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!