Saturday, February 28, 2004

The idea has crossed my mind more than once that i'm a big idiot when it comes to sports and such. I've got these goals that i set for myself, "I'd like to be fast/ski well/climb high." and then i just go and fart around and waste my time when i could easily be working towards those goals. I think that probably most people are like that to a large extent, but I really don't care about other people in this case, we're talking about me here. I suppose that's what separates the achievers from the non; the little thing called 'self motivation'.

I'm reminded of the conundrum that Alf proposed while he was studying neuroscience at Mac. He said that what he should really do is work his ass off and figure out some drug or brain synapse that would motivate people and then he would be rich after an extensive marketing campaign to sell the stuff to all of the unmotivated people in the world. The only problem is he would have to have such a drug available to get over his perpetual lazyness. Blows your mind doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

So i'm going to be in a talent show. No, i'm not doing that strange thing with my throat that i do at parties or blowing fire (can't find 151 here), i'm playing the guitar. Ronnie and I got together last night to practice what little we know and to work on our improvisation skills. Already able to strum we've decided on a simple Yningwe Malmsteen piece featuring Ronnie on the solo and me doing an impressive little air guitar solo.
Actually, we're probably going to do a touching duet of Cat Stephens' "father and son" . I'll let you know how things progress. we were sounding pretty good after i had abot 3 beers, i thought at least.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

I really appreciate the Japanese people who don't act Japanese, or at least don't when they're speaking English to me. The constant apologies and chronic shyness get to me after a while. Realistically, one should expect that I call on you if you're in my English class, that's just how it works. There are several students of mine who repeatedly and almost unfailingly look surprised, shocked, confused or dismayed when I ask them a question in class. I might expect this for a week or two while you get used to my style or whatever, but it should be apparent after a month that I will call on everyone in my class at least once for every exercise if possible. The students that I really love are the ones who, even if they don't speak English so well, will at least give it a shot. Forget shyness and saving face or whatever, just go for it and try. I totally love it when someone will take the initiative to tell a joke or make fun of me in class, at least it shows a bit of initiative. I was explaining my voice to a little old lady of medium English ability and she responded, "Your voice, very attractive right now." It was great! I love that stuff, real honest-to-god communication.

I suppose that I would be well advised to take this advice to heart and go out and try to communicate with Japanese folks, but hell, I am just a hypocrite in this case.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Well, i now have my first homeowner friends from college. Ben and Marye are now the proud owners of a house in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. What's more, near as I can figure they bought Jesse Ventura's boyhood home. The whole email is below.

first comes love. then comes marriage. then comes...
a house. shit, you thought i was going to say baby in
a baby carriage. marye and i had our offer accepted on
saturday. the new address is 3200 46th avenue south,
minneapolis. the neighborhood is longfellow. the house
is three blocks from the river and two blocks from
lake street. the closing date is march 25 but we can't
move in until april 28. the craftsman bungalow style
one and a half story single family home was erected in
1922. it was the childhood home of james janos. who
knows who james janos is. he was a wrestler. he was
governor. that's right, he is jesse ventura. anyway,
his dad was handy with the steel, and we have kitchen
cupboards to prove it. anyway, the house is sweet.

Laryingitis sucks if you're an english teacher. It would have been difficult otherwise but i happened to have my most talking intensive class this morning. It is my top level class, both of the women in fact are or were english teachers. Weekly we pick a topic article from Newsweek and we discuss it for 70 minutes or so. This week's topic at my urging was a really good article about the Passion of Christ movie by Mel Gibson. I thought that the article provided a really insightful view of the cultural context around the bible, a topic that i haven't really done any research on. This was by far the longest article we've discussed in a class. Generally speaking, we can do about a 3 page article in an hour and this one was 7. It would have been a stretch under normal conditions.
Two problems for today's class: I had no voice and my students were not christian.
Basically, it was a lecture class. Japanese people in general, and my a-religious students in particular are not so well versed in the bible, something that I kind of take for granted. I don't consider myself particularly knowledgeable on matters of the bible or anything. It's not like i really paid any attention in gradeschool to the bible, but i did sit through a bazillion masses, lessons, classes and the general christian osmosis of American society at large (which i heard is the most religious in the developed world, as much good as that does for our foreign and domestic policy) and i have seemingly come away a genious on christianity. In this respect i must pay tribute to my father, the master at pontificating on rock hard opinion and a little logic. It's pretty great what one can get away with when there's no one there to call you on it. It's not like these two Japanese women, however fiesty they may be, can call my bluff on the exact date of Vatican II (1956 I told them) when it actually appears to have been from about 1963-1965 or so.
The movie itself is a hot button topic because of percieved anti-semitism in the film. Through reading the article, i'm much less worried about the anti-semitism present in the film than the anti-semitism thats present in the idiots, bigots and fruitcakes who go to watch it. It's not like the bible itself is anti semitic--the writers were all jews, for christ-sake (i'm gonna let that one slide), but wouldn't you guess what document has been used over and over to persecute all sorts of politcal undesirables like jews and homosexuals for example.
I'll personally wait to pass judgement of the film until i've actually seen it. Some reviews i've read are unflinchingly favorable, but those are unfailingly from a christian perspective. I have to wonder what my students will think.

Friday, February 20, 2004

I love amazing people with my feats of subarashii cycling or whatever. The other day I rode about 15K one way to the class that I was teaching instead of wasting my time going to the station and waiting for the train, then getting off and walking. People were shocked. It's great, the Japanese, maybe more than American's are stunned by human powered transportation, even though bicycle riding is so much more prevalent here.
But for the meat of my post i wanted to mention a sickening and strange occurrence on my ride.
The route to the business where i teach took me south of the city through an area that has been developed almost entirely within the last 10 years, mostly in the preparations for and aftermath of the olympics. It was strange riding in this area because while Nagano has its share of big box retailers and auto lots, they're all crammed in next to mom and pop shops and houses and apartments. I was initially shocked upon my arrival at the intermixing of land use along Japanse streets. It's not uncommon to see a garden right next to a convenience store that's right next to some heavy manufacturing place. It's really strange from my perspective of land use and zoning that's so prevalent in the US. At any rate, the ride through the new part of town felt strangely homey; the big box retail and vacant parking lots along with wide roads and unrestricted traffic made me feel as though i were riding through some shitty suburb in middle america, not middle nippon. It was a nostalgic trip that was only broken occasionally when i realized that everyone was driving on the wrong side of the road and that there were bicycle lanes on the sidewalk, but it really wasn't that different from Edina or Hopkins or Urbandale. I was swept away by the charm of the highway strip.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

so here is what you've all been waiting for . . .

the great naked ape.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

i have recently come into the posession of some rather scandalous pictures of Alfred in the onsen. While i was unfortunately unable to get one of the monkeys attacking shane, there are some good ones of alf scalding himself in the water. Hopefully i'll get them posted today.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

I had a kind of crappy friday at work.
I went in to the day hoping to get a raise; in my contract it says that, "After a 3 month probationary period, the wage will increase." This was to be sweet as my three months are up. The other teacher, Paul and I were all stoked about the clause and were hoping to come home with the knowledge of a couple of extra yen in the next paycheck.
Paul initiated the conversation with the boss and right then i knew that we were in for trouble. You see, as soon Paul mentioned it, there came the sqinty face and the hissed inhilation that mean, "Big problem, but I don't want to talk about it," in Japanese.
We went upstairs to a classroom and our boss said, "Well the reason that we have not increased your paycheck is that we're actually not satisfied with your performance."
Great, there's a certain kick to the crotch. All this time i had been thinking that i was a nice guy and a somewhat above mediocre teacher and suddenly i suck.
Paul's response was, "Fair enough," and seemed like he wanted out of the room right away but i was more than a little interested in finding out what the hell was going on.
"So, if we're not teaching up to your satisfaction, could you please tell us what we should do to improve our teaching?" i asked.
"Well, I'm not really sure. Since September we've lost about 50 students and we're really not sure why. Maybe the student's don't like you as teachers. We sometimes hear complaints that the classes aren't that interesting."
"Ok, I can appreciate that students want interesting classes, but I was only instructed to teach from the textbook and in fact there is a pretty rigorous schedule that i was told to keep up with and not to deviate from."

It kind of went like that for a while. I was pretty pissed off and bummed about my teaching ability. But shit, i did exactly as i was instructed, and it's not like i proclaimed to be a fabulous english teacher before I came. It was plain to see from my transcript and resumee that i am not a teacher and that I studied Geography for christsake. If they had a problem with my teaching it would have behooved them to talk to me about it first, rather than to wait for me to bring it up in a salary meeting.
This is just the perfect example of the problems that western and japanese people have in communicating here. Maybe we're too dumb to see things and maybe we expect to be told about stuff before the shit hits the fan but it certainly does suck the way it's done here. THere's such a societal emphasis on saving face and not insulting anyone and making it formal and polite that I just can't understand what's going on half the time. I wonder if i'd ever have heard any complaints if we didn't bring up the issue about money first. I have to assume not.
As it turns out, the point was brought up in our little meeting that the Nagano Foreign Language Center may not be able to keep the doors open past April unless they get a lot of new subscriptions or whatever. At this point I honestly don't know if I care whether or not the place stays open. It would be fine if they did, as i'd have a job, but i'd actually rather do stuff on my own where i don't have to wear a tie every day to work. That really cramps my style. Currently, i'll just see how things go and swing it one way or the other. I think that secretly i hope to get laid off to increase my free time quotient and also make my schedule more similar to Jennifer's.

Friday, February 13, 2004

A quick rundown of Alf's visit:

Last Friday he visited my work and confused a lot of my students. It was nice to have him around but I have a feeling that they weren't so prepared for alf in all his alfness. My favorite of the day was when we both tried to explain the US election system. The system's a mess anyway, but i'm sure we totally freaked everyone out with our convoluted explanations. THese were high level students, probably the best class at my school, but at the same time, it must have been hellishly confusing. Afterwards we went out for conveyor belt sushi- a fabulous Japanese taste treat- and then to a bar where we met a drunk and friendly Japanese couple out on their second date and we watched the guy drink himself under the table as he tried to keep up with 4 sober gaijin guys. Humorous and a little strange.

Saturday was spent hanging out and watching the Canadian amateur hockey champions get slaughtered by their russian counterparts. It was an 11-1 rout for the Russians. Fortunately we saw some good fights, that at least was entertaining. Afterwards we went bowling and slept over at Lara and Shanes for the following day's ski adventure.

Sunday we spent at my favorite ski resort, Nozawa Onsen. I've got some great pictures of alf falling on his ass, face side and head that should amuse me for weeks. Jennifer is getting pretty good with the ol' snowboard. Not ready to go pro on the half-pipe yet, but pretty close. Shane and I got lost and had to get picked up by a ski patroller when the lift shut down. Pretty annoying really.

Monday alf spent sitting in front of the computer, no breaks.

Tuesday we went around downtown to Zenkoji, the big temple in town. It's pretty cool, but still just a temple. Alf went to buy some chopsticks for his girlfriend as a souveneir and the store we got them at didn't have enough cash to break his 10,000yen bill, so as it happens, i bought his girlfriend a present.

Wednesday we spent hanging out at the Monkey Onsen. Hopefully, i'll have some good nude pics of alf in the onsen. The best part of the day was when two monkeys started attacking eachother mere feet from shane's bare wet ass. Pretty cool, one of those stories to tell your grandchildren.

Alf spent Thursday also hanging out and playing games on the ol' computer. After work we had a Guys Night and Shane and Ronnie (the other two guys that i hang out with) came over and drank beer, told stories and we played some epic slime volleyball battles. Overall, time well spent.

Alf's final japanese experience here was watching a shitty japanese nija movie that seems to have been closely based off of a Playstation 2 game or a crappy anime movie, complete with the meaningful stares, silly dialogue and a nonsensical plotline.

Yesterday Alf and I biked to the train station at 5:30 in the morning so he could get to Osaka in time for his flight. A word of advice: If you're going to visit us, fly to either Tokyo or Nagoya unless the ticket elsewhere is like $200.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

As you may have guessed, alf has been here for the past week, striking terror into the hearts of the Japanese.
Actually, since alf's been here i've been "Hello"ed more times than in the previous month. He seems to look the part of the tourist. I haven't been doing that much blogging because He's taking up much of the computer time. We've been competing in epic battles of slime volleyball and not much else. I'll give a rundown of our doings this past week shortly.

BY the way, the 2 player version is much better, the game physics in the 1 player version are too difficult.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Check this out y'all! Alf's coming to visit, i don't know what that means for the safety of the average Japanese female, but it can't hurt them over in China.

I"m not quite sure what we're all gonna do, there's only so much touristy stuff that i know about, and i have to work too, but i think we'll be able to work things out ok. Lucky for me Alf can occupy himself quite well, as anyone who's watched him play with silverware can attest.

More on the hilarious hijinks to follow.
there's a strange funky smell that develops in japanese higschools. SInce there is no real heating in the halls or anything, the rooms are powered up with these gigantic kerosene incinerators. Once you get them going it's kind of like a forge blasting away 3 or 4 feet from the nearest roasting girl. These things are alright, but the smell can get a little overpowering, particularly when the heater first kicks in. I also think that as a function of the girls (I teach at an all girls school) having to wear the same uniform day after day, the classroom smell gets a little weird by wednesday and just keeps funking it up after that. It's kind of what I imagine a brothel would smell like, at least a japanese brothel.

I honestly don't remember smelling that weird when i was in higschool. Would someone who's been inside an american higschool recently let me know what it smells like.

Monday, February 02, 2004

I realize that i've been kind of lax in responding to some personal emails, one in particular from Ben in which he required the definition of sugoi.
The word sugoi means something like "great, awesome or cool" and it is sometimes used in the way that we use "really" as in -really big- or something like that. Basically you can say it whenever anything interesting happens, or actually almost anytime. For example if you taste something good you should pucker up your face and then express in amazement, "SUUUUUUGOOOOOI Oeishiiiii!" If one of your snowboarding friends smashes into the back of a skiier and pops up unhurt, you should say, "SUUUUUUGOOOOOIIII!!!" and cackle like a hen. If you are a 2nd grader and you see a big pile of snow outside the window you should stop paying attention to the english teacher and run to the window to yell to all of your classmates, "SUGOI Yukii."

Overall, it's a word you shouldn't miss out on.
Already I'm a spoiled snob.
I've been downhill skiing less than 10 times in my life and at this point I already have like 0 tolerance for crappy resorts or snow conditions. We went to this place on Saturday which was mostly a giant snowboard park, things like the half pipe, rails and jumps dominated the scene and there was only one run that I really liked at all. At least part of my dislike came from the fact that the snow was slightly harder than granite over much of the course. I totally f-ed up my arse falling down and then later smacked up my knee. I fared better than Jennifer however; on her second time snowboarding she ended up in tears with a totally busted up ass on the last run of the day. Yikes.

Other than that, I had a pretty good onsen experience. There are few things more gratifying than getting naked with a bunch of Japanese guys and boiling myself. The place we went after skiing had a nice outdoor pool full of 40 degree water (Celsius that is) and after a while I always get so hot that I've got to cool off. There was snow around the pool and as I got out, I grabbed a couple of fist-fulls and proceeded to scrub down my body, much to the amazement of the Japanese patrons. I must have had 15 pairs of eyes glued to me as I scrubbed down with the snow in the style of Alf Hickey: vigorously, with some grunting and grimacing. I may have cared about stuff like that 2 months ago, but right now I've pretty much stopped giving a crap. I figure that exposure to new things is good for most people, and Japanese people are no exception. With the most homogeneous population of any country on the planet, the Japanese would do well with a little variety in their social diet, as it were.