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?


For a while recently I wanted shishito with almost every meal. Shishito is a Japanese pepper which is often described as sweet and mild. I experience them more like a bitter and sweet combination with an occasional hot one, and even more occasionally, a VERY hot one.

The other day I found some in the bargain bin at the supermarket, probably a couple of days old, and very cheap, so I got them. I added them to my spaghetti sauce, which I often do, and because they were a bit old I thought I should use them all instead of the usual three or four.

When I bit into the first shishito I rapidly discovered that I had come across a VERY hot one. I can usually tolerate quite hot food, but not fiery, and this one was fiery. I had the usual reaction I get to fiery food. I gasped, my eyes streamed, and I started to hiccup violently. It took a few minutes to get over the experience.

Then I bit into the second shishito, and it was, if anything, even hotter. The hiccuping was even more violent and longer-lasting, and for a while I couldn't see to find a tissue to wipe my eyes.

I ate the spaghetti after that, avoiding the shishito until the end. The spaghetti was already cooling because I couldn't eat while hiccuping, and I wanted to finish it before it was disgustingly cold. Then I looked at the last of the shishito on the plate. I picked one up, hiccuped reminiscently, and decided I was over shishito. This means I cannot report on the hotness or otherwise of the rest of that packet. I threw them out. I was afraid the next one would send me into convulsions.

(The hiccuping thing is uncomfortable, but also embarrassing if I'm eating out and bite into something hot. It can get out of control, and makes me appear to be drunk and disorderly.)

The Man is a great fan of hot food, and there is a brand of Thai curry mixes that he particularly likes. I have tried two of them. They were very nice, but one of them was very hot and made me hiccup dramatically, so I couldn't eat much of it.

When I came home today The Man told me that he had gone to the website of the company that makes this curry and entered a contest – and won! He has never won anything like that before, and was very pleased with himself. In the next few days 72 packets of Thai cup ramen will be delivered to our house – thirty-six each of Tom Yum ramen and green curry ramen. That is a lot of ramen. (I didn't even know there was such a thing as Thai ramen.)

But this means we now have our emergency food supplies. If swine flu turns nasty and we are afraid to go out, or supermarkets run out of food, we can survive for several weeks on Thai cup ramen.


Monday, May 25, 2009


I went back to work today, reluctantly. My week off was lovely, even if I didn't get out. I was being a good sensei. The whole point of closing the schools and universities was to not spread the virus, and staying home is the best way to achieve that, so that's what I did. Many of my students did, too, or at least so they say. (And some of them didn't.)

They seemed happy to be back, which was kind of funny after their reactions when we heard we were having the week off last Monday. All my classes today were well-behaved and hard-working. Perhaps they got bored at home.

Classes were also enlivened by the continuation of the noise problem outside my classroom. This time it was a concrete mixer, a jack hammer, and a ... I don't know the name of it. What is that handheld machine that vibrates violently and packs down surfaces? It doesn't drill or cut, it tamps, and makes a terrific noise. What are those things called?

Anyway, we occasionally got one of those, and occasionally a jack hammer, and most of the day the concrete mixer. It wasn't as constantly, overwhelmingly loud as it was the last two times this happened, but it was still disruptive.

But what I found the most odd about this was that there had clearly been no work done on the area (I'm not sure what they're actually doing, still) during the week the university was closed because of swine flu. As far as I know, administrative staff still had to work, and construction companies did not close. Why, then, did they wait until classes started again to resume their work? Couldn't they have finished it last week?

Teachers have complained every time this happened. The second time, work actually paused for a few hours. I don't know why the complaints worked one time but not the other times.

Oh, well.

The good news today was that at least in one department we do not have to make up the classes. We have to ask the students to do extra homework instead. I suspect that is due to our gaijin boss in that department, who is a charming man and more sensible than most. I think he managed to persuade them that extra classes would be both an administrative nightmare and a waste of time, as students rarely bother to turn up. (Or can't, because of their part-time jobs.) One other department has insisted that teachers hold extra classes on Saturdays, but that is a department I do not work for. The two others I work for there have not made their demands known yet, but at least for four classes I do not have extra work, and that is a good thing. It means that if I have to work Saturdays, it will not be three Saturdays, only one and a half.

At my other university I have not yet had any news.

But I wonder about starting schools and universities back so soon. The spread of swine flu victims has slowed, and that is probably because schools and universities closed. Will starting them again after a week mean the spread speeds up again? Only time will tell, but I suspect it will. I cannot see any reason why it wouldn't. It is not as if we have become suddenly immune to swine flu. But the backlash in the media has started. It is being considered 'mild,' and treated as 'normal seasonal flu.'

But it isn't normal seasonal flu. Nobody has immunity. There is no vaccine, yet. Nobody knows what will happen next. It is early days.

I do not envy public health officials. If they make the right decision, and the severity of a potential pandemic is lessened, then they 'overreacted,' because look! Nothing happened! If they did not take measures, however, and the worst happened, then they would be blamed for that, too. How can they win? It is the ultimate thankless job.

I downloaded the CDC Pandemic Severity Index slides (the first of the results on that page), and printed them for other teachers to use in the classroom if they wished. I left it in the teachers' room. At lunchtime we talked about it, and everybody wanted to know where I'd found it. It is very informative, and useful for classroom discussion. I will probably use it next week.

I wanted to take it to my other university tomorrow, too, but after my last class when I went to get it to make another copy I found that someone had nicked it.

It's not only students who can be ratbags. I'll have to print out another copy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Honeysuckle, rain, frog, and mosquitoes

It rained today. When it finally stopped, I went out and took yet another picture of the honeysuckle. It is almost the same as the last one, except there are raindrops on it.

It's funny how honeysuckle looks so lovely in close-up photographs. In real life it is quite a messy-looking plant.

I took some more frog pictures, too. The garden seems to be full of them. They hide under the weeds and ivy most of the time. But after the rain, this one came out to dry off a bit.

Here is a closer picture of the same frog.

After the rain, the mosquitoes also came out. While I was taking pictures, I kept hitting myself around the ears.

I asked The Man about it.

"How come mosquitoes always seem to whine around ears, but they never actually bite ears?" I asked.

"Yes, they do," he said, and all my half-baked theories about mosquitoes having civilized early-warning systems flew out the window.

My lovely unexpected week off is almost at an end. On Monday I have to go back to work to get infected by my germy students.

Bicycle garden

I think I want one of these on my bicycle.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unexpected leisure

It's been lovely to be home to enjoy the beautiful weather. Today I aired the bedding, did several loads of washing, and watched a movie, Kenny. I LOVED this movie. It was utterly charming.

I watched a movie yesterday, too. (I have a lot of movies I have had for a while and never watched.) Yesterday I watched Samsara. That, too, was gripping, but in an entirely different way. Also, the scenery is stunningly beautiful.

Perhaps I'll watch another movie tomorrow. I am rather enjoying my swine flu vacation. I think the schools and universities should stay closed for another week, just to be sure. I have a lot more movies I want to watch, and besides, I haven't started catching up on my paperwork yet.

(The Man tells me that they've just reported the first case in Tokyo.)

Another reason it is nice to be home is the smell. The honeysuckle may not be a particularly beautiful flower, but when it is blooming the scent is almost overwhelming.

In other news, a little frog spent the afternoon sitting on the handle of an old garden trowel.

Monday, May 18, 2009

You are being followed...

By . . . an elevator?

I don't know why this sign made me do a double-take, and turn around. The English is perfect. There really was an elevator behind me. But the elevator was not looming and chuckling evilly over my shoulder, about to swallow me up and take me deep down underground somewhere to some mysterious and terrible place where ... why am I even thinking like this?

Given that it was a perfectly accurate sign, why did it make the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up?

In other news, I have been sent home. Classes are cancelled all this week because of the swine 'flu outbreak. Students were unflatteringly ecstatic. The Osaka governor, on the other hand, wants to curtail my unexpected holiday.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


What wonderful nests storks have!

(It must be hard to photograph the babies, though.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shingata flu

Oh dear oh dear oh dear...

Kobe has its first two swine 'flu cases (or rather, "new-type 'flu" - shingata influenza), which means that most likely next week I will not be working on Tuesday, my Kobe day. I say 'most likely' because although schools have been told to close for a week in the area, universities have only been 'requested' to close, so it depends on the university.

In that news story they say the second test results are not in yet, but like most English news about Japan it is a little behind. The second test was positive. Also, there were TWO kids at the same school who tested positive, and one other who has already tested positive for influenza type A and is being tested for swine flu. Another ten or so (in a school of about 1000 students) have reported symptoms, and will be tested. This is the first swine flu reported in Japan not connected with travel (at least no connection has been found, yet) so it looks like it is spreading in the community.

I have mixed feelings about this. Having time off is lovely. On the other hand, the last I heard we would have to make up the classes missed by doing extra classes at the end of semester. This means that I hope this outbreak is either contained, so that we only have to make up one week, or gets out of control, so there are so many classes to make up they give up on the stupid requirement that students MUST HAVE EXACTLY 15 WEEKS OF CLASSES NO MATTER WHAT. This recent emphasis on time spent in class is ludicrous at the best of times. Do they REALLY think that quantity equals quality when it comes to education? That more time spent sitting in class ignoring the teacher gives students a better education?

But mainly, I REALLY don't want to have to work all through the summer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Remember back in 2005 I went to Europe? And I took lots of photos? And remember recently I managed to delete a whole bunch of photos by mistake?

Well, the Europe trip photos were not amongst the ones that were deleted, because they were also on CDs. Yesterday I decided to put those photos onto my hard drive as well (CDs go bad too, you know), and went through some of them.

That brought back some memories! Also, I hadn't really gone through all of them properly before. I took a LOT of photos, and only really sorted out the ones I liked immediately after coming back. Now they are unsorted again, so I am going to sort out some I like now. They are not necessarily the same.

I like this one. This was taken in Bratislava, where the old town was in the process of being restored while I was there. Large parts of it were done, but there were some sections where old houses and buildings were still under restoration. This picture shows all three stages: Restored, under restoration, and yet to be restored.

Also, the sky is a lovely blue.

The second photo is also taken in Bratislava. (I really liked Bratislava.) They had a lot of interesting statues there in the old town. This picture shows one of them. The man sitting on the bench is not REALLY being goosed, however. He just happened to stretch his back as I took the photo.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Something odd is happening to my iTunes. I wanted to hear the song Chiquitita by Abba, because last week I heard a radio interview in which some activist music group said they used it in their repertoire, so I fired up iTunes, and played it. There are a couple of other Abba songs on my iTunes, so I thought I'd just leave it playing and hear the other ones, but when Chiquitita finished, Tom Waits' Black Market Baby started playing.

That surely wasn't Abba! Can there be anything more surprising than hearing Tom Waits when you were expecting to hear Abba?

I've been trying to figure out the logic of this choice. Why did iTunes decide I wanted to hear Black Market Baby? I just can't understand it. Usually it goes to the next song in the list, but this time it jumped way down.

I wonder what surprise it will have for me next? We're getting to the end of the song (My baby wants to stay cold...)

OK, here we go ... Edith Piaf! Salle D'Attente. I'd forgotten I had any Edith Piaf on here! All right, if iTunes was trying to wake me up, it succeeded. (Is there some button labeled 'Surprise me" that I clicked by mistake?)

Thirty seconds to the next song. This is kind of funny, but also kind of irritating. What is next?

Andrea Bocelli! Verdi: Requiem - Ingesmisco.

All right. I'm confused. WHAT IS GOING ON? And no, I do not have Genius turned on. I just checked.

Addendum: All is explained. I had 'Shuffle' turned on. I don't know how that happened – I have never used the 'Shuffle' feature and had forgotten it existed – but at least I now know why nothing made sense there for a while.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Steep learning curve

There was a nest somewhere. I knew, because I could hear the babies yelling for food, but I couldn't see where they could possibly be. There are no trees in that direction. There are houses, but I didn't think the yelling was coming from a house. It was coming from higher up.

I thought it might be coming from here, but I couldn't see where a nest could be.

Then a sparrow flew by, suddenly, and then another, and they both vanished somewhere around the top of the power pole. The babies started yelling, and then . . .

There it was!

The babies will have a steep learning curve when it comes time to start flying. No practice for them! They won't even have space to spread their wings before their first time out. They'll have a few seconds to learn the secrets of flight . . . or not.

After I had watched for a while (and got a stiff neck from holding up the camera at an angle for so long), both parents decided to leave.

First one . . .

. . . and then the other, carrying something away.

I don't know what it was carrying away. A bit of unnecessary nest, perhaps. It doesn't look like baby poop. It looks too rigid for that. I guess it was a bit of housekeeping detritus.

Maybe today was gomi day.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Pleasant wind

Yesterday a couple of the bad guys in one of my classes asked me where I was from. I realized I had not given that information when I introduced myself at the beginning of the semester. Usually I do, but for some reason this semester I forgot.

I stared at them, and they stared at me, grinning cheekily. It was obvious they had some naughty comment prepared for me, and were waiting for my reply so they could use it. I thought of telling them to guess where I was from, but decided that would be too depressing. That conversation usually goes like this:





(Silence for a few seconds while the students try to remember other country names.)




"Eh? Cuba? No! It's an English speaking country."

"Er . . . Greenland?"


Usually the entertainment value runs out around this point, and I give up and just tell them rather than be further tormented by their appalling lack of geographical knowledge. And yesterday I was too tired to bother with any of it. I decided to tell them right away.

"New Zealand," I said.

I waited for the cheeky comment, but it didn't happen. The two boys continued to grin cheekily at me, but their grins started to look a little frozen when neither of them said anything. They glanced sideways at each other somewhat desperately. I smiled at them and waited.

Finally one of them hissed to the other, out the side of his mouth,

"New Zealand? Where's that?

"Europe," his friend muttered back.

I laughed.

"I'll give you a hint," I said. "It's not in Europe."

I continued my perambulation around the classroom to the sounds of one cheeky student beating up the other cheeky student.

And speaking of cheeky students, I have noticed this year the continuation of a fashion that started a few years ago but seems to have suddenly become more extreme: of boys wearing their trousers so far down you can see their underpants. It used to be that you could see the tops of their underpants, but now you can see their entire underpant-clad bottoms. You can see the LEG OPENINGS of their underpants. Their trousers are so far down the trouser waist is around their thighs. They look like they forgot to pull up their trousers after Number Twos. When they walk, they have to hobble.

I am not a fashion critic, usually. I don't normally concern myself much with what my students wear (and it's just as well, really). But whenever I see this particular fashion I get a terrible urge to take the victim aside and place him between two strategically placed mirrors, so he can see what he looks like from behind. This is a tasteless and rather unfortunate look at the best of times, but should be PARTICULARLY avoided if you are skinny, have no bottom to speak of, and have short legs. As far as I'm concerned any fashion choice that causes kind onlookers to want to offer you a wheeled trolley so you can rest your poor stumps is a Big Mistake.

This style should also be avoided if you are wearing underpants with funny Engrish on them. I am fairly sure that the 'PLEASANT WIND' emblazoned across my student's bottom was false advertising. Also, things like that make me stare and laugh. Teachers should not stare and laugh at their students' bottoms, but this particular fashion is making it very difficult for me to maintain a professional demeanor.

I wish they'd stop it.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Spot the frog

Here's a hint:

"Are you looking at me?"

Friday, May 01, 2009


Last night I was going to try to dream up a new conspiracy theory about swine 'flu. It seems a perfect candidate for a nice, juicy conspiracy theory. I read a little, to try to figure out what the conspiracy was.

I found this, and learned that in fact 'swine 'flu' is a misnomer, and that this virus is a hybrid of bird 'flu, pig 'flu, and human 'flu.

Birds, pigs and humans, eh? I thought. How SUSPICIOUS!

I tried to think why it was suspicious, and my eyelids drooped.

Er... flying pigs? asked my sleepy brain, and I dropped off to sleep.

Today I was too busy to develop this insight any further. Sorry. But you may be interested to know that I have now caught a cold, thus proving that I am on the right track. 'They' are trying to get rid of me.