Thursday, February 26, 2009

For Posterity's Sake

I made this video last Thusday night, which means of course more has happened since. However, right now it's 7:36 and I still haven't crawled off my futon to shower and the bus leaves at 8:06. The old update will have to do.
video

And because none of us can get enough of me talking…


video

What's that? More, you ask for which of that?


video

And that is all. It took me about eight years to load, which is why you don't get much of it.


Matta ne!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Economic Commentary

I spent the morning reading news about the economic status of my motherland, and was unsurprised to see that it's going to throw us into further national debt. But what does this mean for the average Joe? Anyone else find it interesting that now that the Democratic party is back in power, government services will actually decrease?

Let me explain. As a nation we are already in debt; one article I read said that it is currently at about $36,000 worth for every man, woman, child, and shemale. This economic stimulus package will put us further into debt. The interest payments alone will be at least $500,000,000,000 (which still ranks the national debt fourth in federal expenditures, after Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and defense). Conclusive evidence is that this will affect us directly in the long run. I my children, and my children's children will likely be paying higher taxes not to provide for further services for those in need, but to pay back countries like China and Saudi Arabia who lent us the money to keep ourselves afloat. At some point our national debt has to decrease, which means that the money we pay to the government will be sent outward. That, or we rest in the palms of other countries.

It's true that the current funding is mostly for projects that would (eventually) benefit the majority of struggling Americans. However, at some point the money that we didn't have in the first place has to be paid back with interest. And I know all about paying back with interest. It's why I'll have to start paying $50 extra each time I chip away at my college loans, just so that I'm not paying more in interest than I am to the actual debt. So what happens to America?

Mind you, I'm no economist. I repeat what I read. Like a literate parrot.


Friday, February 13, 2009

As Time Goes By

I kneel and bow my forehead to the ground in apology, friends and neighbors. I have indeed been lax in my posts. On the upside, I’m more settled into my life in ye olde Japanne. On the downside, you likely have heard nothing about it.

Good news, all. I like my job again. I give credit to the wonderful Christmas vacation I spent in Oklahoma. It was full of family, games, odd sleeping habits, bead buying, throwing Dark Chocolate Hershey’s Kisses at Hannah, and movies. Quantum of Solace product placement: Daniel Craig’s body. I reconnected with my cousins, had quality time with my siblings, and played with my dog. Ah, Christmas time!

Photo courtesy of Michael Wright, and how awesome he is.

I’ve been back in Japan for a month as of today, though it feels like forever. I had one office day after I got back, then it was straight to school. Here’s the last month in brief. And by “brief,” I mean as brief as possible without leaving out the juicy bits. I have broken the highlights into sections for ease of reading.

You’re welcome.

I Like My Job Again
To be honest, if I told you during Christmas that I liked my job, I was probably lying a little bit. I was frustrated, feeling ineffective, and wondering if I could really handle one or two more years of constantly being on my toes. I had talked to some people about feeling ineffective, or about how wearying it was to go to a new school every other day, sometimes without having a clue what I was to be doing.

The good Lord hears our prayers and our worries, kids. Ten days after my return I taught a fairly rowdy class of 2nd year junior high students (8th graders, if you haven’t made the connection). I hammed it up while we sang “Hold On To Your Dreams,” the theme song from The Land Before Time sung by Diana Ross. The teacher and I explained the game, we took volunteers, and practiced giving directions for the rest of the class. “Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the post office?” I think I was reciting this in my sleep for a week.
After class I exited with the teacher, feeling fairly positive that the students had at least reinforced what they had already learned. At least everyone had taken a turn, I figured. Then the teacher turned and thanked me for the class, and I responded with my customary, “Oh, no, it was my pleasure.” Japanese people compliment each other on everything, but can never accept compliments. It’s complicated.

The teacher was insistent, “No, no, thank you. One girl, when you were sing, anno, singing, is the first time I see her—“ the teacher smiled, pointed to her face and chuckled, “her laughing face. She always so, so, quiet.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. I knew I made a complete fool of myself, but at least it was for the greater good, or something like that.

“And,” the teacher continued, “one boy, always so quiet, so shy. When Amy-sensei (my predecessor) asked about countries, he say only so quietly ‘China,’ so quiet. It was the first time he said something in class. This time he was talking!”

I had to give Yamasaki-sensei (and Amy, I suppose) the credit for that. When there were few volunteers to come up and ask for or give directions to me, she picked a student and paired him or her with another. One student talked (Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the Beyonce’s house?), the other student followed the map. Yamasaki-sensei made sure that each student spoke once and followed the map once. Still, it was nice to know that one of those boys managed to speak up while I was there. I hope he wasn’t the kid whose hair I ruffled during the song. Or the one who moved to the other side of the classroom whenever I walked near. I know he wasn’t one of the six who formed a little noisy group to the side, and whom Yamasaki-sensei spent most of her efforts shushing. Either way, this kind of positive feedback totally made up for when I nearly got shoved over by another group of 2nd years and had to yell at them in Japanese. Or when another teacher allowed students to “join” a pair to create 2-person dialogues instead of having a boy and a girl work together or with me. Ah, gender segregation.

To return to the uplifting part, I recount a text message from Phil, a high-school ALT with whom I occasionally ride the bus (we interact more often than that, but it’s a reference point). When I had boarded a bus full of his students, one saw me, turned to her friends and said in English, “Oh! Look!” I pretended not to have heard them, but immediately whipped out my phone to let Phil know. A few days later Phil texted me to say that he heard some of my students talking about English on the train. He said no more than that, so I didn’t know which students they were, or about what they had talked. I figured it was probably that they hated English and the idiot ALT.

I had been to three out of my four schools and had taught each 2nd year class about giving and taking directions. They had trouble with distinguishing left from right (as I did in Japanese), so I taught them an age-old trick. Hold up your hands in front of you with your index and thumbs sticking out. Whichever makes the L is left.

Phil and I met up again when the Kameoka JETs got together for Friday Night Arrested Development and Love Shuffle. I finally asked him what my students were talking about.

“Oh,” said he, “something about right and left, like holding up your hands to tell which is which.”

I started jumping up and down. “I taught them that! That was me! I showed them right and left! I did it!”

Postive reinforcement. Thanks, Japan.

Even today, when I nearly lost my voice from trying to talk over a bunch of 1st graders, when I got my butt slapped, pinched, punched, and my lady business grabbed (and you had best believe I did not take that lightly), I still can honestly day that I had a great day at school. I got to know the vice-principal a little bit when he drove me back to the city hall, too. Apparently he farms in his free time because he makes his own umeshu and gave me a turnip the size of my face (see left). So overall it was awesome.

The Piano Ordeal
I was given multiple gift certificates to Amazon.com for Christmas, and after checking the USPS and Amazon shipping policies and rates for such an item, I decided to buy a keyboard. The way the dollar compared to the yen at the time, buying the keyboard in America and shipping it overseas was still less expensive than purchasing the same model in Japan. I waited anxiously for it to arrive, and nearly wet myself in excitement when it did.

Unfortunately I was forced to leave the keyboard behind when I returned to my country of residence. I was sure, after repeatedly checking the websites for information, that our good USPS would ship the instrument to me for a little less than one hundred dollars (mind you, I was still saving money). My father informed me that the website is a liar, and that USPS indeed will not ship bulky, heavy objects. UPS and FedEx will, but only if I sell them my soul and the soul of my firstborn. Twasn’t happening.

I’ll be honest. I was depressed. I had nearly broken myself lugging every single piano book I owned/my indulgent father gave me back to Japan, and now I had nowhere to play. Occasionally during a free period at school I would ask for use of the music room, but more often than not the room was in use, or the music teacher was busy and had the key.

The keyboard was returned and I waited on a refund. In the meantime I dusted off the catalogue given to me by the music shop down the street and scoured the second-hand shops. I had all but given up, wondering if the refund money would buy me a ticket to Thailand for Golden Week in May. Then I went to a 2nd hand shop on Monday and found…for the low low price of approximately $98…a full sized Casio digital piano!

Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Yaaaaaaay!

I debated for a moment because the keys were unweighted, it’s larger than what I originally wanted, and there’s no middle pedal or metronome, but the price and availability couldn’t be beat. It was delivered to my house on Wednesday. And I practiced. Oh, I practiced. I also downloaded a free metronome application to my iPod, so that worked out just fine. I still want a better keyboard, but my faith has been renewed in the second-hand system. Piano!

Love
I have no love life. No, Grandma, I don’t have a boyfriend yet. Don’t act so surprised.

However:

My fellow Kameoka JET Liz and I had oft discussed the hilarity of the Japanese use of the English word, “Love.” When pronounced in Japanese, it sounds like, “rabu,” with the r sound being a l said with the middle of the tongue rather than the tip. Usually it is said twice, as in, “Laian-sensei! I rabu rabu you! Yay!” I mentioned once that it would make a good techno song, and Liz and I henceforth would collaborate on a list of things that we “rabu rabu,” such as cheesecake, gloves, Wesley Snipes, and Apple.

I attempted to create a techno beat using Garage Band, but the technological side of the music industry stumped me. Barron knows how to do this, I thought, and resolved to ask him to create a basic beat during Christmas vacation. I did, and being the hero he is, my brother happened to have all his recording equipment with him at home. I’m guessing it was to protect it from possible thievery while he was away from his home (Barron, feel free to confirm or deny), but it sure turned out handy.

Barron had me lay down some phat tracks, using his fancy equipment and software to make a base beat out of my voice, and, after firmly telling me, “You suck when you don’t try,” recorded everything we needed to put together the best worst song in history. I consulted with Margaret and Liz through email to get lyrics, but the voice is mine and the producing and mixing is all Barron.

The current state of affairs is as follows: The song is finished and entitled “Love Love,”
 by the artists Psudonym (me) and Sobriquet (Barron), on the someday-forthcoming album DD. Figure out that pronunciation, geniuses. Liz and I have filmed about 2/3 of the music video (see public service announcement below for further information on how that went), we’re looking at dates to continue filming the parts with the rest of the cast and dancers. Then there’s the editing and producing, all Liz’s field. I have no idea when this will be complete, but it’ll be at least another month. If you beg, I’ll try to figure out how to shove the song onto the blog. That’s slightly labor intensive, though, so you’d either need to beg really hard or wait for the awesomeness of the video, which will make the song a lot more understandable. Who knows, if this takes off and everyone on the Internet loves me, I might consider a career change. I just want to bring joy to the masses.

Public Service Announcement:
Attention, all suspenders-wearers! 

Please, before attaching your suspenders to your waistband, ensure that the suspenders are of a proper length. Suspenders of an improper length can be extremely hazardous to your health. Suspenders stretched too tightly over the back and shoulders may come loose. The metal ends can be dangerous to the eyes, face, and skin. When removing tight suspenders, always wear protective eye gear such as goggles, sunglasses, or eyeglasses with scratch-protected lenses. When unfastening your suspenders grasp the strap close to the fastener with one hand, then unclip the faster with the other. Keep hold of the strap until you have lifted it past your face. Repeat with the other strap and fastener.

Warning! If unfastened improperly, metal clasp may hit you in the eye and cause redness, soreness, or even serious injury!