Thursday, September 14, 2006

Piddling In A Stream Of Consciousness

Fans of pithy, witty comments may want to look away now. This post is a bit of a rant and does go on a bit. But I was feeling a bit blue and was on a roll.

Actually, if you’re a fan of pithy, witty comments you may want to try a different website.

So, it’s nearly two months on. How am I faring? Alright, I suppose. As usual, in my head there are two columns: one for pluses and one for minuses.

The Pluses:

As a country, Japan is fantastic. Once you’ve got past the initial whole “wow I’m in living the future” thing, you find a country that is polite, efficient, tidy, welcoming and exciting.

Also, like the moment you find a really nice sleeping position after tossing and turning, I have found a series of routines with which I am now comfortable:

I know my school timetable inside out, I have a handful of restaurants which cater for my tastes and I have learned the usual stock phrases: how much, can you speak English and Chicken McNuggets, please.

I will continue to push myself, but for now I am in a safe holding pattern.

The other thing I am glad about is that the temperature has fallen dramatically. Monday was a shirt sticking to your back day. Wednesday was a get under the duvet day. There has been no transitional period; it’s gone from mid 30s to high teens overnight.

The Minuses:

Teaching is getting easier (I managed to prepare all my lessons in one and a half hours yesterday) but the job is still unrelenting.

This splitting up your weekend malarkey is harder than you think. One day off doesn’t seem enough somehow. Knackered, you wake up late, potter about all day then fail to get to sleep at night. Then you have to do it all again.

A 57-hour week is tough. A 65-hour week is very tough.

More important, I am still not really enjoying it yet. That’s not to say I hate it, (although I used to), but there have been precious few times when I have really been pleased with a lesson.

Kids’ lessons are blighted by the fact that no matter how dedicated or studious, they are still learning under protest. It’s very disheartening to see a row of glum faces staring back at you whilst you try to lever knowledge into their brains.

Adults’ lessons are OK, because you know they are there to learn. However, there is the added difficulty of you being under constant assessment; the student is bound to have an opinion on whether you are value for money.

The Verdict

Looking back over previous posts I may have been overly negative towards SHANE and the job itself. However, at the time, I was very angry with my predicament.

The point at which you need the most support from SHANE and for them to be at their most efficient is at the very start. And that’s when they are so very lacking.

Now I’ve become accustomed to their quirks, I’ve worked out ways of getting round its foibles and inefficiencies, sidestepping their inadequacies.

So now I am less critical of SHANE. Not because they have improved in any way but because, through experience, I have managed to work out my solutions to their problems.

However, I do have more respect for teachers than I had before. It requires completely different set of skills from my previous job.

With respect, teaching doesn’t actually require much intelligence. Instead, it requires stamina. It’s just a slog. You can’t really have any off days - you have to be on top form all the time.

We’ve all had a job where you can waltz in 10-minutes late, maybe with a hangover, check your emails for another 10 minutes and then think about getting down to some work.

But the point is, as long as you delivered the right result, it didn’t matter. If you did all those things and completely ballsed up a presentation, then you’d be in trouble.

Conversely, teaching is a horrendously inflexible job both in terms of time and task. Not only is your timetable set in stone, but the actual subject matter is too.

For example, I have been looking through all my text books and have now realised that nothing is going to change. This time next year I will still be teaching kids to point at Leo the Dragon and say “he is big” and still be really over-enunciating the question “so…what…did…you (point) … do…at…the…weekend?” to the adult learners.

That’s going to get boring. I just hope it gets easier before it gets boring.

The Future

Ultimately, I could consider this experience the first leg on a bit of World Tour.

I have been mulling over the idea of giving it another month or two before heading off to Oz or NZ. Maybe I can call in at South America on the way back.

Paul informs me that no one really gives a shit about anything in Oz, but that this can be a blessing and a curse. On one hand everything is so easy but on the other, everyone lacks drive and ambition. For people who are accustomed to the cut and thrust of London, or even in my case London and Tokyo, that could prove interesting.


Anonymous said...


I disagree somewhat with Pauls description of Oz people...Yeah they are laid back but they also get things done. They just don't faff about like people in London do. There's none of this rah rah look how busy I am bla bla i'm going to get in a flap about it which will take up more time than if I just did what I was supposed to do. I'm also going to make sure everybody knows how busy I am now that I have decided to get in a flap by walking incredibly fast and being pissed off with them when I walk into people.

Australians cut out all of that palaver and just do it. I found them quite efficient in all sorts of respects in a way I wouldn't expect in England...example for you...when I left my jumper on a bus in Sydney I flew out to the other side of Australia before I noticed. I rang up the bus company said I’ve left my jumper on a bus in Sydney I'm now in Kununurra (small town in middle of nowhere-most Northern Town in Western Oz) So they were like no worries we'll send it to you and it turned up in 2 days!! Not only that it was nicely folded up and everything!!

I think that saying they lack drive and ambition is wrong too. I think English people are lazy and defeatist. We would be like oh it’s the weekend what shall we do?! Stay in and watch telly or go to pub with friends is probably what we do 50 out of 52 weekends a year. Australians however would go “It’s the weekend!! Let’s get in a car drive 4 hours go kayaking, set up camp for the night” Where is the lack of drive there?


giacomo said...

I loved your retort concerning the sweeping statement of our two nations attitude to apathy.

However, the only thing that I can continue to think about is how the jumper was folded and if it smelt slightly of fabric softener.

Tak said...

I agree with Nicole, Paul's observations are still based on his stay at backpackers' lodging.

I know Australians in OZ or different places are more punctual and hard-working compared to English in general cases.

Paul in Siberia said...


Thats a mighty bit of paraphrasing gone on there in my name; it isn't really what I said and the conclusions you're all jumping to are rather unfair.

However, Nicole, with the best of respect, not all Australians jump in the 4WD and go Kayaking every weekend. In fact, the majority of them live in cities where they go out drinking with their mates and watch TV just like everyone else. Either that or someone's paying an awful lot of actors with Australian accents to stagger drunk around Sydney every weekend.

Tak, also with respect, your statement is unfair. Your experience is based on less than two weeks as a tourist in Sydney (also in 'backpacker accomodation'), you never had a job nor went any further afield than the Blue Mountains. Also, you work for a Japanese company in London which, from what you've told me, is much more culturally Japanese than English. So you don't really have experience at either end.

Let me make it clear that I'm talking about _my_experience_ of _office_workplace_culture. It might not apply outisde offices and certainly does not apply to people who run or manage businesses themselves who are just as motivated as anywhere else.

I never ever said that people don't work as hard - they do work very hard - its just that commercially there simply aren't the same pressures. People sometimes work hard doing pointless things all day simply because the workplace culture is much more hierarchical, top-down and resistant to change. You do not seem to be expected to question business processes or take initiative in Australia - you are simply expected to do your job as assigned and go home at 5pm. This is fine as it goes, and it probably makes for a much happier life, but let's not pretend that it is 'more efficient' because it just isn't.

Having said all that, I'm currently sitting here in Russia which is probably the most chronically overstaffed and inefficient place on the planet. No wonder its so bloody expensive.

Take my hotel here in Ulan-Ude for example, a soviet-era monstrosity of the most laughably awful kind. At any one time, 24 hours a day, the following staff are employed -
- At least two receptionsts
- At least two security guards
- An attendant at a desk on every floor (there are twelve)
(Total=16 on site 24hours)
PLUS during there day there is also -
- A cleaner on every floor
- A little bank (2 people)
- 5 different shops in the lobby each with at least one person
- A soviet style canteen (~5 people)
- 2 Restaurants (lets say ten people).
- A sauna (one attendant)
- Left luggage (one attendant)
(Total daytime/evening=52 on site)

Allowing for shift staff, weekends and holidays I reckon this place has a payroll of easily 100 when it could probably actually manage with 20. The place seems pretty deserted too, so they could probably shut half of it down and manage with even less.

Worst thing about the chronic overstaffing is that whenever you actually want something the staff will tut and grunt at you because you're interrupting their conversation or TV watching. Then they expect a tip to boot.

Anyway, rant over. I have other things to do :-), but let me just sum up by saying that if I left my jumper on a bus in Russia I'd certainly never see it again, much less neatly folded and smelling of fabric conditioner!

Anonymous said...

I might give you a little bit of leeway Paul... my experience of Oz people was based on the fact that I was working on the farms in the small towns round Oz. Maybe they were different to the actors they ship into sydney each weekend to play 'drunk lazy ozzy'.

From what I have read I think the summery of which nation is least lazy and most efficient is
1, Japan
2, Oz (farm workers)
3, English
4, Oz (office workers/paid drunken actors not too sure which)
5, Russian hotel staff.

Are we all agreed now?

~ Nicole
P.S (I don't quite know how Japan and Russia got dragged into our English V Ozzy feud or even worse how we managed to come 3rd when the original statement was about 2 countries?) :-)

Paul said...

Lets be agreed; though again I must stress that my original discussion with Phil was not about laziness or apathy, but general workplace culture.

I'm going to sound awfully management by saying that I think people anywhere are usually only lazy when they aren't being sufficiently encouraged by the boss or challenged by the job.

tak said...

Calm down, Paul.