Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Butterfly and flower

Today it rained heavily. I did not take these pictures today. I took them last Wednesday, and only just got around to looking at them.

The first one is a swallowtail butterfly. The second is a . . . you know. One of those, oh come on, EVERYBODY knows what these flowers are called. They're, you know, that flower you can eat. I used to grow them. Yellow and orange.

Can somebody please put me out of my misery and tell me what they're called?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Permanently bewildered and out of touch

This morning when I turned up for my second period class, before lunch, the gormless boy (second half of that post) was sitting at the front of the classroom with his mouth open, looking bewildered and goofy. This is normal for him. He always looks bewildered and goofy, and I thought nothing of it. (I was not really on top of things today. My brain is suffering from mid-semester sag.)

After I'd finished calling the roll, he suddenly looked even more bewildered, then got up and dashed for the door. That was when I realized that he'd come to the wrong class again. He is in my third period class after lunch, not second period. He looked back anxiously as he closed the door, and I smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring manner.

"See you later!" I said, and then wondered if I had been tactless. Perhaps I should have pretended not to notice him. Too late. How ARE you supposed to react to someone who, seven weeks into semester, still hasn't figured out what time his classes start?

At lunchtime I told my colleagues about him as we were going up the lift for the third period class, and as I walked into my third period class and saw him sitting in the front row again (still looking bewildered and goofy) I had a revelation. If he had been born 80-odd years earlier, my student would have been a perfect candidate to become a post-war straggler. I’m not exactly sure why this feels so right, but it does. This is a kid who constantly struggles to understand what is happening in the world around him. He is permanently bewildered and out of touch.

The only class he has come to at the right time was the first one. Since then he has turned up in at the wrong time every single week, always at least an hour early. He sits in the empty room all through lunchtime as well, I discovered a couple of weeks ago, probably wondering where everybody is. Or perhaps he comes so early because he is afraid of being late. He desperately wants to do the right thing.

I don't think he needs to worry about being late, though. He gets earlier by the week. The two and a half hours today was a new record, and I'm wondering if he'll break it next week.

Today I gave my students a little writing at the end of class. I watched him as he worked at it, head bent over the paper and tongue between his teeth as he struggled to finish long after everybody else had packed up and gone and students for the next class were beginning to wander in. As I waited I imagined him in the jungle, cooking lizards with a similarly dedicated air. He gets there in the end, and always insists on finishing. It just takes him longer than everybody else.

A LOT longer.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sensitve decanter

Today I washed the sheets and took them to the laundrette to dry. While I was waiting, I went to a coffee shop, and on my way to the coffee shop I stopped in at a little store that has very, very cheap things. I bought some socks (¥80) and a t-shirt.

I didn't really need the t-shirt, but it cost less than the coffee did, and anyway, who could resist?

Also, it is true. I AM a sensitve decanter.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Big fat lies

In my very large class today I did some 'repeat after me,' using the dialog in the textbook. They love 'repeat after me.' I correct their pronunciation all the time, and make them repeat things over and over and over. The more they have to repeat something the more they love it. I think they feel comfortable trying out 'foreign' ways of pronouncing things when they can safely hide their voices in the group yell.

"It's a beautiful day," I said, and the class obediently roared,


"That's a big fat lie!" I said.

"THAT'S A BIG FAT LIE!" they bellowed back, somewhat uncertainly. Then they looked up, puzzled, because that wasn't in the textbook.

Then they noticed that I was staring out the window and frowning at the very heavy rain, and after about ten seconds (during which they were getting out of parrot mode and replaying what they'd just said in their heads), they cracked up.

"Big fat lie," I heard them giggling to each other. Expressions like that never turn up in the textbook, and I suspect I am going to be hearing it again.

In the same class, I had them in groups of six to eight for conversation practice, and told them to change partners within their group for four different conversations. They're so cooperative it has turned out easier to let them organize themselves than to try to do it myself.

One group of eight, I noticed, was strictly segregated. The girls were talking to the girls, and the boys were talking to the boys. By the time they got to the fourth conversation they had a problem. The girls did not want to appear forward by turning around to talk to the boys in the row behind them, but they were supposed to have a new partner and that was the only way to do it. The boys were staring at the backs of the girls's heads and waiting patiently for them to muster enough courage to turn around, but they didn't.

I didn't want the class to slow down too much, so I went back to the group and whispered confidentially in one of the girls' ears:

"The boys are very shy. Can you turn around, and help them?"

She stared at me. I smiled at her, and she broke into giggles. The other girls wanted to know what she was giggling about, and when I got back to the front of class and looked back at them, four heads were leaning together and the girl I had spoken to was whispering to the others what I'd said. They seemed to think it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard, and laughed and laughed and laughed. The boys looked puzzled. Then the girls turned around, perfectly synchronized, and told the boys which part they were to take in the next conversation.

I guess the girls understood I was teasing them about their own shyness, but was it really that entertaining? Not that it really matters. It worked wonderfully.

I love that class. Forty-five students is way too many, but with forty-five COOPERATIVE students it is working far better than I ever expected.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The single life

The Man is away for a couple of weeks, and I am on my own. He was worried about me when he left. He wasn't convinced I could cope on my own.

What an insult! I am a perfectly capable person, all grown up now, and I can take care of myself. I don't know what he was so worried about.

Last night I met my friends for our usual after-work dinner and drinks, and we had a lovely time. I even managed to collect a wonderful malapropism/mixed metaphor/something or other from one of them, and REMEMBERED TO WRITE IT DOWN. "Free and fancy-foot," she said, and we knew exactly what she meant. I laughed so much I was sure I would remember it, but I wrote it down anyway. Just as well, too, because on my way home I tried to remember and couldn't. I had to check.

After I came home I was sure there was something I needed to do but couldn't remember what it was, so I decided it would probably come to me during the night and could wait until morning. I have plenty of time on Wednesday mornings, because I work nearby and don't start until second period, at 10.40.

This morning I woke up, rolled over, and checked the clock. It was half an hour after the alarm should have gone off, and I leaped out of bed, cursing. Then I went back and checked the clock again, and discovered that I had not missed the alarm after all. I had not SET the alarm. I had forgotten completely! Was that what I was supposed to remember last night? It couldn't have been. Setting the alarm is something I do AUTOMATICALLY, not something I have to remember. What was it I had to remember? I still couldn't remember.

I made a cup of tea, and sat down to check my email. I still had plenty of time to remember, I thought. I waited for inspiration to hit. It didn't.

Finally I pulled out the files for my classes today. I knew what I was doing in my lessons. All I had to do was dump the paperwork in my bag. But just in case, I checked my notebook.

That was when I found out that because of a public holiday on a Monday a couple of weeks ago, my Wednesday classes are now ahead of my Monday classes, and I had to prepare a new lesson. At this particular place I am teaching eight classes of students the same thing over two weeks, and a Japanese teacher gets them the other week. In other words the students have me one week and a Japanese teacher the other. As I also have one class to myself every week this means I have five class periods but nine different classes, and it is very confusing. I had reached the end of one of these two-week cycles and had nothing prepared. I hadn't even THOUGHT about what to prepare.

It was now about ten minutes before I had to leave. Whatever I chose I would have to prepare in ten minutes, and I would have to repeat it seven more times over the next couple of weeks, which meant that it was PRETTY DAMNED IMPORTANT. I use the textbook for half the class, then I'm supposed to do something different which is up to me, and which makes good use of my magical 'native English' abilities.

I did a quick scan through the teaching materials folder on my computer and decided it was time to do the general knowledge quiz, since it needs almost no preparation. My students at this university are very low level and tend to get discouraged easily if they do not understand something, but even though they are usually very, VERY bad at getting the answers right, the general knowledge quiz tends to get them going and makes them want to understand what I'm saying, because they get competitive and don't seem to mind guessing. It is also extremely entertaining for me, and I had the feeling I would need entertaining.

I am happy to report my plan worked very well indeed, although the students were even worse at getting the answers right than they have been in previous years. I am getting the impression that the standard of Japanese education is dropping. Did you know that Mt. Everest is in Europe? Or, failing that, Haiti? (I was impressed by Haiti, actually, and so were the other students. Nobody else had even heard of it.) Also, the problem with Picasso's nationality used to be that nobody knew what it was. Now nobody has even heard of Picasso, and they don't know who (or what) I'm talking about. When I tell them Picasso was a famous painter, they guess like mad. "Thailand!" they say. "Australia! India!"

Naming the Beatles was interesting. They got Paul and John pretty quickly, then one girl eventually came up with Ringo. George had them baffled. They suggested "Carl Lewis," "George Bush" (and only a couple of students laughed at that one, which was worrying) and "Abraham Lincoln." Then they sat thinking furiously, hoping that some other foreign names might occur to them. "Al Quaida?" suggested one, hesitantly. Finally I told them that the George Bush guess was HALF right, and eventually, with a few more hints thrown in (first letter, second letter, last letter, etc) they got it.

All in all it was a successful activity, if by 'successful' you mean they were listening VERY CAREFULLY to me speaking in English when they needed hints. If by 'successful' you mean that they could actually answer some of the simpler questions without extensive consultation with each other and numerous hints from me, then perhaps it wasn't, although they did eventually guess right about how many strings a violin has, how many legs a butterfly has, and someone did, after a while, come up with the correct answer to "What is the largest state in the U.S.A.?" which was a very high point question. Surprisingly (to them), this turned out to be Alaska, and not Oceania, London, or Los Angeles. ("It's cold!" was an inspired hint, I thought, even if the first guess after that was "Iceland!")

After work, somewhat exhausted (thinking up hints that don't give the show away entirely is hard work), I went to a coffee shop on my way home. I love this particular coffee shop, mostly because of the woman who runs it. She is lovely. She is in her fifties and does not like harsh lighting, which might have something to do with why I like the place so much. The coffee isn't bad, either, and I like her other customers. They tend to be interesting local characters. Also, she sometimes gives me little presents. Today she had received some gifts from her family in Kanagawa, and we all got to try out her favourite mochi sweet, which I enjoyed very much. Also, for some reason they had sent her two cartons (TWO CARTONS) of fu, and as she pointed out, who can eat that much fu? (Yaki-fu to be more exact.) She gave me some. It is just as well it keeps forever, because I don't know what to do with it. The Man can make sukiyaki for us when he comes home, perhaps.

The other reason I like that particular coffee shop is that the conversations are sometimes interesting, and I can join or not depending on how I'm feeling. Today I joined in the conversation (with the three other customers) about food, and then about local dialects. Their imitations of rural Japanese dialects were pretty funny. There is apparently some very nasal dialect in the Tohoku area somewhere, and when one woman tried to imitate it she sounded like she had something stuck up her nose. We laughed and laughed.

After that I pretended to read my book while they all discussed how beautiful I am, a frequent topic there and one of my favourites. Most of the time I am, of course, not beautiful at all. On a good day out in the sunshine I pass as "What a funny-looking person! She looks nice and harmless." But with dim lighting, the right angle, and a sympathetic and mostly rather elderly audience I have discovered I can do better than that, and I will freely admit to enjoying it enormously. It is especially helpful on days like today. I had been feeling rather elderly myself (teaching 18-year-olds can have that effect) as well as incompetent and disorganized, plus I didn't have time to brush my hair this morning. None of these things matter in the coffee shop. There I am always beautiful.

On days that start like today my ego tends to sag a little, and the coffee shop was the perfect place to get it reinflated. (Teachers NEED inflated egos. It's a job requirement.) A dim light, a sympathetic audience, and a bag of fu were exactly what I needed to end the day. By the time I set off home I was feeling relaxed, beautiful, and perhaps even a little free and fancy-footed.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Today I visited the little park to see whether I could get a picture of the crow babies in the wire hanger nest. I tried last week, too, but at that time the parent crows were hanging around and were a bit too close. Actually I got the feeling that they were watching me then, but there was only one old man in the park and for all I knew they were watching both of us. They followed me down the street when I left, flying overhead and shouting something. But I just thought they were off to hunt for more food. The babies sound pretty demanding.

Today I sat under the tree and one of the crows flew down to a lower branch. There were some old ladies playing croquet, and taking no notice of the commotion above their heads. I glanced up, and got shouted at by the crow. I sat there for a while pretending to watch the croquet, but the crows did not go away. Finally I decided that perhaps I had better leave and try again sometime when the parents weren't there. I could see the babies' beaks (very BIG beaks) over the edge of the nest and wanted a picture, but the way the crows shouted every time I looked up was making me nervous.

When I cycled off, the two crows followed me again. They did not come very low, but they did fly above me, zigzagging up at roof height as if to make sure I was really leaving. When I was a couple of blocks away they stopped on a rooftop and watched me for a while. I looked back over my shoulder and got shouted at again.

If it only happened once I would call it a coincidence, but this time the crows only came down lower when I was there, and other people cycled past while I was sitting in the park who were not watched or followed. The birds remember me, and I do not think this is a good thing. They do not seem to think I am a very big threat, at least yet. They did not come low enough for me to feel that I was in real danger. But I am not taking any risks.

No baby crow photos for now, at least. I have been spotted.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Just now I looked at Yahoo Japan's one-week weather forecast and discovered that there will be no weather next Sunday. This is a relief, in a way. Living in Japan it is very easy to get tired of weather.

It is possible, of course, that the reason there will be no weather is that the world is going to end on Saturday. If so, I wish they'd be more specific about it. I want to know, so that I can plan accordingly. If the world is going to end on Saturday then I won't bother marking that stack of homework.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Magical class management

So far, I have to say, this semester is going pretty well. I don't have any real problem classes. The lone, lonely boy on Friday mornings is responding a little (yesterday went well), the terribly noisy, fantastically low-level, and seemingly impossible class of third year students is behaving, despite (or perhaps because of) my completely ignoring the syllabus, and even my very large class is fun to teach when the equipment works. None of my classes seem to have yet succumbed to gogatsubyo, although it's early days yet. (Sometimes gogatsubyo hits in rokugatsu.)

In that very large class yesterday, I had decided there was absolutely no point in trying to get the students moving around and swapping conversational partners. There isn't enough space for that, and when I tried it last week and the week before, using different methods each time, the result was total chaos. This time, I left them where they were sitting, went around and counted them off into groups of six or so, and told them that each time we did a new conversational activity they should do it with a different partner from within that group. In most classes I would not even try that, but this lot has been so cooperative that I thought it might work.

It did.

Later, when it came time to do a listening activity from the textbook, I discovered that the tape player I had chosen from the resource room (to avoid using the ridiculous machine in the classroom) was one that had a limit on how high the volume would go, and the limit was not very high. When I discovered this, I sighed and asked the students for their cooperation, again.

"This machine is stupid," I explained. "It will not play loudly. This is IT."

I hit the play button, played a little, then paused it.

"We will have to be VERY quiet during the listening," I said. "But it's just a short bit."

They nodded seriously. They're a lovely lot.

I played the section I wanted.

After I'd played it, some students asked me to play it again. I did.

This time there was some quiet talking going on at the back of the class, interfering with the sound. I stopped the machine and asked the naughty boys to be quiet. They said they would, and I started the machine again.

They started chatting again.

I hit the stop button and glared at them mock-seriously.

"I don't know what to DO with you," I said. "I don't want to walk all the way back there every time to tell you to shut up!"

I looked at the empty row of seats in front of me. The classroom is way too small for forty-five students, but there has been so much furniture crammed into it that there is seating for at least fifty and no space to move. Anybody who sits in the front row finds that they are RIGHT IN MY FACE. They run the risk of being spat on in moments of teacher fricativeness and can tell what I had for lunch if I haven't cleaned my teeth. Even the very keen students who usually sit in the front row don't want to sit there, and sit one row back. I am happy with that. I don't particularly want them counting the hairs in my nostrils.

I looked at the empty front row, and back at the boys in the back row.

"Maybe I should ask you to sit here," I said, jokingly. "Then I can shout at you without having to move. But ... oh dear, look." I pointed. "One, two, three, FOUR seats, and one, two, three four, FIVE naughty students!"

I shrugged and prepared to start the listening activity again. I figured the attention they'd had would be enough to make the naughty students behave themselves.

The bad boys grinned, looking a bit embarrassed. Then, to my astonishment, they started a round of janken. At the end of that, three resigned-looking students quickly and quietly moved to the front row, and two separated themselves in the back row so they couldn't chat and disturb the class.

I suppressed my shock, smiled, and carried on with the lesson, trying to give the impression that I was used to this and that it was perfectly normal for students in my classes to organize their own punishment.

After that everything went well. I had three naughty boys right in my face for the rest of class, being good and funny, and we all had a lovely time.

The whole episode was extremely disconcerting, but also wonderful. I LOVE having magically self-punishing students. I get to keep my cool, the problem is solved quickly, the good students don't have to wait patiently while I deal with class management, and everything goes smoothly.

Now I just need to figure out how it happened, so I can apply the same technique in my OTHER classes when I need it.

Give the dog a bone

Some of my students have heard the children's rhyme Incey-wincey spider, and wanted me to teach it to them. I told them I'd have to look up the words, because I couldn't remember how they went.

I was not enthusiastic about this. I never liked that rhyme when I was a child, but couldn't remember why. When I got home tonight and looked it up, though, I remembered. I didn't like it because it was sad and horrifying. Poor spider, doomed to an eternity of pointlessness, climbing up and getting washed down the spout over and over and over. What is it supposed to be about, anyway, this Sisyphusian rhyme? Is it SUPPOSED to instill a feeling of meaninglessness and doom in tiny children? Was it just me?

I found This Old Man far more satisfying. I particularly liked it that the old man came rolling home and the dog got a bone in EVERY SINGLE VERSE.

Maybe I'll teach that to my students instead.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Police are puzzled

My favourite story out of New Zealand this week:

Burglars lock themselves in police cell

Police are puzzled about the motives of those who broke into Matamata police station on Saturday night.

The burglars got in through a front office window, but as they entered the cell block a self-locking door closed behind them, trapping them.

Maybe they were checking out the amenities of their future accommodation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Chronically constipated Christians

I was at Bibliomania just now, looking up a classic (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, if you really want to know) and while I was skimming the last chapters I spotted an ad down the bottom of one of the pages, which must have mentioned something religious. It made me laugh at first, then it worried me

What does it MEAN? Is there something specifically Christian about chronic constipation? Is the cure for constipated Christians different from the cure for constipated non-Christians? Is the treatment from Christian doctors for chronic constipation different from the treatment you get from non-Christian doctors? Why does he want to 'share' his remedy, anyway? Does he always share medication with his patients? Even if he is a chronically constipated Christian himself, wouldn't this sharing business become a problem if he had too many chronically constipated patients?

But most importantly, I'm worried about what makes a Christian chronic constipation remedy different from a non-Christian chronic constipation remedy. Could it be that after the remedy is applied, the patients' bowels move in mysterious ways?

I don't think I'd like that.

Monday, May 14, 2007


I got some more poppy pictures today, too. There seem to be more and more of them, and I love these little flowers. In the third picture, you can see a tiny honeybee. I didn't even notice it was there when I took the picture.

More nests

Today I managed to get some pictures of the new crow's nest down the road. They are not great pictures (it is hard to get good pictures against a glarey sky, and I can't get high enough to use any other background), but what I like about these pictures is that you can see the hangers that did not make it into the nest, dangling down underneath.

Of course it could be that since this nest is a work in progress those hangers are just waiting to be incorporated, but I prefer to think that even brainy, puzzle-solving crows have a hard time untangling them when they get hooked on something.

There seem to be more yellow hangers in this nest than in the park nests. I don't know whether this is because the dry cleaners around here use more yellow hangers, or because the crows have different tastes in home design.

New homes

Mamma Mia has left, taking her kittens. The rosemary bush is back to being just a rosemary bush instead of a shelter for single mothers, and seems unnaturally quiet. I don't know where she went. I came home and she was gone.

I have been rejected. I miss the hissing and growling from the rosemary bush. I hope she has found a good new home.

Speaking of new homes, down on the corner from our house there is a big tree, and in that tree some crows are building a new nest. I am offering no prizes for guessing what they are using to make this nest. I was going to try to get a picture on my way out today but the sun was behind the nest, and on my way home I forgot. But anyway, it's just more of the same, and I am becoming quite blasé about the whole thing. If the question of what crows build their nests from ever comes up in a quiz I'll be able to answer it right away. They build their nests from wire hangers. I don't think I have never seen any other kind, come to think of it, aside from the carrion crow's original nest. It seems that wire hangers are the new standard.

Kenju asked where they are getting the hangers. They are getting them from people's washing lines, I suppose. People hang their washing out on house and apartment balconies, and frequently use the free hangers from dry cleaners. Either that or the crows have found a way to break into dry cleaning establishments.

I saw a crow the other day on someone's balcony. I thought it might be there to steal a hanger or two, as there was some washing, but as I went past it had been distracted by a small bird in a wire cage hanging from the end of the balcony. It looked pretty funny, the crow peering into the cage as if to say, What on earth are you doing in THERE?, or, perhaps, Holy cow! look at all that lovely wire! I did not have my camera, unfortunately.

I will keep my eyes open for crows stealing hangers so I can get a picture, but don't hold your breath. I would have to be extremely lucky. I have seen a crow flying with a hanger only once, and by the time I got my camera out it was out of sight. It seems a little odd that I have only seen that once, though, considering the number of hangers involved, and I'm beginning to wonder if they commit their burglaries at night. I sometimes hear them in the wee hours, flying around and making raucous noises. I can't imagine the difficulty of trying to manipulate multiple hangers in the dark, but I suppose it is possible.

Maybe that is why they have those magnificently large cerebrums. It's evolution in action. The crows that poked their own eyes out with wire hangers died off, but the puzzle-solving brainy crows survived and flourished.

Give them a couple of years and they'll be standing for election.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Crow brains

I have been rather puzzled about how crows are able to manipulate multiple wire hangers into just the right position while I have trouble when only two hangers get entangled with each other.

Now all is explained. It is entirely possible that crow cerebrums are bigger than mine.

Yellow sand (again)

I found (or rather, The Man did) a site that shows the kosa distribution in Japan (yellow sand). The one I found before was only for Korea. Looking at the new map, I am wishing I did not have to go out tomorrow. We're about to have a nasty episode. I will wear a mask while I'm outside.

I wish they made the masks in other colours. White makes me feel like I'm about to do something surgical and nasty. Someone could make a killing with designer masks in Japan, I reckon. Stick on a Louis Vuitton logo and sales would go through the roof. A few kawaii designs and young people, especially, would be wearing them all the time.

I saw an article somewhere recently about face mask fetishists, and had one of those Help! I'm living in a weird country moments.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Classroom equipment

(The first part of this post was written between nine and nine-thirty this morning.)

Well, here I am again on the 11th floor. Yesterday I got a memo from my lone student's faculty telling me they had decided to continue the class even though there is only one student. This morning I walked into an empty classroom.

This is both annoying and gratifying. On the one hand, after last week's tiny success I had all sorts of plans for this lad. On the other, a part of me was hoping that the class would be cancelled, because one-to-one classes are HARD with an unmotivated student. For that second scenario, of course the best outcome would be if the class was officially continued (i.e. I would still get paid) and the student stopped coming, which would allow me a free (paid) period on Friday mornings. The problem with this is that if he doesn't tell me he's not coming then I have to be here anyway, which scotches the idea of getting a little extra sleep on Friday mornings. I gave him my email address and asked him to let me know if he was going to be absent, and even told him exactly what to write, but didn't hear from him, so it looks like this might have been one of those mornings when he couldn't bring himself to leave the room, and was too embarrassed (or apathetic, or depressed, or scared) to tell me.

At least I get to write a blog entry. (Thank goodness for my little Palm and wireless keyboard.)

The most annoying thing about him being absent today is that I had anticipated the class being allowed to continue, and had prepared materials. My photocopies are ready, and I even brought chalk up here with me, which I usually forget. It is a bit deflating to bounce cheerfully into class and find you are being cheerful at nobody. It is so empty up here it echoes, as I discovered when I sneezed and made myself jump. It is true it was not a restrained sneeze. With nobody around I did not feel the need to be polite, but still, I did not expect it to sound quite so explosive, or to echo like that.

The chalk is bothering me, now that I have time to think about it. I don't know why, but at this university there is a chronic chalk problem. At the other places I work the classrooms are kept stocked with chalk, but at this one the teachers have to bring some from the office or hope that the last teacher didn't use it all up. What I find really puzzling is that every classroom seems to always have one or two pieces or blue or red chalk which, if you use it, is practically invisible, and a tiny stub of white which you hesitate to use because it causes you to scrape your fingernails on the board. I use this classroom one day a week, and in the second week, after I had found that there was no chalk in any of the classrooms on this floor the first week, I brought up with me half a box of chalk and put some in each of the rooms. The next week I didn't bring any, since even the most scribbly teachers could not use up that much chalk in a week, but to my astonishment and annoyance there was none again, except for the usual one tiny stub. ONE! Where did the rest of it go? And where did the several sticks of red chalk come from? Who even uses it?

These are the things that occupy my mind as I sit here for the requisite thirty minutes I have to wait in case the student is late, and checking the chalk ledge I see that again there is only a stub of chalk, despite my having gone all the way downstairs AND to another building to stock up again last week for my third period class, when I am back in this room. (I have no consecutive classes in the same room today, or even in the same building.)

Today I have supplied myself with a little box of chalk that is only for me, and which I will carry around with me, because I am sick of supplying other teachers with chalk which they then do not leave in the classroom. At least I suppose that is what is happening. The only scenario I can think of (because who would steal chalk except a teacher?) is that teachers who are using more than one classroom in a day see all that lovely chalk that I supply and remember that in their next classroom there probably won't be any, so help themselves so they don't have to walk all the way back over to the office to get more. The problem is worse in this building, probably because it is so far from the office.

So I will carry my little box of chalk with me all day, and keep it in my bag. I will leave only one new stick of chalk per chalkless classroom (because I am not COMPLETELY revenge-driven) and will still have enough for me. Then I will fill up my little box next week, when I go to the office to check my mailbox.


(Later, at home ...)

I ended up waiting for forty-five minutes, and my student did not come. A week is too long between classes. It gave him far too much time in which to contemplate the awfulness of the fact that he had accidentally voluntarily spoken to someone. A foreigner, no less. And in English.

Of course it could just be that he's caught a cold.

In my last, huge class (on the other campus) I decided to use some high tech (for here) classroom equipment. Last week I'd lugged a heavy old CD player up to the class so I could use some of the materials that came with the textbook. In such a large class I need to do a lot of listening practice, because when there are 44 students you can't do a lot of speaking practice except in chorus (although I do try, to chaotic effect usually), and if I supply all the 'native input' I end the day croaking like a frog. Last week when I returned the CD player, one of the office staff informed me that I did not need to carry that heavy old thing over to the classroom, because in the locked cabinet in the room there was some better equipment I could use instead. All I needed was the key.

So today I picked up the key. I have used the classroom equipment in the refurbished classrooms on the main campus and it works wonderfully, but hadn't known this particular building had any. I was delighted that I would not need to carry the CD player. It makes my shoulders ache.

In the classroom, once I had everybody settled down and had called the roll, I opened the cabinet, located the CD/DVD/VHS player (I can play DVDs and videos too! I thought excitedly, then realized there was no screen anywhere in the room), inserted the CD, and hit the play button. At first everything seemed to be working all right, but I wanted it to play the eighth track on the CD, and that is when my troubles started.

I could not get the CD to choose a track.

(In case you were wondering, I would normally check the equipment before making a idiot of myself, but today I was in a different classroom each period and someone else was using that room before me, so I couldn't.)

After five minutes of fruitless fumbling, I appealed to the class for help.

"Somebody good with machines, please help me!" I wailed, beating my head on the cabinet, and the very loud judo girl (whom I am sure you will hear more of in the weeks to come) volunteered, telling the class loudly and confidently that she was a GENIUS with machines.

She was, too, sort of. After a few false starts she located the remote control, which someone had hidden behind the machine in the cabinet, and eventually managed to get the CD to choose the eighth track. She bowed and accepted the applause of the rest of us, and sat down. I directed everybody's attention to the bit of dialog we would be hearing, told them what to listen for, and hit 'play.' The students bent obediently over their books and prepared to listen.

The machine then proceeded to make noises I have never heard from one of these machines before, and VERY LOUDLY. It played the track fast and in little bits, as if someone had taken to the sound with scissors and chopped it up angrily. I could catch the odd word, but nothing made sense. It played track eight over and over and over like this, while I hit the stop button and shouted at it to stop. It would not stop.

The Genius leaped out of her chair, grabbed the remote from me, and also hit the stop button. This did not work any better than when I did it. She hit a few more buttons, and some on the machine itself, and it kept going. The power button did not work, either. Eventually I bent down and pulled the plug from the wall. The horrible noise stopped, and we all cheered. We had beaten the machine!

Of course then I had to plug it in again to extract the CD, but that worked all right. The machine seems to be designed to accept and spit out CDs perfectly, but not to play them. I put the CD back into its case and locked the cabinet. Half an hour of class time had now gone and we'd accomplished nothing at all. I could not believe the students were still being so good and patient with me, and worried that it would not last.

I pretended to throw the key out the window, then faced the class and held up the textbook.

"REPEAT AFTER ME!" I shouted, and off we went. They love 'repeat after me.' It may be old-fashioned and low-tech, but they yelled enthusiastically at the top of their voices, loved it when I cringed at their pronunciation (and at the blast of sound that I'm fairly sure blew my hair back), and did very well with the corrections. We did a lot of that, then a little writing (from another page of the text) as a change of pace, then they practiced the dialog with each other noisily, mysteriously adding back all their original pronunciation mistakes. We ended up with a quick puzzle that would, I hoped, erase their memories of the farcical beginning of class.

Next week I will be lugging the heavy old CD player to the classroom GRATEFULLY.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Did they think she was a grape?

This story was open in one of my tabs just now, and I scrolled down to see if I could remember why I opened it. I couldn't. I guess I must have clicked a link by mistake.

But one sentence in the third to last paragraph caught my eye, and will probably give me nightmares:

Three people were arrested and an elderly lady trampled by police.

(Australia just got crossed off my list of possible places to retire in.)

Here, have some nothing

Now and again I find something small I think I might post to my blog but don't have time right then so I shove it into a folder for later. Then ... well, then I forget that it's there.

I decided to clear out some of that folder today. Most of it went into the trash, but here are three things for your amusement.

The first one is probably a year old, although I'm not really sure. I can't remember. It was something I found on GoogleNews, and was evidently written by someone who has a shaky understanding of the metric system. This makes it a little odd that it turned up in an Australian newspaper. I guess they grabbed it off a feed and didn't check it carefully first.

Either that, or Kylie Minogue is a lot skinnier than I thought.

This second one is a phrase that I came across somewhere, I can't remember where, a few months ago. I'm not quite sure why changing a y to an i made it seem so painful, but it did. Is it just me? If it is, I don't think I want to know:

we analized our financial situation

The third thing is a spam message I received recently. I did not actually open the message. There didn't seem to be much point. I kept the subject line, though:

You have received the gift of nothing

This made me inexplicably happy. It is true that I already have plenty of nothing, but if it is also true that it is the thought that counts, then a gift of nothing is better than no gift at all.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Vandals in spring

Last week I cycled through the park where the crows are, and was shocked to see that the carrion crows' nest had been chopped down, along with most of the new greenery. This is how the tree looked in March, on a beautiful day in early spring.

Last week I did not take photos because I was late for work, and I did not go back after work because I found the sight depressing. But today I went there again, to see how the other nests were, and discovered two things.

The nest had been cut down, along with most of the leafy part of the tree, as you can see in this picture. (Sorry about the terrible quality of these pictures. I had left the camera on the wrong setting, from trying - and failing - to get pictures of kittens in very poor light.)

The vandals! Half the tree is gone. Why do they DO that? Japan does not have enough greenery, but when trees do get big and leafy they get chopped to stubs.

But the first thing I learned today was that the crows do not give up easily.

And not only that, if it is the carrion crows again (and I suppose it is, because jungle crows build their nests in evergreens, remember?), then they have been learning from their jungle cousins. Wire hangers!

That was the first thing.

(I will get less overexposed photos on Wednesday when I go past. These pictures are truly dreadful.)

The second thing I learned was that the jungle crows' wire nest is now full of jungle crow babies. I could not see them, but I could hear them, over my head. I could not get into a good position to take a picture because some people were sitting on my usual bench (how DARE they?), but I can tell you that baby crows do not twitter and tweet. They do not have cute, baby bird voices. Jungle crow babies sound like they have been yelling at the top of their lungs since they hatched and their voices have gone all hoarse and cracked. They sound like heavy drinking chain smokers after a rough night.

I hung around for a while, but the people on my bench looked like they were there for the day. I don't think I'll be able to photograph the crow babies anyway, until they leave the nest. They are too high up.

I do not imagine they look very cute, anyway.

Later as I passed the river I overhead voices, and stopped to listen.

Unfortunately I did not get to hear the conversation, because just as I arrived the turtle got to the end of a clause, and stopped to think. The duck decided to have a clause nap (as you tend to do if you are having a conversation with a turtle) and I had to get to work.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Thank you Keera!

Thanks to some helpful tweaking by Keera, my header now looks much, MUCH better.


I've managed to get peek-a-boo comments back, thanks to the wonderfully clear instructions from Stephen. I like being able to read comments without leaving the main page and only open a new window when I want to post. I was missing that in the new template. Isn't it lovely to have it back?

(If you decide to use this hack, you'll need to turn off pop-up windows (in settings/comments) before you install it, then turn it on again when you finish. I would have managed to do this a lot faster if I'd thought of that before I started.)

My only complaint now is that the comments in the main page (not in the pop-up) are too close together, and look a bit squished. I'm trying to insert a little space between comments, and this seemingly simple task is driving me up the wall. If you have a clue, please pass it on. I seem to have become clueless, and may have to do some actual work (class prep and so on) in order to feel clever again.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

What are you doing to my babies?

Yes, babies. There are two, at least. The mother had gone off somewhere and I took the opportunity to quickly try for some photos, holding back the rosemary and trying to focus with one hand.

It didn't work. It's just too dark under there. I got several photos that are so blurry you can't even tell they are kittens. But there were two, sleeping peacefully top-to-tail with their noses in each others bottoms. One is ginger and white and the other is dark grey and white.

And then mother came back, and looked so anxious I felt guilty. (Not guilty enough to not take a picture, though.) I left some food, by way of apology.

She accepted the food, but I'm not too sure about the apology.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Please be patient

You may have noticed (and then again you might not have) that I am in the process of switching completely to the new Blogger template (as opposed to Classic), and making a terrible mess of things.

I have changed the header (but I'm not sure about the new one, yet - what do you think?) and will gradually add all the other things that got lost when I did the switch. I keep thinking there must be an easier way, but since I haven't found it, I'm doing it the slow way.

Excuse the mess. Things will be back to normal very soon. Quite soon.


Thursday, May 03, 2007


You're asking for more photos, but do you know how hard it is to photograph a cat that refuses to come out from under the rosemary bush? I still haven't seen the kitten properly yet, only heard it. I THINK it is dark grey, although that could have been something else entirely. It is still very, very small, judging by the squeaks and lack of activity.

It was morning when I took this picture, and she hadn't wiped the sleep out of her eyes yet. Also, she was still too sleepy to bother spitting at me.

This evening, however, when I took her some fish, she growled and spat as I placed the dish under the edge of the rosemary bush. She was trying to say Thank you, but it came out all wrong.

I'm pretty sure she appreciated the fish, though. When I came back to check, the dish had been licked clean. I rinsed it out and left it full of clean water, in case she gets thirsty in the night.

I'm hoping to bribe her into letting me see her baby, eventually. At least I think I want to see it. I started thinking about the whole rosemary baby thing tonight, and, well ... I don't know. Maybe this whole thing is a big mistake. Maybe I don't really want to know what she's got hiding under that bush.

But speaking of growling animals, today The Man and I went to the supermarket, and as we were parking our bicycles we were having a little argument about something. It wasn't anything important or serious, but there was a bit of good-natured shouting. An elderly man walked past holding a small hairy dog just as The Man shouted something insulting back at me, so the insult went straight into the dog's face. The dog responded, as he passed me, by growling.

But it was a quiet, tentative sort of growl. It was a growl that said:

You're bigger than me so I don't want you to actually HEAR me growl, but I'm growling anyway, to show anybody who happens to be listening (and I hope nobody is) that I disapprove DEEPLY of that insult, and just don't do it again, all right? If you do, I will growl again, but not very loudly, probably, and I hope you won't hear me. I don't like this shouting business though, indeed I don't. Grrr! Oops. He didn't hear that, did he?

I didn't realize until I heard it that a growl could say quite so much. It made me grin all the way round the supermarket.

Conspiracy theories

Yesterday I was listening to Radio New Zealand, and there was an interview with Dr. Marc Wilson, who is a senior lecturer in psychology at Victoria University. He was talking about his study of conspiracy theories. (That particular interview is still up, but will only be there for a couple of weeks.)

At one point Kim Hill asked Dr Wilson for the strangest belief that he has come across in his studies. He thought about it a bit and said that actually the strangest one was when he discovered that 50% of the people he interviewed said they believed that the Rainbow Warrior was blown up by agents of a foreign power.

I thought that was pretty funny (what did the other 50% think?), and also a little bit sad. I guess we tend to judge the truth or otherwise of a theory (or fact) in a large part by the context in which it is stated, and in this situation (given a list of conspiracy theories) probably many of the interviewees were more concerned about not appearing overly credulous or gullible than about whether or not any given fact might be true. I suppose, if most of them were students, then they didn't have any memories of the Rainbow Warrior incident. (I'm feeling old again.) And of course, given that we don't have time to put in the research necessary to make an informed judgment about everything we hear, we have to use context, possibly a lot more than we realize. New Zealand is not exactly a hotbed of activity by foreign agents or terrorists, so if you don't know the facts, then the idea of foreign agents blowing up a ship in New Zealand doesn't sound very likely.

Still, it is sad that so many people don't know the facts about that one.

I wonder, though - can a conspiracy theory still be called a conspiracy theory if it happens to be true?

And which conspiracy theory do you favour?

(Personally, I'm in favour of the one that says George Bush is a shape-changing alien reptile.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Single mother

This morning as I went to get my bicycle, our rosemary bush, which is large and fragrant and has spread along one side of the house, squeaked. This was a surprise. Generally the rosemary bush is a quiet and placid sort of bush, and although it does grow rather extravagantly I have never known it to squeak before. When I approached it to find out what was going on, it rustled and then spat at me, making me jump.

I could not investigate further because I had to go to work, but when I came home I approached the rosemary bush again, this time with my camera in hand.

The first picture was not really a success. This is a rosemary bush, spitting.

I took several more pictures, but only one got anything in focus. That was when I discovered I was being watched, very, very closely.

It looks like a single mother has taken up residence under our rosemary bush. I THINK there is only one kitten. There was only one squeaking this morning, but there could be more under the house, I suppose.

We will see.