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Squared Sevens Blogging Corp.
Monday, 9 February 2009
Random Notes and I Don't Like Cats
Been holed up in the apartment for a couple of days, I've got another cold. Fortunately it's nothing too severe, throat's a little scratchy, but probably a good idea to take it easy for awhile.

I try to stay busy but sometimes it gets me in trouble, and social obligations here have a way of piling up on you. For example, my teachers at Ono had a drinking party on Wednesday. Normally this will only happen on weekend nights, but we were throwing the party in honor of a special guest teacher that was only in town for that evening. I had barely even talked to the guy on his previous visits, and hardly said a word to him this time as well, but you've got to be there to be respectful for the older guy. All of the other teachers were being really polite and deferring to him, so it's one of those cases where you've just got to follow their lead and go along.

I'm still trying to go to basketball more often; it's a lot of fun and the people are friendly. But instead of being a local, I'm facing around a 50 minute-1 hour drive to Usuki from Ono. Trying to fit that round trip in with dinner on a weekend evening is a pretty tight fit. Still, I think the exercise and socializing is worth it.

By now everyone's seen that A-Rod got busted for steroids. At this point, we shouldn't be surprised at all by that, but hey A-Rod was supposed to be different- he didn't have a freakishly large head like Bonds or the ripped biceps of a McGwire- but in the end it didn't matter. That takes out a lot of the big names in the game, and the thing is, it's not over yet. Expect a few more to go down in the coming moths and years. (Two ones I've always felt suspicous about- Luis Gonzalez and Bret Boone, both had big years that look mighty suspicous in hindsight. At this point, no one gets the benefit of the doubt).

You know, cats aren't good for much. Last night, trying to work off this cold and about to fall asleep, two of the friendly neighborhood cats start yowling at each other at the top of their lungs. If they would at least fight each other, it would be over with at least, but no, just screeching at each other for what felt like hours on end. Finally, armed with a single flip-flop, I went outside to dispense some quiet, Nolan-Ryan style. They scattered once I got down the stairs, but hey they were quiet for the rest of the night.

Cats really aren't good for anything though. You ever see a cat sniffing for drugs, leading a blind person on a crosswalk, or searching for lost climbers? No, you haven't, because they're absolutely useless. Do you like cats? Well, you're probably a librarian with ugly glasses. So there.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:02 AM EST
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Thursday, 22 January 2009
Long Day plus Panthers Rant
oday was a long, long, day. I was sent to three different schools. I participated in a total of at least six classes. I took a yearbook picture with the other teachers. Many people watched me flub a passive tense demonstration lesson. I asked kids if they liked grapefruit. It was a busy day.

First, I woke up and went to Ono JHS. There, we had the yearbook picture- almost everywhere wore a suit, but I was going to the elementary school to tach six year olds right after, so I didn't think it would be a good idea to wear one. Then, on to Chitose JHS to help out in two classes there. Then, a walk up the street to the elementary school, where I asked first and second graders, "Do you like --" answered by, of course, "Yes I do" or "No I don't". Everyone liked French Fries. Then, we played a card game called Karuta, and everyone was very happy. After that, back to Chitose JHS again to grab lunch- some kid of green bread, a hard-boiled egg thing egg, some good western-ish soup, and an apple.

Then, it was time to rush over to Ono JHS again, because there was a demonstration class, where a bunch of other teachers and principals from the area come around and observe the class, critique it, leave comments, etc. So, it can be a little nerve-racking having all of these unknowns in an otherwise familiar environment. Well, things went fairly well. Passive voice was introduced to the students, however I missed one part during the presentation and had to re-check the script in front of everybody- a little embarassing, but we managed to make it through the rest of class. After that I thought that I was home free, just sit in some meetings for an hour or two, but no- actually there was one more class left. So, another 50 minutes with the kids, doing worksheets this time.

After all of that, I was pretty tired. But this whole week has been like that. Of course, with all of the guests coming in to watch the class, we had to do a lot of extra preparation- making cards, displays, getting props, etc. Also after two and a half years I finally taught a class at Ono Elementary- we played Simon Says and a silly face drawing game, good fun actually, but again all of the running around can wear down on you over time. Oh, and the driver's side door handle snapped off of my car- seriously, it just came right in my hand. So now I get to go through the passenger door to open the driver's door from the inside. What a piece of junk.

Warning- unrelated sports content. It's not a happy time to be a Panthers fan. They got beat down at home in the playoffs, the QB had possibly one of the worse games ever, and the star defensive player wants out. You would have never known that the team just went 12-4 and won its division. Look folks, now is not the time to panic. Overall, the team is solid. The team has one of the top running back duos in the league, the offensive line is strong, they've got one of the top WRs in the league, there's a really good young linebacking core in place, and contrary to popular opinion, I think that Fox mostly knows what he's doing. So if Peppers wants to leave, that's too bad, but face it, he has a tendency to disappear for long stretches of time. Delhomme? Yeah, he laid a massive turd in the biggest game of the year, but as always, who are you going to replace him with? Cassel? Favre? Please. If you haven't noticed, half the teams in this league can hardly find a decent starting quarterback- the best bet might just be to hope that we see more of good Jake and less of stinkbomb Jake. But if you want to return to the QB chaos of 07, go right ahead. Get another WR/TE, upgrade the secondary, and find another pass rusher, and things should be in good shape.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:02 AM EST
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Monday, 12 January 2009
And That's That
Another Holiday season has come and passed. I'm back in Japan now, and trying to get re-adjusted to the routine of everyday life. But that's the easiest part. After another grueling trans-global journey, I feel like giving up on the Jet Age entirely. To anyone who has had the misfortune of making such a trip, the list of complaints will be familiar- cramped quarters, bad food, long layovers, ridiculous screening procedures, various surchases, etc. This time around, the guy in front of me had his seat titled all the way back for almost the entire trip (for meals too), the two lovebirds across the aisle were all over each other like high school sophomores, and behind me was a sweet kid riding in his mother's lap, which would be fine, except that he kept kicking the back of my seat.

Like I said, familiar stuff for many. But when you live in an isolated part of the Japanese islands, it's only half the battle. My domestic connection to Fukuoka didn't land until 930- leaving only one train to Oita, which arrived at 130 in the morning. So now I'm in Oita's run-down, Soviet-era train station, after a long series of flights, and no more trains to ride. So where to go to next? The answer is easy- an internet cafe. For a reasonable sum, you get your own reclinable chair, refillable drinks, a computer with internet access, an old Playstation 2, plenty of manga comics, and some privacy- first class fare on any international flight. So I slept there until the trains started up again, took a taxi to my car, and drove directly to school- it was that time already. Fortunately, being a test day, I didn't have to do much, other than wait til I could finally go home. Man, I was glad to take a shower after all of that.

So I've been adjusting back to living up here. Went to the grocery store today, and with food, I'm trying to keep things as varied and interesting as possible, but yet simple at the same time- I'm not the best cook, and I don't have a lot of the tools that I would need anyway. One thing that bugs me though, is why don't Japanese stores carry more of the microwavable meals that are so prevalent in America- TV dinners if you want to call them that. Sure, there are plenty of individual or smaller frozen items, but none of the all-in-one entrees that you'd see in the States. Now that proably shouldn't be the everyday dining option, but it does the job in a pinch. And don't give me any mess about the Japanese having refined culinary tastes- there is ten times the amount and variety of instant ramen noodles here as compared to the USA. Recent food safety scares involving frozen food don't help, but the absence of these meals predates the scandals of the past year. So what's the deal, food companies of Japan?

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 7:04 AM EST
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Friday, 2 January 2009
Winter Vacation Update

My winter break in America is mostly through. So far, the goal was to be lazy and enjoy the luxurious American way of life, and I think that I have been able to do that so far.

Christmas in Ohio with the family was nice this year, but really short. For the first time in a while it seemed like everyone was able to get back together, which was definitely a good thing. We ate a lot of food of course, not even an ice storm could deter us from Olive Garden. I also got in most of my "fixes" such as Taco Bell (yes), Bojangles, and my favorite cereals. Of course, nothing can replace Mom's home cooking though.

A few more days to enjoy, and then another long, long series of flights and trains back. Great!


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:13 PM EST
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Thursday, 18 December 2008
Finishing Up
Getting ready to head on out again for another trans-Pacific journey. Got all my stuff packed and ready to go. Just a few more odds and ends to take care of then bright and early tomorrow morning.

Been looking forward to this. I hadn't noticed, I guess because I've gotten used to living here, but this past year has been the longest stretch of time that I've been away from the ol' homestead. So after not seeing everyone for a year, it will be very nice.

With all the bad news recently, it might not be the most merry of Christmases, but we'll sure try our best. This time of year only comes around once a year, so enjoy it while you can.

Finally, one more thing I want to mention. You know all of those company logo animations you see before movies, after TV shows, etc? Well, the internet's so deep, that sure enough there is a site totally dedicated to compiling all of them. The address is closinglogos.com. If you've got the time, check it out. It's a pretty good time waster. (My personal favorite? Probably Carolco's Neon light C logo. T2 baby!)

That's all. Have a happy and safe Holiday season!

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:05 AM EST
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Sunday, 14 December 2008
This and That
Getting ready to leave for America soon, but a couple of things that I wanted to mention.

First, let's talk about Japanese banks. A few things that you should know:

1.Business Hours. Japanese banks close for business at 3 pm. Don't be late? Obviously can be a pain if you have something to do during the day, a job for example.

2.Inkan. Your personal stamp that everyone uses in Japan. It's not good enough to have ID and a signature, you've got to have this stamp to prove that you are you. A leftover from the days when the shogun and daimyo would stamp everything, I imagine.  How do they know someone else doesn't have the same stamp? You register it at the town office, but that still doesn't seem to give me a lot of confidence. The counter argument is that signatures can be faked too, but...

3.Old ladies everywhere. The same as anywhere else in the country, but just so you know, cause there will probably be a little late.

So Friday, I had a bunch of classes and notebooks to check, and then a fire drill too, but I thought that I would be able to sneak in before 3 and take care of some business. Well, think again. Talking to the guy took enough time that we passed the deadline, plus I forgot my inkan stamp anyway, so it would have been a moot point regardless. So, back to the bank tomorrow! Might have to go before lunch to be sure that I can make it in time.

Next, the JLPT- how did it go? Good question. I went with a friend to the Kurume, the city where the test was being held. We left plenty early on Satuday, which was good because it was snowing and I forgot my test voucher as well. Along the way, we stopped at a pretty cool used goods shop, and I checked out some vintage used Nikes for $100 and more. Didn't buy any of those, but I did pick up a PS1 game that I had been searching for.

Then, on to the hotel in Kurume, which was pretty nice actually. We got some ramen for dinner, but it was so cold that walking around wasn't much fun at all. I got a nice nosebleed in the restaurant, which was fun too.

Got back to the hotel, cranked up the heat, and got to studying. Good thing too because one of the terms that we studied was actually on the test the very next day. Compared to my normal life, the hotel was luxurious- giant bed, fresh sheets, not having to walk outside to go take a shower- sweet.

Still, nervous about the test, so it was tough to get sleep. We got up and went to get a breakfast of champions at McDonald's. We went to the University by taxi, and settled in for the test. Turns out I was the only white guy in the class room, by far most of the people taking the test appeared to Chinese. Can't lie, it made me feel a little bit self-concious but I knew that I had to focus on the test.

So, how was the test? Kanji readings, my strong point, was mostly a breeze. Then, some vocabulary, which was pretty diffucult at parts, hopefully I got enough to squeeze by in that section. Next, listening. The first part was rather difficult, but it eased up in the second half. After a lunch break, a long reading comprehension section followed by grammar-related questions. The reading in the practice tests was a toss-up, sometimes it could be easier, or more difficult. This time, I'd say that was more on the difficult side, with a couple of tricky passages and questions. As for the grammar, that's far and away my weakness (in English as well), so I can only hope that I didn't screw it up too bad.

In the end, though, I'm staying cautiously optimistic that I did enough to pass. It's all multiple choice, and even if I didn't completely get the answer, I could make the old educated guess by eliminating a few of the options. As for the result, still gotta wait two months. Guess we'll see then!

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:04 AM EST
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Sunday, 30 November 2008
Status Update
I can't have Obama's election win as the top entry on the blog, he'll actually be president before I update again it would seem. So time to write about something else.

The students finished having their school festivals a few weeks ago. Every year, the kids put on plays, sing songs, do musical performances, have a charity bazaar or crafts and other such activities. It's a good chance for the kids to work on something other than just studying stuff all of the time. On the flipside, it can be pretty time consuming with all of the stuff that needs to be done, the preparations and cleaning up, etc. This year, a lot of the plays focused on serious topics, such as Minamata disease or discrimination, but a few managed to be a little more fun, like for example in one play a student was secretly a kappa (water imp) disguised as a human, leading to some humorous situations.

My car keeps messing up, again. It's old and is unreliable, but it works just enough to keep me from justyfing purchasing a different car for the reminaing few months that I plan to be here. Again, this time, I'm having problems with the radiator overheating, and it won't start either. Where I live though, I've gotta have that car. It would be great to live in a place where there was mass transit to speak of, but that just isn't the case. In the meantime, got to keep an eye on the car and call JAF (like AAA) to bail me out if there are any problems.

The big news is the JLPT, Japanese Language Proficiency Test, is finally coming up. I planned on taking it last year, but things didn't quite work out as planned and I actually spent the day going to watch sumo. Yeah. Truth is, I wouldn't have gotten close to passing it either. This year, I'm really going for it. Reading, listening, grammar, vocabulary, kanji recognition, a lot of fun stuff in there. The test I'm taking, Level 2, is pushing right up against the limits of my Japanese ability, so it's going to be a close call. But having a good challenge every now and then is a good thing especially if you want to improve on something.

The test this year is in Kurume, a few hours away by car, so we're going to stay there at a hotel overnight, get a good night's rest, and then get ready to go in the morning. No problems and no excuses is the goal.

Other than that, it's cold! A long way to go until springtime, that's for sure.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:43 AM EST
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Thursday, 6 November 2008
The View From Japan

This year's election was unique in many ways, for myself, it was my first presidential election away from the US. Of course, I sent my ballot in by mail weeks ago, so there was no problem there. But I didn't really hear about the results until lunch time, when the principal told me Obama won Pennsylvania and Ohio, and I was like, well it's over then. Right after I finished lunch, the nets started calling the election for Obama. I spent the rest of the afternoon (no more classes) surfing the net for just about any information I could find, and checking out the crazy reaction and celebration scenes in Chicago. Some of the local JETs got together for an Obama party dinner, of course the local restaurant made lots of food and gave all of the dishes an Obama-styled name. Still, we really didn't talk about the election too much- I think there just wasn't much else to say, and most people were just glad that it was done and over with.

Well, generally there is a positive feeling over here about Obama. Almost all of the kids know about him and seem to like him. His speeches have been getting a lot of play time over here and have been getting a favorable response. In every news segment they are really bringing up the change theme every time. Obviously, it's successful if it translates all the way over here. I think Obama being President is an opportunity for the rest of the world to get involved or at least interested in America again, and I imagine this pattern is being followed elsewhere around the globe.

One of the teachers asked me if he thought things would change, and I replied that things already have, if a black dude was able to be elected president. I've been trying to explain the significance of the moment to my students, but Japanese people don't have as much of a history with slavery, struggle for civil rights, discrimination, etc. so I'm not sure if they can fully grasp the gravity of the situation. Still, it's a good chance to bring up American History and talk about how hopefully things have changed for the better. I no longer feel like I have to cringe when the topic of the President comes up, and I think that is a good thing.

Some co-workers have expressed surprise that Obama is so young, others have mentioned that they were impressed by the turnout and scale of the election. I forget the exact translation, but something along the lines of how strong American democracy is. Japanese folks don't directly elect the Prime Minister, so comparatively it must be a pretty big difference in feeling.

So again, there's this feeling of hope and reserved anticipation, there are plenty of challenges up ahead, but we've just got to stick together and see what happens. 


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 7:21 AM EST
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Saturday, 27 September 2008
Computer's Busted, Odds and Ends
My computer broke on me. I was minding my own business, watching Unleased starring Jet Li on DVD, and it suddenly shuts off. Power Outage? No, the lights and fan were still on. Not good. I try plugging it in to different outlets, checking out the cords, but no dice. Fortunately Ryan was to the rescue, he had Zack's old laptop laying around so I've been using that. Thanks guys.

The National Sports Games are almost here. Sort of like a national yearly olympics, it's a pretty bug production and this year is Oita's turn to host the games. There's a big opening ceremony at the "Big Eye" stadium and sports events will be held all over the prefecture. Locally, we've got Canoeing, Kendo, and Equestrian competitions; Ono is hosting some softball games so there has been a lot of work getting ready, and crews have been cleaning up and landscaping the town all week. Next Monday everyone from the middle school will go and check it out and cheer on the teams.

And I can't forget to mention Mejiron. Mejiron is the mascot of the Sports Games and is loved and adored throughout the land. Mejiron is a very round, very bright green bird that has been litterally everywhere in the Prefecture since I got here two years ago. Mejiron even has his own song. And what's great is, everyone from kids to old folks just loves Mejiron. Mejiron has become a real symbol of Oita and I wouldn't be surprised to see him sticking around even after the conclusion of the games.

Tuesday I went to Hita, a city in Oita that's actually much closer to Fukuoka. I was invited there by some students that I met at Yufuin Summer Seminar. Overall, things went well. Hita is a good smaller-sized city, there are things to do but it's not too big that you can't walk around. We checked out an old sake factory and went to one of the local shrine festivals. It was good to get out of town for a little bit and see some new things, and the kids were really great, trying out their English and being good guides.

Last week, one of my middle school students had her English speech contest. We had practiced that a lot and made a lot of improvements, but still I knew that the competition was going to be really tough. Well, two speakers before she was going to go on, this poor girl fainted right on stage after missing some lines and going over the time limit. Not a good sign, but Miyuki was tough and didn't let it get to her. She had a fairly good speech, unfortunately in areas such as intonation she made a lot of the same mistakes we had tried to eliminate previously. In the end she didn't win a prize but I think her English improved a lot and her self-confidence also increased as well, so I think that it was definitely worthwhile.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 3:44 AM EDT
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Saturday, 13 September 2008
Long Week
It's been a long week.

The fact that I'm writing this on a Saturday, and not a Friday, should tell you something. But let's get back to the beginning.

It all started on Monday, with great news actually. I get on the computer and see that the Panthers defeated the heavily-favored Chargers with a last minute touchdown by my man Jake Delhomme. It's a good start. But then Mr. Goto, the English teacher, is sick for the day, so we can't advance in the textbook, so I have to fill in and try to get the kids to do self-study (various notebooks and workbooks that they have to complete). Well, obviously some of the kids can't sit still for that long or just hate studying English, so they start goofing around, harrasing the other students, etc.  

After two class periods of that, it was feeling like a pretty long day, and in fact, I was thinking of "tomorrow" as Wednesday even though it was still just good ol' Monday. But it wasn't over yet, helping one of my students prepare for the English speech contest, and practicing the same speech over, and over, and over. On the plus side, she is really improving, so that is a bright spot.

On Tuesday, I had my conversation class, again with the 3nen seis, but the problem is they just won't conversate- it's very depressing trying to get these kids to talk, in an elective class where the whole point is to practice talking. But hey, I did get them into new assigned seats, and that seemed to help out a little bit. More speech practice in the afternoon.

Wednesday, it was time to practice for the Sports Day festival, so we did a run-through of almost all of the ceremonies and events, complete with lots of setting up and cleaning up, all in the nice hot outdoors.

Thursday, I was so tired that I could have slept the entire morning. And without any English classes, that's almost what I did. Trying to study Japanese, I would fall asleep at my desk. Now that happens quite often, but it seemed to be really bad that day. I was really incapable of doing anything. Fortunately, after lunch I got some of my wind back for more Sports Day preparation.

Friday, Mr. Goto was back at Ono, and the kids must have been in some kind of rotten mood, because they decided to be total jerks. Not listening, not paying attention, being disrespectful, etc. For everyone who might have told you that Japanese school kids are well behaved (including me possilby), don't believe it. More speech practice in the afternoon.

Well, the week's not over yet- Sports Day is all day Saturday. So, got to school bright and early, and was assigned the job of photographer. No big deal, so spent all day running around, trying to get the best shot. I also participated in one of the events, running a three-legged race with one of the students, as well as one of the little dances that the students did. It was all good fun, but enough to get you plenty tired, especially considering after all that you've got to clean up, take down all of the tents, etc. And this being Japan, there was a nomikai dinner afterwards, with plenty of drinking and socializing and whatnot, fortunately I managed to get out of there after too long, although some miscommunication meant that is cost me a $35 taxi ride back home (no, I didn't expect it to be that much).

So that was my really long week. Hope that you enjoyed it. Good news is, Monday is a holiday here. I will be looking forward to sleeping in.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:56 AM EDT
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