Monthly Archives: December 2015

That Thing Which You Knew Would Happen But Denied

If I survive tomorrow, I probably won’t emerged unscathed. Luckily, I’ve already had enough children.

You see, I’m going to teach at an elementary school tomorrow.

The best way to describe why what’s going to happen tomorrow is going to happen is “drip, drip, drip”. Five years ago or so, the company for which I work started tweaking the way they do things.

Prior to five years ago or so, one of the perks of the job (in fact, the only real bonus we got) was summers off with full pay. (That’s the 6-8 week Japanese school year summer.) However, a few years ago, we got a schedule with something called “work days” listed through out the summer.

After a short protest, we were assured it was nothing applicable to us at the school where I work. The very next year, it was applicable and we were required to produce some kind of work: we could produce lesson plans or teaching materials or we could work at NGOs not related to the company. (Which some of us did.)

If we didn’t do any of those things, we were expected to take a paid holiday or we wouldn’t get paid for the day.

As time went on, the rules for submission got more and more complicated, sometimes requiring multiple submissions, and we had an extra layer of fake management put between us and the real management. (Long story; short version: firewalls.) We also started having training sessions one time, then two times and now three times a year with the higher tier fake management. The training sessions are always scheduled during times we might be tempted to sneak off for a vacation.

The newest rules tell us we have to actually be in Japan, on call and ready to go to work and if we are not called we are then expected to produce the lesson plan, etc. and that the material and/or the reports can’t be sent in before noon. This essentially traps us in our homes in the morning during what used to be days off.

The final drip occurred this month when they finally insisted we do substitutions at other schools. I’d told them that, since we didn’t have a choice, they could at least respect our seniority by giving us a week’s notice rather than calling us up and sending us out at the last minute.

In their defense, that’s what they did, but the way it was done was via drip, drip, drip too. (In a nutshell: an email, a call to say we’d be on stand-by; a second call with “oh by the way, there is a morning assignment” and then an email with “thanks for agreeing to work all day at this school”.

I haven’t worked in an elementary school for almost 16 years and I’m not sure they realize I don’t have the materials I think I’m expected to have. My elementary school self-defense reflexes are also rusty, so I hope I remember enough karate to keep myself safe.

If I survive unscathed, I’ll have some time off to consider the future. Just to make sure, I’ve already requested a paid holiday in January on a day I know it’s most likely I’d be sent out as a substitute.

When Things Don’t Work the Way They Work

The thing I like about Apple products is that they update quickly without much effort on the part of the user. You get a pop-up that says “Dude, there’s like this update available but if you don’t want it now that’s cool, because you can just like download it and keep in like your collection until you’re like ready to get to know it.” (Something like that.)

Granted, the updates aren’t always good ideas–which the download dude always denies by saying that, like, maybe I’m not cool enough for the update, you know; just saying–but at least everything that can update does.

I bring this up because today, against my better judgement (as if I had anything resembling “judgment” no less “better”), I decided to update my laptop and my netbook to Windows 10. I wanted to do this before I attempted to update my desktop computer to see how much effort and/or swearing will be involved and if the update is actually worth the effort.

I clicked all the icons that said “Get Windows 10” and then watched while a bunch of white dots spun around and around and around but not much else happened. I tried starting the process over but simply got more dots. After staring at the dots for a while I suddenly found myself feeling happy and calm and realized the spinning dots were probably an attempt to hypnotize me into thinking that Windows 10 had been installed and was awesome. I managed to look away and thus saved myself.

Eventually, after three restarts, five windows trying to do the same kind of nothing at the same time and several well chosen swear words, I got Windows 10 installed on my oldest laptop. I haven’t had a chance to use it much, but I like the looks of it thus far.

The problem is the netbook. It has a tendency to hang up during updates and, also technically, it doesn’t have the upgrade icon. I am therefore attempting to update something that might not be ready for the update.

This will not stop me from trying. (I got the netbook for almost free–all it cost me was a curry lunch–so I’m not too worried about messing it up.) It’s already had issues and I’m on my second restart.

I think I’ll practice some Japanese swear words, just in case.

The Train is Stronger than the Speech

Today’s speech contest started with a half hour delay. A train line that doesn’t even reach the school where I work stopped working for a while and that slowed things down.

Strangely enough, I arrived early and texted everyone else and a few minutes later two of everyone else arrived and I delivered the message personally. We then had that awkward moment where they checked their phones and thanked me for sending them the message.

Eventually the speeches began and for complicated reasons I was scheduled to be head judge for the first set of speeches (the JHS 3s/9th graders) and then demoted to ordinary judge for the second set of speeches (the JHS 1s/7th graders). I actually like being ordinary judge because that means I have no responsibilities. (More on that later.)

The main thing I liked about the speeches in this contest was that I don’t teach those grades this year which means I haven’t heard the same speech again and again. This meant I got to hear them fresh (granted, we have been using the same topics for 15 years but, well, yeah, I hadn’t heard them recently).

During the first set of speeches, as head judge, I had to stand up, read certificates, hand out certificates, shake hands, give a coherent speech (not always easy for me to do) and pose for pictures.

For the second set of speeches all I had to do was stay awake.

The problem was, for the second set of speeches the top three speeches of the first set of speeches were added to the program. Since the winning speech was almost five minutes long this added a lot of time to the already delayed speeches. (Oddly, the winner actually did better the second time, the second and third place winners did worse.)

Luckily, I was able to leave before the hunger games started. The hunger games were the third set of speeches (the JHS 2s/8th graders). They were being pushed back into lunch time and would have to listen to the top speeches from the first two sets of speeches. Being 8th graders they are naturally restless. Add in hunger and I’ll bet it got dangerous.

I’ve heard from one of the judges since then. I’m not sure what happened to the other one.



A Long Time to Decide to go to the Theater Far Far Away

Note: Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers Not Included

Tonight theaters across Japan premiered Star Wars: The Force Awakens at 6:30 p.m. Tickets have been on sale for weeks but I, of course, waited until a couple hours before the show to decide if I was going or not.

The catch was if I would take the family or not. This presented a couple problems: The girls haven’t seen the original movies and didn’t seem keen on seeing the new one. My plan for them to watch all the movies in the  “Machete Order” (A New Hope; The Empire Strikes Back; Attack of the Clones; Revenge of the Sith; Return of the Jedi; or by episode number: 4-5-2-3-6; never watch episode 1) was treated as if I’d just assigned them two books worth of algebra homework.

Then, at two hours before the movie, I logged on to the local theater website and saw that the premiere showing was still open. At that point, She Who Must Be Obeyed said that although she’d be interested in going, she hadn’t seen all the movies either even though I’m pretty sure that was in our marriage vows: love, honor, cherish, memorize Star Wars lines. After several minutes of discussions about discussions, I decided to go ahead and go, family or no, but promised to report on if it was worth taking the girls to see on Sunday.

(The whole time I was doing this I was remembering a friend’s warning that seeing the new Star Wars series would be like a second marriage: the triumph of hope over experience.)

There was then a few minutes of wrestling with the website–which timed me out at one point and then sold the seat I wanted out from under me. I managed to reserve a ticket and then tried to figure out how to get the tickets once I got to the theater. By the time all that was finished, it was time to go.

I got out the door without my reading glasses but that turned out to not be a big deal. The ticket machine was painless as all I had to do was push two touch-screen buttons and hold my phone up to a reader so the machine could read the QR code I’d been sent in an email. The machine printed a ticket and a receipt and all I had to do was not lose the ticket.

I admit to having a teenaged thrill about going to see a new Star Wars movie and couldn’t resist getting the large popcorn, which turned out to be a proper large and not a Japanese large which means I’ve had my carbs for the rest of this year and part of the next. I was surprised that the theater didn’t sell out and disappointed only one fan had a light saber. (He seemed surprised too and turned it off right away.) There was a good mix of people my age and younger. No one was in costume.

Then the lights went out and there were no previews. Instead we got the Lucas Film Logo and “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” And then there was that pause and then that punch of music with the Star Wars logo and I was kid again for a little while.


Paper Work You Don’t Work For

Lately there have been some strange issues at the school where I work.

The new department head, after struggling with the arrangement that involves all the native speaker staff working at the school but not for the school and therefore having to deal with people she’s never met (shockingly long story) has suddenly become serious about paperwork.

The school where I work still does a lot of things old school, including using Optical Character Recognition bubble sheet forms for final marks and not processing any marks until all the marks are turned in. They are also fans of paperwork.

Several times a year we get forms we are expected to fill out and turn in by certain dates. The problem is, the forms are usually in Japanese and are unnecessarily complicated despite having small spaces for writing. If the forms aren’t turned in, someone usually contacts one of us and we quickly fill out the form and turn it in.

Lately, though, the new department head has become quite forceful about the paper work. Even forms that aren’t applicable–for example, the form for students who will fail because of too many absences–must be turned in even if the form just has a scribbled “NA” on it. She’s been confronting us rather snarkily in the office about the forms and we find the forms, fill them out and turn them in.

Today we were admonished that “all forms must be turned in”. The problem is that we technically don’t work for her and she’s not supposed to be able to give us orders. If we did work for her, I most likely wouldn’t accept being treated that way and would be rather snarky back.

We play along, mostly because we want the school to hire us direct, but I feel a confrontation coming on when her end of year pressure meets our end of year stress.

Hopefully it won’t be me. Unfortunately, the odds are not in my favor.

MUJI Passport Memo Notepads–End of Books Review

One of the dangers of living in Japan, at least if you love pens and stationery, is that everywhere you go, there’s a shop full of stuff you didn’t know you needed, but suddenly can’t live with out. Because that is how I felt about She Who Must Be Obeyed, I feel that buying things from these shops expresses my love for her.

Something like that.

One of the more dangerous stores is MUJI (which is the no-brand “brand” in the same way Naomi Klein is the no-logo “brand”) which is an eclectic shop that features a mix of electronics, fashion, furniture, food, and stationery. Its stationery section is usually small, but they like to sell odd things you can’t find other places.

One time I stopped by “simply out of curiosity” I found three small notebooks for about a dollar each that I couldn’t resist. They were the Passport Memo (パスポートメモ) Notepads.

The three Passport Notepad colors.

The three Passport Notepad colors. Blue is dot grid; green is graph; red is blank.

They are the same size as US passports and come in three colors with off-white paper in three different patterns. Blue has a dot grid; green has graph paper; and red has blank pages. They easily fit in a Midori Traveler’s Passport sized notebook cover. The cover says they have 24 pages, but if you count front and back, they have 48 pages.

The three different paper styles.

The three different paper styles.

The covers are reasonably sturdy card stock and have a thin plastic coating that holds up well to being carried in pockets.

The paper (which is described as “recycled paper more than 10%”) is good but not particularly fountain pen friendly. It reminded me a lot of Moleskine paper but for a much smaller price. It had a lot of ghosting and wetter nibs had a lot of bleed through and spotting. I also found that, although there wasn’t much feathering, everything I wrote looked a bit rough around the edges, especially with wet nibs. That said, I didn’t mind using them and managed to use every page front and back with little trouble.

I wouldn’t mind picking up some more, and would recommend them to people looking for a useful, small notebook. Unfortunately I have several other notebooks to try.


The Short Unhappy Life of Doomed Things

I used to own a sweater that was doomed. Now I own a pencil that was doomed. The sweater was a white cotton sweater that actually fit me but which suffered from three different spills, including two with coffee, one of which came right after the first spill had been cleaned and involved me colliding in a doorway with a person carrying the coffee.

Doomed things are not cursed things. Cursed things bring disaster to the owner. Doomed things merely end up getting damaged themselves and being tossed out quickly. Their lives are so miserable you don’t even worry about the sunk costs. The third disaster ruined the sweater and I threw it away (eventually); except for some personal embarrassment, I was unharmed.

I now own a doomed pencil. Actually, I own what’s left of it. Several months ago, taking advantage of sales points on a point card, I acquired a Rotring 600 mechanical pencil. I thought it was a bit slim but it was comfortable enough that I started using it as my regular work pencil.

Within the first month of using it, it fell out of my pocket and the lead tube bent to an impressive 30 degrees. I managed to straighten it out and make the pencil usable again, but it still wasn’t quite straight.

Then, a month after that, the eraser cap flew off when I was using it, sending me scrambling on the floor in the middle of class to find it as if it were a lost nickel or a contact lens. That part was the most annoying as it didn’t really seem attached to the pen and I ended up squeezing it with pliers to make it stay on the pencil.

Finally, about a month after that issue had been resolved, it fell off the podium and the lead tube bent again. This time when I tried to straighten it, it just snapped off leaving me with a pencil that is slightly usable but only if I only click the lead out a little.

There used to be a tube sticking out the end here.

There used to be a tube sticking out the end here.

You can kind of see, if you look closely, the oval shape and the marks from the pliers.

You can kind of see, if you look closely, the cap’s new oval shape and marks from the pliers. I’m amazed I still have it.

Even if it hadn’t been doomed, I was underwhelmed with the Rotring 600. It looks great but is too slender to use for more than taking roll. It also strikes me as a desk pencil and not an every day carry pencil, especially if the cap keeps falling off for no reason. I suspect that if I’d only used it at my desk in my office I might still be using it.

But since it was doomed, it probably would have managed to break itself there too.


The Last at Long Last

The Test Time Continuum reared its ugly head today. In its defense, though, I did distract myself a bit.

I had 78 essays to mark and then had to add up all the scores. My usual routine is: read, decide on a score, doubt the score, skim again, write a score, add up the points, doubt the math, add up the points again, get a different number, add up the points a third time, write the score on the paper. Later, after all essays are read (multiple times) and all marks are ciphered (multiple times) I enter the marks in my spread sheet.

The morning started well: I finished half the exams with little trouble (minus distraction for hanging laundry and random exercise) and then decided to take a break and run to town to get money (it’s payday), lunch and a haircut.

I got the money with no problems and didn’t even have to stand in line. I deposited the rent, although I’m not sure I deposited enough (long story) and then did some window shopping that, oddly, actually included me taking a “grail” pen of my grail list (let’s just say the burnt orange is too light and too yellow for my taste now that I’ve seen it in person). I then tried to decide on a place to eat. This turned out to be complicated.

Because of my low carb rules, I found a place that served something called the “Chicken Chicken” plate, which seemed to feature a lot of chicken. (Granted, it was breaded, but it would fit my carb limits, at least that’s what I told myself.) I went in and got a seat, ordered my “Chicken Chicken” and was informed it wasn’t available (I didn’t catch if it was sold out or just not available because I was too busy screaming “NOOOOOOOOO!”) The only choices available were things I could get elsewhere for cheaper so I got up and left.

The next place I chose had a hamburger steak plate with vegetables and avocado on the side for a reasonable price. I went in and got a seat but when I got the menu, the “California Burger” wasn’t on it. I asked if more choices were available and was told that there were “after 4:00 p.m.” Because I was already running late, I decided to stay and ordered my second choice. It was good, but nothing special.

The next phase was the haircut, which happened surprisingly quickly (and the woman cutting my hair actually got it short enough this time).

At that point, denial was over and I went home to do the last bit of marking. Unfortunately, by taking a couple hours to do errands, I’d walked into the Test Time Continuum and the last batch of exams took longer than I’d planned. When I finally finished the last one, I was relieved, but not as giddy as I usually am.

Scattered and Awesome

My plan was to sneak off to the lobby with the smokers and the bored dads and mark exams. It didn’t quite work that way.

Today was the annual concert for our girls’ piano “club” and a sister club. Dozens of kids of different ages took turns showing off their musical skills (for better and for worse) and the club teachers showed off their musical skills (for better and for worse).

We arrived early and secured seats and I then spent the practice period marking and giving dirty looks back to anyone who gave me dirty looks as I was technically occupying eight seats, including one that never got used (more on that later).

The problem was our girls were scattered around different places in the program which made it impossible for me, as official videographer, to run away. Our youngest closed out the first set with “Dolly’s Dreaming and Awakening” by Theodore Oesten. She Who Must Be Obeyed was worried about this performance as our youngest has inherited my tendency to suck at stuff in practice and then deliver a good performance. (Note: this does not apply to sports other than karate.) Our youngest did a great job with only a couple small mistakes.

She was followed by the piano instructors who showed off their skills on the piano and the Electone (or shockingly high tech electric organ).

I was then informed that I was to record our girls’ piano teacher’s performance and then informed that I’d recorded the wrong performance (despite instructions to do so) and was supposed to record the later piano performance. The problem was this performance came well after our girls duet on “Whole New World” from Aladdin. My plan to run away and mark was thus thwarted.

My father-in-law ended up sitting next to me and he 1) stole my extra leg space (Japanese concert hall seating was designed by the sadist who designs airplane economy class seats) and 2) fell asleep which meant I had to occasionally wake him up.

At the same time, the lady on the other side of the eighth seat seemed angry that it was occupied by exams and not a person.

Our oldest then did a terrific performance of Chopin’s “Puppy Waltz” (aka The Minute Waltz) and that was followed by her playing the piano whilst all the other piano students sang.

As always, our girls rocked, and some of the others were pretty good, too. However, I’m not sure the teachers needed three different performances to show off their piano and electric organ skills. That seemed self-indulgent (he said as he wrote a blog about his life) especially when the performances weren’t always that good.

Next year, I hope they cut back their performances. I also hope they move the whole thing back a week so I can enjoy it without exams.

Last to Know; First to be Blamed

There’s a moment in the horror movie The Strangers when Liv Tyler’s character asks one of the masked home invaders why they were torturing her and her family. The masked invader (known as Dollface) says “Because you were home”.

In my case the answer is “Because you are husband”.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, our girls’ piano teacher and her colleagues schedule a large performance in the middle of December. It falls after the girls’ final exams but before the end of school. This is great for them, but not so great for me as I’m in the middle of marking exams and I lose most of a Sunday by going to see our girls perform for a few minutes.

The last couple years this has been complicated by the arrival of the strangers, er, the in-laws who arrive to see the performance. Last year they stayed at our small apartment and I told She Who Must Be Obeyed to never, ever do that again during exams. This is partly because I’m torn between doing my job and playing gracious host.

Gracious host, however, doesn’t pay that well so I tend to opt for doing my job whilst everyone else has a good time. I then get called out for being rude. My reaction usually is, “I know, I know. Now let me finish marking so I can stop being rude.”

Now, I know you’re thinking “Why don’t you just plan for this and get your marking done early?” First, we don’t control the schedule of the exams so we may not have much time to do our marking before pass back classes. Second, I only found out the in-laws were in-bound last Monday in an “Oh, by the way, did I tell you XYZ?” (I’ve been getting that a lot lately from other sources, too–more on that in another post.)

Granted, they aren’t staying the night, but they did spend the afternoon here and we had a big dinner out. Once again, I got to play the rude host. I did get a lot of marking done, though.