Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Thank you for asking

Kenju, you are a darling for gently reminding me in comments that I have not written for a long time. I really do want to start blogging again, but the longer I don't the harder it gets. It is encouraging to know that at least one person will notice when I start again properly.

I am keeping well, just very, very busy, especially now. (It is exam time.) Life in Japan, I am discovering, is not quite as comfortable without The Man, and blogging in particular is not as much fun when I don't have the knowledge that at some point he will read what I wrote and snort.

Being snorted at was one of my favorite things, I have learned, and I still miss it. Not nearly enough people snort at me these days. Being snorted at kept me on my toes, and I suspect the lack of snorting is causing me to take myself too seriously.

What I have been up to recently: work, work, and more work. Also, last month I visited Nagasaki with a couple of friends.  l loved Nagasaki. I did not visit the atom bomb museum (because it was New Year and and I did not want to dwell on sad things, and besides, I've already visited the Hiroshima one) – but I did visit Dejima, which turned out to be my favorite place in Nagasaki. I totally recommend it. The reconstruction is coming along nicely and it is fascinating to think, as you wander around and check out the exhibits, that this tiny place was Japan's only point of contact (almost) with the outside world for 250 years. Especially interesting, for me at least, was looking at the photographs and realizing PROPERLY how recently Japan  opened up to the world. I have a photograph somewhere of my grandmother's father, which looks of the same era. It was really very, very recent, and understanding that explains a lot about Japan.

We also visited Gunkanjima. That was interesting, too, but resulted in some fairly wild conspiracy theories due to the extremely controlled tour we were forced to take. I THINK the controlled and very carefully watched-over nature of the tour was actually because the buildings on the island are in a dangerous state of disrepair, but it was hard to hold back on the conspiracy theories when one of us (not me) noticed that one of the guides had a Mitsubishi logo on his cap.

From the week after next I will be visiting Bali for a week (to stay with a friend there) and then NZ for a month or so, then I will be back here for another year. One of the things I plan to do before classes start again is to photograph and catalog The Man's extensive record collection. I want to sell it, but it's hard when I don't even know what is in all those boxes. There are HUNDREDS of records.

What I am reading these days: Non-fiction, mostly. The only novel I've read in the last couple of years is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and that was before and during my visit to Nagasaki. I enjoyed it very much. Right now I am reading a history book about the Black Death, and finding it far more interesting than is healthy, probably. I found this book at a second hand bookstore recently, and then on Monday noticed that one of the professors at a university I work at had added a bunch of books to the collection we gaijin teachers keep on a shelf outside the teachers' room, and one of these books was Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year. Naturally I picked it up, and that will be my next book. (Tomorrow I will go through the other books the Japanese professor left behind. There are a lot of good ones there, and they are in pristine condition, having clearly never been opened. I bet they looked impressively academic on his office shelves, though!)

Right, that's it. Much longer than I intended, and unedited because I'm in a hurry, but it will have to do. 

Good night Kenju! This one was for you.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Dew point

I use an App called AccuWeather on my iPhone, and have always wondered what the 'dew point' number meant. I just looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered that while I still do not really understand what it means, I do know why I am feeling so cranky even though the temperature is only 27C and the humidity 88%. The dew point is at 25C. At the 24–26C dew point, according to the chart, it is "extremely uncomfortable, fairly oppressive."

This is not news to me. I knew it was extremely uncomfortable and fairly oppressive.  But it is nice to have official confirmation of that fact.

(Four more days of work until the summer vacation arrives, but four more VERY BUSY days. And I have a cold, which doesn't help with the crankiness.)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Lucky day

(Written on Friday evening, but I forgot to post it and can't be bothered changing the times. Please pretend you are reading it on Friday.)

This morning after getting up, I was drinking a cup of tea and waiting for my body to decide it was possible to start moving around without fainting at the earliness of the hour, and it occurred to me, as it so often doesn't, to check what my plans were for my day's classes.

Friday is a lovely day this semester (which is almost over) – four small classes. Small classes are rare at universities, but in this particular department they have decided, correctly, that smaller is better. It is a shame that we only see the students for one semester instead of two, (there is always a compromise) but still, I always feel that the students learn a lot more than my bigger classes do in a whole year. In some ways the classes are harder work, but the work is teaching work, and not merely class management. That makes a nice change from the rest of the week.

Anyway, as I was saying, I decided to check what my plans were for the day in case there were materials I should be taking with me when I left the house. To my horror I discovered that today was not the last day of teaching before exam week. That is NEXT week. What I'd thought was happening was that I'd be doing speaking tests today, then the paper exam next week. In fact I'm doing the speaking tests next week and the paper test is the week after. I had no plan for today. "Give them something fun to do," I'd written in my teaching notes, optimistically assuming I'd come up with something 'fun' on the spur of the moment when the time came.

It was time to bring out the trusty quiz cards.

They worked, of course. They always do. Not only did they work well, I had also forgotten that today was the day for the teacher evaluation surveys, where the students get to criticize their teachers. Doing this right after they've had a particularly hilarious class was a bonus for me.

So it might have been Friday the 13th, but it turned out to be my lucky day. I got to spend the class time grading homework (instead of having to bring it home to do), the students used English for the entire class period, and they thought I was brilliant, AND said so on the evaluations. Win!

I had a very hard time keeping a straight face during one particular exchange, though. I try not to interfere when the students are playing this quiz game, unless they ask me directly. They like figuring things out for themselves, and usually do.

One student in a group of five had taken a card, but wasn't quite sure of the pronunciation of a word. The question was this:

"How many pennies are in a dollar?"

He hadn't seen the word 'pennies' before. I had taught it to them before the game, and written it on the board, but the word up there was 'penny,' not 'pennies,' and he didn't make the connection at first. He read, hesitantly,

"How many penis in a dollar?"

He frowned at the card, puzzled, probably trying to figure out why the answer was 'a hundred.'

The other students were leaning forward and listening intently. When they heard the word 'penis' they leaned forward even more intently. There was a word they knew but weren't expecting to hear! (Students always know the bad words.)

One of them said,

"What??? Say that again?"

The questioner frowned heavily at his card, and repeated, hesitantly,

"How many … penis … in a dollar?"

"Penis? REALLY? But that doesn't make sense!"

"That's what it says. P - E - N - N - I - E - S," he spelled out.

Everybody thought about that for a moment, then one of them suddenly turned and pointed to the board.

"PENNIES!" he shouted.

Uproar ensued.

It was my turn to frown heavily, at the homework I was reading. It was FASCINATING.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Calling Lippy


Why have you deleted all your blogs? I'm in Auckland. WEST Auckland, to be precise. Are you here? Lippy? LIPPY?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


Oh, my goodness. I wrote a blog post last month sometime and forgot to post it. Now that exams are upon us I will be busy for the next couple of weeks, after which I will be heading to New Zealand for six weeks (SIX WEEKS!), but for now, here is something to keep the blog alive. A bit rambly, but never mind.


So here I am, sitting in the teacher's room, alone. I don't have a class this period, and everyone else is in their classrooms, teaching. I have marked all the tests that need marking, all the homework that has been handed in, and I'm just sitting here listening to music on my headphones and enjoying the peaceful bit in the middle of what is my busiest and most frantic day.

But any moment now the other teachers will burst in and start complaining about their students. Whoops, here's one now.

… And that is where my blog writing collapses. THERE ARE TOO MANY NOISY TEACHERS. But oh my goodness I work with some interesting people!

But never mind, it's two days later and now I have my students grading themselves using a oh, bugger it, here's one with a question…

All right. A day later and I'm in class and students are writing busily so I have a free moment. I have them writing about what they CAN DO, what they're GOOD AT, and what they LIKE DOING, and the plan is to have them switch papers and come up with suggestions for jobs for each other. What amazes me the most about my students when they write is how I can sit here and listen to pencils (yes, PENCILS, at UNIVERSITY) scratching on the paper for what feels like hours, then said students proudly present their papers to me, on which are written three malformed sentences. How can they write for so long, and with such concentration, and produce so little and so badly? It is an endless source of fascination to me, and makes me feel like a bad teacher.

… (Two days later.) After that particular exercise, however, there was another surprise for me. It was getting near the end of class, so to hurry them up I told them that when they'd finished they were to bring their papers to me for checking and then they could go. That worked to hurry them up but not necessarily to make their brains work better. Even though the entire chapter of the textbook we'd just done was about jobs, and qualifications for jobs, at least half of the papers that were turned in had sentences like:

"I am good at tennis. I like playing tennis. I can play tennis."

To which their partners, understandably, had responded,

"I think you should become a tennis player."


"I like listening to music. I am good at listening to music. I can watch TV."

And his partner had written, somewhat stymied,

"I think you should become a musician."

(Yeah, RIGHT. Listening to music turns you into an instant musician.)

This is why these students are studying business management. It's so they can become tennis players and musicians.

But near the end of the class, I was handed a paper on which at first I only read the final sentence (because I wanted to leave by this point). His partner had written,

"I think you should become a professional cleaner."

This caused me to glance at the student, who was, unexpectedly, one of the cool kids. It also caused me to look down again and read what he'd written, instead of saying defeatedly, as I had been doing, "OK, you can go."

He had written,

"I am good at cleaning bathrooms. I am good at cleaning floors. I am good at cleaning toilets. I like cleaning. I like cooking. I can clean kitchens."

I looked up.

"A professional cleaner?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied.

I stared at him. I could not wipe the grin off my face.

"When did you leave home?" I asked him.

"March," he answered, slightly puzzled.

"Did you cook and clean when you lived at home?" I asked.

"No," he said.

"But now you've learned how to do it yourself?" I said.

"YES," he said, proudly.

I paused, watching him closely, trying to figure out whether he was winding me up. I was also trying to figure out what to say.

He stood up straighter.

"And I'm GOOD at it," he added, in case I hadn't read that bit. He really wanted me to know.

I thought about it.

"I'm sure you will be a FANTASTIC professional cleaner one day," I told him, finally.

He was still beaming happily when I left the classroom.

You just never know what to expect when you do stuff like this in the classroom. A declaration of a new-found passion for cleaning toilets was certainly not what I had expected, anyway.

Monday, 23 January 2012


I stole an umbrella today, but ended up not needing to use it. On my way home I put it back where I'd found it.

Does that make me a good person or a bad person?

Monday, 26 December 2011


Does this mean that if I start drinking at midday there will be no woe involved? Or does it mean that getting up early will drive me to drink? Also, why does he look so smug? And why is he being showered with gold coins?

This poster seemed self-explanatory when I took the photo, but on reflection it makes less and less sense. Get plastered! But don't get up early. Getting up early will bring you woe.

Alcoholism has never seemed quite so attractive.

 I like the photo above better, but this one shows the whole poster. I almost (but not quite) wish I'd bought it at the flea market yesterday

Happy Boxing Day, everybody!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Black holes

Recently I heard from a friend about someone who was hospitalized during the summer after being stung by giant Japanese hornets. This reminded me of something that happened towards the end of last semester. I was teaching a class i'd had problems with all semester. Every semester there's at least one problem class, and this one was it. They were not a problem class because they behaved badly, though. I wished they would behave badly. That would have been easier to deal with. You can harness that kind of energy. Instead, they behaved well, and boringly. It was a small class, and getting them to talk to each other in English was almost impossible. They didn't even want to talk to each other in Japanese.

I don't know what the problem was. I worked hard all semester, trying every trick in the book (and a few not in the book) and made no progress at all. They just didn't seem to LIKE each other, and had nothing to say to each other, and that was that.

On this particular day they were all sitting in groups, as I'd placed them (otherwise they'd be scattered around the room as far from each other as possible), and the window was open, and a very large hornet flew in. It was a crazed hornet. It flew around the room fast and erratically, and at head height. That meant that as it flew towards them the students ducked their heads. From the vantage point of the  where I was standing it was easy to spot where the hornet was because it caused a bizarre sort of Mexican wave around the room. It flew around madly, and students ducked.

The hornet eventually landed on a window, and I used a laminated card to ease it outside. This took a little time and and some scary moments, but eventually it zoomed off outside. In any other class I would have been cheered for my achievement, but in this class everybody just stared blankly as I risked my life to tackle the hornet. I'm allergic to bees. I don't know whether I'm allergic to those long-legged monsters and didn't really want to find out, but nobody volunteered to help (but someone ALWAYS volunteers to help! That was a class of ZOMBIES!) and I wasn't going to risk a student's life. I was the teacher. I was in charge. I didn't really have a choice.

When I went back to the front of the class I remembered how the class had looked when heads were ducking, and started laughing.

The students stared blankly, so I told them why I was laughing. I told them they'd done a rather amazing Mexican head-wave and it had looked really, really funny.

They continued to stare at me blankly.

Around about then I gave up trying to get some sort of connection with the class. One student had a look in his eye that told me he would have responded if he could have extricated himself from the classroom atmosphere. He was the student who would have been a 'problem' student if only there was another student for him to be a problem with, but there wasn't. The others were all too sunk into their own little worlds and didn't communicate enough to be problem students.

(Oh, how I love problem students! But there has to be two.) 

That head-wave was the most entertainment that class provided me all semester. I had never seen them as animated as they were when that hornet flew straight at their faces and they ducked.

And I have never had a class where the classroom dynamics were quite as impossible as that one was. I put students in groups, pairs, in every possible combination, changing them around all the time, hoping that once they knew each other they'd wake up a bit, but nothing worked. They simply didn't want to talk to each other. Every other class that has started like that has eventually ended up with the usual problems of getting them to shut up because they've all become friends and want to chat (in Japanese) all the time. But in that class it never changed. They didn't become friends with each other. They didn't even unite against me, the ENEMY AUTHORITY. They were a constellation of individual black holes.

It was the hornet that made me realize there was nothing more I could do. It was towards the end of semester anyway, and I realized that if that didn't finally bring them together as a group nothing would. Any kind of large insect getting into a classroom is more or less guaranteed to create an uproar, but that one didn't cause anything except a bizarre visual effect.

I had a couple of classes this semester at the same university which threatened to be similar, but after the first couple of weeks they degenerated into the usual chaos of making friends, gossip, teasing, yelling at me, yelling from me, and the odd bit of learning.

This has made me happy. I thought I'd lost my touch.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Are you my family?

This is my favourite story of the year. Not that it took much – it hasn't been a year of good news, but really, I think this would be my favourite story of any year. The seal pup seems like a really determined seal pup (especially if it is the same one in all three incidents in the story).

This is the story of a seal who wants to find a family. He is "just weaned from its mum", the expert said, and I think his mum probably weaned him a wee bit too early, and the little seal has decided that he needs another family, one that will treat him more considerately. So he is wandering the streets of Tauranga looking for a new family, and when he found a house with cats and a dog (species-friendly!) and a seal pup-sized door, he thought his dreams had come true. 

Poor wee seal, forced away from the comfy sofa and back into the wild blue sea. I am cheered, however, by the news that he has not given up. He was spotted again later the same day (but managed to get away before the Department of Conservation van got there).

They made a mistake in the story, though. They said that the seal pup 'accidentally' turned on the radio in the DOC vehicle and 'accidentally' ended up in the front seat. I am fairly sure they are wrong about both these points. It is clear from the story that this seal is not stupid.

He turned on the radio for the same reason anybody turns on the radio. He wanted a bit of music. And he moved to the front seat because he wanted to see where he was going.

And why not? We all like to see where we are going, and some music to cheer us up.

(Don't forget to check out the other pictures.)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Moon eclipse

It's been so long since I used my camera on manual it took me a while to figure out how to get decent pictures without a tripod. (Or perhaps it's not possible with moon pictures.) Anyway, I took these pictures near the beginning of the eclipse, but missed the total eclipse. I was getting too cold, and didn't actually think these were working. It was only when I got them on the computer and resized them I saw that while most of them were hopeless blurry these three were actually quite good.

Actually I went to bed before the total eclipse. I did get up again to go out to see it, but I didn't take my camera. I was too sleepy to hold it steady.

I took these pictures lying on my back on the cold concrete and steadying the camera on my nose. They were taken only a minute apart, around 10.30. The full eclipse was at 11.05. I wish I'd taken some later ones, now.