Sunday, June 28, 2009

No Shoes Allowed

In Japan, you're expected to take off your shoes anytime you enter a building. OK, cool. Thailand was like that. But the Japanese take it one step further: you're expected to put on slippers and place your shoes facing in the right direction. There are all sorts of little rules about where you can and can't put them. At school, there are little cubbies full of slippers (a misleading term, since they're more like sandals than slippers), and you're expected to wear one of the community pairs.

Now, I think public shoes are gross. Also, they're not comfortable or cute. And if you don't do it right, people chase after you to "help" you fit right in. Anyway, I bought some cute little socks (I saw a Japanese woman do it first!) to wear instead of shoes, and even though I still get chased after, I put my foot down. No community shoes for me.

I think the slipper-socks are a fair cultural compromise, especially since I only wear them at school.

Thursday, June 25, 2009



I'm finally on YouTube. More to come... (link in sidebar)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Eulogy for Buddy the Kitten

Last weekend our neighbor John found a stray kitten in the park. It was weak and skinny and its eyes were puffy with infection. In an act of compassion, John brought the kitten home, fed it, took it to the vet, and nursed it back to health. Within a few days its eyes cleared up and it started scampering around, attacking phantom prey, and doing its best to sneak in any apartment door that was open for more than a few seconds.

Today a cat from the neighborhood killed the kitten. We had a small funeral and buried it in the back yard.

The kitten didn't have an official name yet. Christin called him Kit Cat. I called him Mr. Kitty Britches. Everyone Japanese called him Kawaii (cute). John was leaning towards naming him Buddy, because that's what he liked to call him.

Even though he was only around for a short time, everyone in the building fell in love with Buddy. Every time he saw you he would scamper right up and clumsily fall all over your feet. He always followed wherever I went, accompanying me to the corner store and the post office, and he even helped me take out the trash. He was a tough cat to shake, and I have a feeling his memory will be the same way.

Goodbye, Mr. Kitty Britches.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Funny Things about our Apartment

When I arrived in Japan, my employers had an apartment waiting for us as part of my contract. Having read that Japanese apartments are all tiny studios, I had expected something much smaller than what we actually got. Our place here is pretty OK, it has a bedroom, a kitchen, a living/dining room, an office, a laundry room, and a special place to leave our shoes before coming in. That said, it's not without it's little quirks.


The first surprise was the bedroom. It's made out of traditional Japanese flooring, called tatami. It's basically a bunch of semi-squishy woven straw mats arranged on the floor in a pattern that doesn't totally make sense to me. Then came the "bed." The Japanese don't actually sleep on beds per se, but on what they call a futon. It's really just a foldable cushion that you lay on the floor, not the fold-into-a-bed-couch thing that we call a futon back home. Since that wasn't really all that comfortable by itself, I layered a whole lot of blankets on top of them to make it softer.

At least the floor is kinda bouncy

The next strange thing is the toilet. The top of the tank is a sink, and the water drains into the toilet tank to be flushed later on. So it basically works like this: you flush, the water starts flowing through the faucet automatically, and drains into the tank. That's the water that will flush into the toilet the next time you use it. You can't actually use that sink without flushing the toilet though, so if you just need to wash your hands, you have to do it somewhere else.

For the record, I didn't pick that polka dot thing

The symbols on the flusher say, "big" and "little"

Then comes the table. It's really low. It looks like a coffee table, but it's actually the dinner table/winter foot warmer. You either sit on the ground or a tiny chair to eat at it. Then, the top comes off and there's an electric heater underneath so that come wintertime you can put a blanket between the table top and the table frame that will trap heat below it and keep your feet warm. Since we don't have central heating, that'll be pretty nice in the winter.

Coming to Japan? Better learn to use chopsticks.

Lastly, we don't have a dryer. So what I called our office is really an office/clothes drying room.

Who needs curtains when you have laundry?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Only 1 week to go...

It's been a while since the last post, but I've been hella busy. The CELTA ain't no joke. (That's the kind of English usage they encourage in teachers.)

Here's my daily routine:

7am: wake up, take a shower, eat some bananas

8am: leave the hotel, grab a ca fe deng (black coffee) from the little cart out front, turn down a couple of moto drivers and newspaper sellers, walk to school

8:30ish: get to school, check my email and see if Christin has sent anything, maybe take care of any last minute stuff for my lesson

9am: class starts, I either teach a 40 minute lesson or watch the other teachers teach for 2 hours and make notes about how they're fudgin' it up

11am: feedback time, I either grill the other teachers or get grilled myself for an hour

noon: lunch, go to the vegetarian food stall, point to the stuff that I've figured out is good, eat it while I watch some Chinese kung-fu soap opera in Vietnamese, pay 13,000 dong (75 cents), grab a fresh squeezed juice on my way back to school

1pm: input session, we get taught how to teach for an hour and a half, I try not to fall asleep, I should have gotten a coffee

2:30pm: 15 minute break, I check my email to see if Christin has sent anything

2:45pm: another input session, I'm getting antsy

4:30pm: guided lesson planning, I ask my tutor any questions I have about my lesson for the next day

5pm: I work on my lesson plans or written assignments at the school until either 9:30pm or whenever I get hungry, usually 9:30pm

9:30pm or whenever I get hungry: I eat dinner at a Vietnamese veg place for less than 2 bucks, sometimes I splurge and get Indian food for $4.50

after that until 11pm: talk to Christin on Gmail video chat until the internet cafe closes

11pm: go back to the hotel and try to fall asleep, hug the extra pillow

I'm almost done. One more week and I'll be a qualified teacher. Then I ain't wasting any time. My flight to Tokyo leaves the night I finish the course. 3 weeks is too long. I miss my wife.