Saturday, September 06, 2008
For a long time, I was spoiled. Since 1995, I have had the good fortune of watching my favorite baseball team succeed tremendously in the regular season and having a run at a championship in October every year. Some years (1998) they were incredibly dominant, other years (2000) they just seemed to get lucky. Most of the time, they started slowly, so there were frequent cries of "It's Over!" in May or even July. Yet every year, they showed up at the end of the year with a fighting chance to win the World Series.
It didn't bother me too much when the stopped going all the way like they used to. Yes, 2004 hurt, even more than the lackluster first round exits did, but I got six months of good baseball for my money's worth, so I didn't let it get to me.
Until this year, that is. The Yankees, for whatever reason, didn't have it this year. There were some tough injuries, yes, and last year's monster was considerably quieter this year (despite leading the team in nearly every offensive category AGAIN), but ultimately, the team as a whole just didn't work. To be frank, I didn't have a chance to watch enough games on NHK to really understand why they failed. Once Matsui got hurt, the Japanese networks lost all interest in broadcasting the Yanks. It's official: NHK loves the Red Sox now, and not just when Matsuzaka is on the mound.
So while they are mathematically still eligible to turn it all around and make a run for it, watching today's game (Friday night for you, Saturday morning for me) showed me they were lifeless. They were nearly no-hit in their loss to the worst team in baseball. A month ago, I'd write it off and look forward to tomorrow's game, but with less than a month left and trailing the fucking
Well, I've still got the Tigers to root for! Of course, they've lost five of their last six and the Giants are gaining on them fast. *sign* I need another beer.
つづく... (Click here to read more)
Friday, September 05, 2008
Is she OK? Is she coming back? What impact will this have on English classes here? She wasn't very good at speaking English but she really tried her best to get her students excited about our classes. Likewise, she pushed to arrange for an English room here and largely designed it herself. I hope no tragedy has entered her life.
つづく... (Click here to read more)
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Four days into the new semester, my schedule is starting to take shape, and so far it's looking just like I imagined it would. September is going to be very quiet, as most of the schools insist they need to focus their efforts on preparing for the annual undōkai (運動会). It's a school-wide competition/exhibition of athletic and physical contests, such as relay races and choreographed dances. Back in elementary school, we called it "Field Day" and it was something no one talked much about until two days before it occurred. In Japan, it's a massive event that requires weeks of planning, so my lessons are put on the back burner. In other words, having the children practice playing Tug of War is far more important than teaching them English. If there's a more succinct statement on the fundamentally-low priority placed on English education in Japan, I haven't encountered it yet.
As I'm commuting to work on a regular basis once more, I'm getting back into my usual routine of listening to podcasts while riding out into the countryside. While I admit I am a big fan of the various 1up.com podcasts on video games, it's not all superficial pop culture discussions on my iPod. NPR's This American Life is a wonderful weekly show that manages to run the gamut of humorous anecdotes and heart-wrenching tragedies, often including both extremes in the same broadcast. The latest episode's theme was "something for nothing" and the stories all featured persons who achieved a measure of financial success while circumventing the traditional "get a job, work hard" method that we all accept as normal. The program told these stories specifically to explore the hidden costs of these money-for-apparently-nothing routines.
For example, there was one guy who won a truck in one of those contests where you win by placing a hand on a vehicle and standing there until everyone else drops out. He explained that even though you don't pay a financial price to win the truck, the contest lasts for days at a time and when you go through that extended period of sleeplessness and boredom, you drive yourself crazy. I don't know how much of my sanity I'd part with for a brand-new pick-up truck.
This got me thinking about my current position as an English teacher in Japan. On the surface, this looks like a deal that's too good to be true. I'm hired as a teacher simply because I am a native speaker, something I achieved without dedicated study. Despite having virtually no training as an educator and precious little experience working with children, I get set up with a place to live in a modern, developed nation with a high standard of living and I receive a fairly generous salary for working substantially fewer hours than my colleagues. There's an established network of fellow English teachers who I can meet up with, and Japan is an easy place to meet women. Dream come true, right?
Well there's a serious sacrifice to be made here, and it's something I honestly never considered before I applied. Since the telephone and the Internet make keeping in touch with my friends and family in the United States affordable and easy, I always assumed that any issues of loneliness or homesickness could be solved with a simple conversation. The truth is, that's not enough. There are times when I feel downright foolish for leaving behind New York and all the people I know there. The occasional contact I have with people in America magnifies, rather than shortens, the distance that lies between us. I am becoming more aware at the rift slowly opening between myself and everyone I know and love in the States. In short, much like that guy touching the truck, the longer I live in Japan the more I feel myself slowly...changing.
Is this cause for alarm, an excuse to run back to New York screaming? No, I don't think so. While I have become increasingly mindful of the "price" I pay for participating in the JET Programme, the reward thus far has definitely been worth it. As awkward as I feel at times, I need only remember my friend Scott who lived here for six years and still managed to come back to New York and reintegrate himself into our circle of friends. He changed, I know, but the person who came back from Japan was still a guy we wanted to hang out with.
What's my point? My point is I'm coming to New York in November and I'll be around for Thanksgiving. Regardless of what the future-future holds, the near-future includes me hanging out with everyone again real soon. I'm feeling another KARAOKE THROWDOWN, who's with me??
つづく... (Click here to read more)
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
When I first arrived last summer, I found myself defaulting to "helpless" as a state of mind, mostly due to the wait-and-see attitude of the JET Programme. I spent three days in Tokyo at an orientation that offered me virtually no training or guidance regarding my new job, all the while forcing me to pack and repack my suitcases so that my luggage could be shipped off to my new home (which I had never seen) via my new employers (who I had yet to meet). Then I was brought to Osaka with the tacit assumption that my employers would meet me at the station, although no one could (more like no one would) confirm this before I got on the train. They did show up and I was whisked away to my apartment which had no phone or internet connection, where I had little choice but to rely on my supervisor to do everything for me. Even when basic communication protocols were established, I still found myself in a daze for all of August, as no one was willing to sit down and really explain what I would be doing in the classroom. It took weeks for me to really get a handle on things and truly relax.
Having one year under my belt, I had high hopes that this new school year would be different. I knew what to do, I knew most everyone's name, so what could go wrong? Things got off to a great start last week when we had a large gathering of English teachers to prepare the lesson plans and necessary materials. We spent hours brainstorming, printing flash cards and feeding them into the laminator, carefully producing a complete set of props for each school. Up until this point, I had to carry my teaching aids with me to each school. This year, we were looking to prevent that by making sure every school had every resource ready from Day One. Sadly, today I was reminded, painfully, of how planning and preparation doesn't add up to much when the chaos of the school year begins.
I showed up for work today with few expectations. Given my experience of previous semesters, I knew it would be a while before anyone would have time to review the lesson plans or even write down when our English classes would take place. So you can imagine my surprise when I was handed a complete schedule of classes for the entire semester which included one lesson for this morning! At first, I was impressed. I thought "Clearly, they're trying to take English as a subject seriously for a change."
Once the morning meeting ended, I saw the teacher responsible for English lessons run out the door and head for his homeroom. I had to run after him to ask about my first class: obviously, I needed to know where the materials we had prepared we being kept so I could go over everything before the students showed up. He kept running, dismissing my question by saying "You don't have class today." When I told him the schedule said otherwise, his reaction was a stunned "No way!"
Let that sink in for a second. The man who prepared my schedule of classes didn't actually read it before handing me a copy.
I had to follow him all the way to his homeroom where he told me to wait outside. Unfortunately, my class was supposed to start second period, so I really didn't have time to wait. I ran to the English room to check if he perhaps stored the materials there - he hadn't. Also, none of the thirty-five chairs were set up for the students yet. I went back to the staff room and noticed a familiar-looking envelope on his desk. Inside I found all of the materials we had prepared last week, obviously unopened or looked at since that meeting. A quick inspection showed me that half the flash cards were still unlaminated. After running out of laminate, we kept printing with the knowledge that the laminating would have to completed at a later date. Silly me, I was counting on that "later date" to come before I had to actually teach! Likewise, the game worksheets that should have been photocopied had not been, nor was the song I was supposed to use available in any format - no CD and no lyrics for me to teach the children.
After tracking him down again and pointing out how much preparation remained along with the acute lack of time or resources to complete that preparation in the twenty-five minutes I had before class was supposed to begin, he agreed to cancel the English class for today. While that did solve the immediate concern of how to teach a class without any materials, it merely highlighted the overall problem of no one really caring about English class at this particular school. It also means that's one more class I'm going to have to fit into my busy schedule later this semester, as September is otherwise lesson-free. That's something else I had asked to avoid - scheduling an entire month of no classes - but it seems that request was ignored.
So here I sit, angry and frustrated all over again. I don't see what else I can do here. I am an "assistant language teacher" who rotates between five different elementary schools. I only have one day a week for this particular school. When we have meetings about lesson plans or teaching materials, I have no choice but to continue my "rounds" and hope that when I come back, the teacher responsible for English will have addressed, or at least considered, whatever it is that we had discussed. At the very least, he should know better than to schedule my classes before all the materials are ready.
Does this strike anyone else as completely ass-backwards? I'm the bottom rung, the lowest of the low, the last guy anyone thinks about when it comes to the teaching staff. Why am I responsible for pressuring my supervisors/coordinators to do their jobs? And with the time constraints of five schools a week, how can I even pull that off? Do I need to start calling teachers at home?
つづく... (Click here to read more)
Monday, September 01, 2008
Today was the first day of the fall semester which meant the school was no longer empty and creepy. It didn't mean any classes though, so when the children all left early, I was told by the principal to go home as well. It was a lucky break as I had forgotten to bring a lunch and there's no shops near the schools where I work.
Speaking of food, I went out on Friday to hang out with a bunch of JETs at a Mexican restaurant in Shinsaibashi. It was a damn good meal and a lot of fun meeting more new people. Of course, included in the group were a few not-so-new people who I simply haven't seen since last year. We actually went out to The Blarney Stone for a couple drinks afterward and I hung in there as best I could before heading home to Mako. She's been a real sport in supporting my social wants lately. I hope this doesn't become a problem in the long term, because I do enjoy going out and drinking/dining with English speaking people for a change.
I found myself going out again on Saturday because I got invited to see Tigers-Giants at Koshien, a real thrill! A few teachers from one of my schools got their hands on a pack of tickets and they asked me if I wanted to go. I stunned them all by showing up in full gear: a Tigers cap, a Tigers jersey and a big plastic bat for cheering or banging against things. By the third inning my hand was sore from smacking it with the bat, so I went and bought a second bat so I could hit the two of them together, pain-free. It was a very good decision. In case you missed it, you can scroll down and see a picture (in Twitter) and a video I posted live during the game. Not bad for a guy with three beers in him.
Once the game was over I met Mako at her parents' house (they live in that area) for yet another beer (her Dad insisted!) before spending the night. I'm not sure why we were sleeping over but I get the feeling they just love guests. Every time I visit they tell me to tell my family to come to Japan and stay in their house. So Mom, Salena, hurry up and get over here so they can have more guests.
Spending all day Sunday at their house was a little draining. I don't have much to do when I'm over there, so as friendly as they are I eventually just really, really want to go back to my apartment. I think part of it is the wall Mako erects around herself, blocking all PDA including hugs. I'm the kind of guy who LOVES hugs and my weekends are the ideal time to snuggle with Mako, so hanging out in the one place we can't do that...well, that's very trying. I understood all the stealth crap when we were merely dating, but we're goddamn husband and wife now. My father-in-law has openly asked me to have children, therefore he is keenly aware that we BONE. So why not hug around Mom and Dad?
We took a trip to the western side of Kobe, some area called Suma. There was this mountain with a cable car that we rode, leading us to a weird roller-coaster-like lift (if roller coasters just went up really slowly) to an even higher point on the mountain. None of it was particularly exciting or anything, but it offered a nice view of the city and the sea. Here's that view on Twitpic.
So things around here are pretty quiet. I'm back to work but there's no sign yet of when I will be actually working while at work. But I've got plenty of books to read, so don't worry about me. This heat, on the other hand, has got to go. I was getting used to eating a meal at home without wiping myself down afterward.
Hey, Fukuda just resigned. I've been here one year and I've seen two Prime Ministers resign in that time. Yeah, they're in trouble over here.
つづく... (Click here to read more)
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