Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Shaun's Jolly Anti-Christmas Entry!

Economic downturn aside, there's no doubting that capitalism is still the big kid on the block in terms of global influence; it's trounced pretty much every alternative social idea out there; and even manages to have some weight in all those hold out socialist, theocratic or autocratic regimes that constantly give us streams of headlines (which in turn lets the news-media sell advertising space). Some say that capitalism is the globes defacto unifying force. Maybe we don't all understand Shintoism, Islam, Mormonism, Pastafarianism or whatever; but even kids in the worlds muddiest hellholes who have never been to school get what a fistful of Dollars/Euros/Yen means.

Two events have got me thinking about the power that economic forces have over our lives; the first I read in a newspaper, where a crowd of shoppers broke down the doors to a Wal-Mart before opening time and stampeded inside to get to their 'Black Friday' sale a few minutes early, on the way in they trampled an employee to death. People then stepped over the corpse to keep shopping. I guess those people were really keen to get some cheap consumer electronics.

The second was something I perceived personally, the morning of November 1st I woke up in my old stomping grounds of Sasebo; walked with my girlfriend to her workplace and kissed her goodbye, on my way to the local coffee shop (a quadruple mega-espresso always helps with the post-party hangover) I passed one of those trendy 'lifestyle' stores, just in time to see the employees physically removing their Halloween stock and replacing it with Christmas merchandise. Somewhere deep down I suspected we were always living in a state of perpetual holiday-spending, but such a tangible transition made me pause for a moment; don't we even get a weekend off?

Halloween in Sasebo; Mutia/Pippy Longstocks = cute. Shaun/Schoolgirl = quite scary; admittedly, substituting whiteboard marker for eyeliner may have been a mistake.

When I got back to Nogata my local mall was the same; no more black and orange streamers and faux-cobwebs, now it's green and red balloons and faux-snow. Oh and those ultra-obnoxious tinny, piped Christmas songs; the ones that supposedly cause low-level psychosis if you listen to them more than a few hours a day.

It's possible to debate if Christmas is still a religious holiday in principal, but here in Japan it certainly isn't; there isn't a cross or a nativity in sight. You might see a few Angels, but it's pretty likely that they'll be rendered anime-style, which takes the edge off. What we get around here is 'Xmas' in it's purest form; with all the crazed marketing might that the worlds second largest economic power can muster. J-pop starlets in santa hats, special 'Noel' blends of beer, T-shirts with unintelligible seasonal slogans ("Ho Ho to your reindeer in sled-heart" I saw the other day). The first 'holiday themed' porn mag came out in the local convenience store a few days back too. *sigh*

I got an e-mail question asking 'Are Japanese teachers really tidy?' I present this image as exhibit A in the case for the negative.

Japan is renowned for being ahead of the curve in terms of business enterprise; I wonder if 'Christmas in Japan' is the future of the commercial world as a whole; saturation holiday marketing where cultural relevance and understanding take a back seat to incessant marketing and constructed spending compulsions around the entire calendar; I should probably be bracing for the Valentines day blitz early.

Anyway; happy holidays world, just remember not to crush anyone underfoot on your way into the giant mall we all live in.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Sumimasen, Shirimasen.

The title of today's post roughly translates as 'I'm sorry, I don't know'. It's something that I say a lot. Partially because it's kind of a catch all that's awesome at simultaneously feigning linguistic ability and dodging having to construct a longer sentence, and partially because I'm still pretty new in town and I really don't know a lot of things about bus stops, exam timetables and the new Evangelion film.

Despite all that I feel like I'm making steady progress on the 'personal betterment' front. Me and Linda (now HMS Linda) have a new mutually beneficial arrangement where I get to go to work faster and save myself 150 yen in bus fare and she doesn't get all scratched up from me falling off every 30-60 seconds. I'm slowly adjusting to life as a bike commuter; I just wish someone would send my legs a sharply worded memo that all this 'pain' will not be tolerated. Still, I guess I could be paying money to ride a bike that sits in place at a gym, so I'll keep the moaning to a minimum.

Proof that I'm still being social; I run back to Sasebo every time I feel like life is 'too normal'. This is part of the cast that proves it's really *not*.

The language barrier is slowly starting to crack just a little under my onslaught of flash-cards and persistent listening exercises; I finally managed to get my head around the whole hiragana and katakana sybillary, and can now oficially 'read' all the manga and literature aimed at the under 15 crowd that I want. I say 'read' because being able to phonetically decipher something doesn't mean you understand a word of it; still, it means I can puzzle through the menus at family restaurants and read the names of students in my class lists, so there are some definite lifestyle improvements. I've taken to bringing random pieces of 'shojo-manga' (comics books aimed at young girls) into the staff room to 'study' at work. Consequently I've kinda become a lending library for the whole office. Life is strange.

Shauns latest addiction; berry 'soyjoy' bars. It's soy grain, berries and added iron. Astronaut food never tasted so good (for real!)

I like to think it's helpful though; I can hold down a rudimentary conversation now, which is more than a whole bunch of my students can do in English. I think may main problem is letting go of my cultural ideas about words and how to use them; 'sugoy' is a good example, it translates as 'cool', but only 'cool' as in 'that's really good', you can't use it (like I continue to do) to say 'that's ok with me' or 'good idea'. It can also mean 'that's awful' for bonus confusion.

So really, half the challange of learning the language is getting into a different mindset; the one where negatives and personal pronouns are really rare and you venerate everything about the person you're speaking to. The process is really interesting though; I'm more willing to cut those 'really shy' students some slack, since I'm sure I sound really boisterous in Japanese. Luckily people cut me a lot of slack, and I've got a girlfriend willing to nudge me with hints (even though she's a 'rowdy Okinawian'). I guess I'm destined to always be brash. :P

Today's Engrish signage is from Gion in Fukuoka city; obviously 21st century ideals of non-descrimination never made it to this noodle bar... how sad.

Anyway; life continues, lessons are taught and days become colder. Some weekends I get out and others I don't, some days I drink beer with friends in playgrounds, others I don't. You get the gist. Life is all good and cruisey.

And with that I'll leave it and go back to the non-cyber world; adios global denizens!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Mr. ALT, *this* is your life.

It's been a while again, but this time I'm really gonna protest against being called lazy... I've genuinely been wanting to get into 'cyberspace', 'the blogosphere', 'the cloud'... whatever people are calling wherever this action (typing something that will eventually be made available on the Internet) places me... for a while now. I just haven't had much of anything to write about, and seeing as I'm not one of those people who likes linking news stories or youtube content and adding commentary (Because frankly, I just don't feel comfortable espousing a solution to the subprime mortgage crisis or the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict) it's left me somewhat short of content.

So... I figured I'd give you all (uhhh... all *what*? 5 of you?) a 'day in the life' type summary of what it's like to be me; the life of the quintessential ALT.

6:50AM- Wake up to J-Pop themed phone alarm, stumble blearily from luft-bed trying to avoid ankle sprains or other injury on the stairs. Open the curtains and curse loudly if it is raining again.

7:15AM- Post shower, shave and smacking head on bathroom door consume breakfast; possibly one or a combination of the following: bananas, toast made in the microwave, last nights sushi (retrieved from fridge), yogurt (or yogurt/jelly substance of unknown origin), orange juice, milk, anime-themed cereal.

7:30AM- Leave apartment, consider riding bike if dry otherwise resolutely pop umbrella and trek bravely into monsoonal conditions.

8:00- Arrive at Noko. Smile broadly and yell a combination of 'Ohayo Gazimasu!' and 'Good Morning!' at arriving staff and students to reaffirm 'happy/crazy foreigner' rep. Switch out outside shoes for indoor shoes in staff lobby.

The gates of Noko. The giant clock that greets latecomers with an analog representation of their failure in punctuality is a nice touch.

8:03- Arrive in staff room, continue to say 'Ohayo Gazimasu' constantly to fellow staff while weaving towards desk. Sign up for bento (lunch) on the sign up sheet, dig in wallet for business card when failing to remember how to write your name in katakana (AGAIN).

8:30- Morning staff meeting; stand, bow, sit. Listen to the Vice Principal and various other staff members make announcements and report news, nod attentively and pretend to at least partially understand, clap when appropriate.

8:40- Homeroom. You have no homeroom. Pour a cup of percolator coffee and drink slowly while reexamining the schedule you have memorised. Choose between making flashcards for Japanese study later in the day, reviewing flashcards you already made or reading a few more pages of 'Lonely Planet's guide to Hiking in Japan'.

9:00- First Period. Think about what classes you have tomorrow. Plan, make, and print necessary materials after discussion with the Japanese teacher in question. Alternatively, use the same activity you did yesterday/last week, print the necessary materials and debate with the geography teacher over which Michael Crichton novel is best.

10:00- Second Period. Go to class, nurse somewhat tender hand after high fiving every second student you cross paths with on the way. Greet class, and ask a random person 'how are you?' Appeal to Japanese teacher to explain why the answer 'rain' is not appropriate. Make class repeat key phrases and do a carefully planned activity. Try to keep a straight face when random students (boys and girls) respond with 'I love you!' to questions they don't understand.

11:00- Third Period. Return to the staff room, spend a few minutes studying/practicing Japanese, then make some tea and sit down with the newspaper and get up to date on all the ways the world is going to hell. Silently wonder if you are the only person on the planet who has never actually heard what Sarah Palin's voice sounds like.

12:00- Forth Period. Finish the newspaper cover to cover (even the Sumo news). Return to your desk and practice some more Japanese. When stomach noise becomes audible cave in to temptation and sit down with your bento box. Have fun guessing the identity of the various meat, fruits and vegetables you are eating, and indeed which are which. Briefly feel morally superior to your colleagues due to your use of non-disposable chopsticks, lose the feeling when you realise that you've been given disposables again and they're gonna get tossed anyway.

1:00- Lunchtime. Pour another cup of tea and sit down with staff, attempt to practice your Japanese by joining conversations about which students are most delinquent and whose mother-in-law the most intolerable. Tell the staff about your past and plans for the weekend. Field basic questions about the Western world as a whole.

2:00-Fifth Period. Teach again, assemble materials and go to class, 'help' the Japanese teacher by translating their readily understood Japanese instructions (open your books, stand up etc) into English that the students don't understand. Practice pronunciation and try to make students say 'clothes' instead of 'clothezez'. Have an activity, explain it, have the Japanese teacher explain it, model it and then heap praise on the 25% of students that perform it successfully, more praise on the 60% that try and fail and attempt to look disappointed at the 15% that use the worksheet as a fan as they talk to their friends.

3:00- Sixth Period. Go to locker room and change into PE gear. Go to gymnasium and join in whatever class happens to be in session. Watch kids giggle as you routinely fail to get the ball in the basket or whatever. Use your height to unfair advantage as much as possible and celebrate victory in a completely overblown fashion.

3:50- Cleaning time. Go out and supervise kids while they clean the school. Practice your Japanese by mocking them incessantly for failing to actually do any cleaning. Have basic conversations and teach kids ridiculous handshakes. Fend off girls attempting to solicit your phone number and/or organise coffee dates.

4:10- Seventh (extra) Period. Return to staff room and fill out daily work report. Clean up your desk and think about what you need to do when you get home. Make lists as necessary.

4:30- Say goodbye to colleagues and leave. Walk out yelling goodbye and waving to students as you do so. When clear of the school gates strategically loosen tie and tune into mp3 player.

5:10- Arrive back at apartment. Change into civilian clothes, fire up computer and munch a few cookies to revive flagging blood sugar levels. Sign into facebook, g-mail and blogspot and hammer out wordage as appropriate. Try to ignore the implications of cyber-dependence and thank god again that you don't have a World of Warcraft account to worry about.

6:00- Domestic time- washing, cleaning, ironing, tidying. Turn up the music and attempt to find satisfaction in sanitising your domestic realm. Fail again.

7:00- Shopping. Wander over to AEON, head straight to the sushi section and grab whatever's left now that it's late enough for it to all be half price. Do the same with the milk and whatever desert will hit its use by date in 2 days. Feel awesome about rorting 'the system'. Briefly feel morally superior about using eco-bags, but then lose the feeling when you see that every cookie in the bag is individually wrapped. If you encounter students pretend it is the most exciting thing that happened to you in months. Dodge hugs from schoolgirls by high-fiving when they approach with open arms.

7:30- Return to apartment. Make an enlightened choice between watching TV, DVDs or something on the Internet or perhaps even reading or playing a computer game. Eat and drink as you partake in such activity, try your hand at multitasking by managing more than one recreational activity at a time. Text-messaging, eating, watching TV and saving the planet from space aliens simultaneously will surely be a marketable skill someday.

More of the Shinkansen girl, here in her Autumn getup. I'm still waiting for a Pachinko machine to be made out of this ad series.

10:30- Get into bed and possibly read something deep and mentally nourishing... or whatever you can get your hands on that happens to be in English. It may end up being a bilingual pamphlet about trafficking in human sex-slaves.

And that's about it! Wash, rinse and repeat! Maybe next time I'll write something about the 'average' weekend. Right now though I'm off schedule; and those DVDs don't watch themselves ya know...

Ciao for niao!

Friday, 12 September 2008

New Friends, Childhood Dreams and the Shinkansen Girl.

I'm back! Not from the future... but from Fukuoka! (Yeesh, that's gotta be a candidate for 'worst play on words in the blogosphere' right?)

So Fukuoka was cool; the immigration stuff was boring as expected, but at least it went smoothly. I'm now no longer in danger of deportation. Yay fo' me. The rest of the weekend I hung out with Mina; walked around Fukuoka, went to some parks and shrines, ate some ice cream and drank some coffee (iced), did a little shopping for her sisters birthday (it's lucky I'm not embarrassed to be seen walking around metro areas with a giant seal-body pillow), then went back to her place for some cooking and summer night beers while looking over the skyline. Consider me content; it really is good to be back and relaxed.

This has actually been a good week in lotsa ways; aside from a three day workweek (I looooove the public service!) there's another public holiday next Monday! No karoshi for Shaun! I serendipitously ran into another one of the area ALTs at the mall the other day; Greg from Zimbabwe, who's really cool and seems to share my passion for eating and drinking things. He cemented a special place in my heart with many gifts- firstly a couch, the only problem with giving me a couch is that I have no car to move a couch; I got into the spirit of African tribeswomen and hauled it the 2km back to my apartment regardless... on. my. head. Luckily for me it's the type that doesn't have a frame, but still; I felt damn manly (read: sweaty) afterwards.

Shaun and Greg; approximately 50% of Nogatas foreign English teaching contingent, and approximately 50% of the towns sex-appeal in one convenient package.

Second, I am now the proud owner of a bicycle! Her name is 'Linda' (after her previous owner) and it looks like she's done some hard service carting teachers like me to the workplace and beyond for many years. In any case, the bus is on the way out, and excellent thighs and calves are on the way in. I only have one problem; I haven't actually attempted to even go near a bike in something like 18 years.

That phrase, "it's like riding a bike" is completely erroneous. I can't ride a bike, I've been going out to the parking lot behind my apartment and doing ovals while I try to recover whatever anemic cycling skill I possessed as a pre-teen. I'm not sure what the Japanese people who walk past think; probably that it's some bizarre gaijin custom to wobble around a parking lot going 'woah!' and almost tumbling off every few seconds late at night. Hell, they probably think I'm drunk.

In a piece of random news to finish up, I've developed an appalling crush, really, like the stupidest celebrity crush I've ever had (OK, maybe not quite as stupid as the one on Phillip Schofield). It's mainly stupid because it's a girl on a poster. A poster that advertises a train service. A train service that isn't completed. In any case, I've already almost walked straight into two people while staring at her image; I'm not even sure why, objectively I don't even think she's that pretty, but there's just something about her smile. Anyway take a look and judge for yourself; am I deviant?

The smiley gal who makes me want to ride the unfinished Kagoshima shinkansen without due cause, damn you vixen!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Sports Festival, First Year

In Australian High schools there's sports day; I remember it well, and even with a certain fondness- there's totally nothing wrong with no class and no homework when you're between the ages of 13 and 17. I admit I wasn't completely into the actual sports side of thing; running fast, jumping high and throwing far have never really been great aspirations of mine, but I remember liking the hair spray and talking all day with my friends.

In Japan there's sports festival and it's uhhh... different. Not that there aren't sports; it's just... different sports, and group displays. Yeah; LOTSA group displays. I've already mentioned the cheerleaders and coloured board displays that turn groups of people into sort of living LCD readouts, but the boys also do this thing with synchronised pole twirling, and then there were a ton of groups doing everything from traditional drill team stuff to these intense martial arts displays.

There was running too, but it was definitely a side-show next to the parts where people dressed in full Kendo gear competed with people carrying longbows to carry random objects around an oval, or the teams of 20+ people trying to race with their legs tied together, or the aforementioned Kibusen battles. Seriously, I sat in the teachers tent (in between rounds of tug of war and ball tossing anyway) with a fairly droopy jaw most of the day.

A massed display of students. I don't know what this gesture means, but I'm 100% sure it has nothing to do with Naziism... probably.

Anyway, upsides to sportsday include an excelent cardiovascular workout, an awesome tan (although seriously dramatic should you happen to see me shirtless... or watchless), and a free staff shirt. The biggest plus was the enkai (roughly translated as 'work party') after the event; we went to this seriously classy conference venue, ate a lot and drank a lot, then moved on to a kareoke bar and ate not much and drank a lot, then went to an isakia and ate a little and drank a lot. We also sang songs (both kareoke and otherwise) and I somehow managed to converse with people with virtually no functional command of English. I guess all that study time must be paying off. Seriously, any language learner will tell you your fluency goes through the roof after the first 2 beers.

This pic is for my parents; yes, this is a cafe for dogs and cats- It's on my walk to school. There are in fact small tables and menus of pet food and drinks. They have things for humans too, I had a coffee there the other day with a charming beagle.

Today I'm going to Fukuoka to a) become a legal worker and b) get in some quality girlfriend time. Can you guess which one I'm excited about? If you need a hint- I hate filling out paperwork in big, dull government offices.

So I have a train to catch, bye fo' now peeps!


Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Stubbing your toe on the language barrier.

I've had some time to settle in by now, and I'm pretty much found a groove (or 'rut' if you're feeling pessimistic) to life here in a new place. As I mentioned earlier, Nogata really is a lot more 'relaxed' than Sasebo; both in terms of the job, and the place itself.

That means I have time for a lot of things that all too often went by the wayside before; I peruse the newspaper every day, along with finding time to read actual books (I'm on 'The Island of Dr. Moreau' right now, it's really good!) I stroll home after work because I'm not in a hurry to be anywhere and I like the journey, and sometimes I just sit outside on a park bench near my apartment with a cold cola or beer and watch the clouds roll over the mountains. It's all very zen.

The clouds scrape the mountains near my apartment. I can only imagine how picturesque the scene would be without the power lines.

Of course Sasebo is still there if there's a desperate need for crazy parties; I went back for the past two weekends, and while I'd love to say the place has changed dramatically... well, it really hasn't. This is probably a good thing, since the people I knew and loved are still just as loveable as ever. I admit to even being slightly entranced by the continuing soap-opera-esque drama that seems to envelop the town; no details here ('cause I never kiss and type) but congratulations to those who hooked up, commiserations to the post-break up crowd (You're better off, trust me) and 'good luck' the the rest of the population just trying to stay out of the line of fire- you'll need it.

At work, sports-day preparations continue apace; with lots more marching, banging of drums, practicing of dancing, rope tugging and the like; I finally got assigned a 'block' today (it's like a 'house'... y'know, like Harry Potter) I'm on team 'white' (yeah... RACIST right?) :P Anyway, I immediately got drafted into the 'ball scramble' team on the basis of height alone. Better than being on the Kibusen team I guess; that just looks scary.

I had something of an attitude adjustment a few days back regarding my approach to Japanese language learning. During my previous time I really did take an 'osmotic' approach to the language, soaking up a little here and there when and where I deemed it particularly useful, interesting and/or hilarious. There really didn't seem much need to go beyond that, particularly when the population of foreigners had ensured widespread adoption of English, and the use of Japanese was outright forbidden at work.

Now however it's a different story; In a place that often lacks English signage, populated by people who are truly and overwhelmingly monolingual I find myself constantly forced into impromptu games of charades to get anything beyond the simplest thought or request across. While in English I'm a tertiary-level language major who eats discourse, commentary and criticism for breakfast, in Japanese I'm about as accomplished as a crack-head barely holding down a job in a grimy convenience store- you know the one, the guy who can answer 'yes' and 'no', count to ten and ask if you want your insta-burrito heated, but can only manage a 'huh?' when you ask him what he thinks the weather will be like this afternoon.

My shoe locker in the staff lobby at Noko; at least I can write my name (well, most of the time).

Frankly, it's frustrating; I'm sick of dragging the office secretary to the fax machine because I can't read what any of the buttons say, I'm sick of giving questioning looks to friendly staff members who are trying to ask me questions that any Japanese kindergarten kid would be able to answer and I'm sick of asking 'do you like karaoke?' because it's one thing I can say fluently. It's time to do what no person who's not actively enrolled in an educational institution should have to do-

It's time to study.

Tonight's 'strange Japanese product' award goes to this new variety of 'No Calorie' (known as 'Diet' elsewhere) Coca-Cola + (PLUS!) Vitamin. No telling *which* vitamin they put in there, but the stuff tastes the same to me.

And so, armed with two phrasebooks, a Japanese/English dictionary (thanks Taea!), some self-made flash cards and a buncha free time I'm gonna try and crack this thing open; I'm putting in a few hours and work and some extra at night. This, combined with the fact that I'm freakin' living in Japan hopefully means I should be able to muster some proficiency within a reasonable timeframe. I'm aiming to be as smart as a 1st grader within 6 months. I'm asking you to hold me to it people.

And with that, ja matte for now; I'm going to review my particles.


Friday, 29 August 2008

Noko is Loco.

I've officially survived a whole week as a high school teacher. Everybody may now cheer.

You know what? It wasn't even hard. In fact I'd go as far as to say it was really, really easy. I walked in expecting to have, well, classes; it turns out that as I'm at the 'sports-centered' Nogata high school and the annual sports festival is approaching, practically all the class time has given way to athletic and performance practice sessions; this means the (quite large) quotient of P.E. teachers are relatively busy, but the 'geeks': those of us who teach things like history, maths, Japanese, English and the like are essentially working in a practical vat of free time.

So this week I've made a few speeches, taken a tour of the school, chatted a lot with the staff, studied some Japanese, eaten some lunches, drunk some coffee and generally tried to act like any conscientious educator would in my situation.

Nogata high school, more often known as 'Noko'. The main building was obviously designed by a person with a fondness for concrete, rectangles and communism.

The staff have all been really nice, friendly and helpful; and they all do their best to meet my broken Japanese with English responses. I've got some big shoes to fill; my predecessor Taea (a charming young Hawaiian woman) came to visit the school for a few days before she said goodbye; she helped me out a lot with advice, and everyone will miss her muchly I'm sure- still, just another reason to swing by and visit Hawaii right?

The kids are all really cool too- some are shy and stammer when they try to speak to me, others are so enthusiastic that they just grab and start speaking Japanese, again I feel like a rock-star; there's nothing like having a gaggle of cheerleaders begging you to dance with them to boost a guys self-esteem. One first year student made my day when she found out that I knew who Haruhi Suzumiya is and then proceeded to organise her friends to perform the dance from the shows title.

Inside a classroom (class 2-3 to be exact). I hardly ever get to be in one of these so it's quite special. Also, the kids haven't dissolved, they've just changed into sportswear and left behind a giant cache of hello-kitty accessories.

So really so far my job involves wandering the halls of a high school and making small talk with students and staff, occasionally observing and occasionally participating in sports, VERY occasionally preparing some materials and ASSISTING in teaching an English class and generally bringing my Shaunitude to the institute as a whole. Far be it from me to complain about Japanese tax dollars subsidising what often feels to me like life in a slightly surreal sports club.

Most wacky/fun things about the job so far:

a) I am the shoe king!: I own and use no less than 4 pairs of shoes while on the job; 'outside' shoes, 'inside' shoes, 'gym' shoes and 'track' shoes (and that's not counting school provided bathroom slippers). I am now proficient in changing footwear in under 8 seconds.

b) Student servitude: there is no janitor, students clean the school in the 15 minute 'cleaning' block at the end of the day while teachers 'supervise'; they even come into the staff room and empty our wastepaper baskets and sweep the floor... never has being slovenly been easier!

c) Coordination central: 'Sports day' over here isn't just about running, jumping and spraying your hair a funny colour: it's about high-grade crowd synchronisation. Everything from student marches to cheerleading to massed displays using coloured boards is controlled with loud communal yelling, taiko drums and megaphones. Sometimes it feels suspiciously like the Nuremberg rally (then the cheer squad plays a Spice Girls song and the illusion is shattered).

Anyway; as always, I'm having fun, being silly and am not dead. Mission accomplished I say.

Stay busy people of the world,


Friday, 22 August 2008

From the 'bo, to the No'.

So here I am, once again back in Japan, and once again preparing to jump headfirst into a life of a foreign educator. Exciting eh?

Actually, by the time I'd woken up at 4AM after a fitful 4 hour 'rest' in bed, said goodbye to my nearest and dearest, transferred through to Sydney, agonized for several hours over which of the anemic selection of airport novels was the best choice to accompany my entertainment and meal-less budget airline flight, sat through said flight, wrangled through all the forms and protocols required by Japanese immigrations and customs, collected my luggage and trekked to my hotel, I was less 'excited' than 'barely cogent'.

Leoplace 21 appears mundane at first glance, but it is secretly home to SHAUN! The English teacher with the karaoke strength of 10 salarymen!

I think a lot of it comes from familiarity; I remember landing in Narita last year and being bombarded with the newness of it all; for weeks I could be entertained just by browsing in supermarkets, but by now the thrill of that observation and experimentation has been replaced by nonchalance. I've eaten at a Mos Burger, I've seen 'Hard Gay' on TV and I know I like 'World Executive Blend' coffee from the vending machines (hot, not cold).

The inside of 'Casa del Shaun' (otherwise known as 'my apartment'). Note the fact that it has light fittings; more than many places come equipped with.

Of course the flip side is that things run a lot more smoothly with the experience; the next morning I jumped through my public transport schedule without a hitch, met the friendly company rep and moved into my new apartment without a single problem... an hour in and I had gas, hot water and my internet all hooked up. Brilliance. For bonus convenience points there's a giant mall over the road from my place, so if I forget to buy milk (or flatscreen TV's, or engrish T-shirts) it means a 2 minute walk back to store rather than an epic car ride.

The view outside my apartment: Nogata AEON mall. When the zombie apocalypse comes, this will be my fortress.

Nogata as a city feels a lot more quiet than Sasebo, the train station and mall ahve a quiet buzz, but not the intensity that I lived with before (then again, maybe I've just been jaded by my time in Tokyo and Oaaka). I like it though; my apartment is a brand new Leopalace kitted out with Ikea-esque storage solutions (I sleep on a luft-bed now... a dream fulfilled!) I miss my bilingual CNN, MTV and Superdrama; but hopefully that'll just mean I'll spend my time doing sometime more productive than watching TV.

Nogata: quiet, pretty, calm and oppressively hot and moist (currently)

This week has been mostly training with the company; it was all very relaxed and amiable, and the people in charge seem to have absolute confidence in us all (if only they knew!). The welcome party was nice, and hopefully we'll all manage to catch up once in a while and trade notes. I got to see some of Kitakyushu too, which was cool; another castle crossed off my list!

Right, so there's still stuff to be done; furnishings to buy, days to plan, plots to scheme... y'know, the usual. I'm a busy, busy man.

But right now I'm going down to the pub for a pint. It *is* Friday after all.

Kampai world,


Thursday, 14 August 2008

Blog defrosting.

Right, so it's been forever since I wrote anything on here. In fact I'm pretty sure you could have written a screenplay called 'Kanji for Beginners'; pitched it to some studio execs and singed a bunch of A-listers and made a movie about some guy who was out of his depth in Japan in the time it's been between posts. Come to think of it, why hasn't someone done that?

My official excuse is that my computer melted, I got coerced/seduced into facebook, got a girlfriend and was otherwise too busy having adventures to actually write about them.

Or you could just say I got slack. That's accurate too.

Anyway; since I'm heading back to Japan I figured I'd give this another shot. Maybe this time with a preponderance of free evenings and some zappy 'can-do' spirit (the sort I'm telling myself will be engendered by work in the public education service) I'll manage to stay on top of the chronicle this time around.

Right; so I've got a new layout inspired (read: stolen) by (from) the work of Japanese manga genius Kiyohiko Azuma. I've got a new laptop, a new haircut, a new apartment, a new job and a new town to work in. I also have new anxiety and old foibles. But whatever; I'll deal.

My new job involves teaching high-school kids in a town called Nogata, Fukuoka prefecture. Don't know where that is? Let me help.

Right, so now you all know enough to come and visit, I promise spare futons for all! (crazy random internet people excepted: please apply elsewhere). Not sure if you want to visit? Here are some fun facts to encourage you:

- Nogata used to be a coal mining town.
- There is a coal mining museum in Nogata.
- I will be living in Nogata.

Most importantly:

- Nogata is near Fukuoka.

I have also developed a methodically planned 'to do' list, to maximise my 'Japan time'. Notable aspirations include:

- Spending an entire day in an onsen and seeing if I feel better or worse afterwards.
- Going to a Puffy AmiYumi concert.
- Finding a Japanese person who not only has heard of, but likes 'Azumanga Daioh'
- Devising a plan to somehow get paid to lie on a beach in Okinawa
- Going a week without eating out of a convienience store
- Keeping this blog semi-regular.
- Upholding the ideals of the founders of the United Nations.
- Bringing peace to the Korean pennisula

If anyone has any other suggestions or ideas I'd be very happy to hear them; otherwise, start booking those tickets; I need company!