Tuesday, November 21, 2006



And not just any birthday, but the big 3-0!

To steal a bit from a favourite source:

Tou no you

I hope you have a great year, here in Japan and elsewhere, my dear.

Much love.
Happy Birthday!


Niece Set To Elope!

Well ok, she denies it. But in doing so she used the word "elope" and I just thought that was too quaint not to use. Ok, and this picture might be a touch old. Anyway, I hope she and Jason have fun in Vegas!

Another long day here in Kitagata. Out of school at 7 o'clock. Partly work and partly not. Three people from my real estate agency dropped by to go over clauses in the new contract and get it all done. The slightly weird guy with the shaved eyebrows who showed the apartment -- he talked little; a woman from the office who went over most of the contract with my supervisor; and an older woman who went to work when we started getting ready to sign documents -- a contracts specialist, ensuring that I understand everything I'm agreeing to. Then there was much signing, sealing, and filling out of forms.

I can finally say good-bye to this apartment and move into my new one this weekend. This apartment was given to me by my predecessor and the school board. They told me it was big. They didn't tell me that it'd nearly bankrupt me to live here.

JET recommends that participants bring $3000 to cover ALL costs for the first month here: rent, food, expenses related to settling in, and so on. Initial payment for the apartment alone: $4000. That's three month's rent that I may or may not see again ("key money"), 1 month rent "gift money", 1 month rent in advance, a "transaction fee" more than an entire month's rent by itself, and several smaller expenses, put together. I tried to fight the contract but it was no use. It's taken me this long to get enough money together to end the contract and begin a new one. There are new expenses to starting over, but nothing like the last time, and the rent and reduced utilities (set at a high fixed rate for this place) should make the move worthwhile in just 2 months, while I have 8 minimum left here.

I'm looking forward to the new place, but I suppose I will miss the view.

That's a freakishly big, bright pachinko parlour across the way. There's no noise from it; just a ton of light. All the noise comes from the kendo studio next to it (kids screaming aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh as they attack each other with sticks) and the occasional megaphone-equipped vehicle touring around at night spouting right-wing propaganda.

At night it's quite a nice view, also.

Mount Kinka and Gifu Castle are barely visible when I crane my neck to the left off the back balcony (much closer to Julie). Two major temples are a stone's throw away and I can see them both, also. One of the biggest malls in Japan, Malera, is not too far away and can be seen from the apartment, and the ferris wheel belonging to another mall, as well as a couple of sets of illuminated driving range netting.

I suppose I might also miss the tatami room.

It is kind of neat.

Well, that's it for me today. Another long day ahead tomorrow, and special plans, too.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Business, Busy-ness, and Cross-Procrastination in Japan

I left work at a quarter to seven tonight. It was dark, and had been since 4:30.

My supervisor left at 6, saying that he felt guilty that he was leaving before me. The teacher next to me left shortly after, saying the same thing. Ordinarily, our staff room is locked up a bit earlier than today, and I get kicked out, often to bring work home. Hayashi-sensei, our youngest teacher who just recently passed his teaching exams, says that he has never seen an ALT so diligent. I normally get out as early as I can and take the stuff home, but I figure what the hell. As long as I'm doing the work, they may as well see me doing it.

Yes, it's your dumb luck that you stumbled into YAAB -- Yet Another ALT blog. Or maybe you know me but don't know much about this, in which case I'd best explain that ALT stands for Assistant Language Teacher, a position with JET -- the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. The job description seems to vary, mostly depending on school level. Most junior high school ALTs seem to feel useless and are bored stiff. Most high school ALTs don't have enough time in the day to teach, lesson plan, confer with JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English, our counterparts), make up class materials, and mark. Today I was late because of the last item on that list. Serves me right for handing out so many writing assignments last week.

There are, as you might expect, a number of things to get used to here.

Today I think I finally got used to correcting serious writing. Let me give you an example.

My second year students recently came back from their school trip to Okinawa. It's a regular ritual at our high school for our 2nd year (aka grade eleven) students. I should have figured it would not be an entirely cheery trip, but it didn't really click until I sat in the gym with them watching "a movie on Okinawa" before they departed. It followed the exploits of a senior high school not much unlike our own, during the second World War. Much of it was hopeful, with teachers you've come to know and love, donning uniforms and keeping the students safe in bands, inside abandoned buildings, caves, and wherever else they could find shelter. Of course, raising hopes was just so that they could be crushed. Most of the latter half of the movie was a string of automatic gunfire, explosions, and attractive, young Japanese youths screaming "Sensei!!!" Some students and a few teachers are killed outright in the fighting. The rest take their time dying through the rest of the movie. One hopeful band makes it pretty far and then finds themselves cornered. So they huddle around a grenade and pull the pin. And so on. Yeah kids, lets go on a trip to Okinawa. And with that they do.

Anyway, I gather from various assignments I've foisted on them since returning that two major impressions were made during their Okinawa trip. One was that it was stinkin' hot there. The other is that war is terrible and never to be repeated. (Ok, third, that the sea is almost indescribably beautiful -- sure, their english skills are minimal, hence my employment, but they really seem awestruck by it, since they come from one of the few landlocked areas of Japan)

Regarding that second impression, of war, a student has written the following partway through an essay:

I hope world peace.

I hope world peace.

A heartfelt sentiment from a deeply affected student. So of course I must mess with it.

Two ways to go, really.

I have hope for world peace, and
I hope for world peace.

There are other ways to revise it, but those appear to me to do the least damage. And so I print my big, blocky red ink correction over their genuine display of emotion.

I hope world peace.

Yeah. They pay me to be a bastard.

Well, ok, I've had worse work.

Today was actually ok, and I find myself yet again having to admit an unpleasant truth: being busy is good.

Unfortunately, I realized a few years ago that for whatever reason, I find it better to be even busier. And busier. And so on without end.

Now, this isn't to counter the genuine fact that I am lazy. That I am. But there's something about coming home at the end of a too-long day of work, where you packed every moment full. Maybe it's the feeling of being on a big project. If that's the case, I can stay half the night. Or all night.

These are the kinds of things you want to discover about yourself before going to law school, or going to work for a big firm. I didn't, but you know, it's never too late to quit (until it is, and it wasn't).

The Japanese teacher's day is a long one. A very long one compared to a government lawyer in Canada, or a teacher there, too. Japanese teachers work all day from first thing in the morning often until 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 at night, depending on club activities after school. My school in particular pushes their volleyball team to practice until 9 or 10pm, but I know we're not the only one. You can be just about anywhere at 10 o'clock at night and see Japanese school girls and boys heading home in their uniforms, (so unusually) slumped in posture. It's depressing.

But anyway, today I stayed until a quarter to seven and was told I was diligent. Time to go home.

Fortunately, I had a case of these puppies waiting.

Wait, did I mention that there were some things to get used to around here?

Yeah, don't ask.

Anyway, I'd hoped to start this blog awhile ago, but I've been busy.

I recently celebrated my birthday, in fact, but that was such an irredeemably bad day that I was afraid my first entry would be more grumblings than mumblings, so I've put it off till now. Not because I'm not busy, but because I'm so busy that I can make use of the principle of cross-procrastination.

What's that? Cross-procrastination. I'm sure you know it.

It's where you have so many different things you don't want to do competing for your attention, that you can play one off another.

This month, I have an inordinate amount of extra classes, rescheduled due to a prefectural school board workshop, one and probably two grades worth of curriculum to overhaul in very short order, a novel to write (for NaNoWriMo) which was postponed for a week while friends visited from elsewhere in Japan, leaving me with much less time to complete the thing than the already tight deadline of one month for 50,000 words, and I am moving in two weeks and have not yet packed anything nor disposed of any of the junk left here by my predecessor. Add to that a larger than usual batch of marking, in addition to the teaching load, and today after school I coached a 3rd year for her upcoming interview for junior college.

So how does this thing work? Simple.

I don't want to mark papers so I clean my apartment.
I mark papers because I really don't want to blog.
I blog because I really am not in the mood to put down another 2000 words of novel at the moment.
And I will do that tonight, too, because while I want to do some marking, I certainly don't want to spend much time tonight doing schoolwork after an already long day.

Bingo. Cross-procrastination. Works every time.

So while I hadn't started this blog because I didn't have enough time, I really don't have enough time now, so here it is. Don't ask questions. Just help me polish off this case of tiny Asahi.