Tag Archives: english teacher

SAY IT’S A GAME AND I’LL COME TO NO HARM

Most of the time, I try as hard as possible to block advertising out of my brain. It’s dull and ever more aggravating. It’s always the same. Then I see something I haven’t seen before, and I think ‘wow! That deserves my attention!’ But after I’ve seen it about ten times, it’s exactly the same as everything else. With the exception of the Freshup ad.

For the first three weeks of being here, I was constantly in that ‘wow’ phase. On billboards, trains, massive TV screens – seemingly everywhere – I could see advertising images I had never seen before, and it was like being in a foreign country, as Ian Rush might say. It struck me that perhaps wherever I go, I will experience this initial fascination with advertising. Like, it’s so pervasive everywhere in the industrialized/developed world, and the products are so different everywhere, that it’ll always be the first thing I notice.

Now, I’ve stopped staring intrigued at DoCoMo posters on the train. I’ve almost reached the same stage I was at back home, an attitude of ignorance to the extent possible. It probably helps that it’s mostly in written language I don’t understand (with a few exceptions, like http://www.jti.co.jp’s intriguing campaign), but I get the feeling it would be the same in America or the UK or anywhere else. Advertising’s really, really interesting until you realise it’s the same thing as everywhere else you’ve been: companies selling things.

My kids classes went well this week. I prepared the shit out of them, so that when we got in there I knew what I was going to do, when I was going to do it, plus I set stronger rules and reward schemes so they didn’t run about the place. We played a lot of Spiderman, which is exactly the same as Hangman except with a spider instead of a person – more politically correct, I s’pose. Images of a crudely drawn stick figure being hung by the neck from a decidedly unsound structure never perturbed me as a child, but hey, I’m just following the book. Needless to say, the adults classes went fine, and people have actually started signing up for my lessons because I am teaching them. Apparently. This is what staff members have told me, anyway – it could just be a confidence-boosting thing. Whatever, I’ll take it.

After my last kids class on Wednesday, I was looking out the window, and I got my best smog indicator yet. Back in NZ, if you look directly at the sun for longer than half a second, you’ll destroy your eyes. (I did this often as a child, actually: I would stare at it until it went a kind of shimmery blue colour which wouldn’t get out of my vision for about two minutes. True story, and probably the reason for my rapidly diminishing quality of eyesight.) Here, the sun appears to be smaller and more orange in colour, filtered as it is through thick clouds of smog that hang over the city. I reckon you could get away with two or three seconds of staring at it before it burnt out your vision. It probably also means I might finally be able to get a tan and not just go bright red within five minutes of taking my shirt off. That’d be nice.

Finally, I went back to Shinjuku on Friday and had dinner on the 29th floor of the NS building, looking out over the night skyline with the Park Hyatt in the foreground. Unfortunately I forgot my camera, but you can trust me when I say it was quite stunning. The food wasn’t bad, either. I’ll have to go back and take some pictures.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan

DANGER STRIKES, THE IDIOT SLIPS

I’ve finished my first week of teaching. All together now: ready? THANK CHRIST THAT’S OVER. No, hang on, it wasn’t really that difficult – the basic adult lessons are a cinch, and make up about 90% of my schedule, so most of the time I’m not all that bothered. I turn up, tell a story and field some questions to get them thinking in English, go through what’s in the book, then just keep them talking until the lesson’s over. My students have pretty much all been friendly and eager to talk, which makes my job a whole lot easier.

There’s that other 10%, though: kids classes. I’ve hung out with kids before, and I used to bloody be one, so I thought I could control five at a time and actually help them speak in another language. Not to be. To employ an overused but no less appropriate phrase: they ran amok. I didn’t prepare enough, I didn’t set ground rules, and I didn’t get into a confident frame of mind, thus ensued a clusterfuck. Hopefully next week it’ll be like one of those stupid substitute teacher movies where, with everything having gone wrong on the first day, teacher goes home and undergoes a training montage – cut to the next day, and teacher waits in the classroom, ready to face those bastard kids… then they run roughshod over them once more. Except I’ll win in the end, and everyone will love me.

After that somewhat traumatic kids class, I was further humbled as I failed to observe an important Japanese custom: wearing footwear in the appropriate places. I don’t want this whole thing to turn into a discussion of things everybody already says about Japan (They work ridiculously hard! They sleep on the train, but always wake up in time for their stop! They have tiny feet! Etc.), but on this point I’ll concede bafflement. Why couldn’t I remain in socks as I escorted the kids and their parents down to the lobby? With some of the looks and comments I received upon stepping onto carpet without first entering my lace-ups, you’d swear I’d just been instructing those kids in the finer arts of bomb-making and shooting pornographic films, not English. I made a similar mistake at home in walking out the front door with shoes in hand and putting them on outside, rather than slipping into them at the genkan and lacing them up before facing the world. It’s just something I’ll have to get used to, I guess.

I’ll also have to get used to being spoken to in Japanese. On Friday I went to the hopelessly bland local government office to apply for my Alien Registration Card, or gaijin card as they are commonly known, and for the national health insurance. Nobody spoke passable English, so we baby-stepped through all the forms until they seemed to be saying everything was finished. Something will be delivered to my house around the 15th of July, and then I have to go to a bank or convenience store and do something… but I didn’t understand what. Fortunately, I live with other teachers who have both been here for over a year, so I’m not exactly adrift at sea – just mining this experience for content.

That building, though – probably the dullest, most depressing working environment I can imagine. The floor tiles, these tiny little off-white rectangles, were horribly ugly and obnoxious; even the paintings on the wall (presumably there for decoration) were nothing more than a slathering of brown with some words carved into them. It must have been a metaphor for the bureaucracy surrounding it: there’s some meaning here, but you’ll have to stand here looking for hours before you find any part of it. Naturally, I put my headphones in, put on Justice’s excellent and incredibly vibrant new album, and waited my turn.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan

HOLD YOUR HEAD UP HIGH ON THE OTHER SIDE

QUESTION from Marty: How long does the train ride from Chigasaki to Shinjuku take? – Well, if I take the Rapid service (which I usually do), it’s 52 minutes. Yes, train times are that exact. In physical measurement, it’s just over 60 kilometres. Including walking times, my daily commute is about 70 minutes each way. Bear in mind that the whole way, the conurbation never stops – it’s buildings from beginning to end with no parks, forests or hilly domains. Thanks for the question, Marty – keep ’em coming, people!

This morning I slept through my alarm. That’s to say, it went off, I grabbed it and pressed ‘Stop’, then settled back into bed – all without actually waking up. I opened my eyes to find the sun higher in the sky than it should be and my phone/alarm clock nowhere in sight. Panicking, I threw my bedsheets around trying to find it. What if I only had 5 minutes to get to the train station? What if training had already started? Very soon I found my phone, and it said 8 o’clock. Training started at 10:30. Not the nightmare I was preparing for, but still quite pressing.

I made it, though. No problem. And I remembered my pen today, which I’m sure you’ll agree was sensible.

After training I found myself in Shibuya, so I met up with the gentleman who writes (or used to write) this website. He’s a Kiwi who’s been over here for a year now. Pretty crazy, hanging out with someone I’ve only previously talked to on the internet. I must say, it was very nice to hear a familiar accent again, even though I’ve been here less than a week. We had a good yarn over a couple of beers; he introduced me to some new terms, like ‘friendsick’ and ‘familysick’ in place of ‘homesick’, as they are very much distinct from each other.

Generally, talking to this guy was massively reassuring – like, now I feel like I’m really here and it’s exciting and my horizons can be expanded, because until now I’ve been wary of exploring too far, or challenging myself too much. His words made me think about why I’m here, and how I’m here, which made me eager to get into things a bit more instead of sitting back, saying as little as possible and keeping to the streets I need. The easing-in period can finish; the grabbing life anew period can begin (as ridiculous as that sounds).

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan

PEOPLE WON’T BE PEOPLE

I made my way to Shinjuku this morning for the first day of training. As is customary, I missed the turnoff and walked about three times as far as I should have, before realising my mistake and turning back. I found the building, sweaty and harried, with 5 minutes to spare. Wahey.

(By the way, the weather is different between Chigasaki and Shinjuku. In Shinjuku, it is sticky and energy-sapping. I think it’s all the tall buildings reflecting heat into the street, or something. Down here in Chigasaki, it is comfortable – warm but not too hot, not humid, occasionally with a pleasant breeze. But you didn’t come here to talk about the weather, and anyway, it’s all going to change very soon – the Rainy Season is almost upon us…)

Once inside the training room, with four fellow trainees (all Australians), I realised I hadn’t brought a pen. Good start. Our trainer looked and spoke a bit like Simon Amstell, so when he noticed me looking around uncomfortably at form-filling-in time, he graciously offered me his pen for the session… and took the piss out of me at the same time. What he couldn’t possibly have expected was that I would BREAK HIS PEN just five minutes later! What a ridiculous thing to do! I felt like a prize idiot, but he didn’t mind too much… he just took the piss out of me again.

The second trainer who took over at about 4 was a Yorkshireman who was into, among other things, avant garde hardcore and noisescapes such as the music of John Zorn. So far, not too challenging.

After the training finished, I went for a wander around Shinjuku, just to look at all the blinking lights and swiftly moving people. It was illuminating, to say the least. So many shops, bars, restaurants… all with staff outside shoving menus in your face and loudly chorusing for you to come inside. I didn’t buy anything – somehow. I also counted about four noisy buses circling the neighbourhood, obnoxiously but delightfully advertising various wares. Then I caught the train home, and the mass of people on the train network illustrated again how vast Japan’s (and especially Tokyo’s) population. People just don’t stop coming.

Now I’m back here, writing this, and thanks to Google I know that there’s a guy who did exactly the same. Here‘s his webpage, which I discovered some time ago, but only read through in the past couple of days. A lot of it is rather familiar. That’s my house! That’s my room! That’s my local bar! His writing is (I think) a lot more earnest than mine, but it’s pretty good, and worth a look. It makes me wonder whether I shouldn’t lighten up once in a while and just be stunned by my life at the moment, similar to how he was… but that wouldn’t be me, would it? I come at everything – even a completely new environment, with the hundreds of challenges that poses – with ruthless pragmatism and even a healthy dose of cynicism. It’s just the way it is. How would you react in my situation? Or how did you react? Am I doing it wrong?

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan

FAR BEYOND THE PALE HORIZON

When news of Lindsay Hawker’s murder broke into newspapers, colleagues and friends assumed I would have a greater-than-average interest in the story, what with my going to Japan soon. They were all eager to call it to my attention and see what I thought about it.

I was as appalled as anyone by such a horrific event, but still, it’s one life gone in a world full of thousands more deaths every day. I’m not trying to be insensitive – such a senseless murder as this does merit extra attention – but it’s important to retain perspective, and not feign shock when you simply don’t feel it. As a writer (Ha Ha!) and keen observer of journalistic standards, I was more interested in how the story was being reported. (Badly.) Example:

“Mr Hawker told a press conference his daughter had researched Japan thoroughly before taking up work as an English teacher, to make sure she knew the dangers.” – BBC News

According to the Mail on Sunday, Mr. Hawker actually said “Before coming to Japan she researched extensively on the net, and we all agreed that Japan was a safe place and a good society.” Why have the BBC inserted that extra clause about ‘the dangers’? Because, in searching for a good angle for the story, the writer hit upon the idea that Japan is littered with such behaviour. Which can’t be proved, but hey, we’ll run with it because it’ll tap into people’s fear of a cultural Other.

I find it so frustrating when, in 2007, the barriers between societies are still being rigidly maintained in ways such as this. The Japan that I am aware of is home to the same kinds of unusual and antisocial behaviour as anywhere in the Western world, though it may appear to be slightly different. This behaviour isn’t brought on by overdosing on anime, hentai or Morning Musume; it’s generally the result of a mental disorder, just like some of our own suffer (but then again, we have nice barriers to keep them out, too).

Of course I say all this without having actually been to Japan. It could very well be full of slavering young men fixated on violating young, attractive Western women. But this is a blog post, a brief and poorly thought out opinion piece, whereas people like the BBC are in the business of informing people. It isn’t good enough.

The entire point of this post was to draw attention to Richard Lloyd Parry’s piece in The Times, which excellently sets out the parameters involved in the murder, its setting, and our reactions to it, before going on to provide insight about an aspect of it that most hadn’t even considered. I spent most of my time bitching (as usual), but bugger it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan

BOUND FOR MU-MU LAND

Right: I passed the interview to teach English in Japan with a major eikaiwa corporation on February 17. Since then, I’d been waiting for word as to where I would be working, and when I would start. Until yesterday.

As expected, they had been waiting for a notarized copy of my degree, which arrived there on Tuesday. A day later, I received an email with those two pieces of information I’d been waiting for.

1. I will attend a training session, and eventually work at schools, in the Kanto region (関東地方). That’s Tokyo and surrounding areas.

2. The training session will begin on June 4, 2007, but I should arrive in Japan a few days beforehand.

My reaction? Well, I had kind of been expecting to be placed in the Kinki region (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nara etc.), and much of my thoughts about my future in Japan had assumed that would be my base, so a re-ordering of those thoughts is required. I’ll come right out and say that Tokyo freaks me out: the biggest city I’ve ever been in was Sydney, and Tokyo has 3 times as many people in a similarly sized area. I mean, everyone says it’s really exciting, but I wonder how quickly I’ll be able to adjust to the pace of life there. I know I’ll be all right – I have confidence in my adaptability – but when you’ve lived in New Zealand all your life, moving to somewhere as insane as Tokyo is bound to bring about some apprehension. (So is any move, really, but… this one in particular.)

Of course, I might not even be based in Tokyo. It could be Chiba, or Saitama, or Ibaraki, etc.; who knows, it’s a big company. Regardless, the adjustment will be massive, and that’s exactly what I want. It’s the reason I’m going. I need to challenged on a grand scale to wake myself up, get my creativity working again, and feel like I’m doing something with myself.

As for the date, that’s about when I was expecting. But a few days is no time at all in which to acclimatize, so I imagine the two-week training period will be as much about getting to grips with life in Japan as learning how to do my job. As for the training itself, I have no idea how I will fare, having never taught kids or adults before; again, I have confidence in myself to get through it okay, but I expect not to feel comfortable until after a good month or two of classes.

Jesus, man. I’m going to Japan.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan

COLLABORATE AND LISTEN

There’s been a bit of a lull here while I wait for a new hard drive for the Brutalizer. As you can see over to the right, I’ve been watching and reading all sorts of rubbish (perhaps I should have my computer de-commissioned more often), so when it finally arrives I’ll put up some new reviews. Seriously, why does ‘2 working days’ always turn into ‘2 increasingly interminable weeks’?

I suppose now is as good a time as any to announce that I have been offered a job teaching English in Japan for a large eikaiwa corp. Not that anyone who reads this site didn’t know that already, but I’m gonna go for the OE-curious dollar and try to attract a new readership. This is the first (brief) post in an ongoing series about my adventures involving Japan, both getting there and being there.

The interview (or ‘hiring session’, as they called it) was a month ago, and after a multi-choice test of grammar and rather straightforward teaching demo, they offered the job on the spot. Since then, I have obtained a notarized copy of my degree (which itself I only obtained at the beginning of the month), and that cost $45; sending it by registered mail to Osaka cost $10. Everything good costs a little bit of money.

Now I wait for confirmation that they’ve received it, after which they will find a placement for me. Then the charade of obtaining a visa will begin, which could take up to 6 weeks. Still very much early days, then, but I could be over there in less than three months. I’m really excited, of course – this is the challenge I’ve been craving for years now – but I’m shitting myself. I’ve never lived outside of NZ before (excepting my first 10 months or so in Cambridgeshire), and in actual fact, my only trip outside this country in 21 years was to Sydney for ten days in 2001. Moving to Japan will test my adaptative abilities like they’ve never been tested before.

Anyway, that’ll do for now. One other thing: I’d like to reinforce a point that Ed often makes, which is that libraries are wonderful, amazing places. You can read all these books! For free! Surely they’ll take it away any minute? Get in now and take advantage before it’s too late.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan