Saturday, April 30, 2005

It goes both ways

For the politically correct who are made anxious by the frequency with which I mock Japanese English on my blog, here is something to make you feel better. I would have pointed it out earlier but I didn't know it was there.

When English speakers use Japanese, WE SCREW UP, TOO, AND IT'S JUST AS FUNNY. Xogij details some of the hilarious errors he found at CafePress when people tried to use 'exotic' Japanese on their designs. ("It's a hose"?)

This just confirms my theory: foreign languages were created in order to make us laugh. Whether they make us laugh at other people's mistakes in our language or at our own mistakes in theirs is irrelevant. Using a foreign language is FUNNY, and that's all there is to it.

For more of Japan from the inside from an intelligent and articulate Japanese person writing in English, I recommend that you read more from the Extraordinary Ordinary Guy in Japan. You will enjoy it. I am finding it most enlightening. I've found out what a 'social window' is! I DIDN'T KNOW THAT. (Is that 社会の窓? Must try it out on The Man tonight when he gets home and find out.)


Back on April 22nd I posted about a form I had been remiss in returning to the office at one of my universities, and why I was so reluctant to fill it in. Having blogged about it, I then forgot about it again. After all, my unconscious mind reasoned sneakily, I had ALREADY thought about it, so therefore it was as good as done, right?

On Thursday one of the secretaries in the university ran after me as I was leaving the teachers' room.

"I don't think you have filled in that form yet," she said accusingly. "It was due three weeks ago."

"Which form?" I asked innocently.

She showed me. I jumped when I saw it, remembering the blogging, and tried not to look guilty.

"I'll fill it in right now," I assured her, and went back inside.

That was when I discovered that I didn't have all the information with me. The secretary watched me leaving gaps all over the form.

"I'm very sorry," I told her, "But I seem to have left most of the papers at home. I can't remember this information. This one is either room 501 or 505, and I think it's building B2. Or B1. These might be 11-207, or 11-209, but I'm not sure which."

The secretary sighed and looked up the information for me. It took five seconds and there it was - my name, classes, majors, and times. I gaped, closed my mouth firmly, and started copying it onto the form.

"Who is this form for, anyway?" I asked, thinking there had to be a halfway logical explanation.

"It's for us," she told me. "If you call in sick we have to inform all the departments which classes are cancelled."

She didn't even have the grace to look embarrassed. Or, more frighteningly, perhaps she didn't see anything to be embarrassed about. Is it possible that she didn't even NOTICE that she was asking me to fill in a form telling her information that she had just looked up and given me herself?


VileFile introduced me to a quiz to test how normal I am. I scored 55% ('Somewhat normal'). However, I had to cheat to get this score, because some of the questions have no right answers. Take number 3, for example:

3. How do you button your shirt?

Two choices are given:

From bottom up
From top down

How are you supposed to answer that when you button your shirt from the middle, like a normal person?

Friday, April 29, 2005

Golden Week

These cattle are definitely Australian. You can tell from the accents. And the behaviour.

(Click on 'downloads' and 'Bulls TV ad.')

Mindless entertainment out of the way, a quick note before I end up typing with my nose. (I was up at 5 this morning.)

I have seven days off, starting tomorrow. There is a series of public holidays that all come in the same period, and this is known as Golden Week. Tomorrow is a holiday. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are holidays next week. I have taken Monday off, because I can at my Monday university. (Besides, the students begged very nicely AND made it clear that I was going to end up with only one or two per class turning up anyway.)

The list of things I need to do is longer than I'd prefer it to be, but I think I might be able to fit in some of the things I want to do in there, too. Like, say, visiting some of my favourite blogs, catching up with news that doesn't involve train accidents, and getting out to enjoy the spring weather while it lasts.

After that I'll have to buckle down to twelve or so straight weeks of no public holidays at all and increasingly shitty weather. I don't like the first semester much. Golden Week is lovely and all that, but it would be a much better arrangement if it were moved to the middle of June, when we have been worn to a frazzle by the rainy season and each other and actually NEED a break.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Guess again

Reading about the train crash in the international news is driving me up the wall. This story says that the train

derailed in Amagasaki, an Osaka suburb about 483 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of Tokyo...
There are two things that annoy me in this. First, since when did Amagasaki become a suburb of Osaka? Have I been writing my address wrongly for all these years? I thought I lived in Amagasaki City, in Hyogo Prefecture. Now I find out I'm living in a suburb of Osaka suddenly. Oops.

And 483 kilometers southwest of Tokyo? What does Tokyo have to do with anything? You might as well say that Amagasaki is 590 km east of Pusan. I mean, really! How many non-Japanese can locate Tokyo on a map of Japan anyway? I know I couldn't, before I lived in Japan. Why not just mention that Amagasaki CITY is next to Osaka, which is Japan's second largest city? (To give an idea of how 'close' Tokyo is to Osaka, I have been there exactly twice in the 15 years I've been here. But I work in Osaka twice a week, Kobe once a week, and Amagasaki once a week. That's how close THOSE three cities are.)

In this story, I apparently moved when I wasn't paying attention. Instead of being 483 kilometres southwest of Tokyo I am now 410 kilometres west of Tokyo.

Wired News doesn't even mention Amagasaki. They say that the train crashed into an apartment block in the suburbs of Osaka city. And according to Reuters, too, the building the train crashed into is on the outskirts of the city of Osaka.

This Malaysian online news site gets it right, and three cheers to them. It is entirely true that I live in the industrial city of Amagasaki near Osaka. Apparently when Bernama check the facts of their stories they DON'T use other news outlets (which have it wrong) to confirm their guesses. They look at a map. How utterly brilliant of them! They also might have consulted the Wikipedia entry, or even (gasp, how bizarre) the Amagasaki city government's official English web site .

But apparently Reuters and the other major news sources didn't think of doing anything quite so tricky and time-consuming as LOOKING IT UP. It appears that they ... guessed? How else would you come to the conclusion that Amagasaki is a suburb of Osaka when it's not even the same prefecture?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Exotic night out

I went to a bar tonight, for a dorink with my friends. We are fond of having a dorink after work. We like dorinking. Having a dorink and gossip after work is good for our stress levels. That is why we dorink.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Hearts with knees

I know I shouldn't listen to music while I'm riding my bicycle, but I do it anyway.

Today I was listening to Eric Clapton's Reptile. One of the wonderful things about living in Japan is the video stores, where you can also rent CDs. Don't tell anybody. This is a well-kept secret. If the record companies knew that consumers were renting CDs and downloading the music onto their iPods and therefore NEVER HAVING TO BUY A CD EVER AGAIN they would ban the practice immediately.

I had read both good and bad review of Reptile, and wanted to know what it was like, but the bad reviews were bad enough that I didn't want to actually buy it.

I agree it lacks Clapton's usual edge. On the other hand, it is perfect cycling (or train commuting) music. It is not demanding, but it does hold my attention because he is so damned good, without even trying. That is exactly what you want on a commute. You don't want to be so distracted that you miss your station, but you do want to be distracted from the crush of the General Unwashed you are sharing your space with. Reptile fits the bill perfectly.

Unfortunately there is one song that holds my attention in entirely the wrong way, with a really bad metaphor. Perhaps it's just me. Perhaps you have to be a language teacher to be so distracted by a metaphor. But when he sings, "The sound of her voice brings your heart to its knees," I get a very strange and distracting image appearing in my head. Hearts don't HAVE knees, normally, because they don't have legs, but the heart in this strange and distracting image does have legs, and the legs have knobbly little knees. These knees distract me horribly, and I wish they wouldn't.

I'm fine, thank you

I got home from work an hour or so ago and this is just a quick entry to say thank you for asking, but I was not on the train that derailed. I was, however, working at a place quite close to the accident site and helicopters have been disrupting my classes all day.

I have been using the opportunity to teach my students some new language. They now all know how to say A train was derailed. It crashed into an apartment building. Fifty people were killed and 239 injured. (I think it might be more, now.) They also know how to say, How terrible! and I'm scared to ride the train home. One student knows how to say I had a lucky escape. That was my usual train, but this morning I took an earlier train. It was the first time for me, in my three years at university.

My low level students, who kept flocking to the windows to watch the news helicopters, got a numbers, colours, plurals, and pronouns lesson.

"How many helicopters can you see now?"

"One, two, three... shi... mumble mumble hachi... Ten helicopter!"

"Ten helicopterSSSSSS!"

"Yes. Ten helicopterSSSSSS."

"Eight janai?"

"There is helicopter there, behind that tree, and helicopter go behind building."

"Use 'one'. There is one there, behind that tree, and one went behind that building."

"Yes. There is one there, and doko itta kana...? Mienakunatta..."

"What colours are they?"

"There are four red helicopter, three blue helicopter - "

"Three blue ones."

"Three blue ones, and , and three, eeeeedo... dark colour. Mienai."

"And what do they look like?"

"They look like tombo."


"Yes. Dragonflies."

All day university staff have been running around trying to locate all the students who they know live out that way, to make sure they are safe. When I left work at around 4.30 they hadn't found everybody yet. I had two students missing from a class, but it is too early in the semester to know whether they were students who had decided not to take my class after all, or who were habitually absent, or what. I will find out more on Wednesday when I'm back at the same place again.

The line this accident happened on is not one I use very often, although it is the same train company, and one stop from a station where I change lines quite often. The helicopters are still buzzing around noisily, and The Man tells me he just saw on TV that they've located some more people from the first carriage, which was buried in the building, still alive.

This is very big news here. It's the worst train accident in forty years, they're saying. Millions take trains just like that one every day. It will shake confidence.

I'm feeling a bit shaken myself, but as The Man has just reminded me the safety record is an excellent one and It's still much, much safer than driving.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Time out

Today I took a day off and went to a flea market. The timing isn't that great, actually, because we have almost a whole week of public holidays coming up, but they start on Friday. However, I decided that since there are no flea markets over the holiday week, I'd just have to go to one now.

It was a gorgeous day for it.

I took a LOT of photos, and so many of them came out well I'm having trouble trying to figure out what to put up here. I imagine if I put up my favourite twenty-eight pictures nobody will be too pleased with me, so I won't do that. Perhaps I'll put them up a few at a time. (And perhaps I won't. Perhaps I'll put them up a lot at a time.)

There were some late-blooming cherry blossoms still blooming at the temple. These are the double-blossomed cherries, and my American friend told me that in the U.S. these are called Japanese cherry blossoms. I didn't know that.

They were lovely.

The chindon players were there again. I know I put pictures of them up last time, but that was a long time ago and I like them, so here they are again:

I took pictures of dolls again. This time there were some rather naughty dolls. Unfortunately the Barbie flashing her boobs was one picture that didn't come out (it was blurred), but here are a couple of others. The second one looks like a terrible flirt.

There was also some rather creepy baby dolls.

As usual, there were several heads, but there was only one torso. One of the heads was made of glass:

After we'd finished wandering around the market, we sat in a little park next to the temple, under a white wisteria, which was blooming beautifully and smelt divine. Apparently the bumblebees thought so, too, because there was a constant buzzing up there and they were all over the flowers.

This would have been a picture of a bumblebee, except that it flew away just as I pressed the shutter.

Do you know how hard it is to take a decent picture of a bumblebee with a cheap camera and not much patience? Also, my neck hurt after several attempts, from looking up. This was the best I could get.

These kimonos hanging around a tree were colourful. The whole day was colourful. It cheered me up.

I will not put any other pictures up today. This is more than enough, and anyway, right now I have to prepare tomorrow's classes.

Morning routine

Last year I had an early start at one of my universities, with a rush hour commute. Taking the trains (I needed to take three different lines) at rush hour makes me tired and stressed before I even start my first class, so I solved this problem by getting up at 5.30 and taking my trains before the rush hour. There is a Royal Host chain restaurant near the university which provides a cheap breakfast with endlessly refillable coffee, so I'd sit in there for about forty minutes eating and drinking coffee until I was very, very awake.

This year I have TWO of these early starts, on consecutive days. This means that I am at Royal Host two mornings a week.

Last year I noticed (how could I not) that there were always two guys there at the time I arrived, also having breakfast. They are not together, but they are always there. Sometimes there are one or two other people as well, but those two are the only regulars. We always sit spaced widely apart. It is a big restaurant.

One of them is no problem at all, although he is rather odd. He is painfully thin, has a limp, and wears a suit and a very old-fashioned hat. He doesn't ever take his hat off, even when he's eating breakfast. I suspect he is a professor, but haven't yet seen him around campus, so I might be wrong. He could be a spy. I never see his face because his hat is pulled down over his eyes, and last week every time I looked in his direction he was looking at me, and quickly looked away. But I will worry about him some other time.

The other guy I am fairly sure is not a professor, although nothing is impossible. He is older, and quite hard of hearing, and also has trouble seeing. (Why can't we say 'hard of seeing'?) He uses one of those little magnifying lenses as well as glasses, and when he makes a phone call on his mobile (which he has done every morning I've been there) he peers at his phone through this lens as though he is examining a bacteria in a petri dish. Sometimes he asks the waitress for help finding the numbers.

And it's these calls that I want to talk about. I know it's taken me a while to get there, but while I'm writing I'm also mulling. And I have mixed feelings about these phone calls.

This guy has a very loud voice. He is the sort of person who, when he moves in his chair, moans loudly. You cannot ignore him. He is seated at one end of the restaurant and I'm at the other (by choice) and nobody else is there except the silent and enigmatic man in the hat, so it's nice and peaceful. Then there is a sudden loud moan and I am startled out of my newspaper. He breathes loudly. He sighs. He sucks his teeth. He mumbles to himself. He shouts at the waitresses (kindly - his shouting is because of his deafness, I think). He MAKES NOISES that are impossible to ignore.

Then he makes his morning call.

This morning call is conducted at a blisteringly high volume, and he also has a speech impediment of some kind so he is hard to understand. I used to determinedly ignore the noise, except for the occasional icy glare over the top of my newspaper (which had no effect at all, no doubt because he can't actually see me) but ignoring it doesn't actually work. You can't ignore it. It intrudes.

So a couple of weeks ago when I turned up at 'Royal Host,' spotted him, remembered this morning purgatory and got irritated all over again, I decided to listen instead. I listened carefully. And angrily. I put down my newspaper and stared fixedly at him while he was making his call. He didn't notice me staring, no doubt because he can't see a damned thing, but I paid close attention.

I had always assumed he was calling his workplace. The only bits I'd noticed him saying before had to do with 'today I'll be too busy to come' and 'I'll see you later on in the morning, but try to make that appointment for me at 2pm' and things like that. I thought he had his own business, perhaps, but hadn't actually given it much thought, and it sounded boring and trivial anyway. Also, it's easy to tune out of a language that isn't your own. You hear the noise but don't hear the words, and this guy's speech impediment makes it easier to not understand, especially when you're irritated.

But I'm not so irritated, now. I've had a change of heart, sort of. And I think that he must be calling some long-suffering family member, not a workplace. In fact I'm pretty damned sure it is not a workplace. The four phone calls I've have now carefully listened to from beginning to end have all been about how constipated he is and how much his piles are troubling him. The first one was on my first Thursday back at work, two weeks ago. The next day I got to hear that his bowels managed to move a little yesterday but it was really painful, and he doesn't think the medicine is working. Last Thursday his piles were bleeding and he thought he might need to visit the doctor again. "IT'S HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE!" he hollered into the phone. "MY BOTTOM IS BLEEDING!"

The weird thing is that although it annoyed me even more at first to discover that this guy was entertaining the entire restaurant with his bowel problems ('entire restaurant' meaning me and the man in the hat and the two waitresses), by the third time I'd started to feel quite involved, and far less irritated. This is confusing. I disapprove of people causing such disturbance in a quiet restaurant at an early hour, but I also want to know what happens next. Did his bowels move yesterday morning? Are his stools still hard and brick-like and take forever to pass? Did it hurt? Is his bottom still bleeding? Did the doctor offer any relief?

He ends these calls with a cheerful "Don't worry, everything will be all right!" every time, and squints at his phone to switch it off. Sometimes he yells for a waitress to do it for him, and they always treat him courteously and kindly. When that's done he shifts in his seat and moans loudly. Then he heads for the toilets, muttering, and is gone a long, long time.

But I have to wait to find out whether his toilet visit was successful, because he only ever makes one phone call.

I'm still not QUITE sure how I feel about this. A large part of me wishes he'd just shut up. On the other hand, the newspaper isn't all that interesting, and I have discovered unexpected twinges of sympathy and tolerance I didn't think I was capable of. If he isn't there when I turn up next Thursday I think I'll be worried.

Is it possible to die from piles?

Friday, April 22, 2005


I have been remiss again, and I know it, but haven't been caught yet so I don't care. The other day I came across a self-evaluation form teachers were supposed to fill in. I thought I'd filled it in AND handed it in, but apparently I'd done neither because there it was, sitting in its envelope, untouched. I hadn't even scribbled messages to myself on the back, which is a quite frequent occurrence with forms. The due date was January 25th. Nobody has chased me up about it, so never mind. If I thought somebody was actually going to read it I would probably do it, but I doubt that very much.

I have a regrettable tendency to regard form-filling as an optional activity.

Today, at the same place, a colleague asked me something about a form he was filling in. I didn't know what he was talking about at first, but it looked familiar. Then I realised it was the same form we have to fill in every year at that place, and I'd left mine at home. It was due last Friday, so I'll take it in with insincere apologies next Thursday, when I'm at that place again. This one I know they do ask for if you don't hand it in.

But what makes this particular form so difficult to fill in is the sheer stupidity of it. IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. I'm sure it would be easier to convince myself it was important enough to do on time if it made sense, but it doesn't.

This particular form arrives at the end of a drawn-out and forest-destroying process:

The university sends out papers telling us our schedules.

They then send out more papers telling us which majors we'll be teaching. (I got this one twice this year. The information was the same, but it was formatted differently.)

Next, they send us yet more papers telling us which classrooms we've been assigned to teach these classes in.

We start teaching the majors we've been told to teach, in the classrooms we've been assigned, to the schedule they've given us

And then ... we get The Form. The one I feel so reluctant to fill in. The one that makes me want to march into the administration building and start banging heads together.


Is it only me? Does this make sense to ANYBODY?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Yo! Whassup?

Dear ESL teachers in Taiwan:

I had a bad moment in class today, and it was caused by you. (No, don't look behind you. I'm looking at YOU.)

I had a Taiwanese exchange student turn up in one of my classes today. I was teaching my students how to greet each other in an informal situation. I had given them lots of ways to do it: Hi! How's it going? How are you doing? How've you been? and so on. I told them to practice in pairs.

My Taiwanese exchange student turned to his partner and said:

"Yo! Wassup?"

To which his partner responded, naturally:


My students are confused enough, thank you very much. Also, I don't know how to respond when one of the Americans around here greets me with "Yo! Whassup?" I am not a "Yo! Whassup?" kind of person. My students are not "Yo! Whassup?" kinds of people, either. It makes them sound like idiots.

I am most likely to tell anybody who says "Yo! Whassup?" to me to sod off and stop being so bloody American, and I can't teach my students that now, can I? So what am I supposed to do with a student who turns up in my class Yo! Whassuping and that's practically all the English he knows?

Please stop it.

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I do

Michael Schaub asked a question a little while ago that I thought I'd answer, in case he really wants to know:

I wonder if anyone reads P.G. Wodehouse any longer? Apart from weirdos like me, that is.

The answer is yes, and what does he mean, 'weirdos'?

Good advice

Satori Sam has been almost causing accidents, and this reminds me of the only car accident I've ever had while driving. It happened when I was fifteen years old and had just got my driving licence. (Yes, you could get a licence at fifteen in NZ those days. Alas, no more.)

I was in town, in my first month or so of legal driving. I was on a narrow one-way street coming up to turn right into another, wider one-way street, and there was a stop sign. I stopped. There was also a pedestrian crossing, complete with pedestrian. When I stopped, the pedestrian stepped out in front of my car.

Glancing in my rear vision mirror I saw someone driving up behind me rather too fast. I watched him, wondering if he'd stop in time. There was nothing I could do if he didn't. If I went forward I'd run over the pedestrian, and I didn't think that was a good idea. Driving on country roads had not prepared me for this sort of thing.

The driver had his head turned to the left, to see if any traffic was coming along the street that we were turning into. There was none, so WITHOUT EVEN LOOKING IN FRONT OF HIM he kept going.

I leaned on the horn, and at the last moment the driver looked in in the direction he was going, saw my car, and swerved. The result was that the tail fin of my humble Ford Anglia ripped down the side of his lovely new BMW. (And if you don't know what a Ford Anglia is, it's because you're too damned young.)

The chrome was ripped off all up the side of the BMW, and the passenger door was destroyed.

The glass on my rear tail light was broken. Ford Anglias may be small, but they are built like little tanks.

I got out of my car and looked at the damage to my car. (Well, actually I looked FOR the damage. I didn't notice the light at first.) The other driver didn't get out of his car. Instead he behaved like an adult male wearing a suit and driving a flash car. He sat there, steaming, and refused to move. I went around to his side of the car to try to talk to him, and finally he wound down his window. Then he yelled abuse at me. He shouted that it was my fault, because no traffic was coming so why had I stopped? Telling him there was a stop sign and a pedestrian didn't work. HE WAS A BIG IMPORTANT MAN DRIVING A BIG IMPORTANT BMW and I was just a 15-year-old girl driving a Ford Anglia.

I made the mistake of laughing. The whole thing was so absurd that I thought he must be joking. But pretty soon I realized that he didn't think it was funny at all. I picked up a length of chrome from the road and handed it to him through his window, and he threw it back at me (and missed). I asked him for his name and he refused to tell me. Then he got out of his car, and I got scared. He was really, really angry. I backed off and suggested that we let the police sort it out if he didn't want to talk about it. I ran back to my car, grabbed a pen, and started writing his licence plate number on my hand, while looking around for somewhere to run where there would be a phone. I thought he was going to physically assault me.

But he didn't want the police, and my suggestion stopped him. He threw his business card at me, got back into his car, told me his insurance company's name, and ordered me to tell my father to get in touch with him. He said he didn't want to talk to me because I was just a stupid child who didn't know anything.

I double-checked his plate number anyway, as he drove off. I didn't trust him. According to his card he was a city councillor, and city councillors couldn't be that stupid, could they? I didn't believe the card. (I was wrong. He was a city councillor.)

I got home feeling rather shaken, and explained to my father what had happened. He told me I must have been unreasonable. I was just a 15-year-old girl, and 15-year-old girls are unreasonable by default, right? He didn't actually say this, but he implied it, and it made me mad. My father told me to calm down, said he'd take care of things, and instructed me to listen to his end of the phone conversation with the guy so I could learn how things were managed by responsible grown-ups in cases like this. I disagreed with this proposed phone call. I wanted to call the police.

"No, no, no," he said cheerfully. "No need to involve the police. You just have to be reasonable and handle it like an adult. You know, you really shouldn't have laughed. You probably embarrassed him. But he'll have had time to calm down, now."

"No, Dad," I insisted. "He started yelling before I laughed. I laughed because his yelling was so silly and because nobody was hurt. I thought he was yelling because he was upset about causing the accident. I thought he would take responsibility and get over it like a reasonable person, but HE IS NOT A REASONABLE PERSON, DAD. I'M WARNING YOU, DAD."

"Nonsense!" said Dad. "He is a responsible person. He must be! He's a city councillor!"

He told me this was a learning opportunity for me. In the end, because dads always win this kind of argument, I gave up and said I'd listen and try to learn.

He called the city councillor. "You'll see," he said reassuringly to me as he waited for the phone to be answered. "Don't worry so much."

The conversation started out reasonable and man-to-man ho ho ho we can sort this out between friends; silly hysterical girls can't be expected to understand how these manly things work can they? (Not those words, but that was the tone.) Then there was a long period during which the phone squawked noisily and my father said things like, "But -" and "Hold on, let me just say -" "No no WAIT a minute -" and "NOW WILL YOU JUST LISTEN - " and "MY DAUGHTER IS NOT - " as he slowly turned purple with indignation and appeared to inflate. Then he spluttered something like "BFFFTTTHPBTH!" and slammed down the phone. He followed this with some words I'd never heard him say before, and if I'd said them I would have been in big trouble.

Then he noticed that I was still listening earnestly, learning how to be reasonable and handle the situation like an adult. He amended himself,


"So what do we do now, Dad?" I asked.

"I'll write a letter," said Dad. "Let the insurance companies handle it. But it has to be in writing."

Still angry, he sat down and wrote a letter to the city councillor's insurance company, copied to our insurance company, explaining what had happened. It was a very reasonable letter, or at least the final version was. It was just the facts. I know, because I had to sit there and tell him the facts in painstaking detail. He included a carefully drawn diagram of the accident scene. He sent a third copy of the letter to the city councillor, who was not only a city councillor but also a Big Man in the business world of our small town, according to himself. He had taken great pains to tell my father so, in extraordinarily abusive and threatening language.

The Big Man, upon receipt of this letter, promptly fired back an angry reply. In his reply, he wrote that yes, the accident had happened exactly how my father had described it, and THEREFORE it was ALL MY FAULT. I had stopped at a stop sign when there was no traffic coming. DID I HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD? THERE WAS NO TRAFFIC COMING SO I SHOULD HAVE CARRIED ON DRIVING. ANY NORMAL PERSON WOULD HAVE, AND NOT CAUSED AN ACCIDENT BY STOPPING. He went on like that for a while, adding that I was too young and irresponsible to be on the road and a lot of other irrelevant stuff about how important he was.

Remarkably, he appeared to be unaware that drivers are required by law to stop at stop signs and pedestrian crossings. And driving into the car in front of you is not only NOT required by law, it makes you automatically in the wrong. (Driving over pedestrians because a Big Man is in a hurry is also frowned upon, I suspect.)

My father's jaw dropped as he read the letter.

"I can't believe he's put this in writing!" he said incredulously. "He's insane! And he's sent a copy to the insurance company!"

"Are you going to call him again, Dad?" I asked hopefully. I was hoping I'd get to listen to adults being reasonable again.

"NO," said Dad.

Instead, he called the insurance company and talked to the agent, who had also just received the letter. My father was firm from the outset, none of this man-to-man let's be reasonable nonsense. He made it clear that he was determined to take this to court if necessary.

The agent instantly and cheerfully agreed that with that sort of admission in writing (and in duplicate, no less) they had no choice but to pay out. The city councillor was a hundred percent in the wrong, and had admitted it. Nothing he said about whose fault he thought it was meant anything if he agreed about the facts. There was no argument.

This rather took the wind out of my father's sails, and after a pause, and with considerable dignity, he informed the agent how much it would cost to replace the broken glass on the rear light of the Ford Anglia. The agent laughed his head off. Finally my father's sense of the absurd kicked in and he started laughing, too.

"Well, that's all sorted out," he said, as he got off the phone. "No problem! They'll take care of it."

"That's good, Dad," I said. "And thanks for your help, and for showing me how to deal with it. So what's the lesson I'm supposed to have learned, again? I'm supposed to be reasonable, right?"

Dad thought about it, and the memory of his attempt at reasonableness caused him to go slightly pink.

"Well, I hope there isn't a next time," he said, finally. "But if there is, call the police right away."

My dad gave good advice. It sometimes took him a while to get there, though.

Monday, April 18, 2005


This morning at 7am the alarm clock went off.

"Beep" it said.

I was awake. I waited.

After a while it said,


It went quiet for a while.

"HEY!" I said, and picked up the clock. Its face told me nothing except the time, and we stared blankly at each other. I got up, went into the other room and checked the clock there. It was seven o'clock. I stared at my alarm clock, which told me blandly that it was indeed seven o'clock.

I frowned.

"Beep" it said again, somewhat apologetically.

It is supposed to say beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep and so on until it stops beeping and starts screaming. I changed the battery before semester started, just in case.

Now I know why I missed the alarm twice last week. My beeping alarm clock is broken!

Sunday, April 17, 2005


The cherry trees in the little park, which I posted pictures of last week, have almost finished blooming. The trees are turning green, and the pink is almost gone.

Now we have tulips instead. Tulips are very popular here, and I've been seeing them everywhere. It could be the timing that makes them so popular. Just as the cherry trees are losing their last blossoms the tulips come along to cheer us up with their bold, bright outlines. They're about as different from cherry blossoms as you can get, and perhaps that's the point.

They cheered me up, anyway. I was already feeling better than I was yesterday, but seeing the tulips gave me an extra boost, and I'm pretty much back to my normal self again, panicking cheerfully about tomorrow's classes, which I am in the process of preparing.

These pictures were taken at the entrance to the same little park.

Poor me

I am about to take some time out from my usual style. Apologies to those coming here expecting my usual silliness and optimism, but I'm in that rarest of states for me: a bad mood. A REALLY bad mood. I've been in it all day. I am iraira (irritable). I am iraira at everybody and everything. Everybody is stupid and unreasonable. Everything is stupid and unreasonable. Life is stupid and unreasonable and ridiculously tragic and unfair.

The Man has been out all day so I've been alone, trying to get stuff done for next week's classes and not succeeding because I'm too iraira to think straight or to concentrate. Being alone means that the only person around for me to get iraira at has been me, so I've been iraira at myself all day. I am stupid and unreasonable and I wish I'd just go away and leave me alone. I have been iraira at things, too. When I knocked over a cup in the sink I cursed it for being stupid and getting in my way. I told the frypan it was its own fault when I burnt it. I got angry at the computer when I spelled students' names wrong. Then I got iraira at students for having names with too many vowels in them. My typing fingers don't like it.

This is so unusual for me that I know it has to be connected with my physical condition. It almost always is. The connection between mood and physical condition has always been fairly clear to me, but was made explicit one time when The Man and I discovered during a massage one day that if he pressed down on my belly on a particular spot in a particular way I became instantly and deeply sorrowful. It was as if all the sufferings of the world suddenly descended on my shoulders, and I would weep from the unbearable sadness of life. It was all too much. Then he'd stop, and I'd be all cheerful and unreasonably sunny again within a few minutes. We experimented with this for a while because it was so interesting, but stopped when the acupuncturist told us it was dangerous.

But I have never taken moods seriously since then. If I feel sad or irritated or angry my first reaction is to start wondering if I've been eating and sleeping properly. If there is something valid for me to feel irritated or angry about, then I eat and sleep properly and see if I am still irritated or angry. Usually I'm not. Usually I can just deal with it and stay calm. Life is sad and difficult and and unfair and full of pain. I know that. It is the way things are. It doesn't mean I have to be sad and angry and irritated all the time, though. Nor do I need self-pity. We're all in the same leaky boat.

And, of course, I haven't been eating or sleeping properly, and the stomach virus didn't help. I've been WORKING. The first week of work is so damned hard I want to give up. I want to say, "THAT'S IT! I'VE HAD ENOUGH! I WANT A REASONABLE JOB!" Each class in itself has been fine, but there are just too many of them. I want to teach them well but how can I? I will do my best, of course, but just thinking about it makes me tired. Poor, poor me.

But I also know that in a couple of weeks I'll be back into the swing of things and my body will have adjusted to the demands I'm putting on it, and I'll become more sensible about food and sleep, and will cope with the demands of work, and the iraira feeling will vanish. It will probably vanish by tomorrow, after a good night's sleep.

It already receded a little when The Man came home, looked at my face, looked at the burnt frypan, gave me a cuddle, and said,

"Don't worry about it. I'll do it."

And he did. I am no longer iraira at the frypan.

So don't worry. I'll soon be back to my normal unreasonably cheerful self.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


The other day I was in the smoking room at one of my universities, and was chatting with a Japanese teacher. I wasn't sure if he was part-time or tenured. I was thinking, as we chatted, that giving up smoking would be a bad idea at this place, because they segregate the 'serious' academics (those with tenure, mostly Japanese) and the part-timers (the rest of us) so efficiently that we would never meet otherwise. Part-timers aren't supposed to be told stuff. We are not included. We never know what is going on. 'They' like it that way.

I wondered if this guy was tenured or not, and waited for an opportunity to find out without asking directly.

We were talking about our first week back at work. He asked me how many classes I had in a week.

"Seventeen," I said.

He actually jumped.

"Oh, that's a lot," he said.

"The first week is particularly hard," I answered. "It's a shock after the vacation. And how about you? How many classes do you have?"

He hesitated. Then he blushed. Then he started stammering. Then he started apologizing. It was obvious he had not expected this question, and it was equally obvious, before he even answered, that I was supposed to KNOW that he was tenured and that lowly untenured teachers are not supposed to ask questions like that. But he was too young to know how to fob me off with a fuzzy answer and I continued to look brightly interested and innocent.

"I'm very sorry, I feel bad about this, but, er, actually I have just four," he told me.

"Four?" I said. (I had four classes THAT DAY.)

I enthused about it. "How wonderful for you! It must be lovely to be able to teach properly, and have time to follow up on student progress and have office hours and check homework and so on. When I assign homework I lose whole weekends, and I have to be careful not to assign it to everybody at once. And I never feel that I'm giving them enough feedback. You must really enjoy your job."

He looked even more embarrassed, and added, hastily,

"But we have meetings, too! They use a lot of time. I spend at least six hours a week in meetings."

"I've heard about meetings," I said. "They sound pretty bad."

"Yes," he said. He was looking very thoughtful. There was a long pause, then he changed the subject.

"What do you think of the students here?" he asked me, and I grinned to myself. He can add, too! He spends six hours a week in the classroom and six in meetings. I spend twenty-seven hours a week in the classroom. He gets paid at the very least double what I do, and I know, from my students, that the Japanese professors very rarely set any homework at all (also from The Man, who graduated from that place, and who told me he doesn't remember ever getting homework). When I ask them about their professors' office hours they don't know what I'm talking about. One professor at that institution actually complained, OFFICIALLY, IN A MEETING, that a foreign (full-time) teacher had taught her students to ask their professors QUESTIONS (she is teaching intensive courses to prepare students for overseas study) and this was disrupting his classes. His students were now ASKING QUESTIONS. Oh, the horror! Oh, the indignation! He could not understand why she was not ashamed.

After my smoking room companion left I sat there a while longer, thinking. Was I feeling envious? Did I hate him?

I was surprised to discover that I did not hate him. He was a nice guy, and I enjoyed talking with him. I enjoyed making those comments about office hours and homework and feedback. I liked being able to insert little assumptions into the conversation that might make him think, and I liked him for looking thoughtful and for being embarrassed. And I really do dislike the idea of spending time in meetings, although I must admit I envy the four classes bit. What teacher wouldn't? (Not to mention the money and time to do research and job security and pension and health insurance and all that.) Imagine having office hours (imagine having an OFFICE!), and not spending the ten minutes between classes frantically trying to answer students' questions, organize photocopies, keep on top of class notes, prepare for the next class, and so on. Imagine having time to actually follow up on the individual problems they have. Imagine being able to sit and THINK sometimes, and get your head together!

But also, imagine having all that time and not really knowing how to use it properly, and having to deal with the petty jealousies and interdepartmental rivalries and so on. If he started assigning homework and giving feedback and having office hours and so on, the other professors would hate him, because he'd show them up.

Sometimes it's good to be on the outside looking in. It's good to be working for the students instead of for the institution. I wonder if it's possible - anywhere - to do both?

New tricks

I cannot believe it. I slept through the alarm AGAIN this morning. My tricky, cunning, LYING brain knew I would not be fooled by the 'just five more minutes' thing so soon after the last time, so it came up with a new trick. It climbed out my ear, shaped itself into a finger, turned off the alarm, climbed back into my head, and turned on some really interesting dreams. It was a fabulous trick. I did not wake up.

The Man woke me up instead, half an hour later. "It's six o'clock," he said. "Aren't you supposed to be getting up?"

I did the levitating thing again.

"I'M SUPPOSED TO BE ON THE 6.33 TRAIN!" I shouted, and he cringed.

I got that train. AND I got a seat. I win!

Getting a stomach virus in your first week back at work is NOT a good idea, I've decided. It makes you even tireder than you'd normally be in your first week back at work (which is PRETTY DAMNED TIRED, in case I hadn't mentioned it before).

On the way home today a colleague and I were sitting waiting for the train. A large woman sitting near us was hitting herself in the face repeatedly. She obviously had some sort of mental problem, and the hitting was hard and looked quite painful.

This reminded me of a joke, which was very insensitive of me, I know. (I was going to insert an excuse for my insensitivity there, but I'm too tired to bother.)

"Did I ever tell you the joke about why Roman Catholics are so glad Jesus Christ was crucified?" I asked my colleague.

"No," she said, looking expectant. (She was brought up RC.)

"Oh. Well, I've just realized I can't tell you right now either, because it's one of those jokes you have to DO, and it would look as though I was mocking that woman," I said.

We sat for a moment in silence. We were both exhausted.

Then I had a thought.

"No, wait - she can HELP me tell the joke," I said. "It will be less painful for me."

(Politically correct people should stop reading now.)

"It goes like this," I said. "Roman Catholics are pleased that Jesus was crucified because they get to do this."

I made the sign of the cross, and my friend looked puzzled.

"You see, if he'd been stoned," I said, "they'd have to do that."

I nodded towards the woman, who was still hitting herself in the face vigorously.

I almost wish this hadn't worked quite as well as it did. I am still feeling guilty for using a mentally disturbed person as a joke prop.

(However, because it worked so well I would probably do it again. It was worth it to see my tired friend laugh, and besides, how often do you get an opportunity like THAT?)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Imaginary woman

Just got home (around 8pm), no dinner yet, have to be up again at 5.30 am. No time to write, so instead I'll show you something I came across yesterday.

What really annoys me about this picture is the caption.

Actor Rowan Atkinson arrives for the blessing after the civil wedding... blah blah blah.


Come to think of it, I'm feeling rather imaginary myself at the moment. All I've eaten today is a piece of toast, a banana, and a yoghurt. But my digestive system seem to have settled down with the help of the good doctor's medicine, so I think I'll risk dinner.

I wonder how long I'll be able to survive this year's Thursday/Friday schedule?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

More cherry blossoms

Alongside the little river, the cherry blossoms are still looking good today.

They are past their best, though, and are shedding petals, which are falling into the river.

Nearer home, in a little park, I stopped to enjoy the trees there, too. They are also past their best. From a distance they still look good.

But closer up you can see the green coming through. This has its own beauty.

The ground under the trees is covered in petals.

I watched the children for a while. They were gathering fallen petals. "How Japanese!" I thought. "Even so young they are already developing the delicate appreciation for the beauties of nature the Japanese are famous for."1 Then I noticed what they were doing with the petals.

They were making mud-and-petal pie. The girl in red was the boss cook. She was ordering the others off to gather petals for her, and then stirring them into the revolting goop in the tin.

I wonder if there will be any cherry blossoms left by next Monday, when I pass this park again?

1. Yes, even when I'm alone I have the occasional attack of sarcasm. This particular attack was brought on by the fact that when I was trying to get a picture of the trees by the river I had to choose my spot carefully to avoid also photographing a floating plastic bag or other piece of rubbish.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Babbling green teacher

The Fates have apparently decided to punish me for going on about what a wonderful day I had yesterday. Today was a trial.

It started badly when the alarm went off and my tricky, cunning, LYING brain told me, very convincingly, that another five minutes wouldn't hurt. I believed this for an entire hour. Then I levitated out of bed and went straight into high speed, not slowing down until my second class. This means that my first students of the day have been introduced to a new, entirely baffling, and probably frightening teacher. I was awful. They sat there blankly for ninety minutes while I babbled at them.

My day ended, three only slightly less horrible classes later (less horrible for the students, that is), with a visit to the doctor. Matters had getting worse all afternoon and were fairly hair-raising by the last class, and I told him why.

He was delighted with me. I've done it again. I've got what everybody else is getting.


"Oh," I said, weakly. I felt pathetic. I belched dangerously.


"Can I drink tea?" I asked. I didn't really have the energy for it, but felt compelled to go through the usual routine.


He gave me something to stop the nausea and something else to stop the diarrhea, and told me to call in sick tomorrow.

I won't, of course. Tomorrow I have only one class in the afternoon anyway, nearby, so I might as well do it (truncated) rather than go through the hassle of cancelling and all the red tape it would involve for a first day class. That one place is usually good about sick days, but first days are particularly tricky and it's more trouble than it's worth.

Cancelling first day classes at my Thursday/Friday job (my busiest days) would be professional suicide, and I won't do that, either. My boss would never forgive me, and never let me forget it. I would rather endure two days of feeling like crap than a year of him constantly reminding me how much trouble I caused him. (With a bit of luck I'll pass the virus on to him.)

"Does this thing last very long?" I asked the doctor.

"OH NO. NO NO NO!" he replied. "NOT LONG!"

But he has given me three days' worth of medicine. I suppose if the worst comes to the worst I'll be able to get by with taking that and not eating during the day until the weekend.

The last time I had something similar it was LAST days of semester. They are just as tricky to cancel as first days. But at least this time I got to the doctor more quickly, so I'm hoping it won't be quite so devastating.

The medicine seems to be working. I think it's safe to go to bed.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Cherry blossoms

Yesterday at a small local park the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.

And despite the rain and wind and the temporary return to end-of-winter weather last night, the trees down by a little river near where I work were still holding out today.

Repeat after me

First day back at work, and at the most erratically organised place. I prepared enough copies for a possible 40 students for the first class, just in case. (I have ended up with more in the past, but if that happened I felt I'd be justified in taking time out and going down three flights of stairs - slooowly - to make more copies.) I prepared introductory materials that would suit every level from beginner to quite good. I was expecting beginner, because this was the 'public speaking' class, and I assumed I'd be getting my colleague's students from the 'speech communication' class last year. They were quite low level, she told me.

I didn't get any students who had taken her class. (Students are recommended to take certain classes in order, but often don't, and there are no prerequisites.) And not only that, I got only seven students, of whom two were there to audit the class and not to gain credit. And they were all very high level. I didn't even know we HAD such high level students at that place.

What fun! We are going to have a ball.

For the second class I got low level students, all Chinese, all majoring in Japanese language education. And again, only seven.

For the third class I had six. Again they were all similar levels, and this time they are all 'Health' majors, and all Japanese.

I am over the moon about this, and don't even mind having so many copies left over. This is the place where I'm likely to have 30 students of widely varying levels. I can't believe these class numbers! It's unheard of to get three in a row like this! The other teachers have not been as lucky. (And I should wait a couple of weeks to celebrate, really, because they can still join until three weeks in, I think.)

But so far, the only real problem I can see is one Chinese student who doesn't speak any English at all, and only vaguely knows the alphabet. Her friends looked at the textbook and suggested that she try the level I class (instead of the level II she wanted to join with them). Her face fell. One of the other students told me confidentially that she should be in a low level class, really, because she has 'no education.'

I told them to wait a moment while I went to check it out. These 'levels' don't mean very much when there are no prerequisites.

I walked down the corridor to where I knew my colleague was teaching level I. As I approached the classroom I could hear uproar. I knocked, and peeked around the door. My colleague was waving her arms and laughing over the noise and was looking happier than I've ever seen her. She had about 20 very exuberant students. Some were shouting in English and some were shouting in Japanese.

I explained the problem, and added quickly that I could already see that her class was not a suitable environment for my shy, anxious Chinese student, and that I would keep her. She agreed. She told me she'd got a wonderfully energetic bunch of students and she was happy. I could see that.

I went back and told my student she could stay, and she almost wept with relief. She LIKED being with her friends. She promised fervently that she would study REALLY hard and try to catch up. Her friends coached her to say it in English.

"I will study really hard!" one of them said. "Repeat after me!"

She listened carefully and turned to me.


It has been a good first day.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Filling in forms

Classes start this week. In fact, tomorrow. Morning. My brain is right now clicking into gear and starting to worry about first impressions (which I have learned are so important for evaluations later). And I am busily revising my first class plans from last semester. (Well, I was, until I started writing this.)

Today I cleaned up my desk a little, and found three (THREE!) unopened envelopes from two schools. I opened them, and discovered paperwork that should have been sent back by March 3rd and March 31st. I filled them in myself and posted them. Usually I plead ignorance and ask The Man to do stuff like this for me (I hate filling in forms in Japanese, and pleading ignorance usually works) but I didn't dare ask him because then he'd find out that I hadn't even opened the envelopes. He is as messy a person as I am, but when it comes to getting stuff in on time he is fanatical. "DON'T GIVE THEM ANY EXCUSE TO TREAT YOU BADLY!" he says, and of course he is right. (Badaunt hangs head in shame.)

Speaking of filling in Japanese forms, though, The Man, when he does stuff like this for me, does something really, really irritating. I don't want to fill them in because it takes me so long and because my written Japanese is so awful. When I fill in a form in Japanese it looks like it was painstakingly filled in by a poorly educated child. So what does The Man do?

He fills the forms in using deliberately bad Japanese, written as if by a poorly educated child.

He takes great delight in doing this, too. I see him writing away slowly, clenching the pen awkwardly and looking evilly gleeful, and when I look over his shoulder I see the horrible Kanji and Kana and go apeshit. "WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?" I shout. "THEY'LL THINK I'M AN IDIOT!"

"Doesn't it look like a gaijin wrote it?" he asks innocently. "They'll think you're making a real effort to use Japanese, and they'll be SO impressed!"

I am not impressed by this argument. It still beats having to fill in the forms myself (in which case I am the one clenching the pen and holding my tongue just so, and not on purpose). But it annoys me enormously that he finds it necessary (and funny) to fill them in badly. After all, the main reason for getting him to fill them in for me is so that nobody will notice how illiterate I am.

Well... perhaps not. I may as well be honest, since he never reads this. The main reason for getting him to fill in my forms is that I loathe filling in forms, in any language, and being bad at writing Japanese gives me a brilliant excuse not to.

Leech in nose

This story might make you worry the next time you get a bleeding nose.

Doesn't salt make leeches let go? Shouldn't they have packed her nostrils with salt?

It's possible that I have mixed up the tips I learned from adventure stories as a child. Maybe it was fire for leeches, and salt for something else. And I don't suppose fire would be very practical.


Why is gall so often unmitigated? Also, do you think it makes French people mad that when you do a Google search on "unmitigated Gaul" you get 674 hits? Or do you think it might make them happy?


Last night in Osaka while The Man and I were negotiating the crowds near the train station, a space opened up magically ahead of a large man in a business suit walking very fast and humming loudly and aggressively like an oversized beehive while waving his arms. The Man and I looked at each other and grinned.

"Some people go a bit crazy in spring," said The Man.

"Really? Spring causes it?" I asked.

"Yes. Haven't you noticed?"

"Well... I saw the Barking Boy coming out of a noodle shop yesterday laughing, and I've never seen him laugh before."

"Because it's spring," The Man said.

"But he was also carrying a one-cup sake in his hand," I said. "And anyway, is laughing more or less crazy than barking?"

"More, if you're a Barking Boy and barking is what you usually do," he said. "But think of Ms Okashi,1 for instance."

I thought about our old friend. Was she especially crazy in spring? Wasn't she crazy most of the time?

"Was it spring when she bought herself a wheelchair so she could practice for when she's old?" I asked.

"Must have been," he said.

"But doesn't she try to give us weird gifts at any time? I mean, I don't remember it being particularly in spring," I said.

"It's mostly in spring. She is extra crazy in spring," The Man asserted.

I hadn't noticed that.

The humming man's waving arms disappeared into the crowds ahead of us, and I continued to wonder about the spring-crazy connection. Do some people really go crazy in spring? Do I, maybe? Is this one of those things you don't notice when you're doing it yourself?

This morning the phone rang very early. It was a takubin (delivery) guy, wanting to deliver a large carton. Ms Okashi has sent us several large bottles of extremely expensive sake. She knows that neither of us drinks sake, but I guess spring made her forget.

The cherry blossoms were lovely today over in the park on the other side of the station. I'll try to take some pictures tomorrow. Spring may make the less stable of our friends a little crazy, but there are compensations.

1. Not her real name.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Creative spelling

I wonder how long they're going to leave this uncorrected?

An American tourist had died from the injuries sustained during Thursday's bombing blast in a Cairo bizarre popular with foreigners.

They even got it wrong twice in the same story:

In the meantime, the U.S. Embassy in Egypt warned Americans to stay away from the Khan al-Khalili bizarre and to use caution throughout Cairo.

(Can you tell I'm getting back into teacher mode?)

Pronunciation problems

Last Tuesday, when I met my friends (we usually meet on Tuesdays), the topic somehow came up about how there are various words we know but don't know how to pronounce, having seen them in writing but never heard them spoken. We were talking about how this can be a trap in Japan, if you've been here too long and don't hear much 'native' English spoken.

For me it is even more of a trap. I grew up without TV or radio, and liked to read (although I was supposed to grow up without books as well - I found ways around THAT one, believe me). Then I had five or six years when I watched TV all the time, and then I came to Japan and pretty soon was never watching it, because local TV is such rubbish (and anyway it was Japanese, not English). And then we got cable, with such wonderful things as BBC World and Discovery and Fox and so on, but I was out of the habit by then and it was too late. (Where do people find the TIME to watch TV? I don't understand it.)

Anyway, in the course of this conversation one of my friends happened to mention that she had been mispronouncing impious for years.

"Really?" I said. "What does it mean?"

And then I thought about it and realised what it meant and said, "REALLY? IS THAT HOW YOU PRONOUNCE IT? YOU'RE NOT MAKING IT UP?"

I had no idea! I'd always pronounced it more or less like impiety, only with a different ending! Thank goodness it's not a word my students have ever asked me how to pronounce.



(Both of the above links have audio.)

But at least I knew the pronunciation of indict when my students challenged me on it. Their professor had told them that 'most Americans' didn't know how to pronounce it. I pronounced it perfectly, smugly informed them that I was not American (they were SHOCKED), and immediately felt guilty for perpetrating the stereotype. I am now taking this opportunity to apologize to all Americans who know how to pronounce indict, and to rap the knuckles of every Kiwi who doesn't.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Incredible Popeman

I LOVE the idea of green chastity pants. I'm with Vile File on this one. I think every priest should wear them. They don't even have to be green.

Murdered music

(Old news, but new to me.)

What happens when an audio dictionary meets a karoake machine?

You get to learn English the FUN WAY!

Before you complain about how they have murdered your favourite songs for money, read the press release:

The hilarious material has been spreading rapidly over the Internet and is beginning to receive radio play across the country. The artists involved in the project have no intention of profiting from this however, and encourage anyone to copy their work freely. "We just find it intensely amusing. You just can't help but laugh hearing the singing dictionary perform your favorite songs, enunciating every word with perfect clarity", commented one participant. All in all, Dictionaraoke is a unique musical endeavor and a very entertaining website which may force you to adjust your definition of music.
However, I recommend that you do NOT choose to listen to a song you are fond of. I used to rather like the Beatles "Michelle," but now I have a horrible feeling that Mish. Elle is stuck in my brain and I will never be able to hear the song again without giggling.


I'm not looking forward to classes starting. I know I will get back into the flow within a couple of weeks, but the first semester is so loooong, it goes on forever, and I've been reading the blogs of people who work in offices.

Sometimes I miss working in an office. I miss the relative predictability of it all. I worked in an office for a few years after I left school, and there's something about getting up in the morning and knowing what the day will bring that is sort of comforting. Of course there were surprises, but not as MANY surprises as there are in the classroom. And you don't have to be totally alert all the time. You can stare into space with a thoughtful expression, and as long as you have a bit of paper in your hand nobody will think twice about it, or know that your mind has gone completely blank. Zen moments are allowed. You can go to the toilet when you need to (and so don't end up with concretised bowels), and when you come back your desk will be as you left it. You will not come back to chaos and uproar and some clown spinning in your chair and imitating you by waving his arms around and shouting "SHUT UP!" (Note: I never shout "SHUT UP!" but they still make it sound pretty much the way I would shout it if I did.) The people you work with might be wonderful or idiots, but at least if they're idiots they're idiots in ways you can learn to deal with. In a classroom you never know what new idiot is going to be sprung on you with no notice. In an office you do not get some girl suddenly deciding to take off her hairpiece during class so that you glance up and see that one of your students is apparently TAKING OFF HER HEAD, which gives you nightmares for weeks. You do not get 20-year-old students asking if they can borrow a pencil, and oh, some paper, because they forgot to bring any. You do not have to deal with obstructive office staff.

Well, yes, you do have to deal with obstructive office staff. I seem to be getting carried away. Sorry.

I do love my job, actually. It's just that classes start on Monday, and the first week is always rather fraught, and it's bringing on a bout of nostalgia for simpler days.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Coconut in a hurry

The octopus is a surprising creature. This is weird. And funny. And charming.

From there you can find another one here, which is equally surprising, and quite different from the first one.

Thanks for this to Clive Thompson at Collision Detection, where he noted: If these things ever develop opposable thumbs we are, clearly, screwed.

(I reckon if these things ever develop opposable thumbs we'll have to provide them with dress-up boxes and costume jewelry.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Let's get cynical

Last night I told a friend/colleague about her reputation at a place where we both work. The secretary there, who is new and young and hasn't yet developed the primary requirements of a 'good' secretary ('good' according to the school, that is) is friendly and talkative and actually tells me things. (Our old secretary there strenuously resisted telling us anything.1) The new secretary told me that my friend has a reputation for being really strict, and students dread her classes but also admit they learn more from her than they do from any other teacher there.

I envy her this reputation. My student evaluations are a little higher than average, and this makes me nervous. I have always suspected that when students evaluate us they give us higher marks for being soft and having easy classes.

Today I was sent a link to confirmation of this theory.

Although student-generated numerical evaluation forms (or SNEFs) are often used to determine whether an instructor is a bad, good, or excellent teacher, these forms, many experts contend, rarely, if ever, provide accurate assessments of instruction.
This does not surprise me. But it gets worse:

Ironically, some experimental studies revealed an inverse relationship between evaluation ratings and student learning.
All teachers should read this article. There is advice for how you can go about improving your evaluations without increasing your workload, and quite a few other interesting tidbits in there. One particularly scary tidbit is the information that the first impression a teacher makes is extremely important.

According to Drew Weston, who summarizes these studies in Psychology: Mind, Brain & Culture (1996), "the correlations between initial nonverbal ratings [the videotapes of instructors that students had seen were silent] and eventual student evaluations are as near perfect as one finds in psychology"
How about that, eh? Walk into the classroom and whoops! your student evaluation scores are pretty well settled before you even open your mouth.

To improve your evaluation scores, you are going to have to accept the fact that college 'teaching' has less to do with knowledge and information and more with convincing students you are one hell of a lecturer, even when spouting nonsense. It's not what you communicate, but how.
All this makes me wonder: WHY DO WE EVEN BOTHER?

(Classes start next week. Evaluations from last semester arrived a couple of weeks ago. I'm feeling cynical.)

1 I once had a struggle with the old secretary trying to find out where the information was about the timetable of the new semester, which she had apparently hidden. She denied all knowledge at first, but finally relented and told me the date classes started. I noted it in my diary, turned up on the prescribed date and found I was a week early. She thought this was a hilarious 'mistake' on my part. We had a good laugh and I complimented her ambiguously on her new hairstyle. Then I told her how wonderful it was to have an unexpected day off, thanked her for her help, and left her looking rather confused. I NOW KNOW WHERE TO LOOK FOR THE INFORMATION MYSELF.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Two things

Today I went to visit a friend, and learned two things.

The first thing I learned was that I have been in Japan too long. I got up rather late (classes start NEXT week) but still somehow managed to run late. The plan was for me to pretend to be a computer expert, and 'fix' my friend's computer. (This means doing a few routine things that astonish her because she knows even less than I do.) Somehow I still hadn't had breakfast when I left the house at around 2pm, and popped into a bakery on the way and bought something to eat, thinking I'd eat it on the train or on the platform while I was waiting for the train.

As I walked down to the platform the train arrived, I got on, and discovered I couldn't eat my breakfast.

That was the first discovery. I have been in Japan long enough to remember a time when eating on the train was such horribly bad manners that you just didn't do it. (Unless it is a long distance train, of course, in which case you bring enough food to keep an army on the march for a week and start eating before the train even leaves the platform. But I was not on a long distance train.)

I sat with my breakfast in a bag on my lap and pondered the situation. Something was stopping me from opening the bag, although I could smell the freshly baked bread roll and it was making me feel faint. I could wait, I decided. I would eat it when I got to my friend's place.

Meanwhile, a couple of teenagers sitting opposite me opened a box of Pocky, a packet of pastries, a bag of chips, and a couple of soft drinks, and started munching on their picnic. Disgusting! muttered the middle-aged Japanese person who had taken up residence inside my head sometime in the last ten years when I wasn't looking. How rude!

Eating on the platform would have been all right if it wasn't crowded and if I was discreet about it. But eating on the train? What sort of person do you think I AM?

The second thing I discovered is that when you're showing a friend how to use something on her computer it's the simplest things that make the biggest impression. I was walking her through something 1 and she had several windows open. I told her to close the windows. She started closing them one by one.

"COMMAND-OPTION-W," I shouted. (You can grow old watching a mouse-clicker close windows.)

She complied, and the windows all vanished. "EH?" she said. "What was that again? Tell me!" and wrote it down in her little notebook.

Does knowing keyboard shortcuts make you a geek? I always thought there was a bit more to it than that.

1. Nothing complicated. I learned everything I know from Mac For Dummies circa 1994, and she is also still on OS 9.


Daryl Sng has done it again. I don't know how he finds these things, but the first thing I thought when I saw this was that it looks a LOT like the horns on those steers (see previous post). It's the curliness. And the size.

There are more here, and they are truly wondrous. If I were a man I'd try to grow one of those. As it is, however, I can only manage one very wiry hair occasionally. In fact it's so wiry I always have a moment of doubt just before I pull it out, and wonder if it's there for a purpose. So far, however, my chin has not dropped off.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Horned beasts

This has to be the weirdest-looking cow I've ever seen.

(Courtesy of Mr Sun, who made a rude joke out of it so OF COURSE I clicked the link.)

This reminds me of the time my father decided that hand-rearing bobby calves (calves less than 6 weeks old, often of milking stock) was a good money-making scheme. They would be castrated, dehorned, and raised as steers on the farm. Later they could be sold for more than they would have made as calves. (I think there was some sort of government subsidy scheme in place that guaranteed a profit.)

But we had to hand-feed them until they were weaned, in the back yard of our house in town. The idea was to raise two to four at a time, and gradually build up a small herd.

Have you ever tried to teach a calf to drink milk from a bucket? It's fantastically wasteful. They want to feed with their heads up, and so you have to train them to put their heads down. You dip your hand in the milk, let them suck your fingers, and gradually lower your hand into the bucket. Then the calf suddenly nudges the bucket violently and the whole thing tips over, knocking you over in the process and covering you with milk. It doesn't matter how tightly you grip the bucket, unless you're very quick this is almost impossible to prevent from happening. We wasted a lot of milk, but taught them to drink eventually.

When they were starting to eat grass, my father remembered a law that allowed farmers to graze livestock on the verges of country roads as long as they didn't interfere with traffic. Our house was on the edge of town, and the other side of the road was 'country.' So we trained the calves to wear halters, and started tying them to stakes at the side of the road. At lunchtime one of us would bicycle from school to move them to a new patch of grass.

The calves attracted a lot of attention from passers-by, particularly because they were so friendly, and eventually we had a call from a local primary school asking if teachers could bring kids to visit the bobby calves. Dad agreed, of course, and gave instructions about how the calves were to be treated. From then on a succession of calves got used to fame, as they had their stint by the side of the road entertaining and educating crowds of children, until they (the calves, not the children) were big enough to be transported down to the farm.

While all this was going on my father had been doing more research. The dehorning thing had been worrying him a lot. The process was, he thought, far too cruel. (Calves bleed when they're dehorned. You have to cut into living tissue.) He hated the process, and was delighted to learn about a revolutionary new dehorning method that was supposed to be painless, using (if I remember rightly) acid. He prepared the required chemical mixture (don't ask me what) and applied it religiously. He was very pleased when the calves appeared to be suffering no pain from this treatment.

About the time the last lot of bobby calves went down to the farm, I left home, and while I visited the house a couple of times, I didn't make it to the farm for about a year.

When I finally did visit, passing through on my drive back, my father was there working on something, and we chatted a bit. Before I left I asked him if the bobby calves were still around, and he told me they were over in the river paddock.

"Are they still friendly?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," he answered. "Very friendly!" He laughed. (I should have taken note of that laugh.)

I went over to the river paddock but couldn't see them at first. They were down by the willows next to the river. But when I called, they came, in that slow, lumbering way cattle have, and I walked to the middle of the paddock to meet them. There were about 14 or 16 of them.

The first thing I noticed was that they all had enormously long, curving horns.

The second thing I noticed was that they had become very, very large. I couldn't quite believe that these were the little calves we'd hand-reared.

But they were definitely the same ones. They hadn't forgotten anything. I stopped, unsure whether or not I really wanted to get that close to those horns, but they weren't having any of that. They wanted to meet me. They were PLEASED. They had a VISITOR. Perhaps they remembered their short-lived fame, and had been dreaming of visitors. I'd never seen cattle being enthusiastic before. They positively gallivanted the last few meters, and it was terrifying. Their hooves thundered. They tossed their heads happily. (They tossed their long, curving horns happily.) They looked ridiculous, and also quite scary.

I stood very still and they gathered around me. I tentatively held out a hand, and one of them gave it a nibble with its soft lips. You could see it remembering what the hand was all about, and the next thing I knew my arm had disappeared up to the elbow and great gobs of saliva were streaming down to my armpit as it sucked vigorously. It was the most disgusting thing you can imagine. Steers have very stringy, green saliva, I discovered, and a lot of it.

I extracted my hand and tried patting necks, instead. But they remembered the little head-butting games we used to play and decided they wanted to do that instead. I'd forgotten that one, and it had become a lot more dangerous in the last year. One of them shook its head playfully. I eyed the horns and decided it was time to beat a dignified retreat. I turned and started to walk back to the gate, which suddenly seemed a long way off.

They all followed. I could hear their breathing. I turned, and they were RIGHT AT MY SHOULDER. I walked a bit faster, and so did they. One got so close it was drooling down the back of my neck, and I could feel its hot breath.

I abandoned dignity and broke into a run.

So did they.

As I ran, I thought, But they're FRIENDLY! They LIKE people! Why am I running away from the friendliest steers in the WORLD?

Then I turned and looked behind me and understood exactly why I was running. They were SO eager to cooperate in the new chasing game. They were lumbering along and drooling and tossing their heads and clearly having the time of their lives. They were also a lot faster than I imagined such large beasts to be. They seemed to enjoy exercise more than cattle usually do. In my panic I was pretty sure I could feel the ground shaking. Their breathing got heavier.

I made it to the gate and didn't bother to open it. I leaped it, falling to the other side.

With the gate between us I felt safe again, and turned to face them. They crowded up against the gate, sides heaving, and reached their heads towards me. I didn't know cattle could look happy, but these guys did. They were so keen to get close to their fascinating visitor that they were nudging and shoving each other out of the way. I risked another arm mauling and allowed one of them to suck my already sticky arm. Then I decided I'd had enough, and went back to the cottage to wash.

Then I went to find my father, to confront him. I was still feeling a bit indignant about the horns.

"What happened with your revolutionary new dehorning method?" I demanded. "You could have warned me!"

"Oh, that," he said, laughing embarrassedly. "I thought you knew. It didn't work."

"I noticed," I said. "But couldn't you have chopped them off anyway, using the conventional method?"

"Well, by the time I noticed it was a bit late," he admitted. "And it would have hurt them even more than if it'd been done when they were younger. So I decided to just leave it. After all, they are friendly."

"Oh, yes, VERY friendly," I said sarcastically.

"I'll bet they were pleased to see you, though!" he said, a little defensively. "And they're harmless. They wouldn't eat you or anything."

"No, they just tried to drown me in saliva," I said "And then they wanted to butt heads."

They don't know their own strength," he said. Then he started laughing, and told me a little story. I think he was trying to distract me, and it worked.

"They got out one time, and the neighbour called town to tell me he couldn't get them back in again. He tried to herd them with the motorbike, but they ignored it."

"I can imagine," I said, and started laughing. (The neighbour was a REALLY BIG TOUGH guy.)

"Well, yes, I don't suppose it was very funny for him, really," he said. "But he said when he revved the engine they just came closer and sucked the handlebars and made them all gooey. They got used to traffic when they were tied up by the road, remember?" He looked reflective. "You know, the neighbour was quite angry with me at first."

"So what did you do?" I asked.

"Oh, it was easily sorted out," said Dad. "I just told him to drive through the gate and they'd follow, and they did. He called back later and said it was the strangest cattle management system he'd ever encountered. He seemed to have calmed down a bit by then. In fact he still visits them sometimes. He takes townie visitors over when he wants to give them a bit of a fright."

"I'm sure it's very effective," I said. "So when are you going to sell them, anyway? They must be about ready by now. I remember you said about a year."

"Oh, er... soon, I suppose," said my father. "Well, better get back to work!"

A year later the friendly cattle were still there. They had been joined by a small deformed goat that should have been put down because she was useless for breeding (not a horrible deformity; she had extra nipples). Dad had decided that she was a nice little creature, and why should she be put down? There was plenty of room on the farm. (Sometimes I wondered if my father was really cut out to be a farmer. He lacked the necessary ruthlessness.) The little goat had made friends with the cattle and bossed them around relentlessly. They were loving it. You could tell. Sometimes they grazed together peacefully, but other times the steers would lumber after the goat, tossing their heads, and she'd dance gracefully around their feet making them all confused and hilarious.

Dad shook his head at the sight. "Their meat will be far too tough," he sighed. "They get too much exercise. Better not sell them off just yet."

I don't know what happened to those steers in the end. I suppose they were sold off after my father died. I never asked. But I imagine they went to their deaths willingly. They'd ridden in trucks before. They weren't afraid of machinery, or people. A man with a stun gun in his hand would have been a welcome sight to those foolish beasts. Ooh! A new friend! Can I suck your hand?

I like to think that whoever eventually ate our steers had an inexplicable bout of happiness right after dinner.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

New links

Some of you may have noticed that I have added three 'Working in Japan' links to the sidebar. Two of these are ones I've had bookmarked for a while, and the other, Footprint Recruiting, is courtesy of Alan Zachary Brinker in Taiwan (whose blog is engrossing, by the way). It looks like a good resource. Thanks, Alan!


On Friday The Man and I were in Osaka, and went into Seijoishii to get some spices. While we were wandering around the aisles looking at what was on display, The Man said, "Hmm. Golden Syrup. I wonder what that is?" and I snatched the bottle out of his hands.


He looked startled.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because... er... because my Edmond's Cookbook is unusable without Golden Syrup," I said. "How can I make gingernuts?"

He looked at me sideways and said nothing, but I could see he was thinking, What are gingernuts?

Tonight I decided to make gingernuts.

Cream the butter, sugar, and Golden Syrup, said the recipe, and I did. It's a long time since I did any baking, and my arm was tired when I'd finished. I licked my fingers. Then I accidentally stuck my finger in the mix and licked it again. A couple more times, actually.

Then I followed the rest of the recipe, not forgetting to add extra ginger powder the way my mother used to.

I got the oven going. This took a while, as we don't use the oven very often and it is old and temperamental. (And small. Let's not forget small.) This involves turning the timer and temperature knobs around to the setting you want, then holding down two levers while holding the door open, listening to the gas hiss in the back of the oven, closing the oven door, waiting a little while, then letting the levers go and standing well back. This starts the fan in the back, and after the fan whirs for a while there is a click and theoretically there is a whump! and the gas lights.

I say theoretically because this doesn't usually work until you have followed the procedure four or five times. By the fourth or fifth time you are so nervous you let the levers go and make a dash for the door, expecting the kitchen to blow up. So far this hasn't happened, but the whump! is sometimes worryingly loud.

Eventually I got the oven going, and it took about five minutes to heat up to the desired temperature (about 10 degrees C less than the recipe said, because I know our oven is HOT). I put the two trays in the oven, and sat down to wait the desired 20 to 25 minutes. After 15 minutes I couldn't resist looking to see what they were doing. They were starting to burn already, so I took them out. Then I burned my finger as I was putting them onto a rack to cool.

Finally they were ready. They looked JUST LIKE the ones mother used to make. I made a cup of tea, sat down, and helped myself.

What a crashing disappointment! They had no ginger taste at all. This puzzled me until I checked the ginger powder jar, and noticed the expiry date on it: 27 January 2001. I knew we hardly ever used ginger powder (we use fresh a lot, but not powder), but I hadn't realised it had been QUITE that long.

I'm looking on this as a learning experience. The next time I make gingernuts I will know to use FRESH ginger powder. I think they could have been quite good if they'd actually had a ginger flavour.

The Man can't understand what all the fuss is about.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Gearing up, nearly

One of our friends is terribly stressed at the moment. This is because the week after next he is going to start a new job. He will be a university professor.

He is qualified, but has no teacher training (there never is for university professors, and isn't that stupid?) and it is not his original job. He is a (very successful) self-employed businessman. His leap into the academic world is a new direction for him. He is knowledgeable, clever, and naturally a good teacher (he is the person I proofread the paper for, so I know how good a teacher he is), and he is suffering from starting-a-new-job nerves.

I emailed to tell him he has nothing to worry about, but I don't expect it will help. In the first two or three years of teaching the first classes of semester are always nerve-wracking. You over-prepare like mad, have horrible paranoid dreams, and turn up on the first day exhausted because the night before you sleep badly. You lie awake with your eyes wide open in the darkness, staring at the invisible ceiling. You eyes just WILL NOT CLOSE. They are fixed open, as if they've been glued. When you try to close them they pop wide open again. You know you are wearing an expression of horror. You keep going over in your mind all the plans you have made, and finding problems with all of them. When you finally get a few minutes of sleep, you are visited by dreams of standing in front of a new class, opening your mouth and having no sound come out. You look down and discover that you are dressed perfectly from the waist up but are wearing nothing below the waist. You wake again, sweating, and do the staring at the ceiling thing until your eyes dry up and you have to remind yourself to blink.

The next day you walk to the classroom with huge bags under your eyes. You stomach does a little flip as you walk into the class, and you take a deep breath. You greet the class and nobody responds. You stomach does a BIG flip-flop, and you are convinced that the students all hate you already. But after that everything goes just fine, or at least good enough. You discover that you have prepared ten times as much as you needed to and now have about 300 spare photocopied handouts.

Fast forward a few years and you become an experienced teacher.

You forget exactly when the first day of classes is, and when you finally think to check your calendar you discover that it is NEXT WEEK! OH MY GOD THE VACATION WENT SO FAST! AND I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING I INTENDED TO DO! Then you forget about it again for a few days. Two days before classes are due to start you realize you must do SOMETHING, so you check your teaching notes to see what you did last semester. Fortunately you are now experienced enough that when you made your notes you also noted what didn't work very well, and what needed tweaking. You sit down and type in a few amendments to last semester's handouts for the first class, and print them out.

When you walk into your first class your stomach turns over. You remember that this always happens, take a deep breath, and greet the class. Nobody replies, because nobody ever does. If they are first year students they are frightened out of their wits, and stare at you blankly. (If they are second year or higher they are still chatting with each other at full volume and didn't notice you entering the room.)

You remember that you have to be stern in the first class, otherwise they'll walk all over you for the rest of semester. You are stern, and don't smile AT ALL. But then halfway through the class you realize that you don't have enough material to get you through fifty minutes, let alone ninety. What did I do last semester? you wonder, and suddenly remember that you had this problem last semester, too, but forgot to note it. Your brain flips into triple speed, and you make up a couple of introductory activities on the spot which work so brilliantly you end up not only smiling but laughing. The students have relaxed so much they have started being funny already, and you are going to have endless problems later when you need them to take you seriously. You still finish ten minutes early but decide that nobody will notice. On your way out of the classroom, having started off exactly the way you intended not to, you bump into your boss, who looks at his watch and frowns but says nothing.

By the end of the day you are exhausted.

By the end of the week you need another vacation. You have met 500 new students. You have class lists to type up over the weekend, and 18 lessons to plan if you didn't do them at the end of each day. You know that next week a few of the students will not appear again because they were in the wrong class, or couldn't wake up that early two weeks running, and you'll have five or six new students who 'forgot' semester started last week or who couldn't find the classroom. You make a note to remember to put aside fifteen minutes to tell them the course requirements again the second week, and to have extra photocopies. You type up the class lists despite knowing they'll be wrong, but you know that next week will be even busier and it's quicker to amend lists than to type them up from scratch. You won't have energy for that next week. (And the official lists won't arrive until six weeks into semester.)

The problem with being an experienced teacher is that procrastinating becomes so much easier. I envy our friend, who is hopelessly over-prepared and stressed out. He probably has the entire semester planned to the last detail, and once his first classes are over he'll settle down and have a lovely time using about a tenth of the materials he's prepared. I will be playing catch-up all semester.

But I can't prepare much, anyway. I have a few of my courses down pat - I've been teaching them for seven or eight years and will do pretty much the same as I've been doing, with a bit of tweaking and rewriting of bits and pieces. I can do that as I go. I get better at those ones every semester. I will not mess with something that works, but I will improve on it wherever I can.

But I also have to teach three new courses at one university this year, and haven't planned anything for them. I can't. When I asked about the level of the students the guy in charge of scheduling said he'd get back to me. Three weeks after my week-by-week syllabus plans were handed in I called him again (trying to show that I was taking my job seriously), and he told me apologetically that nobody was sure yet, and begged for my 'consideration.' When I asked how large the classes would be, he told me they were elective. This means that there is no limit. One of them is a 'public speaking' class. I've never taught public speaking before, and I'm not sure how that differs from the 'presentation' class I taught a few years ago. I asked, but nobody seemed quite sure what it meant. This means it is a fancy new name for a new course on the curriculum, and it sounded good at one of the endless meetings the faculty indulge in. In any case, nobody will check out what is going on in the classroom. They never do. Almost all of my classes at that university are these elective ones with fancy names, and students sign up on the first day. This means I could get four students or eighty, and most of the students will be there because it fits nicely into their part-time job schedules. They might be any level from 'can't speak English' to 'fluent,' and most likely a constellation of every possible level you can imagine, all in one class. That is normal. It also means that I will spend the rest of semester writing up expandable lesson plans. These lesson plans start off easy, and the lower level students spend the entire class at that level because it will take them that long, then I add bits progressively for the higher level students who will finish the first part in five minutes. Last semester I had a class there with only twelve students, but had to write four different lesson plans every week for the different levels. I had students who didn't know the alphabet in the same class as students who could converse fluently, and two levels (roughly) in between. Stupid, stupid, stupid system.

Aside (actually this entire post is an aside as I've forgotten what the point was anyway):
One year I was expected to teach "Eigo Hyogen (spoken)" (i.e. "English expression (spoken)," as opposed to "English Hyogen," or "Eigo Hyogen (written)," or "Eigo Communication," or "Oral Communication," or "Eigo Conversation", all of which I have also taught there; I think they throw a bunch of English and Japanese words into a hat and pull them out at random) to a class of eighty mixed-level students in a classroom that seated sixty. It was an interesting experience. That was also when I found out what happens when a teacher complains. You get apologised to a lot, nothing changes, and you discover you've acquired a reputation for being a 'gaijin troublemaker.'

Where was I? Oh yes, planning.

My experience tells me there is no use in my planning anything much beyond the first, introductory classes, particularly at that one university which is now taking in a lot of foreign students and not streaming them according to their language level. I will not know the level of the students or the class numbers until I meet them. The university seems to have no concept of either of these things being important in language learning, even for English majors. So I will do what I always do: outline the (necessarily vague) course requirements, give some sort of introductory writing assignment, see what they write, wander around the room attempting to chat with various students, get a feel for the class, and then get them doing the same or a similar activity verbally so they can get to know each other a bit and I can get to hear them using what English they have. Then I'll come home and frantically write up lesson plans for the next classes and a rough plan for the rest of semester based on what I learned.

So I envy our friend, despite the anxiety he is suffering from now. He will be lecturing, not teaching a skill. He will be teaching graduate classes, of adult students who are there to learn, not to have a holiday. And because he is (a) Japanese and (b) not a lowly language teacher he got permanent tenure automatically with the job, and will have about five or six classes a week instead of one year contracts and the eighteen classes I have to take on to survive as a part-timer (and he will be paid about double what I get). He'll have his own office and a research budget and office hours and a secretary to do his photocopying and so on. He can plan ahead, knowing that his students will be already knowledgeable and are prepared to study. (Of course he will also have the obligatory meetings. More on meetings some other time. We part-timers are excused from meetings, and as Kay would tell you - if she had time to write these days - this almost makes up for everything.)

Our friend is stressed because he is worried his students will know more than he does. (The one thing I don't have to worry about.) He will soon find out that is not true, and then he'll be fine.

I am trying to tell myself that I love my job because it is a CHALLENGE, and I LIKE challenge. I've had other jobs, and tired of them all after a while. Challenge is GOOD.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that the real reason I like my job is that we get these lovely long vacations during which I operate at half speed, and then long semesters where I'm constantly at triple speed and constantly under stress, and that's the sort of person I am. I don't have an in-between setting.

The one thing I'm really worried about is that I haven't gained enough weight this vacation. I always lose weight during semester, and despite the gym venture (still going strong!) I haven't been able to pile on the necessary few kilos that will drop off during semester. But I am stronger than I usually am before classes start. Usually I'm so feeble from inactivity that the first week almost kills me, and that's just from lifting my bag, which doubles as an office. So perhaps it won't be a problem. Perhaps I won't be so tired I forget to eat. Also, my schedule is a little better this year. (Well, Thursdays and Fridays are worse, but the rest of the week is better.)

You can expect my blogging to drop a little the week after next. However, it is quite likely to increase dramatically after that as I accelerate into the triple speed thing. Wheeeee! I'll be complaining and moaning about absolutely everything, but secretly I'll be exhilarated. Pissed off, but exhilarated. I'll be in a permanent state of righteous indignation at the ridiculousness of my job, and loving it.

In the meantime I still have another whole week of procrastinating to do.