Monday, December 28, 2009

Whose turn is it to do the dishes?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Xmas!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bribery and corruption

On Thursday I almost convinced my last, naughty class that if they wanted to pass they would have to bribe me. As class was starting, one of the students was giving another student 1000 yen for something, and I pretended it was for me. I held out my hand for it.

"For me?" I asked. Then I added, scornfully, "That won't get you an A!" and turned it down.

The student gaped at me uncomprehendingly, but one of the other students, who always listens carefully (his English is very low level but he is learning fast) was paying close attention, and after a few minutes of thinking about it all asked me interestedly how much would get him an A. ¥10,000?

"About that," I said. "And ¥5000 for a B."

"C is ¥1000?" he asked.

"No. ¥1000 is fail," I told him.

His friend wanted to know what we were talking about, so he translated. They puzzled over why anyone would pay me ¥1000 to fail, and then decided between them that a C should cost ¥3000. The rest of the class was, by now, listening interestedly. The first student calculated how much I would get if the whole class wanted As, and told me it could be my bonus.

Two students pulled out their wallets.


In fact I'm still not sure if they were joking or not, but I made it clear that I was. At least I hope I did. Bribery is unethical and unprofessional, I told them, without actually using those words because they wouldn't have understood them.

On the other hand, I told one guy who is on the verge of failing (but I'm going to pass him because he's been trying, finally – I failed him first semester) that it was his job to erase the blackboard at the end of class every week from now on if he wanted to pass. I keep meaning to get students to do that anyway, but this is the first time I've actually managed to get someone to do it willingly. I'm hoping he will do it every week from now on. There are only four weeks left anyway, and I'd already decided to pass him so it's not really a bribe. He just thinks it is.

After class I bumped into my boss, who had been teaching in the room next to mine.

"Sometime I would like you to come into my class and yell at me," I told him.

"Why?" he asked.

"Well, I've been building you up all year as the Big Bad Bully Boss," I told him. "That class always wants to finish early, and I tell them I can't let them go yet because my scary boss is next door, and if he finds out he will fire me. If I let them go five minutes early I tell them to tiptoe out in the other direction, so they won't go past your classroom and you won't see. But last week I let them go ten minutes early, and now they don't believe me."

"TEN minutes early?" asked my boss, frowning.

"Yes," I said. "You can fire me if you like. I couldn't deal with them any longer without killing someone."

My boss thought for a moment.

"How about if I come in and start yelling at you and you yell back, only louder?" he suggested. "That would be funny, because I'm bigger than you."

"No," I told him sternly. "You have to yell at me, and I will cower."

What I didn't tell him is that I am also planning, when he yells at me, to yell back that I HAD to let my students go early because I was so upset that they were trying to bribe me. I know he will ask them about this in Japanese (he is a terrible teacher and uses mostly Japanese in his classes and his students don't need to know any English at all), and my students will have a wonderful time getting indignant and insisting that it was me and asking if he will REALLY fire me.

I have two reasons for wanting to do this. One reason is that if there is just one student in that class who didn't realize the bribery thing was a joke, at least I will have a reliable witness to the fact that it was, if that student complains to someone or even just tells someone (who tells someone else who tells someone else), and the next thing you know it has come up in a faculty meeting and I'm fired.

The other reason I want to do it is that I think it will be funny.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Silly old man

The other night I dreamed I was having a conversation with the Pope. He was doing all the talking. He told me all about his favourite woolly cardigan, in great detail.

I listened politely and thought,

What a silly old man.

It was one of my more boring dreams.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


One of the teachers I work with had an eye operation recently, for a detached retina. Today he brought into work the information pamphlet his doctor gave him, which was entitled 'Floaters and Flashes,' which I first read as 'Floaters and Flashers.'

These floaters were not what I thought they were. The pamphlet was about those unwanted bits of stuff that float around in your eye, not in your toilet.

But seeing the title of this pamphlet reminded me of when I first left home. I lived for a short time in an apartment in Wellington, and downstairs from me was a single mother and her daughter. The daughter was five years old, and was my first visitor. We became friends very quickly. She used to come to see me and dress up in my clothes.

One day she ran up the stairs to tell me she had done something amazing.

"Come and see what I did!" she shouted. "Quickly!"

I ran down the stairs, and she took me into the bathroom, over her mother's protests.

"Look!" she said. "I did a big one, and it keeps coming back! Mummy says it's a floater!"

"It's horrible," called her mother, who was sitting at the kitchen table reading a magazine. "And it won't go away. I don't know what to do."

It certainly was a big one. It floated like a fat dumpling in the toilet bowl, and looked far too large to have been produced by a girl so small.

"Are you sure that's yours?" I asked.

"Yes!" mother and daughter chorused, and I'm not sure who was more indignant.

"Watch!" the little girl said, proudly, and flushed the toilet.

The floater turned a few lazy circles and dived languidly. We peered into the swirling water, but it had gone.

"Wait!" she said. "It'll come back! I promise!"

I waited.

Sure enough, after a few seconds the floater peeked slyly round the bend. It wiggled a bit, bobbed back to the surface, and bounced gently. It seemed to have become larger. The little girl laughed with delight.

I don't know how many times we flushed before it finally departed for good. That was a VERY PERSISTENT floater, and an amazing achievement for a five-year-old.

I would have been proud, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


The other day as I was waiting for a delayed train a man limped past me along the platform, and I got the inspiration for a series of children's books. Well, a series of titles for children's books, actually. I didn't get as far as thinking of the actual stories.

A couple of nights ago I told The Man about them.

"I had an idea for a series of children's books about disabled animals," I said. "For example, a book called, The Short-Sighted Eagle. And another called, The Dog Who Couldn't Smell Anything."

"Eh?" said The Man, unimpressed.

"The Three-Legged Cheetah," I enthused. "The Fly Who Didn't Like Shit!"

"I think it's a stupid idea," said The Man, sensibly. "What would they be about? Who would want to read them?"

I had to agree, but new titles kept popping into my mind as I fell asleep.

The Noisy Mouse
The Cross-Dressing Lion, Queen of the Jungle
The Slender Pig
The Stupid Owl
The Clean Cockroach
The Weeping Hyena

The Man was right. It was not one of my brighter ideas.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How to pick your nose

I took this picture in my local supermarket, next to the checkout. It is not, in fact, instructions on how to pick your nose (as my friend suggested when I sent it to him).

But can you guess what it is?

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Thursday, November 05, 2009


I spent a couple of hours today constructing a test for my last Friday class, which is a very large and troublesome one in a too small room. Normally it does not take me long to make these tests, because I tell the students the questions and the answers the week before. The tests are just a way to ensure the students are paying attention at the end of class and that they come on time at the beginning. They are also a way for me to give points, since we were told that we are not allowed to use 'subjective' grades, and therefore cannot grade for attendance or participation.

These tests are a way for me to grade for both attendance and participation (both of which are important in oral language classes) under a different name. I give grades on TESTS. They love tests here. It is not all of their grade, but it is quite a large hunk.

The tests work pretty well, in the sense that the ones who attend and participate usually do quite well on them, whereas those who don't, don't. I get a pretty accurate spread of points. The same ones who behave badly in class tend to also do badly on the tests.

But although it is a 'pretty accurate' spread, in the first semester it was not entirely accurate. In fact there were a few students who did a lot better than they should have. That is because they cheat.

I have never caught anyone at it (until now) but I know they cheat, because I have experimented with standing next to one I suspect during tests, at which times he (usually, but not always – sometimes it's she) does very badly indeed. The problem is that I can only stand over one cheater at a time. They are dispersed throughout the classroom, and due to the shape and size of the room I cannot oversee all of them at once. I can stand near one, who frowns earnestly and struggles with the questions (which I told them the week before, along with the answers), and then I go to stand near another, at which point the first one miraculously remembers the answers and writes them down.

This has been annoying the crap out of me, because these are generally the same students who cause me so much grief during class time. They never do the class work, and are ridiculously disruptive, chatting with students who are actually trying to study and claiming, when I finally get to them to see if they need help with an activity, that they do not understand what they are supposed to be doing. They are always attentive and polite when I go over and explain something directly to them, but ignore me completely when I am explaining something to the class as a whole. Nor do they read the instructions I write on the board unless I stand beside them and point and tell them to read it, at which time they understand and do what they're supposed to be doing. Apparently they cannot read unless I point and hover. By the time I have them started on the activity (which is always something they can do – they just haven't been paying attention) the rest of the class has finished and it's time to start on something else.

Before you tell me I should start with the bad students, that doesn't work either, because they are scattered all over the classroom, and when I try to do this I am generally waylaid on my way down the aisle by a good student with a question, and since the good students deserve my attention more than the bad students do I take care of them first. Meanwhile the bad students are distracting the reasonably good (but easily distracted) students all around them. It is particularly annoying that when I get to them and explain to them personally what to do, my explanation is exactly the same as the one I gave the entire class, which they did not listen to. (When I say 'bad' students I do not mean 'low-level' students.)

As you may have concluded by now, this class almost never goes well, and nobody learns very much. But in the first semester I was forced to pass students I did not think should have passed because they'd done well in tests, and I was not able to check all the work they did in class (for an oral language class there are too many students to get around to all of them) so this semester I was determined to stop the cheating so that the students who did not at least memorize the test answers would not get good grades.

Trying harder to police the tests did not work. It just isn't possible when the room isn't big enough to separate the students. I finally decided that, even though it was far more work than I wanted to do, I would mount a sneak attack. I spent an entire weekend constructing a test that was exactly the same as the one I had told the class I would give them, but which had three different versions. It was a multiple choice test. I made all three versions appear to be the same (if you just happened to glance at your neighbour's paper) but they weren't the same. I labelled them with a tiny a, b or c at the bottom of the page so that I could distinguish the three versions, and when I handed them out I made sure that each student in a row of three got a different test, and that nobody was sitting behind someone with the same test.

The biggest surprise for me was that it was a couple of the good (or rather, goodish) students near the front who first noticed the tests were different. I heard them whispering agitatedly and snuck up behind them to explain quietly that yes, the tests were different, and it was because there was too much cheating. They looked guilty and nodded seriously. (And one of them did MUCH worse than she usually does.)

Three or four of the bad students whom I suspected of cheating (but had never caught) scored zero on the tests, having mysteriously managed to write 'a' answers on 'b' tests, or whichever way around it was. A few other students whom I had not suspected also scored alarmingly low, with some (but not all) of their answers being answers from different tests.

All in all, the time I spent constructing this test turned out to be well spent. I have identified exactly how many students I need to keep an eye on, i.e. FAR MORE THAN I HAD SUSPECTED.

(When I told a colleague about my sneak test a few days after the first one she laughed so hard I thought she was going to choke on her curry. She is using the same textbook I am using, and when she finally stopped laughing she asked for copies.)

The next time I gave a test in that class, two weeks ago, I did the same thing again, but this time I only made two versions (because I didn't have time to make three). These were not multiple choice and it was more obvious that they were different, but I thought since word had probably got around about my new tactic it wasn't necessary to conceal the trick.

But it turned out they didn't all know. There was one student who has always been charming and apparently cooperative to my face, distracting and disruptive when he thinks I'm not looking, and who never does any work at all if he can help it. He always sits at the back if I don't move them around (which I don't always do because it takes so long) and had been sitting at the back when I gave the first sneak test. He scored zero on that one, and I assumed he knew all about it.

But apparently he hadn't checked the scores on the back of his name card at the beginning of class, because sometime during the second sneak test I heard him mutter urgently to the student sitting beside him,

"Our tests are different!"

"Yes," his neighbour muttered back. Then he added, "They were different last time, too."

Silence reigned for a moment (as it should during tests), then the cheater yelped loudly,

"WHAT?" He turned over his name card and stared at the numbers tragically.

"SHHHH!" I hissed. (At that moment I totally understood why people become librarians.)

The cheater only attempted one of the questions. He got it wrong. If only he'd paid attention the week before! He might have noticed that I'd told him the answers already.

The next week (last Friday) he did not come to class. The entire class went a little better than usual, which may or may not have been related.

Tomorrow they'll be getting another one of my sneak tests. The questions – and answers – are exactly what I said they would be, although the answers are slightly differently arranged. And while I am a little annoyed at having to spend so much time constructing these tests, I must admit it's kind of fun, too. It's like making something that is at the same time a logic puzzle (for me, making it work), a practical joke, a trap, and a perfectly fair and easy test.

I almost hope the chronic cheater comes back.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


We are having a cold snap. Just before this cold snap (which started on Tuesday) we still had one frog left in the garden, but now it's gone. I called it Rose. (Because it was the Last Frog of Summer.)

It has probably underground now. Did you know that these little guys bury themselves and hibernate during the winter? I didn't, until one year I decided to put in some spring bulbs, and accidentally dug one up. I held the limp, clammy little body in my hand, and said, "Oh, poor wee thing, it's dead..." and then its leg twitched, and it went from deep hibernation to the discovery of flight in a split second.

It probably was a fairly traumatic experience for the frog, but it was for me, too. I have never planted bulbs again.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Overheard in the teachers' room:

"You smell nice, Paul. What have you got on?"

"Eh?" (Vague frown.) "I don't know. I just sat in the car with Dan."

I don't know why we all found that so funny.

Also overheard in the teachers' room, after a long rant about some investment gone bad:

"The good news is that financially I'm set for life if I die next Tuesday."

One of the teachers gave me a little present yesterday (Friday). It was in a paper bag, wrapped carefully in tissue paper. I took the bag and looked inside.

"Ooh, thank you!" I said. "Is this what I think it is? A little something to help me get through the day?"

"NO!" he said, laughing in horror. "It's for you to take home."

"But it could help ENORMOUSLY," I said. "Especially for my last class."

"Don't open it until you get home!" he said, sternly.

It was a bottle of home-made umeshu. I still think it would have gone down quite nicely before, or perhaps during, my last class.

In the classroom, dictation can get some interesting results. I took notes of three that made me smile. The first two I can understand, but I took these notes so long ago that now I can't remember what that third one was supposed to be.

Who nose?

He is wearing boring grobe.

He has just panching.

Two weeks ago on Friday my first class started to turn into a horror movie. I gave the students a little test first – something I frequently do at beginning of class to encourage punctuality (and alertness). Right after the test, one of the best students, who was looking very pale, excused himself to go to the toilet.

Twenty minutes later he had still not come back, and I was starting to worry. I knew he had planned to come back, as his bag was on his chair and in any case if he had to leave he is the sort of person who would have informed me.

When half an hour had passed and the pale student had still not come back, I asked his friend to go and check that he was all right. His friend tried to phone him first, but although he got a ringing tone there was no answer. This worried me even more. Usually when students disappear to the 'toilet' for long periods it's because they want to chat with someone on their phone. (I have a student in my last class on Fridays I have nicknamed (but not to her face) Toilet Girl because she used to 'go to the toilet' for thirty minutes every week, during class. She stopped doing this when she realized that I was noticing and adjusting her class points accordingly, but the nickname has stuck.)

The pale student's friend went down the corridor to see what was going on.

Ten minutes later he hadn't come back, either.

I wondered what to do. I poked my head out the door and peered down the corridor. It was empty. I turned back to the class, which had fallen silent. The students were looking as spooked as I was feeling.

We all stared at each other, frowning worriedly.

"Well," I said, finally. "That's two gone. Who wants to be number three?"

Nobody volunteered. We resumed the class, somewhat subdued.

A couple of minutes later the pale student's friend came back.

"Is he all right?" I asked, anxiously.

"Yes," said the student. "Er, no. He drank too much last night."

That was a relief. I picked up the pale student's name card, and on the back, where I usually write their absences and test grades and things like that, I wrote the date and the word, "Hungover."

He is a good student, and I am impressed that he managed to turn up for a nine o'clock class if he was feeling that bad. He scored well on the test, too, but I guess that was all he could manage before his stomach rebelled. He is a quick learner, and I expect he learned something quite valuable.

Student trying to figure out the past form of the verb 'check'.

"Chook?" he asks his friend, who looks doubtful.

There was a question in the text about sleeping habits. Out of sixteen students, only three got more than five hours sleep a night. When I asked them why, it turned out they were mostly watching TV or talking on the phone with friends. One or two were working at their part-time jobs.

I suspect them of napping frequently during the day. In fact I know they nap frequently. They are napping when I walk into the classroom and inconsiderately wake them up.

We have talked about this in the teachers' room. None of us can remember ever falling asleep during class at university, or even wanting to, no matter how sleep-deprived we were, and none of us could remember wanting to nap during the day, anyway. Even as ratbag students we felt that the whole purpose of being in class was to learn something, and it never occurred to us to go to a class and then sleep through it.

But here it is normal behaviour, especially during lectures. (Less so in our classes because we annoying English language teachers always insist on our students doing stuff.)

The hungover student returned yesterday, looking much better. When I handed out the name cards he took his and went back to his seat near the back. He looked on the back of the card and saw what I'd written.

"Hungover?" I heard him say. "What does that mean?"

His friend looked at the card, and shrugged. "Look it up," he suggested.

I continued calling names and handing out cards, feeling happy. That class is lovely. There is one teeth-grindingly horrible student but he comes so infrequently it doesn't matter.

It took the two guys a little research to find out what 'hungover' meant ('hungover' is not in the dictionary, but eventually they hit on 'hangover'). I had forgotten all about it when I heard the hoots and shouts of laughter from the back of the room.

I always start that class with conversations, and heard the word 'hangover' being used a LOT yesterday. There was a lot of teasing.

New vocabulary is always remembered better in context.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I am writing this in class. This is made possible by a very cooperative class which is more or less self-propelled, and by my lovely new toy, my MacBook Air. (If you did not already know I am a gadget freak you have not been paying attention.) After my Palm died I got tired of taking work home, and while I had thought about using a laptop I had always been put off by the weight, especially of Mac laptops, which I would prefer to use (for compatibility, for lack of hassle, for lack of downtime, lack of virus threats, etc). Then the MacBook Air came along, but was far too expensive for me. And then, a couple of weeks ago, I bought my MacBook Air at a greatly reduced price, second-hand. I am writing in short bursts between teacherly activities.

They've started some sort of construction work outside this classroom window. Again. How silly. We have four days off next week in which they could be making all this noise and the classrooms would be empty. Went next door to ask another teacher a spelling question, and as I opened his door he said, hopefully,

"You've come to tell me our classes are cancelled, haven't you? I mean, no sensible person would expect us to teach effectively with – "

A loud crash from outside drowned out the rest of his sentence.

"Pardon?" I asked.

"... WITH ALL THIS NOISE!" he bellowed.

"You're absolutely right," I said. "Why don't you go and talk to the boss about it?"


I gave up.


He stared at me.


He wrote it down both ways. One b looked wrong, but two didn't look quite right, either, which was pretty much the same thing I'd thought.

"MAYBE IT'S HYPHENATED," he bellowed.




He drew a picture on the board.


"OTHER WAY ROUND!" he shouted.



I went back to my classroom and checked my dictionary again. This time I noticed I'd been searching under 'Thesaurus' and by switching to 'Dictionary' was able to find the correct spelling and also the correct definition. I erased dumbell from my board and rewrote it correctly. I then drew crossing arrows from the pictures of weights and dumbbells to the words, and apologized to the student who had told me I had it the wrong way round. He was right and I was wrong. (This is not nearly as rare in a classroom as teachers would like to think.)

I don't think my student heard my apology, though. I didn't shout loudly enough.

(I have other unfinished bits of blog entries on the new computer which will also eventually make it here. This was the latest one.)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Typhoon Melor

All our shutters are up, and I'm feeling a little claustrophobic. There is a typhoon on the way. We have been told to expect 250mm of rain, and in fact it has been raining hard and steadily for the last few hours. I am hoping that I will have at least a morning off, if the typhoon doesn't move TOO fast overnight and all be over by 6am. If the storm warnings are still in place at 6am morning classes are cancelled, and if they're still in effect at 11am afternoon classes are cancelled, too.

It seems to me that there is something wrong with this arrangement. When a storm has been raging all night and keeping me awake, and the warnings are lifted by 6am, then the last thing I want to do is go to work. I'm too tired to teach well, and those students who bother to turn up are too tired to study well.

Why can't we just have the day off?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yukka (again)

Remember our spiky plant? The one that has gone a funny shape? (I have been told it is a yukka.)

The Man has a theory about this plant. He says that the plant did not like having its spikes cut off.

It laced its fingers and pondered the problem. Then it thought, "Hey! If I keep my fingers laced, maybe they won't get chopped off..."

"Look! No spikes!" it said. "Don't chop me! I'll be good!"

So far, it is working. We have not chopped off its spikes. Not the middle ones, anyway.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Crow convention

Last week sometime, Tuesday, I think, there was a huge crow convention held in my neighbourhood. At least fifty crows gathered on the roof of an apartment building down the road, the tallest building around here. When a huge flock of them took to the air and I pointed the camera up, I couldn't get it to focus.

I have never seen so many crows in one place before. Usually they gather in families of four or five, and sometimes seven or eight, but I'd never seen dozens gathering like that. They were very noisy, and I think they were plotting something.

I did get a couple of good shots, but only after most of them had left. In this one the power lines got in the way, but I quite like the effect.

One crow landed on the top of a pole on the building. I don't know what this pole is, but it doesn't look like a comfortable spot for a bird to land, really. That didn't stop the crow, though, who seemed to enjoy being top bird. In this picture you can see its feet wrapped around the pole.

When The Man saw this next photo, he told me I should add more pole coming out the top of the crow. I tried, but it didn't really work. I'm not that good at manipulating photos. I don't have the patience to get it right.

In any case, it already looks like crow-on-a-stick.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Help me! Help me!

I finally managed to get some more pictures of the lovely orange butterfly, this time with its wings open. Wide open, in fact.

In these pictures, particularly the first one, the butterfly face reminds me a bit of the original version of The Fly. I can imagine the butterfly wailing, "Help me! Help me!" (link to .wav file).

In fact, I just looked at the first picture while listening to that sound file, and now I wish I hadn't.


Work started last week, which goes some way to explaining my dearth of posting. (Not all the way. The rest of the way involves a lot of laziness.)

We now have, right after starting, three days of public holidays. This means a five day weekend, which is enough time for us all to get used to being on holiday again, and then suffer the trauma of starting work again, again. (I just used the word again three times in one sentence and I think it even makes sense. Do I get a prize for that?)

Today I went into Osaka to see a friend and inspect her kitten, who is growing fast and apparently turning into a rabbit, or at least his ears and back legs are.

While I was there, I showed my friend my current favourite YouTube video, this one, and she watched it three times in a row and laughed so hard I started to worry she might have a wee accident.

The video makes me laugh too, but it also makes me feel a little guilty, because I used to sleepwalk, too. I know how it feels when you wake up and know something is urgent but can't figure out what, or remember quite what terrible thing happened that made it necessary for you to try to climb into a small cupboard in the hallway. It is bewildering, and being laughed at when you are bewildered doesn't feel good.

So I have some sympathy for Bizkit, who seems to have hideous dreams about being chased, and I'm hoping he doesn't figure out how to watch YouTube videos. It would be humiliating for him to discover that ten million people have been laughing at him. It's bad enough when it's your mum and dad.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I have a problem with okra. My problem is that I consistently forget what it's called. If I want to say something about okra, I start off perfectly clear what I want to say, but as the word approaches it fades and disappears, leaving me saying stupid things like, "You know, that green vegetable..." I cannot think of any other word that this happens with. It's just okra.

Today I went out for lunch and the waitress told me the 'healthy plate' was tofu and okra burgers. That sounded good, I thought, and later when it arrived I thought to myself, "Ooh, what a good mix! Tofu and ... er ... um ..." This was just five minutes or so after the waitress had used the word okra. I stared into space until my burger went cold, trying to remember what it was.

I am hoping that now that I have typed the word okra six times (so far) in this post, perhaps it will stick, finally. My okra forgettery has gone on quite long enough. The Man is sick of me asking what that vegetable is called and gets quite testy when I forget yet again. Why do I forget okra? Such an easy little word. I should be able to remember it.

Am I the only person who forgets a specific word like this? (As far as I know it's only the one word, if you don't count people's names, which I forget on a regular basis.)


Monday, September 07, 2009

Why cheese?

From The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple:

"He [Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe] was a notably fastidious man, with feelings so refined that he could not bear to see women eat cheese. Moreover he believed that if the fair sex insisted on eating oranges or mangoes, they should at least do so in the privacy of their own bathrooms."

Mangoes and oranges I can understand. But . . . cheese?


We have a very spiky plant in our garden. It has been there as long as we have, and we have to trim the ends of the spiky leaves so we don't get stabbed going to get our bicycles. It can be quite painful.

Earlier this year the spiky plant did this:

We had nothing to do with it. Perhaps there was a strong wind and it got tangled up and stayed like that. Or perhaps, eventually, something is going to hatch from inside the folded over leaves.

It looks very strange, but we are leaving it that way. Less spiky is good.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

In the garden

We had a couple of visitors in the garden today. Besides the usual butterflies, a hummingbird moth came to check out the flowers. Why do hummingbird moths have fluffy tails? That's just wrong, on an insect. Hummingbird moths are a little creepy.

A dragonfly also visited, and stopped to rest on the dead hardenbergia. I don't know why the hardenbergia died. It just did, quite suddenly. The dragonfly didn't seem to mind.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Yesterday I went into Osaka to have lunch with a friend. While we were walking around Shinsaibashi, we passed a car showroom that included the glitteriest car I have ever seen. You've seen pictures of mobile phones that have been decorated with beads, right? Well, this car has been similarly decorated. All over. That has to be the most embarrassingly tacky car ever.

It was a shame I only had my phone camera.

(Found a better picture of it here, from when it was in Tokyo.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Crow by river

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Orange butterfly

Strange things

Last night I was sitting out on our front step after dinner enjoyng the rest of my glass of wine, and two strange things happened.

First, off to the right somewhere, somebody laughed maniacally. It was a man's laugh, entirely deranged, and went on and on and on. (If you have a Mac, you can hear more or less what I heard if you do this: Go to System Preferences, select Speech, select Text to Speech, then for the Voice choose Hysterical. Then open TextEdit, type HA HA HA HA HA , highlight it, and hit F1. Turn your speakers up, but not too far up.)

A few minutes later, off to the left, in an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT HOUSE, someone else laughed maniacally. It was a woman's laugh, entirely deranged, and went on and on and on. (There is no woman's voice on the Mac that sounds anything like it.)

As I was sitting there wondering if our neighbourhood had suddenly been hit by laughing gas and wondering why it had skipped our place, a van pulled up across the road. Someone got out of the van – I couldn't see who – crossed the road, and dropped something in our letterbox. Whoever it was then got back into the van and drove off.

I checked the letterbox. There was a flyer for an expensive restaurant. Why had this flyer been delivered only to us?

The laughter had stopped. Everything was quiet except a few cicadas and one lonely-sounding frog. It was peaceful and cool. A cool August night? That's spooky even without maniacal laughter and mysterious restaurant flyer deliveries.

It turned out the restaurant flyer had been delivered only to us because the owner of a camera shop near here knows the owner of the restaurant, which he recommends, and had promised to let us know where it was. I guess that must have been the camera shop guy on his way home from work.

The demented laughter, on the other hand, is still a mystery.

In other news, this is my new favourite cartoon: Estimation. It made me laugh. (Because Macs do that, too.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Placebo destinations

For me the most surprising thing in this article about the placebo effect is the bit about how medicines work differently in different countries.

By the late '90s, for example, the classic antianxiety drug diazepam (also known as Valium) was still beating placebo in France and Belgium. But when the drug was tested in the US, it was likely to fail. Conversely, Prozac performed better in America than it did in western Europe and South Africa.

Isn't that interesting? If you want your Valium to really work, go to France!

Well, all right, I know that's not what it means, but it would add a whole new dimension to health care if it did work that way.

"Oh, you have an ulcer," the doctor says. "I'll write a prescription for these white pills, to be taken four times a day for two weeks, in Spain."

Can you imagine how much more interesting illness could be?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Birds under bridges

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Now and again a survey report is published in the newspaper that makes my head spin, particularly when I read it late at night and I'm trying to read fast. There was an excellent one a couple of days ago. It would probably make perfect sense if I read it slowly, but on my first, fast reading, it was gobbledegook. By the third paragraph my head was revolving slowly:

"While 61 percent of the elementary school teachers said they believed students understood more than 80 percent of the content covered in textbooks, only 18.6 percent of students said they picked up that much. The percentage of teachers who believed their students understood around 60 to 70 percent of what they were taught was close to that of students, at 36.3 percent and 34.6 percent respectively. Meanwhile, only 2.7 percent of teachers were under the impression that students had an understanding of approximately 40 to 50 percent of their textbooks, but 41.4 percent of students responded that that was how much they'd comprehended."

And the revolutions became a lot faster as I read the paragraph after that:

"Such gaps in the understanding of student comprehension were evident at the junior and senior high school level as well. While 64.8 percent of junior high school teachers trusted that students grasped about 60 to 70 percent of textbook content, only 34.5 percent of students said they'd understood that much, and while 16.1 percent of teachers said they believed students had around 40 to 50 percent comprehension of their textbooks, 36.5 percent of students said they did."

By the time I got to the end I was feeling quite dizzy.

Incidentally, on that same page there is a link to another story, which I'm sure is a tragedy, but it's a great headline. I probably shouldn't have laughed:

"Student drowns while testing concrete canoe."

That must have been one of the students who only understood 40 percent of his textbooks.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Yesterday I visited a friend who recently adopted a very small kitten she found outside her apartment. He was only about two weeks old when she found him, and she had to feed him special kitten formula with a syringe. He has now graduated to soft food, and is doing very well. I think he is about a month old, now.

I tried to take pictures of him, but he was very hard to photograph. He was still a little wobbly on his feet but seemed to get around rather quickly all the same, often sideways, as if he hasn't quite got control of his legs yet. This makes him look slightly drunk, which is endearing in a very small kitten.

I thought he'd be easy to photograph, but he wasn't. I'd focus on his face and discover that I'd taken a picture like this:

I managed to get one reasonable photo from directly above him...

... but couldn't get down to his level to take a decent shot, because when I did, he galloped towards me, all sideways and wobbly. Or else he was behind something.

In most of the pictures I took he was either blurred or washing his bottom.

Oh, well. Perhaps I should just stick to photographing birds.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fortunately, nobody happened to be passing at the time

I was outside just now trying to see the Perseids meteor shower. The cloud cover meant that I could only see a few patches of sky where stars were visible, and light pollution took care of the rest. It probably didn't help that I had no idea where I should be looking, so was looking where the clear patches of sky were. It seems that those were not the right places. I did not see any meteors.

In fact, the most interesting thing to happen was that while standing in the middle of the road staring up at the sky (probably with my mouth open), my sarong fell off.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The scream

Last night the hungry crocodiles under my bed started to sidle out. They thought I was asleep, and wanted to eat me. They were particularly interested in my legs. I KNEW we should have had taller beds. Why did we have to be in a swamp anyway? Everybody had said we'd be safe, but the bed was too low.

Making myself small in the middle of the bed was not working. One crocodile, not even a very big one, had started to climb up. It lunged at my leg. I managed to scramble out of the way, and bashed it on the nose. It fell back, but started to come towards me again, enraged, and then I remembered something someone told me once – that if you screamed right in a crocodile's face it would run away.

It was a huge effort, but I took a deep breath and screamed right in that crocodile's face.

The crocodile reared back, looking appalled. It worked! But my scream also alarmed The Man, who woke up and grabbed my hand, which woke me up.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Although the crocodiles were beginning to fade into absurdity, I could still see that horrified, toothy grin, and I didn't want to move, because YOU NEVER KNOW.

And for some reason the whole thing was really, really hard to explain.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Interesting question

Near the end of the semester, in the teachers' room at lunchtime, one of the guys asked everybody a question.

"Imagine you are running a race," he said. "You pass the person who is in second place. What position are you in now?"

One of the people who got it wrong reacted by getting astonishingly angry.

"Say the question again?" she said, and when he repeated it, she said, "YOU WORDED IT DIFFERENTLY LAST TIME. YOU'RE TRYING TO CONFUSE ME!"

Then she gave the same wrong answer she'd given the first time. The guy who'd asked the question caught my eye, and we both laughed. She got madder, and kept insisting she was right. Somehow, this question really hit a nerve with her. I had never seen her so worked up.

Other people were asking,

"So what's the answer, then?"

He pointed at me.

"You were the only person to get it right away," he said, and I tried not to look smug. At the same time, I was relieved. I had been trying to figure out why everyone had a different answer from mine. I'd been thinking I'd made some sort of embarrassing mistake, but couldn't figure out what it was.

At home I tried the question on The Man. He answered it wrongly, and when I laughed, he made me say the question again. Then he got mad.


What an interesting little question!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I saw at the river

Today I cycled down to the big river. It has been several months since I went there, and I discovered that all the gulls were gone. I forgot they don't hang around there in the summer. They turn up in autumn, and stay for the winter.

I did not spend as much time there as I'd planned, because while I was cycling along the riverbank I remembered that a friend had moved to somewhere near that area, and maybe he was at home and I could pay him a visit? I texted him, and he answered immediately, saying he'd cycle down to meet me. He brought his dog. I think the dog remembered me, although I hadn't seen her since she wasn't much more than a puppy. She got all excited when she saw me. Or it could just be that I smell good to dogs when I'm all hot and sweaty after a bicycle ride.

We went back to his (very nice) new place for a drink, and after an hour or so I cycled home again along the river. On the way I took some pictures, but not very many.

One picture I took was of a cormorant flying. It was doing its best imitation of a cartoon. I must say the hornbill does it better, but still, that was a pretty good effort. The dangling foot is especially good.

I also saw a lot of crows. They were behaving in the way crows do, flying around and shouting scornfully, except for this one. I think this one is an outcast.

It was quietly fossicking in the grass, looking normal, but when it turned the other way . . .

I saw that it had a mutant white feather.

How odd. I guess that was why the other crows didn't want to hang around with it. Poor, lonely white-feathered crow.

Before I left the riverside I saw the amazing umbrella bird, hanging from a tree.

This is a baby umbrella bird. When it is older it will open, trundle down to the river, and drift out to sea (unless it is captured and sold into slavery beforehand, that is).

I know this because I have seen it before.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

They can't blame me

Last day tomorrow. Hooray! I will be giving tests. It is test week, and for one department in one university I have to give tests in the test period. Since I am teaching oral English, and the test period is fifty minutes, and I cannot give speaking tests to thirty-odd students in fifty minutes, I will be giving paper tests with an element of listening. For one class, which is very small (only fourteen students, and they were a joy) I had a test written that was far too short, so I told them in the last week of classes that I wanted them to write a test question each, to make it longer. It took a while for them to understand that I wanted them to write their own test questions, to which they would (of course) know the answers. They thought this was very odd indeed. I told them the test was only ten percent of their final grade, and they could use their test questions to test themselves on something they really wanted to remember.

I also told them to make sure they told the other students what their question was, and their answer, so that everybody could get 100%.

They seemed to think this whole thing was a bit funny.

I used the time when they were writing their test questions to mark some assignments, and noticed, out the corner of my eye, that they were not taking it very seriously. They wrote their questions quickly, then gossiped amongst themselves happily. I pretended to think they were discussing their test questions, and carried on with my marking.

Towards the end of class I collected their questions, corrected them (there were some mistakes), and told them the corrections. They were packing up to leave when I asked them,

"Did you remember to tell each other your test questions?"

They looked at each other furtively.

"Er, yes?" they said, and a more honest student added, "Mostly."

"Good!" I said.

When I typed up the test questions I realized that some of the students had written quite difficult ones. They were the sort that are easy to write but less easy to answer. Chuckling evilly to myself I wrote, at the top of that section of the test:

"YOUR QUESTIONS. (Have fun getting 100% for this part because you know all the answers.)"

It will be interesting to see how they do, but I suspect it might be a good thing the test is only worth ten percent of their final grade!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cicada emerging

The other day I was about to go out when I noticed a cicada in the garden. It looked a little odd, so I took a picture. Was it dead? I wasn't sure, but I liked the picture.

I came back home about an hour later, and did some chores. Then I had to go out again. When I went out into the garden I noticed the cicada had changed shape. I went over to see what was happening, and was amazed. I was also disappointed that I had missed the first bit. Maybe one day I'll capture the entire process.

I have never seen this happen before, although I have often seen the cicada shells. I spent about an hour watching and taking pictures, then really did have to go, reluctantly. All these pictures were taken within about an hour, except the last one, which was taken after I came home again, about an hour and a half later. It was a very slow process, and messed up my entire, carefully planned day.

In the morning the cicada was gone, leaving only the shell still attached to the weed. (And yes, it is a weed. It's a very tall weed. The rainy season has caused our garden to sprout weeds of gigantic proportions, which I have not had time to take care of yet.)

This cicada is Cryptotympana facialis, and you can hear what it sounds like on this page. It is VERY, VERY LOUD, especially when it gets its feet stuck in the screen window outside your bedroom at five o'clock in the morning.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I am going mad. It is the end of semester and I am frantically trying to grade, and being thwarted at every turn. Yesterday things kept happening, and I was busy with other routine chores, and then late yesterday afternoon I had finally settled down to do some serious marking of student papers when the phone rang. It was my brother. I haven't spoken to him for a long time, so felt obliged to continue talking to him even when we'd already said goodbye twice, I had run out of things to say, and he was starting to repeat himself. It was lovely to talk to him, but his timing was horrible. When I finally put the phone down it was time for dinner.

To make matters worse, I have caught a cold. After dinner I remembered to take my medicine, took it, and almost immediately felt sleepy. I don't usually take cold medicine, but I am trying to suppress the symptoms so I can get some work done. This is obviously not working. I went to bed right after writing this. (It is now Sunday.)

But it was not just because I am sleepy. I had had enough for the day. I am not sure what I had had enough of, because I hadn't achieved much, but perhaps it was just that I had had enough of not achieving much.

But on another topic, as I am taking a break from grading, let me tell you about my embarrassing new mobile phone ringtone. Perhaps you remember the frogs I had before, as my ringtone. I hate ringtones, usually, and had recorded the frogs down at the paddy field on the corner so that I could have a sound I liked. That worked worked well. The frogs were not very loud, but just loud enough, and I've been using them for a year. I usually have my phone set on silent mode anyway, but on the rare occasions I didn't, and my phone rang during class, or in a quiet bookstore, or somewhere, everybody was puzzled except me. The frogs worked PERFECTLY.

They continued to work perfectly until summer rolled round again, and the frogs started up again down at the paddy field. Recently, whenever I've been expecting a call or message and had the phone on, I've been scrabbling for it every time I hear frogs. I was scrabbling for my phone far too often, even when it was in silent mode. The real frogs down at the paddy field were confusing me. They don't sing all the time. They start and stop.

So I decided to change my ringtone, and a friend sent me some birdsongs I might like. They were lovely, and I was very pleased with them. I chose the song of the hototogisu (Japanese cuckoo – click on number 10 to hear its song).

I've had my new ringtone for about three weeks now, but for some reason I cannot get used to it. I just can't seem to remember that I have changed my ringtone. I still jump up to find my phone when I hear frogs, and when the hototogisu starts singing I stare around the place like an idiot, looking for the bird. I do this for AGES before realizing that the song is coming from my own bag, or pocket. It is embarrassing, especially when I am in the middle of a complicated conversation with one of the administrative staff at work. I felt like such an idiot.

How long does it take to get used to a new ringtone if you hardly ever use it anyway? I am thinking of restoring the frogs.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lunch, etc

Today I stopped in at a little park in time to see a rather gruesome drama involving a mynah (I think) and its overly large lunch, which was still alive.

I think it was a cicada. It's strange, though. I haven't seen or heard any kumazemi yet. That's what it looks like to me, but perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps it's some other large insect.

We're heading into our final two or three weeks of semester now, and I have been feeling bad about not posting more, especially since I have had some entertaining classes this semester. But that swine flu week off messed things up a bit. I had a lovely week off at the time, doing almost nothing, but since then it has all been madness. What has made things especially mental is that instead of making up the classes, we were permitted to give our students an extra homework assignment. I did this (as did every other teacher I know) but all those homework assignments have come in at once. This is mostly due to my own bad planning, but partly due to students to whom I had given an earlier deadline not handing in their homework on time. I have also been giving end-of-semester tests, so marking tests and grading assignments has kept me pretty much without the time or energy to write.

It is possible that my schedule this year has made it a bit harder to write, too. Last year I had a hideous schedule, but several times a week I could stay up late without causing meltdown the next day. That's when I wrote my blog. This year, however, I have to get up at five o'clock three days a week. This has not been too bad, I must say, but mostly because I have managed to change my routine so that I am usually in bed by ten at the latest. So I have been doing very well in terms of having energy for work, but blogging has suffered.

Also, my Palm (with portable keyboard) died. I now have an iPod Touch, but with no external keyboard I do not like typing on it for anything longer than short memos. It is too slow.

Why can't the iPod have an external keyboard? That would make it PERFECT.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Snakes, wallabies, and practical jokes

Yesterday The Man told me that when he was parking his bicycle in the garden he saw a snake. A snake! In our tiny little garden!

It was not a white snake. In Japan it is good luck to have a white snake in the garden. Our snake is an ordinary shimahebi, like the one I photographed down by the river one time. The Man said he thought it was about a meter long, or perhaps a bit longer. He said it was startled and ran away (well, not ran exactly, but you know what I mean) when it saw him.

I did not ask him if he screamed, but I expect he did, and that's why I haven't seen it, although I have been looking.

In other wildlife news, in Australia wallabies have been playing practical jokes on poppy farmers. Crop circles! Naughty, naughty wallabies. Naughty, naughty STONED wallabies.

Also, speaking of practical jokes, tonight I have been enjoying some of the videos on Improv Everywhere. They have been making me smile.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Well done!

I was watching this wonderful series of videos on YouTube (the link is to only the first one), when I suddenly started laughing. This happened when I got to about the three minute point in part three. At that point the guy (whose name I forget) says to Derek,

"Perfect! Well done!"

and Derek answers,

"Thank you."

The reason I laughed was that all through this series I had been irresistibly reminded of a student I had two years ago who spoke exactly in the way Derek does, and that particular exchange was exactly the same as one my student and I had numerous times. But I didn't even realize I was using those words until the second-to-last class, when I used different words, and caused a wee upset.

What happened was that we had a speaking test, in which my students have 'conversations' with random partners, and I grade them. The weird student (I feel a bit bad calling him that, but he was odd) was concerned about this test, and prepared far too much. By this I mean that he prepared for any possible question a random partner could ask him in the course of the conversation. This was not as difficult as it might seem, as during the 'conversation' part of class over the past weeks he had heard the same familiar questions over and over and over. My students are not very imaginative when it comes to conversations in English. They stick to the language they know. "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" they ask. "Do you like sports?" "What's your favourite food?" and so on. But the test is supposed to be of a conversation, not a prepared speech, and that was the problem. Conversations are hard for a person who finds social interaction a challenge.

And it meant that during his test, when his partner asked him a question, my odd student was well prepared. His partner asked him,

"What did you do last weekend?"

And the odd student responded very fluently, and at length, with a prepared speech explaining exactly what he had done last weekend, in great detail and using a lot of words he had apparently looked up in the dictionary. In fact he answered with so much detail and so fluently that his partner couldn't get a word in edgeways, which was probably just as well because I could see he couldn't understand very much anyway. Then the timer went off and the test was over. The odd student's partner hadn't had a chance to speak yet.

The partner escaped as soon as the test was over, looking anxious. The odd student stayed behind, looking at me, waiting for a response.

"Was THAT all RIGHT?" he asked.

"Yes!" I said. "That was very good!"

He continued to stand there. It was clear he was waiting for something.

"You did very well!" I added reassuringly.

This did not seem to help, and I couldn't figure out what he was waiting for. We stared at each other. Finally he spoke again.

"WELL DONE?" he asked.

"Huh?" I said, and then, quickly, "Yes! WELL DONE!"

"THANK you," he said, and left.

I sat there staring after him, and realized what had happened. Every time he did well at something (which was often), and wanted to know if he'd done it right, I had, apparently, said,

"Well done!"

And he would reply,

"Thank you!"

I didn't even realize I was doing it.

But he did, and it bothered him when I didn't say it after the test.

So that is what that video reminded me of. Derek has exactly the same speech mannerisms that my student had. If I listen but do not look at the video when Derek is speaking, that could be my student. And when he said, "Thank you!" in response to someone saying, "Well done!" – well, that made me laugh, because it reminded me of my student and that test. (Incidentally, I gave the odd student's partner an A for the test, and told him so. I had chosen him because I'd heard him often enough in class, knew he was good, and knew he would not panic too badly if things went pear-shaped during the test, which they did. I thanked him for remaining calm and he was delighted to find out he hadn't failed after all.)

You might remember that when I originally wrote about my odd student I said that it was very difficult to describe the way he spoke, although I tried. Well, now I do not need to describe it. If you listen to Derek speaking you will know exactly what I was talking about.

You might also understand why I found my student so endearing.


My first dragonfly of the season.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Saturday, June 20, 2009


Way back in 2005 I first posted pictures of Taro, the campus cat. Taro was a young cat then, and full of beans. Sleepy beans, but beans, nonetheless.

Last year I spotted him now and again in the science building, waiting for the elevator.

Yesterday I saw him early in the morning. There is a area of campus that has been redesigned, with water features, which had just been filled up with clean water. Taro was very thirsty. He drank and drank and drank, and ignored me completely until he had finished. When he had finished, he gave me a cuddle.

Well, actually, he allowed me to give him a cuddle. He is a cat, after all.

Taro has slowed down a bit, and doesn't look quite so lushly well-groomed as he did back in 2005. But he is still a pretty healthy-looking cat, and seems quite content with his university life, and especially with the large new water bowls the university has provided just for him.

(Sorry about the small size of the picture. My keitei camera isn't very good.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Recently in the teachers' room at one place I work several of us found we had observed the same phenomenon, perhaps because we were using the same textbook, which had the same activity in it, which our students had the same problem with. We all noticed that most of our students cannot read or write cursive English.

What makes this odd is that a few years ago it seemed that many of our students could ONLY write cursive English. If you asked them to print something, they couldn't. They didn't know how. Obviously something has changed in the way they are teaching English at schools.

In the textbook we are using, which is for business majors, there is a section about how to format a business letter. All of us are using this as a homework assignment. The students write a business letter. They have to print it out, and then sign it.

Trying to explain the concept of signatures to students who cannot write in cursive script is really difficult, we are all discovering. In the end I devoted almost half a hour of class to getting students to learn to write (rather than print) their own names, and then to developing some sort of signature. I pointed out to them that when they get a passport they will need to sign it, so they might as well have a signature they can repeat and that they like.

One of my students yesterday was wearing a t-shirt which had a lot of English writing on it. Most of it was in cursive script, for which I was grateful, as there was a lot of bad language in there. But in large, clearly printed letters across the back was:


That part was not cursive.

The student wearing this t-shirt is the only girl in a class of science students. On the first day of classes this semester she introduced herself by saying that she loved meeting people and making friends. She thought people were interesting. EVERYBODY was interesting, she said.

She is a lovely kid, and I'm happy to have her in the class. All the boys love her. True to her self-introduction she is brightly interested in everything and everybody. She makes everybody feel special, including the nerds and the very shy boys. She makes them laugh. In fact, when I have the students changing conversational partners I can always tell where she is by the laughter.

"I like your t-shirt," I told her yesterday. "Especially what it says on the back." I pointed.

"Eh?" she said, and turned around. Shota, who was sitting behind her, and whose English is a little better than the others, told her to turn back again. She did, very confused. "What did sensei say?" she asked, twisting around again.

"TURN AROUND!" he said, and she did, looking worried and trying to peek over her shoulder. Shota frowned with effort and read, loudly and slowly,


There was a pause as the class digested this, then everybody laughed, including the girl.

"Who?" she asked.

"You," said Shota. "That's what your t-shirt says."

"REALLY?" she said.

If it's on their clothes, my students can't read English however it's written, apparently.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's back!

Mr Deity is back!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


It seems that I am behind the times with these. Several million people have seen the videos already. But I can't help but be impressed, and if you haven't seen Nora the pianist, you should.

Nora's dedication to her art, her intense concentration, and frequent practice has paid off. She has become a (YouTube) star - and for good reason! Like most self-taught musicians her music can be unconventional and somewhat unpredictable, but it is passionate - and she is developing a style all of her own.

Go Nora!

Funny, not funny

Yesterday one of my students came back. He had skipped two classes, and I had missed him. My classes at my Tuesday university are a bit dull this year, aside from him. He is the one really bright spark. His English level is low, which is to be expected (I have the lowest level classes ALL DAY at that place this semester, oh dear, and the baseline seems to be inching down), but that does not stop him from trying very hard, loudly, and enthusiastically. He is particularly interested in being funny in English, and often succeeds. When I correct a mistake, he repeats my correction, then repeats his mistake and wants to know, "But is it FUNNY? It's FUNNY, isn't it?" It often is.

He was particularly exuberant yesterday, and stood up when I entered the room.


"Yes, I am!" I said, and I was. He livens up the class enormously. When he is there, taking loud risks with a difficult and frightening language, the other students feel emboldened to take smaller, quieter risks, knowing they'll be overlooked in the general confusion and hilarity he causes. Nobody will laugh at them. They'll be too busy laughing at him as he hams it up.

"Where did you go?" I asked. "Why were you absent? We missed you!"

He beamed proudly.

"I ... GRANDFATHER! ... KILLED!" he bellowed.

"You what?" I asked, and he turned to one of his friends and said, "That was right, wasn't it?"

"I think 'killed' is korosu," answered his friend, hesitantly. "Maybe you mean . . . dead?"

"HA HA HA!" said my favourite student. "NOT KILLED, NO NO NO!"

"Good," I said.


He sat down.

Then he stood up again.


"No," I told him. "You worried me."


But I was only half joking.

A couple of years ago I had a student turn up for the first time in my classes halfway through semester. He came up and told me (in front of the class) that he had been absent because his mother was murdered and the police had been questioning him.

I found this rather disconcerting, to say the least. Wouldn't I have been warned if I was going to have a murder suspect in my class? Could it really be true? But would he have made up something like that? That evening I went back over old newspapers online and sure enough, the story was there. It was a gory sort of murder.

Someone should have told me. My student shouldn't have had to. Also, it would have been nice to be a little prepared. That boy was not an easy student.* (He was not a murderer, though. A few months later the mother's boyfriend was arrested.)

So that's why my favourite student gave me a bit of a flashback yesterday. The last time someone told me a family member had been murdered, it turned out to be true.

I didn't tell him that, though.

*Well, OF COURSE he was not an easy student, the poor kid.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Theme parks

I have never been very interested in theme parks. I don't like standing in line, and most rides do not tempt me, especially the scary ones. But I may have found one that could tempt me: the Adult Theme Park Ride. If the same theme park also had the Watermaze, and it was summer, I would be a regular visitor.

I guess that means I'm getting old.

(I'm not quite ready for the Carnival Rides for the Elderly, though.)

I have been spending far too much time at the Halfbakery. In fact, I even considered joining at one point, when I was reading the variations on ping-pong and tennis. I wanted to add my own ping-pong variation.

I didn't, though, so I'll tell you about it instead. This is, in any case, a 'baked' idea, because it has been done, numerous times, in our house when I was a child. Our version of ping-pong was called blowball. To play this game you need a large number of children or adults (it doesn't really matter, although heights should be distributed evenly over both teams), a ping-pong ball, a ping-pong net, and a table. (We had a large dining room table, which sufficed.) A cloth is also recommended, to wipe the table occasionally.

You set up the net raised high enough so that the ping-pong ball can roll underneath it. You then form two teams, ranged around the table, and place the ping-pong ball on the side of the team that is 'serving.' The aim is to blow the ball off the other team's side of the table. To do this, you have to all blow like mad. You are not allowed to touch the side of the table, so what you end up with is a bunch of people with their hands behind their backs, stooped over, blowing and yelling and giggling in pretty much equal amounts. It is a good spectator sport, too. It is absurdly entertaining to see so many people exerting so much energy to make a ball move so slowly.

Blowball is a very exciting game*, and I can recommend it wholeheartedly. Also, it is perfect for wearing out a crowd of overactive children without breaking anything.

*It is especially exciting when someone faints, which I remember being not particularly uncommon during this game. It was never me, though. The nearest I ever got was seeing stars a couple of times.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bless me

Early this morning I was woken by sudden and violent sound. I lay in the dark with my eyes wide open, and had the bewildering and incoherent impression that my face had just exploded.

My face was still there, however (although a little damp), so I played back the sound in my head, and eventually came to the conclusion that I had sneezed in my sleep.

I didn't even know that that was possible, although I suppose there is no reason why it wouldn't be. It just seems odd. I certainly don't remember it ever happening before, even when I've had a cold.

Actually, would I even know if I had done it before? Would it always necessarily wake me up?

Have you ever sneezed in your sleep, that you know of?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why do you keep looking at me like that?