Sunday, July 30, 2006
None of us feel we are really ready for this. Instructions and guidance has been vague, and really SHANE is putting a lot of trust in us.
They do admit it is a baptism of fire and it appears as if this is par for the course. I suppose it makes sense to get teachers out there actually teaching rather than overload them with theory.
However, Steve, Helmut and I likened this sitting your driving test after someone had read out the Ford Focus owner’s handbook and then showed you a video of a stationary car.
“Yes, you’ll probably crash….you might even hit a few old ladies, but it’s better to be out there learning how to drive than sitting in here learning stopping distances”
I have about 20 lessons to plan for. In one day, I managed to get two planned. The maths is not exactly stacking up. Met a SHANE teacher called Paul in an English bar last night in Omiya (The King George). He essentially extolled the virtues of common sense.
“Have you got a CELTA” he asked.
“Yes” I replied.
(shrugs his shoulders) “Piece of piss for you, then”
“Use your common sense. You’ll be fine”.
I would feel a bit better knowing that the expectation on me as a teacher is not particularly high at the moment. How can it be? I’ve had a week’s training and pushed straight into 25 hours a week.
I just wish SHANE had acknowledged more readily that “yes, you should feel like you’re not ready for this....that’s completely normal”
Incidentally, in the pub, I ordered that most British of dishes: a chicken korma. When it came it was a deep terracotta brown. Didn’t look like a korma. Didn’t taste like on either; it was so hot I went into the future. Expecting toilet trouble later.
Drank 5 pints of beer. A bit of a record for me as that usually results in me needing 39474 trips to the bathroom. But for reasons unknown to science, I actually held up pretty well.
On the way back to Omiya station it became apparent that we were in a red light district. Didn’t notice it on the way in as everything was shut and it was daylight.
But now girls had spilled out on to the streets, dressed in alluring satin dresses and feather boas and the lamps were now in the windows.
Bizarrely, however, though accosting Japanese men, the girls looked straight through us. We were invisible. And it was very strange. Apparently, they refuse to take business from Westerners.
I think this is the first time I have ever experienced anything even vaguely approaching racial discrimination.
And it makes you feel a little bit angry.
Not that I would have given them any business, you understand, but there’s principle at stake.
I like to think I’m as inadequate a lover as the next man.
I’ve been here 5 days, so here are some general observations about Japan:
* Newsreaders bow to the camera. Sometimes they really over-do it. Once someone disappeared out of shot
* There are no flies, mosquitoes, bees or wasps. Hurrah.
* Pedestrian crossings take ages to go green.
* Every other shop is an eaterie. I don’t know how they all survive. In England, the competition from the big chains (Pret, Café Uno) would have wiped these out. Here they appear to outnumber them.
* Cars obey all road traffic laws to the letter.
* Bikes on the other hand are traffics anarchists – ride the wrong way down the street, cross on red lights, and often find themselves on collision course with other bikes swerving violently across the road. Mental oriental. Literally.
*In fast food shops (McD, KFC etc), when you take your tray to the rubbish bin, you have to start rummaging through your crap, separating out all the plastic, card, ice, food, paper and put them in separate bins.
I got so confused in KFC that the bored teenager behind the counter looked at me as if to say “Never mind. Just leave it – I’ll do it”
* English appears to be insidiously creeping into common parlance here. Though adverts are in Japanese – the final tagline or slogan is often in English.
Similarly any bargains, for example will still contain: “15% off” alongside the Japanese alphabet.
* Japanese TV is fond of captions. Not one minute goes by without a string of puffy, gaudy characters popping up, scrolling across, or sliding in from the bottom right. They are usually electric blue, bubblegum pink, luminous green or canary yellow
* Japanese people are immaculately turned out. I haven’t seen one unpolished shirt or unironed shoe. Some even appear to have measured their hair with a set square.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Whilst waiting for the ring to heat up I have been watching Japanese version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. It’s a very similar format with the same set and music. It’s presented by an older, silver fox-type. His name is unfortunately not Cliss Talent, but the contestants do get to say “Finooransa” (final answer).
Today, the contestant won the top prize – ¥ 20m. Amazing, if it weren’t for the fact that this is only about £100,000. That can’t be right, can it?
More bizarre, during the tense build up to the winning question (Finooransa? Finooransa!), and right before the very moment the host confirms her ¥ 20m win/dashes her hopes and dreams, they plaster a bloody great Toyota logo over Cliss Talent’s face. Corporate sponsorship? Who’d do that eh?
Also, they also throw celebs into the mix. This episode saw the Japanese cross between Johnny Morris and Steve Irwin step up to the stool.
He was clearly a popular celeb and programme makers saw fit to intersperse clips of the old codger’s Kamikaze animal baiting tactics eg punching monkeys, baiting penguins and trying to push over elephants.
All the more impressive considering he appears to be about 154 years old.
As you can see, on Japanese game shows animals are also allowed to apply for audience tickets. This mongrel was particularly disappointed as it wanted to be this contestant’s “phone a friend”
Pasta sauce was OK but had a faint hint of fishiness. Hope the aforementioned barman hadn’t been anywhere near it.
This is my tea tonight.
It’s pasta sauce. The label says: “this is made with heartfelt care. We recommend it with utmost confidence”
It better be good.
However, the electric ring takes so long to warm up I’m not sure I’ll have eaten it by my 30th birthday.
Have got to get myself a microwave. Also have got to get Steve to take me round the supermarket and point me in the direction of Pot Noodles, Peperami, and Alphabetti Spaghetti.
“Pubs” as we understand them are very much a Western hallmark and don’t really exist this far away from the centre (our location, Itabashi, is technically not Tokyo).
Still we thought we’d chance our arm and went looking for an establishment. We weren’t having much luck when Steve spotted what could only be described as a shed door.
“Oh I think this is a drinking hole” he said pointing at a Japanese symbol as he slid back a slab of battered wood.
Wasn’t quite ready for the sight/smell that greeted me. It was dingy, dirty grotto-like affair with an impossibly low roof and a small wooden counter which appeared to be constructed from shards of wood salvaged from the wrecks of medieval tea clippers.
Most notably there was a stench so powerful it made me go like this, audibly and involuntarily: “Greeeuuugh” . The smell was of indeterminate maritime origin, and reminded me of barnacles on rusted anchors, and the smelly rockpool seaweed that stuck to your legs when you were a child.
Behind the counter was an 87 year-old man who, upon our arrival, unsteadily pushed himself out of a chair and began pulling on a dirty white short-sleeved coat. Not sure what he needed the coat for.
Not sure what was down smeared down the front of it either. He meant business, though. Steve looked back at me, as if to say “hmmm…not sure about this”. I looked back at him to say “I am. Let’s go”
Steve then jabbered on to him asking him what time he closed, promising we would come back later. Quick thinking. And of course, we wouldn’t.
Finally found a vaguely normal bar. Had been drinking for approx 5 minutes when we were accosted by the bar’s only other customer, a heavy-smoking 87 year old Japanese lady with prune-like skin.
Prune: Are you American?
Steve: No. We’re English.
Prune: Nah. You have American faces
Steve: Well, no, we are English.
Prune: Your Japanese is rubbish.
Steve: Thanks (then in English to me) Stupid bitch.
Had to go to Oji for gaijin card. Went very early. Good job I did. Learnt a very important thing about Japan today:
No one knows where anything is but, regrettably, that doesn’t stop them giving you direction anyway.
Got to Oji in under 15 minutes, but then went on a walkabout armed with a map. Asked three people and received three different sets of directions.
Some bowed. Some didn’t.
Found City Hall. Half an hour early. filled out some forms. Had to fill it out again, because they couldn’t read my writing. Very strange hearing Japanese person say “Stoke-on-Trent”.
Had debate with pretty girl behind the immigration counter. Apparently my address didn’t exist. Well I say you don’t exist, you slightly alluring sexy Japanese girl in a tissue-thin summer dress.
Back to Saitama Shintoshin for training. All very straightforward.
Met a new guy called Steven. Good bloke. Speaks a good Japanese. Worked for NOVA.
Helmut tells me it’s not hot yet. Wait till next month, he said, then it really ramps up.
Observation at a school in Takamadaira. Bloody miles away. Went there with Steven. Good job. What a trek. Very difficult to find.
Asked a bloke for directions. He started to give them, when another member of the public butted in and said…..”Nah, it’s this way”.
Both were wrong. See what I mean?
Found school eventually. Neil was teaching some desperate housewives when we came in.
I will be taking over from him and teaching them. They were very interested in me. I tell you….if I was 20 years older and they were 20 years younger. And looked more like Michelle Yeoh out of Crouching Tiger.
Went with Neil to KFC for lunch. I’m a bad man.
Neil tells me he married a Japanese girl. Helmut’s married to Japanese woman. So is Jed, another teacher. Steve goes out with a Japanese girl as well
Came out of KFC to the hottest temp I’ve experienced. Ever. It was so hot I laughed. Madness.
Observed some kiddies classes. One that I will be taking. Already got my eye on one little shit: Yuki. Japanese for snow. Well just call me the Snow Plough, because he’s not behaving like that my class, let me tell you.
Set off for head office at 9.30 following Tomoko’s instructions. Saitama Shintoshin here we come.
About 9 o clock fatigue kicked in. Felt like miniature weights had been hung from my brow.
More miscommunication in Starbucks and I ended up drinking some coffee. This normally sends me round the bend. Today was no exception and soon was racing across Tokyo literally and chemically.
Watched Tokyo go by from the comfort of a gorgeous, air-conditioned carriage.
Can something be so ugly that it is also beautiful?
Tokyo is a mess, but it’s all the better for it. An iggledy-piggledy pile of dirtily-coloured cubes, webs of black telephone wires and gaudy bubblegum fonts. It’s like a messy child’s toy box.
You can never predict what’s coming next. It’s like the city planner had Attention Deficit Disorder.
Skyscraper, baseball stadium, skyscraper, abandoned towerblock, factory chimney, shopping centre, shopping centre, ultra-posh residential block, shitty shanty town, factory chimney again, shopping centre, shanty town, shanty town.
Arrived at Saitama Shintoshin. Home of some pretty futuristic buildings and HQ for DoCoMo (huge Japanese telecoms company) which houses biggest phone mast I’ve ever seen. If you can’t get a signal there, you’d want your money back.
Absolutely lathered. Heat is incredible. Go into Macca D’s and order pancakes. “Hottu-cakey, kudasai”
Into office. Meet Helmut, from NZ, very nice guy and has been living here for many years. Perfect Japanese (even the hardcore alphabet).
Induction was very straightforward, but felt protracted due to my now all pervading tiredness.
Assistant Director of Studies Mike, from Canada, tells me I have to register for my “gaijin” card at city hall, and that I should register for it “like now….buddy ”
Exhausted. Went home for a quick kip before setting off for city hall.
New alarm didn’t wake me up. Bloody F Hinds jewellers.
Resolved to go next day before work.
Went shopping. Not a good experience. Couldn’t read any Japanese. Could be anything in these packets.
Found what looked like shrink wrapped burgers and noodles. Burgers were damp and oniony.
Luggage delivered. Heard him clatter up the three flights of tin stairs
Fell asleep at 9pm.
Checked in. Bags not overweight despite my collection of dumbbells and igneous rock. George came to say goodbye. Bought me a very London tube map T-shirt to remember him by. Very good.
Aircraft was halfway down the runway when takeoff was aborted. A bit fell off the aircraft in-front, and landed in the middle of the runway.
Plane was fitted with a nosecam pointing straight down the runway, with the feed being shown on the main cabin screen. Consequently 454 people saw a Land Rover Discovery zoom off down the centre line, its sirens wooing, in widescreen.
It can’t have been serious as moments later we had another go. This time we were successful.
Decided to watch the The Pink Panther (starring Steve Martin) and Firewall (starring Harrison Ford and Paul Bettany).
They were both shit.
Pink Panther was flawed by Steve Martin’s unloveable performance as Clouseau. And a rubbish script. And poor direction.
Firewall was marred by a script devoid of any original thinking. Paul Bettany on English-baddie-autopilot, acted Harrison Ford off the screen before, presumably, picking up the cheque and buggering off home muttering “that should pay for the new patio”
Fell asleep for about 3hours which I was happy about. Although wasn’t happy about the old git in front who reclined his seat so far he nearly took my chin off.
16.00 Local time
Arrived at Narita. Thick heavy cloud and humid like a greenhouse in a garden centre.
Was met by SHANE employees, one of whom was assigned to me. Tomoko, a polite and petite Japanese woman of about 35.
Had been told to bring an overnight bag because my luggage was to be delivered a day later. Wasn’t happy that they failed to mention that I would also need a suit for the next days training.
Had to open my suitcase in the middle of arrivals, ferret about for my suit and shove it in the carrier bag alongside George’s tube T-shirt.
Tomoko and I ran like the clappers for the train. Knackered out. Fell asleep.
Arrived at apartment. Like Dallas’s flat in The 5th Element. Not enough room to swing a katsu curry in.
Still, it has aircon, TV, balcony and rooftops so close you could do a ninja style wire fight across them.
Am located in Akabane. Classic futuristic, neon heaven. Couldn’t stop smiling when I saw it. It’s exactly as I imagined it. Can’t wait for it to rain…then it will look like Blade Runner
Essentially Akabane is to Tokyo what Clapham is to London. In a parallel universe Alan Partridge might say “It’s the Japanese Clapham!”.
Or should that be Japham ?
Went into KFC and shouted “CRISPY STRIPS” in English. It worked.
Called in at an internet café manned by the Japanese Vicky Pollard. Didn’t speak a word of English. Had to call a man. The man spoke a few words. Booked a PC. Email kept reverting to Japanese script. Bah!
On the way back, lost my house. It’s such a rabbit warren round here.
Panicked a bit
Got home. Took my suit of out George’s t-shirt bag and realised that the water I had bought at Heathrow had leaked on the humbugs I had bought at Heathrow.
My suit was now covered in black oily stains.
Fortunately, the blotches were low down on the shirt, and soon realised a Simon Cowell-style trouser strategy should be employed to hide the shame.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
I hate the heat. Today was hot. 33c in fact.
Not the day to be racing across town in pursuit of bits of paper like Anneka Rice in Treasure Hunt.
Was in Clapham ordering brekky when I got the call to pick up the Certificate of Eligibility.
Went straight back to the house, filled in the forms.
Tube into town for passport photos.
Across to SHANE pick up certificates and airtickets.
I’ve got the clue, Stop The Clock! Stop The Clock
Across to Japanese embassy, take ticket, stand in queue, hand in passport.
Collect on Friday
House is unbearable. The lounge has leather sofas, double glazing and always catches the Sun at its zenith.
It’s like that scene in the map room in Raiders Of The Lost Ark ; everything aligns, everything comes together. And the beam shines right into my skull, heating up my body up like copper kettle on a campfire.
Apparently it’s 23c in Tokyo. Mmmm….. that would be nice.
My case is the size of and weight of your average British Gas boiler.
It was so heavy that I couldn’t manoeuvre it on to the upper luggage rack on the 1312 from Stafford to London Euston, and so wide that I couldn’t drag it down the aisle looking for an empty space to deposit it.
Needless to say I will be several kgs over my limit. Must have been that lucky horse shoe I packed. And that collection of anvils.
Hope they turn a blind eye at check-in/weigh-in
Ian at SHANE (or is it Shane at IAN?) said certificate will be ready to pick up Tuesday.
Look at this mother! It’s like a cartoon barrel of ACME TNT (Yosemite Sam not in shot).
Sam called during break from his busy job repping in Cyprus. Left me message which greeted me thus…
”Origami, me old China. Here you’re off to Japan. Give us a ring back”.
Wrong in so many ways.
Spoke to SHANE again. Certificate of eligibility will be ready to collect Monday.
Still not happy with this inexactness.
Grandpa asked me to bring him back a Geisha girl. I reminded him that he probably wouldn’t remember what to do with her.
He responded by claiming they came with instructions. I pointed out that, yes, they did indeed come with instructions but, unfortunately they are in Japanese.
Picked up ¥en. ¥50,000 note appears to feature Mr Miyagi-bothering, Okinawan despot Mr Sato from Karate Kid 2.
I could have him in a fight.
Eli emailed to say Kita-Ku is an older part of Tokyo, and that Shimo is Japanese for “when you wish that a bush would grow thicker”.
I don’t think I’ll comment on that.
Found out that Filmfour launches for free on satellite on the day I leave for Japan. And the first film they are showing? Lost In Translation. It’s a sign.
I’ve been thinking about timings:
10 days notice is as tight as Princess Leia’s Return Of The Jedi brasier.
And now it’s 9 days.
Phoned SHANE as this date seemed at odds with the visa procedure they had set out in their literature.
I am awaiting my Certificate of Eligibility which I then need to take to the Japanese Embassy before I can get my visa.
However, this whole process could take 5 working days, it’s Friday tomorrow and I fly next Sunday. This didn’t add up.
Bloke at SHANE told me that I am flying on 23rd no matter what, and so I might have to go in on a totally different visa and change once I’m there.
Not very happy about this ; it’s all a bit wishy-washy. I always like to know what’s going on. I hope this bureaucratic vagueness is not a sign of things to come.
I didn’t ask about iris scans and deep cavity searches.
Received a phone call at 3 o’ clock this afternoon. I am going to Japan on 23rd July. 10 days time. Well, nothing like a bit of notice
I already know where I am living: Shimo, Kita-Ku. My nearest station is Akabane on the Keihin Tohoku line. Have emailed Eli to ask what the area is like.
Need to get moving though. Things I need to do:
Buy a suitcase
Buy a razor - apparently I have to be clean shaven or have a beard.
Stubble is not permitted. How I’m meant to get from no beard to beard without going via stubble is unknown
Get Yen (¥ ). In Uttoxeter, this will be tricky. They have only just got the hang of decimalisation
Fill in some incredibly complex tax forms. Sample question:
“Did your non-deductable outgoings exceed your monthly VAT returns for the month of national insurance from the given date given in any given tax deductable it year from?”
Sort Certificate of Eligibility and then visa
Bored at home. Waiting for news.
Saw a website the other day in which a Tokyo resident, keen to fulfil his civic obligations, constructed a website mapping and reviewing toilets in around Tokyo.
It’s written in broken English; appropriate considering most of the toilets are also trashed. He takes pictures of them all, regardless of the contents of the pan.
Started thinking about squat toilets. Apparently, many public toilets in Japan take this form.
I have used a squat toilet only once, and I was in Latvia and it wasn’t successful.
On the way in, a leathery old babooshka wrapped in a shawl sat behind a little window handing out the toilet paper, and so I immediately I had to start thinking about how many sheets the activity was to require.
Someone should invent a formula for this. How about:
F = volatility of last meal x time spent holding it in
absorbency/quality of toilet paper
I was fully expecting a typical Armitage Shanks sit-down toilet, but on entering, was greeted with a rectangle of cracked, grey porcelain sat flush (pun absolutely intended) to the floor, like toppled-over tombstone. Appropriate, because a little piece of me was about to die.
I stared at it for a while and wondered how this was all to fit together. Initially, I tried to simply sit on my haunches, but this was murder on the knees and I was aware that my pants were positioned precariously: stretched between my ankles, like a high-tensile safety net waiting to catch acrobats falling from a high-wire.
Adapt, improve and innovate, I thought, and so leaned over until the crown of my head came to rest on the opposing wall. And, with my hands pushing down on the tops of my thighs, I gingerly completed my task.
Don’t know why I chose to write that up. I told you I was bored.
Woke up at 5.40 am. Hangover. George helped me move back to The Midlands today. Nearly packed up; my life was in 4 bags and 2 boxes.
Bought a big bottle of Orangina from cornershop and tried to drink it whilst packing last few items.
Terrible wind from three days of colonic abuse. Big thanks to: Chicago Pizza; Favorite Chicken; Taste More Chippy; Bombay Bicycle Club Curry House. Over the last 6 and a half years you have been there for me.
Set off for The Midlands. Needed a tinkle twice, because of the Orangina. Had to stop at both Oxford Services and Warwick Services.
Got home. Have only got 5 channels and 56k dial-up. Here, wireless is something the locals use to listen to The Archers.
Mum made me scones. That was nice.
In honour of my departure to Oriental shores, my work leaving do was karaoke-themed.
So, to Lucky Voice, then, on Poland Street where and three work colleagues and I set about committing Hari-Kari on our vocal chords with strained, pained versions of Prince Charming, World In Motion and Common People.
Full marks to Ivan for going first after having very little to drink, and also for picking a really difficult song to sing: Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. Half way through you could see him thinking “…should have picked Radio Gaga, I’m good at clapping….”.
I was very reluctant to join in at first because I felt like a complete twat, but luckily and appropriately, I was rescued by Morrissey, whose adenoidal tones allow for a semi-accurate impression whilst remaining ironically detached.
Carried on drinking afterwards. Went home. Called in at Stockwell chippy. Third time in as many days. Worst idea I’ve had since the time I decided, after seeing the videos on YouTube, I would drink a can of Diet Coke with Mentos in my mouth (this was last week, actually).
Ate my battered sausage and chips in silence with just a fork (harder than you think).
Went to bed.
Apparently, I’m going to Japan
“So what skills do you have to offer, bearing in mind……oooh….excuse me…..uurggh…..I’ve got to go…”
The interview was two hours long. I tried to be as enthusiastic, and he tried not to spew on me by raising a fist to his mouth as if playing an imaginary trumpet.
When he wasn’t stifling a technicolour yawn, his interrogation comprised a mix of obvious questions: “Why Japan ?“
…..and curve balls:
Interviewer: Now, I’ve got to tell you..…young lad like you…. you’ll do very well in Japan ; easy to get girlfriends
Interviewer: What would you do if a student passes you a note at the end of the class saying ‘I love you’?
Me: Er….. (coughing into a low, manly tone of voice) well of course I’d explain to her that teachers must maintain a professional relationship with their students
Other questions included:
Are your parents supportive of your move?
What are you looking forward to least?
What aspects of the culture will you embrace?
How do you teach 3 year-olds?
I think I’m going to retch again, could you stand back?
My advice to SHANE candidates is that the interview appears to be designed primarily to gauge your enthusiasm, and find out a little bit more about you. The hard work is done on the application form which, frankly, is a bit tricky.
Sample question: What’s the difference between: she needn’t have done it & she didn’t need to do it?
The corporate video was surprisingly engaging, but belied someone who had clearly discovered that the edit suite had 56 different fade/wipe/dissolve effects, and wanted to use every single one. Twice.
“Let’s make this shot of the pagoda disappear up that guy’s nose. Brilliant”.
It was a bit like Top Of The Pops circa 1986. (Cue Paul Hardcastle’s The Wizard)
Left not really knowing how I’d done. Poor bloke was obviously ill. But would it affect his judgement?
Excuse the out-of-skew dates. I wrote a number of entries before I had even created my blog, and unfortunately the site gives the posts the date they were published.
This is my blog.
Not since author Dan Brown sat down to write the same novel four times has there been such an exciting publishing phenomenon.
I am going to Japan to teach English, and I am going to write about it. I want to do this for a couple of reasons:
1.Act as unofficial Guide to teaching in Japan for those considering it.
2.Friends and family can keep an eye on me when I can’t be arsed to email them.
There’s going to be some wit and wisdom on display here, though. I’m aiming for a cross between philosophising, travel-slaphead Alain De Botton and Viz magazine.
Currently, I am in the unique position of not yet having taught a single lesson yet. So, hopefully, as I discover things, so will you, reader.
There are many things that could go wrong.
First, I’m not even there yet; the Japanese visa procedure is disconcertingly long and I have heard nothing for weeks. Second, I could hate it.
Here are some things I will miss about the UK (at this stage, I am unsure whether any of the following will be present in Japan):
1.Monster Munch (Pickled Onion, obviously)
2.Orange Tango (far superior to the more ubiquitous Fanta)
3.The Metro’s Sudoku (it’s dead easy, especially on a Monday)
4.Channel 4, BBC Three, UKTV G2, XFM, Planet Rock
5.People from my hometown who say “..duck” after every sentence, duck
Here are some things I will not miss about the UK:
1.People who ask me whether I have a Nectar Card
2.People who call their mobiles a “moby”
3.Ocean finance ads