Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Happy New Year, everybody!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Stop being saintly

One of the other reasons I didn't blog much for a while is that the Saturday after catching that cold I woke up with another attack of hand eczema. This time I did not wake up with bleeding palms. I woke up itching severely, but not actually bleeding. That was a relief. Perhaps my sleeping brain had remembered the horror story two friends told me separately a few weeks ago, after reading it in the New Yorker. (I just discovered the story is online, here, but I still have not read it. I know enough, from what my friends told me.)

In this story there is something about a woman whose head was so itchy, and she scratched so much (STOP READING THIS PARAGRAPH NOW IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH) she scratched her way all the way through her skull and to her brain.

Can you imagine being that itchy?

I can, unfortunately. This hand eczema thing is, I hope, the nearest I'll get to that, and wasn't that bad but still, it was quite bad enough. When I woke up I was afraid to look. I thought I might find that I had scratched through to bone. And then THROUGH bone. "Look Ma! No hands!" took on a whole new meaning, suddenly, and I wished my friends had not told me about that article.

My hands were still intact, however. They were just itchy. And when I say 'just' itchy, I mean 'REALLY, REALLY ITCHY, I-AM-GOING-INSANE ITCHY, SOMEBODY-PLEASE-CUT-OFF-MY-HANDS ITCHY.'

Like I said, it was a Saturday, and I could not go to the doctor. I suppose I could have gone to an emergency hospital, and if I was in NZ I might have, but red tape is always harder in another language and I didn't think I could cope with red tape and itchy hands both at once. It was taking all my will power already not to scratch. Actually, it was taking all my will power and a pair of cotton gloves.

In fact, that was all I ended up treating it with. Greasy, non-smelly hand cream, and cotton gloves, as I learned last time. I did the hand cream/cotton gloves thing and itched for three days, then the itching went away magically while I was sitting in the skin doctor's waiting room on Monday evening. My hands still did not look good, and the doctor prescribed steroid cream, but I only used it twice. I do not like using steroid cream on my hands anyway. I am afraid I will forget and accidentally get some on my face, or in my eyes.

So my advice to anybody who got here looking for remedies for hand eczema is to use greasy, non-smelly hand cream, avoid soaps and detergents – and indeed, water – as much as you possibly can, and wear cotton gloves at night but also during the day when you can. It is fantastically inconvenient, especially for a chronic hand-washer like me, and it makes typing a little difficult and clumsy, but it can be done. Both times I have had this problem the itch has stopped sometime in the third day. The marks take a little longer to go away, but even those have mostly gone now, too.

Actually, when I was thinking about the bleeding palms thing, I realized that it is highly likely that I did not have hand eczema at all. I had stigmata, caused by being too saintly.

So here is my other remedy, which I also used. Follow the advice above, just in case. But also, swear and shout at your hands. Curse them loudly. Irritate everybody around you by complaining about the itch all the time. Wave your hands in the air and scream blasphemously.

Stop being saintly, in other words.

That's what I did, and it worked for me.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A very bad Christmas pun

It has been a while, hasn't it? I have not stopped blogging, however. I have been blogging like mad. The only problem is that the blogging is happening inside my head, and hasn't made it to the screen for a while. Something happens and I think, "Oh, I'll write about that when I get home." If I am already home, I think, "Oh, I'll write about that later."

'Later' comes, and I sit here wondering what it on earth I thought was worth writing about. Was I going to tell you the brilliant idea of wearing a surgical mask at night when you have a cold in the winter, so that the air around your nose and mouth doesn't get so dry? This does work well, I've found (at least in Japan, where the air is ridiculously dry in winter), except for the morning I woke up and the mask had slipped up over my eyes. I thought for a panicky moment I had gone blind. It was an odd sort of blindness, though. My world had not gone black; it had gone white. Freaky!

But that wasn't really worth writing about. There were some work incidents, but classes finished on Monday and it's Thursday now, which means I have had time to forget almost everything.

Was I going to write about Christmas? But Christmas was today (well, yesterday, now), and I didn't go to the flea market like I usually do. The cold I caught is dragging on and on (it's been almost two weeks) and I didn't have the energy. Also, it was raining, and I thought the market would probably be cancelled anyway. It wasn't, but by the time the sun came out it was too late to change my mind.

In the evening I met a friend at the Hilton for the Christmas buffet. That was lovely. There was only the two of us this year, and it was a chance to catch up while stuffing our faces. The Man did not come, but a small piece of stollen accidentally dropped into my bag while I was eating dessert, and I decided to take it home for him. He likes stollen.

That means that this Christmas I have launched a new career as a criminal, and in the process turned The Man into a receiver of stollen goods.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008


Yesterday was my last working Friday of the year, and I was testing students all day again. Speaking tests are always a little difficult, for reasons I have gone into before. These reasons were multiplied this time because I have a cold and was taking cold medicine, which made me sleepy.

While I was doing these tests in another room, I had to have the students who were not being tested doing something else back in the classroom as they waited their turn. Because of this cold (at least that's my excuse) I was not thinking clearly and for some reason got the idea that I had already prepared something last week.

Ten minutes before class, I discovered that what I had prepared last week was a large, red message to myself in my notebook which said,

Prepare something for next week!!!!!!!

Why did I not open my notebook earlier? And why didn't I care more, when I finally did? How much codeine is in that cold medicine the doctor gave me?

Anyway, I did not panic. Instead, I asked around the teachers' room and someone came up with a Christmas puzzle, which I was able to copy. I used that.

At the end of the puzzle was a sentence the students had to finish. This was the only 'creative' part of the handout, and I found the answers immensely amusing, all day. I thought you might enjoy some of them, too. (If you don't, take some codeine and try again.)

The sentence they had to finish was this:

This Christmas I want . . .

Here are some of the things my second year students wrote. Some of them were evidently feeling tired:

This Christmas I want to rest.
This Christmas I want to sleep well.

Some were tired AND hungry:

This Christmas I want to sleep all day and to eat cakes.

And one was only hungry. Very, very hungry.

This Christmas I want to eat many chickens.

Others had different things on their minds:

This Christmas I want girlfriends.
This Christmas I want to kiss a girl.
This Christmas I want a girlfriend. And I want to play with her.
This Christmas I want to get money. And I want to play with boy.

(These were all written by guys. I had to remind myself that 'play' in Japanese (asobu) is used QUITE differently from the way it is used in English. Direct translations can be disastrous.)

A few students were touchingly optimistic.

This Christmas I want to meet Santa.
This Christmas I want world peace

And one student had a very specific want:

This Christmas I want a collapsible bicycle.

There was one lout. Why is there always a lout? And why does he have to be the one who is the most likely to get what he wants for Christmas?

This Christmas I want to drink too much.

The speaking tests went well, or at least I think they went well. I do not remember much about them. That does not matter, as I was grading them as they happened. (Probably far too high.) I didn't really expect speaking tests to go well with cold medicine, but they did.

In fact, that was so much less stressful than usual I might try it again next semester.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The mask

Last Sunday I caught a cold. It was a sudden and vicious sort of cold, the kind where you go to bed feeling perfectly all right and wake up feeling as if someone has been stuffing your sinuses with cotton wool all night and shoving bits of broken glass down your throat. I thought I would never recover.

On Monday I was feeling quite a bit better already, but to make sure I didn't pass on my germs to the students, and also because the air is so dry, I wore one of those surgical mask thingies that are commonly worn here in this season. I would not do that in NZ, but I can do it here, because everybody else does.

As it turned out, it was a very clever thing to do. Sometimes I am clever without meaning to be, and Monday was one of those times. My afternoon classes on Mondays are usually very difficult ones. The students are noisy and full of energy but uninterested in learning English, and generally by the time the final bell rings my ears are ringing along with it. We often have fun, but it is exhausting fun.

On Monday, when I went into my first afternoon class wearing my mask, the students all shrieked loudly and demanded to know whether I had a cold.

"No," I croaked. "I have the Ebola virus." Naturally, they were not listening, so did not hear me. This is often the case. I can say what I like.

Monday's task for these students was to prepare for the oral test I'm supposed to give them in January. I had prepared a list of questions for them, and from those I told them I would be choosing four, but they should prepare for all of them. I told them to write their answers, and I would check what they wrote, so that they could practice correct answers over the New Year break. (Most of them won't, of course.)

I told the students sitting nearest the front that I did not have the energy to go around the class checking what they wrote, so they would have to bring it to me when they finished. They nodded wisely and spread the news around the room. (I also reassured the one good student who actually listens that I did not in fact have the Ebola virus.)

After the first excitement they settled down and behaved like angels. They worked hard, frequently stopped to ask me how I was, and looked concerned every time I coughed or sneezed. When they had finished writing their answers they brought them to me for checking, and lined up quietly instead of mobbing me and yelling insults at each other. When there was still half an hour of class time left most had finished, and only three or four were still working away. Their friends crowded around them to help, and I heard one saying,

"Hurry up! Teacher is sick! She needs to rest!"

The slow students hurried up, and class finished early. As they were leaving, all the students told me to take care of myself.

I was touched. They had managed to refrain from shrieking for nearly eighty minutes. They really cared!

The last class of the day was almost identical, and I got home early.

I have come to the conclusion that I should go to those classes masked every week.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Exploding duck

...waving goodbye.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My favourite ever pronunciation mistake

(My apologies for the quality of the illustration. If I had known my future career would require a talent for stick drawings, I would have paid more attention in art classes at school.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


On Tuesday one of my students gave me a note at the beginning of class. It was from another student, who was writing to explain why he would be absent. It went like this:

Dear Bald Ant (obviously not exactly this, but a similar mangling of my name),

I'm gonna absent, cuz I have to go work. I'll explane that next week. I'm sorry I should have told you immeditary.

It was sweet of him to let me know in advance that he would be absent. Many of my students don't seem to even notice whether they're in class or not. They are surprised when I fail them for missing half the classes.

It was also sweet of him to give me a giggle in the middle of a long day.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The great shrink

Today I was checking homework, and discovered that one of my students had visited the Yasaka Shrink.

There must be something about that place that causes students' brains to become muddled.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

How was your day?

Today I was fantastically well-organized. I woke up fifteen minutes before the alarm was due to go off, feeling alert and refreshed. I had time to take things easy this morning. I organized my bag nicely, and made sure all that marked homework was in there and that I hadn't forgotten a single thing. I'd marked and prepared a lot last weekend, and it was all in there. Then I managed to catch an earlier train than usual, and at work had time to relax and chat with colleagues, safe in the knowledge that everything was ready in my bag.

You are waiting for the other shoe to drop, aren't you. HOW DID YOU KNOW?

When I organized my bag nicely and made sure I had everything I needed and hadn't forgotten a single thing, I did a fantastic job – for my Friday classes. And, in case it has escaped your notice (as it did mine), today was not Friday. Today was Thursday.

I do not want to write about how the rest of my day went. I do not even want to think about it. I prefer to focus on the positive. For this reason, I have decided to remember only those blissful couple of hours before my first class started, and to erase the rest from my memory.

I had a lovely day. Thank you for asking.

Monday, December 01, 2008


I got lucky today. Just as I got to the little river, before my classes started, these two arrived as well. They were having a very serious and somewhat heated discussion about something.

Then they left again.

Although these birds are called Common Kingfishers, they are not very common around here. Today was only the second time I've seen any.