Monday, June 29, 2009

Mount Chokai

Yesterday I climbed Mount Chokai! Note enormousness, although there wasn't quite that much snow up there yesterday.

The enormous volcano that I can see from my desk at work everyday has now finally been conquered! I have to say I was rather chuffed with myself, though rather annoyed that despite liberally applying 2 coats of factor 30 suncream and most of the day being spent under cloud, I managed to become entirely strawberrified. Which hurts.

Anyway the best part of the climb was the part of the descent in this video! Enjoy!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flags, Smurfs, and Worldy Revelations

“Kukku Sensei, Jaaji wa takusu heben desu ne. Gyunyu oishii!”

For readers who ne parlez pas japonnais, the above roughly translates as “so Mr Cooke, Jersey is a tax haven huh? But the milk’s good!”. This is one of the more obscure cultural observations my colleagues have made. Some revelations regarding foreign culture hit home with great aplomb amongst students and teachers alike, as seemingly the most interesting thing they have ever learnt. Others which I have assumed will promote great interest have been met with zero enthusiasm.

It’s difficult to judge what aspects of my worldly knowledge to impart in order to elicit the best response. Last year I had a friend visit who was hugely into Japanese popular culture; she loved anime and manga, had a huge knowledge of all things “nippon a la mode”, had even organised Japanese cultural expositions in London. She had more in common with my students than I ever will, and yet my typically teenage students were totally unmoved by her tales of cosplay and knowledge of manga, anime and Studio Ghibli films. She showed pictures of herself dressed as various cartoon characters that the students knew, and yet bizarrely this failed to get any reaction. This is something of a stereotype, but Japanese fads or culture being exported abroad and being approved of by a global public is normally something of interest to the Japanese. And yet my students were bored rigid. (No offence Jessie, I found it interesting!)

Today I was teaching “names of countries” to students one year younger than those who had remained so indifferent to my friend’s tales of Japaneseness abroad. I was explaining to the students the definition of “United Kingdom” To aid in this tale I drew the flags of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I then explained that if you put all these flags together, a union flag appears! What happened next was, if you’ll pardon my french, un petit peu ****ing weird.

As enlightenment spread across their faces, as they realised that the Union flag was three flags in one, their jaws slowly dropped. There were gasps of astonishment, excited yelps and cries of delight, and then a student at the back rose to his feet and began to clap. Soon his friends followed his example, rising to their feet in spontaneous applause, the sheer wonder of three flags combined as one overwhelming them, as within 20 seconds 38 students were on their feet, hands clasping and unclasping rapidly in rapturous applause, some with jaws locked open in awestruck amazement. Twas almost enough to make a bitter expat feel rather patriotic.


Or were they taking the piss? You decide.

Also if those bitter xenophobes in the SNP get their way and Scotland gains complete independence from Westminster, will the blue part of the union jack remain? Colours are a very significant part of the British flag; “there ain’t no black in the union jack” was a famous slogan of the racist national front. Remove the blue in the union jack and we all know what will happen. WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE SMURFS?! It’s up to you Scotland. I’ll be smurfing angry if it happens.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It begins again...

A New School Year! And once more the strange large foreign man with the orange hair is sentenced to sitting at his desk for a month with (if you'll pardon my french) sweet fuck tous to do. The main points of interest for any budding JET surrounding the month of April are as follows:

1. You will have even less than usual to do. Occupying your time effectively is vital for one's sanity, and as such I would recommend either getting really good at online computer games (I've scored 556 on this!!) or applying your imagination to more relevant world problems. You may have heard that the Japanese navy was recently deployed to the seas neighbouring my prefecture to defend Japan by shooting down any debris/rockets from the North Korean "satellite launch". What actually happened was they realised I wasn't doing anything at work, so they sent me down to the beach with a tennis ball and a good throwing arm, and let's just say that the next day I had a slightly sore arm but you may have noticed World War III did not happen. You're all welcome.

2. Whilst having very little to do, it is very easy to miss the various end of year/start of year ceremonies at which your attendance is most certainly required. Be careful with dress code in this case; I was surprised with the timing of one such ceremony, and in front of 150 uniformed students, with some female teachers in kimonos and male teachers in their smartest suits, I somewhat stood out from the crowd in my eyecatching combo of adidas tracksuit trousers and ketchup stained Manchester City shirt.

3. One of the more unusual aspects of the Japanese education system takes place in April, whereby around a third of the school staff will be sent to different schools in the district, the idea being that teachers (over the length of their careers) will have a fair share of good/bad schools, and that by chopping and changing on an annual basis students will have a fair share of good/bad teachers. On a more personal note, this educational merry go round means you can lose some of your best/friendliest colleagues (as happened to me in my first year here), or equally it can result in the pruning of individuals who you may think less of (as happened this year, RESULT!)

The various ceremonies surrounding the leaving of new teachers (the ceremony I was wearing a man city shirt at) the arrival of new teachers, and finally the arrival of new students, are the very height of tedium. Speeches in a language I don't understand, (and the bits I do understand seem to be 5 minute discussions about the weather) followed by lots of bowing, the singing of various anthems, bowing at local city officials on the way in and out, and trying not to fall asleep because snoring would look bad.

The one ceremony that is entirely worth attending is the Primary School "Entrance Ceremony" at which all the new six year old pupils are welcomed to their new life, with plenty of fuss and much ado. Now I don't want to get excessively girly about this, but this is simply the cutest ceremony in the history of civilisation. They're just so SMALL! And the boys wear suits and the girls wear dresses and they look like big people like OMG it's sooooooooooo cute!!!!

It won't last obviously. Children have a tendency to grow up, and 7 years from now the wonderfully energetic 6 and 7 year olds I have taught this year will be quiet teenagers desperate not to stand out from the group. Equally while the little suits and dresses were undoubtedly adorable, it was very strange as someone who has taught this age group for nearly 18 months, to see pupils this age so well mannered, so perfectly quiet and behaved. No doubt though within a few weeks, this shyness will be overcome, and Cooke Sensei will once again become the human climbing frame we all know and love, and the little boys in suits who were so well behaved in front of parents and other teachers, will be trying to stick their fingers up my bottom. The circle of life continues.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cracked Ribs and Friendly Nurses: Part Two

Before I begin I would like to offer readers the chance to reaquaint yourself with the story so far, scroll down the page for part one! Apologies if any of the below is inaccurate, the pain slightly clouds my memory of events.

And now, the saga continues...

...and starts to get a bit silly.

I arrived at the hospital hunched in the car, my screams echoing around the inside of the vehicle as my ribs seemed to crack with the slightest bump in the road. The car drew to a halt in the ambulance bay outside the hospital's emergency entrance, and a wheelchair was pushed to the side of the car. I exhaled to reduce the risk of another crack, got out of the car and screamed again as my chest crunched. I shuffled into the entrance out of the cold, the door closed behind me, and I was now in the hands of the Japanese public healthcare system.

Waiting in the A&E department I was confronted with two nurses sympathetic to my plight. Now I haven't trained as a Japanese nurse (chances are I never will), but I'm fairly sure they had at least one class a week in which a lecturer stood at the front of the class and said "awwwwwww" in a very sympathetic manner, then encouraged the class to do the same. The first 15 minutes of my treatment consisted of one nurse (Nurse #1) saying "awwwwww" at me every time I winced, groaned, or screamed in agony. The other nurse (Nurse #2) was clearly more qualified, having taken her "awwwww"ing to another level completely. Every time I screamed she would precisely mimic the rhythm and pitch of my screams, so the dialogue would go something like this:

Me: ARRRRGH aaaaa aa aaa fuck
Nurse: awwwwww aww aw aww awww!!!!
Nurse: awwww aww awww awwww!!!!
Nurse: aww aww awwwww aww awwwwww awww!

And so it continued for 15 minutes, me issuing bellows of fundamental agony, the nurse putting one hand on my shoulder and whimpering sympathetic echoes of every scream, my friends stifling giggles in the background.

Finally the doctor arrived, and the issue of pain relief could be addressed in a manner beyond soothing feminine whimpers. The nurse gestured a jabbing motion at her own bottom, which I assumed indicated a painkilling injection. There was nothing I wanted more, had I been physically able I would have bent over and proffered both cheeks for sweet sweet pain relief. After a brief discussion with the doctor a syringe was fetched, and pain relief was adminstered enthusiastically by Nurse #2, who then took a break from whimpering to massage my arse (supposedly with some cloth to stop the bleeding from the injection) for what seemed like an uneccessarily long amount of time. As this was happening the doctor told us we were waiting for the duty radiologist to come in, then while one nurse massaged my arse the other took over chief whimpering duties.

When the radiologist arrived I began a slow painful shuffle towards the x-ray room, escorted by Nurse#2, who by now had become hugely curious about what me and my friends were doing in Japan, gesturing towards me and asking Amelie "Is he your fiancé?". She was clearly impressed by my stoic attitude towards pain and was now after some phil loving. Not appropriate when I'm in crippling pain, but flattering nevertheless. After the x-ray I began one more shuffle back to A&E where despite my continued agony (the painkillers having had little to no effect) the conversation turned onto subjects that were more familiar. Owen's big foreign nose, my big foreign hair, and the shocking revelation that Alex was my little brother.

Nurse#2: But they can't be brothers, they have different hair colour!
Amelie: Yeh they're brothers, it's quite common for family members to have different coloured hair.
Nurse#2: eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee * takes deep breath* eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Cultural exchanges aside, there was still the minor issue of my unbearable agony. I was given tablets that had no effect, the injection had barely dulled the pain, and there was no way I could get to sleep in this level of agony.

Nurse#2 then took me towards the corner of the room, pulled the curtains round to give us some privacy, and started taking my trousers down. Given by this point I was fairly sure she had the hots for me, someone who is familiar with the basic tenets of pornography would have this story ending in only one way "Oh, I'll give you pain relief..." etc. Happily (because I have a girlfriend who I love very much and complains about not being mentioned in blogs, hello Rachel) this was not what the nurse had in mind.

She snapped on some white medical gloves and started opening a small packet with a torpedo shaped object inside. My friends had realised what was happening a long time ago, and at this point had hidden in the corridor and were laughing their sympathetic little heads off, proving once and for all that anal suppositories are the funniest pain relief treatment in the world. Seconds later I was bent over and very much not enjoying the intimate attentions of a nurse who at one point during her exploratory examination actually uttered the words "where is it?". I might be foreign but everything is still in a perfectly normal place thankyou very much! Instructions to "rerax" were not easy to follow as the ridiculousness of the situation took hold, and laughing with broken ribs whilst being violated by a japanese nurse is not an experience I can recommend.

There was however one more horror that awaited that evening, and amazingly it was not directed towards me. I was given a supply of painkillers, naturally in the form of anal suppositories. However with my lack of flexibility I would obviously not be able to take these drugs myself. The doctor turned to my little brother who bravely refused to show in his face the horror of the task which had just been assigned to him, and accepted a handful of disposable gloves with admirable indifference.

We were given a proper send off as the staff expressed amazement that foreigners would drive a Japanese car, the radiologist pointing out that "hey the one with the broken ribs has got a big nose too!" and inspecting the tyres of owen's car with great interest for no apparent reason.

For everyone else, this trip to the hospital was a hilarious diversion from the routine of daily life, but I'm in no hurry to do it again. I missed out on 2 snowboarding holidays and 6 weeks of boarding at my local slopes, and couldn't get out of bed unaided for a fortnight, but I hope readers will be pleased to know I am now nearly fully recovered. My little brother was also very pleased to know that the next morning I managed to take the painkiller myself, and as discussed in the Fire and Ice entry, the holiday was awesome.

Philster Out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cracked Ribs and Friendly Nurses: Part One

I paused before the jump. I'd done it 20 times before, yet was still a relative novice at flinging myself into the air while strapped to my snowboard. I adjusted my helmet, jumped to my feet, and twisted to point my board down the hill. The floodlights beaming down on my last run of the night, the adrenaline and nerves beginning to coarse through my veins, I set the board flat upon the ice for maximum speed. I hit the base of the jump at pace, the board hurtling upwards with the slope of the jump, before the ground disappeared beneath me, and board and rider were flung into the night air one last time.

The board came back down onto the icy surface at an angle. I compensated, and pressed my heels into the back of the board, my board now perpendicular to the slope, my front facing downhill. I can't be 100% sure about what occurred next. Maybe I hit a lump of ice. Maybe my muscles gave way, and couldn't keep enough pressure on the back of the board. Whatever happened, the result was emphatic. My board flipped from heel-edge to toe-edge, and my body was hurled forward. My speed had not abated from the pace at which I hurled myself off the jump, and there was no time to get my arms out to break my fall. My face and chest bore the entire impact as my body smashed into the ice, the air instantly forced from my lungs as my body rolled, bounced and thudded to a halt.

I screamed, and yet remained completely silent. My lungs were empty, and yet I kept screaming, my face an expression of fundamental agony, but still no sound escaped. After what felt like an age (but was probably mere seconds) my lungs filled with air again, and my screams were audible to anyone within a 5000 mile radius. My face burnt as I looked around for red blood on white snow.

Surprisingly quickly, I stood upright again and boarded carefully to the bottom of the hill. I dismounted the board and took a few minutes to compose myself. I got into the car with surprising ease, and drove home, the pain easing the whole time. I stepped out of the car and there came a sickening crack from within my own chest. This time I had no problems in screaming at the top of my voice, though the scream just seemed to elongate the pain.

Now I am not a man with a high pain threshold. I will readily admit this. Pain is rubbish, and in my opinion best avoided. But seriously, compared to what I went through that night, childbirth is like a nice walk in the park with pretty flowers and a picnic then an ice cream with sprinkles.

Convinced for some reason that the hospital was not open until the following morning, I put my efforts into working up the courage to get into bed. Every step around the apartment was taken gingerly, as seemingly at random intervals my chest would crack, there would be another huge scream, and the pain would take longer to subside each time. I knew the biggest most painful crack would come if I tried to lie down, and using all my courage I whined that "I need f***ing painkillers right f***ing now!" A few phonecalls enquiring after suitable drugs resulted in the discovery that Honjo Hospital did actually have provision for an out of hours service, and as Amelie and Owen arrived I bravely took 20 minutes getting into the passenger seat of Owen's car. A few minutes of slow careful driving later, and the car drew up at Honjo Hospital. And that's when the fun really started!

Tune in next week to find out why you if a pretty nurse guides you behind a curtain and takes your trousers down, the events that follow might not be as fun as mainstream pornography would have you believe...