Thursday, July 31, 2008


The stilts at the bird park were little birds. I have never seen stilts before, and had always imagined them to be larger. But next to the ducks and ibises they looked delicate and spindly.

I was charmed and also a little worried by their legs, which looked like they might break at the slightest provocation, like if a bit of food was thrown too hard.

(Also, as everybody knows, bird knees bend the wrong way.)

But it was their faces that got to me. What funny little faces those birds have!


Here is a story on why daylight saving time doesn't work in Japan. I remember someone telling me years ago that Japan had tried daylight saving and it hadn't worked, and why, and it sounded absurd.

It is still absurd. And it still won't work, especially if only some people do it.

I have not been posting much recently, and that is mostly because it is too hot. I do not mean that it is too hot to write (I do have air conditioning in here) but because whenever I sit down to write anything, all I want to do is complain about the weather. I suppose I need to get it off my chest. So here comes my official summer grumble, and after this I will shut up about it.

It is UNREASONABLY HOT. I am sure it did not used to be this hot at night. The Man and I used to have air conditioner wars all summer. We used to argue over whether to have the air conditioner on at night. He didn't want it; I did. We had this fight all the time.

In the last few years we haven't been fighting about this, because it has become rare for the night time temperature to fall below 26C during the summer. The last week or two it has only gone below 28C once or twice. At night the humidity shoots up as well, so it feels even hotter. AND THAT IS NOT REASONABLE.

It is so ridiculously hot, in fact, that people have been dying of it. So, you see, I am not just being fussy.

Actually, while I am about it, I have another little grumble, and this time it is possible that I am being a little unreasonable. The Man's recent illness (which he has not quite recovered from but he is much better than before, thank you for asking, and no thanks to the weather) has had an unexpected and wholly mysterious side-effect: he has stopped snoring. I do not mean he is snoring less than before, I mean he no longer snores AT ALL. While this has, of course, made our nights rather more peaceful, it has also given me another thing to worry about. Every time I wake up in the night and find myself basking in unexpected silence I start to wonder whether I am lying next to a corpse.

And that is not a nice thought AT ALL. So far it has not turned out to be true, of course (I would have told you), and I feel somewhat irrational complaining about his newly quiet sleeping habits. I used to complain about his snoring. Why can't I just enjoy the silence? But I am finding the whole thing rather disconcerting.

Why can't he at least snort now and again, to reassure me?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


According to Wikipedia, "hornbill behavior in captivity is described as high-strung."

One of the hornbills we met at the Bird Park was showing signs of being high strung while we were there. Actually, it looked as though the top part of its bill was injured, and the keeper told us something we did not understand – that it had been in a fight with the other one? I didn't catch that.

Anyway, we fed it a little fruit.

After that it lost interest in us. We were apparently so boring we had caused it to collapse.

Later, when we passed through this part of the park again (it was so much fun we did it all twice), the supposedly collapsed hornbill was furtively attempting to get bits of food out of the slightly opened drawer you can see in that second picture. And succeeding, actually, until his (or her) keeper noticed and closed the drawer. I did not get a picture of that, though. Sorry.

I do not know whether this hornbill was the male or the female, but apparently the male is in love with the female, but she thinks she is a human being and is in love with her keeper. (And the male dislikes the keeper intensely, seeing him as a rival.) Because of this doomed love triangle it appears highly unlikely that this pair will break with convention and breed in captivity.

The other hornbill was in a different enclosure (emotional tensions run too high when they are together), and posed for me to take a picture.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Feeding time is ALL DAY

The toucans made sure we were aware that the food was REALLY CHEAP! LOOK! JUST 100 YEN! and encouraged us to buy some.

Over here! Look!

Naturally, we bought some.

Toucans, it turns out, are surprisingly gentle with those great big beaks.


Toucans are altogether absurd looking birds, and the ones we met yesterday were ridiculously friendly.

Bird and flower park

Today a friend took me to the Kobe Kacho-en, also known as the Bird and Flower Park. (Or perhaps it's Flower and Bird Park.)

We met a lot of very friendly birds, and I took a lot of photographs.

The first birds we met were these stilts and ibises. . .

. . . including one who apparently fell into a pot of red paint.

More photographs will follow tomorrow.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Ornament in shop window

This caused my friend and I to do a huge double-take today.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good grief!

What's so good about grief, anyway?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


If I lived in a place where I had space to display this sort of thing, I would have bought it. Well, I would have asked the price, at least. But I don't, do I didn't.

Isn't it lovely, though?

Here is the label. I liked the label, too.

Oh, whoops. I just noticed that this is a 'graphophone,' not a gramophone. My title is wrong.

What is the difference between a graphophone and a gramophone, anyway?


Ebisu is one of the seven lucky gods.

Bad driver

"Coursh I'm not too drunk to drive. Shomeone nicked my shteering wheel, thash all."

Old postcards

My friend ended up buying this album of old postcards from the time of the Sino-Japanese war. On that last one, the caption on the right hand postcard says, General Nogi on way to the Palace.


At the flea market today there was a guy with his pet iguanas in his bicycle basket. They seemed pretty interested in what was happening around them, and kindly posed to have their pictures taken.

More photos of the flea market will follow, eventually.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I wonder why the English Yahoo weather site and the Japanese Yahoo weather site give different temperatures for the same place?

I wish the English site was the correct one, especially for the nighttime temperatures. It isn't, though. The thermometer in this room reads 30 degrees Celsius (86F) right now, at almost two in the morning, and that's with the air conditioner on. Outside is a LOT warmer. I know, because I just went out there to check.

We are well into two or three shower a day weather, and tomorrow I am planning to go to a flea market. Outside. Where there is no air conditioning. This probably makes me some kind of idiot.

The heat is tiring enough without being ill as well, and this weather is not helping The Man, who has been unwell with a nasty throat infection. Poor Man. He needs to get a badly impacted wisdom tooth seen to, too (possibly the source of all his problems), but it will mean surgery, and he wants to be well enough to cope with that. Whether or not we will be able to travel anywhere this summer is still up in the air. We will just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, he is on a fattening diet, to try to regain some of the weight he has lost, which has left him looking like a famine victim. You could play the xylophone on his ribs. To encourage him, I have been sampling some of the fattening goodies he has been indulging in, and so far the person who has gained the most weight around here is me.

In other news, today I have been amused by Fail Blog.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Here are two cormorants singing hymns to a heron in an attempt to convert him. (Cormorants are terribly annoying like that.) The heron, a devout Buddhist, is not impressed.

Big river

Today I cycled to the big river to see if I could get any pictures of the cormorants, herons and egrets that hang out there. I got a lot of pictures, and I got very hot. (The bits I missed with the sunscreen are now very visible.)

Unfortunately most of the pictures aren't very good. Most of the birds have moved further up the river to places where it is hard to get close enough for good pictures. The only halfway decent pictures I got were these two, of a flower amongst the weeds alongside the river, and of a dragonfly.

The dragonfly picture isn't all that good, actually, but I'm just pleased to have got it at all. Dragonflies tend not to sit still for very long, and I had to be quick.

One of the reasons I went to the big river today is that I did not sleep well last night. This is because I finished classes for the semester on Tuesday, and without work, I become lazy. I spent yesterday sitting around congratulating myself on finishing another semester without falling out of my tree completely, and didn't do anything much. This meant that when bedtime came I was not tired. Also, it was very hot, so I spent the night tossing and turning and sweating and cursing to myself until The Man got mad and kicked me out of bed, more or less.

That wasn't very nice, so I decided that it would not happen again tonight. I determined to wear myself out by doing something physical.

I think I have succeeded in wearing myself out, but I am not so sure about the heat thing. I think I am going to feel even hotter tonight. In fact, I suspect I am going to spend the night lying awake and cursing the glowing, patchy spots on my shoulders and legs.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The rare and remarkable Odd Shoefish

Sunday, July 13, 2008


There was something going on at this little park as I cycled past today. I think it must have been connected with one of the childcare centres around here, perhaps a festival or fundraising event, or both.

The reason I think it was connected with a childcare centre is the red trolley thing at the left of the picture. I have only ever seen these before filled with toddlers. The childcare centres use them to transport very small children to and from wherever they are going to and from in the neighborhood. The toddlers stand clutching the bars as the trolley is pushed by one or two of the childcare centre staff. This is always fun to watch when they cross the railway tracks. The toddlers clutch the bars and bounce wildly as the trolley bumps over the rails, and there is a lot of shrieking and giggling.

But there is always one infant who remains solemn and thoughtful, even at the most exciting times. A serious face peers between the bars and the child seems to be thinking, Why am I in this cage? What am I doing here? What is it all about?

This child will grow up to be either a mass murderer or a philosopher.


This is currently flowering in a small way outside our front door.


Saturday, July 12, 2008


I have just been checking homework, and came across an amazing sentence. Most of my students write as though they were thinking of something entirely different while they were writing. This is because that is often what they do. I have seen them at it – writing in English (or something faintly resembling English) while chatting with their friends in Japanese – as I walk into the classroom at the beginning of class. When they hand me their 'homework,' I see that they have scribbled it in pencil on a ripped-in-half piece of paper with notes from another class on the back. When that happens, I hand it back and tell them to do it again, because it will get a zero. So they copy it onto a clean sheet of paper and give it back to me the next week, only with new, added mistakes, because they were chatting with their friends while copying it.

This particular student, however, has given me his homework on a nice clean sheet of paper, written neatly, and has made a lot of effort. In fact, you can almost hear the grunts coming off the page. I have given him a high grade for it, because he obviously worked hard at it and spent some time actually thinking. The results might not be perfect, but that's what language learning is all about. You practice, you make mistakes, you practice more, you make different mistakes, and so on.

Here is the sentence that left me gasping in admiration (and feeling slightly dizzy):

This is the story that I pictured a fight with a magician and the boy of powerful darkness to plot the world rule that is the person in question who killed of the boy parents and school life of the boy on the state of the U.K. in the end of 20th century.

Isn't that amazing?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

One born every minute

In my Yahoo mail account I get a lot of spam, which does not get sorted properly. It seems that more of it gets sent to my inbox than my spam folder. This means that whenever I check it I click a row of emails and hit the spam button, and then open the genuine mail. (Not that there is much genuine mail. I only use that email account for one thing.)

There are a lot of variations on the Nigerian scam. It amazes me that anybody actually falls for that any more, but apparently there really is one born every minute. There are people out there, it seems, who when they get fifteen emails from fifteen different people wanting to send them money, think, Wow! All these people want to send money to ME! How wonderful!

My reaction, however, when I see the subject line, FROM THE DESK OF MR AMADU BELLO, is to wonder what Mr, Amadu Bello's desk looks like. I also wonder what the desks of Mr Patrick K.W. Chan, Mr Mani Bako, and Mr Muhammed Omar look like. Do they all share the same desk, or are they sitting at different desks? Are they all in the same room, like a big schoolroom, typing away like mad and sending off their wonderful offers? Do they ask each other for advice about spelling and grammar?

I can imagine it. Mr Bello yells to Mr Chan,

"Can I say an obscuring business suggestion? Something sounds wrong. What do you reckon?"

Mr Chan yells back, above the clatter of keys,


"Oh, of course. OBSCURED," says Mr Bello, banging his forehead on the mysteriously undescribed desk he is writing from. Then he types,

I have an obscured business suggestion for you.

A little while after he hits the 'send' button, somewhere across the world someone who was born in the wrong minute opens his email and exclaims,

"Hey, WOW! An obscured business suggestion! Just for me!"

Around the same time about fifteen million spam filters send the email into spam folders, and another fifteen million spam filters fail to do so, causing a lot of air to turn blue.

Meanwhile, I'm still wondering what Mr Bello's desk looks like.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Black-eyed Susan

The arrival of summer

Summer has arrived. This means the nights have become uncomfortably warm. Nights should not be 26 degrees Celsius. Twenty-six degrees is a comfortable daytime temperature. At night, however, twenty-six degrees is UNREASONABLE, particularly when it is humid as well.

Along with summer the dragonflies have also arrived. They were all over the place down at the river today.

There was also a bird with a faulty clock. I know it has a faulty clock because it is a night heron, but it turns up at the river in the mornings. It is not there in the afternoons, so I am assuming its clock is about, let me see ... eight hours slow.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Testing moments

I spent all of today (actually yesterday) and yesterday (actually the day before yesterday) listening to student 'conversations,' for their oral tests. It has been

(Excuse me. A rather large spider just galloped across my desk. It was not as large as the one I saw last year, but it was large enough to be paying rent.)

The conversation tests have been enlightening. Also depressing, horrifying, worrying, entertaining, and nerve-wracking. I do not like to watch my students having panic attacks, and no amount of reassurance that the test is only a small part of their final grade seems to work. Really, I only do these tests so that I can catch the quiet ones who have improved but so quietly I might not notice otherwise, and so that I have a stick to go with my carrots around the middle of semester when things are starting to flag.

Here are some high points of the tests.

(Where did that spider go?)

1. A student was talking about his hometown, and explained that it was so deep in the countryside that bears sometimes came to his house.

"Oh, really?" said his partner, and paused, staring. Finally, he asked,

"What kind of music do you like?"

I don't think he understood what 'bears' were. Meanwhile I sat there and tried to banish Goldilocks from my head.

(I think the spider went somewhere under that pile of unmarked homework. I am planning to mark it tomorrow, and the prospect has suddenly become far more exciting than it should be.)

2. A very good student, who I was sure was going to do well because he'd been doing well all semester, froze up during the test. His partner was no help at all. When the good student got stuck, they stared at each other in horrified silence, and nothing happened at all. After what felt like an eternity, the timer went off. They ended the conversation, and the good student sank his head in his hands and moaned.

I looked at him and wondered what to do. Should I ask him if he wanted another chance at the test? After a while I enquired,

"How many points do you think you should get for that thirty seconds of silence?"

He peeked at me from between his fingers, and there were another few seconds of silence.

"I was THINKING," he said, finally.

I raised my eyebrows.

"Really?" I asked, and grinned.

"Yes!" he said, then opened his fingers wider and added, "In ENGLISH."

"Oh, good," I said. "As long as you were thinking IN ENGLISH then it's all right."

(I suppose I should be grateful it is a spider and not a bear.)

3. I had an extremely wound-up student make a mistake I remember another student making years ago in a similar test.

"How! Hi are you?" he blurted, and his partner faltered.

"Er . . . I'm . . . er . . . fine," he replied.

How refreshingly different! I thought, and only halfway into the conversation also realized it was completely wrong. It was near the end of the day, that one.

4. I have been trying to drum into my students the importance of clarifying things when they do not understand, or, if that's beyond them, even just admitting they do not understand. I have had them practicing saying things like, "What do you mean?" and "I'm sorry, I don't understand." But in a test situation they seem to think these phrases are forbidden. Perhaps they think, despite everything I have told them, that if they show they do not understand something they will be marked down. Or maybe they think their partner will be marked down for not being understandable. I don't know. All I know is that almost no student admitted to not understanding anything during the tests, and that led to a large number of exchanges similar to this next one, which I noted especially for it's befuddling qualities.

"What did you do next weekend?" asked one student, and the other thought for a moment then replied,

"No, I will."

They nodded wisely at each other, and my head started to spin as I tried to figure out what they thought they had said. I also started to understand how Alice felt after she walked through the looking glass.

And now it is time to abandon my desk to the spider and go to bed.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The mouse that roared

I gave my very low level students a big crossword puzzle yesterday. Most of the clues were easy. The students came close to completing the puzzle, using their dictionaries and helping each other. But there was one word that almost everybody got wrong.

"These animals look like very large mice," said the clue.

The word had four letters, and everybody had the first letter, which was R. Almost every student in the class wrote the same thing: