This past week has been mostly uneventful. Tuesday we mainly played on the computer. Wednesday and Thursday we had marathon sessions watching the DVDs [livejournal.com profile] megory brought. Friday was more Warcraft and shopping.

Saturday evening, however, we decided to go to a festival of lights being held in Nara. First we went to Kyoto Station, where we had to change trains anyway, and stopped for supper at an Italian restaurant to have pizza. Japanese pizza has the thinnest crust I've ever seen. It's practically a tortilla. One of the things people often crave after staying in Japan for a long time is "real" pizza.

While reading the restaurant's menu, which they provided in English (though I didn't really need it), we noticed a section for "Kyoto bland wine." Mixing up Rs and Ls is a running joke...but it's funny because it's true. If there is an R or L in a word, the Japanese will nearly always choose the wrong one, even on official signs that must have taken quite a bit of effort to produce. I can't help but wonder why they would go through the trouble and yet neglect to ask a proofreader or check the spelling in a dictionary. There are online dictionaries now... Another common problem they have is with articles, since there are none in Japanese. This sign in front of a restaurant illustrates how articles are often misused. They intended to say "the entrance is on the escalator side," but knowing when to use "a(n)" and when to use "the" is considered one of those mysteries that can never be fully understood.

Anyway, we took a train from there to Nara. In front of the station, there was a fountain where many people gathered to watch street performers. The one performing when we arrived was putting on a marionette show, accompanied by traditional Japanese music. As you can see in the background, girls were wearing yukata for the occasion.

We followed the crowd (generally the best way to navigate here) down a covered shopping path. There were so many interesting and beautiful things in the shops, it was hard to tear ourselves away to continue on, but somehow we managed.

There was a general route to follow to see the locations that had been decorated for the festival. Most of the spots were cultural heritage sites or museums. The Nara miniature deer were wandering about, completely unafraid of the crowds. In fact, the deer considered it yet another opportunity to beg for food.

There were many kinds of lights set up as decorations. Some were candles in white cups arranged in patterns on the grass or pavement. Some were candles in bamboo posts lining the walking paths. Some were even works of art.

We spent about two hours strolling around, seeing what we could, and trying not to get lost. We then made our way back, arriving at my apartment shortly before midnight.

Sunday I played more Warcraft. The various characters have been making good progress. The blood elf paladin I've been playing on [livejournal.com profile] megory's behalf has reached level 27. I was excited to win a new axe and bow for my hunter in Karazhan, and my shaman won a number of new items as well.
We had our opening ceremony today to start off the last half-term of the school year. You don't know how tempting it was to stay in the nice, warm teachers' room reading a book instead of going to stand in the freezing gym for an hour, but I dragged myself out there.

My biggest task afterward was correcting speech papers for the seniors, who will have to give speeches as their final project next week. Most of the time I could figure out what the students were trying to say well enough to give corrections, but sometimes I was completely stumped. If I can ferret out what the original Japanese had probably been, I generally know what the student is getting at, but when their original Japanese is in error...yeesh.

Take, for example, this sentence: "And please stand up, for one year."

Go ahead, try to guess what the student intended.

I was stumped by that one for a long time. I even consulted with one of my team teachers, and she didn't understand it either. Finally, I hazarded the opinion that the student had gotten the kanji 経って (tatte, "[time] passes") mixed up with the kanji 立って (tatte, "stand") and looked up the wrong meaning in the dictionary. Thus, she probably meant to say "And one year passed."
I scanned the pages from the round-robin story that I'm doing with several of my students.

The Long Long Picture Book

I wrote my next page and handed it back to them, so the next installment will probably come back to me in January.

In other news, I told my students yesterday that I'll be leaving on Monday to visit my family for the holidays. Their response? "We look forward to your souvenirs!"

Today I only have two classes, one of which is a solo lesson because my team teacher is going along on a college visitation, though at least she told me well in advance. I had another Surprise Solo Lesson yesterday, which wasn't too bad because it was mostly listening practice. The students were totally flabbergasted that "don't you" can turn into "don'tcha" when said fast. They were even more astounded when I told them "See you" can be written "C'ya" in casual messages. They were like, "Hey! That's not fair! How is anyone supposed to understand that?!"

...They have NO idea how many incomprehensible contractions there are in their own language.

I say this every year, but winter in Japan sucks a person's will to do anything. The lack of central heating means that every single class begins with the students moaning about the cold and clustering around the kerosene stove. They're constantly being lectured by teachers for wearing gym pants under their skirts (in violation of the dress code), but I don't blame them in the slightest. Japan needs to be slapped upside the head when it comes to forcing girls to wear skirts to school in the middle of winter.
The department of the school responsible for educating the teachers (and students) about human rights and equality issues frequently leaves handouts on all the teachers' desks. I usually glance through them and then toss them, because they deal with Japanese issues ("How shall we care for our aging population?") that don't concern me.

Today, however, a little corner of the handout was devoted to addressing political correctness.

Cut for LONG linguistic geekiness )

In other news, there was some tension regarding Ritsumeikan's plans to renovate the school. Next year, the new Ritsumeikan co-ed class will arrive, along with new Ritsumeikan teachers. That means they need to set up bathrooms for the boys and space for more teachers. Apparently, the current teachers are pissed off that Ritsumeikan wrote up a renovation plan that has far more changes than they feel are necessary, and Ritsumeikan has already gone to a construction company and worked up a timetable for the renovation. Ritsumeikan wants to get started on the construction as soon as possible, but the teachers don't like their plan and want them to put it on hold until a compromise can be reached.

I found out that, although the students don't have to show up at the Creative site until noon (which is when I thought I was supposed to show up as well), the teachers are supposed to get there at 9am. They need to do setup and have a last-minute practice session for the song we'll be singing. This made me a bit frantic, because I had been counting on those three hours to do some cleaning and shopping. (In fact, I had a dream last night that my parents showed up unexpectedly on my doorstep, and I insisted, "I was intending to clean Saturday morning! Honest!")

I rushed out and did my shopping right after I got off work. Mainly, I wanted to buy a tripod for my videocamera so I can set it up and (hopefully) record the song at the event tomorrow. As for cleaning...well...^_^;
Most Japanese quiz shows are a real trip. For one thing, the contestants aren't usually regular people, they're almost always celebrities. These celebrities compete for cash prizes by answering questions about the most bizarre topics.

In a two-hour special quiz show I watched yesterday, there was a pool of about 30 celebrities from which a panel of 10 was randomly selected. They each had to answer a question in a Final Jeopardy-type setup. 10,000 people had been surveyed with the same question; the celebrities had to have a higher percentage correct than the average population to "clear" that question. So if 48% of the population got it right, then at least 5 of the celebrities on the panel had to answer correctly. If they cleared 5 questions, they won 500,000 yen.

The questions in this particular show were all about language. For example, the contestants would be shown a written character and asked to write its pronunciation. In other cases, they would hear two similar figures of speech and be asked to choose which was correct. It was fascinating to see the percentage for each question...some of them had very low percentages, even though I thought they were quite easy, whereas some with almost perfect scores completely stumped me.

Example: What is the pronunciation of 強か?
Only one out of the ten contestants got this one correct, but I knew it right off the bat: shitataka. (It's used in one of my favorite Meitantei Conan opening theme songs, "Mysterious Eyes.")

Example: What is the pronunciation of 月極?
The percentage correct for this one was 90+% for the general population. I didn't have a clue. I guessed gekkyoku or, failing that, getsugoku. It turned out to be tsukigime. (Darn those kanji compounds that sneakily use the kun reading!)

I did quite well on the questions about pronunciation and okurigana, but I totally wiped out on the figures of speech section.

Aside from that, I spent most of the weekend doing laundry and fiddling with web page layout. Today I had a Loveless marathon and watched the tape that's been sitting on my living room floor since the series ended.

Then I went out and bought the magazine with the first chapter of the manga version of the Yasashii Ryuu no Koroshikata (How to Kill a Nice Dragon) novel series. Ahhhh... This series is SO GOOD.

Dragon King LOVE.

Now, I just need to work on cleaning...
Although we had perfect sunny weather for the two practice days, the first day of the festival dawned rainy and gray.

And, because this is really all about me, I will say that the combination of the conditioner from the hair dye and the humidity from the rain made my hair defy gravity like some random anime chick )

In other news, I polished off the stack of "must read" Japanese novels demanding my attention and turned to some of the English ones my parents brought for me that I had been saving. I have to say, learning a foreign language kinda takes some of the fun out of reading fantasy books with made-up words in them. For example...

Character: "Would you like a cup of sumi?"

Me: You're offering your guests ink?!

Plus the characters were exclaiming "Hai!" all the time, and it messed with my head because it didn't mean "yes."
My team teacher was so tickled by the image of me with purple hair, she repeated the story for another teacher during one of our planning sessions Friday. I may actually go ahead and do it...

For the past few days, I've been correcting student papers. One student asked me about the marks I had made where she neglected to put a space after her punctuation. I explained that it meant she needed to add a space there. She looked at me like, What kind of crazyness is that? and asked if she should remove the comma. I told her, no, she just has to put a space after the comma. Finally she said, "You mean, even though I already have a comma, I have to put a space TOO?! WHY?"

...That's just the way it works.

(Note: With the exception of books for extremely young children just learning to read, written Japanese does not have spaces in it at all.)

Friday I gave a class teaching the students how to write a paragraph. You would think they would know this, since they are seniors in high school, and the Japanese language does have paragraphs. However, they do not understand the concept at all. They want to hit Enter at the end of every sentence, whether they've finished the topic or not. Even when I repeated several times, forcefully (with corresponding translation from my team teacher), and wrote on the board that they should NOT hit the Enter key...several still did.

Later I was asked to correct the show-and-tell speech of a student in another class. The teacher apologized for asking me to do it, because the student hadn't even written sentences. She picked individual (random?) words from her Japanese original and wrote their translations down in the order they appeared...and since Japanese grammar is backward from English, this means she just had strings of random words in an order that made no sense. If I hadn't had the Japanese original, I wouldn't have had a clue what she was trying to say. <sigh>

The students are all excited because they're getting some professional entertainers for the school festival. The students had filled out a survey form about which entertainers they would like to invite; the survey stipulated only that nominees couldn't be comedians. This is reportedly because the school had invited a comedian in the past who said some things during the routine that upset the school board. However, as it turns out, the fee for inviting a professional singer (as the students requested) is about four times the school's annual budget. ^_^; So they're getting comedians after all.

Today I mainly stayed home and read, aside from one shopping trip. (Why is it that I go to the grocery store intending to buy about three or four items and come back with two loaded shopping bags?) My refrigerator is now very well stocked.
Today I uploaded Lesson 14. Only one more to go!

I attended the Minna no Salon, which was a workshop given by a lady who moved here from El Salvador. She showed a Japanese documentary video about the country, and while it was playing, she brewed up some El Salvadoran coffee. She made some strong and some weak with cinnamon in it. The smell of the cinnamon was wonderful, but those cups were all taken by the time I got to the table, so I didn't actually get to drink any.

One of the snacks served with the coffee was an El Salvadoran tortilla. It wasn't at all like either the Mexican-style tortilla or the Spanish-style tortilla. It was made out of corn flour, but instead of being thin and flat, it was thick and chewy. It was rather like a dense pancake.

During the video, I acted as an interpreter for a lady from Egypt who could understand English but not Japanese. She seemed very interested. I was quite amused, however, when the video showed the remains of a Mayan pyramid. She stared at it and said, "You call THAT a pyramid?!" <g>

After the video and the food, the lady running the workshop went over some simple Spanish words, such as numbers, greetings, and body parts. When she got to the Spanish word for "ear," oído, a number of people in the room started snickering. It seems that is a colloquial term for "rear end" in Japanese.
Much of my class time is spent with students working in their textbooks while my team teacher and I circle the room answering questions.

Today, one of the girls had quite a few questions...completely unrelated to the lesson, but since she's one of the top students in the class, I imagine she had already finished. Anyway, I think she was asking me the meaning of random song lyrics, though I don't know that for certain. In general, song lyrics can be extremely incomprehensible, especially if they were made up by a Japanese band. (I mean, really, "true heart for mystery eyes"? What the heck?) Sometimes, though...

The student asks, "What does this mean?" and points to her paper, upon which is written the following:
jerk it out


Of course, my mind immediately dives into the gutter. After I compose myself, I say, "I'm not familiar with that as a phrase, but I can tell you what the word 'jerk' means." After I explain that it could mean either "bad, mean person" or "pull," I leave her to decide for herself what it might be in context.

...She and her friend were quite excited over the idea that it meant "pull." I don't even want to guess what they were thinking.
My senior class had another discussion about nouns with gender on Friday, probably prompted by the previous day's session. Japanese nouns don't have gender, so this is a completely foreign concept for them.

Student1: So you're saying that everything is either a man or a woman? If this paper is a woman, does that mean people think women are like paper?

Teacher: No, it has nothing to do with real people. The word itself has gender. You have to use particles with it, like "la."

Student2: You mean, it's like calling this paper "Paper-kun"? [-kun is a diminutive often used for boys] You would always have to say Paper-kun and not, like, Paper-san?

Teacher: Yes, that's kind of the idea.

Me: <can't resist> You know, some languages don't just have two genders. Some have masculine, feminine, and neuter.

Teacher: <translates> Some languages have men, women, and in-between.

Student1: <amazed> They have o-kama objects?! [o-kama is the Japanese version of "drag queen"]

They were quite fascinated by this concept.

Friday night, the English department had a party at the same place I went last year for Girls' Night Out. For a place that specializes in chicken, they have a fairly decent selection of vegetarian food, and I was easily able to fill up. Toward the end of the meal, we played a game of "men vs. women" where each team was given three clipboards and a topic. The topic would be something like "household appliance maker." The three people with the clipboards would write whatever answer they thought would be most common, then show the clipboards simultaneously. If they were all different, the team got no points. If two people had the same answer, the team got three points, and if all three had the same answer, the team got three points.

The women wound up beating the men with a score of 16-6, and that's including the handicap of having me on the team.

Just as the party was drawing to a close, three other teachers joined us (after their own party) and invited us out for karaoke. We went to a "snack" a few blocks away. In Japanese, a "snack" is a little like a bar-lounge. This one was equipped with karaoke, plus we were the only customers, so we spent about three hours there just drinking and singing.

Well, the others were drinking, but they only had whiskey. I only like sweet drinks. I asked if they had plum wine, but apparently they didn't offer it.

Strangely, toward the end of the evening, the woman running the snack brought me a glass of plum wine. I wonder if she had someone run out and buy a bottle specifically for me. Weird. Anyway, I wound up staying up WAY past my bedtime and not getting home until about midnight.

This morning I got up and continued to work on the handbag for my yukata. It's all finished now except for the drawstring. I made one unfortunate miscalculation when cutting the fabric, but I think it won't be noticeable.
I was finally given my official "do you want to renew your contract?" paper to fill out today. The vice-principal took me aside to the principal's office to explain that they can only extend my contract through the end of next March. (He told me that when I asked him before. Yet he felt the need to tell me again, slowly, counting the months one by one on his fingers so I would understand. ...Then he lost count at January and had to start over. ^_^;) He explained that they don't know whether Ritsumeikan will want to hire me after that. He did, however, ask whether I would be willing to stay longer if they do agree to hire me.

I worked on my yukata for nearly an hour and got the collar folded and ready to be hemmed. (This was quite an intricate folding process, I might add.) It's only pinned in place right now, but it finally looks like it will when it's finished.

For English club today, the students grabbed me and said they wanted to play a game. (Yay! They actually expressed an interest in doing something.) One of the girls took it upon herself to translate everything I said. And I mean everything. Into the Kansai dialect. So we wound up having interludes such as:

Me: No.

Student: Sonna akan yo.

We started with charades. To make it interesting, we used both nouns (one point) and adjectives (two points). One girl picked the word "round." She started off well, making circular gestures. But when the students couldn't guess anything beyond "circle," she got more...creative. She made a circle with the thumb and index finger of one hand. She then enthusiastically shoved the index finger of her other hand through it to indicate its roundness.

I just about collapsed with convulsive laughter. It was like watching Buffy's stabby stabby motion in "Hush."

The poor students didn't have a clue what I thought was so funny.

Then, when I got home...my door wouldn't open. I've been having problems the past couple days with my lock not wanting to open properly, but it always opened eventually. This time I spun the key entirely around, and I could hear the thunking of the lock mechanism, but the door still wouldn't open. The bolt wasn't retracting completely.

I walked back to the school and asked what I should do. The office guy grabbed a can of spray oil and came back to my apartment with me. After spraying the lock down and turning the key around a couple times, he finally got the door to open. He tested the lock, and it worked sometimes, but it continued to act strangely. He said he'll call someone to come look at it, possibly tomorrow if I have some free time.
I was buried under an avalanche of papers to grade today, because all of my students simultaneously had writing assignments. As always, it's amazing to see what they come up with.

A couple excerpts )

In one of my senior classes, the textbook unit is about invitations and parties, so I planned a lesson in which the students have a competition. Half the students were designated as "inviters" and half as "refusers." They had to plan out what kinds of arguments or excuses they would say either to invite someone to a party (or other event) or to refuse (as politely as possible) to attend. Then they paired up, and tried to continue inviting/refusing until one side conceded. We then had some of the pairs demonstrate in front of the class.

Oh, the drama! )
Tuesday I had a full schedule of five classes in a row. It became clear that some of the students in the Listening class were already starting to zone out and just stare blankly at the textbook without even trying to listen whenever the CD came on. (Even so, there were still a lot of students actively volunteering.) The teacher came to discuss it with me, and I could just say that the best thing to do would probably be to include non-textbook activities for variation. In particular, I'd like to stress problem areas (words that sound similar, differences in stress, slurred pronunciation, that sort of thing).

Wednesday the students all went on field trips. Since this left me with no classes, I spent most of my day working on my laptop. I also spent about two hours sewing on the sleeves of my yukata and hemming them.

Yesterday, when I had the Listening class again, I started the class with a big brainstorming session. I asked the students "When is listening important?" and "What makes listening hard?" The students mostly stared at me blankly, not having a clue why I was asking them such things. (Teachers are supposed to lecture, right? They're not supposed to ask students for their ideas....) I finished up by pointing at the list of things on the board and saying that we are going to practice LOTS of those things to help them improve. Even if they can only catch one word today, they should be proud of that one word, and maybe next week they'll catch two or three.

I don't know how much of an effect it had, but I thought the students should at least know WHY they're doing the exercises they're given. What I want to do in future lessons is work in "coping strategies" for what to do when you just can't hear or understand what someone else is saying. Right now a lot of them just give up (often even before an exercise starts) and sit there letting the words go right over their heads. I want to give them tools to pick up at least some meaning from what's being said. The team teacher agreed that we could do a non-textbook activity about once every two weeks (that's every fourth lesson).

Now a little rant about the grammar of Japanese politeness )
Friday I finished up two of my remaining three classes, and then the third was cancelled. So I was looking at having nothing next week but working on my yukata. (I sewed the two front panels to the body. It's getting there.)

Then the teacher next to me asked if I could join her for two classes next week. Supposedly this is because her students wanted to have a "conversation" class, which they don't currently get. (They're not English majors.) I said, "Sure...could you ask each student to come prepared with one thing to say?" (It's hard to get a conversation going when no one has a clue what to talk about.) The first of the two classes would be Tuesday, so I figured if they got the message on Monday, that would give them overnight to think up one thing to say.

Her response...that would be too hard. Instead, she suggested that I write up a bunch of questions beforehand and bring them to the class, and we could play a hot potato game where the "potato" would be a box full of the questions. Whoever got stuck with the box would have to draw and ask a question. Now, this is a perfectly good game, and I have no problem doing so. But here's my beef: These are second-year high school students, which means they've been taking English as a mandatory subject for five years. FIVE YEARS. And coming up with one thing to say when given a day to think about it is TOO HARD.

Excuse me?

Granted, they're not English majors. But even a student who hates English with a passion should, after five years, be able to come up with something such as "What sports do you like?" if given a day to think about it. Heck, I only took French for a few weeks back in middle school well over a decade ago, and I could at least come up with one sentence if I had to. (I couldn't spell it, mind you, but I could say it.)

Yet they can't. Or, rather, the teachers believe that they can't, and thus never ask them to try.

I probably wouldn't have ranted so much about this, except I just started reading a Japanese novel this morning. It's set in New York, and the main character is a young Japanese man who gets accidentally knocked unconscious. As he's coming to, he hears two people talking about him and wondering whether he's Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, since they can't tell by looking at him. The suggestion is to get him to talk, because "If he talks fast, he's Chinese, if he talks loudly, he's Korean, and if his English sucks, he's Japanese."

There are many, many Japanese people who speak good English. Yet it's always discouraging to see what's going on behind-the-scenes in the education field and to realize that the situation could be so much *better*.
For my first period class this morning, I saw my team teacher head out of the faculty room a couple minutes early, so I knew we had class. As soon as the bell rang, I walked to the seminar room. Door locked. No teacher. No students.

I went downstairs to the language lab, in case he had moved class there (which he's done before). No teacher. No students.

I checked the seminar room again, in case someone had gone up the exterior staircase and entered on the fourth floor. No dice. Finally, as I was about to head back to the faculty room, a student came to fetch me. Seems we were having the lesson in their homeroom classroom.

I say again: Thanks for telling me.

My guest lesson went all right. When we got to the Apples to Apples part, they got the hang of it rather quickly. So quickly, in fact, that after a couple rounds, they started getting into the snarky aspect of it. That is, they would choose words for the humor value rather than the literal meaning. Example: A team is supposed to judge which noun most closely matches the adjective "tall." Given the choice between "mountain" and "pizza," they discard "mountain" as too obvious and choose "pizza" instead. The little stinkers. (Gee, they play just like native speakers.)

I will now list yet another challenge of being an ALT: being asked to explain something that one does not actually know. Today in one class the students were given fragments of newspaper headlines and asked to complete them. My team teacher says to me...

Teacher: Tell them the rules.
Me: ...?
Teacher: Tell them the rules.
Me: ...Rules?
Teacher: Such as, they have to write in present tense.
Me: ...That's a rule?

I took an entire year of journalism in high school and was the co-editor of the school paper another year, and I never knew headlines had rules. I think we just kind of went by what sounded good.

Afterward, a person from the International Exchange group stopped by to ask me some questions about translating a letter from the Lenawee Intermediate School District. I was able to set her straight about LISD not being synonymous with "Lenawee Middle Schools," but I couldn't for the life of me tell her what the exact Japanese translation would be. I just don't have that kind of vocabulary. ^_^;
My first period class was apparently canceled due to a kanji exam that was postponed from yesterday. Not that anyone bothered to tell me. I got kind of suspicious when my team teacher didn't go ahead to the classroom as usual, but he's done that a couple times before, so I shrugged and walked to the classroom. It was locked, with no students anywhere around. I waited a minute or so and went back to the faculty room, and *then* my team teacher said, "Oh, sorry, no class today." Thanks.

My guest lesson went reasonably well. One thing that kind of irritates me is that Japanese teachers have really low expectations for their students when it comes to English. (I don't know if they say similar things about other subjects.) As I was walking to the classroom, the team teacher said, "The students don't like...they hate English, so if they can just have a good time with you, that's fine."

I started off with the introduction activity. I wrote ten true/false statements about myself on the board. The students, broken up into teams, had to try to guess whether each statement was true or false. I started with the first team, reading the first statement and asking them "true" or "false," accompanying each word with the Japanese hand gesture (a circle for true, an X for false). I was standing right in front of the students, so I could hear one of them in the group explaining to the others what they were supposed to do. As they pondered, the team teacher spoke up, "They don't know what to do, so I should tell them in Japanese." Way to trust in their abilities. ^_^;

I just urged them to decide on an answer, repeating "true" or "false" with hand gestures, and they finally agreed on a response. Once I wrote their answer on the board, the rest of the class could clearly tell what was expected of them, and soon they were all enthusiastically yelling out "true" or "false." I find that it's really common for Japanese teachers to want to translate things immediately, thinking the English is "too hard" for the students, but I also find that most of the time the students can figure things out for themselves if given little hints like hand gestures...and if it's clear they're not going to be spoon-fed the answer in Japanese.

After school, several students actually showed up for English club for a change. They used the opportunity to beg me to say something in Japanese "because it's a shame you went to all the trouble to learn it yet we never hear you use it." They didn't stop at that, however; they wanted to get me to say something in the local dialect, Kansai-ben.

Student A: Say wakarahen ("I don't know").
Student B: Say wakarahen wa.
Me: <snicker>
<students lay the accent on thick>
Student A: Say wakaraheeen wa.
Student B: Say wakarrrrahen wa.
Me: <convulses with laughter>

They wanted to know what accent I picked up with my Japanese and asked where I learned it. I told them I learned it in Niigata, but that I only learned to read there, not to speak. I never spoke more than a couple words at a time until I went to JCMU last year.

Challenges

Jan. 28th, 2005 05:58 pm
Sniffling and coughing were rampant today, among both the students and the faculty. I sincerely hope I don't catch anything.

I thought I'd mention a couple challenges about being an ALT. The first one is trying to correct student writing that is almost--but not quite--right. Of course, the sentences that are pure incomprehensible gibberish are hard too, but for those I can just put a question mark and take off points. In contrast, cases where the sentence is technically correct yet doesn't fit the context can be quite puzzling, because I feel the need to write something constructive.

For example: In a story detailing the tragic romance between a teacher and high school student, just at the point where it looks like they might start dating, the teacher character says, "Can you go without me?" I had to ponder that one for some time before I figured out that the student meant "Will you go out with me?"

Today in class, the students were supposed to write questions that might be asked at an interview. One student came up with: "Please tell me how to use your money." ...Okay, grammatically correct, but not what one might expect to hear from an interviewer. Luckily, in this case, I had overheard her say in Japanese what she intended to write, which was "Please tell me how you handle money."

Then there's the challenge of trying to write on the board what the team teacher is dictating when you can't actually figure out what is being said, without embarrassing the teacher by pointing out that the pronunciation is wrong. During a class in which I was writing the names of famous people on the board, I had this exchange:

Teacher: Soap.
Me: ...?
Teacher: The swimmer, Soap.
Me: ...? ←never pays much attention to sports
Teacher: The Olympic champion swimmer, Ian Soap.
Me: <hears the faint tinkle of a bell> Ah, Ian Thorpe. <hopes desperately that the guess is correct>

I was invited to work for a few more minutes on my yukata today, so I took the opportunity to snap some pictures of what I've gotten done so far. (The sewing teacher then proceeded to take some pictures of me working on it.) Apparently I hold the fabric incorrectly when I hem...it's supposed to be held horizontally, allowing you to sew from right to left, whereas I hold it vertically (the same way I hold yarn when I crochet) and work bottom to top.

Yukata--body )

After I finished my last class of the day, I got really sleepy. To prevent myself from collapsing in a doze at my desk, I started munching on the leftover Halloween chocolate that's been sitting in my desk drawer. When I did so, I discovered something that, as far as I'm concerned, really takes the cake when it comes to bizarre candy: Melon Choco. Now, Japan has something called Melon Bread that is essentially sweet bread in the shape of half a melon; it doesn't actually taste like melon. I thought perhaps this chocolate would be similar. Yet to my surprise, it was exactly what it promised, chocolate that looked and tasted like cantaloupe.

What will they think of next?
When I left off working on my yukata sleeve last time, it looked like this diagram: right sides together, with the yellow line machine-stitched and the purple dotted line hand-stitched (the ends of the threads left dangling).

The next step is to form the curve of the sleeve. Place a cardboard cutout that matches the arc of the curve just slightly inside the yellow line and fold the material over it, pinning it in place at either end of the curve. Pull the ends of the hand-stitched threads to gather the corner. Iron the gathered material and then lightly backstitch the gathers in place. Remove the cardboard cutout.

After that, it's time to hem the wrist opening. Fold the edge of the fabric over twice to make a narrow hem and sew it with stitches roughly 1cm (~3/8") apart.

I was pretty slow at hemming the wrist opening, so I only managed to finish one sleeve by the end of the hour.

In other news, today was my last day of classes for the year. I still have to go in to work tomorrow, but there aren't any classes, just cleaning and an assembly.

<random linguistic musing>
One of the teachers who went on the Australia trip asked me whether "asthma" had "the" in front of it when explaining one's medical condition. I didn't think much of it at the time, but this morning I pondered it further. We have a number of conditions that use "the" in front of them, such as "I have the measles" and "I have the flu," yet we have a number that don't use "the" in front of them, such as "I have chicken pox" and "I have pneumonia." I tried to figure out whether there was any kind of pattern, such as severity of the disease, but nothing came to me. How is a non-native speaker to know whether to use "the" or not?
I intended to study a lot yesterday. Really, I did. But the zipper on my one pair of cream-colored pants broke, so I decided that since I needed groceries anyway I would shop for a new pair. I bought the original one when I was in Niigata, so I figured I should be able to find something similar without too much trouble.

...Boy, was I wrong. I could find the right color in a sweater or a jacket, sure. Skirts they had in abundance. But after searching at least three different stores, I came to the conclusion that there was not a single pair of cream or ivory pants in all of Moriyama. Thus my futile search came to a conclusion and I returned home, whereupon I was promptly struck with a craving for potato curry. There was nothing for it but to make some. (...Which left me with another sinkful of dishes. Why do all the things I like to eat use so many pots and pans to make? Why?!)

In essence, I didn't get around to studying until after supper. But at least it was a really GOOD supper.

I got up this morning at about 4:30. I didn't need to, of course, but once my eyes were open I knew I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep. I caught an early train to Kyoto and made it to the testing site with plenty of time to spare. One detail I found interesting: the test-takers (at least for level 1) were overwhelmingly Asian. I think there were only about three other non-Asian faces in the room with me. (I did see a lot more outside after the test got out...perhaps they were all in the lower levels?)

Blow by blow of the exam )

After the test, I caught a bus to Kyoto Station and went shopping in the underground mall, figuring that if I couldn't find a pair of pants to my liking there, they don't exist in the entire country. It was rough searching. I found one pair that was almost what I wanted, though slightly too yellowish, but it was priced at $80. Yeaouch. Finally I located a single pair that wasn't quite the style I was hoping for but was at least the right color...and, more importantly, a decent price. So, yay.

While shopping, I was entranced by a store selling clothes from the Hitoshi Tamura Collection. The gown up front on display was absolutely gorgeous...kind of like Faire garb made out of kimono fabric. None of the clothes had price tags on them, which was a sign to me that they were probably WAY out of my price range. I ran a web search on the designer, but didn't turn up anything other than that there was a Hitoshi Tamura fashion show in Canada back in 1997.
A rather ominous report on the student interpersonal relationship front: During the morning faculty meeting, one of the teachers announced that someone found a note reading "Die!" They don't know who wrote it, apparently, but they're quite concerned.

Now I'm going to take a moment to talk about essays. One of my third-year classes, with 26 students, has a writing practice lesson once a week. At the end of the class, they print out their work and turn it in to my team-teacher. He has been collecting these papers for about three weeks now. Yesterday, when he mentioned that there would be a short writing portion on the mid-term exam, the students protested that they hadn't received their essays back with corrections yet. Fair enough.

So, this morning, I find two weeks' worth of essays stacked on my desk with a note asking me to grade them.

Okay, I don't have a problem with grading student essays. That's part of what I'm here to do. But if you're going to have me grade them, don't hoard them for several weeks and then dump them on my desk at the last minute. Sheesh. You're just lucky today was my lightest schedule.

I did, in fact, enjoy reading the students' papers, which included the "scary story" assignment from before Halloween and an essay about favorite seasons. There were even some lines that really brightened my morning.

And, in New Years day we get OTOSHIDAMA from our grand parents and aunts and ankles.
I wish my ankles were that generous.

Some people say that they like winter better for some reason but I hate the cold winter. It makes my nose runny or plagued. I hate that feeling.
I totally agree. The plague is the worst.

I was particularly impressed by this student, who valiantly sticks with this sentence until the bitter end:
Also in winter time when I go shopping by bike, I have to wear really thick and heavy clothes and when I get the place, inside the building, it would be really hot so I have to take off my jacket or whatever that I wear and the jacket makes trouble because I have to hold a lot of stuff that I bought and the jacket!

And on a completely unrelated note, as I was trying to find out if there was a special nautical term for the steering wheel of a ship (my English vanishes in unexpected ways, so sometimes I think there must be a word for something, but I can't for the life of me remember what it is)... You know you've been in Japan too long when you are flipping through the dictionary and spot the heading "rubricate," and your brain automatically switches the "r" for "l."

Then, in my fairytale class, three students performed the sock-check upon entering the room. Wow, it's contagious.

I also feel I should mention, these girls can be really sharp. We're currently doing "Rapunzel," with which only one or two had been familiar. Upon hearing the part about the witch climbing up Rapunzel's hair, one of the girls immediately protested, "Hey, wait, if the witch could use magic to make the tower and put Rapunzel in it, why does she need to climb up her hair to get in?"

Good question. "Maybe the magic method is very hard?" I speculate. Harder than climbing twenty yards straight up supported only by a braided rope of hair? (Is it here I should mention I like the Koori no Mamono version *so* much better? Or is that too fangirly of me?)
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