Sunday, August 06, 2006

6th August

Things are alright. It’s all peaks and troughs, but it appears to be averaging out.

Here are some highlights from the past few days. This is a long entry but I have broken it up into handy themed paragraphs for ease of consumption (ie because you are all lazy):

1. Small Victories.

I wasn’t looking forward to Friday, largely due to one particular class containing an 8 year-old boy who every teacher has sent out at some point.

Notes from the last teacher suggested: “give him a chance” and “get to know him” along with other liberal platitudes. Sure enough, within the first 5 minutes he was diving on the floor, shouting, throwing and fighting.

Now, we’re not supposed to use words or vocab we haven’t yet already introduced in class, but nevertheless he understood when I said: “You carry on messing me about and you’ll be out”.

He wasn’t too bad after that. And they actually appeared to understand what I taught them. me: 1, kids: 0.

Actually, if we’re keeping score it’s more like - me: 1, kids 47

But that’s one more than I had yesterday, and I will claw it back.

2. Small Defeats

My first lesson on Friday was supposed to be 16.30. So, realising that the school doesn’t open until an hour before I phoned head office to check what time I should arrive.

Director of Studies, Jed, told me that actually the school was already open as there was another teacher with lessons earlier in the day. However, with my first lesson at 16.30, he ventured that I turn up at 15.30.

In fact, knowing the school was open and wanting to get a head start on my preparation, I rolled in at 13.30, 2 hours before the suggested time.

When I arrived I was greeted by Duncan, another Director of Studies. “How’s it all going?” he said. And, considering how pissed off I was, and not wanting to lie I mumbled a response in a non-committal fashion.

Then I added, “My first lesson is at 16.30, isn’t it?” to the receptionist. “Oh no there is change. First lesson is at 14.00” she replied. “Not according to my schedule” I said. “Booked yesterday” she responded.

“Right….. so that gives me 30 minutes to prepare, does it ?” I said in an indignant fashion half-looking at the Director Of Studies as if to say “I hope you’re listening to all this”

Actually Duncan was listening and added “that’s why we ask that teachers are here at 13.00”.

Got him.

“Well I phoned Jed, and he said he wasn’t sure what time I should come in“
I altered it slightly so as to not drop him in it.

“Aaaah.....OK” said Duncan. And then he left.

The day was rounded off with a fax from Duncan saying:

“Dear____ Philip ____ I would like to_____observe your teaching ____ on the _____22nd August________”

Not good. Seems I may be rocking the boat already.

3. Black Hole Radiation

Found this great curry house in the middle of Akabane station. It’s called “Homemade Curry” and, like every Japanese eaterie, has a menu of colour photographs daubed with chunky Oriental captions.

In I ventured and, guessing they would have chicken curry, I said “chicken curry” in a variety of accents until they finally understood.

Actually, what the chap behind the counter said was “brack chikan karey ?”, which I worked out must be “black chicken curry”.

And when they said it was black, they weren’t joking. It was the colour of Castrol GTX and was presented on an oval platter with one half the colour of night (the sauce) and the other virginal white (sticky rice).

In addition there was a breaded chicken fillet precariously balanced between the light and dark, as if conflicted between good and evil.

It was a bloody good curry and it wasn’t until I had paid up (£4) and was halfway home that I realised my stomach was buzzing with heat. “Mmmm”, I thought, “I’ve just realised: that was actually a really curry hot, wasn’t it?”

Toilet trouble ensued the next morning whereupon my flat was exposed to a severe dose of Black Hole Radiation

Incidentally, a few people have come up with a few alternatives to my “Akabane is the Japanese Clapham” analogy.

Tak suggests that Akabane is the Japanese Harringey. Hmmm….maybe Tak. But, as I suggested, there are no Turkish opium dealers in the fruit and veg shops here J

4. Lost In Translation. And In Tokyo

Stephen and I both finish early on a Saturday and, with very little contact with Westerners throughout the week, we thought it would be good to meet up.

He had already phoned me in the week to say that he was pissed off and that it was akin to being in some shoddy ITV documentary called “When English Teaching Goes Bad”. This was to be an exercise in spleen venting.

I was in the arse end of nowhere in a place called Sendagi which I will dub the Japanese Finchley (thoughts Tak ?), but needed to get to Shibuya (the Japanese West End).

Was given a sturdy route by the receptionist: Chiyoda line to Otemachi, change on to the Handzumon line and on to Shibuya.


Except when I got to Sendagi station there were no English tube maps and the bloke in the little window seemed to be in a right old mood.

“Sumimasen. Shibuya, ikura desu ka?” I asked (how much to Shibuya)

He shook his head and grunted a short reply including the word “chikatetsuo”- the Japanese word for station. He then stared me out as if to say “I don’t speak English – deal with it” and then “....are you still here? Didn’t you hear?”

Now, I obviously don’t expect him to speak fluent English and, hell, none of the staff in a London tube station speaks Japanese (or English sometimes), but so far Japanese people have been so keen to help in what ever way they can, that this came as a bit of a shock.

I gracefully retreated and thought about how I was going to do this. This is when you find out how smart you are – how will you solve this puzzle?

Eventually, using the one sign I could see, Sendagi, as a Rosetta Stone, I located the relevant Japanese character on a station map, and managed to decode my location and the eventually right ticket price. No thanks to you - you fat, unhelpful, stupid-hatted twat.

After I had changed at Otemachi, and neared the centre of Tokyo everything began to get a bit futuristic. Commuter trains on the outskirts are clean and large. But the Tokyo underground is on a whole new level. Well, literally.

Comfy seats, obligatory aircon and full colour flat screen monitors show your route in real time while the sleek white plastic is decorated with irregular-shaped orange and lilac panels. It was all a bit Kubrick.

Very accurate, very clean, very mechanical. I was listening to Alison Goldfrapp on my iPod at the time and the lyrics “I’m in love with a strict machine” never seemed more pertinent.

I arrived at Shibuya station with a choice of 9 exits. And somehow I chose exactly the right one. I emerged to another classic Tokyo sight : hustle, bustle, a blaze of artificial light and tubular towers adorned with huge TV screens.

10 minutes later and I was with Stephen in the British Pub from last week. 4 pints (4.50 a pint!) later we had finished with SHANE, the Japanese Kanji alphabet, our University days and were on to how we were going to get home.

Best joke of the night came from Stephen who pointed out the fact that because our large textbooks are called “SAC” and the level is denoted by colour, we can actually say to the receptionist “Have you seen my big purple SAC?” without her realising.

Left at 11.45, and nearly didn’t get home. In a Mexican wave effect, lines starting shutting down across Tokyo one-by-one. And like some shoddy game from The Crystal Maze, you have to start thinking fast about how to adjust your route. If you’re not quick enough, and more lines close down, you’ll have to start planning it all again.

I found this out the hard way by making my way towards the Shinjuku line to get the express line back to Akabane, only to be shouted back by a train guard as it had closed.

This time the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. He spoke good English and suggested an alternative route. Good on yer.

All fun and games and a good night.


George said...

I hope you're changing names to protect the innocent? Let's just hope that 'Duncan' doesn't surf too much...

Nice ruse (sp?) about being in Tokyo though ;) I was convinced for a while, even the photos look real. And good bit of Photoshopping to get you in the crowded street scene, nice. Where are you again? Helsinki? Oops, that was suppose to be a secret wasn't it...

Paul in Vietnam said...

Intrepid travels around suburban Tokyo; brilliant stuff.

Actually this is not so different to how I felt on friday after arriving in Vietnam and getting dumped in unhelpful places by Vietnamese drivers who didn't give a crap with not enough dong to wipe my arse with.

Dong has a fantastic amount of zeroes; you can become a millionaire at any cashpoint. I took a million out only yesterday, it's about 30 quid.

Phil said...

Rats Geo - youve rumbled me.

I am in fact in your basement tapping your internet connection, using your toilet and drinking your tea and coffee.

Can you get Gold Blend next time. Maxwell House is rubbish.


Tak said...

Sendagi would be equivalent to Clerkenwell/Finsbury, for its central location and door to Tokyo's East End.

I have no objection of your saying Shibuya as West End (esp Piccadilly Circus plus Charing Cross).