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Once Before I Go July 8, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Rantings.
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Time has really flown by this past year. I was reflecting the other day that it hardly seems I’ve been here a year, but then in other ways, it feels like I’ve been here much longer. I’m worried that upon my return to England I’ll find everything relatively unchanged and I’ll get depressed at it all. However, on days like today, I long for my time here to end. The weather has turned again. Rainy season is at an end, officially. And now it’s just as it was when I first got here last year: hot, humid and impossible. The teachers all wander around, bemused looks on their faces, waving plastic uchiwa (fans) in front of their faces in a desperate effort to cool down and abate the inevitable sweats that mark their clothes in embarrassing places. Another reason I’m ready to go is the fact that for the past two days, I’ve had no lessons and very few people have even ventured to talk with me, meaning that I’ve had absolutely nothing to do and am slowly going mad. It’s just definitely time for me to leave Japan and return.

That said, tomorrow and Thursday I’m at my favourite elementary school and they’re my last days there. It will be sad to say goodbye to that school as it’s there that I actually feel like a teacher, have a good rapport with students and teachers alike and generally enjoy my time there. It’s on those days that I’m positive and full of the joys of Japan. But then I return to Junior High and it takes but an hour here to set me back.

The lack of air conditioning at school is also starting to wear thin. Once more the Japanese seem to take great pride in suffering through the weather whilst expending very little effort to make it easier on them. Take, for instance, the case of elementary school kids in winter. They have to wear their uniform, which is a polo shirt and shorts. In the winter. When it’s freezing, there’s no heating and quite often, windows are left open in order to “air out” the school. Only once they are ill are they allowed to wear long trousers, but once they’re well again, it’s back to the shorts.

Needless to say, the weather is not something I’m going to miss about Japan. I’m longing for the mediocrity of a British summer and can’t wait to have a winter where you don’t have to wear 18 layers of clothing just to go to work.

This weekend coming is the Leavers’ Party in Hagi. It’s a beach party (boo!) but will involve lots of good food, good company and good drink (yay!). It will be the last time I see a lot of the friends I made here and I’m sure it will be a sad event. However, it also marks the last weekend before my parents arrive. Once the Leavers’ Party is over, it means I have 5 boredom filled days left and then I will never again have to teach. Or sit in an un-air conditioned office (in England they have air conditioned offices, don’t you know), slowly turning insane. And then my parents come and I get to go to Okinawa and have a last explore of Japan.

It’s all coming to an end and, on days like this, the end couldn’t come sooner.

Till next time!

You Take Out Lisaikaraburu! (Recyclables) June 26, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan, Rantings.
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This will be my last blog as a 22 year old. I was chatting with my dad the other day and I was speculating that I’m getting old. Now, upon reading that, most of you will roll your eyes and moan about the fact that I’m making a big deal out of turning 23. I know that the age itself isn’t old and that people who are that age or older aren’t necessarily “old”. But the only thing that it freaking me out is the fact that I’m turning 23. It just seems much older than I feel. I suppose that I’m going to have to get used to that.

School this week has been boring, but I’ve now taken to putting movies and the like on my iPod the night before school and watching them when I’m doing nothing. Today’s offering was Jurassic Park, through which I marvelled that it still looks as cutting edge as it did when it was first released 15 years ago. Tomorrow morning, Brooke and I are setting out early for the 8am train. Rather comically, we’ll be arriving in Tokyo at about 3pm. That’s how far away I live from the capital!

Today was only funny in the fact that it saw Julie describe the author of the textbook we use, New Horizon, as “a major league asshole”. It also saw me yelling expletives at someone who almost knocked me off my bike, only to see a big group of my kids on the other side of the road. Ah well – they get a real education with Mitchi-sensei!

I’ve not got much to report. It’s now official that my successor won’t be taking my apartment and therefore, Julie dropped hints that I should clean it ALL out. I can assure you, there is no way on God’s Green Earth that I’ll be tidying up all the crap that has been left in this apartment over the years. There are kendo sticks, cricket bats, two ironing boards, a cupboard full of weird stuff to use in lessons, wardrobes full of lesson plans and flashcards etc. It’s a veritable hodgepodge of teaching English paraphernalia. And I am quite unwilling to be the poor mug who has to bag it all up and throw it out, especially as Japanese binmen are the most picky people I’ve ever encountered. If you put the plastic label from a bottle of Coke in with the bottles, your bin bag will be left where you placed it; the binmen having refused to take it as you left the label on. You’re supposed to sort your rubbish in many countries, but here, you actually have to take it apart. When I first moved here, I purged my apartment of all the ashtrays. One had to be deconstructed because it was burnable (made out of wood), non-burnable (plastic bits) and metal (inner tray). Therefore, it had to be physically broken apart in order to be put in the right bags. It’s a royal waste of time and luckily, my bin men don’t seem to be as bad as others. In the past, if they’ve left my bags there, I’ve neglected to taken them in to reorganise them and they’ve eventually just been taken.

Anyway, I’m going to stop waffling on and go and pack for tomorrow’s trip!

Till next time!

Reviewing The Situation May 28, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Random, Rantings.
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I mentioned in my previous entry this week that my employers were reconsidering their contract with the JET Programme and I was told today that I will officially be the last JET Language Teacher in Kuga. As of next year, they’re hiring someone involved with another programme, who will be paid for the amount of time they spend teaching. Even though part of me is reeling from this news, feeling that I might be somehow to blame for their change of heart, it does make more sense when I have plenty of time to perfect my playing technique of certain Internet games, read the newspaper and the BBC news website, catch up celebrity gossip with heatworld.com, write some emails, research my next trip away, send some text messages, listen to some music on my iPod and laze around a bit. If I was only being paid for the time I spent in the classroom I would 1) be a lot more pro-active in searching out teachers and making them take me to their lessons and 2) be a hell of a lot poorer, given that none of my schools seem to want me in too many classes, fearing that they’ll tire me out.

So yeah – I’m the last one. They also dumped a lot of papers on my desk and asked me to write up all my schedules as far back as I could remember. This may sound like a mammoth task but, in a weird foresight moment, I actually made notes of what lessons I was in, almost every week since I got here. The only ones I can’t write up are my elementary schedules as I throw these away after every visit. That said, I can’t be bothered to write up over 40 weeks worth of school timetables. So they can deal with my having written up those since April.

Tomorrow I’m visiting yet another kindergarten. There will be more poking and punching and headbutting, but it’ll be nice to have a bit more of a relaxed day around those kids than with mine. That said, my week so far hasn’t been too bad and I’m surprised at how quickly it’s gone.

I’m really looking forward to this weekend – I’m going to catch up with my laundry, clean my apartment and then sit and do nothing for the rest of the weekend. It’s going to be great!

Some of the teachers and all of the 3rd graders have just come back from a trip to Osaka and Kyoto. Even though they ignored my not-so-subtle hints that I wanted to go, they did bring me back some goodies and one of the kids assures me that he got me a present that he’ll bring to me on Friday.

Anyway, other than that, I have nothing to report. If it’s possible, I think this latest news regarding my job has made me lose the very last shred of enthusiasm I may once have had. I’m also really pleased that I decided not to stay for another year, as I’m pretty sure they would have shared this piece of information with me now anyway and I would therefore have had it hanging over me for another year.

Till next time!

Bitch, Bitch, Bitch May 12, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Rantings.
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Having just finished my first day of elementary school since February, I’ve got to say I’m shocked. The new question that I decided to cover with my kids was “Where are you from?” and introduce the English names for countries of the world. First of all, they seemed a little shocked that in England, Korea isn’t known as Kankoku. They also managed to bowl me over by not even being able to point out where Japan was on a map. Now, in their defence, the map was small and they were 9 or 10 years old, but I’m pretty certain that when I was 10 I could find Britain on a map. Once I ascertained that they were, indeed, little retards, the hope of them being able to find the other 9 countries on my list (England, America, Canada, Australia, Korea, Russia, China, France and Germany) diminished rather rapidly. In one of my classes there were two boys who, apart from Germany and France, found everything I asked them to. The others had to refer to their geography books. One of the teachers told me that they were only used to Japanese maps. The irony of this is the fact that these maps have Japan in the middle of the planet, as opposed to Europe and Africa being roughly central. The validity of her statement fell short as I was using Japanese style maps so the kids had no excuse. As I said, I could forgive not knowing where the European countries where – ask any English student to name countries in Asia and I’m sure they’d come up wanting. But to not even be able to find their home country, I found absolutely appalling. As a friend of mine commented; “Are they turning American?”

The school I’m at at the moment is the one that has previously been referred to as the ESIDL (the elementary school I don’t like), and this morning I was mulling over the unfairness of this acronym. That was, of course, until I got there. I don’t know what it is about this school, but the kids annoy me and the teacher grate even more. I got there to find that the shoe locker I had been assigned had disappeared from existence, presumably never to appear again and that the desk that had once been mine had been moved and so I had to wait around for the first 5 minutes or so whilst the headteacher and the vice principal searched the staffroom for somewhere for me to put my stuff. It happens to be by the staffroom phone, so if I’m not in my seat when someone wants to make a phone call, they just sit in my seat and I have to wait for them to finish their conversation before being allowed to “take a pew”. They also insist on asking me every month what I intend to do the following month. I don’t plan anything that far in advance and so, almost every month they ask, I tell them I have no plan. The only time I did feel compelled to make up a plan on the spot, I didn’t keep to it and none of the teachers remembered anyway. But this time, I had to have a meeting with the 3rd grade teachers. Now, one of these women pissed me off a while ago. I was explaining the rules to a game. It was really simple. Even in English the rules are simple and if they were explained to me in Japanese, they’re so simple that I would probably understand. But this one woman looked at me, then turned, laughing and said to the class “Well, I don’t understand him!” The lack of her even attempting to provide a joint effort angered me more than her stupidity, so I just launched into the game before I punched her in the ear. As it turns out, it was so easy I didn’t even need to try and explain it. So today, when I have to have a meeting with her, you can understand that I’m not jumping in the air at the prospect. She came over to me, spoke a lot of really fast Japanese that I wouldn’t have even understood had it been slower, and then asked if I understood. I told her I didn’t and she proceeded to do exactly the same. So this time I told her that I did understand and she seemed to take the hint and left. From the bits that I vaguely understood and the random English words she inserted, I took it that she was criticising the lesson I had with her this morning (not the one with an easy game and also not the geography quiz lesson – just an introduction lesson for the little’uns). I know that I’m not a trained teacher and she is, but I’ve got to say, I thought it was a little rich that she would tell me how to teach English when she clearly has very little to put forward herself. The fact that the lesson I gave to her class this morning has been praised by other teachers is neither here nor there, but again, I wanted to hit her. In the ovary.

Aside from being an angry young man, I don’t have that much to report. The past weekend was great – I did very little apart from sit in my house and work my way through the Star Wars epic. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch all 6, but have Return of the Jedi still to watch. But doing nothing but watching movies and cleaning my apartment was a brilliant use of my time. What with Korea and all my other numerous plans before then, I haven’t really had a weekend to myself. I realise that this is probably because I want to make the most of what time I have left here, but it also helps me to save money and lets me get the most out of my weekend (i.e. I get to sleep in!)

Right, on that note I should go. I’ve got a bit of ironing to do and then I’m heading into Iwakuni.

Till next time!

All The Wasted Time April 25, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Rantings.
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Another week is slowly drawing to a close and, aside from discussing suicidal Japanese authors in long, unstructured blog entries, I’ve done very little. Again. I must have mentioned in previous posts that my school have now got themselves in a position where they can’t win – if they ask me to come to classes, I resent it because I want to sit and do nothing, but if they just let me sit and do nothing, I lament that my time is being misused. Either way, teaching doesn’t seem to hold anything for me and, despite being sorely tempted to apply for the job of an ESL teacher in Macedonia after this stint finishes, the fact is, I would only be doing it in order to live and experience life in another country. Doesn’t this all sound familiar? Recall those days about a year ago when I was full of the joys of Spring. However, even then I knew that there was no way on Earth that I was going to Japan to have a good teaching experience. I think I decided in Germany that it wasn’t for me and all consequent teaching jobs have either been for the money or for the experience and have made it clear that my initial judgement in Germany remains correct to this day. It’s not that I loathe my time here and am going to look back on it with anything but the fondest of memories. It’s just I’m now tired of living for two days of the week. I’m not naive enough to think that I’m going to return to England and get the job of my dreams, but it has to happen to some people, right? Surely not everyone in the world can be occupationally miserable? What’s to stop me being one of those people that has a job they love?

I’ve decided to go on a diet. I’ve put on quite a bit of weight since I’ve been here, and as my return date looms round the corner, I feel the need to shed some of the excess baggage I’ve gained whilst here. Everyone seems incredulous that it was possible for me to put on weight whilst in Japan because they’re all skinny. First of all, let me cite once and for all the case of sumo wrestlers. And then, after we discount probably less than 1% of the population, let me also indicate the fact that these people are, on the whole, tiny. When I got to school today and left my shoes at the genkan (the place where one leaves one’s shoes), I happened to place them next to possibly the smallest shoes I have ever seen. And they belonged to a woman. Not a little girl. Not an infant. An actual woman. With roughly size 2 or 3 feet. Most Japanese people I’ve come across have been short and therefore, they tend to eat less. Of course, these are wild generalisations, but in my experience it’s the truth. And also, bear in mind that I only eat Japanese food at school lunches. When I’m at home, I’m hardly about to cook Japanese food, seeing as I have no idea where to start. And so my diet had degenerated into that of an obese man who needs people with brooms to clean under his saggy man breasts. Of course, I’ve not got to the point where I need to be airlifted out of my apartment, but I’m not overly comfortable with how I’ve let myself become. So, enough with the moaning and the unfulfilled promises to myself that “once it gets hot and my appetite decreases it’ll be alright”. I was proactive when I started my final year at uni and was at the gym 5 times a week. So, even though I’m not about to become a gym bunny again (that’s waiting for my return to Old Blighty), I’ve decided that I’m the only person who can take this situation in hand. So, a diet it is. My main meal will be at school (because I can’t really alter what that is because it’s just plonked down in front of me) and I will work out some type of regime around that. Here’s hoping that it works and that I don’t land back at Heathrow in a plane whose wheels splay out at odd angles as we make contact with the ground, due to its heavy load.

In other news, my parents have now booked their tickets over here for a few weeks come July. It’ll be hot and humid, but in order to placate them, we’re all off down to Okinawa to make the most of the beaches. I’m worried about having to be a translator, seeing as my Japanese study has gone seriously by the wayside. As in, I don’t study it at all. Still, I’m sure it’ll be fine and I’m looking forward to showing them how my life has been this year. It may have started out a bit rocky, but since I settled, it’s become so much better here. I constantly tell people that I love Japan, it’s just the job that I don’t like that much. And the fact that I’m illiterate and have very few communication skills here. I just know it’s going to be weird to get back to England and to understand what people are saying. All the time.

Right – I suppose I better sign off and go do something constructive. Like read internet comics all day like I did yesterday…

Till next time!

What’s The Buzzcut? March 10, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Rantings.
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Spring has sprung. At least, I hope to God it has. Too long has it been cold and dreary, requiring several layers of clothes just to stay alive. On Saturday, I was at school for the graduation of my 3rd graders. It took place in the unheated gym where we shivered, froze and tried not to fall asleep, scared that we wouldn’t wake up. All in all, the ceremony was nice and afterwards everyone lined up outside and waved the leavers off.

Today, however, has been the very picture of spring. In fact, it was so warm, I had to take off my jacket and was much more comfortable, wearing one of my summer jackets. There hasn’t been a cloud in the sky and my spirits are high. I’ve taken the bubble-wrap off my windows (it apparently acts as insulation, but I didn’t really notice any difference) and spring-cleaned my house this morning. I had today off in lieu of the fact that I had to spend the vast majority of my Saturday at school doing very little.

Yesterday, I decided to go into Iwakuni and get a hair cut. I’d seen a cheap little place near the station and just wanted to get rid of the mane I had been sporting for a while. I can assure you that the aforementioned mane is no longer in existence as I have had possibly the closest cut I have ever had. The hairdresser presented me with a variety of razor guards to determine how long my hair would be when he turned the cutting implements on me. Being a 2 or thereabouts in England, that was the one I chose. Stupid Mitchi-sensei. 2 here obviously means it leaves 2mm of hair as it goes. 2mm. Stopping the man mid-buzz, I was horrified to see skin. Head skin. My head skin. I was bald in one spot. Unfortunately, without looking like a complete asshole, I had to allow him to continue his scalping and to make it look as acceptable as possible. Consequently, it now looks as though I’ve had a buzzcut, therefore making me look like a marine. Being in Iwakuni and being white means people regard you as a marine anyway, but as I was walking along the street, two actual marines walked past and the look they gave me said “Why don’t we recognise you? You’re obviously one of us”. Even the marines think I’m one of them. The worst thing is, as I’m obviously not a marine, it means I now look like I’m trying to resemble one.

Other than that, not much is happening. The school year is winding to an end and the teachers are just looking forward to finishing with the awful textbook, New Horizon. Then, come the end of the month, I’m off to Malaysia. I’m hoping to get a suit made for me whilst I’m there and other than that, I’m just going to have a relaxing 10 days of seeing Kuala Lumpur and catching up with Hiza, with whom I lived for the first two years of university.

Anyway, will sign off now and continue with my West Wing marathon.

Till next time!

Mitch the Marine

The Bitch of Teaching October 2, 2007

Posted by Mitch in Rantings.
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I’ve not made it too much of a secret that I don’t intend on teaching. Ever again. I decided in Germany that it wasn’t really for me. A stint of teaching German in England confirmed it and Japan must just seem like overkill to make sure that I definitely have made the right decision. Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of positives about being in a position of power. I’m somewhat of a celebrity (although not as much of one as people seem to think I would be. I’m a tall white guy with fairer hair than the Japanese – I should be a rock star, apparently. Alas, I’m not!) and at the same time that some of the kids revere me, most of them are just scared that I’m going to blabber on in English. To be fair to them, in lessons I do. But, also, being the out-of-place foreigner, it means the school can wheel me out on special occasions to show the entire town that they have one of my kind in captivity. This was true for the school Sports Day and will be repeated when the school’s Culture Festival rolls round towards the closing days of this month. The other day, when I was at the Speech Contest, one of the English teachers (we’ll call her Julie) turned to me and asked me if I could sing. One major thought flitted through my mind when I heard this question: Say yes and run the risk of constantly having to sing at school events, in lessons, whenever they can think of a reason to get the weird foreigner to perform. “No, I’m really sorry, Julie, I can’t sing at all. Why do you ask?”

As it turns out, some of the girls in the school band (I think the band sounds really good, but I’m told that they’re poor in contrast to other local bands) want to play an English song and have a couple of teachers sing it at the Culture Festival. In front of the school. And the rest of the town. Thank Christ I told them I couldn’t sing, right? Wrong! I was handed a sheet of paper with a list of songs (all in Katakana, for the record) and told to pick one.

Me: “But Julie! I told you I couldn’t sing!”
Julie: “Look, there’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight. Want to do that one?”
Me: “I honk like a goose. I’ll ruin the festival. People will leave and I’ll be burned at the stake as a foreign witch”
Julie: “I’m going to ask you not to choose Whitney, because that may be too hard”

So apparently I’m singing. Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Part of me hopes it’ll be the Eva Cassidy version because that suits my voice better. Then I wonder why I care. But, actually, I do care. Just because I’ve been roped into it, despite protestations on my part, doesn’t mean that I can’t do it well. As it happens, I can sing. Without meaning to sound arrogant, it’s possibly what I do best. So when I take my first tentative steps out onto that Japanese stage, I’m going to do it, head held high, and rock their split-toed socks off.