Tuesday, December 27, 2005


A word in the right place

Unsurprisingly, December 25th turned into a pretty late night. Boxing Day saw Dan in bad shape for his work shift. What was worse, I seemed to have been given all the sales lessons, evidently being considered more of a draw than the other two guys on duty.

By lunchtime, I was really dying a death. After doing some shopping, I put my headphones in my ears, put my head on my desk and solidly ignored the world for about three-quarters of an hour; not quite asleep, but not quite alive.

When I peeled my head off the desk, the other two were in their between-lessons break. The senior teacher seemed to be talking about what his illustrious position involved.

I plain don't like the guy, but he's been having a tough time of it recently from the higher-ups, so I told him that I thought he was doing a fine job. He told me that actually he'd just resigned his post.

I wasn't all that surprised.

"By the way, thanks for your comment earlier," he said at the end of the day.

Still not being 100% compos mentis, I asked him which comment he was talking about. Of course, he was talking about when I'd said he was doing a good job. He said he really appreciated it.

I was happy on two counts: firstly, even though the guy's an awful teacher and a dreary, dreary human being, I haven't really minded having him in charge. He's pretty lazy and doesn't give other teachers too much grief so I was genuinely glad that my words had cheered him up.

Secondly, I was relieved; for a dreadful moment, I thought he'd been within earshot when I'd referred to him as a "badger-faced retard."

Sunday, December 25, 2005


Pronunciation key

The teaching nightmare: four "high-level" students, three perennial strugglers and one 17-year-old returnee from Australia. Lesson planned: organising events.

Lesson aims:

1. Students should be able to delegate tasks in both office and domestic situations

2. Students should be able to make a realistic schedule for sorting something out

3. Dan should be able to make it through the lesson without dying a grisly death

It was all bad, the poor 17-year-old was sitting next to a total geriatric, which meant she was paired with him for all of the activities. I dropped the workplace-oriented tasks in order to make it slightly less painful and obtuse for her, but she still looked bored and confused.

Then the stroke of luck: having listened to the geriatric stumbling on the words "whole house" a few times, I decided to risk a bit of corrective feedback.

OK, I said to the class, this is what I'm hearing, and I wrote out the words I still have to vacuum the whore house on a sheet of paper.

The three strugglers frowned and reached for their dictionaries; the 17-year-old was already laughing so hard I thought she was going to fall off her chair.

The three strugglers laughed as well when they found out what was going on. It's things like this that turn 40 minutes of purgatory into a happy memory.


So this is Christmas...

sunday morning
brings the dawn in
it's just a restless feeling
by my side

early dawning
sunday morning
it's all the wasted years
so close behind

watch out
the world's behind you
there's always someone around you
who will call
it's nothing at all

sunday morning
and I'm falling
I've got a feeling
I don't want to know

early dawning
sunday morning
it's all the streets you've crossed
not so long ago

watch out
the world's behind you
there's always someone around you
who will call
it's nothing at all

watch out
the world's behind you
there's always someone around you
who will call
it's nothing at all

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Fools keep hating

If there's one thing worse than loud, obnoxious, drunken gaijin on the train, it's loud, obnoxious, drunken Japanese racists on the train. And if there's one thing that's even worse than the previous two things put together, it's- well- the previous two things put together, as it turns out.

Allow me to elucidate that first paragraph.

After the Shinsaibashi Conversation Cafe party last night, I allowed Wes to talk me into going to another party in Kyoto. I made my decision about five seconds before the train doors slammed shut. Five seconds after they'd slammed shut, I was really regretting my choice.

The reason for my sinking heart was that Wes was doing what Wes does best: being drunk and gregarious. A ghastly, ghastly mix of broken English, broken Japanese and broken furniture (if there happens to be any breakable furniture nearby- thankfully, there wasn't.) Having secured my presence on the Kyoto train, he set about endearing himself to the other passengers.

Straight away, a Mouthy Japanese Racist (hereafter MJR) picked up on the fact that we were drinking beer.

MJR: Hey, drinking beer on the train is not allowed.

WES: Yeah, but drinking beer on the train is delicious.

This point, made in passable Japanese, was conceded gracefully enough by the MJR and it seemed we would get along fine. As the packed train progressed, however, Wes carried on battering away to an old boy next to him, unfortunately stuck on the two or three phrases of Japanese he could remember in his polluted state. The old boy was quite charmed by the attention, but the MJR and his cronies began sneering about this, which I was prepared to let pass.

However, emboldened by the zero reaction they were eliciting, the MJR started complaining louder and louder about how certain people were drinking beer on the train and they shouldn't be, until the point where he was turned around announcing this at the top of his voice to our backs. The Japanese guy I was talking to was suddenly gazing apprehensively at his shoes and I was getting properly fed up. I turned round and cranked the volume up a few notches.

DAN: Do you want me to throw you on the fucking train track?

MJR: I don't speak English!

DAN: You want me to fucking smack you about?

MJR (sneering at the fact that I'm not addressing him in Japanese): I don't understand!

DAN (brandishing a fist): Do you understand this?!

(the above bilingual exchange of cultural viewpoints has brought the carriage to an ear-burning silence, the MJR also seems to have run out of things to say)

DAN : You just carry on talking to your friends and I'll talk to mine, OK? Good night.

This last incongruous line delivered in Japanese, I turned round and carried on talking to the youngish student type I'd been talking to before, conscious of a few giggles and murmurs of appreciation from other passengers. He said that the MJR was properly offended because we were drinking on the train and Japanese people don't do that. I told him that this was a crock. He looked dubious, but having seen my previous lyrical heroics he wasn't prepared to argue.

At this point, Wes gave his Guinness to the old boy, who drank it with every sign of appreciation. The student type looked glum.

For the record, we didn't make it to Kyoto.

Monday, December 12, 2005


Word for the day

mendacious adj.

1. having a tendency to lie

2. deliberately untrue

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


A tale of one city

A pretty hectic football season in Japan reached its climax on Saturday. After Gamba Osaka, the Panasonic company's team who play in the old Banpaku stadium in the Northern end of the city had thrown away a commanding league lead (losing five of their previous six games, for Christ's sake), they entered the final weekend a point adrift of city rivals Cerezo, the pink-clad whoopsies who play in the Nagai World Cup stadium.

With three other teams (JEF United, Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers) level on points with second-placed Gamba, all of the top five teams had a chance of taking the title on Saturday.

Scores and standings at 88 mins:
Kawasaki 2-3 Gamba
Cerezo 2-1 FC Tokyo
Albirex 0-4 Urawa
Kashima 4-0 Kashiwa
JEF Utd 0-1 Grampus Eight
Cerezo 61 pts +9 GD
Gamba 60 pts +23 GD
Urawa 59 pts +28 GD
Kashima 59 pts +22 GD
JEF Utd 56 pts +12 GD

Scores and standings at full time:
Kawasaki 2-4 Gamba
Cerezo 2-2 FC Tokyo
Albirex 0-4 Urawa
Kashima 4-0 Kashiwa
JEF Utd 2-1 Grampus Eight
Gamba 60 pts +24 GD
Urawa 59 pts +28 GD
Kashima 59 pts +22 GD
JEF Utd 59 pts +14 GD
Cerezo 59 pts +8 GD

Cruel, cruel stuff for Cerezo. For the second week in a row, they conceded a last-minute equaliser. In a season when teams had failed to capitalise on advantages, the second chances finally ran out and the garishly-coloured team from the Nagai stadium went from first place to fifth in one fell swoop.

For Gamba, an otherwise meaningless fourth goal sparked scenes of wild celebration as it coincided with news filtering through of Cerezo's cock-up.

Apparently, this was the first time a Kansai team had taken the J-league title since its inauguration in 1993, although this will be scant consolation to the Cerezo players who, at the final whistle, collapsed on the Nagai pitch, as limp and moist as a pile of udon noodles.

To be honest, the majority of Japanese I have spoken to about this weekend's football have expressed complete indifference.

For more info, check out The Rising Sun Japanese football news page.



Yes, I'm losing my marbles

And when no hope was left in sight, on that starry, starry night,
you took your life as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you

From Vincent by Don McClean

It came to me in a dream. Then I forgot it in another dream.
Professor Farnsworth, Futurama

My new favourite Van Gogh painting

Deeply-held opinions don't generally change overnight. This is the story of one that did.

Had you asked me previously which was my favourite Van Gogh painting, I would unhesitatingly have answered Starry Night, as much because of my fondness for Don McClean's song as for the dark and terrible majesty of the painting itself.

Then I had a dream the other night in which I was explaining to someone that Wheat Field with Crows was my favourite. The reason I gave in the dream, which, to the best of my recollection I have never given in a conscious state, was that the picture evokes the scene of Van Gogh's suicide: the fatal shot shattering the tranquility of the field, followed by the drumroll beating of wings as the startled crows rise into the air en masse.

Whether Van Gogh was anywhere near a wheat field when he dispatched the bullet into his chest that was ultimately to end his life some 36 hours later is, at this time, unknown to me. However, so impressed was I by this nocturnal insight that I realised when I woke up that Wheat Field with Crows actually had become my favourite Van Gogh painting.

Make of that what you will.

Monday, December 05, 2005


The legend of Zhang Hong-Hai

So, today was my second attempt at the level 3 Japanese proficiency exam. Having spent the last two-and-a-half months cramming vocabulary into the limited cranial space available to me, I did my best to undo the good work at Niki's sayonara party last night. The party having finished in time for everyone to catch the last train, I decided that this was a rather pitiful send-off and instigated further drinking at the 280 bar, foolhardiness which earned me a 3.30 am bedtime as well as the stinking cold I woke up with at 7 am.

The JLPT only comes once a year, so it's a good idea to be a little better prepared than I was this morning; spare a thought though for the guy in our party who, when we arrived at Osaka University, discovered that he was meant to be at Kyoto University. I'm not too sure what happened to him in the end as I had to run to the first exam, but, given the Japanese love of bureaucracy and procedure, I find it hard to believe that he would have been able to sit the exam.

(EDIT: I saw him in the bar before I finished this post. Let's just say he'll have plenty of time to brush up his technique for next year's exam.)

Upon arrival in the exam room, I was surprised and happy to see that one of my football friends, Bob, was sitting a row in front and one seat across from me. Bob actually lived on Spencer Avenue, my old street, when he was at Warwick University. Other than that, he's sound.

The examiners were talking us through the list of yellow (chuui) and red (shikaku) card offences when I realised I'd forgotten something.

Dan: Pssst, Bob!

Bob: What's up?

Dan: What's the verb for tidying up?

Bob: What?

Dan: What's the verb for tidying up? I've completely forgotten it.

Bob: Surely if I tell you at this stage, they'll give me a yellow card.

Dan: Just tell me, twat.

Bob: Katazukeru.

Dan: Tazukeru?

Bob: Katazukeru. We use it all the time at my kindergarten.

Dan: Great, whatever.

This didn't really count as cheating in my books as they hadn't even given out the test papers at this stage. Little did we know the drama that was to unfold to my right, directly behind Bob...

As per last year, as soon as the question papers were handed out, there were one or two who couldn't resist taking a peek. The guy to my right was a case in point. In the five minutes that elapsed between us being given the papers and the test starting, he continually perused his booklet, closing it whenever a proctor got within two metres, only to open it again once they'd passed.

After the fifth or sixth time he was caught doing this, he was finally yellow-carded. I sniggered.

Having seen the none-too-subtle tactics of this muppet, I hid my answers as best I could in order to protect him from himself. The last thing I wanted was for the daft sod to get himself red-carded for having a sly peek at my answers when they probably weren't worth a damn in the first place.

I might as well have saved myself the effort.

When the exam time was up, a recorded announcement informed us that the test was over, please put our pencils down further writing was prohibited. At this exact moment the would-be academic snatched up his pencil (which had lain untouched for so long that it had actually begun to accumulat a fine layer of dust) and started bazzing away at his answer sheet again. The slightly more rotund and friendly of the two female proctors dashed up and politely requested him to stop. For a brief second, I thought he was going to see sense and put his pencil down... nope, it seems he was only turning it over to rub something out; then he carried on writing. The less rotund and friendly proctor barked out an instruction from the front of the room to give the rascal a yellow card; her comrade flapped her arms helplessly, knowing that to do so would end his dream of level 3 certification.

At this point, I feel it's worth pointing out two very good reasons not to cheat on the level 3 test.

1. The certification isn't worth jack. Nobody gets a job on the basis of anything less than level 2 certification, which is a hell of a lot harder than level 3. It actually requires competence in Japanese, for one thing. If you're going to cheat, you might as well do it to gain something worth having. A sheep for a lamb, as the saying goes.

2. The exam fee is expensive. Combine this with the money you spend on Japanese lessons, revision materials and the like and you can see why it would be a piteous waste to be disqualified for not putting your pencil down at the right moment. Or for going to entirely the wrong test site in the first place.

I digress.

The enforcer, being less of the shilly-shallying type than her co-worker, steamed up from the front desk and administered the dreaded red card: 6,000 yen exam fee up in smoke. The guy smiled disbelievingly; I laughed so hard I thought I was going to hyperventilate. Apparently, he didn't understand the Japanese phrase for "please leave the room immediately" any better than he understood the concept of seemly exam room conduct, but this was no problem. He sat quietly until everyone had filed out, then went to argue the toss with the proctors.

When we returned for the listening section the guy was nowhere to be seen, apparently having given up his aspirations of level 3 certification for another year. I took a quick look at the name on the answer booklet which sat on the vacant desk next to me.

Zhang Hong-Hai. The stuff of legends.

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