Friday, September 2, 2011

Teach Teach Teach Teach!

Congratulations on becoming the owner of a slightly-used (though still very capable) ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). A few guidelines to ensure that your ALT stays happy, healthy, and won't experience an emotional breakdown in the middle of use.

1) Be sure to give your ALT plenty of water.
* Chances are your ALT is from a much drier climate and not used to these hot and humid summers in Japan. Be sure to sprinkle them with water from time to time to ensure proper hydration.

2) Occasionally interpret what the other teachers/faculty/staff are saying around the ALT.
* Even if we're diligently studying Japanese on our own, the fact of the matter is we'll never be native speakers. It can be really intimidating having a bunch of people talking around and about you with no idea of what's being said.

3) Let your ALT know what s/he can do better in the class.
* You spend more time with your students and are therefore much more in touch with their needs. If the ALT isn't really connecting with the students, help them out. It will be much appreciated!

4) Don't forget to feed your ALT!
* Even though your ALT comes from a far off land, they're really no different from you! They also need plenty of nutrients in order to function properly. And much like you, they get these nutrients from eating. It's true, many ALTs even like the same foods that you like. Try giving them some nori or even some natto. You'll be surprised what a hungry gaijin will eat!

5) Lastly, be sure to let your ALT know when it's time to go home.
* Many ALTs are unsure or even unaware of cultural norms when it comes to leaving school. Though they are teaching assistants they aren't regular teachers and so they don't work the same hours. You need to let your ALT know it's OK for them to return to their domicile to rest before their next day teaching. If you don't, they may end up never leaving, and you don't want to find a dead ALT in the broom closet 6 months from now do you? I didn't think so...

If you follow these steps, you'll have a happy and genki ALT for a long time to come. I guarantee it.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Another Test

Shinjuku at night. Taken with Hipstamatic app.

An Email Test

My carriage to work.

I'm just testing the email feature for the blog.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

One Year and Counting...

Hello. This could be our first time meeting, and if it is I'd like to extend a warm greeting your way. Or perhaps you've read all my previous blogs and you've been wondering where I've been this past year and a half. Maybe you thought that I joined an ancient band of immortal ronin and was busy wandering the Japan countryside helping peasants escape the tyrannical grasp of evil bureaucratic tyrants who govern small villages with a clenched, draconian. tyrannical fist. Or perhaps, though unlikely, you forgot this blog existed. Fair enough. I haven't really been doing my job updating it. But if that's the case then I'd like to ask you a question, dear reader...

WHERE WERE YOU? Were you waiting with bated breath, updating this page every 10 minutes waiting for an update? Did you lose your job because you couldn't drag yourself out of bed because you were so distraught over not getting your daily (weekly? monthly??) fix of me in Japan. And if not then why weren't you?

Well, now there's no excuse. I'M BACK. And now I have more to say and this thing is going to blow up like a firecracker in a cupcake. That is to say... I'll be updating it more frequently... I hope.

Anyways, I just finally posted a couple of blogs that I had saved as drafts. I swear looking at this thing I have more drafts than actual posts. What up with that? Also, I need to trim my nails. All this typing is making that painfully apparent.

I need some food.


PS: I do stand up now...

Flashback, China (中国)

EDIT: Yet another unfinished post from November 2009

Now most of you won't know this because really in a room of 20 people you know have been to China? OK put your hands down. Now of you remaining few, how many have actually ventured outside of a major metropolitan area? Both of you? That's what I thought, just me.

Anyways, Chinese people love stairs. That may sound weird but just hang with me. OK, as an example what do you find when you go hiking in America or Canada? Trees and dirt right? If you were to climb to the top of the Sierra Nevadas you would just find more dirt to stand on. Well not so in China. Try it. Go to any of China's sacred mountains, far removed from society and near the corner of Fucking and Nowhere and you will see stairs. Big. Heavy. Concrete. Stairs. Now many of you might be wondering, and rightfully so, "How did those stairs get there?" Great question! On the backs of people far less fortunate than you. I cannot fathom how long it must've taken or even why, but at some point in the past (or possibly last week) some Chinese official thought it was a good idea to have a set of stairs going from the parking lot to the top of Mt. Huashan. All the way. You will never touch dirt. Seriously, it's crazy.

So where am I going with all this talk of stairs? Back in the Summer of 2007 my cousin, Jake, got lost up in the wilderness of Wudang. How? I dunno, he just disappeared one day. Something about joining the Wu-Tang Clan or enlightment... Something... Oh yeah he wanted to find a swimming hole. The night he went missing my brother, a few friends, and myself headed out in the middle of the China night (which is fucking DARK for the inquisitive folks out there) to look for him. We searched high and low. Off the beaten path and on.

Now for the majority of this adventure we were on sidewalks and stairs. Again, we were up in the mountains of China. On a holy mountain no less. The birthplace of Tai Chi some say. It is tall and huge and has many dangerous switchbacks which make navigating very difficult (and dangerous), especially when you're clueless and lost in the dark.

Luckily though we had paths to follow. Well sorta. At one point we ended up on the side of a cliff (stairs provided) in some meditation hut that was overhanging nothing. I mean there was nothing there. But some poor soul had built an entire staircase there. Thanks guy!

After not finding Jake up there we decided to head back. Though we had spent most of the evening talking and trying to decide what on earth to do once we found my cousin (hug him? hit him? scream at him for worrying us so? thank the Gods for guiding him and us to safety?). Eventually we all simultaneously decided to be silent. We walked back down the path following the walkway we had taken up there and walked in perfect silence for about 45 minutes or so. After about an hour I suddenly came out of a sort of walking trance and stopped. Looking around I had no idea where we were. Now you may be thinking "Duh, you're in Chinese back country!" but what I mean is we had wound up somewhere we hadn't been yet. We all looked around and we were halfway up some other staircase far, far away from where we were supposed to be. It was like we'd been teleported to some other side of the mountain and none of us knew how we'd gotten there or how long it had been since we left the last cave.

Now this may not seem like such a big deal to you. People get lost all the time and it's easy to just keep walking especially when your mind is off thinking about something else. But this was 5 people who all zoned out and kept walking at the same time. That was what was so weird about it. We all none of us knew how we'd gotten there or where we were. Luckily we were still on a concrete path so all we had to do was follow it back about 2km back to where we recognized something (a public bathroom no less, the Chinese like to have their creature comforts in the middle of the wilderness). After a bit more trekking we managed to make it back to our hotel around 3 in the morning.

We spent the next 2 days in a similar fashion. Not so much late night getting lost but more walking around the hilltop throughout the day. Following every path, beaten or otherwise, trying to find any trace of my cousin. We even resorted to using the extensive PA system that went all over the mountain to send out a call hoping that Jake would hear it and find his way back (at that point we still didn't know if he was truly lost or just having a laugh somewhere in the mountains). Anyways, at the end of the 1st day we decided to post fliers everywhere with his picture and an offer for a very substantial reward. Many people saw this and came up giving us all sorts of random information that wasn't useful hoping to cash in on what we were offering.

I should mention that the whole reason we were in China was because my brother ran a tour company from 2003-2008 brining people to China to go to many mystical places and mediate and do Tai Chi. It was great and I had a lot of fun getting to see a part of China that most people never see.So the end of the tour brought us to WuDang for a 2 week meditation course. Jake got lost 3 days before the course was supposed to end and we were to head back to Beijing before going home.

So the day before we're supposed to leave WuDang mountain and go back we're walking around looking for clues and putting up fliers when a man excitedly runs up to me. He starts pointing to this shop and motioning me to go with him. I coudln't possibly fathom what he was so excited about and he kept pointing to the sign with my cousin's picture and then to a man standing outside the shop with a phone. I was confused by all this when the guy handed me the phone. I was expecting to hear some thick Chinese accent asking me about the flier, I was expecting a policeman telling me they had my cousin's body, I was expecting about a million things. What I was not expecting was "Hello? This is Jake, who's this?" It was my cousin's voice. I just burst into tears. "Jake! Dude! This is Will! Shit man, where are you?!"

As we later found out my cousin had indeed gotten lost looking for a swimming hole at the bottom of this ravine. He wandered for almost 3 days without food or water (save for some roots he found and a spring that he got some water from) until he finally saw a light shining off of a hilltop. It was a temple. The only temple in about a 10km radius from where he was. If he hadn't seen it he would have died of either exposure or lack of water or from some wild animal attacking him. But he made it back to us. And there was much rejoicing.

Anyways, as with all stories there's more to this one. But I'm tired and don't feel like typing more. I'm glad my cousin is safe and sound and I'm glad this is all behind us. It's one hell of a story though. Maybe when I get home I'll post a picture of him from after we got him back. It was crazy how much weight he lost in just 3 days.


EDIT: This was originally written in November 2010 but for some reason I never finished it. Well I just did. So here it is.

I would say that arcades in America are starting to look like your 98 year old grandfather on life support. He's hardly breathing, not really moving, definitely not going anywhere, the only people who come to see him are you and the other family members you guilt tripped into making the drive to the hospice, and really you're just sitting there wondering how it got to be this way and what you could have done differently. Maybe if you had encouraged Gramps to go to yoga he'd still be walking. Or maybe you should have just pushed him down the stairs a month ago and prevented him from ever making it to this vegetative state.

Likewise arcades in Japan are more similar to an Olympic stadium. Filled with athletes in the peak of their physical condition; running, jumping, pole vaulting, and doing other crazy physics defying maneuvers all the while being watched by millions of adoring fans. It's exciting to watch and even more exciting to join in.

I went to a Taito game arcade (game center) in Shinjuku with some friends the other day. The thing was 8 stories (2 basement, 6 above ground) of video games. There were fighting games, puzzle games, classic arcade games, rhythm games, UFO cathers, and collectible card game machines that I didn't quite understand. It was insane. Not only was the place huge, but it was PACKED. From top to bottom there were people plunking in quarters (really 100 yen coins but what do you call those?) and queuing up to beat each other senseless. It was awesome.

I spent the first hour or so watching my friends get pummeled by the locals at Street Fighter IV. My friends play plenty back home in the states and they do fairly well. But here in Japan they feed their children video game steroids from infancy so they can become world class gamers by the time they graduate high school. Satisfied that neither of my friends was ever going to win a match I decided to head upstairs to check out the rhythm game section.

On the 5th floor I saw an old familiar friend, Beatmania. Back in the late 90's (long before DDR and Guitar Hero became popular in the States) I was a huge fan of the whole Bemani line of games that Konami was putting out. They had Guitar Freaks, Beatmania, and I think some singing game. They were all musical in nature and really paved the way for this current generation of music/rhythm games that are becoming so popular. I think the last time I was in Japan (1999) I probably spent roughly $200 on Beatmania 4th Mix. A day.. Yeah I was a teeny bit addicted...

Anyways, I figured after 10 years I couldn't be THAT rusty and stepped up to the machine ready to start off on Normal Mode (bah! training mode is for sissies!). Well the old Betmania had 5 buttons and a scratch pad. This version had graduated to 7 buttons and the scratch pad. The songs were also a lot harder. Standing there trying desperately to figure out where my hands were supposed to go and failing my first 3 songs was a rather humbling experience. So I decided to back up a bit and switch to Beginner. Meanwhile a Japanese kid gets on the machine next to me and starts playing. Or I think he was. I really can't say what happened exactly. See on my screen there were one or two little bars floating gently down the screen corresponding with the keys I was supposed to hit once they reached the bottom. The kid next to me was staring at a monitor filled with color and flashing lights flying so quickly across the screen I thought he might have been having a seizure as he was smashing buttons so quickly. Lo and behold however when his results screen came up, he was awarded an "A" (because video games are the equivalent of school in Japan and so you must be graded). What was my grade? An E. I quit.

But I walked around a bit more. I was simply awed by how many people where here on a weekday enjoying themselves. There were even a few couples on dates. I don't think I'd ever consider taking a date to an arcade in America, not simply because there are hardly any left I just don't think I know many girls who would think that was a good way to spend an evening. There were also a fair number of single women there. Now please understand, I'm not being sexist here, but women are a very underrepresented portion of the American gaming community. There aren't that many (that we know of) and the few that are there are usually marginalized into some stereotype of people who can't actually play games well but only do so to meet boys.

Anyways, it was an interesting look into video game culture in Japan. It's really not surprising considering that the modern video game were born here in Japan. But I have to say, being someone who was raised in arcades in America it makes me a little sad and jealous knowing that our arcade culture is slowly disappearing.

Christmas in Japan

Living in the future has it's advantages and disadvantages. You get things sooner (video games, weekends,

EDIT (2011-8-14): This post was originally written on Christmas Day 2010. I don't remember what I was thinking. But I can tell you this, I spent Christmas Eve drinking cheap rum alone in my apartment. There's even a vlog about it...

Yeah... So I don't know how I would have ended the above sentence. I'd probably say something like you also get depressed a lot sooner, seeing as how god-awful lonely this place gets at times.

That's why we have cheap rum.