Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Blue Pen or the Black Pen?

A few years ago, I worked at the Burger King in my local town. One morning, I was the only person at the register. Who should walk in but Laurence Fishburne. He was with someone else, and I don't remember what they ordered. But one thing I will always regret is having passed up two opportunities: one was to ask for his autograph; the other... well, in order to understand, you need to know something first.

You see, at Burger King, much like MacDonald's, you could upsize your meal. It was called Kingsizing®. They also had two different coloured cups: regular cups were red and large cups were blue. You see where this is going? You do know who Laurence Fishburne is, right?

What I regret is not having asked a particular question that would have imprinted memorably on my life -- much moreso than simply having served Mr. Fishburne at Burger King on that slow morning. I should have asked him if he wanted the blue cup or the red cup, holding one out in each hand. Instead, I served him as I would a regular customer and chickened out completely. Such an opportunity only comes once in a person's life. Don't miss out when you get this opportunity. You will still have a story to tell, but it's not the sort of story that will get you a Time interview.

If you're confused as to a. Why I have this in my Japan blog; and b. What the heck I am talking about, then I shall explain. Briefly.

You see, Laurence Fishburne is perhaps best known for playing the character Morpheus in The Matrix. One key scene had him offering Neo, our protagonist, the option to either exit the matrix or continue on, oblivious to the truth of their slavery. The way this was to be decided was through two different coloured pills: a red pill, and -- you guessed it -- a blue pill. So you see the connection between Burger King cups and Morpheus' offer, reflected in his sunglasses, to either learn the truth (insert Genesis story here) or continue on as a computer hacker in a computer-generated existence. Ne?

Both the irony and wit would surely have left an astounding impact on both our lives had I taken the opportunity to act with courage. Instead, Mr. Fishburne enjoyed a burger and continued his holiday in New Zealand; none the wiser. And me? Well, I thought about it afterwards. And thus my anecdote was born.

As for the reason why I have threaded it into my blog, I felt that it would make for a good introduction to my next -- much shorter -- story. Which, incidentally, in turn paves the way for other recent recountings and random rhetoric.

A couple of weeks ago, I went into Ryubi, the stationery shop in K-town. I grabbed three blue pens and two pencils and brought them to the counter. The shop clerk proceeded to tell me that what I was buying were blue pens. Well yes, they were blue because I had chosen blue pens. But because I am an ignorant gaijin, she had to ensure that I understood that what I was buying were not black pens. That's right, the pens were not black.

I assured her that I intended to buy blue pens because I always write in blue. She even went so far as to pull out a black pen and write on a scrap of paper to show me that indeed, it was black -- but my ones were blue, not black like her example. But I wanted blue pens. I was confident, and I was sure.

It wasn't till later, when I recounted my tale to a friend, that I realised why the lady was insistent upon making sure I understood what I was doing. Apparently, Japanese people commonly write with black pens; just as you and I grew up writing with blue pens at school (at least, I think most people did). To this day, I frequently write with a blue pen (when I'm not using a pencil). I don't shun black pens. I just prefer blue.

That cleared up, I now wonder why there is such a huge selection of blue pens available. Perhaps they need a little Morpheus there holding out a blue pen and a black pen. When you approach you would see them reflected in his wee sunglasses, and he would ask you -- in Japanese, of course -- if you wanted the blue pen or the black pen. If you chose blue he would yell out, "Gaijin alert!" and proceed to lower his shades and laser you in the face. But the laser would hit you in the chest because the designers hadn't accounted for the height difference...

Well, I have my blue pens, but it makes me wonder about other differences between Japanese culture and Western culture. There are bound to be plenty of small things that if one is only observant, one will pick up on; and have a story to tell as a result.

Take, for instance, rice. It is highly frowned upon to put soy sauce on white rice. Not just any rice: white rice. I'm not sure if there is an emphasis on the colour (or texture, or quality) but people always tell me not to put soy sauce on white rice. So I take this to mean that it's ok to put it on any other rice? Fair enough, right? What I should have done on St. Patrick's Day, then, is to have made some green rice, poured shouyu (soy sauce) all over it, and then, when someone gasped and told me that it is offensive to do such a thing, I could have pointed out that it was, in fact, green rice that I was eating; so it should be ok! All hail St Paddy, patron saint of beer guzzling and grossly coloured foods.

Green eggs and ham, anyone? I would eat them in the park. I would eat them after dark. I would eat green eggs and ham. I do so like them, Sam-I-Am.

Today, after two church services, Mika, her daughter Eddie and I drove out to Iejigawa (Mika drove; we just came along for the ride). We went past the shougakkou that I sometimes teach at, and stopped at the nearby dam. There were groups of people having hanami: a picnic under the sakura trees. Although in Kochi, hanami means getting pissed under the blossoms and making a loud racket. It's all about the sake, baby.

We crossed the dam, with an exclamation from me of "dam!" at the great concrete structure with its large steel gates preventing the water from passing -- or at the very least, controlling its gentle flow. What a joker!

On the other side, it was nice to walk along next to shimanto-gawa -- the Shimanto River -- and throw pebbles at a fish that was sitting there, barely moving. It took a lot to eventually persuade him to languidly undulate away. Upon our return, he was back -- and with four friends, all lazily floating around, waiting for the insects to come close enough so they could lure them into their pool of sudden death. I threw no more stones but rather let them enjoy the overcast day that would have looked all the murkier through their river-soaked pupils.

We went to the shougakkou to fly a kite. If you were to say that as two syllables, like it would be said if directly transcribed into Japanese characters, it would be ki-te (kee-teh). This could mean "tree hand". Or it could just be those sweet, purring animals we find just so loltastic.

Incidentally, the ki-te did end up in a tree. It was as if the tree hand reached out and snatched it greedily into its embrace. I had to climb up and retrieve it -- or at least assist in shaking it loose while Mika tugged on the string, as it was too far out on a narrow limb to reach by hand. Even by tree hand. :p

There are also three swings and two rope swings in the small playground. It was relaxing, and nostalgic, to play around for a while. Pull up a swing. Stay a while. Ah, youth: I call thee back at whim.

Having swung on the rope swing, I came to realise that today was very Indiana Jonesesque. After all, I crossed a raging river (see: peaceful and barely moving), climbed a gigantic, swaying tree (see: not-so-gigantic, completely stationary) and swung mercilessly across a large chasm on a fraying rope swing of death (see: solid, knotted rope hanging from a tree, hanging over flat ground). 'Twas an adventure worth noting!

The discussion of names came up this evening. Mika told me that she once met a Chinese girl who had taken the name Jojo. Brand-name much? She told me it would be like her calling herself Yamada Denki. At which my response was, "What did you say about my mada?".

Yamada is so fat, when she went swimming they mistook her for a whale, dragged her to shore, carved her into pieces and sold her meat to the best sushiya in Tokyo city. Take that, PETA.

Time for bed. I should have hit the sack (note: futon -- and hitting it would avail naught but sore fists) well before now. We leave for Osaka early tomorrow morning. Which means I have to get up at least five minutes before we leave. And I haven't even packed! At least I remembered to replenish my Oxyride battery supply for my digicam (that's Japanese for "digital camera").

Good night, sleep tight, and I will be sure to take photos in Osaka.

On the road again, yo (that's what she said). And the sky is clear, yo (at least we hope it will be). Gonna meet some hotties, yo (that's what I was promised!). I'm gonna be bushed tomorrow (neeeeee). ^^

Peace (yo).


Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Jesus Rode on Dinosaurs

I found this blog. Looks interesting. I've added it to the sidebar.

Also, check out this link. We called it Chinese Whispers. But that's probably PI these days, eh. /shrug Who cares. I live in Asia. That means I can say Asian-related stuff, right?

とにかく。。。 ^^

On Monday, I started running. I didn't just buy my Asics running shoes on Saturday to sit in my doorwell and look nice! I will run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Exercising three days a week will work out nicely. I still want to get some dumbells to work on my upper body as well. Together, my exercise regimen will keep me fit and healthy. Then I can get the ladies. XD

It was my last day of school for the (academic) year yesterday; and my only day of school for this week. My legs were a little sore, but not as much as I thought they would be after suddenly going for a run the day before. I also did a fair amount of Japanese study during my afternoon in the office.

Today, I have just been cruising around online, reading stuff and mucking around with World of Warcraft things...

So anyway, my legs are still a bit stiff from Monday's run (see: slow jog). But I will get used to it and eventually feel very good as a result. I am a bit tired today, but nothing short of a broken leg will stop me from running tonight. I also have Japanese practice at Mika's tonight, and have book five's test to do and submit.

I am currently working through the sixth and final book of the JET Beginner's Japanese Course. It moves too fast for me to keep up, but hopefully I will actually get something from it that will help me to continue pursuing my learning of the Japanese language.

I've seen some really beautiful sakura trees around, sometimes in large groups together. Makes me wish I carried a camera with me everywhere. There is this one place on the road between here and Shouwa. As you exit a tunnel coming back toward Taisho, there are five to eight sakura trees all lined up together to the right of the road. And I'm talking huge, fully blossomed trees in a beautiful, radiant pink.

I wish I could show people what I see every day. Like a JapanCam built into my sunglasses. Hmm, intriguing idea. I might patent that. :p

Hopefully I will be more proactive in taking pictures when we go to Osaka next week!



Sunday, 22 March 2009

Sakura Evolution WRX

Friday was a public holiday. In the afternoon, Michael and I decided to explore some of our area. There are actually a lot of roads that go in various directions, if you cross the river at any point. We did a circuit randomly out in the mountains, absorbing the nature that we encountered and enjoying the fine weather.

The sakura started coming out last week, so there are a few trees blossoming. The weather also suddenly got warmer. It has been raining a bit, but there is a noticeable increase in temperature and humidity. I guess it will soon be time to switch my A/C to cool.

Once again, I apologise for the poor quality of my keitai camera. I really should learn to bring my camera with me when I go anywhere.

The sakura are blossoming

Yesterday, we went into Kochi city. There was a used car bonanza across the road from Aeon mall that is only there for this three day weekend. I want to get a car, and I like cars, so we took a look. I will definitely get a car by Summer; it's just a question of what I decide on.

I saw three cars that I wouldn't mind having: A Honda Integra, a Honda Civic and a Subaru Impreza WRX (boy racer, much?). Guess my Skyline will have to wait, because they are just too expensive. I watched the Fast and the Furious last night. It makes me want to get a decent car and twink it out. XD

We went to Yamada Denki. The SD card I had got for my camera the other week was too fast for my old snapper, so I had to swap it over for a slower card. Once again, I stretched my limited Japanese language skills. I don't pretend to understand what people say to me. I usually just give them a blank, gaijin stare. :p

I'm kidding. I try and understand as much as I can, even if it involves gestures or drawing on a piece of paper. Because communication is more than simply speaking. ;)

Mikey and I went to see Dragonball Evolution at the movie theatre in Aeon mall. I enjoyed it. However, it was a little disjointed in its presentation: the synergy of the dialogue was a bit lacking. And it was rather esoteric, so any non-Dragonball fans would probably have been lost. But Chi Chi is hot, so go and see it anyway. XD


One more week until the big Osaka holiday commences.


Thursday, 19 March 2009

Bad Shellfish

I was sick on Monday. I think I may have contracted mild food poisoning from the barbecue on Saturday afternoon. I took the afternoon off with a stomach ache.

On Tuesday, I only had classes in the morning. I still felt quite bad, but at least I only had to sit in the office for the rest of the afternoon.

Yesterday, Michael and I went out to K-town. With Laurel and Candice, we visited a facility for disabled persons. They appreciated our presence. After lunch, we went to a disadvantaged peoples' workplace, much like the yamabiko that we have attended here in Taisho a couple of times. We helped the people there with their work for a while.

I had a headache and a very sore neck; probably as a result of how sick I was on Monday. Michael and I cut our visit short and ran a couple of errands before heading back to the office (for all of 15 mins before finishing).

After getting home, I slept for a while. I still feel quite weak today, because my energy reserves are quite low; but that's what you get when your immune system works on overdrive.

My last classes for the year for Shouwa chuugakkou were today. Next time I see the students, they will be in the next grade (ie. 2nd years will be 3rd years). I just put together activities for each of the two classes: one was a gameshow of sorts, and the other was a word unscrambling exercise.

There is an enkai tonight that I will be attending. I'm going to make the most of it, despite how low I currently feel.

Tomorrow is a holiday. I'm not sure what I will do during the day (aside from sleeping in). Of course, tomorrow night I will be helping with English practice at Mika's. :)

Kanji learning has come to a standstill. I really want to spend some time reviewing what I have learned. Pacing myself is better than rushing, confusing and unbalanced learning.

Eventually, I will see improvement in my Japanese. In the eight months that I have been here, I have barely learnt to communicate. Who knows, perhaps there will be a sudden change one day? I guess I'll look back but barely remember the learning process or the areas where I most struggled. So many hurdles to overcome, but overcome them I will. Zettai.


Sunday, 15 March 2009

Graduation Without Tears

Almost a week between entries. Guess I am just lazy. It's not like I have a lot to do. That is something that I want to change, but as yet I have not found much to occupy my free time. And free time is one thing I seem to have in abundance.

I spent the only lesson I had on Tuesday revising students' speeches. A lot of what was written sounded like it had been put through an online translator and hung out to dry. Trying to decipher what was meant in some cases really didn't help with the headache I had developed. :/

With no classes on Wednesday, I continued to study Japanese. My kanji count is 395 now, but I realised that despite the success of my learning method, I need to slow down somewhat and just take more time to review what I have covered before stuffing any more stories into my head.

On Thursday, the best class would have been sixth period, with the third years. It was my final class with them. I had burned the first, double episode of Legend of the Seeker to a DVD. We watched half of it in class.

On Friday, I taught at Wakaigawa shougakkou. I always enjoy going there. I like small schools. You can be a lot closer to the students because the classes have so few in them. It's also fun to play with the kids between classes.

That evening, I went around to Mika's with the intention of holding Japanese conversation practice. It wasn't quite Japanese but it was conversation. XD

Saturday saw graduation ceremonies for the sannensei at all of the chuugakkou around this area. I attended the Shouwa graduation ceremony. It's where I teach on Thursdays. The ceremony itself wasn't as long as I thought it would be. Small schools rock! It was boring too, but at least no one cried. I heard that Japanese Junior High Graduation Ceremonies can be very depressing and are often treated like funerals. But they should be a happy occasion! The kids are moving on, sure. But everyone should be happy for them moving up into senior school, where they will further hone their life skills. Or something.

Anyway, a couple of students spoke. One was a ninensei, whom I assume said nice things about all of his sempai. The other was one of the sannensei, who thanked all of the teachers individually - including me, as their ALT! That in itself was surprising, but seeing as it was on behalf of all of the graduating students (nine in total), I guess it makes sense. Very nice. :)

Phil, my predecessor, had come down to attend the graduation ceremony. He had also brought along a friend, Jerrmarco. We met up with Michael and went around to someone's house for a barbecue. We stayed there all afternoon. It was actually really cold yesterday, despite the sun being out, so sitting around a brazier was nice.

I ate a lot of oysters and chicken and even had some shitake mushrooms and inoshishi (wild boar) meat. All in all, it was a nice afternoon.

Last night, I went around to Mika's again. I helped her with the tutoring she gives to the young girl I mentioned last week. This week, however, she came on Saturday rather than Friday. It was another opportunity, also, for me to have conversation practice. I must admit that I didn't make much effort to speak in Japanese. But I did teach Mika how to play chess, and she kicked my butt at Bejewelled... :p

Today has been pretty slow. We are going to church tonight, so I will just chill for a little while. This coming week I only have chuugakkou classes, but there are other opportunities for me to serve during the days I would otherwise be sitting in the office for seven hours, twiddling my th- erm, I mean, being productive and improving my teaching methods and Japanese language skills. :/



Monday, 9 March 2009


Laurel, Mika and I attended a pentecostal church in K-city yesterday morning.

In the afternoon, we took Mika's daughter and niece to the zoo. It was free and rather small, but it was interesting to see what few animals they did have. Unfortunately, most of the big animals are in cages that are far too small for them, with lack of room to run around in. I'd like to think that they let them out of the cages after hours to run around Kochi city; but that's just wishful thinking... :(

All he can do is pace

King of the small cage

Monkeys with cool tails

I spy two lemurs

I want to drive one

The park and lake nearby served to keep the girls - and us - occupied for a little more of the afternoon.

Between the zoo and the park

We stopped at two major places on the way home, too: a restaurant to eat dinner; and my favourite store: Yamada Denki. XD

Today, I had classes at two different schools. It isn't often that that happens. It's a bit more tiring than having four periods at one school, because of the travelling and extra preparation. But I enjoy teaching at shougakkou. Kids are great. ^^

I am determined to exercise more. The first step is to get some running shoes. Then, eventually, I will get some weights and an exercise ball to do what I can at home in getting my fitness level up. I've also decided to eat more fruit and vegetables. Tinned pineapple on my cereal just doesn't cut it.

Kanji count: 352. I have a lot to review, though. :(

Bring on conversation practice!


Saturday, 7 March 2009

Coffee, Cars, Church

I just got home from Kochi city and am making some coffee with my new coffee plunger. I grabbed some random coffee from the supermarket in Aeon mall and it smells quite nice, so I guess I made a good choice. I don't need coffee, seeing as I am still full from our meal; I just want to use my new toy. ;)

Michael and I went to K-town for lunch today, and then headed into the city to do some shopping. Laurel had booked Masala so that a whole lot of JETs could show up. We were having a dinner in celebration of multiple people's birthdays around this time; including mine.

Dinner was great, but we decided not to stick around. I have to get up early tomorrow for church anyway. I am getting a ride into the city with Mika, a Japanese lady that lives in my town and whom I will be spending some time with each week practising conversational Japanese.

We are going to attend a pentecostal church in the city. Laurel is staying in Kochi tonight, so we will pick her up tomorrow once we get into the city, and we will all go to church together. I hope to make this a monthly thing if it works out well. It will be especially doable once I have my own car.

I do have my sights set on getting a Nissan Skyline, but I may have to settle for something like a Sylvia or a Primera. It depends on what bargain I can find; and on my research regarding buying second hand cars in Japan. T'will be a challenge.

Today, I bought three books. The first is Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. I don't think many Japanese people even know who Charles Dickens was, so I intend to use the book to help civilise (I mean, enlighten) the few people I know who speak English. The second book is a collection of 203 Aesop's Fables. I can just imagine the uses. Thirdly, I got a Jap-Eng / Eng-Jap dictionary. The Japanese is, unfortunately, in romaji (that's English letters rather than Japanese hiragana / katakana). But that's ok, because it also has kanji for a lot of the entries. I just don't like reading Japanese words in romaji because I then review them in my head in romaji and it hinders my reading practice and progress.

My kanji count: 323 now.

Since I have to get up early, I had better go to bed. After my aromatic coffee, of course. :)


Thursday, 5 March 2009

Another Change

I have class in a few minutes, so will make this very quick.

I have completely changed the formatting of my blog again. I will tweak the changes over the next couple of weeks to make it less generic, clean up some elements, etc.

Kanji: 299.

I added a new watched blog to the sidebar. It answers a lot of questions about Japan and should give me some ideas for conversation practice, which I hope to start by this weekend. :)


Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Tanono Kindy Birthday Celebration

Kanji count: 276. My progress hasn't slowed at all. I really do hope that I can keep going at this pace until I get to my goal of 2,042.

As for the Japanese language side of things, I continue to do my daily studies, but it really is slow going. I have found a language partner now, but haven't worked out a schedule for conversation time yet.

At the kindergarten this morning, they were celebrating March birthdays. I was told that they have a birthday celebration for the kids at the start of every month. We played party games with them: pass the parcel and pin the tail on the donkey. Candice was involved in the birthday congratulations because it is her birthday this month (on Saturday, actually -- she is exactly one week younger than me).

Afterwards, some photos were taken of the kids (and us) sticking their (and our) heads through these character posters -- emperor and empress. There is some Spring festival happening at the moment that involves a display of dolls and mochi, Japanese rice cakes.

I apologise for the poor quality of the following photos. To conserve space I have my phone camera set to a low resolution, and it doesn't exactly have a high-quality lens either. But it was all I had on short notice. Maybe I should carry my camera around in my bag...?

Doll Display

Laurel and Candice

No shougakkou at all this week. Facebook Friday, perhaps? :p