Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I saw at the river

Today I cycled down to the big river. It has been several months since I went there, and I discovered that all the gulls were gone. I forgot they don't hang around there in the summer. They turn up in autumn, and stay for the winter.

I did not spend as much time there as I'd planned, because while I was cycling along the riverbank I remembered that a friend had moved to somewhere near that area, and maybe he was at home and I could pay him a visit? I texted him, and he answered immediately, saying he'd cycle down to meet me. He brought his dog. I think the dog remembered me, although I hadn't seen her since she wasn't much more than a puppy. She got all excited when she saw me. Or it could just be that I smell good to dogs when I'm all hot and sweaty after a bicycle ride.

We went back to his (very nice) new place for a drink, and after an hour or so I cycled home again along the river. On the way I took some pictures, but not very many.

One picture I took was of a cormorant flying. It was doing its best imitation of a cartoon. I must say the hornbill does it better, but still, that was a pretty good effort. The dangling foot is especially good.

I also saw a lot of crows. They were behaving in the way crows do, flying around and shouting scornfully, except for this one. I think this one is an outcast.

It was quietly fossicking in the grass, looking normal, but when it turned the other way . . .

I saw that it had a mutant white feather.

How odd. I guess that was why the other crows didn't want to hang around with it. Poor, lonely white-feathered crow.

Before I left the riverside I saw the amazing umbrella bird, hanging from a tree.

This is a baby umbrella bird. When it is older it will open, trundle down to the river, and drift out to sea (unless it is captured and sold into slavery beforehand, that is).

I know this because I have seen it before.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

They can't blame me

Last day tomorrow. Hooray! I will be giving tests. It is test week, and for one department in one university I have to give tests in the test period. Since I am teaching oral English, and the test period is fifty minutes, and I cannot give speaking tests to thirty-odd students in fifty minutes, I will be giving paper tests with an element of listening. For one class, which is very small (only fourteen students, and they were a joy) I had a test written that was far too short, so I told them in the last week of classes that I wanted them to write a test question each, to make it longer. It took a while for them to understand that I wanted them to write their own test questions, to which they would (of course) know the answers. They thought this was very odd indeed. I told them the test was only ten percent of their final grade, and they could use their test questions to test themselves on something they really wanted to remember.

I also told them to make sure they told the other students what their question was, and their answer, so that everybody could get 100%.

They seemed to think this whole thing was a bit funny.

I used the time when they were writing their test questions to mark some assignments, and noticed, out the corner of my eye, that they were not taking it very seriously. They wrote their questions quickly, then gossiped amongst themselves happily. I pretended to think they were discussing their test questions, and carried on with my marking.

Towards the end of class I collected their questions, corrected them (there were some mistakes), and told them the corrections. They were packing up to leave when I asked them,

"Did you remember to tell each other your test questions?"

They looked at each other furtively.

"Er, yes?" they said, and a more honest student added, "Mostly."

"Good!" I said.

When I typed up the test questions I realized that some of the students had written quite difficult ones. They were the sort that are easy to write but less easy to answer. Chuckling evilly to myself I wrote, at the top of that section of the test:

"YOUR QUESTIONS. (Have fun getting 100% for this part because you know all the answers.)"

It will be interesting to see how they do, but I suspect it might be a good thing the test is only worth ten percent of their final grade!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cicada emerging

The other day I was about to go out when I noticed a cicada in the garden. It looked a little odd, so I took a picture. Was it dead? I wasn't sure, but I liked the picture.

I came back home about an hour later, and did some chores. Then I had to go out again. When I went out into the garden I noticed the cicada had changed shape. I went over to see what was happening, and was amazed. I was also disappointed that I had missed the first bit. Maybe one day I'll capture the entire process.

I have never seen this happen before, although I have often seen the cicada shells. I spent about an hour watching and taking pictures, then really did have to go, reluctantly. All these pictures were taken within about an hour, except the last one, which was taken after I came home again, about an hour and a half later. It was a very slow process, and messed up my entire, carefully planned day.

In the morning the cicada was gone, leaving only the shell still attached to the weed. (And yes, it is a weed. It's a very tall weed. The rainy season has caused our garden to sprout weeds of gigantic proportions, which I have not had time to take care of yet.)

This cicada is Cryptotympana facialis, and you can hear what it sounds like on this page. It is VERY, VERY LOUD, especially when it gets its feet stuck in the screen window outside your bedroom at five o'clock in the morning.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I am going mad. It is the end of semester and I am frantically trying to grade, and being thwarted at every turn. Yesterday things kept happening, and I was busy with other routine chores, and then late yesterday afternoon I had finally settled down to do some serious marking of student papers when the phone rang. It was my brother. I haven't spoken to him for a long time, so felt obliged to continue talking to him even when we'd already said goodbye twice, I had run out of things to say, and he was starting to repeat himself. It was lovely to talk to him, but his timing was horrible. When I finally put the phone down it was time for dinner.

To make matters worse, I have caught a cold. After dinner I remembered to take my medicine, took it, and almost immediately felt sleepy. I don't usually take cold medicine, but I am trying to suppress the symptoms so I can get some work done. This is obviously not working. I went to bed right after writing this. (It is now Sunday.)

But it was not just because I am sleepy. I had had enough for the day. I am not sure what I had had enough of, because I hadn't achieved much, but perhaps it was just that I had had enough of not achieving much.

But on another topic, as I am taking a break from grading, let me tell you about my embarrassing new mobile phone ringtone. Perhaps you remember the frogs I had before, as my ringtone. I hate ringtones, usually, and had recorded the frogs down at the paddy field on the corner so that I could have a sound I liked. That worked worked well. The frogs were not very loud, but just loud enough, and I've been using them for a year. I usually have my phone set on silent mode anyway, but on the rare occasions I didn't, and my phone rang during class, or in a quiet bookstore, or somewhere, everybody was puzzled except me. The frogs worked PERFECTLY.

They continued to work perfectly until summer rolled round again, and the frogs started up again down at the paddy field. Recently, whenever I've been expecting a call or message and had the phone on, I've been scrabbling for it every time I hear frogs. I was scrabbling for my phone far too often, even when it was in silent mode. The real frogs down at the paddy field were confusing me. They don't sing all the time. They start and stop.

So I decided to change my ringtone, and a friend sent me some birdsongs I might like. They were lovely, and I was very pleased with them. I chose the song of the hototogisu (Japanese cuckoo – click on number 10 to hear its song).

I've had my new ringtone for about three weeks now, but for some reason I cannot get used to it. I just can't seem to remember that I have changed my ringtone. I still jump up to find my phone when I hear frogs, and when the hototogisu starts singing I stare around the place like an idiot, looking for the bird. I do this for AGES before realizing that the song is coming from my own bag, or pocket. It is embarrassing, especially when I am in the middle of a complicated conversation with one of the administrative staff at work. I felt like such an idiot.

How long does it take to get used to a new ringtone if you hardly ever use it anyway? I am thinking of restoring the frogs.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lunch, etc

Today I stopped in at a little park in time to see a rather gruesome drama involving a mynah (I think) and its overly large lunch, which was still alive.

I think it was a cicada. It's strange, though. I haven't seen or heard any kumazemi yet. That's what it looks like to me, but perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps it's some other large insect.

We're heading into our final two or three weeks of semester now, and I have been feeling bad about not posting more, especially since I have had some entertaining classes this semester. But that swine flu week off messed things up a bit. I had a lovely week off at the time, doing almost nothing, but since then it has all been madness. What has made things especially mental is that instead of making up the classes, we were permitted to give our students an extra homework assignment. I did this (as did every other teacher I know) but all those homework assignments have come in at once. This is mostly due to my own bad planning, but partly due to students to whom I had given an earlier deadline not handing in their homework on time. I have also been giving end-of-semester tests, so marking tests and grading assignments has kept me pretty much without the time or energy to write.

It is possible that my schedule this year has made it a bit harder to write, too. Last year I had a hideous schedule, but several times a week I could stay up late without causing meltdown the next day. That's when I wrote my blog. This year, however, I have to get up at five o'clock three days a week. This has not been too bad, I must say, but mostly because I have managed to change my routine so that I am usually in bed by ten at the latest. So I have been doing very well in terms of having energy for work, but blogging has suffered.

Also, my Palm (with portable keyboard) died. I now have an iPod Touch, but with no external keyboard I do not like typing on it for anything longer than short memos. It is too slow.

Why can't the iPod have an external keyboard? That would make it PERFECT.