Monday, October 31, 2005

Prague photos

Lack of inspiration (and a cold, which kept me home all day) led me to go through some of my Prague photos. Here are a few.

This first one was weird. We were walking through the palace complex, and I saw an amazing thing: this head at a window. I stared for a while, and it didn't move, so I thought it was a mannequin head. It was an odd place for a mannequin head to be, so naturally I took a picture. Then I found my friend.

"Look!" I said, pointing. "Look at that head!"

She looked, but it wasn't there.

I stared. Where had it gone? I checked my camera, and sure enough, there it was. It was a REAL head. It still looked odd, though.

These are sort of suitable for Halloween, I think. They were taken in a puppet shop. I wish I'd bought one, now. They were great.

And this is a Frank Gehry building, locally known as the Fred and Ginger building, because it appears to be dancing. It looked kind of messy in real life, but in pictures it looks good. I had never heard of Frank Gehry before this trip. One of the advantages of travelling with an architect is that you get to learn stuff.

Here are some details of the top of the building, which was rather photogenic.

And here is the changing of the guard at the palace. These guys stand there not moving and totally expressionless, while people stand beside them and pull faces and take pictures and kiss them and so on, and then when they change the guard they march off, totally expressionless ... except the guy in the middle, who could not contain his glee at finally being off duty (almost), and I caught him.

There was some work going on in the palace, and scaffolding all over one of the buildings. People were disappointed, but I thought it was all rather picturesque anyway. Don't you think this guy looks like he's going to break into song? He didn't, but I took his picture anyway.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Weird and random facts

Pkchukiss has hit me with a meme, and it's just as well because I have caught a cold and was having trouble coming up with something to write about today that wasn't a great big moan about how unfair life is.

Here is the meme:

Rules of the game: Post 5 Weird and Random Facts about yourself, then at the end list the names of 5 people who are next in line to do this.

Weird and random is hard, but I've taken it to mean the first five things I think of. That's random, right? Irrelevant, anyway.

Here goes:

1. I am the Missing Link.

When I was ten a woman who was knitting a sweater for me took my measurements, and while she was doing this she chatted with my mother. After she'd finished she looked at the numbers she'd written and did a double-take.

"I shouldn't talk when I'm doing this," she laughed. "I've made a mistake. Your arms can't possibly be that long. Twenty-one inches? A little thing like you?" She scoffed at herself. "Sixteen, more like!"

She measured again. My arms were, indeed, twenty-one inches long, and the theory of evolution gained instant follower.

2. I have no ambition. I do not want to be anyone, or do anything in particular. Just being is enough for me, and doing whatever I'm doing well.

3. My father had that balding pattern where his hair receded at the sides and he was left with a vertical strip of hair down his forehead. When I was about seven I asked him why it was like that, and he told me it was a special hairstyle for clever people, and I BELIEVED HIM. For years.

4. When I was six I was a fast reader, and one day my cousin commented on how quickly my eyes moved back and forth as I was reading. For about an hour after he said this I read the same paragraph over and over, because I kept noticing my eyes and losing the plot, and for weeks afterwards his words would come back to me at odd moments and I would lose track of what I was reading. It was INSANELY IRRITATING, and I thought he'd done it deliberately because I would rather read than play with him. (This is still true, incidentally.)

5. When I was four my brother told me that if I was wearing gumboots (rubber boots) the electric fence would not give me a shock, and I believed him and touched the electric fence. I got a shock. I'm fairly sure he was right and the gumboots were at fault, but I am still mad at him for laughing. It wasn't very nice.

I don't know who to tag. How about the first five commenters?

Another normal day

Another day at work.

My problem class (which I have written about previously here and here) has a new twist. Last semester one of the cool guys decided that he would speak English after all (he had been too cool to do so, before) - but only in a funny voice. I didn't do anything about it, because at least he was speaking English. But in the last couple of weeks his idea has taken off in a big way, and now the whole class is doing it. Naoki now sounds COMPLETELY NORMAL. He is the only one not doing it. (At least not deliberately.)

This week the funny voices thing was made more hilarious by the language the students have been learning. They enjoyed the bit about bad habits in the textbook, and made extensive use of their dictionaries, which they don't normally bother to do. Yesterday the lesson was punctuated by sudden accusations.



All in funny voices, of course.

"Terrible, terrible," I say, shaking my head. "Turn to page forty-five. TURN! TO! PAGE! FORTY! FIVE!"

I do not use a funny voice. I do speak at ten times my normal volume, however. I have to, in that class. I have a lot of competition.

At lunchtime there was a Halloween parade at the university. I know Halloween in on Sunday, but nobody is there on Sunday so they had the parade on Friday. This was organized by the foreign full-timers, as a sort of cultural event with a prize for best costume (so that at least some of the students would be motivated to participate). Some of the part-time teachers brought costumes and joined the parade. I did not, because I am far too mature and professional for that sort of thing. (Also, I forgot it was on.) I didn't even go to see the parade. It was on the other end of campus, I had grading to do, and couldn't be bothered making the effort to fit that in as well.

The teacher in the room next to mine borrowed a wig from another teacher, and in the teachers' room he tried it on. It was long and blond. The effect was startling. He is a tall, large fair man, with very short hair. He also has dimples. When he wore the wig (with little pumpkin clips to keep it out of his eyes) he looked like a gigantic schoolgirl. It was an astonishing transformation.

We dared him to wear it to class.

Passing the office, we stopped in to pick up audio-visual cabinet keys. Several of the office ladies went into hysterics when they saw the wig. One middle-aged woman, who is normally very dignified, laughed so hard she ended up staggering around banging into things, and had to wipe her streaming eyes with a hanky.

"Suits him, doesn't it?" I commented, once she'd recovered, and she stared at me and then stared at him, just as he absentmindedly flipped the hair out of his face, looking impossibly coy. She folded over again, holding her sides.

Up on the fifth floor two of us lurked out in the hall to see how his class reacted. We had a good view of the students slumped over their desks through the glass panel in the door. It was nine in the morning. Students are not at their best in first period classes. The other teacher nudged me.

"I bet they don't notice," he said.

"They can't POSSIBLY not notice," I said.

The teacher strode in looking utterly bizarre. "Good morning!" he said, in his usual manner, and flipped the hair back from his face. (He told us later he wasn't doing that on purpose. The hair kept getting up his nose and the pumpkin clips weren't doing the job.)

The students gazed at him in the stunned mullet way they usually do in first period. After about ten seconds, one giggled suddenly. The others sat there. The thought balloons over their heads were COMPLETELY EMPTY.

The two of us out in the hall fell about laughing.

"That was PERFECT!" gasped the other teacher. "PERFECT!"

We talked about it in the break. The bewigged teacher was horribly disappointed. "They didn't react!" he said.

"That because we're ALREADY strange," said the teacher who'd been out in the hall with me. "We're gaijin. They expect us to be weird. The only way we could really surprise them is if we walked in looking perfectly normal, and we can never do that because we're not Japanese."

I wasn't so sure. "It could have been that none of them had their contact lenses in yet," I said. "And it's not cool to wear glasses unless you don't need them."

When another teacher walked into my third period class wearing a different, black wig which looked remarkably like many of the students' own hair, and pretended to be one of them by sitting down and instantly falling asleep, my students cracked up. But I don't know if it was the wig or the imitation student thing that made them hoot.

In that class, I managed to inadvertently reinforce some of the language I've been teaching them in recent weeks. As I walked into the class I realized I'd left my wallet in the coffee shop, where I'd been sitting doing grading after having lunch (instead of going to see the parade). "Oh!" I said, and smacked myself on the head. "I left my wallet in the coffee shop. I am SO FORGETFUL. Sorry - I have to run and get it."

This is exactly what they studied last week. Forgetful was on the vocab list, and leaving something somewhere was one of the phrases they learned.

After I'd run to the coffee shop and back to the classroom - down and up three flights of stairs - I arrived back the classroom with my wallet, gasping for breath and red in the face.

"I am SO out of shape," I told the students, and they nodded wisely. We did out of shape two weeks ago. It's lovely to be understood.

The winner of the Halloween parade costume competition was a student who wore only underpants and a mask. I heard about it afterwards. Apparently his underpants were so tight and revealing he would have been arrested in any other country. Here he won an iPod.

A couple of female teachers were talking about it in the teachers' room after work.

"I saw you staring!" said one.

"I didn't mean to," said the other, defensively. "But I couldn't help it. They were JIGGLING. Your eyes just naturally WENT there."

How could I have been so stupid? I spent lunchtime grading papers and forgetting things when I could have been feasting my eyes on JIGGLING UNDERPANTS.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bird games

Yesterday while I was sitting in the little park behind school after work, relaxing for a bit before cycling home, I watched a crow for a while. I was watching it because there was a small black cat that sits behind some bushes in the park, and whenever a pigeon got near it looked very, very alert. It didn't do anything, but it got that look that said it might, if it felt like it.

The crow was wandering around the water feature, and I wondered if the cat would feel like attacking a bird as big as itself. But when the crow got a bit too close the cat pretended it had sudden urgent business elsewhere, and slunk off.

I continued watching the crow, which then started to do something rather odd. It found a rock. The rock was quite large - about as big as an ordinary hen's egg, only square, and, well, rock-like.

At first I thought the crow perhaps mistook the rock for a bit of bread that had become dry and hard, because it picked up the rock and threw it, quite purposefully, into the water. Then it picked it out of the water and threw it on the ground. And then it picked it up again and flew up, dropping it. It landed, picked it up again, and threw it back into the water.

This odd behaviour continued for about ten minutes. After a while I decided the crow knew it was a rock and not bread, and came to the conclusion that it was playing. I have never seen a bird play before, but I couldn't imagine what else it was doing. It certainly wasn't achieving anything except a lovely CLUNK every time it threw or dropped the rock. It would cock its head and appear to be listening to this sound. When the rock landed in the water, it would splash. The crow seemed to enjoy that, too, judging by the number of times it threw the rock into the water. It usually picked it up in its beak, but now and again it picked it up with its feet, too, and moved it around a little.

I only took one picture. I forgot I had the camera with me until just before the crow flew off somewhere else with the rock. And I missed the rock. Just as I took the picture the crow threw the rock into the water, and it landed out of the frame. But if I see anything like that again I will try to get better pictures. It was STRANGE.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Crappy teacher

This is an attempt at a 'My Day' post, about work yesterday. Skip it if you find 'My Day' posts boring. I'm trying to bounce myself out of my 'don't feel like writing' mood.

MY DAY (Tuesday)

I arrive early in order to commandeer one of the two copying machines in the teachers' room. Last week the students learned some vocabulary for talking about accidents, and today, by way of reinforcement, I'm giving them a board game in which they'll move around the board having bizarre accidents (and losing points), going to hospital (and gaining points), and telling each other what happened to them. After that I'll give them a new vocabulary handout about aches and pains. This is all leading up to a homework assignment which I hope will keep me amused while I'm grading it, in which they will write me letters making excuses for fictional absences from class. I'm hoping for things like this:

Sorry I couldn't come to class for the last three weeks. I had a terrible 'flu with fits of sneezing, and then when I was making breakfast I got my tongue stuck in the toaster and as I was leaving the house to go to the hospital I got my penis caught in the door and smashed it. On the way to the hospital I fell down a pothole and got a bad concussion, and had to stay in hospital for two weeks. Then my dog ate my homework and got a stomachache and died. I cried all night and now my eyes hurt and I have the hiccups.

Well, maybe I don't need the penis bit, but you get the idea. I get sick of their usual excuse for missing classes, which is, "I was sleeping." I want to slap them when they say that. Why can't they come up with something more inventive? Is it because they can't? I've decided to teach them how, hence this lesson plan.

The bell rings for the first class and I gather up my materials, chatting with four of the other teachers. As we move towards the door my bowels signal a message.

"Sod it!" I say, exasperated. "What am I, Pavlov's dog or something? The bell rings and suddenly I get an overwhelming urge to have a dump. This happens here EVERY WEEK. WHY DOES IT ALWAYS HAPPEN HERE?"

There is a startled silence and everybody stops and turns to look at me, and I remember belatedly that I'm not at the place where I can say things like this and everybody will take it in their stride. Here we are all polite and well-mannered and boring, except one guy I also work with elsewhere, who is going pink with a suppressed rude comment.

The other three guys decide, after their initial surprise, that this is a topic worthy of serious discussion, and on our way to the lifts we discuss the difficulties of reconciling bodily functions with a teaching schedule. We agree that it is wise to give precedence to bodily functions.

I do not do the wise thing, however. I did that all through last semester and half of my first period students wrote on the class evaluation forms:

Teacher is often late.

The little rotters! Teacher was not late. Teacher was at school forty minutes before they were. When the bell rang TEACHER WAS DOWN THE HALL, CRAPPING.

The accident game is a great hit. The classroom echoes with cries of,

"You look terrible! What happened?"

"I poked myself with a chopstick and injured my eye."

"I sat on a tack."

"I rode my bicycle into a power pole and dislocated my shoulder."


Most of the students end up with minus points, and some want to know if that means they are dead. I tell them no, but they are limping badly, unless they have lost a huge number of points in which case they are badly limping accident-prone zombies. I demonstrate limping and make a note to adjust the points system.

After that we get into the 'aches and pains' vocabulary list, and the students watch in amazement while I demonstrate hiccups, vomiting, dizziness, and so on. They think their teacher is mad. I doubt they'll forget these words, though.

After the morning classes the lunchtime meeting takes up the entire lunch break, but at least I'm given a good lunch. It is a lot larger than my usual lunch. The meeting is boring, as meetings usually are. We try to sound serious about our jobs. We complain about various things (for pedagogical reasons, of course) and the bosses nod seriously and take notes. Nothing ever changes as a result of these meetings.

I coast through the next class on autopilot, feeling extremely full. Halfway through the last class I realize that I still haven't had time to get to the toilet. As I shout, "I AM CONSTIPATED!" and the class repeats it after me I wonder if choosing this particular lesson today is an example of irony. I'm fairly sure it's not satire, although it probably qualifies as farce.

This last class includes one third year student who sticks out like a giant amongst children. He plays American football. He failed English in his first year because he hated it (he said) and then went to the US for eight months and became miraculously fluent (in slang particularly) thus missing another year, and is now having to retake basic English with me. I don't know quite how he got through the new streaming system and ended up in this particular class, which isn't a very high one, but I told him that if he wanted to stay I'd give him an A if he promised to help me. He agreed, and is a real asset in the classroom because the others think he is super cool and he uses English all the time. He makes it cool to use English. Also, I notice, he teaches them the interesting words they REALLY want to know. Today's new word is handjob.

Does he think I can't hear him because he is in the group at the back of the class? He is wrong. Teacher may be late sometimes but she hears EVERYTHING.

As usual I ignore this unofficial mini-lesson at the back of the room. It is refreshing to see the bad boys looking so fascinated by English. There is something terrifically innocent about the way the younger guys gaze at the older one. He looks modest and grave, and nods wisely

"Honto?" they say, and ponder the word thoughtfully. "Job ... hand ... ah so ka!" they say, nodding. They look SO SERIOUS. If I didn't know better I might think they are actually studying.

I suppose they are, really, but that one won't be on the test. (I'm a little worried about the homework assignments from that class, though.)

After the last class finishes I head off to the toilet, but it is too late. My bowels refuse to function on Tuesdays except at precisely nine in the morning, apparently, triggered by the bell. After that it is concrete all the way down.

I may have to start being a late, crappy teacher again.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I am not depressed. I do not get depressed. It is not in my nature, which is to be unreasonably cheerful ALL THE TIME except when I am panicking about something.

In fact I have been unreasonably cheerful, in recent days.

BUT... as my regular readers may have noticed (or may not have) I have not been blogging quite as regularly as I usually do. This is because I am suffering from the mid-semester blues. This has manifested itself in a lack of enthusiasm for writing, this semester. I don't know why. Usually when I am suffering from mid-semester blues I counteract them by writing about what I am feeling shitty about. This semester I have been counteracting them by spending money on things I want but don't really need, like, for example, the Palm Zire 31 WITH WIRELESS KEYBOARD, which will be arriving soon, courtesy of an American friend who has bought it for me and is sending it over (thank you thank you thank you!).

Why are PDAs so rare here? Is it the ubiquitous cellphones? But why can't I even find the keyboards here? I want to WRITE, dammit. Sometimes nothing but writing will do, to cheer me up, and if you're a touch typist like me a cellphone keypad is just plain silly. And anyway, I do not want a cellphone.

One of the guys at work has one of these Palms, and I have been suffering from technology envy ever since I played with it.

Anyway, this is by way of explanation for the lack of blog entries recently. I am suffering from mid-semester blues, even though I don't think we're quite mid-semester yet. However, when my new Palm Zire appears in the mailbox I will be happy. I'm hoping that I will be able to use it to keep class notes, and when I do that, I will pretend to be taking notes when in fact I will be writing blog entries to download to my computer after I get home, and you will be endlessly entertained (or something) by a running commentary of what goes on in my classes.

I may have discovered the perfect way to combine work with play. HA!

Oh, and also, when the new Kate Bush album comes out I will be happy, too. I listened to the new single, and I like it. I like the video, too. Kate has now 47. She is not a beautiful teenager. She is a beautiful middle-aged woman, and she looks her age. (Well, almost.) I like it that she hasn't tried to hide this. She has jowls, and so do I. Jowls happen, along with age. (Unless you're The Man, in which case you look young forever, due to the picture in the attic and the fact that you've sold your soul to the devil, which is too bad for the devil when the soul in question is Buddhist and the devil in question doesn't exist.) In any case, even if I don't like the whole album I'm sure it will make me happy if only because I like music that makes me think and Kate Bush lyrics are always weird enough to make me think.

(Elvis are you out there somewhere, looking like a happy man?)

Other news (now that I've started writing I can't seem to stop) I called my older brother today, since it had been several months since we've been in touch. All my brothers are fine, apparently, and Youngest Brother is going to make me an aunt YET AGAIN in February or March. When will it all end? Hasn't anybody noticed yet that the family genes are in no danger of dying out?

I asked my older brother if he knew I'd been in Europe over the summer, and he said yes, he knew about that.

"Oh, Youngest Brother actually read my email?" I asked, surprised. Youngest brother is the only one with email, but he doesn't actually read it. He just sees that an email from me has arrived and assumes that therefore I'm alive and therefore there is no need to read the email. If I have anything urgent to say I have to compress it into the subject line.

"No, his wife did," said my older brother. "Second Youngest Brother called Youngest Brother to find out if he'd heard from me. Youngest Brother wasn't home but his wife was, and she checked the computer and read the email over the phone. Second Youngest Brother later called again and spoke to Youngest Brother, and told him that you were in Europe, which he hadn't known because he hadn't read your email. Then he called us, so we knew, too."

"Oh," I said.

I wonder when someone in my family WHO ACTUALLY READS will get email?


Recently I've been puzzled by a paper posted on a noticeboard outside a pharmacy near my house. The sign has been there for a while, judging by how it has faded, but I hadn't noticed it before. Perhaps I had to be in the right mood.

It fits my mood right now. I have to go to work tomorrow? I think. Sod it! And, We have the twice-yearly lunchtime meeting tomorrow? Sod it!

I think I need some of that medicine. The Man tells me its actual name is Superoxide Dismutase.

Whatever. I prefer SOD. It goes with the picture.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Yesterday at work there was a very old wheelchair sitting outside the toilets in the corridor outside my classroom on the third floor. I had never seen a wheelchair on campus before, and I don't think I've ever seen such an old one before anywhere. I wondered whose it was. It didn't look like a wheelchair a permanently disabled person would use. It didn't look like a wheelchair a semi-permanently disabled person would use, either. The third or fourth time I passed it I looked more closely and thought it wasn't even a wheelchair a temporarily disabled person would use. For one thing, one of the footrests was missing. For another, it had small wheels, which meant that you could not wheel yourself around. You would have to depend on someone else pushing you.

I tried to think what it would be used for, and failed.

It was still there in the afternoon, and I guessed that whoever was supposed to using it was finding it just as unhelpful as it looked.

I was right. I bumped into the German teacher just before fifth period. He was drooped over crutches and book-laden bags were hanging from both his shoulders. I've only met him a couple of times before, because he's not in our language department. He has been hired separately by another department. He speaks English well, and seems a nice, somewhat bewildered sort of bloke. I imagine it must be bewildering, being the only native German speaker on campus and having to deal with a Japanese university bureaucracy all by yourself. I also happen to know that at least one of the Japanese German language teachers doesn't speak German AT ALL, which must make things rather awkward.

I stopped and chatted with him for a moment, and he told me he had broken his foot in a bicycle accident. He was looking more bewildered than usual, as anybody would while trying to negotiate those old buildings on crutches while carrying a load of teaching materials. I sympathised, and asked him if the wheelchair was his.

"The university lent it to me," he said. "But I'm afraid I'm not finding it very helpful."

He sounded somewhat apologetic, as if he thought he was sounding ungrateful. We both gazed at the wheelchair.

"Didn't they at least offer you a ground floor classroom?" I asked. "Or tell you to take time off?"

"Er, noooo ..." he said.

"And is that all they had?" I asked, pointing at the wheelchair.

"Er, no, actually," he said, and looked puzzled. "They had two. The other one is new, with big wheels. I mean, with this one I can't push myself and there's nobody to push me so it just gets in the way, especially because I need to carry the crutches as well. I asked for the other one, but they wouldn't lend it to me." He paused. "They wouldn't let me not take this one though," he added. "They seemed to want to be helpful."

I stared at the ancient wheelchair, and wondered how anybody could possibly imagine it was helpful.

"So why wouldn't they lend you the other one?" I asked. "Was someone else using it?"

"Nooooo," he said. "But they said they couldn't let me use it because they said they might need it in an emergency."

It is not very often that I am left speechless, but this was one of those times.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Remember I told you I got sick in Paris? This meant I spent a lot of time sitting in parks and looking at statues, because my legs refused to operate.

I didn't sit TOO still, though. I didn't like the idea of what might happen if I sat too still.

(Click to enlarge)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Family photos

I've just got around to downloading these photos from my camera. I took these just after coming back to Japan.

Remember when I posted pictures of the turtles in the river? Well, while I was away, a couple of them got busy and produced a baby turtle. Just one, that I've seen. Here is a picture of the proud mother with her baby.

As I was watching them, the proud father made his appearance. "Don't forget me!" he said. "I'm a part of this family, too! I had something to do with this!" (I am trying to imagine turtle sex, and failing, but I don't think it can be very FAST. This can only be good news for the females.)

He climbed up onto the rock, shoving his wife out of the way.

Then the whole family posed for me to take a couple of pictures. At least I suppose they were posing, because when I cycled around to the other side of the river to take a profile shot they didn't move. They were holding their pose. Wasn't that considerate of them?

Don't they have lovely undersides? They look like upside-down ladybirds. (That's ladybugs to you Americans.)

Here is the profile shot. Why do you think they hold their heads up like baby birds? Do they think a Great Turtle in the sky is going to feed them?

What a lovely family.

NOTE: I am only guessing about which parent is which. It is entirely possible that the larger turtle is in fact the female, and I have anthropomortified them by getting it wrong.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Clap hands

In my difficult class (also my favourite class) on Fridays, there is one guy who towards the end of last semester decided that ALL RIGHT, IF I INSIST, he will speak English - but only in a funny voice.

I thought about this, when I heard him being silly in English, and decided to not to discourage him. I remember being very impressed by something one of my own teachers once told me: that when you start to learn a foreign language you sound like an idiot or a child. It is inevitable. And as teachers, it is important to remember that our students are not idiots or children (except when they are), and to treat them respectfully and give them a place to feel safe experimenting with the new language, and where they can sound like idiots or children without feeling threatened or stupid.

I've noticed that my lower level classes act more idiotically than my higher level classes, and I suspect that is because they are very aware that when they speak English they sound childish or idiotic, and that therefore by being silly intentionally they are making themselves feel a little more in control of the situation. I can understand this. When I speak Japanese I frequently feel stupid, and clown around to cover my embarrassment.

Anyway, when this guy started speaking English in a silly voice (a VERY silly voice), I told myself it didn't matter as long as he was speaking English. And his English was improving. His silly-voiced English was getting better. When he had used his normal voice his way of coping was to be silent and cool, but now that he was clowning around he was doing pretty well. (I just hope that it doesn't become automatic, and he remembers to use a normal voice if he's ever in a situation where he has to use English outside the classroom, because his silly voice is PRETTY DAMNED FUNNY and he does funny faces to go with it.)

On Friday, he decided to try a new trick with his wonderful silly voice talent, discovered, I suspect, in my classroom. He decided to imitate a mosquito.

He did a MARVELLOUS mosquito imitation. I was writing an explanation on the board at the time, and the class was uncharacteristically silent and focused when this loud whining started. It was amazing. It sounded like a helicopter-sized mosquito was circling the room.

Bugger! I thought. Damn that boy! Just when I got them all paying attention he has to ruin it by distracting them!.

I could tell nobody was paying attention to me any more, and I didn't blame them. Mosquitos are distracting at the best of times, and this was a BIG one. I still had my back to the class, but my image of this mosquito was distracting me, too. It was HUGE. I kept writing, slowly, and pondered what to do. My first impulse was to turn around and glare and tell him to stop that nonsense, but I knew he would do a funny face and say, "Oh, sorry!" in a funny voice and that would be just as distracting, so I kept writing. But I had to do SOMETHING. This mosquito was driving me nuts.

Finally I stopped writing. I didn't turn around, though. I took a deep breath and yelled at the board, instead, as loudly as I could:


There was a shocked silence. The mosquito stopped whining, and the entire class mentally translated the sentence. The silence dragged on.

Then the mosquito started up again, but after a couple of circles of whining around the room there was a sharp, loud hand-clap, and it stopped abruptly. Then it made a sort of pathetic dying whine, and stopped entirely.

The class erupted in laughter, and I'd lost them altogether.

It was hilarious, but didn't really solve my problem. I had to work hard to get their attention again. Also, I had to stop laughing before I could turn around and face the class.

Later I was telling a colleague about this.

"It was hilarious," I said, having imitated the whining mosquito, the subsequent hand-clap, and distracted several other patrons of the restaurant we were in. "I really enjoyed that. Shouting made me feel better, and didn't hurt anybody's feelings. It was PERFECT - except it wasn't really good teaching. I mean, where was the English?"

"There was English," she said. "You shouted in English."

I thought about it. It was true! I shouted in English, and somebody responded appropriately, and everybody understood it and laughed their heads off! It was a successful lesson!

What a good teacher I am!

I love having supportive colleagues. They can make a lesson feel successful because one sentence (of several hundred, probably) that I spoke in the classroom was understood.

Become happy everybody probably

I stole these shamelessly from my students' backs, disconcerting them by standing behind them and scribbling in my notebook, giggling:

It is able to become happy everybody probably, when many circle and heart gather.

No wonder they find English incomprehensible. So do I.

The one time G-child prepapers to come into full-fledged.
Handle at your own


I had a haircut today. I told my hairdresser how happy I was to be finally getting it cut.

"It's getting really long and straggly," I said. "I can't even remember when you cut it last."

"February," she said promptly.

She keeps records? How embarrassing! I thought it might have been April, or possibly March, but FEBRUARY?

Then she added,

"Time is frying."

Actually, my hairdresser's pronunciation of English is extremely good. She pronounces her rs and ls perfectly. She just forgets where they go, sometimes.

She did a great job on my hair. Now when I wear it down I look like a normal person instead of a scruffy, aging hippie.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Good news, bad news, weird news

The good news is that the online Daily Yomiuri newspaper DOES have archives these days. I hadn't noticed, but the site now carries more than just today's news. I wonder when they changed it?

The bad news is that they have started truncating their stories, or at least this one, the most fascinating story to turn up since the LAST time it turned up. (I wrote about it here.) It gets weirder and weirder.

Man 'hit lover who hired killer to off his wife'

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A 32-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a woman with whom he had been having an affair after learning she had hired a hit man over the Internet to kill his wife, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department said Wednesday.

Sadatoshi Machida, an ambulance worker at Shibuya Fire Station, assaulted the 32-year-old woman, who was a coworker, at a hot-spring resort in Shizuoka Prefecture on Sept. 2, breaking one of her ribs.

According to the MPD, Machida found a contract for the murder of his wife in the woman's bag while performing first aid in June. He arranged to meet the woman at a hotel in August and hit her, bursting one of her eardrums.

Machida then invited the woman to a hot-spring resort in Izunokuni, Shizuoka Prefecture. In order to console Machida, who was upset about the murder plan, she complied.

(Oct. 13, 2005)

This story made my jaw drop several times when I read it in the hard copy version yesterday morning at work. There were some sentences I had to reread to make sure I was reading correctly:

According to the MPD, Machida found a contract for the murder of his wife in the woman's bag while performing first aid in June.

How can they write stuff like this, that raises more questions than it answers? How did he manage to perform first aid and rifle through his girlfriend's bag at the same time? Who was he performing first aid ON? Her? After he'd beaten her up? But no, we learn that he beat her up AFTER finding the contract, so presumably he was performing first aid on someone else.

I wonder if the patient survived? Machida's reaction to this discovery was to invite the woman to a hotel and burst her eardrum.

The next thing to make my jaw drop was that after he had burst her eardrum she felt she needed to console him, by meeting him at a hot spring resort, although I suppose this kind of makes sense, in a masochistic kind of way.

"I'm sorry I wanted to kill your wife. I can see you are very upset. Let me make it up to you. Let's go on holiday together."

"Good idea. Let's go to a hot spring resort. You're paying."



But the story gets even more bizarre, and this is the bit they left out of the online version. Consider yourself lucky to have me, your faithful connoisseur of the weird, to type it all up for you:

Machida started dating the woman when she was assigned to Shibuya Fire station in September 2001. But since last year, he started charging her around ¥2000 an hour for the pleasure of his company. He received ¥200,000 to ¥1 million each time they went out, and she had paid him a total of ¥5 million as of November.

After beating her up at the hot spring inn, he said, "I'll stay with you until tomorrow morning. Pay me ¥5 million. If you don't have it, borrow from your relatives," the police said.

Machida has admitted to the charges, the police said.

The woman was arrested on suspicion of violating the Law Concerning Punishment of Physical Violence and Others for hiring a hit man. The MPD also arrested an Internet site operator Akio Okudaira, 49, and a self-described private detective Takaharu Tabe, 40, on suspicion of fraud.

(Now close your mouth.)

She PAID him to go out with her? Why? Blackmail? But if there was any blackmail involved, wouldn't it be the other way around, since he was the married one?

And also, if he was charging ¥2000 an hour for 'the pleasure of his company,' and she paid him ¥200,000 to ¥1 million each time, then does that mean they 'went out' for 100 to 500 hours each time? That's about four to twenty days per date! (Or were they just very, very bad at mathematics?)

However... let's put this and the previous story together and try to make sense of this. Here's how I understand it.

The woman hired a hitman on the Internet, paid him, and got a contract. (What sort of hitman issues a contract? Did he sign it, I wonder?) Machida found the contract to kill his wife (while performing first aid) and was incensed. The woman agreed to go to a hotel (for 100 hours? 500?) to 'console' him, and he beat her up, bursting her eardrum. Then they went to a hot spring resort and he beat her up again, breaking her rib. After this, she went to the police and complained about the non-performing hitman/private detective. The police promptly arrested her on suspicion of inducing a person to commit murder, and now have arrested Machida for beating her up, so presumably she decided to complain about him, as well. The police also arrested the non-performing hitman for fraud

Hold on... fraud? Oh, but of COURSE. He took the money but DIDN'T KILL THE WIFE. Boy, I bet he's kicking himself now. Bugger. I knew I shouldn't have chickened out. Being arrested for fraud sucks.

You couldn't make this stuff up. ISN'T IT WONDERFUL?

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Today I got the urge to do something naughty, but I didn't do it. Actually, I didn't do it because I didn't have a marker pen in my bag, but never mind that. I'd prefer to think I had a fit of responsible maturity and decided to behave myself.

What happened is that I spent Sunday marking students' homework. In this homework, they were writing advice. They looked at a picture of a fat slob with dirty hair and grotty clothes slouched in front of a TV eating junk food and smoking, and gave the person advice about how to clean up their act. This was to practice the forms I think you should... and Why don't you...? and so on.

Most of the students wrote,

Why don't you quit smorking?

- EVEN THOUGH it is spelt correctly in the textbook. For some reason this is a word they often insist on spelling wrongly.

So today, as I walked through the sparsely populated campus early in the morning, the naughty thing I wanted to do was to add an r to all the NO SMOKING posters I saw. Actually there are only two or three that are written in English as well as Japanese, but I really, really wanted to add that r. It would give my students an excuse for getting it wrong. It would be a retrospective excuse, but still, a retrospective excuse is better than no excuse at all, surely.

(I'm working there again tomorrow. I wonder if I have a marker pen around here somewhere?)

He must have cheated

Village Idiot
tagged me with what has turned out to be a really awful meme. He told me I have to go back through my archives and find the fifth line of the twenty-third post I wrote, and post it. Coincidentally, this happens to be one of the most boring I have ever written:

"It's historical, sure, but so is practically every place in Japan."

I thought of cheating and making up something better. Who is going to go back and check? I thought. Then I thought maybe somebody would, and expose me as a blog fraud (oh, the shame!), and then I thought of cheating by editing the post so that the fifth line of the twenty-third post said something scintillating. But I couldn't be bothered.

That would make a good epitaph for me, actually. She couldn't be bothered.

Come to think of it, I suspect Village Idiot of cheating. Who could COINCIDENTALLY come up with such a great fifth line of the twenty-third post? I didn't check. I can't be bothered, but I think somebody should, quick, before he catches on to the editing trick.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Useless an English teacher

The part-time teachers' room at the place I work on Tuesdays has a secretary. I have been using her recently as I've been cleaning up old student records and so on. I take her the papers with students' personal information on them, and ask to use the shredder. She always takes the papers and tells me not to worry about it, she'll dispose of it herself. I also give her paper that can be recycled or used again.

I am apparently not the only person who has been getting rid of old papers, because recently she has placed a couple of cardboard boxes in prominent view, with neatly handwritten labels, in which we can deposit student records and scrap paper to be disposed of. This is typical of her. She is a friendly, helpful person.

However, I am a little puzzled by the labels. I know she doesn't speak much English, but does she not realize that she is surrounded by English teachers, any of whom would have been happy to help her?

The label on one box says:


And the other one says:


I was going to say something about this (after I'd turned off the grin that had suddenly spread all over my face), but then had the sudden thought that perhaps she had asked one of the Japanese teachers of English to translate the labels for her. I tried to think through the ramifications of the loss of face my correction could cause, but it was the end of a long teaching day and I was too tired, so I went home instead. Now I feel stupid. I should have just told her, quietly. I am useless an English teacher.

I'll tell her next week.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Cheryl wrote a lovely post about being five, and Doris followed it up with her experience of being five (which wasn't so pleasant), and mentioned her brother mangling her doll and the trouble it got her into.

I was given a doll when I was five, too, but I'm afraid the person who mangled it was me. I never did figure out what you were supposed to do with dolls. They couldn't climb trees, were useless on bicycles, and when it came to games they just sat there, staring spookily.

In fact I was given two dolls, one by an aunt and the other by a grandmother. (Neither of them knew me very well. OBVIOUSLY.) One doll I mangled in the chain of my bicycle when I took it for a ride and the silly thing just didn't hang on tight enough, and the other ... well, I cut its hair, expecting it to grow back, and then I poked its eyes trying to figure out how they closed when you lay the doll down, and managed to somehow (gag) poke them RIGHT INTO ITS OWN HEAD. I was puzzled and somewhat sickened. I'd only had the doll a couple of days and already it was bald and had holes for eyes, and its eyeballs rattled around in its skull. What kind of toy was that? Useless, creepy thing.

My mother was horrified when she saw what I'd done. She had wanted to take a photo of me holding it to send my grandmother, along with the thank you letter. She took the photo anyway, quickly, before I destroyed the doll completely. With a hat on the doll and from a distance you could hardly tell that it was just a doll corpse.

I gave the other one a haircut, too, in an effort to improve the way it looked, and then it also required a hat. Then I applied Savlon and bandaged its wounded arm and hand very carefully, but it never did heal, and neither of them grew back their hair, so I lost interest.


Today I was telling a friend about my first meal in Budapest, when my friend and I had goulash. I wrote about it here at the time, but didn't give details. I did briefly mention the problem we had with the 'garnish,' and that is what I was telling my friend about today.

She wanted to understand, and when I explained that I didn't understand it myself, she suggested writing about it on the blog. "Maybe someone will be able to explain what it meant," she said. She seems to think I have a large readership (ha!) which includes people familiar with Hungarian food and language. Well, of COURSE. Only clever, worldly-wise people read my blog!

So here's the story that requires explaining.

As I mentioned in the original post, we were walking around looking for food in the wrong end of town, something we realized when we passed a szex shop. (And you thought I'd lost my spelling prowess, didn't you? I hadn't. I was being SCRUPULOUSLY accurate. And it wasn't the tricky keyboard, either.)

Right next to the szex shop there was a place that looked kind of like a restaurant, but it also had a big 'Health Club' sign up outside. I did not take a picture of it that evening, but did take one the next day, when it was clearly a restaurant and the Health Club sign had gone. That restaurant sign was not there at night.

Inside you could see a few tables and chairs, but it was very, very dimly lit, and we were peering through the window trying to see if it was open or not when a waiter came out. We asked him if this was a restaurant, and if it was, was it open?

"Yes," he said, and whisked us inside. He did this so fast and authoritatively we didn't really have a choice. Also, he was gorgeous, and we were totally disarmed by his dimples. (I suspect that if he'd ushered us into the szex shop we would have gone like sheep.)

Inside, we were taken through the darkened room with the tables and chairs, which was empty, and through into a larger room in the back, which turned out to be... a restaurant! Down the back of the room there was a large sign with an arrow pointing to the "Health Club," which was apparently through the back of the restaurant. The sign had a picture of a man flexing his muscles. The rest of the restaurant looked like a normal restaurant, if somewhat run-down, except that one wall was covered in revolutionary pictures.

I took photos when the waiter wasn't looking, which was frequently. He kept disappearing, and there were very few other customers. (I wanted to take a picture of the waiter, too, but was a little concerned about how that request would be taken. I mean, it felt kind of wrong for a couple of women who'd been wandering the szex shop area of town to ask a hunk if they could take his photograph, and I was feeling a little intimidated already.)

The waiter brought the menu, which was HUGE. It went on for pages and pages. It was not a normal menu. It was a novel.

We settled down to study it. Fortunately for us, there were English translations alongside some of the Hungarian. Have you ever seen Hungarian? Do they have to try to get every letter of the alphabet into every word, do you think?

Unfortunately the menu translations had been done by someone whose command of English was somewhat wobbly.

We decided that since we were in Hungary, we should have goulash. That was easy. However, goulash was listed as a starter, and we wondered how big it was. We asked, and the waiter told us it was a starter. We asked how big the dish was, and he told us it was the usual size. This was not very informative, but he was reaching the end of his English so we decided to order something else as well, just in case, but not a main. (Actually I can't remember if we ever got that far in the menu anyway.)

We found a couple of pages dedicated to garnish.

"Garnish?" we asked each other. "Is there some other use of the word 'garnish' that we don't know about?"

The menu was not helpful. I can't remember if that part of it had the English translations (some parts didn't) or whether it was just unusually obscure translations, but we couldn't figure out what 'garnish' was supposed to mean. We decided to ask our long-suffering waiter again.

"What is garnish?" we asked him.

"It is..." he waved his arms helplessly and shrugged, "...It is GARNISH."

We frowned. Then we pointed to one menu item in the 'garnish' list.

"How about this," we said. "What is it?"

"Oh no, you don't want that. It's noodles," he said.

"Noodles?" we said. "Sounds good!"

"But it's NOODLES," he said. We asked for further explanation but ran into language problems again. He clearly did not want us to have the noodle garnish, but we could not extract information about what would be a suitable other dish. But he was so against the garnish it was making us curious, so in the end we told him firmly that we wanted the goulash, a salad, and the noodle garnish. Oh, and a bottle of wine.

He looked exasperated with our choice, but gave up trying to convince us that noodles were a bad idea. His expression said that we were making a horrible mistake. He'd tried to stop us but we just wouldn't listen. You could see him metaphorically washing his hands of us as he left the table.

We sat thoughtfully, pondering what could be so awful about noodles, and after a while the goulash appeared (BIG bowls), along with a large basket of bread and the wine. We tasted it all, and it was FABULOUS. Exactly what we wanted, and quite clearly enough for our needs. (If that goulash was a starter Hungarian people eat like sumo wrestlers. I think that must have been another menu translation glitch.)

Eventually the salad appeared, which was satisfactory, and the 'garnish,' which was decidedly odd. It was not noodles. It was... I don't know what to call it. It might have started off as noodles, I suppose, but if so, the noodles had been chopped into bits, about rice-sized. It was made of some kind of pastry, or dumpling-type material. The plate was huge, and there was a MOUNTAIN of this stuff. The waiter had a told-you-so expression as he delivered it and almost but not quite rolled his eyes as he departed, probably to have a giggle in the kitchen about the idiot tourists.

We stared at the plate.

"Noodles?" I said. "NOODLES?"

"Well, I suppose we should try it," my friend said, doubtfully. We were both full already, from the wonderful goulash, and there was still bread and wine left. And salad.

We dipped our forks into the mountain.

It was remarkable. It had NO FLAVOUR AT ALL. It was like ... chopped up cooked dumpling dough, with no sauce, no salt, and no taste. It was not noodles. It was not garnish. It barely qualified as 'food,' although it would have made great landfill.

Our 'garnish' sat on the table for the rest of the meal, a hard-to-ignore reminder of the lesson we had just learned. LISTEN TO THE WAITER'S ADVICE, EVEN WHEN HE DOES NOT MAKE SENSE.

I wish I'd taken a photo of the noodles, but I didn't, and nor did I note the Hungarian name. I was too busy regretting having ordered it.

But I really would like to know two things:

1. What is garnish, in Hungary? That was no sprig of parsley!

2. What WAS that stuff, and how are you supposed to eat it?

Any ideas?

Thursday, October 06, 2005


In polygamous societies, what happens to all the extra men?

Nobody has ever been able to explain this to me satisfactorily, and it just DOESN'T ADD UP.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

They make me happy

One of my students surprised me yesterday, several times. His English isn't that great. Like most of my students his grammar is pretty awful, and he has trouble putting a sentence together. However, he knows a few juicy phrases. I don't know where he gets them from, but he has learned them by heart and takes every opportunity to use them. It takes me aback every time, because the phrases are so perfect, and yet so ... wrong.

He told me that he was taking French as well as English, and I asked him how he was getting on with the pronunciation. He looked pleased, and replied,

"I'm afraid that it's totally beyond my powers of comprehension."

The whole class gasped with admiration.

He came out with several of these during the class, but I forgot to take notes. I'm starting to be wary when he gets that pleased look. It always means he's about to say something staggeringly literate. Nobody will understand him except me, and I won't know how to respond.


Another student wrote about taking driving lessons over the summer. She wrote,

My counselor, Mr Hashimoto, was very interesting person and I could enjoy driving. First, I put my foot down hard. Mr Hashimoto's face was blue and he said, "You are tremendously scary person." But finally, I could get driver's license and I drive very well now.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


The other evening, just before I went to bed, The Man said,

"I found some CDs of yours today, when I was cleaning up downstairs."

"Really? " I said. "I'll have a look in the morning. Don't throw them out."

"There were two," he said. "One of them is Fleet Macwood."

I needed an extra long pause to digest this information. I knew there was something funny about what he'd said. I just couldn't figure out what it was, at first.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Grafitti, or art?

(As you may have noticed, I've been sorting through some of my photos from the trip.)

I loved Bratislava. We only spent a day there, but it was full of surprises. We walked and walked and walked, and it seemed that every corner we turned there would be something surprising. It wasn't just the cows, either.

We went to see a church. I think it was the Blue Church. It was lovely, but the surprise was not the church. The surprise was the old, run-down building behind the church, which was not mentioned in the guidebook at all. I think we spent more time looking at this building than we did at the church. I certainly took more photos.

Who did this? How? Why? When? I don't know. There was no information, and nobody to ask.

Here are some photos. It was quite a large building, and I could not get the whole thing into one picture. This did not stop me from taking a lot of pictures, though, and here are some of them. (Click for larger versions.)

This is more or less what we saw when we came around the back of the church:

In this one, you can see the church on the right. The buildings are touching. The church, however, is beautifully maintained. The Gogh building (I don't know what else to call it) is not.

I did not visit any art galleries on my trip. This did not stop me from seeing some famous works of art, out in the wild.

We wondered about the rugs hanging out the windows. They were high up, and we couldn't tell whether they were real or not.

The stairs were not real. Or, if they were, I would not want to try climbing them. I wouldn't try opening the door, either.

Here are a couple more close-ups...

And finally, here is the view from the other side of the building, where we discovered there were yet MORE pictures.

I can't find any information about this building on the web, but I'm still looking. One problem is choosing search words. Graffiti, or art?

Walking on water

I took this picture at the little river that runs along my friend's place, in France.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


When I was in Baden-Baden, sitting in a cafe and eating crepes, I was joined by a cricket, who also studied the map. The cricket wanted to go to Schafberg, I think.

Cat at window (photo)

When I was staying with my friend in France, I took this picture of one of her cats. I can't remember which one this is. Buster, perhaps. Isn't he lovely?

Big fat lies (and how useful they can be)

Carrie got pulled over by the traffic police the other day, and found it an unsettling experience. It reminded me of the times I've been pulled over, in the days when I used to drive. It only happened twice, and I never got a ticket.

The first time was when I was fifteen, and speeding home in my father's car. (Yes, I had a licence - that was the legal age in NZ way back then.) The policeman told me to get out of the car, and I opened my mouth and a big fat lie came out. I was SO surprised. I'd always thought I was an honest person, and had to revise my opinion of myself.

"I, er, just got my... um... period," I stammered, acting all coy. "Do you mind if I don't get out? It's just that, er, I wasn't expecting it and I think I've made a mess of the seat and I'm REALLY embarrassed and trying to get home in a hurry so I can clean up ..."

The very young policeman went bright red and didn't know where to look. He told me to go. I drove off, feeling guilty and astonished and exhilarated all at the same time. Where did that lie COME from? It just popped out! And what if he'd told me to get out of the car anyway and found out it wasn't true?

The next time I was pulled over was a few years later. It was the early hours of the morning, and I got pulled over because I was driving so slowly and was too tired and drunk to bother braking when I went around a roundabout (aka traffic circle). Instead I slowed down well in advance and went around it slooowly. The tyres squealed, which was a bit surprising because I was going so slow. The police car was at the other side of the roundabout, and two policemen waved me down. I stopped, leaped out of the car so they wouldn't notice I wasn't wearing a seat belt, and they asked me if I was all right. They'd been watching me and wondered if my brakes were working. I told them I'd been working late and was very tired, and thought I was going slowly enough to not need to brake. They pointed out that the car's WOF (Warrant of Fitness) had expired the day before (I hadn't even noticed) and that my tyres were bald (I hadn't noticed that, either), which was why the car had squealed so badly around the roundabout. I lied and told them I had the car booked in for the WOF and a overhaul the next day.

I also told them I'd been working late. This was true, except that I'd worked until midnight and then partied until 3am, and the non-alcoholic punch was LETHAL. Somebody had emptied two bottles of vodka into it halfway through the evening and I hadn't noticed until I went out into the cold night and found myself staggering all over the place trying to get the key in the car door. I went back into the party and demanded an explanation, and that's when someone confessed about the vodka. But I had to get home, so drove anyway, even though I knew I shouldn't.

The policemen were sweet. They kindly offered to drive me the rest of the way, saying they were concerned that I was too tired to drive safely. I thanked them and refused. I said I was fine, the shock of being pulled over had woken me up, and I would be careful. Actually I would have liked to be driven, but I was worried that if one of them was in the car with me he might smell the vodka on my breath, or I'd start giggling. They insisted on following me home anyway, to make sure I was all right.

Wasn't that nice of them? It is incredibly stressful, though, being escorted by a police car while you're driving drunk along a winding coastal road.

I don't know why they didn't notice I was drunk anyway, or even ask if I'd been drinking, but perhaps it was the car. I had an ancient Morris Minor, a car usually driven by harmless little old ladies, and you took on an innocent aura when you drove one of those. Naughty people did not drive Morris Minors and that was all there was to it.

What do harmless little old ladies drive these days, anyway?