Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sweet Potato Pie

The other day I posted about digging sweet potatoes サツマイモwith my special education students and how much fun that was. Well today I baked sweet potato pie with those students in their classroom. We brought in a portable oven from the home economics room, all the supplies we needed and went to town whipping up a masterful sweet potato pie worthy of award.

I got the idea to make the pie after browsing the internet and stumbling upon a recipe for sweet potatoes. I knew those students had harvested like 40 kilograms or more of sweet potatoes and that they were looking for a way to get rid of them all. They even sold some to teachers for a 100 yen for a pack of 4. They had made some sweet potato dishes all last week and this week I thought it would be nice to give them an American style dessert.

The actual recipe came from and just in case you are curious about making it here's the recipe:

SUBMITTED BY: Joyce Waits PHOTO BY: mikamuffin

"This recipe was shared with me by a special friend in Atlanta, Ga. It has long been a favorite, and everyone who tastes it says it is the best they have ever had."
COOK TIME 1 Hr 50 Min
READY IN 2 Hrs 20 Min
Original recipe yield: 1 - 9 inch pie
About scaling and conversions


  • 1 (1 pound) sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust


  1. Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 40 to 50 minutes, or until done. Run cold water over the sweet potato, and remove the skin.
  2. Break apart sweet potato in a bowl. Add butter, and mix well with mixer. Stir in sugar, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Pie will puff up like a souffle, and then will sink down as it cools.
It went rather well and the kids loved the pie. We had extra so we shared it with other teachers who expressed interest in sweets. It was the best sweet potato pie I have ever eaten.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween Party

On Sunday my wife and I held a Halloween party for students in the neighborhood where my wife teaches English. It was a costume party and so all students were asked to wear a costume. So we also had to make and wear a costume too. My wife at first decided to be an angel, but when it appeared that making large enough wings would be a big challenge, she changed her mind and decided on being a butterfly instead. Her costume took all of 30 minutes to make. She used two clothes hangers for wings, and a plastic headband with two wires bent to look like antennae. She covered the wings in construction paper and made polka dots for the wings out of scraps.

I then decided that I wanted to be a robot. We had several cardboard boxes lying in a corner so I figured I should put them to good use. My idea was to make a full body costume with two large boxes and then use some pieces for arms. The head piece I created out of extra pieces I had left over.

Well after three hours of cutting, taping, sizing up and so on I was finished. The robot body looked great with a head hole, and two arm holes. The legs were made out of one large box and they looked ok. The arms looked pretty nice and they were attached with paper string wrapped around and tied tightly.

The helmet looked the best. It reminded me of Optimus Prime from Transformers. In reality it probably looked more like a cylon than Prime. I was fairly proud of my cardboard costume. However, it looked like cardboard and that didn't remind me of any robot at all. So by this time it was late into the night and I had to get up early as this costume party started at 10am and it was an hour drive from our house. Before I went to bed I decided to try out an idea I had to get this robot costume in better shape. I broke out the aluminium foil and covered the helmet with it. When I had finished I knew this costume was going to be awesome. But by then it was nearly 1am so I decided to go to bed and get up early to finish.

It didn't happen. I woke up at 8:30am and had to rush to get ready for the party. Then I decided to finish it before the students arrived. I just had to cover the body, and arms, as I decided to leave the legs because I had limited mobility with them on. So we get to the classroom where the party is and no one was there. It was 9:30am and I figured I had plenty of time to finish. Well my wife needed help setting up the room , getting decorations prepared and so on. By the time we finished it was 9:50. That left me with 10 minutes so I started covering the rest of my costume with foil. Students started arriving and they helped me get it finished. By 10:10am we started the party and the students really liked my costume. They all agreed it was the best and thanks to their help I was able to finish it.

I had even built a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher to give the costume that menacing look. But I wasn't the only aluminium foiled costumed character. Another student showed up in an alien-themed costume complete with aluminium alien antennae. All-in-all it was a great party and the kids had a fantastic time, and I did too. We played loads of games, learned some Halloween vocabulary and ate caramel apples that we made ourselves.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Balloon Incident

On Tuesday I taught a group of 小学生 しょうがくせい、elementary kids at an elementary school that is near my current junior high school. I have been teaching these kids for two years but only one month a year, namely every October/November.

In the last class I taught they the phrase:

Q. "Can I have a (color) + (animal)?" A. "Sure."
So I run through the names of animals and colors. I taught them ten colors and about fifteen animal names, everything from turkey to zebra. And during this class we reviewed what we learned last week. We practiced as a group and then I decided to try a new game with the students.

I brought some balloons that I purchased at100円ショップ「ザ・ダイソー」,100 Yen Plaza for this game. I had students make 5 groups and form a line. I then asked two vounteers to come up and demonstrate the rules of the game for everyone to see.

I explained to the kids that they had to put the balloon between their knees and pass to the person behind. Before they could pass they must ask the person behind the target sentence, "Can I have a ~?" and that person must reply before they pass. Obviously this is difficult to understand so I asked the Japanese teacher to explain it in detail. He did and so I thought they understood how the game works.

So I asked the two volunteers to demonstrate the game. They started out just fine, the boy in the front turned to the girl behind with a long balloon between his knees. He said, "Can I have a brown bear?" And the girl replied, "Sure." Nothing wrong with that. So I was looking around at the rest of the students to judge if they understood so far. And it looked like they got the just of it.

But the second I turned around to look out our demonstrators I was startled beyond belief. Now, I can honestly say I never expected what happened to happen, and I should have been more thorough in my explanation to the Japanese teacher. I am sure had another foreigner been there or had this happened in America, I might be in jail right now.

What I saw was the boy standing there with this long balloon between his legs, and the girl bent over with her back to the boy. The boy was trying hard to pass the balloon to the girl but if you saw what was happening it certainly would have left you seriously pondering about the innocence of these children. It looked at least to me as if they were doing some sort of hanky panky routine. I wanted to laugh to relieve the embarassment or trepidation, but I knew better.

Instead I jumped up and told them to stop and then I demonstrated with the Japanese teacher the right way. The students should stand face to face and pass the balloon with their knees, then the second student should pass the balloon in the same way to the third and so on. What made it worse was the horrified look on the parents who were watching in the back of the room. I'll never forget that day.

Needless to say in the future I will probably not use this game and if I do, I will make sure to demonstrate it first.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

中間テスト Midterms

It's midterm testing and I have absolutely nothing to do. These are the most boring times of teaching as a juinor high school English teacher. I already made the tests with the Japanese English teacher and they don't trust me enough to help grade the tests, despite my offering to do so. So I am stuck for 8 hours today with zilch to do.

Luckily I brought lots of reading material namely "Death by Black Hole" by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I have been reading this book for several months. I find that I jump into this book in spurts and it's taking a while to finish but it is one of the best science-based books I have read in quite some time as it outlines difficult concepts in a simplistic manner, but not so simplistic as to dumb down the information to the point of irrelevance.

I also have a copy of "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac as well as a few magazines to keep my mind active. And there is always online sudoku to keep me puzzled for a while if either books or magazines leave my head throbbing.

Luckily today is the last day of the 中間テスト, midterms and tomorrow will go back to a normal schedule.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Digging Sweet Potatoes ( サツマイモ)

On Friday I went with the special education class to pick sweet potatoes ( サツマイモ)at a field(田圃) near our school. I actually had to join them a little later in the day after 2nd period classes because I had to teach two classes in the morning. We are going to make sweet potato pie next week so we went to the field to dig sweet potatoes.

When I arrived I was mobbed by a gaggle of elementary special education students who basically grabbed me and wouldn't let go. They were asking me all sorts of questions. They asked me if I was American. They asked me if the bike I rode was my bicycle. They asked me how long I have lived in Japan. They asked me my name and so on and so forth for the better part of an hour.

Then they became fascinated with my mountain bike. One girl attempted to ride it that turned out with her almost falling in a ditch. Just imagine a 110 centimeter 2nd grader trying to ride a man's 26" mountain bike that she can barely climb up on much less reach the pedals.

I told her repeatedly not to do it but she continued until almost crashing the bike and falling into a ditch.

Then the kids became interested in me jumping the ditch (溝渠, こうきょ) near the field which was about 4 or 5 feet wide. They kept chiding me to jump and I kept telling them it was dangerous. But no amount of naysaying was going to deter them from getting me to jump. So I stepped back a few feet and lunged across this mini-ravine. You might be thinking I fell face first into this ditch, or upon landing I broke my foot, but somehow I made it. My making it then spurred on some of the braver of the group to try. They made it too, how I seriously don't know due to their being so small and that ditch being so wide, but they did.

Then one curious boy started stripping down naked in the middle of the road. He started with his boots throwing them high in the air and ended with a teacher coming to the rescue before he was down to his birthday suit.
Upon nudie boy's actions, I decided to finally go help my students dig some sweet potatoes with shovels and hoes, (くわ). I came right at the end and was able to help harvest about 30 kilograms or so of sweet potatoes. I then let the teacher who worked all day with these kids take my bike and I hauled the sweet potatoes back to the school in a wheelbarrow with the assistance of some of our special needs kids.

When we got back I helped them wash and place the potatoes on racks to dry. And soon we'll make sweet potato pie with these kids.

Friday, October 19, 2007

文化発表会 Culture Festival/Talent Day

On Wednesday all students, teachers, faculty and many parents gathered in the 体育館 たいいくかん, gymnasium for an all-day cultural blitz. Students, teachers, the PTA, and even several old timer's associations put on various performances from singing and dancing to drama and quiz shows. The kids get a huge kick out of performing and the teachers are running all over the school like chickens with their heads cut off. It's quite frantic from the morning until well into the afternoon for all involved.

This year about 20 teachers put on a drama about the state of humanity. They wore costumes and did a wonderful job performing. One teacher dressed in a bright red kimono and wore pigtails. She was imitating a child and she did a fabulous job. The play involved three "gods" who stood on the stage the entire time. They were watching over the humans who would come on the stage at intervals that represented different time periods in human existence. For example, the first humans looked like cave people, the second looked like 19th century peasants, the next group were from World War II, and so on.

After each performance the gods would come down from their pedistals and comment about how human live is strange and all the things that humans do, both good and bad. It was full of comic relief and mixed between the comedy was a serious message about living a morally straight life to help make society better.
There were several other great performances. One class put on a Korean Salmanori concert as well as a ear shattering Jang-Gu bashing. Jang-Gu are Korean drums shaped like an hour glass.

The biggest surprise of the day came from a group of geriatrics who were well into their 80s who appeared on stage in these matching happi like costumes, sat in a 正座 せいざ (Japanese style sitting where you bend your knees and place your legs under and sit on the back of your calf muscles with your toes crossed under your bottom.), and then they started twirling these batons to the beat of some trendy song. It was amazing as the crowds supported these old farts with lots of cheers and clapping, not because they felt sorry or obliged to do so, but because these "geezers had their A-game on that day."

At the end of the day the brass band played about 10 songs and then it was over. I thought it would be borning before going but it actually turned out to be a pretty enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A kid was stabbed in my town

This morning my wife woke me up rather early at around 6am. She was watching NHK morning news and she had this look of wretched disgust on her face. She said a kid had been stabbed in our town. I immediately thought it must be one of the hooligans that roam the halls or lounge around our courtyard. Quickly this speculation was splattered as my wife relayed that the child was a second grader in elementary school in an area that I used to teach.

The kid had just parked her bicycle in front of her house, when a strange man started yelling. The mother then heard her daughter crying and rushed outside to see what was the matter. She found her stabbed daughter lying on the ground with two stab wounds in her chest and stomach. She was rushed to the hospital where she died about an hour and a half later apparently from the loss of too much blood.

I hope that whoever did this is caught, tried, and then given the death penalty for his actions. What sort of scumbag kills a 7 or 8 year old little girl by stabbing her? I hope the police catch him asap. That little girl deserves expeditious justice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Counseling Room

At my current school they have this room located on the first floor between the toilet and the printing room. In it there is one table and six chairs. The room has no windows, the door has no glass, it looks like an FBI interrogation chamber kind of like the room where Agent Smith interviews Neo in the movie, "The Matrix."

I have on two occasions, one of those two being yesterday, seen the insides of that room while children are being "counseled" not by a school pyschologist or even a guidance counselor, but by the math teachers, music teachers, PE teachers, and just about any other kind of teacher. We do have a counselor who comes to the school once a week. He is an old fart, about 60 or 70 years old. He wears a suit and drives a racing striped Mini Cooper. He doesn't look very much like a counselor and I have seldom seen him engage students. Basically he just dwaddles in the teacher's room and occasionally he counsels some of the more seriously mental children.
That leaves 4 other days of the week open for ordinary teachers to act as certified, trained counselors. As I said, yesterday when I was heading for the toilet I happened to walk by the room and just glanced in at the characters inside. What I saw was quite peculiar.
In the room were six to eight students all sprawled out in the floor, laying across the table, with their clothes looking like they had all just played a rousing game of twister. They were all male including the social studies teacher who was standing over these soon to be dropouts. There were papers, bags, books and all sorts of things scattered all over the room. It looked as if a tussel had broken out.

Unfortunately I didn't get to peek in for very long, but this glimpse of the counseling room was enough to make me question what exactly was going on in there. As soon as I walked by the teacher closed the door with a loud thud and I continued on about my business but it sure left an odd impression on me. I hope it wasn't a bout of physical punishment or something more serious like a sadistic sexual episode. My gut tells me it was the former rather than the latter.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dropping Kids off at the Pool

This morning I got into work a little later than usual. I wasn't late per se, but I wasn't early either like I have been for the past month. I woke up a bit late, took a longer than normal bath and just dilly dallied a bit too much.

So I had to use the bathroom right after our morning meeting. But before I could go another teacher wanted to chat with me a bit. Normally there is nothing wrong with this and in fact I like chatting with her. But today, I had to do #2. For those of you who don't know the #1 & #2 expressions, #1 is pee, and #2 is poop. So today was a #2 morning.

The teacher was talking to me about her daughter, about her diet (she even showed me a bag of candy she had saying she was trying to get rid of it), about her weekend work and so on.

Well I was on the verge of an accident if I didn't make it to the toilet soon. So I quickly decided to spring off. But just getting up and running off is a bit rude so I instead decided to teach her a new expression while also getting to do #2.

I taught her this expression:

I have to go drop some kids off at the pool.

I told her it was a nicer way to express the need to go to the toilet for a poop. She seemed a bit confused so I spent some time explaining it all to her. Later on I even taught her another expression, "I've got to go to the powder room." and told her that women use this expression and men typically use the "drop kids off at the pool" expression.

And as soon as I finished explaining I ran off to "drop some kids off at the pool."

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Max Valu Shopping Cart

Yesterday I took a walk that I usually take after lunch on most days. I have been doing this for about 8 months now. I decided to do it after I started feeling lethargic and drained. I was afraid of suffering from メタボリックシンドローム metabolic syndrome.

I get one hour off for lunch so I usually eat my lunch and then go for a 20-30 minute walk around the school and up through a park walkway. In the past on these walks I have enjoyed seeing trees, flowers, birds, fish, reptiles and insects. It gives me a breath of fresh air and I can reduce the stress from the daily humdrum.

Kids at my school all know that I take my daily walk because I am the only teacher who does so and I discuss it with them during some of our warm-up conversations. I know also that some teachers go off school grounds to puff a smoke because doing so on school grounds would be a violation of the rules. So while on my walk I usually see one or two of the smokers out loafing about the streets that intersect the school.

But while walking yesterday I stumbled upon a couple of strange scenes. First I came into contact with huge bullfrog that looked like it had escaped some African zoo exhibit. It was sitting on a concrete ledge just above the water line of a creek/drainage ditch that flows along the path that I walk on. I stopped and admired this monster toad. I must have sat there for several minutes transfixed on Giganto-amphibian, and he didn't blink or move an inch. So I decided to test to see if he was dead or not. I picked up a small twig and tossed it at the toad. About 10 milliseconds before it hit the frog jumped into the water and froggered himself out of harms way.

Well shortly after my enormous frog encounter, I came upon another oddity. Along the path there are bamboo groves and trees that line each side. On my left I noticed about 10 feet off there was a ショッピングカート shopping cart thrown upside down in between some trees. I knew this was a fresh addition because I had just walked this same route the day before and it wasn't there then.
So I debated getting the cart and returning it to the store, or just leaving it slumped up in the woods. The reason I debated it was what if neighbors saw me pushing this cart in the middle of a park in the middle of the day. I thought they might think that I was either A) homeless B) mentally deranged or C) a shopping cart thief. I knew I hadn't done anything wrong but how could I prove it if worse came to worse.

I decided to go ahead and do the right thing and brought the cart back with me on my return to school. All the while people walking, riding their bicycles and driving their cars were staring long and hard at this big foreigner, walking down the road in the middle of the day with a Max Valu shopping cart minus the basket and food. Admittedly, had I seen such a sight, I would have thought something strange was going on.

So immediately after returning from the walk with the cart, I notified the 教頭先生 きょうとうせんせい, vice principal about the situation. He then grilled me about it and I explained as best I could about where the cart came from. He then called the office chief in and she called Max Valu.

The next morning the, 教頭先生 きょうとうせんせい, vice principal came to my desk and told me a manager from Max Valu came to pick up the cart in a station wagon and he thanked me.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sex Jokes

Last night I taught a group of a adults in a city near to where I live. In this class there are students who are middle aged, with one male and five females. In last night's class we started off typically talking about some random topic.

The topic started off with my recent haircut. They noticed that I had cut my hair very short and I told them it was an illusion, that I still had a full head of hair. I told them that they see my short hair but that in reality it is still long. I sometimes say odd things to teach new words or expressions that they may find useful when speaking or using English.

I then told the group that I cut my hair myself and that it generally takes between 3-5 minutes to do so. I went on to tell them reasons why I choose to cut my own hair, namely, cost, time, and cleanliness. This led to a short discussion about queues, and the dirty habits of the service industry, like cooks who don't wash their hands after using the bathroom or when they pick their nose and continue to cook.

After that one student produced an western joke book. It looked very interesting so that student asked me to pick a joke and read it. So I randomly turned to the first page that opened up, somewhere in the middle of the book. I then decided to read the first joke at the top of the page without previewing it.

The joke, a dumb blonde joke, went like this:

Q. How do blondes practice safe sex?
A. By locking the car door.
I should have known better than to just randomly read from a joke book, but by the time I had realized the topic it was too late. And so I read it again so they could think it over. It was a very difficult joke to explain both because of the content dealing with sex, as well as the cultural and multiple meanings of how words are used. In essence jokes are hard to translate.

But I decided to use this time to talk about methods of safe sex using English in a medical sort of way. We talked about birth control, condoms, abstinence, and masturbation. And then I explained that these are normal forms of safe sex. But as blondes are stereotyped as being stupid their idea of safe sex has nothing to do with disease or pregnancy, it has to do with being harmed while having sex in a car. So the stereotypical blonde chooses to lock the door as a form of safe sex.

We went on to read several more jokes to sort of balance the sex joke and these we pre-screened for sexual content. They were more easily understood and the students seemed to enjoy it better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Monotony of Award Ceremonies

This morning we had an award ceremony held in the 体育館 たいいくかん (gymnasium) that began at 8:35a.m. The whole school crams into the gym and the students sit on the floor with their gym shoes on. They have to carry their slippers that they wear in the school, and change back to them after they leave the gymnasium.

Today’s award ceremony was for last week’s sport tournament. Last Friday and Saturday students participated in 中体連 (ちゅうたいれん) chuutairen, a sports tournament. Only the 一年生 いちねんせい(first graders) and 二年生 にねんせい  (second graders) students were able to participate this time as the 三年生 さんねんせい(third graders) students are retired due to having to study for high school entrance examinations.

These ceremonies are utterly boring. The 校長先生 こうちょうせんせい(principal) gets up and gives a speech about some life philosophy, rule, or anecdote and then the students bow and he leaves the stage and then another teacher stands up and starts calling out names of students. When the student doesn’t respond loud enough the teacher scolds them and makes them do it again. Sometimes you’ll get one timid kid who just doesn’t have the oomph to speak up loudly. So the teacher will continue to scold them until they can get a passing “はい” or “yes”. Today was no exception as there were about a half dozen of these timid types and it dragged on the process for about an additional 5 to 10 more minutes longer than it should have been.

After the calling out of all students who were members of a specific team that did well, then the 校長先生 こうちょうせんせい(principal) comes back to the stage, and starts passing out certificates to exceptionally good students. This time I think it was the lady’s softball team that received a top prize in the tournament, ranking either second or third overall in our district, which was a first for the school.

After that the student council representative asks any teachers if they have any other information, and of course one or two teachers always pop up with an announcement or two. And finally the final “起立 (きりつ)and (れい)” are called out which means stand at attention and bow, and then students and teachers exit the gymnasium to start the day.

I generally just spaz out at this time. I have tried every conceivable way to pass this 20-30 minutes every time we have one. I have counted ceiling tiles, floor tiles, the gymnasium light fixtures, children with colored or dyed hair, the number of shoes in the 玄関 (げんかん),which means the entrance, the number of teachers sleeping during this meeting, and so many other things that I have pretty much exhausted any countable items. I have tried doing mental math exercises, physical stretching, seeing how long I can stand balanced on one leg (about 5 minutes or so) and many other strange things that I’d rather not write about on here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I want to be a hitman

In today's 2年生 class we were teaching the expression:

I want to be~.

And we were teaching many occupations that students were asking us to translate. We started off with the normal jobs like nurse, doctor, pilot, hair stylist, cook, but soon things started to go sour.

The next moment I started hearing stuntman, host, hostess, Freeter フリーター, and so on. These are not so bad but they are not ordinary. A host/hostess in this case doesn't mean the types that work in a restaurant. These hosts/hostesses work in bars and chat up drunken customers, getting them to drink more and more, and thus spend more and more at the bar and then occasionally performing other indecent acts.

But then a student pops up and says I want to be a
殺し屋 殺し屋 ころしや or a hit man. That shocked me but I decided to play it up and we taught him the word. The only reason is this kid is rather naughty and normally never cares about English but during this class he was very active. So we told him that a hit man's life is hard and you can go to prison, be killed, and you have to live with all the people's lives you killed in your memory.

The more we talked about it the more excited he became. So I thought he was so serious about it. But later on I learned that he was only playing it up to gain coolness points with his classmates.

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Teacher's Toilet/洋式トイレ(ようしきトイレ)

Over the summer during the BBBoJ hiatus, the school installed a new western toilet  洋式トイレようしきトイレ)。 into the teacher's lavatory. The previous toilet was a god-awful squatter 和式 トイレわしきトイレ)。

I and the old squatter had many a terrible bouts round and round, sometimes successful, sometimes not so. In fact, I had nearly fallen into the old squatter bowl twice, once when my pants became tangled up whilst trying to turn around for the poop paper, and the second time was just a failure to properly situate my footing before taking the old squat down to ground level.

After the pants twisting episode I decided on removing them and hanging them on the door hook while I performed my excretory duties. And that proved to be quite more complicated than it sounds, especially since I wanted to avoid dragging my pants around in the squatter or on the tiles around the squat bowl. It usually involved some fancy footwork and aerobatics but I think about 98% of the time I was successful.

I can say that I will partially miss the old toilet. It was sort of a reformation of the Japanese way of excretion. Now with the new high tech Toto western bowl, I just feel like normal. There's no pre-game warm-up, no clothing removal, no muscle stretching squat. Now it's just business as usual. I sort of wish they hadn't of changed it.

But soon after these thoughts creep into my mind, I then snap out of it and think about the new spacious area they created, with that nice shiny western-style Toto throne, that I happily use almost on a daily basis. It certainly feels more roomy and comfy compared to the last dingy and funky squatter.

RIP Teacher's Squatter

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pervert Night Student

Last night I taught two classes of adult students. The first class is full of middle-aged women and they are learning at a beginner’s pace. There are some very kind and sincere students who try hard to learn English in the that class. It went fairly normal for that group. But the second class got a bit lively in the conversation. The second class is full of older people who are mostly retired or soon to be retired with a few younger ladies as well. That class is a semi-advanced class of English speakers.

It was going pretty well up until the end. At the end of the class I played them a song, Frank Sinatra’s “Autumn in New York” and in that song it talks about lovers in Central Park and so on. For some reason this prompted one of my students to confess something to the whole class. I guess he got a bit aroused or confused or both and he came right out and blurted out a happening from his past.

He said he once went to New York on business with a clothing company from Japan to visit Sears Roebuck in New York City. He said he went there in winter and it was extremely cold. I said that that sounds about right for New York in the winter. And so far his conversation was pretty normal. But then he continued on.

And from here it gets a bit strange and certainly borderline raunchy if not down right obscene. He said from New York he decided to fly on down to Miami because he heard there were many pretty girls there (by girls he means white blond women). So he said he gets down to Miami and he continued on “There were no beautiful women, there were only refugees everywhere.” He said it looked like a foreign country or something. I then told him that Miami is known as Little Havana in some circles. He seriously looked upset that there weren't many "beautiful ladies."

So out comes the crux of his story. He said, “I was sitting in my hotel room and I noticed a sticker on a billboard outside. It said, “Call for a bird, with a phone number under the advertisement.” (He proceeded to explain to the class that bird equates with prostitute and so on.)And so I called. And then a few minutes later a big burly man showed up to my hotel room demanding money. The man said, "Money first, girl second." So I gave the man the money and a girl showed up. She drove me around in a taxi for an hour.

After that I asked the girl what’s next. (Here he wiggled his eyebrows like some pervert looking for a soft touch in an airport bathroom.) She said to me, “That's it. That’s all you get.”

You should have seen the look of dejection on his face. He looked as if he had lost all the treasure in King Tut’s tomb or something like that. It made me laugh and laugh and laugh internally but as he is my student and he is paying for the lesson, I just chuckled a bit and told him “Better luck next time.”

The whole while the entire class got really really quiet and they had this uncomfortable expression on their faces. It was a very odd thing to talk about in an English classroom especially considering the way he just said it so nonchalantly. It was peculiar to say the least.

I told Mrs. Booger about it and she thought it/he was gross. I tend to agree with her. She said she guesses that he thinks Americans are sexually liberated and that open sexual talk is normal in American life. I certainly have never given him any kind of impression of that sort. In fact, I keep it almost church-like in our classes whereas this man took it to XXX San Diego porn theater all in a matter of twenty minutes or so.

So that’s my funny story for the week. I hope nothing will trump that for quite a while but you never know what may happen.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Lazy Students in the Courtyard

Our school has this artificial turf courtyard that is located between the two main buildings of our school campus. It was installed about 4 years ago and was a big project for the former principal to gain status in the area.

Every day at lunch and after school kids gather around the turf courtyard to eat lunch and horse around as well as to practice after school activities like badminton, calisthenics and so on. The turf was an excellent idea to provide students a nice, clean place for gathering that will last years and years. Had real grass been used, kids probably would never play on it, and even if they did the grass would die.

So yesterday, three 3年生 (san nensei, third grade students), decided that they were going to piss the day off sleeping outside in the sunshiny turf courtyard. These three boys are really disgusting types of children, their hair is all colored, they have earrings, wear chains on their pants and all sorts of things.

Combined I think the three might have the average IQ of a donkey. They have no manners, are rude and crude to almost all they talk to and basically don’t belong in school. They belong on a chain gang in a prison if it were up to me to decide.

Anyway, so I had to teach four classes yesterday and each time I walked by the courtyard I’d see these three boneheads all sprawled out on the turf snoozing it up. They looked stupid to me, but they attracted the attention of several of their underclassmen. It was a sad sort of thing for them because I know what kind of life they will soon have. Drugs, unemployment, alcoholism, imprisonment, prostitution, and who knows what other fate awaits the three.

The really sad part was the teachers who sat outside and begged and pleaded with these boys to return to the classroom. But without the ability to met out physical punishment you can scream and yell, beg and plead until you are blue in the face and they won’t move. They know the game and they’ve become masters at manipulating it. This is why I am a firm supporter of physical punishment that’s highly structured and witnessed. Some children don’t respond to verbal threats and the only thing that they can understand is a good whack on their ass.

People who don’t support corporal punishment have either never taught or live in some fantasy world where all the kids are filled with sugar and spice. That’s why these three boys sat outside under the sun, in the middle of the courtyard without listening to what their teachers said even though those teachers spent their free planning periods begging them to get up and go back to the classroom.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Meticulous Grannies

On my way home from school today I noticed quite a few old ladies outside of their houses sweeping, dusting and otherwise tidying up the streets, culverts, and other items near where they lived. Most of them look like they are in the 100s, gray as pencil lead. They are hunched over with a back that looks more like a humpback whale, than a human being, but they are working like ants in an ice cream shop, cleaning up their area.

It's crazy, they sweep in places where there is no dirt. One lady in particular was bent over on her hands and knees going to town on the concrete ditch line near her house, and basically was sweeping so hard she was removing the top later of grime that had settled. I have to hand it to them, they certainly do work hard, but I just wonder, why they do it almost every day? I mean it is the same old ladies I see over and over outside, nearly every day. It sure makes for a very tidy neighborhood, almost too clean for my tastes. It's like they have some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for cleaning around their house.

I wonder if I'll come to be like them when I hit the 80, 90 or even century mark? I can certainly think of worse ways to spend my old age.

Japanese Husband & Wife Living Arrangements

You might be wondering what the hell does this title have to do with teaching in Japan. Well read on and you’ll find out.

Today I was teaching a special education course where we teach English to two children who are mentally handicapped. Both boys are a pure joy to teach though you have to be extremely patient and understanding to get them to even repeat simple phrases.

I teach this class with two teachers, F-sensei whom I have written about previously as well as N-sensei. Today I got to chatting with N-sensei about her private life and she told me something that kind of shocked me. I normally don’t pry into other people’s personal lives because I don’t want anyone to pry into my own. But during our conversation it just sorted of drizzled deep into her private life.

I had asked N-sensei about her Internet usage or something like that. And then she told me that she never uses the Internet. Well I am a huge proponent of the Internet and I encouraged her to jump on it and get to surfing. Well somehow our conversation turned from Internet related activity to her home life. I think I asked her if her husband uses the Internet or something like that and from there it spiraled down the hole of N-sensei's life.

She then told me, that her husband lives in Tokyo, way on the other side of Japan from the Kansai area where we live. I then asked her several follow ups about this and she proceeded to tell me that they have lived apart for 30 years, that he is a salary man, that they meet once a month, and they call each other weekly, but that they have not lived together for over thirty years.

That threw me for a serious loop-de-loop. I was wondering what in the hell kind of relationship they had that would cause them to live apart for that many years, if she really knew who her husband was, and so on. I probably shouldn’t have asked all the questions that I did but curiosity got the better of me. She said that it’s quite normal in Japan for families to live separate and that she is fine with it. I asked her how her children felt about it, and she said it was the same for them.

This is just so bizarre for me because as an American, the only families I know who live apart like that are military families, and they don’t live apart for periods like 30 years. It was just a big shock.

I went on to tell her, that when he retires (next year) that if she doesn’t like him she can divorce him and with the new pension rules in Japan, she could take half his pension. She just gave this impish little smile and didn’t say a word. I was wondering if she is actually contemplating this, or just wanted to ignore me after having dug so deep into her life.

I felt bad afterward for I know Japanese people are not that open about private matters, but for me it was like a cultural archaeological dig. I was finding out more and more about family matters despite living here for over six years. I just don’t see how the family stays together when they are separated for that long of a time. You’d think they’d lose interest in each other after living separate lives for such a long time. But I guess living apart also might be one of the reasons Japanese divorce rates are so low. They don't have conflict because they live apart... I wonder if N-sensei will remain married once her hubby returns and retires?