Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in Japan

I’m not going to lie, I found this very difficult. This is maybe the second time I’ve felt the pain of homesickness, and it’s not nice. Working on Christmas day, getting up, putting a suit on, no presents, no church, it all felt very odd. I made Christmas cards for the year 5 and year 6 children who didn’t receive one from Britain; I have to say it was nice to be able to give someone a card on Christmas day. I would have liked to have spent the evening with some English speaking mates who could possibly understand why Christmas is so important, but the end of year staff party got in the way.

I don’t dread these affairs as I did on first arriving. At first these were horribly difficult, wanting to make an impression but linguistically limited, wanting to be my normal overly boisterous self but confined by wariness of cultural differences.

However on Christmas day I solved both these problems by getting SERIOUSLY drunk.

If I could remember what happened I’m sure it would make fantastic reading, but sadly my memory only goes as far as a whisky drinking competition, that I seem to remember winning. I may have won that battle, but Suntory pure malt 10 year old won the war. I was informed the next day that apparently I had been ruffling people’s hair, kissing them on the cheek and assuring them that I did in fact love them. Which was jolly nice of me.

After waking up at 4.30am on Boxing day I was able to exchange presents with people at home over skype, which along with the 50 Christmas cards my kids had made me adorning my wall, gave me a generous injection of Christmas spirit. I got a man city away shirt with cooke sensei written on the back!

All in all then, a pretty good Christmas. I would say it was one I’d never forget but I’m already down by 9 hours as it is.


Snowboarding and Japanese Penises (or penii)

Now this is why I came to Japan. Not the penises, snowboarding. Yashima skijo isn’t the biggest ski area ever, but its local and one is able to strap oneself to bits of wood and go down a hill very fast. Fabulous.

Twas the Saturday before Christmas, and Yashima skijo opened its doors for the first time! Myself and Dougras ventured onto the foothills of Mount Chokai and had a time that could best be described as ‘just lovely’. As anticipated, I was by far the most incompetent participant, but at the end emerged with bones intact, a few bruises and mountain rescue were only called out after me once.

Naturally a day’s snowboarding took its toll on my muscles, and I needed a hot bath to get them working again. My apartment bath is not big enough, but happily there is a geothermally heated hot spring about 5 minutes walk from my apartment! Perfect. Also by cheerful coincidence nudity is compulsory, so I get to expose my genitals to Japanese men with no legal repercussions.

Modesty is obviously an issue here. For those unaccustomed to parading their love vegetables in front of strangers it can be a daunting prospect, regardless of how cucumberesque your phallus may be. The key is to strut. Easier for some than others, but waggle your sex sausage in the face of a judging Japanese crowd and all is right with the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Cultural Observation

Now because it's funny, and no one can understand me anyway so there's no harm, I am occasionally prone to walking into classrooms and stating loudly something along the lines of: 'I am Mr Cooke thy lord and master, bow before my muscular knowledge of English Grammar'.

Thing is though being bowed at all the time does strange things to your ego. Imagine being a teacher in a british school, and as you walk along the corridor a student bowing and saying 'thank you for your hard work'. While this is obviously normal in Japan, I can't help but think that it's fkin awesome, and actually yeh, I do deserve thanks for the 5 hours I spent on facebook today. If you think that was tough you should have seen the hard graft I put in browsing youtube earlier.

Another example of the fabulous levels of politeness to which I am witness when a student enters the staffroom they have to bow before saying 'I am being rude', then when they leave they say 'I have been rude'.

Yeh damn right you have! Now get out of my face, I'm playing online scrabble.

Poisoning, snow, and the kitchen bitch

There's something quite satisfying about sitting in a toasty office and watching snow cover the world outside. However I was not entirely reassured when my question 'is this gas heating safe? there's a funny smell', was answered with 'maybe not safe, but... very cheap!'. Oh well that's just fine then. We're all going to die and I haven't even taught my awesome cheese rolling lesson to every class yet.

Those who speak to me on a regular basis will be well aware of my over excitabilty regarding snow, and in particular snowboarding. I don't have a huge amount of experience but I remain confident that bucketfuls of enthusiasm and a healthy disregard for my own wellbeing will see me racing down the slopes in no time. However the ephemeral nature of the snowfall around Honjo thus far has meant that the opening of my local piste has been delayed! Something which I am naturally PHUMING about.

Since my last entry my controversial teaching methods have yielded yet more success. All students at Yashima primary school now know the English for 'big banana'. They also now know the location of a variety of international cities, and whenever they didnt know their ignorance was punished by their peers striking a big inflatable banana on their head. What Cooke Sensei's lessons lack in educational value, they make up for in the quantity of inflatable fruit used.

At Yuri primary school I was an enthusiastic participant in cookery class, and a group of year 5 students taught me to make miso soup. Essentially it was just me being bossed around a kitchen by 8 year olds (well drilled in the instructions in english) telling me to PUT THE WATER IN THE PAN!' BOIL THE WATER!' CHOP THE RADISH!' CHOP THE TOFU!' PUT IT IN THE PAN!' HOW'S THE TASTE?!'.

Derishus actually. And I had to wear a denim bandana for some reason. I think they were just trying to make me look silly while I became the 8 year olds kitchen bitch.

Aphter a good snowphall look phorward to pictures of phil's many snowboarding pitphalls and misadphentures!


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Snow, snowballs, and inflatable bananas

Snow in the quantities I've been enjoying in akita seems to provoke different reactions from different people. Some of my colleagues assume an air of annoyance, emitting groans of disappointment when they see that fluffy white stuff falling from the sky, ruining their drive home. The friendly local North Americans used to this weather approach it in a nonchalant manner indicative of their familiarity with it. Owen the irishman complains about the cold cos he's just a total pansy. British children confronted with this amount of powdery white stuff would be an uncontrollable 4 foot tall blob of excitement. I am a 6 foot tall blob of excitement. Japanese children do not respond with that level of enthusiasm, obviously due to the huge amounts of snowfall every year in akita.

So basically the most childish reaction to akitan snowfall is probably mine. At my primary schools I sit at my desk slowly becoming insanely jealous of the 7 year olds making snowmen in the playground. So much so that one week ago after finishing a stuttering conversation in japanese with the year 2 teacher at Yashima Primary school, I put on my coat, gloves, and a wooly hat (my mum says it'll keep me warm), ran outside and threw a snowball at a 6 year old's head. I have never been chased so fast by so many 6 year olds in my life. By sheer weight of numbers I was defeated, but I swear I took at least some down with me. A noble fight.

The ongoing violence between me and the students then leaked into the classroom, where I had the brilliant idea of bringing an inflatable banana into a classroom setting. These children are excitable enough at the best of times but inflatable fruit tipped them over the edge.

"Janken" is the japanese name for rock scissors paper. After showing them how to play the game with english words I pitted the kids against each other in a deadly janken battle. I say deadly, basically the game consisted of the winner being allowed to hit the loser with an inflatable banana.

Then Cooke sensei got in on the act. I challenged a few students to beat me at rock paper scissors. My tournament started well, 3 consecutive wins, but coming up against the bounciest 8 year old I have ever seen I knew I was in for a battle (seriously he just wouldn't stop jumping, was a bit like teaching a kangaroo who's had a bit too much ice cream). To rapturous applause from his peers Cooke sensei was defeated. The bouncy marsupial then took up the banana with due gusto but I wasnt just going to accept a beating from my own banana. As I ran around the classroom hiding behind desks this haagen dazs fuelled infant pursued me seemingly energised by the immense volume of his own screams.

There are moments teaching as an ALT that you really wonder if you're having an impact. When yet another class of bizarrely world weary 15 year olds greets your every english sentence with confused glances to their friends, when your role in a classroom is reduced to little more than a human tape recorder, it can be difficult. Every now and again though, I see some real progress that I know I was responsible for, and that makes it worthwhile.

And when you hear 40 laughing children as a screaming 8 year old pursues you armed with an inflatable banana, you know your life went seriously right somewhere.

Oh no, my cola!

The brief I am given to teach varies hugely from school to school. At my main primary school I'm given lesson plans and teaching materials, all very easy. At my other primary school I feel my main duty is to entertain, so as to maybe engender an enthusiasm for learning english when they start lessons at Junior High School.

At my Junior High School I am teaching from an arguably unfit for purpose textbook. Take this dialogue for instance, and try to work out what specific target language it's trying to teach.

Let's have lunch.
All right.
Oh no, my cola! I don't have any tissues. Do you have any?
No, but I have a handkerchief. Here, use this.

Believe it or not the students are actually supposed to grasp from this duologue a decent concept of 'let's...' (followed by the verb). Absolute joke.

Having said that if they go to an english speaking country and they have lunch and their cola falls over and they don't have any tissues but they're with a friend and the friend has a handkerchief, they will know EXACTLY what to say.

Basically my main message here would be next time you see a Japanese person having a picnic, run over and push their drink over. Watch in wonder as education becomes relevant. They'll thank you for it.

Stay Phragrant.

Snow #1

2 weeks since the last update! A travesty for which I can only apologise.

Firstly I would like to express my love for a machine that has made my introduction to an akitan winter much more comfortable. My kerosene heater is possibly the sexiest machine on the planet.

Winter in akita arrived very suddenly. From a comfortable 10 degrees two days later I could see my own breath as I lay in bed, trying to guess the exact time of night my nipples would just give up and fall off. However I still have nipples, and after a bit of kerosene magic my bedroom reaches a temperature that could reasonably be described as 'RIGHT TOASTEH'.

There are issues with the whole carbon monoxide poisoning thing. That would be bad. But a life without nipples? Too horrible to contemplate? I'll leave you with that quandry brog readers.

Stay Phabulous.