17 December 2008

Bored @ Work?

Could be.

3 December 2008

100 Tiny Screams from the Microwave

I don't usually eat potatoes, but I needed some sort of energy for studying that doesn't involve white sugar and trans-fats, so I popped a jagaimo into the microwave. It seemed a bit undercooked after, so I decided to cut it in half and put it in for another minute, but noticed a rotten bit. Cutting further to see if it was salvageable, I found this:

A REALLY rotten bit. But then I realized...

ANTS! ANTS! GOD DAMN ANTS! There was a colony of ANTS in my FRIDGE! And I while was more impressed ingenuity of the ants than horrified (there was no hole in the potato; merely a crease that they exploited), I felt kinda bad about the small-scale nuclear holocaust and all.

28 November 2008

HOLY [expletive deleted]!

I was marking some papers today after some lengthy studying / Simpsons watching in the LL room. The students had to answer very basic questions like "Why do you study English?" (I gave full marks to one student who replied, "I don't know," and gave about 50 zeros for "Because I..."), "What is your favorite (sic) way to relax?" and "Why do you go to the library" (another lucky student who wrote "I don't go to the library" got full marks on this one). This is all a bit below their actual level, and all very standard.

Part two was a bit more interesting. Chains of "If I have a lot of money", [which in standard English, mind you, would use the past participle verb "had", but this is bloody Japanese textbook English], it's more like "If I have a lot of money, I would quit my job and go to Florida. If I go to Florida, I'd join NASA. If I joined NASA I'd go to the freaking moon!"

One student wrote "If have a lot of money, I would go Italy. If I go to Italy, I'd buy wine. If I have wine, I would drink it." [14 years old]

Then I got to one with the following:

I don't know if you can make out number five, but it says, "If I have a lot of money, I will enjoy playing many times (sic). If I enjoy playing many times I will buy guns. If I buy guns, I will kill everyone." HOLY CRAP! This kid would be at the police station right now in Canada.

I affixed a note onto his paper for his teacher telling her my thoughts on making a joke (I hope) about mass murder while in Mumbai the terrorist attack isn't even over yet. I didn't get to talk to the teacher, but I wonder how the school would react to it.

For those Westerners reading this who imagine threats of violence as a non-issue in Japan, Saga borders a city called Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture where four years ago a 11 year old girl slit a classmate's throat during school hours.

Anyway, either a really bad joke, or a baaaaaad sign.

16 November 2008

A Tested Cure to Economic Woes

With the elections in Canada last month and America this month, and notable lack of elections in Japan, I thought it would make a timely lesson, steal David Suzuki's idea of "If YOU were Prime Minister". I asked my Ichiko 3rd years [grade 12s] to write short essays on the topic, picking any world issue they like and giving a creative solution.

If YOU were Prime Minister...

Before this though, we brain-stormed. Each group contributed problems like war, racism, global warming, (etc.) and two groups gave the current economic crisis as their number one issue. We wrote this on the white board, switched up the groups and assigned them a problem.

The groups stood up one by one and gave intelligent, if not somewhat safe answers. Then it was group number four's turn -- one of the two groups in the class assigned to singlehandedly correct the worst economic crisis in human history.

A hush fell over the LL room as group group four's janken-chosen leader stood up to deliver what no doubt would be a stirring and memorable address.

Her: "Colony!"

The class erupted in laughter.

Me: [WTF?] "Uhhhhh... umm... *teeth suck* Okay, colonies." I wrote it on the white board with a big fat '?' beside it.

Not so PC, especially given early 20th century history. But then, last class I hard a girl give her solution to ALL problems, suggesting that she should be the benevolent God Emperor of the whole world using fear and violence to enact a terrible peace.

But, I turn around and hoping they'll at least choose a funny place to colonize like Switzerland or the Falkland Islands. So, I say, "Colonies. Okay, for example?"

Her (without thinking): "Taiwan!"

My mouth hung open. More laughter from students, but this time all of it uncomfortable.

Then the JTE pipes in and says, "Sensei, I think she meant 'block economy'."

Me: "Ohhhhhhh..."

Since everyone laughed to begin with, apparently EVERYONE heard this as "colony" too, but what she was really suggesting is an amiable bilateral partnership with Japan's formerly colonized-neighbour. :O Sweet Jesus!

11 October 2008

Peeing in Japan

I was at YouMe Town today ("[shopping] town" being Engrish for "mall", and "youme" being close to the spelling of "yumé", or dream). Yes, I went there again. I'm not proud of it, but there I was.

Anyway, I used to washroom -- the second floor one beside the dentist office and smoking room that's always empty. I tend to have a bit of a predilection toward that one, because the ones on the main floor seem to always have "Part of My World" from the Aladdin soundtrack playing while middle aged women obliviously clean the floors a few metres behind me, while old men hock loogies into the urinals, glance at my gaijin manhood, and then shake just a little too much, all the while swarms of five year olds pee Butters-style.

But, there I was, and I walked up the the urinal, completely alone and as I unzipped my fly, I heard a voice from somewhere say, "cha-ching!" I was absolutely sure I was alone, but I heard this two or three times. It was like an adult trying to imitate a child's voice and ended up sounding eerily like Michael Jackson. I thought I heard "cha-ching!", but it slowly dawned on me that I probably actually heard "chin-chin", which is childish Japanese slang for "penis". Needless to say, I got out of there as soon as possible.

Then I walked by a group of probably-stoned teenagers pushing eachother over and laughing hysterically -- which, given that drugs are tightly enforced here -- is almost unseen in Japan. Just after this, I walked by a woman who was wearing a tight navy blue t-shirt with the well-known English word "MILK" written across her chest in big white letters. In Japanese, the word for milk and breasts uses the same kanji (, for you pervs), so Japanese people should be much more aware that this is a a strange thing for a woman to write on her chest. Maybe this is a very popular shirt these days? Maybe she works on a dairy farm? Or maybe she has no idea what it says... being Saga, none would surprise me.

All in all, a very strange day at YouMe Town.

7 October 2008


I was flipping through some books at work looking for something-- anything-- teachable, and I happened upon a picture dictionary. A picture dictionary, for those not in the know, are glossaries of vocabulary arranged by subject which use illustrations instead of definitions.

I found this one series of pictures which was keeping it real to the point of being depressingly bleak, but had a strong streak of perhaps-intentional irony running through.

Let's call today's protagonist "Bob". Bob's my age, I reckon. 25 years old, but with a wife and eight year old daughter to support. Judging solely by the pictures, Bob's from a bad home and married young. He's an aspiring rapper from St. Louis who goes by the stage name "Ferret", because of his knack for weaselling out of things. Bob's job at the warehouse gave him time to think. Perhaps a little too much time, because after one night of heavy drinking with the guys, they decided get revenge against the bourgeoisie by breaking and entering. Someone called the cops, and while Bob's nimble friends got away easy, Bob, always the slow one, was run down by even the heftiest of middle age cops.

Caught! The misnamed "Ferret" is not looking too proud of himself. I want you to take note of one particular detail: mullet and sideburns. But in the next shot, Bob's cleaned himself up a bit for his impending trial.

But look at that vacant look his eyes. The eyes of a criminal.

His lawyer's hired/provided by the state, so now LET THE TRIAL BEGIN!

Bob and his lawyer are optimistic, but unfortunately that optimism is unfounded.

Look at his expression:

Poor Bob! He looks so sooooooooooooo sad. ☹ Good thing Bob has a lot more time on his hands, to think about his sins and how to survive on the inside.

Actually, from the look of it, the stress of prison aged Bob terribly through those seven long years, because the last panel has a significantly greyer, balder Bob walking back out into the world, so new and frightening.

He appears to be wearing the same suit that he wore to his sentencing too, leading me to believe this is the only possession from his old life that he has left.

I invite you to take a closer look at his radically different hair styles:

I think the moral this depressingly blunt story is, DON'T DO CRIME. Though, in my version, he finds religion, joining the Five Percenters, and focuses his experiences in the clink into his debut album, which sells a million copies in it's first week.

Last we heard from Bob, he was living in a 50,000 square foot mansion in Farmington, Connecticut and was doing family movies.

3 October 2008


One of my schools is really horribly disorganized right now. Actually, I have no idea if it's actually is disorganized, or if I only get that feeling because no one tells me a thing about what's going on. EVER.

It's a little like that scene in Apocalypse Now where Willard asks the soldier at Dung Lo Bridge, "Who's in command here?" and the guy looks a bit freaked out and says,

Weird thing about being an ALT is, no one - NO ONE - is sure what I'm supposed to do, and for a variety of linguistic and sociological reasons, I'm permanently out of the loop, and no one's sure who's in charge of me anyway, or if I'm in charge of myself, or if the idea of "being in charge" of a gaijin is simply absurd anyway, since we're as inexorable and untameable as 1000 wild stallions.

28 September 2008

And now, Sagas of Saga presents "Natto: A Comedy of Errors"

It all started at the ruggedly beautiful and yet refinedly classy Shikian Ryokan in Oita Prefecture, Japan. I'll save you the details of the ryokan, other than a fantastic main building and individual Japanese-style guest houses, each with a large private onsen bath made of solid granite and the size of a car.

Breakfast the next morning was a buffet style with really well made Japanese food. This is where our story begins. I piled up the rice, fish, soup and a small paper cup with the following label:

Me: Ohh... "yuu... ki... something-something mame." Mame means beans! It's probably dried soya beans. Mmmm!

Misato: I thought you hated natto.

Me: *thinking something else I took had a tiny big of natto on it* Oh, yeah, it's okay. I don't hate it. I just don't like it.

I opened the label and peered in at fermented soya beans reeking of ammonia and the sweat of the oppressed.

In pure desperation, I mixed in as much rice as possible and added a little packet of Japanese mustard, which is essentially like watering down poison. If anything, it just draws out the pain.

I started out optimistic. In fact, I decided that I'd man it up and eat it. Japan is a waste-not-want-not society, which means it's rude and shameful to leave even a grain of rice on your plate. This, I actually really respect, so I wanted to try my best.

Me: Wow! It's sticky! Fun... exotic...

It started out all fun and games until I started getting it on my hands. My enthusiasm wained after this.

Me: Um...

Misato: Ganbarinasai.

After finishing about half of it, and absolutely everything else on my plate in some depressing attempt to filibuster, I started to give up on manliness and maturity altogether, reverting to a child-like state.

At this point, a storm was brewing. In my bowels.

Eventually, I gave up and shovelled the rest of the beans back into the paper cup and tried to hide my shame with napkins and the label. An hour had passed and I had completely failed at Japanese food and table manners. Clearly, not my best moment in Japan.

21 September 2008

Top 10 Japanese Words that ALTs Use In Casual Conversation (Part 2)

Part two of my top 10 list of most common Japanese words used by foreigners in Japan. I hope you enjoy!

Konbini [kon-been-ee]
- noun

Ever wish there was a place where you could buy such things as snacks, stationery, a bottle of French wine, concert tickets, some lunch, DVD movies, clothing, video games, umbrellas, and "love magic", and where you can even pay your bills; all in one convenient store? Try 7-11, Lawson, AM-PM Mini Mart, Family Mart, or one of the many other fine Japanese konbini.

Yes, I know 7-11 exists outside of Japan. In fact, most of the Japanese konbinis started off life as American companies, then were bought by Japanese companies, but in Japan they're unbelievably highly competitive, doing very specialized and localized market research which they call "Dominant" (yes, an English adjective), and end up being something else altogether. So much so, that they go beyond the North American image of a "corner store" and little by little has become... the konbini!

[Origin: Japanese コンビニ, itself from the English convenience store]

Gaijin [gahy-jin]
- noun, adjective, interjective

I've been in Japan for about a year, and I'm willing to guess that anyone who knows a smattering of Japanese phrases has come across this one already, so I won't go into the details of the nuances or etymology beyond the meaning "foreigner", except that it's a shortened form of gaikokujin, or "person-from-a-foreign-country". And, it's pretty rude. And Japanese people say it all the time. And the Japanese people that use this shortened form of gaikokujin would be horrified if they I used the shortened forms of "Nipponjin" or "Japanese".

And let's not even get into nanban chicken.

All this, of course, does not stop the gaijin community from using "gaijin" in every other sentence. In fact, just the other day I was in Fukuoka with my gaijin friends and spotted some strange, suspicious, possibly criminally-active foreigner-looking gaijins coming our way and I said, "Goddamn, there're a lot of gaijins here!" with a bit of autoxenophobic excitement.

I personally used the word "gaijin" 46 times today. I counted.

See also: Gaijin Smash.

[Origin: Japanese 外人, itself a contraction of 外国人]

Eki [ey-kee, ek-ee]
- noun

Train station. I don't know why we use this particular Japanese word since Japanese train stations closely resemble their Western equivalent, but maybe because very few of us had lives so intimately connected to a mere train station. Ever wake up at 6:15 AM to be on time for a lonely commuter train? If you have, you feel my pain. Pushing through a noisey, hostile crowd of uniformed students, barely (and sometimes not) avoiding hitting your head on handle bars which are all at a painfully low six-foot level -- pushing through just to get out at your stop...

At the same time as I associate the eki with so many terrible things, it's also the home of plenty of good memories, so what can I say? I love my eki.

[Origin: Japanese ]

- noun

Ever feel like sitting in a bit bathtub filled with sulphuric water, ass-naked with a few of your best mates? Well then you'd best to Japan, me son! This is at first the most uncomfortable thing in the world, but after a couple of times, it stops being anything of an issue and becomes one of the most relaxing things to do on a Sunday afternoon. Especially if you're sipping a beer and are outside in the warm water on a cold winter day staring off at the mountains. Said to be quite healthy too.

The first time I went to an onsen was at the very end of operating hours, and as we were leaving, a security guard came to ask my naked self to bend over and pull out the big onsen bath plug to let the water out for the night. Awkward!

[Origin: Japanese 温泉]

- noun

Keitais! Teacher, mother, secret lover. While you Westerner types are spending X amount of dough on Blackberries per month ($100+?), my little keitai -- the Japanese word for "cell phone" -- was the smallest of the small and cheapest of the cheap, and it combines an ordinary phone with a dedicated e-mail client, web browser, mp3 player, video player, digital camera, digital video camera, dictionary, calculator, etc. Behold(!):

Much like Golem from Lord of the Rings, I love and hate my keitai. I love it because it's fairly useful for communication, but really because it's an endless source of entertainment. Get bored? Send an innane e-mail to all my friends. I hate it because, aside from brain tumors, and for that matter a tumor on my thigh where my pocket is, it's annoying! First of all, I use it as an alarm clock, with it's handy mp3 player playing Kid Koala's "Like Irregular Chickens" (starting at the one minute point) and so I associate it with waking up at 6:15 for crowded commuter trains, but also, it's like a computer in every way, but much less convenient. I don't LIKE typing e-mails with my thumbs, damn it! Lastly, I got that ultra-slim model. The purple one on the top right, actually, because I thought it was dark brown in the muted lighting of the store, and I think dark brown electronics will eventually replace the white lacquer look that Apple's been pushing, so might as well get behind this one now. But I got the smallest phone they had, because my goal was a phone the size and shape of a credit card, and the only drawback, or at least the principal drawback is, I have to endure all manner of folk telling me "It's cute that such a big man has such a small keitai." Pff! Whatever. At least I'm not overcompensating for anything.

I know this is a "top 10" list, but I didn't number them, let alone choose a favourite. Have a favourite? Post a comment and tell me which! Also, I put two movie and two TV references in this post: figure out which, and I'll buy you a beer.

19 September 2008

Marriage Proposal On the First Day

Friday was the first day of my class at Ichikoko. I did my standard, professional, squeaky-clean, painfully boring self-introduction amidst cries of "kawaii!" and "kakko ii!", and then had them write short essays introducing themselves to me.

Most of them talked about their hometowns, their love of studying and their dreams of someday going to America™ -- all very standard. One, though, one was a little bit special. It's both the scariest and by far the funniest thing I've got from a student, or anyone else for that matter.

For the sake of privacy, I've changed her name, age and hometown, but the rest is in it's absolutely original formatting right down to the colours of the hearts.

Dear Michael

Hello (: My name is Yuri.

I'm fifteen years old. I live in Saga.

My birthday is June 20th.

My hobby is singing a song.

Let's sing together!!

I love LL class. Because I'll meet you ♥_♥!!

My dream is to wedding foreign man

I like foreign man
you are foreign man

I want to be a good friend with you.

When you see me, please say "Hello" to me

good bye

Do you have a girlfriend?
or boyfriend?

13 September 2008

Top 10 Japanese Words that ALTs Use In Casual Conversation (Part 1)

I've heard the Japanese in Vancouver is rather "slangy". The English in Montreal's soaked up Francicisms enough to be considered a distinct dialect, and Acadian French contains such witticisms as "ridez le truck". Minority languages tend to work this way-- slowly creolizing, de-creolizing, and then eventually disappearing.

I used to be one of them Montreal English, and now I'm a foreigner living in Japan. There aren't too many of us, and if there's one thing that unites us, it's how we fracture the Japanese language at the expensive of our own. Here's the first half of my top 10 list:

Haro! [hah-roh]
- interjection

English, sort of. Think of this as English fried and then refried. If you've ever been within 50 metres of a group of 10-year-old Japanese boys, you've heard this. If you've been in Japan long enough, you've probably said it.

Today's kids are getting savvy to the fact that... not every white person is a English speaking American citizen, and they occasionally throw out the buenos días and namashites. One time when I got a "haro!" from somewhere behind me, I threw back a nice, crisp "bonjour!". You know, to internationalize. I assume it's the first time he ever heard this, 'cause I faintly heart a sad and confused "bon... jour?"

[Origin: Japanese school children ハロー!, var. of hello, itself var. of hallo, itself var. of hollo, itself var. of earlier holla]

Genki [gen-kee]
- adjective
Genki isn't in any English dictionaries I know of, but make no mistake: we gaijins have bastardised and Anglicised the sucker until it's Sino-Japanese etymology is just a painful memory. But what does it mean? Genkiness is a mix of exitement, happiness and healthiness, or in other words... "exuberance"?

A quick Google image search yeilds a genki carrot:

Notice the glassy look of excitement on his face and the gung-ho attitute. After spending even days in Japan, everyone's genki or not-genki. There are no other emotions.

[Origin: Japanese 元気]
-Related forms
Genkiness, genkize, genkify, genkerific

Nomihodai [noh-mee-hoh-dahy]
- noun, verb

All you can drink for two hours for about $15-20. Way to give'r to your liver, eh? Sometimes you get free food and it often it involves making an ass of oneself with coworkers singing terrible songs in karaoke.

I did this last night, in fact, and now I'm feeling not-so-genki.

Note: nomihodais may lead to liver failure.

[Origin: Japanese 飲み放題]

- noun, verb

All you can eat for about $10. Sometimes it's à la carte, and sometimes buffet. Either way, prepare to eat a lot of meat, fish, squid and pizza or indeterminable quality.

Sometimes, you can get "nomi-tabehodais", which combines the two into a swirling vortex of fatty meat, a cynical single vegetable serving consisting of some raw cabbage and an endless amount of watery booze. Highly recommended.

[Origin: Japanese 飲み放題]

29 August 2008

Quotations from Actual Compositions

Being an ALT means reading a lot of snippets of student's English, ranging from point-form answers on worksheets to reading long, often-convoluted essays. Now, I'm not here to make fun of broken English because I am well aware of my limitations in Japanese, but some were so sound-out-ish in bizarre or cute ways that I absolutely have to post them.

As part of a grammar exercise, all students were asked what their favourite way to relax is and why. A depressingly high amount of students chose "sleeping". This is because most of them get up at 5:30~6:00 to catch the train to school and then study until 9:00 or 10:00 at night every freaking day, but this one response is especially bleak:

Not only did he start a sentence with a capitalized "because" AFTER I TOLD THEM NOT TO, but his favourite pass time is turning off his mind. God! That's Lowbott showing his disgust, there, by the way.

Now, just after Christmas I did what every good ALT does: dedicate an entire class to "what did you do for your winter vacation?" lessons. One student wrote:

Powers, eh? This may be an example of the semantic differences between the English 'raw power' and Japanese 'energetic power', but the student obviously wasn't aware that 'powers' is pretty much reserved for high ranking corrupt politicians and superheroes. But, reading this, this is precisely what came to mind.

Finally, I've posted this before, but I think this is the best thing I've ever got from a student:

A bit hard to read my scrawled handwriting, but it says, "Hello! Today I'm going to show you a pig doll. It is very cute, isn't it? It's about 2000 yen. It's name is "Boo-chan". He is very pretty because his nose is big. [Editor's note: I guess that's why Japanese people find me so pretty]

"My grandmother gave me a pig doll in Safari Park for [sic] years ago, but there aren't any pigs in the park.

"Do you like pigs? I love pigs. Pork is delicious and pigs are a lot of fun. Thank you."

8 August 2008

Sichuan Awesomeness

With the Olympics officially underway, Japan seems to suddenly have a strong interest in everything Chinese.

Japan has a long and complicated history with China, but beyond the politics, Japan does owe a lot to China culturally, and the emerging Chinese youth culture seems to reciprocate to some degree, involving a large amount of anime, manga, video game systems and the odd C-pop singer adopting a Japanese stage name.

But, back to the sudden interest in the Sinosphere! (Note: doesn't "sinosphere" sound like an invention, possibly a space craft, that an evil genius might have in the not-too-distant future? "Put him in--- the SINOSPHERE!")

Mundanely, and yet very tellingly, just today they started some takeaway hamburger patties in the bento section of the Max Value proudly proclaiming "中華ハンバーグ", in that colouring, which would translate to "CHINESE HAMBURGER STEAK". I don't know what constitutes a Chinese hamburger, but it is interesting that this dish was conveniently invented to coincide with the start of the Olympics. I also casually watched some Mandarin lessons on local TV, distractingly food related. They showed this cho genki chef cooking up a storm and chatting away in this really animated Mandarin and effortlessly cooking some amazing-looking food. I made up my mind about dinner.

I went for "Sichuan-style braised shrimp", from a big Chinese cookbook/massive coffee table book that I found in my apartment when I moved in (note: and haven't opened once). I happened to buy shrimp earlier today, so I just browsed through the 300 some-odd pages looking for a recipe where I could use that and the tofu, and that wouldn't require me going to the grocery store again (note: the grocery store is directly across the street).

Maybe Sichuan cuisine is a bit of a strange choice for spontaneous cooking, seeing as how I've never cooked anything resembling Chinese food (note: that didn't come in a box) before and that I'm suddenly learning to cook Chinese food in Japan

Being the bastardizing bastard that I am, I read over the ingredients a couple of times, instructions once, and mixed and matched a bit, threw in some tofu, and finally served it over rice noodles. For the record, the most important part of the recipe was a paste made of soy sauce, rice wine, toban jiang and a pinch of sugar, and I stuck to the recipe for that as closely as I could. I actually already had a bottle of toban jiang -- a mix of hot chilies and miso paste -- in my fridge, which is a bit strange. It was right beside the mayonnaise and can of Guinness.

Anyway, here's the money shot:

Yay! It looks terrible with the camera flash, but it was really good! I promise!

Anyway, try googling "chili shrimp" or "Sichuan shrimp" if you get the chance. It was easy to make, and even to improvise with the recipe a bit, and even if mine wasn't exactly authentic, it tasted great and was easy to cook.

25 July 2008

Misdo: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Japan

About six weeks ago we had a near-Biblical flood after several days and nights of rain. And the day of the flood was the day I had to commute an hour.

I rode to the station in knee-deep water and it was still raining, so I wasn't sure what I'd be going to-- work, or to a terrifying nightmare of floods, mudslides, emergency helicopters and mostly likely Jihadists, based on alarmist terrorism posters that the train stations have been suddenly plastered with:

I hesitated. The train that arrives just before mine was, for the record, three hours late. Mine was on time, but I still couldn't get in contact for any sort of authority figure to find out of schools are cancelled when there's a threat of a natural disaster like today (--they aren't). I wasn't going to get on that train until I knew for sure I could, so I ended up having a breakfast of waxy doughnuts and sugary, milky café au lait at the American-founded but so so Japanese chain, Mister Donut, affectionately called Misdo. In Canada we have doughnuts with exciting names like "Maple Dip", or "Sour Cream Plain" -- and in Japan, they have names like "Maron Whip" and "Old Fashion Maccha Choko". It's bizarre and wonderful, because it was originally an American chain, and in the same way you wouldn't want to go to a sushi restaurant in your home town and see a menu of English translations, in Japan, restaurants with Western-style food will have a lot of English on the menu, but shamelessly mixed in with untranslated Japanese nouns. It has a similar kitsch appeal to bilingual packaging in Canada with brands like Cap'n Crunch being famously rendered in French as Capitaine Crounche -- not quite a literal translation, but this strange middle ground.

I was exhausted by the time I made to the station through the floodwater, so I was sitting there drinking my coffee in a haze. I hadn't put my change away, so it was lazily sitting there on the tray. I got a refill of coffee, which was somewhere just below boiling, and burning my mouth when I took a big gulp, I left in disgust, having forgotten about my change. A pretty sizable 600 yen.

Having made an ass of myself, I decided never to go back there again. There is NO tipping in Japan so it wouldn't have been misinterpreted as a friendly gesture. Just pure gaijin stupidity.

Finally, one day last week I bit the bullet because I was jonesing for that coffee. As far as coffee goes, it's just as bad as Timmy's back home, if not worse, and the heavy cigarette smoke somehow adds to the appeal. How often do you come out of a coffee shop stinking of nicotine in Canada? I rest my case.

So, I got to the counter and there was a bit of a rumbling. One of the ladies was taking a long hard look at me and said something inaudible to her coworker and I thought, "Awee shit. They're thinking, 'That's that guy! Thanks for the change, you idiot foreigner!'" Instead, she comes up to me with a baggie with my change in it! At least a month later. Every last yen was kept behind the counter, waiting for my return. In kind of a Grinch-like moment, my general feeling of alienation that's slowly been building as a foreigner in Japan disappeared and I gave probably the most sincere thank you I've have since coming here. I was absolutely amazed, and something this simple really shows just how civil this society can be. Thoughtfulness (omoriyari) is a sign of adulthood in Japan and is promoted constantly. But human nature, no matter what country, can be pretty selfish -- I really wouldn't have been surprised or even angry for minimum wage workers at a doughnut shop to pocket the change. But, this really opened my eyes to a cultural difference that I can't quite put my finger on. Something prompted the woman to see my money, not take it, inform the other staff members and have it kept for me. This is sort of thing that really only exists in Canada in small towns amongst particularly well-raised people, but having this at a train station with thousands of people passing through a day-- really impressive.

No longer will I make fun of your silly Engrish, Misdo! No longer will I mock your wax-covered doughnuts and burnt milky coffee. From now on, you have a special place in my heart, and will remain an shining example of everything that's good about Japan.

27 May 2008

I Don't Feel Like Satan, but...

Today in class I had the students do an interview activity, as directed. They really just asked for each other's phone number, and as usual, the 15 year old boys were absolutely terrified of the idea of approaching a member of the opposite sex, and as usual, the girls seemed a bit put off.

I caught this one kid chatting with his friends, sitting down, in the corner, and I saw that a couple of them had at least done the two short interviews with other boys. I asked this kid to show me his paper and he reluctantly unrolled it, and the kid hadn't done a single damn thing. Not even the minimal heterophobic gender-segregated half that he could have done in two minutes. I told him he had to interview me on the spot, which he did awkwardly, and even wrote down my fake phone number wrong. I asked him what the hell had you been doing to no response and then said, "Ganbatte" -- do your best. He gave a sullen "hai," so I said, "Iya. Hontou ni gan-bat-te." No, really, do--your-- best.

It used to bug me how unresponsive students are when you give 'em pep talks, and then I started to see teachers sit the students down in the office and give them sometimes hour-long lectures about how they screwed up. The kids would either look-- you know-- dead inside, or else stare off into the distance with a hateful expression on their face.

Near the end of the class I picked a few students' names off a seating plan to read off one person's name and phony telephone number. It was all in kanji, so I really just chose students whose names I could read. So, "Okay-- Daredare-kun please read one name and telephone number," and it was that same freaking kid! I felt a bit flushed and slightly guilty, and the kid mumbled out my phone fake phone number without giving a name or putting it to anything resembling a sentence. The other kids gave him a long, sarcastic ovation after, which I'm sure didn't help. But, that same kid.

Metaphorically speaking, this kid had buried himself in his own ignorance and I pulled him out of the dirt and owned him in the face.

Metaphorically speaking.

13 May 2008

Kicking, If Not Flogging, A Dead Horse

Good morning, everyone. It's a bright and sunny 6:50 AM here in Saga, Japan, and I overslept by an hour. That is to say, for a week I'd been waking up at 5:30 or earlier due to jet lag and had a couple of hours in the morning of free time, which got less depressing and more awesome every day. That 7:30 train that used to me mind-numbingly early? Now just a cool breeze through my morning.

So speaking of mind-numbing! I've been a bit slow updating this thing. In fact, I didn't see Adam's comment telling me to update for at least a couple of weeks. This, despite appearances, is not an update. No, this is simply a promise that I will update.

I've been to Hiroshima. I've been to Miyajima. I've been to Toronto, to Halifax, to Calgary and to Vancouver since I last wrote here, and I have the pictures to prove it. And since it's now 6:55 and I'm starting to think about a shower, I must leave you hanging on that last promise. Cheers!

6 February 2008

I'm No Sciencetician, But...

I've been told Japanese people get sick all the time in winter. I've heard this relaying my own experience of getting sick once every two weeks -- one persistent virus, actually -- and have seen it. Japanese people tend to wear what appear to be white surgical masks when they're sick. I've heard that they help you get better, which I won't comment on here, but they are in the very least a clear stay-away warning. Also, an easy way to tally up who's who of the virally/bacterially infested. Upwards of 50% of the staff at my school!

Average Toronto temperature for February is -4.5℃ -- indoor temperature, at least in whatever apartment I'm living in, is 25℃. Median temperature, of course, is 20.5℃ and skin-peelingly dry.

Meanwhile in Japan -- the average temperature for neighbouring Fukuoka is about 6.5℃. A generous (it's not supposed to steam up when you pee) estimate for the average indoor temperature is around 10℃. Median being 8.25℃ and humid.

Scientists, I've heard, don't blame winter colds on their namesake -- the frigid terrible godless cold -- but, rather because people stay huddled together inside. This makes sense, but the truth is your immune system is significantly effected by your mental state. Comfort and happiness and relaxation and exercise and other things can make or break you no matter what season it is, and in Japan it's difficult to feel comfortable and relaxed in the winter. There's a whole industry surrounding this fact (insulation or central heating companies need not apply) that sell heated coffee tables called kotatsu or heated drinks in vending machines (including corn soup!) and all sorts of blankets and jackets and weird puffy elasticy bits of sweater that you put around your arms or torso. As a foreigner, I also have to deal with immunoglobulins which are apparently not well suited for this environment, and I have classes full of literally snot-nosed kids (ha-hah). Of course, traffic between East Asia and Southern Ontario is constant and diseases tend to pass both ways too (remember SARS?) and before standing in front of classes of 40 students, I was sitting in lecture halls of sometimes ten times that and I got sick once or twice a year at most. I'd get more sick, but it wasn't a chronic thing. Not only that, but I don't remember international students from Japan getting sick with Canadian germs every two weeks. So what's the deal?

I don't have an answer. The entire reason I'm writing this, is I've been at home for two days with some sort of stomach virus, and I'm still on medication for another illness. All I can think of is George Carlin talking about his own immune system saying, "You know when I wash my hands? When I get shit on them!"