Saturday, November 24, 2007

Today I'm loving

  • My husband. The dear sweet man has moved out of our shared office space to allow me to create my own design studio. You can see the before shots here. Hopefully, I'll have some shots of the end product in a few days.
  • My new studio. It's still coming together but looks great so far. I feel so inspired!
  • Volume 2 of the Beautiful Songs Compilation Album
  • Long, warm, super soft socks
  • Starbucks Chocolate Mint Mocha - I ordered my first ever coffee today! I'm not a coffee drinker, but I think I could be hooked.
  • Japanese space solutions, they have some great ideas in the stores
  • 100yen shops (OK, I love these every day)
  • My life

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


A little while ago I wrote about how there are times, living in Japan as a foreigner, I feel like I am under suspicion purely for being non-Japanese and Japan's new policy of fingerprinting and photographing all foreigners entering Japan. The fingerprinting practice has now been implemented and so is in a lot of the press for English speakers now.

To be honest, once I get over the conditioning that it is only for criminals, I don't have a problem with fingerprinting itself. What I do have a problem with is that it is only for foreigners. The implication seems to be that it is the gaijin to be feared, and not their fellow countrymen. When if comes to foreigners, Japan seems to have a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality. I know America has the same practice and maybe I would feel equally offended getting fingerprinted there, though with America, differences of race don't come into it.

In the explanation video, terrorist bombing attacks in America, Bali, Morocco, Spain and London are listed. Never do they talk about the worst terrorist attack in their own country in 1995, the Sarin gas attack, an attack on Japanese, by Japanese. I find the video quite condescending when they try to pass the fingerprinting practice off as being partly to protect the foreigners. Let's be honest Japan (or the government at least), you don't really care about the foreigners, you're too busy worrying about what you think we're going to do to you.

While I'm on the subject of safety in Japan, it is for the most part a very safe place to live in. The recent trend of random street slashings however is a disturbing one. Until this week, I wrote it off as being a "big city" problem and not something to worry about where I live. That has now changed. Two days ago, a girl from our school was chased down the street by an old man with a knife. He was believe to have been seen outside one of the school gates again yesterday.

Japan, is it really US you need to worry about?


j donuts has put together a great post linking to other people's thoughts on this matter. It's a really interesting and somewhat scary read. You can find it here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Photo Break

A few photos taken at a local festival the weekend of the car accident.

Monday, November 19, 2007


It's now officially really cold, I saw snow this morning! Admittedly, the snow was capping a mountain in the distance, but it was snow none-the-less. I swear I saw three snowflakes yesterday swirling in the air, but Wayne thinks I was imagining it.

I was hoping some semblance of warmth would hold out for a few more days. We plan to re-arrange the apartment this coming long weekend and was hoping to wait until then to pull out the heaters and winter clothes. Yesterday, I wore a blanket around the apartment but still my fingertips were frozen and made it hard to type.

Last night I gave in and dug out a couple of heaters. And a dig it was. If you've ever lived in a Japanese apartment, you know how precious space is, our heaters were buried in the back of a cupboard under suitcases and backpacks. I haven't gotten out winter clothes yet but have been wearing what I like to think of a bohemian style of layers to survive. I did have to go to the 100yen shop to buy some gloves for the bike ride to school as my fingers couldn't wait.

You would think that once I got to school, I would be warm, but the opposite is true. The floor in the staffroom is freezing and with the Japanese culture of having to wear slippers inside, I can't wear my lovely warm boots during the day. I have a lap blanket I use and have been known to wear a down jacket and scarf at my desk to stop asthma attacks from the low temperature. Adrianne is already wearing her down jacket in the staff room today.

Our school is undergoing major construction at the moment and in the process, we lost one of our classrooms. Most of the time it's OK as one teacher will conduct the class in the student's homeroom. During interview tests however, we need both. What has happened this testing period is that one teacher has to sit outside in the cold, sunless, windy corridor. Thank goodness it's Sam and not me! Poor Gareth has three hours of interview tests to do there today! To make things scarier - it's cold now, but our next tests are in February when we'll be in the depths of winter and our new building won't be up then. And then don't even get me started on the female teachers toilets that are outside.....

On a happier note, I have to say, my husband is wonderful. He knows how much I hate this weather and so on cold nights, he goes to bed before I do, lies on my side and warms it up for me. How sweet is that! He even, admittedly not so happily, allows me to warm up my cold hands on his warm body parts. It's like having a living, breathing, large sized water bottle. Last night, he braved the low temperature and got me chocolate that I was craving and then this morning, he let me stay in while he went out and did the recycling by himself. Isn't he great! I'm not sure what I did to deserve him, but don't tell him that.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Over on my other blog... a bag to win!

For those of you who don't read my other blog, Kimono Reincarnate, I've launched a new business making bags from stunning vintage kimono and obi fabrics.

I've just started a mailing list. In order to give it a kick-start, I'm offering a chance to win this bag. Just sign up to my mailing list before December first, 2007 for an entry and then get an extra entry for each person you refer that lists you in the "Referred by" box.

The bag has been lined with kimono fabric and has a little pocket just the right size for keys and a mobile phone. The back is plain black, the original backing of this stunning embroidered obi.

Good luck!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Good Morning Baltimore!

Wayne and I went on a date last night. It was fun. After a spot of shopping and dinner, we went and saw Hairspray. It was a blast. I'm a big fan of the original movie so was eager to see if this one measured up. It didn't disappoint.

John Travolta was brilliant as Tracy's overweight mum, Edna Turnblad. Not quite as special as Divine was in the original, but still great.

I could tell that Wayne was worried about the movie when Tracy broke out in the first song, "Good Morning Baltimore". He stiffened ever-so-slightly and I could just tell he thought he wasn't going to enjoy it. He hasn't seen the original, so didn't know what to expect. It didn't take long for him to relax, I think it was the line about the flasher (incidentally, a cameo by John Waters) that he realised it wasn't going to be your run-of-the-mill musical.

It's funny watching a movie like that in Japan. Wayne and I were the only non-Japanese in the cinema and we were the only ones laughing. Much of the humour in the film either doesn't translate, is too quick or the Japanese don't have the same cultural references to understand. Lines like "You need a good stiff one", references to the kids being beautiful and "white" and to "Negro Day" were lost on all of the audience but us.

Before the movie, we saw the trailer for the Simpsons Movie. It is so strange hearing the characters in Japanese. While this isn't the movie trailer here's a TV commercial that might help you get an idea of the strangeness.

There are a few differences in the movie going experience between Japan and Australia. The first would have to be the ticket price, it's much higher in Japan, but the one I find most disturbing, is the lack of chocolate, or any sweets at the concession bar! Popcorn is on offer, but otherwise my choices include hot food such as fried chicken. What is a movie without something sweet?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The things they say

A gem from today’s interview test;

"My grandfather is strange. He tells me not to study....... He really likes sake. He drinks too much. I think he will die of cancer of the liver."

And on a totally unrelated topic... KitKat in Japan comes out with new flavours each season. I have to say I'm in love with the latest - Cookies and Milk KitKat. The KitKat wafer is covered in white chocolate that is filled with crushed chocolate cookies. Yum!

Interview Test Time

I never did get around to writing up the rest of my teaching days. It's been a busy week. On Monday and Wednesday, I had extra classes scheduled in and on Tuesday I had a recording session for the junior high practice and listening tests. On top of that I've been catching up on marking and been attacked by hordes of students every day before school, after school and at lunch times as they want their interview test preparations checked.

This testing period has gone so fast! We've started interview tests today! Our students are graded in three different area; their classwork, an interview test and a listening test. Each is worth a third of their final score. We conduct interview tests a week before their listening test.

This interview test is pretty cruisey for the junior high kids as long as they have prepared. They just have to tell us a little about someone from their family, half of it being in past tense. The previous two tests they had 16 questions to answer in 2 minutes, so the process was quite manic.

After the interview tests and listening tests are finished we still have a couple of weeks left of school. The junior high classes will be doing grade-free Christmas based lessons and games, so it's a lovely festive end to the year. And then... holidays! Yah! Wayne and I aren't going anywhere to far these holidays in a bid to save money. I'm really looking forward to it though as I have so many craft and design projects planned.

Bring on the holidays!

Friday, November 09, 2007


I enjoy Fridays, and not just because it's the last day before the weekend. The last day for us native teachers that is, the Japanese teachers and students often have school on Saturday. I like Fridays because I have two junior high classes that are a ball to teach.

My first one, the first period of the day are really smart, attentive and energetic. There are no personalities that really shine out more than the others, but they are all sweet. One girl is tiny, about the size of a small seven year old. What she lacks in size she makes up in energy and has an infectious smile. Today in class, the students were doing an exercise where they had to interview many of their classmates. One boy came to tell me that he was finished, he had filled the paper. I told him that was great and asked if he could go and help some other students. He happily said yes and then I got a series of bows from him as he walked backward to the other students and said thank you many times. I can't imagine getting that from a twelve year old Australian student.

My second junior high class is in the last period of the day. It's my favourite junior high class of the week. It's funny really, I start, first thing Monday morning with my least favourite class and finish, last thing Friday afternoon with the best. The dynamics in this class are great. I put it down to the fact that the alpha male lived in America for a number of years and has excellent English. All the other boys want to be just like him, so they work their butt off and compete to do better than him. It really makes my job easy. One boy, H, is a little strange, but keeps us all amused with his antics. The girls in the class are a delight and we often laugh at how crazy the boys are.

In between the two, I have a high school class. They are mostly great except for one girl that gets on my nerves a bit. She talks the whole way through the class.

I'm tired by the end of the day though as my last two classes are back-to-back and are on opposite sides on the campus, so I always have to dash to make it in time.

Adrianne teaches one of my students from last year. I remember him fondly for just how truly dense he could be. In an interview test he produced "My mother.... my mother.... my mother cooks eat me" to the question "What club do you belong to". At the time he was so proud of himself for getting out the reply. Well today, Adrianne showed me a piece he had written about medicinal foods.

"I would like to try ginger. Because, I want to do a lot of poop and I want to make my poop a good shape."

Ummm... thanks for that information......

Thursday, November 08, 2007


I've been meaning to write about my classes for a while now, so here goes, day-by-day.

I work at a private secondary school. It's difficult to get entry into, co-ed and contains both junior and senior high schools. I teach the first grade of each. It's a good combination actually, as the junior high kids are so genki, they're fresh, their excited and excitable. The high school kids are old enough and have enough English to be able to talk to about things and to joke with, so their lessons can get interesting.

At our school, they do three types of English each week, I teach the third component, communicative English. In junior high I concentrate on phonics and am a pronunciation Nazi. But to their credit, my students now know the difference between a (l) and (r), a (b) and (v), can produce a good (th), exercise the muscles in the face, mouth and tongue to get the right sound and are now starting to lip-read. I'm so proud!

So, Thursdays. I have three classes, first, third and fifth periods.

My day starts with a high school class. They are a little different to most of my other high school classes, as all the students are new-comers to the school. They haven't been formed into this school's mould yet and I have to remind myself at times, that they haven't been doing this style of class for three years previously like the other classes have. A number of the students in that class have lived overseas. One in Singapore, one in France and another recently returned from a year's home stay and studying in America. The class has a high level of English as long as I don't ask them to volunteer an answer. Then I'm only greeted with the tops of every one's heads while they stare at their desks, and silence. I think it's because the kids who have come back from other countries are self conscious that they might make a mistake and the others are too embarrassed to speak in front of them. Other than that, they are mostly a good class. The girl that lived in France loves to talk to me and is a great student and one boy really makes me laugh. One day I told him that our next class was going to be a fun games class. He asked if we could have a party and have cake. I told him that sure, if he wanted to bring cake, I'd be very happy. He then told me, in very careful English "No, I would like to be treated to some cake". Cute!

My second class of the day is a junior high lesson. The kids in this class are so polite, they are just adorable. They laugh at my silly jokes (and really, what teacher doesn't like that?), try really hard and when completing a worksheet will raise their hands and say in very enunciated English (very rounded and proper), "Excuse me Melanie, how do you spell....." There are lots of "please"s and "thank you"s during that lesson. In today's class we were covering vowel digraphs so they delighted in being able to yell out "oi" and "oy". Every now and then, we broke out into a "Oi, noisy boy!" and their faces just lit up.

My last lesson of the day I have nick-named my "Help me, help me" class, as that's what a number of the boys yell out all lesson. They're not a "good" class, but they are a lot of fun to teach. One of the boys always makes me laugh. Let's call him "T". T has a lot of energy in class, though I can't say it's alway focussed where it should be. He sometimes talks in class, but if I turn to glare at him, he whacks, hard, his friend that he was talking to, tells him to "shut up" and then turns to me with a butter-won't-melt-in-my-mouth smile and tells me "He's a bad boy." I should get angry, but I just can't help smiling. The girls are a delight, as they are in most of my classes. One girl, Y, is a great student and came to me with a piece of writing she'd done, all marked out with pauses and inflections just in case she needed to present it to class. Another boy doesn't always do a lot of the classwork, but always stops me in the halls for a short chat in English whenever he sees me. His English is good and he will usually come up with something smart and funny to say.

Today, now classes are over for the day, I'm busily trying to finish writing a test and catch up on my marking. It's been a good day.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

If you are alien

Sam just bought a new bike and on the front of the manual, was written in English;


Ahh... nothing like a good little piece of Engrish to put a smile on your face.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Safety Check

Urgh! I've just recovered from yet another cold! Actually, a rather nasty flu in this case. When it was at its worst, I couldn't even hold a book, the joints in my wrist hurt so badly that it couldn't handle the weight. I'm better now but left with a very husky voice.

Yesterday, Adrianne and I were leaving work, in the remaining light there is at 5pm this time of year and were greeted with little yellow tags on our bikes. Some of the other bikes had them on too.

On the tag was a list with boxes beside each line. The top box on mine had been checked. I was being informed that my brakes didn't fully work. Well, I could have already told you that, I mean, after all, I am the one who rides it everyday!

Someone, had come and done a safety inspection on all the bikes! Who does this!?! Was it the school? Adrianne's boyfriend thinks it was the police. The police come into the school and do safety checks on our bikes, while they are parked on school property without our permission!

We were curious about what things other teachers were getting in trouble about on their bikes. There were a few bikes with the second box ticked. After struggling, we managed to work out that it was something to do with the bell. Guessing that their bell didn't work, we tested the theory, Adrianne tried one bell and sure enough, no sound. I went to try another and realised, they didn't have a bell. I mean really, does someone without a bell on their bike really need to be told that their bell doesn't work?

One of the teachers, we haven't figured out who yet, rides a bike that looks like it was made during the second world war, was left in a creek since then and has only recently been fished out, hosed down and now ridden. It had no tag.

Today, my junior high school students went hiking, so I only had one high school class to teach all day. I thought the free day was a great time to clean my desk.

I have to say, in a country that prides itself on aesthetics, many workplaces are terrible. The furniture in our staffroom should be in a museum as relics from early last century. There is sticky tape on the walls left yellowed with time and has long forgotten what it held there, the walls are marked, large dust bunnies reside under desks. I got some funny looks when I had discovered a vacuum cleaner and put it to good use. I then stunk out the place with Eucalyptus Oil trying to rid my desk of 20 years of grime from teachers past. In the end I gave up and bought myself a new desk mat. To finish off the look, I added a plant, the only piece of greenery in our dungeon-like room. It's so much nicer now, as long as I ignore the rusted desk I sit at and awful chair I sit on, piled up with cushions to make it usable.

Adrianne gazed over at the end result and announced that she had "desk envy".