back at the ESIDL, starting the last three of my seven days there this month. I’m also waiting with bated breath for my schedule for March which has still not been given to me. If I don’t get it by the end of the day, I’ll take it to mean I have no school for the month. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve asked for it and still it has failed to materialise.

My flights to both Kuala Lumpur and Seoul have now been paid for and after this coming weekend, I’ll be living the life of a hermit, saving up vast quantities of dough to blow in the two weeks or so that I’ll be on holiday. I may have also scheduled a little trip to Tokyo just after then, but it may collide with a camping trip that is being arranged.

But right now I’m sitting in my staff room drawing a map of a fictitious town. As the resident foreign weirdo, I’m subject to a lot of tests. English tests, that is. Before the kids have to sit them, I’m the guinea pig and must answer all the questions that are in English (not understanding a word of Japanese). I’m also consulted about the content of the test, the phrasing of questions and, apparently, the drawing of maps.

Yesterday I was marking some 3rd grade work. Some of them were really, unintentionally, funny:

“Look this pen. It gold. This pen gave me my mother.”
“I once loved Ken. But not anymore. I love Shun. He’s beautiful.”

One girl who, by all accounts, isn’t good at English because she never says anything at school scored a whopping 95/100, shattering the myth that she’s thick as shit. I was quite pleased in this discovery and her confidence has been improved greatly. In fact, in the lesson I had with her today, she did say something, thus proving everyone wrong.  One of my teachers told me that her getting that mark may have changed her life. You know what? It might just have…

Till next time!

You Could Drive A Person Batshit February 21, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Random.

I stand in front of a class full of first years. They’re either 12 or 13. Some of them shiver. Most of them have their eyes closed. All of them sit there sniffing at me. The teacher comes in and after the introduction, the lesson begins. As does their apathy.

The first year of my Junior High School is made up of sinfully boring human beings. Any attempt at a fun lesson falls flat. Flatter than a hermaphrodite’s chest. They manage to suck the energy out of the most enthusiastic teacher. They say they can’t speak English. They don’t even bother trying – they read somewhere once that it was kind of difficult and therefore they can’t do it. Plain and simple.

Welcome to the world of Japanese high schools. Of course, I can only use my own experiences, but if a week spent in first grade English classes here in Kuga doesn’t sap away any desire you may have to be a teacher, then you are superhuman. I dread being asked to go to the classes as they’ll inevitably be awkward affairs that seem unplanned and spontaneous.

I moan about the ESIDL, but 50 minutes with this life-feeding year is enough to send me back there full of the joys of spring. After a day at elementary school, I realise why people become teachers and entertain the idea that maybe, later in life, I could do it too. One lesson with this lifeless bunch sends me running for the hills and has me now sworn against ever becoming a teacher. I would sooner walk through the fiery pits of Hounslow and live my life as an unemployed leech than suffer at the hands of The Class That Never Was.

Today’s task was a simple self introduction. I can do it in Japanese and I’ve hardly been studying it at all, despite all my initial good intentions. These kids have had an exposure to English for at least 6 years. This one boy sat there drawing pictures instead of writing out his simple introduction as the rest of the class was doing. He’d cleverly written “wakaranai” (I don’t understand) in Roman letters. So I went over and wrote the first bit for him: My name is. All he had to do was write his name in Roman letters there. Seeing as he’ll have learnt these since the age of 10, this shouldn’t have been a problem. When I was handed the stack of papers at the end of the class to correct, I found his sheet. All it said was:

Wakaranai My name is

So I wrote in my best script (and in nice, bright red pen):

This really is easy. Perhaps if you tried it you’d realise that…

It won’t make the slightest bit of difference. The teachers don’t seem to get all that upset if a kid doesn’t do their work. How different teachers in England are. I can’t count the number of times I was hunted down for a piece of work at school. But here, it seems that his English education will not further itself at all and he’ll sit and fail all consequent tests. And it’s that part of this job that I find so demoralising. The lack of effort by the students. The apathy of the teachers. The fact that “I can’t do it” seems to be a warning to teachers to back off and not push the point. If every teacher gave up when a kid despaired “I can’t do it”, where would civilisation as we know it be?

Any flame of enthusiasm for this job that may have remained through the 7 months I’ve been here has now dwindled, sputtered and gone out, leaving barely a trace of smoke…

Unworthy Of Your Seppuku February 19, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan, Random.
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I really cannot believe that it’s a week since I last wrote. I keep resolving to write more, but I normally only have things to say the day after I’ve written a post and so therefore do not want to inundate you with the goings on of my fairly dull life!

This weekend saw my Sex Party. It wasn’t an orgy (at all, actually, seeing as it was my worst attended party so far), but the theme was sex. People basically interpreted the theme as they wished and so, on Saturday night, Kuga was descended upon by a horde of overage Japanese school girls, two hookers, a Junior High School student and a sperm. I’ve got to say, the fact that a whole lot of English teachers in Japan came as imitations of their kids is kind of scary. I myself came as a sperm, complete with egg and detachable tail. I think I won the prize for most inventive (and biologically correct, although, with regards to size, my egg was seriously lacking). Lots of alcohol was imbibed and the following day it was necessary to go and eat a whole lot of Indian food to abate the hangovers.

This week I’m at the good elementary school. Yesterday, however, wasn’t so good. My first class was my 4th graders. Stupidly, the school decided not to split the year into two classes as they normally do, but instead, there’s one class of 41 students. Therefore, there are very few lessons I can give to that class that go according to plan. The following class was a recalcitrant 5th grade class and by that point in the day, I couldn’t be arsed.

Today is going much better. I’ve just had two 2nd grade classes and they outshone yesterdays no end. They’re just so absorbent, and even if they can only manage katakana English (uwatto izu yua nemu?) they’re so willing to learn and give it a shot. When I asked one girl a question, I noticed right away the tell tale signs that she was about to cry. A lot of my kids cry – sometimes because of me and other times just because they’re kids. But this girl was going to cry because she didn’t understand how to answer my question, despite the fact that the teacher had done a pretty good job of translating the point I was teaching. So I moved on, because I didn’t want her to cry and told the teacher that I would come back to her at the end. So she cried. Because I didn’t give her the chance to try. Even though she was going to cry because all eyes were on her. I basically can’t win with students like that, so after a bout of asking the other kids questions, so she could see how they were answering and get the general gist, I went back to her. But she showed herself up once again, by proving that she hadn’t been listening to the other kids and so was still unable to answer my (rather easy, if I do say so myself) question. So she cried. Again.

The rest of the class went well, and the kids go absolutely batshit for the stamps I give out as prizes. I’m really not above bribing my kids to try. And they’re apparently not above accepting said bribes.

I’ve just come back from my class with the first graders who missed their lesson last month. The thing with that class is, they’re all ultra-sweet, but there are two boys with behavioural difficulties and so I never know how the class is going to be. Most times, they’re great and they do everything I ask of them. Other times, the two boys run around the class, kicking their teachers and screaming at the top of their voices. Needless to say, lessons that involve that never go to plan. But today there was very little screaming a no kicking. One of them tried to show affection by punching me in the balls, but that’s par for the course with young kids, I’ve found. Either that or they just hate my crotch region and want it to suffer.

Other than that, there’s not much to report. I’ve now finished all the chick lit I bought in Kyoto (4 Marian Keyes novels and PS I Love You by Cecelia Ahern). Now Marian Keyes writes trash, but it’s enjoyable, well-written trash that keeps you guessing. Cecelia Ahern falls shamefully short of this yardstick. Her novel is, in a word, awful. It’s contrived and it reads like a GCSE creative writing project. The only thing worse than this novel, is the film of it. Any charm that the novel may have possessed is wiped out, stamped on and thrown in a furnace. The novel is set in Ireland. Everyone is Irish. The film is set in New York. Everyone bar the ill-fated husband is American. Why they chose Gerard Butler to play the Irish dude when he is, in fact, Scottish, is beyond me. I’m thinking his physique probably had something to do with it. In the novel, Holly’s family is supportive and there for her and a whole unit. In the film, Holly’s father disappeared on the family, thus blowing apart the whole family unit which, in the novel, feature in many subplots. The new love interest, Daniel, is played by Harry Connick Jr. I’ve got to say, I don’t remember the character being as idiotic or bumbling as the film portrays him as. So, in short, avoid the book and go to any lengths possible to not see the film.

I’ve now started on some Japanese literature. The book is called Forbidden Colours and it’s by Yukio Mishima. Mishima is quite a famous Japanese author and has been compared to the likes of Sartre and Proust. However, he is perhaps more famous for his death than his writings. He was a prolific writer who gradually became a fanatic follower of imperialism, denouncing Emperor Hirohito at the end of the war for renouncing his claim to divinity. At the age of 41, he tried to stage a military coup that failed miserably. He then committed seppuku. Seppuku is an ancient samurai act that supposedly protects ones own and ones family’s honour. It’s a form of suicide (the less formal term for seppuku is hara-kiri, often bastardised as ‘hari-kari’) that involves a person slicing open their own stomach. This in itself is a ridiculously painful way to die and so a second is normally nominated to slice off the dying man’s head. The true act should not see the head totally separated from the body, but the head should remain partly connected at the front. This was, apparently, to stop the head flying off at people that were invited to watch and confirm the act took place. Lots of times, samurai who were loyal to a defeated leader were commanded to commit seppuku. It has also been used as a form of capital punishment.

There was also a female form that is known as jigai. The woman would tie her legs together at the ankles so she could retain a feminine pose, even in death (as in, despite the death throes), and slit her throat. Quite often this was done when a town was invaded to prevent the woman being raped.

Kind of morbid, but so fascinating. No one here seems to want to talk about it, but occasionally I won’t take no for an answer and they are actually quite proud of the people who’s loyalty was so strong that they would give the ultimate to prove it.

Back to Mishima – his seppuku didn’t go quite to plan and the severing of the head went horribly wrong and after two attempts to behead him, someone else had to step in and finish the job. This man is now a Shinto priest somewhere on the Japanese island of Shikoku.

Following that, I think I better sign off!

Till next time!

I Should Tell You…Part V February 12, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan.
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Another week has passed, nearing me to the day on which my time here in Japan will be over. That said, there’s still quite a bit of time to go until then.

I’m going to Malaysia at the end of March to visit Hiza, with whom I lived in both my first and second years at university. At the end of April, I’m going on a group trip to Seoul in South Korea, having found that I simply do not have the finances to make it to America right now. That takes us to May. From thereon in, I’ve got two full months at school and the first section of July and then I’m back. For good. How fast it’s all gone. In the mornings, when I’m making my way to school, I count down the days, but after another day is over, teaching-wise, I lament that the time really is slipping away.

I’ve been asked to include more random information about Japan in entries and therefore will endeavour to include interesting tidbits. If anyone has any questions about Japan or life here, please do not hesitate to ask me and I will strive to answer them. But now, on with the things I’ve thought up.

1. I’ve come to the conclusion that, generally speaking, the Japanese cannot learn other languages. Of course, there are people who can, but on the whole, because of their obsession with katakana and their inability to properly pronounce a word that doesn’t end with a vowel hinders them somewhat. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard the sentence “Ma-i fe-ba-li-to ka-ra i-zu le-do” (My favourite colour is red). Therefore, I’ve now ascertained that they cannot learn languages. All languages.

2. Japanese drunkards are fun. Having met many on my nights out, including Alan, the PE teacher from Kuga Junior High, they really are a fun bunch. Especially as all it takes is a couple of swigs of beer and they’re gone. When I was reading through some letters written by my final year students at Junior High, thanking teachers in English for having helped them, I was most amused to come across someone thanking Alan, noting that one of the memories that will stay with them forever is when Alan got steaming drunk at a football camp!

3. I’ve mentioned it in a previous entry, but the sheer concentration of music in this country is astounding. Music during lunch, music when you cross the road, music when a train is approaching, music to tell you what time it is. The sad thing is, I no longer even hear it, and if I do, it really isn’t that big a deal.

Right – I really can’t think of anymore, but as I said, I’m going to start taking notes of things that are weird/interesting/bizarre.

Till next time!

It’s A Fine Life February 5, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan.
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I’ve been meaning to write again for a while now, but am yet to receive the inspiration required to keep you avid readers up-to-date with the goings on in Japan. Today, I have officially been in Japan for 6 months. I left the sunny shores of England on 4th August and arrived the following day in The Land of The Rising Sun. As of tomorrow, I will now be closer to the date on which I return home than the date on which I arrived. To be honest, it’s a strange feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I hated being here when I first got here. I was alone in a tiny village (inaka in Japanese roughly translates as “in the middle of nowhere”) surrounded by people who spoke a language incomprehensible to me. Now, things are totally different. I live alone in a tiny village surrounded by people who speak a language that’s still pretty much incomprehensible to me. But boy, do I do it in style!

I live for the weekends. Generally, I get very little enjoyment out of working at schools. When I’m taking my own lessons at my elementary schools, I can see why people do like the job. But when I’m hauled to lessons at Junior High where my purpose is to read inane sentences at various speeds, I feel a little under-used. That said, it’s got to the point now that unless asked to do something creative for the class, I object to going to them. It’s a vicious circle really – if I don’t go to classes, I get bored. If I do, I resent having to.

But my weekends are something totally different. I get to see Japan in all shapes and forms. This is the reason I’m here – I want to experience everything. I want to see everything. Who knows when I’ll next be in Japan again after this year. The weekend just gone heralded a visit to Hiroshima where Phoebe and I made some new friends in the form of two Japanese sailors. The coming weekend sees me going to Kokura, on the other side of my prefecture (technically, it’s not actually in my prefecture, but you get the point). My weekends are when I’m me and I get a lot out of being here.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s going to be hard to leave, come July/August. Every so often, I get waves of acknowledgment: I’m in Japan. It’s weird and it’s crazy that I now take that for granted. I know that when I get up in the morning, there’ll be at least 50 times that day where someone will say something to me and I’ll have to politely apologise for my incompetence. I know that almost everything that gets pushed through my door will go right over my head. I know that people could be saying anything they wanted about me in the staffroom and I would sit there, totally unawares. But that’s all just sunk in. It’s natural now. I’m sure that there are some ridiculously strange things that happen that are now second nature to me and I will only really realise this when other people visit me. To see their reactions to something I’ve had to get used to, will remind me that this country isn’t really the right side of sane…

I’m looking forward to coming home, but it’s going to be hard. I’m now used to having my own place. A job. Money. When I get back to England, there’ll be none of that. I’ll have to go back to living with other people, looking for a job, not having any money (not that I ever really had that much money when I was in England before, but still!). But I know it’s the right thing to do. Another year here would depress me. Knowing that I would only be getting back to England towards the end of 2009 would be really strange. So coming back to England I am.

But moving on. My kids in the 8th grade seem to have discovered new things in English. One of them continually smiles and me and says “Come on, baby!”. He also grabbed my ass when I was in the lunch room. Yesterday, he made it worse by pointing at my crotch and saying “Big”. I walked away muttering that it was bigger than he’s ever know. When he said to me again “Come on, baby” today, I smiled at him and said “It’ll have to be some other time, because I’ve got a headache”.

Till next time!