Monday, December 31, 2007

I am very out of touch with western pop culture.

Who the hell is Hannah Montana? Do I really want to know?


Friday, December 28, 2007

Apropos of nothing #2: College

Freshmen at St. Olaf College had only a limited number of options for classes the first year. One history seminar, one psychology class, an English class (and that will be a post of its own, later), etc.

I decided to take a history class called "Decline and Fall of the Russian Monarchy." It was a class of less than 10 students, and it was a new experience for all of us.

At the beginning of the semester, we all were still in "high school student" mode, trying to take notes as fast as we could without asking too many questions. Professor Nichols was getting a bit annoyed with this, and one day early on he decided to see if he could provoke us.

That day, Prof. Nichols welcomed us to class as usual, and then dropped this on us:

"Communism is better than Democracy."

A few moments of silence...

...followed by a huge argument. It was like a bomb went off or something. At first, we all were trying our best to knock down that statement, but the professor kept parrying our attacks effortlessly. I was trying to get my shots in, but then I suddenly started seeing his point of view, much to my surprise.

Prof. Nichols had commented about how a true communist nation wouldn't have problems with poverty (I think; it's been a long time), and one of my classmates shouted, "Yeah, that's why China's going down the shitter!"

Prof. Nichols: "Or words to that effect." (laughter)

Me: (slowly, due to a shift in my frame of reference) "China...isn't a true communist nation."

Prof. (Big grin)

I began to argue that there has never been a truly communist nation on Earth.... Someone else added that in its most idealistially (unrealistically?) perfect form, democracy may just be equivalent to communism...and the argument went on. I think we all switched sides more than once.

The class was a lot more lively after that.

It seems to me that college professors, especially those who teach freshmen seminars, have a really difficult job: They have to make students THINK.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Up to 800 ex-NOVA teachers left out in cold by new owners - Mainichi Daily News

Boy, I'm glad I'm not a NOVA teacher. Fortunately, the only person I know who became a NOVA teacher has just ended his contract and is already home. I wonder if he'll get paid for the last two months of work...?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!!!

"The Night Before Christmas," as read by cartoon voice actors (and those movie trailer guys).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I didn't notice this when it happened


The NOVA chain of English Language schools is DEAD!

Man, I gotta pay more attention....


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Apropos of nothing, first in a series

Apropos of Nothing: Random stories of little import that I find interesting/amusing.

On our travels around Kyushu, we (the JET gang) once visited a shop called Fukusaya, which specializes in "castella", a kind of sponge cake first brought to Japan by the Portugese way back when. (I think we were in Fukuoka at the time. Airport code for Fukuoka airport: FUK)

Fukusaya (福砂屋) was founded in 1624 in Nagasaki, and has been making castella ever since. They're probably the most famous makers of castella in the country. Naturally, we all bought some to bring back to our various offices/school boards/etc.

When I presented the staff at one of the schools I worked at with some castella, they were very impressed. One of the teachers asked the English teacher if I knew that Fukusaya was famous.

She said, "Of course not."

I fired back from across the room, "YES I DID," in passable Japanese.

I'm not sure, but I think that it was at this point that the rest of the staff began to have a higher opinion of me.

It's the little victories in life that make it worthwhile.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Futility Watch part 318790234.617 (out of ∞)

Well, it's a new month, and gas prices have gone up again. ¥157 a liter. That translates to about $5.32 a gallon.

Multiple readers (okay, two readers: Scott and Doug) have pointed out to me that it is in fact worse in Europe. Fair enough.... So, all you Americans be happy you're not driving in Japan, while I'll be happy I'm not driving in Europe. (^_^)

Actually, it's one of the aftereffects of the rise in petroleum prices that REALLY has Japanese people worried. Because the cost of ingredients has gone up, and the cost making aluminum cans has also risen, for the first time in a while the price of beer has gone up! Asahi Breweries was the first to announce the new prices, and other Japanese breweries have followed suit.

Not that this affects me at all. I've still got gift/free sample alcohol in the fridge.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Japanese buildings can be "dangerous" places.

Case in point: The NHK Building in Okayama.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

How much is TOO much?

...and this is just a sampling of my collection. Scary.

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But it wasn't a wasted trip

It was a nice, albeit brief, getaway. I took the train from Yonago to Okayama, a trip I haven't taken since...the last time I took this test, two years ago. Since then, they've upgraded the trains that run this route, replacing all the old bench-style seats with more comfortable bucket seats...(I kind of liked the bench seats better. Easier to stretch out when you didn't have a seatmate.)

When I first took this particular train, back when I interviewed for my current job, I was struck by the beauty of this region. The train tracks follow a river for most of the route, and although the river is armored and fortified like practically all of Japan's rivers, the powers-that-be decided to let the river retain it's natural meandering course, rather than the straight-line concrete ditch style that is more typical.

[inside joke for Doug] BEHOLD: the power of Nature. [/inside joke]

Also, I went to a Freshness Burger for the first time in years. MmmMMMmmm. There is one near Tenmonkan Dori in Kagoshima City that I often visited. This time, I had their "Classic Double Double Burger." HUGE Double cheeseburger, with real cheddar, and lots of veggie-type toppings. SO greasy. SO bad for me. SO delicious....

They also have a Spam Sandwich that I really like. For some reason mentioning this caused everyone else in the old Kagoshima gang to gag. Oh well. (^_-)


So I went to Okayama yesterday... take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, Level 2.

I was doing okay through the first two parts, but when I started the reading/grammar section, the first example was an entire article from the Yomiuri Shimbun. Complete with new and unusual kanji combinations.

That's when I knew for sure, that

Oh well. (^_^)