Sunday, June 28, 2009

Snakes, wallabies, and practical jokes

Yesterday The Man told me that when he was parking his bicycle in the garden he saw a snake. A snake! In our tiny little garden!

It was not a white snake. In Japan it is good luck to have a white snake in the garden. Our snake is an ordinary shimahebi, like the one I photographed down by the river one time. The Man said he thought it was about a meter long, or perhaps a bit longer. He said it was startled and ran away (well, not ran exactly, but you know what I mean) when it saw him.

I did not ask him if he screamed, but I expect he did, and that's why I haven't seen it, although I have been looking.

In other wildlife news, in Australia wallabies have been playing practical jokes on poppy farmers. Crop circles! Naughty, naughty wallabies. Naughty, naughty STONED wallabies.

Also, speaking of practical jokes, tonight I have been enjoying some of the videos on Improv Everywhere. They have been making me smile.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Well done!

I was watching this wonderful series of videos on YouTube (the link is to only the first one), when I suddenly started laughing. This happened when I got to about the three minute point in part three. At that point the guy (whose name I forget) says to Derek,

"Perfect! Well done!"

and Derek answers,

"Thank you."

The reason I laughed was that all through this series I had been irresistibly reminded of a student I had two years ago who spoke exactly in the way Derek does, and that particular exchange was exactly the same as one my student and I had numerous times. But I didn't even realize I was using those words until the second-to-last class, when I used different words, and caused a wee upset.

What happened was that we had a speaking test, in which my students have 'conversations' with random partners, and I grade them. The weird student (I feel a bit bad calling him that, but he was odd) was concerned about this test, and prepared far too much. By this I mean that he prepared for any possible question a random partner could ask him in the course of the conversation. This was not as difficult as it might seem, as during the 'conversation' part of class over the past weeks he had heard the same familiar questions over and over and over. My students are not very imaginative when it comes to conversations in English. They stick to the language they know. "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" they ask. "Do you like sports?" "What's your favourite food?" and so on. But the test is supposed to be of a conversation, not a prepared speech, and that was the problem. Conversations are hard for a person who finds social interaction a challenge.

And it meant that during his test, when his partner asked him a question, my odd student was well prepared. His partner asked him,

"What did you do last weekend?"

And the odd student responded very fluently, and at length, with a prepared speech explaining exactly what he had done last weekend, in great detail and using a lot of words he had apparently looked up in the dictionary. In fact he answered with so much detail and so fluently that his partner couldn't get a word in edgeways, which was probably just as well because I could see he couldn't understand very much anyway. Then the timer went off and the test was over. The odd student's partner hadn't had a chance to speak yet.

The partner escaped as soon as the test was over, looking anxious. The odd student stayed behind, looking at me, waiting for a response.

"Was THAT all RIGHT?" he asked.

"Yes!" I said. "That was very good!"

He continued to stand there. It was clear he was waiting for something.

"You did very well!" I added reassuringly.

This did not seem to help, and I couldn't figure out what he was waiting for. We stared at each other. Finally he spoke again.

"WELL DONE?" he asked.

"Huh?" I said, and then, quickly, "Yes! WELL DONE!"

"THANK you," he said, and left.

I sat there staring after him, and realized what had happened. Every time he did well at something (which was often), and wanted to know if he'd done it right, I had, apparently, said,

"Well done!"

And he would reply,

"Thank you!"

I didn't even realize I was doing it.

But he did, and it bothered him when I didn't say it after the test.

So that is what that video reminded me of. Derek has exactly the same speech mannerisms that my student had. If I listen but do not look at the video when Derek is speaking, that could be my student. And when he said, "Thank you!" in response to someone saying, "Well done!" – well, that made me laugh, because it reminded me of my student and that test. (Incidentally, I gave the odd student's partner an A for the test, and told him so. I had chosen him because I'd heard him often enough in class, knew he was good, and knew he would not panic too badly if things went pear-shaped during the test, which they did. I thanked him for remaining calm and he was delighted to find out he hadn't failed after all.)

You might remember that when I originally wrote about my odd student I said that it was very difficult to describe the way he spoke, although I tried. Well, now I do not need to describe it. If you listen to Derek speaking you will know exactly what I was talking about.

You might also understand why I found my student so endearing.


My first dragonfly of the season.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Saturday, June 20, 2009


Way back in 2005 I first posted pictures of Taro, the campus cat. Taro was a young cat then, and full of beans. Sleepy beans, but beans, nonetheless.

Last year I spotted him now and again in the science building, waiting for the elevator.

Yesterday I saw him early in the morning. There is a area of campus that has been redesigned, with water features, which had just been filled up with clean water. Taro was very thirsty. He drank and drank and drank, and ignored me completely until he had finished. When he had finished, he gave me a cuddle.

Well, actually, he allowed me to give him a cuddle. He is a cat, after all.

Taro has slowed down a bit, and doesn't look quite so lushly well-groomed as he did back in 2005. But he is still a pretty healthy-looking cat, and seems quite content with his university life, and especially with the large new water bowls the university has provided just for him.

(Sorry about the small size of the picture. My keitei camera isn't very good.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Recently in the teachers' room at one place I work several of us found we had observed the same phenomenon, perhaps because we were using the same textbook, which had the same activity in it, which our students had the same problem with. We all noticed that most of our students cannot read or write cursive English.

What makes this odd is that a few years ago it seemed that many of our students could ONLY write cursive English. If you asked them to print something, they couldn't. They didn't know how. Obviously something has changed in the way they are teaching English at schools.

In the textbook we are using, which is for business majors, there is a section about how to format a business letter. All of us are using this as a homework assignment. The students write a business letter. They have to print it out, and then sign it.

Trying to explain the concept of signatures to students who cannot write in cursive script is really difficult, we are all discovering. In the end I devoted almost half a hour of class to getting students to learn to write (rather than print) their own names, and then to developing some sort of signature. I pointed out to them that when they get a passport they will need to sign it, so they might as well have a signature they can repeat and that they like.

One of my students yesterday was wearing a t-shirt which had a lot of English writing on it. Most of it was in cursive script, for which I was grateful, as there was a lot of bad language in there. But in large, clearly printed letters across the back was:


That part was not cursive.

The student wearing this t-shirt is the only girl in a class of science students. On the first day of classes this semester she introduced herself by saying that she loved meeting people and making friends. She thought people were interesting. EVERYBODY was interesting, she said.

She is a lovely kid, and I'm happy to have her in the class. All the boys love her. True to her self-introduction she is brightly interested in everything and everybody. She makes everybody feel special, including the nerds and the very shy boys. She makes them laugh. In fact, when I have the students changing conversational partners I can always tell where she is by the laughter.

"I like your t-shirt," I told her yesterday. "Especially what it says on the back." I pointed.

"Eh?" she said, and turned around. Shota, who was sitting behind her, and whose English is a little better than the others, told her to turn back again. She did, very confused. "What did sensei say?" she asked, twisting around again.

"TURN AROUND!" he said, and she did, looking worried and trying to peek over her shoulder. Shota frowned with effort and read, loudly and slowly,


There was a pause as the class digested this, then everybody laughed, including the girl.

"Who?" she asked.

"You," said Shota. "That's what your t-shirt says."

"REALLY?" she said.

If it's on their clothes, my students can't read English however it's written, apparently.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's back!

Mr Deity is back!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


It seems that I am behind the times with these. Several million people have seen the videos already. But I can't help but be impressed, and if you haven't seen Nora the pianist, you should.

Nora's dedication to her art, her intense concentration, and frequent practice has paid off. She has become a (YouTube) star - and for good reason! Like most self-taught musicians her music can be unconventional and somewhat unpredictable, but it is passionate - and she is developing a style all of her own.

Go Nora!

Funny, not funny

Yesterday one of my students came back. He had skipped two classes, and I had missed him. My classes at my Tuesday university are a bit dull this year, aside from him. He is the one really bright spark. His English level is low, which is to be expected (I have the lowest level classes ALL DAY at that place this semester, oh dear, and the baseline seems to be inching down), but that does not stop him from trying very hard, loudly, and enthusiastically. He is particularly interested in being funny in English, and often succeeds. When I correct a mistake, he repeats my correction, then repeats his mistake and wants to know, "But is it FUNNY? It's FUNNY, isn't it?" It often is.

He was particularly exuberant yesterday, and stood up when I entered the room.


"Yes, I am!" I said, and I was. He livens up the class enormously. When he is there, taking loud risks with a difficult and frightening language, the other students feel emboldened to take smaller, quieter risks, knowing they'll be overlooked in the general confusion and hilarity he causes. Nobody will laugh at them. They'll be too busy laughing at him as he hams it up.

"Where did you go?" I asked. "Why were you absent? We missed you!"

He beamed proudly.

"I ... GRANDFATHER! ... KILLED!" he bellowed.

"You what?" I asked, and he turned to one of his friends and said, "That was right, wasn't it?"

"I think 'killed' is korosu," answered his friend, hesitantly. "Maybe you mean . . . dead?"

"HA HA HA!" said my favourite student. "NOT KILLED, NO NO NO!"

"Good," I said.


He sat down.

Then he stood up again.


"No," I told him. "You worried me."


But I was only half joking.

A couple of years ago I had a student turn up for the first time in my classes halfway through semester. He came up and told me (in front of the class) that he had been absent because his mother was murdered and the police had been questioning him.

I found this rather disconcerting, to say the least. Wouldn't I have been warned if I was going to have a murder suspect in my class? Could it really be true? But would he have made up something like that? That evening I went back over old newspapers online and sure enough, the story was there. It was a gory sort of murder.

Someone should have told me. My student shouldn't have had to. Also, it would have been nice to be a little prepared. That boy was not an easy student.* (He was not a murderer, though. A few months later the mother's boyfriend was arrested.)

So that's why my favourite student gave me a bit of a flashback yesterday. The last time someone told me a family member had been murdered, it turned out to be true.

I didn't tell him that, though.

*Well, OF COURSE he was not an easy student, the poor kid.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Theme parks

I have never been very interested in theme parks. I don't like standing in line, and most rides do not tempt me, especially the scary ones. But I may have found one that could tempt me: the Adult Theme Park Ride. If the same theme park also had the Watermaze, and it was summer, I would be a regular visitor.

I guess that means I'm getting old.

(I'm not quite ready for the Carnival Rides for the Elderly, though.)

I have been spending far too much time at the Halfbakery. In fact, I even considered joining at one point, when I was reading the variations on ping-pong and tennis. I wanted to add my own ping-pong variation.

I didn't, though, so I'll tell you about it instead. This is, in any case, a 'baked' idea, because it has been done, numerous times, in our house when I was a child. Our version of ping-pong was called blowball. To play this game you need a large number of children or adults (it doesn't really matter, although heights should be distributed evenly over both teams), a ping-pong ball, a ping-pong net, and a table. (We had a large dining room table, which sufficed.) A cloth is also recommended, to wipe the table occasionally.

You set up the net raised high enough so that the ping-pong ball can roll underneath it. You then form two teams, ranged around the table, and place the ping-pong ball on the side of the team that is 'serving.' The aim is to blow the ball off the other team's side of the table. To do this, you have to all blow like mad. You are not allowed to touch the side of the table, so what you end up with is a bunch of people with their hands behind their backs, stooped over, blowing and yelling and giggling in pretty much equal amounts. It is a good spectator sport, too. It is absurdly entertaining to see so many people exerting so much energy to make a ball move so slowly.

Blowball is a very exciting game*, and I can recommend it wholeheartedly. Also, it is perfect for wearing out a crowd of overactive children without breaking anything.

*It is especially exciting when someone faints, which I remember being not particularly uncommon during this game. It was never me, though. The nearest I ever got was seeing stars a couple of times.