Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New technique

Yesterday Mum took us to a quiet spot on the river so we could study Quackery some more.

I'm getting really good at it. I had secretly perfected a new technique, which I call the 'Dead Duck Float.'

I showed mum.

Mum said to stop being silly, but I know she was impressed.

When she went off to her ballet lesson, I overheard her telling her friend about me.

"That's my kid," I heard her say. "Always up to something. She'll be a great Quack Scientist some day."

Her friend looked over at us.

"The one on the rock?" he asked.

(That's how I know they were talking about me.)

I stood up and waved.

"Hi Mum!" I shouted.

"I thought you said they were practicing," said Mum's friend. "Not very obedient, is she?"

He looked disapproving.

I quickly stuck my head back in the water. I didn't want to embarrass my mum.

Silly old man. He's just jealous because all his kids turned out so ordinary.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Yesterday I went to the university to change the grade of the student I had failed. I had got in touch with a colleague who would be there today, administering tests, and we planned to have dinner together after she finished. One of the faculties is insisting on tests, this year. They are not speaking tests, although the courses are supposed to be speaking courses. Also, the tests were not written by the teachers, but by the course coordinators. I was very fortunate in that I did not have to do these tests. This year I did not have any students from that faculty, which seems to be suddenly very much into micromanaging every aspect of what the teachers do. I have been watching my unfortunate colleagues climb the walls all semester ("THEY HAVE TAKEN THE CHALK OUT OF OUR HANDS!") and feeling a little smug at my good luck.

I arrived earlier than I needed to. Changing that one grade was easy, because the boxes of grading papers was still fairly empty, and having handed them in early mine were right at the bottom and easy to find. Having done that, I discovered I still had an hour before my friend's test was due to finish.

I knew which classroom she was using for testing, so I went over there and spied on her from across the quad. I could see her explaining something to her class of students, and gesticulating wildly. She appeared to have suddenly turned into a French person who has just been involved in a traffic accident, and I could see her audience was fascinated.

I went back to the teachers' room to wait in air conditioned comfort. A couple of other teachers came and went, mostly finishing off grades and so on. We chatted. Most people did not have tests today, only the (very pissed off) teachers who had students from that one faculty.

Eventually I went back to the corridor to see if my friend's students had gone. They had, so I went into the classroom. My friend was standing at the podium, writing numbers on cards. When she saw me, she went pink and started yelling.

"ADMINISTERING THIS TEST WAS MORE STRESSFUL THAN TEACHING!" she shouted, and went off onto a long rant about how stupid her students were, how stupid the coordinators of the program were, and stupid the test was, and how stupidly things had gone.

There had been problems with the test, I gathered. She was testing all day yesterday and today, and was Not Happy. She had had to change a couple of questions on the test paper that did not make sense, but since the papers had already been printed that meant she had to write the new questions on the board and tell the students to do those, and not to attempt the ones on the paper.


Every time she collected the papers she discovered that despite her careful instructions a few of the students had ignored what she wrote on the board, and had tried to answer the unanswerable questions on the paper.


She was gesticulating again, and I was as fascinated as her students had been. Gaijin always look like gaijin here, but at that moment she looked like a VERY gaijin.

The day before, one of the students had walked off with his test paper, she told me indignantly. This, it turned out, was her fault (the teacher is always wrong, especially gaijin teachers), and for every test after that she had to count the papers before she could let the students go. The students, however, did not seem to understand "DO NOT LEAVE THE CLASSROOM!" and kept trying to escape, which meant she had to run out into the corridor and herd them back into the classroom until she had counted the papers. Every time she started counting, another couple of students would decide that since she was paying attention to the papers and not to them they could leave, so she'd have to chase them, which meant she would lose count and have to start again. This situation was not helped by the classroom having two doors, neither lockable.

I wished I'd seen that bit. I could have helped. I could have done my sheepdog impersonation, and barked them all back into the room. I am from NZ, after all.

Instead, I sympathized. This involved a lot of nodding and saying, "Uh-huh, mmm, um ..." and so on, because I could not get a whole word in edgewise. My friend was on a roll. She had reached the end of her rope and could not stop shouting. Everything she told me reminded her of something ELSE idiotic that had happened. She had not had a very happy couple of days.

Eventually I left her to finish marking the tests, because she had to do that today, and I knew that if I was in the room she would not get anything done. She had too much to get off her chest.

When she had finished, we went out to dinner. After a couple of hours of good food and wine and intensive, in-depth criticism of the Japanese education system she was much recovered, especially after we veered off on a tangent and ended up talking about embarrassing teacher moments instead. We shared a few loss-of-dignity stories, and ended up laughing.

It occurred to me, as we said goodbye, that if the semester were extended one more week we would have to stock the teachers' room with wine, to stave off teacher meltdown. It's the only thing that works.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mood: annoyed

Last Thursday I had my last classes at one place, and handed the grades in on the same day. I managed this by working frantically the entire weekend before that, and on Wednesday evening, and by going in early and staying late. I left the house around six thirty and got home after eleven, which left me pretty well as knackered as that duckling.

Handing in the grades meant traipsing all over campus to the various faculty offices, because there is no central office for this sort of thing. There used to be, but things get sillier and sillier at that place as each faculty pulls in different directions, jealously guarding their power. A couple of years ago they even physically moved their offices so they're not in the same building as each other any more. It is now like working for several universities rather than just one, and is, as I think I've mentioned before, incredibly irritating.

Anyway, I rushed around all over campus to catch offices before they closed (they all close at different times, and you have to get the order right), handing in different bits of paper to different people, and ended the day by having a beery dinner with colleagues. When the long day finally ended I was exhausted but extremely pleased with myself for having achieved what had seemed like an impossible goal. I hate doing the grading after the last day. It means I have to do that horrible long commute once more just to hand in bits of paper, because we are not allowed to post them, even by registered mail. The other problem is that the grading deadline isn't actually until late August sometime, and I keep procrastinating it. It hangs over me all vacation, like a bad smell. And the OTHER other problem is that I like to tell students their grade on the last day, so that if there are any complaints or problems they can talk to me about them instead of going through one of the various offices. The administrative staff are always unpleasantly hostile when that happens, even if (ESPECIALLY if) the grading problem was their mistake and not mine.

Excuse me while I go off on a tangent.

At that university they have had a computerized grading system for several years now. Nobody uses it, however, because it is optional. If we do use the computerized grading system, we still have to hand in the handwritten grades as well. Every year they cut down another forest in order to print an incredibly detailed booklet which they send to all the teachers about how to use the fabulous new computerized grading system, and every year several hundred teachers chuck their booklet into the round filing cabinet because the computerized grading system is so horrifically complicated. And, more importantly, OPTIONAL. And EXTRA. ("Look! Here is a fabulous opportunity to use the latest new computerized grading system from 1985 and double your workload!")

The level of computer technology at that place will soon be at 1986, I reckon. For the past three years, instead of getting our student evaluation summaries on paper, we have been getting them on paper AND on a floppy disk. A floppy disk! Many of us had forgotten what they looked like, and the faces in the teachers' room when we opened our envelopes were priceless. ("Hey, look at this, guys! It's a . . . it's a . . . it's a FLOPPY! Did you get one too?") When you dust off your floppy disk reader and plug it in, and insert the floppy disk, you are miraculously presented with a blank Excel document. (And yes, my floppy disk reader does still work. I tested it.) Every teacher (who actually has a floppy disk reader) has the same experience. Some use Windows, some use Macs, some have English systems and some have Japanese systems, but we all get blank Excel documents from the university, every year. The first year we mentioned it, and were told that the document was FINE and there must be something wrong with our computers. (They're too new, probably.) These days we just file the floppy where floppies belong, along with the computerized grading system instruction booklet.

End of tangent. Where was I?

Oh, yes, the grades.

Today I got a very unwelcome envelope in the mail. It was from the university and contained a cover letter and a medical certificate for a student whom I had told, three weeks before the end of semester, that IF he came to the last three classes and worked hard, and IF he handed in his homework, and IF he did all right in the test (second-to-last class), then he would pass. He did the homework, and the test, and the results weren't great but were just enough to squeeze him through to ALMOST a passing grade. Then he missed the last class.

So I failed him.

The medical certificate explained that he had missed the last class because he was being treated for a corneal ulcer, whatever that is. (Dr Google...? Oh. Eek!) The cover letter, which says not much more than yoroshiku onegaishimasu ('please be nice,' sort of), means that the university expects me to pass him. He was absent four times because he couldn't be arsed getting out of bed. But he was absent the fifth time because he had a corneal ulcer. WELL JUST LOOK AT THAT! A VALID EXCUSE! PASS THE POOR BOY YOU HEARTLESS FOREIGNER!

So tomorrow I'll be doing that horrible commute one more time, to change one bad student's grade to something he does not deserve, because If I don't, I'll have to justify failing him. And I really don't want to have to do that, even though he actually should fail. it's just too borderline a case to waste my vacation arguing about.

Besides, I'd lose, one way or another, and it's not worth it.

I do resent it, though.

Still, he's quite likely to be in my class for the second part of the course next semester. If he carries on the way he did in the first semester, I'll fail him for that one instead, only more thoroughly.

I'll make sure there's nothing borderline about it.

Monday, July 23, 2007


This is me and my family, setting off on an adventure.

Mum often takes us on adventures.

We went down the river.

Then we came back up the river.

We crossed to the other side, and explored a bit.

We had a quack-echo absorption lesson.

That's me in the front. I'm good at quack-echo absorption. My quacks are fabulously flat.

After that we went back home.

I was glad to be back. There's no place like home.

I practiced my Silly Walks, but nobody else wanted to play. That's because I always win.

We were tired at the end of our adventure. Especially me.

That's me on the right.

I was knackered.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


"Yes, my mother knows I'm out."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Real service

When you imagine a week-long P&O cruise to Vanuatu, you think of idyllic Pacific islands, blue seas and skies, music, entertainment, and possibly shipboard romance, if you're into that sort of thing. You do not imagine this:

"I saw elderly people banging their heads and splitting them open. The toilets were flooding out with sewage and the lifts weren't working.

"There was only one dining room open so people were queuing for food and there were people wandering round covered in cuts and bruises."
I don't suppose anybody complained about a lack of atmosphere, though. What impressed me the most was how passengers were provided with a musical accompaniment to the weather:
"I was in bed trying to calm myself down when the theme song from Titanic came on TV," said Mr Magee.
Now that is real service!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reds under the beds

I went to the doctor today. I have a couple of odd-looking freckles on my legs that didn't used to be there, and I wanted him to recommend a dermatologist. I don't think they are skin cancer, but I want to be sure. My dad had a small skin cancer removed from his forehead once.

My doctor looked at them and laughed.

"That's not skin cancer!" he said.

"I didn't think it was, really," I said. "But I would feel pretty stupid if I was wrong and I hadn't checked it."

I told him about my father, and he wrote me a referral letter to a dermatologist, who happens to be across the street.

"He used to be the director of the skin clinic at Keiritsu hospital," he said. "He's very good. Do you want the freckles removed?"

"No," I said.

"But he's VERY good with laser removal," he said. He seemed very keen for me to have them removed. He likes surgical procedures, as long as he doesn't have to do them himself. (He was horrified when he heard that the boob specialist had said he could aspirate my lumps for me. The way he backed into a corner with his hands up you'd think I'd suggested he perform open heart surgery.)

"It hadn't even occurred to me to have them removed," I said. "Do they look bad?"

"No," said the doctor. "But sometimes ladies worry about these things."

He dictated the letter to his secretary. Then he asked me how I'd got on with my new gynecologist. I explained that I hadn't used the one he recommended after all, because I went to the one my friend used. "She's very good," I said, "But I'll be going back to my old one next time. I found her!"

I told him where my old gynecologist was working now.

"That hospital!" said my doctor, alarmed. "I don't recommend it. They're all Communists!"

"Really?" I said. I hadn't suspected my doctor of being a reds-under-the-beds sort of guy.

"Yes!" he said. "They all belong to the Communist Party. The hospital gets their doctors straight from medical school, and the doctors don't get any other experience. So they're no good."

"They're ALL communists?" I asked.

"Ninety percent," he assured me. "And XXX hospital is also left wing. They're all Sociologists. Scientologists. You know. It's the same problem. The doctors aren't any good at those hospitals, so I can't recommend them."

I explained my gynecologist's background, and he was somewhat mollified.

"Just don't use that hospital for anything else," he told me sternly.

"I won't," I said.

The dermatologist is next. I'll probably see him on Friday.

Playing with fire

The Man just killed a cockroach. This would not be so surprising (well, a little bit surprising, as no screaming was involved) except that he used a homemade flamethrower to do it. The flamethrower consists of a spray bottle of ethyl alcohol and a lighter.

I'm not too sure about the use of a flamethrower as a method of pest control in a wooden house, but I can't say I disapprove, exactly. It means that I don't have to spend the next ten minutes chasing the cockroach with a detergent bottle, which I have to admit is much less fun than a flamethrower. In fact, perhaps I'll try the flamethrower myself, next time.

There's a little bit of the arsonist in everyone, I reckon.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


On Friday I have a class of only two very high level students in a non-credit class, who are there to have discussions about various 'issues,' whatever that means. It is a free-floating sort of class. The issues are whatever we decide to talk about, and tend to be whatever pops up in conversation. The idea is for them to practice their English, basically, which gives us a lot of leeway.

Often I tell them about things that happen in my other classes, and quite frequently ask them to explain to me some aspects of Japanese student behaviour I do not understand. They are quite good at this, and are learning that I am not interested in the 'official' explanations for things. I want to know what is really going on, otherwise nothing makes sense. Sometimes they need a little encouragement to give me the real story. In return, I am frank with them.

I asked them on Friday what the story is with plagiarism. I have heard that in Asian societies, copying another person's work is considered a sort of compliment to that person, and therefore it is not uncommon for students to copy their professor's notes and hand it in as homework, or to copy something from a book, or whatever. It is not considered stealing. It is considered to be respectful, and to come from Confucian philosophy.

At least, that is the official explanation, parroted endlessly.

I asked the two guys what they thought of this explanation, and they laughed.

"No, I don't think so," one said. "If you copy someone's work it is stealing. Everybody knows that."

"Then why do my students do it so often?" I asked. "Do they think their teachers won't check? Do other teachers not check?"

"Oh, no," they said. "Teachers check homework."

I gazed at them for a moment, puzzled.

"Do you mean they ACTUALLY check homework, or that they check it IN THEORY?" I asked, carefully.

They grinned sheepishly.

"Actually they stamp the homework," said one. "I don't think most of them actually read it."

"So everybody assumes that I'm not going to read it, and that's why they give me any old thing," I said, "And that's why they're so shocked when I notice they copied it, or give them a low grade for it."

"Probably," they admitted.

A bit later I was telling them about the quiz I gave my classes to do while I was doing conversation tests in another room.

"Some of the answers are really funny," I said. "It's a mix of easy and hard questions, but I'm always surprised at the ones they get wrong."

I told them some of the funnier answers I'd been given. One of them frowned. He wants to be a high school teacher.

"Do you enjoy laughing at your students?" he asked me, and I detected a hint of disapproval.

"Of course I do," I said. "That's what students are for!" Then I added, "Of course, when I was eighteen I probably would have had trouble with some of these, too, and given my teachers a good laugh. I laugh because when my students try hard some of their guesses are wildly funny. I can't help it. You would, too, I'm sure."

He looked doubtful.

I asked them if they wanted to try the quiz, and they did. It was near the end of class, and when we were about halfway through the quiz (which they didn't find difficult at all) the bell rang. It was lunchtime.

What happens every week with that class is that after the bell goes, the girlfriend of one of these students turns up, to have lunch with them. On Friday she appeared a bit earlier than usual. I greeted her when she came in. Then I asked her the question I'd just asked the two guys.

"Can you name three countries in South America?" I asked. I knew her English was not good, but I was fairly sure she would understand that one.

"Eh?" she said.

I repeated the question, more slowly.

"South America," she said. "South ... " she turned to the guys. "Which direction is 'south'? I've forgotten."

"Minami," they said.

"Minami America . . . " she mused. "Minami America . . . I know! Mexico!"

"That's North America," I said.

"Kita? Oh. Minami America . . . er . . . Saudi Arabia!"

The two guys snorted, and I glared at them, particularly at the would-be high school teacher, whose girlfriend it was.

"It's not polite to laugh IN FRONT OF the student who gives a funny answer," I said, confident that the girl would not understand. "Laugh later." I turned back to the girl. "Name three deserts," I said, and she perked up confidently. She knew this one.

"Ice cream, cake - "

The guys lost it completely.

"See? I TOLD you it was funny!" I said, as I left the room, and the would-be high school teacher nodded vigorously, wiping his eyes. His girlfriend stared at him, puzzled.

Just now I was checking some of the answers I got from other classes on Friday, and came across one I liked a lot. The question was,

How many inches are there in a foot?

The two guys answering the questions had written,

Kenji is 10.4 inches. Tomoki is 10.3 inches.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sorry. On Fridays I'm too tired to angry

Yesterday morning on my way to work my first train was delayed. It was only for ten minutes or so, but this meant that I missed all my connections, and arrived at work ten minutes before the beginning of class instead of forty minutes early. I spent the day feeling as though I would never catch up. Plus my students kept getting lost, but that is a story I'll save for tomorrow. My typing fingers are too tired to deal with it right now.

Also yesterday, on my way home, a train was delayed again, only for longer, so that I ended up getting home at about ten o'clock instead of at least an hour earlier. Since I had to be up at five today this was especially not welcome. It was so not welcome, in fact, that really the only reason I did not try this little trick today is that I didn't think of it first.

A JAPANESE navy officer who was found tied and gagged on the side of a road admitted he faked the assault to avoid going to work, police said.

If I had thought of it first, I'm sure I would have been much better at it. I would have chosen a comfy spot in the bushes and made sure it was well hidden, so I would not be discovered for a while. I know I could have achieved a state of perfect and convincing unconsciousness and maintained it for so long they would have HAD to believe me.

In other news, it was another last day today, and in the surveys I did for one particularly rowdy and exuberant (but enormously fun) class I got this useful bit of advice from several students:

  • You had better get angry.
  • You should angry to us.
  • Be more angry! We love you!
  • Sorry! I was very noisy. More angry please! But this class is very excellent and teacher is fanny and cute. Class was very fanny!
  • You should scolded your student for being lazy.
  • You should angry talking people.
And from one of the students I probably should have been angry at:
  • Because I am very wonderful, there please be the teacher as it is forever.
And in yet OTHER other news, there is a typhoon on the way, just in time for the long weekend.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


We have not had much in the way of sun recently. In fact it has been the longest rainy season that I can remember, and I cannot believe how cool it still is, considering we are well into July. By now I am usually becoming lethargic with the heat, but this year, while the humidity is high, the temperatures are relatively low and the nights are still bearable.

I noticed as I cycled home this afternoon that the little patch of sunflowers I pass is not doing very well. The sunflowers are rather spindly, and droopy from the lack of sun. Also, they are not as big as they usually get.

But my road home is fairly dismal and gray, so it is nice to come across a cheerful spot of colour. They are doing their best. Maybe when the sun reappears they will do even better.

Spork foring

Today was the last day at one place I work, although I will still be at others until the end of the month. I spent the day with students handing in final homework and so on, and also writing answers to some questions about the course while I worked on their grades.

When I collected this writing there were, as usual, one or two gems. From my favourite student, a tiny, extroverted girl with an fantastically piercing voice which she used ALL THE TIME (in English!), I got this comment:

When this class day, I happied every week!

This was not something I didn't already know. Her happiness was hard to avoid noticing, and every week when I walked into class she lit up like a light bulb when she saw me.

"HELLO, TEACHER!" she would cry joyfully from the centre of her bunch of friends, and turn to the rest of the class shouting, "SENSEI IS HERE!" to shut them up. She wanted me to start class IMMEDIATELY and not have to mess around getting everybody to be quiet first. She was full of expectation and anticipation. She LOVED her English classes, and the other students, and her teacher, and was an absolute delight.

Some of the boys had very mixed feeling about her. You could see a confusion of dread and pleasure on their faces when they ended up being her conversation partner. The pleasure came from being paired with the most fun and popular girl in class, and the dread from knowing her usual reaction if they tried to chat her up in Japanese. She would grin at them cheekily and say, in her very carrying voice,


Then she would laugh her head off, and her partner would glance guiltily at me. Thwarted again!

She also made the most progress of anybody in any of my classes. She knew her English was very low level, but believed me when I said that lots of practice and making mistakes were good ways to learn. She practiced a lot, very loudly, and made a lot of mistakes, also very loudly, and her English got better. A couple of weeks ago she was packing up at the end of class, and looked up to tell me,


I was not surprised she was tired. She had been concentrating fiercely for ninety minutes. I told her that she had worked very hard, but that it was worth it because her English was getting better.

"You're a wonderful learner," I said. "Your English is getting better and better all the time."

"REALLY?" she shrieked happily, and I think my ears actually cringed.

I did not get any negative comments this time. I'm not sure why this is, because I did not feel the classes were any better or worse than usual. I was frequently late to my first period class, but nobody commented on that, perhaps because we were on the sixth floor this semester and the elevator was always full, and I was not the only latecomer. I got a lot of variations on this next comment, which is always one of my favourites:

I learn to enjoy this class. I haven't ever like English but I learn this class, I liked English. Thank you very much!!!! I love you!!!!!

For most of them it is the first time they have ever actually spoken English in an English class, and this is why it suddenly becomes interesting for them. It is not because of me, particularly, but it is encouraging.

I asked them for advice about next semester, both for the new students and for me, and while those answers were generally not very helpful, they were fun to read:

I have no advice. Please teach students English in joy in your own way.

My teacher is too perfectly to give any advice.

Well, of course I should have known that it was a silly question for a perfectly teacher like myself to ask. What was I thinking?

I enjoyed this next comment (and the student, who was late EVERY WEEK but always charmingly apologetic and forehead-beating about it), even though reading it made me groan out loud and wonder what I had inflicted on the English speaking world:

I don't like English. But I very like this class teacher. This class is very exsite. I am very happy for meet this class teacher. This class is very enjoy class. I can spork foring country by this class. I'm very thank of you.

So there you have it. If a charming (and late) young Japanese man ever tries to spork foring at you, you may blame me.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hard to swallow

Damn! Missed!

Fish are hard.


They don't WANT to be caught.

Odd, isn't it? They're funny like that.


Me, too!

But it's the next bit that worries me most.

They're SO hard to swallow . . .

Tell me about it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Getting away with it

I had an excellent day yesterday. This was not so much because of what happened, but because of what did not happen. My clothes did not fall off, and I finished another week without handing in that particularly stupid bit of paperwork.

It started when I was walking alone the train platform this morning and noticed that one of my feet felt a bit funny. I looked down, and discovered that the sole of my left boot - and these are my favourite boots and have been for the last eight years - the sole was cracked and a big chunk of lovely, bouncy sole was coming loose.

There was no time to go home and change, so I decided I would have to spend the day walking very, very carefully. I thought about wrapping a rubber band around the boot to stop the flappy bit from falling off on my frequent climbs up and down stairs at train platforms, but I didn't have a rubber band, so couldn't.

Shortly after that, at the first train change while I was walking carefully up some stairs, I noticed that my skirt felt funny, too. When I checked to see what was going on I realized that it was slipping down a little further with every step I took. The elastic in the waistband had suddenly given out. I grabbed at it nonchalantly (it is important to be nonchalant when things like this happen) and continued on to work, even more carefully than before. Things were getting rather complicated.

When I got to work I was a little later than usual (careful walking made me miss a connection), and one of the secretaries had arrived already. Usually I get there first, sign in, and disappear to the other side of campus before seeing them. (The cleaning staff open the office for us early-bird teachers.) I greeted her and tried very hard not to think about the form I have not handed in. I am just NOT BLOODY DOING IT, and when I saw the secretary I didn't want to think about it in case she read my mind. I do not want a confrontation, which I would never win. (Foreign teachers never win open confrontations with stupidity. An open confrontation means you've lost already, both because you are foreign and because you dare to openly confront stupidity. That puts you in the wrong automatically, and it doesn't matter how right you are.)

My boots and my skirt may have been in danger of falling apart, but my wits were not. The secretary and I greeted each other, and when the secretary got That Look on her face and opened her mouth to say something, I moved in to attack first. I pounced. I was vicious, underhand, and devious.

"Oh, my goodness!" I exclaimed, gasping with shock. "You've got a new haircut, haven't you! It looks WONDERFUL! Absolutely LOVELY! It makes you look so YOUNG! It's FABULOUS! And that cardigan is new, too, isn't it? And you look so slim! When did all this happen? You look so BEAUTIFUL!"

It worked. She was totally distracted by her own staggering beauty. She preened. She put her hand up to her hair and was revoltingly coy.

I gazed in admiration. She simpered. Then she showed signs of remembering what she wanted to say, so I pounced again. It is not possible to go overboard with this woman.

"Show me the back," I urged, and she did a slow twirl, giggling girlishly.

"Beautiful!" I breathed, and she said,

"It's much shorter, though."

"But it's perfect," I said. "You should wear it like that all the time. It suits you SO well! It's a whole new look! I almost didn't recognize you! It's - "

I glanced at the clock and gasped.

"Oh, look at the time! Must run!" I said, and she smiled at me patronizingly, pleased that her wonderful new look had caused me to run late.

I quickly signed the book and made a dash for the door. It was a careful dash, though. I did not want to leave my skirt behind.

I was not late, of course. I had plenty of time, because for once I was well prepared for classes, except for the clothing problems. But they were easily taken care of, and I did not have to spend the rest of the day walking as though I were trying to keep a pencil clamped between my buttocks. I found a small but strong paperclip and clipped the waistband of my skirt so it would not fall down. I examined the boot, too, and decided a rubber band was not necessary. The flappy bit was still more attached to the boot than I had at first thought, although not as attached as I am. (I will MOURN those comfy boots.)

And I still haven't filled in the form.

Just two weeks to go. I think I'm going to get away with it!

(Incidentally, that paperclip picture comes from this page, which has some wonderful statistics. If you take that first sentence and change the 80% to 99%, it describes my Thursday/Friday university PERFECTLY.)

That form again

When I got to work yesterday one of my colleagues was sitting at the big table and sipping coffee. I noticed a form sticking out of her bag. It looked familiar.

"That's not that stupid form about what classes we teach, is it?" I asked, horrified. "You're not going to hand that in now, are you?"

"I have to," she said, gloomily. "I'm taking it over later today. Usually I don't even see the secretary, but on Wednesday I got here a bit later than usual and she pounced on me. I've been practicing abject apologies ever since. I'd forgotten all about it. Did you hand yours in?"

"No," I said, "I always get here too early for her. And anyway, I'm bloody well not going to! It's two weeks before the end of semester, and she never needed it in the first place!"

"I know," she said.

"When you hand it in, ask her what it's for," I said.

"Oh, I CAN'T," said my colleague, horrified. "I wouldn't dare!"

"Oh, go on!" I said. "I don't mean you should confront her. I mean just ask her, innocently. Apologize like mad, then say you have always wondered what the form is for, like you're stupid and she's really, really clever, and see what she says."

My colleague looked momentarily thoughtful, then gleeful, then came back down to earth. She shook her head.

"No, I can't do it," she said. "She'll know I know. I'm no good at pretending. It'll show in my face."

"But she'll have to come up with something different," I argued. "She CAN'T tell you she needs it so she can inform the faculties when you call in sick, because we've been told that we are absolutely NOT allowed to call her. We have to inform them ourselves, now. Remember the memo at the beginning of the year?"

"Yes," said my colleague. "And I teach four different faculties in one day, so I have to make four phone calls if I'm sick."

"She does absolutely NOTHING for us, and she's supposed to be our secretary!" I said. "And don't forget we have to call our boss, too, so that makes FIVE phone calls. We could be dying, and we'd have to make FIVE PHONE CALLS for ONE MEASLY DAY OFF. FIVE PEOPLE listen to you and make you feel as if you're a lazy gaijin, faking it. You know they always do that. 'Oh, you're SICK are you?' they say. 'Riiiight. When will you make up the classes?' "

My colleague laughed bitterly.

"They do, don't they?" she said. "Why do they do that? I never call in sick unless I can hardly move, and they always manage to make me feel worse than I did to begin with."

I could see I was breaking her down, and kept pushing.

"There isn't even the SHADOW of a reason for her to have those forms, now. Oh, go on! Ask!"

My colleague pulled the form out of her bag and stared at it. Every little box had been filled in with her careful, childish Kanji. Every fiendishly difficult faculty and department name had been painstakingly copied. Every class was listed, along with the course title and classroom number. It represented a lost evening of headache-inducing irritation, and was destined to be filed away and never looked at again.

"Weeeell . . . " she said.

"Just do it!" I urged. "It will make you feel better. Besides, I can't wait to hear how she justifies it this time."

She put the paper away again.

"No, I can't," she said, firmly. "It will show. She will KNOW."

Damn. Why can't everybody be as sneaky as me?

But I can't ask her myself, because then I'll end up having to hand in the form. You do not defy the secretary, at least not openly. She is related to the president of the university, so you have to work on your passive-aggressive skills to get anything past her.

And I am bloody well NOT going to fill in that form, and especially not two weeks before the end of semester.

I'll have to find somebody else to ask the question.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Learning to eat

Today it rained, a LOT. I got lucky, though. The rain stopped just as I finished testing my last class (I'd forgotten I was doing it today as well), and although we had not used up the ninety minutes we are supposed to use, I told the students to hurry home before the skies opened again. It may have not been a very long test, but it used up all my students' brains, and there was nothing left by the time I'd finished with them. What would be the point of another fifteen minutes?

It continued to not rain most the way home, and at one point I heard a commotion, looked up, and saw some crows up on the roof of a house opposite a park. I stopped to see what they were doing. Two of them were babies, by which I mean they were huge but acting like babies. They gawped excitedly at the other two who had just flown in with large bits of bread in their beaks.

"FEED ME! FEED ME!" shouted the babies.

The parents scorned this childish behaviour.

"Feed yourselves!" they said, and dropped the bread on the roof.

I am really annoyed that none of the photos came out very well. One of the parents positively TAUNTED one of the babies with the bread. The baby did not want to feed itself, and the parent was refusing to feed it. You can sort of see it in this picture. The baby on the left got the idea, but the one on the right was still wanting to be fed, and the parent kept picking up the bread and dropping it again.

Finally both parent and uncooperative infant ended up on the ridge of the roof, where my camera was able to focus in the grim light. The parent had dropped the bread, but the young one was still not eating it. The parent tried demonstrating.

"Like THIS!" said the parent, and finally the baby decided to give it another go.

This time it watched its sibling, and, finally, figured it out.

I just wish I'd taken better pictures. The whole drama took less than five minutes and will probably never happen again, at least with that particular crow family. I was trying to keep the bicycle steady and not get rain on the camera (there were a few drops), and the light was not good.

But at least I got home without getting very wet.


One second? ONE SECOND???

Oh, well. At least I can get some sleep this week.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Today I was testing students, in pairs. These were 'conversation' tests, since I have been teaching them, supposedly, how to have 'conversations' in English. I will not write about what I had to endure. Living through it once was enough, and I have to do it again on Thursday and Friday with other classes.

But I did enjoy the results from the other work I had them doing while I was giving these tests. I handed out a general knowledge quiz, lifted from somewhere years ago (probably from the Internet), totally irrelevant but designed to keep the class quiet(ish) while I was out of the room. (I test them in a different room.) I told them to try to answer all the questions if they could. They could use dictionaries, their phones, and their brains, and as long as the answers were all in English they'd get some points for it. They could help each other, working in groups or alone, whatever they liked.

When I had finished the testing I went back into the classroom and collected the papers, and giggled over them on my way home.

My favourite answer came from the question that said,

How many legs does a spider have?

One group of guys had obviously argued about this, because several answers had been written and then erased violently. Their final answer was, I thought, a perfect compromise, and made me laugh out loud. They had written,

About eight.

Perhaps they had met MY spider, in which case it was not only funny but perfectly accurate. My spider did not have eight legs. It had about eight legs.

Another question on this quiz that never fails to provide amusement is the one that says,

Name three deserts.

Generally about eighty percent of the students get this one wrong, and today was no exception. A typical answer read:

Ice cream, cake, and custard pudding.

It's an easy enough mistake to make, really, but I wasn't really laughing at the mistake. I was laughing at the mental picture this answer always gives me, of camels slogging over custard pudding dunes and getting caught in cake storms. (Yes, I know it's a cheap laugh, but I take my laughs where I can get them at the dag end of semester.)

In other news, my goofy student outdid himself today. I think he was worried about the test, because he arrived at class a full four hours early and managed to freak out my first period students, who had never met him properly before. He had never actually entered my first period class, although he has hung around in the corridor outside, peeking in occasionally. After I sent him out, he spent most of the day wandering the corridor, and practically everybody crossing the corridor to come to the room where I was conducting the tests encountered him and got a little fright, especially when he tried to follow them in a few times.

But at least he did all right in the test when it was finally his turn. I paired him with a boy who I thought would be kind to him (not the same one as last time - I'm not a sadist), and made sure the other boy would be kind by secretly bribing him with a higher grade if he could elicit SOMETHING from the goofy kid. This rather devious tactic worked brilliantly. The other student did better than he'd done all semester, fully deserving his high grade on the test, and the goofy kid was able to squeak through because he got so much help, prompting and encouragement from his partner.

Next week we're having last classes at that place, and I'll be interested to see what the goofy kid writes on the evaluation thing I give them to write on their last day, which has lots of space for comments. I suspect he has had a rather puzzling time. I also suspect he has failed all his other Tuesday classes, because all semester he has been coming only to my classes on Tuesdays. Not just the one he's enrolled in, but ALL of them. I'm there all day, and for most of the day he is hanging around outside in the corridor, although today was the first time he'd actually come into my first period class.

I have warned the teachers I work with who teach second year elective English classes that he might turn up in their classes next year. He seems to like his English classes, and I will be passing him. I cannot fail him. He has done all the work, come to all the classes (and then some) and his English has improved a little, which is really all you can hope for given the limitations of the course. He is, on paper, the perfect student. His problems are not academic problems, and I cannot fail him for being goofy.

The other teachers thanked me appropriately. That wasn't a very uplifting experience. In fact, I don't remember ever having so much concentrated sarcasm aimed at me before, and I am still feeling quite flattened.

Monday, July 02, 2007

My, what big feet you have!

Nap time


¿ʎuunɟ ʞoo1 noʎ ʇɐɥʇ ǝʞı1 pɐǝɥ ɹnoʎ ʇsıʍʇ noʎ uǝɥʍ ʇɐɥʇ ʍouʞ noʎ pıp

I know how he felt

Today I was marking tests, and spent a lot of time groaning at my students poor preparation. (I gave them the answers ahead of time! They should have all got 100%!) I also spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to dredge more points out of what they'd done.

But it wasn't all bad. Some of what they wrote made me smile, too. My favourite line came from a student who could not remember the spelling of a word. He drew an arrow to the word, and wrote:

I cannot remember spell. How awfully my brain is!

I think I will be finding occasion to use that one myself.