Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I've been busy with the camera this week. I wonder where I put the
battery recharger when I came back from holiday?

Today on my way to work I wanted to get some pictures of the red
leaves down by the river, but most of them had blown away. I took a
picture of the river, instead. There are enough leaves left for it
still to look lovely.

(Click to enlarge)

From the bridge I saw that the turtles hadn't returned. I didn't
think they would, really, but I always hope. They don't usually come
back until spring. Where do they go in winter?

Instead, there were seagulls. I haven't seen seagulls at the river
before, although I have seen ducks. One of the gulls was standing on
the turtles' rock. "This is MY rock now," it said.

There were a lot of gulls. Hanging over the bridge I saw one was
fishing. It would float for a while on the river, then rise up in the
air and plunge into the water, catching a small fish. I took a lot of
pictures, and a couple of them turned out pretty well.

I got one other of an airborne gull, and then I had to go.

When I came back after work the gulls were gone.

Yet another 'my day' post

Yesterday morning I was up (unwillingly) at sparrowfart, and managed a semi-coherent discussion with The Man over my cup of tea about the colours in that leaf picture (the last in the post below). I hadn't changed them, because I don't trust my screen. It's old, and doesn't show colours the same way they show up on his better screen. He wanted to know if it looked like the real thing on his machine or whether it needed adjusting.

It looked all right, but I wasn't sure.

I headed off to a coffee shop for breakfast. I go to a little place that has been around for so many years the owners have gone from old to ancient before my eyes. The daughter is now taking over, and it's about time, really. It was getting a bit difficult. You never knew if your toast would be delivered or whether it would end up burning to a crisp as the old people dithered around mopping up the latest spill. I love the old couple, but breakfast was becoming hazardous.

Their customers have grown ancient along with them. I think I'm the only customer under seventy on Tuesday mornings, aside from a couple of businessmen in their fifties who come in just as I'm leaving. There's a scary old bloke on the motorbike who parks halfway out on the road, another two or three old men, and one elderly woman.

I hate using the toilet there. It used to be all right, but recently the old men seem to be getting worse. Yesterday the motorbike guy hadn't flushed, again, and the toilet paper had run out but he hadn't replaced it, despite there being a new roll right there ready to go on the holder. Also, he'd left the seat up.

The other thing I hate about the toilet there is that they use that blue stuff in the toilet water. WHY? WHY? WHY? I do not understand it. As a mild hypochondriac I want to KNOW what colour my urine is.
What if it suddenly turns red? That has happened to me before. I'll admit it turned out to be nothing serious, but YOU NEVER KNOW.

They make great coffee at my Tuesday breakfast coffee shop, though, and I do enjoy going there. It is also the only time of the week I watch TV. They have a huge widescreen TV in the tiny little shop, and yesterday I saw a clip of Madonna's dancing buttocks on one of the morning shows. I would never see stuff like that if I didn't go there.

After breakfast I took the train to the station near the university, then noticed that it was still only eight fifteen. Classes start at nine, and I had some photocopying to do but not much, and the university has suddenly gone completely non-smoking. The result of this wonderful new no-smoking policy is that now the students smoke everywhere instead of only in designated smoking areas (which were outside anyway). This is incredibly annoying if you're wanting a puff yourself but you're a teacher and have to set a good example. They used to have a little room staff could use, out of sight, but that's gone. Towards the end of the day particularly, wandering around campus has become hell. I walk past an openly smoking student, slow down, inhale deeply, and almost faint from jealousy. This even happens inside, as students are now smoking in the toilets, too. They never used to do that.

Anyway, I decided to have yet another coffee and a smoke before heading up to the university, and the only place nearby was McDonalds. I usually don't go there (don't like fast food much, don't like hamburgers, don't like the atmosphere, don't like the wastefulness of paper cups and so on), but it was the only option. I went in, and was served by a young woman wearing extremely uncomfortable blue contact lenses. She blinked and blinked and blinked. When you got a glimpse of her eyes between blinks they were a watery blue and red, inflamed from the irritation. The effect was bizarre, as if there were an enraged alien trying to emerge from her head and she was blinking it back.

Stoked up on nicotine, the morning classes went all right. At lunchtime I went for a walk outside campus and had a smoke out of sight of students, and in the process discovered some leaves just like the ones I photographed yesterday, which The Man and I had talked about in the morning. I collected a few to take home, for colour comparison. (They've faded a bit already, though. I should have pressed them inside a book, apparently.)

In the class after lunch I think I got the answer to something that has been bothering me a little. There is one student I really don't like. I try not to show this, but it is hard. He makes horrible sexual comments about me in Japanese, and I pretend not to understand (which is easy because I always pretend not to understand much Japanese), but although I can ignore these I can't pretend to myself it didn't happen. He also flirts in a really nasty way - with me - as if he thinks he is irresistibly attractive. He acts knowing and nasty about it all, and seems to be trying to convince some of the other students that something is going on between us. The thought makes my skin crawl.

The whole thing is distasteful and creepy, and while I can deal with it I'm glad there are only four more classes left. It has been fairly easy to avoid paying attention to him (and he tries REALLY HARD to get my attention, all the time), but still, it will be nice not to have to. I don't think I've ever had a student quite so unpleasant before. Usually the eighteen-year-old guys at this place are cute and funny and naive, but there is nothing cute, funny, or naive about this guy.

Yesterday as I walked into the classroom after lunch almost the first thing I noticed was an overpowering smell of alcohol. It was a mixed sort of smell, combining the reek that comes off the skin and sweat of habitual heavy drinkers with the smell of fresh alcohol on someone's breath. It was really, really strong. I have smelt the alcohol on skin smell in that class before, but not as strongly, and not so that I could pin it down to anybody.

Yesterday, however, when I walked past the creepy student I almost got drunk just from breathing in. It was OVERPOWERING. A few minutes later, after I'd put the students into groups and he was facing other students, I noticed one of the guys in his group whispering something to him. After that he sat covering his mouth with his hands, and carefully NOT attracting my attention (very, very unusual), and about ten minutes later he asked to be excused to go to the toilet. He then disappeared for about twenty-five minutes, and when he came back the smell was greatly reduced.

I don't know why I didn't put two and two together before. I guess I was too busy avoiding him, or staving off murderous thoughts.

Oh, well. Just four more classes, and with a bit of luck he'll be absent once or twice. He hasn't yet, but I can always hope. I would love to fail him (the ultimate teachers' revenge) but that would be unprofessional. He has done the work, after all. What a shame.

In my last class something amazing happened. I love that class. The students are keen. It has my favourite student (the handjob guy).
(Why do I not mind him teaching the other students bad words but object to the drunk guy's disgusting comments? BECAUSE HE IS RESPECTFUL TOWARDS ME, THAT'S WHY. Also, he is nice and funny. Teaching rude foreign words to your friends is NORMAL. Flirting with a teacher your mother's age is not.)

During this class I was wandering around helping out various groups with a general knowledge quiz I'd given them, and at one group I squatted down to explain something. As I squatted I raised my hand to gesture, hit my necklace, and it flew up towards my head. I put my hand up to stop it from hitting me, and in the process tapped my temple lightly with my hand. And when I did THAT, a contact lens popped out of my eye and landed neatly on a student's notebook.

I stared down and saw the lens sitting there, and said, greatly surprised,

"Is that MINE?"

The student was laughing so hard he couldn't answer. I noticed that one eye had gone blurry, and said, still surprised,

"It IS mine!"

I picked it up and held it in my fingers and stared at it, bewildered. Then I excused myself and went off to the ladies to wash it and put it back in.

It really was amazing. I have been wearing contact lenses for more than twenty years, and I've NEVER had one fall out before. Even when I was knocked unconscious by a truck my contact lenses stayed in. I must have tapped my head at just the right angle. It was MAGIC. I may have to practice. If I could do that at will I could gross out The Man whenever I wanted, or at least make him worry.

The students in that group were still laughing when I came back. I tried to find the 'teachable moment' in the incident, and failed. I was just glad they thought it was funny and were not revolted.

When I told a friend about it after work, she laughed, too, but perhaps just because I didn't do it to her.

"Good thing you don't have a glass eye," she said, and I thought about how cool a trick THAT would be. She also came out with another wonderful malapropism as we talked about eyes, although I don't suppose it was a real malapropism, because she knew it was wrong.

"I have... it's not stigmata, is it?" she said.

Her hands weren't bleeding, so I told her it was probably astigmatism.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Today on my way to work I took a few pictures in the little park near the university. The leaves are turning. It is a little late, but I've been forgetting to take my camera.

Still, they were pretty, with all that red, orange and yellow. I didn't get any pictures of the really red leaves, down the river a bit. I was going to do that after work, but it had become too dark. If they are still there on Wednesday I'll try again.

In the meantime, here are a few of the pictures. (Click to enlarge)

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Today I cycled off to Uniqlo to buy some more cotton turtleneck jumpers. (Pullovers? Long-sleeved t-shirts?) There they are cheap and long enough in the arm for my orangutan body. (Almost.) Then I went to meet my private student. Naturally I forgot to take my camera, and I saw some lovely autumn leaves alongside the little stream by the railway line as I was cycling along. I must start carrying it with me again.

The Man didn't come with me because he has a cold. (Not the 'flu, of course. He had his 'flu shot and now he is not allowed to get the 'flu.) He went to the supermarket, though. When I came home he was asleep. He woke up as I was about to go downstairs to prepare myself some dinner.

"Oh," he said sleepily. "I got some eel... oh, never mind. Don't worry about it."

"I just want something light," I said. "Scrambled egg will do nicely."

I was being considerate. I'd cook for myself, I decided. He was sick.

I went downstairs, and got the eggs, tomato, spinach and parsley ready. I was hunting for shiitake mushrooms when I spotted the asari clams.

I sat back on my heels and stared into the fridge, pondering. Drool formed at the corners of my mouth. Eventually I closed the fridge door and went upstairs again, where The Man was more awake now.

"Um... I just spotted the asari," I said. "Were you going to make asari soup to go with the eel?"

"Yes," said The Man.

"I think I've changed my mind," I told him. "I don't want scrambled eggs after all."

When asari clams come into the equation I stop being considerate. The Man cooked dinner, and it was wonderful.

Conspiracy busted

Librarianne has found something amazing: a study that shows that tinfoil hats amplify incoming radio frequencies. It's all been a big plot! 'They' wanted us to wear tinfoil hats, so 'they' could manipulate us more easily. Oh, the devils!

But at least we know, now.

(And what a relief. That hat was HELL on my hairstyle.)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Not very coherent Friday snippets


When I leave the house on Thursday and Friday mornings these days it is dark. As I rode the train around the Osaka loop line this morning a ghastly orange sun was rising through the mucky brown air. Osaka looked as ugly as I've ever seen it. Is it just me, or has the air pollution been particularly bad the last few days? Usually the air seems dirtier in summer, when it's muggy.

Come to think of it, a couple of days ago someone mentioned yellow sand blowing over from China and reaching this area. Could that be it? That is usually a spring problem, though, and doesn't normally reach this area anyway. I wonder if something has changed?

But ... but ...

As I was wandering around the classroom today I noticed that one of my students had written that his favourite movie was "Butman." I should have understood it right away, but didn't. It's Friday. I'm slow on Fridays. I hovered behind him, and I think my brain may have been making ticking noises because he turned around and saw me staring at his paper.

"Good movie!" he said.

"Yeeees," I answered, doubtfully. I thought a little more. Then I added, "Make that an a."


When I was twelve I had an English teacher called Mrs Ball. I remembered her today as I was teaching my students some phrasal verbs. The only thing I can remember about Mrs Ball's classes, aside from her being angry most of the time, is that she seemed to spend the entire year conducting a passionate vendetta against the word got. Got was, she claimed, the ugliest word in the English language, and should be avoided whenever possible. Beautiful sentences could be destroyed by the word got. There were so many better words we could use, she lectured, and she would cross out any gots in our writing and order us to look for replacements. It was a hard, horrible little word, she said, and she would spit it, to demonstrate.


Our writing became elaborate. Anything we wrote in her class we then had to proofread for the word got (and get, although she seemed to reserve most of her vitriol for got) and remove it. This was a lot harder than it might seem. All kinds of useful phrasal verbs were banished from our vocabulary when we were writing for her. We dismounted from horses, disembarked from cars, were afflicted with colds, arose from bed, received phone calls, mounted and dismounted our bicycles, and so on. Also, the cat acquired the cream.

I don't know how she stood it. Perhaps she thought she was teaching us to be expressive, but she must have had a tin ear for language.

I am happy to report that although I remembered this advice very clearly and for years and years felt dutifully guilty every time I wrote the word got, I eventually got over it. I just did a count of the gots on this page, and there were sixteen, not counting this post. There were also fourteen gets, making a total of thirty. (This number will now be wrong, of course, because I've pushed some off the bottom of the page by posting this.)


Does anybody pronounce the h in his or her when they say, for example,

I'll tell her and I'll tell him?

What about when it is preceded by a vowel?

I'll see him tomorrow.

Just wondering. It came up in class today, and I forgot to ask all the various nationalities in the teachers' room. I got distracted by a tale of a train accident. One of the teachers was in the carriage a body ended up under, in bits.*

*Proof that I am perfectly capable of writing an ugly sentence without using got.

(Addendum: The Man tells me that the yellow sand (kosa) is indeed afflicting us unseasonably, hence the hideous sunrise.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

How I became a wimp

In case anybody was wondering how such a strong, sensible grown-up person like me got to be such a wimp when anybody waves a needle in my direction, here is the background story. I haven't always been like this. I was hypnotized into it.

In fact, although I've never liked injections (who does?) I got them regularly as a child because I was always having to get tetanus boosters every time I stood on a rusty nail or cut myself on a bit of old tin or whatever, which was often. I was not an indoor child. There were also the usual childhood vaccinations and so on. I remember grumbling about it, but no more than any normal child, and I certainly never fainted.

I didn't have anything to do with needles from when I was about twelve until I was twenty-one or -two, when I had some problem that required a blood test. I can't remember what the blood test was for but I was not looking forward to it. Then I pulled myself together and told myself I was an adult now and there was nothing to worry about. As a child I could make a fuss and get another lollipop, but as an adult there wasn't much point. It wasn't really a problem, was it? I asked myself, and the answer was no, it wasn't.

I turned up at the clinic for the test, and two middle-aged nurses took me into a little cubicle where I sat and stretched out my arm. They asked me if I was all right with the procedure, and I said I was fine. They stuck the needle into my arm and drew the blood. I sat there chatting with the nurse who was not drawing the blood, not looking at what was going on, and continued to feel fine about it all.

Then the nurse taking the blood told me she'd finished, and I turned and looked at her.

"That was quick," I said.

"It doesn't take long," she replied, then peered into my face, looking anxious. "You're looking very pale, dear. Are you sure you're all right with needles?"

She held up the needle (IDIOT) and I looked at it (IDIOT).

"Needles don't bother me AT ALL," I said.

I came round staring at the ceiling, feeling very, very surprised and a little sick. Eventually I sat up and sipped at the drink one of the nurses brought me. The idiot nurse was terribly concerned.

"If needles aren't the problem, maybe it's blood...?" she said worriedly, pointing to the vial of blood. I looked at where she was pointing. (IDIOT.)

"Oh no, no. Blood has never bothered me," I assured her, and everything went black.

When I came around this time I felt awful, and it took a bit longer to sit up. I was hideously embarrassed and confused, babbling about how needles and blood had never bothered me like this before, why was this happening? The idiot nurse decided to chip in with a new theory.

"That is odd, isn't it?" she said. "Well, if it's not needles and not blood, maybe ... do you suffer from claustrophobia?"

"Never," I said. "How silly." I looked around at the walls of the tiny cubicle, and they folded in on me horrifyingly.

This time, when I regained consciousness, I looked up at the idiot nurse's kindly, concerned face and held out a quavering hand like a stop sign.

"No more ideas, please," I said, weakly. "Just ... don't say anything."

I think she'd run out of ideas by then anyway.

Eventually I felt well enough to leave, although I was really, really cold. It was a cold day anyway, and fainting repeatedly had made me feel weak and chilled. I had never done anything like that before, and it was NOT NICE. The moment I stepped outside my teeth started chattering.

Right next door to the clinic there was a Salvation Army store, so I went in to see if they had any cheap warm clothes I could layer over what I was wearing. The elderly volunteer noticed my pallor and chattering teeth, and asked me if I was all right. I told her what had happened, still not quite believing it myself.

The old darling was aghast. She took me out the back, sat me down in front of a heater and wrapped a blanket around me. She was wonderful. I sat there for an hour or so as I warmed up, thanking her and apologizing for being so pathetic while she plied me with fruitcake and multiple cups of tea. She assured me that she enjoyed the company even of an idiot like me. She didn't get many customers, she said, and it made a nice change to have someone to gossip with. She wouldn't let me leave until I felt completely better and had some colour back in my face.

I wish she'd been the one taking my blood. She would have been MUCH more sensible about it. Instead of, "You're looking very pale, dear," she would have said, "Now, let's have a cup of tea and some fruit cake and a nice gossip," and I would have been JUST FINE.

The idiot nurse's foray into hypnosis was not entirely successful. The claustrophobia did not stick. Nor did the sight of blood bother me after that one time. She still has a lot to answer for, however. I have made a fool of myself repeatedly over needles ever since that incident.

Monday, November 21, 2005

How to feel like a complete idiot

I finally got my 'flu shot today. When I got home from work The Man was waiting for me, again, and off we went, to yet another clinic. Third time lucky!

I had to fill in the form again (actually The Man filled it in for me, and I signed) and they told us that as long as I didn't have an elevated temperature or anything dire they didn't do a doctor's check. The receptionists were warm and funny, not like the other hospital where they were mechanically nice without being really friendly.

When I was called through The Man came with me. Oh, but before I tell you about this, you have to hear about the amazing slipper machine. The amazing slipper machine was a tall machine, fronted with glass (or probably plastic) that glowed blue, with a big red button on the front. When you pushed the button a pair of plastic slippers descended neatly by your feet. You took off your shoes and put on the slippers, and put your shoes on a rack. When you finished, you put your used slippers in the top of the amazing slipper machine and they descended down into the blue glow where they were, presumably, sterilized, ready for the next person to push the red button. Isn't that amazing?

Anyway, when I was called through The Man came too, and the nurse, who was standing by the amazing slipper machine, was startled.

"Two people?" she asked.

"No. I'm just coming to hold her hand because she's such a wimp," said The Man. (Well, he didn't use those words, exactly, but that's what he meant.)

We put on our amazing sterilized slippers and went through. Two nurses were waiting for us. The Man asked if I could lie down for the shot, and they said no.

"The shot is in the arm," they explained sympathetically, although why that would make a difference I don't know. I said it didn't matter.

"I'll be all right," I said. I was already feeling stupid and apologetic.

I put my arm on the armrest and they told me to look the other way.

"It won't take long," they said.

"Just a little prick," said The Man, and told them to tell me when they were going to do it.

They swabbed my arm.

The Man gripped my other arm tightly.

"Hold tighter," I said. "Pain helps."

He gripped my arm tighter, until it hurt, and then gave me a cuddle as well. This distracted me enormously. He never cuddles me in public like that. He doesn't SNOG in public. But he was SNOGGING.

"It's all right, almost finished, don't worry, everything's all right!" he sang, and the nurses said,

"Now!" and I felt a TINY little prick in my arm. It didn't hurt at all. I didn't expect it to, but the thought of a needle going into my arm made me feel horrible. The Man snuggled up some more, laughing and telling me I was all right, and I got distracted again. The nurses laughed.

"All finished!" they said.

I felt simultaneously comforted and like a COMPLETE IDIOT.

After all that The Man had to go to Osaka, and I came home.

I'm fairly sure I could have gone through the whole (ridiculously easy, painless) procedure without The Man's help, but on the other hand you never know. I have done this sort of thing before. "I'm fine!" I say, and pass out. I don't know why it happens, and I don't usually see it coming. The only sign is that I go deathly white, I've been told. We checked my complexion before we left the clinic, just to make sure. I was a healthy pink. (I think it was the snogging.)

The Man called me after he got to Osaka this evening to make sure I was still all right. I told him I was just fine, and I am. My arm hurts a bit, though. How come it hurts now, but it didn't hurt when I got the shot?

I wonder if a bit more snogging would help?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sticky compliments

On Thursdays I have a horrible schedule. I'm up at five, to avoid the rush on the Osaka loop line, and teach two classes, then have lunch, then one class, and then I skip one class and teach one more after that. That skipped class can be a good thing, as it gives me time to catch up with paperwork from the first three classes, but on days when I am very tired, like last Thursday, it can be a pain in the arse. I slow down, and getting up to speed again for that last class is hard.

I don't know why I was so tired last week. I didn't get enough sleep, but I rarely do, so I don't think that was it, unless it is the suddenly colder weather getting to me. Do you need more sleep in colder weather? Whatever, I was knackered. In the breaks and at lunchtime I chatted with my colleagues as usual, but had a tendency to sink deeper into my chair and mumble in monosyllables.

During my skipped period another teacher uses my classroom. (He was moved from his because his noisy classes were offending the French teacher next door.) I always enjoy chatting with him. He is working on his PhD, and I'm fascinated by his research (about foreign teachers in Japanese universities) and always want to know how it's going.

When he came back from his class he asked me if I'd had a good rest and was feeling better.

I hadn't, and wasn't. I just wanted the day to be over. It seemed to be lasting longer than usual.

I went in to teach my last class. Outside the door I paused to dredge up some energy, and then walked in.

"Good afternoon!" I said, cheerfully.

A few students stared at me blankly. Several didn't wake up. The rest carried on chatting with each other.

Feeling somewhat deflated I went to the podium (which is huge and inconvenient) and dumped my materials on top of a sticky note. What was that? I moved my stuff and had a look.

You're a nice person, BadAunt, said the sticky note. (Except it was my real name.)

I looked up. Who had put that there? None of the students looked expectant, or guilty. I grinned, and started calling the roll.

Once I got the students busy with their first activity, I opened the cupboard under the podium to get the other materials I'd left in there. There was another sticky note.

BadAunt, you make Thursdays nicer, it said.

The rest of the class went really well, and I ended the day feeling happy. I was still tired, but I felt good.

After work, as usual, a bunch of us met at the curry shop for dinner. While we were eating and arguing about something I suddenly remembered the sticky notes, and turned to the colleague who had used the classroom before me.

"Thanks for the notes," I said. "I'd been feeling tired and a bit down, and they surprised me into a good mood. That class went really well."

He grinned.

On Friday I was going to tell a couple of my female colleagues about the sticky notes, and just as I opened my mouth to speak I suddenly wondered how they'd take it, and closed my mouth again. If I told them he'd left sticky complimentary notes in my classroom they might think he was hitting on me, and it wasn't like that. Was it? It hadn't even occurred to me before that moment. All I thought was that he got bored while his students were doing some writing, had some sticky notes handy and decided to surprise me.

At least that's how it seemed to me, and it's how I'm going to treat the incident, but am I being naive? Have I been out of the game too long? Have I forgotten how to notice cues?

What would you think if a colleague did that to you?

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Torchilator

Today a group of students were calling each other names. I listened, and they noticed me listening, and called me over. They wanted to know what Torchilator meant. Some of them were sure the a Tochilator was something like a Terminator, and the others were convinced it was a bad word.

I told them I didn't know what it meant.

"Where did you hear it?" I asked.

It was in some movie they saw on TV. They couldn't remember the name of the movie, but there was a tough guy in it who used the word Torchilator several times. Some of the students thought it was a bad word, and were therefore using it on each other. "Torchilator!" they said, pointing and laughing. "He's a Torchilator! Ha ha ha!"

I asked them to tell me the context in which the word was used, and after some discussion they decided that one of them would demonstrate. He stood up, pointed at me meaningfully, and said in a tough, manly voice,


As he turned to walk away a great big light bulb exploded over my head and I started laughing helplessly. I felt so STUPID.

They'd been pronouncing it PERFECTLY.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mental problem

On Tuesday The Man informed me that he'd found a hospital where we could get 'flu shots, near our place. He made an appointment for yesterday.

In the part-time teachers' room yesterday I told everybody I was going to have a 'flu shot, and asked whether anybody else had had it this year. I explained that I was nervous about it.

"Needles make me pass out," I explained.

It turned out the secretary had her shot last week.

"It hurt," she said.

"Hurt?" I asked. "HURT?" I hadn't thought of that.

She saw my horrified expression and backpedaled rapidly.

"But it was really quick," she said. "And it didn't hurt THAT much. Until the next day, and not badly, really."

"I wasn't expecting it to hurt," I said.

One of the Japanese teachers looked interested.

"It's not usually the needle hurting that bothers you?" she asked.

"No, not really," I said. "It just the needle itself. The IDEA of the needle."

"Oh, I see," she said, nodding understandingly. "You have a mental problem."

"No!" I said indignantly. I paused. "Well... yes."

That was a bit disconcerting. I hadn't thought of it like that.

When I got home The Man was waiting. We cycled off in the other direction from Monday's little expedition, and had to cross a busy road.

"I hate crossing here," said The Man. "It's dangerous."

"So do I," I answered. "I think we should just give up and go home."

He laughed at me.

We got to the hospital and had to fill in a form. The Man filled his in first, then translated the information sheet and the questions for me.

"Have you read and understood the information about the 'flu shot?" he asked.

"No," I said. "You had to read it for me. Does that mean we can go home now?"

"Yes," he instructed, and I circled Yes obediently. "Have you ever had any heart condition or anything like that?"

"Er... I don't think so," I said.

"No," he instructed, and I circled No.

"Have you ever had a ... a.... you know, this," he said, wobbling his arms and legs.

I stared at him, trying to figure it out. "You know," he said, "Like this - "

He started convulsing on the chair. He didn't look well at all, and the receptionists were glancing nervously in our direction. I stared and tried to imagine what it could be. Suddenly light dawned.

"Epilepsy!" I said.

"That's it," he said. "I forgot the word."

"Not that I know of," I said, and circled No.

Eventually we got down to the question about whether you had a fever recently, and whether you have any medical condition now.

"I had a slight fever," I said. "When I started getting this cold. And I'm still coughing a bit."

"We'll talk to the doctor about that when we go in," he said.

He handed the papers to the receptionist, and we were directed to room thirteen. That didn't sound too promising. We went down the hall and told the nurses in room thirteen we were there. They told us to sit in the little waiting area in the hallway.

Across the hall there was a toilet. The Man went in, and I briefly considered running away. I didn't, though. This is good for me, I told myself. I really should get over this stupid fear.

The Man came back, and eventually a nurse came out with thermometers and asked us to take our temperatures. The Man's temperature was almost a full degree less than mine, which explained his lizardly qualities and why we always fight over the air conditioning. I didn't know it was normal to have a temperature of only 35.5C. Perhaps it isn't.

I was getting more and more nervous. I said to The Man,

"I'm being silly, aren't I."

"Don't worry. You can't help it," he replied.

That was almost as bad as being told I had a mental problem.

When we finally got to see the doctor, he refused to give me the shot because I still have a cough left over from the cold. The Man got his shot, though, and grumbled about it all the way home while I tried not to laugh.

"All this hassle is for YOU, not me," he said. "That stupid doctor is being far too careful. I'm going to look for another one who will do it. They give 'flu shots to all the old people. How come they won't give one to you? The old people are no healthier than you."

"It's because I'm a gaijin," I said, smugly. "Nobody wants to take a risk with gaijin."

I imagined the headlines. I could be an international incident!


Well, perhaps not.

But to tell the truth, I'm starting to just want to get it over with. All this farting around is getting a bit stressful, and stress is bad for people with mental problems.

The weird and random Berlin Bear

The oddly haired Berlin Bear posted his response to the Weird and random facts meme challenge I posted at the end of October. He has posted it in two parts, here and here.

(I wrote this earlier but forgot to post it.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Why were we born?

Today I was reminded that my students are not a bunch of dummies. They might be bewildered and not interested in learning English because it has never been interesting for them, but that doesn't mean they are themselves uninteresting. It's easy to forget that, when you're the one whose job it is to try to convince them that it isn't all that bad.

Today I was doing something simple I'd done before (because I couldn't be arsed preparing properly last night) which was to give them a list of wh- questions with the question words left off, and they had to choose from the list and write them in. They're not very good at asking questions. I gave them a paper with questions like,

________ is the best student in this class?

They had to write in Who, and then their answer. (That one always gets them - they don't know how to answer it until I tell them they should write, Me, of course!)

After that I gave them a list of question words and told them to make up some questions to ask their partner.

Many of the students went with the easy stuff, things that turn up in the textbooks all the time and are mind-bogglingly boring. What's your hobby? (No, I still haven't managed to banish that question from my classrooms, although I keep trying and will NEVER GIVE UP.) What kind of music do you like? and so on. But a number of them came up with some really good questions. I don't know why there were so many good ones today. This activity isn't usually so great (although the students generally find it mildly interesting) but today we hit gold.

Several of the best questions came from one very quiet and somewhat depressed-looking guy, who apparently had a burst of existential angst while dreaming them up. When I went around to collect the questions for correction, so I could use them again (I'd noticed how good many of them were and could see ways of expanding the activity, and a teacher is always looking for this kind of thing) he tried to hide his question sheet from me. Possibly he thought I'd think he wasn't taking the activity seriously enough, or that I'd berate him for not using 'textbook questions.' When I took his paper he looked down and refused to meet my eye. But then he looked up again in surprise when I looked over his paper, flung my arms out and proclaimed his questions to the ceiling.

"WHEN WILL I BECOME HAPPY? WHY WERE WE BORN?" I wailed dramatically, then grinned at him. "Hey, these are good questions!"

He grinned back somewhat uncertainly.


Evidently he ran out of inspired angst by that last one. Still, the others are wonderful. I am looking forward to hearing the other students try to answer them next week. I'm also looking forward to hearing them try to answer,

"Where have you been all this time?" and a few others I collected.

I'm going to teach them to answer questions with questions. I'll teach them to say, "What do you MEAN? What are you TALKING about? Are you feeling all right?"

The level of English is no more difficult, but it will be much more fun than, "I like pop music," and, "My hobby is shopping."

Teaching should be fun for the teacher, too.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A visit to the doctor

The Man has been on at me to get a 'flu shot. I am in a high risk occupation, he says, and he is right. I generally manage to get everything that is going around, eventually. My students have a terrible habit of oversleeping and missing classes except when they are feverish and coughing all over the place, in which case they come to class to show me how dedicated they are, and cough all over me. I get coughed all over in the trains, too.

So the 'flu shot is a good idea. I accept that, in theory. The problem is, in practice, that when someone sticks a needle in me (unless it is an acupuncture needle, for some reason) I tend to pass out. This is not a pleasant experience, and consequently I dread any doctor visit that might involve needles. The idea of submitting myself to a needle experience that is not strictly necessary (I could, after all, just risk the 'flu instead) seems masochistic.

The Man first mentioned the 'flu shot a while ago, and I said something vague and hoped he'd forget. He didn't, of course, and the topic keeps popping up. Finally, yesterday I agreed that I would do it after work today. It's very hard to think of a good argument against it, especially since he's offered to come along and hold my hand and make sure they let me lie down to have the shot. That does help, annoyingly. He tells me silly stories and makes me laugh and the next thing I know it's all over, I'm feeling vaguely dizzy, and I can't stop giggling. I also feel stupid for making such a fuss and want to apologize to everybody.

Anyway, today I came home and he was waiting. We went off to the doctor. Cycling along I was feeling faint already, and also quite stupid, at the thought of what was to come. I was determined to do it, though. I am not a child. A little needle won't hurt me, and it is a very, very sensible thing to do. That's what I told myself, and was almost convinced, even.

We parked our bicycles and I bravely followed him into the doctor's office. By this time I was wondering whether perhaps passing out first might be easier, since then I wouldn't have to be conscious for the actual shot. Would that work? It was seeming like a pretty good idea to me.

The Man explained to the receptionist why we were there, whereupon she apologized and told us that all the doctor's supply of 'flu shot was already reserved in advance, and he didn't have any more. We would have to go elsewhere.

All my dizziness and stupidity vanished like magic. I felt FABULOUS. I don't think a visit to the doctor has ever left me feeling so good.

(Of course he will find another place to take me for the shot, but at least for the next couple of days I'm off the hook.)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Lamb to the slaughter

Today I came across this story, which tells us that when he slit a fully-conscious lamb's throat on television, many viewers reacted with horror. Now, Jamie Oliver's bloody stunt has earned him the position of second lamb in line for the slaughter.

The reaction is predictable, but what I want to know is this: when people sit down to their Sunday roast, where do they think the meat comes from? And what's the big fuss about the lamb being conscious? Do people think that in slaughterhouses the lambs are sedated before they are killed? Perhaps they think there is soothing music, too, and a last request.

This whole thing reminds me of a time, many years ago, when my father had agreed to swap a lamb for a side of beef from another farmer. He brought the lamb home from the farm to slaughter it, but on the day he was supposed to do the job he was drunk and incapable. My younger brother, who was thirteen at the time, volunteered to do the job instead. (My father's alcoholism was the family secret and shame, and we'd do anything to prevent people from finding out.) We told him he didn't have to do it, we'd think up some excuse, but he explained that he knew how from watching my father doing it, and it would be hypocritical not to, wouldn't it? After all, he ate meat, too. And the job had to be done at some point, so why not by him? The farmer was coming to get the meat today, and my father had said it would be ready. Promises should be kept.

My brother was always a thoughtful kid, and very, very serious about being a good person.

At this time we'd been having problems with the neighbour's kids and their friends, who were a bunch of bullies. They used to lean over the fence and throw rocks at our little collection of animals in the back yard at home - chickens, ducks, a goat and her baby, a puppy, and I can't remember what else. We'd told them to stop, and complained to their parents, but they took no notice. They used to taunt my brothers with being sissies for not fighting with them, and were giving them a hard time at school. We were a weird family, and natural targets.

Anyway, that Saturday morning my brother sharpened the big knife and caught the lamb. That was the easy bit, as it was fairly tame, but he was not looking forward to the next part and wasn't really sure that he could do it. While he was contemplating the task, four heads appeared over the fence. It was the neighbour's kids and their bullying friends. They started taunting my brother, as usual, and threatening to throw rocks at him.

My brother looked up, thoughtfully, annoyed at the interruption but seeing an opportunity.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," he said, matter-of-factly. "And you guys better stop throwing rocks at the animals."

"Oh yeah?" they jeered. "What are you going to do about it?"

My brother gazed at them seriously.

"Well, if you keep doing it, you just never know what might happen," he said.

Then he picked up the knife and cut the lamb's throat. It was a fast, clean cut, and the lamb died quickly. He had learned well from my father, who hated to hurt animals.

Hearing gagging sounds my brother looked up again, awash with blood, just in time to see four green faces slipping down behind the fence. He was rather pale himself, but told me later that actually their presence made the job easier. He didn't enjoy slaughtering the lamb, but it gave him enormous pleasure to frighten the shit out of those horrible kids.

The incident probably didn't do much for our reputation as a weird family, but we certainly had no more problems from the neighbour's kids after that.


Today as I was walking through the shopping centre near our place an automatic door refused to open for me, and I almost walked right into it. This hasn't happened for a while, and as I danced around in front of the door waving my arms and feeling like an idiot I wondered why it was happening now. What has changed since the last time I used that door and had no problems? What made the automatic door suddenly ignore me? Was it because I had been listening to Kate Bush singing How To Be Invisible? I was pretty sure it couldn't be that.

I wondered when it happened last time. Was it winter? Had the weather become dry? I can't remember, and can't be bothered going back to check my old blog entries. It was too long ago. But I'm wondering whether it's connected somehow to the horrible problem with static electricity I get in the winters here. Maybe I build up a sort of force-field of static that prevents the door from seeing me.

Maybe if I build up a big enough static field I will become COMPLETELY INVISIBLE.


Overheard during class:

Student 1: "What do you want to do after you graduate?"
Student 2: "After I graduate I want to grow up."

And I thought, Hey, that's funny, so do I!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Good students

I only had one class today. This is a class of first year nutrition majors at a women's university, and they're not very interested in English. Most of them will never use it, have not done well at it before, and find it all terribly baffling. There are twenty students and I do a lot of 'repeat after me,' because they like it and because their pronunciation is so very horrible and they like being corrected.

I've been doing the 'aches and pains' vocabulary activity and game with them, that I used at another place with such success. It took them twice as long as my other classes, but we did a lot of pronunciation work with it and they really enjoyed the chance to say occasionally rude things loudly in a foreign language. Also, because it is a single-sex classroom, I could do an extra game, which we did last week. In this game they had to mime the problem, say, "What's the matter with me?" and the others in their group had to say what the problem was.

It was a hilarious game, and it appears that this extra vocabulary reinforcement has worked. Today almost half the class was absent, and as I was calling the roll, whenever I got to the name of an absent student, they all shouted,

"SHE IS DIARRHEA!" at the tops of their voices, and laughed like hyenas.

I corrected them every time. "HAS!" I yelled. "Not IS," and they thought about it and then laughed when they realized what it meant. Then they continued using is. They thought it was funnier.

I asked them afterwards whether the absent students really had diarrhea, and they said no, most of them had caught cold. They'd forgotten how to say that, even though that was in the game as well. I guess it just wasn't as interesting.

Monday, November 07, 2005


The crows were out in force this morning as l cycled to work. On every block they were tearing into plastic rubbish bags and hunting for goodies. There was rubbish strewn all over the roads.

In my second class of the day an entire crow family decided to have a meeting outside the classroom in a tree. This interrupted the lesson, as they have very loud voices and like to argue. After a while one crow got bored with the meeting and flew to the railing outside our third floor classroom. It peered in through the window and made mocking noises.

"HA HA HA," it said.

I've been seeing so many crows recently that I sometimes wonder if they are following me around. But I think there are just more of them than there used to be.

Cycling home after work more crows were gathering in the little park as I passed, or perhaps it was the same ones. They were also talking loudly.

"Mrs Tanaka's rubbish wasn't as good as last time," said one.

"Yes, the onigiri was a bit off. I think she finally found the one her son left in his sports bag."

"Oh, so that's why it tasted of old socks."

As I cycled on I looked up and saw a transparent fingernail of moon in the afternoon sky, and felt inexplicably happy.

How much was that again?

I tried this a few days ago, and my blog was worth $0. Today it became valuable. Was yesterday's post SO wonderful?

My blog is worth $33,307.86.
How much is your blog worth?

(Anybody want to buy it? I'm going with today's valuation.)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Yesterday's post

We're having a warm snap. This has brought mosquitoes back into our lives, determined to get one more feed of blood before the real cold weather arrives.

The warm weather is very nice. The mosquitoes are not.

We were woken early (for a Saturday, which is not very early) by a lot of crashing and banging across the road. We gave up our lie-in when it became obvious the noise was not going to stop, and eventually went out to do a little grocery shopping and so on. As we passed the neighbour's place we could see workmen putting the final touches on a new door. We stopped briefly.

"New door, eh?" said The Man (in Japanese, of course). "We wondered what the noise was."

One of the guys stared at me with an idiot grin and nodded repeatedly. It was a little disconcerting. The others ignored us. None of them seemed inclined to chat, so we carried on.

"Was that guy a bit ... backward, do you think?" I asked The Man, a little further down the road.

"Hard to say," said The Man. "He looked like it, but it might have just been because of you. You know, seeing a gaijin surprised him ..."

(Workmen drop IQ points when they see me. Ooh, the POWER.)

Later we had coffee at a coffee shop we don't normally go to. They were playing J-Pop, too loudly. J-Pop is, in my opinion (in both our opinions), the most horrible pop music ever invented. Sometimes I ask my students what kind of music they like, and 80 or 90% of them tell me they like J-Pop. I just DON'T GET IT. The singers are usually talentless, frequently off key, and the music itself is all the same kind of thing. It sounds like it was all written by one unimaginative songwriter with a very limited range of musical expression. (The Man tells me it mostly is, and that the guy is very, very rich.) To make things even worse, J-Pop is often full of bad English. (Ai rub yuuuuuu!) I would say it is boring music, except that it is too irritating. It is boring in the same way the sound of fingernails on chalkboard is boring.

After we came home The Man decided to have a nap, since the noise had stopped. The mosquitoes waited until he'd been asleep for a while before they attacked, in order to cause maximum exasperation. (I'm sure they do this on purpose.) He woke up grumbling, and I went downstairs and got a mosquito coil.

(Short sidetrack: A while ago in one of the 100-yen stores we bought some especially long lighters, the sort used for lighting gas stoves. One of these lighters turned out to have a couple of design flaws: It's hard to get it ignited, and it's hard to tell which end is which.)

I lit one mosquito coil, but we decided to break it and put one bit in the bedroom and the larger bit by the window in the hall. The Man broke the coil and picked up the long lighter. He tried to light the other bit of coil, and as usual the lighter was difficult. He persisted, and eventually succeeded. I could tell because a large flame shot out of the wrong end of the lighter and up behind his elbow.

It was REALLY SURPRISING. He collapsed in a heap, shouting and throwing the lighter in the air.

It took me a while to stop coughing. (I still have a cold, and laughing makes me cough.) I wiped my eyes, gasping and holding the door frame, and The Man glared at me.

"That was DANGEROUS!" he informed me indignantly, but I could see he was having difficulty keeping a straight face.

"It was also really, really funny," I said.

Later, he made a truly awful Japanese-English pun.

Recently I read in a language teaching journal that Japanese has only 108 phonemes. (English has 1808.)* Punning in Japanese very, very easy. We pun all the time, and in my case it generally by accident. In fact it takes real genius to AVOID making puns, and this is why I told The Man that I thought his lighter trick was funnier than his pun. Anybody can make a pun in Japanese, but how often do you get to see somebody shoot flame out their elbow?

*I don't know if this is accurate. The writer of the article did not reference these numbers, and could have pulled them out of a hat for all I know.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Good medicine

So far I have crashed my new Palm three times. WHAT FUN!

Other news:

I have four days off and a new Palm. What other news? No, wait, there is some.

One of my friends told me that she once got a kidney stone, and dreads ever getting another one. She thought she was dying, she said. It was awful. Her husband took her to a hospital, and there she was given an injection, and stayed overnight. The injection took care of the pain, and she was taken to a room that was, she said, amazing. She had never seen such a lovely room in a private hospital here before. Usually they are nasty. It was not a private room, but the other people looked nice, and there was beautiful wallpaper, and nice curtains, and pictures on the walls. She was really impressed, and felt lucky to have such a luxurious place to suffer in. She went to sleep, happily pain-free in her lovely room.

In the morning she awoke and found she was in a dirty old room that had paint peeling from the walls, an old sheet for a curtain, and a gaggle of old ladies cheering her up by telling her that you never had just one kidney stone; once you got one you were sure to get more.

That was really, really good medicine.

She also told me that the other day when she was on a bus she had a terrible headache, so she took out her bottle of pills and took a painkiller. A little while later she went into orbit. Totally disoriented and unable to stand, she panicked and called her husband at work.

"Come and get me!" she told him. "There's something terribly wrong with me!"

While she was waiting she suddenly realized that her bottle of pills had her emergency supply of kidney stone painkillers mixed in with the Aspirin, or whatever it was. They were easily identifiable, but she told me that perhaps she wasn't wearing her glasses, or maybe she just had a brain fart. Anyway, she realized that in fact there was nothing wrong with her. She had taken her kidney stone painkiller by mistake.

She wasn't sick. She was tripping.

She didn't tell her husband what she'd done. She was too embarrassed. She told him she was feeling a bit better now, and perhaps it was just a low blood pressure attack or something like that. Luckily for her he didn't have the background necessary to recognize a tripping wife, so she got away with it.

I asked her if I could blog about this, and she said, "Yes, but NO NAMES!" So I have used no names, but Kay, I reckon you know who it is. Who else could it be, eh?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Christmas comes early

My new Palm Zire 31 arrived today, with a wireless keyboard. I got home and it was waiting for me. I was SO EXCITED. The first thing I did, however, was to email my friend to tell her it was here. I wanted her to know the operation was a success. I doubt that she was awake when I sent the email, as it was the wee hours of the morning over there. But I had to let her know.

Then I opened the package.

That took a lot longer than I expected. My friend is a REALLY GOOD WRAPPER. She had wrapped this thing so well that even Customs didn't attempt to open it. I think they took one look at all that tape and thought, Bugger that! We'll never get lunch if we start on that one!

I tore it open impatiently with the aid of scissors, leaving ripped tape, packaging and bubble wrap all over the floor. Then I had to get the Palm and keyboard out of the hard plastic packaging. You need scissors for that, too, and even then it's not easy, I can tell you. You could have parachuted the whole parcel in, and between my friend's packing and the Palm packing it would have been in perfect condition.

Half an hour later (only slightly exaggerating), and panting, I got to the instruction booklet inside. READ THIS FIRST, it said, and obediently, I did. I didn't want to destroy my new toy before I'd even started.

Step One is CONNECT AND CHARGE. I read carefully.

a. Plug the power adapter into your Zire 31 handheld and into an outlet. Do not connect the HotSync cable to your handheld until instructed to do so.

Fine. I plugged in the power adapter, and left the HotSync cable in its little plastic bag.

b. Charge for four hours. Make sure to fully charge your handheld before going on to the next step.

I sat back on my heels, gasping with frustration.

Four hours? FOUR HOURS before I can go on to Step Two? That will be one o'clock in the morning! I have to work tomorrow!


Oh, well. I unfolded the keyboard, anyway. That was fun. WHAT A COOL KEYBOARD. Honestly, sometimes I'm so gadget-happy I make myself sick.

(It's not just any gadget, though. For maximum happiness, the gadget should have a keyboard. A gadget that IS a keyboard makes me go smiley all the way through. I keep unfolding it and folding it up again.)

Other news: The cold I got on Saturday seems to be fading away without turning into anything really nasty and vicious. Everybody else has been complaining about how awful it is and how long it lasts (three weeks, said someone I met today, and her husband has had it even longer), but I seem to be getting off lightly. Is it going to return with a vengeance, or am I the lucky one this time? Stay tuned.